Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Suddenly Word will no longer post to Blogger and there seems to be no remedy. I have searched the internet and emailed both companies but no one seems to have a solution so regrettably I am moving my blogs to word press. Starting tomorrow 'Beyond the brook...' will be hosted at http://beyondthebrook.wordpress.com/ and The Salvation Soldier's Armoury at http://thesalvationsoldiersguide.wordpress.com/
Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!
Grace and peace, Andrew.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
A few years later God spectacularly changed my life. He forgave me for the bad things I’d done, filled me with his Holy Spirit and provided me with countless opportunities to serve him. Sometime later, remarried with two more children I decided to apply once again to become an officer. The route back into Officership was (quite rightly) long and circuitous. Eventually in 2007 my commission was re-issued and Tracey and I were sent to Dartford, a deprived urban town on the outskirts of London. Undoubtedly this appointment was a good reintroduction to ministry and God blessed us there.
Imagine my surprise when three years later we were appointed to Rayleigh in Essex just a short drive from Hatfield Peverel the scene of my dramatic downfall. Furthermore, in the 22 years that had passed, DHQ had relocated from its old premises in Walthamstow to a brand-new building in the car park of Hatfield Peverel Hall! Apparently, when this new appointment was first discussed, neither my old DC, new DC nor the personnel secretary took my history into account. So that is how on Thursday I found myself sitting in Hatfield Peverel Hall attending a training course on effective supervision. The irony of the occasion did not pass me by!
Today, I find myself in an almost identical situation to the one with which I was presented when I took up my appointment 22 years ago. Though Rayleigh is certainly a bigger town and a bigger Corps than Hatfield Peverel it is situated in the sleepy country lanes of Essex and when I look at the opportunities that surround us and the personnel that support us I cannot help but draw comparisons between the two appointments.
Praise God, the strongholds that dominated my life in 1987 have been well and truly demolished. However I would be lying if I did not admit that demonic snipers occasionally still lurk in the ruins of those strongholds and now and again from their insidious vantage points fire successful pot-shots.
There is (as in any appointment) incredible potential hiding within the people that make up Rayleigh Corps and the ingredients required to bring about revival are all to hand. God's grace and power is as super-efficient as it has ever been the needs of the community are, as always, evident and the willingness of the people to be led is refreshing - the one thing over which God has no control is the quality and consistency of my own consecration.
The damage that the enemy achieved at Hatfield Peverel is untold, according to the current CO most of the main players in the Corps back in 1987 (although now old and frail) are still active - I have often wondered how many people, how many potential converts, how many seekers after holiness were seriously wounded as a consequence of my actions. Although I am confident that God has forgiven my sin and removed it from me as far as "the East is from the West" the thorn that is Hatfield Peverel remains firmly in my side! Somebody once suggested to me that Paul's thorn was the fact that he had actually killed Christians and participated in their persecution. Did I kill any Christians or potential Christians at Hatfield Peverel? All I can do now is commit everything to God and hope that in his mercy he will be true to his promise to ensure that "all things work together for good".
I would not want to be anywhere else other than Rayleigh at the moment, however I must admit that being so close to my past does cause me some discomfort - but perhaps that is the way God wants it to be. I don't think, other than in the months that followed my conversion, I have ever been so wary of compromise and the dangers associated with giving "the devil a foothold". Certainly this appointment has driven me deeper into the arms of Jesus and I praise God for that! I feel almost as if God has deliberately presented me with a second chance, an opportunity (by his grace and in his name) to reclaim the years that "the years that the locusts have wasted."
The truth is, regardless of the past, "without holiness none shall see the Lord", my downfall 22 years ago was quite simply an absence of holiness and the cause of my success during my second sojourn in Essex can only ever be the presence of holiness. Hallelujah!
Grace and peace, Andrew.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
If you find yourself stuck in traffic, don't despair. There are people in this world for which driving is an unheard of privilege.
Should you have a bad day at work; think of the man who has been out of work for years.
Should you despair over a relationship gone bad; think of the person who has never known what it's like to love and be loved in return.
Should you grieve the passing of another weekend; think of the woman in dire straits, working twelve hours a day, seven days a week to feed her children.
Should your car break down, leaving you miles away from assistance; think of the paraplegic who would love the opportunity to take that walk.
Should you notice a new gray hair in the mirror; think of the cancer patient in chemo who wishes she had hair to examine.
Should you find yourself at a loss and pondering what is life all about, asking what is my purpose? Be thankful. There are those who didn't live long enough to get the opportunity.
Should you find yourself the victim of other people's bitterness, ignorance, smallness or insecurities; remember, things could be worse. You could be one of them!
Monday, August 30, 2010
I always find the holiday season something of a difficult time. Don't get me wrong, it's lovely to go away and relax and as the Bible reminds us rest is a commandment! However, it's very easy with a break in routine to forget to do those things which are essential and consequently to take the things that matter for granted. In addition, in many Salvation Army Corps August signals the postponement of all weekly activities which obviously leads to less fellowship with other believers. Together these two ingredients, a disjointed and a irregular quiet time and a lack of accountability, can become a dangerous mix.
I remember reading somewhere (I think it might have been in "mere Christianity" by CS Lewis-although I'm not sure) that one of the devil's greatest and most potent weapons is "normal life". In other words, watching the television, interacting with friends, lying on the beach, going out for meals, playing with the kids, going to the cinema etc can (although all these activities are innocent in themselves) distract us from that essential dependence on Christ which is critical to all effective Christians.
This dangerous complacency can (and will if left unchecked) distance us from Christ and his will for our lives and endanger our effectiveness and even ultimately threaten our personal salvation. Not only do we stop praying and spending time with the word of God we also begin to take for granted the blessings which he has given us - blessings which should be treasured.
Job was a God-fearing and conscientious believer who, when he found himself bereft of family, friends, wealth, status and health, was able to say with absolute confidence "even if he kills me yet will I trust in him." This irrepressible faith does not come to us by chance but is the result of a determined, passionate and disciplined effort to maintain "contact with the life giver."
God has given me so much; a beautiful wife, sensible children, a fulfilling vocation, a nice home, money in the bank, good health... to be honest my blessings are too many to number. Yet I have been guilty over the last few weeks of taking them all for granted and also of neglecting God's Word. Today is the last day of our holiday and I thank God for bringing this dangerous slip into complacency to my attention.
Thank you Father for your grace and patience, for your constant and undeserved love and for the power which is able to keep me free from sin, forgive me for taking these and so many other blessings for granted and for neglecting to spend time in your presence. Amen.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Back in 1990, with no faith to speak of, coming out of divorce and living on my own in a one room flat I started working for Maidstone Borough Council. At the time I was very low, very lonely, somewhat confused and on anti-depressants (this was 4 years before my conversion and a few months before I met Tracey.)
One of my colleagues was 'Big' Roy, an affable, straight talking 57 year old man. He was responsible for Health Promotion and I was responsible for Environmental Promotion and economies of scale dictated that we often promoted our two subjects together. When I got saved it became evident that Roy had no time for religion – you can imagine we had some interesting debates!
In spite of this, I had a great deal of admiration for Roy; he was loyal, happily married, hard working and generous. Last year Roy got cancer and for a while things looked touch and go but Roy being Roy made a good recovery although the adjective 'big' was less applicable than it once was J
A couple of weeks ago a mutual friend rang me and told me that Roy's cancer had returned and that he had also contracted septicaemia and had been moved to a local Hospice. Roy had specifically asked for me to visit him. At the end of our visit I politely acknowledged his dislike of religion but said that I would like to pray for him, with tears in his eyes Roy replied 'that's why I asked for you because I knew you would pray for me'. I held his hand and prayed for Roy, I thanked God for his friendship, for his influence on my life and for his courage and I asked God to relieve his pain and give him peace. I also asked God to have mercy on his soul and to receive him into his kingdom. Roy squeezed my hand tight and struggled to hold back the tears.
The bible says we are saved by faith; sometimes all we have to do is push through the crowd and touch the hem of his robe. Roy, the big passionate atheist, asked me to pray for him. He asked me to speak to what he had always claimed was a non-existent God on his behalf. In this simple act he both acknowledged God's existence and his power to save.
Yesterday morning I heard that Roy had passed away and I have no doubt that he is now safe in the arms of Jesus.
Of course if Roy had died in a car crash or of a heart attack maybe things might have been different – I don't know. All I do know is that when Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven and its citizens he usually spoke about prostitutes, publicans, tax collectors and sinners, he spoke about the 'halt and lame' about those that lived in the alleys and the lanes.
When it comes to heaven and hell things aren't always as cut and dried as they might seem.
Faith saves us and faith is nothing more than a humble recognition that we need God – it seems to me that in his simple hope that I would pray for him big Roy did just that... humbly recognised and verbally expressed his need for God and I believe that was enough to save him.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
In 1997 the UKT Church Growth and Planned Giving Department launched an essay competition titled "Do you see what I see?" Salvationists were asked to visualise what the Army would be Ike when 20/20 Vision Is effectively accomplished. Whilst I'm packing this week I came across the runner up entry, "Dreams and Visions". The competition was judged blind (i.e. the judging panel had no idea who had written the essay) maybe that is how my entry got through! It's interesting (from my perspective) that I wrote this article only two years after my conversion and at a time when the small call we attended was experiencing a powerful refreshing. In the space of six months the Corps had gone from approximately 25 to 30 people attending a meeting to well over 100. Many people were getting saved at the time and it was indeed a wonderful thing to have been part of all. Anyway, I don't think this is essay has ever been published on the Internet and so for those who might be interested in reading it here it is. I have resisted the temptation to change the article and it is published here as it was first published in the UK Salvationist on 13 December 1997.
Grace and peace, Andrew
Dreams and visions
"The optimist is right. The pessimist is right ... Each Is right from his own particular view, and this point of view is the determining factor in the life of each. It determines whether it is a life of power or of impotence, of peace or of pain, of success or of failure," said R.W. Trine. He was stating the eternal truth that what we believe today has a significant bearing on tomorrow.
Spiritual health has always been associated with 'dreams and visions'. At Pentecost Peter quoted Joel, who clearly predicted that the hallmark of God's ultimate blessing would be young visionaries and old dreamers.
Spiritual death, on the other hand, has always been associated with a lack of vision. The Book of Proverbs declares that 'where there is no vision the people perish' (29:18 Authorised Version).
What The Salvation Army will be like in 2020 is dependent on where we see ourselves now. Today's priorities are the building-blocks of tomorrow. The fruit harvested in 2020 will be the result of seeds sown in 1997. As General George Carpenter said, we will always be what all our yesterdays have made us.
Accepting the foregoing as fact we are faced with thousands of possible permutations. The Salvation Army is made up of territories made up of divisions made up of corps made up of soldiers. Every cog within the machine is unique and therefore the collective elements (or corps) within that machine will also be unique.
For the sake of brevity I am going to focus on only two of many potential scenarios.
My comments are generic and not targeted at specific corps or individuals. These visions are not portraits lovingly painted but ugly caricatures, harshly drawn in the hope that they will provoke debate. Individuals who see themselves or their corps portrayed in this essay have no need to defend themselves to anyone other than God. If the cap doesn't fit then please don't try to wear it!
As a Salvationist I see the development of two separate movements within our organisation.
The first was accurately predicted by Samuel Logan Brengle and is primarily secular. Its priorities are intellectual achievement, social acceptance, attention to detail and musical expertise - all of which are commendable in their own right.
This Army, as Brengle says, will never fail for want of resources. It will feed from within, nurturing recruits in its own nurseries and rescuing the wounded from other corps.
The high feasts of this Army will be large musical celebrations, justified on the grounds of building bridges into the community. The music presented will be, on the whole, exclusive and require the possession of certain qualifications if it is to be fully appreciated.
The unsaved targeted by such an Army will develop positive relationships with the Movement but will remain onlookers. Admiring and respecting the old lady from a safe distance, they may even lend financial support but they will never become converts or disciples.
Recognising its inability to integrate fully with its audience, this army will experiment with compromise. Total abstinence will be up for discussion on the basis that man-made morality should always come second to what on closer inspection might prove to be biblical pragmatism.
Uniforms, titles, flags will be fanatically protected yet this Army will be neither evangelistic nor militant. It will be insular and incestuous - its parochial attitude marked by pride and blind loyalty.
It will be an Army that meets once on a Sunday with no literature evangelism and no open-air work, the
majority of soldiers funding a minority workers who continue to maintain in-house community service
There will be no Bible study or prayer other than the liturgical remnant still recited on a Sunday.
The social services of this Army will be isolated from the corps programme and rely heavily on funding from outside agencies. The restrictions placed on them by funding will sound the death knell of any remaining evangelistic enterprise.
It will be a justifiably proud institution, self-sufficient, respected and accepted at the highest level of society but, as Brengle warns, it 'will no longer be shepherds of the lost sheep' and 'God will no longer be with it'.
The second vision I would like to resent will be born in the unsuspecting manger of poor corps.
Such corps, as a result of economic reality, will lose their additional financial subsidies and find themselves threatened with closure. Like the prodigal they will discover that lack of funds and impending death has wonderful way of bringing you to your senses. Even so, some will curl up and die.
Others will rediscover the truth their forebears prospered on and this truth, when applied to their circumstances, will set them free. The truth is that 'God's work done God's way will never lack God's provision'.
Such corps have never been hampered by the chains of musical expertise, the bondage of ceremonial uniforms or the doubting which so often accompanies educated liberalism.
Over the years they have become the homes of the disenfranchised within our Movement - misfits who tried every corps within the division until they settled here. They felt at home here and they stayed.
Here it doesn't matter whether you sing in or out of tune. As far as the band is concerned the only qualification is to 'make a joyful noise' (it doesn't even have to be 'unto the Lord').
Here you can wear brown shoes with uniform. Here you feel not only accepted but used. The decision to stay is not spiritual but practical.
Physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual poverty combined with a naive hunger for something better has often proved to be the breeding ground for revival.
At first this Salvation Army will take God at his word because it doesn't possess the capacity to entertain any other possibility. God will bless its inherent humility and soon its members will believe not by default but through experience.
This Army will grow for two reasons. One, The Salvation Army was raised up to reach such people. Two, because they share a culture with those around them.
Contrary to popular opinion, the artistic highlight of many secular social occasions is still a drunken rendition of 'The Birdie Song'. Ultimately this Salvation Army will speak to all sections of society just as it did once before. It will be both militant and evangelistic. It will learn (painfully at first) from the pitfalls of previous revivals and insist on making disciples as well as converts.
In moral terms there is little to choose between these two Armies. The first Army is smart, organised, polished and respectable; its troops unquestionably sincere and committed. The second Army merely confirms the principle that God's glory is better served when the material he works with is (in worldly terms) inferior.
One man's dream is another man's nightmare and you may choose to dismiss both of the above scenarios as unlikely. But if we want a Salvation Army in 2020 then we must 'make the future in the present'.
Already corps once threatened with closure are seeing spiritual rebirth and growth. This is the Lord's doing and only he can take the credit.
However, corps which dispensed with the praise meeting because the band played to the songsters and the songsters sang to the band are now looking to do away with the salvation meeting on the same grounds. Literature evangelism is disappearing and open-air evangelism is on the decline. In contrast our music festivals become grander and greater by the minute.
Look and you can see two brothers struggling like Jacob and Esau for their father's blessing. One bullish and blind, the other weak and wily.
One sees that blessing as his by right. He is strong and disciplined and has earned it. The other has always looked to his mother (in this case the bottomless purse of THQ) to protect and further his ambitions.
Who will win this struggle? I believe it will be the weaker. Why? Because if you reminded him that Christ came to call the unrighteous he would find comfort in the thought. If you said the same to his brother he would take offence.
The first Army is the Army of the optimist. He thinks his position is unassailable and he's right. The second Army is the Army of the pessimist. He thinks he will fail and he has.
Ultimately the Army of 2020 will be the Army that God calls. God is not bound by tradition but the Bible does prove him to be consistent.
When it comes to armies he prefers to start with the bare minimum. The soldiers he calls are amateurish, unskilled and usually led by a coward. If you don't believe me, ask Gideon.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Today, whilst unpacking, I came across my 'evil day' box. This was the result of a brilliant suggestion by the late Commissioner Denis Hunter – the idea was to put into the box all the encouraging notes (etc) you receive over the years. In mine I have a Youth Council's commitment card I signed in 1977! The hospital name tags from my two youngest daughters, birthday cards and Father's day's cards made by my older children (when they were much younger). Poems and letters I sent to Tracey (going right back to the earliest days of our relationship), marching orders – too much to mention. As I looked at all the various items and dwelt on the memories they conjured up it made me realise that time is going by fast, frighteningly fast. It also made me think about all the mistakes I've made, the missed opportunities and times of deliberate and reckless disobedience.
Later, I found myself sitting at the computer and penned the following poem – poetry helps me process my thoughts when my brain (and heart) unexpectedly becomes overloaded. As General Carpenter said 'we are what all our yesterdays have made us' and life is too short to be shortened even further by regret-induced fear. God is with us, so whatever lies behind let us 'press on towards the prize that is ours in Christ Jesus'. Whatever it involves, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer the Christian's life ought to be 'life in all its fullness' so let's learn to praise God in all circumstances.
Time, like a firework, all anticipation,
Exploding in a one-off spectral splash,
It only has one shot at detonation,
One piercing scream, one fleeting flash.
There are no brakes to grip the passing years,
No gears that back away from bitter tears.
No way to pause the happy days or play again,
No way can we delete those times of pain.
The paths we never should have walked.
The lips we never should have kissed,
The words we never should have talked.
The meetings that we should've missed,
The things we overdid or underplayed,
The loneliness - and need to be alone,
The broken vows and new ones made,
The souls so missed who used to make us moan.
This is our life that burns before our eyes
And as we fly through foggy firework skies
The very least we ought to try and do
Before we fade and fall is catch the view.
There is no time for looking back
Despite our hoard of time-consuming frets,
This is our life whatever it might lack
Don't spend it all on might-have-been regrets.
Out of the box our fuse is well and truly lit,
The 'oohs' and 'ahhs' that echo through the night
Remind us as we soar that this is it.
The sparks behind that flicker bright,
Are pushing us toward the distant sun.
So what's the point sad pessimist?
Death may be near but life is just begun!
So let's embrace each unexpected twist and turn
Not worried by the speed with which we burn.
For Christ came not to skulk and frown
He came to heal our hurts and to forgive
He came to give us life not put us down
And every day that we refuse to live
We bang another nail into his hands
And freedom smarts and looks the other way
And all of heaven fails to understand
Our sad unwillingness to seize the day!
Grace and peace, Andrew.