Advent Wreath Ceremony 2020

I found this blog post and I’m happy to reblog as it compliments my Advent Sunday Devotional Candle one.

Gifts in Open Hands

Every home should have a circle with four lights. In some places, hybrid churches some people will be in a church building but always we name that the primary place of claiming God’s light is where each person lives. Four electric tea lights and a circle of dark green felt can be easily given to those who need them.

Several years ago Cláudio Carvalhaes, professor of worship at Union Theological Seminary, suggested that we lament before we light – naming those things which oppose or diminish hope, peace, joy and love. We name them and then claim the power of that light over them. I have always remembered that lesson and in this strange year his insight seems even more true.

Each person would contribute one word or name several of the things which oppose hope or shatter peace, the things we miss that seem so important to joy, the…

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Deadly Attack in Sulawesi

Salvation Army Press Release (28 November 2020)…

WITH great sadness, The Salvation Army confirms that an attack upon the Lewono Lembantongoa Outpost, Indonesia, on Friday 27 November 2020 has claimed the lives of four members. A Salvation Army outpost is a locality in which Army work is carried out and where it is hoped a society or corps will eventually develop.

Lewono Lembantongoa is in a very rural area of Sigi Regency, Central Sulawesi, situated on the edge of the Indonesian rainforest. During the morning of 27 November, the community was subjected to a savage attack, during which The Salvation Army’s building was burned down along with six homes of members. Sadly, four members of the outpost were killed.

Major Erik Kape (Divisional Commander, East Palu) and colleague officers acted immediately to support the local leaders, coordinating with police and with government officials of the Sigi Regency and Central Sulawesi Province who are increasing protection for the villages in the area and investigating the incident.

In a press statement released across Indonesia, The Salvation Army invites all churches and religious associations – along with community members – to support each other vigilantly in these days, enhancing security through strong communication networks across the villages of the area.

Territorial Commander for Indonesia, Colonel Yusak Tampai, urges Salvationists in the region to ‘remain calm but alert and careful, spreading a strong message of hope and uniting in prayer to strengthen each other’. Throughout Indonesia on Sunday 29 November, Salvationists are called to observe a three-minute silence and to pray for grieving families and congregations, asking for God’s peace to be poured upon the region. Some will be gathered for public worship while others are confined to home due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Noting that The Salvation Army serves in 131 countries and that the world continues to convulse with disturbing levels of violence affecting many of its people, General Brian Peddle, international leader of The Salvation Army, denounces any such acts. ‘Throughout all aspects of Salvation Army ministry and influence we work for peace,’ he says.

‘We find the news from Lembantongoa greatly disturbing. Our hearts go out to our people who have been victims of evil, and to the families of those whose faith have caused such harm. I call upon all Salvationists to pray for each person who has been affected, for the continuing witness of our people, and for healing in the communities. I ask our global community to join us in this prayer, and believe that as peace finds its place, evil will be defeated.

‘As General, I assure our people in Indonesia of our deep love and prayers,’ he concludes.

Messages of support and unity have been received from Indonesian church leaders. The Communion of Churches in Indonesia is inviting Christian families in Indonesia to light a candle at the beginning of Advent this Sunday as a symbol of the continuing hope found in Christ. The Salvation Army is a significant church presence in Indonesia, with more than 60,000 members.

The Salvation Army in Indonesia values this unity from fellow Christians and greatly welcomes prayer support from Salvationists worldwide.

IHQ Communications
International Headquarters

Advent Sunday Devotional Candle

On Advent Sunday (the start of the Christian year) we light the first candle of the Advent wreath. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning arrival or coming. The season of Advent is the first period of reflection in the Christian year, the second being Lent. Advent is a time for preparing for Christ’s second coming, even as we remember and celebrate his first coming at Christmas.

There are several themes related to this traditional wreath, with a variety of colours that sometimes incorporate purple and pink candles. For my four Advent Sunday posts (this and the following three Sundays) I’m sticking with red, but switching to white, purple and pink on Christmas Day. Similarly, the themes associated with each candle have variations and different traditions.

The first candle symbolises HOPE and is known as the Prophet’s Candle. The prophets of the Old Testament waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Advent Sunday is an opportunity to recall the hope we have in Christ. God told Abraham that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed, because he trusted and put his hope in God. The Old Testament spoke of the coming of Christ, of how a Saviour would be born, a king in the line of King David. He would rule the world wisely and bless all the nations. We also believe in God’s promise to send Jesus again to this world to establish his kingdom upon the earth.

Hope is like a light shining in a dark place. As we reflect on the light from this candle, we celebrate the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: God of Abraham, the Patriarchs and Prophets of old, you are our Father too. Your love is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Son of David. Help us in preparing to celebrate his birth, to make our hearts ready and to place our hope in you. Help us today and every day to worship you, to hear your word, and to do your will by sharing your hope with others. We ask it in the name of the one who was born in Bethlehem. Amen.

See also: Advent Wreath Ceremony 2020

All Saints’ Day to Advent Sunday

I share some thoughts and prayers from the Church of England website for my final Sunday devotional of the Christian year, one which ends with the Feast of Christ the King. I hope and pray this will be helpful in your preparation for the season of Advent and Christmas.

All Saints’ Day and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed on All Souls’ Day both celebrate this mutual belonging. All Saints’ Day celebrates men and women in whose lives the Church as a whole has seen the grace of God powerfully at work. It is an opportunity to give thanks for that grace, and for the wonderful ends to which it shapes a human life; it is a time to be encouraged by the example of the saints and to recall that sanctity may grow in the ordinary circumstances, as well as the extraordinary crises, of human living. The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed celebrates the saints in a more local and intimate key. It allows us to remember with thanksgiving before God those whom we have known more directly: those who gave us life, or who nurtured us in faith.

Redemption is a work of God’s grace; it is God who redeems us in Christ and there is nothing to be done beyond what Christ has done. But we still wait for the final consummation of God’s new creation in Christ; those who are Christ’s, whether or not they have passed through death, are joined in prayer that God’s kingdom will be revealed finally and in all its fullness. We also sense that it is a fearful thing to come before the unutterable goodness and holiness of God, even for those who are redeemed in Christ; that it is searing as well as life-giving to experience God’s mercy; and this instinct also is expressed in the liturgy of All Souls’ Day.

Remembrance Sunday goes on to explore the theme of memory, both corporate and individual, as we confront issues of war and peace, loss and self-gift, memory and forgetting.

The annual cycle of the Church’s year now ends with the Feast of Christ the King. The year that begins with the hope of the coming Messiah ends with the proclamation of his universal sovereignty. The ascension of Christ has revealed him to be Lord of earth and heaven, and final judgement is one of his proper kingly purposes. The Feast of Christ the King returns us to the Advent theme of judgement, with which the cycle once more begins.

We pray for the coming of God’s kingdom.

You sent your Son to bring good news to the poor,
sight to the blind,
freedom to captives
and salvation to your people:
anoint us with your Spirit;
rouse us to work in his name.
Father, by your Spirit
bring in your kingdom.

Send us to bring help to the poor
and freedom to the oppressed.
Father, by your Spirit
bring in your kingdom.

Send us to tell the world
the good news of your healing love.
Father, by your Spirit
bring in your kingdom.

Send us to those who mourn,
to bring joy and gladness instead of grief.
Father, by your Spirit
bring in your kingdom.

Send us to proclaim that the time is here
for you to save your people.
Father, by your Spirit
bring in your kingdom.

Lord of the Church,
hear our prayer,
and make us one in mind and heart
to serve you in Christ our Lord. Amen.

Encouragement Costs Nothing

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 4:36-37

Barnabas is shown in the Acts of the Apostles to be a model Christian leader. He was a native of Cyprus, was active in the Jerusalem church and demonstrated unselfish generosity in meeting the needs of the poorer members of that community (Acts 4:32-37).

His given name was Joseph, but his nickname was Barnabas, meaning son of encouragement, one which clearly indicated his character.

Bible Reading: Acts 11:19-24

Barnabas was able to give a fair assessment of the new church in Antioch, perceiving God’s blessing to be there, and he encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

His character was one of transparent goodness and abundant faith, combined with a Spirit-filled life and ministry. The leaders of the Antioch church chose him as their representative on the first missionary journey, confirming their recognition of his worth (Acts 13:1-3).

Barnabas was John Mark’s cousin and mentor and he played a major role in giving John Mark a second chance to make good as a Christian leader (Acts 15:36-40).

Barnabas wasn’t perfect, he gave in to peer pressure on one occasion, although he knew better (Galatians 2:11-16). Even so, he was a son of encouragement to many, and a generous, unselfish man who fostered growth in others and in the church.

We’re also imperfect human beings, and so the life of Barnabas can be an encouragement to us. Encouragement costs nothing, and it can really lift other people. So, why not make a point of encouraging someone every day, especially in these difficult times?

Diwali: Festival of Lights

Diwali came very much to the front of my mind when I lived in Leicester, mainly because the city has a very large and diverse ethnic minority population, their Diwali celebrations are widely believed to be the largest outside of India.

Diwali is the Indian Festival of Lights, it’s one of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, symbolising the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.

Obviously restricted in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, normally there are 6,500 lights all along Belgrave and Melton Roads, around fifty separate events spread across the city over a two-week period, including music, dance and live performances in a variety of venues, all ending with a spectacular firework display.

Remembrance Sunday 2020

Bible Readings: James 3:17-18 & Matthew 5:1-12

We all carry assumptions that influence how we think about every aspect of life and person we encounter. Unfortunately, some of them are likely to be wrong or unfair. Yet, I imagine life would be impossible if we didn’t make some basic assumptions to help us navigate our daily lives.

Something that’s very central to my Christian faith is how Jesus teaches us to question our assumptions, encouraging us to glimpse the world through the very eyes of God. Jesus’ teaching remains challenging because it calls into question many of our everyday assumptions, often turning our understanding on its head.

On Remembrance Sunday it’s easy to assume that Jesus and his followers represent a cosy religious inoffensiveness filled with sweetness and light, sentimental love and peace, whilst those involved with the military are people of violence who espouse hate and glory in violence.

Of course, we admire the dedication, professionalism and bravery of the men and women of our armed forces, but we can’t help thinking that their very existence is a consequence of human failure.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need armed forces, but the reality is we do, and there are times when when we realise that the the veneer of civilisation is very thin.

I feel uncomfortable with the amount spent on weapons, and the time and effort used to devise ‘better’ ways to kill and maim, especially through nuclear weapons. Surely our only possible reaction is that of sorrow and penitence.

Love isn’t simply being loveable and nice. Christian love, expressed most fully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is a determined commitment, the opposite of indifference rather than the opposite of hate. Also, we often see it in the most unlikely of places, again challenging our assumptions.

The old hymn Gentle Jesus, meek and mild is misleading I feel. Yes, he’s attractive and captivating, but I’m not sure about some of the other traditional pictures we might have about Jesus. He was brave and committed.

The Christian Gospel isn’t about liking people or being liked by them, it’s a total commitment that’s divine love in all its fullness.

We recognise true selfless, loving commitment when we see it. We long for that wisdom from above which, in the words of James, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits. Love, which even in our fallen world, we sometimes glimpse in the most unlikely of places.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

On Remembrance Sunday, I want to remember and honour individual and personal examples of brave commitment and sacrifice in the lives of those tragically given or permanently changed by war, whilst also remembering the supreme love of God shown in Jesus. See also here.

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun
and in the morning,
we will remember them

Imitating Christ’s Humility

Here are some challenging words about humility from the Bible, words that can be appreciated by people of all faiths or none. These are important words for our troubled times, when love and understanding are often in short supply.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

You can read the whole passage in Philippians 2:1-11 where you can click and see the passage in context.

Be still, and know (Will J Brand)

A simple Sunday devotional this week in the form of a poem by Salvationist poet Will J Brand, inspired by Psalm 46:10. These are helpful words for our challenging times. I’ve used these words here, but felt they needed a post of their own.

Only the quiet heart may know
Thy secret ways, O God;
And they that hasten to and fro
These paths have never trod,
Nor journeyed where still waters flow,
Supported by Thy staff and rod:
Only the quiet heart may know
Thy secret ways, O God.

Peace of the tranquil heart,
Fall upon me;
Gift of the Father
My sentinel be:
Guard Thou my heart
In the presence of ill,
Hold me – encompass me –
I would be still.

Only the quiet heart is strong
It’s daily load to bear;
To greet the waking morn with song
And end the day with prayer,
Glad, though the road be hard and long,
That Love has borne the larger share:
Only the quiet heart is strong
It’s daily load to bear.

Yes, but the quiet heart is sure
That God is over all;
‘Be still, and know’, His words endure
Though crowns and empires fall.
Wait thou for Him, content, secure,
He serves thy need’s unspoken call:
Rest, quiet heart, forever sure
Thy God is all-in-all.

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.