Wednesday, May 30, 2007


As we read Scripture, we constantly encounter freedom, or versions of it. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted Adam and Eve with the power to be like God - to have freedom to choose. Yet rather than liberty, they found they were held in bondage by sin, and separated from God. Later we find the people of Israel struggling as slaves in Egypt. The message of God through Moses was freedom. The Passover brought Israel out of the land, and on the road to the Promised Land. They were free!

I’m sensing something of their excitement at being free tonight. The exams have finished, at least for another year. The hard work has been done, the summer lies open before me for relaxation. It’s nice knowing you don’t have to go over those notes again, trying to cram information into your head. Now I can look forward to Summer Madness and my Romania mission trip.

Have you known that sense of liberation that Jesus offers in the gospel? We don’t have to be in bondage to our sins any more - Jesus has borne the burden of them. He offers us freedom and release. The choice is yours.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. - Luke 4:18-19

---------- originally posted at Dromore Cathedral's website----------

Six down, none to go!

It is with great joy that I can report that my exams are finished! The last one was this morning - Church History, and it seemed to go all right. Church History in second year is a composite course, made up of several different sections. Section A is the Church of Ireland from 1660 to 1800; Section B (in teaching chronology) is the Church of Ireland from 1800 to 1870; and Section C is the Roman Catholic experience in the 19th century.

With the three hour paper, there are four questions to be done. We had to answer one question from each section, then an extra one from the section of our choice. Surprisingly, my extra question was from the Catholic section, which I hadn't greatly revised, but could remember a good bit about. (One of the questions I had planned to do in another section didn't come up as I had hoped).

So that's it. Second year done and dusted - just the exam results to get now. But I'm not homeward bound just yet. There are still some things to attend to tomorrow. First off is my viva voce. Roughly forty minutes talking about my pastoral experiences this year, and combining the whole course together. Then later in the day we have the closing Eucharist of the year, then dinner at the Principal's. There'll be lots of other stuff to do as well - packing up what I'm taking home, and moving up what I'm leaving in college. Room 38 and the final year, here I come!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Five down, one to go!

After the break provided by the weekend, it was back into the exams this morning. Today's excitement was Old Testament - perhaps the paper I feared the most. To my relief, the topics revised came up in ways that could be answered, although this time I completely answered three questions before doing the essay plan and answer for the last one, as my mind did a bit of a blank at the start. The patriarchal traditions came to me in enough time to answer the question. We're now in the position of being almost finished - just one exam left, tomorrow morning, and then a viva voce (oral) on Thursday morning. To quote Carmen, Happylujah!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Occupational Hazards

My time in Magheralin is coming to an end. I have just three services left before I finish in the parish. I'll probably say more about it coming up to, or just after my leaving sermon on 10th June. But in the mean time, I'll say that I've really enjoyed my year and a half working in the parish, assisting at services, teaching, and gaining some practical experience. Soon after I started, I blogged about some embarrassing moments I'd been having, as well as the hazards of preaching. It seems that the end of my placement will be similarly fraught, judging by yesterday; although this time, it was not my embarrassment!

I'm sure the rector won't mind me retelling the story (Gareth, sorry!). We were singing the hymn before the sermon. It was drawing to a close as Gareth climbed into the pulpit. Turning round, he descended the steps again, and went to the prayer desk. Rifling through the books and papers on the desk, his face went red and a smile burst on his face. I was leading the service, and wondering what was going on, as the singing of the hymn ended. Gareth turned on his radio mike and asked the organist to play the song again quietly while he went out to see if the sermon notes were in his coat pocket in the vestry! Absolutely priceless!

Thankfully they were there, and after the moment of hilarity, the sermon proceeded. As Gareth said, it could happen to a bishop, and probably has!

Talk about occupational hazards. Thanks to Gareth's moment of embarrassment, I've learnt to make doubly sure the sermon is with me and I don't leave the Bible down from leaving the house until climbing into the pulpit!

It also made me wonder what I would do, if it did happen to me. Would I go and get the notes? Would I try to preach with just the passage in front of me? Would I panic? As you'll have noticed, I tend to have a full script of the sermon in front of me. I would probably get a copy of the script - to ensure I covered what I wanted to cover, and get the points of detail right.

Some might argue that we should let the Spirit do the work, preaching without any notes and going where He wills; but surely the Spirit can be just as at work in leading and guiding my scriptwriting? I'm not confident enough to go for it without any notes... maybe it will come with time.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Oh to see the dawn

Recently I got a new phone, a great upgrade from O2. It's a Nokia 5300, and one of the special features is the built-in mp3 player. Now I will have music wherever I am, even without my Creative Zen V. Anyways, enough about gadgets.

This morning I was half awake, and waiting for the bathroom to become free. Saturday morning is the only morning there is a queue for the bathroom in our house! I remembered I had put some music onto the phone, and started up the music player. It was then that my half awake moments were turned to praise - through the effect of one song.

It's from last year's Summer Madness CD, and is entitled 'Oh to see the dawn.' The words are very powerful, in reminding us of the power of the cross - without which none of us could be saved.

OH, TO SEE THE DAWN, Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men, Torn and beaten, then,
Nailed to a cross of wood

This, the power of the cross: Christ became sin for us.
Took the blame, bore the wrath - We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain, Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Every bitter thought, Every evil deed,
Crowning Your bloodstained brow

Now the daylight flees, Now the ground beneath,
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two, Dead are raised to life;
'Finished!' the victory cry

Oh, to see my name, Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death, Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love

This, the power of the cross: Son of God - slain for us.
What a love! What a cost! We stand forgiven at the cross.

Keith Getty & Stuart Townend Copyright © 2005 Thankyou Music

Friday, May 25, 2007

Four down, two to go!

We're making good progress now, with this first week of exams completed. Two thirds of the way through now. Today's exam was Christology and Hermeneutics, and I was able to write on the themes I had revised. Now I'm home again for the weekend, so a serious bit of relaxation is needed after all these early starts!

The exam schedule means that I've been getting up at 7am and leaving college by 7.45 to get into the city centre on the Luas. We then get breakfast in the city (normally Bewley's on Grafton Street) before being at the exam halls by 9am. By choice I would only be rising at about 9am! Then thinking solidly for three hours, and writing for most of that time is tough on my wee wrist! So a chilled out weekend is planned in Dromore before returning to Dublin for the next exam on Tuesday morning.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Halfway through!

It is with joy that I can say that I'm now halfway through this period of exams. Today's effort was Ethics, in the Regent House at Trinity - the very front building at the main gates. See the big huge window over the main door? That's where our exam was. With all the tourists walking underneath us, and all the buses and traffic going past. Here:

The exam was fine. The first part was two case studies (out of a choice of four), where we had to identify the ethical issues involved, and then advise the people concerned. One that I did was where the health care providers wanted to place a 'Do Not Resuscitate' order on an 82 year old man because of failed health, lots of things wrong with him, and he was unable to communicate. His family wanted to keep him alive, believing that God could heal him. Discuss.

The second that I looked at was a Hindu termination case - seeking to apply Hindu bioethics to the situation concerned. Interesting stuff!

Given this grounding in medical ethics (on a ministry course?), I'll be able to discuss the big thorny ethical issues with Lynsey... won't that be romantic?!

The second section of the exam were more straightforward essays - I chose to do the ones looking at changes in society and how they affect ethical beliefs; and on the differences between Christian and secular ethics.


As a bit of a wind down, I ended up going to Dundrum cinema straight after lunch to see 'Pirates of the Caribbean' 3. While the others weren't fussed, I thought it was an ok film. Similar funny moments to the previous films, but lots of complications. Using the rules of a trilogy from Scream 3, it appears that this is indeed a trilogy film. But having said that, they may have opened the way up for a fourth film in the series... who's to say.

Now it's back to the study for the next exam, now just 13 and a half hours away. Christology and Hermeneutics. Two questions from each. Then it will be home for the weekend and some relaxation!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Two down, four to go!

The second exam has been finished! Today's exam was New Testament, we had to answer four questions. I think I had two strong questions that were well done, and two questions that I could answer. But we'll see how the results go!

Tomorrow then, I have a bit of a break as we have no exam, but then Thursday and Friday mornings are go. So I might take a journey away to Bray or Dun Laoghire or somewhere nice for a walk. Hope the weather is good!

Monday, May 21, 2007

One down, five to go!

The first exam has been done, and I have lived to tell the tale. This morning it was an early start (after not a great night's sleep - music, and pillow wrestling and regular wakings up) and down into Dublin for the Soteriology exam. This was our two hour exam, with three questions to be answered. I think two were quite good, and the other was fine.

I'm not used to such sustained writing - afterwards my head hurt a bit and my hand was sore, so I took an easy afternoon. Had a lie down for a while, did some reading, then went for a walk.

Our New Testament exam is tomorrow afternoon, so I'll hopefully get a bit of a lie in. Four questions in three hours. Bring it on!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Immobile Shop

The Immobile Shop
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

When I was in Kilkenny recently, I saw this signpost. It advertises a 'stationary' store. I'm sure the customers are glad the shop won't be moving!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Shower Psalms

This morning as I stepped out of the shower, found myself breaking into song. Don't worry, my life is not a musical, where a full chorus emerges from the hot press to accompany me in the theme song... (I wonder who would play me in the musical or film of my life, though... answers in a comment!)

Music is very important to me, and can encourage and cheer. One of my favourite hymns is the Tate and Brady metrical version of Psalm 34 - 'Through all the changing scenes of life'. But the song I broke into this morning was the metrical version of Psalm 23. I only sung the first line, but that was enough for the purpose.

'The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want.'

When growing up, I always used to puzzle over this line. What could it mean? Was it saying that while the Lord was my shepherd, I wouldn't want him to be that?Is Jesus the shepherd I don't want?

I now understand that what the line is saying is that because the Lord is my shepherd, then I won't be in want - he supplies my need and is all I need in himself. The cattle on a thousand hills are his. What could I possibly need?

And that truth was enough for this morning.

The Lord's my shepeherd; I'll not want.' Amen!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Coasting along

Today I was completely free, so headed off to do the touristy thing on the north coast. After having a wander round the town of Coleraine, I headed off along the north coast. With stops at Portstewart, Portrush, Dunluce Castle, the Giant's Causeway, Dunseverick Castle and bay, I had a great day.

It was even a clear-ish day at the giant's causeway this time... until I got back on the bus to come up the hill again. Then the rain lashed so very hard! Before it did, I got this photo of the causeway. More will be on my Flickr site in the very near future.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Looking intently up

Perhaps one of the lesser known days in the Church Year, today was Ascension Day. We read in Acts 1 of Jesus appearing to and teaching his disciples for forty days after his resurrection, and behold, today is that fortieth day after Easter. It was on the fortieth day that Jesus ascended to heaven, from where he will return. This much is promised by the angels who appear to the disciples - 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.' (Acts 1:11).

So what does the ascension mean for us today?

Firstly, it means that we have a job to do. The angels came along to ask the disciples why they remained standing where they were, looking intently up into the sky, as if wanting to see Jesus again. their question is more a rebuke though - as if the disciples would gain anything by looking up at the sky every day for the rest of their lives. Rather, the disciples had a job to do; they were to wait in the city for the gift the Father promised; then with the power they would receive when the Holy Spirit came on them, they would witness to the resurrection in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Ten days later, the Holy Spirit came, and the apostles preached in every language, and the gospel began to spread. They couldn't have achieved the 3000 baptisms on Pentecost had they stood looking up at the sky. They had to obey the words of Jesus!

But secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, Jesus is seated in heaven. Our Saviour, King, Judge, Brother, Friend, Advocate is at the Father's side. The salvation is complete, yet his work is not done, as he intercedes for us, and prays for us from his throne.

'Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives for ever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.' (Hebrews 7:23-26)

Thirdly, we see that Jesus is coming back. Remember the words of the angels again, as they told the men of Galilee that Jesus would return as they had seen him go. Hebrews 9 supplies a fitting verse to think of this - 'Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.' (Heb 9:27-28)

So on this Ascension Day, we have a gospel to share, a priest who lives to intercede for us, and a returning Saviour to look forward to!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

All work and no play...

Would drive me insane! I know that the impression from my blogging is that I'm doing no revision at all, but that is far from the case. Today I managed to get my Hermeneutics revision done - so just some Old Testament and then Ethics to finish off now.

To prevent us from going mad, Robert and myself went off to Dundrum this afternoon to the cinema. It's so handy to have the centre and cinema very close. Means we have a place of escape! With the jokes and criticisms from the other students, we went to see Mr Bean's Holiday. Yes, it was at 4.20pm in the afternoon. Yes, we were the only non-child-accompanied adults, but we didn't care!

The film is quite funny, although I think the funniest bits had already been shown in the trailers. The best bit of the Bean film was that we didn't have to think at all, or keep up with a complicated plot. We just had to laugh! When your head is full to bursting of stuff being stored up for exams, it's good to just relax and not think for a while.

Tomorrow will be another day of revision. But tonight will be a time of relaxation!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Exam nearness

This time next week, the first exam will have been done. I'll be into the swing of writing non-stop for two or three hours. The first one will be forgotten almost immediately as the next one comes the following day. Then the rest will come speeding through.

But for now, I revise and relax. Managed to get five topics covered today, which was good. Then this afternoon walked over to Nutgrove Shopping Centre as the ink on my printer was low. Nice sunny day. A day for ice cream as we walked back. And the rain came on as we were in the centre. Amazingly it stopped as we started walking back; and started raining again when we got back. So a dry walk back - except for when Robert hit a tree and the leaves yielded the water lying on them!

Soon it will be time for a hot chocolate - our way of relaxing and socialising in college. The problems of the church and world are resolved over our cup of hot chocolate. And good times are had.

John Piper is Bad

I came across this video, and having seen the title, thought that it was yet another attack on faithful gospel preachers. Having watched it, I now realise that it is hilarious, and very good. Enjoy it, and remember that Gary McMurray is bad too!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Wedded Bliss!

Just a quick posting to congratulate Mr and Mrs Dan and Primrose Avila on their wedding yesterday in Kilkenny. In a packed church, they were joined together in marriage, and afterwards we partied in Abbeyleix!

(I have been trying to get a photo of them up here, but the college network won't allow me to upload files... it will be with us as soon as possible!)

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Family Likeness

I have a confession to make. I don't like family functions very much. Well, not all the time, but more whenever you see family you haven't seen in a while. They insist on making the usual comments about - oh, you would know you were your mother's son. Seemingly I look quite like mum. I can't see it myself. And I'm not entirely chuffed about it either!

But it got me thinking. It seems to me that Peter calls for the development of a 'family likeness' when he writes his first epistle. Let's see what he said:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."' (1 Peter 1:14-16)

In verse 17 he again mentions calling on him as Father, making sure the family references are clear. The motivation for our holiness is because our Father is holy - and we are to be like Jesus. Note that Peter isn't saying that the way to be saved is to be holy, because we can't possibly be holy on our own efforts or merits - he deals with his we're saved quite a lot in his letter, and especially in the three 'cross scenes' (1:19-21; 2:21-25; 3:18-22).

No, rather, because we're saved, we are called to be holy 'in all your conduct'. As the Holy Spirit works in us, transforming us, we change and become more like Jesus. But what does it mean to be holy in all we do? How would our use of time change? What about the use of our money? How we treated those around us? What we read and watched on tv?

Father, you are holy, just as the angels sing around your throne: 'Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty'. Change me by the power of your Spirit, and make me holy. In Jesus name. Amen.

Synod snapped!

One last bit of synodalia before I move on to write about other things again! I've noticed that we made it onto the gallery on the Synod 07 website:

Ruth West, Gary McMurray and Bertie Logan, all from the Diocese of Dromore.

The Invisible Synod Members?

If you've heard anything about General Synod, you've probably heard about the Synodical Representation Bill, which failed once again. The proposers were seeking a review of the numbers of synod members from each diocese, using the criteria of cures (parishes) in each diocese to reckon the representation. It was rejected, being called unfair by members of those dioceses (generally in the south) who would lose seats.

Some speakers during the debate called for the Synod to be made more representative in other ways - perhaps by ensuring that there were more women, and more younger people. One speaker went so far as to ask where the students were (inferring that there were none). Ruth and me just looked at each other, wondering if we were invisible. Then another member of synod, in a later debate, made the sweeping statement that there was only one member under the age of thirty. This caused a bit of a stir on the bench of bishops as those who knew Ruth and me looked at us, wondering which of us looks over thirty - ok, yeah, it was probably me, and probably on account of my beard... But his facts were very wrong. The youngest member of synod is from Cashel and Ossory, and he's about 22, then Ruth and myself are around 25/26, and a member from Derry diocese is about 24.

The same speaker then called for diocesan synods to elect younger members, to ensure that they were present and represented. Yet here's the thing that I can't quite understand. The synod wants younger members to come along and take part, but don't seem to want to encourage, or even acknowledge us.

In the main synod hall, in the exhibition area outside and in the hotel, it was as if I was invisible for most of the time. I would smile and say hello to members, both clerical and lay, and be greeted with stony silence, or them staring right through me. Not a very encouraging situation to be in - especially as the synod wants more of us there! How would they treat 50 or more young people - with the same stony silence?

Full credit to (among others) Trevor Williams, George Davison and a lady from Killaloe diocese who did talk to us - as well as those who knew us already, of course.

Let's hope that in future, synod members take seriously their own call for more young people, and properly make us feel welcome at General Synod.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Back from Kilkenny / Synod reflections 1

After three days in Kilkenny, I'm back in my room in Dublin, and trying to catch up with what I have missed, and dealing with things that inevitably come in during my absence. So, there were 32 emails waiting my attention, and 43 new blog postings to read in Google Reader which is a very handy way of keeping up to date with friends' blogs. I've most of them read now, but no replies written to the emails, so if you have emailed me - be patient, and I will get back to you soon!

So what have I been up to? Of course I was at the General Synod - the parliament of the church. The business was constant and important, with various Bills being proposed and discussed, reports being presented and motions being moved. From a social perspective, the synod is a good chance to meet up with friends again and see some people you haven't seen in a while. With being in a strange city for three days, there is a chance to savour the eating houses, and to discover the road layout and the facilities of the centre. The eating houses were visited and enjoyed wholeheartedly - although I have probably eaten too well over the past few days and will need a diet to prevent my expanding stomach!

There was one great disappointment, as again the proposed Synod Representation Bill was defeated at Second Reading stage. What is it going to take for the Synod to be more representative, and to reflect the changed strength and make-up of the church since 1871? Hopes were high, with some good speeches from the proposer and seconder, as well as the Clogher Brian's - Courtney and Kerr, but fear seemed to rule the day. Our time will come! I'm currently mulling over another article on representation, and will hopefully write it tomorrow at some stage. You can look forward to it!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Radio Silence

Just a quick posting to warn you, my readers, that there might be a few days of radio silence with no new postings on the blog. I'm heading down to Kilkenny in the morning for the start of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland. As it's a far distance to go, I'm staying over in a B&B, so probably won't have internet access until Thursday. Thankfully, I'll have my camera for this visit to the city so might even get some photos for my Flickr site - which continues to display some of my better photos. Check it out!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Living with hope - 1 Peter 1:1-25 for Kilhorne Parish (Annalong) YF and Young Adults on 6th May 2007

I had a very enjoyable evening down in Annalong tonight. First off was the 18-30s informal Bible study in the afternoon, where 10 of us together looked at 1 Peter 1. Then it was the evening service where Bill the rector preached. Then it was Youth Fellowship back in the hall - about 20 or so at it. A big thank you to Bill for his invite to come down, and hopefully I'll be back at some point in the future to the parish!

Don't be scared by the length of this - don't worry, I didn't do it all. This was just my preparatory material and an extended talk for the whole chapter. In practical terms, though, it was a bit long, so we covered verses 1 - 9 in each meeting. Much shorter and easier to manage! But having done the study, then the next time I preach on either section, or even the whole letter, it will be easier to start off!


What do you do when you get an email into your inbox, or a letter through the post? I don’t know about you, but I like to see who it’s from. Sometimes you can know from the envelope – normally a brown envelope is bad news, and a handwritten envelope is probably good news – maybe a birthday card. Because I live in Dublin, I only get home to Dromore for the weekends – and there’s always a mountain of mail. Depending on who the letters are from, I open the good ones first!

So as we look at the opening of this letter, the first thing we see is who it’s from. Rather than putting the name at the end of the letter, the way we do, writers at this time put their own name first. And who is it? Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.

Instantly we know who the letter is from. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest companions, spending time with him; and was one of the leading apostles as the church began to tell others about Jesus. I think you’ll agree that Peter is quite important. So who is he writing to?

‘To God’s elect, strangers in the world’ – Peter is writing to Christians, and even in these first few words says a lot about who they were, and also who we are. Peter reminds these Christians that they are ‘God’s elect’ – chosen by God to be his people. It is because of this that they are also known as ‘strangers in the world.’ Other versions use the word ‘exiles’ bringing to mind the previous experience of Israel, being taken off from the promised land, and scattered across the world.

But even though they are strangers in the world, they are not forgotten or unknown. Peter has already described them as ‘God’s elect’ – his chosen people. Later in verse 2, he spells out what he means in more detail. They have been ‘chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.

The first thing he wishes for them is – grace and peace be yours in abundance. Grace – God’s undeserved good favour towards them, and peace – God’s gift to them.

So Peter the apostle, is writing to this group of strangers. What will he say to them? Bang! Out of the blue, Peter launches into a shout of praise to God. It’s almost as if he isn’t writing a letter for a moment – rather, it’s as if he has been struck with the greatness of God and what God has done.

‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!’ Why does Peter praise? Let’s look at it together. ‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.’

Did everyone get that? Simple, right? Well, because Peter has packed so much into that one sentence, we’ll have a closer look. So why is Peter praising God?

First – Peter praises God for his mercy (his great mercy). Mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we deserve. And because God hasn’t given us what we deserve (which was the punishment our sins deserved), instead he has given us something else. He has given us ‘new birth’ into two things – which are really one thing as we’ll see. First, we have been born anew into a living hope.

What is hope? Hope is the sure and certain waiting for things that are promised. This isn’t like the wishful thinking that you might hear or even say – ‘I hope it will be sunny tomorrow’. Rather, it is trusting in the sure promises of God, waiting for things that we don’t now have.

The hope that we have as Christians is that Jesus will return, and that we will be with him. How is it a living hope? Notice the play on words – because Jesus is alive, having been raised from the dead – we also have a living hope. Jesus lives, so our hope lives. Jesus cannot die again, having defeated death – so our hope lives too.

We’re also given new birth into ‘an inheritance that is … kept in heaven.’ Normally for someone to receive an inheritance, it takes the death of the person involved. Then the will is read and the property is divided. But here, the inheritance is ours through our new birth, and through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Do you see that our inheritance is in the safest place ever? It is kept in heaven. Remember the words of Jesus when he said ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matt 6:19-21)

But Peter goes even further again, using three words to describe just how great our inheritance is. It can never ‘perish, spoil or fade.’ There’s no best before date on it – the inheritance will keep the same; it won’t get dirty or damaged; and it won’t reduce in quality.

Peter says that our inheritance is being kept in heaven for them. But it’s also true to say that they are being kept for it. Through their faith (and through God’s faithfulness), they are being shielded by God’s power. So just as the devil can’t get at their inheritance, also he can’t fully get at the Christians either – they are shielded, guarded by God’s power.

The good news is also that their (and our) waiting won’t go on forever. They are being shielded ‘until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.’ The end is in sight – the salvation will arrive when Jesus returns. But the good news is that it is ready. Jesus has accomplished it all – there’s nothing they can do to add to the salvation. The salvation is ready. It’s a bit like the wait for the latest games machine. The consoles might be sitting in the warehouse for a month before the launch date, but they are complete, they’re ready to be revealed at the right time.

The salvation is complete and ready to be revealed because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Remember one of his last words on the cross? John 19:30 says: ‘When he had received the drink, Jesus said “It is finished.”’ Jesus had paid the cost of our salvation through his death on the cross. Nothing we can do can add to it, or make God love us more. It’s up to us to accept it.

Why does Peter praise God? Well, because of all that God has done for us – his mercy which brings about the new birth to the living hope and to the inheritance which is safe and secure, just as we are safe and secure by God’s power until our salvation is finally revealed.

If we can’t find a reason or two to praise God in that sentence then we are in trouble! As Peter says himself ‘in this you greatly rejoice’. Surely here is the reason to praise God for all that he has done for us. Yes, it’s inspiring, but it’s only part of what Peter is writing about. You see, even though the Christians in these places were rejoicing, they were also in the middle of big trouble.

At the time Peter was writing, Christians were facing persecutions in this part of the Roman Empire. Christians were being arrested, put in prison, shunned from society, and even being put to death. These persecutions have never really stopped – even today our brothers and sisters are being persecuted in over 60 countries (source: Open Doors website).

Peter writes to encourage them in their suffering, to call them to keep going in their faith by remembering who they are (and whose they are), and what God has done for them.

So he goes on from what God has done to their immediate situation. ‘In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.’

The trials have come, bringing them grief. But Peter tells them to not lose heart or faith – there is a purpose to their hard times. Their faith is being tested, or proved. No one likes tests. One of the big problems about going back to student life again was the need for exams. They’re now just two weeks away, and I’m not looking forward to them.

But they’re needed. They can show that I’ve listened (most of the time) in lectures, and that I’m ready to move on to the next part of the course. Even with that goal of next year at the back of my mind, they’re still tough, but it can help keep me going.

Peter is encouraging the Christians to stick at it – the trials are, in the light of eternity and the grand scheme of things, ‘now for a little while.’ They will soon end, when Jesus is revealed, and will result in ‘praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.’ This will mainly be praise for Jesus, because of what he has done, but there could also be the element of praise for the individual as well for having kept going.

But there’s one wee bit that Peter is amazed at. Remember that this is Peter, the friend of Jesus who travelled about with him for three years, who ate with him and talked with him. It’s this – that these Christians, scattered across the Empire had never seen Jesus personally, yet they love him and believe in him. ‘Though you have not seen him you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’

Peter the apostle marvels over these strangers who heard the good news about Jesus and love him just as much as Peter does. Together, because they believe in him, they share in joy – inexpressible (just too good to put into words) and glorious – as they receive the goal of faith, the salvation of their souls (which they are guaranteed by the living hope they have).

Sometimes we get things mixed up. Our thinking is a bit strange. While we might get the God bit right, we then get confused in our own experience. That’s why we need to be focused on God and what he has done for us. Otherwise we get downhearted when the trials come. We think, yes, God loves us, but if that’s the case, then why do family members get sick and die? Or why do relationships break down? Or what about being the outsider in school or uni or work because you’re a Christian?

Here we see that these trials, can be to test our faith, and to help us to grow as Christians. And no matter how difficult they seem to be, there is a way through – by remembering what God has done. Peter lifts our focus from what is happening to us, to what has happened for us.

Peter is revealing a pattern – trials before glory. Just as Jesus had to pass through the suffering of the cross before he could enter his glory again, so Peter calls the Christians to endure the trials (with their hope) and look to the glory and praise and honour at the other end. You can see that in verse 11, as Peter talks about the Old Testament prophets who predicted Christ’s sufferings and glory beforehand – the cross wasn’t a tragic mistake, but was what the Spirit of Christ had foretold through them. So the pattern revealed by the prophets, lived by Christ is now at work in the Christians lives – the cross then the crown. (Sometimes referred to in the negative – ‘no cross, no crown’).

Up to verse 12, we see what God has done for us. Verses 13 on show us what we have to do – how we should respond to God’s grace and mercy. See the ‘therefore’ at the start of verse 13? That shows that there’s a link between what has gone before and what is coming now. Because of that, then this follows.

Verse 13 shows us that we need to be ready for the battle that is coming – and the battle starts in our minds. ‘Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.’

Peter is saying that if you know what you know about God, then you can be prepared for what is coming. So how should we live out our hope?

I’m sure you have never been told – ‘as long as you’re in this house, you’ll live by our rules’ – or ‘this is how our family behaves (or doesn’t behave).’ But in a sense, this is how Peter goes on to encourage his readers to respond to God’s grace.

Because we have been given new birth (into God’s family) – we are called to live up to the family likeness. Verse 14: ‘as obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”’

We aren’t called to be holy to win our salvation. We can’t get on the right side of God by doing good things. We are only made right with God through what Jesus has done for us on the cross. But when we are saved, then we have to live up to what we are.

No longer will we so easily give in to evil desires that arise within us – instead we seek to grow more like Jesus. The choice is, in one respect, very simple – are we going to live our own way, or are we going to live God’s way?

Up to now, Peter hasn’t specifically mentioned the cross, even though it has been the background of all he has said. Now, Peter speaks of it directly, as he reminds us of judgement – also as he seeks to encourage us to live a holy life.

First, he says that we call on a Father who is the judge. One day at the end of time, God will indeed judge each of us for what we have done. It’s because of this judgement that we’re called to live in fear – looking forward to that day. Not a fear because of the final result – Jesus has died for us, if you have accepted him as Lord and Saviour – but precisely because Jesus has died for us.

We’re back to the precious theme again – we haven’t been redeemed by perishable things like gold or silver – but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Slaves could be ‘redeemed’ in the market place – bought with money. But it was something much more precious and important than money that it took to redeem and save us – Christ’s blood shed on the cross.

We’ve been saved because God gave that which cost so very much – so we should live in response to that fact. Peter then goes on to show how precious Jesus is – ‘a lamb without blemish or defect’ – he is our Passover Lamb, the substitute who died in our place, taking our sins upon himself. This is why living a holy life is so important.

There’s one final bit of instruction in chapter one that Peter has for the Christians he’s writing to. That is to love one another deeply. The reason we have to love one another deeply is because we have been born again. By ourselves, we’re self-centred, and only interested in other people for what they can give us or how we can use them.

Having been born again, we are part of the new family of God. As well as loving God, we also have to love our brothers and sisters. Peter links this to us being redeemed through the living and enduring word of God – which stands for ever. Our new birth isn’t just for a week or two, but will last forever, into eternity, and so God calls us in his word to love others.

So what have we seen tonight from our reading? First, we see what a great God we have – in doing all he has done for us. He has blessed us with the new birth and saved us and redeemed us. As a result, we must live up to our calling – living holy lives, and loving those around us.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Spot the Bluebell!

Spot the Bluebell!
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

Today while I was away for a drive with mum, we called into the Stormont Estate (again). There are always great photo opportunities with the Parliament Buildings (especially today with a wedding party on the steps), but also at this time of year with the flowers blooming. I really like this photo - filled with the pink flowers, but just one bluebell doing its thing.

Reminds me of that verse in Romans 12 about not conforming but being transformed...

Friday, May 04, 2007

CITC from above!

Check it out here.

Irish drivers!!!

It seems that on my last few journeys northwards, I've encountered at least one driver on each occasion that amazed me with their stupidity, or just poor driving. As I drive along, I've formulated the blog posting, but then when I get home, the offence doesn't seem too bad, and the delights of being home press the posting out of my mind.

Until last night's experience! The M50 ring road motorway around Dublin was quite busy - bumper to bumper, but we were travelling at about 60 mph. I was in the outside lane, although both lanes were travelling at roughly the same speed. knowing the dangers of a motorway pile-up, I made sure that I had left at least a car length or more between me and the car in front. Only a fool breaks the two second rule, and all that.

The Ford car behind me was right on my bumper. Basically, I could see what she had had for breakfast that morning from her teeth as she was so close behind me. If I braked at all, we would be exchanging insurance details - if we were lucky. So I made sure that there was the good gap in front.

All of a sudden, we came to a space in the traffic on the inside lane of maybe the length of a car and a half. The car behind accelerates leftwards into this tiny gap. I think - that's good, they're pulling off at the next exit, moving over in good time, I'll not be bothered by them any more. Boy was I wrong! Their manoeuvre wasn't over. They kept accelerating and suddenly lunged right again, into the little bit of space between me and the car in front. My braking distance was gone, with the car invading it! Rage!

Another thing I've noticed is that drivers seem to think it is their right to sit in the outside lane, no matter what speed they're driving at. So they sit at 60mph, or maybe even (as I saw one day) 50mph on a motorway which the speed limit for is the equivalent of 76mph (speed limits are in kilometres per hour in the Republic of Ireland - motorways are 120 km/h). Yet if you encourage them to move over, or decide to pass on the inside, then they get all cross and look at you as if you're in the wrong!!! I just don't know.

I wonder if it has something to do with the way they learner to drive in Ireland. Learner drivers with their L Plates up can merrily drive about on their own! It can't be helpful for learning good driving skills.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Saved to Praise

I've been reading and studying 1 Peter in my own devotions, as well as in preparation for sharing at Annalong on Sunday. I'll write more about chapter 1 after Sunday (and will put my talks online too), but in the meantime, what about this gem from 1 Peter 2:9-10.

Peter seems to be big on the contrasts in the experience of these new Christians. Despite Peter being the apostle to the Jews, it seems that he also writes to the Gentiles, having first evangelised Cornelius and his friends. And so Peter writes:

'But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.'

The people who had been outsiders, strangers to God, and outside the promises of God have been brought in through faith in Jesus. Mercy is theirs, and so is their place in God's community, God's people. But do you notice that there is a purpose to their being included? No one is saved just to sit and be glad that they are saved. Rather, we are saved with a purpose - 'that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.'

The saved have a story to tell - of their transfer from darkness to light, and their transformation. Are you telling your testimony? We are saved to praise - saved to proclaim the greatness of God. The never-ending activity of heaven is praise. Are you getting ready now for your activity of eternity?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Suits You, Sir

To mark my birthday, and also because I'm always very hard to buy presents for, the parentals decided to buy me a new suit. That being the case, there was only one place to go. For as long as I have been buying suits, I have been a customer of the same place, and now recommend them to you, my readers.

Collar and Tie in Lisburn is the best place to buy suits! Raymond, the guy who always advises me knows his stuff, having been in the suit business for a long time. He's also good craic, and keeps us entertained while I try on the various styles. But the best thing has to be their prices. Go and see for yourself, but let's just say that for the price marked on the suit alone, I was taking away the suit, two shirts and ties, socks, and a new pair of black shoes.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Revisiting the past

In three week's time, the first exams will already have been finished and I'll be well on my way to the summer holidays! But before then, some work has to be done. So I'm back in Dublin now and the revision has begun.

It's always nice to vaguely remember things as you read them again from notes made up to seven or eight months ago. Slowly, they will again fill my head and be (hopefully quickly) issued forth under exam conditions with the requirement of four essays in three hours.

The first topic I revised this evening was part of the Church History Course. I was looking at the issues around the Church Temporalities Act (1833). What's that, I hear you say. Good question, is my response! But anyway, I was reading of John George Beresford who was Archbishop of Armagh at the time and of the efforts of his contemporaries to regulate the church and make the Church of Ireland more efficient by reducing the number of dioceses from 22 to 12. I'm sure they didn't think that over 170 years later, students would be reading about them and writing essays on them. Yet, their efforts affected the way the Church of Ireland is today.

So the question is: how can we ensure that in our day, we have the same courage to reform the church's structures and government as our forebears? Does the church today ensure the best conditions for advancing the kingdom by preaching the gospel?

How will history view our generation?