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Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Holy Communion & the Salvation Army

In been toying with the idea of this blog post for a while, and although I'm sure there are probably lots of different views on the issue of the Salvation Army and it's response to communion; I think it's worth exploring and discussing this issue, how it affects our Church, us as individuals; and how it has affected me personally in my walk and life as a Salvationist and the struggles and thought processes I have gone through to Justify the Army's position on this issue with my own faith and background.

An important disclaimer before we go any further: the views expressed in this blog post (and all others I write) are my own thoughts and reflections and do not necessarily represent the views of the Salvation Army.

- The Conflict

I don't come from a Salvation Army background, so Communion was always a natural part of Christianity, never any question in my mind that it was fundamental.

My Christian background was free Methodist... So not a million miles away from Salvation Army outlook and theology... Communion was there and received fairly regularly but not all the time and certainly not week in week out. So there wasn't a massive sudden shock when I began worshipping at the Army...just a developing realisation that it wasn't part of SA worship. If I'm honest this did make me a little uncomfortable and led me to spend quite a bit of time wrestling with this issue and soul searching to find justification and trying to decide whether this was an issue I could live with or whether it was a nonnegotiable issue for me. I'll admit to feeling quite uncomfortable whenever I heard or read the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper:

"And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke - 22:19

When I first started attending the Army I felt that here was a clear instruction that we were not following. And yes, that made me uncomfortable.

- The Army's position

This is probably the right time for a bit of clarification...the Army does not, has not and I pray never will have an official complaint or take an official stance against Holy Communion in and of itself. I have heard rumours of Officers or Corps taking a stand against it...rumours which I truly hope are not true.

The official stand point is that there is no issue with members or Soldiers (or Officers for that matter) receiving communion, simply that the SA does not consider outward sacraments necessary for Salvation and so doesn't offer it as part of worship. I think traditionally this boils down to an over reliance from some churches in William Booth's day of outward signs and ceremonies rather than inward holiness and sanctification. (There is an argument perhaps that we have replaced the traditional outward signs and sacraments with our own traditions and become over reliant on them instead... But that's a discussion for another day and another blog post perhaps)

- The resolution

I hope that by sharing my thought processes and how I resolved this issue someone else might find their own clarification, justification and peace with issue.

Once again though, here's the disclaimer: these are my thought processes, my justification and does not necessarily represent the views, opinions and expressions of the Salvation Army (and certainly not the views and opinions of every Salvationist)

Really the key from the start of my questioning of the this, was the Army's acceptance of the principle of Holy Communion, this gave me the space to consider it and work through it in my own time and in my own way. Had the Army taken a stance against the teaching and principle of Communion and told me that no one should receive it I would have found it much harder to justify and resolve the conflict.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of communion, what form should it take, and how we keep the spirit of communion alive. By all that I mean remembering Christ's sacrifice, and binding ourselves together through one love, one mission and one Lord. It's vital, if and when we do receive Communion that we do it in the right spirit and with the right heart, not because it's what's expected or what helps us fit in...but truly in rememberance of Christ and His sacrifice.

I came to the conclusion that Holy Communion is about more than bread and wine, more than tradition,  more than ceremony, it is bigger and greater than ourselves...too big to be contained by anything on is a state of mind and state of being, represented by an outward sacrament. We honour it by being and remaining in communion with each other, by loving each other and serving each other.

Please don't misunderstand... I certainly don't think that their are no benefits to Holy communion, I think it is a brilliant expression of Faith, commitment and remembrance. It can deepen faith, connect us to each other and to Christ and I firmly and passionately believe it has a place in modern Christianity and modern Salvationism...I'm not going to suggest in what form or how often at this stage.

I've written this blog post, I hope sensitively, because I think for Salvationists it's important to question the Salvation Army's response and position to Holy Communion and how that fits into a key part of scripture and our own faith and theology, not for arguments sake, or to rock the boat but to truly understand why we as Salvationists do what we do and believe what we believe...Salvationists are a strange bunch I think you'll agree...but a lack of certain traditions and sacraments doesn't make us any less called, devoted and committed to Christ and to the mission of the Church.

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Monday, 26 June 2017

Faith and Music in the Salvation Army

There are lots of things I admire about the Salvation Army and it's musical groups. One biggie is the partnership and friendship that is formed between these various musical groups in different parts of the UK (and the rest of the world). I love the way music, friendship and mission go hand in hand.

My first big experience of this was shortly after joining Coventry City Songsters (Adult Choir) last year. When we travelled to Bolton Salvation Army for a weekend of music and worship.
(For more of my reflections on this please check out a recent blog post entitled 'Reflections of a part time Pete': )

Last weekend (24/06/17) Coventry City Salvation Army was blessed by the visit of Swindon Citadel's Songster brigade. The energy that comes from a visit like this is incredible. It's like a visit from family...which I guess they are. Brothers and sisters in Christ of course... But also brothers and sisters of the Salvation Army and fellow Songsters. Particularly enjoyable were the pieces we sang as a massed group...both brigades brought their own Flavour and style in our individual pieces but the joint pieces I think somehow bonded us... Knowing that both groups had individually been learning and preparing the same pieces then coming together to present them as a single united brigade. This weekend has really made me think about and reflect on the Salvation Army and it's relationship with music and service.

- The puritan heart

But where does this music fit into faith and practical help and service of the communities we live in? This has always been a concern of mine; that the Church (across all denominations) should focus it's primary resources on outward practical help and less on the impractical aesthetic things like stained glass windows, nice buildings, and even music, I think I'm probably a puritan at heart...well I'm man enough to admit that at least in part I'm wrong... I look to the famous Gospel account of Jesus being anointed.

"Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” - John 12:1-8

Jesus stands out from His peers, the feet washing image we usually have of Jesus is reversed... Because of course, as much as Jesus came to serve, He is still a servant KING. He is above and greater than those around Him because obviously He is God incarnate. And deserves to be raised higher than anyone else. Which is why Jesus is not a true socialist as some would suggest (a discussion for another day perhaps).

Worship is about touching the divine...allowing us to experience something more, bringing ourselves into God's presence and honouring Him. Where I am wrong somewhat in my puritanical stance is that I think we lose something when we try to be entirely practical. I will go as far as to say that I think some Salvation Army buildings can be a little overly 'practical' which I understand and accept... But do we risk putting Jesus in a box of being a place of grey practicality and miss the experience of trying to 'touch the divine'?

Strangely I think this is only true to a point...yes some of our buildings (especially newer buildings) may be a bit overly practical and not the glorious old churches with stained glass windows and huge columns but I think the difference is that as Salvationists and Christians once you invite Christ into your heart the divine rests WITHIN us, so to touch the divine we don't need outward signs but only the faith and discipline to bring it out of us and spread it 'inwards - out' rather than 'upwards - down'

But that being said I do sometimes feel we miss something by focusing so much on practicalities and less on art, poetry etc that truly helps us express the inexpressible

- A musical Army

And so, we come to the Army and it's relationship with is a practical tool that helps give us identity and shows people who we are and I think can make a real impact. the obvious example is the Gowans and Larsson musical 'Hosea'

And the Song 'Down the street' which tells the story of 'Light fingered Freddy' who keeps trying to break the law but is constantly interrupted by the band of the Salvation Army:

"Down the street comes the band of the Salvation Army, with trumpets tabrets and trombones.
They stay and they play and they beat out the message, in quite unmistakable tones,
And it kind of takes hold of a man,
In a kind of a way naught else can,
And you're glued to the spot, if you like it or not, and you just kind of alter your plan"

(Really worth a listen/watch if you haven't experienced this musical)

So practically it's a great tool, but spiritually as well, it helps us. both the lyrics and the tunes help us say and feel what perhaps is difficult to express. It inspires beauty and inspiration, makes us feel joyful, humble, inspired... etc. It talks to our souls and somehow lightens our hearts, and I think, allows to see and experience something of the is a true, valuable and key area of ministry and service... It brightens up a grey world, and yes it may not actually feed or clothe someone. But as a joint ministry the Salvation Army works to feeds the soul and clothes the heart as well as feeding and clothing the body, both are necessary for real Salvation.

It is a real calling and mission to lighten people's burdens both spiritually and practically and build God's kingdom on earth...I think that's the true purpose of Salvation Army music and why it works so well alongside faith and practical ministry.

 - Synergy of Salvation

To say I'm not musical would be an understatement, but even I can see how the synergy between Faith and music strengthens both the bond between our musical sections and the mission of the Salvation Army, I think it's a challenge to balance out practical musicality

 and faith...yes the music is to honour God, so of course we must work as hard as we can to be the best we can, but God is pleased first and foremost by our relationship with and service of Him.

"For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." Psalm 51:16,17

It is this synergy between all the areas of ministry and service that truly make the Salvation Army what it is and what it is called to be... Faithful, practical, servants, disciplined, worshipful, compassionate, authoritative, leaders, musical, friends, prayerful.

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Disclaimer: the opinions and comments expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the Salvation Army

Thursday, 22 June 2017

'Christ's ultimate boot camp!' A study of Mark 6

The world and the Church we live and serve in today is shaped by the heroes and champions of the past, and those who have inspired, influenced, guided and trained them...

12 such heroes answered Christ's call to serve, to follow, to leave all that they had and loved behind, and enrol in a lifelong and life changing Leadership training course...Christ's ultimate boot camp!

Throughout their service and collective ministry and mission they would be tested, tempted, threatened and in the case of most of them...Executed!

Ultimately because of their commitment and training; and the guidance, strength and example of Christ they would become an unstoppable force that built the Church and shaped our lives and worship today...with one notable exception they would become a team of true heroes.

"The Avengers. It's what we call ourselves. Sorta like a team. Earth's Mightiest Heroes type thing." - Tony Stark/Iron Man (Avengers Assemble)

- Building the team

Mark 6 is a great example of Jesus' Leadership and team building style...this was not the distant and unapproachable 'boss' barking orders, or the micro managing, over the shoulder nit picker, or even the kind but ineffectual 'friend to all' telling the Apostles what they wanted to hear.

Here was a true leader, with real authority, who saw value and potential in those He led. He was of course not afraid of getting His hands dirty... Of being a powerful and active force, serving, healing and teaching and doing all the wonderful, amazing and miraculous things He did. But Christ knew the benefits and necessity of building His team, training, guiding and preparing them to continue the work He began, to remain faithful, strong and effective after His earthly ministry was completed.

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other" John F Kennedy

- On the job training

The beginning of Mark 6, we see Jesus gathering His Apostles around Him and putting them to work...clear instructions and guidance, but it was clear that this was their mission, their chance to fly the nest and show what they were made of.

"Calling the Twelve to Him, He began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were His instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff - no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them." - Mark 6:7-13

After returning from this mission, feeling pumped up, excited about what they've achieved, filling Jesus in  on all their success (verse 30). Jesus has a new challenge:

"Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to Him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But He answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to Him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” “How many loaves do you have?” He asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five - and two fish.” Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand." - Mark 6:31-44

They may not have succeeded in the challenge Jesus set them to feed the 5000 but they did get to learn some great lessons about compassion, teaching and maybe not a great victory for them but still solid training and teaching... They were still far from complete and very much works in progress. And there is certainly value for the Apostles and us in this kind of training and teaching.

"It's all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you're properly trained." - Queen Elizabeth II

- Ultimate team building exercise

Verse 45 onwards is an account of Jesus walking on the water:

"Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately He spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then He climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed,"

The thing that jumped out at me while reading this passage recently during a leadership training course was Jesus' insistence on the Disciples getting into the boat alone, while He watched on...perhaps the Apostles needed a crisis like the storm, to learn to work together, to become the team that they would need to be, to succeed in the days, weeks, months and years ahead...Jesus knew the benefits of experience and of trial by fire.

"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt

If you've seen the first Avengers movie you'll remember that all the heroes needed a reason and focus to put aside squabbles and arguments to work together... In that film it was the death of a mutual friend that inspired them to be what the world needed them to be...exactly what was on the horizon for the Apostles.

But of course they were never really alone...Jesus stood watching, waiting to see how they worked together, what they'd learnt about teamwork and faith...when He was needed He was there...they didn't have to go to where He was, He met them right where they were and right where they needed them.

Developing ourselves and developing future leaders is vital for the future and success of the Church. Discipleship, learning and development must be a priority. I recently posted about growing future leaders, based on my experience on a training weekend.

This used the tagline which I used in that post and really is an appropriate end and final challenge in this post:

"To be led more by Jesus, to lead more like Jesus, to lead more to Jesus."

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Monday, 19 June 2017

'I'm a Christian... Get me out of here': Part 4: Shoulder to Shoulder

I've finally gotten around to finishing off this 4 part series 'I'm a Christian...Get me out of here' or 'Surviving the Church'

Here's 'Shoulder to Shoulder'

The previous posts in this series have all focused on our differences; our different backgrounds, opinions etc

Part 1- 'Thrown together':

Part 2- 'Bigger than Jesus':

Part 3- 'The one and only you':

The most important thing about our relationships with each other as Christians, is not what divides us, but the things that bind us together, our mission, purpose & the God that call's and loves us all.

There's nothing new in any of this I suppose...but that begs the question: why do Christians spend so much time and effort fighting and arguing with each other?

The obvious example for me to look at, is the lives and ministry's of the 12 disciples....12 guys, 12 opinions & 12 hard heads.

In  Luke's Gospel there are 2 separate arguments about the same thing...who will be the greatest; (Luke 9:46 & Luke 22:24).
The second argument during the last supper itself... Twice Jesus has to play referee between these guys, arguing about petty stuff.

Well, at least we're in good company when we act petty, if the Church fathers, chosen and called personally by Christ couldn't resist arguing then I suppose we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves.

The challengevi believe, l is to do better, to evolve beyond silly arguments. To be more than we are, to grow and become more Christ-like.

I don't know if anybody has seen this post online about 25 bizarre and supposedly true reasons why people have left the Church/had huge arguments, but I thought it might be worth sharing... Funny, yes but a little sad as well:

1. Argument over the appropriate length of the worship pastor's beard.

2. Fight over whether or not to build a children's playground or to use the land for a cemetery.

3. A deacon accusing another deacon of sending an anonymous letter, and deciding to settle the matter in the parking lot.

4. A church dispute of whether or not to install restroom stall dividers in the women's restroom.

5. A church argument and vote to decide if a clock in the worship center should be removed.

6. A 45-minute heated argument over the type of filing cabinet to purchase: black or brown; 2, 3, or 4 drawers.

7. A fight over which picture of Jesus to put in the foyer.

8. A petition to have all church staff clean shaven.

9. A dispute over whether the worship leader should have his shoes on during the service.

10. A big church argument over the discovery that the church budget was off $0.10. Someone finally gave a dime to settle the issue.

11. A dispute in the church because the Lord's Supper had cran/grape juice instead of grape juice.

12. Business meeting arguments about whether the church should purchase a weed eater or not. It took two business meetings to resolve.

13. Arguments over what type of green beans the church should serve.

14. Two different churches reported fights over the type of coffee. In one of the churches, they moved from Folgers to a stronger Starbucks brand. In the other church, they simply moved to a stronger blend. Members left the church in the latter example.

15. Major conflict when the youth borrowed a crockpot that had not been used for years.

16. An argument on whether the church should allow deviled eggs at the church meal.

17. An argument over who has the authority to buy postage stamps for the church.

18. A disagreement over using the term "potluck" instead of "pot blessing"

19. A church member was chastised because she brought vanilla syrup to the coffee server. It looked too much like liquor.

20. An argument in church over who has access to the copy machine.

21. Some church members left the church because one church member hid the vacuum cleaner from them. It resulted in a major fight and split.

22. An argument over whether to have gluten-free communion bread or not.

23. A dispute over whether the church should allow people to wear black t-shirts, since black is the color of the devil.

24. A fight over whether or not to sing "Happy Birthday" each week.

25. An argument over whether the fake, dusty plants should be removed from the podium.

Here's the link to the original article:

I don't want to be too negative but I think it's important that we are aware of where we fall short so we can learn from our mistakes and move forward.

Sometimes however, we do work together, we do put our differences aside and work together... The result can change lives.

In my hometown of Coventry, I have been involved with a winter night shelter programme. This only works because a group of churches of which mine is one, have got together to host a group of homeless people on one night of the week during the winter months, this means, a bed, a meal a friendly ear etc.
It is not perfect, perhaps it could do more. But it is changing lives and serving the needs of our community in a practical way...there is a mixture of denominations, attitudes, outlooks and ideas but together we have achieved what each individual Church would struggle to accomplish.
Standing Shoulder to Shoulder we are stronger than any of us would be by ourselves.

7 Churches and religious groups, plus extras that provided cover, volunteers, food etc have made a real difference to their local communities.
12 angry, confused, argumentative human and imperfect men built the Church.

Imagine what you, your Church, and the wider, worldwide Church could do if we truly put aside our arguments, weaknesses, backgrounds and pettiness aside and stood 'Shoulder to Shoulder'.

I would love to hear your feedback and comments on this blog, and of course feel free to sign up with your email address to avoid missing new posts (if viewing on a mobile device you may need to click on 'view web version')

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Disclaimer: the opinions and comments expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the Salvation Army

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Reflections of a 'Part time Pete'

Salvation Army Songsters are a unique breed...talented, Spiritual, faithful and above all committed... And then there's 'Part time Pete'.

I have had the undeserved honour of being a member of my local Songster brigade (Choir) for a little over a year. This seemed a natural time to reflect and take stock of the journey so far.

I have probably earned the nickname and reputation that has been given to me (by a certain songster who will remain nameless) as 'part time Pete'. not through choice I should probably commitments limit how often I can make practice, and if I'm honest some lack of organisation on my part...and there was that one 'gig' I missed because I fell asleep... But the less said about that the better!

As I look back over the last year or so, I think about the lessons I have learnt about the group and about myself, I am struck by the realisation of how much each individual brings to the group, and how without each one the group would be that much poorer and weaker. I think also about how much I have gained and learnt and the inspiration and encouragement that comes from being with such an amazing group of people.

If I'm honest, I do sometimes question my place and value as part of this group...I suppose I should remember to take my own advice from my last blog post...'The one and only you!':

The obvious highlight for me came right at the beginning of this first year as a songster...our visit as a brigade to Bolton Salvation Army Corps. Great weekend, great people and great fellowship... But a great deal of work!

Things brings me to something that Salvationists will recognise and probably look on with at least some degree of fondness...Billeting!
I don't really know how this started, but it has become a tradition that members of visiting musical sections are hosted overnight by members of the Corps (Church) they are visiting.
I must say I was very blessed with lovely, caring and generous hosts...although I have heard 'interesting' stories about what can happen... If you have any stories to share, feel free to use the comments section.

What have I learnt in my first year?
Well, I've learnt that Spirituality and practice go hand in hand, I've learnt just how hard Songsters have to work, I've learnt that the strength and potential of the group is in the individuals that make up the group, that love, support and encourage each other and bring their own individuality, eccentricities and gifts to it.

So...a year on, still undeserving, still a little out of place and still a 'Part time Pete'. But still Inspired, encouraged and lifted up by this amazing group that I am honoured to be part of.

"He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." - 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11

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Friday, 16 June 2017

'I'm a Christian...Get me out of here!' Part 3: The One and only You

Part 3/4 of 'I'm a Christian... Get me out of here' or Surviving the Church.

'The one and only you!'

Wherever you Church community meets to worship, however big or small it is I can guarantee one is made of the same building blocks...weak, imperfect and flawed human beings....but your Church, wherever it is, whatever form it takes; is unique. It has one thing that no other Church in the world has you!

You are a living stone, and an amazing and unique part of the fabric and building blocks of your Church.

"As you come to Him, the living Stone - rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him. you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2:4-5

So far in this series I've focused on the different backgrounds and reasons that bring us  together in a Church community, as well the mission and focus of the Church.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Today's post is a chance to look inwards at our individual places in the Church, the things that make us unique and vital to the Church's Mission.

I know that some reading this may feel that their place in the Church doesn't matter or that they are unimportant, that they don't bring anything to the table...if that's how you feel; I understand, I really do...but it's simply not true. These are lies others tell us, or worse that we tell ourselves; this way of thinking is dangerous and keeps us from being the very best that we can be and from reaching our God given potential.

I don't know if you're familiar with the great Dr Seuss of 'Cat in the Hat' and 'Green Eggs & Ham' Fame...but here's a well known quote about being unique:

"Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You."

Or from a slightly more contemporary source; the Song 'I am the one and only.'

"No one can be myself like I can
For this job, I'm the best man
And while this may be true
You are the one and only you

I am the one and only
Nobody I'd rather be
I am the one and only
You can't take that away from me"

No one is the same as you, and no call is the same, you occupy a truly unique place in your Church and community, one that no one else can take or fulfill...that's a comforting thought... But a challenge too; to be the best you can possibly be at whatever your called to be and do. To not let others sell you short or put you down, because God himself places you where He wants you...and surely His opinion is what matters. That's not to say don't take Notice of guidance and advice but remember where it is you've come from and who calls you.

Now you may say you've not been called, won't be called and can't be used by God...of course this isn't true, I hope you'll forgive me using another quote, one that answers this question, and is something I often find myself returning to. This is from the founder of the Salvation Army; William Booth:

"Not called!' did you say?

'Not heard the call,' I think you should say.

Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father's house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face — whose mercy you have professed to obey — and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world."

Well, will you?

Or will you let fears, anxieties and others lies get in the way and stop you being all you can be, and doing all you can do? As ever the choice belongs to you. And the decision could affect the entire future of the Church and it's no pressure then!

Always remain focused on who you are, where you come from, where you're going but above all remember your legacy as a child of God, beloved, guided, valued and called.

Look out for the final part: 'Shoulder to 'Shoulder' coming soon

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Thursday, 15 June 2017

'I'm a Christian... Get me out of here!' Part 2: Bigger than Jesus!

This is Part 2 of a planned 4 part series 'I'm a Christian, Get me out of here.' Or Surviving the Church.

It's been a few weeks since part 1: 'Thrown together'

Just a quick recap...basically it was about how we all attend Church for a variety of reasons and from a variety of backgrounds, and must some how learn to put our differences and squabbles aside to work together for the common mission and purpose of the Church.

So...Bigger than Jesus.
I've been thinking about how the Church (and us as individuals) can sometimes be...shall we say less than Christ-like...

How does this affect the mission and purpose of the Church? What do people think of when they hear the word 'Church'? Does Jesus immediately spring to mind? Or do they think of squabbles, abuse, ineffectiveness, cucumber sandwiches, judgement? Has the Church itself and it's shortcomings become so prevalent that they have obscured Jesus...have we in essence become bigger (or at least more prominent) than Jesus.

As I've been writing this post a tragic event has happened in London...a catastrophic fire has destroyed a large block of flats in West London...the cause is currently unknown but many people have lost their homes, still more have been evacuated from the surrounding areas and tragically several people have lost their lives with many more critically injured...their have of course been. many reactions... Sorrow, anger, heartbreak but also compassion, love and self-sacrifice. People have opened their homes and their hearts to those affected; the emergency services have of course risen to the challenge and performed above and beyond the call of duty...many Churches and faith groups have mobilised as well; providing shelter, clothes, food, money, emergency contact centres etc, they have prominently displayed their love and compassion for those in need in their communities. All denominations, religions have stood together to do what they can to ease the suffering around them. They are making a real tangible difference to the situation...They are taking Christ in word and deed, and proclaiming that Jesus is bigger than them, bigger than their individual squabbles and politics (and even not knowing the churches I can pretty much guarantee that they have these issues) and of course that Jesus is bigger than this terrible and tragic event.

Some Churches, have a clear and strong history, and of course traditions (beyond our shared history) that define and focus where they have come from and where they are going. The challenge is to remember the past, where we've come from, the lessons we have leant along the way and of course look to the future, to new challenges and victories but while also remembering that Jesus is first and infinitely more important than anything else... Bigger than service, bigger than politics, bigger than squabbles, bigger than who's sitting in who's seat, bigger than traditions, bigger than music styles, bigger than the flower rota, bigger than the leader, bigger than all distractions.

So remember that Jesus comes first; always and forever. Remember His place and our place, and of course remember that what we focus on and prioritise is the essence of who we are.

Will we be a Church and community that reflects and follows the mission of Christ... A mission of love and service? Or will we obscure Him, cloak ourselves in politics and squabbles, hide Him away from those that need Him?

As always the choice is yours!

"Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." - Philippians 2:9-11

Look out for Part 3: 'Uniquely Called / The one and only you' coming soon.

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Tuesday, 13 June 2017

How to Grow a Leader...

Are Leaders discovered, born, designed.... Or are they grown?

At the weekend my wife and I joined an amazing group of people from around the Salvation Army's West Midlands Division (UK Territory) on a leadership training course, which as you can see from the picture was called 'Growing Leaders'

Now some of you out there might be natural Leaders, you may have all the skills, talents and gifts handed directly to you from God. For lots of us though, it can be a long and difficult struggle to grow and develop, it can take time, energy, prayer, study and great encouragers who believe in us and are prepared to take the time to guide and walk beside us. I consider myself truly blessed and honoured to have been supported and guided by the incredible, Spirit filled prayer warriors that have walked beside me this far.

How are Leaders grown? Some would probably say: 'Trial by fire' or 'Sink or swim' others might say prayer and study. The truth is probably something of each. Trials refine and strengthen us, but to find the strength to face and overcome them we have to do the groundwork of study, prayer and discipline to help us always remain in God's presence and strength.

So, back to the weekend; set apart from the busyness of life and work each delegate arrived with different thoughts, hopes and expectations and each of us I think, signed up for this course for different reasons. Myself it was to help me grow, develop and prepare for future ministry and service. The weekend was filled with study, prayer and reflection. The weekend left me reflecting on my journey so far, how I've got here, those that have walked beside me, carried me, those that have inspired me and of course how far I still have to travel.

Many people have taught me and inspired me, lots of them just by being themselves and being an example. I guess most of them probably don't know how much they teach and inspire me. But each of them have helped build and grow me as a person and as a Christian.

Now, growth is sometimes time consuming and painful, but it is necessary, I think the key to growth is a decision to grow, to build and to continually learn.

There are leaders and heroes inside all of us, if you've ever been broken down, rejected, hurt or just basically been told that you're not good enough; don't believe it! You have the potential and spirit within you to be all that you can be, and more importantly to become what God wants you to be.

I often look back and am surprised how far I have come, and I wonder what the biggest factor to my growth has been. I always seem to come back to a Bible verse that has become a real focus point of my Christian life and walk:

"Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me." - Psalm 144: 1-2

That is the biggest thing I think that this course has taught me...That God is at the heart of all my growth, development and inspiration. Among the many things I have learned this is what will remain with me the most, that it is God who makes all things grow...including reluctant and unprepared Leaders like myself who need God's encouragement, presence and occasional kick up the backside to be the very best I can be.

"So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." 1Corinthians 3:7

And finally here's the tagline, focus point and motto of the weekend's course which has inspired me and will I hope stay with me in all I do:

"To be led more by Jesus, to lead more like Jesus, to lead more to Jesus."

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Monday, 15 May 2017

'I'm a Christian...Get me out of here' Part 1: Thrown together

Sometimes being a Christian and belonging to a fellowship can feel like we've been thrown together, it can be trying and frustrating and can make us want to turn on our heels and run away screaming out: 'I'm a Christian...get me out of here!!!'

Most of us will either have watched or at least be aware the reality TV show 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here' if not, the basic premise is that a group of celebrities are placed together in the middle of a jungle away from civilisation with basic food, facilities and no contact with the outside world. They have no previous contact with each other and are forced to work together to cook, empty the very basic and unpleasant toilet and complete tasks to earn food and rewards. Obviously they don't always get on...arguments, stress, aggravation, pettiness, can take over and bring cooperation and compromise to a standstill... Sound familiar?

Everyone who attends a church does so, for a variety of reasons...geographical considerations, a family who attends, a deep rooted belief in what that particular Church practices or believes, perhaps a fallout or argument from another church. In my particular circumstance it was a girlfriend (now a wife) who first invited me to my Church.

We also want and need different things from our church; some seek teaching, a challenge, safety, comfort friendships, to be part of a community or something bigger than ourselves, some seek inspiration, an outlet for creativity, or perhaps just a place to belong.

However we arrive and for whatever reason we remain...we're stuck with each other! We have to balance our personalities, desires, agendas, hopes, dreams etc while also trying to work together to keep the Church working, moving forward and completing our mission to bring people to Christ. Like the TV show 'I'm a celebrity' we do tend to struggle from time to time.

This is the first in a planned four part series: 'I'm a Christian, get me out of here!' Or 'surviving the Church'

I want to give encouragement that if you find Church membership difficult or stressful, if you've ever thought about just walking away, that you are not alone. And I want to try and help give you strength and confidence as we all try and navigate, survive and thrive in a minefield of politics, unspoken rules and expectations surrounded by people who are self-serving, lost, and a little broken... And that means all of us.

But regardless... Here we are, all thrown together, from different backgrounds, ideals, experiences, personalities etc. One purpose, one mission, but a ridiculous amount of different ideas of how to get there. We are not always going to get on, we will fall out; sometimes spectacularly, we will act childish and immature and occasionally play games and point score... But we are all far from perfect, when thrown together we have to learn to deal with all this and each other, sometimes this will mean being the bigger person, looking past each other's faults, and making allowances for each other's weaknesses, and of course asking each other for forgiveness when we mess up.

Look out for part 2: 'Bigger than Jesus'.

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Thursday, 23 February 2017

Lent challenge: A World of Prayer

I wonder what you have decided to give up/take up for Lent this year? Perhaps it's chocolate or Facebook (giving up, not taking up I hope). Or perhaps you've decided to add a daily devotional or Bible reading to your weekly schedule.

I've decided to spend this Lent (starting of course on March 1st) praying specifically for the Salvation Army and wider Church around the world, using the 5 International Zones in which the Salvation Army's worldwide work is organised as a guide and focus.

These Zones are:
•Americas & Caribbean
•South Asia
•South Pacific & East Asia

I thought maybe this idea might appeal to someone else, so I'm posting it here in case someone else feels led to spend Lent praying for The Salvation Army and wider Church around the world.

If my calculations are correct, then praying specifically for one Zone a day would mean that each one would be prayed for eight times. So it struck me that splitting Lent into eight, five day sections would give me the chance to specifically focus on eight different areas of ministry for each Zone:

•Troubled Communities and national challenges.
•Individual Territories and commands
•Social Services

So the idea would be to, for example spend the first five days praying for Leadership (development, Calling, active Officers/ministers etc) taking one Zone a day, the following five days; discipleship, then Mission and so on.

It's not just about praying for these places in a vague way, but specifically getting to know these Zones and Territories, that might be quite unfamiliar to many of us. It will take a little research, perhaps asking questions, and trying to understand what the issues, problems, challenges etc are for each of these Zones in the above ministry focus areas, I'm hoping that on a personal level this Lent challenge connects me to the wider Salvation Army and Church and helps me understand what's going on around the world, and also of course that we would be connected better to each other, heart, mind and soul. 

The following Salvation Army Facebook Groups may be quite helpful for information and to open dialogue, I'm a member of each of them & will post this and subsequent posts on these groups. I would suppose that these groups contain representatives from most if not all Zones, who would be happy to answer any questions they can:

I've also included the website for the Salvation Army International Headquarters which provides lots of helpful information, including a breakdown of Territories and Commands within each Zone:

And of course the new Salvation Army Yearbook which is available to buy now; including in eBook format.

For my Part I'll try and add a blog post at the beginning of each 5 day period discussing briefly each ministry focus area.

I've also included on here a schedule breakdown of the prayer focus for each day; feel free to copy, paste, write down, download or whatever format makes it easier to follow.

1 - Leadership: Africa
2 - Leadership: Americas & Caribbean
3 - Leadership: Europe
4 - Leadership: South Asia
5 - Leadership: South Pacific & East Asia
6 - Discipleship: Africa
7 - Discipleship: Americas & Caribbean
8 - Discipleship: Europe
9 - Discipleship: South Asia
10 - Discipleship: South Pacific & East Asia
11 - Vision: Africa
12 - Vision: Americas & Caribbean
13 - Vision: Europe
14 - Vision: South Asia
15 - Vision: South Pacific & East Asia
16 - Mission: Africa
17 - Mission: Americas & Caribbean
18 - Mission: Europe
19 - Mission: South Asia
20 - Mission: South Pacific & East Asia
21 - Fellowship: Africa
22 - Fellowship: Americas & Caribbean
23 - Fellowship: Europe
24 - Fellowship: South Asia
25 - Fellowship: South Pacific & East Asia
26 - National Challenges: Africa
27 - National Challenges: Americas & Caribbean
28 - National Challenges: Europe
29 - National Challenges: South Asia
30 - National Challenges: South Pacific & East Asia
31 - Individual Territories and Commands: Africa
1 - Individual Territories and Commands: Americas & Caribbean
2 - Individual Territories and Commands: Europe
3 - Individual Territories and Commands: South Asia
4 - Individual Territories and Commands: South Pacific & East Asia
5 - Social Services: Africa
6 - Social Services: Americas & Caribbean
7 - Social Services: Europe
8 - Social Services: South Asia
9 - Social Services: South Pacific & East Asia

If anybody is interested in this Lent prayer focus idea, and needs additional information or help, feel free to contact via my Facebook page (details below) or comment either here or in whichever group you see this post.
Look out for additional posts during Lent with more specific guidance on each Ministry Focus area and the respective Zones, and a more focused post(s) for Holy Week itself. To avoid missing a post you may want to sign up to this blog with your email address (see below).

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Disclaimer: Although this blog is written from the perspective of a member of the Salvation Army, the views, comments, opinions etc may not necessarily represent the views, policies etc of the wider Salvation Army.

Monday, 20 February 2017

An Army on its knees

I'm sure you've heard it said an Army marches on its stomach but this Army marches on its knees...

Our mission 
Sinceit's beginning, The Salvation Army has been walking a tightrope between Faith and Action...a fall to either side would destroy the very fabric of what the Army is, and was raised up to be. It's Mission has always been a double edged sword...'Hand to man' of course but never neglecting the 'Heart to God'.

I guess some would argue that there is no conflict between these two ideals...that service and action come out of a deep faith and eternal responsibility. Of course I agree with this, but, is it ever possible to really focus on these two things with equal determination and dedication? Christ Himself stated that we cannot serve two masters in Matthew 6:24.

Church or charity?
If we're not careful, we can become so wrapped up in meeting physical needs that we become little more than yet another charitable organisation.  'Fine', some people might say, 'what does it matter why the Salvation Army does what it does?' 

It matters because the things we do have eternal consequences, and it matters because we are not just a charitable organisation; we are a religious order with a divine commission. I know that some people's only experience of the Salvation Army may be 'secular employees' that may or may not have a faith; perhaps this is the problem, The Army has in some ways become two separate organisations: secular and religious. Although of course, at it's heart the Army still remains a religious organisation.

We have to watch the dangers of becoming better known for charitable acts than faith, where faith is seen as separate or even secondary. Perhaps in today's world this is unavoidable; the need for regulation and accountability in charities means that professional employees and methods are needed particularly in an organisation the size of the Salvation Army. Yes it's acceptable that employees can be religious but it almost seems like society 'tolerates' the religious side of the Army because of the benefits of what we do. Our priorities have perhaps become unbalanced, maybe we have become to big or unmanageable? I don't know what the answer is, but it is vital we remember who we are and where we came from.

The opposite side of the problem is when faith without action takes over. When we focus on the 'religious side' of the Army and neglect our mission to 'Serve Suffering Humanity'. This has become a problem with the wider Church, or at least the reputation of the wider Church; that sitting and singing songs is all we are good for; that we do not care about the world outside our walls and that we only exist to make everyone follow our rules while excluding everyone who resists or doesn't fit in.

The balance
In between these two issues lies one of my favourite words: 'Balance'.
Balance between who we are and what we do, balance between serving our fellow man physically and spiritually and doing all this while nourishing our own spiritual lives and walk with Christ.

My own Corps is not always great at hitting the balance. We are a very busy Corps, and lots of people spend lots of time doing lots of things. We need (and I personally need) to constantly refocus to look past the busyness and constantly ground ourselves. Just a brief example from my Corps of one way we try to do that is the way in which musical practice's are organised; specifically from my experience as a songster I have found that it is vital to balance practice time to ensure we are the best we can be, as well as devotional time which provides focus and inspiration.

I love this quote from William Booth about this idea of balance:

"Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again; until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other."

Praying with all your might! 
The idea of Faith and action being indistinguishable from action is brilliant, and I think this is what we should be aiming for; a strong, grounded, disciplined faith that naturally spreads out into the world as action. But strong, grounded, disciplined faith does not happen overnight, it requires constant work, study and above all prayer. Which of course William Booth also has a lot to say about:

"You must pray with all your might. That does not mean saying your prayers, or sitting gazing about in church or chapel with eyes wide open while someone else says them for you. It means fervent, effectual, untiring wrestling with God. This kind of prayer be sure the devil and the world and your own indolent, unbelieving nature will oppose. They will pour water on this flame."

Discipline and discipleship are absolutely vital...there is no getting around that. Bible study and prayer are often the first things to be neglected in a busy church or corps, but it is when we're busy they become even more important! 

Your responsibility
Perhaps you have found that your church has been losing focus, or neglecting discipleship, if this is the case ask God for help, ask Him what you personally can do to inspire a refocus and recommitment to put discipleship, discipline, prayer and study back at the centre of all things where they belong... don't mourn or despair in the loss of focus... get up, get out, get on your knees and do something about it! 

Your church needs YOU to be a light, to inspire and to set the example, prioritize discipleship, prayer and study, it is not enough to wish or to hope or even to moan about the loss or lack of discipleship...if we are to be all that we can be we have to start putting all these things first...all that we do; all the great social work and fundraising is nothing if we are not growing in faith and above all growing closer to God!

This then is the final thought to leave today's post on:
Look for the balance, work for the balance. Do not become so busy you lose focus on why you are doing what you're doing. We need to remember the two part Mission of the Salvation Army and every Christian.... 'Heart to God, Hand to Man'. Both are vital and together they make an unstoppable force for good. We must be relevant, meeting modern needs with expertise and professionalism but first and foremost we are a religious movement commissioned, Inspired and equipped by God...but we have to stay connected with the source of our strength and keep our hearts focused on Christ. The more we do, the more we move out of our own strength, and the more we must rely on Christ; and the more God's light will shine in us, through us and of course out of us!

Perhaps this should be a reminder to the Church, and all of us:

"Half an hour's meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed." - St Francis De Sales

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Disclaimer: the opinions and comments expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the Salvation Army

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A Place to Call Home

There are some really special places in this world, places that mean a great deal for many different reasons... this post is about perhaps the most important of these Spiritual church...

A week or so ago I published a post entitled 'Where it all Began', talking a little about my first real Church, the encouragement and inspiration that helped sow the seeds of my spiritual growth and development; check it out by clicking here

Today's post is a bit of a sequel. Not where I started, but where I am now, the importance of finding a spiritual home, a place to belong, some of the problems that can happen, the fallouts the failures and why it's worth persevering with a faith community and the Salvation Army we call them 'Corps' but 'Church' is just as relevant & I think these issues are just as important regardless of which denomination you belong to and identify with.

My Church
Here's just a brief overview of myself, my church and where we are as a fellowship and family.

I started attending my home Corps (Coventry City, UK) about 13 years ago-ish. I've been a Senior Soldier for 12 years this July. (At the time of writing) I started attending during a strange time for the Corps. We were in between buildings, as we were waiting for the construction of a new building to replace the old one which had become unfit for purpose. So the whole Corps was in a bit of a limbo situation, sharing a building with another Church community.

Eventually our brand spanking new building opened in mid 2005, followed shortly by a change in Officers (ministers).

So a new home, new leaders. A new start and fresh beginning. Not just for the Corps but for me personally.

In this Corps I found welcome, love and a spiritual home. Of course I also found politics, fallouts and the occasional argument...because unfortunately for the Church, it's populated by us imperfect sometimes petty human beings, (and yes I am including myself at the forefront of that).

So what is a spiritual home?
A physical home should be a place of rest, a place where you feel comfortable where you can unwind from the pressures of the day. A spiritual home should have some of these qualities but it also needs to be a place of challenge and inspiration that will not always be comfortable but will bring you encouragement and fulfillment.

Dysfunctional family
Coventry City Corps is where I find these things but let me be clear, we are a long way off a perfect community. We can fall out, annoy each other, dismiss each other but I'd like to think when things are rough we would be there for each other. We are a family....but a dysfunctional family sometimes.

My Church has, over the last few years, become home to a different group of people... We have joined a group of other churches in the city to host a winter night shelter. We have become a temporary home on one night a week during the winter, providing warmth, comfort and food the very things a home should provide. On a personal note while I've been involved in the night shelter I have found time to sit in our main Worship hall devoid of light and people and I have found a real sense of peace and homeliness; reflecting on all the friendships and relationships that have been built in that room when it's full, relationships with God have been built and testified too, prayers have been said, commitments made (including my own wedding vows). It truly is the heart of our spiritual home, but I suppose when full this is hard to see.

Why you need your Church & why your Church needs you
Manypeople, perhaps someone reading this have, been hurt by the Church in some way or another. And I am truly sorry for that. But despite this I still feel that the Church is necessary, that belonging to a Church community is necessary, and not just because of the benefits we can receive, but also because of the journey we are on together; We can, even unknowingly support and encourage those around us in our faith communities just by being an example.

I know what a lot of people say "you don't need to go to Church to be a Christian..." And I understand this position and I can see the point, I would even agree, to a point. The old rebuttal to that position is of course "you don't need a parachute to jump out of a aeroplane...but it certainly helps." The point is, we need each other. We have to walk together to find encouragement and strength in each other, and we need to serve alongside each other... Think about a major incident like an earthquake or flood; yes, individuals can help and make a huge difference, but it takes an Army, committed, organised and mobilised to really turn the tide, with supply drops, airlifts etc, we can be that Army...but it means putting aside our squabbles and differences and work together.

So let's be a true family and community. But let's go into it with our eyes open; understanding that we will annoy each other, we will fall out and hurt each other but by the grace of God and mutual love and understanding we can get past all this and be a true family. Ultimately we are better and stronger together, even when we annoy each other and fallout over petty stuff.

I would love to hear your feedback and comments on this blog, and of course feel free to sign up with your email address to avoid missing new posts (if viewing on a mobile device you may need to click on 'view web version')

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Disclaimer: the opinions and comments expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily represent the views and policies of the Salvation Army