Friday, May 30, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Susan is looking for men to barbecue."

- Heard in a Scottish Church last year, and I had written it down on the service sheet. Just found it there now as I was doing some clearing out. Wonder what the poor men did to deserve being flame-grilled?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Five Down, None To Go!

The last exam has been completed, the pen has been set down, and I'm free!!! Well, for a few weeks anyway. Tonight we had the closing Communion service of the year, and then we were over at the Principal's house for dinner.

This year is especially tinged with sadness as it's the last one for the Principal, Adrian Empey. We presented him and June with several tokens of our affection, and wish them well for their retirement. Really, he just couldn't bear being in college without me, so he had to retire when I was leaving!

Surprisingly, I managed to fit all the stuff from my room into the car, so tomorrow's first task will be to unload the car and fit all the stuff somewhere. Then I have a free fortnight before my pre-ordination retreat, and my ordination. I'm hoping for lots of relaxation and reading, oh, and probably some photography as well!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Four Down, One To Go!

I'm now into what may be my last night's sleep in Dublin, depending on how my packing goes tonight. Today's exam was Old Testament - two questions on Prophecy, and two questions on the theology of the Old Testament. All done and dusted. Fair enough paper, and could answer the requisite number of questions.

Now just New Testament left, which is tomorrow afternoon. At 5pm you may just be able to hear the shout of 'FREEDOM' ringing out from the Sports Hall in Trinity! Then it's back to college for the last Communion service of the year, and then the farewell bash at the Principal's house.

My task now is to work out how to fit all the stuff into my car - it's a bit like a jigsaw puzzle with possibly too many pieces... the book case is in now, so the rest needs to be fitted in around it. Here goes...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Redding Out

The word in the title may not be a proper word, but it's a phrase you would hear about home. We're just going to redd out the cupboard, meaning to clear it out, or gut it. Or at the end of a work shift, you would redd up. Not sure if it should be spelt read (as in I read a book last week, past tense).

By and however, I've been redding out my college room this evening. Just two evenings left in Dublin now, and I'll be doing exams the next two afternoons, and then the farewell Communion service and dinner. So any spare moment is gladly snatched to do some clearing. Cupboards that have been ignored all year are opened to see what they contain, and papers I won't need are set aside for recycling.

The joy of such task is that you never know what you might find. For me, the greatest joy wasn't in finding some money in an envelope (no, not a brown envelope...), but rather in coming across the cards, letters and notes that I received in my first term here three years ago. Reading again the warm wishes and prayerful words was truly a serendipity - I wasn't expecting to see them this evening, but I'm glad I have. So while other things are left behind or chucked out, these cards and letters will go with me to pastures new, reminders of where I have come from, and how God has led me on.

In moving on, it's important to not forget how God has been gracious and faithful in the past. After all, it's one of the lessons we see in the Old Testament, as the children of Israel come out of Egypt and move into the promised land (eventually).

It's what is happening in Joshua 4, when the twelve stones are set up on the bank of the Jordan. 'When your children ask in time to come, "What do these stones mean to you?" then you shall tell them that the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So there stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial for ever.' (Josh 4:6-7)

Or think of Ebenezer. No, not Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. In 1 Samuel 7:12, Samuel takes up a stone as a memorial of victory in battle against the Philistines. Its name was Ebenezer, because it means 'Thus far has the Lord helped us.'

As I prepare to finish in Dublin, I can declare Ebenezer - Thus far has the LORD helped us.' And so he will continue, for He is a faithful God.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mobile Blogging

I'm blogging from somewhere near Leuchars in Scotland on the train. The wonders of technology, and free wifi onboard the National Express east coast trains.

Came over for the weekend to visit Lyns in the midst of exam pressure. Sadly I'm on my way home again.

Normal blogging will return soon. Some hopefully interesting posts in the pipeline.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Three Down, Two To Go

I'm now more than halfway through the exams! Ethics was this morning, and it has now been completed! This was the shortest exam, with just two hours to answer three questions. A bit tighter than the others, but I managed to write about the three case studies on the paper, looking at matters of birth, life and death. The next one is on Wednesday, and then the final paper on Thursday!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Packing Up

My Heaving Shelves
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

Amidst the exams, we're also facing the task of getting packed up to leave Dublin at the end of the college year. In previous years, most stuff could be left in the room for the following year, but this year, it all has to go northwards to Dromore before heading eastwards to the Curatage.

As you may notice, there's quite a lot of books here in my room. The shelves are looking more bare now, with three boxes already packed but a lot more to do! It seems very strange to be taking stuff down and getting ready to move on again, and yet it is the time to go, with new challenges and joys around the corner.

Perhaps the most challenging part in packing up has been my Bible readings over the past few nights. In Luke 12, Jesus is speaking about the proper attitude to wealth and possessions - after the parable of the rich fool. 'Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with money bags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.'

Does my library help me to serve God in the preparation of sermons and the increasing of knowledge, or do I serve my library by worshipping it? Lots to think about!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Two Down, Three To Go!

Second exam done this morning - Anglicanism, so I've just three exams to go now and I'll be finished! This morning's paper was in three sections - A was on Anglican formularies and theologians; B was on the Lambeth Conference and global Anglicanism; C was on the Church of Ireland's ecumenical activity. Two questions from A, and one each from the others.

Well, I wrote four answers, so we'll see how we go. My next one is Friday, but in the meantime, be praying for Lyns who has her final oral in the morning.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chain of Command

At the weekend, I was delighted to receive a letter from a retired minister. He had taken the time to write a note of encouragement and support prior to my ordination, for which I am very grateful. In it, he also gave me a verse of Scripture to be my guiding principle through my years of ministry. And so, as I prepare for ordination, I'm thinking through Acts 20:28.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the whole church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

He also shared with me the story of how that verse came to be passed on to me. Not long after he was ordained, my friend had been visiting a retired minister, and the retired minister had shown him his ordination Bible, in which Bishop Handley Moule had inscribed this verse.

What a lineage of faith and faithfulness is being passed on to this generation! What examples to follow. May we also in our day be faithful and diligent pastors as we begin our new phases of ministry in the coming weeks.

Monday, May 19, 2008

One down, Four to go...

First exam was this morning. Ecclesiology and Cosmology. Four questions answered. Some had been well prepared, others were less well prepared, but with a fair idea of where I was going on them. With not being used to writing for three hours straight, my hand is a tad sore now, but I'm sure it'll be fine.

Day off tomorrow, then Anglicanism on Wednesday morning. This evening I think I shall relax and unwind after a hard day, then do a bit of last minute recap tomorrow.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Galway Cathedral by night
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

Last week I was over in Galway for the Church of Ireland General Synod. Three days of debates, reports and meetings. An interesting time, and now I'm off General Synod again, for the time being!

While I was away, I engaged in a spot of photography - surprise surprise! This is one of my favourite shots from the trip - Galway's Roman Catholic Cathedral as dusk settles.

Now I'm home again and getting ready for the exams... first one is Ecclesiology and Cosmology on Monday morning. Here goes on the finals!

Visually Stunning

They wish!
Originally uploaded by davymacflick.

Or so the propaganda goes...

Last Saturday I went on one of the Flickr Meet-ups in Belfast. Take four photographers, release them onto the streets of Belfast (BT1 to be precise), and you get an afternoon of great craic and hopefully some good photos as well.

We had a wander from City Hall down Donegall Place, and along High Street to the alleyways into Ann Street. There, we encountered a Magical Mystery Tour on bicycles (part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival), which was prevented from passing through Victoria Square by security guards, and then one solitary policeman.

We then moved on to check out the remains of St George's Market as most of the stall holders were packing up for the afternoon. As we came back through Victoria Square, we noticed this on the wall and thought it an apt assessment of the gathered photographers!

Even more hilarious, though, was the moment when Davy (on the right) asked a lady passerby would she take a photo... only for her to start posing - thinking she was going to be the subject! Eventually he persuaded her to be behind the camera, and this was the result! A big thanks to Phil, Andy and Davy.

Andy is organising another Flickr Meet-up in Belfast on Saturday 24th May - meet at the statue of Queen Victoria outside City Hall at 12 noon with some money for lunch and/or drinks. Oh, and bring a camera!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Gone to Galway

By the time this is published, thanks to Blogger's new time-delay function, I shall hopefully be on my way to Galway. It's time for the Church of Ireland General Synod, and this is the last session of the current triennial (three year term that all members, except the House of Bishops serve).

The three years I have been part of General Synod have seen me travelling to Armagh, Kilkenny and now Galway. I'm getting to see parts of the island I've never been to before, but hopefully will again soon!

I'm not sure what internet coverage I'll have while in Galway, but if I can find an internet cafe, then I'll try to blog through the Synod...

Fond Farewells

Yesterday was my last services in the parishes of Drumgath and Drumgooland (Rathfriland and Ballyward). Over the past few months I've become a part of the parish, through my college placement, helping with the pastoral work, as well as leading services and preaching. And now it's all over, ending the placement in preparation for ordination.

It's amazing how quickly you can become bound up in people's lives, and grow so attached to people. While there were no tears, it did feel strange driving over the Dromara hills yesterday morning knowing that it was for the last time, or driving away from Rathfriland after the two services back to back (with the crazy seven mile drive from Ballyward to Rathfriland to try and get the service to start on time...).

But as I said in the services, I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have become part of their lives, and to share in ministry with them. They have been a great encouragement, support and help to me, and especially David Somerville, their Rector. I will not forget them in a hurry.

What made yesterday's final services even more special was their gift of my Preaching Scarf - so when I wear it, i will remember the people of Ballyward and Rathfriland.

Through the week in College Chapel, I was doing the readings at the Wednesday Holy Communion service. In Acts, I read of Paul summoning the elders from Ephesus to meet him at Miletus, and of his final charge to them.

'And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again.' (Acts 20:36-38).

Saying goodbye is not easy, but really and truly, it is not forever - one day we will again meet and be glad!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Power to Witness: A sermon preached in Ballyward and Rathfriland on Pentecost, 11th May 2008. Acts 1:1-21

How are you when you’re waiting? It might be waiting for a bus, or for relatives to visit. What if it is something you’re looking forward to receiving? Maybe it’s coming up to your birthday, and you can hardly wait to see what parcels arrive. Or there’s a cheque in the post. How do you wait?

At the start of our reading this morning, the disciples were waiting. Ten days before, Jesus had left them. He had ascended into heaven, no longer with them bodily. Do you remember what Jesus had told them? “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about… in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)

It’s now ten days later – the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost was fifty days after the Passover, and was the festival to give thanks for the harvest. As many Jews as possible had arrived in Jerusalem for the festival, following the command of the Law of Moses. Jerusalem was bunged!

In 2:1 we read that the disciples were all together in one place. This may have been the same room where the Last Supper had been shared. They had returned here after the ascension and were waiting and praying.

Suddenly, there is the noise like a violent wind, which fills the whole house where they are sitting. Sheer power is displayed in the noise of the wind. But that’s not all, as they see what looks like tongues of fire separating and resting on each of them.

Luke explains to us what was happening. ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (languages) as the Spirit enabled them.’

After the wait of ten days, the promise of Jesus is fulfilled, as he sends the Holy Spirit. Do you see that the Holy Spirit wasn’t given to them to sit back and say, well, I’m saved, and I’m sure I’m saved. No, the Holy Spirit was given to them to be active, spurring them on to service for Jesus. As they are filled with the Spirit, they were enabled to speak in other languages.

This was for a particular purpose, as the passage continues. Remember that Jerusalem was full of people, Jews from across the known world, all gathered together to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. It is these languages that the Holy Spirit enables the disciples to speak, so that the known world is able to hear about Jesus. Look at verse 11. ‘We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’

This is entirely in line with what Jesus had said in Acts 1:8. ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ The Holy Spirit comes to give them power; and in this power, they will witness about Jesus.

I’m always struck by the change in the disciples when the Holy Spirit comes. Remember that when Jesus came to the upper room on that first Easter Day, the disciples were inside with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. They were frightened people. Just seven weeks later, the disciples are no longer fearful, but go out onto the street to tell people about Jesus – to witness is to tell what you have seen. What made the difference? It was the gift of the Holy Spirit that gave them the power to witness.

But in the noise as the crowd gathers to hear these simple folk talk about the wonders of God in their own languages, there is confusion. Verses 12 says that the crowd was amazed and perplexed. ‘What does this mean?’ Why were they able to understand what the disciples were saying? What was happening?

Some people, in the crowd, however, thought it was just a bit of revelry. They simply couldn’t handle their drink, and were making fools of themselves. These are the people who laugh at the things of God, who make fun of the faithful.

Peter steps forward to speak to the crowd. As he says himself, he is going to explain what is happening. Some of the crowd think that they are filled with wine – but that’s just not right. Instead, they are filled with something else – with the Holy Spirit, as God promised.

Straight away, Peter takes the crowd to the Scriptures to explain what is happening. He quotes a long section from the prophet Joel, and then preaches from it. You see, in the Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit only came on certain people for certain tasks. So Moses had the power of the Holy Spirit in leading the people out of Egypt. The prophets had the Holy Spirit, and the kings.

But Joel had prophesied that there would come a time when God would pour out his Spirit on all his people. It would be in the end times, before the great and glorious day of the Lord. All of God’s people would prophesy, see visions and dream dreams.

This is what is happening now, says Peter. We’re in the end times. Jesus has completed the work of atonement, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Soon he will return, and in the meantime, God has poured out his Spirit to empower his people to witness to him, and to share the love of God.

Here we see the perfect union of God’s Spirit and God’s word. They can only function together. In Hebrew, the word for Spirit is the same word for breath – so the Spirit of God may be called the breath of God.

When I’m speaking now, the words and the breath go together – it would be impossible to speak without the breath going out as well. In the same way, the Spirit and the Word go together.

Some people in the Church today think that all you need is the word. They indulge in lengthy expositions, which turn into dull lectures without any power. In the end, the Word on its own is lifeless, if it is Spirit-less. But others in the Church think that all you need is the Spirit. They go chasing after the next big experience, the ‘liver shiver’ as one writer describes it.

Instead of either of the extremes, the Biblical model is to have the Spirit and the Word together. Without the word in our reading today, the crowd would have remained amazed and perplexed. They just would have seen the commotion and heard the voices. But when Peter, full of the Spirit, declared the Word of God, then things were happening.

The final verse of the reading, and also the final verse from Joel, declares that ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ We see that happening in Jerusalem that day, as Peter continues to tell the Good News about Jesus, and calls for repentance and faith from the crowd.

With the word and the Spirit, about three thousand were added to their number that day. From 120, to three thousand, in a matter of hours. And all because of the powerful combination of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

So how do we look on that day? Was it just a one off? Something that is interesting as we remember the beginning of the church, but remote from our experience in the twenty-first century? Later in Acts 2, Peter declares that all who repent and come to faith will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (2:38).

The Holy Spirit isn’t just for the clergy. The Holy Spirit isn’t just for the keen people who turn up to everything. The Holy Spirit is available to every believer – here and now. There is now no more waiting needed – you can experience the power of the Holy Spirit in your life today. But remember – the Holy Spirit doesn’t come for us to feel holy and special. Rather, the Holy Spirit comes to empower us to witness to Jesus, and to strengthen us for service.

In some ways, today is another step towards the end of the waiting for me, as I’m now five weeks from ordination. As I prepare for ministry in Dundonald, I’m aware that I can’t do anything by myself. But with the Holy Spirit, we can do all things.

But even though this has been a time of waiting, it has also been a time of Spirit—empowered action. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have come alongside you, and to be involved in ministry with you here. And I’m thankful for the help and support from David especially, as well as from each one of you. I will not forget you in my prayers.

My prayer for you is that you will know the power of the Holy Spirit, through the word of God proclaimed in this place. And that as you all continue to grow in the Holy Spirit, you will see many more added to the Kingdom here.

And as I close this morning, I want to remind you again of the final words of our reading this morning. ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ That stands today for you. Perhaps you don’t know the Lord, and have been trusting in yourself for too long. Why not today, call on the name of the Lord, and you will be saved. Speak to a Christian that you know, or David, or myself. Not only will you be saved, but the promise of the Holy Spirit is for you as well. It will be the best decision you will ever make.


This was my farewell sermon in the parishes of Drumgath and Drumgooland.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Prayer Request

A Call To Prayer
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

It's getting close to the ordination now. Your prayers are requested, and also your presence. But not your presents!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Hello, my name is Gary, and I'm a Christian.

Introductions was the theme of the weekend just past for me. On Friday, I headed off to Donegal, to the village of Ardara to be precise, for the service of Introduction of the new Bishop's Curate for the parishes of Ardara, Glenties, Glencolumbcille, Lettermacaward, and Inniskeel. John Deane, a Donegal man himself is heading to that part of the world again in his first full-time incumbency.

To show our support, some of the Theological Students were in attendance, and robed. The robing room was a flurry of activity and chatter before the service, as we were meeting the clergy of Derry and Raphoe and other visiting clergy. As the rare breed of Ordinands, they all wanted to know who we were and where we were from. Lots of introductions - and I even found a man of a similar background to myself - a minister originally from Dromore, born and bred!

Then on Saturday, we moved over to county Cavan, where there were more introductions as I met the Trenier family; and then later on at the WWW youth event in Kilmore Cathedral Hall, which (as far as I know) is out in the sticks somewhere near Cavan town. Linking into my weekend theme of Introductions, the speaker was talking about Identity, and how we see ourselves.

So how do you introduce yourself? What are the things you highlight about yourself? What are the things you promote?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Praying With Power: A Sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on Sunday 4th May. Ephesians 1:15-23

I wonder how your prayer life is. I’m not asking if you pray – I hope you do. Rather, I’m asking how you pray. When praying for friends, do you know how to pray? Or what to pray for?

Wee Jonny was kneeling by the side of his bed one night, saying his prayers. Really loudly, he prayed: ‘God, please give me a new bike!’ His mum walked into the bedroom and said, ‘Jonny, why are you praying so loudly? God’s not deaf.’ ‘No,’ says Jonny, ‘But granny is.’ Jonny knew what to pray for, and how to pray for it!

You see, sometimes when we see friends, we might say ‘I’ll be praying for you,’ or ‘You’re in my prayers.’ But then when it comes to the praying, we don’t really know what it is we should be praying for.

Hopefully you, like me, want to become better in your prayers. You’re just not satisfied when your prayer life settles into the God bless the world and the church and the cat. Rather, you want to be praying specific prayers which make an impact on the situation, and help the person being prayed for. How do we do this?

Paul, in our reading tonight, is writing to the Ephesians. You might remember that in Acts 19, Paul arrived in Ephesus, preached in the synagogue there, until they threw him out, so he spent two years teaching and debating in the hall of Tyrannus. He then moved on, and there was a riot in Ephesus because the silversmiths and craftsmen didn’t like that people were becoming Christians and rejecting idols and shrines.

Paul is writing some time later to encourage the Christians in Ephesus. He opens the letter with an amazing outpouring of praise to God because of the great blessings that God has showered on those who trust in Jesus. These include the choosing for adoption, redemption, forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ blood, and being marked with a seal – the Holy Spirit – guaranteeing our inheritance.

It is for this reason that Paul gives thanks to God for them! Remember that Paul had left Ephesus to move on to other places to preach there too. But now he is hearing that they have continued in their faith, and also of their love for God’s people. What great news!

Notice, though, that Paul doesn’t congratulate the Ephesians for believing – rather he thanks God for their faith and love – who, as the earlier part of chapter 1 reminds us, pours out his glorious grace.

Paul thanks God for them at all times – he has not stopped giving thanks. But more than that, look at verse 16, he also remembers them in his prayers. Even in celebrating all that they have achieved (through God’s grace), he prays that they will continue. So what is it that Paul prays for them?

Look with me as we read verses 17-19. ‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.’

First of all, he prays that God will give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they will know him better. How much we all need that! Is there anyone who thinks that they don’t need to know God better tonight? But Paul’s not finished there. Paul prays that they will have their eyes enlightened. This is the prayer of the modern song ‘Open the eyes of my heart Lord’ – to see God better, and to know him. It also brings to mind the enlightening that Paul experienced after the Damascus Road encounter with Jesus. After the meeting, Paul was blind, until Ananias came and restored his sight.

Opening eyes can also be seen with Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6. Elisha was in the city of Dothan, and the king of Syria was getting fed up with him, because he always knew what the king was planning. So the king sent his army to besiege the city, and the servant of Elisha woke the next morning to find the army with horses and chariots. In a panic, he gets Elisha and asks what they should do.

‘“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hill full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.’ (2 Kings 6:16-17).

Elisha prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes so that he can see the full picture; how things really are. This is what Paul is praying for too – that the Ephesians will see the full picture.

This knowing God better, through the Spirit, through having their eyes enlightened, comes in three specific areas: hope, riches and power.

Paul prays that the Ephesians ‘may know the hope to which he has called you.’ Notice earlier in the passage, verse 15, that he was thanking God for their faith and their love. Now he’s praying that their hope will come onboard. Could it be that as Christians, we’re so concerned with the present, with getting our trusting right, and our loving right, that we forget about the hope that we have? When was the last time you considered the future that God has in store for us?

Notice, though, that it isn’t just a vague hope – it is intimately bound up in God – ‘the hope to which he has called you.’ The God who has blessed us with so much, is the God who calls us, and who is our hope.

Next, Paul prays that ‘you may know … the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people.’ In verse 14, Paul spoke of the Holy Spirit as ‘a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.’ Here he continues that idea, so that in knowing God better, the Christians at Ephesus will come to know the riches of his inheritance in the saints. In sharing together, they also share in God’s inheritance together – again, it’s not a vague inheritance, but intimately bound up in God and his people. If you flip over to chapter 2, you see this developed further, as Paul reminds the Gentile believers that they were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.’ (2:12) ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.’ (2:13) Now they share the promises and inheritance of God’s people.

Finally, Paul prays that ‘you may know … his incomparably great power for us who believe.’ Remember that we have been looking at how Paul thanks God for their faith and love, but continues to pray that they will move on, growing up to know God better, and that this knowing God better will help them to know the hope, the riches, and now the power.

Sometimes it can be easy to think that God is powerless. We might watch the news on TV, or read a newspaper and be overwhelmed by the devastation of war or famine. Where is God? Can God do nothing? Here Paul reminds the Ephesians that God has incomparably great power. It’s as if all through the passage he is running out of amazing and super-amazing words to describe God. This power, this work of God is working ‘for us who believe.’

Just think for a moment. Normally when we think of power, we think of it in negative contexts. So the power of weaponry or of bombs. Or the absolute power of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. But here Paul is reminding us that the source of power, the very heart of the ‘incomparably great power’ is God himself. The most powerful human power is like an ant bite to us, in comparison with the power of God – the Lord ‘Almighty’.

As an illustration of this power of God, Paul points to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. We all know that dead people don’t come back to life. Yet the power of God (which is working for us), not only raised Christ from the dead, but also seated him at the right hand of God – the position of power and authority.

Just last Thursday we remembered the ascension of Jesus, forty days after Easter. Here Paul reminds us of that, by showing us the power of God, so that Jesus is seated above all ‘rule and authority, power and dominion.’ In chapter 2 he speaks of us being ‘raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.’ (2:6).

If this is what the power of God does for Christ, then what will God not do for us, who has called us for his hope, and given us his inheritance among his people?

Perhaps tonight we, like the Ephesians, need to be reminded of these things that are ours through the gospel of Jesus. Maybe tonight you’re right at the start, and need to begin with that faith in the Lord Jesus. Or maybe your love for God’s people is weak, and needs to be encouraged and strengthened.

Or perhaps you have been in the walk for a long time. The road can seem long sometimes, and you need to have your eyes opened to see just how much God has in store for you, both now and in the future. And also to see the great power of God which is for us and available to us. Oh how much we all need these things ourselves, more and more.

Yet we must also remember that we have been listening in to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. While it is vital that we have these things ourselves, surely we must also be challenged to pray for others – not in the general sense, but in specific prayers. As someone said to me recently, specific prayers get specific answers.

Have some of your friends recently become Christians? Thank God for them – and thank God through them as well – let them know that you’re praying for them

How will your praying be changed as a result of our reading tonight? Let’s pray indeed that we won’t be satisfied with trite prayers and vague intercessions. Rather, let’s pray that we will be a praying people, so that we might know God better, and grow together as a church.

[I want to finish with another of Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians, from chapter 3: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. ]

Monday, May 05, 2008

Down on the Farm

Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

On Saturday I was over in County Cavan, visiting Lesley's farm. Haven't been on a farm in ages - probably since Somerville's when I was at school. But it was the first time I was on a quad, and also the first time of driving a tractor! A big thank you to the Treniers for a great afternoon!