Thursday, October 29, 2009

Minster and autumnal madness!

Could there possibly be a more picturesque appointment in the UK other than Minster? Minster is a small village about five miles from the coast in Kent. It gets its name from the Abbey (which still functions today) in the centre of the village. If you ask Sister Benedict nicely she will give you a guided tour. The village has everything you might need – dentist, doctor, library, corner shop, newsagent – even a dog groomers! The Army hall is 4 years old and the previous hall is in the process of being changed into a community shop. The Corps is spiritually alive and growing with a mixed aged congregation of about 80 and a small ensemble band. The village has a total population of 3000 making the 80 that attend the Army just under 3% of the local population – is there another Corps in the entire Army world that can boast such a statistic? If Regent hall managed to attract the same percentage of their local population their weekly congregation would be in excess of 100,000! We are here for a week's leave, guests of the Corps Officer Denise Cooper. We've had a lovely week and are ready to return to the war in Dartford.

Minster seems to be in a time warp (the village not the Corps!) there are no traffic restrictions here, parking is free and most people seem to walk everywhere – which brings me on to 'autumnal madness' – like the village of Minster the summer of 2009 (at least in the UK) seems to have got stuck in a time warp too. Yesterday I saw a butterfly, there are roses in the garden coming into bud, the grass is still growing and there hasn't been a day yet when I've desperately needed a coat. Although next week is November the trees are clinging to their leaves and we've yet to have our first frost. What is happening to the weather and who is to blame? Although there are still some sceptics out there who think that global warming and climate change are natural events I side with those who think they are a consequence of human activity.

The truth is we have a responsibility to protect our planet just as we have a responsibility to protect our values. Minster looks idyllic and seems to have retained some of those values yet amongst the quaint cottages is a betting shop and 5 pubs. No doubt behind the chintzy curtains alcoholics still sleep off their binges, husbands abuse their wives, children are neglected and gamblers count their losses. Appearances can sometimes be deceptive. Within a few weeks a storm will shake the leaves from the trees, the frosts will come, the fires will go on and we'll all start getting ready for Christmas.

Time marches on, the planet and our communities develop for better or worse and we make our contribution. One day time will stop for us and we will be asked to account for our lives. Those sins which are forgiven will be ignored, the time we have wasted over which we have wept with repentance will be put to one side – but the life we've lived since we last sought forgiveness will be weighed in the balance. With God appearances are far from deceptive as Paul told the Galatians "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7). As we approach Christmas and 2010 let's heed the advice of Ephesians 5:5-17 " Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is."

Grace and peace, A

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In his time...

Recently I was in conversation with Lee (see blog below) about smoking. Lee has given up so much in the last 8 months that I really didn't feel he needed to get into a battle with nicotine on top of everything else. I shared with him the testimony of the Jesuit writer John Powel (recounted in 'He Touched Me: My Pilgrimage of Prayer') about smoking. Powell had tried to give up smoking on many occasions unsuccessfully then one day as he reached for the first cigarette of the day he unexpectedly heard a quiet voice within say 'no more cigarettes John'. He obeyed the voice and has been nicotine free since. I suggested to Lee that when the time was right God would take the desire to smoke away just as he had removed his urge to drink.

In my own life my two biggest enemies have been lust and gambling (closely followed by pride and selfish ambition). Although these strongholds have been comprehensively demolished by the Holy Spirit temptation still lurks in their ruins and occasionally sallies forth in attempt to ensnare me once more. When it comes to holiness our big sins are easy to identify what takes more time is identifying and surrendering the doubtful things. For me, one of these doubtful things has been coffee. I have tried on many occasions to give up coffee but without success. Recent circumstances have led me to heed my own advice and leave the matter in God's hands.

Coffee seems to be the cement which holds church fellowship together; coffee is entrenched in our very fabric. Go to a Christian conference and coffee is available on tap. Hold a meeting, get together with a potential convert, network with other agencies , go to a church service, attend an Alpha Course, got to a bible study and coffee is there constantly oiling the ecclesiastical cogs. In addition, with the advent of Fairtrade there is almost a moral obligation to support the ethical coffee market. Then there is the fact that the local coffee shop is often the hub of the community - a suburban watering hole where all levels of society find neutral ground – therefore the coffee shop is an excellent place to witness. Then last week I read an (accredited) article about the benefits of moderate coffee consumption. Anything over two cups a day is likely to have an adverse health impact but keeping your intake to just two strong cups a day (preferably taken before noon) can have a very positive effect. Apparently, coffee is full of antioxidants and can limit your chances of heart disease and Alzheimer's. In addition there is a chemical in coffee that destroys the bacteria that causes tooth decay (incidentally all of these claims are equally true for dark chocolate!)

So maybe if Paul was writing to Timothy today rather than encouraging him to take a little wine with his food he might tell him to get down to Costa Coffee or Starbucks!

So (with an absolute clear conscience) I'm going to follow the example of Railton rather than Finney and start knocking back the black gold (but no more than two strong cups a day!)

If God isn't happy with my decision then he will let me know and whisper quietly in my inner ear as I reach for the coffee pot one morning. In the meantime I am not under law but under grace.

"17For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men." (Romans 14)

Grace and peace, A

Monday, October 05, 2009

Lee, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Amazing grace!

God's amazing grace never ceases to amaze me!

Just over 8 months ago Lee walked into the Army hall at Dartford – why? Cynics would say because he was drunk, homeless and hungry - believers would say because God had made an appointment for him!

We found him a home, bought him food and booked him into detox. He came out of detox and got saved – thank you Jesus! The first couple of weeks after detox were literally hell for Lee but he (with our support) prayed his way through and eventually God completely removed the desire for alcohol from his heart and mind. Lee hasn't had an alcoholic drink since February!

This week I am at Brunel Manor (once the home of the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel) in Torquay with Lee. One of our corps folk works for a charity who sends deserving people away on a retreat for free. The break was planned for earlier in the year and the gentleman in question was going to go away with Lee. However, Lee couldn't make it at the last minute so it was postponed. The man had already booked his holiday from work and couldn't change it at the last minute I went in his place.

It will be a good chance for us to relax but also to continue discipling Lee.

Tonight I stood next to Lee in a bible study he was so eager to attend! To think that only eight months ago he was a homeless alcoholic with no hope and now (thanks to God) he is a born again Christian who has a hunger for Christ which is contagious!

To hear him singing loudly songs that he doesn't know! To watch him listening to biblical concepts that must be alien to him and then to hear him say how 'relieved' he feels just to be here has quite honestly blown me away.

Please pray that this week will be a momentous week in Lee's pilgrimage (he has brought a lot of baggage to this retreat, by God's grace he'll be going home with a lot less!) Pray too that this will be a momentous week for me as well and please find the time to thank Jesus for his wonderful love and the amazing miracles he still does today - Hallelujah!

If that doesn't brighten your day then nothing wil!

Grace and peace, A