Back to School!

I have the ‘blessing’ of being able to lead my last two assemblies in Wick today. Schools work has to be the most challenging, terrifying, yet potentially significant part of ministry that I or anyone could undertake. The privilege is in presenting, in the school environment, just something of the life that there is in Jesus and giving the children an experience of learning about God that is (hopefully) positive and something that they will take through their life with them to analyse and contribute to their own decision making process with regards to the gospel.

Its been my hope that what I’ve offered hasn’t served to innoculate the children, as in, give them a little bit of religion that will keep them free from it from life like my school assemblies almost succeeded in doing when I was a boy!

Of all the things I’ve done in officership so far, schools work is the most challenging thing to me personally, but I have to say that I’ve grown to love not just the children, but working with them. And this, not only at schools, but through the kids work here at Wick which we’ll be sorry to be leaving behind.

God bless Wick’s children.

Parade Ground Battle Ground

The difference I’ve heard many a time is the difference between a parade ground soldier such as you may see standing outside Buckingham Palace and a soldier, for example, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The parade soldier is standing guard ceremonially in the possible occasion that the ‘enemy’ may confront him, but can spend the time looking pretty because he’s not out to look for a difficult shift. Actually, the armed police at the gate are the ones really doing the real protection job. When the soldier changes shift, he returns to the relative safety of the barracks.

The soldier fighting in ‘the trench’ has to be aware of his enemy coming from anywhere, at any time, and is there to secure the nation under threat against the usurped power of bands of loosely networked assassins. He doesn’t have time to sit pretty. Even in his rest time his weapons are by his side.

Interestingly, the parade soldier and the engaged soldier have the same training, have potential access to the same weaponry, and are both active in the army.

The difference is that the location and role of one soldier makes it pretty much unnecessary for him to use his skills, training and weaponry at all. He is simply standing guard over the establishment and the people who are part of the establishment. Potentially, however, the soldier may actually be deployed the next week to the same environment of the other soldier.

The challenge is this…if we accept at all that we as The Salvation Army have to maintain parade ground soldiers at all, do those who are occassionally deployed in that regard actually have the ability to fight in the trench the next day? To what extent do we have warriors as opposed to ceremonials in our ranks?

When I turn my mind to military bandsmen, what you have there are musicians who have a very minimal military training, because they’re very rarely, if ever, in combat. Their role is often ceremonial. I think that only Scotland can claim to have offensive weapons in their military bands in the form of the bagpipe…many an enemy would run a mile at the sound…however, I digress. Will we ever see the return of the non-ceremonial warfare fighting Salvation Army band? I, personally, live in hope, but I’m not sure if its founded on good ground or if its just wishful thinking.

Flicking through reports in many editions of the Salvationist its perfectly clear to see the distinction between ceremonial Salvationism and militant Salvationism. Having said that, ceremonial Salvationism tends to get more space. In one report, a band plays at a civil function, in another a group of Salvationists raises money for new chairs, in another there is hob-nobbing with city officials.

In contrast, there is the reports of a young officer couple who I know personally (younger than me) pioneering a corps in a land in desperate poverty and no concept of what the Salvation Army is, innovative creative arts programmes to introduce children to faith. Perhaps news of a new soldier who was saved through the Army who hasn’t been brought up through the ranks or transferred from another church. But as I said, militancy difficult to spot in the Salvationist!

So…parade ground or battle ground? Soldiers or warriors? Status quo or trailblazing? Sheep-stealing or soul-winning? Beautiful bands or bazooka bagpipes?

And now for something different…

Sometimes you have to come to the end of a day and try and forget everything you’ve heard. So….lets think about something different. Here’s a challenge for you. Twas in the Times today.

The Coin Trick.

Three people check into a hotel. They pay £30 between them to the manager and go to their room. The manager suddenly remembers that the room rate is £25 and gives £5 to the bellboy to return to them.

On the way to the room, the bellboy reasons that £5 is too difficult to share among three people, so he pockets £2 and gives each person £1 each.

Now each person paid £10 and got £1 back. So, they payed £9 each, totalling £27. The bell boy has £2, totalling £29.

Where is the missing pound?

Leave your answers in the comments! :o) Happy Thinking!

Ding Dong!

So, last night I was in bed. I was sound asleep. All of a sudden I find myself awake, very awake. Was that the door bell? No, surely not. I close my eyes.

There it goes again. This time we’re both awake, squinting at the clock. Its 2.45am and there is someone at the door. I’m lying there in denial and saying nothing. But it rings again and the Commissioner begins to bark. (yeah, we have a dog called Brengle).

I get up and go down stairs and head to the kitchen for the rolling pin (very Christian of me). I try to peak out the window. I see nothing. The bell rings again. The dog barks again!

I make my way into the hall way, can see the figure standing there but no idea who it is through the glass. I’m guessing, by the persons stance that this man is either drunk, on drugs, or is a deranged axe murdered without an axe. Funny what your brain does at 2.45am.

I call out ‘who is it?’ No reply. I get down and peer out the letter box. The man bends down and says ‘Its just me!’

At that, I lay down my lethal rolling pin and open the door to Jim (not his real name). I say ‘Jim, what on earth are you doing here at this time of the morning?’ At this he stumbles drunk half-way through the door. I manage to get him stable and he starts to re-count the same woes that I hear from him every week when I encounter him in the pub.

Jim was wrapped in an Army flag and dedicated as a baby and covenanted himself as a Junior Soldier. He tells me that he’s coming too the meeting next week. Its always next week. God is always pulling him to the Army.

We have the same talk as we always do about his woes. I put my clothes on, bundle him into the car and drive him all the way home. I pray with him at the door. I give him my business card to remind him that this encounter has happened at all.

“Come and see me when you’re thinking clearer” I tell him. He promises he will. This time, he might.

Flash Back

I was looking at some reports the other day on child poverty in Scotland and came across this picture. Immediately, I recognised myself. No, its not actually me, but all at once a whole flash flood of my childhood came rushing back at me.

You know, it was only as I grew up I realised how much of my childhood was not only less than normal, but harmful. There are some scars that are slow to heal even with the most Gentle Father administering the ointment. And you know what? I don’t think my mum knows what she has done because she herself is still so damaged by the life and lifestyle she has had.

I’ve gone through a whole period of years of forgiving my mum, and I truly have. Its probably why I can love her now where before I never could. Every time I speak to her on the phone all I hear is her pain. She’s still living the hell that I’ve been rescued from. And what’s more, without repentance, faith and trust in Jesus, her hell will continue in ways unthinkable.

I come back to my question of a few weeks ago. Who is reaching the likes of my mum? How many of our corps could welcome her with open arms, just as she is and believe in the gospel enough to believe she can change by the grace of God? What will we do (or not do) to reach a person like my mother.

There were, sadly, Salvationists in my early life who pronounced their benediction on my salvation before it even began. To some, I was too troubled, too far gone, a risk, a threat. I thank God, however, for the Jesus-hearted folks who invested their time, love and heart in the likes of me.

The thing that troubles me with some evangelism today is again from the church growth school which says that a church should go for the people they are most like. The place where that falls down is that God has done a good job on generations of us in the church and we’re often middle class, educated and comfortably well off. Who is there then to reach the poor?

Will the real Salvation Army please stand up.

Stomping on Darkness

Here in Wick we’ve stopped closing our blinds when we go to bed. The simple reason for that is its still daylight so it just seems wrong! Here is the pic to prove it. This was taken at 11pm tonight. It hasn’t been doctored or changed in any way!

Dispelling darkness must continue to be a key aspect to our mission and not just dispelling it with good works, campaigning and ‘shining our light’, but engaging in active warfare prayer. Paul reminds us that our battle is with spiritual powers in heavenly places (cf Eph 6) We conquer in Jesus’ name through the blood.

It means we don’t just help the poor, we pray against the spirit of poverty.
It means we don’t just clean up the alcohol, we pray against spirits of addiction.
It means we don’t just preach the gospel, we pray against the blinding work of Satan.
It means we don’t just increase our presence in poor areas, we pray against the variety of spiritual forces keeping those area poor.
It means…..a whole lot more.

We don’t just pray in our buildings, we get out there and stomp around, lay hands on things, claim back ground, march and worship in the streets, cast out demons…basically, we go out and usher in the Kingdom of the Lord and his Christ.

If you’re reading this and you don’t think the above will make the slightest bit of difference, the only suggestion I can make is that we continue to ask the Lord to reveal to us what can only be discerned spiritually. We so often look at things from a worldly and human point of view. We forget, not only demons, but the angels the Lord assigns to battle in the heavenly realms against the agents of satan. We’re on the winning side, ours is the mop-up operation.

Our meeting leader today asked us ‘who do you say I am?’, not her, Jesus. When we come to the concept of Christian warfare, who do we say Christ is in it? Is he a Jesus who never tackled a demon, a spirit, the devil or a corrupt authority or government? Or perhaps to you he is only gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

Lets continue to pray in the Kingdom.

Army Shape

I have a growing conviction about the shape of the future Salvation Army. This conviction is one that began several months back and posted here (16th Jan 07)and is expressed in picture terms as I ‘saw’ it. It has since been fuelled by reading books such as ‘You See Bones I See an Army’ by McClung, ‘Organic Church’ by Neil Cole and ‘The Forgotten Ways’ by Alan Hirsh. These guys are just putting vocabulary, thinking and fullness into that initial vision that captured my heart.

In our post-Christendom culture, the concept of ‘build it and they will come’ we seeped ourselves in during our ‘Church Growth’ stage is increasingly useless. The stark reality in our world is that people are interested in God/Jesus but not interested in church because of all the connotations of that in people’s minds. This is troubling for an Army who are still very much in the mindset of ‘having a good
meeting.’ The whole church growth approach to being the people of God was very much driven from a marketing/consumerist approach one might find in the business world, the idea being that the slicker our music, the better our sermons, the comfier our chairs and the cleaner our toilets, the more people we are likely to attract.

Now, whilst those things are nice and perhaps even necessary, we must follow it to the logical conclusion that says that the success of the church hangs on how clean the toilets are, how many parking spaces we have and whether we have music to compete with Radio 1.

The thing is that the Christian faith isn’t about church, its about Jesus. Church happens when we gather around Jesus, not within the confines of a Sunday morning meeting. Of course, Jesus encounters us in that setting too (because Jesus turns up when believers join together) but its a setting that, from my experience of life as a Christian so far doesn’t always lend to growing in faith and discipleship.

I think there will always be the place for ‘the meeting’ amongst believers, but I believe that if Christianity is going to grow in the post-Christendom west it has to be on a much more informal stage to allow people to interact with the message, perhaps even outside the confines of a church/Army building. We need a much more face-to-face approach to discipleship and ‘church.’

We need to assume a missionary stance in our culture today. Christianity is no longer ‘the’ religion and church-going is not automatic. So, if The Salvation Army is going to be true to principles of adaptation, then it is going to start changing shape to meet the people where they are. Neil Cole suggest that we have to ‘lower the bar of how we do church and raise the bar of discipleship.’ Now, to me, that sounds like proper Army. We were always very quick to leave churchiness to promote active discipleship. Now we are in the place where we’ve become what we set out not to be. I propose the journey needs to be a going back to basics, not just Army basics, but in making ‘church’ more about Jesus, people & discipleship as opposed to function, form and pattern.

How does that look? Personally, I’ve no idea exactly how it will look in our new appointment…its a new journey for Tracy and I. I hope you’ll tune in to the journey.

Life and Death

Our visitor at the weekend mentioned a Catherine Booth quote that I hadn’t come across. He said the source of it was in Harold Begbie’s biography of William Booth and she is supposed to have said it on her death bed.

Apparently, she said (to her daughter Kate) “Why can God not keep a thing pure for more than a generation?” That’s a striking quote, isn’t it? At first it seems like a confession of defeat, of despair, a dark curse against her Father. She is clearly lamenting the Army, which at that point (the time of her death) was only 25 years old (ish) as The Army. She was obviously disturbed at what she was seeing.

I think the answer to her question doesn’t exactly come back to God, it comes back to the conditional promises that God makes to his people. God can’t keep a thing pure because people often mess things up…don’t we all?

I’m as guilty as the rest in this and its always the challenge, especially when you’re not operating at your fittest, to maintain the hope to speak hope instead of despair.

On the way back from the airport today, I was thinking about Ezekiel and his dry bones. God tells him to prophesy to the bones….Ezekiel doubts that they can live. God places him amongst the bones, the stakes get higher because he then realises that the bones are dryer than even what he had imagined. But God insists, ‘prophesy to the bones’ and he duly does. He begins to see flesh and sinews come upon the bones and they live, standing to their feet as a vast and mighty army.

I remembered Elijah after Carmel who always had to work out God’s purposes in the hard place. John the Baptist was forged in the desert. Jesus himself laboured in a culture devoid of moisture due to critical pharisee-ism.

We learn from Jesus, of course, who seemed to be able to speak life as well as curse the unfruitful fig tree. We can’t look at Jesus ministry and say there wasn’t time he spoke death to a thing…he didn’t always speak life, so it seems. The challenge lies in determining what you speak death to and what you speak life to.

In this, we’re all learning. In this, we can all inherit prophet syndrome and lose sight, but equally, we CAN all learn from Jesus when it is right to speak life and when it is time to speak death.

Wick’s Mission Weekend

We’ve had a Major Howard Webber visiting our corps from THQ this weekend. Howard is an ‘evangelism mission partner’ and works with various corps in the Territory. His visit had been arranged since the beginning of the year and he duly came.

On a personal level, my interaction with him has shown me such a natural evangelist and its been a privilege to have observed him in the last few days. He led a day’s seminar for us around the theme of the early church and a burden for the lost which were challenging for us and I don’t think those of us who were there quite rose to his challenge…perhaps out of fear or…whatever. Anyway, he finished off his teaching this morning in the context of our meeting and he gave what wasn’t intended so much to be a sermon, but just the conclusion to his weekend’s thoughts, which was fine (by me anyway.)

He spoke from the passage in Jeremiah where God says ‘For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’ He went on to say that, of course, in spite of God’s promise, God wasn’t able to honour it due to Israel’s disobedience and missing what he had for them. The application was that perhaps we as God’s people at Wick were in danger of missing what God has for us (just perhaps).

On a personal level, I’m very much grieved that it hasn’t been possible (for lots of reasons that can’t be aired here) for us to stay in Wick and develop a work amongst the unchurched, which was what we were sent to do. And this morning I felt 100% that we as a group of God’s people had missed an opportunity in it not being possible for us to continue. I say that with all humility and confidence of the call of God upon our lives. Perhaps God in his grace will make it possible for our corps to respond again to the challenge of the great potential we have to reach much more of our community for Jesus.

As for me, there is no doubt in my mind. The Army as a whole (not being Wick specific) have missed countless opportunities to for-go themselves for the sake of the lost and haven’t done it for the reasons of self-preservation.

Howard picked the lovely song with the chorus ‘Into thy hands Lord, take me and mould me, e’en as the potter mould the clay’ or however it goes. As the music starts, Holy Spirit invites me to kneel and I took it as a command and knelt to sing. Very soon the Glory of the Lord fell upon me and Holy Spirit filled me with a burden so great that I’d never felt many times before. Such a heavy ache and I lay on the floor of the platform and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed almost uncontrollably…in fact there was no almost about it.

All I could see were the beautiful faces of the 250 children in our JAM Club, their parents, our schools and teachers, the families of those I’ve buried, another glimpse of the vision God gave us for this appointment, and then God just said

‘I’m sorry, but although I wanted to give it, I cannot’

and I wept all the more.

I am sharing this with you because my prayer for you as you read is that you would allow God to break your heart for the plight of the lost around you…that he would do it in such a way that you’d consider everything loss for the sake of knowing Christ and helping others to know him.

I share it because the word of the Lord, whether we like it or not, in these days to The Army is that you’ve lost you first love. We are, increasingly, no longer a salvation people in many quarters. And God looks at us with such an ache in his heart much greater than the one he gave me this morning and it breaks for the lost and for the slowness of his children to respond to his grace.

Finally, I share it because I simply want to testify to the power of God. Whilst I much rather prefer when he bestows blessing and annointing, I want to publically thank him for what he did in me this morning. As he broke my heart I thanked him. As I sobbed and waited at least 15 minutes without any comfort from Him, I thanked him for a reminder of the reality of what it feels like again for those who have no Holy Spirit in them to comfort them and I thank him for a little revelation of what his heart is for the lost. Even sitting here more than twelve hours later my heart still throbs and my eyes continue to fill up with just pain.

God pronounced his ‘Amen’ in my heart for my part in the mission at Wick this morning with grief and tears. Its the sure and certain word that I’d been waiting for in knowing for sure that God is in our move. I just pray that God in his mercy will yet save a generation of the lost in this town. Will you say an amen with me in your heart?