Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Knowing God ... Week 3 (chapter 2) Before the study group

This Blog entry is written as I read this chapter in preparation for the Group on Wedensday night.

"... for I've known God"

some people do have conversion stories - once they were in darkness and now they are in light ... some dramatically others simply prayed a prayer, others still have grown in faith and cannot remember a time when they never "knew" God.

Knowing God does not make us immune from "disappointments, heartbreaks ...etc" and the world needs to know that Christians are Human beings.

Knowing v's Knowing about

Packer is quite hard on his tradition of the church
"the gaiety, goodness and unfetteredness of spirit which are the marks of those who have known God are rare among us"


One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of him

This certainly is true in the Academy amongst scholars where they are able to reel of facts. figures, bible verses, debate theologians and other things but where knowlege of him is rare.

one can know a great deal about godliness without much knowledge of God

It is amazing how much information we can have ... especially in this age of the internet, access to books and all the rest. We can listen to sermons, we can read books but none of these help us to know God. Knowing is about relationship

having said these things ... what does someone who knows God look like?

  • Great energy for God
  • Great thoughts of God
  • Great boldness for God
  • Great contentment in God
As I look at these qualities I know I am challenged to ask ... what ways in my life do I have these things and what areas of my life do I lack these?

I do love the quote:
Lord, it belongs not to my care
Wether I die or Live
To love and serve thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give

If life be long, I will be glad
That I may long obey
If short - then why should I be sad
To soar to endless day?
It is great to know that we can get to know God better and Packer plots the course for this adventure...

  • We must recognise how much we don't know
  • We must seek the Saviour.

This for me is where the excitement is ... where we are able to delve in and find out how wide and deep the love of God actually is.

I do look forward to wednesday evening and find out others views on these things


Monday, March 28, 2011

Sermon ... Testimony!

a sermon preached in St. Molua's Parish Church on Sunday 27th March 2011 at 10:30

May my words and our hearts be always be acceptable to thee O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen

[[Intro & Greetings ]]

This morning we turn to our Gospel reading, a reading which speaks of our personal responsibility to share what God is doing in our individual lives.

growning up in Banbridge, which has a tradition of liturgical worship there is a word which never really entered in to my vocabulary untill my late teens ... it is a word which I certainly only associated with other christian traditions ... but it appears here in this reading ... the word is testimony.

It is a legal term, a term which presumes a witness to a particular event. It is a term which nobody can argue with - you either saw / heard something or you didn’t. In our particular tradition the idea of testimony doesn’t feature highly in our worship services. That said, it is something which is so vitally important in our world.

Personal story, personal encounters with God need to be shared, we need to be open to share what God means to us, we need to be open to share the hope we have in God.

One of the great things about my job is that I get to have conversations with so many different people both when I am “in uniform” or undercover! Just this week I was chatting to a member of this congregation over a cup of coffee. We struck up a conversation and we got chatting about the changes in the world over the last 10 years

Also a couple of months back I was buying a fish supper in the local chippie and once the person behind the counter saw I was a new church of Ireland minister we got talking about what the local churches were doing ... He handed me a leaflet about Christians against poverty and said he had heard that many of his customers had been in debt and he saw the change in them. The church doing practical things and telling others about them.

[[ a wee bit about CAP ]]

How we share our story, how we talk about our faith, our church is so important.

We could on one hand be so negative - consentrating on all the problems - awwh all the church is doing is looking for money, there are very few young people these days coming to church ... or whatever the negative quote of the day is

Or we could look at the age we are living in with optimism, with opportunity, using what is good in our society shouting about the love of God, the strength and purpose which Christ provides, serving those around about us, participating in random acts of kindness for people we know and those we don’t. Buying a random stranger a cup of coffee, smiling and saying hello to someone, shouting about the good stuff that is happening - CAP, diocesan appeal for food.

I began by asking about witness - what have you or I got to witness to?

We could witness to the support of this community - the love and the care

We could witness to the various groups which make up st molua’s

We could witness to the unconditional love of Jesus for everyone rich or poor, young or old

We could witness to the peace that passes all understanding

We could witness to the healing power of Jesus

The forgiveness of sins

The Samaritan woman had a choice - she could have gone back to her village and said nothing, just sat and got on with her life

I know that is what we all do day after day - I am as guilty of it as anyone else - doing nothing BUT we are called to take what we have been given and share it with others

Whoever calls themselves a Christian we are called to bring good news to whosoever we come into contact with.

I have met people who need people to speak truth into their lives, speaking about God, about church, about community. In a world which knows much secularism, loneliness, depression. We need to be people telling a different story - a story of hope, purpose, healing and eternal life.

Let us pray.

Sermon ... Dare to Share

A Sermon preached in St. Columba's Parish on Sunday 27th March 2011 at 7pm Evening Prayer Service

May my words and our hearts be now and always acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen

The theme of our services today in St. Columba’s is, rediscover the joy of sharing ... wether that be sharing things in common or even sharing the faith we hold in common.

Sharing our faith ... This morning I was looking at the reading in St. Molua’s of the Samaritan Woman and was speaking about the fact that after her encounter with Jesus she went and told her village about what she had seen and heard. She “testified” to what she had heard and seen.

In our tradition, we are quite unfamiliar with the word “testimony” I suspect, I certainly was as I grew up in Banbridge but the word testimony is a legal term, it is used in court with witnesses who testify to what they have seen and heard. A testimony is simply a statement of experience ... what somebody saw, heard or felt.

In our reading from Joshua this evening we hear a testimony - of the Lord speaking to Joshua powerfully, he is commissioning him to lead, he is giving him a vision of what is possible, he is commanding him to keep on, keeping on.

That is Joshua’s testimony

God speaking into human lives, God equipping his people, God providing a bigger vision of what is possible.

A question this evening ... what are your passions?, what are the things you most enjoy?, what is on your heart?, if you could do something to change others circumstances what would it be?

Joshua’s longing was to get to the promised land, Jesus’ passion in the story we have just read was to rid the temple of the unjust practices of profiteers in the temple courts.

God uses our passions, our talents, our strengths and our weaknesses to do bring about the kingdom of God ...

Therefore, we are all called to do what we can for his kingdom ... each and everyone of us ... no matter our age, our bank balance, our skin colour or whatever else defines who we are.

Ahh ... but I have a good excuse! well do you?

Look at the people God used ...

Noah was a drunk;
Job went bankrupt;
Abraham was too old;
Isaac was a daydreamer;
Jacob was a liar;
Leah was ugly;
Joseph was abused;
Gideon was afraid;
Sampson was a long haired womanizer;
Rahab was a prostitute;
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young;
David had an affair and was a murderer;
Elijah was suicidal;
Jonah ran from God;
Naomi was a widow;
John the Baptist ate bugs;
Peter denied Christ;
the disciples fell asleep while praying;
Martha worried about everything;
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once;
Zaccheus was too small;
Paul was too religious;
Timothy had an ulcer...AND Lazarus was dead!

All of us are called to share in the mission and ministry of God in this place. It doesn’t matter who you are - all of us can do something ... all of us have something to bring

Imagine if Joshua had given up ... would the story have ended by the people going back to Egypt. But he didn’t he remained faithful.

All of us have been commissioned to share the good news, to make disciples, to make learners. That is not just the call of ministers or Bible study leaders, that is the call of the whole people of God, you and me.

whatever the excuse ... it can be answered. When my gran read my wee article in this new edition of The columban she said ... you are getting very serious about people excuses of not coming to church!

As a church we are indeed getting serious about engaging with those on the fringe of the parish ... each one of us has our own story ... which will undoubtably entail questions and problems about faith, church, the Bible but by being open and honest and by telling others why we come to church we might just encourage others to find answers, encourage others to come along.

All of us can share in our own way who God is and what he has done for us... the challenge is do we dare to share our faith with those whom we me this week, next week and beyond.

Let us pray ...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Knowing God ... after week 2

It was great to get into more discussion about J.I Packer's book this evening at our Bible Study Group... as before these are simply a few of my thoughts please feel free to email, to comment to discuss

We discussed the purpose of Theology and why we should know even begin the journey.

After thinking about what words come to mind - many of them had negative conotations ... Professors, university, tough, closed, brainy.

The idea of simply looking at the definition of "God Talk" or "talking about God.

I love the Spurgeon sermon quoted at the beginning of the book which describes the subject of Theology

It is a subject so vast that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects can
compass and grapple with; in them we fel a kind of self content and ho our way with the thought "Behold I am wise" But when we come to this master science , finding that our plumb line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise ... No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God ...
We also looked at the five foundation principles which form the basis of this book on page 18 (which I paraphrase here)
  1. God has spoken his word to the world - the Bible is his word and contains all things necessary for salvation
  2. God is Lord and Kind over all of creation - his purpose is that all things may honour and glorify him
  3. God is Saviour - Jesu came to rescue and redeem us from the power of sin through the cross
  4. God is Father, Son and Spirit - Three in One and One in Three
  5. Our Christian lives are a response to knowing God - lived out in trust and obedience, faith worship and prayer. For a fully lived out, purpose-ful life we need to live under theguidance of Scripture in the power of the spirit.
Without the structure of theology these principles are in danger of being skewed.

Each one of us is called to share what we believe with those around about us ... the world needs to know why.

The example I shared this evening was about a police officer. When you see the uniform you expect that the person is doing what they are doing for a reason.

You expect that they have thought about the law, the common good. You expect them to behave and conduct their affairs with certain values and traits because of what their morals, theory and practice have done.

You expect them to respect those above them and those whom they serve.

The structure, the rules are there for them to follow and they do understand that.

How much more for us as Christians, we need to understand our code of behaviour, our ethics, our theology. That is what we are indeed about in this study.

The other thing that was mentioned tonight was the idea of witness, the idea that each of us are called to share what we believe with others. I have been doing a lot of thinking about this in preparation for my sermon on Sunday Morning. The Idea that we are all called to "witness" to what God is doing. My example is a local business person - I don't know if he goes to church or not but he was telling me about the amazing changes he has seen in peoples lives through an organisation which we as a church support. Christians Against Poverty ...

Take a look at just one story of a life changed by this organisation ...

Our theology has to be grounded in our walk - not being balconeers but rather pilgrims on a journey.

Wee question to ask yourself after you watch the Christian's Against Poverty Video
This is one way that the church has taken its theology, its understanding of God and made it practical in the local community ... what other things can you identify that are rooted in theology that we are doing in this church. What other things do you think we could be doing?

Over to Africa...

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Below is a copy of the sermon preached at the Installation of Archbishop Albert Chama. ++Albert was Bishop in Northern Zambia while I was a student in Dublin and completed a placement in his Diocese. Some very important things in this for all involved in church leadership

Homily at the installation of the Archbishop of Central Africa

Today marks the beginning of a new era in the life of the Church of the Province of Central Africa. Against all odds, an Archbishop was elected and today he shall be installed according to the laws of the Church. The journey from September 2007 has been long, rough, painful and uncertain.

Prophets of doom never thought this Province will be properly ordered again to enable the complete structure to be in place but today we meet together in triumph. Several Dioceses were vacant and elections were contested in a number of instances, resulting in long periods of litigation. Even though we still have serious problems in two of our Dioceses in the Province where parishioners are being persecuted, we should pause and praise God for today’s achievement. The focal point and the centre of unity in the Province is being installed. We should only thank God for taking us this far.

Leadership is complex and leading leaders can be very challenging. It is not about titles - today we have one of our bishops who shall be referred to as the Archbishop and Primate, your Grace and the Most Reverend and your name shall be prefixed by two crosses instead of one. How wonderful and impressive but the real work is enveloped in these titles. One theologian once said, “Titles are given but what is critically important is one’s character.” I shall refer to character again a little later in my homily.

As far as we are concerned today is a result of an election but to God this is a result of His calling. “Here I am, send me,” (Isaiah 6:8b) so said the prophet Isaiah as he answered God’s call. One wonders how many responses of “Here I am, send me”, God received from bishops on the day of the election. However, it is crystal clear today that it was Albert’s voice that was loud and clear. It is therefore important to go back to basics and explore why are called into these positions of leadership. We need to understand our calling in order to understand who we are leading. The temptation of possessing what is not ours is very real. Leading God’s servants who have also been called to lead God’s people in their respective Dioceses. This is not a position of power but that of responsibility and accountability. It calls for humility; remembering that “Humility does not mean considering ourselves of little worth, or thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less. It is where you place the word “less” which is important. Not less about yourself but thinking of yourself less. Remember Paul’s advice to the Philippians (2:3), “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (NIV)

An election happened and there were contestants, and not adversaries. Never think that those who might have voted for other candidates thought of you any less worthy. It was a simple difference of opinion.

Always remember that it is not about those who voted for you but about the Almighty God who calls through Christ, the Head of the Church. The major problem is that we have made ecclesiastical elections to secular that God stands aside and watches the drama from the sidelines. No wonder we have numerous problems in the Church of God. The mandate is to tend His sheep in the Church of the Province of Central Africa. John 21:15-19 says, “Feed/tend my lambs /sheep” (NIV) and this is a weighty responsibility. Four distinct nations, numerous cultures and languages in one Province. Fifteen Bishops of varied persuasions! It is always important to remember that ecclesiastical elections are just a means to a desired end. It is a visible process through which God appoints leaders for His Church But we must always take heed to what Proverbs 19:21 “... It is only God’s plan that prevails.” (NIV) We met and made our unanimous decision through an election. Our hope is that God was involved in this process.

Secondly, you have been called to Christ: to take the character of Christ – the character of Christ’s humility. Take a cue from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, particularly Chapter 2:7 which says in part, “ ... but made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant.” (NIV). That nature (of Christ) is already in you and it is up to you to use it for the greater glory of God’s Church.

Thirdly, you have been called to love. Take a look at your Episcopal bench and see what you have got. You might even think that some of us are not going to support your ministry, others will be outright stubborn and a lot more are going to be passive participants. Still some will continue to think they could have been better Archbishops. Pity you cannot change the team! What you see is what you have got, and you have to make the team work! But you are commanded to love as Christ loved even when it is impossible to love. Matthew 5:43 could help but we do not expect you to have enemies. If that fails use one of the “Three C’s” effective team leadership called Chemistry. The secular world would say, “the team must gel or must bond” and you are now the glue that must make this happen. By your example, we shall love one another. “People do what they see not necessarily what they hear.

Fourth, you have been called to suffer. The Christian journey is about suffering for the sake of others. You have to continue with the responsibilities of your Diocese, Northern Zambia and the Province too! In some of the Dioceses there is no peace and now that they know an Archbishop has been installed, they will expect ‘instant solutions to any problem. That is where leadership gets complicated and becomes painful. That is when one begins to understand the emotions that enveloped Moses as he struggled to lead the people of Israel to the Promised Land when he said, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favour with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” (Exodus 33:12-13 NIV) On verse 16 Moses is so bold as to challenge God’s authority. He was simply demanding accompaniment from the sender, God Himself. It will be important that you take Moses’ example seriously - in most instances you will be well advised to demand God’s company.

Fifth you have been called to obey. Obedience is the very basis of our faith. It is the hallmark of the love that makes Christ a cut above the rest. Christ triumphed and drew the whole world to himself because he obeyed His father. The best leaders in this world have been the best followers. Follow Christ and we will follow him too. John 14:23 is one of many guides, “If you love me obey my command…” Obey Christ and we will obey Him too. However, if you decide to follow someone or something else, we are not going there with you!

Sixth, you have been called to serve. “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.” What Jesus said is well known to you “….. must be a servant “and worse still, …… slave of all.” (Mark 10:43) The double crosses should always remind of double blessings, double burdens or double portion (Isaiah 61:7). Be warned that as your brother bishops we shall be tempted to refer all the difficult problems to you and get all the credit where we succeed!

Lastly and in conclusion, you have not been called because you are qualified but because you are suitable material to qualification… only if you let Him. We do not deserve some of the titles and honour that we carry; as lay ministers, clergy, bishops and archbishops. It is only through God’s grace that we are honoured this way. Remember that if you must succeed as God’s appointed servant in this Province the three “Cs” are important.

Character is important as lapses in character create problems with far-reaching implications. A breakdown in character tends to breed mistrust and alienates team members and de-motivates the leader. Remember that trust begets trust, love begets love and the opposite is true.

Competence is important but unlike character it is possible to learn to be competent. You have a team of bishops with a variety of competences, use them. You cannot possibly provide a solution to every problem. Nobody can!

And as I mentioned earlier, Chemistry is critically important. Through love, knit the team into one to the glory of God. Jesus requested this Chemistry from the Father, “…that they may be one, even as we are one. (John17:12 RSV))

I might also add the fourth ‘C’ which is Consistency. A leader with integrity is expected to be consistent in his/her principles. What you say today, repeat tomorrow, at night or in broad daylight. Stick to it until it is proven wrong. Your decisions should never be dependent on the type of audience. Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.

May the Almighty God who has called you to serve His people with love and long suffering give you the power to obey as He qualifies you for this ministry.


[Editor's note: Abp Chama is the first Zambian Primate of the Church of the Province of Central Africa]

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Did you know ...? Blog

In a chance conversation with a friend this evening about renewable energy ... For those reading this blog from Northern Ireland ... Did you know that NIE allows you to change your bill so that instead of purchasing electricity from fossil fuel power stations you can opt to have your electricity now from renewables...

one must also give the classic BBC disclaimer that Energy is available from other suppliers

Past, Present & Future

A Sermon Preached at St. Donard's Parish Church, on Sunday 20th March 2011

Help us Lord to have ears, minds and hearts that are open to your word and will.

In Jesus Name amen.

It is great to be with you this morning, here in St. Donard’s. The last time I was in this hall was when we were playing your Bowling Team - and I can’t remember the score but it was a good night of fellowship and competition!

This morning, as I mentioned in my children’s talk the reading at first seems quite complicated with things like Being Born Again but it also contains good news such as God’s love and eternal life.

For us in Northern Ireland we are very familiar with these verses, we see them on lamp posts, we see them on notice boards outside churches, we see them on sandwich boards in towns and cities ... Ye must be born again, at football matches we see people holding up notices 3:16

We are surrounded by them.

I would like to conscentrate on 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Remote Control

On a remote control for a DVD player there are certain buttons which control the thing

The Rewind

Play / Pause

The Fast Forward

This morning I would like us to pause where we are and look again at the John 3:16 Verse, to focus our attention on the riches contained in it.

We are here in St. Donard’s, One of the things which is great about church is that we can come together, with all the stuff that has been going on behind our front doors, in our lives over the last week, month and year and bring it to God, to gain his perspective on it, to get strength to carry what we need to carry, to deal honestly with the things that need to be dealt with.

So this verse:

The first bit is a rewind from where we are to the past (Jesus is looking at what has happened in the past)

The rewind is a review of what had happened up till now - It is a summary of the Bible. Yes it skips over all the detail, but encourages you to discover how God loves the world. There are so many promises in the pages of scripture which re-iterate God’s love and his provision for his people

God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son

Everything that has happened up ‘till now has been an expression of the Father’s love for us. When we grasp that we are well on the road to realising the potential future he has for each one of us.

Whosoever believes in me

This is where we come into the story, you and me are part of the world God loves, part of the story. We already know that sin mars what we do, what we think and what we say but we are called to be different, we are called to live lives which are different, we are called to believe - Believe and trust in him. Living out each day for him - in the Lord’s prayer

Skip Forward

Will not die But have eternal life

This is where it gets exciting - Yes we know that God Loves us, Yes we know that we are living in the present but then we dare to contemplate that this is not all we have .... we do have a future... we do have the promise, through believing in God, in trusting him that our future is bright, the future is not orange but rather the future for all who believe in God is eternal.

For me as a pastor, as someone who deals with the pastoral concerns of parishioners day in day out, as I draw alongside people who are walking through darkness in the present, for them to catch a glimpse of what the future is great

As Christians once we know that our future is secure, once we know that God has forgiven our sins, once we know that he has a plan for our lives - “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future” then the things which the world throws at us become managable.

Life may not be easy, but we have a saviour who is able to help us cope, who is able to put things into their proper perspective.

As I prepare to hit the play button again, As we prepare to go from this place back into the world - into the situations each of us find ourselves into today

If you are a Christian, a disciple, a person who believes in God - know that your future is secure, trust in him, work for him, talk about him, share this good news with your family, friends ...

If you are unsure wether or not you are or want to be ... talk to trusted Christian friends, give Ken a ring and say that you would like to chat about John 3:16!, Ask God, Chat to me after the service ... do whatever but do something.

Being a Christian is easy and difficult - It’s easy because all we have to do is ask him to strengthen us but it is difficult as we do have to cut out those things in our lives which are destructive, which are contary to his word. That is the balance

In a nutshell - it is my prayer that each of us here today may know the great news that God loves the world, that he loves you and me no matter what we have done, no matter what circumstances we are going through he will as long as we take the step to believe and trust in him. Amen Lets get on and press play!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tomorrows Sermon cloud!

This evening I was playing around with a new site to me ... Wordle.net ... I stuck in the text of tomorrow's sermon and heres what it came up with ... quite interesting!

Wordle: John 3:16 Sermon

Another flash mob! ... brilliant!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Knowing God - After Session 1

Tonight, our Bible Study Group got started on the J.I. Packer book Knowing God ... it was a very good session on the why and therefore of the topic.

One of the things I, as Curate love about these sessions is that I can come in hoodie and as a fellow Disciple rather as group leader ... and then listen and contribute to the group as a participant.

May I welcome those in the Bible Study to "My Wee Blog :-)" my personal wee corner of the internet which dates right back to 2005!

I hope to provide a wee account of the sessions we have covered - with questions which have arisen as well as charting our journey through the book Knowing God.

I promise to those who come along on a Wednesday night that no names will be used.

We began at the very beginning ... a very good place to start ... when you read you begin with ABC, when you read a book you begin with the front cover! :-)

We were challenged to look at the cover and see what we could come up with meaning -

  • For me Road conjures up journey, with life and adventure
  • Cloud - thinking about guidance, glory God?
  • Horizon - the unknown as well as the expected

It was a very good place to start

We then got talking about Christian Basics the principles, the non-negotitables about who God is and what he has done for us.

When we talk about who God is we are limited to language - how do you describe the indescribable? - It is difficult! however we must do something! if we are to get to know God we must use words to describe him.

We looked at what he is ... and what he isn't

immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light, in-accesible, hid from our eyes ...
one hymn writers example of who God is!

As I write this I also wonder how you would describe God? ... here is one preacher's summary (without notes!)

We had a great discussion about the question:

Do we need theology?

My Lecturers in the past, fellow ministers as well as our Bishop will be glad to know that we came up with the answer "Yes" however it was after a bit of discussion about complicating something which is in essence simple.

We looked at how we could get to know God - the image I used was the idea that if we were to go to the International space station we would catch glimpses of the Globe - we would never see the whole earth because of the size and shape of it but we could build up a picture of the globe by taking snapshots of it!

The same with God, we get we bits and pieces - we can concentrate on one picture (attribute) but one is not all of God we need know that there is more to God than simply one wee picture - God is Love yes! but he is also Just, he is forgiving and he is father ... we could go on and on!

In the theology we also looked at the idea that there are Big Questions which the world is throwing out to Christians today and we need to be able to give some sort of answer, some sort of thought out rebuttle to the questions which society is asking.

No longer can we simple "hide under the duvet" but rather we need to be in the marketplace discussing why we believe what we believe. Theology gives us a framework, a way to discuss these things - and that is exciting as well as Challenging.

Theology is challenging because we might get asked difficult questions, our own faith may be stretched bit as we hear others opinions, we may have to stand up for some of the fundamentals of our faith.

We do come as fellow travellers, not as those who stand aloof - as one member of the group reminded us, that we need to grow as disciples. Keeping to, and always returning to the basics but also having our minds stretched by the God who is Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

It is an exciting journey, a journey which hopefully will make us more aware of why we believe what we believe :-)

During the Study we were chatting about hymns which meant so much when we talk about God, for some it was the focus on the cross ... for me it has to be this one ...

Before we ended there was reassurance that even after 3 years of studying theology there are many many many questions still unanswered and will remain unanswered but as I said before we all can get to know God better and step forward on the journey.

I Look forward to next week and chatting more about God ... as ever if there are others in the parish who would like to join us on our journey of knowing God ... you would be more than welcome - chapter 1 next week :-)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bible Study Group ... Now looking at "Knowing God"

Our parish Bible Study Group which meets on a Wednesday Night is looking through the J.I. Packer book ... Knowing God

Trevor (our study leader) comments "Knowing God follows on naturally from our last study on prayer. In prayer we make room in our lives to spend time to talk or have dialogue with God. We get to know him and invite Him into our lives. We pray His will be done so that his wishes for his world and all that we do in ours should become one and the same.

This study 'Knowing God' over the next months will deepen this relationship and help us know God's will so that we serve him more faithfully and transform every task we do to ensure that it is done for his glory. Trevor"

Over the next few months I hope as part of my preparations for it to add a few thoughts, questions and general observations before and after the studies. Please do feel free to add comments on the Blog or on my facebook page or email me! I hope that this will also provide a way into the book for fellow group members who are finding it tough going.

Here Goes:

Chapter 1 is entitled - The Study of God

From the opening quotation we see that the study of God, for the Christian is so vitally important, to get to know our Father. It is such an enormous subject. The more we know the more we don't know - the more we struggle with studying God the more our minds are able to cope with other things. The Study of God is the study of creation, of reality of everything.

Who needs theology?
Theology conjures up, certainly when I started in Dublin ... Dusty Books, old professors and the weighty tombes of long forgotten theologians.

Packer reminds us that it is however -"the most practical project anyone can engage in. It is crucially important for the living of our lives". Theology gives meaning to our lives.

We need to be clear why we want to know about God - Gaining theological knowledge can't be the end in itself ... NOPE! Our aim has to be to get to know God better.

We need to turn Knowledge about God into Knowledge of Him.

So often in Church we hear but don't take to heart
we know the stories but don't make the journey from the head to the heart

As we go through this study of Packer's Book may we remember that theology - "God Talk" is all about talking about our Heavenly Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and how he interacts with the world and the implications of that for us today.

Questions from the Back of the Book (paraphrased)
1. What comes to your mind when you think about Theology
2. What does a person mean when they say - "there is no pathway to know God"
3. How Comfortable do you feel about the 5 Themes?
4. what should be our ultimate aim in studying God
6. What does it mean to meditate on God

Why is the study of God important?

Dr Helen Roseveare

I love the quote "You should give the whole of your life to serve the Lord, there's nothing else worth doing and when you get to the end, nothing else will count except what was done for HIM!"

The Lost Sheep

a Short address for Late Evening Office - St Columba's Sunday 13th March 2011

If I had to pick one reading which excites me from the Bible, a reading which sums up the gospel in a nut shell it has to be our reading this evening ... The Lost sheep.

It speaks of the shepherd who is concerned with the individual as well as the group, concerned with the outsider, the one who for whatever reason has wandered away, who may be hurt, who may be thinking that they are a failure, the one who is hungry, who feels that they have been neglected, the one who is struggling.

The shepherd goes to great lengths to reassure, to seek out, to find his precious sheep.

It is a nice story with a happy ending. A story for us today as we begin Lent.

I believe it has an enormous amount to say to us -

Firstly linked to our two initatives which we are running in Lent -

Rediscover the Joy of church. There are so many people across our parish which need to know that the church, and God through this church is reaching out to them, that they do have a place to belong to, that we are missing them.

The the diocesan shopping trolley initiative - of doing something practical for those who are suffering poverty in our community - reaching out and finding people who need to know that there are people who they can turn to for practical help.

Secondly, there is a need to reach out beyond the bounds of this parish, every single one of us knows people who have become disillusioned with church, turned off God for one reason or another. But they may want to chat, they may confide in us that they feel like a lost sheep. We need to realise that God might be putting us in a position where we can help bring the harassed and helpless back to the shepherd.

In a nation which is undergoing major budget cuts, big questions are being asked about purpose, meaning and God. Each one of us are called to be lights in the darkness, we are called to search out those who are hurting. To do what we can where we are. Who this week can you and I encourage

Finally and most importantly, we need to know that we all - each of us -need the good shepherd in our lives, without him we cannot do anything - without him we are lost sheep struggling around on our own - without purpose, without meaning.

We are at the beginning of Lent - a time traditionally when Christians take a look at the important things of Life. On Friday Night, in our youth Group we had a visit from Julie Currie, our diocesan youth worker - She brought down seven pictures which she asked the group to rank from 1 to 10 of wether we could give them up for lent. where 1 was not a problem and 10 was couldn’t do with out it at all.

Things like crisps, chocolate, Television, Computers, Mobile Phones - nothing bad about them at all but she went on to describe that sometimes things like TV could be a distraction from God, and time spent with him.

I wonder do we realise the enormous privilege it is to be Sheep and to have a shepherd who cares for us.

As a reflection and a prayer I would like to read for you a letter which someone has prepared, they have taken various promises found in the pages of Scripture and put them together in what they describe as a love letter from God.

My Child ~
I know when you sit down and when you rise up ~ Psalm 139:2
I am familiar with all your ways ~ Psalm 139:3
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered ~ Matthew 10:29-31
For you were made in my image ~ Genesis 1:27
In me you live and move and have your being ~ Acts 17:28
You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in my book ~ Psalm 139:15-16
I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live ~ Acts 17:26
You are fearfully and wonderfully made ~ Psalm 139:14
I knit you together in your mother's womb ~ Psalm 139:13
I am not distant and angry, but am the complete expression of love ~ 1 John 4:16
And it is my desire to lavish my love on you ~ 1 John 3:1
Simply because you are my child and I am your father ~ 1 John 3:1
I offer you more than your earthly father ever could ~ Matthew 7:11
For I am the perfect father ~ Matthew 5:48
For I am your provider and I meet all your needs ~ Matthew 6:31-33
My plan for your future has always been filled with hope ~ Jeremiah 29:11
Because I love you with an everlasting love ~ Jeremiah 31:3
My thoughts toward you are countless as the sand on the seashore ~ Psalm 139:17-18
And I rejoice over you with singing ~ Zephaniah 3:17
I will never stop doing good to you ~ Jeremiah 32:40
For you are my treasured possession ~ Exodus 19:5
I desire to establish you with all my heart and all my soul ~ Jeremiah 32:41
And I want to show you great and marvelous things ~ Jeremiah 33:3
If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me ~ Deuteronomy 4:29
Delight in me and I will give you the desires of your heart ~ Psalm 37:4
For it is I who gave you those desires ~ Philippians 2:13
I am able to do more for you than you could possibly imagine ~ Ephesians 3:20
For I am your greatest encourager ~ 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
I am also the Father who comforts you in all your troubles ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you ~ Psalm 34:18
As a shepherd carries a lamb, I have carried you close to my heart ~ Isaiah 40:11
One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes ~ Revelation 21:3-4
And I'll take away all the pain you have suffered on this earth ~ Revelation 21:3-4
I am your Father, and I love you even as I love my son, Jesus ~ John 17:23
For in Jesus, my love for you is revealed ~ John 17:26
He is the exact representation of my being ~ Hebrews 1:3
He came to demonstrate that I am for you, not against you ~ Romans 8:31
And to tell you that I am not counting your sins ~ 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled ~ 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
His death was the ultimate expression of my love for you ~ 1 John 4:10
I gave up everything I loved that I might gain your love ~ Romans 8:31-32
If you receive the gift of my son Jesus, you receive me ~ 1 John 2:23
And nothing will ever separate you from my love again ~ Romans 8:38-39
Come home and I'll throw the biggest party heaven has ever seen ~ Luke 15:7
I have always been Father, and will always be Father ~ Ephesians 3:14-15
My question is ~ Will you be my child? ~ John 1:12-13 Love, Your Dad, Almighty God

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The worst author ever?

One of the things I continually love about ministry is that I get the chance, the privellege of hearing people's stories, stories of lives and what has happened in the past as well as their ambitions and dreams.

For me Thursday nights are a time to relax and do something different (usually). After a friend & Parishioner from Banbridge posted on facebook that she was having the first reading of a new play that she had written in Larne, I enquired of the place and time and headed for a wee trip up.

The title of the blog may seem a bit of criticism ... but this is about the character in the play rather than my friend Doreen McBride the playwright!

Tonights reading of "The Funeral's Off" was held in the Larne Museum and Arts Centre. The script once refined will be performed in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast later on this month. 23rd of March at 7pm when Roma Tomelty will be playing Amanda.

The story a fascinating mix of absurdity, frustration, ambition and dealing with all of life's issues through the eyes of a wannabe author who thinks she is God's gift to the literary world. The author in question, (I must admit I never heard of her), is Larne born, Amanda Kitterick Ros

She is so famous, she even has her own article on Wikipedia!

To give you a sample of her work ... here is the opening to her poem "Visiting Westminister Abbey"

Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue'
Undergoes the same as you.

When one follows through the various linkages of authors we encounter Tolkien and CS Lewis as readers of her handiwork

Her novels provided the entertainment at gatherings of the Inklings, a group of Oxford dons including Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien who met from the 1930s to 1950s. They competed to see who could read her work aloud for longest before starting to laugh!!!!

Anyway getting back to this evening, Doreen McBride has in this monologue been able to combine the humour of Ros with a bit of study of somebody so awful that I certainly came away feeling a wee touch of sadness that she wasn't successful, another bit of me thinking but it really is bad, and another thinking that there may have been reasons for the writing.

All in all the audience that were there this evening were mostly Larne Locals who knew something about this local (in)famous figure who was remembered in a recent exhibition - so it was great to hear about a local literary figure who is remembered to this day.

So while we may judge Amanda as being bad, her work, her writing still live on well beyond her.

Thanks Doreen :-)

From the BBC in 2006 under the title ... Is this the world's worst Author

Literary critics and readers are being invited to judge if a Northern Ireland woman is the world's worst writer.

Amanda McKittrick Ros, who was born in 1860, has been accused of delivering some of the worst passages of literature ever written.

Described as formidable, she rejected her critics as being the "auctioneering agents of satan".

Now Culture Northern Ireland has challenged "lovers of awful literature" to see if they can read the longest passage from McKittrick Ros's work while keeping a straight face.

Her expectation was that she would "be talked about at the end of 1,000 years" and the organisation hopes the unique nature of her verse can match that.

David Lewis, director of Culture Northern Ireland website, said: "Any writer who is proud of 'disturbing the bowels' of her readers and can describe critics as 'auctioneering agents of Satan' is worthy of praise in my book.

Mocking Angel! The trials of a tortured throng
Are naught when weighed in the balance of future anticipations.
The living sometimes learn the touchy tricks of the traitor, the tardy, and the tempted;
The dead have evaded the flighty earthly future,
And form to swell the retinue of retired rights,
The righteous school of the invisible,
And the rebellious roar of the raging nothing

Irene Iddesleigh (1897)
Amanda McKittrick Ros

"Ros was an inveterate social climber, claiming to be descended from King Sitrick of Denmark. She even changed her name from Ross to Ros, linking herself with the old family of de Ros.

"In fact, she was a school mistress who married Andrew Ross the station master at Larne Harbour."

It was he who published her debut novel, Irene Iddesleigh, as an anniversary present.

It was the story of a marriage doomed from the first moment by unrequited love.

Sections of the literati in London established special societies which held gatherings to read her verse and Tom Sawyer author Mark Twain, Brave New World author Aldous Huxley and war poet Siegfried Sassoon were said to be fans.

McKittrick Ros, who was born near Ballynahinch, came top in a book entitled In Search of the World's Worst Writers by Nick Page.

Amanda McKittrick Ros
Beneath me here in stinking clumps
Lies Lawyer Largebones, all in lumps;
A rotten mass of clockholed clay,
Which grown more honeycombed each day.
See how the rats have scratched his face?
Now so unlike the human race;
I very much regret I can't Assist them in their eager 'bent'

The Lawyer Poems of Puncture (1912)

He described her as "the greatest bad writer who ever lived".

Frank Ormsby, editor of Thine in Storm and Calm, an anthology of Ros's work, said "she alliterated obsessively".

He added: "Even if one has forgotten her work for a few years, you only have to read a few paragraphs and you find the smile broadening on your face.

"You begin to realise why her work had such an appeal."

While her critics were many and often acerbic, the County Down writer is still held in great affection by her fans.

She was recognised by the people of Larne, who erected a plaque in her honour in the local library.

Amanda McKittrick Ros died on 3 February 1939


This Lent in our parish we are concentrating on 2 major Biblical themes - and being very practical about it

The first is an imperative to re-engage those on the periphery of our parish and inviting everyone to re-discover the joy of coming to church. We are doing this by looking various aspects of joy

. Belonging, family ... We look forward to welcoming visiting preachers coming and challenging us

The second is something which we are doing as part of a whole diocese initative ... of engaging with poverty here in our neighbourhood ... in our city. BoldI suppose I would like to ask the question of anyone reading this blog
  • How can the church, especially in leafy sub-urban city areas engage with poverty which is usually hidden?
  • How can we support social services who know where there is much need?
  • What sort of poverty do you experience?
We are called to help the poor ... but practically how? would love to hear readers views ... please do email me, leave a comment on blog or facebook!



Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday

So here we are at the start of another Lent.

This morning we celebrated Ash Wednesday in St. Columba's with a Holy Communion Service.

For those who have not been to a Church of Ireland Ash Wednesday Service it is quite a solemn act of worship. It follows a slightly different structure than our normal Holy Communion service

The Introduction to the service - describes what is happening very well

Brothers and sisters in Christ: since early days Christians have observed

with great devotion the time of our Lord's passion and resurrection. It

became the custom of the Church to prepare for this by a season of penitence and fasting.

At first this season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing

for baptism at Easter and by those who were to be restored to the

Church's fellowship from which they had been separated through sin. In

course of time the Church came to recognize that, by a careful keeping

of these days, all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and

the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in

faith and in devotion to our Lord.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Lord to observe a holy Lent,

by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial;

and by reading and meditating on God's holy word.

What are you doing for Lent?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Social Networking consequences?

We are living in a strange new world with twitter, facebook, blogger etc etc

In June I am running another set of "surfer" sessions in our parish ... last time it was silver surfers but this time it is open to all. One of the issues we are going to discuss is the use of social networks.

Over the course of the next few months I aim to fire in a few wee mini articles into my blog about some of the uses of these technologies as they are used by friends and colleagues building up a picture of the good, the bad and the ugly of this tech.

What sparked these articles off was my email inbox suddenly becoming alive with the subject "XX commented on a photograph of you" where XX were names in my long distant past. When I clicked on the linked contain therein there was a picture from a local newspaper - and lo and behold there I am ... standing where I always stand in pictures ... right at the back :-)

This Photo was taken in Primary 4, but it is more than that - this photo being on facebook also allows instant communication with those in the photo ... when we stop to think about this ... it is so amazing. How many of us have a tin of old pictures in a drawer, or a photo album and take it out from time to time and wonder what XX is doing now.

Connecting old school friends ... advantage?

... want to see the picture?

maybe I'll repost! maybe I wont! ;-)

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Up and Down the Mountain

Sermon preached on Sunday 7th March 2011 at St Columba's 7pm Choral Evensong

Today is the Sunday before lent, as we progress through the churches year we highlight various aspects of the Christian Life through the calendar and lectionary the readings.

Today we have changed the colours from Green to white - as we are remembering one of the highpoints of the church’s year - the Transfiguration of Christ. An event which Jesus brought Peter, James and John up a mountain, and then he appeared talking with Moses and Elijah. The Three witnessed this amazing display of God’s glory, they saw just how amazing Jesus is ... the impact of this is truly remarkable

Moses - The reluctant leader who lead the people out of slavery into the promised land, which he just glanced before he died, he was the one who proclaimed the 10 commandments

Then Elijah - the prophet who bore witness to mighty acts of God’s power and provision

How amazing it was for the 3 disciples to witness this unique event in history and to hear God’s voice saying of Jesus - “This is my beloved son, with him I am well pleased ... listen to him”

Our gospel reading this evening follows on from this experience ... they come down the mountain and are faced immediately with the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

It is quite remarkable how often we go through the same thing in our lives... of how we are on a high - perhaps celebrating some achievement and then in the next breath we encounter something which brings us down to earth with a bump ... perhaps bad news or a negative experience of some kind.

One of the tensions have have found as I progress through life is the making sense of this. The mountaintop highs and the valley lows.

For us in our lives of faith - High Times could be those spent with God, in prayer, in studying the Bible, in worship ... and then in the same day we may meeting up with people who have problems of all sorts, we may encounter problems with friends where our faith is challenged, where we fail to grasp what God is saying - it is always a tension between ...

How do we practice what we preach

How do we be the same on monday as we are on sunday

How do we combine sacred with secular

How do we practice the presence of God as we go about our daily lives

How do we communicate with a world which is hurting

There are no easy answers - but what we expenience in church, in our own home devotions and Bible Study has to empower us to reach out to those who need our help, impact those who do not know God.

Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains.

Encounters with God empower people to do things for him

The Disciples, Moses and the Burning Bush, Saul who became the apostle Paul.

Countless Saints down through the ages ... and even in the lives of Christians today

We probably won’t see a burning bush or be blinded for days but we may hear God saying “follow me”

we may be impacted by a cause which we know which needs supported,

a person we think could do with a wee bit of love

we may see injustice in our world

we may hear the call of God step out in faith some how.

It is good to worship, it is great to sing songs and to come to this place ... we as Christians do need to encounter God

But we also know that we need to go and face the valley, the people, the situations which are difficult. It is up to us to be God’s hands, feet, voice in others lives.

It is a difficult call but it one which we remember that we do not face alone - but God is with us, and that is the great news. We don’t worship a God who lives in a building or a temple, we have the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us, empowering us to do the things that Jesus did and much more besides :-)