“Cleaning the inside of the Cup”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.26“You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” -Matthew 23:25,26
dishes
I hate doing dishes, just ask my wife…There, I’ve said it.
Sometimes I put dishes into the dishwasher and put that  little soap dispenser in and just hope for the best.
Most of the time that little soap dispenser lets me down…but sometimes I get lucky.

We do this too sometimes within our spiritual journeys too.
This passage of scripture may have been originally directed at the Pharisees and “hypocrites”, but it may as well have been directed at us too.
Jesus blasts these teachers and scholars of the Torah.  They know all the right things to do and all the right things to say, but their hearts are far from clean.

Sometimes we just load up our spiritual practices. practice
We just pile up the songs and scriptures and outfits that we wear…and we hope for the best.
Sometimes we get lucky.
Many times we do not.
A lot of the time, it makes us feel hollow and empty inside…almost as if something is missing or somehow, something has been overlooked.

Why?
cupBecause the inside of the “cup” has not been cleaned.
We can polish away at the soft glow of a sparkling clean exterior, but if the interior is still gross and filthy – what good will that polishing do?  I’m sure we can fool everybody.  We can fool even ourselves into thinking we have it made spiritually…but we aren’t fooling God.

News Flash:
You. Can’t. Fool. God!

I’m not saying we don’t sing songs of praise.
I’m not saying we don’t read the scriptures.
I’m not even saying “don’t go to church”.
But if all that we do is for “appearances”…then what’s the point?
If all we do in “worship” is hope that we sound good and “man did that worship team nail that last song“…we’re misguided and we could be avoiding the “camel” for the gnat (Matthew 23:24)…me may have some serious internal issues to deal with.

How is the inside of your cup?
Does it still need work?
Does it still need some cleaning?
A lot of cleaning?

This is a personal thing.
This is deeply personal…and yet this is also a corporate “Church-family” thing too.
Each of us should be mindful first of the condition of our own hearts before we even begin to contemplate the condition of others.

Are you sick of just going through the motions in Church? –So am I!
Are you tired of comparing yourself with others of the faith because they seem to have it all together and you’re just pretending?  -So am I!
Are you ready to do the hard work?
Are you prepared to allow the Holy Spirit to strip away the grime and caked on gunk in your heart?  -Me too.
You see this is the constant work of the Lord.
We must not stop seeking to be like Christ in our lives today.
We must not give up because holiness seems to be so far from where we are right now.

How is your cup?
May you seek Him out.
May you diligently allow Him to reveal and remove the dirt within.
God Bless you today!

-Something more for us all to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

Dear Salvation Army, When Orders And Regulations Get In The Way…

early churchActs 151,2,7-11Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers:“Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question…After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.

I am not sure who these “certain people” were…but today I wonder if our “certain people” wear uniforms and act the part of the pharisee from time to time.  I don’t wish to sound judgmental…truth be told, we have all played this role a time or two…and we’re not proud of it (I hope).

early church1The Early Church
There were certain fundamentalists within the early church; rule abiders, standard bearers, orders and regulation holders.  When new comers (Gentiles) came to the faith proclaiming to be Christ-followers, these traditionalists demanded they be made practicing Jews in every way including circumcisions (yowza!).   You see, in order for these new comers to be accepted as members of the faith in the eyes of these traditionalists, they had to change everything about themselves.  The law had to be upheld, and these stiff regulations followed to the letter.   It was practically impossible for these Gentile followers to obey the law completely.  In essence these “certain people” were setting them up for failure.

Grace & Law
8 “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8-9)

Peter tells it like it is to those gathered in Jerusalem.
We are given the Holy Spirit…He purifies our hearts.  We do not need additional ritualistic practices or outward performances to meet regulations of salvation.  We have been saved through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have been purified through and through.

Do Orders And Regulations Get In The Way?  soldiers4
Yes.  At times.
Sometimes, even in The Salvation Army, we can get so caught up in the law and the ritualistic practice of the law that we can lose sight of a grace that purifies and transcends common practice.  Are new comers joining our Army?  Do they understand this Army?  Are we helping them to understand our forms of worship?  Do we lose them because of lack of grace, compassion, judgement, appropriateness?

I am not advocating anarchy, in fact just the opposite.
Could it be that the grace of the Holy Spirit is all the law we need?  I am not saying that we throw out our orders and regulations…but do we hold far too tightly to these?  Have they become our “Jewish law”?  In order for visitors to truly believe and worship as Salvationists, do they have to meet our requirements of dress and practice?

Sound Doctrine?…yes…Rigid Rules?…no.
Photo Nov 13, 10 39 28 AMAgain we should be mindful, as Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James were in Acts 15 of the trappings of ridged Law abiding practices that strangles growth.  The Apostles didn’t say that they were throwing out sound doctrines, but they did loosen the stiff regulations for Gentiles coming to the faith.

Questions:
Can new people & visitors truly come to your corps “as they are”?
Do we judge new comers based on their appearance and practice?
Have we lost potential soldiers and even officers because we rigidly follow our orders and regulations and “accepted” practices in worship (excluding foundational doctrinal beliefs)?
Do we really mean for new Christians or would be Christians to “come as they are” into our Holiness meetings and Salvation Meetings?
Are we exhibiting grace, love and compassion to the “whosoever”?
Have we ever discriminated (consciously or subconsciously) people because they didn’t fit OUR Salvationist mold?

Warning: Don’t Get In The Way!
Don’t be the “certain people” found in Acts 15.
Our world already contains enough judgement, condemnation and discrimination.  If the Church The Salvation Army cannot be a beacon of hope, grace and holiness, then a I fear we will have lost our way and God help us if we turn away individuals because they aren’t “our kind of people“.

The Remedy: 
If you have been a part of the “certain people“…I pray you can reconcile yourself once more to His grace and love.  Ask Him once again to soften your heart.  Ask the Lord to make you holy.  True growth of our Army begins upon our knees in penitence as we seek to be inclusive of the whosoever regardless if they wear a uniform or look just like you and me.

Prayer:  Lord make us holy.  Set us apart for your missions here on earth.  May we seek to love and to serve everyone regardless of their differences.  Give us your eyes so that we may see others the way you see them.  May we exude your grace, peace, love and acceptance of those who are so desperately in need of these qualities here on earth.  May we be your people who will help usher in your kingdom here on earth today through our faith in action.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

-Something more for our Army world to ponder today.

Additional reading on this topic for your consideration:
Cookie Cutter Christians
Christians and Racism?
When Christians Get It Wrong

If You Can’t Stand The Heat…No, Seriously Stand it For Just a Bit Longer…

“…so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” 1 Peter 1:7

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God corrects us.  It may be painful.  It may sting a little…but it is always worthwhile.  I recall being corrected and disciplined as a child.  It wasn’t something I ever looked forward to, nor was it something I would want to do again, yet it provided me direction and it refined me as a human being.  

 

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When we accept Salvation for what it is – God’s grace imparted to us by Jesus Christ, we begin this transformational refinement.  Initial sanctification (what we know of to be accepting Jesus at the moment of Salvation) isn’t the end of our spiritual journey, it is only the beginning. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” At the first infant steps of our salvation we are shucking off our old sinful selves.  For some that transformation occurs quickly while others this gradual refinement of the old to the new takes a little longer.  The Holy Spirit does the prodding in us…the pleading, the yearning for us to recognize the unsurrendered bits and the road to complete submission.  The “new life” is not easy, nor is the transformational process.  Yet, through correction, conviction and purification by fire we can become cleansed and washed clean from our old lives.  

 

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There is pain at the altar of submission.  There is heartache and grief as we allow the prodding of the Holy Spirit to take root within us and allow Him to burn our old decay away.   The refinement of gold and other precious metals is hot work.  The solid must be melted down to its basic elements within the fire.  As the solid becomes liquid metal, piping hot and volcanic, the impurities begin to become visible.  Before these metals were melted down, the impurities were hidden and buried somewhere deep within…but now as the flame alters its state, these impurities can no longer be hidden.  These impurities are plain as day, floating on top of the hot metal ore. The one who has melted down the ore will then gently skim the surface of the precious metal and remove the impurities.  

So too the Holy Spirit longs to this work within us.  It is hot work.  It may burn a little.  We may groan under the heat of the flame, but what a difference it will make!  

 

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Questions:

Where are you right now on your spiritual journey?
Is the Holy Spirit trying to refine you?
Are you allowing Him access to you completely?  Or are you holding back? 
The old cannot be skimmed from your life if you aren’t willing to stand the heat of His Holy Fire. 
You are meant for so much more.  You are meant to be refined and cleansed.  You are God’s precious possession! 
He wants you all to Himself, but that cannot happen unless you are willing to be refined, and to do so requires your complete surrender.  

Stand the heat for just a little bit longer.  Let His flames consume you.  
Our purification within His holy fire will be ongoing, and we may have to surrender time and time again but what a peace it is to discover that we aren’t on this path alone.  

There is real peace in our surrender.  
There is real joy in His Holy fire.  
May His loving arms be on us ever
and complete submission – never tire.  

-Just a something more to ponder. 

3 Pitfalls of Holy Living

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I grew up within the context of a “Holiness Tradition”.  If you have grown up in this too, perhaps you will understand the importance of sanctification.  This is the second blessing – the Holy Spirit’s anointing and subsequent cleansing of the soul.  Holiness is the willful acceptance of the Holy Spirit’s prodding to become who we were intended to be.  It is the act of complete surrender which leads us on the path of reflecting Christ in every fiber of our being.  It is the beginning point of surrendering our old sinful self completely as we long to become complete in the image of Christ – which is our “new creation” image.  

Yet, all too often, when the topic of holiness is discussed there are pitfalls that creep in and threaten to undo or destroy this transformation of the soul.  These pitfalls come in the form of erroneous thoughts or beliefs which can make ones attempt of complete surrender to the Holy Spirit impossible or at the very least extremely difficult.  

I would like to address three major pitfalls of holy living which always seem to cripple and strangle this vital growth process.  I use the term “process” for lack of a better word, though I mean this walk of holiness and complete surrender.  I also find myself using the words “holiness” and “complete surrender” either together or interchangeably only because “complete surrender” is what is required of us when we allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us through and through.   

These pitfalls seem to be the three most influential concepts hanging around today that can cause the most damage and deter a person from accepting and receiving this second blessing:

Pitfall #1 – Holiness is about Perfection

 

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I cannot count how many times the term “perfection” comes up when discussing “Holiness” with Sunday School classes and Bible study groups.   Holiness and “human perfection” are not synonymous.   When we talk about becoming Holy, we do not all of a sudden become devoid of our imperfections while suddenly becoming perfect in every way physical shape or physical form.  Human perfection is not our goal when we talk about becoming holy.  The pursuit of human perfection is impossible improbable.  We need to recognize that this pitfall of associating human perfection with holiness will only cause us to become frustrated and long for an easier route in the spiritual life.  

Although we recognize that human perfection is not our goal we should also, in the same breath, acknowledge that it does not let us off the hook within the realms of our moral living.  The old scapegoat of “I’m only human” cannot be our excuse when we make mistakes and stumble upon this path of righteousness.  Yes, we will not be humanly perfect, but the Holy Spirit can sanctify us through and through while providing us aid and strength to avoid the trappings of the old life.  

Pitfall #2 – Holiness is all about working harder

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Truth be told this pitfall leads to a lot of burnout among Christ-followers.  Some feel as if they must do more for the “glory of God” and when they consider what “do” is, it entails longer hours of sweat and toil.  Don’t misunderstand me here, the Holy life does include many sacrifices and effort, but simply working harder is not the sole pathway to holiness.  

We can dress up in our uniforms and act the part and still not be any closer to being sanctified through and through.  
We miss the point.  Sanctification is the Holy Spirit’s work within those who are earnestly willing to surrender everything from within and without.  No effort unto our own will ever suffice.  No measure of extraneous “works” will earn us holiness.  We must begin with a humble, seeking heart and a willingness to be taught by the Master.  When we are on our knees before Him, longing to be made whole through the Holy Spirit, then and only then may we experience the all consuming power of sanctification.  

The working harder doesn’t come first…it comes second.  This isn’t to say that we maintain our holiness through working harder, but rather it is a response of love and devotion to the One who cleanses us through and through.  All physical appearances for the benefit of others within the realms of our “works” may very well still fall within the old life.  Working harder in the hopes of attaining holiness will only cause frustration, burnout and disillusionment.  Instead worthy pursuits to consider would be – humility, complete surrender, the discipline of prayer & supplication.

Pitfall #3 – Holiness is only available to smarter more capable saints.

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Believe it or not many come to the conclusion that holiness is only reserved for the wisest and the smartest of the saints.  Thankfully (in my case and perhaps yours) this is simply not true.  Jesus even told His disciples when they were attempting to shoo off children who were climbing all over Jesus this:  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14 NIV)  I recognize the context here but to me this also indicates the child-like faith we need in order to receive the Holy Spirit. 

 

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Here’s a comforting thought: We don’t need to be a scholar to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and that of Sanctification.  We do not need to have degrees on our walls or wear a specific color of trim on our shoulders to pursue Christ-likeness.  A lot of people have the head-knowledge but when it comes to the heart-knowledge the mettle of sincere intentions and devotion are formally revealed.  This is first a personal matter.  A private conversation with God Himself.  It is a one on one appearance with God in the holy of holies.  He shows up.  He will never forsake us, and His desire for us all is to avoid these pitfalls as we pursue His holiness in our lives.  Yes, Holiness is possible and attainable to all who are willing to surrender fully to Him.  

-Just another some to ponder today.

 

 

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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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“Dear Abby-Normal”

 

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Many of you will recognize the reference from Young Frankenstein and if you have never seen this quote here’s the humorous interaction from the movie – “Whose brain did you put in?”

In the clip Igor mistakenly puts an abnormal brain into the body that doctor Frankenstein is trying to reanimate.  As soon as the “monster” is alive the doctor quickly realizes something is definitely wrong.  Igor thought the label read “Abby-normal”.  

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Are you Abby-normal?

I don’t wish to make light of an advice column but since we’re on the topic of advice, let me offer some advice to my fellow Christ-followers out there.  I don’t claim to have all of the answers, nor would I ever make such a claim.  I do know the One who does have the answers and without Him we are surely lost!  Since we are no longer slaves to sin and Christ has redeemed us we are now different aren’t we?   Essentially we have been transformed or changed and we no longer bear the image of the world.  

ImageHow to be Abby-Normal:

I don’t wish to imply to anyone that we are to be strange or weird, or that we have to be completely divorced from the world around us.  What I am implying though is that the world does become different to us when we peer through the lens of Christ, who has set us free and saved us from or sins.  Thus, to the outside world, we are now considered strangers of “abby-normal”.  We aren’t the same anymore in essence – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

But how do we remain “abby-normal” and still maintain relevance and witness in a world that needs the hope of Christ?  

Here are a couple thoughts on remaining “abby-normal“:

1.  Pray continually & Feast on the word of God!

1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray continually“.  These words were written to the early believers who, though new in their faith, were facing persecution and pressure.  Prayer is more than just kneeling beside your bed at night or as you wake up in the morning.  Prayer can be a support system, a communication with God on a moment by moment basis.  We don’t need a special place to pray, we can pray in our cars on our way to work.  We can also pray in silence as we walk or in between meetings…or whatever else fills our day.  We do not have to say specific words to make prayer more powerful, God desires our hearts and sincerity.  Prayer is our connection to a limitless God and personal Savior.  

Along side our prayers is the need for us “abby-normals” to feast of God’s Word!  “Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2Tim 3:16,17)  The Word of God has a way of correcting us and providing to us direction in this life.  Though it is true that not everything we face in this life is written about in the days of Jesus…They never had to deal with rush hour traffic or some of our social issues today, but God can speak to us through His Word.  His Word is vital to our growth and will equip us to challenge the world around us.  We are strangers in this world because of our love of this unseen God, but faith has a way of providing for us perseverance especially in times of pressure and trouble.  

2) The Gift of the Holy Spirit

We are not alone in this world.  We have One who goes before us and walks beside us!  At the moment of our salvation the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us.  He can guide us and provide us strength for the journeys we all face.  Romans 8:26 says,  “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Paul wrote these words in the midst of his own struggles and that of the recipient of this letter, but these words should bring comfort to all of us today as well!  We are recipients of the Holy Spirit too and with His help we are never alone in our witness of the resurrected Christ!

To Whom do you belong?  

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:19

We are no longer citizens of the world…”But our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).  As citizens of Christ we are His, and though the world see us as “abby-normal” we know that truth of this life and how we ought to live it.  But secondly we also know where hope for the world comes from – Christ Jesus.  Therefore as “Abby-normals” we ought to be sharing and declaring this hope with love and joy to those around us.  How we do this begins with how we live and conduct our lives.  Because the world doesn’t want Christians to preach at them…they long for genuineness and authenticity.  If we are walking with God and His Holy Spirit is truly guiding us (which He promises to do) then we have to put feet with our faith and our words.  Living the resurrected life out-loud is so much more effective than mere words or sermons…our lives should be living sermons which will bring others to Christ!  

 “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 1 Peter 2:11,12

Don’t be ashamed to live an “Abby-normal” kind of life!  Remember your identity as a child of the Most High!  You have been bought with a great price and our mission is to shine and love even if it means we aren’t always accepted.  Shine anyway and live this “Abby-normal” life out-loud!  

-Just a thought!

 

 

“Ambassadors of Reconciliation”

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“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” -2 Corinthians 5:20

One of my favorite words in the English language is “Reconciliation”.  The etymology of the word reconcile comes from the Latin “reconcilare” which means “to bring together again”.  

When Jesus came into this world and identified with humanity as the God-man He sought to bring together again the original creation of man with God the Father.  Did you catch that?  At one time, in our original state, we were together with God.  He would walk with Adam and Eve.  He would fellowship with them in the garden of Eden.  He actually, physically, walked WITH them.  

But.

Because of original sin, which entered the picture, we became separated from God.  Think of it like a great big, messy divorce…except we were the offending party and God the Father did nothing to deserve our infidelity.  How it must have wrecked His heart to find us unfaithful to Him.  To find out we (Adam and Eve) deliberately and consciously disobeyed Him.  But we all know this story don’t we?  We understand the consequences of the fall of man…don’t we? 

Yes Jesus came. 

He came to set things right with us.  

He came to Reconcile us (back again) into the Father’s arms.  

Think about that for a moment.  Isn’t that beautiful?  Doesn’t that evoke in you some sort of longing to physically be embraced by God the Father as you enter into the wedding feast?  Jesus came to restore us.  He came for the whosoever…those who would actually come seeking Him.  

But, wait…there’s more. 

When we face the God-man, Jesus Christ, for who He is and what He came to do, we make a vital decision.  We, who have then become Christ-followers, we choose to become like Him in our daily living.  A part of this “becoming” is to pick up where Jesus left off.  We follow in the footsteps of the Rabbi, but in so doing we shuck off our old identities and adopt (not just imitate, but become) Christ in  our everything!  

Taking it a step further, we are to be Christ’s ambassadors to the world relaying the vital message of reconciliation to the whosoever. There is a misnomer though that I think we buy into once in a while – “Reconciliation is only for the sinner”.  This is simply not true.  Though we have become like Christ in every way, shape or form (or so we think thus far) we are still in need of THAT reconciliation daily!  

The Hebrew words associated to the word “Ambassador” are: “tsir” or “melits” and “malak”.  Essentially they mean “an interpreter” or “a messenger”.  

When we think of Ambassadors today we think of politicians from certain countries whose job it is to broker peace and trade agreements with other countries.  But we as Christ-followers are also called to be ambassadors of reconciliation to the sinner and the saint.  Taking it a step further being an Ambassador also implies that we are to literally breathe Christ’s message into other people by our words and more importantly by our actions.  

How can we provide clear interpretation of God and that of His love to those around us if we have not fully adopted and reconciled ourselves to His love as well?  If this reconciled life is not within us then we cannot breathe this into other people’s lives.  So as an Ambassador it has to begin with You…and it has to begin with me.  

It first must become personal…daily, even moment by moment breathing Christ’s holiness and likeness into our own hearts and minds through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Philippians 4:8).    

Prayer: 

Dear Lord, let it begin with me.  Breathe on me breath of God, allow me to be reconciled to You daily.  Help me to see that I am called to be your messenger to others, even other saints.  Help me to be the best Ambassador for you that I can be.  May it be my lifelong passion which begins moment by moment with you.  In Your Holy name I pray these things, -Amen.  

Let Go of the Baggage – “Things that hold you back.”

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  Hebrews 12:1 (NIV) 

When we as a family prepare to go on a vacation there are usually two types of people in our family.  Type One – the under-packer who just wants to be out the door and in the van in fifteen minutes or less and worry about what we didn’t bring with us later.           Type Two – The over-packer who wants to bring everything from our home along with us on the trip and takes twice as long to get ready to leave.  Also this type two person (who will not be named but I’m married to her) has to clean the house as if we were receiving an inspection from a military grade house inspector with white gloves and all.  

If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m the type one person who at times sits impatiently in the van honking the horn as the type-two person (again unnamed but I’m married to her) finishes cleaning the house until it shines and is sparkling clean.  

Truth be told, I am glad that my wife takes great care in our preparations and in the long run, as much as I hate to admit it, She is right.  

There’s another kind of baggage in life though

Sin can weigh us down. 

Make no mistake about it, the old life (before Christ) leads to death.  When we come to Jesus and we accept His gift of salvation we are made into new creations by His blood.  The old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)…but at times we still feel as if we have to keep lugging that baggage around with us.  It weighs us down, causes us difficulty and trouble and yet we still habitually burden ourselves with this unnecessary baggage.  

What is this baggage? 

1) It is the remnants of the old creation –

When Christ saved us, He did so completely yet we find it very difficult to let go of old habits and old sinful ways of living. The Holy Spirit prompts us to unclinch our white knuckled fists which are tightly holding onto these things that we needn’t any more to grasp. In times of trial and stress, these old remnants also rear their ugly heads to cause us strife and further temptation as well.  When we lose our focus on the forward prize of Holiness, which is the image of Christ alive in us, we face the old self again.  When this happens a flood of the old tendencies pours in and once again we find ourselves taking two or three steps backwards in our progress of Holiness. This baggage has been there all along festering and molding in a cold dark corner of our hearts and we’ve been reluctant, even rebellious in our lack of spiritual attempts to deal with it, so, instead we ignore it.    The Holy Spirit knows that this baggage does not belong in our new creation.  He is spurring us, even painfully at times, to let go of it.  Why do we still clutch it ever so tightly?  What good can ever come from its hold on us?  This baggage stands blatantly in our path of real, tangible Spiritual growth and yet we allow it to stunt us.  

Prayer – Dear Lord, allow me to see this baggage in my life today.  Show me that which still blocks my steps to full surrender.  Reveal to me the places that I have yet to let go of.  I do not want these burdens of the old creation to hinder my forward progress of reflecting You.  -Amen.

2) The Baggage can also be our guilt, shame and self-worth.

The old life also has a way of convincing us that we are not good enough to be like Christ.  It will try and convince us that we will never be good enough or smart enough to receive such a reward from God.  This has nothing to do with pride, in fact just the opposite.  When Christ redeems us, the wretched sinner, He does so completely.  When we commit our hearts to Him, He washes us clean.  This doesn’t mean that we won’t face temptation again or that we can not fall, but it does mean that His blood sacrifice can and will cover up our sinful old creations and wash them away.  Our part, within this free will, however, is that we must confront our old harmful choices that we have made.  This is the consequences of sin, we have to face it.  Sometimes in facing it we find ourselves so wrecked by it that we begin to doubt if Christ could truly love us because we have done so much wrong.  This remnant of the old baggage clings to us and tries to convince us of the lie that we are not worth His time and that, perhaps, we were never salvageable through His gift of salvation.  Don’t buy the life.  This isn’t about pride, but it’s about truth.  You matter to God!  He loves YOU!  He wants to remind you that you are His precious child and that you are a son or daughter of the Most High!  Don’t cling to this old baggage, which is a lie.  Let go of it, and embrace this truth of His saving grace – You are His and He would do it all over again if you had been the only human alive!  When you let go of this old baggage and recognize how much it has weighed you down you will begin to see how free you will feel.  

Let go, and find this burden lifted from you!  

Prayer – Dear Lord, remind me again of how much you love me.  Remind me when I struggle with my identity in You that I am worthy because of Your love.  Help to me see myself as You see me, and as I do help me to let go of my grip on this baggage of self-worth. Thank you for your love and for your hand upon my life, lift me up out of this pit of self-degradation and give me a passion to serve and love you with ever fiber of my being.  -Amen.

Get On With It!

 Letting go of the baggage that hinder us is only the first step, now we have to press on.  Jesus is our living example, and this world still needs His example lived out in Holy Christ-following people.  Shine so that others might see Him.  Live as the Holy Spirit leads you to live.  Get up and get on with this new creation…oh and leave your baggage behind!  

 

Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?

Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through?

God specializes in things thought impossible

And He can do what no other power can do.

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Holiness (Poem)

Lord, I long to devote my all to You

to surrender my heart and will

and I complete in Your holiness live

yet I confess a fragment lingers still.

My heart yearns to be one with You

to stand complete before the King

and sin no longer a binding force

my all before you I must bring.

Holy Spirit, descend upon my life

I yearn for entirety of grace

with nothing restraining my heart

I long to see Your face.

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Salvation Army Identity Crisis?

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I’ve heard it from both sides of the argument.  The Salvation Army is a movement not an organization…wait what?  Is it an unorganized movement then?  Certainly what began as a movement as grown, hasn’t it?  We are an entity within the universal Christian church.  We, in every aspect of the theological argument have become another denomination, though some within our ranks might spurn that notion.  Don’t believe me?  Look it up on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations scroll down towards the middle of the list of denominations and you will find The Salvation Army listed under ‘Pietists and Holiness Churches’.  

So let’s move on from that identity issue to the two main pivotal perspectives that I would like to look at rather closely. 

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Argument #1: The Salvation Army has become just another social service institution. 

I can certainly see why some within our ranks would argue this point.  Within the US, specifically, many programs to those in need are either completely or marginally dependent upon government funding sources.  Much of our professional staffing can also be used to lend support of this argument.  Also another source that might lend credence to this assumption stems from the adoption of its newest brand in 2005 of ‘Doing the most good‘.  If you merely look at the wording, one could make the leap that the identity of the Army is shifting in the face of public perceptions and opinions.  Put a new branding on the Army such as ‘Doing the most Good’ and now you can compete with other social service agencies which are in turn competing for the same public/government funding sources.  And as we compete, we now how place our services ahead of other agencies because, after all, we do the most good…better than the rest.  

Now before you write me some hate mail, let me just clarify; I am merely presenting one of the arguments within this identity crisis.  This is not specifically my opinion but it is an opinion or as our Army likes to say, it is a perception.  Right or wrong when a brand, even taken out of context, is utilized within a media savvy culture this common perception may or may not prevail.  To say that we do not care what the public thinks would certainly be erroneous and untrue.  Public support, both financially and physically, are necessary to our success as a ministry to those in need.  We need reinforcements as well as the means to make things happen.  

This specific argument that we are shifting our identity to become more of a social service agency and are too dependent on governmental funds does have some merit and weight behind it.  There is certainly a danger that we may lose our identity of origin if we are not mindful of mission that is…which brings me to the other side of the argument…

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Argument #2:  The Salvation Army is a Church.

This argument prevails within our corps’ mission at times.  Corps Councils at times get together and bemoan the fact that there is little to no ‘bridging’ going on between corps ministry and the weekly social service office which is always packed with people in need.  At the extreme end of this argument are those who are so pious and holy in appearance yet they do little besides complain about the state of things instead of actually doing something about it.   Not only is it the job of the corps officer to find and enact engaging and relevant ministry, but it is the primary job of the soldiery of that corps to suggest, lead, engage and do this important work as well!  All too often this identity argument that The Salvation Army is first a church is water thin because many corps are seeing a decrease in Sunday attendance.  It is not that Officers are not trying, however could it be that some of the programs that we offer need to be revamped or even given the boot?  If this identity of Church truly ‘sticks’ then why aren’t we seeing consistent substantial growth in our corps…and I’m not just talking about the bigger corps in large metropolitan areas either, every corps in every city.  In my opinion (here’s my take), one of the reasons we are seeing this identity of ‘church’ diminish in the pews is because of our history.  By that I mean, if we explore the reasons for our initial explosion as a ‘Movement’ we will find that our founders were willing to try and risk anything to get people saved.  Slogans like ‘Go for the worst‘ didn’t come because the early Army was playing it safe.  They tried anything and sought to connect with the culture in which they ministered to.  Today, we have much to lose if we risk as they once did.  Programs are great but I believe sometimes our programs become a crutch and limit what we actually do or risk.  Booth would close corps in a heartbeat if they were not growing, today we have too much invested in them to watch them fail or close their doors.  In essence we are protecting our investments and often times we are more willing to play it safe and rest on our laurels than do something different.  

This identity of ‘The Salvation Army is a church’ insulates us.  It protects our accomplishments and we pull back in the risk department.  

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SO WHAT ARE YOU THEN?  

Are we a social service agency or are we a church?  The answer is….YES.  😉 

What do I mean?  If we lose either of these important aspects of our movement as an Army for Christ then we are finished. We might as well pack up and find another mission or ministry to serve under. There is a fine line here.  It is a cautionary hazard reminding us not to veer too far in either direction.   Church, get out of the slow, protective lane of tradition and heritage.  Social Service, pull your hands back from the governmental piggy bank that places severe limits on what you can do in the name of Christ.  Don’t become so dependent on money and thereby replace Christ with the worship of funds.  We are a mission, an adaptive moving fluid mission for Christ.  This is what we ought to be.  We must not lose sight of why we are here in the first place.  We must not forget that souls need to be both clothed, fed and with the physical and the spiritual.  We cannot allow this notion that we are one or the other to divide us.  We are One army, to quote our recent international theme.  We must continue to serve Christ in such a way that He provides and He blesses instead of seeking for the approval man.  Instead of playing it safe and insulating yet another army rich tradition behind polyester uniforms and archaic irrelevant programs, We need to keep moving forward not backward.  The danger is when we shift from an organized movement to just an organization we stop moving…we stop striving forward in our relevancy in ministry.  

We cannot afford to separate this identity as an Army.  To do so, we face a slow, polarizing organizational death.  I pray for more risk takers to be added to our ranks.  I pray for more missionally minded Officers and Soldiers alike.  I pray that we get up out of our pews and start doing something that reach a poor soul and touches the lost for Christ in the process.  If we keep Christ as the face of our Army, we will not lose strength, we will ever be in tuned to His Holy Spirit’s prompting and moving for Him.  If we ever get to the point that we care more about our Army than we do about Christ and His mission for us then we will have lost this vital and most pivotal identity and risk losing so much more than just our uniform.  

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