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Maundy Thursday 2020

agony in garden

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ Matthew 26:36-46

Pause for a moment, read the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, watch the video of the song The Servant King, and quietly read the prayer.

You call us to love those
whom you would love,
and give us the words to say.
You call us to bring wholeness
to lives that are broken,
and give us the words to say.
You call us to bring comfort
to those who are grieving,
and give us the words to say.
You call us to bring good news
to those who are seeking,
and give us the words to say.
Your word, living water
in desert sands.
Your word, blossoming
in parched earth.
Your word, bearing fruit
wherever it is sown. Amen.

Note: prayer source.

05/04/20 Palm Sunday Worship

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We meet for Palm Sunday worship online, socially distant but with an emotional and spiritual connection. The Bible message today is about something of the nature of peace, and it’s linked to Misunderstanding Palm Sunday which I wrote and published here a few days ago. You can find a PDF handout of this page here.

We start our worship with Song 365: He is the Lord, and he reigns on high

Reading: Palm Sunday Poem

They waved palm branches as He passed
And hailed Him as their King;
Yet, they knew not of the sorrow
The coming week would bring.
The glad acclaim would soon give way
To jeers and mockery;
In Pilate’s court He’d be condemned
To a cross on Calvary.

But Jesus knew He was the price
In God’s redemptive plan,
The Sacrificial Lamb come down
To die for sins of man.

The centuries have passed and still
He seeks those lost in sin,
Pleading with unyielding hearts
To repent and follow Him.

On this day we shout our praise,
O, let us not delay;
The palm-strewn path of long ago
Still leads to Him today.

Song 225: Jesus comes! Let all adore him!

Jesus comes! Let all adore him!
Lord of mercy, love and truth.
Now prepare the way before him,
Make the rugged places smooth;
Through the desert mark his road,
Make a highway for our God.

Jesus comes! Reward is with him,
Let the valleys all be raised,
God’s great glory now revealing
As the mountains are abased.
Lift thy voice and greet the Lord,
Cry to Zion: see thy God!

Jesus comes! The Christ is marching
Through the places waste and wild;
He his Kingdom is enlarging
Where no verdure ever smiled.
Soon the desert will be glad
And with beauty shall be clad.

Jesus comes! Where thorns have flourished
Trees shall now be seen to grow,
Stablished by the Lord and nourished,
Strong and fair and fruitful too.
They shall rise on every side,
Spread their branches far and wide.

Jesus comes! From barren mountains
Rivers shall begin to flow,
There the Lord will open fountains
And supply the plains below;
As he passes, every land
Shall acclaim his powerful hand.

Prayer: Gracious God, the energy and emotion of a parade can generate joy. Yet the joy of your parade into Jerusalem turned so quickly to pain signalling the sacrifice of your own self. Let this day remind me that while emotions can be fickle, your faithfulness and love remain true. May I see in the giving of your life the power to give myself for others simply for love. When life’s struggle sears my soul or sacrifice strips me of hope, strengthen me with your spirit that strode into Jerusalem to face death even as palm branches were strewn before your path and the crowd cried “Hosanna in the highest.” Prayer source: explorefaith.org

Instead of the Band this Sunday, I give you…

We’ll now take up the Offering and listen to the Announcements: For those of you who give a weekly (or other regular) offering to your church, please save these up as they will be much needed in due course. Additionally, there may be those of you who would like to make a donation to a charity of your choice. Please check your local church for arrangements during this bewildering time, and don’t forget to check back here and the Wallsend Corps Facebook Page.

Song 196: Ride on, ride on in majesty

Bible Reading: Luke 19:28-44

Instead of the Songsters this Sunday, I give you…

Bible Message (Major John Ager)

Palm Sunday is traditionally the day in the Christian calendar when we think about peace, and especially the peace that Jesus came to bring. Jesus rode into Jerusalem fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah:

See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zechariah 9:9b

He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Zechariah 9:10b

Similarly, both Isaiah and Micah looked forward to a day when the nations would beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and look to God and walk in his ways.

Jesus came bringing a message of peace, but the people were so accustomed to war and strife that they rejected it. The people expected him to lead them in military victory over their enemies and vanquish their oppressors. Instead, Jesus offered something far more profound, peace to the human heart.

So Jesus and the crowd were at cross-purposes! They misunderstood that Jesus had come for a CROSS PURPOSE! That was not their purpose, that was the last thing on their minds.

They didn’t understand, their minds were closed to the real purpose of his coming. So when it became apparent that Jesus wasn’t going to fulfil their short-sighted ambitions, they turned against him and he was crucified on Good Friday.

In Luke’s account of these events we see that Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. Indeed, it was the very nationalism that motivated the people on Palm Sunday that ultimately led to their downfall years later.

In today’s world, we need to be so careful that national pride doesn’t become narrow prejudice. Nationalism and prejudice are so often at the roots of conflict, and they take root first in the human heart.

It’s a troubled world out there, and God needs Christian soldiers who bring his message of peace to others. All manner of conflict starts with us. It comes from within, and that’s the very place Jesus wants to come and bring peace.

On this Palm Sunday we need to recognise that true peace can only be built on a right relationship with God. That’s both the foundation and source of all peace; peace with ourselves, peace with others, and peace with God.

The whole of the Bible testifies to this truth. Psalm 29, for instance, starts by calling us to worship: Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.

The Psalmist speaks of God’s greatness, which inspires our worship, and concludes with a wonderful promise of peace when we’re in a right relationship with him: The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.

Similarly, Isaiah speaks of promised peace given to the one who seeks after God: You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

Our human nature often wants to run away from the very thing that can bring our peace. Jesus said, if you had only known on this day what would bring you peace.

We have freedom as individuals, but there’s part of us that desires us to act selfishly, to do what we want rather than what God wants. This tendency to think we know best and do what we want is very powerful, unfortunately it separates us from God.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem to announce the possibility of reconciliation with God and the resulting peace it brings. As we approach Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter, we see very clearly the cost of peace-making. The cost for Jesus was the way of the cross; he died that we might live.

Peace is not something that just happens, it requires action. The very word for peace is active rather than passive. ‘Shalom’ carries the idea of wholeness, well-being and harmony, rather than merely the absence of strife or tension. It’s what God wants for each and every one of us.

It’s astonishing that with the cross looming before him, Jesus was able to speak of peace, and that through the events of Holy Week he was able to demonstrate such confidence and poise. With his betrayal, his agony in the garden, his trial and death so near, he promised peace; peace that the world cannot give, a peace that passes all understanding.

He promised those who follow him an inner confidence and serenity that can overcome any situation life can throw across our path. Our security in the world can be very fragile, but our spiritual security is of an altogether different nature. It comes from God himself; it’s strong and we can rely on it.

It was won for us on the cross. Peace and security can be ours as we enthrone Jesus at the very centre of our lives. Not at cross-purposes with him, but embracing the CROSS PURPOSE for our lives.

See also: Misunderstanding Palm Sunday

Song 608: Make me a channel of your peace
Sung by Katherine Jenkins

Poem: The Donkey (GK Chesterton)

For a time of Reflection, Response and Prayer, please read Song 275:

Sing we the King who is coming to reign,
Glory to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain,
Life and salvation his empire shall bring
Joy to the nations when Jesus is King.

Come let us sing: Praise to our King,
Jesus our King, Jesus our King;
This is our song, who to Jesus belong:
Glory to Jesus, to Jesus our King.

All men shall dwell in his marvellous light,
Races long severed his love shall unite,
Justice and truth from his sceptre shall spring,
Wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King.

All shall be well in his Kingdom of peace,
Freedom shall flourish and wisdom increase,
Foe shall be friend when his triumph we sing,
Sword shall be sickle when Jesus is King.

Souls shall be saved from the burden of sin,
Doubt shall not darken his witness within,
Hell hath no terrors and death hath no sting;
Love is victorious when Jesus is King.

Kingdom of Christ, for thy coming we pray,
Hasten, O Father, the dawn of the day
When this new song thy creation shall sing,
Satan is vanquished and Jesus is King.

We finish with Song 135: All glory, laud, and honour

Benediction
This, this is the God we adore,
Our faithful, unchangeable friend,
Whose love is as great as his power,
And knows neither measure nor end.
’Tis Jesus, the first and the last,
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe Home;
We’ll praise him for all that is past,
And trust him for all that’s to come. Amen.

God bless you all, Major John Ager.

Misunderstanding Palm Sunday

man wearing black vest near crowded people
Photo by Aloïs Moubax on Pexels.com

It’s exciting to be in a crowd, but it can also be very frightening. The mood of a crowd can rapidly change, the dynamic of the mob can quickly take over. Who knows what the crowd will do next, especially if its expectations are not met?

The crowds surrounding Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem were no different. The emotions and excitement were reaching fever pitch, and the conditions were right for the whole thing to turn nasty.

You can read the story of the first Palm Sunday in Luke 19:28-44.

There would have been thousands of hot, excited, sweaty people all wanting to see Jesus; all wanting to know who he was, all wanting to see what he would do.

Jesus approaches and enters Jerusalem in the full knowledge that both the religious and political leaders were feeling threatened by his teaching and ministry, and that the crowd could easily turn if he didn’t fulfil their expectations and hopes.

The first Palm Sunday was a dramatic and hugely significant day in the life and ministry of Jesus. Prior to this, Jesus had resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem, to very publicly announce the coming of his kingdom.

He carefully chose a time when the people would be gathered in Jerusalem, and he chose a way of proclaiming his kingdom that was unmistakable.

But, as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he wept over it:
If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

These weren’t the words of a human king, but rather the words of divine Saviour whose heart broke because of the spiritual and moral blindness of the people. He’d come to bring true peace, but they didn’t want it.

The crowd in Jerusalem thought they understood as they cheered, shouted, waved, and threw palm branches, but completely misunderstood Jesus’ identity.

They were full of nationalistic fervour and failed to recognise the true nature of Jesus’ kingship. Palms had been a symbol of Jewish nationalism from the time of the Maccabees and appeared on Jewish coins during their revolutionary struggle against the Romans, and now they were oppressed by them.

Jesus showed the people his true identity by riding on a donkey; a sign, according to the Old Testament, of the Messiah coming in peace. The people expected the Messiah to bring victory by force, but Jesus came to conquer by the Cross. The way of Jesus is not one of hatred, force or violence, rather it’s the way of sacrificial love.

The praise and adulation of the crowd was not the glory Jesus wanted, his glory was to come through self-sacrifice and suffering.

On this Palm Sunday, may we make our own decision to set our face towards Jerusalem; resolving to go God’s way, despite the expectations of the crowds, and live like Jesus.

See also: 05/04/20 Palm Sunday Worship

29/03/20 Sunday Worship

Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve not been able to put together the same type of online worship meeting as I published last Sunday (although I hope to be able to in the future). So this is something of a DIY Sunday worship meeting. I’ve put some useful links and resources at the bottom of this page, and I’ll add to these in due course. PDF of this post here. Blessings, John.

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Today we celebrate children and youth during the Salvation Army’s International Day of Prayer, please click on the link for a variety of resources for you to use in creative ways in our new circumstances.

The following message is from General Brian Peddle:

Then little children were being brought to Jesus in order that he might pray for them. Matthew 19:13

Let’s not be too critical of the disciples. They were simply reflecting the social values of their day. Children were on the lower rung of the ladder of social importance. The disciples were simply trying to be protective of the time and energy of Jesus. What they were learning as disciples of this Teacher is that the Kingdom of Heaven has a different set of social values. Women, as well as men, are integral to the Kingdom. All races and ethnicities are welcomed in the Kingdom. Abilities and disabilities are not a factor in being loved by God. And children, especially children, have an important place in this realm of God’s grace.

Were we to overhear Jesus blessing the children I wonder if it might sound something like this: ‘Hey kids. I want you to know I’m really proud of you. We are going through some difficult days right now, aren’t we? This virus is making a lot of people sick. I hope you are keeping well. Thank you for washing your hands as much as possible, and for keeping your hands away from your face. Thank you too for helping the adults in your family. Your help around the house is very important. And thank you for praying for your friends. We are part of a team that is fighting something important. You can help us to make a difference in our world. We need your help. Know that I love you, and appreciate you very much. May you be blessed this day!’

This Sunday, 29 March, will have a particular emphasis in The Salvation Army world. It is an International Day of Prayer, with a focus on Children and Youth. It is being called The Power of One. Each child within our influence is important to God, and us. Each child has the possibility of making a difference in our world. We are grateful for every Salvationist who takes a particular interest in our young people. Thank you for your time and efforts as teachers, coaches, musical leaders. And thank you for befriending the young people in these formative years. During the COVID-19 crisis, our young people are particularly vulnerable. They may have a difficult time comprehending what is happening. We adults have a difficult time comprehending what is happening! Thank you for your explanations that help, for your patience as they seek to adjust to new boundaries, and for your love that sustains them in difficult moments. Even as we pray with the help of our digital world, may our united praying help to affirm that The Power of One is very real.

There are people hurting
In the world out there.
They need you, they need me, they need Christ.
There are children crying and no one to care.
They need you, they need me, they need Christ.
And they’ll go on hurting
In the world out there,
And they’ll go on dying, drowning in despair,
And they’ll go on crying, that’s unless we care!
They need you, they need me, they need Christ.
(Joy Webb, Song Book 935)

Be affirmed and be still, encourage and be encouraged, love and be loved.
God bless you all, Major John Ager.


Useful links and resources.

The Salvation Army IHQ: International Headquarters in London, UK.

The Salvation Army THQ: Headquarters in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

BibleGateway: Read, study and listen in all languages and versions.

Our Daily Bread: Daily devotionals that can also be streamed or downloaded.

22/03/20 Sunday Worship

Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection.

Welcome to our Sunday worship, it’s so good we can all share together in this way. Given the current situation, I think it’ll be good to start by watching this encouraging video by our Territorial Commander, Commissioner Anthony Cotterill.

Please note: the song links will take you to an online songbook, you’ll have to search for the song number manually in the 2015 Song Book (possibly by going back to the homepage). I’ll try and sort this out if possible, it’s all been put together in a hurry as you’ll appreciate. Also, apologies for any mistakes, but please let me know.

Our opening Song 948 is a reminder to stay strong in the grace of God, having confidence in him. The third verse says: Be strong in the grace of the Lord, Be armed with the power of His might; Be daring when dangers abound, Courageous and brave in the fight.

Bible ReadingRomans 8:31-39

As Paul, in that reading tells us, we are more than conquerors. Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Our next Song 30 reinforces that theme.

Prayers: Use this time to make your own prayers and use the one below, which can be found in context here. Apologies if I’ve infringed copyright.

Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.

We’ll now take up the Offering and listen to the Announcements: For those of you who give a weekly (or other regular) offering to your church, please save these up as they will be much needed in due course. Additionally, there may be those of you who would like to make a donation to a charity of your choice. Please check your local church for arrangements during this bewildering time, and don’t forget to check back here. I’ll do my level best to have a Sunday worship service (meeting as we call them in the Salvation Army) online for you each week. You can download a modified handout (PDF format) for distribution to those not online here.

Let’s listen to the Band as they bring us a lively march with an uplifting message.

Bible Reading: Numbers 21:4-9

We turn to Song 48 for our Testimony Time. Please share your testimony with someone with you now in person, over the telephone or online.

Bible Reading: John 3:14-21

Before we listen to the Bible Message, let’s watch this beautiful video by Major David Chadwick. Selected verses from Psalm 91 with scenes of the Lake District and music from Chelmsford Salvation Army Band and Songsters. Words of encouragement as we enter a prolonged period of self-isolation.

Bible Message (Major John Ager)

Our main Bible reading contains one of the most well-known verses from the New Testament: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

But the short passage we shared is not the whole story, you might like to read the whole chapter for context. Our reading had no mention of Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night seeking answers to his questions and no mention of being born again.

Instead, the teaching of Jesus is linked to the story of Moses in the wilderness having to deal with a discontented people found in Numbers 21:4-9.

Life used to be better for them, but now they have left Egypt. Under the leadership of Moses they have achieved freedom. They are no longer slaves. This was what they longed for, the fulfilment of their hopes. But now they are hungry. What food they have is boring. It’s not like the good old days in Egypt when at least they had good, interesting food to eat. The memories of their hardships have faded and all they know is that their bellies are empty and life is tough.

They are and should be people who are journeying towards a high destiny. They’ve been called by God for his purposes. They must reach out to the future and not dwell in the past, particularly on unrealistic memories of the past.

Moses is told by God to make a bronze serpent and to put it on a pole. When anyone who had been bitten by a poisonous serpent looked at this bronze serpent they would live. For many centuries this symbol has been used by those involved in healing and health care as their sign. One of the explanations of this clearly links it to the story in Numbers.

The symbol is still used widely today and maybe part of what it’s intended to convey is that health and healing are gifts. It was God’s gift of healing to an undeserving people, a rebellious, complaining, petty-minded people. Here it was a gift that would help them to become what they were capable of being, God’s chosen people that now includes all who name Jesus as Saviour and Lord.

In the Gospel reading (John 3:14-21) Jesus refers to this passage from Numbers and sees it pointing to his own destiny. The Son of Man will be lifted up and whoever believes in him will have eternal life.

This is a recurring theme in the gospels, that believing is what brings about the change in people and in their situations. Believing is the gift of God, the grace of God, and with that gift of grace all sorts of things become possible in people’s lives.

God loved us so much that he gave his only son. But that’s in the past tense, it needs to be in the present tense, because the activities of God are always in the eternal now. God loves the world so much that he gives his only son. That love is from eternity to eternity and nothing can separate us from that love.

On this unusual Mother’s Day, what we experience in the best of parental relationships, we experience even more in our experience of God. In fact, it’s our experience of divine parenting that becomes the model, the benchmark for human parenting. God loves the world so much. We look to God and live. In God’s love is all our renewal and healing.

We turn to an old favourite now, Song 453. Words that I hope will reinforce my Bible message in your hearts.

In this time of Reflection, Response & Prayer, please spend some moments quietly in ways that you find helpful.

We finish with Song 959. The places we can go might be limited, but we can still ‘go in the strength of the Lord’, finding new ways to share God’s love.

Benediction:

Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee;
All things are passing,
God never changeth!
Patient endurance attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth. Amen.

You can find a deeply personal post about Mother’s Day 2020 here.

God bless you all, Major John Ager.

Mother’s Day 2020

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I hadn’t been looking forward to leading two worship services on Mother’s Day this year, because it would have been my first after her death last year. In fact, I hadn’t really given my preparation much thought, possibly secretly hoping that it would go away. Not only did the thought of it awaken some powerful emotions that continue to lie barely below the surface of my day-to-day life, but there’s the ongoing emptiness of loss combined with the strange feeling of ‘lostness’ that occurs after the death of both parents, which may be magnified in me because I’m an only child of only children.

So there’s a sense of relief I’ll not have to minister to others in public on this sensitive occasion because of the coronavirus pandemic. But clearly, I’d rather have had my vulnerability and emotions laid bare than being in this current health crisis. Equally, I’ve discovered over the years that my ‘wearing my heart on my sleeve’ nature has been used by God in Christian ministry to bring comfort and strength to others, a very humbling experience. Central to my faith is the vulnerability of Jesus, demonstrated powerfully in his willingness to suffer and die. This reminds me that emotional openness and vulnerability must never be confused with weakness, for in our weakness we can be strong.

For this year, that’s all I’m going to say. I’ll leave others to share their thoughts, emotions and spiritual insights on Mother’s Day, and I’ll be pleased to read and share them.

Note: The photo of my mother and daughter Pollyanna was taken in 2018.

Transfiguration (Malcolm Guite)

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In worship this morning at Wallsend Salvation Army we considered the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-9. I used an audio daily devotional from Our Daily Bread entitled Live Wire and the following poem by Malcolm Guite.

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.

There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face

And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.

Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

I discovered the poetry and prose of Malcolm Guite a few years ago and I turn to these regularly for private devotions and public worship. Click on the painting by Lewis Bowman for more information.