Dear Salvation Army, Mending Fences…

Dear Salvation Army, reconciliation is a beautiful thing.
We seek it for our soldiers, we preach it from our pulpits, but do we truly live it?
I have heard it said that we as people are quick to expect forgiveness when we have been wronged, but what about when we have performed the misstep, what then?  How quickly do we respond to the hurt with the seeking of forgiveness and reconciliation?  It can be likened to the parable that Jesus told about the unforgiving servant who had just received forgiveness for a huge debt that he owed.  You would think that he would go home with great relief and treat others the same way he had just been graciously treated, but instead he returned the favor by harshly treating someone who was in his debt.  (Matthew 18:21-35)

My fellow Salvationists, we can be so good at distributing grace to the stranger, but to those within our ranks, at times that grace is missing.  One might say that because we operate within an authoritarian leadership model, one has come to expect harsh treatment amongst the ranks…let me ask you is this how Christ led his disciples?  Of course not!  Let me clear the air, there is no excuse for leaders who lord their power over those they have been given authority over.  Eventually they will receive the same kind of treatment that they have doled out.  Please do not misunderstand what I am saying and take it to mean that I am directing this conversation solely on Divisional and territorial leaders, as a matter of fact, dear Corps Officers, you ought to be very mindful of the power you have been given in your current appointments too!  How you treat your soldiers ought to be the way that you desire to be treated as well!

Let us prick this very vein of conversation today in order to arrive at a very important destination – Reconciliation!
I have heard some very sad tales of officers and soldiers leaving our ranks because they felt that they were no longer welcome and/or specific people, who had an ounce of power made then feel powerless and useless.  Perhaps I should interject here and compare our attrition rates with those awful circumstances mentioned above and wonder aloud if we are not self-destructing because a minority of people were given power and they horribly misused it?

Proverbs 13:10 says, “Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.”  Perhaps some of us need exactly that today.  I am most certainly not the one who ought to give it, for I am just as imperfect as the next soldier…but I do feel led to offer just three helps upon the road to reconciliation today that I feel our Army should consider.

Instead of paving over the pain and pretending those hurts are not there…
Instead of turning our backs on those who have left our ranks for any number of reasons…
Instead of ostracizing, criticizing, and gossiping…

Here are three very simple suggestions for ALL of the Soldiers in our Army both high in rank to the adherent considering soldiership.

1 Admit to the wrongs
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” -Proverbs 11:2
Are we so haughty in our hearts that we are above admission of guilt and wrong-doing?
Do we fear that we will lose credibility and our place of power amongst the ranks if we admit our missteps?
Could it be that in order for us to truly move forward as an army and in our mission, we have to humble ourselves so that He might lift us up?  (James 4:10)  This “humbling” includes owning our failures both corporately and individually.  If we wish to seek failure and loss of mission, then keep sweeping the sin and guilt under the rug as we think no one will ever notice.  But if we wish to experience fulfillment of mission and victory over sin, then we have to admit our sins and failures before God.  Yes, admit the wrongs, but don’t remain or live there, for to do so will lead to certain disillusionment and disgrace.  We merely stop there to own our failures…but remember He will lift us up when we discard pride and put on humility.

2 Atone for the Wrongs 
I firmly believe that one of the cruxes of our army today is the willingness to forgive the shortcomings of prospective believers and new believers than it is to forgive the shortcomings of “the saints”.  We treat soldiers who have fallen more harshly than we would ever treat a stranger…why?  Because they should have known better?  Are we not still susceptible to the lures of temptation and sin even if we don on our uniforms?  Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”  Did you catch that last part?  It says “GENTLY”.  All too often we are more harsh with fellow soldiers and officers, so much so that we have driven some away from our ranks, and they will never set foot in a corps ever again because of the pain we have caused them.  How do we atone for such a thing?  How does the Army move past these wrongs?  The true authoritarian, devoid of faith, would simply relocate that officer (if it was an officer involved)…they move them to a less desirable appointment or far away from the blight that was caused…but is that really what a Holiness movement ought to do, assuming we still carry that mantel and title within our hearts as a mission?

I am not naming any specific situation, I am simply pointing out what a true authoritarian model of leadership would do.  Within this strict sense of this model, true authoritarian leaders are to never be questioned or opposed because to do so would unravel the very fabric of the organization’s identity.  This model can often be on display from the corps setting all the way to IHQ.  This is not to say that all leaders portray this model, but perhaps because of it, there have been times that wrongs were done and then swept mercilessly under rugs in the attempt to forget and not to forgive.  If we as Christ-followers wish to travel the path of reconciliation, we have to own up to our wrong doings and stop sweeping.  The truest form of bravery, sincerity and grace is found in making peace when you were the one who once sought war; To attempt to mend the broken that you once broke.  The bigger man or woman, the truest leader amongst us is one who admits and makes the attempt to atone for wrongs done to others especially those amongst (or formerly amongst) our own ranks.

3 Seek Reconciliation:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”  -Matthew 5:23-24

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” -Matthew 5:9

Reconciliation doesn’t just happen once, it happens as often as there are wrongs to be righted.  I recall a time when I harbored anger towards a person in my corps and on Sunday morning I had to preach while that person was in the congregation.  I remember how my words felt like heavy weights that I could not lift, let alone speak.  How can I be sincere with my fellow soldiers if I had not sought to mend that which was truly broken in my heart and in that particular relationship at the time?  Was I at fault?  Absolutely, and it took every ounce of my courage to swallow my own pride and need to be right and make every effort to fix that relationship, only then would we be able to move on.  Once that was accomplished, it was like a large exhale had been released within our corps.

Dear fellow Soldiers, perhaps the reason your corps or your spiritual journey has been halted is because there is reconciliation that needs to take place.  Swallow your pride and seek it out, stop holding your breath of guilt and shame…exhale it in relief as you seek to mend the broken.  The hardest place to do this is with your fellow soldiers and officers with whom you hold animosity, pain and perhaps shame.  Holiness is dead if we are not able to offer grace towards one another.  Holiness is dead if we cannot admit, atone and reconcile both as individual travelers and as fellow sojourners.

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

Hope In Discouragement?

Let’s face it, we’ve all been to the well of discouragement.
We drink from this well from time to time.
Discouragement is alive and well in this world.
It can hit us at anytime and any place, especially when we aren’t looking for it…most of the time, unless we’re a glutton for punishment, we don’t go looking for trouble and/or disappointment.

Pick Your Poison: poison
-We find discouragement when:
-our friends let us down.
-our workplace and those we work with treat us poorly.
-there is added stress at home.
-our kids act out or are struggling, or are rebellious.
-our health or the health of loved ones is in question.
-we are stressed out with the responsibilities of life and work and the ever increasing “to do” list seems to never end.
-when depression hits.
-when we are in a financial mess.
-when, when, when….

Truths: 
discourageDiscouragement happens.
People will sometimes let us down.
Health, finances, relationships, families, hopes, dreams, school – all can wane from time to time.

I don’t say this to further discourage you today, I say this because we MUST face reality – Discouragement is often times unavoidable.

– BUT – 

We don’t have to live there.
We don’t have to continually drink from this well and let it further poison our faith, our relationships, our lives.  We can find hope in the midst of discouragement!

Question: How do we find this hope even when we are discouraged?  
Here are 4 Answers: 

discouragement1.  Don’t Quit! 
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
-Galatians 6:9
Discouragement will tell you to just quit.
It may try and convince you that you’re not strong enough or good enough or healthy enough, and that you should just quit.  – DON’T!  Don’t give up, don’t quit, don’t let the lie saturate your faith and hope.  FIGHT!
You WILL see better days again!
You WILL survive this season of discouragement.
You WILL find happiness and hope again!

eyes2. Walk By Faith, Not By Sight!
for we walk by faith, not by sight.” -2 Corinthians 5:7
The Apostle Paul and the early Church faced many obstacles, frustrations, persecution and extreme discouragement – yet they did not quit.  Why?  Because their mission and purpose was bigger than they were!
In this faith, we have been given a very large mission and purpose, and it’s bigger than we are!  We are called to this higher purpose and with that we drink from a well that provides us with life, strength and hope!  Although we can’t see what tomorrow holds, and all we might be seeing right now is this discouragement in our lives, we can boldly step forward and onward because we know WHO HOLDS THE FUTURE!   With this knowledge firmly in grasp, we can survive these days of discouragement!  We cannot allow discouragement to dictate what our next steps will be!  Don’t allow it hold you captive – Christ can and will break these chains in your life!  Simply (although it isn’t always so simple, this we all know) trust in Him!  Cry out to the Father!  Ask for His Holy presence to guide and sustain you!  It may be hell right now, but you can keep going because you have this amazing faith to rely on!

3.  No Pain, No Gain!?! -Right?! pain1
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” -1 Corinthians 9:24
This is about holiness, about Christ-likeness, but this is also about striving beyond our discouragements and pains and into something eternally worth-while!  We will face opposition, pain and discouragement!  We will endure hardships, stresses, sleepless nights and pain, but we MUST gut it out!  We must persevere beyond the turmoil and the pain.  When we keep going through perseverance, we will rediscover the hope that His holy presence has placed in our lives!  Keep going, keep on – His well of living water will restore your discouraged life!

  1. He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
    He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
    To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
    To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.
    His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
    His power no boundary known unto men;
    For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
    He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
    (“He Giveth more grace” -by Annie Flint)

hope34.  The Source Of Our HOPE is External not Internal!  
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
When we are facing our struggles and discouragements and troubles, we might only be seeing that which frustrates and defeats us.  We might be treading water but our eyes are only focused on the strong currents of those waters as they attempt to pull us under.  We might be missing the strong hand of the rescuer as He attempts to pull us up out of those depths.  The source of our salvation doesn’t come from ourselves, although at times we try and fool ourselves into thinking that WE have it all under control.  -That WE don’t need rescuing.  -That WE don’t need help period.  Sure, help is for the weak, for the helpless, but we’re not helpless, we’re strong – we’re almost superhuman.  NEWSFLASH: We aren’t superhuman.  We need help!  We need continual saving.  We need His source and supply of strength, hope, glory, grace, endurance.

Questions:

-Does God still supply your needs?
-Are you trusting in Him to be there for you?
-Are you allowing Him access to your life so that He can do the rescuing OR are you still attempting to control it all and save yourself?

This discouragement that you’re facing isn’t new.
Many have walked the path that you’re on right now.
Many have survived – and so can you!
Don’t simply rely on your own strength to just “survive”.
Allow God’s holy presence to be with you and to provide what you need when these days of discouragement do happen!

You aren’t alone in this battle!
He will come through for you even in the midst of the storms that you are facing right now.
Take heart, the Lord is with you!

Prayer:
Dear Lord, I cannot see this path that I am on right now.
All I can see are the crashing waves that are about to envelop me.
I confess that I have often attempted to take control of my life while failing to include you in it.
I am often times stubborn and I fail to ask you for your help.
Be with me today.  Help me.  Guide me.  It is your strength that I seek, your wisdom that I need.
Deliver me from these waves of discouragement, I want to drink deeply of your living water again today.
In your name I pray these things.  -Amen.

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

Dear Salvation Army, Leading Through Grace Or Fear?

Recently I wrote on the topic of being a leader or a manager
Click link here to read: Are You A Leader Or A Manager?

Today I wanted to expound on this topic. 
Just because we are modeled after the military doesn’t mean we are now equipped to bark orders.
If we look hard at our mission and the purpose for which we were created, we would recognize that our mission is about grace and love to those we can reach.  I wonder sometimes if we forget our purpose from time to time.  Sometimes when power and authority is given to a person it can taint that person, make them “too big for their britches” (as my Grandmother used to say).  Power and authority, if not handled correctly, can cause more harm than good.  An added measure of humility is needed, as well as the constant reminder that the Holy Spirit is really who is in charge…and drives us to do the mighty work that we do.

Let me dissect this issue this morning, and I’m not saying this happens all the time, but it does happen from time to time in our Army and we need to be aware of it!

Leading through Fear:  fear
When a leader (Local Officer, Corps Officer, Divisional Officer, Territorial Officer) leads through fear and intimidation a few things take place – sure, the “fear of God” is put into those they “Command”, but so does resentment, reluctance in making any further decisions, and innovative/creative thinking takes a back seat.  This goes back to being a manger instead of a leader.  A manager has the tendency to micromanage everything and does not allow those who work under them to claim part of the ownership within the mission.  When the micromanaging takes place the workers or those subordinate to the manager feel as if the manager is lurking over their shoulder all the time and will pull back from being proactive for fear of not adhering to the manager’s vision.  You see when leading through fear, generally it’s not about a shared vision, it is about perceived forced vision that only one can manage and the rest must fall in line.  This is not a consultative democracy by any means, rather this model represents a fearful authoritative model of management.

Leading through fear might garner results, but it also suffocates ingenuity, creative planning and incorporating others into the vision.  As an Army, many of us have witnessed this type of leadership whether at the corps level, at the divisional level or beyond.  Sure, perceived strength in that “leader” might occur, but a stronger model brings others along to accomplish the mission not by wrangling, forcing and demanding.

graceLeading through Grace:
I recall one such leader in my life.
He was giving me feedback on my performance, and in the midst of his honest and candid critique he actually wept when praying for my wife and me.  It was touching, it was genuine…it wasn’t business as usual, this leader actually cared for us and wanted us to become the best leaders we could possibly be.   Was this leader a “pushover”?  No way!  He could be firm when he needed to be, but many times his leadership exuded a godly example of grace and love for those he led.

Leading through grace doesn’t mean subordinates can do whatever they want and there is little to no accountability, rather this type of leadership (not management) provides kind and loving direction so that not only the mission can be completed but a shared vision can be cultivated.

It is weakness not strength that dictates to managers that they must exert their authority and “put the fear of God” into a subordinate.
It is weakness not strength that commands respect, when respect is earned by working alongside one another.
It is weakness not strength that requires telling people what to do over consulting them and finding the solution to issues together in order to accomplish the same holy mission.

Let me say something controversial here for a moment –
The Salvation Army needs fewer managers who lead through fear and intimidation and more leaders who will lead by example and lead through grace!  Perhaps that isn’t so controversial at all…perhaps this is already happening.  I believe that the time of fear mongering “leadership” within our Army is at an end.  I believe that if we are to better our Army, more grace must be exercised.  More love exuded.  More honesty and ownership of the mission.  We cannot rely on some of our failed models of leadership to usher us into the present and future.

Some might think this is completely and totally directed and executive leadership, but I beg to differ.  This is directed at anyone and everyone who might pick up a mantle of leadership from the local officer level all the way up to the office of General.  How we choose to lead makes a HUGE difference!
leadership
So what will it be?
Leadership built on Fear or Leadership built on Grace?
Grace still has accountability.
Grace still has difficult conversations.
Grace still commands respect (more so than fear ever did).

I hope we all aspire to be the kinds of leaders that exude grace and love…let’s put down the iron fist.
Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

How Does Grace Work?

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It is more than just saying a prayer at dinner time.  It is more than being “gracious” on a sports field after a loss.  Grace is something that can be offered to more than just a friend in need.  Grace is something that can be profoundly life changing when offered to a complete stranger or even an enemy.  

Grace is defined in the spiritual realms as “God’s unmerited favor”.  This means that grace or God’s love and forgiveness is offered to those who don’t even deserve it.  It’s like going to an execution of a known guilty convict, and just before they “flip the switch” the governor calls to say the guilty convict has been pardoned. Image

 

 It just doesn’t seem to make sense.  Shouldn’t that person pay for their crimes?  That person certainly didn’t deserve anything but punishment, and yet grace was provided without merit.  

God comes through to us in our wretched state.  Jesus was sent to us despite ourselves, despite how undeserved we were.  God knew that in our total depravity we were hopelessly lost and doomed to suffer our sinner’s fate…yet He still sent Christ.  Jesus took upon Himself the sins of all mankind and they were nailed to the cross with Him.  Knowing this brings John 14 into perspective: 

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.

Jesus declares to His disciples and to us as well that grace has come into the world.  He also reminds us of the way to the Father is through Him alone.  

Receiving Grace: 

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We can receive this grace from God the moment we cry out to Him.  We can not only be forgiven from our wretched sins and shame but we can be washed clean from them.  God’s grace is like that.  It is His desire that no one suffer death because of sin.  Jesus has given us the way to receive His grace – declare Him to be God’s one and only Son!  Ask Him to forgive your sins, and live this new life through Jesus!  http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/files/lwcF_crd_ss_EforESpec_ABCs-of-Salvation_pdf.pdf

To keep on “the way” and living within His grace perhaps begin by reading the words of the gospel of John, or another of the gospels.  Spend time reading a chapter a day, pray for God to guide you as you read His truths, and ask God for direction.  Lastly find a church to call home.  Find a church family to get plugged into and to connect with.  When you have roots such as these in the Christian faith you will grow!  

Giving Grace:

 

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Lastly, I want you consider something.  Here it is: forgive those who have wronged you!  I know, it’s hard to fathom ever forgiving THAT person, but when we forgive as Christ has forgiven us it not only frees other people but it frees us too.  We no longer have to curry these grudges and hurts around with us.  We no longer have to be burdened by pains that happened to us.  Surrendering these hurts and grudges may be the hardest thing we ever do, but trust me, it is worth it.  

 

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God gave us unmerited grace.  We didn’t deserve it, and yet it is offered to us.  Can we learn to forgive as well?  Can we truly learn to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44)?  Grace is real, free, and available.  Accept it and then offer it to others! 

-Just something else to ponder today!  

Prayer: Dear Lord help me to accept Your grace today!  Guide me in Your truths, I want to serve you and love you with every fiber of my being.  Forgive me of my sins.  Help me to accept Your grace and in turn forgive those around me.  Lord I need to be freed of these burdens.  Grant me Your strength and wisdom to love my enemy.  Show me practical way in which I can show love and forgiveness today.  In Your name I pray all of these things.  -Amen.  

Is Salvation important…to the Church?

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Sometimes I think the church is more concerned about competition than it is about people.
It strikes me that many churches spend a lot of money on “church-growth” seminars and guest speakers and even other resources just to increase their Sunday attendances.  I doubt many pastors are like this, but at times there is this perception that the more people a church can attract the more in tithes and offerings they will receive.  

I feel it vital, for we who are church members and fellow sojourners of Christ, to stop the comparisons and the rivalries.  What is the purpose of such folly?  Are we fulfilling the great commission when we look across the street and the other church and covet what they have?  Are we really reaching the lost and hurting in our world when we mock or slam other churches and denominations?  Granted there is a time and place for theological conversations, but our unloving actions have a way of destroying any good we might do.  

Fellow believers in Christ, how vital do you consider the salvation of others to be?  This isn’t a question about how big or small your (our) church is, this is a question about your (our) mission and your (our) priorities.  Sometimes we cloudy the already murky waters of what we do and make excuses for our busy-ness when the #1 priority is to, through the Holy Spirit’s power, help save lost souls.  If what we are doing does in no way impact the potential salvation of the lost then, perhaps, we must once again re-align our priorities.  

I offer you two solutions to assist in the realignment of mission:

 1.  Stop Coveting what you do not have!  

1 Corinthians 12:12 – “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

We need to get back to work!  Just because another church is having success doing one thing really well, doesn’t mean that we have to stop what we are doing and adopt their mission.  Perhaps they are fulfilling their “part of the body” and we need to put our heads down and stop coveting what they are doing!  Our mission and effective tools, given by the Holy Spirit, might be something completely different than theirs.  We don’t need to have an identity crisis over this, we have to move on and prayerfully and humbly do as He (the Holy Spirit) prompts us to.  We may never look like that mega-church down the street, but was that supposed to be our “model” for Holy Living in the first place?  NO!  Jesus should never be replaced with out covetous longings to be someone else.  He has created us very differently and uniquely!  So with that in mind we need to stop the comparisons and sometimes the jealousy…get on with it!   

2.  Start using what you do have!  

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 – There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts and dare I say even the passion to fulfill our mission of Salvation to the lost.  So we must be willing to use what He has given us to use.  We must stop with our identity crisis and get on with the full utilization of the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit wishes us to employ!  He provides what we need, so we have to work within our giftings and abilities!  Every one of us is vital to the body of Christ.  It matter little if we serve in a small church or big church.  The message has to be the same though the gifts might often differ.  

Is Salvation important to you?  

If the answer is “yes” then we need to put aside our jealousy and our frustrations.  We may even have to go before the Father and ask for forgiveness because of our covetous ways.  The church was never intended to be some sort of statistical competitive success drive, but rather a mission of love, compassion and grace who willingly went to the orphans, widows, the poor and hurting and those who were seeking.  We are still that today?  Can we put aside our ridiculous worldly desire for statistical successes and instead focus on the vital nature of the great commission and disciple making?  

Perhaps it’s time for a readjustment of our motives and our missions.  Perhaps it’s time to get back on our knees and allow the Holy Spirit to reignite our wandering hearts.  Perhaps it is time to stop relying on our “church-self help books & seminars” (sometimes they work) and start relying more on the leading of the Holy Spirit in our churches and in our hearts.  There is not some “quick” method to salvation…it begins in relationship, love and fellowship.  So, without further adieu, let’s get on with it!  

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At the Well…

 

 

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He seated himself beside the well 
sun beating down, heat of the day
swelling and shimmering in the heat
a mirage swiveled and swirled in the distance
she came, reputation and all
she walked the dusty path alone
she bore the scorn and shame
every day like this.

He saw her pensively waiting there,
waiting for Him to move on  
waiting for Him to step aside
so that cool water, crisp and clean
could be drawn and taken home…
Yet He doesn’t falter
He looks at her, as if He knows her shame.
Yet, undeterred He remains
no look of disgust
of retribution
of Anger
He looks at her, 
asks for a drink
then offers her something more
something lasting
Identities are shared, 
His sends her running back into town
with news beyond her reputation
beyond her guilt and fear of the town’s gossip…
Messiah – with Eternal Water
drink deeply, receive and share
it is for the whosoever…
after all.  

 

 

 

 

Easter Tomb Project & Lesson

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You have all probably seen this project already on Pintrest, and I’m in no way claiming that it’s mine…because it’s not, but I would like to incorporate a teachable lesson to accompany it.  Please find the elements of this project accompanied by scripture passages below free for you to use if you so choose to do so.  This teachable craft can be used for youth programs, women’s ministries, senior adult ministry or even at home with your family.  

Elements & Scripture Discussion: 

1. The Potting Saucer – 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth – Genesis 1:1

Image the saucer for this Easter craft represents (at least to me) the world in which we live.  God created it and we live in a location and placed that was formed by His hands.  We are blessed to live in such a world and should take care of this world as best we can.  Genesis 2:5 –  “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”  God still wants us to take care of this world that He has entrusted us with.  

2.  The Potting Soil – 

The potting soil represents you, me and all of creation.

 “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

God created this world for us and He desires to have fellowship with us.  He longs for us to love Him in return and so in this Easter story we recognize that we too play a part in the crucifixion and the resurrection.  Jesus came to die for us because we really and truly matter to Him.  He created us and this Easter story is about our salvation through Christ Jesus.  

 

3. The Gardening Rocks 

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for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” -Romans 3:23

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” -Romans 5:12

The gardening rocks represent sin in this world.  It weighs us down and keeps us bound in our slavery to it.  We cannot save ourselves from its weight, nor can we do enough good works to receive eternal life.  We need help.  We are all fallen, each one of us and because of this Jesus came to set us free and to remove the weight of sin from our lives.  

 

 

 

4. The Three Crosses

 

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With younger children you might want to tie these for the kids before hand.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” -Philippians 2:8

The Cross of Jesus is suffering and death.  But it was suffering and death for a purpose.  Jesus died so that the sins of every person on earth could be forgiven and also that we could be restored in our fellowship with God.  Without the cross and Jesus’ suffering we are still hopelessly lost.  We must look to the cross and Christ on the cross for our source of salvation.  

The bindings of the cross pieces represent (to me) the lashings that Jesus received prior to his crucifixion.  It should also represent for us the truth that we (sinful man) put Him there.  We bound Him to that cross, but He willingly went in place of us.  

A.W. Tozer: “The old cross is a symbol of death. God salvages the individual by liquidating him and then raising him again in newness of life. God offers life, but not an improved old life. The life He offers is life out of death. It always stands at the far side of the cross.

5. The Tomb and the Large Rock

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“…an empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!” -Bill Gaither
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“They found the stone rolled away from the tomb” Luke 24:2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both the tomb and the large stone (it could be white to represent life or another color) represent Christ’s resurrection.  I’m sure it’s obvious to us all, but it also represents the fact that sin & death could not hold the Son of God!  We can find peace, assurance and hope in this empty tomb!  

At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.” John 19:41

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  “3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.” John 20:1-10

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” John 11:25

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”  1 Thessalonians 4:14

6) The Grass seed or sprouts (Plant the grass seed before you place the rocks)

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“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” -John 10:10

The grass seed will grow during the Easter season which will serve to remind us of the eternal life/ new life that Christ brings 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

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:3

Each of these verses talks about the new life that only Jesus Christ offers to us.  New life is a free gift to us all if we accept it and believe in Christ and His love for us.  

As we watch this “new life” grow during the season of Easter, may it continue to serve as a remind of God’s love for us and of our deep desire to grow in our faith.  We shouldn’t stop learning about this relationship.  We have also been given the help of the Holy Spirit to guide us and instruct us in this new life!  “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26  The Holy Spirit will show us areas of our lives that we need to still surrender to God and He will continue to work within us, helping us along the way.  

This new life isn’t only about getting into heaven, it is also about  living that eternal life right here on earth so that others might see Christ through us.  When we embrace this new life, we become Christ’s representatives (Light) into the world (which is still lost in darkness).  Be God’s light to others as you bloom and grow!  

 

***Disclaimer:  Again I didn’t invent this craft, I simply adapted it and provided a simple yet effective method for teaching this amazing story of love that God has for all of us!  I am sure you can tweak this and make it your own in order to fit the demographic you wish to do this teaching craft with.  This lesson play is free to use as you see fit! To God be the Glory!****

The Waters of Faith and Fear – Find Jesus there!

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I’ve been looking at the painting.  I’m mesmerized by it.  Have you ever studied a painting?  Have you looked closely at the details?  The brush strokes?  The unspoken drama captured in a mere moment?  Look at the waves, how they list back and forth, how they swell to a crescendo and fall back down again.  It’s almost as if you can watch them in their lunar symphonic dance.  As I look into this painting I see so much of me.  I see evidence of my doubt, evidence of my fears and evidence of my lack of strength.  I see me drowning there, not just Peter.  I see what could happen if I fall down into the depths of this flowing tide.  The water filling up my lungs.  The panicked shock becoming reality.  My feeble life flashing before my eyes.  I can imagine it…can you?

 As I look at this painting, a story we’ve all heard before while sitting in those stiff backed, wood-oil scented pews that creak when you shift positions…the story of Peter walking on the water with Jesus.  We’ve heard the details of this story.  How Peter saw Jesus walking towards them and cried out to Him, “Lord if it is really you call me to come out there with you…and Jesus said ‘Come'” (Matthew 14:22-33).   So Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking towards Jesus on the water.  You see we often stop here in this story and think to ourselves “wait for the ‘but'” and we call this Peter’s doubting moment because he looked down, because he became frightened, because he took his eyes off of Jesus.  But what we often fail to look at within this story and it’s evident in this painting is that Peter got out of the boat…but where were the rest of the disciples?  Where did they remain?  In the boat.  If we look real closely they are way off in the foreground standing in the boat safe and sound but did they believe as Peter had?  Did they climb out of the boat with him?  No.  

Another thing that really hits home to me that is portrayed in this painting is the juxtaposition of his friends and peers in the boat as opposed to where Peter is located.  No, not just because of their doubt but because of their distance.  When Peter needed his friends and his peers the most they were too far away to help him.  He was well out of their reach to throw any kind of life saving device towards his sinking soul.  As I stare into this painting I begin to understand something that I didn’t before.  Perhaps I knew it to be true, but only in the back of my mind.  Here’s the truth:  Our friends, comrades in arms, loved ones and peers cannot save us all of the time.  There are times when faith takes us out further than perhaps others are willing or called to go.  Faith takes us into deeper waters where we have to find out for ourselves that not only is our strength not enough but our faith must be increased so that Jesus can save us.  It’s not about being better than our friends or our loved ones, it’s not about being more holy but God calls each of us to different waters.  So when we step out of our boats as Peter did we will find ourselves at times to be all alone on those waters without the support of other believers near us.  

Staring again at this painting I am struck by how the painter illustrates the expression that Jesus has on his face.  If someone lets you down what might your expression be? One of disappointment?  One of anger?  One of dismay?  To me, Jesus doesn’t seem to have any of these expressions on His face.  Instead He appears concerned, lovely so as He stoops down to pluck Peter from the depths.  Notice too that Jesus doesn’t grasp onto Peter’s slipper, wet fingers.  Instead He grasps Peter by the wrist.  What this says to me is that Jesus knows.  He knows that Peter can’t pull himself up out of these circumstances.  He knows that Peter’s strength have given way to doubt, shock and fear.  Jesus knows and so He pulls Peter up by his wrist and in so saying ‘My strength is enough, let me be your salvation’.  

I am Peter in the waters from time to time.  I am being choked by the lapping waters as I gasp for another breath.  I am given over to fears and doubts and I cannot save myself.  I look for my friends and for my peers but they are too far from me.  Yet Jesus is there willing and able to rescue me…again.  He grasps onto my wrist and says to me ‘My love, my strength, my courage, my grace, my hope…is enough!’  

Today I don’t know what kind of waters you’re walking on in faith, but I do know one thing Jesus is there!  Though our faith may take us out deeper than we’ve ever gone before, though we find it difficult or impossible to walk alone…Jesus is there!  Trust Him today!  Trust His strength.  Trust that He will never abandon you or be too far away to rescue you.  When you find yourself far from the saving mercies of other Christians, look up and find the One who has paid it all grasping onto your wrist and saving you through His strength and grace. 

 

 

In the Arms of God (Poem)

In the arms of God

I am complete again.

In the arms of God

This soul latches onto peace.

His arms, of might and glory

Redeeming me at such a cost

I was lost but enfolded now

Beneath His sacred saving hand.

 

In the grace of God

I will make my stand

In the grace of God

All things of heaven and man

Become focused through his love

In the grace of God

I am made right again

Unmerited, undeserved

Yet here I stand

In the grace of God.

 

The very heart of God

Is my forward focus

I am not whole but for Him

The very heart of God

Compels me onward

And through the

blood of Christ I win.

Standing boldly

Love surrounds me

I am but His and his alone. 

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Amazing Grace…showing love when love is barren.

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Some thoughts on grace today…after all, isn’t that what Christ’s redemption story is all about? We are those who spurned God, rejected Him, sinned and fell hard…we damned ourselves.  We held the match while the bridge burned all the while smelling of gasoline…so to speak.  Christ came so that we might once again have hope of Eternal life.  When Christ died, the bridge called grace was built and lowered for us once again.  Did we deserve this gift?  No!  But grace is still given to us, despite our stubborn, stiff-necked attitudes.

Turning the tables:

Who in your life needs some grace today?  If we are to receive grace from God, then aren’t we to in turn extend that grace to others?  Extending grace to others isn’t for the weak of heart…it takes real guts, courage and fortitude. Extending that grace to those who have spurned you, mocked you, disliked you, ‘un-friended’ you, doesn’t mean you should expect that grace to be reciprocated back…it simply means you love them despite their indifference, and act as Christ would act…you may be the only reflection of Christ that they ever see. Extending grace, means you live consistently within that love and grace regardless of who it is that grace falls upon.

 

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