Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August 2011 Review

The end of another month, the children are going back to school, and my holiday between jobs comes to an end with my Institution service this Friday night. On the blog, it's been a quiet month with a huge break in the middle as we moved house and settled into the rectory. Still, there have been 11 posts, made up of the following:

My only preaching in August has been the three farewell sermons in Dundonald, at the midweek congregation on Colossians 1, the morning congregation on 1 Corinthians 3, and the evening congregation on Matthew 9. Ironically, having established the sermon audio website there, no recordings of the three have survived!

There were book reviews, The Long of it by Ernest Long; True Spirituality by Vaughan Roberts and Johnny Cornflakes by Denise George.

In other news, I thought about the border and the barker, moving house and going up in the world.

Had I remembered my camera, the photo of the month might have been taken from the top of Slieve Croob, but as it is, the photo of the month is Ancient Stones:
Ancient Stones

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Review: Johnny Cornflakes

Churches can be good at saying that we welcome anyone and everyone, but do we always mean it? It's easy to say, but sometimes harder to put into practice. We affirm that God loves everyone, but when we're called to love them too, that's where it gets difficult.

These are the struggles that undergird the book Johnny Cornflakes. Denise George tells her own story of loving the unloved as she remembers her experience of ministry in the city of Chelsea, near Boston when her husband was called to minister in (what was to her) the depths of hell, far outside her comfort zone and safety zone.

Her talents as a fiction writer mean that this true story reads well, and draws the reader in. The story will also draw you up short, as you find yourself in the story and possibly find yourself sharing in the prejudices, before having your heart broken as the story unfolds.

Above all, this is a recounting of the wonder of God's grace, not just for the unloved, but also for the 'older brother', who also needs God's grace and love overflowing to others.

It's a challenging read, but ultimately a worthwhile read, particularly for those considering how to reach out to the lowest, the least and the lost in their community, because we all have Johnny Cornflakeses all around us.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Attack of the Clones

The other Saturday we took a little trip to the Belleek Pottery to see what it's like. We received quite a lot of Belleek items as wedding presents, and thought it would be good to see where they had been made, and how they were made. Sadly the only guided tours on Saturdays are for privately booked tour buses, so we had to content ourselves with the 'museum' which was tiny and the gift shop, which was all geared towards the American market.

While there, though, we were accosted by a representative of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Having been asked where we had travelled from (er, just down the road...), he did a quick survey trying to discover demographics of visitors and all that. He also took my email address, as some participants would be invited to join a further web-based survey to garner reflections once the holiday/trip had been completed.

The email popped up yesterday, and I settled down to complete it. And it was then that I discovered a most remarkable fact: the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has shifted. Northern Ireland must now be six and a bit counties:

Attack of the Clones
Fermanagh now includes Clones, according to the map and the detailed list. I wonder when this border incursion occurred? Or perhaps we're seeing the start of the border expanding and including the estranged 26?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Puppy Love

Perhaps it’s just a ‘ruff’ patch, but my family think I’m barking mad.

Picture the scene. I’m visiting my girlfriend’s house, enjoying some time with her, getting to know her parents better, taking things easy. There’s just one problem: the family dog. Susie is a Jack Russell terrier, lively, lots of fun, a lovely dog really. She particularly enjoys jumping up on my knee, at the behest of my wife-to-be. Except I’m terrified of dogs.

I can’t quite remember where my fear started. At one time, I happily went with my granda to take our minister’s dog for a walk (Hector, belonged to the Rector!), without a problem. But at some point, somewhere along the line, dogs became the enemy. Something to be feared.

It was heightened by my most memorable (and most terrifying) pastoral visit ever while at minister school. I was on placement in a rural parish, and was tasked to call at a certain home. My placement minister had warned me about the dog, which made my anxiety levels rise, and my willingness to visit plummet. Week after week I would put it off, until I knew I had to visit this Friday.

I arrived, rang the doorbell, and heard the barking. After postmen, minsters must be a dog’s second favourite snack, and it was ready for me! The man came to the door, and turned to lead me into the room, only the dog wasn’t moving, and wasn’t allowing me inside! I wasn’t going to force myself, so had to wait for the man to realise I wasn’t following him, come back to the door, and hold the straining dog back as I entered.

Could it get much worse? Of course it could. Seated at the kitchen table opposite the husband and wife, I was very conscious of a puddle forming on my knee. I hadn’t wet myself - it was dog drool as it sat guarding its master and making sure I didn’t come too close, ready to attack at any moment.

Thankfully the family realised, and the dog was banished to another room, allowing me to complete my visit and dash off before the dog was released again!

Any wonder I wasn’t fond of dogs. Fast forward from those nights where I was Susie’s adventure playground to last night. Back in the same room, with the same people. Only the dog has changed. Susie went to doggy heaven several years ago, but now there are two dogs running around - the new puppy, Poppy, and our dog, Pippa, both miniature Jack Russells.

Our dog?! Yes! After lots of lobbying, we got Pippa over a year ago. The first few nights were desperate as she howled for her mother and siblings, but she’s quickly settled into our wee house, so that we’re now inseparable. As it turns out, I’m the chief feeder, walker, and poo-picker-upper, and enjoying it immensely. The canine capers are continuing, and we’re having great fun with a dog that never stops running about, always playful, so that even the outside toilet trips in the middle of the coldest nights of winter with snow higher than Pippa’s head seem like fun.

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but girls, you can keep your diamonds; it’s a dog every time for me.

This article was first published in the Fourth edition of the Lawkit Journal, which is now available for download. Why not contribute something yourself for the next issue?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: True Spirituality

Vaughan Roberts has been one of my favourite teachers and writers for a long time. Each of the subjects he tackles is dealt with in a clear manner, and it's no exception in this overview of 1 Corinthians, entitled True Spirituality.

There's no doubt about it - spirituality is in these days, with all manner of spiritualities on offer. In some ways we think we're quite progressive, charting new territory, being bold and exciting, but it turns out there's nothing new under the sun, and the fledgling church at Corinth was dealing with the self-same issues. Roberts takes a chapter or two at a time and sees what God through Paul say about what true spirituality looks like.

I think the greatest compliment that can be paid to the book is that it says what Scripture says. That might seem like a strange thing to say, but it's not - Roberts doesn't present weird and wonderful ideas, instead he takes us to the text to see what God says through the apostle. He does this through engaging introductions, careful explanation, helpful (and at times funny) illustration, and ends each chapter with relevant and piercing application.

My only problem with the book is that it's too short! The overview of the main issues is sound and thorough, but it means that sometimes not every aspect of the text is covered. Similarly it would be good to have a little more on the 'whys' of how the text is handled in a particular way, for example on some of the contentious passages why one approach/reading is rejected while another used.

All in all it's a good basic commentary on 1 Corinthians, and a different way of approaching and presenting the whole book (in just 8 chapters), and one that will prove useful in future work on the letter. Alongside that, his challenging application is effective for personal devotion and consideration. Good for not just pastors and teachers, but for any Christian exploring the theme of spirituality or the church.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guess Who's Back?

And we're not talking about Eminem, who's appearing at Tennent's Vital in Ward Park, Bangor tomorrow. We're now hopefully back on course with the blog, after another brief hiatus.

A fortnight ago, having packed up all our possessions into a big trailer the day before, the removals lorry arrived at our new house. Cue a couple of days of boxes sitting everywhere, as we tried to remember where some of the essentials had been carefully packed, and the gradual process of unpacking everything and finding a place for it.
The biggest job was to get my study into shape, a task which has finally come to an end. It's tidier now than it ever was in Dundonald, with a bit more space to move around it!

We've been adapting to life in Fermanagh, getting used to new surroundings and discovering new places (more of which to come), as well as meeting our new neighbours:
The New Neighbours!
I think I've adapted fairly well, to the extent that when I was up in Belfast for the afternoon and evening yesterday, I found it strange to be sitting in traffic, having so many cars all around!

At present I'm on holiday as I don't actually start in the new parish until the Institution service, so it's an extended staycation, sampling the delights of Fermanagh and meeting up with friends and family. Not long now and I'll be preaching my first sermons and getting stuck into parish life. Watch this space!

Monday, August 08, 2011

Farewell Sermon 2: Matthew 9: 35-38 The Lord's Other Prayer

When we think of the Lord’s Prayer, you immediately know what I’m talking about. In our services, the leader only has to say, ‘we’re now going to say the Lord’s Prayer’, and we instantly are ready to begin: ‘Our Father...’ It’s almost as if Jesus only ever prayed once, or only ever gave us one prayer.

As we read the gospels, though, there are lots of other prayers - just think of his high priestly prayer in John 17; or some of the other occasions when we see him in prayer, at the Garden of Gethsemane. This evening, though, I want to focus on his other prayer, the one found in Matthew 9. It’s a prayer that still needs to be prayed, as we’ll see as we turn to the text of Matthew 9.

As we come to the end of the chapter, it comes hot on the heels of the Sermon on the Mount, as Jesus is the centre of attention, as people flock to hear him teach and see him heal people, or try to be healed by him. So from the start of chapter 8, the action doesn’t stop - he comes down the mountain from the sermon on the mount, and there’s a leper to be cleansed, a centurion asking for healing for his servant (with great faith), Peter’s mother-in-law, crossing the lake and calming the storm, casting out demons on the other side, then coming back, healing the paralytic, calling Matthew, dealing with challenges from John’s disciples, and on and on.

So we come to verse 35, where he’s going through the cities and villages, teaching, and proclaiming the kingdom, and healing people. As Jesus’ fame grows, more and more people come to hear him. A great sea of people all trying to be near him.

In verse 36, we’re told what Jesus sees, then in verse 37, we’re told what Jesus says (and prays). So what Jesus sees: ‘When he saw the crowd, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’

Have you ever noticed a field of sheep? They’ll not all be together in a nice bunch; they’ll be all over the place, doing their own thing. The other evening I climbed Slieve Croob with my brother-in-law and there were sheep roaming free on the path, in the ditch, all over the hill. They needed a shepherd to come and gather them together, keep them safe, and take them where they needed to go.

The people are lost, unsure of where to turn, without someone to guide them, trapped in their sins and burdens, wandering around aimlessly. Their life has no purpose; they have no king. Matthew tells us it’s as if they are sheep without a shepherd.

Many today are still like sheep without a shepherd. It might be seen particularly in young people, where trends develop and change, and they’ll follow the crowd (or at least feel the pressure to follow the crowd). But it’s not just young people like that. Just think of the things that drive people, that they follow and pursue in order to keep up with the Joneses - house, car, gadgets, holidays. Perhaps more money, but just as harassed and helpless.

And certainly harassed and helpless because of the burden of their sin. They may have a guilty conscience; they may keenly feel the weight of their sin, but are harassed and helpless, unable to know what to do or how to get rid of it.

I suspect that, just like Jesus, we won’t have to look too far to find people like this. Perhaps some who come along each week, yet still are harassed and helpless. Certainly not too far from these walls as we encounter people from Dundonald, our neighbours and friends and work colleagues. We may see what Jesus sees - but do we feel what Jesus feels towards them?

You see, we can talk until we’re blue in the face about evangelism, outreach, conversions - but if it’s just words, then nothing will be done. It’s nothing, if we turn away or refuse to engage with the people outside. But, we don’t want people like that coming here - we’ve got our reputation to think about! We don’t want any sinners coming in here - it would only get messy. Let’s just keep things the way they are.

Jesus, the good shepherd, sees these sheep without a shepherd, and he has compassion for them. He is moved with pity, with feeling for them, and so is moved to action. (Although, of course, he had already been moved to action because he had come to earth in the first place, already having compassion on his disciples). If Jesus has compassion for the lost, then how can we have a different reaction? How can we turn away, not wanting to get involved? Just as the Lord has saved us, so we need to share the good news with others who were just as lost as us.

Jesus sees the lost; he is moved to compassion; now let’s look at what he says, and then how he prays: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.’

There’s a staffing problem - there’s more work than one man can take; an overwhelming burden. Just think of the huge job of harvesting crops before tractors and machinery came in. Nowadays a farmer in a tractor can harvest a field in no time, but what if he was going out with a scythe? The work would be overwhelming.

But Jesus isn’t talking about harvesting crops and gathering food into the barn - he’s still looking at this vast crowd of lost souls, people to be brought into God’s harvest-home. People who need to hear about the good shepherd who loved them so much that he gave his life for them, so that they might live; who need to be told that they are not helpless, or hopeless, but can have help and strength - grace - and hope through the Almighty and Everlasting One. The world is vast, the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.

What do we need to do? Should we have a recruiting campaign for the Theological Institute? Should we (as the New York Roman Catholic Diocese had last year, a year of vocations - with the slogan ‘the world needs heroes: you have to be a real man if you want to become a priest.’?

Jesus’ action, having seen the need, having diagnosed the problem turns in prayer, calling his disciples to do the same: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’

Jesus prays, because it is the Lord’s harvest - the very thing the Lord wants is for his harvest of his chosen people to be gathered in - and so he will answer this prayer, and will send workers into the harvest.

It’s not that we have to beg and plead and cajole God into sending more workers into his harvest - yet he delights to involve us, he calls us to partner him as we pray for gospel workers to be raised up and sent into the harvest field; to those places where the Lord directs, in order to bring in the full harvest.

For us, that means a change from Dundonald to rural Fermanagh, as we seek the harvest in those (literal!) fields; for Andrew it means heading to Dublin; for others it means new opportunities to serve through Crosslinks.

It’s perhaps the most surprising thing, maybe slightly scary, but very exciting, and it’s struck me again as I’ve thought of these verses. Jesus tells the disciples to pray for more labourers, and what is the very next thing that happens? They are the answer to their own prayers! They pray for labourers, and Jesus sends them out (10:5) to get on with the task at hand.

You don’t have to go away to be a missionary; you don’t need to go to a far off corner of the field to bring in a harvest. As we’ve seen, you just need to open your eyes, look around, and see the hopeless and helpless; the lost who are all around us, who desperately need to hear the good news, because each of us are full-time gospel workers, together on a mission.

This is a prayer that still needs to be prayed - the lost are still lost; the Lord still saves; and there’s still room in his glorious harvest-home. So pray - pray for our mission partners; pray for the continued outreach here in Dundonald; pray for us in Aghavea; and above all pray to the Lord of the harvest to send many more workers into his harvest to turn hopeless into hopeful; sinners into saints; and all for the glory of the Lord of the harvest.

This final farewell sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 7th August 2011.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Farewell Sermon 1: 1 Corinthians 3: 5-17 God Gives The Growth

Have you noticed that we’re more and more living in a celebrity culture? People become famous, sometimes just being famous because they’re famous; and everyone is talking about them, following them on Twitter, supporting them - until someone new comes along. Every detail of their lives is celebrated and analysed. It really came home to me recently when at the wedding reception last week, news of Amy Winehouse’s death came through. Everyone knew about her; everyone talked about her.

What might be more surprising, though, is that we can have a similar celebrity culture in the church. Whether it’s Rob Bell, or John Piper, or Don Carson, or Tom Wright, people will buy only their books and celebrate them, and follow everything they say. Sometimes it can even happen within a congregation - I follow the Rector; or I would only listen to the Curate; or the youth worker is my hero.

Such a situation was happening within Corinth. If you look back to 1:12, you’ll see what it looked like there. I follow Paul; I follow Apollos; I follow Cephas (Peter); I follow Christ. A church divided, each celebrating their chosen celebrity. Paul is horrified, as we should be too - and in our reading this morning he reminds them of what gospel work is all about; and who should be the focus of our praise and appreciation. To that end, I’ve chosen this as one of my farewell texts because, while thankful for the fuss you’re making of us today, I, and indeed all of us, need to be reminded of the One who is to be praised.

Paul’s point is clear, as he gives us two pictures to show what the church is like, and how gospel ministry should be regarded. In the first picture, Paul takes us onto the farm, perhaps even a farm in rural County Fermanagh.

He begins by asking that question in verse 5. ‘What then is Apollos? What is Paul?’ On hearing the question, the Corinthians would have been quick to jump in and praise their favourite pastor. Paul is so great, because he was the very first to come and tell us about Jesus and planted this church. Meanwhile the Apollos cheerleaders are getting excited about him - Paul might have come at the start, but where is he now? Apollos is here, he’s been teaching us so much more and look how we’ve grown ever since. What Paul says next might be shocking for the Corinthians, and also for us, if we try to idolise our pastors:

‘What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.’ You might rate Apollos as a superstar celebrity speaker; he’s just a servant, someone under command, like a waiter. you might praise Paul as a perfect pastor; he’s just a servant, doing the task God assigned to him. It wasn’t even ‘who’ is Apollos or Paul; just what.

In the farming picture, Paul might have planted the seed (as he shared the gospel); Apollos might have watered the seeds; but neither can take any credit for how things have developed. ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.’

You see, Paul and Apollos aren’t on different sides; they’re on the same team. God’s team, working with God, but it’s down to God to give the growth. To him, we must give thanks.

As I’ve been thinking about it this week, I’ve been encouraged to see the point Paul is making. You don’t have to know much about the church at Corinth to know that it was mixed up and messed up. Even scanning the letter shows that. There was immorality, worldly thinking, factions, doctrinal issues, superiority and a lack of love.

Yet even in Corinth, Paul can see growth; can see people who have been saved, who are growing in their faith. But it’s not due to Paul’s brilliance or Apollos’ special knack. It’s God who is in control, allocating his workers for their particular tasks; it’s God who gives the growth.

As we look back over these three years (and wonder where the time has gone!), there is much to be thankful for; much to rejoice in; many of us who are coming to faith and growing in faith - that’s not because of me, or Tim, or anyone - it’s God who is giving the growth, and to him be the praise.

From the farm, Paul takes us to the building site. In the first picture, we saw the principle that God gives the growth. But in case you’re tempted to lie back and think, God has it covered, we don’t have to do anything; we find that there is still much to do, as we work along with God and work for God.

On the building site, we see the foundation laid, ready for the building to rise up. Paul is like the master builder, laying the foundation - Jesus Christ. The question is, how will we build on that foundation. Look at the end of verse 10: ‘Let each one take care how he builds upon it.’

You see, as each of us build on the foundation of Jesus; as we trust in him and throw all our weight on him; as we build our lives on him, there are a variety of building materials at hand.

Perhaps you’ll go for a house of thatch - not just a thatched roof, but a whole house of straw. It might look pretty, but it might not last. Or a nice home of wood? (Do I sound like an estate agent to the three little pigs?) Or perhaps you’ll invest more in the building project and use gold, or silver, or precious stones.

We’re told to take care how we build because one day, (a bit like the three little pigs) our building will be tested. It won’t be a big bad wolf, though, but the Lord himself, testing our work for him; seeing how we have built up the church, the people of God.

As Paul continues, he speaks of testing with fire, of rewards for those whose work survives, and others being saved as if through fire, but let’s be clear. He isn’t speaking about some great test to get into heaven, as if we can earn our way by our own merits and just sneak in by the skin of our teeth. He’s speaking here about people who have built on the foundation; who have been trusting in Jesus and building their lives on him.

The challenge for all of us is this - how are you building on the foundation of Jesus? What are you building with? Are you giving God the best, or what’s left? In the last verses from our reading we’re given a glimpse at the plans; we’re reminded of what it is we’re building on the foundation of Jesus. And this glimpse will spur us on to give our very best to the work, because we find that we’re not just building a shack or a hut, or even a regular house. No, we’re building the very temple of God, the house of God, the place where God dwells.

It’s the same building project Peter writes about when he says ‘As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ (1 Pet 2:4-5)

It’s not a physical church building; rather, we are building the church, the people of God, where in God’s Spirit dwells. That building project has been going on since the foundation was laid and the apostles built upon Christ, so that we too are part of this great temple which will shortly be revealed on that day. As Paul will say near the end of this letter, your labour for the Lord is not in vain - remember what our business is: we are building the temple of the Lord; building his church.

My time here is nearly done, and the Lord has assigned me another place in the work, but the work goes on, because thankfully, it isn’t all resting on me. Despite being at the other end of the country, we will continue to be praying for the work here; earnestly asking God to continue to work to build his church and bring much fruit.

So keep going, keep serving, and see what God will do in the place.

God gives the growth, and God builds his church; but we are called to faithful service in whatever way he calls, wherever he calls, and all for his praise and glory.

This first farewell sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 7th August 2011.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sermon: Colossians 1:24-2:5 Him We Proclaim

How would you summarise the work of a gospel minister? What is the essential message each one of us has to share, because we’re all full time gospel workers?

In our Epistle reading today, we find one such summary, as Paul writes to the Christians in Colossae. You would be hard pressed to find a shorter summary - look at verse 28: ‘Him we proclaim.’ What is it that Paul has been doing, devoting his life to? Him we proclaim. As we see those three words in their context, we’ll see why this is the essential summary of all gospel work.

First up, him. Paul writes about a mystery, and I don’t know about you, but I naturally think of Miss Marple or Inspector Morse, a murder mystery. There’ll be a gruesome killing, and suddenly the hunt is on, meeting a variety of candidates, all possible suspects, all with hidden agendas and grudges. But you know, when you start reading or watching, that everything will be worked out by the last page of the book, or just in time for the 10 o’clock news.

The mystery Paul has in mind isn’t exactly like those - it’s more of an open secret. He writes about making ‘the word of God fully known.’ This was the task he had been given, he is a steward, given a deposit, to be passed on. It’s in making the word of God fully known that he speaks of mystery - ‘the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.’ God’s plan from all ages has now been revealed, it’s an open secret, but what is it? What is the mystery now being revealed?

‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’ The Colossians Christians weren’t Jewish believers; they were Gentiles. They were far from God, aliens to the promises, without God and without hope. But when Epaphras (who was from there) heard the good news and believed, he went back home to share the gospel with them. These Colossian Gentiles also believed, and so they are now in the company of God’s people, but also, Christ is in them.

This was always God’s plan, for the Gentiles to share in the promises through Christ - just think of the promise to Abraham that in his seed all families of the earth would be blessed. We see glimpses of it in the Old Testament, where Ruth, a Moabite becomes the great-granny of David, or in the Gospel reading today, where the Centurion has more faith than Israel.

We too, have come to share in the blessings of Christ through faith in him. But learning about Jesus and coming to know him isn’t just for when we’re coming to faith, as if we can forget him once we become a Christian. You see, Paul is still committed to ‘Him we proclaim’ even when relating to these believers. He proclaims Christ as he shares the gospel, but also as he warns and teaches everyone with all wisdom.

Why is this? Why have we been (and will continue to be) committed to proclaiming Christ? ‘That we may present everyone mature in Christ.’ When we’re saved, we’re just babies in Christ - we have a long way still to go. Even after being Christians for a long time - perhaps even longer than I have been born! Still there are areas for each of us to grow; to become more like Jesus; to become more mature in Christ. It’s a long term project; the Further Education Colleges will be presenting their prospectus soon, lots of evening classes to get us involved in lifelong learning - it’s precisely the same in the Christian life - lifelong learning, becoming mature in Christ.

Now that might put you off. That might discourage you. How will I possibly keep going? Paul continues proclaiming, teaching, maturing ‘For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.’ God equips and strengthens us for his work. It’s not all down to me and what I can do. God is helping us.

Colossians is an odd letter - in most of his letters, Paul is writing to people he knows, in places he has visited. He has never been to Colossae; has never met most of the people who will hear his letter read. Yet that doesn’t stop him from struggling for them in prayer; praying that they wull be encouraged, knit together in love, and to fully appreciate the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

These past few weeks have been a odd time for us. Almost everyone we see, we’re saying goodbye to. The time is getting very short, the removals van is waiting, poised for Monday morning. We’ll not be around here much longer. But be assured that we will still be struggling for you in prayer, from the wild west.

Are we going on towards maturity? Are we helping others towards maturity? Paul proclaimed Christ, because in him we have all we need for salvation, life, contentment, wisdom and knowledge. My prayer is that Christ will be proclaimed here, and that you will indeed grow to maturity; will you pray for me, that I too will continue to proclaim Christ, and him only, and all for the praise of God the Father who is high over all. Amen.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald at the Midweek Communion service on Wednesday 3rd August 2011.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Book Review: The Long of it

My earliest memories of the author of this autobiography were in the Diocesan Magazine he edited, with his name emblazoned in bold letters. An appropriate, if slightly humorous name for a minister with journalistic tendencies: S. E. Long (read it as 'essay long' and you'll get my drift!).

Ernest Long is now in his eighties, and in this book presents a series of memories and anecdotes from his life and ministry. Having served curacies in St Donard's and Willowfield in East Belfast, the rest of his stipendiary ministry was in Dromara, not too far from where I grew up. There were interesting stories of how the self-confessed city boy adapted to life in rural County Down, which may be useful for me as I move to Fermanagh in the near future!

Despite very different times, what shines through is the gospel is the same in every generation, it just needs to be communicated to the people in ways they understand. Community involvement, outreach, all the buzz words of the emerging era were already in place in Long's rural ministry, as he relates his experiences of community life and outreach in Dromara.

Long is also well known locally for his prominent position in the Orange Order, and a considerable portion of the book was given to detailing his involvement with the Order, including his international speaking tours on behalf of the Grand Lodge. Perhaps my only regret is that he didn't spend much time discussing the recent difficulties, instead skirting around them.

All in all, The Long of it is an interesting read to discover the impact the gospel has had on an individual life, and the wider impact through that one person to reach and change so many. It will be particularly interesting for those with some knowledge of the local area, but would be profitable for a wider audience too.

The Long of it is available from Slieve Croob Press and has one of my photos on the front cover!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Up Slieve Croob

This evening we conquered Slieve Croob!

Towards the Mournes

This was the view from the top when Bryan and me made it to the height of 1755 feet above sea level, where the river Lagan begins it's course to Belfast and the sea. The Mournes were looking well. Sadly, I forgot my camera so this was from my iPhone camera, but I'll go back sometime with the big camera.