Sunday, 11 December 2011


I live in a rather complex state of existence at the moment.  Something somewhere between the ranks of The Salvation Army and ministry in the Methodist Church.  Life changes for me yet again at the end of January as my colleague moves on to pastures new and as I fill in significant parts of his ministry alongside the tasks that are mine. 

I've started blogging more regularly at my other blog with an Army flavour.  Appears to be going well according to the hits, higher than they've ever been.  But again, over there I blog about an Army that doesn't really exist in my territory.  When we try to engage locally, in real time with real people, the picture feels as heavy and, quite frankly, non-sensical as it always did.  Its not the Army I'm in.  Sitting in a meeting, playing in the band and singing in the songsters just doesn't float my boat.

Its stupid really.  I know what seems to make sense at this time.  God is using me where I am in a significant way, not just where I work, but around the city. 'Just where he needs me, my Lord has placed me.'  No-one, in these circumstances, would be thinking about going back to the Army.  But we have offered to go wasn't enthusiastically received, but I hadn't anticipated it would be.  The experience has just led me to ask again and again, 'why are we even offering?' 

Yet, all this stuff is a false dichotomy.  I'm not a Salvationist in one place and a Methodist in the other.  We live our lives as covenanted soldiers and the only bit of my officer covenant that aint easy to do is the bit that says to actually be an officer:   I love and serve him supremely, I live to win souls and make their salvation the purpose of my life, we care for the poor and the needy, clothe the naked, love the unlovable and befriend those who have no friends, and we maintain the doctrines and principles of The Salvation Army.

There is no conclusion to this post...its confusing because I don't know which way to go.  It doesn't make sense.  However....I trust God implicitly and know that he will make his way clear.  The reality is that there is precious little time to engage with the Army locally...however, the Army are not the only band who fight the Salvation War.  So, until such times as it makes sense, I fight as a soldier on a different front. Prayer appreciated.

Monday, 3 October 2011


I was having a blether with a colleague earlier, talking generally about 'the will of God' for our lives and the future of our ministry.  It brought me again to a thought that has been formulating in my mind over this last year or so.

I'm coming to believe that to find yourself in the will of God is comes through choosing what God has chosen.  I have just been aware of the massive things God seems to orchestrate in our lives to get us to go to places and situations which, left to our own devices, we'd never do.  I am coming to a place, with regards to understanding where he would have me, where I really must begin to chose what God has chosen.  To resist that is, in a sense, futile.  Now, I think God does bless all sorts of plan Bs, Cs, Fs, Ps and Zs, but even then, there is a path to be discerned and walked upon.

Having said all that, it doesn't make it easier to discern what God's path necessarily is, but it does bring clarity in the whole process of discerning what things might be your will and decision in comparison with what God has chosen all in the hope that by the help of the Holy Spirit, a discerning community and through much prayer, we might come to the best decisions possible.

I'm still learning to chose what God has chosen.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Vital Prayer

“Prayer brings renewal that the lack of prayer makes necessary.”  Let me say that again... “Prayer brings renewal that the lack of prayer makes necessary.”  

You know, the church can ‘live’ without vital prayer.  Many churches have been doing it for an awful long time.  My question is why on earth would you want to?  To the church at Sardis, Jesus said:  “These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.  I know your deeds;  you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”  Jesus knew it was possible to have the appearance of life, to be moving around like the headless chicken only to then collapse in a heap on the floor because the body has become separated from the head.

Up and down our nation the church of Jesus Christ limps along on life support because our prayerlessness has made renewal a vitally pressing need in our day.  We’ve become increasingly separated from the Head.   But before we start pointing any fingers anywhere else, lets not neglect the opportunity to examine our own hearts before the Lord.

One of the passages of scripture you’ll find in the prayer room is an agricultural themed prophetic word from good ole Hosea.  In chapter 6 he prophesies a great harvest for Judah, a great harvest of righteousness.  They he goes on a bit about all the reasons that its just not gonna happen in their condition until in chapter 10 he says:

12 Sow righteousness for yourselves,
   reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your hard unplowed ground;
   for it is time to seek the LORD,
until he comes  and showers his righteousness on you.
13 But you have planted wickedness,
   you have reaped evil,
   you have eaten the fruit of deception.

It is time to seek the Lord until he showers his righteousness upon you.

Fast forward a handful of a hundred years and Jesus stands before the disciples and tells them

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.”

The workers are few because the need of the harvest field is something that needs to be revealed to the human heart by the Spirit of God.  Keepers of hard hearts will never see the vital need for mission in the world.  The fields will always be someone elses work to them.  Or, it will be someone else’s problem because as for them, they have their own fields to plow....the fields of self sufficiency, distraction, pursuit of personal gain and their own cauldron of scepticisms and fears about the call to take the gospel to the nations.
The church has believed a theology that came from the Kevin Costner film of the 1990s, ‘Field of Dreams’ where he has this strange ghostly voice who whispers to him ‘If you build it, they will come’  So he builds a baseball pitch in his corn field and baseball legends appear from out of the field to play in it.  It becomes an attraction and the closing shot in the film is a massive line of cars coming towards his failing farm. 

In this passage Jesus does not say to the disciples ‘if you build it, they will come.’  No, his emphatic word to those 72 disciples was hey....get to prayer, ask for a spiritual revelation of the readiness of the harvest field!  Then ask the Lord to reveal to you who the workers will be that will go into the field.  And then having done that you will recognise it is you....I am sending you out like lambs amongst the wolves, said Jesus.

“Here I am Lord, send someone else.”

If passionate prayer does not mark the house of the Lord, it shall have a name and yet be dead.  My house will be a house of prayer, declares Jesus.  Back in Solomons day as he dedicates the grand temple to the Lord, he has this conversation, this encounter with God.  You will recognise the words, they are so vital and they are such a powerful testimony to the church in these days.

1 Chronicles 7 reads like this:
11 When Solomon had finished the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the LORD and in his own palace, 12 the LORD appeared to him at night and said:
   “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.
 13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. 16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.
 17 “As for you, if you walk before me faithfully as David your father did, and do all I command, and observe my decrees and laws, 18 I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to rule over Israel.’
 19 “But if you[a] turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you[b] and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. 21 This temple will become a heap of rubble. All cwho pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ 22 People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the LORD, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them.’” 

The message trumpets through the word of God through the generations:  consider your hard hearts.  Break up your fallow ground.  Humble yourself. Remove the stones of sin and wickedness from your lives.  Pray to the Lord of harvest for a revelation of the world around you, pray, get a revelation of the plight of those who are lost.  Recognise that it is my name  that is important not yours.  When you’ve planted the seed of the Kingdom in your cleansed heart, when you have a Kingdom vision instead of a ‘you’ vision, then you’ll respond by going into all the world, you’ll reap a harvest of righteousness for yourselves and for the Kingdom.  Healing will begin in your land because salvation colonies will establish themselves once more and darkness will be pushed glory will be revealed.  Only then will you have a name worthy of the majesty of him.

It was William Booth who said "Let others whose blood is fired and whose hearts are melted after the same fashion join hands with you. Make a Mount Carmel of some ante-room, or barracks, or kitchen and offer yourself up as a sacrifice, body, soul and spirit, and believe and wait until you receive the Holy Fire" 

And then he penned words to the song 

‘’Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
The fire will meet our every need,
For strength to ever do the right,
For grace to conquer in the fight,
For power to walk the world in white,
Send the fire!

To make our weak hearts strong and brave,
To live a dying world to save,
O see us on Thy altar lay
Our lives, our all, this very day;
To crown the offering now we pray,
Send the fire!

Break up your hard ground.  See the Lord for a revelation of the harvest fields that are ripe.  Plant the Kingdom seed and a passion for his name in your heart....and then go.  Friends, we’re here to do business with God this evening.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Falling away

Last week, with my Circuit colleagues, we toddled off to the mother house of the Northumbria comunity.  It was a good day 'alone together'.  Good times of silence, conversation, reflection and talk over food.  God really spoke to me.

We were invited to consider the season, autumn (as it is here in the Northern Hemisphere).  A time where the vegetation begins to fall away and things change nature, colour and shape.  We were then asked to consider what was changing/falling away in our own lives.  When I look into what I see the future containing, the way the Lord is leading, here is what I sense what is, firstly,  falling away, but for each falling away, what I sense that means in the positive:

- freedom and liberty to choose = a welcome return to a disciplined life
- sense of entitlement to my own vision - = a welcome return to community and a vision bigger than my own
- losing unhealthy approaches and habits, comforts and dependancies = freedom!
- denial of true call and DNA = embracing identity
- the scripture that came to me was 'He who loses his life will find it.'

In 'ministry':
- the thoughts of permanancy, settling long term = embracing the pilgrim life...releasing the 'turasaiche' within!
-  good opinions of men...and then the Lord blazoned this scripture to my mind "Woe to you when people say all sorts of good things about you for this is how their father's treated the false prophets."  - Lk 6:26

Another highlight was what we hoped our 'spring' would contain, what I wanted to see.  Here is what I wrote:

"Mission-focussed communities of the followers of Jesus, rooted in authentic experience of vibrant faith and spirituality."

All that is enough to keep me engaged for a good while!  What about you?  What is God causing to fall away from your life and experience?  What are your hopes for spring?  More importantly, what does God want to do in your life in 'winter' inbetween?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Get in line

So Friday is my sabbath day...its my day off work. I am on my own for at least 6 hours of this day whilst my kids are at school and my other half is at work. Its so important for me to get before the Lord. This is a discipline. It won't happen if we're not disciplined enough to do it. Can I afford to do it? Nah..on my day off, financially, I could do with finding ways to earn some cash - we're in a recession for goodness sake. But if I'm not before the Lord, I might as well just go away.

Never mind this garbage we feed outselves about not having the time to come before the Lord. Sure, you might be saying, well I don't have 6 hours to take out. Sure you do. You just dont want to. You just don't make it possible. You make time for everything else apart from the Lord. How do I know this? Because I am human and for so long I've been a failure at this stuff. And when I am failing at this stuff, sin gets a foothold in my life and I cease being the man that God calls me to be. And I am ashamed. If I want to go round doing this stuff in my own strength, then I'm stuffed. I haven't got any. Come on, you know what I'm talking about here.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...if what I said makes you sit up and take note, then thats the Holy Spirit telling you you're getting it wrong. But if you start to think 'oh you're useless, you'll never get it right scumbag, think you follow God? HA!' well, thats the enemy trying to get you down. God confronts us to show us the right path, not to beat on us. Come on, quit fooling around and get close to Jesus. Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you says James.

I didn't plan to say all that, but I think it might help at least one of you reading. Happy to support you if I can....let me know.

What I was going to say is that what God has been saying to me to day is to step up. Some of you who know me may not realise I'm a horrific introvert. Put me on an island for a week on my own - man, I'm almost in heaven. But yet, the journey the Lord has put me on has so often been about being out there, with people constantly. More than that, out there with a message the few want to hear, not only in the church but in the world in general. The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God for our salvation.

And lots of time, especially in the last 3 years where I've been in situations where hope has slipped away, I've stepped back from the front. When we allow other things to crowd round, it obscures our vision of Jesus and his call upon us to be his disciples and to make disciples of all the nations.   Another thing thats happened is that I've been swayed by too many people's version of things. You know, we all need to learn and process what we're learning. But we have to bring it back to the Lord and say 'is this your thought Jesus?' 'Do you go with this?' 'Do I see this in you?' 'Is this how you went about things?' 'Does this fit with your message?' If yes, we hang onto it and put it as an arrow in our quiver. If no, then we cast it aside. What do you need to cast aside?

If your god is the god who is only ever patting you on the back and afffirming your lifestyle and your plans, then there is every chance you've fallen into the mistake of making a god in your own image. This god will ultimately fail you because it isn't real. The bible tells us that God disciplines us as his children, he pulls us into line for our own good and for his glory....but then pours out such an abundance, an ABUNDANCE, of grace and mercy. It will follow us all the days of our lives as we live submitted to Jesus.

Come on, get in line.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Children as Disciples of Jesus

This video is very clever, witty and well made. Kudos to those who created it. But hey, the message is really much more crucial and vital. This topic has been on my mind of late due to the observations I have made about my own children in their new setting. My eldest in particular.

Ben on becoming a 'Junior Soldier' in The Salvation Army

Ben is 9, fairly bright and is interested in the things of God - thats how we've brought him up. In our days at Pill, he would often pray in a meeting, answer my rhetorical questions in sermons and ask questions in public worship.

We then moved up to Wick and he would continue to do that, for a little while. But by this time, when he came to the Army he would sit under the table at the back. The context didn't engage him. Occassionally you'd hear a prayer from under that table cloth at prayer time but he was disengaging with the Body of the church and to be honest, the congregation were deaf to him.  I remember once when he started to pray, someone began to pray and drowned him out.  Not intentionally perhaps, and maybe they didn't hear him.  But I remember feeling sorry for him that evening, that he wasn't being heard and was being disengaged. 

That all changed fantastically at Torry, where our gatherings we much less formal, more conversational and indeed where our main mode of meeting was face to face in peoples homes. Our meetings were multi-voiced and open participatory, which meant that everyone was expected to contribute something God had given them as the norm.  Ben participated fully and openly.  He was looking forward to the opportunity to lead us through our meeting as a whole in time, but never had the opportunity before we left.  Yet, he'd often read the bible, offer his understanding of what was happening in the text and ask questions if he had them.  He matured in his understanding significantly, and as soon as he was old enough and grasped the implications of the gospel, we enrolled him as a Junior Soldier, basically a 'junior member' of the corps we were leading.

In our current context, public worship has little opportunity for him to engage.  Occassionally there is the opportunity to go up on the stage for the kids talk and no doubt makes witty contribution, but I do notice that not only are the opportunities rare, they are also at that unusual 'kids talk' level, at which the answer to any question is normally 'Jesus.'  Our children are not performers to be 'Awww-ed' at.  They want to follow Jesus.  You know what I mean, don't you?

We're told that Ben actively contributes in his Sunday School class and thats great, but at home, he often asks when we can meet like we did before because he liked taking part.

What culture do we want in church for our children?  Surely one that instills in them from an early age that they can follow Jesus.   One that inspires them to do so, equips them to do so.  Maybe one that takes more seriously the potential of children to teach us things about God, the bible.  An appreciation that they, too, pray, engage the bible, think about the big questions and actively share their faith.

Contrast my daughter Ceitidh, who is just 5 and hasn't got the memory of those contexts at all.  Are we creating a passive pew-filler?  Maybe in the church context, yes, but praise God she is a more avid bible reader than her father an mother put together!  No joke!  You see, I think do we have to ask the questions of church, the gathered faith community in all this.  However, as parents we must never underestimate the importance of faith at home, worship at home and the responsibility that is ours to pass faith on to our children.

Deuteronomy 6

 1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you.  4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.[a] 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.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Made in heaven...

Today is my 11th wedding anniversary.  Here we are (left) very young and in love (which we still are) covenanting our lives to one another under the flag of the Army wearing my high collar like a good soldier.

A few days ago, we celebrated another anniversary - the 15th anniversary of us being together in a relationship which has quite literally been made in heaven.  I don't just say that out of some sense of romance, I say it sincerely because God ordained that we be together in our life's journey.  I believe this.  God brought us together in the way that he did, at the age that he did for his purposes.  Our whole life belongs to him and we want to serve Him alone all our days.

From the very beginning of our relationship, quite aside from all romance and youthful infatuation, was a very spiritually mature foundation for our age.  You see, Tracy and I only continued our relationship on the understanding that we would both serve in ministry together as Salvation Army officers.  Even in those days, you had to be married to an officer if you felt called to officership!  So, unusually for some, marriage and officership was the topic of conversation in the first few months of letter writing (we lived quite a distance apart).  We were 15 and 16 years old at the time!  Yet, our promise stood true.

What else can be said?  Tracy is now 31, I will be 31 very soon.  Thus far, we have had so many varied, great (but challenging) experiences, two beautiful and intelligent children and I hope so many more to come (experiences that is, not necessarily children!!)  But we are in a transition time as a family.  Our original vision was disrupted and we're currently waiting on God to open the next volume of the story.  Pray for us, will you?  Its so important to us that we do what God would have us do with the rest of our lives.  We don't want to miss what he has for us and our children.

In the mean time, I pledge again all my love to Tracy and renew every vow and promise I ever made her before the Lord.  And I pray that God will seal again those things for his Glory and his Name.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Book Review: "One for All" by Knaggs and Court

"One for All" by Commissioner Jim Knaggs and Major Stephen Court is a publication of three books in one:  two previously published 'One Day - A dream for The Salvation Army', 'One Thing - Win the World for Jesus ' and the new publication 'One Army.'  The books explore and expound upon a vision for the Army that Commissioner Knaggs shared at an Aggressive Christianity Conference in Australia in 2007.

These men speak about an Army which, in essence, is still to be.  They speak to the very heart and identity of the Army.  Its something that Salvationists love to do and I've indulged in a fair amount of that in my time.  Yet the writers aren't just 'all words on a page.'  They are men who 'do the stuff.'  Indeed, the book seeks to help the reader translate the vision into reality.  They are two men that I have engaged with over several years and who have shown the true spirit of Salvationism towards us, especially in our last months of officer service in the Army and beyond.  When I hear their individual voices shining through the joint text, I smile and thank God for them both.

The three component parts are fascinating in themselves, but combined provide a compelling vision for the Army.  In the first book, the elements of Knaggs vision are expounded by a variety of Salvationist essayists across the Army world, officer and soldier alike.  The second books combines the various strands and focusses like a laser on the one major purpose of the Army, to win the world for Jesus.  The final book is a plea for unity around the core salvo principles of the vision, whilst allowing for creative versatility and diversity.

It is the first 'Army book' that I've read this side of officership.  As I've said above, Knaggs and Court pin down everything about the Army that inspired me so much.  The Army is, indeed, a tremendous chapter in the history of God's engagement with the world.  So as I read, my heart rings out 'Amen's and 'Hallelujah's' and evokes a few 'Blood and Fire!'s   Its edgy, radical, fiesty, incendiary and I'd imagine it will be pretty annoying (if not entirely alien) to those Salvationists who don't belong the the kind of Army out to win the world for Jesus. 

This is a book that every corps officer, HQ officer, local officer and soldier will want to have on their shelves.  Every vision needs to be fleshed out.  It needs bones, muscle, sinews and blood pumping round it for a reality.  Knaggs and Court need to keep this vision alive.  It is all to easy to assign great books and inspiring visions to the bookshelves and the worst thing that can happen to this book is that it is read and put on the shelf.

Having said all that, I must confess that one of the things that led to me leaving the Army was that I actually bought into the vision espoused in this book, and did so sincerely.  That sounds like a weird thing to say but most folks who read my blog and know my writing from Army days will know the truth of that.  One of the conclusions I have made about my Army life was that I was living in an Army that few around me could see.  The Army in my mind wasn't the Army that existed around me.  Easy to say now that I should have had more vision or wisdom, should have persevered, but its difficult to hold to a vision in isolation and in the end, isolated was what we became until we felt we could fight no more.

So whilst for me I struggle to see either my part in it or to what degree it can actually become a reality, I don't say this as a criticism of the book, not at all.   I celebrate the publication of this volume.  My hope is that this book will bring comradeship to many a Salvationist struggling out there.  Sadly it happens and, thankfully, there is reference to this reality in the pages of the book. It brings the vision of the radical Army into the mainstream in a real way.  It gives any visionary leader the opportunity to share this vision with those he/she leads, not just from his or her own convictions, but with the 'big name' backing that things tend to need in the Army for people on the ground to take note.  Knaggs, Bond, Burrows, Noland, Court, Strickland, Rader - all the names are there.

But as for Clark, I'd love to think that there would be 'one day' where I might be welcomed back into the ranks open-armed and take my place 'on the field'.  Maybe if General Bond has an amesty, I might hand myself in....

Sell your bed and buy the book.  Available on Amazon and on Kindle.  Probably available from your local trade department.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


"Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed."
— Jean Vanier

Astounding.  I was introduced to the existence of Jean Vanier through the Crucible Course I've been doing, but haven't really read a lot of his stuff in detail.  My reading list is too long as it is.  Yet he is one of these quotable guys, always saying something entirely amazing.

I won't bore you with the reasons why, but I had cause to spend 7 hours in the Accident and Emergency department of our local hospital in the middle of the night, early Thursday.  Waiting for a considerable time, you have the opportunity to watch people.  And is there such a more vivid place to see weakeness than in the waiting room of A&E?

As I sat there wondering what was wrong with them all, you can see that some of their weaknesses were visible....hobbling, cuts, bruises.   However, for many, the biggest wounds they carried were no doubt things of the heart. 

And then I think about myself and realise that I'm there as a 'casualty' too.  Yet, I'm one who has known in many ways what it is to be celebrated and seen as a source of joy, especially in this last year, and subsequently to see much healing come.  And honestly, I have truly received much more than I could ever have given to the good folks I serve day by day and week by week.

What a wonderful act of grace to welcome and embrace the weakness of others.  I'm still a spring chicken in lots of ways, but 'the older I get' the more beauty I see behind the facades of so many.  The more people we can accept in weakness, the more healing we bring.  The more we ourselves are open about our own condition, the more we find that we are not alone and that we find our life and identity in the community that bears the name of Jesus.

"Look at your own poverty
welcome it
cherish it
don't be afraid
share your death
because thus you will share your love and your life"

Jean Vanier

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Kozlovskys

Back in 2004/2005 I made a couple of trips to Romania and Russia to encourage the work of The Salvation Army there.  I met some wonderful young Salvationists, many of whom served the Lord with such passion, abandonment and dedication in spite of their own circumstances. 

One such young family are the Kozlovskys.  They were still young and unmarried when I met them back in 2004, but they now have two young children and are hoping to begin training as Salvation Army officers soon.  They are both currently engaged in the work of The Salvation Army in Bucharest, the first Salvation Army corps in Romania.

I heard from them a few days ago and their sad news was that their family car which they use so freely to serve others in their ministry in the Army has now become beyond reasonable repair.  They do not have the resources to purchase a new car.   I hope to be able to support them in some way and I am just writing this blog in the possibility that some of you reading may feel able to support in some way.  If you can, please send me a message somehow. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

What are we doing?


There might be some of your reading, maybe, who remember this.  Listening to some 'Francis Chan' reminded me of it.

At William Booth College, on Thursdays they had cadets meetings every now and again.  I can't remember what they called them.  Bascially, a night of worship etc organised by cadets for the college community.  One of the times they had a sort of 'open mic' night and people were just invited to share whatever it was God wanted them to share. I was sitting there and starting to get 'that feeling' in the pit of my stomach...that feeling where you have to stand up and say something.  Might not happen in your church circles, but not out of place in Army circles ('a soldier is ready to preach, pray or die at a moments notice' says Booth).

So, I move to the front.  I put my bible on the floor and I stand on it, literally.

I don't remember exactly what I said, but I felt led to do it and I imagine that I gave a word about the importance of having the word of God as our foundation and not moving from it.

And therein lies my problem.  I do confess I have a problem.

The journey between that kairos moment (for me at least) and now has more or less been the fall-out resulting from seeking to live out what it says.  Now, I'm not saying that being in The Salvation Army as an officer is a direct contravention of such.  However, in the years that were to follow I just kept on getting myself into trouble for the whole Bible thing.  Dyed-in-the-wool Salvationist, that I was (am),  I believe all the SA doctrines, especially the first one, which says 'we believe that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice.'   (I didn't even have to look that up).

What does that mean?  Well, I might be a bit dumb, but I think that it means the we believe that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice!  But what does that mean?

All the way through my time as a 'fully-fledged officer', I was aware of asking this question.  The first assumption I quickly came to was that my estimations were that my base gifting was not that of 'pastor' - at least not in the modern day sense.  Not in the sense of 'preach the sermon, feed the sheep, visit the sick and talk about ingrown toenails' variety.  I didn't see that in the bible.  I couldn't find the pattern of the one man band.  Even in partnership with Tracy, many of the corps folks were still looking for 'the male officer.'  Whats that about? 

My problem was that I had been eisegeting, instead of exegeting.  Those are bible college words for what we do with the bible.  To eisegete, we start from our subjective point of view and read in our workings and justify it from the bible.  What we should be doing is 'to exegete' - to go to the bible, discern what it is saying, and then allow that to determine our practice.  I soon discovered that it was much more than just the shape of ministry that I was eisegeting and so I made a determination to move to exegeting instead.  Well, there went my nice officership.

I use this to illustrate a general point.  I'm not the first to do this, in fact Catherine Booth does it in the opening chapter of her Papers on Aggressive Christianity:   suppose that we forget the hundreds of years of church history and just had before us the gospels, the book of Acts of the Apostles' and the rest of the New Testament, what would we make of it?  I mean, if we were starting fresh, would we do what we do now and have what we have now?  Would we meet like we do?  Would we live like we do?  Would we lead like we do?  I mean, really, what would the priorities be?

I'm not advocating 'blueprint-ism' here - some sort of 'we must do it exactly like 1st century church.  What I am saying is that if we were starting now to form Christian community using the pages of the New Testament and translating it into our culture, I doubt if we'd come up with what we have got now.  I mean, who from reading the New Testament would get the idea of turning up to a big (or small) hall twice on a Sunday, sing some songs and listening to one person 'perform' the whole thing?  No, you just wouldn't get that.

I mean, it strikes me that the big ole message of Jesus was to love God and love one another.  That has to be up there as the whole point of the whole thing.  Number one, right up there.  And you know, how well can we love one another doing what we do when we gather?  That has to be the key.  Is what we do and how we meet the best way to love one another?  Maybe why this is why the believers met day by day in the temple courts AND ate in one another's homes, breaking bread.  A whole load of 'one anothers'.  There are a total of 54 'one anothers' in the New Testament.  And most of them are impractical things to acheive in the way we often do the church thing.

The second ole thing is that they gathered to listen to the apostle's teaching,  they prayed,  there were close enough to practically love one another, making sure that no-one amongst them was in need of anything.  There isn't even much of a mention of singing!  

And hey, these guys didn't have masterclasses in the latest evangelistic techniques because they had a story to tell, a Jesus to follow and a mission to live out.  They weren't scalp hunters, they were out in business to teach people to obey all that Jesus commanded them to teach.  Making disciples.  It was so natural, it didn't have a massive budget, but it did cost them their lives.  Following Jesus isn't an add on, it demands your all.

Friends, thats only the beginning, isn't it?  Don't we know that thed experience we have of the thing we call church is, well, less than full?  I love the body of Christ.  I'm passionate about it.  I believe in its fundamental role as the biggest change agent in society because of Jesus. 

But I'm certain about this thing:  I'm not convinced, along with Chan, that the thing we got is something we can legitimately call 'church' in the scriptural sense of the word.  its like the Irish joke "Yes, I know how to get to Dublin, but if I was going there I wouldn't start from here."

Trouble is we do start from 'here.'  How do we deal with church?  Is it able to adjust, shift, realign?  Will this, increasingly, be the thing that separates 'new church' from 'inherited church' - the shape of it?  Or, in this internet age, are we the generation who will see the next great reformation of the Christian church?  If the last one was about orthodoxy (believing the right stuff), will the next one be about orthopraxy (doing the right stuff)?  I hope so.  Bring it on (and count the cost)!