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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Friends of Happiness, Soldiers of Grace (What is the Salvation Army?)

If I was to ask you what is the Salvation Army, what would you say?

I guess it depends on your experiences of the Army or the context in which you have encountered us. To some we are a social services organisation, others a church, some people even see us as simply a musical group appearing on the streets at Christmas.

I suppose we are all of these in different ways and in different contexts. My favorite description of the Salvation Army is from our founder William Booth; this is from a speech which if anyone is interested can be found on YouTube:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AA0pCYKGbYI
(The audio is a little fuzzy due to the age of the recording but clear enough)

The description that Booth gave us at the start of this speech is "The Salvationist is the friend of happiness"

He goes on to talk about serving the Lord with gladness. I love this idea, the media and sometimes even other Christians would have us believe that Christianity is something to be mourned when in fact it is something that should bring great joy, we are forgiven and sanctified by God, we are His people and His friends surely this is something to be celebrated that should spur us on to a life of contentment, joy and ultimately freedom.

However, the Christian life does not end with our own happiness, but must continue with our service to a fallen world. Another quote from William Booth from his book 'in darkest England and the way out' published in 1890. This is a truly remarkable book, which although now out of print is available to download to tablets, phones and E-readers for free. if you want to know why Salvationists do what we do and what we believe, it's in these pages, as well as the foundation for modern social services.
So to the quote, the nature of Salvation service:

"We want a social lifeboat institution, a social lifeboat brigade, to snatch form the abyss those who, if left to themselves, will perish as miserably as a crew of a ship that founders in mid-ocean." 

I hope you will forgive a second quote from the same book on the nature of our fellow man:

"Let us recognise that we are our brother's keepers, and set to work, regardless of party distinctions and religious differences, to make this world of ours a little bit more like home for those whom we call our brethren."

This is the point of the Salvation Army, and really of the whole of Christianity, while we may fall and fail often as all we are is imperfect human beings, this is what we aim for to be joyful in our knowledge of and relationship with God, but to also be servants, without prejudice or judgement an Army that brings out the best in ourselves and in our fellow man. To be both: 'Friends of happiness and Soldiers of Grace'

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Sunday, 10 January 2016

Your story, Our story, His story

I have what can only be described as a borderline obsession with books, something that drives my wife to distraction, I love the epic stories that transport us to new worlds of adventure and excitement, from Epic fantasies like Lord of the Rings, or historical swashbuckling tales like the Three Musketeers, they have the power to inspire and transform.

But what about our own stories? I wonder if sometimes we think our stories are unimportant or not worth telling or just boring. We read stories of early saints and trailblazers and ask ourselves where we fit in to such an epic history of faith, power and adventure.

The stories and experiences that make up our lives and walk with God are far more important than we realise, as the title of this post says: they are YOUR stories as individuals, they are OUR stories as Christians and fellow pilgrims on the journey, and most importantly they are HIS stories...Christ's story; this didn't end on the cross or the resurrection or even the ascension, we are the body of Christ; wherever we go we take Christ with us and His story continues.

You may feel that your story isn't worth telling, but it is not just yours it is a story of humanity and whether you believe you play a large part or a small part, your place in the story is yours, and yours alone, God has placed you where you are for His purposes, only you can fulfill the role that God chose you for.

So what do we do with our stories and experiences?
1Peter 3:15 says:
'But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,'

Our stories are there to be shared and told to those we meet, not just great stories and acts of faith we have heard, but our own personal sometimes humble stories because they are our experiences; no one can take them away from you or tell you they didn't happen because they are yours.

If anyone reading this thinks they don't have a story to tell, then let me tell you that if you are a Christian, beloved of God and forgiven for your pasts and sins, from anything you could have ever done and restored and reclaimed by God, sanctified, a sinner called by name and a child of the King of kings...believe me; that is a powerful and inspiring story worth telling over and over again.