25 February 2011

A Prayer Of Forgiveness

Acts 8:23 (New International Version, ©2010)
"For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

Father, I acknowledge that I've held resentment and bitterness against a number of situations and a number of people. I confess this as sin and ask you to forgive me. As far as the situations are concerned, deliver me from these. I forgive the people concerned. Remind me, Lord, to not hold any more resentments, but rather to love these people. Father, I ask you to also forgive me.

Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

22 February 2011

Salvationist Distinctiveness

I've been inspired by a comment on a Salvation Army forum recently, which included a quotation from General Shaw Clifton. The quotation was taken from the book "New Love", a collection of essays on practical holiness. I haven't read the book, but am interested to do so following this extract! In one particular passage, the General addresses the present and future of The Salvation Army in a section entitled 'Modern Salvationism is vulnerable'.

"Vulnerability arises when we trim our Salvationist sails to the winds of the world and the dollar. We cannot expect to be popular. Jesus was not. The Apostles were not. William Booth was not. Today however, mostly we are. Why is that?

The ongoing secularisation of our employee force is another potentially disastrous source of vulnerability. The genius of Salvationism has from the outset been that its mission is carried out by saved persons… this basic concept has all but been abandoned.

The morale of officers is at risk. The attractiveness of officership is in danger of being affected in proportion to its distinctiveness being undermined. It is not too alarmist to say that in some lands officership is at risk. The risk deepens wherever those who have made a lifelong vocational covenant are marginalised in favour of those whose intentions are explicitly short-term or transitory."

Here's where I need to nail my colours to the mast. I am a Christian, pleased to be an active member of The Salvation Army for the last twenty-three years. I know that God has a plan for my life and am actively seeking His will. As part of this I have attended Design For Life and Exploring Leadership weekends. My voluntary work for the Army has taken me to some exciting places - and I am keen to do more!

I have also been employed by a Salvation Army department for nearly ten years. I wanted to work for TSA as an expression of my commitment to the Army's work. However, as a Salvationist, I work alongside non-Salvationists in my office, and experience many occasions where my working colleagues completely fail to understand the Army's motivation. Indeed, they even fail to understand my motivation, despite attempts to explain. This does sometimes have an effect on my own commitment.

The jobs I see advertised for work in TSA centres state that a prospective employee 'must work in sympathy with the aims and ethos of The Salvation Army'.
I'd be interested in other people's views on the General's comments.

21 February 2011


Today was a milestone. It was a normal day.

That means I didn't have to do anything out of the ordinary simply to get through the day because I'm recovering from that broken ankle I suffered late last year. No walking stick to carry around now - no changes to the trains I've been taking just to ensure I get a seat - no dependance on buses - no more need to carry painkillers everywhere!

Sure, if I overdo things I still tend to pay the price, but it's good to know my body is now able to cope with the basic stresses of working life.

Normal service is resumed. Or as normal as it usually gets around here.  :)

20 February 2011


"You got me begging you for mercy
Why won't you release me
You got me begging you for mercy
Why won't you release me
I said you better release me..."
(lyrics from 'Mercy', written by Duffy and Steve Booker)

This was the song playing in the car coming home from the Army today. This follows a number of references to mercy in the Scripture Union material we used at Sunday School today (the story of Jonah).

The word stems from the concept of compassion or leniency shown towards a person. It's a common virtue in Jewish, Islamic and Christian ethics.

It's an important truth.

“Teach me to feel another's woe,
To hide the fault I see,
That mercy I to others show,
That mercy show to me.”
- Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

18 February 2011

Play To Your Strengths

I've been encouraged over the last few years to push myself out of my comfort zone, to try and do something new in my life. Some of my recent escapades have been documented in this blog. Now, learning what you can do anew is a great idea (you find out new things you are good at!), however there comes the inevitable time when you need to stop and take stock of your life. Whilst I have been looking at the whole subject of sacrificial giving, I have looked at my own giving, reviewing the use of my time and talents as well as my finances. About what I do for Him, give to Him.... And how to do better.

As part of this I've been giving consideration to my own strengths. Stuff that I feel really comfortable doing. I think that I've been getting so practiced at ignoring the boundaries of my comfort zone that I've begun to forget what it is that I am good at! Instead of pushing these particular boundaries all the time, reaching out into those areas where I know I am weak, I'd like for a while to explore 'playing to my strengths'. On working on my own particular gifts, on ways to use them more wisely. Let's face it, what would have happened if the great musicians of our time hadn't decided to devote their lives to their obvious gifting. Each of them took time to practice, to develop their natural strengths. In this case, the gift of music.

I'm not particularly gifted in music, but I do the best I can. We can't all be good at everything, however each of us has a natural aptitude in something. Christians talk of spiritual gifts, acknowledging the fact that these gifts ultimately come from God. Some of us don't even recognise what our strengths are. I've taken a number of spiritual gift questionnaires - you can find some online if you look - so I think I have a pretty good idea.

Most web articles I have read this week on this topic suggest that you should 'play to your strengths' - that is, to spend the majority of your time working at something where you have an aptitude. If others are better at the things where you are weak, why not let them do it?

I realise that it is unlikely I will ever be anything other than average in areas where I don't have a specific gift. What I need to do is to ensure I do plenty of what I'm really good at - use the gifts God has given me to the best of my ability. I know that if I invest my time and energy in something I know I am good at, and enjoy doing, then I'm working in the right direction.

Romans 12:4-8 (New International Version, ©2010)
4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

14 February 2011

The Most Important Thing

We're rather limited, I feel, with only one word for 'love' in the English language. The Ancient Greeks had four separate words to choose from! With today being  Valentine's Day, I thought a brief look at these four words may prove helpful to someone:

Agape refers to brotherly love, to the unconditional, sacrificial love that is developed in family life, e.g., love for your children, or your spouse. It's the form used throughout the New Testament, which of course includes the "love chapter", 1 Corinthians 13. 

Eros refers to passionate love, to desire or longing, or intimate and physical love.

Philia means friendship in modern Greek. The ancient Greek word  refers to loyalty to close friends or to a community, to an enjoyment of an activity. It's this version that we refer to when we talk of someone being a 'bibliophile', a lover of books.

Storge refers to a general affection, like the instant bond between parent and child, or between friends. It is sometimes used to convey a feeling that you are merely 'putting up with' a situation.

What different types of love will you see today?

13 February 2011

Fight or Flight?

The title for this blog entry comes from a study of something called 'fight-or-flight response', a phrase first coined a physiologist called Walter Bradford Cannon. He was studying the basic response in animals to a threat, and noted the automatic response to danger that makes changes in the body, making the animal ready for defensive action, either fighting or running away.

In times of stress, hormones like adrenalin are released, speeding up the heart rate, slowing digestion, redirecting blood to the muscles and changing the body's autonomic functions, giving the body a burst of energy and strength.

These same effects can be seen in humans, however in modern society this response can cause problems. Modern day stresses (e.g., a bad day at work) could trigger this response, however neither fight (physical violence) nor flight (running away from the problem) are possible. If an individual is unable to control this response, it may surface as stress - a natural reaction if he or she is faced with a situation where they see no easy escape route.

By its very nature, the fight-or-flight response bypasses the individual's rational mind, so some irrational behaviour may surface, even if the perceived 'threat' does not stand up to close examination. When things get much too 'hot', the individual may do something quite 'out of character'. I think that's why we see increased incidents of irrational behaviour in situations when there is no way out - like incidents of 'road rage' in the middle of a traffic jam

When the 'threat' is gone, the body's autonomic functions are designed to return to normal, but there are recorded cases involving chronic stress where this doesn’t happen. Extreme incidents of stress have been known to cause other psychological problems, or can surface as physical symptoms, such as a rash.

I've been looking at incidents in scripture of extreme stress, and am led once again to the Book of Job. His story is certainly one where no easy escape route was visible! Job suffered more than his fair share of problems and suffering.

Job's reaction to the news that all of his children have been killed in a storm is an eye-opener:

Job 1:21 (New International Version, ©2010)
...and said: "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Is what is generally recalled as the "patience of Job" really a reluctance of Job to accept or come to terms with alarming news? Job certainly started to develop unusual physical symptoms (see later chapters, a rash that covered his body). Unable to fight against this torrent of awful incidents and certainly unable to run away from them, he would be suffering from extremes of stress, and even suffering denial that he is in a really bad place!

The final message from the Book of Job is one of perseverence. It calls on all of us to recognise our own limitations and to put our trust in God in all circumstances, even when we don't understand why. It does not give us any answers as to why there is suffering in this world - but it gives us the encouragement to hang on and not give up. To fight, and not to run away.

It is interesting to note that once Job had finally experienced God and had realised that God had not forsaken him, his hope returned and he began to get better.

Just to complete this entry, there are of course occasions where flight is the correct reaction - we need to flee from situations which may put us into harm:

1 Corinthians 6:18
1 Timothy 6:9-11
2 Timothy 2:22

11 February 2011

Travelling Light!

Hebrews 12:1-3 (New International Version, ©2010)
1 Therefore, 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,
2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

During the course of the evening you can often see members of the local running club, diligently meeting up to pound the streets together. Their commitment always impresses me. They are easily spotted, they stand out so well from the crowd. Dressed in their running gear, they don't wear the bulky clothes that the rest of us wear at this time of year; the extra fabric would simply slow them down.

Hebrews 12 speaks of the Christian life being like a race - and it's a marathon! So, like the runners, we too need to strip away everything that slows us down. For some of us it will mean ditching the spiritual baggage that we have been carrying around! For some it may be just a small suitcase, others a huge trunk...

I don't do running, not any more. I do like to walk, so I know a little about dressing appropriately when I set off into the country. And then there's the baggage issue... when I travel up to London to work I usually take a rucksack, carefully packing everything I think I might need for the day. I also need to remember to review what I'm carrying and take out things that I've collected when I get home. Newspapers, books, leaflets. If I don't review the contents regularly I end up carrying around loads of unnecessary weight for days on end!

One piece of baggage that a Christian may carry is "the sin that so easily entangles." This phrase speaks specifically about something that you're carrying around that could end up tripping you up. It may have started as a minor inconvenience, it's now something that threatens to stop you in your tracks. It's up to you and God to identify what that may be. Examples could include bitterness or greed. Not dealing with it will reduce your stamina, sap your motivation, as you seek to run despite your burden.

And then there is "everything that hinders"... Things that may not even be morally wrong, but which 'get in the way'. These could be classed as items of baggage that need to be ditched, simply because they're not part of your running kit. They just don’t fit with the life you are now living, the race you are running.

Again, the exact nature of this piece of baggage is down to you to identify. It might be another commitment, something you have done for a while, but stops you being more committed to your Christian calling. It might be a worldly attraction that simply gets in the way. Examples may include hobbies or sports; video games; satellite TV. These things may be lawful, but when their pull on your time is too strong for you to resist, it’s time to put them down (1 Corinthians 6:12).

So, let's not "grow weary or lose heart"... Perhaps the reason that you have felt that living for Christ is just too difficult... is because you’ve just been carrying too much! Do yourself a favour and ditch the baggage. Ask God to help you free yourself from it. Cooperate with Him if there are further steps yet to be taken. Remember to get encouragement and prayer support from your fellow Christians.

And keep running!

9 February 2011

Keeping Faith

"I have a sense deep in my spirit that God is wanting to do something in the Army, through the Army, that I can’t quite articulate. There is a sense of his Spirit moving me and saying: ‘Keep faith with who I am, keep faith with what I have given the Army to do.’"

"The ills of humanity are not going to be addressed by any other means, except through the cross of Christ. When we talk about the relevance of holiness, this world needs to see that the people of God make holiness believable. It needs to see authentic, deep Christians who live out the life of Jesus and do not just talk about it."

These are the words of our new General-Elect, Linda Bond. There's a full interview to be found here .


8 February 2011

Three Crucial Needs

I read the following on the web a few evenings ago and these have helped me centre my thoughts through the chaos of yet another busy week.

I understand that each of us was born with three crucial needs: 

* for security (knowing I am loved unconditionally) 
* for self-worth (knowing I am valued for who I am) 
* for significance (knowing my life has purpose or meaning). 

It is no coincidence that we have these three needs in common. We are hand-crafted by God, designed especially in this way! He designed us to find these needs met through a personal relationship with Him. 

7 February 2011


Acts 20:35 (New International Version, ©2010)
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

Repetition is such a necessity for effective training. You need to be told something a number of times before it eventually takes hold and sinks in. I can't remember the number of times that I have heard the above quotation. I have endeavoured to practice this, to live out the concept in what I do and say. However, it's only over this weekend that I began to grasp some of the reasoning behind this concept.

I think part of the problem is 21st Century culture. If I am injured, society teaches us that I need to seek compensation (I did a separate post on 'Blame Culture', a while ago. See the link here). If I do something for someone, society says that I expect to get adequately compensated for the task. "You don't get something for nothing!"

Now, I look at this a little differently. I've worked in a whole host of voluntary roles for pretty much all of my life. Social clubs, Fan clubs, Advisory Councils, Committees, Scout Groups, and of course Church. If something catches my eye as being worthwhile and exciting, I'll be there, showing an interest. It's not what it earns me that motivates me. I have found this attitude causes confusion - people simply can't grasp why I could do something for nothing. It doesn't make sense to them.

At the weekend the meeting touched on the subject of sacrificial giving, as part of the launch of the Army's Self-Denial Appeal for this year. The subject matter has really challenged me to rethink my whole reasoning for giving. Not to encourage me to give - I do that anyway - but to examine why I give. Giving of your time and talents freely, and sacrificially. Giving, because there are folk out there who have so much less than you. Giving, because without your gift, they would more than likely continue to go without. Giving, and not expecting to be paid back. Giving until the pips squeak...

We have a practical example here in the incident described in Mark 12:41-43, the donation of the "Widow's Mite". In this example, Jesus told his disciples the widow had given so more than all the others. The rich folk donated only a small proportion of their wealth; the widow put in two small coins, however this was all she had.

"If not you, then who?
If not now, then when?" 
  - Hillel the Elder

I guess that this is a topic I'll come back to again this month. I'll leave you with this quotation:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
  - John Wesley

3 February 2011

Getting Stroppy

stroppy (adjective) /ˈstrɒp.i//ˈstrɑː.pi/ adj UK informal
angry and unpleasant or rude to other people, quarrelsome, belligerent

I pick up the phone at work, and do my best to help the customer on the end of the line. Regretfully I can't always say yes to them. Then the person decides to get stroppy with you; they start arguing because they haven't liked what they've heard, they haven't got everything they've asked for.

Why do they act that way with someone who is obviously trying to help them? Don't you think that I would say yes to their request if it was in my power to do so?

Guess this is another instance where I need to show forgiveness. I don't know whether that person has had a really unpleasant day before picking the 'phone up to me. It's easy to let rip at someone you don't know.

"Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle" - Anon

Ephesians 4:32 (New International Version, ©2010)
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

2 February 2011

Arrow Prayers

2 Kings 13:17 (New International Version, ©2010)
“Open the east window,” he said, and he opened it. “Shoot!” Elisha said, and he shot. “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!” Elisha declared. “You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek.”

Prayer is vital, and complex. I was encouraged today by someone who talked about the importance of using prayer to attack strongholds in our life. In the passage above, Elisha symbolically asks King Jehoash to fire an arrow out of the window. We too can make a difference to a situation by firing off 'arrow prayers' to God. These are quick prayers to God, like arrows shooting up to heaven.

I've known about arrow prayers for a while and use these occasionally when out and about. I'm going to be firing a few arrows up today, so mind your heads!