A Year of Retirement

Today (1 July 2021) marks one since since my retirement, although we didn’t move to our new home until a week later because of all the difficulties related to the first coronavirus lockdown. It was something of a nightmare that’s best forgotten.

Where has the time gone?
How did I ever find time to work?

I’ve already written about how my retirement was never going to normal with three young children, but even so it hasn’t quite been the year I expected. Coronavirus has messed up everyone’s plans.

Overall, it’s been a good year, even if we’re settling into a new routine later and slower than we’d hoped. We’ve not been to an ‘in person’ Sunday worship meeting at a local Salvation Army yet, but having worked some Saturdays and all Sundays for many years, I have to admit I’m enjoying my weekends at home. Weekday mornings are all about getting Freddy and Matilda to school, so our weekends are precious family time. But I’m sure there are many Salvationists and church-goers who are reassessing their lives as the restrictions are relaxed.

Having said that, there are many positives. We’re very happy in our new home, even if there are still jobs to do, but isn’t that always the way? Pollyanna now regularly attends Parent and Toddler groups prior to starting nursery in September. Contact with family and friends is easier and more frequent now. Naomi is able to get out more and build links in the village. I’ve started running and language learning again. Both of us have taken up (or restarted) hobbies, and I’m hoping to be appointed as a parent governor at the children’s school as a way of serving our community.

I’ve also settled into posting something on my blog every day, with a weekly Sunday devotional.

So, here’s to another year to enrich our family life together, build links within our community, taking opportunities to reach out to others in Christian ministry.

Overdependent on technology?

As a total technophile, I’ve been reflecting recently on whether we’ve become overdependent on it in our interdependent world.

Technology seems to have taken over all aspects of our lives. Yes, it brings huge benefits, but what happens when it fails on a huge scale? Also, what about those who are left behind, unable to access or use it?

Technology in my first appointment as a Salvation Army Officer (Bideford 1980) comprised a portable typewriter (Cc meant carbon paper copy), a duplicator, a landline telephone, and snail mail. Oh, and a big black book for finance. Those were the days!

I’m not sure I want to go back to those days, but they were simpler times. I love technology, and (now retired) there were many aspects of technology I was highly delighted to say goodbye to!

The Breath of God (Pentecost)

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” John 20:22 (for the context of the whole chapter click here).

Just as air is vital for our physical survival, so the regular breath of God is essential for our spiritual health. We readily understand the physical world, but the concept of the spiritual realm can be less easy to grasp. Indeed, the idea of spirituality is frequently mentioned, but often not defined, and its very nature makes it somewhat nebulous.

In the Bible, the word for ‘spirit’ and the words for wind and breath are closely linked. John portrays the Risen Christ breathing on his disciples his life giving breath, the very energy of his being in an act of new creation.

This life giving energy of the Spirit transforms men and women, shaping them to share God’s radiance and Christ’s saving love. It’s an energy that binds his people together, summed up in the Greek word koinonia, which we can translate as communion and fellowship.

The Holy Spirit at Pentecost recreates us in the image of the God of love, and enables us to live in Christian fellowship. This is the heart of Christian spirituality, not a vague and spongy otherworldliness. The transforming grace of the Holy Spirit also creates a passion in individual lives and collective fellowships for the welfare of others and a deep longing for God.

Pentecostal spirituality is about human lives being shaped by the life of Jesus Christ, with people finding their meaning and identity in the pattern of his self giving love. This Christian spirituality is not an escape from the world, but living in the real world, a world that can be transformed by God’s grace.

Let me share some words and poetry by Harry Read:

We had not long been appointed as Territorial Commanders to the Australia Eastern Territory, when we met the wise, gracious and widely experienced Colonel and Mrs Colonel George Carpenter, the son and daughter-in-law of the late General and Mrs General George L. Carpenter.

In the course of a thoroughly enjoyable exchange of experiences, Colonel George’s wise words to the fledgling Territorial Commanders were: “You don’t have to work harder, just hoist your sails higher to catch the ‘Wind of the Spirit’.”

With sound of rushing wind the Spirit came,
His very nature full of mystery.
The ‘Wind of God’, His Word reveals His name,
The cleansing, stirring wind of liberty.

Like Trade Winds He maintains His course with ease;
An evidence, and means of massive power
At times unscheduled, like a wayward breeze
Caressing life and bloom on tree and flower.

“Great Wind of God, refresh our stagnant world,
Bring life to every heart and mind and soul.
Direct our ways as we, with sails unfurled
Ourselves abandon, to Thy strong control.”

We need not strive a meagre goal to gain –
We hoist the sails and He will take the strain.

…suddenly there came from the sky a noise like that of a strong driving wind…
Acts 2:1-3 (New English Bible)

Language of the Soul, Harry Read’s latest book of prayer poetry is available in every country in paperback or Kindle.

Order your copy here:
http://www.bit.ly/Prayer-Read
http://www.bit.ly/prayer-readUSA

And Heart Talk, Harry Read’s first book of prayer poetry, is now also available on Kindle here:

https://tinyurl.com/Heart-Talk-Read
https://tinyurl.com/Heart-Talk-ReadUSA

Candidates Sunday 2021

A simple Sunday devotional to encourage you to join in with this important day in the Salvation Army calendar in the UK. It’s an opportunity to consider God’s calling. Click here for a whole range of resources which you can use for a devotional time today.

Candidates Sunday is an important day in the territorial calendar. It is a day when we’re encouraged to put a specific focus on considering God’s calling on our lives and what that calling might mean … what it might look like … where it might take us. Within that broad subject, it is a day when we’re encouraged to think about how The Salvation Army needs officers and territorial envoys … people who are willing to sign up and step out into a new ministry with God. It is an opportunity to encourage and challenge those who are sensing that God is speaking to them about a specific calling he has on their lives. Source

Become aware of Him (Harry Read)

For my Sunday devotional today, I share some words of Salvation Army Officer Harry Read that he previously shared on Facebook.

Many years ago when I was preparing the script for the Cadet’s Commissioning at The Royal Albert Hall in London, I had the feeling that a special kind of song was needed. More than once I’d started writing the verses but the inspiration wasn’t flowing. However it slowly dawned on me that the song was closer to hand than I had imagined because the Lord – It had to be, the Lord – was leading me to John, our son. Through conversation and observation I was aware of the larger issues of life that John was facing. It seemed obvious to me to me that, through him, the theme of the song was clear but that wasn’t the time to reveal its source.

The verses were written and with his consummate skill the then Captain Robert Redhead wrote the music. The Cadets sang it wonderfully well, possibly because they too related to the theme of the song and, quite quickly, the song became part of our International music ministry.

Quite some time later, when John and his lovely wife, Anne, were married and Cadets at the International Training College, I shared with them the source of the song. Obviously they were moved and, in the family since then, we have always called the song, ‘John’s Song’.

Jesus knows your way,
The road your feet now tread;
Jesus knows your way,
The steps that lie ahead.
Far past the distant view
With dangers ever new,
He knows your way
And walks that way with you.

Chorus:
Become aware of Him,
For he is ever near;
Speak out your prayer to Him
For He will ever hear.
Stretch out your hand to Him,
He’s ever by your side;
Leave all you’ve planned to Him
And let Him guide.

Jesus knows your heart,
Those depths of hidden fire,
Jesus knows your heart,
Those heights of pure desire,
His love can scan and tell
The forces that rebel,
He knows your heart
And longs within to dwell.

Jesus knows your life
The man whom time has made;
Jesus knows your life
With all its light and shade,
Knows what you ought to be,
Sees your great destiny;
He knows your life
And offers Calvary.

Ephesians 3: 16, 17a
“…I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…”.

Language of the Soul, my latest book of prayer poetry is available in every country in paperback or Kindle.

Order your copy here:
http://www.bit.ly/Prayer-Read
http://www.bit.ly/prayer-readUSA

And Heart Talk, my first book of prayer poetry, is now also available on Kindle here:

https://tinyurl.com/Heart-Talk-Read
https://tinyurl.com/Heart-Talk-ReadUSA

Dining Table School Class

Home schooling and Zoom classes have been a regular part of our home life for many weeks during the coronavirus lockdown, but yesterday I had the new experience of actually teaching a primary school lesson from our dining room table by video call.

Going into schools as a Salvation Army Officer is something I’ve always enjoyed; either leading an assembly, taking a class, or simply attending an event. Fortunately, it’s something I can continue now I’m retired. So I was pleased to be invited by a friend to teach a Reception Class at Morgans Primary School, Hertford.

I spoke about the Salvation Army and Easter, answering questions such as: Is it a real fighting army? Why are there so many celebrations and holidays around Easter? Is the Easter bunny a Christian thing?

It seemed to go well and I look forward to further opportunities in the future, and hopefully in person at Freddy and Matilda’s school when life returns to normal.

Note: It was the first time I’d used Google Meet and I preferred it to Zoom.

Temptation 2 (Lent 3)

This devotional post follows on from last Sunday’s post. You might like to read it before continuing this post, it can be found by clicking here. Although I use a photo of food again, temptations are much deeper than just craving chocolate.

Bible Readings: Mark 1:9-13 and Matthew 4:1-11

Lent is traditionally a time of fasting, but spiritually it might better be considered a time to feast. A time to feed our souls by reflecting on the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter.

Jesus resisted temptation with exactly the same resources that are available to us: namely the Word of God, prayer, self-discipline, obedience and faith. This comes as a great encouragement to us.

This wilderness experience of Jesus has much to teach us, more than might be immediately apparent, especially as the account can only have come to us from Jesus himself. He clearly wanted us to know about it.

The first thing we learn is that it’s not a sin to be tempted. Temptation isn’t the same thing as sin. If Jesus was tempted, it follows that we’re not immune. So the moment the inappropriate thought comes into our head we have a choice to accept or reject it, to act on it or dismiss it. Jesus was at his weakest, the time when temptations often come, yet he was prepared.

Temptations often come to us when we are at our weakest, and they can sometimes take us by surprise. As Christians, temptations are bound to come, we should expect them and be prepared for them.

And the nearer we are to God, the closer our walk with him, the more likely we are to be tempted. C. S. Lewis wrote: There is a silly idea about that good people don’t know what temptation means.

The second thing to learn is that temptation often comes after a spiritual high point. This was the case with Jesus. He’d just been baptised in the River Jordan, been owned by a voice from heaven, and experienced perfect communion with his heavenly Father.

After being especially aware of God’s presence in our lives is often the time when we are thrown into a wilderness experience: when doubts, fears and temptations can come flooding in. What was true for Jesus is true for us.

The third thing to learn is that it’s not the Spirit who tempts. The Spirit led Jesus into the desert, but it wasn’t the Spirit who tempted. God may allow us to be tempted, but he never tempts. The fact that Jesus was tempted alerts us to the fact that it can serve a useful purpose.

Someone has said that our character is not usually developed by drifting along in the calm waters of tranquillity.

Speaking of trials and temptations, Peter writes: These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7

Our trials and temptations are God’s opportunities. Opportunities to be filled with the same Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus. The dove that made him gentle also made him strong.

In conclusion, Jesus was tempted to turn from the way of the cross, but he was victorious for us. His Kingdom was established and his mission fulfilled. This is perfectly expressed in Song 74 of the Salvation Army Songbook, based on Philippians 2:5-11 that I’ve written about recently.

At the name of Jesus
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him
King of Glory now;
’Tis the Father’s pleasure
We should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning
Was the mighty Word.

At his voice creation
Sprang at once to sight,
All the angel faces,
All the hosts of light,
Thrones and dominations,
Stars upon their way,
All the heavenly orders
In their great array.

Humbled for a season,
To receive a name
From the lips of sinners
Unto whom he came,
Faithfully he bore it
Spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious
When from death he passed.

Bore it up triumphant
With its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures
To the central height,
To the throne of Godhead,
To the Father’s breast;
Filled it with the glory
Of that perfect rest.

In your hearts enthrone him;
There let him subdue
All that is not holy,
All that is not true;
Crown him as your captain
In temptation’s hour;
Let his will enfold you
In its light and power.

See also: The Essence of Lent

St David’s Day

Saint David is the patron saint of Wales, and his feast day is celebrated on 1 March, the date of his death in 589 CE. I have fond memories of eight years lived in South Wales during my working life as a Salvation Army Officer and celebrating this special day with my family.

The Welsh will be especially celebrating this year (2021) after their victory over England in the Six Nations Championship, only two days prior to this traditional festival. I’ve always supported Wales (and still do) as long as they’re not playing England, but it never worked the other way round – England being seen as the ‘enemy’. It was often the subject of gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) teasing during the welcome and announcements on Sunday in worship at the Salvation Army, I gave as good as I got and often fully deserved the reaction I provoked.

Traditional symbols of daffodils (Wales) and leeks (Saint David) are worn, traditional Welsh food eaten, and traditional Welsh dress worn by the women and girls. I well remember my (now grown-up) English daughter proudly going to school in her Welsh costume. Teasing aside, we’re all enriched by appreciating and (when and where appropriate) respectfully sharing in the traditions of others.

Temptation 1 (Lent 2)

Lent is a time of giving up things, and in the Salvation Army it’s a time when we think about our Self-Denial Altar Service. In the Christian year it’s associated with the time Jesus spent being tempted in the desert.

Lent is traditionally a time of fasting, but spiritually it might better be considered a time to feast. A time to feed our souls by reflecting on the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter.

Bible Readings: Mark 1:9-13 and Matthew 4:1-11

The time of temptation in the desert comes at the start of the earthly ministry of Jesus, and it was a time of real challenge to him. Had Jesus been diverted from his task at such an early stage, Satan would have won a great victory. Jesus would have fallen at the first hurdle.

He faced three very specific temptations, three very real challenges, and three very desirable shortcuts to popularity and power. What was common to each of these challenges was the temptation to doubt, If you are the Son of God…

Jesus was reflecting and agonising on the direction of his ministry, and these three shortcuts to popularity and power came in the form of economic, religious and political challenges.

  • When Jesus was tempted to use his power to turn stones into bread, it wasn’t merely for his own physical need. He was being shown one way that he might achieve popularity, by meeting people’s economic needs.
  • When Jesus was tempted to throw himself off the Temple, it wasn’t merely a test of his divine status. It was another way of gaining recognition, by proving to the religious leaders that he was God’s Son, by satisfying a religious need.
  • When Jesus was tempted with all the kingdoms of the world, Satan was not merely appealing to his ego. Satan was dangling before him the carrot of political power, the opportunity of using dubious methods to exercise power over people.

So three temptations, three shortcuts to popularity and power: economic, religious and political.

  • The first was resisted because it was the wrong way to recruit followers and the wrong approach to human need: It was a way that avoided the cross.
  • The second was resisted because recognition that came by flaunting divine power would be shallow: It was contrary to God’s character.
  • The third was resisted because Jesus could never rule by force: It was contrary to God’s will.

These were real challenges, different – yet not so different from the ones we face every day of our lives.

Temptations are actually about ways of satisfying our own needs inappropriately, masking our true selves by showing off and making ourselves look better than we really are, or forcing ourselves onto other people against their will. They’re much deeper than just craving chocolate!

As the writer to the Hebrews says:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15

Use this week in Lent to reflect on the Bible readings above, and on Christ’s experience in the desert.

Continued here.

See also: The Essence of Lent