Reflecting on a year

Its natural, I suppose.  Both at Christmas and in the run up to Easter especially, my mind has turned very much to The Army.  I went to the Army on Commitment Sunday and it was very difficult.  I’ve rejoiced in the election of a visionary Jesus-focussed General in the form of Linda Bond.  I have a constant trickle of questions from all over the place: ‘are you coming back?’ 

I’ve been so thankful to the comrades who have continued to include us in their lives and ministry; to Major Antony Mugford from Newcastle City Temple who came and had coffee with me, to Major Christine Comely from the Pastoral Unit who came to visit us in our new home and to many others to whom we’ll always be ‘Captain.’  You have no idea how much these things mean.

Difficult to believe its a year ago since all the weird stuff that went on happened which lead to our leaving.  Hardly a week goes by when I don’t think of it still.  Seeking to receive and show grace to those involved in how we were dealt with and seeking to resist, at every moment, the cancer of bitterness.  You know, if we’d have had a time of ‘grace’ given to us we’d have worked through the challenges

It won’t surprise any of you that my heart remains the same for the ministry of The Army.  And by the same, I mean still passionate about The Army’s calling and the Army’s mission.  And by the same, I also mean concerned about the clericalisation of officership and the burdening of officers with excessive administrative tasks.  I am concerned that we still have no real grasp on the changing dynamics of sustaining ministry in urban areas etc etc You’ve heard it and I’ve said it many time before….and those who want to disagree with me will surely continue to.  My views on leadership have changed little,

Yet, for me, last year was a ‘kairos’ moment.  One of those moments in time where you have to make a choice.  In reality, the choice for me was Jesus or the Institution of the Army and Jesus wins every time.  Rather than the experience destroying me (like it does many officers who leave) God has given me a time of growth.  For a season I’ve been able to lay aside all distraction and live focussed on Jesus.  I’ve come to know him in deeper ways.  I’ve seen him work many miracles in our life as provision upon provision upon provision has come to us and sustained our family.  God  has given me a fruitful ministry where he has used so many people to bless me much more than I could be a blessing to them.

But what about the answer to the question: ‘are you coming back?’  In my heart I’ll always be a Salvo.  I’m currently following the Lord’s leading and it isn’t officership for the forseeable.  Stephen Court tells me there is a commissioner on IHQ who was out for 11 years.  Even our General Linda Bonda stepped out for a season. 

But I’ll always be a Salvo.  I’ll fly the flag.  I’ll fight like a peacemaker. 

In fact, I will

“love and serve him supremely all my days, live to win souls and make their salvation the first purpose of my life, care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable and befriend those who have no friends”

As for the rest of it, I had to leave it at the mercy seat.

Life’s loose connections

I got myself to reminiscing earlier.  Was watching a film starring Robert De Niro called ‘Everybody’s Fine.’  Sad film really, but it really reminded me of my grandad.  Didn’t help much that De Niro has some facial likeness to my Grandad Andy.  Anyway was looking at some picture of him – he died in 2005 – I led his funeral service.  I miss him a lot, he was a loving Grandad.
Then I found another picture of myself as a baby and my young auntie.  We were on the balcony of the place we lived in at the time.  I looked on Google maps, the street view, of the street.  I panned out to the sattelite view ‘from above’ and noticed the most bizarre thing you could imagine and I don’t know why I never noticed it before.
The rear of the block of flats we lived in directly overlook The Salvation Army hall in Irvine, where 14 years later than the picture I was looking at, I came to know Jesus.  Got me to thinking….did I hear the band playing as a baby laying in my cot?  Did the folks at the Army ever look out the windows of the hall and pray for the folks in the flats like I did when I was there as my mind wandered in the sermon?  
I then got round to thinking that actually, although I was 1st generation Salvationist, I sort of wasn’t.  There is evidence that my grandparents one or two generations back on the Clark side attended The Salvation Army when it was in its previous building in Irvine in the Glasgow Vennel…to the extent that my grandad knew the old Army songs from his grandparents days – they were sent to the Army Sunday school as children. They lived in the same street, you see.  
This is what strikes me: God is continually lapping at the shores of our lives.  Whilst we are being formed he is there with his eye upon us.  He is looking for the generation who will hear him and respond with their lives.   And even now, today, the God of our Fathers (whether they recognised it or not) gives to us a new generation of ones he desires to know him.  
I look at a picture of myself, my father, my grandfather and my son – all together – and I ask God ‘why the missing generations’.  
And I hear the response:  
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. 
 10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”  Deuteronomy 6: 4-12
Its not so much that God steps into our stories – we step into his as a response to his invite to us to follow him.  Its a story he has prepared: a land flowing, wells already dug and sustenance already taken care of.   And we will see his hand of blessing not only in what he has done and where he has brought us from – whatever your ‘Egypt’ is – but we see it as we look into the future  in his promise for the generations of those to come who will love him too. 

39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  Acts 2:39

 May it come to be so!