Dear Salvation Army, The New Song Book

You know, as they say, “Out with the old, in with the new”…but a part of me is feeling a little melancholy about this one.   I can still remember the old song book, now twice removed.  It has been put to pasture years ago, but for a few still lingering upon shelves of Salvation Army libraries or others who feel sentimental like me.  I remember how that book smelled. Its pages were crisp and contained many of the songs I grew up singing.  Some of those songs are still intact, reprinted with a new paint job and a new format inside this new song book. (Phew that was a lot of “news“)   Some of the old songs, will inevitably have to wait for another resurrection, until some of us sentimentals grow older and find we really do miss seeing those lyrics among the pages of a Salvo Book.
Photo Jan 11, 9 53 05 AM.jpg
Nonetheless, I do like this new edition…it is growing on me.  (Although, I realize that I too am not always amenable to change.)
The segregation of the chorus section is no more.  Newer, more singable chorus are now included.  The creators of this edition even took the time to incorporate scriptural referencing as well as thematic messages…it’s a Holiness meeting (and other meetings) preparer’s dream to have this new tool within these pages!

From a corps perspective, soldiers by and large, enjoy seeing this new song book among the pews.  I wonder if most soldiers, adherents and attendees feel the same?  I would be curious to know other people’s thoughts and first impressions of this new song book as it hits the pews around the world.

For Me:
It’s still growing on me.  It’s going to take some time as I put my long goodbyes away for “old red” and begin to feel the inevitable present-tense of this new tool in songbook form.

There are other, more pressing issues to ponder about…but for just a moment I had to find time to ruminate on the passing of another song book, besides I’m going to miss seeing those red bound books in the pews…perhaps that’s just me.

What do you think of this change?
Is it good, bad, kind of the same?  Tell us what YOU think.

Something more to ponder today.


Disclaimer: 

The views of pastorsponderings.org are the writer’s thoughts and opinions and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of The Salvation Army.

The Gift Of Giving (Gary’s Story)

Perhaps you have stopped at a fast food restaurant and  gone through the drive thru, or you have stopped at a toll booth only to discover someone has “paid it forward” as the clerk cheerfully tells you “The car ahead of you paid for yours”.   It’s a surprising feeling isn’t it; experiencing someone else’s generosity?  Perhaps for some of us, it’s a little humbling.  For others it reinforces the need to give back.

bucket3The gift of giving truly is the meaning of Christmas.
We stop to recognize the ultimate gift that was given to humanity – Christ Jesus.  Perhaps in some small way we can give back to our communities and to specific people.  Giving isn’t always natural…sometimes it needs to be forced, sometimes we need a little convincing.

There is no need to convince Gary though, he has been giving to our Red Campaign this Christmas season in a manner of his time and talent.   Gary has been bell ringing for The Salvation Army of Evansville for as much time as he can give this year.  Some days, it is a whole day’s shift from 10 am in the morning, until it gets dark outside. He has been vigilant, dependable and a constant feature at one of our Walmart locations.   Every evening when the red kettle driver picks up Gary’s bucket, you can rest assured it is a full bucket of much needed funds.  bucket2

There is something else about Gary you should know, other than his generosity of time and talent.   For those two vital assets alone are truly commendable and honorable.  But there’s something more about Gary – something that would shake the very fabric of our lives and quake us to the core and make us evaluate everything that we hold dear and consider important in life – Gary has terminal Leukemia.

His doctors have given him roughly nine months to live.  He could be doing anything with his precious time that he has left.  He could be crossing off things on his bucket list, and perhaps he is.  He could have gone home and wallowed in self-pity – no one would have blamed him.  Yet, Gary is paying it forward in such a way that lives will be touched and changed.  Gary is so much more than just a bell ringer at yet another red kettle campaign.  Gary is giving more than just another few hours at a random kettle location.  Gary is giving of himself.  This is his gift.  This is his moment to shine.
bucket4.jpg
I wonder if we’re all capable of giving as Gary is giving today?
I wonder if we could simply give without terms or conditions, and just give of ourselves regardless of the circumstances of our lives?  I recognize that life isn’t always perfect, I’m also pretty sure there has never been any promises that life is fair and perfect from the start.  Many of us have bruises and scars to prove just how unfair and imperfect life can truly be.
BUT the gift of giving truly MUST transcend our circumstances and conditions.  We shouldn’t ever say “well I couldn’t give because the moment just wasn’t right…” well, let me ask you when will the moment ever be right?    (and I’m speaking to myself right now) We can’t continue to make excuses in life – it doesn’t matter where we’ve been or the hurts we’ve endured – how we come out of those moments truly will define us.

Gary is testament to a defying circumstances.
He has touched my heart in a way that I am forever changed.
His gift is so much more than eight hours out at a Salvation Army kettle stand.  Despite his circumstances, Gary is displaying what living life should look like.

Do you have time to give?   Then give it.
Do you have talents to give?  Then give it.
Do you have treasure to give?  Then give it.
Don’t make excuses, don’t hold back, don’t squander it or hoard it.
Our gifts come in many shapes and sizes…what we do with these gifts matters!

Something more to ponder today.

A Conflicted Refugee

This pondering might incite disagreement – that is not my intention, but so be it if it does happen.

I have to honestly tell you that I am conflicted with this whole refugee crisis.  The whole conversation that politicians from both sides of the isles are having.  The whole debate within the Christian Church about where they stand.  I. am. conflicted.

parisI get that we don’t want to experience what Paris has just horribly experienced.  I understand that terrorists wish us harm.   I know that we must protect our families and our communities…and we must.  BUT, (and here’s where the “conflicted” part comes in”) does this mean we completely shut our borders and treat every man, woman and child as a suspect of terror?  -No.

I don’t think anyone is saying that we shouldn’t be careful.
I don’t think this debate is about if terrorists exist – because they do.
I think this debate is about safety as well as judgement.
But here comes the element that sometimes can be missed within the whole conversation about refugees – COMPASSION.

times.jpgSome might argue that if we allow refugees (because of compassion) to come into our country, we will also allow terrorists in as well.  This can be a valid point, and I get why some are calling for stiffer screenings, but we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people…  Others have argued that their state will flat out refuse to accept any refugees, citing that this is why/how the Paris attack happened.

This is where I am conflicted. 
I don’t have many answers, just a pondering about the whole topic in regards to people who have been displaced from their homes and homeland.  I do not wish to be snarky about it – as some people have been from both political spectrums… (it has truly been discouraging and sad to witness).   But, something has to be done.
spectrum
On one side, we ought to fight for the lives of the innocent regardless of where they were born (they didn’t get to choose where they live).  If you are a believer of social justice then you can’t help but be moved with compassion for the plight of the innocent regardless of ideology.  If we have the resources to protect, defend and actually DO SOMETHING other than protect our own interests – then we should feel compelled to act on the behalf of the innocent throughout our world.

On the other side, we should be reminded that terrorists like those found in ISIS will attempt to infiltrate and disguise themselves by surrounding themselves with innocent people – this is not a new strategy, albeit a deplorable one.  We ought to be vigilant while facing this crisis with compassion.

borders.jpgDo I feel we should completely close our borders to those who wish to make a home within our free country?  NO.  Do I believe all who come to this country should follow the same procedure to citizenship through education and understanding?  Yes.

For those seeking safe refuge from war and militant beliefs – I say we welcome them in.

The debate within this refugee crisis should also consider what happens to those who are shut out and are not welcomed…does this/could this push people to identify with militant extremist groups as well?

And what of the Christian Church? 
church.jpgWhat is their part to play in all of this?
We ought to remain a moral compass – not political, but one who fights for the innocent, ones who help to cast the light of hope into hopeless situations and lives broken by war, hunger and loss.  In other words, we ought to do all we can for God’s Kingdom here on earth to share love, hope and compassion.   We ought to continue to fight for the innocent, and to share this amazing love with all the world – so that Christ might become evident and lives can be saved.

I am conflicted, but not on the need to share compassion and grace.
We continue to pray for the people in Paris, and other regions of our world where terror is still evident.  We know that everyone of us will reap what we sow…please continue to pray for our world leaders, Church leaders and for Christians in our world facing martyrdom for their faith, because they will not be silent in declaring Christ Jesus as Lord.

Something more to ponder today.

To God be the glory!

Facing The Wall – A Pondering On Problems

If you think of a problem as being like a medieval walled city, then a lot of people will attack it head on, like a battering ram.  They will storm the gates and try to smash through the defenses with sheer intellectual power and brilliance.  I just camp outside the city.  I wait.  And I think.  Until one day – maybe after I’ve turned to a completely different problem – the drawbridge comes down and the defenders say, “We surrender.” The answer to the problem comes all at once.”  -Arthur McKinsey

We all face the wall from time to time.
No, not like a child being placed in “time-out”, but like the insurmountable walls of our problems and stresses.  The kind of wall that seem to effortlessly and ominously climb into the sky and cause us to panic at the sheer magnitude of our problems.
Photo Nov 10, 12 07 14 PM
You know the old saying, “making a mountain out of a mole hill” – this is the mountain becoming a super mountain.  This is the small speed bump in the road of life becoming a sink-hole.  Sometimes we can do nothing but watch the city burn as we attempt to blow on the flames.  I don’t wish to paint a dark gloomy picture today for you, but I would be lying if I said walls of this magnitude never come our way.   They do.  These types of problems will come knocking on our doors.  They will just show up sometimes.  Other times they have been cresting on the horizon for a while…perhaps we just ignored the warning signs.

wall2Are you facing the wall today?
Does it seem  insurmountable?
Do you feel heavy with burdens and heart sick with these problems you are attempting to carry?

I won’t sugar coat it for you today.
There isn’t some magical pray for you to recite and *poof* all of your problems will fade away, but I would like to offer you some perspective on your walls.

The Truth: 
wallsWe all face walls.
We all endure heartache, stress, hardships…and sometimes more hardships.  Life isn’t easy…this we know all too well.
BUT – We aren’t alone.
We should all know that each of us carries difficulties, we carry stress, we face walls together.

Jesus says this still to us today –
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” -Matthew 6:25-27

handAnother Truth: 
God will show up for us!
He will be there when we call.
Sometimes He provides a means to overcome these walls.
Sometimes He provides us the endurance to wait it out.
All of the time – WE AREN’T ALONE!

Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall.” -Psalm 55:22

Waiting is the hardest part…but, we can either hem and haw about it or find the resolve to be patient.  Many times I have opted to hem and haw – (gripe and complain) about my situation instead of waiting patiently.  Did it help?  No.  Was it the best use of my time?  Absolutely not.

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” -Psalm 27:14

I don’t know what wall you’re facing today.
It might be a small fence, or it could be a fortified city.
Either way, you will survive this!
You matter to God!
This life we live has it trials and troubles…but I believe in the One who overcame the world…do you?

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

“Legacy – Owning Your Influence” – Precious Diamonds!

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’
–Martin Luther King Jr.

matterYesterday at church I spoke on the topic of “Legacy”.
It’s an important message for all of us to hear, not because I spoke it, but because we are all called to this holy purpose.  If we claim to be a Christ-follower, we are set apart for something much more precious than common existence.

diamondImagine if someone were to give you a magnificent diamond to take care of.   (I know, but imagine with me for just a second)  The gem is extremely valuable, the clarity is remarkable and it truly is a precious stone to admire and protect.  There is nothing common about this diamond, it is one of a kind and cannot be replaced.   So, what do you do?  You protect it.  You store it in a safe place.  You don’t just leave it laying around like a common rock gathered from a field.

Similarly – You are precious to God.
You are HIS prized possession.  You matter to Him.  There is nothing common about you in His eyes.  He has saved you for a Holy purpose, and at a mighty price:  His Son’s death on a cross.  Because of the resurrection, because of grace, because of forgiveness and atonement, we have become His, and His alone!

childNow that we know WHOSE we are, WHAT we DO matters!
A legacy isn’t so much about what we want people to remember us by, but about being found faithful in WHOSE we are.  Everything that we say and everything that we do MATTERS!  Everything we are inside a church building and ESPECIALLY outside a church building matters!  There is nothing more off-putting to people in our communities than individuals who claim to be “Christians” but their lives consistently contradict the claim.  Why would anyone want to be a Christian if they don’t practice what they preach?

What kinds of fields are we sowing in our communities?
What kinds of legacies and examples are we living out loud for our children?

How is the world better off because we have lived and are faithfully serving in it?

Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate our lives today.
Perhaps we need to re-commit our lives to Christ.
Perhaps there is a deep need for a reconciliation of our hearts and intentions to the will of God once more.

What we do – matters.
How we live – makes a difference.

matter1WHOSE we are – defines the impact we can make in our small corners of the world.

How is your Legacy going today?
Something more to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

Dear Salvation Army, When Do We Hit The Reset Button?…

setPeople have reminded me over and over again that change just for the sake of change isn’t always good…I agree!  I am not proposing change just because it’s the “in” thing to do, in fact a lot of things we do in our Army has meaning and significance.  But what happens when things lose their meaning, their relevance and vital-ness?  What happens when that program, symbol (and or any other thing in our Army) becomes the object of worship?  *gasp*  Does that even happen?  Could it happen?

I doubt something becomes an object of worship intentionally.
I also doubt programs and/or things in our Army lose their significance and meaning quickly, but rather a little over time.

When this happens, isn’t it an indicator that perhaps we have wavered?
Isn’t it an indicator that perhaps we have veered from our course?
Perhaps then the need to hit the reset button becomes paramount.

But are we afraid to push it?
One might wonder if this would change everything.
One might wonder if this would destroy everything.
One might also wonder if they would be known for destroying everything just because they dared to hit the reset button.

reset_buttonPrograms In Ministry
Sometimes we do the same thing year after year…once, long ago we had the passion and drive for it, but now it seems as if all we are doing is go through the motions and just “getting it done” because it’s required.  What happened to it being fun?  What happened to spontaneity?  What happened to progress when it just seems we are maintaining?

Is there a point when the program that we’ve been doing for years and years (since Catherine and William were still alive) is just tired, old, repeated, and irrelevant?  So when do we hit the reset button?  How does that look?  Does it mean first me must internally realign our motives and intentions in ministry?  -Absolutely!
Does it mean that perhaps we put that spark back into thing…that spark that’s been missing in our ministry for years?  -You bet.  Do we politely and rather intentionally push for changes to come from our leadership in the Army too?  -Of course!

In the past few years a number of reset buttons have been pushed.  RESET-BUTTON
Programs like – Home League, Corps Cadets, Junior Soldiers…and so on.
I wonder though if we are really hitting the reset button at all or just relabeling and repackaging the same old thing?  No offense to those whose programs are thriving…perhaps we can learn a lot from you!

Questions to Ponder:
When do we hit the reset button on certain programs and things in our ministry?
How do we know that the time is right?
How do we evaluate success and failure?
How do we know if our programs are tired, old, defeated?
How much prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit are we doing?
Are we guilty at times of merely want to change for no good reason?
Are our motives sincere?
Is our mission still intact?

I pray that when the Holy Spirit spurs us into action to step “out of the norm” that we listen.
I pray that we are bold and daring for not only the Army but most importantly for God.
I prayer that we pursue lives not just statistics.
I prayer that we measure our successes not by mere public accolades and government funding, but by lives discipled and transformed by our willingness and His power.    reset_button_MLEK

Is it time to hit the reset button in your ministry?
Something more to ponder today!

Burn Your Ships And Commit!

cortesThe History Lesson
In 1519 Hernan Cortes, Spanish explorer, landed on Mexican soil.
He and his 600 Spanish troops were commissioned to take Mexico for Spain.
In a swift move to stave off any thoughts of retreat, he commanded that his fleet be burned.

Can you imagine being one of those six hundred men on alien soil standing there watching your only lifeline to the ‘old life’ being burned at sea.  The only recourse was to make progress deeper into this unknown land; to fight, survive and claim it for the crown.  The ships were gone, they had to fully commit or die.

For Us. 
I am not justifying any other actions of Cortes.
Some of his decisions were down right brutal.
That being said, I do believe that there is something here for us today.

Spiritually speaking…
Have we burned our ships in the act of a full commitment to Christ?
Or
Are we still looking back longingly at the places that we used to live before we accepted this new life in the form of Salvation?   Do we (even subconsciously) consider this “commitment” to be temporary while all along we have a fall back plan in case it just doesn’t pan out?

I believe even Jesus had disciples in His day that had one foot in the new life while the other foot was still firmly grounded in the old.

Read:
(Luke 9:57-62)

The Cost of Following Jesus
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. 59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

The cost of following Christ is high!
The commitment level of such a calling is total or none at all.
We cannot have one foot in the new life while our other foot is firmly planted in the old life.
Either we are all in or we are not in at all.

Perhaps it is time that we burned the ships.
Perhaps it is time to burn that which holds us back from making that full commitment to Christ.
Don’t allow those things to pull you in two different directions any longer.
His path, His calling is the path of true peace, of true redemption, of true love.
When we burn the ships, we can no longer turn back from His will for our lives. ships
He wants a relationship with us that requires a full commitment.
So, how about it, are we willing to burn the ships?

Something more to ponder today!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking Dead-Jesus… (a reflection of Mary at the tomb)

I keep thinking about Mary encountering Jesus in the garden post-death.
Imagine it with me if you can:

She is going there to properly take care of his dead body.
She is going there to shed a few more tears in private.
She is going there to say goodbye.
Her heart is as heavy as a led balloon.
She just can’t wake up from this nightmare.
Rising early that morning, a night wrought with bad dreams and sleeplessness, she heads directly to the grave.
Call it a moment to convince herself that He’s really gone.
Call it a part of the mourning process.

Rounding the last turn in the overgrown garden she comes upon a sight that she cannot quite explain.
Reason fails her and she is pauses a step to take in the scene attempting to comprehend it all – His grave is open.   Picking up the pace, she closes in on the tomb and enters all in one quick motion.  The place where they had laid Jesus is empty,  it is vacant.  Had the authorities changed their minds?  What happened to the body of her teacher, her rabbi?

Mary runs back and gets the disciples who, upon hearing this troubling news, run to the tomb to check it out for themselves.

Fresh tears begin to well up in her eyes as a lump forms in her throat as this all takes place.
Where is Jesus?
Why had they done this?
Could they not have left Him be, allowing this one ounce of dignity?

griefStepping back out of the tomb, the early sun begins to crest the horizon and spills effortlessly out upon the garden igniting it in hues of orange and red.  Mary doesn’t know what to do.  She is dumb-founded.  Mary peers again into the tomb to make sure she has seen it correctly, as grief can often cloud the ruffled edges of judgment and understanding.   Then…something catches her eye – two angelic forms standing beside the place where dead-Jesus had been laid.  They speak to her.  “Woman, why are you crying?” they ask…as if the meaning of death and loss meant nothing.  But Mary swallows back tears and replies “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put Him.”    Uttering this very statement is like releasing the floodgates in a dam and her resolve breaks and so does her heart.

Suddenly, a shadow passes between her and the fire branded sunrise.  It is the silhouette of a man.  It MUST be the gardener coming to tend to the property before the hot sun engulfs and wilts the plants.  It must be someone who knows something about where Jesus has be taken.  Once again, the question is asked of her, this time by the man standing silhouetted in front of her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”  Again Mary sniffles and forces out a tired, bitter response amidst her flowing tears “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

She is at the end of her strength.
She is beyond heart-sick.
At the very least this can be done – recovering Jesus’ body.

Then, something remarkable happens – the dead speaks.
The man before her says one word that brings water to a desert.
This one word means more than the content of thousands of words meticulously strewn together in a book.
He speaks this one word and the storms of mourning cease.
He speaks this one word and shattered pieces of her heart become whole again.  mary
MARY.
In her weakest state she recognizes just who He is.
In her tear-blurred eyes and flood of grieving heart, she finds renewed strength in His presence.
She calls out to Him by His respected title – ““Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Mary is overwhelmed with joy.
She is filled with relief.
The sun, now in its fuller light shines upon the son of God in all of His resurrected glory.
He is alive!
_____________________________________________________________________________________
I keep coming back to this story because often we too keep going to back to the empty tombs in our lives.
We keep coming up with the wrong conclusions.
Doubt casts its shadow upon our faith and it weighs heavily on us.
Doubt blurs our resolve and shakes our foundations of belief.
We stoop down into that tomb time and time again and we forget that we do not serve a dead-savior, but a risen one.
We need to look up and see Him.
We need to recognize our teacher.
We need to find Him once more for ourselves.
He wipes away our tears and longs for us to cry out to Him.

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

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