Lenten Perspectives Day 5a – Featuring Cadet Aaron Johnson

As we enter into the Lenten season, let us remember that Jesus is no longer in the tomb. On the third day He was raised from the dead, defeating the dark forces of sin and death. As we contemplate the sacrifice of Christ, we should also ponder our willingness to sacrifice for Him. God calls us out of the world and into the life He has planned for us, knowing our daily struggles. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, we hear Jesus state to Paul concerning a personal struggle, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  As believers our joy is not grounded in our circumstances. We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ has won the victory and our earthly home is not our forever home, but at times it seems impossible for us to sacrifice everything in order for us to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. These are the times we need to remember that it is not by anything that we have done that we are saved, but by God’s grace and mercy. Each day we should count it a blessing that we have been called apart from the rest of the world to be a living sacrifice for Jesus Christ. The act of submitting to the will of God, just as Jesus submitted to the will of His Father, is the reason we were created. God desires a relationship with us, giving strength to face each obstacles in God’s power.

Today, take time to listen to the Holy Spirit’s calling on your life. Is there something in which you need to relinquish control? Ask God to grant you His power to sacrifice the things in your life which do not lead to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. In the end, you may find that giving up the things which you so greedily hold on to, was the easiest thing you’ve ever done in light of Christ’s sacrifice for His children.

Aaron Johnson

 

Cadet Aaron Johnson is a second year Cadet in the Central Territory USA.

Lenten Perspectives Day 3 – Featuring Bob Hostetler

Where Jesus Died

 READ: I Corinthians 15:1-5

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3b, NIV)

In family devotions with our two young children, my wife and I often repeated the story of Calvary and Jesus’ death on a cross. We were not sure of the story’s impact on our son’s and daughter’s minds until one day when we were driving cross-country on a car trip.

As the miles rolled by under our car, we suddenly spied in the distance a hill with three crosses outlined clearly on the summit. My children watched silently until we began to pass the hilltop arrangement. Finally, in a voice of awe, my four-year-old son whispered, “Daddy, is that where Jesus died?”

I tried tenderly to explain that, no, the place where Jesus died was far from that hillside.

I’ve since come to regard my answer as a little hasty. Of course, Jesus did die at a specific spot on the surface of the earth. But in another sense, maybe He did die on that hillside, if that is where one of His children came to faith in Him. For me, He “died” at a scratched and pitted wooden campground altar. For one of my friends, it was literally a ditch beside a country road. For others, the place was a storefront church or a kitchen table. Perhaps that’s what hymnwriter (and Salvation Army general) Albert Orsborn meant when he wrote, “On every hill our Saviour dies, and not on Calvary’s height alone,” for wherever I accept His love and sacrifice, that place becomes a Calvary.


On every hill our Saviour dies,

And not on Calvary’s height alone;

His sorrows darken all our skies,

His griefs for all our wrongs atone.


Present he is in all our woes,

Upon a world-wide cross is hung;

And with exceeding bitter throes

His world-embracing heart is wrung.

Chorus

Go! Cry the news from every hill;

Go! Ring the earth with sacred flame;

To pardon is the Father’s will,

And Jesus is the Saviour’s name.

PRAYER: Jesus, keep me near the cross where, as a trembling soul, love and mercy found me.

 THOUGHT: The cross of Christ spans the ages and the miles to meet the needy soul. . . anywhere.

Bob Bob Hostetler is an award winning and best-selling author whose work is prolific.  He is also a gifted speaker and pastor.  

http://www.bobhostetler.com

 

Lenten Perspective Pondering – Featuring Cadet Bobby Key

“The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God.”  -Psalm 51:17

I have never been much of a lent observer. You know, the part where people give up certain things for the entirety of Lent. I understand the meaning behind it, and why people do this, but it never appealed to me. As I get ready to graduate from seminary in a few months, God has been revealing His word to me in a new and exciting ways. So, this year, for the first time ever, I gave up sugar. Anyone who knows me knows how difficult this really is. The first day was awful. It is all I thought about all day. I thought about it in class, when I was at home with my family, and even in the middle of the night. All I wanted to do was give up.

As a young teenager, I often felt this way about Jesus. I felt that following Him was too difficult. I thought about all of the things that I would have to give up. I even felt like the Israelites at times. The forgiveness of sins required too much. I would never be able to live a holy life, and I was tired of disappointing God. Giving up on my faith seemed like the right thing to do.

Even though I had all of these feelings of failure and frustration, I pressed on. I did not give up. Just like I am doing in this season of lent. A little over a week into it, and it has gotten much easier. I still think about the things I am giving up, but it doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. There are cupcakes, and cookies, and ice cream that I miss, but these are the times when I turn to him in prayer. This is what lent is all about, isn’t it? What is the thing that I need to give up that will draw me closer to the heart of Jesus?

This verse from Psalms is the verse I have been claiming this past year. David has just been confronted by Nathan about his transgression with Bathsheba. David is in deep anguish. He is crying out to God for forgiveness. Even though David needs to sacrifice burnt offerings, he knows that what God really wants is our heart. What God really wants from is our broken heart. A broken heart because we have broken His. He wants us to come before Him with a contrite spirit, a spirit that is deeply remorseful and affected by our guilt. God wants us to bring this to his feet. Lent reminds me to draw close to Him. It reminds me of the sacrifice He made for me on the cross. All He wants is me. All of me. Rest in the promise today that “God will not despise the sacrifices of our broken heart and contrite spirit.”

 -Cadet Bobby Key is a second year Cadet in the Central Territory USA, soon to be commissioned.-

Dear Salvation Army, For THY Mission Make Me Holy

Dear Salvationist, the movement of This Army of Salvation is inexplicably wrapped up in the holiness of the body of Christ.  Without this deep desire to be Holy and then to do holiness towards others, we become just another social service organization.  In the midst of doing the most good, often times the danger of making the mission ours and ours alone can squelch the desire to seek after God’s mission first.   How then shall we best serve the Lord and then others?

This is the main thrust of our pondering today, for I fear we as an Army have, in some ways, lost the “main thing” while in the pursuit of human approval and for our recognition of the works of our hands.
The question then becomes, “how can we shift our focus back to the mission of God?”

Here are four statements to help realign or replace our mission with God’s mission:

  1. Many lose the mission because surrender was never an option.  hat

This statement becomes deeply personal, for at the heart of such a declaration the defensive walls are raised, and we begin to tune out…don’t tune out, instead stare it dead in the eyes.  Is surrender an option…a REAL option in our hearts and lives?

We don’t like to submit to anything, because many times submission means we lose and someone else wins; but that’s not how God works.  When we submit to God, His mission and purpose becomes our mission and purpose for being.  We do not lose our identities in this, we gain our true new creation, the identity God has always intended for us to be.  From the very beginning of our being, God was present and He saw what and who we could be, but it is in our surrender that this identity can only be fully realized.

Since we have free will, the notion to surrender to the mission of God instead of command the mission is a foreign notion.  We want power to decide.  We long to be the captains of our own ship, and so the mission might be lost at the expense of our identities and authority.

  1. An accomplished mission at the sacrifice of holiness is no mission worth living.

bloodI once heard the story of a captain of a ship whose vessel had run aground and was in the process of sinking.  Many people were frantically evacuating on lifeboats, while there were still who were trapped below.  A noble captain would make every effort to save everyone, even to the point of one’s own life; but this captain discarded all sense of duty and ethics by abandoning his own ship, leaving the rest of the passengers to fend for themselves, many perished for lack of rescue.

Dear fellow Salvationists, there is the temptation in our army to do the most work instead of doing the most good, and in the process of doing the most work, the ethics of holiness could very well be abandoned.  I have heard story after story of officers and soldiers who have neglected their first ministry (their children and family) at the expense of their appointment, mission and public perception (both in and out of the army leadership realm).   Such a loss of first mission leads to a mission not worth living for!

We can grow the largest corps ministry in our territory and have lost everything if our own children turn from God because we failed to disciple them, and we left them to their own devices.  We were never appointed by the Army to be people pleasers.  We were never appointed to ministries apart from our families.  We cannot be effective, holiness teachers apart from God’s holy mission…but we cannot accomplish mission without holy living to our first ministry.

Our focus, before we feed a hungry soul, and before we DO anything, is to live within the very presence of God.  We must yearn and strive for such an image in our own life – the very image of Christ in us.  Without the image of Christ visible and living through us, our hands and the good they may do, will only serve the temporary and not the eternal purpose for which we have been ordained and called.

3.  Why mission? Whose mission? Happy Mission? mission2

Why do we do the things we do?  Is there a purpose behind it?  Are we not called by God to go into all the world, making disciples of every people?  (Matt. 28:19)

If we have to realign our mission, we first must go back to the original source of our that mission!  Who is it that commands our lives, and longs for our surrender?  Why is He calling us to this deeper purpose?  How can this all be done?

prayerChrist called not the qualified, but he qualified the called.  We don’t need to wait for that degree to be completed before we commit to His mission.  We don’t need to wait until we are older before we commit to His mission, nor should we delay for any other reason!!  The God of Abraham and Moses and David, still calls us to go.  The God the disciples served still calls us to go into all the world.  Our mission hasn’t changed, but has our priorities?  Have we neglected our first love?  Have we become distracted by other missions and other “services” that really have nothing to do with His mission?  If so, perhaps it’s time to discard those distractions…and once again follow Him.

4.  Before, during and after = Holy!

altarHow long must we be a holiness movement?
How long do we live this way?
This call to holiness in our service to God is not a temporary calling.
This is not a disguise we throw on to convince others or ourselves.
NO!  This is a conscious decision to ACTUALLY live for Him in every moment of every day.

Our Very Breath.
It has been said, that the ancient writers of scripture wouldn’t even write the name of God because it was far too sacred.  But if they had to record God within the text, they would use the letters YHWH or YHVH…Yahweh is spoken and you cannot help but speak it like you breathe.  In other words, may the name of God be the VERY breath you take every. single. moment. of. every. day.

So before we live mission – YHWH…
While we live mission – YHWH…
After each particular mission or victory is accomplished – YHWH…

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
If we are to live and breathe the mission of our Army, we first must live and breathe the mission of God into our lungs, into our lives, into the very fibers of who we are…and whose we are.

Because let’s face, leaders can let us down…
Volunteers can let us down…
Employees can let us down…
Friends and fellow Salvationists can let us down…

But God will never fail us or forsake us!

Dear Salvation Army,
without Holiness, our mission fails.
without committed Soldiership, our plans fall apart.
without a sincere love of Christ, and for others, the great commission that is wrapped up in our Blood and Fire flag will become a lost cause by disinterested and apathetic individuals looking to fulfill only themselves.  We are called to greater things.  We have been commissioned for the whole world, not just our own little bubbles.

Perhaps it’s time to re-explore our mission and purpose once more.

For Thy mission make me holy,
  for Thy glory make me Thine
  sanctify each moment fully
  fill my life with love divine.”

verse 2

Have I lost the sense of mission
That inspired my early zeal,
When the fire of thy commission
Did my dedication seal?
Let me hear thy tender pleading,
Let me see thy beckoning hand,
Let me feel thee gently leading
As I bow to thy command.

3.
Lord, release that latent passion
Which in me has dormant lain;
Recreate a deep compassion
That will care and care again.
Needy souls are still my mission,
Sinners yet demand my love;
This must be my life’s ambition,
This alone my heart shall move.

-Brindley Boon
(SASB #682)

Something more for our Army to ponder today.
God Bless You!

5 Things About Faith No One Talks About

Today, I want to talk about something that doesn’t get talked about enough…our faith and the things we don’t talk about.  That sentence sounds funny, but there’s nothing funny about the silence of Christ-followers in areas of faith that need explaining and deep conversations in.  Here are just 5 of these…I know that there are many more.

doubt

  1.  Doubting is Normal 
    I used to think that there was something wrong with me because I struggled with doubts within my faith.  I thought I was the only one who struggled this way, until I met other Christians who were honest and allowed themselves to be vulnerable.  Only then did I realize that our faith journey frequently possess places in which we experience doubts.  Talking about it helped, and I began to realize I wasn’t the only one struggling through these areas of doubts.
  2. Prayer isn’t always answered…in the way that you think it should be.talk
    This might seem obvious, but I don’t think we talk about prayer, REAL prayer enough.  Prayer isn’t about communicating with some magical genie, or shaking a magic 8 ball to get the desired answer that you’re looking for.  Sometimes prayer doesn’t turn out the way that we expect it to.  That doesn’t mean that God isn’t listening or that He doesn’t care, it just means that the answer could be “no” or it could be answered at a much later date.   It might seem cliche’ but God’s time isn’t always how we view time or how things should happen, but He’s still there for us.  God still cares, and if truth be told, that is very tough to hear when loved ones are taken from us when we prayed and prayed and prayed for them to be healed and they weren’t.  So does prayer shape our faith or doesn’t work in tandem to it?  Just remember, that just because our prayers weren’t answered, it doesn’t mean that God isn’t accessible or listening.
  3. Not all “Christians” can be trusted
    trust issuesMany of us learn this the hard way from time to time, but not all Christians ACTUALLY care about you or will invest their time in your life.   Be mindful of this.  I am certainly not advocating that we do not trust other Christians, but be aware of who you confide in and use your common sense.  Yes, we ought to be vulnerable before other Christians, but if the “Christians” that you are around don’t encourage, or share their lives with you, then perhaps you should be careful not to overshare.  There might even be times where you should seek out other groups of Christians who might be more compassionate and attentive.  Find Christ-followers who will build you up, challenge you and edify your walk with Christ.  Proverbs 4:23 applies to your mentors and peers as well, so guard your heart!
  4. Real Struggles aren’t shared in church…most of the time.  struggle
    This goes hand in hand with the trust issues of Church as well as doubting – no one wants to be seen as vulnerable or struggling in their faith, when in reality we all struggle from time to time.  Why can’t we talk about real issues in church?  I think we need to break the notion that we have to show up on Sunday (or any other day you go to Church) and have everything together in your life, in in reality LIFE is messy!  Why can’t we be honest about this?  Until we stop putting up fake facades and wear masks in church, we will never see growth!

    **I would like to call out the picture perfect Christian who never struggles with anything and looks down their nose at anyone who does struggle – STOP IT!  You aren’t helping anyone, in fact you are preventing growth from happening.  Also, I would call out your lie – if you’re alive you face struggles in life…so get over your prim and proper pious self and help others in their faith and stop pretending that you’ve got it all worked out!**

  5. Sin and Consequences of Sin is REAL.
    sinLastly, I wish to tread carefully here.
    Why don’t we tackle the topic of sin in Church?  Why don’t we talk about it?  Maybe it’s because we don’t want to guilt people into making changes?  Perhaps we also don’t talk about sin because it shouldn’t always be our focal point, but to not talk about it at all is to all of our detriment.  We cannot NOT talk about sin.  Secondly, there are consequences to sin even after confession, redemption and reconciliation.  Similarly to the long term effects on the body when someone smokes or drinks in excess for long periods of their lives – it eventually catches up to them.  Sin does the same thing.  We cannot stay silent on sin…because if we love our Church and the people in it, we must lovingly (emphasis on LOVINGLY) talk about the effects of sin, because assuredly it is very real as are the effects.

    These are just 5 things about faith no one talks about…I know that there are more, but this is just a primer to that conversation.  What should we also talk more about?  Like and comment below to join the conversation!  Tell us what YOU think!  Together we can ponder these things and hopefully better our lives!

What Are YOU Waiting For?

Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” Acts 9:8-9

We probably know the story.
Saul was a Pharisee, who lived out his religious convictions by punishing members of “The Way”.  He was a devout Jew, and was very popular amongst his peers.  He did what he thought was right…he did what he perceived to be God’s will.  But he was wrong.  On his to Damascus, God intervened.  His truth was the light that blinded Saul but it also seared his heart.  A divine course correction took place, and the person known as Saul died on that road.  No, he didn’t die physically, but the road marked out the conclusion of that identity, that mission, that chapter.  To many of his devout followers, he would be dead in their eyes for he was set on a new path by God, that of which they could neither follow or believe in.

Those with whom Saul traveled with led this now blind man into the city of Damascus where we waited, and waited, and waited some more.  Whole sermons and sermon series’ have been preached on with this story – mostly focused on that road and God’s intervention and even Ananias when he arrives…but what about the waiting period between the two chapters?  What happened within the span of those three days?  I believe the soul searching that took place with this blind man once named Saul is just as important and has a lot to teach us.  This is not necessarily reading between the lines of the text, this is merely speculating, extrapolating and mulling over this human metamorphosis.  A blind man named Saul – Christian persecutor and sometimes executor went into Damascus, a transformed man on a mission named Paul exited that city with divine purpose, intent and a new found passion in life.

BUT…
What happened in those 3 days between blindness and commission?
What changes transpired there?
Is there something teachable in this narrative for you and for me?
I believe there is, so please allow me to share this with you now.
waiting3
“METAMORPHOSIS” 
3 Lessons from 3 Days of Blindness

1st Lesson:  Sometimes Spiritual Correction Hurts and We Must Do Some Deep Soul Searching
Saul thought he was doing what God wanted him to do.
He was fighting for and defending his faith…but he was, in fact, persecuting Christ.  He had passionately taken up his cause with vim and vigor and knew he was in the right…then God turned his whole world upside down.  He was confronted with his own failures…he was confronted with his own mistakes, and it must have hurt.  Saul spends three days of blindness not eating and drinking.  It is a sobering response to the Theophany he had just experienced.  Within the words of Jesus, there was a course correction and for three days Saul had to have replayed that scene over and over in his head.  He must have prayed and fasted.  He must have explored every action that had led him to this place, like a movie playing in his head for three long days.

I find it interesting that 3 days pass.
3 Days that seem like a real death and a real resurrection.
3 days of emotional and philosophical death until God’s messenger arrives to offer new life again.  In a very real sense, Saul is in his chrysalis transforming and arriving at a new physical place.

Do we have chapters like this in our lives?
Has there ever been spiritual correction in your life that has hurt?
God doesn’t enjoy hurting us, it is more for our benefit and growth that these corrections take place.  There’s an old phrase – “no pain, no gain” and I think it applies here.  If we don’t experience some discomfort in life from time to time we might remain stagnant and planted in incorrect spiritual patterns.  God doesn’t want us to remain there, He sees in us the potential for something better, greater and far more substantive that what we have settled for now.  He wishes to adjust our paths, and help us grow into maturity within our faith.  But we have to be willing to accept these corrections which, hurt, but are meant to help us grow…and sometimes set us on a new, more holy path than what we have settled on.

2nd Lesson:  There is Growth that Takes Place that Only Happens in Our Waiting on The Lord
waiting4Abraham was an old man before God’s promise of being the father to many nations was actually fulfilled, and certainly Abraham tried to speed up the process with his wife’s handmaiden Hagar.  But the waiting was necessary.

David was anointed as king and successor to king Saul, but he did not become king right away, he had to endure hurts, the loss of his best friend when he had ran for his life.  But he did not stop being faithful to God – he persisted and eventually the waiting produced the crown in God’s appointed time.

Waiting on the Lord can be tiring and frustrating, and we may sometimes question if God will really show up in our lives and our situations, but in those moments of waiting we grow.  These times of waiting produces in us perseverance, endurance and fortitude.  You might not believe that you can wait on the Lord.  You may question your own strength, but rest assured you are not alone – the Holy Spirit is with you giving you the strength that you need.  When we wait, we must recognize our finite while we wait for the Infinite to enter our stories.  Saul waited for the appointed time.  He wasn’t told how long it would be.  He wasn’t told who would show up as God’s ambassador…he just simply waited.

Are you waiting right now for God to show up?
Are you growing frustrated with the “waiting game”?
Maybe we will someday declare as David did in Psalm 40:
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him…”

Maybe we can declare this today!

3rd LessonThere is a New Chapter in the Future to Embrace, but First We must Embrace the Present. waitinghospital
Have you ever visited a doctor’s office?
I am sure that you have.
Most of the time there are two places that you find yourself waiting.  First, you have to wait to be seen by the nurse on duty at the front desk as they take your insurance card and all of your vital information.  Sometimes they even take your blood pressure.  Then they call your name and the nurse takes you through the waiting room door into a hallway which leads to another, more intimate waiting room.  Sometimes the nurse asks you to take off your clothes and put on a gown…and then wait.  This is sometimes the longest wait that you may have at the doctor’s office.  That uncomfortable time dressed only in a thin paper gown, sitting on an examination table while some elevator music is droning on and on in the background.  But we cannot speed up that time.  We have to simply wait, even when it’s not comfortable or the most desirable thing to do – we still wait.  Finally the doctor in a white coat comes in and then we get down to business and the present can then be moved into the future.

If we believe that God sent Jesus to die for us, that Jesus resurrected and went to prepare a place for us, then we already understand what it means to wait.  We aren’t in some doctor’s waiting room or anything but we must acknowledge that Jesus promised to return one day – and so His people anxiously wait for his return
waiting5
But what about the little things of life?
What about the prayers we utter in the hope that God will answer them?
What happens in the in between time of God encounter and fulfillment?
We wait.
Sometimes we wait and wait.
Saul didn’t eat or drink for 3 days.
This parched, blind man waited for God’s fulfillment.
He didn’t know when it would happen, but it WAS going to happen.
He didn’t know WHO God was sending, but in the present moment he waited.

Many times we might feel stuck in the present while we wait for God.
We might grow frustrated and even weary in our waiting, but let me encourage you today:  The present waiting room of your life IS where God meets us.
We might not yet know it yet, but He is already present and with you right here and now.  We do not need to pine for the future in a “some day” mindset when we understand that God is sitting with us in our present waiting rooms.

Saul met God, then we he had to wait, then when God’s appointed ambassador arrived the commission was given and a much transformed Paul emerged to do the will of God.

Are you waiting right now for God?
Remember this while you wait:
-Sometimes Spiritual Correction Hurts and We Must Do Some Deep Soul Searching.
-There is Growth that Takes Place that Only Happens in Our Waiting on The Lord.
-There is a New Chapter in the Future to Embrace, but First We must Embrace the Present.
waiting6
Something more to ponder today.
God Bless you!  

Walking at Midnight on the path of restlessness.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

I have another confession to make – I am restless…like pit of my stomach-aching restlessness.  Some days I can put my finger on it, while other days it is as elusive as an honest thief.  I am usually successful at pushing it back down, repacking that box that it lives in and stowing it away in that shadowy corner that I seldom travel to.  Still, I know it’s there…and it weighs on me as if an elephant had decided to perch its rotund bottom on my chest.

I wonder if you feel this way sometimes?
Do you have to push it back down as well?
Do you have to re-tape that worn-out box and pretend that dark corner doesn’t even exist?  Does it keep you up at night – blinking at the ceiling fan, counting the rotation of its blades as shadows dance off reflections of streetlights lit only for 3rd shift workers and insomniacs out for a stroll?  I repress the urge to join them, to open the front door and walk barefooted down the now cooled, uneven sidewalks as I imagine myself trying to avoid the spiny round pods that fall haphazardly from the large gum tree in our front yard.   I have stepped on these awful spiky seeds a time or two while walking barefoot down our path and even in the cool darkness of the night thoughts of the surprise pain causes me to recoil my feet from the lower spaces of my bed.

I wonder if David ever felt this way?  The pre-murder and adulterous David…the one that tended sheep and slew predators to the flock.  I wonder if he ever felt restless in his heart?  I am sure he did when, later he was being pursued by jealous King Saul and his men.  As David hid from cave to cave and village to village, I imagine him laying down on an uncomfortable uneven floor hoping to rest his weary head.  I can picture his deep sadness as he yearned for his best friend Jonathan.  Yet David trusted in God…but I would venture a guess that there were moments in which he was restless and he too had to push it back down and re-tape his box.

It is said that there is a season for everything…and yet Jesus told the people of his day not to worry about anything, yet I can’t help but find myself in the season of worry from time to time.  Doe that mean that I am not heeding His words?  That, despite my best efforts, I am not trusting in Him?  Perhaps you have thought this also> I worry, but Jesus said not to, and here I am still worrying.<  What do we do with these seasons?  How do we find the glimmers and glints of hope in the mess of our minds?  Sometimes we do believe the lie.  What lie you ask?  The lie that Jesus wasn’t really talking to us when He said those things, that it was just for the disciples and people around Him right then and there… The lie that we are broken people beyond fixing, and that the restlessness that we feel in the pits of our stomachs and the weight of our hearts is what we deserve for being fallen, sinful people.

Don’t live there.
Don’t wallow in that muck and believe that damning lie.
The son who turned his back on his father and spent his entire inheritance on partying, prostitutes and comfort found himself feeding muddy, fetid pigs.  Day in and day out he was covered in mud and pig excrement.  He definitely smelled as bad as they did.  He had lost everything – squandered a small fortune on foolish, regrettable things, and the stink of his life went much deeper than clothes and skin.  He lived there.  He wallowed there.  That pen of stench became his home for a period of time, until he came to senses.  As Jesus told this story of prodigal son, I imagine some who were listening felt that he was telling their story.  The prodigal son came to his senses, got up and devised a plan to return to his father.  He formulated a plan in his mind, he believed he would be unwelcome to return as a son, but maybe, just maybe his father would let him return as a servant.  Can you imagine that restless journey home; The endless loop of things he would finally say to his father in order to stave off the reprisals and chastisements?  As each dusty step led him closer and closer to the home he once knew, thoughts of doubt and fear must have crept in.  “Master, just let me work for you.” (For surely he would never be worthy to call him father after what he did).

And when this beaten-by-life man, who had squandered everything and had hit absolute rock-bottom crested that last hill, and his home was in view…he saw someone running towards him.  Perhaps it was a servant instructed to chase him off.  Perhaps it was a warning not to come any closer…he would have deserved such a welcome.  Instead, it wasn’t any of those things…it was his father that he had wished were dead, running to embrace the son he thought he had lost.

Don’t live in the home of restlessness.
Don’t believe the lie of shame and guilt.
Be forgiven, let your Father embrace you and welcome you home…and when you are finally hope, re-tape that box and then throw it away.

The prodigal son is me.
The prodigal son is you.
But once we have been embraced,
once we have witness our Father running to us,
Once we have been forgiven and returned to our home (where we belong)
don’t even entertain the lie or the box any longer.

But sometimes…we still walk at midnight, say hello, I’ll be waving.

Something more to ponder today.

Dear Salvation Army, If Baptism isn’t Necessary, are Uniforms?

“So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…” -Acts 10:48a

Recently I was asked a question by one of our volunteers who had been busily answering phones but found a lull in the rush of the day.  The question?  “Why doesn’t The Salvation Army baptize?”  It’s a good question, one that has been asked many times before.  I answered him, in a semi-rehearsed conversation.  I told him about our perspective on holiness and on holy living.  That these outward ceremonies only represent that which the Holy Spirit has already on on the inward parts of our heart and lives.  I went on to explain that baptism isn’t necessary to salvation, but rather a public witness to that life changing event.  He countered that it says one must be baptized even in the Great Commission:  “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.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

I challenged  him with a notion of my own:  but Peter said, “ and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.[a] It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…”  (1 Peter 3:21)

If water baptism is only a symbol of the salvation that now saves you, doesn’t that mean that it’s all about the Holy Spirit and not the water?  Doesn’t that mean that, as I have already mentioned it’s not the water that makes the difference, but rather the work of Him who now resides within us at the moment of initial sanctification when we said “yes” to Christ’s dominion and Lordship of our lives?  -When the baptism of the Holy Spirit first encompassed our lives?

We continued to converse about this topic of baptism and its necessity, until this very astute volunteer asked a question I had not thought about.  He said; “In order to be a member of some churches, you have to become baptized (at least in his church it was emphasized I later found out).  So how does one become a member in The Salvation Army?”  I told him about our Soldiership classes and then how new soldiers are given uniforms as another sign of their membership into The Salvation Army, which is also an evidence of a life changing event as a soldier pledges to: “HAVING accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord, and desiring to fulfil my membership of His Church on earth as a soldier of The Salvation Army, I now by God’s grace enter into a sacred covenant…THEREFORE

I will be responsive to the Holy Spirit’s work and obedient to His leading in my life, growing in grace through worship, prayer, service and the reading of the Bible.

I will make the values of the Kingdom of God and not the values of the world the standard for my life.

I will uphold Christian integrity in every area of my life, allowing nothing in thought. word or deed that is unworthy, unclean, untrue, profane, dishonest or immoral.

I will maintain Christian ideals in all my relationships with others: my family and neighbours, my colleagues and fellow Salvationists, those to whom and for whom I am responsible, and the wider community.

I will uphold the sanctity of marriage and of family life.

I will be a faithful steward of my time and gifts, my money and possessions, my body, my mind and my spirit, knowing that I am accountable to God.

I will abstain from alcoholic drink. tobacco, the non-medical use of addictive drugs. gambling, pornography, the occult, and all else that could enslave the body or spirit.

I will be faithful to the purposes for which God raised up The Salvation Army, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, endeavouring to win others to Him, and in His name caring for the needy and the disadvantaged.

I will be actively involved, as l am able, in the life, work, worship and witness of the corps, giving as large a proportion of my income as possible to support its ministries and the worldwide work of the Army.

I will be true to the principles and practices of The Salvation Army, loyal to its leaders, and I will show the spirit of Salvationism whether in times of popularity or persecution.

I now call upon all present to witness that I enter into this covenant and sign these articles of war of my own free will, convinced that the love of Christ, who died and now lives to save me, requires from me this devotion of my life to His service for the salvation of the whole world; and therefore do here declare my full determination, by God’s help, to be a true soldier of The Salvation Army.”

I showed him the general idea of a Soldiership enrollment and pledge/covenant.  
He looked at me with a little bit of surprise.
Then his next words really made me think, “But this is similar to what I experienced in my baptism.”
He went online and showed me some of the wording that was used on his day of baptism.  The website blink and whisked us to his church’s website and there on the screen was the basic ceremony of baptism:  

Since you have responded by God’s grace
to the call of the gospel to believe and be baptized,
we ask you, before God and his people,
to profess your faith in Jesus Christ.

Do you turn to Jesus Christ?
Yes!
Do you intend to be Christ’s faithful disciple,
trusting his promises,
obeying his word,
honoring his church,
and showing his love,
as long as you live?
Yes!

(*Note:  Both of these public statements of faith are good and helpful for the body, I am not criticizing their usefulness)  

After showing me this he asked me the all important question, “If The Salvation Army believes that baptism is unnecessary, then isn’t the Uniform that you wear unnecessary too?

You know in some ways he is right.
The Uniform isn’t of course necessary for Salvation just as water baptism doesn’t save people…but could it become that to us in the Army?
Of course we know that the entirety of this transforming grace is done through the Holy Spirit alone.  Each are symbols.   Each are ways in which we commemorate and identify ourselves as members of that particular Ecclesia.   But, perhaps it begs the question of us today, even to quantify and formulate our own response of the necessity of uniform in The Salvation Army.  Do you have an answer or do you merely follow, perhaps even blindly without fully recognizing the symbolism and meaning?

Please do not get me wrong, I am not advocating that we chuck our uniforms away and lose that part of our identity, but what is the reason that we still wear the uniform?  Do we wear it for public recognition?  Do we wear it to look good?  Do we wear it because it’s what we’ve always done?  Do we wear it to fit in?  -Any of these answers is NOT good enough.  We must formulate a personal response and reason.  Yes, we are a part of this international movement.  Yes, we are identifying ourselves as members of The Salvation Army, but is that a sufficient of an answer?

Let me ask this question and perhaps some will think me a little crazy in asking, has the use if Uniforms and enrollment of soldiers simply taken the place of baptism and even communion as the commonality and qualifications of membership?  Have we just exchanged one ceremony for another?  Could this eventually lose it’s symbolism and meaning to future generations…or has this already happened and we aren’t prepared to admit it?

Two key observations before I close this open ended pondering today (and please comment and share your answers and questions with us):

1) William and Catherine Booth decided to exclude the use of baptism and communion because these had been abused and lost its meaning and had even become means for salvation and even power of the church.  Could this be happening to the Uniforms and the use of such a wardrobe?

2) The Uniform was originally adopted so that poor and rich alike could fit into “church” or the movement of the Army.  But as the price of uniforms become more and more expense even with allowances and percentages offered to members, is it necessary?  It used to solidify and unify the early Army…but was it meant to last forever?  Also has it now become what it should never have become – something that divides new comers and adherents from the “true” soldiers?  Instead, of unifying is it undoing what the Booths originally set out to do with the lower East End of London?

Things To Ponder (Tell us what you think?):
Have we not taught the proper use of uniform?
Have we lost the symbolism?
Has the Uniform become a divider instead of something that unifies?  Are we overthinking this?
Are we in need of changing the uniforms?
What of Baptism?  Is it really similar to the ceremony of soldiership & renewal ceremonies?  And have we just exchanged one ceremony for another?

Note: My purpose for such a pondering today is not to discourage you dear Salvation Army, but rather to better identify and have an answer for such questions as I have had this week…now it’s your turn.  What do you think?  

Something more for the army to ponder today.

*Disclaimer, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog are solely the thoughts and opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect that of The Salvation Army.  Reader discretion is advised.* 

 

Messy Church – Joseph and His Coat of Many Colors…

Joseph  – Messy Church

This time our corps (church) did a messy church on the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors.  The major theme was God providing and taking what was meant for evil and turning it into something good.  The following stations were used to illustration and reinforce the story as the station leader asked questions and prodded the participants to discuss and think about particular segments of Joseph’s life.  

Station 1:  Dream Pictures (10 Minutes) dreams
(Need:  cotton swabs, card paper, markers, colored film paper.)
Create a dream on paper with the materials at the table.
Talk about:  Talk about dreams, how God can speak to people through dreams, and how most of us have a dream for our lives.  We might find that as we follow our dream, God has very different plans for us that are even better than our dreams.

Questions:
Do you like to sleep in complete darkness or do you sleep with a night light or lamp?
What kind of dreams do you have?
Do you think that God can still speak to us in our dreams or is it just last night’s pizza?

Scripture – Genesis 37:5-8
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

Ask:  Does it sound like Joseph’s brothers appreciated his dream?
Why do you think they were upset with Joseph?
Do you get along with you family and brother/sister(s)?
Close:
As we finish this station today remember that it is good to dream big dreams in life and that God wants to help you along the way.  God also wants to be there with you each step of the way!

coatStation 2:  Big Colored Coat (10 Minutes)
(Need:  outline of coat, colored crepe/tissue paper paper, glue)

prepare in advance strips of colored paper for the participants to organize onto their coat.  Emphasize the need to make it as beautiful as possible.

Talk About:
Talk about the beautiful coat that Jacob gave to Joseph as a present.  Ask everyone what their favorite piece of clothing is at the moment:  favorite shoes, shirt, jeans, jacket and why.

Scripture Genesis 37:3 – “Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.”

Questions:
Why did Jacob give Joseph the colorful coat?
Who are the people in your life that love you?  Name them.
How can we show love to others like Jacob showed love to his son Joseph?

Station 3  Gift Box Decoration (10 Minutes) boxes
(Need:  Small gift boxes, scraps of colorful material or wrapping paper, wrapped candies/chocolates)

Directions:  decorate small gift boxes using the colorful materials and wrapping paper.  Use a heart or cross design while using the materials as a symbol of love.  Select and place a wrapped candy/chocolate inside the decorated box.  The idea behind the box is to give the box and the candy away to someone to show how much you care for them.

Talk About:
Talk about presents from friends or members of your family and how you might want to give them a present just because you love them so much.
Ask:  What’s the best present you’ve ever been given?
What made it the best present?
Who gave you that present?

Scripture:  2 Corinthians 9:15 “Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!
What do you think is the writer meant when he said “this gift”?  Who do you think this gift is about?  Do you know that God loves you so very much that He sent Jesus to die for your sins?  We are going to close our time at this station with a quick word of prayer thanking God for giving us this wonderful gift of Salvation through Jesus.  (Pray)

Lastly say, “After Church today, or during this week, pray about who you should give this gift to.  Perhaps it will help cheer someone up, or used as a way to help heal a relationship or friendship that you have.  Pray about it and then give this little gift to someone who you feel needs it.

Station 4 Thumbprint People (10 Minutes)
(Need: Poster paint in different colors, sheets of paper, markers)
painttheone
Directions:  Make 12 thumbprints with poster paint.  When they’re dry, decorate them with markers, drawing eyes, mouths, beards, and clothes to be Joseph and his 11 brothers.

Talk About:
Talk about the way very different people make up a family and how hard it can be to live together when you feel very different from each other.  Talk about ways of getting along that you have found helpful.

Read Scripture as participants are decorating: Genesis 37:18-28 18 When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. 19 “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. 20 “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”

21 But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. 22 “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father.

23 So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. 24 Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then, just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime.[c] 27 Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. 28 So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces[d] of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.

Ask:  Why do you think his brothers hated Joseph so much?
What was the name of the brother who stopped the other brothers from killing Joseph?
How do you get along with your siblings?  What are some ways that you can make peace when a fight breaks out?

Station 5: False Beards  (10 Minutes) beards
(Need: Scraps of dark brown, black fabric, scissors, dark wool and a darning needle –if needed- and thread)

Using your selection of fabric cut out a triangle big enough to fit on the chin as a beard.  Cut a mouth hole so that it comprises a moustache and beard.  Using the threat poke a hole on either side of the beard in order to tie it around the back of your head.  Wear your beard with pride!

Talk about:
Talk about the “hairy Ishmaelites”  who took Joseph off to Egypt and sold him as a slave:
Scripture:  Genesis 37:25-28
25 Then, just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt.

beard3

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime.  27 Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. 28 So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces[d] of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.
beard2
Questions:
What do you think it was like for Joseph being sold into slavery?
What do you think those hairy Ishmaelites were like?
Do you think Joseph was afraid to be away from home?
Do you think God was with Joseph even when we was a prisoner and slave?
 

 

Celebration: (back to Chapel or Fellowship Room)
Need:  Artwork and colorful mosaics, Egypt pics…all decorations and songs link to the activities  of the stations.

We sang these songs for the celebration/closing:
Just a closer walk with Thee, Jehovah Jireh.

Say:  
Joseph had 11 brothers.  Maybe you sometimes quarrel with your brother or sister.  Well, Joseph and his brothers often quarreled, partly because Joseph’s brothers were jealous of the beautiful coat that their Dad, Jacob had given to Joseph.

Bring a bright coat or robe out of a box

Also, Joseph had dreams they didn’t like.  For example, he dreamed the sun and moon and 11 stars were bowing down to him.  His brothers thought he was showing off.  So the brothers plotted to kill Joseph.  They threw him down a dry well, but then instead of killing him, they decided to sell him into slavery when a caravan of slavers traveled by.  To cover up their crime, they killed an animal and poured its blood onto Joseph’s beautiful colored coat and told their father Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

Bring out a small knife from the box…
In Egypt, Joseph was sold as a slave and, although he was very hardworking, he was thrown in jail for something he didn’t do.  While he was in prison, he told some prisoners what their dreams meant, and later he told the Pharaoh what his dreams meant:  that the harvest would fail and there was going to be a famine, so Egypt would have to stock up on food.

Bring a small loaf of bread out of the box…

The famine came to the whole area – and Egypt was the only place with food, thanks to Joseph.  Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food, but they didn’t recognize joseph.  What would Joseph do?  Should he get his revenge on them for being so mean all those years ago?

No!  He told them who he was and forgave them.  “Even though you meant to harm me, God made it all turn out well so that everyone would be saved, “  he said.  So they brought Jacob their father, to Egypt and God reunited them all.

Bring a picture of a smiling face out of the box…or a family photo…

God can take things that go wrong and mend them and turn them to good.  He wants to bring us together as his Christian family.  Think of someone you’ve quarreled with recently.  Let’s say sorry to God and ask him to help us forgive them and to make up.

Closing Prayer:
Lord, thank you that we are one big family of your people throughout the world and throughout history.  Help us to live as one family, loving each other through thick and thin.  Amen.

Benediction:
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
*Hold out your hands expecting a present.*

And the love of God
*Put your hands on your heart*

And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
*Hold hands*

Be with us all now and forever.  Amen!
*Raise hands together on the word ‘Amen’*

Adapted from the book:  Messy Church: Fresh ideas for building a Christ-centered Community.  Messy

Eclipsed by the Son

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

This coming Monday there will be a much anticipated global event – the solar eclipse of 2017.  The last time a solar eclipse of this magnitude occurred was 1918…we’re talking a coast to coast (United States that is) total eclipse of the sun.  (cue the song – total eclipse of the heart…)  Many cities, like mine, have sold out of glasses.  My son stood in line for three hours today in order to buy a couple of pairs, there were people in lawn chairs.  It’s simply astounding.

IMG_0815
Isaiah, standing in line for solar eclipse glasses

People are excited.
Schools are giving parents the option to keep their children home this Monday so families can watch the eclipse together.
There are of course the doomsdayers out there who are calling for the end of the world, or an alien invasion…there’s always a few crackpots out there.

I don’t know about you, but I am in awe of God’s creation.
He spoke our world into existence.
He formed us out of clay and dirt.
God breathed life into our lungs…and here we are attempting to take in the majesty of God’s amazing artistry.  The Universe is vast, and yet in the tremendously immense expanse, God comes down to our level and wishes to fellowship with us.  He loves His creation, despite our fallen nature and sin that permeates us on a molecular level.  His love extends to us all the way to a cross with shineHis only Son dying in our place.
This.
Is.
What.
Love.
Looks.
Like!

Jesus, God’s Son – faced death on a cross so that we could be made worthy of standing in the very presence of God once more; for the purpose of fellowship and restoration!   Salvation is found in Christ alone!

Then this Jewish zealot, by the name of Saul perceived the Christ-followers to be blasphemous and heretical, so he sought to cleanse the Hebrew world of them.  He began to seek them out and bring them to his perceived understanding of godly justice.  He looked on with approval when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was stoned to death.  He pressed onward, in the hopes of exposing them all in his righteous religious cleansing campaign… but God had other plans for Saul.

On his way to Damascus, Christ showed up in all of His glory – pouring so much light intosaul.jpg the eyes of this zealot that it seared him blind. Saul was then confronted by Christ himself.  He was forced to answer the question of why he had been persecuting God’s Son – the Messiah.   Only later, when the scales had fallen from his eyes and he began a new mission – to preach Christ to the world, did he truly begin to live.  He had been eclipsed you see (pun intended).  Paul – had been eclipsed by the Son and he would never be the same again.  From that point on he had one purpose, one mission, one life and that life was Christ’s alone!  He would pour out himself upon others as a fragrant offering to God.  He would invest himself in the lives of new believers…even from a prison cell hundreds of miles away.

He declare in Galatians 2:20 “For I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Paul was eclipsed by the Son of God, and his life became a vessel that enabled the world to be changed!!

How about us?
shine2Has the Son Eclipsed our lives?  This is what Holiness looks like – us dying to our old sinful selves and living for Christ alone – through the amazing power of the Holy Spirit!!

Let me ask you, have YOU allowed Him access to the very fiber of your existence, or are you holding back a portion just for yourself?  Can you make this bold claim as Paul once did, “I have been crucified WITH Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me.

A total solar eclipse may only arrive once every 90 years or so, but on a daily basis – Christ comes to us and longs to shine His mercy and love in and through us.  How is your relationship with Him today?  Has your light gone out?  Are you in need of more of His grace?  Call out to Him, He is never far from you.  Begin to live for Him again and be willing to be eclipsed by the Son so that others might find Him!

Something more to ponder today!

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