Dear Church, Dear Salvation Army – Give Special Needs Kids A Break!!

Let me be vulnerable with you for a moment.
We have a son who struggles with disabilities.
He has some severe educational challenges coupled with ADHD.
One might say, “oh, well they have medication for that kind of thing”…and you’re right, but did you know that usually when providing medications for ADHD it’s a crap-shoot as to what will ACTUALLY work?  Did you also know that there are some severe side-effects to these medications?  Some even have long term effects that only exhibit themselves later in life through health problems.  Our son has always been extremely sensitive to medication.  We tried some of the ADHD medications, one made our son as high as a kite.  Another led our son to have extreme bouts of anxiety that forced us to consult a counselor.

He’s a great kid.  He’s extremely creative, and he’s also very sensitive about it even if he doesn’t let on that he is. He also privately suffers from anxiety and depression because of it.
I don’t say this to make you feel sorry for us, I just want you to understand what I’m about to say.

kid1One moment in particular still strikes the protective parent chord in me.  We were attending a required army event.    We were all at this meeting including our son.  You have to understand that children with ADHD have difficulty sitting still for prolonged periods of time…it gets better with age, but it does take a. lot. of. time.   Anyway, back to the meeting.  There wasn’t a youth track for this event, and so all of the families were to sit through a three hour meeting…in ADHD time this is the equivalent of a year sitting in an uncomfortable chair.
Our son became rowdy and restless even with various distractions provided for him.  Finally, after another restless shuffle in a metal chair and a very loud exhale of frustrated breath, a soldier seated in front of us turns around and looked at us and our son with daggers in her eyes and a dirty look on her face.  Not a word was said, but words weren’t needed, we knew what she wanted to convey to us and we weren’t all too happy about the situation either.  It was at this point that we took our son out of the meeting despite the “required” attendance.  I wish I could say that this was the first time this has happened…it wasn’t.  I also wish I could say that it will never happened again…I can’t.  We struggle.  It’s not easy.  Perhaps some of you out there with kids who struggle with ADHD and/or other special circumstances can relate and understand.

Give Special Needs Kids A Break! kid2
Churches and Corps should be sensitive to families who have children with special needs.  Don’t just assume anything.  Please don’t judge or condemn.  If you happen to have new families come and visit your corps building who have kids who seem disruptive please don’t automatically judge them and assume that their parents don’t know how to control them.  Please respond with compassion and care.  Perhaps help if you can.  Some parents would really welcome the help…trust me on this.  Please don’t lecture us either, we are trying, we really are!

Our current corps has a child who attends with his family who is autistic.
His father really, really tries.  He’s a single father…and he needs a break.
This child might not fully understand what he does, but he knows that he is loved in our corps.
He might be disruptive from time to time, but our corps members help out with this child.
Are there any churches who are completely capable to handle special needs children?  I doubt there are many…but there are many patient, and compassionate soldiers and church members out there who could help, and usually do help.

So What?
Why do I write this today?
What’s my point?
My point is this:
Don’t judge or presume to know what parents with special needs kids are going through if you yourself haven’t been there.  Perhaps instead of judging, which takes much less of a concerted effort, you could help.  Try to be compassionate and understanding.  Yes, we go to church to listen to the message and get blessed but so do these parents who have special needs kids, and most of the time they only get half of a service.  Church is not only about the message and “getting blessed” it’s also about being the hands and feet of Christ.  It’s also about being a united community helping one another along in the faith.

So I guess what I’m saying is be aware of kids who might have special needs.
Don’t just pigeon hole them and label them as disruptive, disrespectful children.
They need our understanding…and so do their parents.

Give them a break!
Something more to ponder today!

Here are some links to check out:

Church helps Special needs
Additional Helps

Don’t Starve Your First Flock!

I am drawn to this vital topic like a bug to a floodlight.
It speaks intimately to my heart.
This topic hits me directly, and at times I am found wanting and in need of some fixing.

Our First Flock. 

As a pastor and officer of The Salvation Army there is a lot that goes on in our ministries.
We are busy people and everyone is in need of our time, advice, and shepherding.
Sometimes it can take a toll on your life if you do not take time to replenish and rest.
I am not saying disconnect yourself from the flock, but find intentional times when you can simply get away and rest.  Pastoring is not easy.  It has its blessings and is certainly fulfilling when lives are touched and transformed…but the pastor’s life is also like having a big red target painted on you as well.  If something should happen to go wrong in the church – blame the pastor…if sin is confronted (appropriately and biblically with grace) and some people choose to leave the church because of it – it’s the pastor’s fault that numbers are now down on Sundays.  There are times when the flock will take out its pain and distress on the pastor.

Be aware that despite perceived successes and failures in ministries that you have been called not by the deacon or by a supervisor or by a divisional/territorial leader – but firstly and most importantly – you have been called by God.  Be faithful to that calling above everything else.

Photo May 22, 11 20 04 AM
These are my crazy kids!

With that clearly said, let me poke at a sensitive topic in my life and I’m sure yours as well.
Your Immediate Family – Is Your First Flock!

Yesterday, I took my boys out to camp.
We are in the process of moving and currently our time is predominately occupied with boxes, transportation logistics, writing farewell briefs…in other words our house has currently been turned upside down.  Honestly, I haven’t been thinking much about what my boys might be going through in all of this.  I have been so consumed with packing and cleaning and preparing that my children have sort of been forgotten.
Anyway back to camping.
Photo May 20, 10 42 23 PMPhoto May 20, 8 39 37 PM
We left the house, got into the van and pulled out of town as we headed out to our divisional Salvation Army camp.  (It’s about an hour and a half from our house)  That night on the way (I had already packed our fishing poles) I bought some worms and as soon as we arrived at camp we headed straight for the lake.  The sun was just setting as a few fire blazed clouds floated through the sky…it was a perfect evening.  As I sat there on the dock, by the lake, some of the stresses and concerns just seemed to melt away.  I looked over at my boys as they disturbed the tranquil waters with lines baited with worms and neon bobbers, and my heart just swelled with a feeling a love for them.  Momentarily, in the midst of all of our pastorly duties, responsibilities, frustrations AND PACKING, we had begun to starve our first flock – our kids.  I had been guilty of neglecting their feelings, their concerns, even their spiritual well being.  Sitting there on that dock fishing and talking with them about life and what was happening in school, I reconnected with my first flock.  I reconnected with my heart again…not that I don’t minister as an Officer with my heart, but when there is a disjunctive note at home, the heart can not fully be in tune.   That moment fishing with my boys is something that I will always cherish…and I don’t want to miss out on any other moments that I have with them.  I don’t want to starve my first flock anymore.

Before you became a pastor and was given the responsibility of tending the church flock, you had a family as well (at least most of you do, I would imagine).  If you are raising children and have a spouse – you cannot neglect this first flock!

Some might argue that we shouldn’t differentiate between the flock at church and the flock at home, but I disagree.  After all, for the most part, the flock at church doesn’t live in your house.  They are not as intimately acquainted with you as your family is.  These important people in your life need to know that they matter to you!  If you hole up in your office for 60 hours a week and they hardly ever see you, perhaps it’s time to reorganize your priorities.   Perhaps it’s time to get your heart back in tune again.   Your first flock needs you! It’s not an ego trip to say that they need you…you aren’t superman or superwoman, but your kids deserve to have a Mom and a Dad who are physically there for them.  They deserve to know you care for them, that you take time for them, that you want to be there when they achieve certain milestones in life.

Don’t starve your first flock!
You only have about eighteen years to feed this first flock the appropriate spiritual and physical nourishment that they will need to live godly lives.  Don’t neglect this time!  Don’t regret not doing enough.  Don’t count solely of Sunday School teachers and other mentors to do your job.  These instrumental people are a support to the family, but they are not the parents that your children need.  Don’t starve your first flock!

Something more to ponder today!
To God be the glory!

Perspectives Day # 4 Featuring Captain Marianneke (Anney) Summerifeld “Family”

familyFamily.  This one word evokes a particular meaning to the reader, doesn’t it?  Something specific.  Something defined. Something wholesome, perhaps?  A television show is “family oriented” or an activity is “family friendly.”  What does it mean to you?  The lines surrounding the definition are not rigid, and they are becoming increasingly fluid.  A traditional, nuclear, family is not what we once pictured it as.  Roles are changing rapidly around us, and if we, as ministers of the Gospel, are to preach the love of Jesus without discrimination, what does that mean and how does that look?

Sure, we are all know that “society is different” and “times they are a-changin’!” – but when things affect you personally, you become all-too aware of where there are lags in our ministry and motivation.

I love my family.  I am daddy’s girl, I look up to my mom, and my siblings have morphed into dear friends.  Growing up, we were the picture of ‘traditional.’ Everything normal, everything happy. In recent years and months, and even as I type, I am suddenly confronted with the idea that normal is changing, and happiness isn’t the be all and end all.  What is? Love.  Love for God and love for others.  Love for our family, however that might look.

Ten years  ago (even five, really), I wouldn’t have been able to define “polyamorous triad,” and if I did know what it meant, I would have never expected it to be a part of my lexicon, not to mention my family story. Never would mentions of divorce and infidelity ever come into mind as being in the realm of possibility.  But you know what?  Life happens.  People change, people grow; and as they grow and change so does our understanding.  I cannot stop loving my loved ones.  I continue to strive to love as Jesus loves, despite bumps along the way.  How can I not?  As an officer, an ordained minister, it’s my calling to share in Jesus’ love.  I have no room to judge or condemn.  Until you experience something yourself, you never know how you will react.

All of that isn’t to say, “hey look at my family, aren’t we a bunch of kooks!,” rather, it is to show that even circumstances thought to be so static and just right “as is” do change and while they change I cannot sit by on the sidelines wondering what to do and letting life pass by.  Should I change with it?

Yes.  And no.

As I write this, I am supposed to be writing my sermon for Mother’s Day.  I was finding verses on being Children of God and what it means to be in His family.  1 John 3:1 reads, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  Later in 1 John, we read, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands” (1 John 5:2).  And what are God’s commands? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

I’m pretty sure changing the Greatest Commandment isn’t a good idea.  Likewise, I shouldn’t seek to change the Gospel just because it might not gel with someone else’s belief system.  But I CAN change my approach. I can change the borders of my understanding as the borders of  family continue to change.  This won’t be easy.  Some might see loving others as endorsement or acceptance of lifestyles contrary to what we see as the Biblical standard. No one is saying we need to water down the message, and loving others doesn’t compromise our own beliefs and doctrine.  We need to look head on at the world around us, literally right beside us.  The growing definition of what family means WILL affect you and your ministry if it hasn’t already.  So the question is: what are we going to do about?

Tell you what, let’s start with love.  I can’t tell you HOW to love and how your ministry to your immediate family, your family of origin, your adopted family, your corps family…(you get the idea) is going to look and how it will work.  Most likely, steps made today will have to change sometime in the future. This is fluid.  Don’t be scared, rather, see this as a challenge – the good kind.  A challenge of loving God and carrying out His commands as best we can.  We will make mistakes, I know I have.  Ah, but remember, if we are jumping headfirst into love and loving others, this also means we are jumping headfirst into forgiveness and grace.  Take my hand; let’s dive together!

(Captain Marianneke (Anney) Summerifeld is the Corps Officer of the Burbank Corps in California.)

Into The Woods…more than a Fairy Tale (in a bad way)

woods

***Spoiler Alert****
If you don’t want to know about this movie before you see it, then stop reading.

“And they lived happily ever after”…oh wait they don’t.
That’s right, Jack (the bean stalk Jack) is orphaned.
Little Red Riding hood is too.
The Baker is a widower.
The Baker’s wife cheats on her husband then dies.
Have I forgotten anything else?  Oh, yeah the witch commits suicide.
And fairy tale endings now suck.

This is my impression of the recent Disney release of musical made for movie film – “Into the Woods”.
I didn’t watch any stage productions of this before watching the film…maybe I should have.
I can’t but help feel jipped somehow.  I feel like this movie was portrayed to be some sort of Kids movie in the advertising only to find out that it wasn’t…it really wasn’t.  In a way I feel like I’ve been taken by a snake-oil salesman.
Sure, there were some funny moments in the film.
There were some intriguing scenes.

Here come the “Buts”…
But perhaps the writer(s) real life experiences spilled over into this script…
but the plot was thin.
but the actors were a little stiff.
but the message was cynical at best and dark at worst.

hugo
I feel like I just watched the movie “Hugo” all over again.
Do you remember that film?  It was also portrayed to be some sort of kids movie with mystery and awe…but it just turned out to be an adult homage to a long retired film maker.

Perhaps you’ll disagree with me…that’s fine.
We all have our opinions and this is just mine.
Perhaps you have more sense of this movie than I do, and you actually saw the musical on stage.
I didn’t like it.
I felt cheated out of two hours of my life.
shrekI went to the movies expecting this to be a funny Shrek-like film when what we got was a Fable-turned Shakespearean tragedy full of “life sucks” themes.
My kids were unimpressed.
I just can’t buy into this philosophy.
Who knows…maybe this film just wasn’t for me…but advertisers: could you have just been honest with us?

“Left Behind” Great Fiction But Horrible Theology…*Sigh

The reboot of “Left Behind” is set to hit theaters today (October 3rd, 2014) starring Nicolas Cage.  I won’t be seeing this film in the theaters…if ever.  It’s not that I don’t like Nic Cage, in fact I’ve always been a fan.  It’s that I just can’t support a movie that wields such a horrendous, unbiblical view about eschatology.

sharkHow I Could Watch “Left Behind”:  
Have you ever played the “what if” game?  It’s a kind of game that allows you consider the “what if’s” in life.  For instance, what if I watched this movie?  Well, if I were to watch this movie (which I probably wont, I’ll just wait for the next National Treasure movie to get my Nic Cage fix) I would wait for the dvd release, curl up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and watch this movie in conjunction with any other sci-fi genre movies that I enjoy watching.  I might even possibly watch this movie on “cheesy movie night” a designated family movie night where we gather around the living room and watch movies that have absolutely no bearing on reality.  This one, (Left Behind) quite possibly would be right after Sharknado and that other academy award winning (sarcastic cough),  awesomely bad/awesomely cheesy second installment Sharknado 2.  What an awesome cheesy movie night that would be!

The Real Problem With Left Behind:
Some are using this apocalyptic movie as some sort of credible means to evangelistically scare the literal hell out of people, cue up the childhood memories of watching A Thief In The Night. a thief I am all for loving people into the kingdom and for everyone to be introduced to Christ…but this, in my opinion, is NOT the way to go about it.  People shouldn’t be coerced into finding Christ through fictional-theatrical ploys such as this.  Real relationships with real people = real evangelistic opportunities to know Him.  Not some marketing campaign in which the writer of this fictional story makes a killing even in a mediocre movie release.

I love movies.  I am a sci-fi geek, I openly admit this.  I also love reading and understanding God’s Word and digging deeper to better understand what it says; but I just can’t mash these two things together in THIS movie and come away feeling the truth and even “End Times” truths have been accurately represented in this work of fiction.   This is horrible theology.

popcornIF you go to see this film in the theaters (and I hope you don’t)…
Don’t go to see this film if you want to know more about God.
Don’t go spend your $10 plus dollars on a movie ticket and then a $100 dollars on movie priced snacks (seriously who pays $30 for a bag of soggy popcorn and a soda?) and enter the theater thinking you’re going to uncover the truths of Revelation and how it’ll all “go down”.   Please show me anywhere in scripture where the depictions of Left Behind are in anyway accurate!?
Don’t drink the Left Behind cool-aide and then begin chanting in “Kirk Cameron we trust“, oh wait he isn’t in this one.  I’m sorry if this come off as cynical.  I’m just sort of sensitive when scripture gets misrepresented and then attempts to become a big money maker…it sort of grinds on me that way.  It’s fiction, take it for what it is.  Don’t use it as some sort of evangelistic campaign.  It just comes off as disingenuous.

Who knows, maybe six months from now I might be curled up on the couch eating my popcorn as the credits roll on Sharknado 2 and think “what the heck, let’s watch another cheesy sci-fi movie” and then Left Behind starring Nic Cage might come to mind.  Who knows, maybe then I’ll watch it and roll my eyes…it could happen.

-Just a thought, and a rather opinionated (more than usual) blog post.

Dear Salvation Army – Two Roads Diverged…

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
(Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken)

Do you know what an intersection is?  It is a point at which two or more things intersect, especially roads…and in our case within The Salvation Army and every other Church, Movement, Organization – these “roads” of intersection represent one’s motivation for “signing up” or joining, our reason for remaining and our reason that we don the red trim and we call ourselves “Officers”.

I’m a picture kinda guy.
By that I mean I see things within snapshots or photographs.  How things appear or ought to appear.  If I can boil down the essence of something it can help me to process what I have seen and allow me to understand it.   Are you a picture person too?

A colleague of mine posed this question to me and I thought I would ponder it, write it down, scatter its ashes around and piece the puzzle back together again…here goes.

The Question:What are the intersections between being “employed” and being “deployed” in the context of a SA Officer?
Interesection
As I considered this question over and over again, it is assumed that there are multiple entry and exit points to such an intersection (e.g. “intersections”).  Automatically I envisioned this picture of a four way intersection out in the country, a sapphire blue canvas sky, where all four roads diverged and then carried on their way out into the dusty, sunlit horizon.

knifeI have written on a similar topic before – “Why I Quit Being Employed By The Salvation Army” but that was personal…to me this posed question is like a scientific dissection of sorts.  We must take it slowly and layer by layer…again I’m thinking in pictures here.

To help us all understand and gain a clearer picture of this intersection of employment and deployment, we must take it picture by picture…and hopefully we can then decide what these intersections look like to us and where they lead.

Photo Oct 01, 9 12 55 AMThe Intersection of Employment: 
Within this pathway comes little by way of true passion for The Salvation Army and the mission.  I will already assume someone will erroneously take this to mean that all “employment/employees” are the target of this dissection, but it is indeed not the case.  I am speaking of primarily Officership of The Salvation Army and possibly potential future Officers.

Some would treat this “calling” as a place to gather a paycheck, a safe place to reside and bide their time until retirement or something better comes along.  Others within the “employment” path would hinge all of their identities on their rank, their position, the power.  Some who either consciously or subconsciously view their position within the Army as “employment” and attempt, at all cost, to climb the corporate/organizational ladder.  When this ideological view point (either by intention, circumstance, or unintentional means) occurs the passion for one’s calling and the intention of fulfilling the Army’s mission and that of Christ’s great commission goes out the window.  God forbid we find ourselves there, but if we do I pray that it becomes the crossroads to either realignment and course adjustment or an exit from the mission of The Army.

Do not misunderstand me here, I do not mean to say this is an easy fix nor can it be summed up simply with nice pretty pictures of a country intersection.  It is certainly a complicated matter to discuss.  Much should be done within one’s own personal time of soul-searching and a diligent prayer life.  But…if we are simply employed by This army of salvation and we no longer possess the desire to serve the lost in Christ’s name, and our heart no longer belongs to its mission, then perhaps it is time to consider moving on.  I do not say this lightly, but we cannot afford to become so top heavy with administrators while the well runs dry with salvation servants humbly willing to serve anywhere regardless of power, position and pride.  (This is a gut punch to even my own ego and pride)

We ought to recognize that though we are an organization we are also a movement and a church (Cue the dissenters out there, sorry a continued discussion for another time).  That being said, though structurally we possess the infrastructure of every other “top-down” organizational blueprint, we are an Army of Salvation hell bent of pull lost souls from the fires of hell and standing up for those without a voice.  Therefore, all of Salvation Soldiers are called to serve and all are called to be holy and to possess within them a heart for Christ which extends outwardly towards others.

 The Intersection of Deployment: Photo Oct 01, 9 12 58 AM
This is the seldom traveled route.  I have long stood upon such a crossroads.  I cannot conceal this or hide the fact that there have been times that I have taken a detour, driven for a mile or two on the route of employment…looked guiltily in the rear view mirror as dust plumes engulfed and temporarily obscured my view of the path that I knew I should have traveled a little while longer upon…

It should be noted that it is far easier to travel the employment route.  It is far easier to sleep at night having put to bed the mission of the army, when lights have been extinguished in the tidy offices, and after the corp’s doors are locked and the parking lot has emptied.  When we have compartmentalized what we do from 9 to 5 from who we are “off the clock”.  This route paints a smoother road to travel on.  To become “deployed” often takes us upon the rougher roads, with numerous potholes and disturbing setbacks.  We face other people’s pains, heartaches and regrets.  We come face to face with failure because we risk much and are willing to “go the extra mile” down this seemingly deserted road.

The path is littered with blown tires and wounded travelers.  It resembles battle and war and often takes us to many a dark place where the lost are aimlessly wandering seeking guidance and direction.

Dear Salvation Army, this is the road less traveled because it is not easy, it is not desirable, it is not glamorous…and yet to journey upon it is to imitate how Jesus walked and lived.  To be frank, it is saying “to hell with prestige, power, image, perceptions…and to hell with pursuits of selfish gains”, while saying “yes to humility, holiness, selflessness and Christ-like gains.”  It is whispering a prayer chorus in our hearts “to be like Jesus this thought possesses me, in spirit and in deed, like Him I’ll be“;  while reclaiming, from selfishness, that swampy quick-sand, getting our feet stuck kind of battle ground which is located in our minds and causing a spiritual paralysis and a stubbornness of will.

crest2Questions for  us to ask and answer within ourselves: 
-Am I traveling upon the road of employment or deployment?
-Am I thriving upon the intersection of power, comfort, complacency?
-Why do I serve within this Army?
-Am I currently traveling upon the right road in my life, in my spiritual walk, in my Officership?
-Is it my life-long mission to be like Jesus and to serve and live for Him?
-How does this effect everything else I am and what I do?

I know there are other callings in life.
I recognize that The Salvation Army isn’t the only path to serve the Lord within.
I also understand that sometimes we will not always see eye to eye with policy and leadership…yet where does that leave us?  Where are we going?  Why do we do what we do as Officers…and even Soldiers?

 “I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
(Robert Frost)

Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

Sometimes Hope Sucks…

It is in the still small, lonely moments when we come face to face with a lingering trace of hope.  It is in those moments when it seems all hell is about to break loose that, with a pinkie finger, we cling onto that last thread, praying it doesn’t snap.  We pray.  We cry out.  We make ultimatums.  We wait.  Thanks Tom Petty for reminding us that the “waiting is the hardest part.”  

Photo Aug 29, 11 09 05 AM

I remember many occasions clinging to that last, frail thread of hope.  
One moment still sticks out in my mind even after all these years.  
My Great-Grandmother suffered a life-threatening issue on my thirteenth birthday.  My father took her to the hospital, it didn’t look good. I remember praying earnestly for her…I felt as if God didn’t listen.  Sometimes hope sucks.  She passed away soon after and hope’s thin, frail thread seemed to snap in my hands.  It hurt.  It sucked.

Another occasion >>

With tears streaming down my cheeks, I was trying to comfort my wife at the news of her mother’s tragic accident.  How earnestly I prayed that God would provide us a miracle in the midst of horrific circumstances…He didn’t.  She didn’t make it.  We were devastated.  It hurt.  Pain was immense.  Sadness entered our hearts like a flood.  Hope totally and completely sucked that night as wave after wave of grief swept over our family.  We didn’t get the answer we were praying for.  The frail, shredded thread snapped in our hands, yet something else took hold.  We felt the prayers of others.  Literally felt them.  We were being upheld, carried, protected, comforted, assured and loved.    Hope sucked…

But…

Photo Aug 29, 11 05 24 AM
Hope isn’t always about getting what we want.
Hope isn’t always about God answering our prayers the way that we want Him to. 
Hope isn’t even about God delivering us from situations in this life…I wish it did, but it doesn’t always happen. 

Sometimes hope. just. sucks…yet…another question rises up in my heart.
Another pondering takes place and is formed in the brain and attempts to reserve carefully placed words on the tongue to inevitably chew on and spit out.  

The question?  

Here it is>> So what?  
The follow-up question that rings out like a loud, noisy bell in my heart
is this >> Even then can you still persevere in your faith?

The Answer?
Is amazingly – “YES“.  

Because...
                  >Sometimes hope life sucks.  
                  >Sometimes things do not always go according to OUR plan.
                  >Sometimes God chooses to answer our prayers differently from what we had hoped.
                  >My faith doesn’t revolve around ME getting everything that I want.  
                  >Despite life’s circumstances and the temporal nature of this life I serve an eternal God who has an eternal plan 
                    for me.  
                  >I know in Whom I have Believed!  

The Apostle Paul believed this way too, I’m convinced of it.  He believed despite hope and life sucking royally.  Not life with God, but circumstances beyond his control.  Oppression sucked.  Beatings sucked.  Not life with His Savior, but with imprisonment and chains and even death. Despite all of these things which totally and completely sucked, he persevered and carried on.  

Can we carry on?  
Even when our notion of “hope” doesn’t pan out?  
Even when our prayers seem to go unanswered?
Even when hope has run out the backdoor and you’re left in a house that is burning to the ground around you?  

Circumstances and our perception of hope can seriously suck sometimes…but can we carry on?  
Can we persevere? 
Can we press on in our steadfast faith?  

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed...”  1 Peter 1:3-8
 

How is your faith today?  
Can you stand firm despite hope sucking royally sometimes?  
Can we persevere?  

Something more for us to ponder today!  

 

We found Rest and Relaxation at Serenity Falls…you should too!

 

This isn’t some infomercial, or advertisement.
Pastors, business people and tired families all need to find a place to rest, recuperate and relax.  We all need a holiday, a vacation from the hustle and bustle of the world around us.  A place to reconnect with our spouses, our children and with that good book you’ve been meaning to finish.

We found that place this week while on vacation.  We had never been to North Carolina and so we wanted to see the Smokey Mountains and had heard about Lake Lure and Chimney Rock.  They have filmed movies here like Firestarter, Last of the Mohicans and Dirty Dancing.

We booked this cabin – Serenity Falls and let me just say “wow“!  The drive coming to the cabin was long and curvy.  There were some interesting views in the mountains, some unique people, yet after driving up the steep drive to the cabin and unloading our belongings we could finally step back and see the majestic views all around us.  This is a secluded piece of heaven.  It is quiet, serene and ideal for large families or for a couple looking to get away.  

As a pastor, ministry to others is important, yet if I never find the time to get away and recharge I will burn out and be useless to those I have been called to serve and love.  If you’re a pastor or in the ministry or just a person in need of some peace and quiet why don’t you check out Serenity Falls.  It is so worth it!  They have all of the modern features a home could have and more.  It’s tranquil, and you will find rest here!  The really nice thing is that you are minutes away from Lake Lure and Chimney Rock which are really interesting scenic places to visit.  There is also the massive Biltmore Estate which is a historic estate chalk full of leisurely activities and tours.  

Here are a couple of pictures of Serenity Falls that I took (there are also some on the website which I hyper-linked here), I can’t say enough how nice a time we had here resting and relaxing…we could seriously stay a lot longer!  

We felt welcome as soon as we drove up!
We felt welcome as soon as we drove up!
This is the amazing playground that my kids played on for hours while I lounged on the back porch.
This is the amazing playground that my kids played on for hours while I lounged on the back porch.

Dear Salvation Army – Communion Survey & Results

What I don’t wish to accomplish with this article:
It is not my intention to discuss whether The Salvation Army’s stance of the practice of communion (or lack there of) as soldiers and officers is wrong.  I am not going to debate and criticize, nor is it the goal of this article to sway you one way or the other.  

Instead:
It is, however, the intent of this article to simply (as possible) present the facts, discuss the results of the survey that was conducted and lastly formulate my personal opinion (because hey, it’s my blog).  There will undoubtedly be debate, those who will strongly oppose even discussing this topic, and some who will just shake their heads.   I would ask everyone to enter into this discussion with an open mind, to set aside preconceived notions (where possible) and look at this topic objectively.  It is not my intention to undermine the Army’s leadership and/or doctrinal decisions (please don’t think me a rebel or one who questions authority), but rather to look at this topic from all angles.  

Discussion:

When the early believers broke bread together they were really expressing their fellowship in a manner that was both down-to-earth and highly significant.  In a simple common meal they celebrated their life together.  And, at the same time, they recalled the life and death of Jesus Christ and recognized his risen presence amongst them.  

What could be more natural?  Jesus had often broken bread with his disciples (John 6:11).  During his last meal with he had used that simple action to explain to them that as food and drink sustained their physical life, so his body broken and his blood shed in death would bring them spiritual life.  And after his resurrection he had revealed himself in the home of Cleopas in that same simple action (Luke 24:30).

The breaking of of bread was, quite simply, the most natural way for the early Christians to celebrate and reinforce their exciting new fellowship with each other in Christ…The Communion service became separated from its roots in the common meal.  The Church began to believe that the ritual had power in itself to convey the grace of God, even to teach that the bread and the wine actually became the body and blood of Christ.  

This kind of thing encouraged the idea of a special priesthood who alone had the right to administer the grace of God through the giving of the cup and the bread to ordinary believers.  

(Battle Orders, Chick Yuill p. 84-85)

It was against this kind of thinking that our Founders reacted.  
“…There must be no baptismal service that can delude anyone into a vain hope of getting to Heaven without being ‘born again’.  There must be no Lord’s Supper ‘administered’ by anybody in such a way as to show anything like a priestly superiority of one over another – every saved person being a ‘priest unto God”…There must never be a sacramental service at the end of a meeting so as to prevent the possibility of inviting sinners to the mercy seat.” (A statement drafted by George Scott Railton and issued by William Booth in 1881) 

What we can then understand Communion to mean within the context of the early Church and through the above quotes is that gradually the Church began to ritualize this sacred moment within fellowship of believers thereby the origin intent of such a intimate moment became blurred or marred within institutional practice.  

Commissioner Philip Needham puts it this way – 
Perhaps it is not quite accurate to say that the Army ‘discontinued’ the Lord’s Supper.  Let us say, rather, that the sacrament was transported from the high altar…out of the sanctuary and placed back in society.  Could we be so bold as to say that the meal was brought closer to its origins in the Early Church?”  (Philip Needham: Community in Mission) 

Questions to consider: 

discussion
Has the Church (Big C) lost its focus on the importance and relevance of such an intimate fellowship?  Can we practice “Communion” within the context of The Salvation Army if we exercised only the original practice of the Early Church around the dinner table?  Do we lose something when we “throw the baby our with the bathwater” so to speak?  Given the above explanations and quotations have we as an Army completely steered away from the Early Church practice of fellowship in this way?  Lastly, the Church became bogged down with regulations and ritual that it lost the true significance and even corporate practice of what the disciples and Jesus practiced at the supper table…are we in that same danger when we consider sacramental living and that of our regulatory rituals?  Have we stopped preaching holiness and sanctification?

I only ask these questions because when we become organized the danger is we begin to protect things considered sacred when it was never intended to treated as such.  

Survey Results:

survey
Photo Jul 23, 9 21 54 AM

Question #1 “Have you ever participated in a Communion Service?” 

 

 

Of those polled 91% said that they have participated in a communion service at some time.  I would venture to guess that most likely these services those participated in were  conducted at a liturgical church some where.   Given this statistic most understand the dynamics of the traditional communion service which involves the bread and wine (or grape juice) depending on the denomination conducting the ceremony.

Question #2:

“Why, in your opinion, does The Salvation Army take such a hard stance against this sacramental practice of the traditional Church? “

 

Responses: 

It goes back to William Booth’s thoughts…did not want people to be confused on what is expected to be saved.  His people were basically unchurched.” 

 

 

Not a hard stance, but a practical one.

Old fashioned idea about not wanting people to cling to the ritual instead of Christ.  If it’s done right, that won’t be an issue.” 

Hard? It is a respectful stance, offering a visible argument against disrespectful and superstitious abuses of these ceremonies.

I thought initially it was because people thought water baptism and partaking in communion was a means of salvation and the decision was made to stop for that reason!

Because of the fear that people will exchange living in Holiness for the sacraments, meaning it doesn’t matter how I live because I partake in communion. Confusing the saving grace of God with ritualistic acts

Photo Jul 23, 9 22 03 AM

Question #3

“Do you agree with The Salvation Army’s position on the practice of Communion?” 
35% said ‘Yes’
48% said ‘No’
16% said ‘Unsure’

Something to consider within this question is this: does The Salvation Army and its leaders, including corps officers, take the time to adequately explain this position in formal and informal settings?  

 

 

Question #4 

“Are there detractors in participating regularly in communion and if so what are they?” 

Responses: 

The sacred can become commonplace.”

Anything can become routine or old hat. If it loses the significance, it should stop. Like Sunday night mtgs, high collars and open airs

Like any “ritual”, you run the risk of wearing it out. It becomes more about doing the ritual than what the experience means. That’s unfortunate and potential unavoidable. If we could guarantee deep, sound and continuous teaching the value is increased dramatically.

I find practice does nothing for my spiritual life

” see it still as that which separates those who are worthy to take the sacrament with the unsaved or those who’s hearts aren’t right. I’ve heard it offered far too often like this, but Jesus offered the Seder to everyone at the table. I like Booth’s analogy that we need a bigger table, and it is in our homes.

Just as in our stance of zero liturgy, practicing liturgy all the time might cause one to lose meaning because communion become mundane. How should one administer it? Should only corps officers? Should it be wine or grape juice? What type of bread should be used? Could CSM’s administer it? Who is allowed to participate in it? Are soldiers and adherents or also non-believing Salvationists?

I think it is easy to substitute the “practice” of the sacraments (a means of grace) with the daily living out of our salvation. The sacraments could become a Salvationist Yom Kippur where you repent once a year for all your sins of last year and all the sins you will commit next year. “His mercies are new every morning” for a reason.

Question #5

“Are there benefits in participating regularly in Communion and if so what are they?”

 

Responses: 

Yes. Taking communion requires a deep examination of your heart, attitudes, and behavior.

Old fashioned ideas about not wanting people to cling to the ritual instead of Christ.  If it’s done right, that won’t be the issue.”

If taken seriously, it can be a moment of personal reflection as to the sacrifice of our Lord. Sitting in the corps hall staring at the mercy seat doesn’t always have the same impact. Also, I tended to view the mercy seat as a place where you came when you were really bad and needed forgiveness. However, participating in communion is a reminder of the grace and forgiveness we are offered, even if we do not have a major sin to confess.

It is a nice period of reflection when it occurs.It makes you feel at one with the congregation, but so does the altar call at the penitent form and holiness table.

Participating in the sufferings of Christ, partaking of the presence of Christ alongside his bride the church, fellowship at God`s table, confession of sin and receiving forgiveness

Reaffirming/ reconnecting with God and your covenant with Him. Prior to becoming soldiers we were Methodists who participated in communion. Nobody thought that taking communion was saving us, it was a time to refocus and remember Jesus’ sacrifice.

We know a few soldiers who were raised in a liturgical church who “needed” the sacraments. They were provided for them in a private setting (usually at Easter and Christmas). Their own personal spiritual formation was contingent upon receiving them. Who are we to argue?

Feeling of belonging.

Question 6:
Photo Jul 23, 9 22 11 AM “Should The Salvation Army reconsider its position on Communion?” 

Of those polled –

                        22% said ‘Yes’
                        26% said ‘No’
                        14% said ‘Unsure’

Follow-up question – “If ‘Yes” explain why” (the Dark Green Portion of the graph on left

Responses: 
We are missing out on a beautiful expression of our devotion to Christ.

Our original stance for not practicing communion is no longer valid” 

I hate the prohibition-like attitude towards communion, the mocking from Officers and Soldiers towards those who choose to partake in communion.  I don’t think it should be required but to forbid Officers from administering it is silly – why do we say God can use any space/person/activity to bring Him glory and then put a specific stop to something that does no spiritual harm?” 

It is okay that the Salvation Army does not practice communion, but we lose something by not understanding the practice.  I think the Salvation Army can continue not practicing, but should be more educated about communion.” 

I don’t think we need to change our stance, but I do think we need to know it better so we can teach it better.” 

Don’t threaten discipline due to participating in a SA setting.” 

As (we) will never be fully recognised in places such as South America, and parts of Europe without use of sacraments in worship.” 

Question #7

Photo Jul 23, 9 22 18 AM

“Are there scriptural references that make the practice of Communion wrong?” 

Of those polled – 

2% said ‘Yes’
79% said ‘No’
8% said ‘Unsure’.

Follow-up question – “If ‘Yes” explain why” (the Dark Green Portion of the graph on right

Responses: 
Wrong is maybe too hard a word.  But the passages describing Communion in the NT (the Synoptic accounts and 1 Corinthians 11 for example) describe something far different from modern communion.  The early Church would not recognize what is being done today.” 

1 Corinthians 11:23-32 Paul says it’s a communal meal, says any time we eat together as a church we should remember Christ, and Mark 7:1-23 The elders had decreed how to keep scripture and voided it with their traditions, Jesus charged them with deserting the commands of God and He candidly rejected their authority and called it sin.” 

in 1 Corinthians 11 Communion was addressed but not as wrong.  But that it was being practiced incorrectly.  Paul, therefore, did NOT discontinue the practice, but told the Corinthians how to do it properly.” 

1 Tim 4:7, Romans 14:17

Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 11 make it clear that ‘the Lord’s Supper’ was much more like a “Potluck supper” than the ritualistic emblematic rite that it has become in most churches.  I wouldn’t say that this makes it wrong to do communion, but practice would need to be reviewed.” 

Question # 8

Photo Jul 23, 9 22 31 AM

Does the practice of Communion, in your opinion, detract from the emphasis of the workings of The Holy Spirit?  (Within the realms of The Salvation Army demographic)”

 

Of those polled – 

4% said ‘Yes’
73% said ‘No’
12% said ‘Unsure’

Follow-up question – “If ‘Yes” explain why” (the Dark Green Portion of the graph on left

 

Responses: 
Communion can easily become a distraction when the focus of holiness becomes the act, rather than the action of the Holy Spirit and the need for personal holiness.  Holiness is foundational to TSA, and its non-sacramental position says something to the Church, and frees the preacher/teacher to explore the range of holiness.

It can.  If we place our trust in ceremony that in and of itself confers grace (that is what a Sacrament is!) then we are excluding the Holy Spirit from being anything more than mechanical.” 

The majority of Army church members didn’t receive their Christian education from TSA.  So you would create chaos for the sake of being like other churches.”

It would create two classes of salvationists.  It would devalue those who do not take part.  The Holy Spirit is impeded by deliberate disunity.” 

“How can we speak powerfully about the sacramental life — EVERY moment can be a sacrament and THEN  turn around and say, but we have this special moment too.  It does not make sense and it detracts from part of theology.” 

Question #9
What did Jesus mean when He said “Do this in remembrance of me”?  (Luke 22:19)

Responses:

When we share in the bread and wine, we are reminded of the suffering of Christ…which He did willingly for you…and me. I love focusing on the suffering of Christ, while partaking…a strong reminder of His great love for me. Words from the old musical, The Witness, tell us in celebrating communion..”take it and eat it, and when you do do it in love for me.

Take time to remember what He went through to bring us salvation.”

Every time you meet round a table remember me.”

There are several answers to this depending on your denominational affiliation(s). I grew up Presbyterian, thus we followed the command that Christ gave to his disciples which was to continue on in His fellowship by practicing communion in fellowship with each other. I was also taught that it is a done in remembrance of his sacrifice AND his returning. I continue to believe this today and take communion when I attend church with my parents who are still Presbyterian – it is very sacred to me and has such a deeper meaning now that I am ordained and commissioned into His service. I continue to stand firm, however, that it is not necessary to my walk with Christ nor in seeking holiness.

He was celebrating the Passover, which was a full (if ceremonial and symbolic) meal. So it either means “whenever you celebrate Passover remember me” or “whenever you break bread remember me.” By the way, Jesus Christ is only recorded as saying that in Luke, and John doesn’t even record the Last Supper. Kind of strange if it was to become a Sacrament as many modern Christians understand it today.

Gathering of believers in fellowship in His name.

Sit down and have a meal together. No ritual, just commensality.

 

Question #10

“Communion is not necessary for Salvation (this we know) and we should adequately explain this to soldiers and recruits of The Salvation Army, BUT…might we be losing anything in our efforts in avoiding such a practice within our Corps services?  Why or Why not?”

Responses: 

Yes. In thinking of new people coming into the corps family, many have been raised in a church where communion was shared. Many have indicated they do miss this practice in the Army. I have shared communion with women at Women’s camps and have had many thank me and noted how much they missed this sacrament. (I also had a few critics!)

“The only thing we would lose is the togetherness but only if it meant the same to everyone.

Communion is, in my opinion, the first object lesson sermon. It had little or no significance to the Disciples in the upper room when He instituted it. However, communion has become for some, an important aspect of their Christian life. Not because it bring salvation, but because they feel it helps bring them closer to God. Communion is NOT represented well within The Salvation Army, it is ignored and disregarded as a meaningless ceremony. I don’t think ANYTHING that actively calls us to remember Christ, and His sacrifice are things to be ignored or written-off as meaningless.

“I think we lose a lot, it is a real act of worship when the motivation is right, it can assist us in drawing closer to God when we are setting our minds on spiritual things.”

Yes we are, because few officers — not to mention soldiers — understand our position. I have known soldiers who thought they were sinning if they partook! Ridiculous! Our example of emphasizing that which is symbolized above the symbol is sound and, I believe, helpful to the church at large. If we were to ever institute the Sacraments in TSA, it should not be because “Israel wants a king” to be like everybody else, but because we have and teach a thoroughly thought out theology of these ceremonies. And we should NEVER call them Sacraments!”

not if we explain it in a good way.”

“I’m not sure why TSA is so convinced that most people who practice the sacraments think that they are saved by them. I think what is lost is a tangible reminder of our redemption and a physical act of fellowship with our savior and each other. To think that we are above practices that most other churches engage in seems somewhat arrogant and separatist to me.”

One of the secondary motivations for being non-sacramental is our Egalitarianism. The resistance toward women giving Communion to men was absolute in 1865 and could easily be that way today. For the sake of unity we dont practice the sacrements. if we did would people get a spiritually fufilling moment sure, but at what cost? isnt it better to be one church too singleminded in advancing the cause of christ that we make this a non-issue. I believe scripture bears out we keep the rememberance of Christ better than anyone who practices communion.

No. If we are intentional about teaching/preaching/living sacramental lifestyles, then the simple practice of partaking in communion will not enhance our meetings.”

 

Concluding Thoughts
MY Thoughts…and You Decide…
In concert with Phil Laeger
(Photograph of Holiness table taken by Debby Hudson/Ft. Lauderdale Corps)
We serve a mighty God! AMEN?!

At times man has imposed ritual upon things and places that was never intended to be.  I do not discount the significance for those who participate in Communion, nor do I criticize the act.  It can be a wondrous and beautiful commemoration of what Christ has done for us.  BUT…there is danger in anything losing its significance if done out of ritual and practice without teaching and instruction. 

Secondly I believe this topic to be quite complex and very personal to many people, hence the varying responses in the survey above.  One person even asked, “why conduct this sort of survey won’t it only cause conflict and division?”  This was never my intention and in fact I believe it only serves to display how unique the body of Christ is and how unique each person’s perspectives and convictions are.   

Lastly, if in fact, the original intent of the ‘Last Supper’ and the early Church’s practice of Communion simply meant breaking bread together and eating food whilst recalling the wondrous sacrifice and salvation through Christ, shouldn’t we get back to that?  If this was the origins which became so deeply entrenched in tradition and ritual shouldn’t we reclaim the origin and not the ritual…and more importantly seek to grow in personal and corporate holiness?  Shouldn’t the Lord’s table then be our tables at home as we teach and instruct our children and families?  Anything can become ritual including wearing our uniforms whilst losing any and all of its significance.  

I have more to say on this topic…but I will conclude here. 

So…what do you think?  

Something more for the Army world to ponder today.  

 

Disclaimer: This survey represents a small portion of our Army and is in no way representative of everyone. We were able to collect a total of 98 responses from this survey (those who participated) and we thank everyone for your responses. Secondly these are responses from people and soldiers of our army and does not necessarily represent the beliefs and personal views of pastorsponderings.org. Thank you for reading and participating.

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