Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June Review

It's the end of another month, and we're halfway through the year 2009. This is the 32nd blog posting of June, and the 243rd of 2009. Already in the first half of this year I've written more than in the whole of 2008, and the other years are also in the firing line.

June has been a funny month. First of all, there was the ordination of myself and Adrian to be Presbyters, with the attendant retreat. But there was also the Licensing of Stewart and the Institution of Adrian. Partly as a result of all these ecclesiastical functions, I didn't have as many preachings, with just a visit to Dromore to speak about the Rainbow, and last Sunday on Psalm 124 (sermon audio).

I only managed a few books, with reviews on Beyond Greed and The Work of the Pastor, although I also finished The Deliberate Church (review to follow next month). McFlurry's McLinks got a couple of airings for episodes 3 and 4, which meant that the most regular feature was the what's on your iPod series (which could be renamed after my investment in an iPhone!): Glorious Grace, Half Happy, Have a Heart and Heaven's Hold.

My favourite post was The Stability of Your Times, but what was yours?

Uncomfortable Ending?

How should a good book end? What should it communicate? A happy ever after ending to the story? All the tension resolved and loose ends tied up? A warm fuzzy feeling for the reader?

This morning I came to the end of Isaiah in my morning readings, and there was a bit of a shock in store. (I had read it before, but it hit me again today with full force).

And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.' (Isaiah 66:24)

How does that strike you? Leading up to this point, Isaiah foretells that God's justice will fall, his judgement pronounced, and the rebels will be dealt with. At the same time, God's glory will be pronounced across the world, to all nations, and many will come to Jerusalem to worship the LORD. But when they come and worship, they will also go on a gore-fest and look at the dead bodies of the rebels. Hmm... some of you might be thinking, can I be excused from the field trip?

And yet, this fits perfectly with all that Isaiah has been proclaiming about the LORD, and with all that the LORD reveals about himself. God's holiness is constantly on display in Isaiah, and the peoples' sinfulness is similarly constant. Judgement has been threatened and promised, and so it is accomplished and carried out.

But more than that, as the redeemed look on the rebels, they see God's glory even here. The assurance is given that God sees wrongdoing and will hold it to account. The wicked will not ultimately prosper. The scores will be settled, and God's wrath (even though it may appear to be slow) is nonetheless certain.

Even more than that, the redeemed are given a glimpse of God's grace. After all, the redeemed were once the rebellious themselves. In seeing the fate of the wicked, death, eternal death, the glories of God's grace are displayed to those who still stand and live forever to love, serve and worship the Lord. All of us deserve to be the dead bodies. None of us deserve to be the redeemed. Yet God in his grace saves some to display his wonderful grace.

Even in observing the defeat of God's enemies, the redeemed will triumph and praise the one true, living God, who is the only King, for ever and ever.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sermon Audio: Psalm 124

Here's the sermon audio mp3 file from last night's preach on Psalm 124.

Download this sermon

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sermon: Psalm 124 Our Help is in the Name of the LORD

This summer, I want to invite you to come with me on a journey. The good news is that we won’t even have to leave sunny Dundonald, yet we’ll join with believers as they journey towards Jerusalem. Over these summer nights, we’re beginning a series in the Songs of Ascents. These are a collection of short Psalms, from 120 to 134, which were sung by the pilgrims as they travelled along to Jerusalem for the great festivals of the Jewish year. In recent times we’ve looked at some of them, so this year we’re going to do from 124 to 131.

The pilgrims didn’t have their iPods in their ears, ignoring everyone else on the train or the bus. No, the pilgrims are together, singing together as they urge and encourage one another along the way, climbing the hills as they get closer to Jerusalem, and as they watch for the first sighting of the temple in the distance. (Reminds me of when we were younger and out for a drive, looking out for the water tower at Rathfriland, or the big yellow cranes at Harland and Wolff).

As they sing, they recall their history, and praise the LORD who watches over them - especially as they travel through dangerous territory along the way. This is particularly the case in our Psalm tonight. As they reflect on their history, they recognise just what the LORD has done for them. It appears as if someone would lead off: ‘If it had not been the LORD who was on our side’ then call for everyone to join in: ‘Let Israel now say - if it had not been the LORD who was on our side...’ As we’ll see, the people of God had been threatened, but God has worked to save them. We’ll see this under three headings: The risk to the people of God; The rescue of the people of God; and The rescuer of the people of God.

First, then, the risk to the people of God. We see this throughout verses 2 to 5 in a series of vivid word pictures. The precise historical events are unclear, although as we’ll see later it might be early in David’s kingship - while it’s hard to pinpoint one particular point in Israel’s history, the threat is nonetheless very real. Enemies of the people of God are never far away - and it’s clear that they can produce a vicious blow when they rise up against God’s people. There’s the image of God’s people being swallowed up alive, in the fires of anger - anger being kindled against them. From fire, the picture changes to water - the flood sweeping them away, raging waters.

The threat to God’s people is never far away. Just think of what Jesus said: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.’ (John 15:18 ff) Opposition is not something to be sought out, and yet it will inevitably come because we are following Jesus and not joining in with the wicked ways of unbelievers.

The Psalm reminds us that opposition is real, the risk, the threat to God’s people is fierce. We see that in verses 6 and 7, where the threat is portrayed as being prey to their teeth - food for wild animals; and as being trapped in the snare of the fowlers. (Now this isn’t talking about Robbie Fowler, who used to play for Liverpool, but about a hunter of wildfowl). When I was preparing, a line from an Elvis Presley song came to mind - ‘we’re caught in a trap’. One of the commentaries noted that when an animal is trapped, any movement, any attempt to get free only makes the situation worse. Helpless, hopeless, and hunted.

Yet into the desperate situation, the LORD works for the rescue of his people. Rather than being swallowed up alive and being prey for their teeth, the LORD has not given us up! Rather than being swept away by the flood and torrent of waters, we have been saved. Rather than being trapped and caught, the LORD has broken the snare and enabled escape.

The bird can’t free itself, and nor could the people of Israel from the position they found themselves in. Yet rescue has been achieved, and freedom is accomplished. No wonder the people celebrate and encourage each other with these words!

It could be that this refers to David’s kingship, and the threat of the Philistines. Remember, David became king in Judah and (later) Israel when Saul died in battle against the Philistines. The Philistines hear about the new king, and set out to destroy him too. Flip over to 2 Samuel 5:17. ‘And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said “The LORD has burst through my enemies before me like a bursting flood.”’ (5:20) The psalm might reflect this period, then, as the flood has been turned back upon God’s enemies, leading to his people’s rescue.

As we’ve seen, whatever the situation, the people couldn’t rescue themselves - it took a rescuer. Here, as elsewhere, the only one to save the people of the LORD is the LORD himself. So what does this Psalm teach us about the LORD? Look at verse 8.

‘Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.’ The rescuer, the help is bound up in the name of the LORD. Two things to notice here. First, the actual name used. You see, in the Bible there are many names of God - God, or King, or the Holy One of Israel. The use of particular names is usually significant. Here, it is the name of the LORD - capital letters LORD. So what is the significance of this? LORD in capital letters is the Covenant LORD (Yahweh / Jehovah), the covenant making God. The LORD who has made promises keeps them. but second, it is the name of the LORD in which there is help. The name signifies the power, the character, the very nature of the LORD. We see this as David reminds us that the LORD has made heaven and earth. Our enemies might have power over us, but they can’t triumph over the one who made all things (including them!).

As we continue to think about the rescuer of the people of God, we’re led to a comforting, but also challenging discovery (which we notice in the very first line of the Psalm). The LORD, the rescuer of his people, is on our side. He must have been - otherwise the people would have perished ‘If it had not been the LORD who was on our side...’ So because the people of God have been rescued, then he must be on our side.

I don’t know how that sits with you. To have God on your side. Maybe it sounds a bit too militaristic or tribal, when rival armies both invoke God to give the other side a good hammering... We’re more comfortable with the encounter of Joshua before Jericho was conquered. ‘When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said “No, but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” (Joshua 5:13-14) Not is God on our side, but who is on the Lord’s side?

Yes and yes, and yet still, the Psalm declares that the LORD is on the side of his people, working to rescue them from their enemies. The LORD is portrayed as the husband of his people, the Lord Jesus the husband and head of the church. Husbands, is there anything you would not do for your wife? If you love your wife, then how much more the Lord Jesus, who died for his bride (Ephesians 5:25). The Lord is on your side, if you are on his side!

I want to give you two examples of the LORD working rescue for his people, one scriptural, and one from more recent history. Remember when Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt? Pharaoh suddenly realises that if all the slaves have gone, there’s no one to make the bricks and build the houses. So off he sets with his chariots and horsemen to capture the people of Israel again. Moses has led the people to the edge of the Red Sea, water in front, and desert behind. Then they notice the dust cloud behind them. Egypt in pursuit, and they’re trapped. Water in front, Pharaoh behind, his anger kindled, ready to swallow them up, and force them into the flood. And what happens? The LORD rescues his people, creating a way through the water, so that again, rather than his people being swept away, the flood is turned on the enemies of God’s people. The Egyptians follow them into the sea and are drowned. ‘I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.’ (Exodus 15:1)

Or think of the state of the people of God during the 1500’s. The Roman Church had lost sight of the gospel, caught up with indulgences and good works. But a remnant of the Lord’s faithful people were left, including Martin Luther who rediscovered the gospel of justification by faith. Such opposition he encountered, and yet the Lord rescued him from popes and princes and brought about a reformation and revival, which spread abroad bringing many to be converted. God had not abandoned his people. Two English bishops were martyred, and yet their prayer was answered mightily: ‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.’

And what of us? We are the people of the LORD, so that these Psalms are our Psalms. That means that we too will face opposition - remember Jesus’ words from earlier. This opposition comes from those on the outside, who set themselves against the faith and against believers - maybe a Dawkins, a fundamental athiest. But opposition can also comes from within. The troubles in the Anglican Communion have come about through the opposition to the gospel, with faithful Anglicans facing opposition and persecution within The Episcopal Church (in the USA) and in Canada. Faced against the power of the liberal media, scholars and churchmen, what hope for the people of God? Within ourselves, not much, but our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

As the Lord has rescued his people in the past, we can be confident in the name of the LORD. As Paul writes to the Romans, ‘What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Halls on Sunday evening 28th June 2009 at a celebration of the Lord's Supper.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Tonight we had a fun time in the church halls. It's our rector's birthday on Tuesday, a big birthday, and we had to do something to mark it. A surprise of some sort. It being June, we thought of a barbecue and set about organising it. Word was spread about the party, invites given out at the door last Sunday, when Tim wasn't looking, and food arranged.

Last night we decorated the hall with balloons, posters, streamers, sprinkles and photos of the birthday boy. Tables were set and chairs laid. Now we just needed the people. Oh, and for Tim to come without knowing what was happening.

And tonight, it all came together. About 75 people in attendance, barbecue and dessert served, and the surprise worked! Party poppers were fired, photos taken, and happy birthday sung! Mark took the lead, having compiled a series of photos from throughout Tim's life in a This Is Your Life feature. Short speeches were given by Bill Press, Margaret West, Robert Smyth and myself. A good number from the congregation and some visitors. All in all, a reminder that the church is God's family, a community of celebration.

Photos will follow in due course, but tonight, we're thankful for Tim's ministry and thankful that the surprise came off so successfully! So, for Tuesday, a happy birthday Tim!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Heaven's Hold

Another block of H songs in What's on your iPod? (Or should that be what's on your iPhone?)

Heaven - DJ Sammy and Yanou
Heavyweight Champion of the World - Reverend and the Makers
Hello - Evanescence
Here I Am To Worship - Summer Madness
Here is our King - David Crowder*Band
Hey Boy Hey Girl - Chemical Brothers
Hey Mama - Black Eyed Peas
Hey Ya - Will Young
Highland Cathedral - The Band of the Royal Irish Regiment
Highly Strung - Bond
Hips Don't Lie - The Fray
His Nibs - The Neil Cowley Trio
His Yoke Is Easy - Handel's Messiah
History Maker - Delirious?
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me - U2

It's harder to pick a favourite in this batch - Hold Me, Thrill Me reminds me of the summer when Neil and I were playing bike polo / football, and the ball jammed my wheel and I went flying over the handlebars and cut the face off myself. The Batman Forever movie was out that year, and I got teased because of the character Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones). However, I think His Nibs is my favourite - it was my introduction to the Neil Cowley Trio and is a good relaxer.


Readers of a certain age might expect me to be writing about a Roald Dahl book by the same title. But I'm not talking about the Big Friendly Giant, but rather the Dundonald version of BFG: Building For the Gospel.

St Elizabeth's Church has been reviewing its property, and looking towards the future of gospel work in the area. What is the best use of buildings that are appropriate for the gathering of God's people and which facilitates the outreach work of the parish to the local community? The Select Vestry have launched Building For the Gospel, with plans to build new church halls onto the side of the existing church building, thus bringing all the facilities under one roof. As well as halls and a youth centre, there will be meeting rooms, and a coffee bar / welcome area. The church building will also be re-ordered (with the appropriate permissions), with the pews removed and a more modern auditorium style established to bring the preacher closer to the people and to gather the congregation around the Word and the Lord's Table.

On Wednesday night we had our latest progress meeting, bringing the congregation up to speed with where we are, and to launch the first section of the financing of the project, a Gift Day in October.

At the close of the meeting, I spoke on Trusting the Lord, and here's roughly what I said:

It’s never easy to step out in faith. Much easier to stay where you are, stay in the comfort zone. We discern what God wants to do, where he wants us to be, and we prefer comfort and ease. The odds don’t look favourable. Humanly speaking, it’s probably impossible. Facing the unknown, the uncomfortable, the unfamiliar.

While this might be our situation at present, as we look into the unknown in the Building for the Gospel project, it’s not uniquely our situation. Countless times in the Bible, we find God’s call to his people to step out in faith and obedience. Think of Abraham, called to leave country and kindred and father’s house to go to a land that God would should him. (Genesis 12:1). No road map, no detailed timetable for when the son of promise, Isaac, would be born. Just the call to obey and the promise that the LORD was with him and would bless him.

Or look at the people of Israel waiting to enter the promised land. An impossible task, it seemed. Remember the twelve spies who went in to check out the land? Ten of them saw the problems - strong people, fortified cities - the Israelites looked like grasshoppers next to them. But Joshua and Caleb saw the opportunity - there was nothing to fear because ‘the LORD is with us’ (Numbers 14:9). That unbelieving generation died out in the wilderness before Joshua led their children into the land and conquered.

Last night at the Prayer Meeting, we were thinking about Ebenezer - not Ebenezer Scrooge, but the name of a stone set up by Samuel after defeating the Philistines. Ebenezer, because ‘Till now the LORD has helped us.’ (1 Samuel 7:12) As we look back, we can see God’s care and protection and provision, and can thank him for his goodness and faithfulness.

Just as we can rejoice in God’s provision in the past, so we can look to the future confident in the Lord Jesus. As Hebrews reminds us: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.’ (Hebrews 13:8) As he has been, so he continues to be - faithful!

‘Trust in him at all times, O people; pour your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.’ (Psalm 62:8) We can’t do this, but God can. We can’t see the end, but God can. We don’t know how it will turn out, but God does. Will we shrink back, or step out in faith, trusting in the Lord for this project, and for all that we need? Amen!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Institution

This has been a week for big ecclesiastical gatherings. From a country Presbyterian church on Sunday night, I found myself in quite different surroundings on Monday evening, at the Institution of Adrian Dorrian as the new Rector of the Parish of St Peter and St James. While historically there were two churches, St James' closed last year, now used by the Orthodox community, so the service of institution was in St Peter's, on the Antrim Road.

The service was led by the Bishop of Connor, Alan Abernethy, and accompanied by a strong choir and organ, who sang elements of the Holy Communion service throughout the evening. The preacher was Ken Smyth, Adrian's former Rector in St Mark's Newtownards, and I was privileged to read the Gospel reading.

Interestingly, as I had noted about the Presbyterian Licensing, the declarations were signed during the service rather than before (as at my ordination), the declarations by Adrian had been taken (and witnessed) before the service, but only signed during the service, at the appropriate point. Does this help the flow of the service, or is it a strange intrusion which would be done without? While some might see it as unhelpful, it's probably a good thing, as it highlights that there are certain standards and beliefs necessary for ordained and instituted clergy to hold and profess. The declaration was even printed in the order of service, on the inside back page, so that everyone could see what had been declared and signed.

A large congregation was gathered to welcome Adrian to his new parish, with many from his former diocese of Down and Dromore. When Anglicans become Roman Catholics, it is said that they have crossed the Tiber. Adrian has crossed a much more significant river, the Lagan, from the Diocese of Down and Dromore to the Diocese of Connor! It's also significant that the first of my college contemporaries has been instituted to his own parish. Two others have been appointed and not instituted, and it probably won't be long until many more are sought out and called. It's too far away yet to be thinking about leaving Dundonald - lots to be getting on with here.

Please do pray for Adrian as he moves from being Curate to being Rector, and as he settles into the new (huge) rectory in North Belfast.

(No photos from the institution as I didn't have a chance to take any myself, and none have appeared on the Connor website.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Sadly I haven't worked out the dynamics of bilocation yet - the ability to be in two places at once. It would have come in really handy on Sunday night, as there were lots of places I could have been. As well as the Presbyterian Licensing, there was also the Ordination of Deacons in our Diocese of Down and Dromore, at St Malachi's Parish Church, Hillsborough.

Robert Ferris was ordained for the Curacy of St Columba's Knock in East Belfast, and Mike Dornan was ordained for the Curacy of St Malachi's, Hillsborough. The preacher was Adrian Dorrian, sometime Curate of St Mark's Newtownards and now Rector of St Peter and St James in Belfast.

Please be praying for Robert and Mike as they begin this new phase of ministry, and settle into their new parishes. It also means that while we say goodbye to Adrian and Craig from CME (Continuing Ministry Education, otherwise known as Potty Training, as it used to be called Post Ordination Training), we say hello to the new Deacons!

Photo from the Down and Dromore website. You can also read the Deacons' profiles there.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Licentiate, Not Licentious

Last night I journeyed far and wide to Stewartstown in County Tyrone for a service in 1st Stewartstown Presbyterian Church. One of my good friends, Stewart Glendinning, was being Licensed as a Probationer for the Ministry in the Presbyterian Church, and it was interesting to see how Presbyterian services are conducted.

Following the welcome, opening hymn and prayers, the Bible reading and offertory, and another hymn, a Commission of the Presbytery of Tyrone was constituted, which would conduct the formal business of licensing Stewart. In many ways the whole enterprise was similar to the ordination service - the Rule of Faith , that is, the standards and beliefs of the church, is put to the candidate, who assents; then a series of prescribed questions on the specifics of belief, and finally subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Anglican ordinations are similar, in that we subscribe our assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, although that happens before the service, rather than during.

Following the act of licensing and prayer, Stewart became a Probationer for the ministry of word and sacrament, without any laying on of hands, but with the right hand of fellowship. He's now legit to work as the assistant minister in Sinclair Seaman's Church in the Belfast docks.

The minister of Brigh, Albany and 1st Stewartstown, David Irvine, preached a great sermon from 1 Corinthians 4, highlighting that those engaged in the ministry are servants of Christ (under-rowers, not the usual word for servant diakonos), minsters are stewards of the mysteries of God (entrusted with the work of preaching the gospel), and ministers are to love as fathers and mothers the people in their charge.

All in all, a great service, and hopefully a big encouragement for Stewart too. The evening gave me a chance to meet up with some friends from the Mid-Ulster Battalion Boys' Brigade camps who I haven't seen in a couple of years as I haven't gone camping with them for that length of time!

The two words in the title may sound quite similar, but are very, very different! Stewart is now a Licentiate, but is definitely not licentious!

*The photo wasn't taken last night, but on a bowling trip several years ago!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Retreat Reading

Last weekend I had my ordination retreat down in Rostrevor. As well as eating, sleeping, chapel, and sessions with the Bishop, we had some free time for thinking and reading. So what was my retreat reading? Actually, it was the same as my reading from my Deacon's ordination retreat: The Work of the Pastor by William Still.

The Work of the Pastor consists of a series of lectures to ministry students in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Still had been reflecting on forty years of pastoral ministry, and was passing on the priorities for the next generation of gospel workers. For him, the primary work of pastoring the flock is done in the pulpit, through systematic continuous exposition of the scriptures. The work of the pastor is to feed the flock, not to entertain goats! This is accomplished through preaching God's word, which feeds God's children,and also indirectly deals with a great many pastoral situations which would otherwise arise.

As well as writing on pastoral work alongside the preaching ministry, Still concentrates on the character of the pastor. The occupational hazards are clearly laid out and dealt with - conflict, cost and crucifixion as the pastor dies to self to serve his Master and the flock entrusted to him.

All in all, The Work of the Pastor is not an easy read, with many challenges for those engaged in this ministry, yet it is a great wee book to revisit each year and be encouraged for the task that lies ahead. Perhaps approaching the anniversary of my ordination I'll read this book and see where I need to keep improving as my ministry continues.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Most Wanted: Dead or Alive

Recently, via David Keen, I saw some survey results in the Express. Apparently, 3000 Britons were asked which dead person they would most like to meet. A third said Jesus.

Spot the glaring error. Yes, Jesus isn't dead, he's very much alive!

It's interesting though, that so many people expressed a wish to meet him. Given this statistic, you would expect our churches to be packed to the gills with people wanting to meet Jesus, and yet, I don't think that's happening. So what's going wrong?

Is it that people genuinely don't know that Jesus is alive? If so, then the problem is with our proclamation - the message is not being heard. At the very heart of Christianity is the good news that Jesus is alive - because if he's not, then we might as well pack up and go home (1 Corinthians 15: 14-19).

Is it that people like Jesus but not the church? This is sometimes the baseline and foundation for more emerging forms of the church, seeking to reach those who have been hurt by Christians, but still want Jesus. Jesus is attractive, but then there's those hypocrites in the church who are harder to deal with.

It's characteristic of our spiritual pick and mix culture, where you can have a quarter of Buddha, and a handful of Jesus (the sermon on the mount), and a dash of yoga, and a pint of Kabbalah and mix it all up to your own desire. You can claim to be in with Jesus and have nothing to do with the church. But that's not how it works. We're not saved to be lone rangers on our own - we are made members of the Body of Christ, together with all other followers of Jesus. The church is God's gift, as we support and encourage each other along the way.

Whatever the reason, it's good to see that people are interested in Jesus. Dead or alive. We have the good news of Jesus who died and was raised, who is alive for evermore. How can we not tell this to everyone?!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Have a Heart

An H block of songs from my iPod.

Have You Met Miss Jones? - Robbie Williams
He Doesn't Know Why - Fleet Foxes
He Is Yahweh - Summer Madness
He Reigns - Newsboys
He That Dwelleth in Heaven - Handel's Messiah
He Was Cut Off Out Of The Land Of The Living - Handel's Messiah
He Was Despised - Handel's Messiah
Hear All Creation - Margaret Becker
Hear The Call of the Kingdom - Keswick 2008
Hear the Music of my Heart - Matt Redman
Heard Them Stirring - Fleet Foxes
Heart As Your Home - Mel Wiggins
Heart Of Gold - Neil Young
Heart Of Worship - Matt Redman
Heartbeats - José González
Heartbreak Hotel - Elvis Presley
Heartless - Kanye West

Quite a number of Handel's Messiah included here, although my favourite song in this batch has to be 'He Reigns' by Newsboys. A great reminder of the worldwide church, and that He Reigns!

McFlurry's McLinks (4)

It's been a while since the last update of links from the blogosphere, so here we go:

Etrangere muses on the summer affliction of hay fever.

Mark Meynell releases another gem from the John Stott archive - The Message of Job. Also in the realm of free e-books, check out Tony Reinke's blog for seven free Don Carson books, via Dave Bish. No excuse to not be reading!

The last mentions of the European election were from Alan in Belfast with his review of the count (no, not the Sesame Street character), and Keith had Gerry Adams shouting cock-a-doodle-doo during an interview!

Unashamed Workman linked to Joe McKeever's article on 17 methods to shorten sermon preparation.

And what about this for a first dance at a wedding?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Look To The Rock

The people of Jerusalem were in a sorry state. Most had forsaken and abandoned the LORD, the God of the Covenant. Successive foreign powers had attacked the city, and exile was a very real threat. Already many of the people had been carried away. The remnant was small, who held to faith in the LORD, who sought to serve him.

God's word to them through Isaiah is one of comfort, hope and encouragement. The remnant may be small, but God is not small!

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him. For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. (Isaiah 51: 1-3)

You think things are bad now? Abraham was on his own when God called him, and look at what God did with him! God is never in for the numbers game, but always works through his faithful remnant to gain the glory.

Look back to your roots, and see the fruit which the LORD has produced. If he can do that for Abraham, what will he achieve through the Jerusalem remnant? And further forward, through the servant of the LORD, Jesus Christ, the remnant of his people, the only true, faithful and law-keeping Jew that ever existed!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Precious Sheep

How much are sheep worth?

If you've ever listened to Good Morning Ulster or Evening Extra on BBC Radio Ulster, you'll have heard the listing of prices at the various livestock markets and marts around the province. Among them, there's always mention of hoggets. No, I didn't know what hoggets were either. Seemingly they are last year's lambs, one year old before they have grown their first two adult teeth.

How much are they worth? A recent sale at Markethill had sheep going for about £3.50 per kilo, which works out at about £85 for a lamb.

But it's not the price of sheep I want to talk about. Rather, it's the value of another kind of sheep. The flock of the Good Shepherd, the Church.

Last night, at the end of the ordination service, the Bishop gave a final charge to the newly ordained Presbyters - the new under-shepherds of the Lord. Here's what he says:

Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now entrusted to you is Christ's own flock, bought through the shedding of his own blood on the cross. The Church and the congregation among whom you will minister are one with him; they are his body. Go forth to serve them with joy, build them up in faith, and do all in your power to bring them to loving obedience to Christ.

What is the value of the sheep? Not gold or silver 'but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.' (1 Peter 1:19). The people of God are his, bought with his blood. This shapes and informs every aspect of my work - the Lord Jesus died for the people I meet.

How precious the flock is, and what great cost to the Son of God, who is the Chief Shepherd of our souls.

The Ordination

Last night was my ordination to the office of Presbyter (elder), also known as Priest, alongside Adrian Green. Willowfield Parish Church seemed to be right and full, a huge congregation, with great singing, although it made for a very warm evening, especially under a cassock and surplice.

Harold Miller, The Bishop of Down and Dromore led the service, and Craig Cooney, the Curate Assistant of Shankill Church, Lurgan was the preacher. I was encouraged to see so many other Presbyters who took part in the ordination prayer and laying on of hands, both old friends and new.

Also, in the congregation I noticed many friends, with a big contingent from my home parish of Dromore Cathedral, and another big crowd from my current parish of St Elizabeth's Dundonald. Plenty of family and friends were also scattered throughout the building, bringing good wishes and prayers.

Craig preached from the Old Testament reading, which was Isaiah 61:1-3, and specifically its use as a text for Jesus' sermon in Nazareth from Luke 4. We have a Spirit-empowered mission; a Jesus-centred mission; and a transforming mission. So be it!

When Deacons are ordained, it is only the Bishop who lays hands on the ordinand. With Presbyters, all the other Presbyters present have a share in laying hands, so it's a good job I'm not claustrophobic, with a group of about 20 Presbyters gathered around laying hands. A great sense of the togetherness of the mission we are engaged in, and a mighty time of prayer and encouragement.

At the end of the service, when we received the final charge from the Bishop, we were surrounded by representatives of the parish and diocese, before being led out into the world for mission and service by the Bishop, accompanied by the Church.

A special night, which will long stick in my memory. I haven't got any photos yet, but will post some and link to them when I see what other people have got on their cameras.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Half Happy

We're moving into the first part of the H batch in What's on your iPod?

Half the Fun - Snow Patrol
Hallelujah - Alexandra Burke
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley
Hallelujah - Newsboys
Hallelujah Chorus - Handel's Messiah
Hallelujah Song - Matt Redman
The Hands That Built America - U2
Hanging on Too Long - Duffy
Happiness - Orson
Happiness is a Warm Gun - U2
Happy - Max Sedgley
Happy People - Static Revenger
The Happy Song - Summer Madness
The Happy Song - Delirious

My favourite here has to be the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. No question about it!

Ordination Retreating

The car is packed, the iPod is loaded up with teaching (Don Carson, if you're interested), the cassock is about to be put on, and then we're off to Willowfield for the ordination rehearsal. After that, it's a quick dash to the Benedictine Monastery in Rostrevor for our pre-ordination retreat.

All the meals are in silence, which will be a bit weird, and there's to be no talking in the corridors, guest kitchen, and radios are banned from the rooms in case other guests or monks are disturbed. Hence the iPod which will be in my ears when in my room!

Bishop Harold is leading the retreat, speaking on the life and ministry of Moses, which should be great. Then on Sunday, the Curate-Assistant of Shankill Parish Lurgan is preaching at the actual ordination service.

You're very welcome to attend - Ordination of Presbyters at 7pm in Willowfield Parish Church on the Woodstock Road / Cregagh Road in East Belfast.

If you're coming and can bring a camera, take some photos as I'll be slightly too busy to be wielding my camera that night!

So until Sunday, farewell.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Waiting for God

Are you good at waiting? I don't mean serving tables, but rather in waiting for something. You know it's going to happen, but there's a delay. Waiting.

It might be hard enough to wait for a birthday or Christmas, with the expectation of nice things in store. How much harder, then, to wait for God to act. We sometimes wonder why God appears to be slow to fulfill his promise. Why he appears slow to act. It may even appear that we just want to plough on ahead and let God catch us up.

Especially when we're in trouble. You know, we can handle this God, we don't really need you.

I've been reading through Isaiah, and in the days leading up to my ordination as a Presbyter, I've reached one of the verses that helped kick off the whole journey way back when.

28Have you not known? Have you not heard?The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40: 28-31)

If we seek to serve the Lord in our own strength, we will quickly fail. Even youths and young men grow weary. We can't do it on our own. I am not able for the task in my own power, because I don't have any power of my own.

It is in waiting for the Lord, for his timing, for his power, for his strength, that we can do all things through him who strengthens us.

I can remember thinking through these verses - which in the context of the chapter are an essential element of the good news which is heralded to Jerusalem for her comfort - when I was still a student at Queens, all those years ago. Ten, to be precise.

There was a song by Petra which had the following line:

Good things come to those who wait,
Not to those who hesitate,
So hurry up and wait upon the Lord.

I was hesitating, and putting off responding to the call of God. Last night I was listening to an mp3 sermon from St Helen's. They're preaching through Judges in the evenings, and I was listening to the sermon on Judges 4 and 5, the episode of Deborah. Except, Deborah wasn't the judge, the mini-messiah, the saviour that God had called in Israel. Barak was the one God had called (no, not Barack Obama), but he had failed to respond to the call. When Deborah goes to challenge him, he'll only go if she goes with him.

Hesitant, fearful, comfortable.

It is in responding to the Lord that we grow in faith, as we know his strength, and see him at work. To respond, we must wait for the Lord, spending time with him.

Our lives are so busy that we can think, oh, I haven't got time for the Quiet Time, or for reading my Bible or praying. Ironically, that is what will be most useful to us when we're busy. Our strength or God's? Our timing or God's? Will we blarge on ahead, or will we wait for the Lord?

The one who does not grow weary strengthens his servants so that they also will not be weary. Hurry up and wait upon the Lord!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Model Prayer

How should we pray? What should we say? These can be some of the questions that jump to mind when we pause to pray. Ecclesiastes has some great advice for prayers and pray-ers:

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much busyness, and a fool's voice with many words. (Ecclesiastes 5:2-3)

Not using many words, being careful what to say. In my readings in Isaiah, I found a great model prayer being uttered by King Hezekiah. The situation is that Jerusalem is about to be besieged by King Sennacherib of Assyria, who has conquered every kingdom up to now. Sennacherib boasts about his achievements and cracks his knuckles as he looks forward to another victory.

Hezekiah prays:

16"O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20So now, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD."

A great prayer, and one that God in his mercy answers. There are a few elements to it:

1. Be clear who you are addressing. Hezekiah is talking to the God of Israel, the one and only God and King of all the kingdoms, the one who made heaven and earth. Catching the vision of who God is, and reminding ourselves of this can help us to pray rightly, and to expect big things from our big, big God.

2. Asking God to hear and see the situation. God already knows our sticky situations, yet in his grace he hears our cry. As we cry out to God, the situation becomes clear in our mind, and also reminds us that God knows what is happening.

3. A passion for God's glory. Sennacherib was mocking God, and Hezekiah doesn't like this, so he asks God to intervene for his own glory and name's sake. This is what leads to the final petition, the plea for God to act:

4. Asking God to act. Having aligned his own will with God's, Hezekiah asks God to act to save them, so that the whole earth will know that God is God. There are no false motives here, like self-preservation, only a desire for God to be famous.

O God, help us to pray according to your will and for your glory! Make us pray-ers more and more.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Euro Election First Preferences

The BBC have just reported on the first preference votes from the Northern Ireland constituency European Election count:

Stephen Agnew, Green Party - 15,764
Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice - 66,197
Bairbre De Brun, Sinn Fein - 126,184
Diane Dodds, DUP - 88,346
Alban Maginness, SDLP - 78,489
Jim Nicholson, Ulster Conservative and Unionist - 82,893
Ian Parsley, Alliance - 26,699
Quota: 121,144

Sinn Fein comfortably topped the poll, and gain the first seat, and it looks like both Dodds (DUP) and Nicholson (UUP) will be elected in the later rounds of the count.

Some initial thoughts:

Jim Allister has polled extremely well, and will be confident of gaining a number of seats in the next Stormont Assembly election. The media are reporting his considerable share of votes as a protest against the DUP, but they could also be the result of people voting for a consistent hard-working MEP for Northern Ireland.

This should be a warning for the DUP, who appear to be moving away from their traditional ground of being the protest vote, and are maturing into government with Sinn Fein. Despite their rhetoric of controlling Sinn Fein, a sizeable proportion of previous DUP voters have abandoned them in this election - and will worry them if this continues in future elections.

If this pattern was repeated in an Assembly election, then Sinn Fein would have the right of nomination of the First Minister, and the DUP would be nominated for Deputy First Minister. Perhaps because of this possibility, such a vote would not be repeated in Assembly elections. The fear among Unionists of having a Shinner as First Minister of Northern Ireland might convince many to vote DUP to prevent this. Although that remains to be seen.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sermon: Whenever You See A Rainbow

Today, we’re gathered to celebrate the first 25 years of the Rainbow Pre-School, as we look back and see God’s faithfulness over these years. Who would have thought back in 1984 that we would be here now, rejoicing and giving thanks to God for the leaders and children who have been a part of the Rainbow.

I want to ask you a question. Whenever you see a rainbow, what do you think of? When I was asked to preach, I wasn’t sure what I was going to talk about, but I was drawn to the first mention of a rainbow in the Bible. We find it in Genesis 9, which was read for us earlier. As we look at the rainbow here, we’ll see a sign of grace, a reminder of a promise, and a covenant of life and love.

In Genesis 1, we read that God created all things, heaven and earth, animals and plants, birds and fish, and last of all, humans. Throughout the chapter, we read the constant chorus ‘And God saw that it was good.’ Then, having created Adam and Eve, our first parents, it was very good. Paradise.

Soon after, though, Adam and Eve messed things up. Doubting God’s word, they listened instead to the serpent and the desires of their heart, and broke God’s commandment. Paradise lost. Sin had entered the world, and it was on a downward slump. Cain kills Abel his brother, and sin increases and spreads like a virus.

Sin is now so widespread that God decides something has to be done - and prepares to send a flood on the earth to destroy all living creatures. Genesis 6:8 says ‘But Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD.’ Noah found grace, favour in God’s sight, and so Noah will be rescued from the watery judgement.

The ark is built, the animals gathered, and the floating zoo is launched. Forty days and nights the rains fell, then the waters begin to sink, and they land on top of a mountain. All in all, they had spent one year and ten days in the ark before God brings them out onto dry land again.

Noah sacrifices some of the animals as a thanksgiving, and God reveals the rainbow. The colourful rainbow in the sky is a sign of God’s grace, God’s favour towards Noah. Noah wasn’t saved because he was better than the rest; he was a sinner like everyone else. Yet Noah sees the rainbow because of God’s grace - his undeserved favour, because God has saved and rescued him.

As a sign, the rainbow points beyond itself to something else - just as the signpost points you towards Belfast, or towards the park. The rainbow points us to God himself, and God’s grace towards us, even though we don’t deserve it.

But more than that, the rainbow is also a visual reminder. I don’t know about you, but I can be very forgetful sometimes. I’ll say I’ll do something, but unless it’s written down in my diary, or I’ve set a reminder on my phone alarm, I’ll probably forget. The rainbow is there to help us to remember God’s promises to us.

Yet what Genesis 9 tells us, even more surprisingly, is that the rainbow is a reminder for God! ‘Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember.’ (9:14-15)

The Bible isn’t saying that God is forgetful. He knows all things, and yet, the rainbow is the confirmation of his good purposes towards us, a reminder for both God and us.

The rainbow is a sign of grace, but what is it pointing to? The rainbow is a reminder of a promise, but what is that promise? Verse 12: ‘This is the sign of the covenant’ and verse 15 ‘I will remember my covenant.’ A covenant is a promise, where two people or groups are bound together through the keeping of the promise. So, for example, my wedding ring is the sign, and also the reminder of the promises that Lynsey and myself shared last year.

So also here, the rainbow is the sign and reminder of the promise that God makes to all human, and all living creatures. What does he promise? That never again will a flood destroy all living things. It is a promise of life, a promise for life.

We may well see local flooding - who can forget the images of the Westlink as a swimming pool, or scenes of devastation where rivers burst their banks. But even though small floods occur, God promises that he will not destroy the earth by flood. We can be sure of God’s promise because it is based in his love.

We’ve been thinking about the rainbow as a sign of grace, as a reminder of the promise, and the covenant of life and love. In these three areas, the cross can also stand - a sign of God’s grace to sinners, so that as we turn to God, we find our sins forgiven, wiped clean, a fresh start; the cross is a reminder of the promise - that those who are in Christ Jesus, who trust in him are saved - there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus; the cross is the covenant of life and love - as we believe in Jesus, we are assured of eternal life, secure by the love of God in Jesus.

Whenever you see a rainbow - remember God is love.

This sermon was preached in Dromore Cathedral on Sunday 7th June 2009 at the Rainbow Pre-School's 25th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Beyond Greed: Book Review

Greed is perhaps the forgotten sin, particularly in Western society today. It doesn't feature highly on most people's radars, and is certainly not regarded as a major problem. Any discussion of greed is a good thing, when most try to redefine it as being sensible, putting away a nest-egg, or being prudent.

Brian Rosner, in a revised and updated version of his original How To Be Really Rich, sets about seeking to help us recognise the danger of greed, and to move us beyond greed to contentment, sharing with others and storing up riches in heaven. The book is built upon the foundation of two verses which are really very clear on the issue of greed: 'Greed ... is idolatry' (Colossians 3:5), and 'There is great gain in godliness with contentment' (1 Timothy 6:6), but provides a Scripture-wide basis for the consideration of greed, and how to deal with it.

Interspersed through the chapters by Rosner, are shorter features and articles by Phillip Jensen, John Dickson, Broughton Knox and Tony Payne (among others). These articles are sourced from various issues of The Briefing, the monthly magazine published by Matthias Media, and are further discussions on the area of greed. There's also a chapter on the so-called prosperity gospel, which easily exposes the false gospel of money for what it really is.

Quite a number of copies of this book were distributed through our church this spring, as we were using 'The Money Revolution' as our Lent Course. The book was recommended reading for us to think it through, and it's well worth reading.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Glorious Grace

It's Friday and time for another alphabetical musical selection. We'll do some more G's today:

Glorious - Chris Tomlin/Christy Nockels at Passion
Glory - Jonny Parks at Summer Madness
Glory to God in the highest - Handel's Messiah
Go, Go, Go Joseph - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
God Bless The Child - Eva Cassidy
God In My Living / Everything - Tim Hughes at Summer Madness
God Of Wonders - Piano Chill
God on Your Side - Booley
God We Praise You - Summer Madness
Going Missing - Maxïmo Park
Going Under - Evanescence
Gold Digger - The Automatic
The Golden Path - The Chemical Brothers/The Flaming Lips
Golden Skans - Klaxons
Golden Touch - Razorlight
Gone - U2
Good King Wenceslas - Tonus Peregrinus
Good Luck Charm - Elvis Presley/The Jordanaires
Goodbye Brother - Prince of Egypt Soundtrack
Got No Love - The Kooks
Grace Flows Down - Christy Nockels
Grace Kelly - Mika

Glory, God, Gold, and Grace. Quite a combination for this week's episode. Favourite song in the batch is Glory by Jonny Parks, although Grace Kelly comes a close second.

What songs should be added to my list? What have I missed that you would recommend?

The Stability of Your Times

There can be no doubt about it - our world is unstable. Whether it be the disappearance of a transatlantic plane, or the uncertainty of the stock exchange; the political world of exorbitant and outrageous expenses or the very position of the Prime Minister. The times we live in are unstable.

This is not a modern diagnosis though. Unstable times are not the exclusive privilege of the twenty-first century, nor even just of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. For all people in every generation, the times are unstable. Things are uncertain, with the rise of disease, the threat of war and ecological disaster, and the always present reminder of death - the one certain thing in a confused world.

The residents of Jerusalem were living in unstable and uncertain times when they looked over the city walls to see the advancing threat of the Assyrian army. King Sennacherib had defeated and conquered many nations and many cities, and Jerusalem was firmly fixed in his sights. The army must have been huge - 185,000 were to die in one night, with many more left, and the threat of siege hung over the city like a pall.

Into this situation, the prophet Isaiah speaks God's word, and what a relief it is:

The LORD is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
and he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure.
(Isaiah 33:5-6)

Assyria might threaten, but God is on the throne.

War be on the horizon, but God is on the throne.

The godless enemies bring violence, but God will ensure that righteousness triumphs.

Virtues are in short supply, but God will supply salvation, wisdom and knowledge in abundance.

Many trust in riches, wealth and money, but the fear of the LORD is the city's treasure.

We live in uncertain times, but the LORD is the stability of your times.

The LORD is immovable, immutable, and does not change. We can depend on him for all that we need, because he is the faithful God. No wonder one of the titles for the LORD God is the Rock.

Are you on shifting sand today, unstable and uncertain? Build your house on the rock, the LORD, and know his peace and the joy that comes from knowing him.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Guest Blog: On Blogging

I tried my hand at ‘blogging’ (short for web log, like a diary on the world wide web) on the Dromore Cathedral website a while back and must say I enjoyed the experience and was never short of something to say. Each night I wrote down my thoughts and experiences as I reflected on my day. I must say though, although I do enjoy ‘surfing’, for me the news on the web however will never replace the newspaper which leaves your fingers grubby and is full of little snippets and which you can pore over and then use to light the fire

The trouble with the world wide web is exactly that, it’s worldwide and is very largely unregulated. Before the ‘fame’ of being a ‘blogger’ went to my head, I’m glad I still read newspapers. A journalist writing in one newspaper put it quite bluntly saying that anyone can go on line and “regurgitate bile into the blogsphere”. His main comment was this, “Just because you have an opinion, doesn’t mean you have to give it to people.” It made me think, what is the difference between my opinions, which I write for you to read, and all the bile?

I always endeavour earnestly that everything I write for anyone to read is based on the Bible. I believe in the Bible, in the promises it contains, promises made by God. I’ll share an opinion shall I? It would be my opinion, based on observation, that the world around me will offer me nothing but empty promises. Again, in my opinion, looking to the ‘real’ world, the ‘fly on the wall’, for guidance on how to live my life gives me the latest reality TV ‘stars’ as role models, makes me spend more than I can afford, unhappy with the body I have and so forth. In fact, one sure way to be unhappy with every area of my life these days would be to be unduly influenced by the world wide web and listen solely to opinions.

At the beginning of the month I was involved with planning an open air worship event in Dromore Square, billed as a cross community event to close Dromore’s Civic Week. No pressure there then! And so I prayed for help. Here it was, on the face of it, my big chance to say what I wanted, and my opinions about what people in Dromore should hear. It was cross community, so no just lifting readings out of the Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer. Yes Easter could have been a theme, but, no. I had my own ideas, my opinions, but no. And so I prayed, and my friends prayed and the Cathedral prayed.

On the Thursday before the event I was in Liverpool airport, returning from a meeting and was irritated when my return flight was delayed and to top it off my mobile was out of charge. It was a late flight, and so the airport was relatively quiet. I found a quiet spot, and decided to make the most of the time. Now this is quite unlike me as I’m usually huffing and puffing and tutting over a delay, but as I sat over a bite of supper, again unlike me, I felt such a calmness descend on me. Most of the mechanics of the worship were in place, but I still had nothing apart from my own opinions to say. For some reason, my little eating spot remained empty with the revellers at the hen and stag parties at the other end of the airport.

I sat in a calm ‘heavenly bubble’. God had watched over me for days, weeks, putting people in my path, but now it was time to talk to me. I sat with a blank piece of paper and a New Testament in front of me and wrote four words. “WHAT DOES GOD WANT?” What did God want for Dromore Square on Sunday 10th May 2009 at 3.30pm? Was there one particular person He would speak to, were there many? From that moment I had such a focus and I soon had a full A4 page of notes for what was only going to be one Bible reading and a few accompanying words. The rest was up to me and He would watch over us all.

In my opinion, what I said in the Square is worth repeating and I’ll close with this.
I read a passage found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-20. “One Body, Many Parts.”
“The body is a unit, though it is made of many parts: and though all it’s parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”

And I said. “A church is not a building with walls and a ceiling. A church is the people inside the building. You are the church.”

(PS In case you wondered, my opinions and what God wanted me to say, were on this occasion really very similar)

This article was contributed by Mrs McF, and also appeared in Dromore Cathedral Parish Post June 2009 edition.

Sermon Audio: 1 Corinthians 14: 1-12

Here's the sermon audio mp3 file from Sunday morning's sermon, Building up the Church from 1 Corinthians 14. Listen out for the horn in the middle of it!

090531am 1 Corinthians 14 1-12 Gary McMurray.mp3

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

European Election: The Candidates

Tomorrow, a small proportion of the populace of the United Kingdom will go to the polls to vote in the election to the European Parliament. It is expected that the turnout will be quite low, so why should we go out to vote? Here's a brief summary of the candidates and their election communications, but the end decision is up to you!

In alphabetical order of candidate:

Steven Agnew, Green Party. For a Green New Deal. As you would expect from the Greens, their communication comes on recycled paper, as part of a carbon neutral publication. Their policies are towards being better environmentally, but it isn't clear how this directly impacts on the European Parliament. Rather, they seem like sensible things that could be done whether he is elected or not - and probably should be initiated by the Northern Ireland Assembly, rather than his one voice amongst a European Parliament of 736 members.

There seems to be a good online presence, with links to his own site, the Green Party site, as well as badges for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Bebo and Myspace. It's interesting to see that his election communication is targeted to specific constituencies - ours is for Strangford, Lagan Valley and Newry & Armagh. Is this one different to one being received in East Belfast, and if not, then is it 'Green' to produce lots of different versions rather than producing one Northern Ireland-wide version?

Jim Allister QC MEP, Traditional Unionist Voice. Experience, Principle, Integrity. One of the sitting MEPs, Allister makes the most of this as he highlights his record during the last Parliament - 228 speeches, 46 oral questions and 214 written questions. The other two Northern Ireland MEPs don't come close even when you combine their results. As well as the European issues, Allister is pushing for this to be treated as a referendum on the DUP - Sinn Fein joint government, and providing the opportunity for people to object to terrorists in government. His communication is probably the most useful, in reminding voters what they need to bring to vote, and in providing transport for those who need it.

Jim is also sensible in pushing for two unionist MEPs to be returned through the wise use of transfers, although there are plenty of digs and sniping at his former colleagues in the DUP. Interestingly, while the Conservatives have a candidate in this election, several sitting Conservative MEPs have endorsed Allister as the best candidate - Daniel Hannon MEP and Roger Helmer MEP. A lot more material is covered, but then his communication leaflet runs to 8 pages. Not so much social networking here, just a link to his own website, and the TUV website.

Bairbre De Brun MEP, Sinn Fein. Putting Ireland First. Short, sharp and to the point, in this small bi-lingual communication. Just a few paragraphs in both English and Irish, and some pictures of the candidate. Only one link, to her election site.

Diane Dodds, Democratic Unionist Party. Strong Leadership in Challenging Times. Beside her photo, on the front there's also a blue bubble which proclaims 'The only unionist who can top the poll, which is then repeated in various formats throughout the rest of the four pages. The DUP seems to be fixated with topping the poll, and preventing Jim Allister, or Bairbre Dr Brun from collecting the most first preferences. It's sad really, to see them concentrating on something that doesn't actually matter. Maybe the DUP don't understand elections and how they work, but the end result in a Single Transferable Vote Proportional Representation election (PR-STV) is not coming first, but reaching the quota. It can happen that, for example, where there are three seats and 6 or 7 candidates that the person who comes in third with 1st preferences is beaten by the 4th ranking candidate after the first round, simply because they gain more transfers from winning candidates or those who have been eliminated.

But on with the analysis of their communication. On the inside pages, there are three columns of reasons to vote for Dodds, 22 in total. It's only in the third column that they actually get round to talking about what the election is about - only three of the 22 are about Europe and European policy. It seems that the DUP is fighting the wrong battle - it's as if they have already begun campaigning for the Stormont Assembly elections in the wrong year!

The DUP are also providing assistance to get to the polling stations, and remind voters to bring identification with them. There's an online presence, at the old dup2win site, as well as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.

While not within the scope of this blog, Sunday's The Politics Show might be influential for many unionists in making their final decision. Allister and Dodds were fighting tooth and nail, with Dodds coming across as ill-informed, nasty and rude. de Brun was sitting between them looking bemused for most of the time, probably smiling on the inside at the war within unionism.

Alban Maginness, Social Democratic and Labour Party.When We Win, You Win. The SDLP are, according to their material, the only major party in the North which is pro-Europe. The communication is strongly focused on European issues, and highlights the party's links to one of the bigger groupings within the Parliament. As well as a profile of Maginness, there are also mini-interviews with 'ordinary' voters from across the province.

Their leaflet is also carbon neutral, reminds voters of what they need to vote, and mentions Alban's two election sites, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and Twitter. The back cover also has his election slogan in four languages for a bit of multi-cultural outreach.

Jim Nicholson MEP, Conservatives and Unionists: A New Force. Vote For Change. This may not have been the best slogan within the Northern Ireland context, given that Nicholson has been a sitting MEP for twenty years now. Will the change be him losing his seat?

With the UUP's merger with the Conservative Party, Jim's election material has a more UK-wide feel, with attacks on the Labour Party Government as the brochure is opened. There are also Northern Ireland specific sections, relating to farming, business and community affairs, but in each, the message is that Jim will work with his Conservative candidates in the European Parliament. Would that be the same colleagues who are endorsing a rival candidate?

Just one link to a website, and no social networking, but theirs is the only election broadcast which came personalised, specifically addressed to me. Does that count for something?

Ian Parsley, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. Replace the politics of fear with the politics of hope. The communication continues in the same vein, with the comparisons between what works and what costs. The environment, business and European democracy are issues that are highlighted. Surprisingly there are no links to any websites, nor even a phone number for people to contact to find out more information.

It will be interesting to see how the election results shape up, and may give an indication of how future Assembly and Westminster elections will go. The important thing is that everyone uses their second, third, fourth preferences to help with transfers, rather than stopping at 1st preference, no matter who it's cast for!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

McFlurry's McLinks (3)

Another quick recap of the best blogs I've read in the past fortnight or so.

Most recently, Alan in Belfast reviews a mystery play at Queens.

As Robert and the gang finish off in Dublin, Unashamed Workman tells how Chinese students learn how to preach.

Looking back over previous blogs can be an interesting exercise, and Unfurling Flower humbly reflects on three years of blogging.

The major convergence of material seems to have been focused on the micro-blogging media Twitter. Josh Harris kicked it off by asking the question if we should use Twitter in Church. Both John Piper and his son Abraham responded, and later, and I think unconnected to the previous, James Cary thought about Twittering.

Irish Calvinist shares a list of ten people pastors should fear.

And finally, David Keen of St Aidan to Abbey Manor has been compiling a series of video clips of comedians talking about God.

Monday, June 01, 2009

It's Your Move!

I'm not thinking about board games, but rather the excellent new schools resource produced by Scripture Union. The move from Primary School to secondary schools, whether they be High Schools or Grammar Schools, can be a stressful and worrying time for P7 pupils. Scripture Union's material can help the children get ready for what's coming next, as well as helping them to get to know the Lord Jesus for the rest of their life.

The material is designed for SU leaders or members of the local churches to deliver over three sessions of 45 minutes each. This morning was our last session, having visited Dundonald Primary School over the last three weeks, as part of a team from Dundonald Presbyterian and St Elizabeth's. The sessions are interactive and fun, with lots of games which are linked in to the main themes of each class- Creation, Choices and Changes. In brief, because God has made the world, and humans in his image, we are each special. God gives us choices, the most important of which is whether we will follow Jesus. And while changes happen in our life, we can be sure that God goes not change, and that he is with us always.

Sometimes the material needs to be tweaked slightly, to suit the particular situations in classes due to time pressures or the bible inputs, but as a resource, It's Your Move is highly recommended. As well as the leader's book, each pupil receives their own activity book to read and keep, reminding them of the teaching and providing practical tips for their new school experience.

Sermon Audio: Luke 16: 19-31

Last night I was speaking on 'Do we need to believe in hell?' in a mini-series we're doing on heaven and hell. The passage I ended up speaking on was Jesus' story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Download this sermon