Tuesday, July 27, 2010

20/20 vision

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

One life to live don’t waste it!

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.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Prostitutes, pagan countries and positive prospects!

I try to complete reading the entire Bible through once every year, I use a Bible reading plan that requires me to read a portion of Scripture from the Old Testament, the New Testament and a portion from either the Psalms or Proverbs. Occasionally, the Scripture I read can be very appropriate to the circumstances in which I find myself and then there are those other occasions when I sincerely hope that what I just read has no prophetic significance whatsoever. This week Tracey and I and the girls move to a new appointment in Rayleigh and the first verses I read in the Old Testament this morning were in the book of Amos:

" 'Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
       and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
       Your land will be measured and divided up,
       and you yourself will die in a pagan country." (Amos 7:17)

However, as I continued to read through to the end of the book, the passage did begin to adopt a prophetic tone to which I could positively respond.

Amos was called to minister to a nation that had become complacent in the extreme and a nation where social justice and national integrity were hard to find.

Verse 5 of chapter 8 refers to a people who are eager to complete their religious duties as soon as they can in order to get back to their various commercial enterprises. Verse 5 also calls into question the moral honesty of those commercial practices. Verse 6 openly condemns them and compares them to a people prepared to trade human lives for mere possessions. Yet it was verse 11 that really brought me to my knees:

11 "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD,
       "when I will send a famine through the land—
       not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
       but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD."

With the possible exception of what's going on in Stockholm at the moment is this not a fair description of the Salvation Army in the Western world? Are we not in the midst of a spiritual famine where we seem unable to properly grasp and understand the implications of God's Word?

As I read these words and pondered over them prayerfully I was reminded once more in a powerful and humbling way that the only path to revival for us is that painful path of corporate and personal repentance. Like the Jews who made up the congregation of Amos we have become complacent and negligent and the only way to reverse this trend is to get on our knees, cover ourselves in dust and ashes and sincerely repent.

One last quick thought, before I go and do some much-needed packing and cleaning, verse 11 of chapter 9 brings hope and I believe that the wording of this promise has special significance for the Salvation Army today:

 11 "In that day I will restore
       David's fallen tent.
       I will repair its broken places,
       restore its ruins,
       and build it as it used to be,"

If we repent, if we turn from our foreign gods, smash our idols and consecrate ourselves then God will restore us, however this verse refers not to a palace or a house but to a 'tent'.

The Salvation Army will be rebuilt but not as it is now or in the pattern of some contemporary architect of religious methodology but 'as it used to be'. Tents belong to nomadic people whereas houses and palaces belong to those who dwell in cities. Does this verse indicate a return to a simpler and more reactive mission? May God make his word clear to us?

Grace and peace, Andrew


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

As it should be!

This morning I woke me early as I got up to spend time with him.

I repented, put on my spiritual armour, believed in his presence and worshipped his holy name.

This is the way every day should start. To go into any day without first spending time with the Lord and his word is like a soldier stepping into no man's land and expecting not to be shot.

The devil, our adversary, prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour...

Psalm 85

1 You showed favour to your land, O LORD;
       you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

 2 You forgave the iniquity of your people
       and covered all their sins.

 3 You set aside all your wrath
       and turned from your fierce anger.

 4 Restore us again, O God our Saviour,
       and put away your displeasure toward us.

 5 Will you be angry with us forever?
       Will you prolong your anger through all generations?

 6 Will you not revive us again,
       that your people may rejoice in you?

 7 Show us your unfailing love, O LORD,
       and grant us your salvation.

 8 I will listen to what God the LORD will say;
       he promises peace to his people, his saints—
       but let them not return to folly.

 9 Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
       that his glory may dwell in our land.

 10 Love and faithfulness meet together;
       righteousness and peace kiss each other.

 11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
       and righteousness looks down from heaven.

 12 The LORD will indeed give what is good,
       and our land will yield its harvest.

 13 Righteousness goes before him
       and prepares the way for his steps.

Grace and peace, Andrew.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"I miss my time with you..."

The last three weeks has been busy beyond belief and with all kinds of distractions. We have decorators in every room of the house, we're in the middle of packing, we've just finished tidying up outstanding administration and on Sunday we had a fantastic farewell from the good folk of Dartford. In eight days time we will take up our appointment in Rayleigh.

Somewhere along the way I appear to have lost my "devotions". I have not had a regular "quiet time" alone with God and his word. Consequently, to be quite honest, I feel sick. Let me explain what I mean by that , I feel under the weather, nauseous... as if I'm going down with something - not in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense.

Starting today I have reintroduced into my timetable what ought to be at the top of every daily "to do list" - prayer and Bible study!

I have also, carried out a little spiritual health check on myself and found myself wanting in more than one area. Consequently I have made some other decisions about my current lifestyle and attitude.

How easy it is to carry on with the duties of ministry and yet be slowly fading away within. Thank you Jesus for bringing this to my attention and thank you for the grace that you so freely give that enables me to put the past three weeks behind me and start again.

"There He was just waiting in our old familiar place
An empty spot beside Him where once I used to wait
To be filled with strength and wisdom for the battle of the day.
I would've passed Him by again but I clearly heard Him say

I miss My time with you those moments together
I need to be with you each day and it hurts me when you say
You're too busy, busy trying to serve Me
But how can you serve Me when your spirit's empty?

There's a longing in My heart wanting more than just a part of you
It's true I miss My time with you

What will I have to offer how can I truly care
My efforts have no meaning when your presence isn't there
But You'll provide the power if I take time to pray
So Ill stay right here beside You and you'll never have to say...

I miss my time with you." (Larnelle Harris)

Grace and peace, A