A Fallen Tree…is it me?

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving…” Colossians 2:6-7

tree1Last month a giant tree, strong-stout and regal, fell behind our backyard.  We were very fortunate that it fell away from our property, the garage and family investment known as our ugly rolling turd (the RV).  It appears that the cause of death of this might oak was soil erosion.  Weeks leading up to its demise, we had a seven day span of unending rain.  As it continued to rain, flooding occurred which led to the weakening of this mighty tree’s root system…there was simply nothing to hold onto anymore.  With a sudden thud, the tree fell and that wonderful shady spot where Moms and Dads came to watch their children play soccer, became the grave of something that had once been so mighty and tall.

I am sure we will miss that tree this summer, when the sweltering heat cascades in waves around that High School Soccer field.  We will miss the chirping birds who nested there and have now been displaced.  The tree removal service has since come and gone, chopping that once majestic oak into fire wood and mulch, all because its roots couldn’t find anything to hold onto any longer.

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My boys hanging out on that fallen tree before it was removed.  

This real-life tale reminded me of how easy it is for mighty oak trees to fall…and for the holiest of believers as well.  We are all susceptible to the trappings of sin, and many a tear has been shed for a saint who has fallen from grace.  The names, at times seem to be many…and it causes a wave of exhaled breath when each one falls.  Like a punch to the gut, we feel our hearts sink as the shock of it all can be felt like the sudden thud of a felled two ton oak.

It can be very tempting to think of this “root” problem as someone else’s burden to carry, but the very real threat is all around us.  We cannot pity the fallen saint while we look from afar thinking that this could never happen to me.  Beware of this trap dear friends!
Pay attention to the soil in which you sink your roots.  Make sure they go down deep into the dark, rich soil of Christ himself.  Because there will be rainy days again…there could also be floods that come and attempt to uproot you.  Be mindful that what is done in secret is known to God, and that He longs for your integrity and honesty just as much as the world around you is clambering for truth.

I will miss that great oak, but I also am more sober; I am more consciously aware of the soil that my roots are currently in…and I long for them to become more profoundly rooted in the Holiness of Christ.  How are your roots today?

-Just a thought.

Dear Salvation Army, Why We Should Get Rid of “Church”…

The primary purpose for our founders in creating The Salvation Army was to be a Lighthouse, a beacon to the lost.  We were founded to help the lost, the drowning the marginalized in society…those who were not welcome in Church.  We are a holiness movement, and our origin story is all about gap ministry.   We go to places that the Church has forgotten or, in some cases, refused to go.
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Why then do we make it such a focus to emulate or replicate the Church?
I do not wish to disparage any church but as a practice, many times Church (big C) gets it wrong.  The Salvation Army was created to be a “door-opener”  – a ministry in which people felt comfortable with, where lives were being touched because the physical needs were met first.  But over time, I feel that we started looking around at the explosive growth of churches and mega churches and longed to be like them…when our mission and vision is nothing like them.   It’s like this:  We are all a member of the Body of Christ, some are the hands, some are the feet…but what happens when the hands look over and see the feet and they begin to try and act like feet?  What happens is we have a polarizing body that is not functioning as it was intended to function.  This is what I believe has become our downfall as an Army.  We were called to be the hands of Christ to the unchurched, to the depraved, to the marginalized of society…but we are trying to act and look like another ministry.

Getting Rid of “Church”
1.  Stop labeling “Worship” only what we do with music…
worshipWe need to rid ourselves of the Church of the worship of music!
Worship is so much more than music on Sunday mornings.  Worship is not just your praise band or your brass band and special music.  Worship IS holistic and it encompasses every aspect of who we are as Soldiers of this Army, just as Holiness is our aim in every facet of life!  Worship is the response to God’s wondrous love for us.  We worship in the van as we pick up people for Holiness meeting.  We worship as we go to midweek bible study or other such programs.  We worship as we clean the corps bathrooms (this might sound funny, but we once had a blind janitor who could be heard singing hymns of praise while he clean the toilets and washed walls – he taught me a lot about worship).  brass

2.  Stop thinking Church as only what we do on Sunday…
This notion of “Church” really should be eliminated so that we can get on with going for souls and going for the worst!  Church is NOT what we do on Sundays!  We worship the Lord on our Sunday Sabbath day.  We collectively get together on this day and sing, pray, encourage one another and hear a message…but Church is not only a Sunday thing.  We we have this mindset that Sunday is separate from the rest of the week, and that “Church” should only occur on Sunday then we have lost our mission as an Army.  Getting rid of this notion of “Church” will open up the possibilities that our Soup Kitchen days, and our Food Pantry days, and our youth program days…IS ALL MINISTRY!!  Every facet of these vital “soup, soap, salvation” elements is another opportunity to share Christ, disciple lives and encourage the downtrodden.  This is what Church should’ve been…and what we ought to strive to BE.    Your congregation is NOT Sunday, but everyday – everyone who comes to your corps, who receives services, who asks for help, They are your congregation!

3.  Create Community Not Programs!
programsWe as an Army are so good at creating programs.
We have programs for everything – we even have programs for programs.
It is not the Army’s mission to create more programs, it is our mission to create community and save souls in Jesus’ name!  When we aren’t engaging our community with the elements we are using, perhaps it’s time to rid ourselves of the Church of Programs!!
Programs can become our Church and we are so caught up in our program bubbles that we cannot see what families and individuals are truly in need of.  We think, we’ll just start a new program to reach them, when in reality what every person craves is a place to belong and to find encouragement and feel that they are a member of the community.

4.  Create an Environment of Ownership!own
Lieutenants, Captains, Majors & perhaps a few Colonels & Commissioners – We must stop trying to run everything ourselves.  Stop micromanaging.  The Army, at times, worships at the Church of the Micromanagers and we must rid ourselves of this Church!!  What we do by micromanaging is create a corps of dependency.  By this I mean is the attitude or belief becomes “since the Officer runs keyeverything, we can sit back and watch since they don’t need me anyway.”  If you have doers in your corps, they will quickly become frustrated and perhaps seek somewhere else that they will be used.  Stop micromanaging and start delegating leadership and other duties to others in your corps!  Begin to create the environment of ownership.

Do you remember what Jesus did when they were facing a mass feeding problem of about 5,000+ people?  He didn’t immediately take charge, instead he went to his disciples and said, “feed these people”.  Of course the disciples were in shock and did not know how to proceed, the cost was too high and they only had five loaves and two fish.  But do you remember what Jesus did with their effort?  He multiplied it.  

In a very real sense, the Holy Spirit will do that in our corps too when there is an investment and ownership by others.  We as officers and leaders have to relinquish our drive for perfection and our grip on authority and allow others to be discipled and in turn they will own their shared portions of responsibility.

I know there is much more to cover on this topic.
What other Churches do we worship at that we should rid ourselves of?
We are a gap ministry, a safe harbor for hurting people to come and find a home.
The Salvation Army needs to rid itself of Church so that it can fully embrace its Holiness as a Movement of Christ.

Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
What do you think?  Tell us by commenting, offering your thoughts and opinions.

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*Disclaimer:  The thoughts and opinions expressed here are the thoughts and opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect that of The Salvation Army.  Reader discretion is advised.* 

Dear Salvation Army Officers, How To Find The Time For Ministry In 4 Steps

Dear Officer,
what does your normal day look like?
Are there reports to submit, bills to sign, checks to deposit, phone calls to be made, budgets to be crafted (or re-crafted for the 10th time), personnel fires to put out….?  Does that sound about right?  I probably forgot to add, routine maintenance to schedule, board meeting details, corps council action steps to follow through on, people in visit in the hospital, statistics to enter, important community meetings to attend and perhaps a club meeting to participate in…and THAT sometimes is just the tip of the iceberg.

Commissioner George Scott Railton once said, “God requires the duty. If its performance brings no return, that is God’s affair not yours. The soldier who has obeyed every order comes back from defeat, as from victory, with honour.”

I often mistake business for duty, don’t you?
It seems we as Officers and even Soldiers are so good at busy-work that perhaps at times we miss the ministry altogether.  We are very good at being soldiers and obeying orders yet miss the mark on pastoral ministries…and each one of us are pastors and ministry ought to be at the forefront of what we do in and out of uniform.  If we work hard and climb whatever ladder we aspire to, yet lose the “Salvation” in our Army, then we will have lost everything and all of our hard work (duty) will be for naught.

Here are 4 steps to help each of us find the time for ministry again.
I hope and pray this will be beneficial to you as you read these.  Most will seem quite obvious, yet actually following through on them intentionally will certainly be harder.
I also acknowledge that these suggested steps could include many more, yet for the sake of time a succinct list has been compiled here for us to consider.  Also note that it is quite difficult to quantify these and wrap them up in a nice red bow, so as you read, perhaps you will discover other steps that I would ask you to share with us if you would be so kind.

HOW TO FIND THE TIME FOR MINISTRY IN 4 Steps:

  1.  Recognize Everything As Ministry
    ministryAs someone once pointed out everything is spiritual, there should be no compartmentalizing of our various tasks and that of holistic ministry.  I know a financial planner in our community who makes a point of praying for every client that comes to visit him.  He has even prayed with me there in his office.  These prayers that he offers are not pithy cliche prayers either, but one can feel the presence of God while he prays for you and the present circumstances that you are facing.  He considers his office not only the place he draws his paycheck from, but a chapel in which he ministers.  Perhaps we have not made our officers our chapels of ministry.  Perhaps we get so bogged down by what is required of us that we forget to include God in those spaces in order to make them sacred.  Everything we do from the most mundane of things to the most important things ought to be considered ministry – not some laborious task to get accomplished.

    Martin Luther King Jr is quoted as saying, ““If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.

    Consider each task ministry – from the least to the most important!

  2. Intentionally Pray And Plan
    We undoubtedly do our ministry a great disservice when we do not first intently pray for it and for those we will meet along its path.  Prayer should never be the last resort, but the first weapon in our spiritual arsenal.  If we aren’t burdened for the needs of others through prayer on our knees then we ought reach deeper into ourselves and explore our hearts and motivation. pray When we pray for each segment of our officership and appointment, we will find that our hearts are attuned to the moving of the Holy Spirit.  If everything we do is spiritual, then why do not pray in such a way?  When we intentionally pray and make this a spiritual discipline we will be better equipped to make the necessary plans that our ministries so desperately need. plan Don’t stumble into your day or week having now idea what you wish to accomplish.  Don’t wait until the last minute to pray for our congregation and those you minister to.  Keep them in the forefront of what you are doing, after all, the paperwork and reports are all because they are vitally important to you and to God.  Do not make haphazard plans at the last minute, throwing things together and hoping they all pan out…do yourself a favor and your soldiers a favor and make intentional, prayerful plans that will form and shape lives for Christ.
  3. Intentionally Show Up – Practice Presence
    cellI catch myself doing this, and I recognize my own conviction here:
    Put down the cell phones, put away the distractions…close the laptop and look your people in the eye.  Show up to your appointment ready to serve the Lord and those He has placed on your path.  Practice the presence of availability.  It almost seems contradictory, but forget those reports and the paperwork and spend time talking to your staff, your volunteers, your corps members…they are all members of your flock.  They will know if you are not actually available to them just by your presentemphasis on the “important stuff” that consumes all of your time.  I would imagine nearly 99% of us officers are guilty of this at one time or another.  Show up and be present.  Ask God to give you His eyes to see the needs around you.  Spend time drinking coffee (or tea or water) with those who frequent your soup kitchen.  Invest yourselves in the lives of people and do not stop with those who wear our uniform and within whom we already know.  Step out of your comfort zone and be available to listen, serve and love.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5AkNqLuVgY

  4. Focus On Lives Not Numbers!
    statsThis step goes hand in hand with #3.
    Be mindful that our “end game” is not filling the statistics with numerical growth.
    If our sole focus is on building our Sunday stats with attendees then all that we will be focused on in church invitations and getting people through the doors of “Sunday Church”….have you stopped to consider that EVERYTHING we do is Church?  Have you considered that perhaps your biggest ministry isn’t on Sunday morning but during the week when you encounter broken people earnestly seeking help?  These are members of your flock that often get taken for granted.  They may never ever darken the doors of a traditional church, but 9 times out of 10 they call The Salvation Army their church home because we feed them on a regular basis and there are people who care for them.  Focus on individual lives of people, how to reach them, pray for them and with them.  Care about them…forget numbers, numbers will take care of itself if we are loving people and earnestly placing their needs at the foot of Christ.

    Evangeline Booth once said, “It is not how many years we live, but what we do with them.”  Allow me to adjust this quote to fit you the Officer today, and I do not think this loses any emphasis in doing so:    “It is not how many years of service you have, but what you do with them.”
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    Something more for our Army and our Officers to consider today.
    Blessings!

    Please tell us what you think and offer additional steps you might offer in addition to these.  Thank you!

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

The Kitten, The Lion and Me…

Recently my family adopted a small kitten.
We thought it would be good for our eight year old twins.
By that I mean we made the mistake of driving past a pet store, and then walking by the little kitty jails they have at those establishments…and the rest as they say, is history.

So we now have this newly adopted kitten in our home.  cat
He is a wild and crazy kitten, I suspect like most kittens his age.
Recently he has taken to attacking our legs as we walk by, and in the morning it is now routine for him to perch in an opened, yet screened in, window and maliciously listen to the birds chirping in the nearby trees.  This kitten is domesticated, yet there is still a wildness about him.  He would most likely attack, kill and consume a bird if opportunity were to strike in his favor.  It is in his nature to be this way – with claws flared and crouched in a stance ready to pounce.

I recently read a news story (it literally happened today) about a mountain lion that had gotten into a family home through an open patio door.  When the mother and daughter awoke in their bed at 3am to the loud barking of their small dog, they saw the shadow of an unknown animal lurking in their home.  In a matter of moments, the mountain lion had left the foot of the bed with the family dog in its jaws.   Isn’t nature truly wild?   It is in the nature of wild things like that.  Call it instinct or something in their DNA, but it is how these creatures innately are – predators by nature.

It made me wonder about our humanity as people.
More importantly, how we are made up.
seekingIt is in our DNA.
We have a nature too.
In Genesis it says that we were created in God’s image…though it is marred because of sin, that image is still there, within us.  More importantly, our spirits are naturally drawn to our Creator…many don’t know it, but this is why we question, why we seek, why we search our world for answers to all of life’s questions.  We were made this way.  Just as that kitten is instinctually drawn to pouncing on its prey, we are instinctively drawn to truth…and the Chief truth is found in the author of truth – God himself.

I am drawn to the children’s story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and when one of the children asks if Aslan is safe they get this reply –  “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  God isn’t safe and sin cannot stand in the presence of God without being vanquished.  Without getting too theological, His goodness quickly overpowers and kills sin and darkness.  Hence this search for truth in our lives – we long to be reunited with the Author of Truth and Goodness.  It is in our DNA to seek Him out.  Some will blatantly reject Him for various reasons in life, but in general, we all long to rid ourselves of guilt, shame, sin, sickness and death – Christ is the answer, and He is the One we have been searching for in this life.  Is following Him safe in this life?  No, many perils and dangers will come because of this choice to follow Him.  The path may, in fact, become harder for us, but the journey will provide hope, joy and peace despite the circumstances or bumps along the way.

Sure, that kitten maybe a handful, he may even wreck havoc on the bird population in our neighborhood, but this is in his DNA, this is what he was born to do…and purring as goes…what is in your DNA?  Let me reassure you that how you were made is no accident.  We the created intrinsically long for our Creator…and we have been created for so much more than this.
-Just a thought.

The Passion of The Christ (by Colonel Dennis Strissel)

The title of our devotional today bears a similar title of the 2004 Mel Gibson Biblical drama of the final 12 hours of Christ’s life, through the crucifixion with a brief glimpse of the resurrection. You’ll recall it was very controversial for its brutal description of the crucifixion scenes and brave for filming the entire film in Aramaic at the same time. The film grossed over $612 Million during its release and received three academy award nominations. And we’re still talking about it today as probably one of the best depictions of this day in history.

It never ceases to amaze me, and I have said this before and will probably say it many more times before the Lord calls me home, we, as the church, continue to recreate these significant days in our church history. In fact millions of Christians already have retraced the steps of the Via Delarosa this day, both in Jerusalem and in various other parts of the world. It is sad to say but there probably some Christians who have followed the cross today and have lost their lives for doing so. via

So that I do not assume too much, when using the term passion – I am talking about the extreme suffering, originally referred to as the last agonies of Christ. This is the supreme act of Agape’ love from God to mankind.

Isa 53:4-6

4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

Holy Bible, New Living Translation

The key thought in Isaiah’s prophetic word, (Isaiah 53:4-6), deals with the sweet exchange – Our weakness/He carried – our sorrows/that weighed him down –He is pierced/for our rebellion –He is crushed/for our sins – He is beaten/so we could be whole – He is whipped/so we can be healed.

So for the few minutes that I have your attention, I challenge you to consider two things during this dark moment in our church history…

  1. LET’S TRY TO UNDERSTAND CHRIST’S SUFFERINGsuffer

William Barclay writes about the common criminal customs amongst the Roman government: “It was custom that he, the criminal, should carry the cross beam of his own cross; the other part was already waiting for him at the place designated for crucifixion. The charge for which he was being executed was written on a board; it was either hung around his own neck or carried by an officer in front of the procession, and was later affixed to the cross itself. The criminal was led to the scene of the crucifixion as long a route as possible, so that as many as possible might see him, and take warning from the grim sight.”

We know, from reading the passion story, that the procession to the cross only happened after three illegal trials, with Christ being subjected to insults and allegations, all while refusing to defend himself. He was passed from soldier to soldier, humiliated, stripped, beaten, spat upon and new being dragged down the main street of Jerusalem.

This treatment of Christ did not fit into the neat concept, dream and hope of the majority of Jews when it came to the coming of the great Divine, The Messiah.

I loved the picture that Matthew and Luke paint for us in their narrative of the Triumphal Entry. Can you imagine the likes of Judas or Simon the Zealot mumbling under their breath…? “The colt of a donkey? Never! Messiah should be galloping into the city of God and Kings on the back of a Stallion, signifying his coming as the triumphant victor.” But that is not the way he came, which warns us of our own preconceived ideas of who Christ is and what his desired outcome should be.

See him struggle under the weight of the cross/beam, falling to his knees, looking up into the face of crowds of people, some of whom are compassionate, while others are shouting condemnation. Hear, if you can, one Simon of Cyrene being conscripted into service by the harsh voice of the Roman soldier in Luke 23:26.

churchThere is a series of very beautiful pictures in the cathedral at Antwerp, which represent Christ hearing His cross from the Praetorian to Calvary. These pictures embody the popular idea of Christ’s weakness and exhaustion. In one He stands calm and erect, in another He is bending under the weight of the cross, and in another He has fallen beneath the load that was laid upon Him. It is at this stage of the proceedings that Simon, who is passing by, is arrested, and compelled to bear the cross after Christ.

I suspect Simon had no idea what he was about to be called on to do…likewise, bearing the cross of Christ today could come out of surprise. Please be aware that all you may endure in this life should not necessarily be considered as bearing the cross of Christ. Many of the issues we face may be as a result of our own poor, selfish decision making and does not deserve the high honor of bearing Christ’s cross. Bearing His cross brings him glory and honor to the church. Living with the consequence of our own sin does not. So be careful of misusing the noble term of “Cross-Bearer.”

We need no commentary to explain the suffering of Christ, Lamb of God, We simply paint the background and that is descriptive enough.

  1. Vernon McGee would say, “The pain will attract the people.”

Church history records the following regarding Clovis King of the Gaul’s from 481 – 511, “When Clovis Leader of the Franks, was told about the crucifixion of Christ. He leaped to his feet, drew his sword and exclaimed, ‘If I had only been there with my Franks.” But Jesus didn’t need the Gaul Army or any army for that matter. As the old song says, “He could have called ten thousand Angels to destroy the world and set him free, He could have called ten thousand Angels, but he died alone for you and me.”

crossAs he hung on the cross, the voyeurs standing watch challenged Jesus to show them his power. Another way we might put it is, “we would just believe if you would just show us you can Houdini your way off that cross.” Listen to them using the glory of Christ to mock him…

Matt 27:39-44

39 The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. 40 “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”41 The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. 42 “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! 43 He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”

Holy Bible, New Living Translation

William Booth is recorded as saying, “It is precisely because he would not come down that we believe in him.”

No amount of descriptive words will ever do justice in describing the horrible humiliation and suffering our Savior endured for you and me.

O sacred head once wounded,
With grief and pain weighed down,
How scornfully surrounded
With thorns, thine only crown!
How pale art thou with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!
Paulus Gerhardt

 

  1. LET’S TRY TO COMPREHEND GOD’S SUBSTITUTION PLAN

I don’t know about you, but I get chills up and down my spine when I see or read about those times when the team, as they were, could not win the prize or accomplish the goal. The coach then calls on the one person, the person that no one expects to accomplish the seemingly impossible. When the substitute enters the arena and accomplishes what seemed all but lost, we rise to our feet and stretch out our arms and cheer for all we, and they, are worth. The substitute is worthy of the team’s acknowledgement and praise.

John Stott, author and theologian writes: “The concept of substitution lies at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.”

We see the picture of Christ, the substitute, implied and explicit, all the way through Scriptures.lamb

  • We see an act of redemptive bloodshed in Genesis 3:21, as an animal sacrifices its life and coat to cover the nakedness of mankind.

 

  • We are witnesses to the attempted sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham, along with the surprise substitution that arrives through a ram caught in the thickets (Gen. 22:13).

 

  • In Exodus 12:21 we note the instruction of the preparation of a Passover lamb whose shed blood will serve as an act of Salvation for God’s chosen. Interesting that the substitute is always a willing participant in the Divine transaction.

 

  • As one moves to the New Testament we hear John the Baptizer declare upon seeing Jesus, his cousin, coming to be baptized, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

 

  • The transformation of Peter should amaze us, it does me. You hardly recognize the impulsive, blustering Peter at the end of his life compared to his first baby-steps with Jesus. That’s the way it should be in all our lives I suspect. Listen to the Holy Spirit-filled wisdom of the more mature Peter helping us understand that God’s plan of substitution was no accident and that it all began way before the creation of the world.

1 Peter 1:18-21

18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days. 21 Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.

Holy Bible, New Living Translation

And this brings us back to our text from Isaiah 53, verse 7 & 8; perhaps one of the most descriptive portions that help us note God’s plan for this substitute for your sin and mine.

What we deserve is death but we need not experience it all because of God’s amazing grace.

Hear Isaiah’s voice clearly state…

7 He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. 8 Unjustly condemned, he was led away.

Holy Bible, New Living Translation

…led away to die in our place. God went out of his way to redeem mankind by the substitution of his only begotten.

Rom 4:25

25 He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.

Holy Bible, New Living Translation

A story is told about a farmer named Blake who was drafted as a soldier during the War Between the States. He was deeply troubled about leaving his family because his wife had died and there would be no one to support and take care of his children in his absence. The day before he was to leave for the army, his neighbor Charlie Durham came to visit him. “Blake,” he said, “I’ve been thinking. You’re needed here at home, so I’ve decided to go in your place.” The farmer was so overwhelmed that for a few moments he was speechless. The offer seemed too good to be true. He grasped the hand of the young man and praised God for this one who was willing to go as his substitute. Sadly, Charlie was shot and killed in the first battle. When the farmer heard the bad news, he immediately saddled his horse and rode out to the battlefield. He found the body of his friend and arranged to have it buried in the churchyard near the spot where they had often stopped to talk after the services. On a piece of marble he carved the inscription with his own hands. It was roughly done, but with every blow of the hammer on the chisel, tears fell from his eyes. He placed the marker on the grave of his devoted substitute. Many villagers wept as they read the brief but touching inscription: He died for me.

Isaiah finishes his prophetic word this way…died

Isa 53:10-11

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted                                                             righteous, for he will bear all their sins.

Holy Bible, New Living Translation

The outcome of his Suffering and Substitution allows you and me the privilege of being His descendant and being counted as righteous. Please, do not let His death be in vain…

25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

Rom 3:25-26

Holy Bible, New Living Translation

Losing the Forest for the Tree?…

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” Psalm 31:24

What do you do when all of your strength seems to fail you?
What do you do when it seems to be sucked from your body through trying or exhausting tasks?   Have you been discouraged recently or perhaps even right now?
problems
Perhaps it is time to take a step back from your troubles and those things that sap your energies.

The other day I was looking for my keys and I couldn’t find them.
I had searched high and low, even looking underneath the cushions on the couch.
I was getting frustrated and anxious, because I had to be somewhere and my vehicle key is rather important.  So finally I sit down, trying not to allow the momentary panic of potentially missing a meeting bother me.  I took a couple of deep breaths and then thought about where I had last seen or placed my keys.  Finally, after stepping back from the problem at hand, I was able to see the solution, and I recalled where they were…sure enough I found my keys.

worryIn the midst of the frustration and worry, I had to take a step back.  I had gotten so close to the problem that I couldn’t see the broader perspective or possible solutions.   I think we’re all like that – we stand too closely to the problem, when problems arise.  We try to micromanage situations and problem-solve and trouble-shoot and sometimes we are successful, but other times we become overwhelmed by the insurmountable tasks ahead of us.  So we put our heads down, we plod on through trying to take on the world and address all of our problems and stressors, all the while we are so close to the problem(s) that we have lost the forest for the bark of one tree.  be still

God has come to me many times when I get like this to remind me to “Be still and know that I am God…” (Ps. 46:10) It is only when I pause and take a step back do I finally understand this.  God longs to lead us out of the forest of our worries.  He desires for us to seek the long-term perspective: that we are Kingdom people called by Him, and we are called Sons and Daughters!  Although these current problems and sufferings might still continue, isn’t it helpful to know that these are all temporary?  Yes, we will probably continue to feel suffering, pain, sadness (all of the above), but this will not last, it never does.  Stepping back from the tree, we will have a broader perspective and a longer range vision on our future as Kingdom people.

Be encouraged today, joy comes in the morning!  Put your whole trust in the Lord, he will give you strength and endurance for the problems at hand, also know that this is all temporary!

Something more to ponder today!

Drowning In The Waters?

I have this memory.
Do you know the kind?  It’s the kind that embeds those moments in your life, those moments of great fear or panic, and they etch themselves so deeply into the recesses of your brain that you will never forget?

Do you have memories like this?
I’m sure you do.

My memory?
I am a small boy, in a swimming pool at Gene Epply camp.
I don’t remember hardly anything from that time…but I remember that pool.
I remember how I stepped off of the edge and into reflective waters.  Perhaps it was a hot day, I do not recall, but I do recall my little legs straining to touch the bottom and just finding more water.  Panic set in.  The sounds of the laughing and playing children around me faded in and out as I struggled to stay afloat while my vision and my ears were precariously between the two plains – Water and air.

I can only imagine what my face looked like in those brief but terrifying moments.  Others might have seen a small toe-headed boy with wild panicked eyes flailing around in aqua blue waters.  I knew, without help, I would drown.  I hadn’t learned to swim yet, and I was going under.

All of this probably lasted only mere seconds, but to a drowning boy who was taking water into his lungs like it was air, this moment seemed to take an eternity!  Finally, large hands grabbed me with great strength, and I was hoisted out of the depths of those waters and into safety once again.

It’s funny what you remember when you are young.  Those odd things that stand the test of time and come calling into our recollection from time to time.  Memories are a funny thing.  They flutter about, and come to life when certain scents waft in the air, or through certain songs…or in this instance, when I visit a swimming pool.

That moment still lingers in me even after all of these years.
I believe it was my father that pulled me out of those waters – me, a little terrified boy who had yet to learn to swim.

I think there is a very real spiritual parallel here to grasp.
Many people in our communities are struggling to stay afloat in life.
Some have waded out too far from the safety of the shores.
Some have terrified looks in their eyes as they suddenly realize their predicaments.
Others have simply given up trying to stay afloat and are about to go under for the last time.

My son became a lifeguard last summer.
His time as a lifeguard taught him to remain vigilant during his shift at the waters edge.
Every now and then he and the rest of the lifeguards had to come to someone’s rescue and pull them back to safety.  The job of a lifeguard seems glamorous with awesome opportunities for tanning, but in reality it is a job of ever watchfulness.

In the same way, a follower of Christ ought to be a lifeguard who is deeply committed to watchfulness.  The water’s edge, the place of safety is the Church…where firm ground and restored hope surrounds all that are rescued.  The problem I see in the Church today is that there are far too few lifeguards willing to risk it all and venture into the depths of the waters when they see hapless people drowning in its depths.  There are far too many comfortable lifeguards who are more preoccupied with casting judgments like “it serves them right” or “they are just getting what they deserve!”

I am glad Jesus didn’t say that about us!
We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…it doesn’t say all (except for ________(insert our names here), no ALL…everyone of us have fallen short.  (Romans 3:23)  Instead it says, “for while we were sinners (while we were drowning in the depths…while we were going under for the last time) Jesus died for us.  (Romans 5:8)

I still have that memory forever etched in my mind.
The day I almost drowned, was also the day I was rescued.

Perhaps, dear Church, we should get back to lifeguarding, because there are still so many falling below those dangerous waters…and who will help them?  Who will come to their rescue?  We are called out

Devotional Pondering: The Lifter of your head.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.” Psalm 3:3

Have you been to the place of darkness?
The moment when you have felt hopeless, alone and perhaps afraid?
It is a lonely place…sometimes even when you are surrounded by people.
There are seasons of restlessness, unhappiness and perhaps hopelessness too.
But allow me to reassure you today with a word of encouragement – No matter the difficulty you might be facing, or the circumstances that seem to loom in on you, you are not alone.  You are being strengthened by the Most High even if you do not immediately feel this way.  He is the lifter of our heads when we are downcast.  He provides shelter to us when we are standing in the heart of the storm.

I have felt the winds of these storms recently.
I too have encountered the weight of a heavy heart.
Sometimes seasons come and the darkness threatens us…but the sliver of light that does remain gives me hope.  I know that He is with me even in the heart of the storm.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for lifting my head when all I want to do is hang it in discouragement.  Be with me today, thank you for your joy which shines even when the storms of life swirl around me.  Help me to be content in you, no matter the circumstances of life around me.  “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge”   (Psalm 31:1) Thank you for being there for me and lifting my head when I was downtrodden.  Shine in me today so others might see your glory.  -Amen.

Devotional: A Love That Never Fails

Have you ever heard the old phrase: ‘Nothing lasts forever‘.
It’s usually said to bring comfort to those who have lost a loved ones, a relationship, a treasured item like a cell phone or car…but I know at least one instance in which this phrase is flat out wrong.

God’s love is not temporal and does not have an expiration date on it.
He wants to lavish us with His provisions and love and the only thing that stands in the way of that at times is…us, and our old sinful nature.  Sin has a way of convincing us that the temporal, fleeting things are most important, and yet they pass away, they expire and are no more.  Yet, there God stands from everlasting to everlasting with something far beyond sometime finite – because He is infinite as is His love for you and for me.

Psalm 136:1,2 says:  “Praise the Lord! He is good.  God’s love never fails…”
So why do we put our trust in the things that are fading and passing away instead in putting them in the Eternal, Infinite love of God?  It seems like such a wasted investment, doesn’t it?  I don’t know about you, but I do not want to come to the end of my life and realize that I have squandered by time, talent and treasures on things that didn’t last.  Instead, I want to deeply invest in the Eternal and never ending love of God.  How about you?

Prayer:  Dear Lord, help me to know you more fully.  Help me to see your beauty in the world around me and to know that you love and desire my love in return.  Thank you for the many blessings that you have given to me today.  Help me to not take these blessings for granted.  Help me to love others as you have loved me.  Be with me today.  In your name I pray all of these things.  -Amen.

 

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