Thursday, April 1, 2021

I'm Feeling Lonely This Easter

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KEVIN!!

That’s the cry you give when you get on a flight and suddenly remember you’ve forgotten your 8 year old son, and left him Home Alone. ­­­Though don’t worry, if two robbers like Marv and Harry come and try to break into the house, Kevin will have it sorted. He'll simply head off to the $2 shop and get all the knickknacks he needs to provide a secure and safe house for the week.

Let me tell you straight: I’m not a big fan of being lonely. I'd rather crack a few jokes with a group of friends and have a good 'ole belly laugh. When I get a belly laugh, it can wobble for hours. I don’t know about you. You step into a crowd, look around, and realise deep down, you’re alone. People might smile at you and wave hello. People might be friendly towards you and that’s nice. Though sometimes you’re looking for friends, not just people who are friendly. That feeling of loneliness is hard to describe, but underneath the fake veil we put over our faces to protect our self-esteem, we can feel it. And it hurts.

Let me be vulnerable with you for a moment. I’m two and a half months into a new Salvation Army appointment on the other side of Australia. I’ve met new faces, lots of incredible people and am enjoying serving the Lord in this new space in Morley. But I woke up the other morning, just feeling lonely.

I feel like I want to qualify a few things. I don’t always feel this way. And the feeling will probably pass. And I’ll make some friends and the world will keep spinning. But in one moment recently, I felt lonely and alone.

Well, to be frank, I’m not alone in my aloneness. According to the Australian Psychological Society (2018), 1 in 4 people were reporting that they were experiencing loneliness. This report is back in 2018. Throw us Covid-19 and lock us in our houses, take away some of our liberties, and some rightly label it the loneliness pandemic.


Alone at Easter

My mind is then cast to the event of Easter week, and as I read the scriptures, I saw line after line something that I had never seen before.

Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane, alone.

Jesus went back a number of times to see if his disciples were praying, and they weren’t and I wonder if Jesus felt… alone.

Then Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss and in the gospel (Matthew 26:56) you have this gut-wrenching line that says… ‘Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.’ They had left him all… alone.

Imagine that feeling.

Arrested and alone.

The feeling of being lonely doesn’t stop there. When Jesus is nailed to the cross, on that hill in Calvary, God forsakes Jesus.

And Jesus is alone.

As he took on the sins of the world, people were deserting him. The disciples had run away. The religious leaders mocked him. Soldiers divided up his clothes.

My heart is captured by the reality what is happening. Jesus is brutally murdered and everyone had turned their backs on him.

Stop and pause for a moment. Have you ever felt alone? Jesus has experienced this very thing. 

On the Third Day

We are fortunate that the story doesn’t end there. Jesus conquers sin and death and rises from the grave! What an incredible story of resurrection power!! Jesus is alive! Without wanting to skip over the resurrection let me fast forward a little further. Picture for me, the resurrected Jesus who is now standing on a mountain about to say some last words to the disciples, before he ascends into heaven.

Even if you’ve read this before. Take a moment:

Matthew 28:16-20 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus calls the disciples to a world-changing kind of mission. Now, that’s incredible in and of itself. But that aside, did you read the last verse?

You and I might, at times, or even often, feel lonely. But Jesus promises that he will be with you and never leave you or forsake you. That’s not some nice theological sentiment, it’s a rich promise from the Lord Jesus Christ.

There’s so much more to say and so many questions to ask. Like, what’s our role in befriending someone who’s lonely? What can we do to care for those around us? How can we truly love our neighbour and heal the broken-hearted?

While at times I feel a part of the loneliness pandemic, I can experience the powerful and awe-inspiring message of Easter. God loved the world so much, he sent Jesus into the world, so that through him, we are no longer alone. We are set free and loved and saved and bought with a price.

Through Jesus Christ, we now have a relationship with the Father in heaven.

And that’s good news.

Because...

I’m not alone.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

How long will it be, Salvation Army?

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Are we there yet? The children cry out. How long before we get there? We don’t know the answer. The journey is long and precarious, and full of winding twists and turns. We experience great highs and find ourselves lamenting at the struggles. We yearn for better days ahead. We know they are coming. We see glimpses of them. We can taste and smell revival, in the distance, but it’s just seems to be out of reach.

How long will it be Salvation Army? How long before we see a great move of God? How long before we witness the fullness of the transformative work of the gospel of Jesus Christ across our land?    

The question of “how long” is not a new question. When Jesus comes down the mountain (with Peter, James and John) still shining radiantly after being in the presence of Almighty God, he connects again with the other disciples. The teachers of the law and the disciples were arguing. The reason they were at verbal loggerheads was because there was a boy who was oppressed by a demonic spirit and no one knew how to help. Let’s pick up the story in Mark 9:16-19:

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
 
A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

Jesus is indignant. And when we consider previous chapters in Mark’s gospel, where the disciples couldn’t understand the miracles of Jesus, we assume Jesus is a little frustrated towards the disciples. How long will it take before you understand, that you have all it takes within you to help bring freedom to this boy? But instead, you’re arguing. You’re complaining. You’re caught up in theological pontification.

Forgive me friends, but as I read this recently, my mind went to this beloved movement of which I am a part. I was convicted as I considered The Salvation Army, and my role within it.

How long will I argue about meaningless mind-numbing aspects of Salvation Army life, while I forget about the big picture of God’s kingdom?

How long will I moan and groan about change while the train to transformation is leaving the station?

How long will it be before I value unity over uniformity?

How long will it be before I value relationships over regulation?

How long will it be before I value salvation over stagnation?     

There is hope

The story is not finished in Mark’s gospel. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. As Jesus heals the boy from the oppressive spirit the following conversation is happening in Mark 9:22b-24:

But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

There’s a similar statement recorded in Matthew’s Gospel in relation to the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:26 – With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible).

Everything is possible for one who believes; Jesus is telling the father of the sick boy. While the disciples and the teachers of the law are going around in circles debating theological ideas, Jesus is bringing freedom to this boy. And he’s showing the disciples, that anything is possible if you believe.

So I bring my mind back to The Salvation Army. I know that God is challenging me. While I may debate ideas and may question, “HOW LONG?!” I know something deeper.

Jesus is speaking and saying: Everything is possible to the one who believes.

I hear little whispers from Jesus:

Can I turn The Salvation Army into a dynamic missional movement once again? Yes, I can!

Can I heal the hurts and pain of the years gone by? Yes, I can!

Can I do a new thing, that sees The Salvation Army move from surviving to thriving? Yes, I can!

With man or woman this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.

You and I may wrestle at times with unbelief regarding what we think God may do in future days, but we can be certain of the promise: Everything is possible for the one who believes.

We’re not there yet. We all know that. But friends… revival is coming. God can do greater things. Get ready for it as you pray and believe that Jesus is still at work amongst us.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

An open letter to The Salvation Army

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Dear Salvation Army,

Where's your passion for Jesus? Where has your heart for your first love gone? Is it there, or is it hidden beneath the complexity of organisational life? Have you buried your love for Jesus while you try to build your own path to success? 

I ask you again. Where's your passion for Jesus? Where's your desire to lead people to him, to live out his values of the Kingdom and to transform Australia with the very love that once transformed your life?

I don't want to be the church in Sardis anymore. Have you heard of the one? Jesus writes a letter (as recorded by John) in Revelation chapter 3. It says:

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God."

Is God pruning us, or are we in fact dead? Convince me please that it is the former. Show me your red-hot, Spirit-filled, Holy-Ghost-infused compassion that seeks to live out a vision of finding hardship and injustice and then make choices that live up to those very statements.

We don't need another ecclesiastical corps cumbering the earth, nor do we need another corporate video that includes sound bites of board-room value statements produced in front of green screens and edited until they are flavourless and uninspiring. We don't need another 1 hour meeting, with a 30 second prayer at the start and a 30 second prayer at the end, with 59 minutes of trying to get ourselves out of the feelings of corporate malaise. Try for me, just once, at least... a 1 hour meeting that incorporates 20 minutes of prayer. Test me on this. See if God won't begin to give you insight and wisdom that leads you out of an institutional desert and into hope and life.  

God is calling us to be the people of God, fashioned into the likeness of his son, Jesus Christ. The way we have become is not necessarily who God wants us to be. We must surely die to ourselves, and our organisation and place each at the altar. 

And please don't skip over the importance of that short paragraph. Take a moment now and kneel before the Lord. Tell him you're willing to lay your life down (again) to follow him and his paths for your feet. Repent of the excuse that the complexities of this movement have caused you to lose your focus on Christ. It's no longer an excuse. Repent of making Jesus some sort of after-thought in your mind, when really, without him we are nothing.

I remember when I responded to a call to follow Jesus when I was 18 years old. I cried like a baby at the mercy seat (in fact that happened some weeks/months in a row!) and God was giving me a new life with a calling to serve as a Soldier and then an Officer of The Salvation Army. I am personally challenged by the Holy Spirit in these days, that I need to reaffirm my commitment to reaching for the lost and serving suffering humanity. I am a mission-mobiliser, not a corporate manager. I am a pastoral leader, not a risk management consultant. 

My heart is crying out for the Salvation Army right now. It feels like another critical time in the juncture of this movement. Will we fast and pray for revival to come upon us once again? What's it going to take? You can't do this in your own strength. You've tried, Salvation Army, and been pretty lousy at it. That's because, we were never called to fight a spiritual war, with human-made organisational solutions. We are a spiritual movement, and only God-led, spiritual wisdom will get us through. 

I am reminded recently of when I was invited by a Salvation Army prison chaplain to preach the gospel in the prison for all the inmates who attended to hear. Wow. I had a word on my heart. The word was, 'If you want to walk in freedom, you have to get out of the cage!' I preached up a storm in that little chapel area, with about 40 blokes. I said, you could walk out of this prison today, but if you still live with unforgiveness you'll still be in 'prison'! I called people to respond and an incredible number of men walked forward for prayer. I then called men to follow Jesus, and 18 big, burly blokes put their hands up to choose Jesus. I felt like William Booth at the age of 14, when he said that he had found his destiny. These moments change the course of history! This is the presence and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ at work!

Over the years though, we have moved from a Man to a Movement to a Machine. That seems to happen in the history of the Christian Church. We had William and Catherine Booth who were led by God to ignite a 'Salvation Army' around the world. A movement ensued, and spread across the global landscape. Then we had to deal with organisational complexity and for a myriad of reasons we became a machine. And it's a machine that, if we're honest, not many Salvation Army mechanics want to work on. The engine needs replacing, the spark plugs have died and it's pretty hard to get it moving again. 

The reality is though, if we don't reclaim our first love, Jesus Christ, we won't even exist as a 'Machine' anymore, we'll become a 'Monument'. And let me tell you, there are already many Salvation Army monuments around; closed buildings, memorial photos and plaques that remind us of a by-gone era from leaders we respect and admire. 

But, in the midst of the fog, I see a new day dawning. I see a fresh, vibrant expression of following Jesus rising up among the people. I see renewed discussion occurring about holiness and what that means for The Salvation Army. I see Officers themselves becoming sparks of revival in all their areas of influence. I hear the gospel being preached in new, powerful and authentic ways, in all levels of the movement. I see a movement fixing its gaze upon Christ like it has never done before. 

I can hear the sound of a roar coming from the heavens. It's loud and note-worthy. It's like the very fear of God is coming upon The Salvation Army. And I don't say that lightly. It's the presence of God calling us to love Jesus afresh, and be filled once more to overflowing, with the presence of the Holy Spirit. It's a mighty call back to our first love.

I don't want to be part of a Salvation Army that dies. I don't want to serve my days as part of some sort of bureaucracy that used to have an incredible historical legacy of world-changing dynamism. 

We must wake up! Strengthen what remains and get ready to follow Jesus into the unknowns of the rest of this year and beyond.

If you've hidden your talents, get them back out again. If you've lost your first love, then fire it up once more. This, my friends, will be the difference between The Salvation Army either dying, surviving or thriving.

Yours in Christ,

Captain Pete Brookshaw

 

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