Territorial Congress 2020

This weekend (24-25 October 2020) I won’t be publishing a Sunday devotional, because of this event. I invite you to participate.

Light, Life, Love is the inspiring theme and focus of The Salvation Army’s Territorial Congress on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 October 2020.

Originally advertised: Territorial Leaders Commissioners Anthony and Gill Cotterill will lead the weekend that is a not-to-be missed opportunity to meet like-minded people, discuss the big questions and be equipped and resourced to explore your faith and ministry, the event is now online and details can be found here.

Feast of St Luke

Today (Sunday 18 October 2020) there’s a focus on anti-human trafficking and modern slavery in the Salvation Army, but I’m leaving that theme for others to cover, focusing instead on the Feast of St Luke.

If you’d like to know more about the work of the Salvation Army in supporting victims of modern slavery you can find out more here.

So, turning back to Luke (the patron saint of medicine and healing), Church of England cathedrals will today be praying for the healing of the nation, as well as for all those working in health and social care services.

Having said all that, I’m sure we can carry both emphases in our minds and find links between them, healing for victims of modern slavery and healing for our nation in a time of national crisis.

Luke is especially known as the gospel writer who focussed on the poor and the outcast, relating parables and incidents in the life of Jesus to illustrate this. He shared a faith that held truth to power, one that brought the values of God’s kingdom to people, the way of vulnerability and unconditional love.

In 2 Timothy 4:5-17 he’s referred to as one of the disciples who travelled beyond the Holy Land to share the story of Jesus. It’s thought that he was a companion of Paul, and in Colossians he’s called the beloved physician.

He’s the author of Luke’s Gospel along with its continuation, the book we know as the Acts of the Apostles. This latter book picks up the events after Jesus’ death and resurrection and tells how his story and message spread in the early days of the church. Luke is someone who has given us precious insights into the life and person of Jesus, and shaped our understanding of the spread of Christianity

Luke highlights parables which show Christ’s love for the poor and marginalised, women, children, the outcast, and the disabled. He also warns us about the dangers of wealth and encourages generosity. In Luke, the traditional order of things is upended, like the overturning of the tables in the temple. The tax collector is closer to God than the man of religion, and the wayward son is blessed by his father in what appears to be favouritism to his elder brother. In this upside-down world of Jesus, it’s the poor, lost and vulnerable who are welcomed and blessed.

Here’s the heart of the revolutionary message of Jesus; one which crosses boundaries, upsets established traditions, and disturbs the comfortable and complacent status quo.

Isaiah, in the Old Testament, offers us a glimpse into the heart of Jesus described in his gospel. Isaiah 35:3-6 gives us a vision of radical transformation, something that’s central to the Kingdom of God. 2 Timothy 4:5-17 (already mentioned) speaks of the courage and willingness needed to embrace these new values of Jesus.

Luke 10:1-9 describes Jesus sending out disciples to share his radical message, a message that may challenges our attitudes and values, suggesting they may need to be overturned.

The kingdom of God has come near to you.

Are we ready to be open-hearted? Are we ready to have our deepest assumptions challenged? Are we ready to embrace the values of Jesus?

Luke brings us, in his gospel, the timeless and up-to-date message of Jesus. One that demands courage, humility, and a willingness to change. One that calls for inclusion, an acceptance of all those unlike us. Jesus lifts everyone up and places them on the highest level where everyone is loved and valued.

A supreme vision of humanity that he was prepared to die for.

Dear God, we pray for victims of human trafficking, for those who have been dehumanized and held captive by the greed and violence of a broken world. For girls and boys, women, and men, who are bought and sold and abused by those who have forgotten the eternal value of a human soul. May they rediscover their worth in you. And may we affirm their worth as individuals who are made in your image.

Lord, reveal the way our choices may play a part in keeping others captives by creating demand for more slaves, and give us courage to make different choices. Give us eyes to see injustice and exploitation, and give us the courage to speak out against evil. Use us to bring light into the darkened corners of this world, that they may not remain dark forever.

May Your light expose the evil deeds of the captors, and may your love create a change of heart within those who are perpetrators of human trafficking. Use us to loosen the chains of injustice and let the oppressed go free.

We pray for an end to the evil that is human trafficking, and we pray that the victims of trafficking may find restoration and healing in you. Amen.

Note: the source of the above prayer can be found here.

The Changing Seasons

Following on from my previous harvest thoughts, I’m continuing the theme in this Sunday devotional post.

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:15-22

We all like a fresh start, and so many people use the New Year to look at their lives, their hopes and their goals. For the students starting their studies, it’s very much a fresh start now. In nature, the changing seasons constantly provide fresh starts, each one preparing for the next.

Yearning for a fresh start is very common, because we make mistakes and mess up, because we experience regret and disappointment, or simply because of our circumstances.

When Noah and his family stepped out of the dark and smelly ark into a fresh new world, the first thing they did was to build an altar in thankful worship to God. Noah was making a fresh start in a new Eden, with the blessings of the covenant sealed by a rainbow.

But it wasn’t all sweetness and light for Noah and his family. It reminds us that things don’t always go as we would like, and it wasn’t long before God’s gift of grapes was harvested, and Noah became very drunk and disorderly.

But we live in a wonderful world, constantly renewed in the changing of the seasons, and in our Christian lives we can also experience the constant renewal of our faith, so important to our spiritual health.

God of new beginnings,
we are walking into mystery.
We face the future, not knowing
what the days and months will bring us
or how we will respond.
Be love in us as we journey.
May we welcome all who come our way.
Deepen our faith
to see all life through your eyes.
Fill us with hope and an abiding trust
that You dwell in us amidst all our joys and sorrows.
Thank You for the treasure of our faith life.
Thank You for the gift of being able
to rise each day with the assurance of
Your walking through the day with us.
God of our past and future,
we praise you. Amen.

We can be renewed each day, we can make a fresh start every morning, and we can offer ourselves in ministry and service now and into the future.

Thankfulness for the Harvest

Bible Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1-11 & Philippians 4:4-9

It seems that ‘thank you’ letters are going out of style in our digital world, even though they are wonderful to write and receive.

Letter writing has never featured prominently as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for the harvest. Yet a letter, written by Paul to the church congregation in Philippi, provides a clue about an appropriate thanksgiving for the harvest: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice.

Paul also tells them, Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Our part of God’s creation isn’t well-treated by humankind, and the effects of this are visible in scarred, overused landscapes, experienced in polluted air, waters empty of fish, and the issue of plastic in the oceans. We also know that farmers are a community under pressure, seeking to reduce costs and increase yields, while trying to obtain a fair price for their product.

In the Old Testament, the people take some of the first of the harvest to the priest at the place where they believe God dwells, they recite the story of their rescue from slavery, and of coming into the land which flows with milk and honey, and finally they bow down before their God.

At this time of the year, in the northern hemisphere, we say an appropriate ‘thank you’ to the Lord of Harvest and God of Creation.

As we reflect on the work of human hands in partnership with God, we unite in solidarity with farmers and express the hope that everyone may eat and drink, both for sustenance and pleasure. We also accept responsibility for looking after our environment.

We thank God for the harvest in our prayers, our praise, and our practical action – a good response for every day of the year.

You have given us
a world of beauty,
and we have spoilt it.
A world to feed us,
and so many go hungry.
A world of riches,
and we are unwilling to share.
A world to care for,
and we think only of ourselves.
Forgive us, gracious God,
every time your heart is saddened
by our selfishness,
every time we have no thought
for others, no cares but ours.
Enable us to see this world
as a gift from you
that can be shared,
and those who live on it
as our neighbours.
We ask this that your name
may be glorified
through the beauty of this world
and the service of our lives.

Source unknown.

Solitude (Harry Read)

I’m planning to start posting weekly Sunday devotionals now that I’m settling into retirement, but for now I’m sharing a poem by Salvation Army Officer Harry Read. He’s a remarkable Christian gentleman who I’ve already posted about here.

There is a silence wherein God is found,
A quietness which is a source of grace,
A love-filled solitude that has no bound
Accessible from any hour and place.

It is that centre wherein God is known
And love, sublimest love holds sway.
We enter as we move towards his throne,
We share its myst’ry as we bow to pray.

God folds us to himself with tenderness,
He longs that of himself we should be part,
Our hopes he fills with yearning’s gentle stress
That we might share the feelings of his heart.

Within that most creative solitude,
Our deepest, inward being is renewed.

…and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Colossians 3:10

Praise the Lord with Music and Song

photo of person playing acoustic guitar
Photo by Brent Keane on Pexels.com

Bible Readings: Psalm 95:1-7a & Psalm 150

Both these Psalms are an encouragement to praise the Lord, especially to praise him with music and song: Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.

Psalm 150 begins and ends with the words, Praise the Lord or Hallelujah. The verses in between invite us to praise, telling us where and why to praise, and instructing us how to. We praise God because of who he is and because of what he has done, his surpassing greatness and his acts of power.

We praise him supremely because of what he did in sending Jesus to be our Saviour and Lord. We praise him with music, with song, and with our very lives. Psalm 150 expresses the sheer exuberance of lives given to God.

We thank God for lives devoted to him, who praise him day by day. The challenge comes to each one of us to use our talents and gifts, whether they are musical or whatever, to praise God and extend his kingdom. Also, in these days of coronavirus pandemic, many are discovering new talents and gifts for ministering in unexpected and exciting ways.

I finish this short thought with a prayer of praise I came across recently:

Creator God,
from the moment your spirit
hovered over the waters of this earth,
we were part of a vision
held lovingly within your heart.
From the moment you spoke
and separated darkness from light,
you created space
where we might one day walk.
From the moment your joy
spilled out into green and living things,
your beauty was revealed
for us to taste and see.
Creator God,
for this world,
beauty and majesty,
passion and artistry,
a green and pleasant place,
we praise your mighty name.

28/06/20 Shaping the Future

white socks on white paper
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

This is my final Sunday message before I retire in a few days time. Technically, I’m on holiday, but I’ve been pleased to share these weekly thoughts during June.

I mentioned at my welcome in 2015 that moving to Wallsend was more than just a new chapter in my life and ministry as a follower and servant of Jesus Christ, it was a whole new section of the book. I’d married Naomi the previous year and we arrived with Freddy who was three months old. I now leave to retire with our completed family, Matilda and Pollyanna having been born during our time here.

At a time of change we naturally think about making a fresh start, sorting things out, reflecting on how we can do things better, and taking positive steps into the future.

Although the future is unknown, we can play our part to make it a better place. It has to start today, because the only place we can live is in the present. It’s said that there’s no time like the present. So, if we want to shape the future, we need to start today.

We don’t need a special occasion, or a time of change, even though it often helps. We can take positive steps that will help shape the future of our own individual lives and that of others at any time.

Let me share some lovely words by Denise Brine with you:

Father God, I seek your guidance,
For I have a part to play
In the shaping of tomorrow
By the way I live today.
Take my hopes, my dreams, my passions,
Take my strength, my weakness too.
Shape my life; fulfil your purpose;
Start today; make me like you.

If I want to shape tomorrow
Then I need to start today,
Seeking, Lord, a revelation
Of your will and of your way.
If my passions, prayers and lifestyle
Are the witness people see,
Do I need a reformation
Of your Kingdom-life in me?

My todays will shape tomorrow!
Does that prospect please your eyes?
Are there changes that must happen?
Are there faults to recognise?
Shape me as seems best to you, Lord,
Start today, and help me see
That tomorrow will be better
When your life is seen in me.

David (in Psalm 51) prays in verse 10: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. The Message paraphrase words it in a very interesting way: God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Matthew Henry suggests that David is praying, Lord, fix me for the time to come.

Life isn’t easy for many people today, especially with the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. We need to be there for them and for each other. We can share the best of humanity, as well as the love of God, by small acts of kindness to others. A simple smile, an offer of help, a genuine word of encouragement, beautiful actions of love.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are [together] on the road,
We are here to help each other,
Walk the mile and bear the load,

I will hold the Christlight for you,
In the night-time of your fear,
I will hold my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.

May that prayer be answered in each of our lives as we daily move into an unknown future, but one into which we can all take a hopeful and positive contribution.

21/06/20 Isaiah 46

15512339097_86182b2e44_b

Isaiah 46 contains two sharply contrasting pictures; the first is of people carrying their god, the second one is of God carrying his people.

Isaiah can’t help smiling when he sees the shallow religion of the nations around Israel, what a miserable thing it must be to have a god who is a burden, who has to be carried from place to place. So he draws a humorous picture of a glittering god that looks great, but needs half a dozen men to carry it, a useless burden that weighs them down.

The second picture is of God our Heavenly Father, who carries his people from before birth, through life and past death into eternity.

Read: Isaiah 40:28-31

These two pictures represent two types of religion. On the one hand, one that has to be carried, that’s a burden, that’s a duty, that weighs us down and wears us out. On the other hand, one that worships a God who upholds with his powerful arms, one that carries us, lifts us, lightens our spirits and fills us with peace and joy.

I know which religion I prefer! Unfortunately, there are some Christians who choose the heavy, burdensome religion. Is it any wonder people reject it?

The disciples who met the Risen Jesus on the Emmaus Road recognised him when he broke bread. Their spirits were lifted: Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us? Luke 24:32

Commissioner Catherine Bramwell-Booth wrote:

Come, blessed Jesus, come;
Break bread again for me;
Lord open Thou my eyes that I
Thy living self may see.
Then joy shall fill my heart,
My strength be all renewed
To witness of Thy death and life,
By Thine own power endued.

As we open ourselves up to God our Heavenly Father, and as we come humbly into his presence, he lifts us up and fills us with his nature.

Let’s not be content with a religion of strain and struggle, fear and duty, heavy hearts and clouded faces, when we can have a faith that carries our burdens, lightens our spirits and fills us with love, joy and peace.

True faith is attractive, it draws others to Christ. May we never turn antone away because our religion is joyless, judgemental and narrow. See: 1 John 5:3-4

Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day because of the heavy loads they put on the people. See: Matthew 23:1-4

How refreshing, then, are the words of Jesus: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

May that be real in our lives, and may we share it with those around us, as we recognise the true nature of God our Heavenly Father.

14/06/20 Quiet Times

silhouette of man sitting on grass field at daytime
Photo by Spencer Selover on Pexels.com

Bible Reading: Philippians 4:4-9

Isaiah 30:15 reminds us that, in quietness and confidence shall be your strength. That’s been my experience of faith during both good and bad times, and is my continuing experience now. The quiet times before God are so important for our spiritual health as Christians, and for our confidence and strength in ministry and service. Something we are all called to exercise.

Over the years I’ve a found a variety of resources that have helpfully enriched my prayer life, but the pure simplicity of coming before God in prayer after reading his word has so much to commend it. It’s helpful at the beginning of the day, but it can be flexible. I’ve also found that a written list is invaluable, so I remember all the people and situations I need to pray for.

Sometimes music has helped me, sometimes it’s been the beauty of God’s creation (especially at the top of mountains in South Wales), and at other times it’s been a quiet space in the midst of the rush and bustle of life (an example of this being the chapel of a hospital). So next time you’re in a hospital, maybe visiting someone or there for an appointment, find the chapel and spend a few moments of quietness and say some appropriate prayers.

Sometimes, when life has been hard, prayer has been difficult for me (I’m only human after all). At these times I’ve found a holding cross very useful. These can be bought from good Christian bookshops, along with a booklet of advice and prayers. When you can’t pray, you can hold the cross and simply allow your feelings and emotions to become a prayer to God, our heavenly Father.

We also come to God in prayer to listen, to open our hearts to his Holy Spirit and to allow him to make us the people he wants us to be. I find prayers in the Celtic tradition helpful in this respect, and I finish these thoughts with one of them:

Awaken me to your presence,
Alert me to your love,
Affirm me in your peace.
Open to me your way,
Reveal to me your joy,
Enfold me in your light,
For my heart is ready,
Lord, my heart is ready.

David Adam (from The Open Gate)

07/06/20 How are you?

black and white photography on man in black coat
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, just as you are progressing spiritually. 3 John 2

‘How are you?’ we ask. And ‘fine’ comes the reply. But what are we really asking? And do we actually want to know, anyway?

Some years ago, I said ‘How are you?’ to a mentally disturbed man in church. With rare honesty, he responded, ‘You don’t want to know’. ‘But I do’ I protested (perhaps less honestly). ‘Well, look at your feet’, he replied, and I realised that I was walking past him even as I mouthed my automatic question.

Many languages have formulae for greeting, with questions about one’s neighbour’s family, animals, work, travel, sleep, eliciting standard responses. They oil the wheels of everyday life in society.

But what kind of interest in others might we convey in those short exchanges while travelling, on arrival at work, at the school gate, in the check-out queue or (when we get back) in church?

The apostle John, writing to his ‘dear friend Gaius‘, expressed three heartfelt wishes. First, that his friend should have good health. Second, that everything in his life should go well. Third, that his spiritual life should continue to thrive. Three wishes on the physical, circumstantial and spiritual planes.

We appear to think almost entirely about people’s health when we ask ‘how are you?’ Sometimes we scarcely wait for the expected answer, but that little answer ‘fine’ may veil a newly diagnosed cancer or a marriage on the rocks. ‘Fine’ may veil a lost faith or a broken heart.

If we genuinely care for others, we must be interested in their whole lives, in the issues they are facing in their families and in their work. Do we also have courage, with our Christian friends, to ask ‘How is your relationship with God?’

We need to pray for people on all these three planes like John, and when we write to people we need to ask after all these aspects of their lives. But in our everyday greetings, too, may we try to find ways of encouraging others by expressing a genuine concern for things that are going on in the deeper recesses of their hearts and minds.