Affirmations #10 Faith at the margins

10. I believe that we exist primarily for those at the edges and margins of our society, the last, the lost and the least.

I did tell you that I had one to add to the list which I think is crucial. These are our people.

Its interesting to note that when William Booth declared to his wife that he’d found his destiny, he was well established in his ministry, really. He’d been a street preacher…that wasn’t his destiny. He’d been a circuit preacher…that wasn’t his destiny. He’d lead great revival meetings and special prayer meetings…he didn’t declare that was his destiny either.

He declared he found his destiny have shared the gospel with the poor and those at the bottom of the social latter on London’s Whitechapel Road.

Near the end of his life, he said this:
“…the poor are my people. I gave my life to them ever and ever so many years ago. They were my first love, and I shall be true to my bride. It is with the poor that I shall hope to be in the Kingdom, for, although I esteem the rich, it is for their pocketbooks that I care most, because I know that I belong elsewhere”.

The old boy had his head screwed on I think!

But lets go beyond Booth, because we really have to. Biblically, the call to the poor is massive. You can’t read the bible and escape all that Jesus had to say about the gospel for the poor. You can’t just say ‘New Testament’ either, because justice and care for the poor are central to Jewish ethics and sense of community and justice.

Yes, we often spiritualise it as if somehow to get ourselves off the hook and say that ‘well, everyone is spiriually poor.’ Yeah, I don’t disagree, and I certainly don’t think we leave out those who are not poor in our ministry, preaching or outreaching. We take every opportunity to share with anyone. We simply make it our intention to build faith communities amongst the poor, because quite frankly, they are usually the most ‘un-churched’ people and in need of the most redemption (you’ll need to chew on that theologically).

You really need to go to something like and search for ‘poor’ or ‘widow’ or ‘orphan’ or that term that always cracks my son up ‘alien’ and see the response you get.

The next stage is to take the message on board and be like Jesus. We all can probably agree that Jesus spent time with the poor, lots of time. We can all probably agree that its right that the Church should care for the poor. We’re not all convinced that its our job to do the same. How can we be like Jesus and not do the same??

To borrow a quote out of context from William Booth – “Not called? Not heard the call I should say!!”

24/7 Prayer

Its official. Confirmed. I am very likely mad.

Here at Torry we are due to embark on a 24/7 prayer week at the end of August. I have to say that fundamentally is just being obedient to what I feel God is asking of us at this time. Thing is its a prety huge thing but so is the battle we face here in Torry. Although we suspect that some people will come from other places to support, and thats great and desirable, the challenge for us is to re-introduce a rhythm of prayer into the life and mission of the corps…something that isn’t an obvious part of the fabric of our community here.

We’ll be praying like never before out of sheer necessity. Out of a desire for something to shift in our wider community. Out of the need to seek the Lord of the Harvest to raise up labourers for this corner of the vineyard. Out of a heart felt, empassioned desperation to see this place change and the Kingdom to take a stronger foothold.

We see death at work daily on our streets. On the faces of the people who live here, on the children, the adults, the elderly and the youth. We’re surrounded y prisons of addiction, sin, godlessness, fear and hopelessness. Our local authority are good at making our community look pretty and presenable, but at the heart there is a cancer that is eating the vitality out of everything. Our community doesn’t need plastic surgery, its needs complete transfusion and transformation from death to life.

We might be crazy, but we need God. We won’t stand by and let the enemy have his way any longer. Things must change.

While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!

Prayerful and missional living with a passionate persuit of justice and all that the Kingdom will bring is the answer for Torry.

Blog feast

Now, seeing as I’ve been on a forced blog fast, allow me the indulgence of having a blog feast. The main blog for today is the one before this, but let me just chuck in a few bits from recent weeks

I attended an event (which shall remain nameless) recently which contained a great preach in the AM for folks to be born again…great, powerful, would have responded if I weren’t born again already….only the preacher forgot to tell the audience how to be born again. Oops. Repentance and faith.
On Spiritual gifts…I used to be a ‘you get one or two and your stuck with them’ man. Not now. Spiritual gifts are an arsenal at our disposal which we can (a) pray for and (b) be given as God determines…ie, gifts of grace. In other words, we’re not limited to one or two or even three. You can heal, prophesy, speak in tongues, interpret, have words or knowledge or wisdom as good as the next man. God wants you ministering in his power, not your own. There are several keys in the scripture to support this view as opposed to the more traditional view on spiritual gifts. If you’re interested, drop me a line.
Hey…Christmas is a coming. Make the most of it in your outreach and in your opportunites to serve and bless the poor. Hannukah is also almost upon us…friends, please remember to pray for Israel, especially in light of recent attacks against them by those who seek the ruin of all peace.
Here is a hint…start praying Luke 10:2 everyday at 10.20 – that the Lord would send labourers into the vineyard (especially our corner). Couple of hours later, pray for the General. Not a bad idea at all.
For those of you in the UK (not sure they do international orders), can I encourage you to ‘google’ ‘Lifewords’? Formerly Scripture Gift Mission, this organisation produce excellent little booklets and scripture portions that can be received free and given away for free. As a charity, they do appreciate donations to keep the ministry alive, but God bless them for placing accessibility of the word of God above profit.
Do your corps activities/ministries/social events/gatherings exclude the poor among you due to pricey choices of venues/activities? Lets be careful, inclusive and just.
A William-Boothism: “I must assert in the most unqualified way that it is primarily and mainly for the sake of saving the soul that I seek the salvation of the body.”

Today’s Round-up of thoughts

Having had a busy day (and week), I’m just rounding up preparation for our meeting tomorrow night. We’re looking at the picture of salvation provided for us in Psalm 27 and I’m just reminded how good and blessed it is to be in the presence of God, especially with God’s people. There is very little more precious than that.

It was wonderful today, at the opening of the Aberdeen Citadel refurbished building, to hear the General’s heart for the world-wide Salvation Army. He is a man who holds the internationalism of the Army close to his heart. As he told of plans to invade Outer Mongolia, and as he confirmed growth in Greece, advancement into Kuwait and adventures into Kathmandu in Nepal, my mind just explodes further as I picture every tribe, every tongue, every nation under heaven actually in Heaven praising the Father. Yet, I’m just as excited about our hopes and plans for expansion in Aberdeen. For now, my heart is set on seeing more Scots in heaven!

It was great this morning to hear from some good friends, fellow officers, in Romania, Captains Ianut and Roxana Sandu. They are the corps officers in Craiova, a city in rural Romania which is primarily ‘Orthodox’. They are having a difficult time spreading their work there as the people generally see those who are not Orthodox as sinners heading to hell, and so you’ll imagine the wall of resistance they face in trying to reach out there. They sent some pictures of the little congregation they’ve managed to raise, mainly of orphan children, and of their work to try and support a nearby orphanage that desperately needs playground equipment…the stuff they have is rusty and un-useable. Simple things we in the west take for granted, even in our most challenging communities. Yes, the challenges these young officers face are challenging to say the least.

At the end of this busy Saturday, I can hear the noise of our public houses spilling out into the streets of Torry…the rabble, the pain, the ‘drowning sorrows’ and no doubt the brokeness mixed with little tinges of celebration. I’m reminded that God’s shelter of salvation is huge, and its great to be under it…but there is yet more room for even more people. God help us all as we do all we can to reach the world for Christ, beginning just where we are.

From the Aberdeen Press and Journal today…

World Leader Will Mark Ceremony
Official opening for Salvation Army centre

By Declan Harte

Published: 13/09/2008

OUTSPOKEN: The world leader of the Salvation Army, General Shaw Clifton, is performing the opening ceremony of the Aberdeen Citadel today.

The world leader of the Salvation Army will today officially open Aberdeen’s newly refurbished centre.

General Shaw Clifton, who has served as a Salvation Army leader in some of the world’s poorest countries, will mark the reopening of the Castle Street premises, which has just undergone a £3.4million facelift.

Speaking yesterday, he addressed the plight currently facing Aberdeen’s homeless community, one of the main focuses of the city’s own Salvation Army branch.

He said: “Poverty is a great evil in the world and there is nothing romantic about it.

“Yet even when people have absolutely nothing, as I’ve seen in Pakistan, they often still show a culture of generosity which warms you to your very being.”

Addressing the topic of the proposed anti-begging bylaw currently being considered by Aberdeen City Council, which would see begging in city streets become a criminal offence, Mr Clifton doubted that such a law would actually be enforceable.

He added: “Why are there beggars in the streets of cities like Aberdeen, in one of the richest countries in the world?

“When the authorities find someone who is forced to beg for money, I want to hear them say ‘I want to help you’ rather than ‘I want to arrest you’.”

Aberdeen’s Salvation Army has had the Citadel base for 128 years, although its future has looked unstable recently.

Plans to sell the building to Peacock Art Gallery were announced in 2003, but soon withdrawn when the Salvation Army decided to stay put.

The makeover, partially funded through selling other Salvation Army-owned properties, took two years as period architectural design had to be preserved alongside the arrival of new facilities.

The worship hall has been converted into a 300-seater auditorium with broadcast quality lighting and sound. A cafe with wi-fi access has also been installed along with new conference rooms, offices and a computer suite.

The nuts and bolts

The lack of blogs on this front are simply due to my internet providers inability to complete a simple task such as switching my broadband to a different number and my Scottish reluctance to spend loads of money on dial-up connection. Occassionaly I can bag some free wifi…anyway…

Pretty much had the whole corps in our living room the other evening…not a difficult task at the moment. However, just so totally refreshed by the attitude to mission here. These folks are willing to try just about anything to win their community. They are willing to take on anything that will advance the war and jettison anything that doesn’t. Thats good Salvationist spirit. The amount of times I’ve heard them say ‘we’re in this together’ is just another blessing. They own the mission of this corps 110%. In many places half the battle is getting people to do that.

On the whole, we are about 12 of us at the moment…12 (that includes the 4 Clarks) who constitute the remnant at Torry here. Nice biblical number, I hear you say.

So, from our wee discussion the other evening, we distilled the elements of our ministry here…its obvious and plain and we’re all pretty stoked up about it.

1. Build a faith community that is representative of Torry, being as inclusive as we can.

2. Making a difference in the lives of children and youth. Our only local officer, Grace, is the YPSM and she has a big heart for children. She is a gift, a beautiful person. We’re blessed too to have teenagers finding faith and working out what its all about.

3. Remembering the poor (remembering in the sense of refusing to forget that we exist for them). Call it what you like: last, lost, least, marginalised, worse off, financially challenged. None of them are great titles, but then the situations that people find themselves in is often far from great. We are going to have to be creative in reaching out in a culture that is not always fast to seek help and support.

So…this is the hymnsheet (or powerpoint slide for the techically advanced) that we are all singing from.

Yes…I was made for this. Have you ever though about the statement that William Booth made that evening he went home to his beloved Catherine and declared “Darling, I have found my destiny!”? What was it? It wasn’t just preaching…he’d been doing that. It wasn’t just evangelising…he’d already been doing that. He was declaring that his destiny was to preach good news, evangelise, win, rescue and help the poor…indeed: the last, lost and least. He set about his life to do this one thing, starting a movement to help him do the same.

Its our birthright, its our reason d’etre (or however you spell that) and The Salvation Army moves in its annointing, calling and purpose so long as it is loving, serving and winning the poor.

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.

Moving swiftly on…

Usually I’d begin blogging at this time of the year with my Roots report.

This year, however, is different! Today, unbelievably, I need to announce to the Armyrenewal readers out there that the Clarks are moving appointment in August of this year. I can’t officially say where until the people we are getting sent to are told officially tomorrow, although many of them know already. My corps here at Wick were informed of our impending departure this evening.

‘Wait a minute’, I hear you say, ‘didn’t you do that last year?’ Well, yes, we did. You won’t have been reading Army Renewal and managed to avoid the idea that there has been somewhat of a personal struggle continuing.

The main thrust of this struggle is that I am passionate about the fact that the Army doesn’t make sense unless its among the poor. Secondly, I’m passionate about the fact that the Army doesn’t make sense unless it has reaching the unsaved as a fundamental priority…yes, even above the priority of coddling saints.

Our commitment to see spiritual renewal come to Scotland and to the Army in Scotland is stronger than ever and we will be staying in the North Scotland Division to part of Scotland that God began to lay on our heart before we even knew we were leaving Pill.

What else can I say? Just let me say that we’re hoping to build a church my mother would come to (see last post!)

Tune in tomorrow for our exact destination and more about it.

The church my mother goes to…

My Mother and I at my sister’s wedding

Couple of weeks ago I was talking with my divisional commander about ‘church.’ It all started with a conversation about my mother. Now, my mother does not go to church. The reason for that is simply because she isn’t a Christian. More than that, my mum is a product of some tough life experiences, she is what you can call a diamond in the rough. I say diamond because she has some great qualities surrounded by a whole load of rough stuff.

The other reason my mother doesn’t go to church is that she’s grown up with the idea that people who go to church think they are better than her. One of the ‘characteristics’ if you like of people from places like me and my mum is that in spite of having nothing, you don’t let people look down on you. Her experience of people who go to church is just that. The reason that might be is because, as I say, she can be rough.

Back to my conversation with the DC…I was saying to him that I think the ideal church would be the church that my mother would join. You see, the kind of Christian community that my mother would join would be the kind of community that could look past a person’s culture, character, guarded emotions, language, general manner and outward appearance and see the need at the heart and be willing to refuse to let the outward dictate who is worth bothering with.

The thing is that my mother is not unspiritual…she’s been to spiritualists, tea-readers, mediums, woman’s masonic groups and all the rest. The problem with my mother is that there has never been a church bold enough to embrace her. Part of this is a geography thing…the only evangelical church in our village is a very middle class Brethren assembly. The other part of it is that the vast majority of churches aren’t ready for my mother.

But don’t lets fall into the trap of thinking my mum is some sort of extreme monster. No, she is fairly typical of many women in the town I grew up in and actually a bunny rabbit compared to women her age I encountered during our time in the East-End of Glasgow.

William Booth talked about the submerged tenth. I’m not so sure that poverty is the measure of that ‘submerged’ people today…its more likely accurate to describe the submerged as the people that church culture has totally lost contact with. What’s more, I reckon that the figure is much more than a tenth.

Where else should The Salvation Army be but in the places where the submerged live?

McClung on Militant Christianity

Floyd McClung is the great modern day church planter, missioner and apostle. Tracy picked up his book, ‘You see bones, I see an Army’ last week in Wesley Owen. His teaching on the Father Heart of God has started a Jesus revolution in the lives of many, he has trailblazed churches across the world. Now nearing the age where one would normally expect to retire, McClung has recently moved to South Africa to help explode redemptive communites through the entire nation, beginning with the poor. Someone give that man a set of eppaulettes! You just get the impression that this guy has lived out this writing instead of just waxing lyrical about it like many books seem to do when it comes to mission.

His assertion is that the Jesus revolution will come around through five key elements:

1) Simple church – small networks of people seeking to encounter and share Jesus where they are, both among their networks but reaching out to those who are not in their immediate network.

2) Courageous Leadership – those daring to break the church out of the existing mould, destructing the church and setting it free. Strong word, destructing. Its painful, messy and rarely easy in a long established setting of any kind. Just in case any Wickers are reading….no, its not my plan…rest easy! But then, it comes down to measuring how effective we can be in the form we currently are and assessing if that will do the job of winning the lost.

3) Focussed Obedience (sounds a bit like covenant) – about remaining faithful amid distraction and staying the course. Timely. He suggests that spiritual shallowness, plateauing, negative inner vows (‘I will never…’), unclear vision, the myth of financial security, frantic pace of life and conventional churchianity will be the main challenges to obedience.

4) Apostolic Passion – funnily, Captain Stephen Court was talking about apostolic passion over at this week. Worth a look. Here, McClung absolutely suggests covenant and harnessing our passions into exploding Christianity wherever it can be exploded.

5) Making Disciples – that is, disciples who will be disciples and not just church-goers…the only way to sustain the Jesus revolution.

Classic quote from the opening chapter:

“Without knowing it they [China, India, Central Asia, and South America] are breaking out of small definitions [of church] the rest of us in the West hold dear. The ‘rest’ have a message for the West: church is not an institution but an army.”

Fantastic. The rest of the church want to be an army and The Army wants to be a church. The thing is that McClung could almost be describing the call and pattern of the early, hopefully modern, Salvation Army. We’ve got the opportunity to cause a Jesus breakout in so many places if we’d only dare.

In my own life I’m fundamentally challenged about how this is happening (or not) in my part of the world…and how I, as an officer respond to that need. God gives us a bucket full and over-flowing of grace to comprehend these things.

If you haven’t already sold your bed to buy my other book recommendations, this is one to sell your bed for.

‘You see bones, I see and army’ by Floyd McClung. I’ve only just skim read it, but its well worth diving into!