Monday, February 28, 2011

February 2011 Review

Well, February is a short month, and things have been busy, so the blog has suffered somewhat. Twenty blog posts, and here's a summary of what's been happening.

My preaching has been mainly focused on the life of Elijah, from 1 Kings 19 (audio) and again (audio), 2 Kings 2, as well as Titus 2 (audio) and Luke 2.

There were two book reviews this month (with a third book read but not reviewed): We Don't Know What We're Doing by Adrian Chiles and The Archer and the Arrow by Phillip Jensen and Paul Grimmond. Still on books, we thought about why and how to run a church bookstall.

There were links galore, as well the Twittering clergy update, and articles on being underage, the White Stripes, and love on Valentine's Day.

My favourite post of the month was Grace Misplaced, and my photo of the past month was taken on Saturday at Portstewart Strand:
Towards Mussenden

Farewell February as March comes marching on...

Church of Ireland Twitter - February 2011

Here's the latest update on the Twittering Clergy of the Church of Ireland, using Twitter Grader rankings for influence. Bishop Harold continues his steady rise, while it's tight at the bottom, with a three-way tie for 17th and another for 20th position, with just 3 points separating the bottom 7 in the top twenty.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sermon: 2 Kings 2: 1-25 Taken Up

The End of an Era. It can be a worrying time when the leader retires, particularly if they’ve been in charge for a long time. Just think of Alex Ferguson. He’s been manager of Manchester United for 25 years, won 11 league titles and 11 cups and 9 charity shields - taking them from the wilderness years of the 1980s to the glory days of the 90s and 2000s. When (if) he finally retires, there’ll be pressure on the next manager. Will they be able to continue that success? How will the team cope without Ferguson?

In our Bible reading tonight, we come to the end of the ministry of the prophet Elijah. For many years, he has been the public prophet, declaring God’s word to the people of Israel in the face of opposition, death threats, and rebellion amongst the people of God. He saw great victories against the prophets of Baal (at Mount Carmel). But now the time has come for him to exit the stage.

You can see the way Elijah is regarded when Elisha cries out ‘My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ in verse 12. Elisha sees him as his father, but also as Israel’s army, both attacking enemies and defending the people of God. So if Elijah has been so important for Israel, what will happen when he leaves the scene? How will he be followed? Will the cause of God’s word cease when Elijah ceases? We’re going to look at the passage using three headings - Elijah and Elisha go together; Elijah goes up; Elisha goes on.

Last Sunday night we saw how Elijah called Elisha to be with him, but we’re now quite a few years later, in 2 Kings 2. Through that time, Elisha has been assisting Elijah, learning from him, and watching him work. But now, as verse 1 tells us, the end is near for Elijah. The Lord is about to take Elijah up to heaven. He goes on a journey with Elisha.

You might have noticed the repetition as it was being read - he goes from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan river. At Bethel and Jericho, the same thing happens - the sons of the prophets (that’s like a prophet training school, a bible college) say to Elisha ‘Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?’ To which Elisha replies ‘Yes, I know it; keep quiet.’

It seems that the sons of the prophets are nervous about the future as well. Will Elisha be up for the job of prophet? It’ll be strange without Elijah around. But Elisha is having none of it. He asks them not to speak of it. At the same time, we have this other repetition between Elijah and Elisha - look at verse 2, 4, 6: ‘Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to...’ Elisha’s reply becomes predictable too: ‘As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’

Some writers think that Elijah is trying to spare Elisha from the trauma of his departure, but it’s actually a test, to see if Elisha will stick close to him - we’ll soon see the importance of this. So the text tells us that ‘they went down...’ or ‘the two of them went on.’ At the Jordan, Elijah parts the waters with his cloak, and they pass over on dry ground.

On the other side of the Jordan, Elijah asks this question to Elisha: ‘Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Call it a leaving present, if you will, but what can I do for you? You see, it’s not really Elijah asking this, but God through Elijah - what can God do for you? How would you respond to a question like that? I’m sure you can think of lots of things, maybe even a shopping list pre-prepared of things you would ask God for. Elijah gives him this blank cheque, and do you see how Elisha replies?

‘Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.’ Elisha asks that the spirit that empowers Elijah would also be given to him. Now, it’s not that he’s greedy and asks for double the spirit, but he’s asking for the son’s rightful inheritance - the firstborn’s double portion. We know that it’s not Elijah’s spirit, but rather the Holy Spirit in Elijah that he’s actually asking for.

Do you see how Elijah responds? ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you...’ That’s why it was a test earlier when Elijah was saying stay here, don’t come on. For Elisha to receive the spirit here, he’ll have to see Elijah being taken up.

They’ve crossed the river, and as they walk along, talking, suddenly it all happens. ‘Behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.’ It’s not that (as that old song goes) swing low, sweet chariot, Elijah was in the chariot; the chariots of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah is taken up by the whirlwind. It’s as if Elijah is the first rocketman, no need for a jetpack, riding on the clouds, as he ascends to heaven.

Elijah hasn’t died, but goes body and soul into heaven. Later, the sons of the prophets send out a search party, but he’s nowhere to be seen (15-18). Just like Enoch before him (‘Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him’-Gen 5:24), Elijah is taken by the Lord directly to heaven. He doesn’t die. I imagine that this hasn’t been your experience of friends, and won’t be your experience either - so why was Elijah taken up in this way?

Remember that Elijah has been the public spokesman for God through his life. He was so closely identified with the word of the Lord, which was his motivation and passion that, even though he wasn’t perfect, the Lord honours his word by honouring Elijah in this way. It’s like the words of the Master in the parable - ‘well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.’

Elijah goes up, and Elisha saw him no more. The end of an era. What will happen now? Let’s watch and see, as Elisha goes on. He mourns for Elijah, tearing his clothes, then takes up the cloak of Elijah (the one Elijah had earlier placed on his shoulders), and going back to the Jordan. Just as Elijah had done earlier that day, Elisha now strikes the water, and asks that all-important question: ‘Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?’ He doesn’t say, right, Elijah could do this, so I’m going to do it too. His focus is on whether the God of Elijah is with him. Where is the LORD?

‘And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.’ The sons of the prophets recognise that ‘the spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha’ (that is, that the Holy Spirit is with him), and so they know Elisha will continue the work of the Lord as the Lord’s prophet. We see that further as the chapter continues, as Elisha brings covenant blessings and covenant curses, as he retraces (in reverse) the route he and Elijah had travelled - Jordan to Jericho to Bethel to Samaria.

In the place of death, miscarriage, curse - Jericho; Elisha brings healing and blessing. Whereas at Bethel, when the youths come and taunt Elisha’s baldness, it isn’t a personal vindictiveness that brings the bears - rather, to reject the Lord’s servant is to reject the Lord, which brings the curse of the Lord (‘I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children.’ Lev 26:22). The Lord’s word ‘can bring both healing and harm, either deliverance or disaster.’ (Davis)

The question is, though, what is this passage teaching us tonight? What challenge or encouragement is there in what God us saying to us and teaching us about himself? We’re probably not going to find ourselves in the same position as Elisha, where your mentor is taken up to heaven by a whirlwind. How does the story fit into the bigger Bible picture?

We find here tonight a foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus, his ascension, and what happened next. Just as Elijah and Elisha had been working together, so the Lord Jesus called the twelve disciples to be with him, watching and learning and helping. We saw last Sunday morning that when Jesus told the disciples he was leaving, they were confused and afraid, their hearts were troubled. Would the work of God and the word of God finish if Jesus was no longer on the earth?

And what happens, when Jesus dies, and rises, then he ascends to heaven - and he sends the Spirit on his followers. They continue to do the things that Jesus was doing - just as we’ve seen Elisha continued the work of Elijah. Only it’s not just one person who continues in the formal role of prophet as Elisha did - Jesus’ spirit, the Holy Spirit, is for all who believe, so that all Christians are equipped and empowered by the Spirit to serve him and continue the work of proclaiming God’s word, the blessings and the curses of the gospel.

So as you speak to your neighbour or colleague or school friend, you’re helped by the Holy Spirit; and you might be overjoyed to see them respond to the good news and find blessing. We can also take heart when people refuse to listen that it’s not rejection of us - but rejection of him who sent us - that God’s word will do it’s work of blessing and cursing. I’ve said it before - the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay.

The sons of the prophets might have missed Elijah and thought, wouldn’t it be great if Elijah was here. But the work continues, because it’s the God of Elijah who is in charge, not Elijah. And God is still in charge, so that we continue that same work, empowered by the Spirit of Jesus for the glory of Jesus.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 27th February 2011.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sermon Audio: 1 Kings 19: 19-21

On Sunday night, I was preaching on the life of Elijah, and the call of Elisha, Pass It On. Here's what it sounded like.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review: The Archer and the Arrow

Last year I reviewed The Trellis and the Vine, a book looking at the importance of building the kingdom through training and discipleship. From the same stable comes a complementary book, looking, as the subtitle says, 'Preaching the Very Words of God.' Phillip Jensen and Paul Grimmond have produced a great wee introduction to the task of preaching, as well as some of the practicalities of preparing to preach.

It's a fairly short book, but very readable, and one that will whet the appetite to consider further the issues raised. From the outset, the authors are clear that they're not just talking about oratory, not just rhetorical flourishes and captivating public speaking. Rather, the task at hand is much more: 'Biblical preaching is not defined by the gift of communication... rather, they are commended for speaking God's truth.' (p. 11)

Speaking God's truth isn't just done by the preacher on a Sunday morning though: 'The aim for all Christians is to speak God's truth in order that we might all be encouraged to live for the glory of Christ as we await his return.' (p. 14) There's the striking comment that there may be more preaching done after the service than during the service, as individuals speak God's word to each other over tea and encourage each other.

However, the book is mainly focused on the task of the preacher in the more formal sense (given the wide variety of contexts even that allows for - Church meetings, Bible studies, one-to-ones, special events etc), and to that end, the theme sentence summarises the entire discussion of the book:

My aim is to preach the gospel by prayerfully expounding the Bible to the people God has given me to love.

Each chapter takes a phrase and develops the sentence, using the illustration of an arrow (the arrowhead of the gospel word, the shaft of exegesis, and the feathers of theology which help it fly straight) and the archer themselves in the grand scheme of preaching God's word. There are helpful insights and warnings for aspiring as well as veteran preachers ('One of the easiest shortcuts of all involves preaching what we hope that the passage is saying rather than what it is actually saying.'), with some worked examples of Phillip's preaching preparations, the blind alleys he chased down and the thought process to discern what the text is actually saying. These were perhaps the most helpful part of the whole book.

Alongside the book, there are several useful appendices made up of recycled material from Jensen looking at the difference between strategy and tactics (and how so often the church growth literature confuses the two), as well as preaching negatively and positively, and some tips for young preachers.

If there's a group of preachers in your church congregation, this may be a useful book to work through together, discussing the issues raised - that's how it's being used in our congregation. If there are aspiring Bible teachers, this would also be great to help them 'get into' the way of doing Bible talks. While not primarily aimed at the member of the congregation, it would also be a good book to help them pray constructively for their pastor, and to encourage them to be speaking God's words in the many informal settings even if they'll never be in a pulpit.

The Archer and the Arrow is available from The Good Book Company (who also currently have a special offer when you buy both the Trellis and the Vine and The Archer and the Arrow).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sermon: 1 Kings 19: 19-21 Pass It On

What is it we should look for in gospel workers? How do we spot the next generation of preachers and pastors? How do we ensure that the gospel doesn’t just stop with us, here, and doesn’t impact anyone else? These are the questions that always must be asked in every congregation, to make sure that leaders are being raised up.

Tonight, we see the aftermath of Elijah’s meeting with God at Mount Horeb (Sinai). It looked as if the whole covenant project was finished, the people were still being led by weak Ahab and wicked Jezebel. Elijah was the last public prophet left. Game over. In fact, it’s as if it’s only half time, and God sends Elijah to do some anointing.

Look back verse 15 - Hazael to be anointed king of Syria, Jehu to be king of Israel, and Elisha to be prophet in your place. God is in control, and will get rid of the devilish dynasty of Ahab. Elijah has his part to play, with three vials of oil. Game on.

So it might come as a surprise when we find out what Elijah does next. He never meets Jehu, he never calls with Hazael. His only appointment is with Elisha. That great philosopher of our time, Meatloaf, once sang that ‘two out of three aint bad’. Elijah only does one out of three.

We’re going to look at the call of Elisha tonight, in these three verses, but as we begin, I have to sound a note of caution. There will be things that we can apply today to the raising up of leaders in the church, but at the same time it’s helpful to remember that we’re dealing with an earlier period of time, in the period of the kings, and Elisha is being called to the office of prophet in Israel. So we need to think carefully about what we’re reading before leaping to apply it.

We’ll look at the call, and the obedience, so let’s look first at the call. From the previous passage we already know who is on Elijah’s hit list, but for Elisha, it seems it’s just a normal day on the family farm. He’s a wealthy farmer - ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen (that’s 24 beasts), and he’s walking with the twelfth pair. The land they’re farming is obviously big (to need so much horsepower - if you’ll excuse the mixing of metaphors), and it’s a prosperous farm. That’s like having a new John Deere tractor (retailing at about £60,000) for the ploughing.

Elisha is working away, when suddenly Elijah walks past and throws his cloak on him. This cloak was the prophetic fashion - all the prophets were wearing them this season (and every season!) - just think of the distinctive dress of John the Baptist, purposely in keeping with this dress code for prophets, but so unusual by the New Testament days that it merited a mention: ‘Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist.’ (Matt 3:4)

It’s unexpected from Elisha’s perspective, and yet as we know, God has already set him apart, has already chosen him, already named him to Elijah. Elisha is God’s man, headhunted by Elijah, and called to be Elijah’s successor.

It’s not a job many people would be applying for - remember that to be the Lord’s prophet means standing up to the people and the king, declaring God’s word to God’s rebellious people. Remember as well that Elijah currently has a death threat hanging over him - from none other than Queen Jezebel. The opponents are all around, it’s a dangerous commission.

I think you can probably see the parallels with gospel workers in our generation. While Elisha is being called to a unique role in the history of Israel, gospel workers continue to speak for God in the midst of opposition and danger. It’s not easy - but there is encouragement from the command of God, having been chosen and called by God.

All Christians are called to follow Christ and speak of him - being a fulltime Christian is for every Christian. But some are specifically set apart for word ministry. Perhaps that could be you - even if you have never imagined it yourself. It seems that Elisha wasn’t expecting Elijah to drop by - yet the call came, clear and unmistakable.

We as a congregation should be looking at those whom God has brought into our church family, and asking - would x be good at leading a Bible study / doing one-to-one ministry / teaching? Things like Taste are great training grounds to experiment, and consider these things, while gaining encouragement. Pray for those taking opportunities, and particularly those considering ordination.

We’ve thought so far about God’s call on Elisha - but what about his response? Over in the New Testament, we’re told of three men’s reaction to Jesus’ call on their life. One pledges to follow Jesus, and Jesus reminds him there’s no comfort with him - the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. The second wants to go and bury his father (with no indication his father is dead), but Jesus shows urgency to proclaim the kingdom. The third gives a very similar response to Elisha’s words here, and he is rebuked: ‘Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

It’s the image of trying to plough in a straight line, but looking backwards all the time. (Or if you’ve never ploughed - imagine you tried to drive home looking backwards the whole time...). Is it the same here with Elisha? Is he also trying to get out of it?

Let’s look again at what he says: ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ Is Elisha also looking backwards? I don’t think so - rather than him always looking back and being hindered, it appears that this meeting with his family is the entry into service, saying goodbye and going to follow Elijah. He’s not dilly-dallying, trying to stall.

After all, his next actions are fairly clear. Those last pair of oxen he’s been ploughing with are sacrificed, with the yoke itself being used as the fuel for the fire. As one of the commentators says, ‘And people ate steak to celebrate it.’ You’ve heard of the saying ‘to burn your bridges’ - no way back, well this is surely it. The equivalent of the new tractor has been sacrificed (although oxen are tastier than boiled tractor), he’s no longer a farmer.

The people share in the feast, acknowledging that Elisha has left the family business, and he’s setting off on this new task of serving Elijah, following Elijah, helping Elijah, and one day, taking over from Elijah.

It’s decisive, total commitment, as he obeys the command of God in the call on his life. It’s like the man finding the treasure in the field, who in his joy, Jesus tells us, goes away and sells all that he has in order to get the treasure. It’s like Levi, the tax collector, who throws a party for his friends to introduce them to Jesus when Jesus tells him to follow him. It sounds great, doesn’t it - living with Elijah, learning from him, days of victory and joy.

Do you see what the last words of the chapter say? ‘Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.’ That’s all we’re told here - but later on, in 2 Kings 3 we’re told of a description of Elisha ‘Elisha... who poured water on the hands of Elijah.’ (2 Kings 3:11). Ministry isn’t all glamour and glitz - there’s the hidden things, often unseen, easily looked down on, but an essential part of the work.

Elisha responds with that great sacrifice, and goes to follow Elijah. The Lord Jesus willingly obeyed the command of the Father to offer up his great sacrifice of himself to bring our forgiveness, and the risen and reigning Lord Jesus continues to call us to follow him, sending out labourers into his harvest field. Rather than the cloak of the prophet, the Lord Jesus gives us his Holy Spirit, to help us follow, and to help us speak for him.

Perhaps you have been considering ordination or some ministry, but have been holding back. How will you respond? What is your next step? Speak to Johnny or myself. Perhaps if you’re a Fellowship Group leader or team leader at Explorers you have noticed someone in the group with a particular gift - are there ways you can encourage them to think about how to use it?

But just in case you’re sitting thinking, well, that’s not me, I’m not being called to anything grand - don’t stop listening! You see, each of us should be responding to Jesus in our Christian life. It can be so easy to mystify ‘the call’ and elevate it to so-called special people like missionaries and ministers and then think that it doesn’t apply to you.

Rather, the call to follow Jesus comes to all - and with that so many different applications in how you live, what you say, what you spend your money on, what you pray for, how you spend your free time, and so much more. In trying to dodge a big call, don’t miss those things in your life, those situations you might be able to take that a minister would never even encounter.

It might look different for all of us, but at the heart of it, the call comes to each one of us - to follow Jesus. How will you respond?

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 20th February 2011.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

McFlurry's McLinks (22)

Here's another selection of links, carefully chosen. Enjoy.

The New Year Resolutions may be a distant memory, but Ordinary Pastor gives some gospel encouragement. This will also encourage you, as the Kimyal people receive the Bible for the first time.

On culture, Scrabo Power asks if celebrities are the new fall guys. Trevin Wax shares a video from ER on a dying patient wanting a real chaplain and real forgiveness. Failbook explains why we need to be off Facebook. They also reveal the truth about Facebook photos. The Confessing Student Worker thinks about the new store in Belfast promising happiness in every stitch. Fred Sanders looks at the self-religion of Lady Gaga.

I can't drink the stuff, but Abraham Piper has a diagram of what's in your coffee.

The Road to Elder Ado shared some embarrassing moments. Still with ministry, The Proclaimer asks about the preacher's sideswipes. Unashamed Workman finds joy in the difficult sermon passage.

This amusing video shows us just how far we've come since 1994 (HT), when they were asking what's the internet?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sermon Audio: 1 Kings 19: 9-18

On Sunday night I was preaching on that well known passage of Elijah's life with the wind, earthquake, fire and still small voice, with Elijah Before the LORD. Here's how it sounded.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sermon Audio: Titus 2: 11-15

I was recently preaching on God's Grace from Titus 2. Here's how it sounded.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Looking For Love on Valentines Day?

Are you looking for love this Valentines Day? Lost without a lover? Struggling with singleness? Searching for someone to love you, just as you are?

It's a great day to reflect on the love of God for you, as demonstrated in the cross.

The Cross

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:9-11)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sermon: 1 Kings 19: 9-18

The question I want to ask tonight is this: What can God do when his people fail him? It’s a question we could ask when we look at the state of the churches today - we often hear of declining numbers, and the church becoming increasingly like the world. Is God powerless to stop the rot? Does God not care?

As we bring this question tonight, though, it’s not the first time it has been asked. Just think of the crowds who saw Jesus doing miracles like feeding five thousand people or raising Lazarus from the dead, yet they refused to believe, and carried on in their rebellion. Or, as our passage flags up, the aftermath of Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal.

You might remember the story. Israel, the northern kingdom, the people of God, have turned away from following God, and instead have turned towards Baal, a false pagan god. The prophet Elijah called them to turn back to God, demonstrating God’s power first of all over the rain (by causing a drought), and then by sending fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice (after Baal’s prophets failed to get an answer from him). The prophets of Baal have been slain, the people have confessed ‘The LORD, he is God.’ All looks well, until the wicked woman wields her warning: ‘So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ (2)

Elijah sees that there’s no change at all in the royal family, that it has been a hollow victory. Off he goes, fed and strengthened by angel cakes, to whole way to Horeb (also known as Sinai), the mountain of God. It’s likely he has come, not to a cave, but ‘the’ cave - the very place where Moses encountered God in Exodus 34. Elijah has returned to the place where it all began, where God made his covenant with his people, having rescued them from Egypt.

Sometimes when you read about this passage, it can become a playground for amateur psychologists and psychiatrists, trying to analyse Elijah, but let’s focus on the real hero of the story - not Elijah, but God. Through the passage, we’ll see that God draws near to his people; God judges his people, and God keeps his people.

First of all, God draws near to his people. Elijah has travelled a very long way to get to this point, and as he sits in the cave, then the word of the Lord comes to him, and asks: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ Remember, that here is where the covenant began, and so Elijah reports on the state of the covenant (to slightly modify the State of the Union address the US President gives each year). While Elijah has been very jealous for the Lord, we find that he’s on his own: ‘For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.’

Some commentators are very hard on what they see as the whiney Elijah, melodramatic Elijah. Actually, Elijah is stating things as they are. The covenant project looks as if it has failed, God. Time to shut up shop. It’s useless, because the people are so sinful, and now they’re trying to kill the last public witness to the faith.

What God does next might seem very strange. It’s not quite what you expect, is it? Elijah is told ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.’ Elijah isn’t told off, or told not to worry. Rather, he’s reintroduced to the power of God, or should that be, the God of power?

Just as with Moses after the people of Israel (while Moses was still receiving the Ten Commandments up the mountain) had broken the Commandments with the golden calf; when Moses sees the afterglow of the back of God’s glory as he passes by, so also here for Elijah. The LORD is passing by, and it’s awesome - the wind that shatters mountains and rocks; the earthquake that shakes the mountain; the blazing fire.

Yet despite the power and the noise and the amazing signs, we’re told that ‘the LORD was not in the wind.’ (11) Elijah may have been used to the big powerful showy signs of God’s power - it’s only been a few weeks since the fire from heaven consumed the sacrifice. Yet now, it’s not those things that point to God’s presence. Rather, it’s ‘the sound of a low whisper.’ A still small voice, as an older version puts it. A voice, because, as we’ll see, it is by God’s word that he draws near to his people, as he still does today.

At that sound of the low whisper, Elijah covers his face and goes to meet God. Again, the voice comes to him, and asks him exactly the same question. God draws near to his people, particularly when they are in need, not in terrifying splendour, but in tender nearness.

Our God has not changed - just think of the words of Isaiah describing the Lord Jesus: ‘Behold my servant, whom I uphold... He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.’ (Isaiah 42:1-3) Our God draws near to his people, taking on flesh, coming to us in our need.

But that’s not all. If God were only to come near in tenderness, then we have someone who sympathises, but is powerless to save. Again, we’ve noticed that God asks Elijah the same question - what are you doing here, Elijah? And again, Elijah gives the same reply. It’s not that he’s still whiny, that (as you might say), you couldn’t like him if you reared him. He’s stating things as they stand. Israel, the people of God have failed him, and Elijah tells it as it is.

Elijah can’t do anything about it - he has tried, and the people are still against him, led by Jezebel - it must be God who does something to rescue the situation. So we come to our second aspect of God working when his people fail him - that of judgement. Perhaps surprisingly, seeing Elijah has just travelled the xxx miles from Jezreel to Horeb, God now sends him back! On the way, Elijah is given three important tasks to complete: ‘Go, return on your way... you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu... you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha... you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.’

This anointing with oil on the head is a sign that God has chosen the person for special office - for kingship or prophetic ministry. Did you notice it’s not just the king of Israel to be anointed, but also a new king of Syria. Why is God sending Elijah to do this? Is he moving into the realm of Middle Eastern politics, like an early forerunner of Tony Blair’s middle eastern peace mission?

These anointings are the means that God will use to judge wicked Israel, and remove the house and dynasty of Ahab and Jezebel from the throne. Did you see, it’s Jehu the son of Nimshi (not a son of Ahab), so a new dynasty will begin, and Ahab’s family will be removed. Or, as God tells Elijah, ‘The one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death.’ This bloodshed will be the temporal means of judgement on those who have turned away from the Lord and his covenant. Indeed, some see another parallel between the terrifying display of power (wind, earthquake, fire) and the three anointings and the promise of bloodshed.

God cannot stand by while those who bore his name turned away to follow other gods. God is in control, even if his judgement can seem a long time in coming. Remember that this judgement here is primarily aimed at the leaders of God’s people, those who have led them astray - Jesus says something along the same lines when he says ‘whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.’ (Matt 18:6) Pray for Christian leaders, that they won’t lead people astray.

So far we’ve seen God draws near to his people, as well as acting in judgement. While Elijah may have lamented he was the only one left (in public anyway), the last verse of our reading displays God’s special grace of the preservation (and perseverance) of the saints. God keeps his people. While those who have followed Baal will be judged, there yet remains a remnant of faithful people - ‘Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ God keeps his people free from idolatry - even despite the wicked times of Ahab’s day.

Those doctrines of God do not change from Elijah’s day to ours, because God does not change. Yet as the early church was growing, the very same question was being asked of Paul. Has God’s promise failed because so many Jews are not trusting in Jesus? When the visible people of God appear to be failing God, what will God do about it? God draws near to his own, judges those who reject and rebel, but keeps his own people. Turn with me to Romans 11. Paul is speaking of this very passage as he looks to Israel failing to believe in Jesus the Messiah: ‘I ask then, has God rejected his people? By no means!... Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?... But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself...” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.’ (Romans 11:1-5)

Within the visible church there will be those who are far from God. To all intents and purposes, it looks as if we have failed utterly. But God draws near, judges, and keeps his people. Don’t fear - keep trusting in God through the hard times. God is in control.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 13th February 2011.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Church Bookstall: How?

Yesterday we thought about the benefits of running a church bookstall. You might think it's a great idea, but then don't know how to go about it. Here's a few tips to help you setting up a new bookstall.

The Bookstall

If you're going to have a bookstall, then you'll obviously need somewhere to store and display the books. In our church, we have a cupboard with display shelves above. It's a permanent fixture, with a locking cupboard for the money box. If you have something like this it would be great, but its not essential.

The Church Bookstall

Other churches may just have somewhere to store books in a box, and a table set up each week to display the books. Either way, you'll want it to be somewhere accessible so that people can see the books easily.

The Books

Having decided on somewhere to store and display the books, you obviously need the books! There are various ways of doing it - our bookstall has always been run through the Evangelical Bookshop in Belfast, but other suppliers are available: The Good Book Shop in Belfast (not to be confused with The Good Book Company), or your local Christian bookshop.

Many shops or online booksellers may offer special discounts for bookstalls which can either be passed on to your congregation, or else can make a small bit of profit to be ploughed back into the mission of the parish.

It helps if the stock is rotated regularly - some suppliers may release stock on a sale or return basis for 30 days; we try to change the bookstall every month and a half or so. This means that if someone has read a book, they can think about buying another one, and the stock can more closely follow the preaching schedule and seasons of the church year approaching.

It's also good if you remember to have books for different ages and stages - the enquirer, the new Christian, the maturing Christian, older people, families, teenagers, children, amateur theologians, the ministry team etc.

Manning The Bookstall

Again, there are various ways of doing it. Perhaps there'll be someone in the congregation willing to man the bookstall for twenty minutes after the service, recommending and selling the books and looking after the money. Maybe there'll be a team of people who take turns to act in this way.

In our context, we have a small notebook in which people write down their name, the book they have bought, the price, and whether it is paid or unpaid. No one stays at the bookstall, and the honesty scheme seems to work (well, you would hope so, seeing as it's a church!). Occasionally, though, someone forgets to write down what book they've taken, but we normally manage to account for all the books sold!

The moneybox also sits on the bookstall, so that, as with a recent book, it may be one that you would prefer not to be seen buying or have to deal with someone (e.g. one on masturbation / lust), you can take the book and pay cash straight away without any problem.

It helps if those running the bookstall have some time to devote to managing the stock, the money, and getting to the supplier fairly regularly, as well as actually reading some of the books to check what is being sold and to target recommendations to those who would benefit from the books.

Happy reading and selling!

For more information on setting up a church bookstall, speak to John at the Evangelical Bookshop, Richard at The Good Book Shop, or The Good Book Company Bookstall page.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Church Bookstall: Why?

One of the jobs I inherited when I joined my current church was to manage the church bookstall. After nearly two years in the business, I thought it might be useful to consider just why a church bookstall can be useful - then tomorrow we'll think about how to do it.

The Church Bookstall

So here are some good reasons to have a bookstall in your church:

1. It encourages people to read. There's no doubt that reading in general, and perhaps in particular among Christians, is in decline. Having a supply of good Christian books will encourage people to pick up a book and read.

2. It's convenient. People are getting busier, so free time for browsing and shopping for books is squeezed out. If they're going to be at church anyway, then it's a great opportunity for them to pause at the bookstall as they chat before or after the service.

3. It supports Christian publishers and bookshops. Our bookstall is maintained through a local Christian bookshop, so whatever we sell helps to support their work and ministry too.

4. It can tie in to your preaching. Say you're preaching a series on Sundays and a particular issue comes up. You might have twenty minutes in one sermon to deal with it. There's never enough time to go in-depth or discuss it fully. It can be helpful to point people to additional resources or books which explore the issue, which people can pick up and read if they want to go further. This may be useful if you have several books, one of which may be 'lighter' and another 'heavier' so readers have a choice.

5. It can promote good new books. Sometimes new books can take time to enter the awareness of ordinary Christians, but if you're running a bookstall and getting special offers on new books, it can be a good way to help promote and recommend new books.

6. It can be a strategic ministry. The bookstall can be a way of helping people and pastoring them in a low-key way. By flagging up books, you can be preparing the congregation for the future.

7. It can be evangelistic. By having a few well chosen evangelistic and apologetic resources, the bookstall can also help people explore Christianity or find answers to hard questions without having to embarrass yourself by asking someone!

8. It will lead to growth. This is the aim of the bookstall, after all. We don't just want people to be reading in order to know more stuff, but in order to grow in godliness and maturity. It's not even about the money - sometimes it may be productive to operate at a loss if it ensures people are reading and growing. As we seek growth, the bookstall naturally fits into the overall aim of the church. So why wouldn't you have a bookstall?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Sermon: Luke 2: 22-40 Simeon's Salvation Song

If you could have been at one of the moments of Jesus’ life, which would you choose? Perhaps you would like to have been present in the stable as the shepherds came to see the newborn King. Or maybe being in the crowd during a miracle. Perhaps you would want to have been watching the crucifixion, or being near Mary Magdalene in the garden as she met the risen Jesus. You can tell me afterwards which you would choose!

As you think about it though, you might choose a moment which would encourage and confirm your faith - seeing the risen Jesus, so that you know for sure that he has risen. Maybe it would be something spectacular, like the feeding of the five thousand. My guess, though, is that you wouldn’t choose a glimpse of a forty day old baby in the temple. Yet today we’re going to hear of a man who did just that, and he was so excited that he was moved to sing about it.

The setting for our reading is the Temple in Jerusalem. There, two linked ceremonies are happening, to fulfil the Old Testament Law. Mary and Joseph have brought the infant Jesus, because the Law demands that a mother who has given birth must be purified through a special offering, (in this case, the ‘poor’ option of two pigeons, rather than a lamb), and also the offering of the male firstborn to God. But as these ceremonies are going on, something much more important happens.

Meet Simeon. We’re not told how old he is, but we presume he was an old man. Simeon, we’re told, is waiting for the consolation of Israel. Israel, you might remember, was being ruled over by the Romans, the latest in the series of conquerors controlling the land. Simeon is waiting for the promised king, the one who will comfort Israel, the hope of Israel.

In verse 26, we’re told that Simeon knows (by the Holy Spirit) that before he sees death, he will see the Lord’s Christ. What a promise! Before you die, you will see the one who will rescue Israel. Perhaps his mind raced with excitement as he looked forward to seeing free Israel and the Romans kicked out. He would maybe have imagined seeing the Christ arrive in splendour and power.

None of that happens though. Rather, he comes into the temple (remembering that there must have been other male children there that day too), and comes over to Mary and Joseph. He knows that this is no ordinary child. This is the Christ - but not as he perhaps expected.

Let’s look at his song more closely. He tells us that there are two groups of people who will see: first Simeon, and then all people. Simeon has seen ‘your salvation.’ Remember, he’s only seeing the baby Jesus, yet it’s enough to know that God is fulfilling his promises. He may not know how Jesus will bring salvation, but he knows who will do it. Would a glimpse of Jesus as a baby be enough for you to know God’s salvation?

Further, Simeon says that this child will be light for revelation to the Gentiles - to all people, as well as glory to his people, Israel. He’s picking up on our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 49. The nations will see the light of the Lord and come and be saved. As we meet this morning we are testimony of this, we are the fulfillment of Simeon’s song.

We have a privileged position. From our vantage point, with a Bible in our hands, we can see the whole of Jesus’ life, we can see how he saves. The question is, do you know this salvation yourself? Are you rejoicing in this salvation?

More than that, though, having seen God’s salvation, Simeon was ready to die. Someone once said that the Christian life is all about learning to die well, and to help others to die well. Are you helping others to face their death, as you point to the salvation found in Jesus?

Simeon encountered the baby Jesus, and rejoiced because he had seen salvation. As we meet today around the Lord’s table, we too rejoice as we celebrate the cross, the way the Lord saves.

This sermon was preached at the Midweek Communion service in St Elizabeth's Church on Wednesday 9th February 2011.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Sermon: Titus 2: 11-15 God's Grace

I wonder did you make any New Year’s Resolutions this year? Perhaps you decided that you would go to the gym three times a week; or give up eating chocolate; or read through the Bible in a year. Today is the 6th February, the 37th day of 2011. How are you getting on with them? Have they already fallen by the wayside, the new trainers now calling out to you every time you pass them, abandoned in the hall; the Bible reading planner left buried under a pile of other things at your desk or bedside table.

It’s hard to keep going at something, isn’t it? We start off so well, intending to keep up the willpower, but we fail all too quickly. Sure, you might even think to yourself, Lent isn’t too far off, and we can try again then.

Or maybe, following last week’s sermon, you resolved to be more self-controlled, or steadfast, or not gossiping and slandering, or whatever it was that God’s word said a man or woman of your position should be. We saw those in chapter 2:1-10. They say a week is a long time in politics, and it can be a long time when you’re trying to be good and more godly. Sunday, you went home from church and tried really hard, but then you went into work on Monday, and your temper was rising. The kids were playing up when you got home. An annoying relative or neighbour called. Or your own desires rose within you, and you succumbed to that temptation again. Maybe you thought that Paul was just being too legalistic, and you wrote it off as impossible to be more godly.

So how can we become more self-controlled? Are we left on our own to try and do it? Are we helpless and hopeless, trapped in the same cycle of trying to do better, failing, guilt, shame, and another stern warning from the preacher, and off you go again?

Thankfully God doesn’t leave us to try our best on our own. Rather, in our passage today, we are given the motivation for godliness, some encouragement in the fight against sin, the world, and the devil. The key to the whole passage comes in the very first words: ‘for the grace of God has appeared.’ If you were with us last week, you’ll remember that Tim was looking at how we can ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour’ in the way we live. our passage follows straight on from it - ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour. For the grace of God has appeared...’

You might be thinking, well, what’s so amazing about grace? What has grace got to do with how we live our lives? Hopefully today we’ll see that God’s grace leads to our godliness, and we’ll see this in past, future, and present.

So first, then, the past. Grace can sometimes be one of those slippery words that we use in church. We all use it, but we don’t always know what it means. Particularly if Paul tells us that the grace of God has appeared - how or when did grace appear, and what did it look like? Did the clouds spell out grace one day, or was there an advert in the paper? Was it when the sun shone particularly bright? No, none of these things. Rather, the grace of God appeared in that manger in Bethlehem, in the person of ‘our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’.

Let’s look at how Paul expands on grace in the past - ‘bringing salvation for all people’ (11) and ‘Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’ (14) Grace appeared when Jesus was born - remember how John described him? ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14)

God’s grace was working in the past, in the Lord Jesus, God’s favour towards us when we don’t deserve it, through all the Lord Jesus did on earth. Look at verse 14 again: he gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness, he gave himself to purify his people and make them zealous for doing good. We didn’t deserve for the Lord Jesus to come to this earth and die for us, yet that’s precisely what God’s grace has done. All those wrong things we have done, all gone, because God’s grace in Jesus has paid for them.

God’s grace in the past has saved us. For that alone, we could rightly sing ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound’. But there’s more. Look at verse 13 with me. As well as looking back to the past, and how God’s grace has been for us (in giving us salvation), we can also look to the future, to what God’s grace will do. We are ‘waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’

We are waiting for another appearing. That word waiting probably conjures up some bad images in your head - sitting in the doctor’s waiting for your appointment; waiting at the bus stop for what seems like a very long time; waiting for traffic lights to change. We’re waiting for something much better than a bus or a green light, though. We’re waiting for the appearing. Notice that it’s not even just the appearing of Jesus, as good as that would be on its own, but look how Paul describes it: ‘the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ It’s the glory of Jesus we shall see as he appears. Now, the glory is veiled to us - while the heavens declare the glory of God, it’s as if the contrast on the TV is wrong, and everything is dull. But on that day, we shall see the glory of Jesus for what is really is. Notice as well that Paul isn’t referring to two people - our great God; and then our Saviour Jesus Christ. Rather it’s our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. The king of glory is the king of grace. Jesus’ glory is his grace.

We’ve seen the glory of God in the past, where Jesus stepped into time to give himself to redeem us; and we’ll see the glory of God in the future, when our great God and Saviour appears. But what about now? What about the in-between time? Have we been abandoned between the past and the future, left to get on with things as best we can by ourselves?

You see, there are some people who would leave out verse 12 altogether. They go straight from salvation to heaven. So, for them, ‘for the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people... waiting for our blessed hope...’ So long as you have your golden ticket, you’re sure you’re going to heaven, then you can just sit around waiting. You’ve nothing more to do. It’s as if you’re saying to Jesus in a Star Trek type of way ‘Beam me up Scottie.’

That would be great, wouldn’t it - become a Christian, and no more worries, nothing to do, just do what you want while you wait. But it’s not what Paul says. Let’s see God’s grace in the present. ‘For the grace of God has appeared... training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, waiting...’ The grace of God leads to godliness; we’re changed to be more like Jesus, not through stern words or guilt or willpower or manipulation; but simply through the motivation of grace.

God’s grace in Jesus trains us to firstly, say no. Some of you may remember the slogan that was everywhere following the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s. I can remember it being on a big banner strung across the front of the Council Offices in Hillsborough: ‘Ulster Says No.’ It was no to Dublin interference in Northern Ireland, no to this new Agreement. God’s grace trains us, teaches us, helps us to say no to ‘ungodliness and worldly passions.’ Those things that are ungodly, those things that we do which are unChristlike, God’s grace helps us say no to these things. It won’t happen all at once - we’re still going to fall and fail sometimes, but bit by bit, we find that we stop doing those things which are unhelpful, and can give up our old habits. What has grace to do with it, though? Well, we’re reminded of what Jesus has done, the great price he paid to save us (he gave himself); and the desire Jesus has for us to be more like him.

It’s not just negative though. It’s not just that we give up things, and stop doing things. God’s grace is also positive, as it helps us ‘live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.’ We don’t just say no to ungodliness, we say yes to godliness - those things we thought of last week; you notice self-controlled is there again!

It isn’t easy to live for Christ, seeking to please him, being changed to be more godly. It doesn’t come naturally at all. We can’t do it in our own strength. Rather, God’s grace is the motivation to live a self-controlled, upright and godly life. Again, we remember God’s grace in saving us, but also the purpose for which Jesus saved us - ‘to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’ Jesus’ desire for you, as a Christian, is to be part of his people, all of whom are keen, zealous, to be doing good. The order is important: We’re saved, and then we do good works - not do good works in order to be saved. (Just as Paul writes to the Ephesians 2:8-10: ‘For by grace you have been saved by faith... For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works’). Zealous for good works, not just a miserly ‘good deed for the day’, but always seeking to be doing good, prompted by God’s grace working in our lives by the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus.

The grace of God has appeared, as Jesus gave himself to save us; the grace of God will appear, as Jesus returns. As we look to the past and to the future, we find God’s grace training us to become more like Jesus, day by day. Perhaps you’ve never experienced this grace - even today, you can see God’s grace which is for you - have a word with me and I’ll happily show you God’s grace. Or maybe you’ve been a Christian for a short while, or a long while. You’re discouraged by your sin, wondering if it’s all worth it - take some time to reflect again on God’s grace which gives you what you don’t deserve, will be yours for time and eternity, and which helps you on the journey.

Tis grace which brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 6th February 2011.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Book Review: We Don't Know What We're Doing

This was another of my charity shop finds, spotting Adrian Chiles, formerly of The One Show on the front cover. Basically, Chiles is fanatical about his football team, West Bromwich Albion, through the good times and the (much more often, it seems) bad times. I know all about that; well it comes with supporting the Northern Ireland international team...

Chiles records a year in his life, organised by West Brom's fixtures in the Premiership. As well as talking a bit about the football (but not too much to put a non-footie enthusiast off), he talks a lot more about trying to find out why he keeps going when his team puts him through agony, and causes friction in the home.

He also spends the year getting to know some of his fellow fans, telling their life stories, their memories of the Albion, the lengths they go to support their team, and so much more. This was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book - as themes of commitment, dedication and perseverance were explored, in a soccer context.

It's not even that I had to stretch to find parallels with religious commitment, with a total devotion displayed on almost every page. Chiles freely admits that he nearly constantly thinks about the Albion - even more than sex. Indeed, 'my whole attitude to life is shaped by the Albion' - if they're doing well, he's great company, but if not, then he's miserable.

On a day of celebration for the fans, Chiles notes that 'I have this massive bond with them, a really extraordinary intimacy, yet I know nothing about them.' It's easy to see how this can be the case at a football match - you're sitting beside someone for ninety minutes, sharing a passion for the team, but not really getting to know who they are. The pity, though, is that this can be the case in some churches too - alongside someone, but not ever knowing them.

Along the way, we're given some funny moments, some touching moments, and some very sad moments, both on the pitch and off. You can't help be drawn into the team's fortunes, as you keep turning pages to find out what happens. However, there is quite a lot of strong language, which you do hear at a football game, but it's probably a little too strong for my liking.

An interesting read, with some illustrations of dedication to a cause. Chiles' personality shines through, and you can't help but feel sympathy for him when you turn the last page.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Sermon Audio: 1 Kings 18: 17-40

Last Sunday evening I was preaching on the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, trying to find The God Who Answers. Here's how it sounded.

Grace Misplaced

It all started with a request for help from a friend. Could I recommend a book on the doctrine of grace? I promised to have a look in my study, as nothing came to mind immediately.

Having moved along each shelf in turn, still nothing was jumping out. Was grace completely absent from my study? (A worrying thought!) A closer look brought up random, scattered paragraphs or sentences, as well as perhaps a section of a doctrine book, but not an actual book celebrating or explaining God's grace. It's all slightly concerning.

Have I been labouring away without grace all this time? Has my Christian life and ministry been imbalanced towards legalism and effort? I sincerely hope not (particularly since I'm preaching on grace this Sunday morning from Titus 2), but if my study gives a reflection of my thought life, then should I be worried?

We recently had a session in the Bishop's study at CME (Continuing Ministry Education, alternatively known as Post-Ordination Training, or Potty Training), and he was saying that you can tell when someone stopped thinking/studying by when they stopped buying books. Can you tell in this instance of a severe lack, where grace has been misplaced?

As I've said, there'll be discussions on grace in my extensive commentaries, on the particular Bible passages speaking of grace. Yet there's still no book on grace as such. Any recommendations? I've read Yancey's 'What's So Amazing About Grace?' but are there other books you would suggest must be read on the subject of grace?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Seven Nation Army Stands Down

It was one evening in rural West Tyrone that I first encountered The White Stripes. I was working in Newtownstewart at the time, and had taken a wee trip up to Londonderry after work. On my way back to the village I was driving along in my blue Corsa, listening to Across The Line on BBC Radio Ulster. Medium Wave, because of the poor radio reception in the area.

As ATL often do, they were playing some upcoming releases, new music, and that's when the throbbing, unmistakable beat began. Even with the fuzzy Medium Wave reception, I knew it was a classic that first time I heard it.

Seven Nation Army will remain one of the best songs ever, which makes it sad that The White Stripes have announced they won't be making any more music. All that's left to say is, in the words of Abba, thank you for the music!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


I can exclusively reveal that the new Archbishop of Dublin is... not going to be me! While it would be a quare move from first Curacy to Archbishop, it won't be happening. The Episcopal Electoral College meets today in Dublin to celebrate Communion, consider what is required in a bishop, and to propose and vote on the new Archbishop.

However it's happening just too early for me to be considered. Three months too early, to be precise. You may not realise it, but there are minimum ages for deacons, presbyters (or priests) and bishops in the Church of Ireland: 23, 24 and 30 respectively. Here's what the Constitution says regarding the election of bishops:

12. At every meeting of an Electoral College there shall be in the first instance an informal discussion, after which any member of the College may propose a bishop or priest of not less than thirty years of age for consideration by the College. Each proposer shall state the age of the person proposed and shall give a summary of that person’s academic career and ministerial service. All voting shall be by orders, the bishops if they wish to vote voting as members of the clerical order. The President shall be entitled to vote in the same way as other members of the College. The voting shall be conducted in such manner as the President may determine, and may be repeated once or more often. Informal discussion may likewise precede the taking of any repeated vote. The President’s decision regarding any dispute as to the voting shall be final. The President may adjourn the meeting from time to time. (Chapter VI, Part I, Section 12)

Pray today for the college, the candidates considered, and the proposed new Archbishop.