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.

Let me down.

Let me down
let my ashes
drift home
tried to love
you
the sun set
too soon.

bones too brittle
smile worn thin
it all comes down
all
broken in.

sun sets
darkness falls
eyelids flutter
broken walls
once so strong
built for years
turned on me
realized fears.

Let me down
let my ashes
drift home
been gone
too long
bones too brittle
hands too weak
heart grows
cold…
let me down.

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.

Dear Salvation Army: Emergency Disaster Services – Touching Lives, Not Networks.

I have been watching and praying for my fellow Officers and Soldiers who have served and are currently serving on Emergency Disaster Services teams in Texas and Florida.
Some of the devastation is heartbreaking as many families have lost everything.  Many organizations have been on site since day 1…including The Salvation Army.   EDS2

Confession:
I have to confess something, I would often get upset when other relief organizations would get all of the press time on television networks.  I would grow weary of the lack of reporting of all of the good things my fellow Soldiers, Officers and volunteers of The Salvation Army were doing on the ground. It seemed that there were many media hogs seizing every minute of television and radio time but as soon as the cameras were gone…so were they.  On behalf of the movement I faithfully serve, I felt gypped.

I expressed this salty opinion to one of my corps members, I was in a cantankerous mood. This corps member is a far wiser person than I will ever be.  He had perspective and with calm, sage advice said, “You know, it has never been about how much press time we get…we aren’t there for the applause or public acclaim, we’re there to serve the hurting as best as we can as we rely on the Lord to guide us.”  With one fell swoop, he cut me off at the knees – which was a good thing.  He brought a great sense of perspective to my heart.  There I was, getting so upset in the halls of public opinion while completely forgetting the primary purpose for our ‘Army’ existing in those places of disaster – to faithfully serve others with the love and grace of the Lord – regardless if it was seem through the lenses of some camera.   prayer

I was reminded of a passage of scripture, and I don’t use this to get preachy or to sound judgmental, but rather to put some sobering perspective back into my heart and perhaps others who might be struggling with this as well:  “….Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.”  (Matthew 6:1,2)

-If we serve because we want to be seen, we have gotten it all wrong…
-If we serve because it brings fame to any organization, we have gotten it all wrong…
-If we serve because it makes us look good, we have gotten it all wrong…
…and we will have already received our reward, if so then God help us!

Instead, may our service, especially those unseen by the world around us, bring glory to God!  It should never be about our air time or the many external fund raisers on our behalf – The Lord will provide – be faithful in this!  Our consistency in serving Him is paramount to all of these things.  We are called to offer compassion, care, love, hope…with all of those things, who has time to worry about anything else?

Pray!!
Please pray for the many hands and feet of God currently serving in Texas and in Florida!  Continue to pray for this hurricane season…and the upcoming storms.  Don’t forget the Emergency Disaster Service personnel in the Western Territory either!  Prayer is not a last resort, but a means to continue to bring the needs of many before the Lord continuously!

Something more to Ponder…To God be the glory!!

Devotional: A Love That Never Fails

Have you ever heard the old phrase: ‘Nothing lasts forever‘.
It’s usually said to bring comfort to those who have lost a loved ones, a relationship, a treasured item like a cell phone or car…but I know at least one instance in which this phrase is flat out wrong.

God’s love is not temporal and does not have an expiration date on it.
He wants to lavish us with His provisions and love and the only thing that stands in the way of that at times is…us, and our old sinful nature.  Sin has a way of convincing us that the temporal, fleeting things are most important, and yet they pass away, they expire and are no more.  Yet, there God stands from everlasting to everlasting with something far beyond sometime finite – because He is infinite as is His love for you and for me.

Psalm 136:1,2 says:  “Praise the Lord! He is good.  God’s love never fails…”
So why do we put our trust in the things that are fading and passing away instead in putting them in the Eternal, Infinite love of God?  It seems like such a wasted investment, doesn’t it?  I don’t know about you, but I do not want to come to the end of my life and realize that I have squandered by time, talent and treasures on things that didn’t last.  Instead, I want to deeply invest in the Eternal and never ending love of God.  How about you?

Prayer:  Dear Lord, help me to know you more fully.  Help me to see your beauty in the world around me and to know that you love and desire my love in return.  Thank you for the many blessings that you have given to me today.  Help me to not take these blessings for granted.  Help me to love others as you have loved me.  Be with me today.  In your name I pray all of these things.  -Amen.

 

Day 55 -Encouragement Required…

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

I was reminded by a Pastor friend of mine recently that I could be a source of encouragement to others.  His response caught me off guard because I had been complaining and feeling discouraged myself.  At that moment when I had felt defeated, he spoke words to me that was not only what I needed to hear, but it also took me out of the funk that I was feeling within my little pity-party.  This Pastor friend told me to look around and find people who needed encouragement, and to be that encouragement I was looking for in others towards them.  It got me thinking, how much different the world would be if we all were looking out for each other and going out of our way to encourage.

youWe might not know what THAT person is facing or going through, but just by being an encourager can make all of the difference!  A few kind words might be all that is needed.  Perhaps praying with them or for them will be your way of encouraging them.  Whatever it might be, do it…step out there and go out of your way to reassure someone that God loves them and you do too.  A little bit of love goes a long way.

Homework assignment today:  Look up.  Look out, and go to someone you may or may not know and encourage them in some way, shape or form.

Prayer:  Lord grant me your eyes to see the needs of those around me today and this weekend.  Help me to share your love with those I come in contact with.  Thank you for encouraging me, now help me to encourage others.  In your name I pray these things.
-Amen.

Dear Salvationist – 5 Ways To Kill A Corps

I am certainly not advocating trying these out today in your corps, actually I’m pleading for all of us to do the opposite.  Our various ministries can, and should be paramount to our faith and to those we serve.   How we lead others, how we conduct ourselves in our corps makes a difference!

With that being said, dear Soldier, here are 5 ways to kill a Corps!

5.  Gossip lie
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. (James 1:26)
The Fastest way to burn your corps down to the ground is to strike the match of the malicious tongue that wags and pierces hearts.  Be aware of what you say and how you say things.  No one likes  to be around people who are asinine in their speech and malicious in their actions and opinions of others.  Gossip has no place in the corps, unless you long for it to die a slow and agonizing death.

We know that gossip shouldn’t be, but why do we tolerate it and even entertain it in our halls?  Dear Salvationist, have nothing to do with idle chatter and people who only want to slander and smear the truth.  (2 Timothy 2:23).

4.  Favoritism 
favorMy brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.  For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” (James 2:1-6 NASB)

It even happens in Corps buildings.
It might not necessarily be about rich and poor, but perhaps personalities and someone’s available gifts.  An Officer can favor only a specific few corps members and by doing so, unknowingly cause dissension, envy and strife.  The same can be said for local officers who choose corps members to help them in their daily duties.  Be fair to all who come into your halls!  Show love and compassion and be aware that favoritism can happen even if we’re not cognizant of it.  Favoritism is a true, perhaps unseen danger in our corps, and if left unchecked will cause jealousy, anger and disharmony to occur which can lead to a terminal corps.

3.  Lording Power power
“Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder andwitness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will ofGod; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1-3)

This Salvation Army was founded upon a militant structure and sometimes we can get carried away with ourselves in places of leadership and authority.  Many of us have heard story after story where, one who was entrusted with power and authority, has used it in very unbiblical ways to hurt others.  I would hope that this is not the norm, but rather isolated incidents of worldly ambitions becoming visible to all.

power1Dear Soldier, be keenly aware of the pending dangers of authority and power.  If you are or ever become entrusted with any kind of power – use it wisely and with every amount of Holiness that you can muster!  What you say, how you lead, what you do – makes the world a difference!  Although we have a militant structure, keep in mind who is the head of our army – it certainly isn’t me or you, or even the General – It is the King of kings and Lord of lords!!  Be good leaders!  Be kind leaders.  Be wise leaders.  Set a godly standard by exercising grace, love and hope.

2.  Find Fault In Everything and Everyone!
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” (Romans 14:1-2)
fault-findingI have met some deeply cynical people in my day.  Many were housed within the corps…these individuals could never be pleased no matter how hard one might try.  No matter what took place, these individuals always saw the negative and very rarely the positive.  After time, no one wanted anything to do with them, because bitterness tends to bleed into the very fabric of our corps buildings if we let it.  thumbs

This blazing fire that could consume your corps, is like that of gossip.  It can invade and taint everything it touches.  People become disillusioned by it because no matter how hard you try fault and imperfections are always seem instead.

Examples (just to name a few):
“Well Captain, the service is just too dry for my tastes…”
“That worship band plays too loudly and I hate that sort of music…”
“We’ve never done it that way before, and we’re not about to try!”
“That man in the back has been coming to our corps for three weeks and he smells…”
“I might stop coming to the corps because _______(name here)___ is still there and they are horrible people!”

Sometimes, these nay-sayers use the old phrase “This and better will do” to justify their salty – never satisfied – fault finding attitudes that they have.  The problem isn’t everyone else, the problem stems from these individuals who can find nothing good to say…ever!  Don’t the the corps burn to ground because of fault-finders and judgmental people!

1. Abdicate All Leadership and Responsibilities  
batton

Let someone else do it!
I don’t have the time to come to corps programs and activities…”
Corps Officer – “So, who will lead adult Sunday School for the next three months?” (silence fills the space…no one volunteers even though there are many capable individuals in the room)
This Army isn’t fully functional until ALL capable members of our corps are engaged and serving!  Officers – you cannot abdicate your calling and role in the corps!  Soldiers, you cannot let or conceive that all things done in the corps is the sole responsibility of the officer!

If we want our corps to die – then never step up.
If we want to preach to empty pews during holiness meetings – then never lead.
We can die by not taking responsibility.  We can allow stagnation to set in and wilt away as one generation dies and there is no one left to take their place.

If you suffer from self-esteem issues or you question if you’re good enough to lead – you can do it!  You just need one person to believe in you.  We all make mistakes, it comes with the territory of leadership.  Being responsible means we own up to our victories and our failures…and then we keep going and we don’t quit simply because the going got tough.  We need more soldiers and officers with backbones – there I’ve said it.  It’s not a slam again those who are faithfully serving (Thank you for what you do both behind the scene and in front of everyone!)…we cannot afford to abdicate our authority and leadership IF this is where God has called us to!  Be faithful in the good times AND in the not so good times!   This Army needs you!  It needs good leaders!  It needs consistent, prayer driven leaders.

Wrapping it up.
So this is my top 5, it’s a primer…what’s yours?
Share with us your top 5 things that will kill any corps from your experiences!
Together, we can avoid these pitfalls!

Something more for the Army world to ponder today!
Photo Mar 11, 9 09 43 AM
*Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent The Salvation Army’s thoughts and opinions, reader discretion is advised*

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!

Connecting The Dots At School – (A Pondering on our Youth)

I went to High School today…I mean I visited one, not attending one…I did attend several years ago.
We were handing out backpacks the school social workers and counselors for youth in need.
The “teenage” years are so pivotal and sometimes uncomfortable especially if you are poor and/or your parents live in constant poverty situations.  Times are hard and teens don’t need that added pressure while at school if their families can’t afford the basic needs such as backpacks, pens and pencils and other school supplies.

It was a lot more this:
high school
Than it was this:
HSM

backpacksWe dropped the backpacks off at various schools today, with the knowledge that there are nine additional high schools to connect with before we are done.  I looked down the hallways of those high schools and I saw a ghost of myself;  scrawny, projecting a macho attitude, and yet scared…I was still naive and unsure of the world around me at that age.  I couldn’t imagine having to go without something  (like a backpack and school supplies) while enduring zits, ridicule from peers, mounting pressure to grow up way too fast, and dealing with constant assignment due dates in various classes.

Walking those overly waxed hallways made me realize how much we need to pray for our young people.  They need our support in prayer and in encouragement.  Sometimes they may act like complete grumpy bears but deep down they are searching for significance in life and we can help shape them if we just take the time to care and understand them.

Can we help connect the dots?
Can we provide a listening ear?
A Shoulder to cry on?
Can we be a friend?
Can we be role models?

This school season, let’s support our youth as best we can, after all, they are our future leaders!
Something more to ponder today!
-God Bless!

“Pressing on or Drop it like it’s hot”

We are adding a new addition to Pastorsponderings, podcasts!
Today, we’re going to add our first podcast offering – “Pressing on or drop it like it’s hot”.

Click on the link below to listen to today’s podcast –
http://scottstrissel.podomatic.com/entry/2015-04-22T09_49_30-07_00

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Phillippians 3:7-14

Questions to consider: 
Do we do that in our service to others?
Do we do that in our service to God?
Do we go through the motions, but inside it’s just real work without passion?
Do we sometimes struggle with this commission God has given to us?

Prayer:
Dear Lord, help me to serve you with everything that I’ve got!
I don’t want to grudgingly serve you.
I don’t want to throw my services on the floor because I have to.
I want to serve you because I love you.
I want to serve others because of your love!
Teach me.
Fill me.
Renew me.
Give me your eyes for those around me.
Help me see where your love abounds and where I must go to share that love with others today.
In your name I pray.
-Amen.

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