Dear Salvation Army, Does Racism Still Exist Within Us?

I am a Caucasian man.
I am a pastor.
I love culture.
I love diversity.
I love people.
I am a father.
I am a husband.
There are many other attributes that can describe me, but I hope that racism is never one of them!

saI grew up as a missionary kid.
We lived on a small Island where a little pale blonde headed kid was not the norm.
We also lived in South Africa during Apartheid, where racism was very, very real.
In my parent’s appointment in Cape Town, they served at a  beautiful corps (Athlone) where I learned the intricacies of rich harmonies in worship.  The sounds of singing and worshiping have always had an impact in my life because of the Athlone corps.  One other thing, our corps, at this time was considered a “colored” corps. I still consider the Athlone corps members to be as close as family to me.  At the same time of meeting each week at the Athlone corps, my sister and I attended an all white school.  Remember, this was Apartheid South Africa, much of the racism still existed in government, police as well as restaurants  and shopping centers.  I have seen racism at its worst, even though I was only a child then.

Thankfully those days have changed…and they are still changing.
Do you know what I also remember of those years in South Africa?
I remember The Salvation Army taking a stand against racial discrimination which was contrary to the government at that time.

Did racism still exist within the ranks of soldiers and even officers?
Yes.  But leadership began to slowly change that dynamic.

I am not here to debate racism today.
It is certainly deplorable in every shape or form, but I am pondering today whether or not racism still exists within The Salvation Army.

Like other organizations and churches, do we still encounter this issue?
I would be more than willing to go out on a limb today and say, yes, unfortunately racism still happens.

Here’s what I don’t want to come from such a pondering today –
I don’t want to cause more divisions among our ranks.
I don’t want to single out people and specific issue.
I don’t wish to meddle or to pry back hurt feelings from the past.
But…
what I do wish to ponder today is how can we progress forward as an Army?
How can we heal old wounds?
How do we respond to ignorance and racial divides within ourselves?
Photo Aug 22, 6 40 02 PM
Questions to ponder and think about: 
Are appointments still made today because of ethnic backgrounds and the color of skin?
Is this considered “racism” or just attempts to meet certain ethnic groups?
Do we or others in our corps still struggle with people of a different racial groups joining our fellowship?
How do you address specific people when ignorant and/or racial comments are made?

There are still some small town corps as well as large city corps that still struggle with ignorance and racism.
It still exists.
Can we love without divisions of ethnicity?
Do we have the capacity to be color blind, or better yet to celebrate how greatly diverse this Army truly is?   God loves us beyond the tone of our skin.
Christ died for every racial group in our world.
Jesus broke all social norms and spent time with people from other cultures despite the racial and cultural tensions in His day.
Will we ever get to this point as an Army?
Yes, great strides have already been made.
Godly people within our ranks have already been raised up and have paved the way.
What we do NOW as an Army matters!
There ought not be divisions among racial groups and ethnic groups in our corps and in our territories.
If we wish to reflect a Christ without barriers such as these, then we must end racism of every kind.
But it must first begin in our hearts, in our homes, and then in our corps families.

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

I Don’t Want A “Grown-up” Kind Of Faith!

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5)

When I look back at my childhood, it is with a sense of joy and regret.  Joy in the fact that I live it, regret in the fact that I grew up.  How simpler life seemed as a child.  Children aren’t weighed down by the complications of life.  Have you ever noticed how much harder it is to have friends as you grow older?  As a child you could be in a new neighborhood and make friends all in the same afternoon…but now it could take months even years to gravitate to a few close friendships.  As a child, everything seemed possible, tangible realistic..as an adult things are much more complicated, some things have become impossible, immovable and life has its boundaries.

knewwI believe the same can be said about our faith as well.
As a child, faith is as vast as the galaxy around us.  Everything is possible.
There are no limits to it.  Child-like faith breathes life everlasting into our lungs.
Child-like faith returns the impossible into the possible, the unrealistic into the realistic.  Child-like faith turns the up close view of our problems back into the grand scheme of God’s plan and assures us that we are not alone!   With child-like faith, the God of the Universe IS capable of ALL things once more…and He cares for you and for me.

I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want a “grown-up” kind of faith any longer.
Grown-up faith has to boil everything down.
Grown-up faith has to see before believing.
Grown-up faith has to complicate everything more than it was ever meant to be.
Grown-up faith comes with its own set of filters, ambiguities and personal discrimination.
Grown-up faith places self into the equation when selflessness is really what is needed.

Grown-up faith shouldn’t be confused with “maturity” of our faith, rather it is the over complication of this thing we call faith.

Photo Apr 16, 11 26 12 AMI regret losing that child-like faith when I grew up.
I regret allowing the world around to seep into my perception of God and His relationship to me.
I regret taking that child-like faith for granted.
I regret…regretting what used to be.

BUT…
I know that it is not too late.
I…
We…
can begin again with Child-like faith, but first we have to release all of those Grown-up complications that we have associated with our faith.  We have to release the baggage of guilt and regret.  We have to let go of the wrongs this world has inflicted upon us.  We have to move past ourselves as we embrace Christ for all He is in and through us.  When we can begin to live only for Him instead of us, so too begins this path of Child-like faith once more.

FaithSomething more to ponder today.
May we run with child-like abandon after Christ and in so doing embrace that child-like faith once more.
To God be the glory!

The Beauty of Faith And Fear Living Together.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?Psalm 27:1 

fear1The truth is, we DO face fear in this life.
The truth is, we DO suffer from paralysis from time to time because of fear.
If we allow fear to take up a permanent place within our hearts, we rob ourselves of experiencing the joys of life that God offers to us.  Fear can only have power if we allow it to have power in us.

That is easier said than done when all of a sudden a moment of crisis takes place and our hearts plummet over that jagged cliff of trepidation and dread.  It is easier said than done when we come to the end of our ropes and we have nothing else to cling to.  It is easier said than done when we exhaust all hope and resource and still we can’t afford to make ends meet.

Fear is real.
But so is faith.

Questions to ponder today: 
Is fear ALWAYS bad?
Is there ever a place for fear?
Does fear ever coexist with faith?

I once heard a phrase that I still struggle with.fear
The phrase was spoken to a group of us in a church meeting once.
It goes like this:  “Faith and fear can’t exist in the same space”
I’m not sure I agree.
Sure, it sounds good on paper and all.
It’s a good mantra to utter in the face of adversity.
But is this saying really true?
I just don’t think it is.
It could be an awesome “battle cry” to rally the troops and help encourage the discouraged…but I think faith and fear sometimes go hand in hand.

I suppose the word fear has to be defined in this conversation.
I think there are varying degrees of fear to think about when we talk about “faith AND fear”.
We don’t want to generalize fear to mean something all encompassing when it comes to “what we are afraid of”, rather I believe the kind of fear that is present within faith is a trepidation rather than a full blown paralyzing fear.  I like one of the definitions of the word “trepidation” because it sort of crystallizes to me how faith and fear can coexist together in us.
The definition I think that fits is this:

‘Trepidation’ – a trembling motion.

To me this means that although we do not know what the future has in store for us, there IS STILL MOTION in us.
It sort of sums up that coined phrase “stepping out in faith” for me.
Although we have said “yes” to Christ and we have made that proclamation to the world around us, there is still the motion that is needed…and within that motion is a trembling.

Perhaps some of us dig deep and that trembling isn’t ever noticeable.
While in the rest of us that trembling aspect of faith is extremely evident.
It is more than mere nervousness of the unknown, it is a moving fear that propels faith to action.
It is more than reverence for God “fear and trembling”, it is an action verb that puts fuel on the fire of our faith.
faith
Do you have fear today? 
If you do have fear, I want to tell you that it is okay.
Don’t ever think that just because you’re fearful that there is something wrong with your faith walk.
Fear CAN exist within faith, and if understood and utilized correctly, it can help us to put feet and movement to our faith!

Something more to ponder today!

“Perspectives” Day # 3 Featuring Captain Shanais Strissel

What is tradition and why do some of us cling tightly to it and some of us find it suffocating?  Why is there such a struggle between being something new and holding tightly to something old?  Is tradition or newness best for the Corps?

The answer is yes to both.

I think that in order to find what’s best for the church, within the Salvation Army, both camps must loosen their death grips and come to see that the answer lies within each claim, just in an unexpected way.
Jesus was the master at taking something old and renewing it.  Not remaking it, but renewing it.

And I believe the answer to why our churches are dying lies within the struggle to come to terms with the unexpected, because if we do not come to terms with the unexpected, I am afraid that we may go the way of the Pharisees and leaders of the law.  Are we to become something that a church history class studies in a hundred years from now, a charitable entity who faded away into irrelevancy because we just couldn’t grasp the way of the unexpected?

Jesus was always doing things that upset the religious leaders, healing on the Sabbath (how dare he) not fasting (how un-Jewish of him) telling the Pharisees they are dirty unwashed bowls (gasp), what in the world is this man doing?
He was not remaking the law; he was renewing how the people saw it.  They had taken something simple and made it complicated and unwieldy.  They made it difficult for God’s work to be done because of all the, ahem, addendums that they added to it….

It is not that the old ways where bad in themselves, but the way that people applied them over the years that made it into something that it was not intended to be.
It happens.  People muck things up from time to time and God has to shake things back into the rightful place.  The question to ask ourselves is, are we going to move with God when he shakes this Army or will we get left behind as God moves his mission forward in this world?

So…what’s the answer?…

The answer, I believe, lies in the unexpected.

Jesus’ actions were always consistent with the law, just in different and unexpected ways.  He observed the ritual but took the meaning of the law and expanded and enriched it!  The Pharisees and religious leaders had it backwards; they took the ritual and expanded it while ignoring the richness and meaning of the law in the first place.

And here is what I believe has become a stumbling block for the Salvation Army.  We don’t need more ritual a.k.a more “growth” programs, more paperwork, more ritual, more law, what we need is a deeper richer meaning to the simple foundation of what make the Salvation Army who it already is.

We do not need to get rid of our rich traditions, but we do need to get rid of all of the baggage that hinders the mission.

Somewhere we lost our simplicity of mission among the mounds of responsibility heaped onto Officers backs, and I mean all Officers not just Corps Officers.  We have spread ourselves so thin that we are in danger of becoming shallow and useless, instead of deep and rich.

I am not calling for a revolution of the Salvation Army, what I am asking you to consider is a re-evaluation of who we already are.  Not to remake the whole system but to pull out and expand what is good and to keep it SIMPLE!  Let go of the complicated extended busy work and enrich and deepen what is good!  Don’t extend the shallow and complicate the simple!

Jesus’ way is simple and his burden is light, it’s his followers who tend to weigh things down.

So, how do we figure it out?  How do we come together as an organization and deepen, enrich, simplify and give deep meaning to the traditions we already have, how do we embrace the unexpected?

That is something that we have to figure out together.

Let’s let God Shake us up shall we?

“Perspectives” Day # 2 Featuring Colonel Dennis Strissel “Opinion8ed #6”

Photo Jan 05, 4 13 24 PMOpinion–8-ed

(A series of eight installments)

Number Six – Mulligans for Ministry

Having been preoccupied with our new appointment (retired), with plenty of time for thought amid the unpacking and putting up pictures, I thought that I might dedicate my final three installments to what I would focus on in my ministry if I had a “do-over”. Maybe a more appropriate term might be a Mulligan for Ministry. Yes, that’s what I would like. What would I do differently if I had the chance? I’m not talking about the mistakes I made, and I have made more than my fair share. Nope. This is more about what I would invest more time and energy in if I had an opportunity for a ministry mulligan.

First would be to pay closer attention to those important influencers in my life. Father, grandfather, teachers, local officers with greater life experience than me with a willingness to share life-wisdom. I can count more than a dozen important influencers/mentors that have taken me under their wing; those who have helped me make many life decisions over the last forty-one years. My regret is a lack of awareness of my need of good mentors early on in the ministry.

Like most, there were some confusing issues and experiences that brought doubt and fear early on in ministry. How much easier it might have been with a mentor guiding me through those events and experiences, reminding me that things will become clearer and brighter as we grow through tough times. There were times when a “Dutch Uncle” approach would have been good with a mentor saying “get on with it” or “get over it”! Mostly, though, I needed someone to challenge me to holy living and growing in grace… No, they needed to demonstrate by example how to do that and insist that I follow their example.

Some of my greatest influencers were local, non-commissioned, officers. To begin to name any of them would be a dis-service, since I’m bound to leave a couple out. I recall returning to a corps I soldiered at before entering the Training College, returning with my “red” epaulettes to hear and see the reaction of the Corps Sergeant Major, (senior lay position of the church). His expression and embrace didn’t disappoint me…in fact, it gave me great encouragement. When feeling alone and almost defeated, I would replay that moment in my head. It helped me keep my focus knowing that I had cheerleaders somewhere.

It wasn’t always the divisional officers that kept my spirit afloat … and we had many good divisional officers. Nope. I loved being near and learning from senior corps officers within the division. Some had never served in a divisional headquarters appointment yet they had great life experience that they were willing to share with “younger” officers. THANK GOD for the likes of older captains, majors and brigadiers and their willingness and faithfulness to share. They are the un-sung Army heroes.

Sharon and I had the privilege to serve for many years outside our territory and home country. We met many wise, talented, and obedient believers, many were soldiers and officers but others were pastors and lay leaders of other churches. You discover quickly once outside your home country that in order to live, not merely survive, you need close and lasting relationships. We are better people and leaders as a result of who we leaned on and learned from. We would have never even survived living on the Island of St. Helena without the mentorship and fellowship of friends from the Catholic, Anglican, Baptist or Seventh Day Adventist Churches.

Who we are today is a composite of all of those who have loved, led and mentored us….still I feel as though I needed a more attentive heart and mind and a learning spirit. If I could have one, I would ask for a mulligan, a do-over, wanting to listen more carefully or ask different questions. I suspect I’m no different than anyone reading this short article. It motivates me now to pay closer attention during the time left in this world and to invest myself in as many young leaders who will allow me their ear. The good news is there is still time for us all. To borrow a phrase from the author of the Revelations… “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 2:7NIV).

Dennis Strissel, Colonel

Previous “Opinion8ed” Articles:
Opinion8ed #1
Opinion8ed #2
Opinion8ed #3
Opinion8ed #4
Opinion8ed #5

“Holistic Hospitality” by Captain Andy Miller III – Book Review

Are you a proponent for The Salvation Army getting back to its roots?  So am I!
There are countless “how to” books out there that offer scholarly advice, some are good, some not so good…some are just pie in the sky theories that have seldom been put into practice.

Captain Miller III and Family
Captain Miller III and Family

The Book: “Holistic Hospitality” by Andy Miller III isn’t just another book that offers scholarly advice with pie in the sky theories.  This is a practical book that provides all of us a clear blueprint that will not only help us to reignite our hearts but our focus on people and real life ministry.  One of the misnomers that Captain Andy Miller III tackles in this book is the notion that ministry only takes place in the corps sanctuary, or “that we must separate Army’s ministries into “social” and “spiritual””.  (p. 30)

As soldiers and officers we have often seen this dividing line in ministry, and it can be a challenge to bridge the two together.  Sometimes we see Sunday as our primary focus but become less involved in the other “social” aspects of day to day “Salvation Army” work.  In this book, Captain Miller provides us with a practical view and a clear walk through of his own team led project of introducing the notion of hospitality into everything we do.  Hospitality is so much more than something that is done at home where you serve guests. Hospitality ushers people into deeper relationship with each other and with Christ.  We can practice hospitality in EVERYTHING that we do as we point to Christ while serving others!

I won’t spoil the book for you and lay out the entire project on this review.
Instead I recommend you pick up a copy of Captain Miller’s Book “Holistic Hospitality – A Bridge To A Future Army” and read it for yourself.  Be encouraged, be inspired, as we strive to lead our Army onward into the future!

This book can be purchased at your Territorial Trade Department or online at Amazon.com: Linked here:
Holistic Hospitality

Something more to ponder today!

What’s Killing The Church And Is It A Bad Thing?

The Church is dying at least in the traditional sense.
Perhaps it is not visibly seen in the mega church realms yet, but something is taking place in churches all around the United States.  If one were to look solely at church attendance through the lens of entities such as the Barna group, one would see that the decline is quite remarkable and seems to continue trending this way for years to come.

Perhaps we have been asking the “why” question for quite some time now.
Perhaps that’s not the right question.
Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is this:  “Is this really a bad thing?”

We are currently living in a world where spiritualism is on the rise while an individual identification of a specific religion is at an all time low.  One might say that this is a terrible trend.  One could argue, and rightly so, that spiritualism leads to many roads and many uncertain practices.  Recently even Pope Benedict XVI chastised the leadership of the Catholic church for it’s polarizing mission.

Is the death of “Church” really a bad thing? 
Pristine buildings.
Ritual practices.
Worship songs devoid of meaning.
Sermons with the same rhetoric and religious jargon.
…you get my point don’t you?
It sounds quite cynical I know.
But sometimes certain truths should be peeled back.
Sometimes we must allow our eyes to look upon the ugly cancerous parts of the church.
When the heart no longer follows the path of the holy.
When certain practices become high places and replaces the Most High.
Could it be that the death of “Church” is due to its first love being replaced with hollow practice, shallow traditions devoid of the Divine?   I hope not, I really do.

But, if this is truly the case, is the death of such a shallow form really so bad after all?
Could it be that out of its ashes an authentic remnant, a reinvigorated, holy people shall rise again?  Isn’t that sort of biblical?  Every time the Hebrew people prostituted themselves out to foreign gods and false, shallow practices God led them into a time of spiritual death through captivity through foreign powers.

Is this a wake up call? 
Is this a call into a deeper holiness?
Is this a warning to discard all that would distract?
Are we what Christ intended His disciples to become?
Are we still growing…or is our growth stunted, atrophied and broken?

Not to sound like a cliche’ but we cannot afford to simply go through the motions of religious practice.
We weren’t saved for this purpose.
We are all called to higher, more holy purpose.
Do we know what that holy purpose is anymore?
Have we lost our way?

I sure hope not…I really do.
Something more to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

Dear Salvation Army, I Wish I Had Known…

Regret. 
Contrition. 
Self-reproach.

Emotions that run deep beneath us.
Some propel us for the good.
Some dispel any and all forward progress we may have made.

news flash

You can’t live within your regrets.
You can’t burrow down beneath them and become spiritually disabled by them.
You can’t beat yourself up all of the time.

I believe that the Apostle Paul faced this type of self-reproach in his life too.
Having to say to yourself “I wish I had known”, might become a mantra of torture and pain.
Having to repeat these mistakes…let’s call them for what they might be – M-I-S-T-A-K-E-S
I’m not trying to get you off the hook here.
I’m not trying to justify our prior actions here.
But what I am saying is this:

Forgive

If you can’t learn to do this,
especially when we have received forgiveness
from God, then you will never be able to move forward
you will never be able to progress in this spiritual walk.
you will always be looking behind yourself
you will always be punishing yourself for
THOSE MISTAKES…

old lifePaul reminds us of this truth.
He reminds us (and perhaps himself)
He warns us of uttering that phrase about our forgiven
past that still screams at us and
tries to convince us that we don’t deserve God’s grace…
that same past that shouts at us and tells us that
we are beyond reach of mercy and that we totally deserve
punishment for these awful mistakes.

Paul says to these “I wish I had knowns
and he says to us:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
catch
Did you catch that?
Do you see the truth?
Can you understand that we’re all in the same boat here?
Our pasts and all of the mistakes we have made: 
-Can propel us forward.
-Can be used for our betterment
Can be Are  wiped clean.
-They don’t matter any more and they don’t live in our present.

Dear Soldier, 
stop fighting a war with shadows of your past! past
Stop waging a battle with ghosts that no longer exist.
Stop looking backward and the “I wish I had knowns”…they have been forgiven…you have been set free from them!

Don’t be defined by your past.
Don’t be defined by your mistakes.
Don’t give it a foothold in your present life…in your new life.

The father of lies would love for you to become crippled in your faith.
The great deceiver would try and convince you that you are of no worth and that your past is still very much present in your new life, and that little has changed.

I beg to differ.
Christ has set YOU FREE! free1
He didn’t do it partially.
He didn’t free you from the bondage of sin improperly.
He didn’t make a mistake with your free gift of Salvation.
You are free indeed!
You are a new creation.
You are forgiven.
You are save to save others through the mighty power of the Holy Spirit!
You are loved.
You are accepted though some will never accept you.
You are fit to be called a child of God!

So how about this, dear Soldier…

stop1
Stop the madness.
Stop the war inside your mind.
Stop hurting yourself spiritually.
Stop dwelling on the “I wish I had knowns
Stop looking back at your old life and living there through regret.
Stop lingering on the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s in life and move onto the promises of God here and now in the present.

Live as kingdom people now!
You are fit to serve!
You are fit to wear your uniform!
You are fit to be called sons and daughters of the Most High!

So a last bit of advice to you today:

get on itSomething more for our Army world to ponder today!
glory

Something to be thankful for? Let’s change that!

What if
life
is less about thismoney

and
more about this –
Family-450x280

what if we actually

LIVED

Like it?

What if this –buy

Became less important…

and this….mom

Became one of our priorities…

became, not something
world

“over there”…

but instead,
something right here….

street

Could we actually

live

this out loud?

could we actually

love

In this way?

I wish I could stop being so

cynical_logo

But I keep seeing the way

that we treat one another

hate

And I wonder
will it ever end?

i-don_t-know

But I hope it ends soon…

How about this….
Let’s  – love1
-Not hate-image

Let’s stop the
selfish

And turn it into this….feet

Just something else to ponder.
Do YOU have something to be
Thankful for?

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