theology

A Hope and a Future

Over the years I've experienced many changes in my life. 

Some good, some not so great.

But there's a verse from the Bible which has walked with me and which never fails to give me strength and fill me with optimism.

Whatever valley I walk through, whatever uncertainty I'm feeling inside and whatever hurdles I face,  this verse from scripture not only comforts but challenges me.

God knows what He's doing, even if I have not a clue. There is hope, even if I can't feel or see it right now.

So today I share this verse, and hope if YOU need a word of encouragement or are going through difficult times, this will help you too, and give you the hope you need to get through today!

Have a great day everyone!

ForIknow the plans Jeremiah


I'll Fight

I've done quite a few jobs down the years. Worked in newspapers, radio, television, PR and communications, training. I'm also an author.

My first book was about the founders of The Salvation Army, the global church and charity organisation, William and Catherine Booth.

William and catherine book coverWeirdly it was called 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' (Monarch/Lion Hudson 2013) ... and yes it was based on the letters the couple wrote to each other from the time they met and throughout their engagement and long marriage.

The letters are full of their love and family life, but also show how that love, and a love for and faith in God, led to the creation of The Salvation Army, from very humble beginnings in the East End of Victorian London to a 'movement' which today can be found in more than 130 countries. 

Why am I telling you this? Well, it's because today - April 10th - is William Booth's birthday! Born this day in 1829 in Nottingham in England, he was a man on a mission. Having become a Christian when he was what we today would call a 'teenager', he was determined to spend his life in God's service.

He yearned to be an evangelist and to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He tried hard to fit into the Methodist Church, but he was such an individualist that, ultimately, that just didn't work. Finally, after years of struggle and ministry, he and Catherine found themselves in London where William began to really see the plight of the poor and to be challenged into a response. He and Catherine had realised their 'calling' in life was to champion the hoards of people excluded from church and society, marginalised, ignored, undervalued and even abused.

In 1865 the Booths created the East London Christian Mission, among other things to preach to, feed and support the poor. In 1878 it was renamed and became 'The Salvation Army' and from that moment it really took off, with its quasi military structure and distinctive character. Uniforms and brass bands were among the features which captured the public imagination and attracted not just people from the poverty stricken part of the population but also those from the higher echelons of society who felt that 'church' should be more than just ritual and Sunday attendance at services.  Christian faith in this context was to be shared, and to make a difference in the world. In modern parlance, Christian faith is '24/7' and is to influence what you get up to and how you interact with the world.

The Booths and their followers (known as 'Salvationists') faced much opposition, from society and even the church. Among other things, The Salvation Army asked, and still asks, it's members to give up the booze and that didn't go down well with publicans! Salvation Army members were imprisoned for their faith, and attacked by those who opposed them, including groups calling themselves 'The Skeleton Army'.

But by the time William was an old man he was revered. He and Catherine (she had died in 1890) and their children and followers had developed not just what was effectively a church with many hundreds of 'corps' across the globe, but a mission which helped to pick people up from poverty and equip them for a future where they could look after themselves and their families. Not just a 'hand out' in charity, but a 'hand up'. 

WIlliam's last speech = albert hall ihq imageAnd even as an old man, William Booth never lost the spirit to fight for the marginalised, people who no one else would champion.

On May 9th 1912, just a few months before he died, William ... the 'General' of The Salvation Army ... appeared before a huge crowd at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He had just completed a tour of Europe and it's reckoned around 7,000 Salvationists packed into the venue to hear what would be their leader's final address. 

It was here he was reported to have said something which would sum up his 60-year Christian ministry, and the mission of The Salvation Army.

And it still inspires today 

While women weep,
as they do now, I’ll fight.

While little children go hungry,
as they do now, I’ll fight.
While men go to prison, in and
out, in and out, as they do now,
I’ll fight.
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl
upon the streets,
While there remains one dark
soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end!

Quite a few years ago, I was employed as the Head of Media for The Salvation Army in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and we produced a video for a big event (a 'congress') which brought together Salvation Army members and friends from across the UK and the British Isles. 

It was called the 'I'll Fight' Congress and it's theme was that great speech made by General William Booth at the start of the 1900s.

But, big question  - is the sentiment of the speech still relevant for the 21st century?

Well of course there are still 'poor lost girls' ... in fact today The Salvation Army is at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking, the modern slave trade, across the world. People still go hungry, still go to prison and end up isolated. Drugs, alcohol abuse, homelessness, unemployment ... these are unfortunately still issues which The Salvation Army helps to address day on day. 

And for that 'congress' we re-worked the original Booth speech to suit the times. It was some years ago, so apologies to the children who kindly helped me on this project. They are now grown adults. 

But it still works ... and it still challenges ... 

 

*image above and film embedded in the video copyright The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre


Written in Red

On Good Friday, as Christians we are remembering how Jesus Christ was crucified on a hill outside of the city of Jerusalem.

It's perhaps the holiest day of the year for Christians, and some people might think that it's strange to call a solemn holy day that commemorates a death a 'good day'.

JOhn 3 16Lots of deep theological and historical and cultural reasons for that, but for me the 'good' is there because actually it comes a few days before the main revelation of Christianity. Which is  ... that Jesus didn't stay dead!

Yes he died, but then he pushed through death, proving that it didn't have to be the end of existence.

By coming back to life he 'conquered' death which means that if we believe in Jesus we also ultimately can push back death. Dying doesn't have to be the end of it all for us. We can be God's person here on earth,  but we may also live eternally in the spirit world after we have shrugged off this mortal coil

It's an astonishing thing! Difficult to comprehend, supernatural, but when embraced, an outrageous concept of optimism and hope.

Christians believe that although Jesus lived as a man for about 33 years, including 30 as a member of a family, a working man, followed by three years as an itinerant preacher, teacher and miracle worker and healer in the place we now know as The Holy Land (modern day Israel) ... he actually was more than a man. He was the Son of God, or God himself in human form.

We Christians do believe that Jesus was the best example of a human being that ever existed and we are encouraged to emulate his compassion, love and life of service. We also believe that his death (and ultimate resurrection on the day we call 'Easter Sunday') not only shows his divinity, but also paves the way for us to embrace eternal life ... if we would only believe in Jesus and follow him.

If you've been reading my blog a bit this week you might have picked up that by the time he reached Jerusalem in the final days of his life - the time we call 'Holy Week' in the church - the religious leaders of the day were determined to get rid of Jesus.

There were rumours that people believed that Jesus - the poor itinerant preacher - was actually the Messiah. This was the person that ancient scripture said would be sent by God to save the people of Israel. Not to mention those claims that Jesus could actually be God in human form, or the Son of God. For the Jewish religious leaders this was blasphemy and Jesus' popularity threatened their control over the population.

Ultimately they wanted rid of him. And by the day we call 'Good Friday' they had had him tried before the local and the Roman authorities and he found himself being beaten, a crown of thorns rammed onto his head (an ironic reference to the fact that some saw him as a 'King') and he had to carry his own cross through the streets of Jerusalem, through the crowds, being mocked and taunted and laughed at!

The story of Jesus' final hours and his death on that cross at a place called Calvary outside the Jerusalem city walls is documented in the New Testament of the Bible, including in the book of Matthew and Chapters 26 and 27 ,  if you have time to do so, please do read that account today.

It was a horrible death, bloody and brutal, designed not just to punish the person being nailed to a cross of wood and left to hang until they died, but also to warn those watching that THIS is what was in store for them if they, too, dared to defy authority.

There are many songs associated with this day, some very traditional. But this one and this particular version by the Gaither Vocal Band, always stirs my heart as on Good Friday I once again think about what Jesus did two thousand years ago, and what he's still doing for me today.

No pictures on this video. Maybe just close your eyes and listen to the words.

And be blessed!

*this song now on my You Tube channel 


Spy Wednesday

Today is Wednesday ... but not just any old Wednesday.

Some call today 'Holy Wednesday', others know it as 'Spy Wednesday'.  

But why? SPy Wednesday

Well, as you may know by now, this is Holy Week - or Passion Week. It's the time  Christians remember the final days of Jesus Christ on earth. From the crowds cheering him into Jerusalem on what we call 'Palm Sunday', to his trial and hideous death on a cross outside the city, in the company of criminals. 

But in between there are significant moments. We remember that in the last week of Jesus' life, he turfed out traders from the holy temple, he preached and taught, he spent time with his followers and friends. He was arrested and tried in a kangaroo court.

And somewhere in the middle, he was betrayed by one of his friends and followers, a man called Judas Iscariot.

Judas was one of the original 12 friends and followers, the disciples of Jesus. Hand picked by Jesus to share his ministry and learn from him, and eventually be there to continue the work and the mission when Jesus was no longer around. Judas had been with Jesus for three years.

So why did he turn against him?

Remember a few days ago I was saying that among the people who followed Jesus were those who hoped that he would be not just a teacher and preacher or even a miracle worker, but that he would become a focal figure in a revolution against the Romans and the Jewish religious establishment? Well, it's thought that Judas might have been among those who hoped his 'Rabbi', his spiritual leader, would be more than just a healer and an itinerant preacher.

But as Judas lived and worked with Jesus, he maybe began to realise that this gentle, charismatic personality didn't want or seek political power. He wasn't about that. He was about love and compassion and bringing people to God. His message was about community, and people being kind and helping each other out. He was about caring for the sick and the poor and the isolated. Jesus was about loving the unloved. Not about power and status, or money and possessions.

This must have frustrated Judas no end. Seeing the crowds around Jesus, he must have had hopes that it would become more. He disagreed with Jesus' generosity, and as the one in the group that looked after the money he was the man who criticised Jesus when he allowed a woman called Mary to pour a bottle of expensive perfume over him. This 'anointing' was a sign of love, but also a symbolic gesture that seemed to foretell the sacrifice that Jesus would make in giving up his life. But all Judas could see was the waste of money.

It must have been common knowledge among the followers of Jesus that he was putting himself in danger by going to Jerusalem. Jesus had narked off the religious authorities, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin, and they were looking for a way to arrest him. But the sacred Jewish festival of Passover was approaching and they wouldn't want to arrest him in public, especially as Jesus was so popular with ordinary people. They risked a riot.

So they decided to get him while he was pretty much undefended.

Jesus and his followers, as Jews, would be preparing to observe the Passover. The festival begins with a meal - the Seder  - which is a ritual observation on the eve of Passover. This particular meal taken by Jesus and his friend has become known as The Last Supper. Then Jesus and some of the disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane - on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem - where Jesus wanted to pray. He knew what was coming and he needed that time apart to prepare himself.

But Judas had already gone. He'd been with the religious leaders, accepted thirty pieces of silver as a payment for betraying Jesus. After midnight, Judas arrived in the Garden accompanied by armed officers and other men provided by the religious leaders. Judas, as a signal of which person to arrest, gave Jesus a kiss. Jesus is arrested, turned over to the Roman authorities, tired, and within days is killed - crucified.

And, realising the ill he had done, Judas hanged himself. Perhaps he didn't realise the priests wanted Jesus dead. Regretting his part in the arrest of Jesus, he tried to return the money but the religious leaders refused to take it. Judas threw the money into the temple and hanged himself.

So today on this 'Spy Wednesday' we remember Judas and his part in Jesus' story. But that word 'spy' is so interesting.

These days we think of spies as secret agents, and Judas was certainly no James Bond. Not a glamorous personality at all.

But the word 'spy' means more  - it can also mean 'plant', 'snooper', 'fifth columnist', someone who is in a group but whose motives are to undermine the group. That could describe Judas. A spy in the camp. And the word 'spy' can also mean 'ambush' and 'ensnare' which is certainly what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Down the centuries, theologians and philosophers have discussed Judas' part in the events that led to the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and Judas' motives. Greed? A love of money? A lust for power? Some sort of twisted theology? Some have even concluded that it was somehow in 'the Plan' - there are references in the Bible that Jesus knew one of his closest friends would betray him. That's hard to even think about. 

Judas has gone down in history as a pariah, an outcast, a devil.

But the question that always comes to my mind when I think about him is this ... am I so perfect?

Have I always been true to my faith, represented Jesus, been the person he might want me to be ... a person like him - loving, caring, compassionate, truth-seeking? Someone who thinks of others before themselves? And have I always stood up for my faith? Always stood up for Jesus? Have I never denied him, even by my silence when I needed to speak up? 

It's a hard one to face but on this 'Spy Wednesday', halfway through Holy Week, halfway to the crucifixion of Jesus and ahead of Easter ... it's a question I need to keep asking myself.