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Ten Years In Bath, Freedom and God’s Hands

It seems I’m coming up to (and in one case I’ve passed) some big anniversary markers in my life. Most people have a lot of changes in their life around the age of 18 so I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds at 28 that the last ten years has been quite a ride.

Like others I went off to university and just over ten years ago on October 5th 2004 I turned up in Bath ready to study and meet new people. One of the first people I met was my now husband, Phil (yes I did declare my undying love to the first guy I met at University and yes I’m aware you’re not meant to do this) although it’s still quite a few weeks away from the anniversary of us getting together as a couple.

While I was getting to know Phil he invited me to go along with him to church and I couldn’t see any reason to object to the idea so off I went with him. It was quite an experience. Within minutes of the service starting I found myself overwhelmed with the feeling of being safe and peaceful, something I hadn’t felt in years for one reason or another (I didn’t come from the most stable of family backgrounds and despite my mother’s best attempts to make our family life safe and carefree I was a little too good at getting myself into trouble), and on the 26th October 2004 I decided I was going to try to follow Jesus and the things he taught. That makes it my tenth birthday this Sunday. I later discovered that the same feeling of safety came back every time I worshiped.

Shortly after that I went to Freedom Bath and Bristol, one of the churches in Bath, and accompanying the feeling of safety I got every time I reached out to God, I also felt very much at home. There’s never been one person specifically or one event or moment. I just walked into Freedom on November 13th 2004 and knew I was home, and almost ten years later it’s still the same. Every time I walk in I know it’s where I belong. That feeling and concept often comes up in the stories I write and I know it’s because I get to feel that sense of belonging each and every week.

Within my ten years at Freedom I’ve also seen some pretty awesome things. I’ve personally been healed twice. The first time my right leg grew by about 2 inches (it was shorter than my right and had been causing back problems, including scoliosis), and the second time I was healed of some internal bleeding which I blogged about already here. I’ve had several financial miracles where money has turned up right when I needed it, once so I could quit the day job and start my writing career, and another time so my husband and I could buy our first house.

Being in Freedom has also meant I’ve had great teaching from the leaders, I’ve been supported, encouraged and often inspired as a writer and part of the creative community within the church, and I’ve had plenty of mentors, friends and people to do life with. I am so much more emotionally stable and have a greater understanding of who I am, what makes me me and what I want to do with my life than I ever have before. Bad stuff still happens occasionally, but it helps to know I’m not alone in facing it, unlike how I used to feel before I came to Bath.

I’m definitely looking forward to the next ten years with God, Church, my husband and my friends.

Being in an army

I’ve been watching a lot of Sharpe films lately and I’ve been very struck with the structure of the army and all the rules they have. I found myself realising that the way the British army works is actually pretty similar to the way God’s army works or God’s church if you want it in plain terms.

It says very clearly in Ephesians 6 that we’re a group of people fighting spiritual forces for God. There’s a battle and we’re in it. Wouldn’t it help a lot if we knew the rules? If we knew how our own army needed to work to function best?

To start with everyone knew they were being paid. Well in God’s case our promise was a reward in heaven, while this isn’t much like your army today (they get paid monthly like the rest of us) the older armies used to go several months without getting paid and would often have to wait until the war was over and they got home to get their rewards, medals and pay. (Much like Christians waiting until Heaven to get their reward).

You’re going to do things now and wonder if it’s been recognised and you are going to have to wait until the war is over before you will get all the recognition for your hard work. There’s no point moaning that you’ve done lots of hard work and it’s gone unnoticed. God noticed and He’ll be the one making sure you get any pay left over that’s owing to you when you get to heaven. Do you want your reward now or do you want it in heaven?

Secondly being in the army means you have tasks to do. These tasks are whatever you’re skilled at that helps the army plus whatever the army needs someone to do, regardless of skill. There are times when your talents are meant to be used to serve the church and there are times when the church will ask you to do something you like less or are less good at. Do it anyway because you’re helping make God’s army work.

That means we have to do crappy tasks sometimes as well as the things we love. I don’t know many people who would consider themselves talented at cleaning loos or making sandwiches but an armies got to eat, stay clean and be healthy to fight effectively. When the heat of the battle comes we want a fighting fit army. Do you want to sneak out of cleaning duty or win that major battle and the glory that goes with it?

There are rules you have to obey. In slightly older army times if you were caught stealing, plundering or anything else like that (basically anything naughty) while in the army, you were sentenced to death. If you ran away from a battle and the squad you were called to fight in, you were sentenced to death. If you were caught asleep while on guard duty, you were sentenced to death. And if you disobeyed a direct order, you guessed it, you were sentenced to death.

These days you wouldn’t be sentenced to death for any of these but they would lead to what we’d call a court martial, the expulsion from the army and potential other punishments like prison time. Being kicked out of God’s army is to be spiritually dead. So if we sin and let our spirits go to sleep we run the risk of spiritually dying. Thankfully there is forgiveness but it’s always better to not do the wrong thing in the first place and to keep our spirits awake to the dangers around us. Do you want those weeks of comfortable easy going church life where no one asks you to do anything you don’t want to or do you want to live?

Finally the army has ranks. There’s nothing democratic about it. If you’re given an order from someone of a higher rank than you then you were expected to obey it, that instant, without question. In God’s army there are also ranks. Each church has a leader or two who sit at the top of that church’s part of the army. Sometimes they have people above them too if part of a movement but not always, and God sits above everyone.

That Church leader is your main commanding officer. They get all the information. They usually have a team around them who help them gather the information they need, people who specialise in particular important aspects of decision making, information gathering and organisation. The team below the leaders often give out orders too and report to the commanding officer, they’re often the ones that hear complaints as well. Below that there are often smaller groups led by officers and within those smaller groups small companies of people led by another officer or two (much like the small group structure in church). These companies/groups/regiments did as they were told by their officers, who got their orders from the team or commanding officer, usually in separate meetings where information was passed down that isn’t passed to everyone below.

The soldiers in the groups were expected to obey because they didn’t have all the information. Informing everyone of everything is an impossible task and often takes too long. In battle there isn’t time so orders need to be obeyed and it’s far too easy to think a decision or order is wrong without all the facts and experience of leading an army. If orders weren’t obeyed battles were lost or more people were wounded or killed in the mayhem that ensued. The enemy doesn’t stop attacking just because you’ve decided not to follow an order, if anything you’re attacked more because you’re out on your own or a small group and an easy target. If the order was wrong then it was the officer who gave it who was punished not the people who obeyed it. Do you want to act entirely on your own decision making or do you want to fall in line and  help keep yourself and those around you safe during the battles?

If God’s church is God’s army then it’s our responsibility to make sure we act like soldiers who know who their superiors are and get on with the tasks given them by any of the officers above them, including God. Not to question and dither and fuss because we’re not 100% comfortable or happy with the orders being given.