Saturday, May 30, 2009

What do you do with the pain? PART -2-

Some of us simply ignore all that happened and hope it will go away. Some use it to launch into another ministry and really shake the forts of darkness, within the Army or within another church and we are proud of their efforts. Some become bitter and twisted and express their pain in different ways, all too often in attacking the Army and the ‘they’ who are supposed to run the show. There are those who become, dare I say it ‘Holier than ...’ and seem to have a scriptural answer to everything that the Army does and believes and causes some of us to question how we could have been so misguided to respond to a heavenly call to such a movement. And there are those who will simply sit on the side lines and let their unfulfilled expectations spoil what they are currently involved in, constantly thinking about ‘what could have been.....’. And there are those who use it to become giants in their community because of who they are and credit where they have come from.

Over recent years I have become a fan of networking. I have always been keen of what I sometimes call ‘coffee shop counselling’, where people meet in a non threatening atmosphere to simply chat about things. Not always to have a defined outcome but just to communicate with someone with whom we have a connection with. I love coffee shops and have been accused of being addicted to coffee, but I am blessed with very poor taste buds and I struggle to be able to tell what good coffee is and what is not, but for me the coffee is not what is significant about coffee shops. Over recent years I have been to networking breakfasts, after work events that drift of into the night, at all sorts of venues and with all sorts of people; however it was only recently that someone talked about networking 101, the basics, and it was quite revolutionary for me. I found that there were principles that spanned networking, customer service in all sorts of organisations, selling and many more. What surprised me was that it was remarkably similar to what I had been involved in for so many years under the red epaulettes. Networking should not be an exercise where you give out your ubiquitous business card so someone can give you contacts that you can profit from but it is about collecting business cards and asking about what you can do for other people, it is about being genuinely interested in what others are doing and possibly how you can be of help. Jeffrey Gitomer, (www.gitomer.com), says “Take a genuine interest in other people before you ask them to take a genuine interest in you”. Is this revolutionary or does it simply echo the mythical Christmas cable that Bill Booth sent to his officers around the world in the most economical, read cheapest, manner that simply said ‘Others’.

It strikes me that there are times when we feel a pain that no one; fellow Officers, Divisional Commanders, the ‘They from HQ’; really understand or care about our situation, when really it may be that this could be the result of our not taking a significant interest in them (others). It sounds like such a simple act but I am convinced that the more interest and care we have for others will be responded to in like kind. Over the years I have decided that most jobs can be done by robots, even in our ‘former lives’ a lot of the stuff was mechanical, but dealing with people was our most challenging and rewarding activity. Jeffrey Gitomer also echo’s what many people have said that ‘people do business with people they like’, and maybe we need to have a ‘likable people meter’ hanging round our neck.

Our pain is real and it affects all of us in some way or other, but the significant event is not what has happened to us, but how we respond to what has happened. It is more blessed to give than to receive, I have been told, and so let us give all of ourselves to ‘others’ and leave what comes back to a higher power that can do ‘....exceedingly abundantly more than we can ever ask for.....’

But maybe we have to take the first step in coping with our pain?

"Fletch"
Peter Fletcher
Former
Australia

Friday, May 29, 2009

What do you do with the pain? PART -1-







When I was an Officer, I spoke like an Officer, thought like an Officer, and reasoned like an Officer. When I became a former, I .....?

Forgive me Paul for the paraphrase, but it seemed like a classic statement to address some of the issues that we face. I was so proud to wear the red epaulettes and as a Major, felt very much part of the ‘culture’ that really defined who I was, and there was an element in my character that wanted to shout from the roof of the Citadel ‘Hey! This is me and I am having a good time’. I really loved what I did, what I was involved with, and what I believed was the difference I was making in the lives of people in my Corps, and local community. I never had the ‘success’ that some of you had as far as souls lining the Mercy Seat, was concerned, and I actually knew the officer who responded to the DC’s call on Monday morning asking about how many people were at the meeting on Sunday? 135 said the CO; and how many ‘decisions’ did you have? 135 said the CO; they all said no! On the serious side one of my hero’s was the elderly Brigadier (I would be happy to name him) who was appointed to a dying Corps that was not far from the grave and every Sunday for many months he prepared a sermon that he delivered to his wife and two –three soldiers; always with an alter call. Hero’s sometimes take on superhuman proportions and, for me, he is one of them. I was also proud that we wore the same uniform and I sat next to him at Officers Councils, because of that we were brothers in far more than name.

I have no doubt that for me, being an officer was all that I hoped for as I tried to change the world.

But now I am a former and all that is in my past. However I am now like many of you and we share another very significant fellowship, and although so many of you are anonymous, I still value your presence and the encouragement that can be found in a group of like minded (almost) people that I can connect with. There are many things that bind us together in a very special bond but one that is so prevalent in many of the responses to some of the articles is that we all share a pain that seems not to go away very easily. It would be a long article that tries to explain the variety of pain, where it comes from, how it manifests itself and how it affects the people we love and who love us, but I wonder if it is possible to explore how this pain is coped with.

There are various stereotypes in all areas of life with varying professions and we need to guard against what sometimes seems to be that this pain is unique to us formers, it’s not. Over the years I have come across many people, in many different professions who have been damaged by their profession, sometimes how it was terminated and some by the fact that they did not know how to deal with the pain in their current situation. So we are not unique, but it is our pain and we need to be able to somehow cope with it.

"Fletch"
Peter Fletcher
Former
Australia

Thursday, May 28, 2009

IS THE FREEDOM TO SPEAK FREELY THREATENED ?



UK: More prison space for Christians

“The government had better start building more prison space — for Christians and moral conservatives generally,” says an editorial in recent edition of the Church of England Newspaper (founded 1828).

Why? A couple of reasons: The Labour government wants to make it illegal to express opinions on homosexual lifestyle. Secondly, the same government wants to force – by law – Churches and religious organizations to employ people who engage in homosexual practices.

Andrea Williams, Director of Christian Concern for our Nation commented: “This is a new attempt to impose the State’s secularist agenda on the Church and gag Christians from teaching and living out what the Bible says about sexual ethics.”

This is yet another secular intolerance against the church – in the name of tolerance. Sigh!

The Church of England Newspaper comments: “So Christians, and of course Muslims and others who just disagree, are being told to shut up and get into their closet — the gays are not tolerant of dissent and have got the state to crack-down.”

Recent cases illustrate the intolerant trend against Christians: Kwabena Peat, a Christian teacher spoke out against homosexual propaganda on a school training day and found himself suspended. David Booker, working at a homeless charity was also suspended after answering questions from a colleague about his views on homosexuality.

Monday, May 25, 2009

SUMMER SOLSTICE

Here in Florida the evenings nearest the summer solstice are the best of the year.

It is still cool enough to enjoy being out of doors; far enough away from the August and September heat that causes even the most outdoorsy among us to run screaming from anything called nature. Still far enough away from the oppressive humidity that causes one to compulsively set the air conditioning at RUN 24/7 AND NEVER SHUT OFF regardless of the impending electric bill. It is still far enough away from the day after day reality of the extremely long, painfully hot summer to be enjoyed as a pleasant experience.

These are the evenings to sit beneath the tree with a drink and a book until it is too dark to any longer see the print on the pages but trying still to squeak through one more paragraph because it is just too beautiful to head back in. It is the time to watch the birds take their last nibbles and drinks and listen to their last songs of the day. The rabbits finish their scurrying to and fro; the bats begin to circle and the owls hoot. The sun twinkles its last twinkle through the tree canopy and begins the descent slowly and quietly over the back fence and finally over the horizon of the earth. This is why I moved to Florida. For this long beautiful day I linger over each year until it comes again. I celebrate it anew each time, looking forward to it more and more each year.

As with all things, good or bad, this too shall pass. Now begins the marking of the minute later of each morning sunrise and the minute earlier of the evening sunset. I know the days will get shorter now, each day by a minute or two until we reach the next solstice; the winter solstice when we will celebrate the shortest day of the year. Not so much a celebration for me as an acknowledgment that once again the tide will turn. Again I will stop watching that minute each morn and eve disappearing from the daylight and rather delight in watching it add length to my day and shortness to my evening. I will wait impatiently to once again dance beneath the long solstice sun. But it will come as it always does, my favorite day of the year - June 21st.

What does my love of summer solstice have to do with anything Army, Former, or Christian? Maybe everything - maybe nothing. Perhaps it is that long day that gives me extra time but make me think it does; about many of things. I believe in something larger than myself; larger than the church; larger than the earth that keeps the universe not only spinning but spinning on an axis that causes day and night and both of those to lengthen and shorten depending on the time of year and where I am situated on the globe. My love of summer solstice will be equal with Fletch’s endurance of winter solstice and vice versa. But does it make me believe or keep me believing in God? Not so sure. I still question so very, very much.

I question why God would allow the Crusades. I question why there are so few saints canonized in these modern and post modern times. I question those who hear voices saying God speaks to them. I question the virgin birth. I question the resurrection. I question transubstantiation; Jim Jones, William Booth, Warren Jeffs, and David Koresh. I question the Pope and the Vatican. I question how money, resources, and personnel are spent in the name of religion, church, Army, and God.

Do I believe in heaven? I’d like to. Do I believe I will be reunited with loved ones? I’d hope so. Do I believe I’ll dance before angels, and saints, and the holy trinity? I think so.

I do not believe I am an atheist (noun - someone who denies the existence of god or refuses to believe (as in a divinity) but perhaps an agnostic (noun – one who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God or one who is skeptical about the existence of God). For certain, I no longer consider myself a Christian. Not religious but spiritual. I have far too many unanswered questions to keep those blinders on. What little I see through my peepholes causes me more heartbreak than joy among those who call themselves by that name.

Make no mistake about it I am a self actualized fulfilled woman with a life of happiness and contentment. Spare me the comments that my cry for spiritual help is loud and clear. Or that my question can be blindly answered by ‘faith’. It cannot. I love the words of the Bible, the old hymns of the Lutherans, my Episcopalian upbringing, and the writings of Ravenhill because they make me think. I also love Bracketology, Religulous, Reverend Billy and the Libertyville Abortion Demonstration because they make me think as well.

Soon I will once again watch the summer solstice and I still will not have the answers for which I long. But I know full well the earth will still spin, the sun will still shine, and my God (however I define that) will still be revealing some answers, more questions and perhaps even more answers.

Former
Name on file
USA South

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dollars and Sense PART -2-

Now, you are probably wondering why I am sharing this at all. I have one sole reason. I have many friends who are still officers and sometimes it seems apparent that they are not really planning for the normal things of life that come up, like emergencies, changes, or future retirement plans. In addition, I have heard many former officers comment on how hard the transition is from being an officer to not being an officer. As I stated above, the life of an officer is very similar…..we all need to plan for the unexpected….yet very different as everything from our paycheck to our home is wrapped up in the ministry we participate in and the calling we follow.

All in all my heart goes out to all those who have struggled and who might struggle with the circumstances of transitioning from being an officer to being retired or leaving the work. With my background in credit and finance I feel so strongly that this canyon that seems to find so many people can be minimized by simply each individual officer realizing that they too must plan for the unexpected and for their future and be good stewards of what God and the Salvation Army has blessed us with along with the Salvation Army teaching, training, and reinforcing this fact to the officers.

What I would love to see the Salvation Army do is put together a seminar on this very topic to be presented as part of the training process at the school. Too many young officers follow a call and then don’t get the same information they would get within a normal job from their human resource department as part of retirement benefits and 401K or investment option benefits. In addition, to cover those who have already went through the school or simply to reinforce this point it should be followed up periodically at officers councils to provide the necessary resources to help officers plan for the unexpected and their retirement.

There are so many things they could do to put together a very effective and informative resources to the officers. First, doing a calculation like the one above really brings to light what an officer really is getting in benefits that normal individuals in jobs would be paying for out of pocket. Second, getting valuable information from retired officers that can either be shared in person or as statistics would be helpful to show what things others planned for and benefited greatly as a result and what things they wish they had done and really struggled as a result. Third, the Salvation Army could work with a retirement/ investment group to help provide information, resources, and options to officers concerning their planning for the future. Certainly, the SA would not want to direct an officer to a specific plan, but just like companies bring in resources to talk and inform employees the SA could make arrangement to do the same without influencing the exact decision an officer would choose.

Former
Name on File (Feel free to contact)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dollars and Sense Part -1-

The life of a Salvation Army Officer is very similar and yet very different from those who are not in full time service within the Salvation Army. However, I think many times the similarities are not seen for what they are because the differences seem to overshadow them. An officer may feel that they do not have the insecurity of their company merging or downsizing and their job going away, but in some ways the reality of being put in an insecure situation still exists.

As officers we all want to feel as though our calling to the ministry is an indefinite thing and therefore we will always have a ministry, career, home, and other things that come with being an officer; however the reality is that sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control that may cause us to leave the ministry we love; things such as health issues, a spouse choosing a divorce, or even simply a needed break while we deal with pressing issues in our life. When these things happen we then find ourselves scrambling to figure out how to cope in a world where our job, home, cars, paycheck, and everything we know is gone. Even though this situation is different from those who are not officers because all of these things are intertwined when you are in the Salvation Army, it really isn’t that much different from those who have lost a job and are now scrambling to figure out how to make the mortgage, car payment, or other bills.

The reality is sometimes I think we as officers…..when we were officers…didn’t really consider the benefits that come along with officership. If we really look at everything we receive as officers (within the US) the fact is we probably end up with a calculation showing we make around $70,000 a year. This number may seem unrealistic if you haven’t done the calculation, but I challenge you to do so.

Here’s what you would need to do……

Add together Monthly Salary, Average Mortgage Payment, Utilities, Cell Phone Bill, Car Insurance, Gas, and Medical Insurance. Then take that number and divide it by .7 (to add back in taxes paid) and multiply by 12 (for the number of months). This will give you the approximate gross annual income of an officer (from the perspective of someone outside the SA). For the purpose of coming to a number I used the following: Monthly Salary $1600, Mortgage $1000, Utilities $200, Cell phone $75, Car Payment $350, Car Insurance $80, Gas $300, and Medical Insurance $200. These were all just general estimates in order to bring an end number that maybe would shed some light on what I am trying to explain. I actually have no idea what an officer would make these days, and I know the mortgage payment that would go with most SA homes are probably in excess of the $1000 along with the fact that all other numbers involved would depend upon choices and other factors.

My point to this mathematical calculation is to bring light to the fact that the compensation that SA officers receives is not significantly less then they would make out in the rest of the world. In addition, I have a feeling for some that the compensation probably out weighs what some might ever see. So with all that said my real conclusion is this, while serving as officers we should take the same steps anyone else would in preparing for retirement, future, or emergencies and save. The resources are there to do so, but I think in many cases it is something completely overlooked by the individual officers and overlooked by the SA as a whole. The fact is, I think we as officers of the Salvation Army don’t really realize this calculation and how our income really stacks up against a normal person in a job or career within another field.

Former USA
Part -1-
Name available on request

Monday, May 18, 2009

ALL MY TOMORROWS -Part Two-

Well, it wasn’t the ITC; I loved my time there and being a “Messenger of Joy”. It was such a privilege and friendships made there have kept and sustained me through many years. It wasn’t a love-hate relationship with DHQ. After my previous experience on DHQ I had little or no expectations of them as anything more than a support when I asked for it and an administrative office, yet in my various appointments I did question many times the validity of the many bits of paper I used to delight at sending out. Statistical Forms, E111 Covenant Forms, Transfer Forms, Songster Brigade Membership Certificates, Corps Cadet Lessons, not to mention the Divisional Commander’s Circular! Small forests must have died each week as I reflect on the amount of paperwork that we generated at DHQ, which as an Officer I dreaded landing on the mat each Friday morning.

I think what turned me away from the Army was the inward looking attitudes and the ever annoying feeling that we were living on former glory. Collecting for the Annual Appeal (as was then) and asking for money for the good works that we did, when for the majority of Salvationists in my Corps good works meant learning the latest Jubilee Series Band Piece or having a starring role in the most recent Larsson/Gowan’s musical. Officership was also a lonely road at times. I didn’t want to be called Lieutenant or Captain – I was Alison, who was just like everyone else – called by God to follow Him, but this concept was
alien to that small number of difficult people who sought to put the officer on a pedestal only throw balls at me and knock me off as soon as I started to wobble a bit.

Is that why I resigned? No not really. Too many short hop appointments, too very small badly maintained quarters with damp, being so far away from my network of family and friends, feeling at times that no one really knew me or cared when my marriage went through a bad time. So many mitigating circumstances come together before a decision is made, and all the above culminated in the decision to resign. The first year after was a dying experience. As the leaves fell from the trees that autumn I willed them to hang on for grim death, yet as the final one fell I knew it was God’s time to move on.







As a Baptist Minister life is very different and yet similar. My Church Secretary despairs with “the Officer within me” that would seek to do all things regardless of help around me, although I think I’ve come a long way. I have never really missed the Band and Army worship, because I just love contemporary worship and used to get quite frustrated by the reluctance to embrace it within the Corps where I served. Whilst leading a united Women’s service a few years ago I met with a retired Colonel who 'sussed' (figured out) me out. She said she knew I used to be an Officer, she could tell (Must have been the imprint the bonnet left on my head!). She spoke to me about Salvationist spirituality, in a world where Celtic and Ignatian spirituality are often sought after (reflective); she recognised that there is a Salvationist spirituality that we shared and she identified within me. A spirituality with its sleeves rolled up. A spirituality that had real compassion for the poor, that flung wide the doors to the whosoever, that embraced the wretched and had compassion on the lost. That never stopped saying Hallelujah in the face of defeat. I drove home that day embracing the past in a new way as I ministered in my new situation.

This week I will stand at the Communion Table as the Bread and Wine is passed among the congregation and remember the words of that Albert Osborne Song: “My life must be Christ’s Broken Bread, my love his outpoured wine”. Suddenly the past and the present come together in a moment of complete surrender. The seven year old who knelt at the Mercy Seat in Openshaw Citadel impressed and moved by the Founder’s words and declaring to God: “The Lord shall have all there is of Alison Randle”, has never really wavered from her first obedient response.

In the ITC each Monday morning we would have some retired Officer come and testify to us in the spot called “This is my story, this is my song”. I would listen with keenness as stories were shared with us and I would wonder what my story would be, at their time of life. I never imagined I would be where I am today, and yet this is such an exciting journey and I am still happy to declare that "having asked God for forgiveness, I am still trusting him to keep me good, for today and and all my tomorrows"*. and all my tomorrows. d all my tomorrows. ll my tomorrows. (* from the Junior Soldier Promise)
--------------------




Alison Mackay
Former
UKT

Sunday, May 17, 2009

ALL MY TOMORROWS -Part One-

I find myself nine years into Baptist Church Ministry, reflecting on life’s journey. I suppose it’s because it’s Lent and we reflect on Christ’s journey to the Cross, via the waters of Baptism, into the Wilderness and then up to Jerusalem for the ultimate of all journeys. In all of life we journey, through good times and bad times, and I share with you some reflections on my life through this blog.

I always knew I would be a Salvation Army Officer one day, such was the certainty of my calling. I would walk to school and say if two red cars came together I’d be an officer, only those were the days when red cars outnumbered silver cars, and two coming together was commonplace. I recall sitting with my Career's teacher at school and saying I wanted to be a Salvation Army Officer. That left her confused and speechles; she had information about secretarial college, nursing courses or of course, working in the local Robertson’s Jam factory, but she knew nothing about The Salvation Army.

When I was 18, someone said to me I had “yellow red and blue blood” flowing through my veins, and I was quite sure they were right. By that age I was Assistant Corps Cadet Guardian, served on the Corps Council, had been a Link member for years, then an Applicant, and was now a Candidate and loved Jesus with a passion. I was also an avid reader of all Samuel Logan Brengle’s writings, striving for complete sanctification (never did find it by the way!). I preached my first sermon when I was 17, in a Salvation Meeting at a little Corps at Waterfoot in the Manchester Division. My text was Hebrews 3:15 "Today, if you hear his Voice, do not harden your hearts”. From there I went on to regularly cover Sundays at small Corps who had no officer, and I received so much encouragement and blessing through ministering to others. It’s odd, I had never really felt outstanding and intelligent at school, and at home my brother and sister had both passed that dreadful exam thing they called the 11+ where I had failed, but when I was at the Army.. well, things were different; there, I felt I could conquer the world.

I left school and worked for The SA Social Services in the Furniture Salvage Department in Manchester, answering the phones and making milky coffee, of which I was an expert! From there I went to work on DHQ Manchester, starting as the Officer Junior and finishing work there 8 years later as the Divisional Commander’s Secretary. Happy days, what a privilege to work with some amazing people and to learn so much from them about Christian leadership and servanthood.

So how come I sit here today as a Baptist Union Minister? So what went wrong?

Alison Mackay
Former
UKT

Thursday, May 14, 2009

THE MEANING OF FREEDOM



Why freedom of speech must include the right to “defame” religions


AT FIRST glance, the resolution on “religious defamation” adopted by the UN’s Human Rights Council on March 26th, mainly at the behest of Islamic countries, reads like another piece of harmless verbiage churned out by a toothless international bureaucracy. What is wrong with saying, as the resolution does, that some Muslims faced prejudice in the aftermath of September 2001? But a closer look at the resolution’s language, and the context in which it was adopted (with an unholy trio of Pakistan, Belarus and Venezuela acting as sponsors), makes clear that bigger issues are at stake.

The resolution says “defamation of religions” is a “serious affront to human dignity” which can “restrict the freedom” of those who are defamed, and may also lead to the incitement of violence. But there is an insidious blurring of categories here, which becomes plain when you compare this resolution with the more rigorous language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 in a spirit of revulsion over the evils of fascism. This asserts the right of human beings in ways that are now entrenched in the theory and (most of the time) the practice of liberal democracy. It upholds the right of people to live in freedom from persecution and arbitrary arrest; to hold any faith or none; to change religion; and to enjoy freedom of expression, which by any fair definition includes freedom to agree or disagree with the tenets of any religion.

In other words, it protects individuals—not religions, or any other set of beliefs. And this is a vital distinction. For it is not possible systematically to protect religions or their followers from offence without infringing the right of individuals.

What exactly is it the drafters of the council resolution are trying to outlaw? To judge from what happens in the countries that lobbied for the vote—like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan—they use the word “defamation” to mean something close to the crime of blasphemy, which is in turn defined as voicing dissent from the official reading of Islam. In many of the 56 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which has led the drive to outlaw “defamation”, both non-Muslims and Muslims who voice dissent (even in technical matters of Koranic interpretation) are often victims of just the sort of persecution the 1948 declaration sought to outlaw. That is a real human-rights problem. And in the spirit of fairness, laws against blasphemy that remain on the statute books of some Western countries should also be struck off; only real, not imaginary, incitement of violence should be outlawed.

Good manners, please; not censorship
In much of the Muslim world, the West’s reaction to the attacks of September 2001, including the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, has been misread as an attack on Islam itself. This is more than regrettable; it is dangerous. Western governments, and decent people everywhere, should try to ensure that the things they say do not entrench religious prejudice or incite acts of violence; being free to give offence does not mean you are wise to give offence. But no state, and certainly no body that calls itself a Human Rights Council, should trample on the right to free speech enshrined in the Universal Declaration. And in the end, given that all faiths have undergone persecution at some time, few people have more to gain from the protection of free speech than sincere religious believers.

The United States, with its tradition of combining strong religious beliefs and religious freedom, is well placed to make that case. Having taken a politically risky decision (see article) to re-engage with the Human Rights Council and seek election as one of its 47 members, America should now make the defence of real religious liberty one of its highest priorities.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

IF CROSSES COME... Part -two-


Let me take this opportunity to say that I hope and pray we will continue to make progress in the way we treat and think about officer colleagues who relinquish officership. Trials come. Some are unavoidable. It is not for us to stigmatise any colleague.

A word for those feeling discouraged. Put your hope in God and seek out reasons to praise Him. Psalm 43:5 will bring you hope and so too will Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome: ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8:28)

Some among us may feel anger. Often this is justified. We can sometimes repress it and suffer the consequences of a later outburst. Somehow, the exhortation of the Scriptures to ‘get rid of bitterness, rage and anger’ (Ephesians 4: 31) leaves us cold and we can feel so intensely indignant sometimes that we burn with a sense of injustice. I suppose the key thing is what we do with our anger, and how we express it. Candid conversation out loud with God can help. He can handle anger better than we can. We can each seek grace to be ‘slow … to become angry’ (James 1:19)

Few among us are free from anxiety. I take refuge in the stunning promise found in the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you’ (43:1) and in the advice of Peter: ‘Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.’ (1 Peter 5:7)

As I write I am aware of many known to me who are in grief and mourning. You are all loved and prayed for, even when you are far away across the continents. No human words will ease your pain, but we know about Heaven and therefore all is well. In the Army we know also how to praise amid the hurt and loss, clapping our hands and singing of Heaven and eternity even with tears in our eyes, and decking our flags with white ribbon for victory. ‘Neither death nor life … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8: 38,39)

Finally, I think of those officers suffering illness. You know that this was my own experience in the first half of last year. Again, I thank you for your Christian love and countless prayers. These prayers have been answered and I am pleased to tell you I am fully well. Through it all I knew that my refuge was God and that His ‘everlasting arms’ were holding me (Deuteronomy 33:27). Prayer, faith and trust can carry us to that place where even when our bodies are weak we fly and soar in our spirits like eagles, making true the priceless promises of Isaiah 40: 29-31

Crosses, trials, afflictions, hardship, suffering? Oh, yes, but with Paul we say: ‘I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us’ (Romans 8: 18)

He is able. Hallelujah!

IHQ
LONDON

Saturday, May 9, 2009

IF CROSSES COME... Part -one-

THE GENERAL; SHAW CLIFTON

Officership is never an easy path . We do not want it easy. We need challenge and testing, lest we fail to grow stronger. Yet, neither do we seek out hardship, for crosses can come all too often on their own accord. General John Gowan’s song reminds me tellingly that my discipleship and obedience could ‘cost me dearly to be the servant of my servant Lord’.

Obstacles and set backs are inevitable, though I heard of a man of whom it was said he had never known a day’s illness all his life. One young fellow, remaking on this to his mother, was surprised to hear her respond, “I feel sorry for that man. How then will he grow if he has not known trial?’

The great 16thC religious reformer, Martin Luther, used to tell his students that it takes three things to form a minister of the Gospel: prayer, study and afflictions. The first two do not surprise us, but the third is unexpected. Luther was right. If we have never known suffering, how can we understand the lot and the lives of our flock?

Belonging to Jesus is no guarantee of immunity from hardship. Neither is a calling to Army officership. Trials are often only just around the next turning in the pathway. Sometimes those trials can have a profound impact.

I think, for example, of colleague officers who feel they must step back from their officership. Each year I receive the global annual statistics for officer resignations and dismissals. Those for the calendar year of 2007 show that fewer colleagues left officership than in 2006. Of approximately 16,500 active officers, 257 or 1.6% left in 2007 (274 or 1.9% in 2006). Each resignation or dismissal is a cause for sorrow, but we give thanks that the trend is downward and that the numbers and percentages are so low compared with other religious bodies.

In 2007 fewer colleagues left officership than in 2006. Of 16,500 active officers, 257 0r 1.6 % left officership.(274 or 1.9% in 2006).

"Each resignation or dismissal is a cause for sorrow, but we give thanks that the trend is downward and that the numbers and percentages are so low WHEN COMPARED TO OTHER RELIGIOUS BODIES.

REASONS:
Domestics, marital or family: 65 (25.29 %)
Dissatisfaction, for example, appointment/remuneration: 54 (21.01) %
Misconduct: 49 (19.06) %
Unsuited for further service: 25 (9.7 %)
Transfer to another church:16 (6.23 %)
Marriage to non-officer: 15 (5.8 %)
Feeling discouraged: 14 (5.4 %)
Health issues:14 (5.4 %)
Health of spouse: 1 (.4 %)
Doctrinal issues:4 ( 1.55 %)

(Many of those who left had no choice due the army's position on marriage/divorce. FSAOF Editor)

It is recognized that some officers represented in these figures left officership not wishing to do so, such as those leaving because a spouse was obliged to leave through misconduct or marital breakdown (not every territory has embraced the option of ‘single spouse’ officership) Thus the total of those positively wishing to leave officership is actually well below the 257 figure given above.



Shaw Clifton, General
IHQ
LONDON

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cultural Relativism or Absolute Truth

There is a significant, and to many, a troubling, increase within Judeo/Christian movements to accept cultural relativism and reject absolute truth. Arguments are made in favor of a more liberal understanding of absolute truth leading toward relative truth. The infallibility of Scripture standing as the authoritative Word of God is being minimized in favor of political correctness, personal preferences, and acceptance of culturally driven activities and lifestyles. The evolution of requiring more tolerance toward alternative lifestyles and utilitarian ethics challenges the basic fundamental principles of God’s will.

Scripture clearly outlines God’s plan for every human being as demonstrated in the early fellowship experience of Adam and Eve. Imagine God coming down in the cool of the evening to walk with us in the Garden. As sin is introduced in the Garden of Eden, the world is led from the perfect will of God into a desperately warped and skewed view of truth, right, and justice.
Despite the influence sin has on the whole of human existence, the basic fundamentals of absolute truth, authority of Scripture, and supremacy of God is still valid today even though many refuse to accept that premise. Sin is sin irrespective of our religious world view, the same as God is God even though many reject Him. God is holy, yet to our finite minds this is but a micro-spec of understanding in light of an infinite God.

Certain natural laws exist based on God’s design. Plants grow when watered. Leaves fall in the change of seasons, and new buds and leaves come in the spring. One particular natural law established by God is that man and woman were created by God for the purpose of procreation. The issue of same sex marriage, sexual intercourse between people of the same sex, and other deviant sexual activities are diametrically opposed to God’s plan. This issue is a clear example of the affects of sin in the world.

Be careful that you do not read hate or intolerance into this. This is purely fact as described by God and outlined in Scripture. Where deviation from this truth comes is in our disagreement of the infallibility and authority of Scripture. Scripture demonstrates through historical evidence and prophesy that many will depart from the fundamental truth of God’s plan. The Apostle Paul addressed this issue in his second letter to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:1-9;

1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. 6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

Truth is often difficult to hear and more difficult to accept. The truth provided by God does not shackle or imprison us, it provides freedom. Sin shackles, and the truth of God in Jesus Christ provides freedom from captivity. Perhaps organized religion has contributed much of the misunderstanding and controversy surrounding the sin issue by creating rules and regulations in an attempt to provide specific direction out of a life of sin. In some respects, contemporary Christianity evolved into a religious sect closely resembling the Pharisees and Sadducees Christ encountered during His earthly ministry. This may have led to much of the current confusion and difference of opinion that exists within the wide spectrum of Christianity. The true definition of Christianity is following Christ and him alone.
Irrespective of our personal views on controversial issues, God is in control. He never changes. He does not concede His holiness because people choose to compromise the truth. One day we all will stand before Him in judgment. Our lives will be judged according to the perfect plan of creation. 2 Timothy 4:1 says, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom…” (NIV). 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (NIV).

Randy Savage, Professor
Malone University
Former, USA East

Friday, May 1, 2009

What have same sex relationships and kleptomania to do with each other?

There are so many different opinions and interpretations about the present theological “hot potatoes’ that one easily looses one’s way in its jungle.

People question the way I relate to Scriptures where the Apostle Paul writes about homosexuality. Their statement is: “What did the apostle Paul really know about same-sex relations? There are so many new things that we have learned since New Testament times about the complexities of sexuality!”

They make a good point. It is true that since the writings of the New Testament many more things have become clear to us; the (dark) wrestles of life and our soul have been brought to the surface and have been examined, analyzed, evaluated, and explained like never before.

I know that not everything we need to know about sex is right there on the pages of the Bible. Many authors who have written about sex and who researched sex had an awful lot of good things to say. Yet, I dare say that the Bible is my only and supreme authority on the subject of sex.

With that I don’t mean that it is our only source on the subject. There is a whole lot to learn from tradition, experience, and reason (including scientific investigation). But these latter mentioned sources are not authoritative. While they can provide important information and insights, it is clear to me that what the Bible is actually teaching us on a given subject supersedes all other sources. Again, we know more about sex in general, and about same-sex relations in particular, than the Apostle Paul did. It would be unwise to ignore what we can learn, there is a whole lot to learn from what people tell us about the experience of same-sex attractions, and what scientific investigation tells us about the complex issues of attraction and sexuality. All different aspects of humankind as expressed through our genes, cultures, social circumstances and theological insights need to be brought together to help us understand the question at hand. But yet… how do I dare to say that the Bible supersedes all of our insights by speaking with authority to a subject like sexuality?

Well, here we finally come in on the subject of kleptomania…It is at this point that a parallel can be drawn to sexuality. The majority of the people living in the world today have probably a greater insight and knowledge about stealing than Moses ever had. In the Ten Commandments a simple and straightforward commandment is given: “You shall not steal!”

There is really no nuance nor is any explanation given about the way this should (could) be considered. There are no links to praxis, history, experiences or principles. You shall not steal. That’s it. Don’t steal; IT IS WRONG!

During my years as pastor in New Life Church Stockholm (www.newlife.nu) I have had to deal with some people who were compulsive thieves. When meeting with them, one thing they told me was the fact that they could not help doing it… they stole things that were of no interest or value to them, and yet, time after time they stole even if it meant that their relationships and trust with other people and friends got broken. The surge to steal was like a beast within them they could not handle.

In regards to this matter, there are major drives and issues which drive people into such destructive behavior. There are psychological, social and other issues involved… YET, time after time again I had to come back in my conversations with them to that same statement, or commandment: You shall not steal!

That statement did not give me room for interpretation, or nuances. It did not give room to wiggle. It was one of those “one liners”, almost too clear, too obvious… It was unnegotionable. A cold fact… You shall not steal. No explanation, no excuses. Although much reasoning and information could be brought into the matter, only one thing remained the same: “You shall not steal!”

The point I want to make is the following: when it comes to the basics, what is right and what is wrong; the Bible supersedes all other sources. It is our authoritative guide on ethical issues. Of course we will have to consider where the rubber hits the road; that’s in the praxis in our pastoral dimension. I know there are people who steal because they have nothing to eat, others because they have a responsibility for their families. Others because they have been abused and victimized by greedy economic systems (I will in the near future write more about greed and such systems). But no matter what we can give as explanation for our actions, stealing was, is and remains wrong!

In some occasions we choose to forgive and forget, in other occasions we counsel, yet in others we send people to jail. But no matter what the cause and circumstances might be the basics are: It is wrong to steal! In the discussion on the so-called “sin catalogues” which were used by Christians and churches 30-60 years ago we have heard time after time again how insensitive the Church has been. OK! Many leaders have crawled to the cross a number of time and affirmed their guilt in these matters… But we have to realize that the large majority of the people using “the sin catalogue arguments” have not received the kind of insensitive treatment they are relating to. It’s “hear-say” in most occasions. The Church, because of its historical guilt complex has gone the opposite direction and has allowed everything without nuances as an appeasement to the guilt memory.

In days past, conservative Christians have often done a terrible job in dealing with the complexities and nuances of human sexuality. But no matter what these complexities and nuances might be… the fact remains the same: the word of God remains true and it supersedes all other sources, whether they are endorsed or not by our society or ideologies. I might be politically incorrect but I will continue to follow His Word and Truth as a basic authority yet, with a heart open to be touched to be able understand the complexities people experience.

That’s the Way I see it!

John van Dinther
Gothenburg, Sweden