The international leader of the Salvation Army, General André Cox.
Some months ago I streamed an address for our international website, reminding our 26 thousand officers and 108,000 employees across the world where our spiritual life comes from. There’s only one place which triggers such a fantastic spiritual growth and that’s prayer. William and Catherine Booth and their pioneering leaders were people who believed God answered prayer – and their experience was that God answers far beyond our wildest expectations or what we might dare to hope.
Those early day Salvationists sometimes at great personal expense at times facing persecution believed that they could overcome and change the world around them.
The first Christians and early day Salvationists shared a strong faith. They believed in the power of the word of God to touch and transform lives. And so do Salvationists across the world today. The word of God was preached and there were spectacular results in those early days not because of the individuals but because of God who was at work in their hearts and lives.Paul puts it this way when he wrote to the first Christians in Rome: As he said he wasn’t ashamed of the Good News of Christ – and neither is the Salvation Army. The message is indeed the power of God at work – saving everyone who believes, from every background, culture, ethnicity and class. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” We too believe that. We take the whole gospel to the whole person. And that might mean battling with all sorts of problems – be it alcohol, drugs dependency, or the fear of loneliness, exclusion and rejection. The power of the message remains the same but the message requires messengers. As Paul we are called to proclaim, preach, teach and live the Gospel message unashamedly. Salvationists aren’t just what they say but we are the people we are because the Gospel has transformed us. The power of the Gospel message changes lives! The Gospel message is for all people without distinction. No one is excluded. In Paul’s mind there is no room for doubt, he has received the Gospel message which literally changed and transformed his life. God is at work right here and right now! What a tremendous encouragement that is for those who see it and experience that reality every day. It affects the way we see the present but more importantly how we view the future
In a few weeks’ time over 16,000 Salvationists from all over the world will gather at the O2 in Greenwich to celebrate and think about the next hundred and fifty years. What on earth are we going to be discussing? For the contexts in which we all work are often so different but the message is always the same. In Nairobi the lives of the poorest people existing off the dross of rubbish tips have been transformed through a sports project for young people. In Bangladesh and in the Tsunami affected areas of Indonesia and Sri Lanka micro finance projects are helping families get back on their feet and help themselves in a sustainable way, bringing always the self-respect which always comes with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Haiti following the earthquake local salvationists are at the forefront of projects that are enabling people to rebuild their homes by providing business training and life skills. And this is never international missionaries parachuted in, but always local community generated. It’s certainly true that The Salvation Army is best known for the social transformation it can bring to people’s lives. But that doesn’t happen anywhere in world without the love joy and peace of Jesus invading each individual. The message of the love of Jesus and the value of the individual before God never changes.
God is calling us into a bright future. As Christians, we are not a people who live in fear because we know and experience the fact that the Kingdom of God has come near to us in Jesus.
Paul in writing to the Philippians reminded them to rejoice, and be thankful, and not to be anxious. Christians never base their future in worry and fear – and as an international movement we believe that God will always show us the next steps. Part of that involves clear thinking about how the gospel can transform the mega cities of the future. Those whose lives are blighted by stress and the treadmill of materialism. One of the toughest calls for all Christians including the Salvation Army is engaging appropriately with the burgeoning young populations in these mega cities where there is so much attract and excite but also so much opportunity for disappointment and spiritual bankruptcy.
But God has not changed; His message to the world remains unchanged. God still reaches out to this world in love and despite our human weekness Paul reminds us that it is the Gospel message that is the power of God at work within us saving all who believe.
William Booth the Founder of The Salvation Army penned the words of a well-known song which is an anthem sung by Salvationists around the world in many languages. This is how he describes the wonderful gift of Salvation:
“O boundless salvation, deep ocean of love, O fullness of mercy, Christ brought from above, the whole world redeeming, so rich and so free, now flowing for all men, come roll over me.”
The truth is that this boundless salvation so rich and so free is available to you and to me if we truly want it!
Now that is something truly worthy of a celebration and I pray that we will all indeed experience that power of God at work in our lives today.