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

In our brokenness (Stephen Poxon)

I’ve just finished this devotional anthology by my author friend Stephen Poxon, who wrote a guest post for this blog a while back. You can find his books on Amazon by clicking here.

A Response to Grace is ‘a gathering of thoughts, jottings, poems and songs’, with the premise that God is present in the everyday things of life with its sometimes mundane circumstances and problems.

Grace is permanently concerned, available, widespread, willing, and reliable. Empowering grace is promised and indefatigable. Grace understands and meets us where we are.

In this anthology is all of life, its ups and downs, its best and worst, and all embraced, redeemed, and lifted up by grace. Here you will find drama and cabbages, heartache and Handel, politics and prayer, even marching in the rain – and that’s just the first five devotions! Here are heartfelt observations and reflections drawn from real life encounters, along with deeply personal insights that speak to the depths of our human condition.

I could have quoted from any of the pages, but I specifically chose this poem (which can be sung to the tune ‘Trust in God’) because it speaks to our humanity and (to some extent) our current circumstances in the coronavirus pandemic.

In our brokenness, we see the Saviour,
Gently holding lives now torn apart;
Consequence of sin and our behaviour
Chosen wrong that breaks the Father’s heart.
There we see, as well, the God of comfort,
Showing lame and weary how to dance,
Cradling innocents and weeping victims,
Those who never really stood a chance.

Through the moments of our greatest weakness
Runs a strand of pure sustaining grace;
When the stuff of life is fraught with burdens,
Then our gaze is turned to Jesus’ face;
And our God, all merciful and gracious,
Sweeps attendant evil all away,
And our hearts again are drawn to love him,
Lest those hearts should ever Love betray.

This is God, so gentle, kind and tender;
Pain of guilt removed, its stain erased;
This is God, so infinitely patient,
Hanging there, in every sinner’s place.
Every blemish covered by his mercy,
Every scar, by pity made to fade;
This is God, who knows our greatest sorrow,
This is God; our ransom wholly paid.

With a broken world, so marred and fractured,
Broken people share a God of love;
He whose charm our wayward lives has captured
We impart as manna from above;
Beggars sharing of our bread with others;
Calv’ry’s cross upright on level ground,
Where the heaviest burdens can be lifted,
Where a peace supernal can be found.

© Stephen Poxon (reproduced with permission)

Please Note: This book is only available from Stephen directly. If you would like to buy it, message him directly (or via myself if necessary). Ten per cent of all income from this book goes towards the Salvation Army’s Training College in Sri Lanka.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2021 books here.

Our Christmas Newsletter 2020

2020 has been quite a year for everyone, but for us it was the year John retired and we moved from Wallsend to Norton (Stockton-on-Tees) to be near Naomi’s family and our friends. Our first encounter with coronavirus was in March when we had to change the venue for Freddy’s 5th birthday party.

Our children were unsettled by the challenges of lockdown, as well as the move. Freddy and Matilda had benefitted socially, academically, and emotionally from the daily toddler groups and play cafes they visited before they started school nursery and then full-time school. They also got to go to nursery from the age of two for 15 hours which really built their confidence. Then the coronavirus lockdown happened, resulting in Freddy and Matilda being ripped abruptly away from their school in Wallsend in March, and not being able to return to say a proper goodbye to their school friends before we moved. Pollyanna had just started her school journey at Shining Stars Nursery before lockdown stopped it in its tracks. We remained sensible and only left the house to go for long walks in open spaces, and filled the rest of each day with home-schooling (not easy), learning games, drawing, talking together, playing, lots of cuddles, and togetherness as a family.

John’s retirement was never going to be a normal one with three young children under six, but that was before the coronavirus pandemic which well and truly threw our plans into disarray. The earliest John could have retired was February 2020 but, for a variety of reasons, he decided to work for another five months until the start of July 2020. Although John won’t have any work responsibilities in retirement, he’ll remain a Salvation Army Officer. He’s looking forward to Christian ministry in different circumstances, with possibly new areas to explore. One thing he won’t miss is administrative responsibilities.

It was a nightmare having to carpet and furnish our new house in lockdown, while packing up and preparing for a new occupant to move in (as an officer you move into a house that has been cleaned and prepared for you). We were originally going to move on my retirement day (1 July) but had to postpone it for a week (8 July) and even that made it very tight, we only just had the carpets down and furniture in before we moved. The supply chains and lockdown regulations made life extremely difficult. Trips to the local tip were by appointment only, and we eventually used up our limit. The tight timescale also made it difficult for property work that needed to be done before the new officer moved in on 16 July. Of necessity (not choice) John had to do numerous trips between the two houses before and after our move to finish off.

Settling in took a while, there were still things to be done (and several problems encountered along the way) and we didn’t get our sofas until the middle of August, but we managed. Freddy and Matilda are happy in their new school, although we’re still looking for nursery options for Pollyanna. The pandemic continues to be a concern, as it does for everyone. Overall, we’re moving on, settling into our new routines, and actively building our new life together as a family.

Note: For a printable PDF file with photos click here.

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

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.

100 Days of Retirement

Today (Thursday 8 October 2020) marks 100 days since my retirement, an appropriate time to take stock and reflect. In the build-up to this significant event I wrote that my retirement was never going to be a normal one because I have three young children under six, even before the coronavirus pandemic which well and truly threw our plans into disarray.

It was a nightmare having to carpet and furnish a new house in lockdown, while packing up and preparing for a new occupant to move in (as an officer you move into a house that has been cleaned and prepared for you). We were originally going to move on my retirement day (1 July) but had to postpone it for a week (8 July) and even that made it very tight, we only just had the carpets down and furniture in before we moved.

The supply chains and lockdown regulations made life extremely difficult. Trips to the local tip were by appointment only, and we eventually used up our limit. The tight timescale also made it difficult for property work that needed to be done before the new officer moved in on 16 July. Of necessity (not choice) I had to do numerous trips between the two houses before and after our move to finish off. I’m normally so organised at moving, even though it’s never easy.

Settling in took a while, there were still things to be done (and several problems encountered along the way) and we didn’t get our sofas until the middle of August, but we managed. Our children were unsettled by the move, as well as the challenges of having been off school since March.

We’re now settled in our new house and life, with just a few jobs to finalise and boxes in the loft to sort out. Freddy and Matilda are happy in their new school, although we’re still looking for nursery options for Pollyanna. The pandemic continues to be a concern, as it does for everyone.

Overall, we’re moving on, settling into our new routines, and actively building our new life together as a family.

See also: 250 Days of Retirement

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

Nothing has changed

photo of rocky shore during sunset

As I retire from my working life, I don’t retire from life. As I conclude a major chapter of my journey, my ongoing contribution to humanity continues. As I conclude forty years as a Salvation Army Corps Officer, I remain a Salvation Army Officer with a different Christian ministry. I start a new chapter, with fresh opportunities. Life goes on.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

28/06/20 Shaping the Future

white socks on white paper

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.