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The Letter of Joy (Chapter 3)

The Letter of Paul to the Philippians in the Bible is characterised by joy, it contains the word (in its various forms) some 16 times within its four chapters. I’m featuring it in my Sunday devotionals through January 2021. You can read my introduction here with other links.

Chapter 3 (click on the link to read) is about joy in believing and having no confidence in rituals for salvation or living the Christian life. Rituals are important in our worship, but they point to something else. They are symbols of deeper truths, and can be very powerful, but it’s the spiritual experience they represent that’s vitally important.

The ritual that Paul refers to is circumcision, because Christianity is rooted in Judaism. He’s countering the argument of those who suggested that Gentile Christians needed to submit to the Old Testament Jewish laws to obtain salvation.

He powerfully reminds his readers that our salvation is based on the work of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Put no confidence in the flesh he says. It’s not the ritual that’s important, it’s the experience in the heart that matters.

He goes on to point out that, because of his background in Judaism, he has more reason that most to boast in the ritual – but he counts it as loss for what he has gained.

I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Having said that though, he’s quick to point out that he hasn’t fully achieved it yet, he presses on. There’s no place for arrogance in the Christian experience. We humbly accept our nature as imperfect Christians striving towards a goal – in God’s strength, not ours. He’s effectively echoing his own words in Chapter 2 about the humility of Jesus.

I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.

In conclusion, here’s a helpful prayer and reflection based on this chapter, I encourage you to spend some quiet time going through it.

The good news therefore is this:
In Jesus Christ we are accepted,
we are loved, we are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!

The Letter of Joy (Introduction)

The Letter of Joy (Chapter 1)

The Letter of Joy (Chapter 2)

Myopia (Agnes Obel)

The Independent has described this wonderful album by Agnes Obel as one “to experience alone, and there’s a comfort to being pulled into Myopia’s contemplative, isolating territory”. Snuggle up with your favourite earphones/headphones (with drink of choice) and allow this album to embrace you for forty minutes. It’s one of my favourites of 2020, and one which could have easily taken the top spot had I not gone for more upbeat albums.

Obel explained the meaning of Myopia: “For me Myopia is an album about trust and doubt. Can you trust yourself or not? Can you trust your own judgments? Can you trust that you will do the right thing? Can you trust your instincts and what you are feeling? Or are your feelings skewed?” Obel puts a feeling of quiet and gentleness in her music, […] which was the guiding concept of her previous album. The album contains a new sense of solitude instrumentalism and vocals, as well as departing from her upbeat early albums. Obel stated the album was sparked by a struggle to escape her “own tunnel vision”. Wikipedia.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Spook the Herd

Spook the Herd is an elegant and eloquent album by British indie rock band Lanterns on the Lake, one that has been described as a soundtrack for the age of anxiety. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2020.

Although this is their fourth studio album, I’ve not come across them before, despite living just down the road from their home of Newcastle for five years. They’ve been gracefully holding up a mirror to the world for a while, their music reflecting northern communities in decay and the effects of austerity, with calls for both to be resisted, for example.

This album touches on addiction, division, bereavement, social media, the environmental crisis, and climate change, with a reminder to make the most of what we can, while we can. Empowerment and love are key to the challenges we face, changing ourselves and changing the world. This is a thoughtful and reflective album, expressed beautifully.

This is one of a number of albums I’ve discovered this year because they were nominated for the Mercury Prize 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Coast (Cousin Silas)

This is another new release by my friend Cousin Silas (not his real name) on his Bandcamp label to become an instant favourite album of mine in 2020. The previous one is Electric Portraits.

It’s a delightfully relaxing collection of ‘aural snapshots’ inspired by the coast. As he writes: I have always had an affinity for the coast. Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of my weekends and holidays, as a kid, on the East coast. Whatever the reason, it has often ‘inspired’ me, usually for the reflective and lonely places they can be … I hope you enjoy them as much I did making them.

This album is a perfect tonic for the struggles of 2020. The artwork is again by my friend Thomas Mathie, who also has a Bandcamp label that features music by Cousin Silas and others.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Eine Phase des Übergangs

I marked this album by Martin Neuhold as a favourite on its release in March 2020. My initial view has been confirmed on repeated listens, the latest being today (Thursday 22 October 2020).

The title means A Period of Transition, a title that’s very apt for me this year, one in which I’ve retired and moved to a new house. With the coronavirus pandemic having affected us all since March 2020 (and likely to for the foreseeable future), I guess we’re all in our own period of transition.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

28/06/20 Shaping the Future

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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.

Different (Clere Parsons)

young man in denim jacket is reading a book near river side
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

One of the aims of poetry is to make to think for yourself, and (of course) this can be said of many song lyrics, as they’re basically the same thing. I don’t want someone to explain them to me, I want to do the thinking myself. Here’s a good example. Reflect on it, think about it, work it out for yourself.

Not to say what everyone else was saying
not to believe what everyone else believed
not to do what everybody did,
then to refute what everyone else was saying
then to disprove what everyone else believed
then to deprecate what everybody did,

was his way to come by understanding

how everyone else was saying the same as he was saying
believing what he believed
and did what doing.

Clere Parsons (1908-1931)

A Calming Influence (Gaz Rose)

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The other day I posted on Facebook: OK friends, I need album suggestions of seriously calming music while I work this evening. Wrong answers also welcome. Go! I received some great suggestions, and I’m working my way through them.

Gaz Rose replied (with a smile), “Would it be wrong of me to suggest my new one? His brass neck cheek was just the nudge I needed to buy and download it, it lived up to the promise and I can thoroughly recommend it. Find it in the usual download places.

There’s no real official blurb, it’s simply an album for personal or corporate reflection, using Christian songs as a basis for the relaxed feel music. There’s something for everyone, including a track for the Christmas market – which I skipped by the way. The album finishes with an arrangement of Ascalon, his favourite hymn tune.

Gaz hasn’t paid me to promote this, but he owes me a coffee!

End of Summer Feelings

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How do you feel at the end of summer? Spring is my favourite time of the year; there’s new life emerging in nature and I can enjoy the (hopefully) better weather without hay fever and asthma (July and August are worst for me), the days are getting longer, and my birthday falls in May. Also, as a Christian, the significant events of Easter and Pentecost come within this period in the Northern Hemisphere.

By August Bank Holiday Monday (at the end of August in the UK) I start to feel reflective and sometimes a little down with the nights closing in, the onset of autumn, and (although I enjoy my vocation as a Salvation Army Officer) the thought of returning to the busyness of work.

I occasionally get depressed and take a mild anti-depressant* for it, more recently I’ve experienced bouts of anxiety as well. Although the depression is well-managed, I find that autumn and winter are the most difficult seasons for me. I’m open and honest about this because I believe there shouldn’t be any stigma about mental health issues within society; many will suffer from mental health issues during their lifetime (or know someone who does) and so education and openness can only be for the good, so that no one suffers in silence.

There are various strategies I’ve learnt through the years to help including eating healthily, getting out in the fresh air, exercise, running and making sure I get a good night’s sleep (not always easy). I also consciously focus on living in the present, grounding exercises and the like.

How does the end of summer affect you? I’d love to hear from you, whether you love it or loathe it; and if you find it difficult, how do you cope?

Photo Credit: Howard Webber (check out his books here).

* Note: I stopped taking a mild anti-depressant in 2020.