Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Feed My Sheep (Part One)

"Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men." Jesus' very last words to Peter, again down at the waters of the Sea of Galilee, and after His resurrection were, "Feed my sheep, Follow me."

I have just returned home from feeding His sheep and what a journey we have made together, the family and I, these last few months. It’s incredible the determination some people have when faced with a terminal illness. As they journey through, it’s a painful process as each person has to come to terms with their own loss of life and leaving behind all that matters dearly to them, but most especially, family. This process is an essential part of the journey that they must travel; not an easy one and not one that everyone is willing to take. One has to understand that some people choose to take some things with them to the grave!!!

The family who I am journeying with are amazing! Jack (name changed) has a brain tumour and is the most determined person I have ever come across. This determination has been extended to his lovely wife and three children who together form a close knit family unit.

Our journey together has consisted of deep spiritual moments and Jack has been able to express and talk about his faith, belief and what gives value and meaning to his life. Never once has Jack been angry about his diagnosis/prognosis, rather the frustration has been about not being able to walk and to sit; instead having to watch his body deteriorate before his very eyes and not be able to do anything about it. Jack was a very active man. He loved the outdoor life and sailing was his passion, and he has daily grieved the loss of this very big part of his life.

Last evening I received a call from one of the Nurses caring for Jack, saying he was asking to see me. The nurse explained briefly that he had asked to speak with the medical Consultant and had made a very big decision concerning his medication. Part of his medication was controlling the pain and symptoms of his tumour that were keeping him alive. Jack made a brave decision once he had spoken in some depth with the Consultant. He requested that they halt the medication that was sustaining his life. Jack’s emotional, heartfelt words to me on my arrival at his bedside were, ‘this is not quality of life, I want things now to take their natural cause’. Jack was nearing the end; he had accepted that there was nothing more that could be done for him and he was now ready to enter the final stage of his journey.

Today, was another day of journeying with Jane, (name changed) Jack’s wife. I sat with her as the Consultant told her what to expect in the next couple of days; Jack becoming more sleepy, a possibility of increased seizures and headaches as the medication was discontinued. Jane, was another incredibly brave soul! My heart again went out to this strong, brave woman, who was always hopeful for a miracle, but knew deep within her heart it was not to be. I then was asked again by Jack to remain as the Consultant spoke with them together about the medication and if they had any questions or needed clarification. Jane simply said ‘I’ll be strong for you Jack, very strong’, as the tears flowed. For me I had to fight back the tears and my own emotion as I needed to be strong for them both.

As I left them to talk further, privately, I knew I had to withdraw and find a quiet spot to release the emotion and pain I felt. The intensity of this situation required me to draw from my Shepherd the nourishment I needed to sustain my sheep, the flock that God has called me to serve.

Jack passed away peacefully on Sunday morning, with his family around him. His wife is comforted by the fact he is now free from his suffering and how the sunshine lit the room when his journey finally came to an end. I have the privilege of leading Jack's funeral at his request next Tuesday, please remember this family in your prayers.

I praise God for my ministry and thank him for giving me the grace and skills required to do His will.

Perhaps there's a former officer out there who'se own health is such that you aren't able to Shepherd as you'd like. Please consider sharing my shepherd duties with me. There are those certain times when knowing I have your prayers sustaining me is just the comfort and strength I need.

Tracey Oliver
UK Territory
(Part One)

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Salvationist enters heaven...

"Will there be any stars in that crown I receive when I leave my earthly shroud behind?" (Swedish SA Songbook) Painting by Swedish artist Bengt Engman. The salvationist asks that he be allowed to wear his guernsey as his robes of white are presented. The original painting hangs in the corps hall in Vansbro, Sweden, the home town of the artist.

A former officer Friend...

I was an officer for eleven years (Messenger of the Faith)

My earliest memory is of climbing up a very steep staircase (I've been back since and it is not steep at all) in the Salvation Army Hall in Sacriston, Co. Durham. I must have been three or four years old at the time. I also remember moving to Maltby in Yorkshire when I was seven and soon after becoming a Junior Soldier, a Singing Company (Junior Choir) member and learning a string of different brass instruments in the Young People's Band. In my teens I left (The SA) for a while, but by sixteen I was a Senior Soldier and bandsman and by the age of eighteen, or a least a few months after my eighteenth birthday, I was a Cadet training to be a Salvation Army Officer in the International Training College in London. It was there that I met my wife to be, who was also training as a Salvation Army Officer. In 1971 we married and continued at a number of appointments together. There was a growing dissatisfaction with what we were doing and, to cut a long story short, by 1977 I had resigned and become a local authority social worker.

I continued as a soldier (member) of the Salvation Army, a youth group leader, bandsman etc. But I found a growing questioning of, not only the practices, but the basic doctrines of the Army. This came to a head when the Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, hit the headlines with his less than conventional views on the authority of the Bible. I began to realise that there was much of the Army Doctrines that I was unhappy about, including the bigotry shown against David Jenkins, not to mention that against homosexuality and other matters that some Salvationists classed as 'sinful'. I was ready to withdraw from the Army but did not feel that I could 'go nowhere'.

I remembered, whilst I was an officer, going with my family on holiday to my wife's relatives in the Lake District. I had accepted the invitation to visit my first meeting for worship at the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and found that much of what I read about them made sense and, as they would say, 'spoke to my condition'. Now some years on, I started going to the Quakers meeting at Grimsby. Over a relatively short time I changed from a Salvationist who attended Quakers in the morning and the Army at night, to a Quaker who attended the Army at night, through joint membership of both the Salvation Army and Quakers, to finally making a full commitment to the religious Society of Friends.

There are a number of reasons why I felt at home with Friends; Quakers do not have a creed, they respect each individual, they have a peace 'testimony' and a non-condemning attitude to most other people's beliefs, whether they are the same as Quakers or not. In short, I found the opportunity to make my own spiritual journey and follow God as I believed that He wanted me to, rather than having to submit to a set of doctrines which I was not sure that believed in anymore, and were more than a bit dated in their language and ideas. Suffice to say that I am really at home with Quakers now and much more involved than I had been with the Salvation Army for years. The only fly in the ointment, there has to be one, is that the rest of my family are still active soldiers (members) of the Salvation Army. My wife is a Songster (senior choir member), a bandswoman and a Corps Secretary. One son is now an officer and the other attends Army meetings regularly. However, I believe I am exactly where I ought to be.

Melvyn Hamilton

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Returning to the Source... 2008

There was a man who was a line painter for the highway department back in the days when the lines were painted by hand. He was entered into a three-day contest and the first day of the contest he painted five miles of highway. The next day he painted 500 feet and the last day he painted 27 feet.

When he was asked why his total output dropped so dramatically each day he replied, “It’s very simple. Every day I was further away from the pail of paint!” Simply put, every day he was moving farther and farther from the source.

I know I’m preaching to the “preacher” here, but the same thing can and does happen to us all. It’s easy to move away from the source of our “spiritual life and well being” and as a consequence become less and less effective in living the Call; "less output". As was shared by a former officer in the UK in last week's blog; ˆTotal dependency is what we need in order to cultivate a deeper relationship with Him. I think for me this has to be my number one resolution for 2008. I need to depend, not just say it, but do it, act on it, trust Him!"

In last Sunday’s Holiness Meeting our CO, Captain Rick Starkey shared in his message statistics published in 1967. Forecasters suggested that by the year 2000 the average workweek would consist of 22 hours and we would enjoy 27 weeks of annual vacation. The predictions were based on how computers would revolutionize our lives. Revolutionize they did! But not in the manner suggested by those forecasters. Our workweek is still a full forty hours or more. As for the computers? They have added to our downtime “work” because, if you are like me, the first thing we do after pouring a cup of coffee in the morning is to check the e-mail inbox, and the last thing at night is to send off a greeting by e-mail, and perhaps update our own tomorrow’s to-do list!

Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:15 – “Be very careful then, how you live ( how you spend your time), not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…”

As we begin a new year the challenge I want to issue to you and myself is this; Create space in your busy schedule where God can get at you, before you get at God. As I contemplate the days and months ahead, and all those leisure hours I won’t have, those predicted by the 1967 forecasters, I need to return to the Source each day, “the Source of reviving strength”. Jesus warned us that the devil steals our time. And even in the busyness of “doing good” we can lose sight of the fact that our Source has been absent and perhaps left to the side. Doing good does not translate as “making the most of every opportunity…”

It’s said that if you examine a person’s “daily planner” and check (cheque) book, they will reveal to you all you ever need to know about a person. In my “daily planner” for 2008 I have listed “create space for God” as the first priority in the morning, and as the very last at night, for each and every day. And as reminder of that daily commitment to “create space”, I have entered into a cyberspace spiritual relationship with a prayer partner, a fellow former officer. Each morning and evening a meditation and prayer is exchanged via e-mail. While the computer has been a bane in many ways, (porno-gambling, etc) it provides countless opportunities to return to and share the Source with others by “making the most of every opportunity.”

Here at the cross in this sacred hour,
Here at the source of reviving power,
Helpless indeed, I come with my need,
Lord for thy service, fit me I plead.

Bramwell Coles

Why not take time and share a brief comment with the readers of this blog as to the websites or blogs that bring you back to the Source? A favorite of mine is; http://tcspeak.blogspot.com . You may also findl http://www.thehighcalling.org inspirational.

Many blessings this and every day in 2008 !

Sven Ljungholm
Middletown Corps, Ct. USA East