Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Reflections on the Salvation Army Regeneration Conference 2015

Psalm 39:7 But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

Ministry is exhausting work.  Truly truly it is.  Sometimes you just need a break.  Burn out is high.  People are tough.  More often than not, I need a little regeneration.  

February 13th-15th I visited Camp Lake, WI to attend a Salvation Army Youth Leaders conference.  The experience was so profound for me, that I thought I would catalog the experience and some reflections regarding it. 

Eventually as I worked at the Salvation Army of Wausau TLC I begin to realize, maybe the Salvation Army is where I belong.  I know that I'm called to full time ministry.  It's something you just know internally.  But where might it be?  I'd often thought of being a traveling evangelist like Billy Graham.  Or a valiant Christian apologist like Ravi Zacharias, defending the faith in university forums.  I'd considered starting a church, and preaching regularly, like John Piper or Francis Chan.  Or even missionary work in India or China, like K.P Yohannan.  But it's tough to know.  The truth is.. How do I really know?  I mean like.. really know that I'm called to officership?  

I'd sat down with my DYS and discussed the possibility.  She suggested I attend Regen.  So there I was.  Terrified.  Excited.  Amazed.  Sometimes you just stare across a crowded room and wonder "What in the world have I gotten myself into?"  But I recall the words of a great thinker who said "If you aren't a little scared, the goal isn't big enough."  

Large groups of people had always scared me.  From junior high on, it had always been tough.  Let's just be real, I'm an introvert.  And that's not a bad thing.  I love being an introvert.  I love reading, writing, blogging, and spending quiet nights listening to music with my dog and cats.  I had often wondered though, how can I make ministry and introversion jive?  Hard to say.  I had to find a way to lead with quiet power and humility.

They called it "Camp Wonderland."  Now I immediately thought of Michael Jackson when I heard the name, but I'm not sure why.  Wonderland?  Regeneration?  Move mountains?  What's going on here?  Culture shock. DHQ? DYS? CFOT? Huh?

I never really knew what the Salvation Army was growing up.  My dad worked in a Salvation Army building in my hometown.  I remember playing basketball in the local SA gym.  I saw the logos.  But I didn't know it was a church.  I thought they just provided social services.  It's funny though, when you aren't a Christian you tend to see everything through secular lenses.  

After Jesus Christ saved my life two years and three months ago, I knew I was being called to ministry.  But ministry where?  I attended a good evangelical church.  I led Bible study, volunteered in various ministries, and began attending a religious college called Liberty University.  I started a blog.  I worked on a church plant.  But I found myself seeking a truly radical dedication to love and service.  That led to entering the Salvation Army through employment at a local Transitional Living Center.  I found the work extremely challenging at first, to the point that I nearly quit.  But eventually the struggle began to the grow on me.  The struggle to fight poverty, destitution, and addiction was so real and valuable.  I began attending Salvation Army church services and eventually started leading a Young Adult bible study.  The challenges ahead were very real, and fear often crept into my mind, wondering.. "Just how can I maintain in this kind of demanding environment?"  So many nights, head on my pillow, I would whisper up to the Lord "This isn't sustainable, and I don't have the strength required."  My eyes would tear up a bit, and then I would fall asleep.

It's no wonder that after 11 months at the shelter, Regeneration was a needed blessing.  We drove down in a minivan provided by the corps, myself, and three others.  I joked that God had a cruel sense of humor, because I had always vowed to never drive a minivan.  "I'm a man."  

It was February 13th.  I'd been running like a mad man about town trying to get things done, and I was tired and cranky.  My bosses son Marc was along with, sitting next to me.  He was the son of two SA career officers in Central.  He'd had his issues in the past, just like me.  Two girls came along, Danielle and Miranda, local nerds. Also volunteers at Captain Martin's camp in East Troy.  

When we arrived I felt somewhat terrified.  After all, how many times have I felt out of place in large groups?  More times than I can count!  Junior high, high school, basketball practice, football practice, at Bible studies even.  Oddly enough, I found myself feeling strangely "a part of" as we walked into the dining hall.  Oh my goodness, look at all these people I thought.  

Now I try to play it cool, but I grew up a rural kid in Wausau, Wisconsin.  I'm sure "gawking" would be a good word to describe the look on my face.  Who are all these people?  They're all Salvationists?  Christians?  That's a very excellent thing.  But could they really practice what they preach?  Do they?  That was a common question on my mind.  There is so much apostasy in America.  I wonder from the start with every Christian, do they really do it, or are they just talkers and not walkers? 

I was sitting there, watching people, as introverts often do, when I met the first of several new friends I would make.  Her name was Rachael and she had previously worked as a model.  Now she was a Young adult leader in the Salvation Army.  Fascinating.  We talked for a while.  I was doing my best to keep a low profile.  It's best to just watch and listen at first.  Then Captain Martin found me.  He came over with the SA gas card I was suppose to get from him.  He started laughing and joking with everyone at the table about a show called Breaking Bad.  Then he insisted that there was a password I was suppose to tell him before he could give me the card.  I told him there is no password, you're making that up.  Then he said, well, actually I can give you a hint but you have to sing it, it's a theme song from a 90s sitcom.  I sang the theme song for Friends, and thankfully he gave me the card.  Then we all went to the first session at the chapel.  

I found myself oddly pleased when the first speaker said he was an introvert.  Oh good.  Someone I can relate to.  He put me at ease instantly.  I thought I should perhaps have a cup of coffee with him sometime.  Couldn't tell you his name though.  He looked like a hipster, nerdy indie rocker.  I never knew Salvationists were such hipsters.  I saw so many hipster beards at Regeneration, it was like a grateful dead reunion concert.  IE: Citizens and Saints.

DJ Opdiggy was awesome.  Amena Brown quoting John 1?  Incredible, shocking, powerful.  Sometimes you just have to spin, right?  I've seen good and bad youth/young adult events, this was very good.  Citizens and Saints.  Well, they're indie rockers from Seattle.  That's definitely a huge plus.  However, given the mass defections of Christian rock bands in the recent past (Jars of Clay, As I lay Dying, George Perdikis - formerly of News Boys, etc) I tend to be skeptical at first of Christian rock musicians.  But for the most part, it seemed that Citizens and Saints led worship in a manner that directed attention to the worship of God.  At times in the past I'd felt the worship team was receiving worship, instead of directing it.  I think we can all imagine a worship leader we know who seems just a bit too flamboyant.  I know I can.  But Citizens and Saints were great.  Reminded me of Christian rock with a dash of Helio Sequence, Postal Service, and Passion Pit.  Impressive!

Bob Goff, need I say more?  He's just completely crazy and out there in the most beautiful and authentic way.  Reminds me of Francis Chan, except more wild.  Bob Goff was truly inspiring at the first session.  I loved it.  He fueled a lot of the regeneration I was feeling at the conference.  He encouraged the young adults of Salvation Army to take a chance.  He encouraged the young adults to step out, terrified, to do something special for Christ.  Such a deeply needed message. I need encouragement everyday, to step out and take chances.  When I'm encouraged to take chances, then I do.  Otherwise I tend to shy back.  Bob provoked a reckless abandon in me, an allegiance to do anything for Christ.  It's always been there, but like any character trait, it needs cultivation.  

In the past I've bashed the way Christians seem to have constant "conferences" and "seminars" but don't seem to be as active in the community as they should be.  The Salvation Army is active in the community while most other denominations are not.  That was a major draw for me to the army.  

Back at the dining hall there was a crazy rap dance party thing going on.  I sat along the sides and watched, smiling.  I wondered if dancing like that was a sin or not.  I was raised Catholic after all.  That's not Polka dancing.  But there doesn't seem to be anything inherently wrong about it either... confusing.  Maybe I work from a presupposition that anything fun must be sinful?  Hard to say.  But I was tired. 

Marc and I walked back to the cabin, in the below zero weather, freezing, but encouraged.  Well, at least I was.  Marc seemed to struggle through the conference.  I didn't know what was up with him, but I tried to focus on staying positive and learning what I could.

On Saturday things seemed to come together.  It was brutally cold on the wind swept campus at Camp Lake, but at least the sun was shining.  

I woke up from dreams, half asleep in the rustic woods of southern Wisconsin.  No one snored that night.  No one at all.  Obviously this was a Christian camp.  

Bob Goff stole the show again at the morning session.  I sat down, and listened and learned.  Quietly as I sat in the crowd of hundreds on Valentines Day I wondered if I would marry someone in the room.  Officership was starting to feel more and more likely.  So many prayers.  So many discussions with family and friends.  Is this the way I wondered... it could be.  I wish God would be a bit more clear though.  

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
 Psalm 25:5

I had to look out upon the people at the conference and simply admire them.  These are the young adults who hold out the hand of hope to thousands every year.  It's such a thankless job.  It's so difficult sometimes.  Heart to God, hand to man.  Such a rare thing in the modern era of selfishness and self-serving.  If they got any attention at all, any recognition it was probably for being weirdo religious people.  But who else walks the walk?  A lot of people have a lot of talk when it comes to world issues.  Whose got some walk?  It's the Salvation Army.  Youth leaders, young adult leaders.  Truly people of character, renown.  Unsung heroes.  Or so the picture seemed in my mind.  Being a part of a family like that seemed quite appealing.  

I got in front of the camera and told my story with a guy named Andrew.  He gave me a hug after we were done.  I was beginning to feel like the Salvation Army was exactly where I belonged.  But I needed that final word. Later that day I sat down with Major Tricia to discuss my possible future in the Salvation Army.  She talked with me for nearly an hour, and then we prayed together that God would bring everything together in just the right way. 

At the evening session I got the word.  There were chalk boards in various corners of the room.  And they told us to "move" in the direction of our dreams.  Move, even if we're afraid.  A different area of growth was written on all of the chalk boards in the various corners of the room.  I was afraid, sure.  But I got up and moved to the chalkboard that said "Officership."  There I got together with a group of people all moving in the direction of officership.  Some officers prayed with us, and encouraged us in taking the next steps toward Officership.  The feeling that came over me at those moments was powerful.  I could feel the Spirit moving in the room.  I could feel the peace coming over my heart, that this is where I belonged.  It was powerful.  I hadn't felt anything quite so peaceful and warm as being exactly where I was suppose to be at that moment, in the care of God and following the leading of his Spirit.  

The rest of the conference was wonderful.  Jo Saxton had a strong evangelism message that rung true with my heart.  Overall, it was great.  I left knowing where I belonged.  I had found my home.  The Salvation Army was the place to be, to serve Christ in the firmest dedication.  I wanted a life of not simply caring for a congregation, or preaching sermons, but a life of true, radical dedication to Jesus Christ.  And so I found it.  As William Booth said, "We are not sent to minister to a congregation and be content if we keep things going. We are sent to make war and to stop short of nothing but the subjugation of the world to the sway of the Lord Jesus.”

Mark 10:44-45 (ESV) 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 25:31-40 (NIV)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’