Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Something we always knew anyway...

For centuries, religious believers have endured suffering with impressive fortitude. Now scientists claim to have discovered that faith in God really can relieve pain.

New research at Oxford University has found that the Christian martyrs may well have been able to draw on their religion to reduce the agony of, for example, being burnt at the stake.

In a bizarre experiment, academics at The Oxford Centre For Science Of The Mind ‘tortured’ 12 Roman Catholics and 12 atheists with electric shocks as they studied a painting of the Virgin Mary. They found that the Catholics seemed to be able to block out much of the pain. And, using the latest brain-scanning techniques, they also discovered that the Catholics were able to activate part of the brain associated with conditioning the experience of pain.

The findings were welcomed by the Anglican Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Tom Wright, who said: ‘The practice of faith should, and in many cases does, alter the person you are. ‘It can affect the patterns of your brain and your emotions. So it comes as no surprise to me that this experiment has reached such conclusions.’

The experiment is one of a series being conducted by the academics, a group of scientists, philosophers and theologians from different departments at the university. A sparking device was strapped to the back of the participants’ left hands to deliver an electric shock.

The scientists then asked them to contemplate two paintings, Sassoferrato’s 17th Century Virgin Annunciate (Virgin Mary) and Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th Century Lady With An Ermine.

The researchers hoped that the face of the Virgin Mary would induce a religious state of mind in the believers, while da Vinci’s painting was chosen because it did not look dissimilar and would be calming.

The volunteers were not told the true purpose of the experiment, only that it was designed to judge how people felt pain while contemplating pictures of different things.

They spent half an hour inside an MRI scanner, receiving a series of 20 electric shocks in four separate sessions while looking at either the religious or non-religious picture.

Each time, the volunteer had to rate how much it hurt on a scale of 0 to 100.

The Catholics said that looking at the painting of the Virgin Mary made them feel ‘safe’, ‘taken care of’ and ‘calmed down and peaceful’.

More significantly, they reported feeling 12 per cent less pain after viewing the religious image than after looking at the Leonardo.

The front right-hand side of their brains lit up on the scanner, indicating that the neural mechanisms of pain modulation had been engaged.

There was no such brain activity among the atheists, whose pain and anxiety levels stayed roughly the same throughout the experiment.

Writing in the scientific journal Pain, the researchers concluded that at least some religious believers can moderate their pain by thinking about it more positively.

Why go to all that bother when they could have just asked us?

Love and prayers - A

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Spike Milligan on Christian Basics!

If I have learnt anything in my 14 years as a Christian then it is this - there are some basic building blocks within our faith without which, we cannot function. If we want to be useful to each other and more importantly useful to God then these blocks have to be in place. Christianity is about discipline, obedience, sacrifice and perseverance but it is also about joy, victory, peace and fulfilment. If we find ourselves this morning less than ‘conquerors’ then it will probably be because the enemy has undermined our faith, quite literally dug beneath our foundations causing spiritual instability and potential collapse.

These essential building blocks are prayer, God’s word and obedient faith. Prayer is the ‘Christian’s vital breath’ and when used in conjunction with the word of God encourages it directs, chastises, empowers, heals, restores, forgives – without these two foundation stones solidly set in place our Christianity will not work and cannot be productive. As blood and breath are to the body so prayer and God’s word are to the soul. Faith is the fuel that enables these two avenues of grace to move us forward. Faith is the ‘evidence of things now not seen’ and replaces our dismal outlook with God’s bright future.

Do we make time every day for serious (and delightful) intimacy with God, do we memorise his word and ‘walk with him and talk with him along life’s narrow way’? Do we hear and obey his voice? If the answer to these questions is no, then our lives are probably full of despondency and personal disaster. I remember once seeing a Spike Milligan cartoon, the drawing showed a series of small insect like creatures each reciting out loud simple mathematical problems – the caption underneath simply said ‘it’s the little things that count’ when it comes to Christianity that is so true.

It is the little compromises, the small sins, and the casual neglect of prayer that causes us to fail and fall. Being a lazy parent, an insensitive spouse, an indifferent employee – once these things have been dealt with then God will lead us on. We need to start our pilgrimage from where we are and not from where we want to be, one step at a time, moment by moment. As Jesus once said "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (Luke 16:10)

Love and prayers A

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Xander and the Battle for Bull Centre

Saturday 13th September was a significant day in the life of Dartford Salvation Army.

First of all - we have reinforcements in the shape of Brother Xander Coleman from Australia - I discern powerfully that Xander is going to be a big blessing to Tracey and I personally and our Corps ministry here in Dartford. Xander shows a spiritual maturity way beyond his years.

Secondly we celebrated the 'Battle for Bull Centre' with an amazing march of witness, open air meeting and a grand music festival and salvation meeting which culminated in five souls at the Mercy Seat. and the town Mayor in full regalia joining in a glory march!
Rather than duplicate stuff here, there are some great reports starting to appear around the internet - some including video footage - chck ou the links below:

Forgive the laziness, but time is a premium and these good folk have probably said it better than I could!

God bless Dartford, God bless Xander. God bless The Salvation Army

Yours set apart by Christ, for the lost, in the Army.


Monday, September 08, 2008

Countdown to the Battle for Bull Centre 1

This is the front page of The War Cry, Sept 4th 1908 (if you click the image you'll get a bigger version). In the centre is a picture of Mrs Ensign Roy, who together with her husband, commanded the Dartford Corps a that time. This Saturday (September 13th) we are celebrating her release from prison (she was put there for preaching the gospel!). We are goingto have a full out assault on the enemy, a march of witness (aided by Chatham Band) and open-air and a festival/salvation meeting.
I'm not sure we'll get arrested but we certainly will shake up the town a bit :-)
The following is a local press report concerning the absurdity surrounding what became known as the 'Dartford Disgrace'.
Hopefully Xander will be with us on Saturday - no time for jet-lag in God's Army :-)

The current issue of the “War Cry” contains several interesting comments on the situation at Dartford. Under the heading of “Persecution,” the official organ of the Salvation Army makes the following remarks: —

“Were it not for the significant fact that the names of various Salvationists continue to be taken at Dartford, one might be justified in concluding that the good sense of the magistrates and the voice of the people had at last prevailed. Whatever may be the cause of this “willing-to-wound-but-afraid-to-strike” attitude on the part of the authorities, there is no mistaking the growing interest in, and sympathy with, the Army’s position by the public.

“Amongst those who have come forward with offers to pay the fines imposed on our comrades are two publicans, while the demand for the War Cry’ which contains latest news of the proceedings, has necessitated a rise of twenty dozen during the past week, and even then would-be purchasers have been disappointed.

“Encouraging and helpful, however, as the approval and goodwill of the people may be, the calmly confident attitude of the Salvationists is not based on this so much as on the knowledge that they are standing for liberty to preach salvation in that locality in the town “where people most do congregate”. This is a matter that vitally touches Salvationists everywhere. It is of such supreme importance to them that prison bars are, in comparison, mere trifles.

“Dartford comrades feel this most keenly, and there is not a soldier amongst them who is not willing to suffer the ignominy of imprisonment in defending this sacred principle.”

Cutting from the ‘Chronicle and District Times, Tuesday August 18th 1908”

Saturday, September 06, 2008

War is declared!

The way of holiness continues to be travelled and my consecration remains (by God's grace) intact. However, the bullets have been flying. The fighting has been constant - literally a moment by moment wrestle with the enemy.

Dartford has become a definite front line and we are all on red alert.

The fighting is undoubtedly tough and intensely demanding yet in an unexpected kind of way exhilarating and deeply fulfilling.

I have rediscovered the truth that there is only one way to take ground and advance on the enemy's territory and that is clad in the armour of God with the name of Jesus on your lips, bathed in the blood of Jesus and obediently trusting his command to 'attack'

Recent enemy activity promises a great time of spiritual refreshing and even revival of that I am sure. If we were no threat to the devil then he would treat us with the contempt we deserve. So let me remind him, as the Captain of God's Army in Dartford, as the Lord's anointed in this corner of Kent, in the name of Jesus Christ take your leave for we mean to win and by God's grace 'we never, never will give in!'

Yours under Christ, set apart for the lost, in the Army forever! Hallelujah!