Look What I Discovered Today…(Amazing Grace on the Wind)

For the past two weeks I make the morning and late afternoon drive between Prattville Alabama and Selma. It is a forty six minute drive each way. The scenery will beat any urban bumper to bumper drive hands down. There are rolling pastures of green all splendidly infused with waving deep purple wild violets. They bend and bow in the wind as if in a southern Alabama greeting long lost to the world.

Driving down this two lane highway, where the speed limit is 55 miles an hour, but the raging trucks blow black billowing smoke from their diesel engines as they speed by at 75…I am unperturbed because I am attempting not to miss a single detail of this pastural marvel.

To the right there is a deep shadowy canopy of trees, all purposefully planted years and years ago as cows lazily graze beneath them. There is a bountiful buffet of grass and their bellies attest to this fact as they chew on their cud. I see all of this as I speed by at 60 miles an hour.

Further on down the next curve in the road are workers in blue coveralls and up with the sun as they attempt to raise the frames of a barn. Their labors will soon provide roof and shade to tractors and the large green harvester parked near by. There is a slow steady rhythm to their movements as they languish underneath the heavy beams, ensuring they fall into place only to hoist up another one…on and on down the line.

Lastly I reach the next hill top on the country road and find myself before a bronze historic placard. The placard prominently announces the entrance to an old country church. A United Methodist Church by the name of Ivy Creek. Its name matches the long, majestic driveway curtained on each side by trees and ivy. The old iconic white washed walls with steepled bell-tower top marks years of use and if you were to listen very carefully one can still hear the old church bell, long since removed, calling mournfully for its ancient parishioners and the ghosts of church services of yesteryear.

Perhaps many of the old oaks that line the dust gravel path contain within their own rings a time stamped record of the numerous times “amazing grace” has wafted on the wind and embedded each note and each refrain sung into the porous grains…,embedded so deeply in fact, that the sap running down on the outside of the bark could joyously proclaim the occasional “Hallelujah” to the wind as it passes by.


The sun, golden and new in the morning sky, kisses the side of the old chapel as if God himself has declared that “it is good.” And deep inside of me there is this longing to be caught up in one of those sun rays, golden and resplendent, fresh and new…I want to hear God whisper “it is good“…of me.
I breathe this simple moment in, as I stand all alone at this entrance to this church with its shadow lingering over me. This little glimpse of paradise has been grasped at for just a moment…I am filled with a deep sense of love and warmth in this new day.

And then I get back into my car all the while whispering “Amazing Grace” to the wind.

The Problem With Submission…

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” -James 4:7-8

I have a tough time with one word in this passage.
It has nothing to do with God, faith or salvation…it has everything to do with how this word is used in the world, sometimes maliciously, in order to put people in their place.

What is the word?

“Submit”.

I don’t do well with submission.
Honestly, it makes me feel like a prisoner having to obey the warden. (Images of Shawshank Redemption come to mind)…

Perhaps it is because I have personally witnessed that word being used and abused.
Perhaps it is because I struggle with my own need for freedom.
Regardless of the why, there is still the issue with the how…how do I submit…and the ‘who’ – who am I to submit to?

For some of us it is the trust involved in such an act.
Questions like, “what if my trust is betrayed”, and “can I really trust them”?
Many time it isn’t even about submitting to God, but rather authority figures in our own lives; Bosses, business advisors, managers, family members…etc. Then, when we have been burned by submitting to a faulty human-led system, we transplant this disappointment and disillusionment upon God…as if He too is imperfect and will let us down.

I too have struggled with this notion, meanwhile transplanting my own mortal experience upon an immortal God. But have I short changed God when I’ve done this? Do I still struggle with these trust issues? Can I fully submit to God in spite of my past hurts and the numerous failed dumpster fires of attempted human submission?

Maybe I’m overthinking this…have you ever done that?
I’ve counted all of the variables, outcomes, pros and cons way before ever taking a step. My 1st Grade Teacher’s voice keeps ringing in my ear as she said, “look before you leap.” But maybe in this case, it’s the other way round?! Perhaps I just have to go for it and place my all before God when I do.

In James 4:7-8, perhaps it’s more about coming near to God than it is about submitting to Him…because wouldn’t we naturally do that anyway when we really, really know someone? After all, didn’t God come close to us first when He sent Jesus into this messed up world? He met us more than halfway as He hung on a cross for our sins.

You see, I know all of the theological implications of such an act. I know Jesus intellectually, but are there still times when my heart does not know Him…when I’m not near to God, in fact, I couldn’t be further from Him? Have you ever felt like that? We have all of the head knowledge, but when it really comes down to it, there’s a heart issue that still needs working out.

If you’re anything like me, perhaps you’re still trying to reconcile what submission looks like with God. I’ve been on this journey for quite some time, and I feel that the Holy Spirit has led me this far, I’m going to have trust Him in the things I have yet to figure out. He hasn’t given up on me, and I’m positive He certainly hasn’t given up on you either. Perhaps it’s not so much submission that He’s after, but rather a closer relationship with us. After all, doesn’t submission come from a place of trust? I cannot submit to something I don’t trust, and I cannot trust if I don’t come close enough to God.

The trouble with submission is we aren’t close enough to a God who desires a relationship with us…and I’m still working through this. I don’t have a Mary Poppins answer for you, just a notion and a nudge to deepen your relationship with the Almighty…we just might discover that is what was needed all along.

-Something more to ponder today.

Fear the Walking Faith…It’s a journey!

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

Oh how our faith can waver sometimes.
It seems that the gusting of a slight breeze of discord or worry can shake our quivering feet of faith.

Have you ever come to a moment of realization that your faith is not as deep as you once thought it was? We all encounter times, while on this journey, where the feel as though we have entered into the desert and we are found lacking in our resolve and fortitude. This journey will take us into places that require us to dig a little deeper and to endure the dry and thirsty places – where we find ourselves questioning everything and reaching further for God…who seems to have gone silent.

Have you been to this place?

I remember when I first learned to swim.
My parents would take me into the deeper part of the waters where my feet couldn’t touch and then let go of me, and as they let go of me they step back out of my reach. I remember there was a momentary panic. The saving hands were no longer on me and I found myself struggling to keep my head above the waters. I remember having to reach out my arms while kicking my feet so that I could reach the safety again. As I did this, without realizing, I began to swim by myself for the first time.

My intentions were not to swim. My intention was to reach the safe arms of my parents who were just out of reach.

There is growth within the tension and fear.
Growth that can only take place when we are left to our own devices.
Growth that can only transpire within the turmoil and desert places of our faith journey.

It is as if God steps back from us, and we are faced with the seemingly terrifying notion that we must step into the deep alone. The truth is that we are most certainly not alone, but rather there is growth that is only found in desert. And so we step out, unsure of ourselves…unsure if we can reach those safe arms of Christ again.

Remember Peter on the waters before Jesus?
He is asked to step out into a turbulent, uncertain space.
Peter takes a couple of steps, loses sight of the arms of Christ and begins to sink.
He takes his eyes off of Jesus.
He considers the impossibilities of such a journey.
He must have recalled his inability to do this feat, and as the doubt sinks in so does Peter.

We often chastise Peter for his lack of faith.
We often sermonize this passage to implicate the lack of resolve that ‘the Rock’ had…
But where were the other disciples?
Do we read about their steps of faith on the waters? No.
They were still in the boat watching it all go down.

We have to get out of our boats.
We will encounter dry and thirsty times in our faith journey.
It will feel as if we are all alone out in the wilderness, but we are not alone.
God steps back and watches us within the tension of deeper waters.
And it is within those deeper spaces that we grow.
It is through perseverance that our character and the very image of Christ becomes clearer in us.

Some have turned back and returned to the safe places.
Some have given up because they have felt abandoned.
Others have persevered and they have grown.
The Lord desires all of us to deepen our faith, and so these times of dryness should be seen as opportunities to grow up into this amazing faith.

Being like Jesus isn’t easy.
It takes determination and desire on our part.
Are you prepared to allow God to deepen your faith?
Is it your desire to get off of spiritual baby formula and begin to feast on more sustainable spiritual nourishment?

Take that next step…don’t be afraid, He’s got you, and He isn’t far from you right now!

Something more to ponder today.

Confessions of Solitude…

I am not too good with silence.
When I sit too long within its somber embrace, I get nervous…
I wait for the other shoe to drop (so to speak)…
I drum my fingers like a world famous rock star just to break its heavy blanket around me…
I am not too good with silence…
We aren’t friends.
But sometimes, we learn to cohabitant, her languishing about, while I attempt to ignore her call.

I find it interesting, given my avoidance of such an activity, that it is in fact a spiritual discipline.   This comes continually as a surprise to me and my extroverted nature.  I desire to be around people, around the noise of life, and around the fellowship of constant chatter…but silence?  That’s a discipline you say?  Hmm…

Thomas Merton once wrote:  “Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally. When that inner voice is not heard, when man cannot attain to the spiritual peace that comes from being perfectly at one with his true self, his life is always miserable and exhausting. For he cannot go on happily for long unless he is in contact with the springs of spiritual life which are hidden in the depths of his own soul. If man is constantly exiled from his own home, locked out of his own spiritual solitude, he ceases to be a true person. He no longer lives as a man.

Far be it for me to tell you how to acquire this spiritual discipline that I myself still struggle with maintaining , but here’s what I have learned along the way thus far:

Silence (or some semblance of silence) can be achieved by being still. 

What do I mean by that? Life is so busy, and we move at such a fast pace in our world.  We often times to not have the time or the patience to remain still.  We live in a world full of constant distractions, instant messages, cell phones, streaming services and the addition of modern technology.  There is certainly nothing wrong with these tools, but too much of a good thing can be detrimental to us…to the point of distraction…to the point of the absence of stillness in our lives.

When we have distraction, the presence of stillness cannot descend upon us…that doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit cannot still speak to us.  He can do anything within this world since He has authority over all, but can we hear His voice within the distractions?

Silence brings freedom from the powers of life and replaces it with compassion…

Richard Foster says;   “Silence frees us from the need to control others. One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. A frantic stream of words flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way. We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people. We devour people with our words. Silence is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on that.   When we become quiet enough to let go of people, we learn compassion for them.” (Richard Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World)

Without aligning ourselves with the presence of God (which can be accomplished through silence and solitude), the needs of others through the lens Christ cannot be seen (or at the very least, this vision is greatly diminished).

Commissioner Harry Read –

STILLNESS AND STRENGTH

Be still, my soul, be still,
If you the Father seek
Be still, be reverently still,
If you would hear him speak.

Be still, my soul, be still,
God is not far away,
Be still, with humbleness be still,
Be willing to obey.

Be still, my soul, be still,
Of God be now aware,
Be still, with openness be still,
Your heart for him prepare.

Be still, my soul, be still,
Receive God’s energy,
Receive his grace, his love, his will,
Receive your destiny.

Psalm 46: 10
“Be still and know that I am God.”

With every blessing,
(Harry Read, 23.09.18)

What if it is the stillness of God that I am afraid of?
What if in that stillness I am found wanting, and like the prophet Isaiah, I realize that I am severely undone?
Perhaps it is in this unspoken fear that I must embrace His still small voice, which beckons me to put down my distractions, my hindrances and kneel at His feet.

Am I able to be still?
Am I capable of such a step?
Are you?

Something more to ponder today.
(I will write more on this topic again soon)

Silence is a Killer…A Devotional Pondering.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Let’s face it, we all encounter difficult days…some more difficult than others.
There are days that we can manage on our own, and then there are days when we are completely floored by the problems that come our way.  The pressures may seem impossible to overcome, and sometimes that may be true…

I know what you’re thinking, “that doesn’t sound very encouraging to me”…let me finish:
The pressures may seem impossible to overcome, and sometimes that may be true…but we were never meant to handle it all on our own.

In the Apostle Paul’s day, the new believers in Thessalonica were encountering all kinds of trouble.  Thessalonica was the largest city in Macedonia which boasted over 200,000 people.  This city was known for being a military and commercial port city.  So within this large city in Macedonia, these young Christians were encountering all sorts of trouble – even persecution and death because of their new-found declarations of faith.  In the midst of their living testimonies, they longed for the day of Christ’s return.  What does that mean?  They lived in fear every single day, and couldn’t wait for Christ to come back.   And so these young Christians lived expectant lives while encouraging each other onward.

The persecution in Thessalonica must have been fierce for the Apostle Paul to remind them that they needed one another and they ought to continue (“just as you are doing”) to encourage one another.

Let’s put this into perspective:
We might not be facing certain death for our faith, instead we might be struggling to pay rent, finding funds to feed our families, enduring a tough problem at work or at home…all of these situations are arduous and, at times they keep us up at night.
The killer is silence. 
What do I mean?
We think no other Christian is struggling, and if they are it must mean that their faith isn’t strong enough.  This could not be further from the truth.
We have this idea that we shouldn’t let other Christians know how discouraged we really are, because we don’t want them to think less of us.  Because we don’t want others to talk.  Because we fear judgment of others.  Because we believe in the perfect Christian life that really doesn’t exist…because we’ve bought the lie that to be a Christian means we don’t struggle with these things anymore.

And so, silence is a killer.
No one knows.
We don’t share.
And our hurts go unchecked, unnoticed, and unaddressed.

Dear Christian,
How can we encourage one another if we aren’t being honest with each other?
How can we carry each other’s burdens if we allow silence to slowly kill our souls?
We cannot continue to buy the lie that everything is fine when we face times of trial and we keep it private.  (Some will laugh at this and say, but church is full of hypocrites and gossipers…then find REAL believers in whom you can confide!)

Healing can begin with out this kind of encouragement, but long is the process and deep the scars.  When we have others who will journey beside us, and encourage us, we will find added strength, hope, abundance and encouragement.

Don’t let silence kill you.

Drowning In The Waters?

I have this memory.
Do you know the kind?  It’s the kind that embeds those moments in your life, those moments of great fear or panic, and they etch themselves so deeply into the recesses of your brain that you will never forget?

Do you have memories like this?
I’m sure you do.

My memory?
I am a small boy, in a swimming pool at Gene Epply camp.
I don’t remember hardly anything from that time…but I remember that pool.
I remember how I stepped off of the edge and into reflective waters.  Perhaps it was a hot day, I do not recall, but I do recall my little legs straining to touch the bottom and just finding more water.  Panic set in.  The sounds of the laughing and playing children around me faded in and out as I struggled to stay afloat while my vision and my ears were precariously between the two plains – Water and air.

I can only imagine what my face looked like in those brief but terrifying moments.  Others might have seen a small toe-headed boy with wild panicked eyes flailing around in aqua blue waters.  I knew, without help, I would drown.  I hadn’t learned to swim yet, and I was going under.

All of this probably lasted only mere seconds, but to a drowning boy who was taking water into his lungs like it was air, this moment seemed to take an eternity!  Finally, large hands grabbed me with great strength, and I was hoisted out of the depths of those waters and into safety once again.

It’s funny what you remember when you are young.  Those odd things that stand the test of time and come calling into our recollection from time to time.  Memories are a funny thing.  They flutter about, and come to life when certain scents waft in the air, or through certain songs…or in this instance, when I visit a swimming pool.

That moment still lingers in me even after all of these years.
I believe it was my father that pulled me out of those waters – me, a little terrified boy who had yet to learn to swim.

I think there is a very real spiritual parallel here to grasp.
Many people in our communities are struggling to stay afloat in life.
Some have waded out too far from the safety of the shores.
Some have terrified looks in their eyes as they suddenly realize their predicaments.
Others have simply given up trying to stay afloat and are about to go under for the last time.

My son became a lifeguard last summer.
His time as a lifeguard taught him to remain vigilant during his shift at the waters edge.
Every now and then he and the rest of the lifeguards had to come to someone’s rescue and pull them back to safety.  The job of a lifeguard seems glamorous with awesome opportunities for tanning, but in reality it is a job of ever watchfulness.

In the same way, a follower of Christ ought to be a lifeguard who is deeply committed to watchfulness.  The water’s edge, the place of safety is the Church…where firm ground and restored hope surrounds all that are rescued.  The problem I see in the Church today is that there are far too few lifeguards willing to risk it all and venture into the depths of the waters when they see hapless people drowning in its depths.  There are far too many comfortable lifeguards who are more preoccupied with casting judgments like “it serves them right” or “they are just getting what they deserve!”

I am glad Jesus didn’t say that about us!
We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…it doesn’t say all (except for ________(insert our names here), no ALL…everyone of us have fallen short.  (Romans 3:23)  Instead it says, “for while we were sinners (while we were drowning in the depths…while we were going under for the last time) Jesus died for us.  (Romans 5:8)

I still have that memory forever etched in my mind.
The day I almost drowned, was also the day I was rescued.

Perhaps, dear Church, we should get back to lifeguarding, because there are still so many falling below those dangerous waters…and who will help them?  Who will come to their rescue?  We are called out

Dear Salvation Army, 3 Smart Strategies To Army Mission…

Dear Salvation Army Soldier & Friends, our mission doesn’t exist without those that push the mission and strive to see it succeed!  Without soldiers and friends working so tirelessly together in an effort to meet human need in Jesus’ name, we will fail and our efforts will be in vain.  With that being said, we serve more than just the army ranks.  For officers come and officers go, and our appraisal of those wearing red may increase or decrease depending on the character of each.  But collectively we are the army.  But without Christ at the head of our army we will be without direction and hope.

It is my prayer that we keep our eyes ever on Christ as we dole out our policy and mission steps in our world.  Dare I say that there have been times when policy and administrative decisions have not made sense and/or were not made with Christ in mind at all.  Such moments in our history, I would hope are few and far between and I am instead given over to the notion that we ought to pray for each and every leader that is appointed to lead this Army.  I cannot imagine the enormity of such a mantel, yet it is thrust on many who would deem themselves quite unworthy of it.  But, beware to those who think they deserve such a mantel, even power and leadership in our army can corrupt.  So pray in earnest for one another so that we do not fall into such a temptation of pride, ego and personal ambition.

Here are three smart primer strategies to our Army mission.  There are more subtopics and conversations to be had within this pondering…after you read these starting points, why not tell us what YOU think and what we can add to this list!

1.  Leaders – listen to the “Boots on the ground!”  

bootsI cannot stress how important it is for leaders of all positions to listen to those who are actively engaged on the ground in the fight!

There are certainly Church roles that we possess in our movement, some are appointed and gifted in: administration, some in pastoring, some evangelism…and so on, yet we all must do our very best within the positions that we have been given to glorify God and to edify and encourage each other!  Leaders who simply dictate and dole out policy but rarely listen to the boots on the ground will eventually be resented and our mission will become bogged down.  Take the time to listen to those who see the need every day!  Sometimes we as leaders have to have the guts to admit when the plan we plotted isn’t working and perhaps there is a better, more effective way.  Swallow your pride and adapt!  This goes for every position of leadership from the corps setting all the way up!

savesWe cannot afford to have polarizing visions when we should all be seeking to remain mission minded and focused.  There’s no time for that!   Leaders who listen and then lead have a better chance at successfully navigating and accomplishing their objectives in mission!  If leaders only dictate from their offices that are tucked away from mission we will fail because administration can only meet mission when it has its ear to the ground and a heart to serve in the capacity of servant-leader.    Enough with the old guard of “my way or the highway” brass!  Yes be strict on mission-mindedness but compassionate on leading and shepherding!  Be a shepherd first and listen!

2.  Boots on the ground – Pray for and love your leaders, trust them and then engage in the spiritual warfare while befriending the lost!  

do

There’s no time to jostle about and deciding which leader you will follow or trust.  There is too much at stake, too much to lose in forward progress as an army!  If we spend too much time worrying about the internal workings of our army, we will lose sight of those we are entrusted to serve and love!  Bring the mission of the lost into focus – make it your priority to keep this mission going!  Be the gate keepers of Hell so that no one slips by you and into that place of ultimate depravity!  Stand as the bridge builder who brings hope to your community!  Worry less about what others (even leadership) might think and more about what God might think with our inactions!  Get on with it!!  Fight on and be the voice for those without one.  The very progression of our army depends upon the movement of these vital infantry boots!  You will stand knee deep in the muck and mire of people’s sin and sadness.  You will witness the hopeless single mother who is struggling to put food on the table, or the children who come to your program that you know are currently living in awful places and conditions.  You must take action!

Love those who lead you.  Trust that God has placed them there to help you accomplish this mission together!  Pray for each other and for those who will come knocking on your door in search of help!  We cannot progress the good news of Jesus Christ and bring hope to a dying world if we are not first Holy people who are taking up our crosses and following Him!  We cannot look like the world and act like the world.  We are set apart to do mighty things, we cannot lack anything especially faith that God will pave this path for us!

3.  Look outside “The Bubble”!  

bubble

Lastly, do not get bogged down in your own bubble that you become ignorant of how God might be working in our world!  Be in-tune with Him!  Do not live in your corps buildings and your Divisional or territorial offices and forget to peer out the windows and walk the streets!  God is not static and He does not want us to become static!  Look beyond what we have already accomplished!  Don’t just maintain and do the same things over and over again especially if these things (or programs) are not bringing people to Christ any longer! Explore, study, become students of knowledge and strategy!  Read!!  There is this notion that any organization and mission can become so internal that it’s almost incestuous in developing its methods of mission, evangelism and mission.  Break this mold!  Take risks, and don’t be afraid to fail – even a hundred times (or more)!   We cannot live in our Army bubbles and expect people to come to us!  We have to go to them!  We have to think outside the box (or corps).  We have to stop living in the past or the glory days all the while missing countless opportunities to make history and break new ground!  If we expect revival we have to make revolution happen in our army!

pop I think sometimes what keeps us in our bubbles is the fear of what leadership might do if we try new things that don’t necessarily “look Army”.  Is there fear of reprisal and punishment for not maintaining the status quo?  Perhaps it’s time to pop the bubble!
Perhaps it’s time to refocus and realign our motives and mindsets on the mission of this world-wide movement!  But we cannot do that unless we become risk-takers and break the bubble comfort and tradition.
help
Something more for this Army to Ponder…now, tell us what YOU think by leaving comments and questions below or in your discussion feed!  I can’t wait to hear from you!

*Disclaimer:  The thoughts and opinions written on Pastorsponderings are not necessarily the thoughts and expressed opinions of The Salvation Army, reader discretion is advised!*

Day 27 (Friday) -“Coffee Stains…”

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”  Matthew 23:25-26

Jesus had some harsh words for the religious leaders of his day…but first let me share with you a story.  I love coffee…a lot!  I also have my favorite cups that I like to use every day. cup It’s the daily routine.  Every morning I wake up my children and get them ready for school.  Then I shuffle to the kitchen and brew myself a nice hot cup of coffee.  Most days my cup is clean but then there are days when my favorite cup was left in the car or in the sink…and it’s dirty.  There is a dilemma that happens, do I wash it or just rinse it out.  If I rinse it out I will know that the inside wasn’t clean…and I will be thinking about how it will affect the taste of my coffee as well as how it could affect my health to ingest bacteria from a dirty cup.  I could drink from it, but I won’t.

I would imagine that you would do the same – wash the cup.
If you’re anything like me, you care about your health and you want to ensure you take care of yourself…and cleaning is one way to help prevent illness and all-round health issues.

createJesus addressed a very real spiritual health issue with these religious leaders.
He was harsh, but straight with them.  They looked the part, but on the inside they were unclean.  Instead of dealing with their spiritual dirt, they pretended everything was okay.  They pretended to have it all together, but in their personal lives it was all falling apart.  Have you been there?  Have you at times pretended everything was okay, but deep inside you knew that there was dirt that needed removing?  That’s the conviction of the Holy Spirit!  He longs to cleanse us completely.  Without this continual cleansing – a full surrender is impossible.  We cannot run from this heart issue.  We have to confront the dirt.  Without confronting it, we will have this barrier between us and God.  The cleansing which comes from getting rid of the dirt is freeing as well!  Jesus went on to call these Pharisees “white washed tombs” – they looked good on the outside but on the inside they were dead inside.  This is a scary commentary by Jesus.  I hope and pray none of us receives this kind of appraisal of our spiritual lives.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be dead inside.  I don’t want to pretend everything is “holy” on the outside but inside it is anything but holy.

Are you prepared to clean the inside of your cup?
Are there areas that still need cleansing in your life today?
It can be a barrier and without that cleansing a detriment to our faith journey.
So let’s confess to the Lord today and allow Him access (perhaps once again) to our hearts and hidden spaces of our lives that no one else sees.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, cleanse me from the inside out.  I want to be yours completely.  Show me the places that require your cleansing.  Cleanse my mind from all malice and unhealthy thought.  Wash me clean and make me whiter than snow so that I can move past any barriers that keep me from full surrender.  Lead me today Lord and show me your glory!  In Your name I pray all of these things.  Amen.

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

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

The Story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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