Friday, January 29, 2010

St Francis puts me in my place (again)

When I look at the lives of the Saints and the early Army pioneers I am reminded just how far I have to go in terms of my own personal spiritual development. I had such an experience the other day when I came across the following report of a conversation between St Francis and one of his 'little brothers' Leo (I have taken the liberty of updating the language but the sentiment remains unchanged.)

"One winter's day, bitterly cold, St Francis was travelling with Brother Leo, when St Francis said "I hope that God will allow the 'Little Brothers' (the name he adopted for the Franciscan Order) to be an example of holiness all over the world. However, even if they achieve this they will not find perfect joy.

Even if the Little Brothers give sight to the blind, heal the sick, cast out demons, give hearing to the deaf, or even raise the dead – they still will not find perfect joy.

If a Brother knew all the languages of the world, all science, and all scripture, if he could prophesy and even read minds and hearts – he would still be a long way from perfect joy.

If he could speak the language of angels and understood all of the earth's deepest secrets even in this he would not find perfect joy."

Leo was amazed and questioned the Saint, "Father, in God's name, I beg you, please tell how to find perfect joy." Francis replied "When we arrive at our destination, soaked with rain, frozen, covered with mud and dying of hunger and we knock at the door of a local inn, and the landlord angrily refuses us entry and accuses of taking money from the poor and preaching a false gospel and leaves us outside in the snow and rain all night, frozen andstarved. Yet we, so abused and rejected, refuse to defend ourselves or think badly of him; but instead humbly accept that he knows us better than we know ourselves and that God is simply using him to correct us, then we shall know perfect joy. Above all the graces and gifts the Holy Spirit gives to his friends is the grace to conquer ourselves and to willingly suffer pain, outrage, disgrace, and evil treatment for the love of Christ."

When I think how quickly I sometimes leap to justify and defend myself, when I consider how ready I am to jump to conclusions and to hastily judge another's motives then I realise how far I fall short of what God expects.

Let's all heed Paul's words to the Ephesians (4:1-3) "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

Grace and peace, A

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Adolescence and an Army that doesn’t care (sometimes)

Children in the UK are unhappier than they have ever been according to recent research. The main causes of unhappiness are low self-esteem, body image and family conflict. Research by the Children's Society has shown that 7% of children aged between 10 and 15 in England - around 300,000 - are "significantly" unhappy.

The survey, carried out by Ipsos Mori between April and July 2008, asked children to score certain aspects of their lives on a happiness scale between 1 and 10. Most children questioned were actually happy, scoring (on average) above 5. However many children between 10 and 15 scored below the halfway mark.

Children who scored on average nearly 9 out of 10 - stated home, friends and family as the cause of their happiness. The highest levels of unhappiness were recorded in areas of appearance and confidence, with 17.5% saying they were unhappy with their looks, and 16% unhappy with their confidence. Almost twice as many girls were unhappy with their appearance as boys.

So, in summary, what does this research show us?

Children with settled home lives where the parents get along are generally happy.

Children with reliable friends are happy.

Adolescents are prone to unhappiness.

Some teenagers, especially girls, are unhappy with the way they look and lack confidence.

Did we really need expensive research to tell us what common sense has known for generations?

The unpredictable and sometimes unfounded unhappiness of adolescence provides the Army with a tremendous opportunity for evangelism. Let's preach the gospel to our teens – let's tell them that happiness and self worth are not dependant on how we look or how talented we are but that 'in the family of Jesus' everyone has an equal place.

The trouble is that if we told them that it wouldn't tally with what they see.

As I look around the Salvation Army and focus on our young people, I see that teenagers thrive or perish not by the rules of the gospel but all too often by 'the standards of this world'.

Talented, handsome, well-connected, athletic and confident children get the front seats at church just as they do at school. It takes a very special kind of Youth Worker to promote the awkward adolescent above the talented teen.

On a personal level, I still bear the emotional scars of growing up in an Army where people were defined by ability and appearance rather than by the desires and hopes wrapped up in their hearts.

As we seek the lost among the legions who live on the very edge of society let's make sure that we don't neglect the lost who live in our midst. Maybe they can't pass a football accurately, play an instrument, sing in tune, carry a part or find anyone to go on a date with but they are still a child of God. In fact if they qualify as 'the least among us' then God considers them to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

"Go ye into the highways and byways and seek out the geek, weed, nerd and bore and compel them to come in."

Grace and peace, A

Monday, January 25, 2010

Victory in the House of

Praise God for a victory in the House of Lords this evening

Further to my blog recently on the threat to Christian liberty via the Equalities Bill…

Three amendments tabled by Baroness O'Cathain were passed by the House of Lords tonight. The first amendment was voted through 216 votes to 178, the second was conceded by the Government and the third was voted through 177 votes to 172.

Another amendment which would have restricted the freedom of Churches was defeated by 195 votes to 174 and the law has not been narrowed any further.

Although the Government has consistently maintained that the effect of their provisions would not alter the current situation, it is the opinion of many Christian organisations that the proposed provisions contained within the Equality Bill would have further reduced the freedom of Churches. We are therefore grateful that the status quo has been maintained and the law has not been narrowed any further.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of Christian Concern for our Nation said:

"This is a great day for religious liberty in the UK. We are thankful that the law has not been changed and the freedom of Churches to control their own affairs has not been restricted any further. The results show what can happen when Christians pray and take action. Let us be encouraged that even in an increasingly secular society, the voice of the Church can still be heard."

Most of all we are thankful to God for answering our prayers. We serve a mighty God!

Grace and peace, A

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How do you read yours?

So Cadburys (the maker of cream eggs) are to be swallowed up by the American giant Kraft! Cadbury's cream eggs are a British institution, when I was a boy they appeared in the shops just before Easter, these days they are available from the beginning of January! Personally I don't like Cream eggs they are far too sweet and sickly for my savoury tooth. In recent years Cadburys have used the following advertising slogan in relation to cream eggs – "How do you eat yours" – the suggestion being that everyone eats them and the only question that needs to be asked in relation to them is "how"? Cadburys have even offered prizes to people for the most original methods of consumption.

Some people treat their bibles like a cream egg, they read it 'in season', i.e. they read it at special times of the year and then when they do read it they only read the 'sweet' bits. They avoid anything that might call to 'deeper consecration' or surrender. They ignore those verses that seek to correct a slack and apathetic approach to Christianity. When it comes to the bible the only question that really needs to be asked is "How do you read yours"? Every Christian ought to read the word of God on a daily basis and they ought to read it all not just bits and pieces.

If you've never gone through the whole bible in one year then you ought to do so. There are many good reading plans available on the Internet - 'The One Year Bible Online' is a good place to start. I've been using such a plan now for about 10 years and as a consequence I am more familiar with my bible than I have ever been. This year I decided to have a change.

The Salvation Soldier's Guide is a collection of bible readings for the morning and evening of every day in the year. The selected readings are particularly relevant to Salvationist's. There are 'morning' and 'evening' readings available and a very short reading for midday. Very often the readings are linked together and you will find them an excellent source of inspiration for sermons. The original readings were taken from the King James Version and very few copies of the original 'guide' are still around. This site contains links to the original readings but taken from the New International Version. This particular edition of the 'Guide' was compiled and edited by G S Railton (which for me at least always adds extra spice!)

If you have no bible reading plan I would heartily recommend the 'The Salvation Soldier's Guide' - if you already have a reading plan then the 'guide' is an excellent supplementary source of inspiration.

Grace and peace, A

Friday, January 15, 2010

Equality Bill and the rights of Christians...

I have always believed that political correction and human rights would poses greater persecution to the contemporary church than physical persecution. The Equality Bill, which is currently at the committee stage, will place a duty on public bodies - like schools and the police to promote homosexual and transsexual 'rights', churches and The Salvation Army will not be expected to promote such rights but it may well become a crime to say that these things are a sin or to prevent homosexuals or unmarried heterosexuals who cohabit from holding certain positions within the church like youth workers.

Christians have become concerned because the Bill also is narrowing the current exemption in employment law for "organised religion" by changing the existing exemption so that it will only apply to posts that wholly or mainly involve leading or assisting worship or promoting or explaining doctrine.

Yet church ministers have many pastoral and administrative tasks which do not directly involve leading worship or teaching doctrine, even more so in the case of pastoral or youth workers. So the law may require that these posts have to be open to adulterers or practising homosexuals.

The following link takes you to a legal opinion by John Bowers QC and a briefing (from provide further information. For the wider problems being caused by the 'equality and diversity' agenda, the following report also Marginalising Christians.

Get involved now or face prison tomorrow!

Grace and peace, A

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Waiting, waiting and more waiting...

Sat in the Juror's lounge today waiting to be called. Told we would be called at 10:30, then 12 noon, then 2pm and finally 3pm. Never called and let home at 3:40pm with instructions to come back tomorrow.

Used the time wisely and wrote a dedication song (based on Romans 12) for a new soldier who is being enrolled this Sunday – if you want to sing along the tune is Denmark HillJ

Eyes wide open, held by mercy,
Focussed on the love of Christ
In my heart the Spirit asks me
What have you to sacrifice?

Knowing now the worth of worship
Knowing now praise has a price
Freely I present my body
As a living sacrifice.

Though the devil tries to tease me
From the loving hold of Christ,
In his worldly mould would squeeze me,
All I have stays sacrificed.

Now I fear no separation
From the love that’s mine in Christ,
For this living consecration
Keeps the life I’ve sacrificed.

Grace and peace, A

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Justice or mercy?

Tomorrow I start Jury Service and my thoughts are fairly mixed. First of all I'm disappointed to be away from the Corps for a minimum of two weeks at a critical time. The start of a New Year provides soldiers with a watershed that (if managed effectively) can drive the fellowship in the right direction and if necessary steer wanderers back onto the straight and narrow. So to be away from the Corps in January is frustrating. Secondly, although I am excited about seeing the justice system working close up, I am weighed down by a shared responsibility the outcome of which will impact in a major way on both the accused and the victim(s). As a Christian judgement is taboo for me – it is not my place to judge. If I do fall into the trap of judging another person then scripture informs me that the same level of understanding and compassion I exercised will be used by God when my life is weighed in the balance.

"1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7)

Finally, I do believe in justice and in the need to accept the ultimate outcome of our actions. I grew up in an education system that positively endorsed corporal punishment and I felt the sting of the slipper, ruler and cane many times! My headmaster was an old fashioned portly man called Mr Goss. When he punished a child he did so in front of the whole school. The guilty culprit would be compelled to bend over on the stage in a school assembly and Mr Goss would strike 6 times, each swing of the cane punctuating the following sentence – "You must ...(swish) always ...(swish) be prepared ...(swish) to accept...(swish) the consequences ...(swish) of ...(swish) your actions".

Last week someone wrongly stated that as a juror I would be a soft touch, I think the phrase went something like... "Your namby-pamby, limp wristed, born again, liberal view of the world will want to give him a second chance!" Certainly I would endorse anyone's access to a second chance but I also believe that all of us (in this world if not in the next) have to face the consequences of our actions.

Mercy and justice are not incompatible. As a Christian, I do not have to worry about the eternal consequences of my decisions but the practical consequences of those decisions confront me every day. God has 'blotted out' my transgressions, he has made a conscious decision to 'remember them no more' but the devil often replays my past in the cinema of my mind.

So, I will go tomorrow, ready (and willing) to be convinced, beyond reasonable doubt as to whether the accused is innocent or guilty. Ultimately he or she will have to face the practical consequences of their actions regardless of whether they avail themselves of God's mercy and I will pray passionately that they will do the latter. I will make my mind up as a Christian and my thinking processes will be under the control of Christ. However horrendous the crime or unfeeling the accused I will remember at all times that I am nothing more than a sinner saved by grace and it could easily (but for that grace) be me in the dock.

I have always found that Wesley, Orsborn or Gowans usually have an appropriate word for most situations – in this case I turn to Orsborn:

I have no claim on grace;
I have no right to plead;
I stand before my maker's face
condemned in thought and deed.
But since there died a Lamb
Who, guiltless, my guilt bore,
I lay fast hold on Jesus' name,
And sin is mine no more.

Grace and peace, A

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Finishing strong!

I emailed a friend recently and shared in that email the possibility that we might change appointments this year. He replied with the exhortation "If you are transferring, finish strong in your current appointment." This comment set me thinking. I consider myself to be consistent in my service to God and the Army. Above every other possible occupation I would choose Salvation Army Officership every time.

2009 saw some great highs for Dartford. In February, Lee (a street homeless alcoholic) walked into our hall and a month later got gloriously saved and hasn't drunk alcohol since. On Christmas Day, Tracey and I had independent text messages from him thanking us for giving him his life back. Of course God is the engineer behind conversion and we are merely tools in his hands but if we hadn't been here there is a possibility that Lee might not have got saved. Later in the year a young lady who was recently relocated to Dartford under the 'witness protection scheme' and also a victim of domestic violence was led to Christ by Tracey. This year has also seen a family of four (asylum seekers from Sri-Lanka) become a real part of our Corps family – to such a degree they have recently invited friends of theirs (a family of 4 from India) to join our fellowship. Imagine our delight when all 8 of them turned up at our watch-night service and despite obvious language barriers engaged fully with the games and worship. In 2009 we also farewelled Xander to College – Xander was a great hep and encouragement to us during his time here and I hope he feels that Dartford made a positive contribution to his ongoing Officer training. In November we saw an old soldier (85 years old) who hasn't worn uniform for many, many years don the blue surge and silver s's again - Hallelujah! On January 17th a man who was once the Corps Secretary at Dartford but relinquished his soldiership some time ago will enrolled as a Soldier again. In addition we have seen our people grow and domestic situations improve as a consequence of an ongoing pastoral programme.

In the 2 ½ years we have been privileged to be at Dartford God has blessed us greatly and fulfilled his promise to 'do more than we could ask for or even imagine'.

Yet at the same time there have been occasional troughs – fortunately God has given me a personality that is largely immune to depression – but there have been moments of doubt and sometimes even downright rebellion on my part. Yet all in all it has been a very positive experience and our time here will remain a memory when we do eventually move on.

Ideally we would have liked to stay here another couple of years but the complex medical needs of our youngest daughter make this year a sensible time to relocate (she starts Senior School in September).

So back to that encouragement to 'finish strong'... We have 6 months left at Dartford and my motivation remains the same as it was 2 ½ years ago – I am a sinner saved by grace and the knowledge of my unmerited salvation compels me to put all I have into those 6 months. If the the 'call of holiness' makes us anything other than consistent then we are not giving the right answer.

This year I'm starting an MA in theology (at the Army's request) but I am determined that this study should enhance and not diminish my service as a Corps Officer. On Monday I am doing 'Jury Service' which will necessitate at least 2 weeks away from the front (although I am sure that God will use me during this time as a witness to my fellow jurors) then it is back to the battle.

In April Tracey and I have our appraisals and it will be interesting to see if the folk at Dartford consider our 'finish' to be 'strong' I am confident that they will because at the end of the day although we serve them our master is Christ!

This Sunday (weather permitting) is 'Commitment Sunday' in the UK and as always I will be renewing my Officer's covenant as I encourage my folk to reconsider their Soldier's covenant.

The temptation at the end of an appointment to give in to complacency and to become a bit 'demob happy' is very real but praise God we are called, commissioned and empowered by Christ and in his strength we overcome the world.

So as we begin, not quite the last, but maybe one of the closing chapters in this part of our story I will cling to the words of Hebrews 12:1-3

" 1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Grace and peace, A

Monday, January 04, 2010

Puppies, prostituted people and early mornings!

Since the middle of December our daughter Bethany has to have medication at 4am in the morning. This is an ongoing arrangement and part of the increasingly complex daily regime her medical needs demand. We also, since 2nd January, have a new puppy in the home. The arrival of the puppy has removed any chance I might have had of returning to bed after administering Beth's medication. So my day now starts at 4am. It's done wonder for my 'rations' (daily devotions) and I use some of this time to watch the religious channels on Sky TV. Some of these channels are rubbish, some of them are downright dangerous but some of them have some good programmes. The other day I came across an interview with a remarkable woman called Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest in Nashville. An ordained priest, a mother of three boys and a wife this woman is truly inspirational. The following brief biography was lifted from her blog 'Walking in Circles' which is well worth following.

"I've always been concerned with the practical nature of any ministry," says Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest in Nashville, TN. Being chaplain of Vanderbilt University's St. Augustine's Chapel means fostering service as an integral part of a living faith. Being the author of five books means moving readers toward a shared ideal of love and compassion for the world as it is. And being founder of Magdalene, a residential community for women who have survived lives of prostitution and drug abuse, offers the chance for recovery on all levels and for grounding in day-to-day living skills. "I want the women here to be employed, to have financial security, and to be able to change their tires," she says. "A ministry that doesn't concern itself with the economic well-being of its recipients is just so much wind."

Stevens is working to bridge the gap between the sacred and profane, between humanity's great need and God's abundant grace. Her life is one whose underpinnings are as fixed as the seasons. "Love is my grounding," she says. "It provides the axioms, those basic truths, which inform the system and govern what I do. First is that love is the most powerful source for social change in the world. Second is that love heals. I'm not called to change the world. I am called to love it."

The implications of these axioms are interwoven throughout the operation of Magdalene, founded by Stevens in 1997. With funds from individual gifts and private grants, it offers "a sanctuary for the women where they can live for two years without having to pay." In 2001 Becca founded Thistle Farms, a subsidiary of Magdalene, a social enterprise in which the women make and sell natural bath and body products. All proceeds directly support the community. Magdalene, which now sustains five houses, has inspired similar programs in several American cities, and has helped women in Rwanda start a business.

Stevens can trace part of the inspiration for her ministry to her mother, Anne Stevens. Widowed when Becca's father, himself an Episcopal priest, was killed by a drunk driver, Mrs. Stevens raised five children as a single mother. "The whole focus of our lives changed after that," says Becca, who was 5 at the time. "I grew up with a mother who completely reinvented herself." Anne Stevens worked her way from being a being a childcare worker to executive director of Nashville's St. Luke's Community Center. Stevens describes her mother as "the role model for the hands of God - always preserving an open door and caring heart."

Becca attended the University of the South, then Vanderbilt Divinity School, where she met and married Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Marcus Hummon. Ordained in 1991, she gave birth to their first child two weeks after becoming a priest. As chaplain of St. Augustine's since 1995, she now serves a congregation of 400 students, faculty and community members. With the support of St. Augustine's, Becca has been able to open the Anne Stevens School in Ecuador, a nursing program for an AIDS hospice in Botswana, and a center for contemplative justice in Nashville. "Being a priest in the Episcopal Church has enabled me to go out and serve," she says. "I'm grateful for that. I've never had to take a paycheck for my work at Magdalene."

Becca's published-writing career began when Abingdon Press approached her about doing a Bible study for its Sisters series resulting in her first book, Finding Balance. Her meditations became Sanctuary: Unexpected Places Where God Found Me, one of Christianity Today's Top 5 Spiritual Books of 2005. Hither & Yon and Find Your Way Home, a collaborative effort with the women of Magdalene, followed. Her latest publication is Funeral for a Stranger.

Her personality infuses her writing, be it books, blogs, sermons or lectures. She is earnest and empathetic, focused and funny. She is known for her wit as well as her humility, for day-to-day absent-mindedness and for steadfast practicality. Her writing is honest to a fault, shaped by the good and bad of life, and yet it is fervently hopeful and determinedly loving. At once graceful and intimate, her prose wears real skin and muscle as it moves through the heaven and hell that inhabit the earth, imbued with the sweet unexpected scent of grace.

Rev. Stevens has raised over $10 million and gained nationwide press coverage for the organizations she supports. Given numerous awards from organizations including the Frist Foundation and the Academy of Women in Achievement,Becca was named the "Alumnus of the Year" by the School of Theology at the University of the South, "Nashvillian of the Year" by the Nashville Scene and "Tennessean of the Year" by The Tennessean. She and Marcus live in Nashville with their three sons, Levi, Caney and Moses."

Follow the blog, get the book and live the life!

Grace and peace, A

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A spiritual warfare psalm for 2010

Psalm 3 (New International Version)

 1 O LORD, how many are my foes!
       How many rise up against me!

 2 Many are saying of me,
       "God will not deliver him."

 3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD;
       you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

 4 To the LORD I cry aloud,
       and he answers me from his holy hill.

 5 I lie down and sleep;
       I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

 6 I will not fear the tens of thousands
       drawn up against me on every side.

 7 Arise, O LORD!
       Deliver me, O my God!
       Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
       break the teeth of the wicked.

 8 From the LORD comes deliverance.
       May your blessing be on your people.

Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A testimony for 2010

Song No: 764 (SASB)

Through the love of God our Saviour
All will be well;
Free and changeless is his favour,
All, all is well.
Precious is the blood that healed us,
Perfect is the grace that sealed us,
Strong the hand stretched forth to shield us,
All must be well.

Though we pass through tribulation,
All will be well;
Ours is such a full salvation,
All, all is well.
Happy, still in God confiding,
Fruitful, if in Christ abiding,
Holy, through the Spirit's guiding,
All must be well.

We expect a bright tomorrow,
All will be well;
Faith can sing through days of sorrow,
All, all is well.
On our Father's love relying,
Jesus every need supplying,
Or in living, or in dying,
All must be well.

Mary Peters (1813-56)

Friday, January 01, 2010


One of the problems I face as a Salvationist is that there is tendency for me to think of commitment in an external context. I've been brought up in a movement that has historically (in order to protect new converts) focussed on encouraging good behaviour and outlawing bad behaviour. This can sometimes lead to a Salvationist morality that can appear to be at odd with the rest of the church (for example tea-totalism). I'm happy with such restraints, indeed I think they are helpful – on many occasions my soldier's and Officer's covenant has protected me in the hour of trial. However, I do have to remind myself occasionally that some things I consider bad may not be bad for everyone and some of my virtues others might find offensive.

So, in the run up to the New Year as I have been mulling over resolutions I decided to go back to scripture and take Christ as my moral measure and not some past hero or old copy of 'orders and regulations'. The result was quite surprising. In some areas it is impossible to use Christ as a model because his morality seems to change according to the circumstances he is in. An obvious ascetic yet accused of gluttony, a man who fasted and prayed alone yet loved the multitude, a man who preached pacifism but made his point with a whip, a man who broke the law and at the same demanded absolute obedience to it – and so I could go on.

Then the penny dropped! Christ was not constrained by morality or ethics but was controlled by love. His life was not a reactive one where rules and regulations offered protection in times of spiritual ambush but a proactive one pushed and empowered by love. In Gethsemane, perhaps his greatest temptation, it wasn't the law or mere obedience that won the day but love. Christ loved God and loved sinners and his actions and words were prompted by that love rather than restrained by a code of ethics.

So my resolution must be (if I am going to take Christ as my example) to set aside more quality time in which I can 'love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, soul and body'.

The Saviour of men came to seek and to save
The souls who were lost to the good;
His Spirit was moved for the world which he loved
With the boundless compassion of God.
And still there are fields where the labourers are few,
And still there are souls without bread,
And still eyes that weep where the darkness is deep,
And still straying sheep to be led.

Except I am moved with compassion,
How dwelleth thy Spirit in me?
In word and in deed
Burning love is my need;
I know I can find this in thee.

Grace and peace and a very love-fuelled New Year