Dear Salvation Army – A Parable Of US…These are OUR People!!

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…”  -Matthew 25:35

The Story:

In the frosted air of mid December, where ice is forming, melting in the midday sun, only to refreeze in winter’s kiss at dusk; a man zips up his camping tent for the night.  It will be another bitterly cold attempt at sleep, which has proven elusive and wrought with lingering aches in limbs and ligaments.  The man wraps himself up in multiple blankets of mismatched colors, extinguishes the insignificant blue flame from the juniper green propane camp stove, and settles in for another volatile night of shivering slumber as the constant freeway noise clambers on.  tent

As dawn slips past the horizon of the army green tent flap, which has been frosted and now baptized in a hopeful light; the man untangles himself from the layers of blankets and additional coats laid down in the middle of the night, a stop gap that offered little to no help.  Having survived yet another night languishing in hypothermic rest, the men unzips the tent and stretches out the pain of cramping muscles and battered tendons.  Shivering noticeably through the noise of his chattering teeth, he moves as quickly as his lumbering joints can move as he seeks out somewhere to warm his tired bones.

A few blocks away, the crimson glowing lights of a red shield inscribed with the words “Salvation Army” calls out to him.  The backdoor to the gymnasium has been opened, and there will be warmth within.   As he steps inside, the man encounters the soup kitchen cook, draped in a white billowing apron and a broad smile.  “Good morning friend!”  The cook says in a deep gravelly voice by way of greeting, “would you care for some coffee?”  The shivering man nods and shuffles towards an open chair as others also begin to arrive.  They too have anticipated this moment, and their search for warmth, food, coffee and conversation is at an end.
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The homeless man, still shaking off the bone-seeping coldness in his body, has finally found a safe haven, and with it – his dignity and hope once more…

…The Rest of the Story (As Paul Harvey used to say) 
This is just a glimpse into the lives of those we serve.   Some have had it better than others…
I have sat in our gym and listened to the stories some of our patrons can tell.
Some of them have truly been through hell on earth.
Some battle with constant addictions.
Some with physical or emotional trauma.
All are God’s…they are His…and He speaks to us through their stories of brokenness, pain and sorrow.
He also prods us to do something about their suffering.

homelessYes, Dear Salvationist, it seems like an impossible and never ending task because poverty, addictions and homelessness seem to be constantly knocking on our doors.  The situations are the same, but the faces change over time!   The question is – are we available to help and are we receptive to the Holy Spirit’s leading?  Are we here to be a light when the rest of the world has turned the light off, given up and walked away?  Can we still provide hope and love even if that person is stuck in the cycle of crisis?  Can we offer it without judgement?  Yes, we ought never put a band-aid on deep wounds, but can we serve first then minister?  Or can ministry truly be found IN the service and care of others?

Here is a reality check:  Some may never darken the doors to our sanctuaries on a Sunday morning, but are they not still a member of our congregation if they are at our facility EVERY DAY for a warm meal and a safe place to sit and rest?  I think we miss a far greater opportunity that can be found on Sunday morning if we don’t engage during these moments feeding and conversing.  Dear Salvationist, these are our people too!  They come to us because we are the harbor and they have been shipwrecked by life.   What we say, how we show love, and what we do – MATTERS!

The story I shared with you today, is real.
This man came to our corps and community center years ago, homeless, suicidal and at the end of his rope.  And because the doors to our gymnasium were open, and he found warmth in the company of people in our corps, he is alive today.  His life (literally his life) was saved!  I know that there are many more stories just like this one wherever a Salvation Army facility is located.   Doing the most good isn’t some prideful declaration to the public, instead is ought to be a phrase we ask ourselves every day both personally and organizationally – “Am I/Are We – Doing the most good”?   good

Make a difference in the lives you reach for Christ, and know that our “congregation” is so much larger than just our soldiery on Sunday mornings!

 

Sacramental whether we like it or not

“As his sacramental people, we find him living and at work in our own life-experiences. We celebrate the presence, the gift, the healing, the reconciliation, the joy in our own life by connecting it with the earthly life of Jesus. We are a sacramental community because our life, our work, and our celebrations centre on Christ, the one true Sacrament. Our life together is sacramental because we live by faith in him and our everyday lives reveal and offer unexpected grace, his undeserved gift again and again.” (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine, p.270)

Concise Dictionary of Religion calls a sacrament “a Rite in which GOD (or Gods) is (are) uniquely active”.

By this definition of what sacramental means every Christian church on earth is sacramental. If we invite the holy presence of God to meet us in our worship, which is usually the case in times of worship for without His presence in what we do, church is meaningless and should be regarded as social hour instead of worship. We do not pray to each other, so God becomes active in prayer therefore making it sacramental within our worship. When we read from His word, which we attest to being living and active and the only source of Christian faith and practice, we acknowledge that His word is vital and applicable to godly living therefore God is again active in our worship. By this definition alone we attest that we are sacramental people who wish to interact with a living and Holy God.

Sacramental living has unfortunately been compartmentalized within church to be specific actions or rituals in which we do or do not participate in, such as Communion or baptism. While these two specific acts of worship have the potential to be sacred moments in Christian living, they hold no more or less sacred value than that of corporate prayer or the call to salvation in an altar call setting. One could argue that we have been instructed through scripture to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19) But many fail to realize the context in which Christ was instructing…what does remembrance mean? Where was Jesus and the disciples when he gave this command. Many would argue that it is strictly the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine, but if we were to explore further in this context of this scripture the entire ecclesia of believers/disciples were gathered together over the dinner table and fellowshipping with Christ. This too is divine interaction in the context of worship! A meal together in the corporate sense of worship is sacramental as well, not just the breaking of bread and the passing of the cup…I believe historically we as Church have only scratched the surface of the sacraments when we only take a portion of the passover meal in the two elements and make it something more than it should be. Dare I say it’s a misrepresentation of scripture to evoke one segment of this meal with his disciples to be more important than the entirety as a whole.

We are sacramental as a people because of the unity of the body through Christ Jesus. When we as His people participate unified in the corporate setting we are doing this in remembrance of Him. Our worship is never perfect, we all have our hang ups, but when we invite God to partake in our prayers, songs, scripture readings, message, meals we are practicing sacramental living.

Holy living within the context of partaking in these sacred moments is the result of our invitation and reception of His presence. We enter into His presence not only in church but in our private prayer closets and daily devotional lives. We have received his holy presence at salvation and the work of the Holy Spirit prods us onward in becoming more like Christ in our new creation through continued surrender of every fragment of our being. Submission or fully surrendered lives to the Holy Spirit is by far the most sacred sacrament we partake in within our human existence.

We are sacramental in word and deed whether we like it or not…but I’m willing to venture a guess that upon receiving and accepting His presence in our lives this realization becomes all too clear through our surrender and His love which permeates every fiber of our transformed lives.

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Live Responsibly!

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What does ‘Live Responsibly’ look like in this life?  

Driving, at times can be relaxing…when there aren’t other drivers on the road that is…which is obviously very rare.  Other times when we drive there are drivers which test our patience  am i right?  The driver behind is riding your bumper and thinks you’re driving too slow, speed up and you become just like the driver behind you and get annoyed with the slower driver in front of you.  It’s a never ending cycle of frustration.  Isn’t it interesting that colds and virus’ aren’t the only things that are contagious?  Don’t believe me?  Just hang out with a person who is always sour long enough and you too will become sour.  Spend time with one who is constantly angry and you too will find your temper (and blood pressure) becoming higher.  Emotions and attitudes are also contagious.  The opposite is also true.  Spend time with a loving and level headed person and soon you will long to act and behave in that same manner.  

I’m reminded of the beer commercials during sporting events that reminds us to ‘Drink Responsibly’…I’d like to adapt that concept, not for the consumption of alcohol, but rather for living our day to day lives…we ought to LIVE Responsibly!  After all, who is responsible for the choices we make? We Are!  You and I are responsible!  We can’t shy away from the fact that when we make choices, we have to live with the consequences.  We can’t blame others for the destinations of our choices.  We have to take responsibility for our lives…we have to live responsibly!  

It is true that we shouldn’t live by our emotions, but at the same time we ought to be wise in the company that we keep.  After all we are responsible for our actions not someone else.  When we live responsibly we start to recognize the triggers that can set us on a path that can and will lead to our destruction.  When we live responsibly we begin to grasp just a fragment of what’s at stake in this life.  

What living responsibly isn’t:  

1) Boring

Living responsibly doesn’t mean we can’t have fun or enjoy life, in fact the opposite is true.  When we live responsibly we will not only grasp the importance in life but also enjoy life a little more…maybe we laugh a little deeper, we relish the company of healthy influences and we invest in its enjoyment.  

2) We stop risking

Sorry, that’s not true either.  When we live responsibly we take calculated risks but in different ways.  No longer are we not thinking of the consequences but we are taking risks for others.  By that I mean we will extend ourselves to others who might need positive change in their lives but they don’t recognize it yet.  In our Christian worldview that means we are sharing the love of Christ with those who haven’t heard or experienced it yet.  We take risks for others instead of ourselves…these types of risks are far more rewarding and far reaching that the risks with selfish desires attached.  

3) We lose friends

Perhaps this is a half truth, because when we live responsibly we will find that some friends will simply walk away from us…but we will also gain friendships with deeper ties and firmer foundations.  Living responsibly (as a Christian) will force us to put on godly lenses in our living and lifestyles.  When we do, and we recognize the paths that God wishes us to travel on, we too will be joined by other sojourners on the journey.  This comradely will impact our lives like nothing before it.  The fellowship of believers is something everyone needs, and a sense of belonging will stem from these relationships.

 “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe”  (Philippians 2:12-15 NIV) 

Living Responsibly will impact not just our lives but the lives of those around us…so how about it?  Will you allow the infection and emotions of others to effect you, or will you take the initiative to impact your world for God?  The choice falls to us…no one can force us to take this bold step of faith.  Live it out loud and take this great leap of faith for yourself and for others!  

 Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

 

“On your mark…get set…”

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Philippians 3:14-16 (MSG)
14 I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
15 So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! 16 Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.

You’ve seen it before, athletes staring down the track, or focusing on the ball and not idly chattering with others before the game or competition.  They are visualizing the finish line, the victory, the means to get from point A, where they are now, to point B the completion.  Every step of the runner is considered.  Every eventual or possible play by the sports star is thought through.   The journey to the finish line is not easy.   A lot of preparation beforehand must be made.  To simply show up at the competition without first preparing the mind and body will most likely lead an athlete down the track of failure.

Within the preparation of the athlete, not only are the possibilities of each footstep or play considered, but also the dangers.  There are risks involved in competing.  Injuries can occur. One false step or hesitation could lead to a devastating injury of the athlete.  If the mind of the athlete is not prepared to engage in split second, total commitment then mistakes and second thoughts could lead to bodily harm.

The athlete must be prepared to engage in battle, so to speak.  They prepare themselves for the opposing force.  A good athlete studies his or her adversities, weaknesses, and those he or she is competing against.  When this knowledge is secured, 100% is given to the effort of success, anything less than full commitment is unacceptable.  It has been said that an athlete leaves it all on the court, meaning they give it their all nothing less than everything.

Is that how our relationship with Christ is?  Are we committed 100% to this allegiance?  Or are we crucified with Christ only on the weekends or just certain holidays?  We short change the power of God and His moving in our lives if we aren’t fully committed to Him daily.  Like an athlete that the Apostle Paul describes, we have to focus and press on towards the goal.  Becoming like Christ, following in His footsteps take real courage and commitment!  We can’t be fair weathered about it.  If we are fair weathered Christians then we aren’t fully engaged in this forward motion of becoming like Christ!  Just as the athlete who flinches or hesitates mid-step the consequences could be devastating to our forward progress.

The message version of the above passage says in verse 15, “If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet!” Note that God can and will guide us in the spiritual discipline of obedience.  We can’t be amateur athletes of faith all of our lives.  He wants more from us.  God knows what we’re capable of even beyond what we know of ourselves.  We cannot feast on spiritual baby formula for the rest of our earthly lives.  God wants us to grow, mature and develop in us a deeper understanding of this faith that He gives us.  In so doing we will realize, like Paul, the ultimate goal is Christ-likeness the prize is the eternal reward but we can live it today!  We can live as eternal children of God today, but it requires our full commitment and obedience to His promptings and guiding of our lives.  Anything less than a full or total commitment will cause us to doubt.  A halfhearted commitment will cause us to doubt ourselves, our initial motivations, even our salvation.  Halfhearted commitment will also have us question the relevancy of God in our lives and that of His power and might.

We cannot afford to be halfhearted in our focus and our aim as Christ-followers.  It’s all or nothing.  We too must leave it all on the court.

If any of us are lacking focus or commitment today, first of all know that you’re not alone!  Every one of us struggles from time to time with our faith.  Sometimes our old selves causes us to hesitate and also trips us up along the way.  But it’s what we do next that counts.  Get back up and keep running, keep our focus on the prize, the model of holy living: Christ himself.  There’s a prayer chorus that says this;

All there is of me, Lord,

All there is of me,

Time and talents, day by day,

All I bring to thee;

All there is of me, Lord,

All there is of me,

On thine altar here I lay

All there is of me.”

Get back out there and run and don’t look back!  Get on with it!

Holiness: Walk of Obedience or the Unattainable Summit?

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What do you think of when you hear the word holiness?  It might evoke in you images of people walking around in brilliant white gowns.  Perhaps Mother Teresa diligently working in the slums of Calcutta comes to mind.  But when we as people of God think about the word holiness seldom do we have these images of ourselves being Holy.  Holiness seems to be this aloof concept to most Christendom.  Perhaps there is this notion that it is some sort of attained level of spirituality brought on by years and years of serving the poor or living in a monastery somewhere very, very remote.  But the exact opposite is true.  When we are converted, when we have received Christ as our personal Savior, Redeemer of our sins, something amazing takes place.  We are indwelled with the very presence of God in the form of His Holy Spirit, living and active within us.  When He takes up residence within us, His mighty power flows through us, and He prompts us, prods us and convicts us to surrender continually in areas of our lives to Him so that we might become like Christ in every aspect.  The end result, or final product is that our human reflection becomes the very reflection of Christ…every fiber of our being is surrendered to Him so that we can be used to not only to declare God’s kingdom but to be the very representation of that kingdom of heaven right here on earth.   You see we often get hung up on this idea that Holiness is not attainable.  That holiness is impossible in this life and so we must wait until we lived out our feeble lives and die until we can be fully holy.  The simple truth is that we often misunderstand what holiness is in our human existence.  We often mistake human perfection for holiness, when this is simply not the case.  General Shaw Clifton puts it very well for us in his understanding of holiness;  

 

The holy life is not one of moral or sinless perfection.  We still make mistakes and get things wrong.  We are still capable of hurting others inadvertently.  The word ‘sorry’ is a crucial part of the holy life.  It is the hankering after sin that has gone now.  Sin has lost its attractiveness for us.  Holiness of life is not an optional extra for a believer.  At its heart is obedience to God and the will of God.  Without obedience there can be no spiritual maturity.  The walk of holiness centres upon seeking out God’s will for us.  He is there to guide and to control once we surrender.  He guides through his word in Scripture, through prayer, and through the wise counsel of mature Christian friends and leaders.  Obedience is the key to progress in the faith.”  –General Shaw Clifton (p.51, Hallmarks of The Salvation Army)

 

Mountain or path?

How are we to begin to understand holiness?  How can we ever contain so much Christlikeness in these fallible human vessels?  The fact of the matter is that alone we can’t.  Alone we can do nothing.  The problem often times that Christians struggle with on this topic of holiness is that we view holiness like a mountain.  This mountain is very, very far away and as we look up at this rocky precipice we quickly realize that not only is it very, very far away but it is also extremely high, reaching far above us to an elevation capped with snow and difficult, near impossible to ever traverse. 

 

This image of the mountain is how I have heard Christians attending church; bible study and Sunday school describe holiness.  They may use different terms, analogies and metaphors, but the simple truth is that most believer view this mountain and quickly come to terms with its enormity.  They look up and see holiness to be too big and too far away to even begin to attempt the climb.  But if the mountain that is holiness is too high to reach, then how does God expect us to climb, to “be holy as I your God am holy” ?  (1 Peter 1:6) 

 

After all didn’t Jesus say, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) So how can we grasp such a concept of holiness which does not seem so easy and yet learn from Christ and find rest at the same time?   That doesn’t sound like rest that sound like a lot of work!   But we misunderstand.   We believe holiness to be an insurmountable mountain, when Jesus says to each of us “follow me”.  Part of Rabbinical teaching is the student or disciple not learning from the Rabbi but learning to become the Rabbi.  When Jesus says to us “Let me teach you”, what He is saying to us is “let me show you how to become like me!” 

 

Holiness is not the destination to the top of the mountain…holiness is the pathway of obedience, humility and love in our living right now!  Holiness is allowing the very essence of who Christ is to become the very essence of who we are as new creations of God.  It’s not about having enough strength or wisdom or knowledge.   As General Clifton has defined it, it is first about our obedience to our Lord.  When obedience takes the place of rebellion within us, when it seals up the cracks of doubt and uncertainty within us, then we begin to allow the Holy Spirit to walk with us on the pathway, and as He walks with us He guides us and corrects us. 

 

Obedience leads each of us to a deeper surrender to God.  We cannot surrender that which we do not understand to be images of our old self until the light of the Holy Spirit shines upon those marred imperfections within us and prompts us to surrender these mutinous remnants. 

 

What do you see?

Do you see a mountain before you?  Does it appear to be impossible, impregnable and daunting to behold?  Are you filled with fear as you hear the words holiness?  Don’t be!  We, as God’s sons and daughters are called saints!  We have within us this indwelling of His Spirit to guide, and direct.  What we are called to be is Holy and this begins with our obedience and our surrender. 

 

There’s a chorus that goes like this:

 

All my heart I give to thee;

Every moment to live for thee;

Daily strength to receive from thee

As I obey thy call.

While I bow to pray to thee,

I commit my way to thee;

Here, just now as I say to thee:

I dedicate my all.

 

May that also be our prayer today. 

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