Epiphany Chalk Inscription

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In our worship meeting on Epiphany Sunday, I asked the congregation (from North Shields, Shiremoor and Wallsend Corps) how observant they were. This was because I had chalked something outside the entrance. But what does it mean?

Well, it’s an ancient custom in the Christian Church, especially amongst the Eastern Traditions. Chalk is blessed for everyone in the parish, and this is then taken home, and used to make this inscription on or around the entrance to your house. This is a sign of the Christian faith being lived in that home, and a sign of God’s blessing. 20+C+M+B+19.

You might have guessed that 20 & 19 refers to the year, but what about the C+M+B? The three letters have two meanings: they are the traditional names of the three Wise Men; Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words, Christus Mansionem Benedicat, ‘May Christ bless this house’.

It’s a way of witnessing to the world that in all our comings and goings in 2019, we will always be in search of the truth found in Jesus, the Word made Flesh, who the Wise Men search for by the light of the star.

New Every Morning

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In addition to my daily Bible reading, reflection and time of prayer, I now have two years worth of poetry to read (specially selected for each day of the year) thanks to two very thoughtful Christmas presents. You can read about them here or click the picture. This poem by Susan Coolidge has been used in a UK hospice to bring comfort to patients, and is clearly suitable for the first day of a New Year, and the title also calls to mind Bible verses from Lamentations 3:22-23Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

See also Second-hand presents? Discuss!

The New Doctor (Carol Service Talk)

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I’m a big Doctor Who fan, and I love Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor. She was a great choice and for many children she’ll be their first Doctor; this is the case for Freddy and Matilda, as we let them see a recent episode that wasn’t too scary. How wonderful to see a woman in that role! (See also here).

How far back do you go?
Who was your first Doctor?

Show selected PowerPoint slides of past Doctors.

William Hartnell was my first Doctor, and I can vividly remember watching the first ever episode as a nine-year-old boy on an old black and white television.

I have my own particular favourite Doctors, but I’m loving the new Doctor; a perfect combination of courage with compassion, confidence with humility, and strength with vulnerability.

Having those characteristics in balance is really important; not just for the Doctor, but for all of us in life. And we see that balance of qualities in the life of Jesus.

• In his life he had the courage to fight for what he believed in, but it was always done with compassion for the poor, the disenfranchised, and the outcast. We see him fighting the oppressive religious and political system, yet having time for those who were victims of it.

• He was confident in his mission of bringing God’s Kingdom of love and grace, but it was always expressed with humility. We see him firmly setting his face towards Jerusalem and certain death, but never forcing himself on people or using violence to get his way.

• He had a resilient strength about him, yet at the same time he was vulnerable. He willingly faced great suffering and death, yet chose to go through with it for us.

The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:5-11) tells us to be like Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus became one of us, as the Apostle John (John 1:14a) puts it, in a modern paraphrase:

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.

Born into Poverty (Western School)

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My talk given this evening (12/12/18) at the Western Community Primary School Christmas Performance, attended by the parents, families and friends of pupils, along with the Wallsend Corps Salvation Army Band. My theme was suggested by the headteacher and some of my inspiration was drawn from here.

We all know the traditional story of Christmas, of Jesus born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. Mary and Joseph had to leave home, along with many others, and there was nowhere for them to stay or for Mary to have her baby.

There was no beautiful cot, only the animals’ feeding trough to place him in and make him comfortable. The word ‘manger’ comes from the French ‘to eat’ as in ‘Pret A Manger’ (Ready to Eat).

Let’s imagine Jesus was born today, and his parents were homeless and in poverty, maybe as a result of war, famine or economic circumstances. Maybe he would be placed in a cardboard box wrapped up in dirty blankets, and where would his parents find food for him?

If he was born into poverty to homeless parents in this country today, he might be placed in a supermarket trolley (poetic licence, but please come with me). The symbol of food and drink becoming the cot for the Son of God; food and drink which would normally be placed in that trolley being unaffordable for his parents.

Sadly, food and warmth can’t be taken for granted by many families. So it’s important that we help those who are less fortunate today.

It’s wonderful what this school is doing to help such families this Christmas. This is something we do because it’s the right thing to do, whether we’re Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus (for example) or of no faith.

Christmas brings out the best in all of us, as we celebrate a God who sent his Son as a vulnerable baby to be our Saviour and Lord. He brings love, joy and peace to those who welcome him; that’s the Christian message at Christmas.

So thank you for your generosity in helping people and families less fortunate, this is really appreciated. But we have to keep looking out for those in need, both at home and abroad. This is something the Salvation Army does all year round (not just at Christmas) because God reached out to us in Jesus.

The peace of God be in your heart
The grace of God be in your words
The love of God be in your hands
The joy of God be in your soul
and in the song your life sings.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you,
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face towards you
and give you peace;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

Speaking Generally

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I’m grateful to my friend Stephen Poxon (author and writer) for contributing this guest post about William Booth. You can find his books here.

William Booth: Founder of The Salvation Army, Christian evangelist, reformer, friend of royalty, champion of the marginalised, wit, entrepreneur, and master of the soundbite.

So far, so good, but we must remember that Booth was preaching his message and espousing his spiritual and moral philosophy before any of the advantages of modern communications technology could be exploited. His was an era of voice projection and oratory that went largely unaided except by, maybe, primitive devices for amplification.

All the more remarkable, therefore, is the fact that so many of William Booth’s quotations have survived into the present age. Granted, many were recorded by stenographers and biographers, but General Booth’s feat is still special, especially as much of his (prophetic?) wisdom retains a fresh touch.

Such as, for example, his utterance that there might come a time when the fires of scorching faith that burned within his bones would somehow become

“Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell”.

Forgive the pun, but this is hot stuff; not for the faint-hearted (but then, faint-heartedness was a concept Booth never understood).

Was the old man right, though?

Take a look around. See for yourself a market-place swarming with pseudo-Christian philosophies (touchy-feely-feel-good mantras of consolation paraded in the name of some churches) and you might concede, he made a reasonable point! Denominations, I mean, that sometimes appear not to know their convictions from their desperate strivings to be ultra-relevant, and which, consequently (inevitably) dilute their ancient mandate to the point of it being nothing in particular and of little use to anyone.

And as for the penultimate utterance in Booth’s list of concerns, who can forget Alastair Campbell’s famous interruption of Tony Blair, reminding the then Prime Minister that “We don’t do God”?

How about this absolute corker:

“Don’t instil, or allow anybody else to instil into the hearts of your girls the idea that marriage is the chief end of life. If you do, don’t be surprised if they get engaged to the first empty, useless fool they come across.”

He wasn’t holding back, was he! Anyone voicing such opinions nowadays would be faced with any number of charges before they could say political correctness. Yet, allowing the dust to settle, we might just find ourselves agreeing with the outspoken warrior, albeit only grudgingly, on behalf of our children and grandchildren. Is it even possible we might only, eventually, accuse him of speaking downright common sense?

Try this one: “The greatness of the man’s power is the measure of his surrender”.

Notwithstanding the gender bias of the statement, how much does a contemporary age rail against notions of surrender, obedience, deference or conformity; in civil and legal matters, relationships, education, religion, societal structures, international political diplomacy, and the workplace (and so on)? Are we, can we honestly claim, the better for such prevailing tendencies and the tacit approval of creeping anarchy in the name of entitlement?

Read. Ponder. Agree. Disagree.

Jumping from 10,000 ft at 94

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Commissioner Harry Read is a retired Salvation Army Officer who was my Training Principal while I was at the William Booth College in London between 1978-1980. Harry is also a D-Day veteran who parachuted into Normandy in 1944. At the age of 94, he made another parachute jump to raise funds for Salvation Army work to combat modern slavery and human trafficking. Amongst his many gifts, this fine Christian leader is also a poet, and I often use his insightful poetry while leading worship. Well done Harry!

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Note: I’m grateful to Margaret Ord for the photo of Harry preparing for his jump.