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.

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.

Prepare your Church for Coronavirus

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As a Salvation Army Officer (minister of religion) responsible for a church and community centre in Wallsend, I’m having to manage my response to the current coronavirus pandemic. I came across this document today, and I share it for anyone who might find it useful. Although it relates to churches, it’s easily adaptable to other places of worship and situations etc.

Another helpful resource: Should Your Church Stop Meeting to Slow COVID-19?

Is self-denial old-fashioned?

1 In the Beginning from The Salvation Army UK & Ireland on Vimeo.

In some ways, I suppose it could be said that self-denial is an old-fashioned concept, but there are many instances of people who give of themselves to love and support others, sometimes even people they don’t know personally.

The Salvation Army in the UK and Ireland is currently in a period of ‘Self-Denial’ (which partially coincides with Lent in the Christian year) when we consider giving sacrificially to support the work of the Salvation Army in other countries.

This year we are especially focusing on Burkina Faso in West Africa, and over five weeks are watching short videos (as part of our weekly worship meetings) showing the work of the Salvation Army in this country, before giving in an ‘Altar Service’ on the fifth week when we bring our financial gift forward in worship and place it on an open Bible.

I’ve embedded the first video into this post, but the others can be found by clicking on the links below.

2 The Road to Faith
3 Stirring Things Up
4 Sowing Seeds
5 Growing Saints

One of the concerns in Burkina Faso at the moment is terrorist attacks, many of which are directed at the Christian Church. Indeed, two such fatal attacks have taken place since we started considering the work in this country. Please remember Burkina Faso in your prayers and give generously. If you’re not connected with the Salvation Army, you can find more information here.

Update: The day after this post was published another deadly attack was reported: Gunmen have killed 24 people and wounded 18 others in an attack on a Protestant church in a village in northern Burkina Faso.

No Longer I? (Howard Webber)

No Longer I (Front)No Longer I (Back)

I first met Howard Webber back in the 1970s while working in the Pathology Department of Northampton General Hospital and studying to become Medical Laboratory Scientific Officer. Howard was also in the same line of work and moved to Northampton to take up a position in the Biochemistry Department, the branch of pathology in which I had decided to specialise.

We soon realised that we were both Salvationists, and later discovered we also shared the call of God to change direction from our chosen careers to follow vocations as full-time Salvation Army Officers, ministers of religion appointed to corps (church) leadership or other areas of Christian ministry. We both took this step of faith independently, and the majority of both our working lives have been following this calling. Howard is now an officer in retirement, a club I am soon to join in July this year.

The first part of Howard’s book ‘No Longer I?’ is a candid account of his rich and various experiences in corps life, along with his struggles in those situations (some intensely personal) and the eventual discovery of answers. The second part explores those issues in the light of scripture and is more devotional in style. Both parts work well together, as Howard describes and explores the ups and downs, the joys and the sorrows, on his own journey of faith. He tells it as it is, and I found his writing refreshingly open, honest and powerful.

Let me quote the opening paragraph: I have something I need to say before you go, ‘Miss Barrett called out as I closed the lounge door, so I opened it again and stepped back into the room. Following a brief preamble she got to the point of why she had called me back, ‘I need to tell you that you are the worst officer (minister) this corps (church) has ever had!’ Those harsh words of indictment, spoken in judgment at the end of his first appointment, set the tone for compelling lessons in practical Christian discipleship woven throughout the pages of the book.

This isn’t just a book for Salvationists, but one for anyone desiring to reach into the heart of Christian life and ministry. Maybe a devotional book for Lent?

Note: The title of the book comes from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 RSV)

Supporting Families in Nicaragua

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Margaret Storey is a lovely Christian lady who lives in Wallsend, but who spends most of her time in Nicaragua, a country currently going through difficult times politically. In this guest post she tells her story:

I first heard about SIFT (Seed International Fund Trust) when I made inquiries regarding school sponsorship in Nicaragua. I had previously been to the country volunteering with a different charity three times and each time I returned home, I felt part of me had been left behind. I decided when I retired in 2008, to return to Nicaragua independently for 11 weeks to wait on God and see where he wanted my future to be.

During that time, the SIFT team arrived to do their yearly visit to the children who were sponsored by the charity, to get their school reports, family news, a fresh photo to send to their sponsor in the UK and pay their next year’s school fees. They invited me to join them. They had been praying for someone to act as a link person in Nicaragua with the office in the UK. Unaware of this, I told them the reason I was there. Some weeks later, they asked me if I was prepared to join SIFT. I agreed to give them, in a voluntary capacity, nine months each year (now eight months).

My main ministry is the area around the rubbish tip, where lots of our sponsored children live and scavenge. Many of these children would not be in education today were it not for SIFT. Some of them have now reached university level. I support the families in their struggles an encourage the children with their schooling. I also organise the payment of the monthly school fees. We have 135 children in 8 schools and 2 universities, which I have to check on regularly. With donations from home, I help buy school uniforms and supplies, pay for prescriptions and medical costs, contribute towards projects at the schools or the church, and give treats to the children.

Every 2 months I give out food rations to our SIFT families. My home church, Trinity Methodist in Wallsend, has a well fund, and with this I am able to organise new wells to be dug, or dried up ones to be dug deeper. There is always a demand for wells!

I’ve had a playground built at the orphanage, a shelter built at the rock quarry, where people sit for 10 hours a day in dire conditions, breaking rock to sell to builders and a laundry in the poorest community where people walk a mile to wash their clothes in the creek. I work alongside the pastor of the church I attend, sometimes preaching. In our women’s fellowship, I have taught many of them to knit and now some of them are making and selling their own work.

Bluefields is a very poor community with people living in atrocious conditions, often not owning a pair of shoes or knowing where the next meal is coming from, but they are happy people and grateful for the help they receive.

When I am home, I speak at various guilds, meetings etc. and it’s from donations there that I carry out the projects, independent of SIFT. I am self-funding, so none of these goes towards my own costs. I find it challenging, often an emotional strain, but also a joy to serve these underprivileged brothers and sisters who are now part of my extended family.