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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The Salvation Army…A Holiness for Failures.

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Okay, I admit my title is a little inflammatory…hang with me, I’ll get to the point.  Here’s what I mean: The Salvation Army ministers to many who come from hard-living lifestyles.  Admittedly many souls who come to us for help are victims of these lifestyles.  How we minister to them begins with the old catch phrase/slogan “Soup, soap, salvation”.  We long to fill their stomachs, clean them up and get their lives back on track before we can minister to their hearts.  Perhaps it doesn’t have to be specifically in that chronological order either, our ministry opportunities could come simultaneously.  But the core of our ministry stems upon a demographic of those who are marginalized, poor and/or destitute…and the failures – there I said it.   

The “Failure” –
We live in a numbers oriented ministry driven world where, from an outside point of view only having 20 or 40 in a service on Sunday seems to indicate a dying church when compared to mega churches and large community churches that boast well over a 1,000 members.  I’m not knocking these churches, nor am I jealous and want to become them…but there are quite a few who join the ranks of the army who look at these churches and then look at our corps attendance on Sundays and feel as if we’ve failed and/or are dying.  It’s a failure of a different sort, a failure of perspective.  This failure of perspective comes when we buy into the lie that numbers in the pews are the only source or indicator of a ministry’s effectiveness.   Successful ministry begins and ends at personal relationships.  Do we spend quality time one on one with those with whom we minister with and to?  This is the true evidence of genuine discipleship.  Not that it can’t happen in other ministries where you can possibly get lost in the crowd, but can you hide in a corps that boasts 40 members?

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 Are we caring for the complete person?  Is there follow-up and attention to the real sources of crucial personal issues in their lives? The Salvation Army isn’t like other churches because it isn’t just a church, it’s a movement and a triage location to the lost, hurting, marginalized and the failures.  

Operating within a Holiness For Failures: 
Fellow spiritual freedom fighters we aren’t strictly in the business of merely facilitating “goods” to those in need.  We have a broader, greater mission to fulfill.  It may indeed begin with the services of goods in order to meet the physical needs, but it mustn’t end there!  That is only the beginning.   We must be willing able to help usher those we serve in our community into the very throne room of heaven in order for them to have the opportunity to meet and know Christ Jesus.  Providing “goods” and services gets us in the door but if we are a mission of holiness for failures (myself included) then we must do more than a box of food, a place to sleep and a warm meal…we must display and convey Jesus!  

Jesus came for the Failures and the Lost! 

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Jesus came for the whosoever, and those He picked to serve in His mission were not the best of the best.  They were tough men and women.  Many were from hard living lifestyles and many did not have the best of educations.  If Jesus had operated within modern day success oriented means He would have gone to the synagogues and recruited the most educated.  He would have filled the temples to the brim and He would have had an active prosperous ministry that would have afforded Himself many properties and riches…yet this wasn’t His mission.  He came to the rejects, the prostitutes, the outcasts, the uneducated, the lame and the sick, the dead and all we failures.  Not failures by occupational standards or in friendships (not all anyway) but by a salvation standard.  “For all have sinned (failed) and fallen short of the glory of God.”   (Romans 3:23)  He operated within a holiness for failures system.  This isn’t to mean that Holiness is or was a failure, but rather He went to the sinner, He lived among to poor, He cared for the outcasts and brought the power of redemption to those who would hear and seek.  Even selecting His disciples He showed evidence that He would use anyone who was willing to follow and willing to receive His holiness and success at the cost of even death.  

From point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ 

How are we bringing people from point ‘a’ (a life of sin and shame) to point ‘b’ (a life of salvation, redemption and holiness)?  What are we concerned with more?  Numerical success or the success of holistic ministry and spiritual life altering opportunities?  Are we looking over the fences at other ministries that do not embody what our movement is all about? We are many parts of the body of Christ and with that being said other ministries out there operate for different reasons.  Jesus brought hope to a world of failures, how are we emulating Him in our Corps and in our various ministries in our communities?  

Perhaps you’re hung up on the word “failure” today because of its negative connotations.  Jesus came you and for me because we needed Him!  Still today many are lost in their failures, blinded by habitual sins and shame…be a light to them not by your power but by His Holy Presence.  Help to usher His holiness to those who need Him most!  Perhaps we must stop looking over the fences, stop comparing ourselves and get back to work.  The upside – when we allow Christ to work within us as well as those we minister to He will turn us from Failures into His Holy Success stories.

 “Go for souls, and go for the worst!” 

-Just another thought to Ponder.

 

 

These scars are beautiful!

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When I was a young boy I received a bicycle for Christmas, it was blue.  I rode that bike all over the place.  I loved that bike.  There is something freeing about those moments as a young kid riding a bike around town and facing new adventures with that new found freedom.  That freedom took me to the scene of my accident…that sounds more dramatic than it really was.  I fell off of my bike and in the process I gashed my knee open.  The “accident” wasn’t very traumatic or memorable with the exception that there was a lot of blood localized around a cut on my knee.  Upon further review I probably should have had stitches but it was bandaged and wrapped and slowly it healed.  In the healing process it itched, occasionally it burned, but over time it formed into a white lined scar right across my right kneecap.  It is still there to this day, though smaller just as that young boy was so long ago.  

We all have scars.  

Some scars are there to remind us of how foolish or negligent we’ve been in our lives while others were inflicted on us by an outside source.  Regardless of how they were formed they have become part of our identities now.  

Some scars though,  have not marked us on our bodies but rather our hearts and our minds through hurtful experiences inflicted by others around us.  These scars too are long lasting, some we carry with us to this very day and they mark us and are a part of our current identity.  

What kinds of scars do you have?  I would be willing to guess most of us carry with us both types of scars.  We have known the pain of physical afflictions and accidents which have left their marks on us, and we have also known the psychological and harming pain of scars of words slung our way and even the pain of losing a family member to death.  These scars cut us deep and leave their impression on us…sometimes for life.  

Can you recognize the beauty in your scars?   

We have lived.  We have not come through this life (thus far) unscathed.  We have experiences to share with others.  Wisdom to convey.   We have knowledge that we wouldn’t have possessed before earning (or falling victim to) these scars.  

Could I ever relate to a parent in mourning at the loss of their child?  No absolutely not.  I can empathize.  I can weep with them, but I cannot completely understand the heart-wrenching pain involved in that scar.   Although I cannot relate, other parents who have lost children along the way can share their wisdom and understanding during such a time of heart-wrecked agony.  These scars carry with them beauty.  Not because life is lost but because hope can be conveyed.  

I don’t wish to imply any of these scars are lovely when inflicted on us.  They burn.  They hurt…sometimes severely.  Sometimes they maim and disfigure us either physically or emotionally…but there is beauty on the other side of our healing.  There is knowledge and understanding…there is opportunity to relate with others and to help in their healing.  

From our scars to His…

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“The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Caravaggio

Jesus held out His hands towards Thomas.  We call him “doubting Thomas”…I think we all can relate to him.  Jesus had died.  He had suffered horribly.  His agony had been witnessed, and there was no way to come back from that.  How could the other disciples say Jesus was now alive again?  How could they make Thomas’ soon to be scar in his heart hurt any more?  It was like salt on a fresh wound.  And so He doubted their accounts of a risen teacher.  He vehemently drew the line and was unwilling to cross it until (as if it would ever happen) He physically touched Jesus’ wounded body.  So the scars came to Thomas.  The wounded hands and feet of Jesus suddenly appeared to the disciples in a hide out along with the rest of their Savior.  He stood before them and Thomas had to place his hands into those nail scared hands and a spear pierced side…then He believed.  

Scars are beautiful…

I don’t mean to say that in a masochistic sort of way or idle fascination in pain and maiming, I mean that in relational love and experience.  Thomas placed his inexperienced hands in the nail scarred hands of the Savior and was forever changed.  Jesus knew what it was like to suffer.  Jesus knew what it was like to carry these scars with Him…and His beauty marked the hearts and left a sacred scar on His disciples.  

What was meant to be evil and  damaging in totality had become beautiful and life-giving.  What was meant to destroy and cruelly maim had become healing and salvation to all the world.  These scars are beautiful!  

Do you have scars like these that you can share with the world around you?  These are the scars of experience and understanding.  These are the sacred scars of healing and restoration.  These scars say “I understand and I can relate to what you are going through!”  God doesn’t bring these scars upon us, but He can bring something marvelous out of our trials and experiences.  The damaging things that this life and even Satan himself can throw at us God can turn into victories.  

The scars of a recovering alcoholic who has beaten the odds and stayed sober can lead other alcoholics to find Hope.  The scars of an abused woman who has turned her life around and escaped that wounding lifestyle of physical abuse can bring hope to another woman who is still stuck and imprisoned in that life of hell.  

Do you have scars?  
Can you bring hope?  
Do you have a story to share with one who needs to hear it?  
There is victory in the scars.  
There is hope in the nail scarred hands of a Savior who understands.  

These scars are beautiful!  

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My Life = Christ’s Broken Bread

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Think of it.  A life completely devoted to the cause of Christ.  Not a divided life, where half is devoted to Christ and half is devoted to self…but completely and utterly surrendered to the cause of Christ.  

For some, dare I say most,  being Christ’s broken bread sounds great on paper.  It even sounds romantic to some degree,  but truly living a broken life before God and man is an extremely daunting task indeed.  

Galatians 2:20 the Apostle Paul tells us; “I have been Crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and have himself for me.”  

There is a very disturbing image for us here.  The suffering and death of Christ for the world becomes the very image we too take on as we become Christ’s broken bread to the world around us.  It transforms us into what Christ said would happen to His disciples: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26) 

Our borrowed time, our pooled financial resources, our hobbies and precious treasures…they mean nothing if they are not subjected to the filter of Christ on the cross.  Everything will eventually pass away.  Everything will eventually disappear from us.  But one thing will remain: God’s love for us, His people.  

In return, our duty, our purpose for living ought to transform our thoughts, our passions, our perceptions of the stuff we own…all of it in the spectrum of grace and redemption.  

Why do we need to become Christ’s broken bread? 

Because there are countless souls in our world who need salvation!  There are many lives who are still lost in the darkness of sin and certain death!  Without willing servants of Christ giving their all in His services, they will perish!  Some might utter the excuses like “the Holy Spirit can save them”, and rightly so but Christ has sent US to be His ambassadors into this world.  The Holy Spirit is with us in this venture!  Without the willing hands and feet of Christ, who have been broken and humbles before His love and grace, the great commission cannot be fulfilled.  

We are called people.  Set apart for His holy purpose in this world wrought with sin!  People in our own neighborhoods are lost and in need of anyone who is willing to love them and show them this amazing Christ whom we serve!  There are countless souls caught up in addictions of all kinds who are in need of the extension of grace that Christ has given to us.  

Who will be Christ’s broken bread to them?  Will you?  Will I? This isn’t some part-time calling.  It’s full-time within our occupations and our passions!  We are called to be His broken bread to the world, and that starts with our family’s, neighbors, friends and even enemies.  It will not be easy!  There will be days in which we will utterly fail along the way.  Other days when we will be scorned and mocked.  Yet this humbled state of servants of Christ brings upon our lives such a richness of mercy, grace and love!  

-Just a thought.

“My life must be Christ’s broken bread,

My love his outpoured wine,

A cup o’erfilled, a table spread

beneath his name and sign,

that other souls, refreshed and fed,

may share his life through mine.

 (Albert Orsborn SASB 512)  

 

This Old House…Peeling back the paint

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Sometimes recalling certain memories can be like peeling the paint from an old weathered house.  You know the old house needs it, it’s crying for it and yet the whole facade will change.  Peeling back the paint will remove the years of character and sometimes charm, but underneath it all you know the walls need to breathe, to be set free, and sometimes the old paint holds moisture in, green and molding smelling ripe like mildew.  All unseen by the naked eye without the begrudging labor of the paint peeler.

Withholding our memories, holding them at arm’s length, quivering like a lost puppy who whimpers and shies away from everything including a loving hand, we fear what we will find underneath it all!   We fear that others will be horrified when the truth is revealed…memories are like prison bars and razor wire fences.  We’re a captivated audience of one, too afraid to move…to make a break for it.  Too afraid of our own shadows lurking within corners that we’ve created.  Memories that we avoid do not fade, but rather they deepen in their staining.  And we within our self-made prisons peer out at them from behind our bar windows, clutching fragments of sun light instead of basking in it.

This old house needs a new, fresh coat of glossy clean paint that sparkles in the sunlit day and gleams when the stars in the night sky comes a callin’…but first this old decrepit brown weathered tinged paint must be peeled back…we must reveal our hurts, our wounds, our heartaches, we can’t just paint over the old for the old with infect and deflect the new.

So with weapon of choice in hand we, knowing it to be the right thing to do, must embrace the mess, confess to the wrongs, embrace what it is now, relish the opportunity to begin again.  Peel back the pain that harbors itself beneath the paint.  Let it breathe free and when the sun has baked its cold moisture away…this old house can take on a new creation.

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Becoming Gollum

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“For where your treasure is, there your heart is also” Matthew 6:21

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy novels “Lord of the Rings” we meet a curious creature named Gollum.  He’s a vile creature and yet something to be pitied as the sorcerer Gandalf has said. Gollum is obsessed with The Ring.  He even calls it his “precious”.  Yet we catch just a short glimpse of what Gollum looked like before he turned into this vile, repugnant creature.  He too was a Hobbit from some shire, and he too had friends and family.  Then the ring captures his attention one day as he mistakenly discovers it and he kills one of his own to claim it for himself…Gollum is born.

He was never supposed to be this way.  He wasn’t created to live out his days in total and complete subjugation to this evil that is the ring, yet he is a slave to it, and a direct result of his slavery is this ugly transformation into a despised and tortured creature.

We’re all Gollum.  Every single one of us has been bound by sin and subjected to enslavement to our “precious”.  Since the fall of man, when Adam and Eve broke God’s heart in the garden of Eden, try as we might we couldn’t break our obsession with sin…and so sin transformed us.  We were at one time created in the very image of God, but because of sin that image is now marred within us…there is still some resemblance but it’s faded.

What is our ‘precious’…is it an obsession with stuff?  Could our ‘precious’ be relationships? How about money, or our jobs, or our kids…there are many, many things with which sin enslaves.  Whatever consumes most of our time, whatever we think about incessantly becomes our god.  What is your god?

Our Heavenly Father has, since the fall of man, attempted to bridge this void that is sin between us.  We have all fallen and so Christ became our bridge, through His sacrifice on the cross, between us and God.  Christ has taken ‘the ring’ from our possessions, died for us so that our resemblance to God could be restored.  What love to have taken our place!  He knew we couldn’t save ourselves and so He came to our level and took upon himself our enslavement…and it didn’t end there.  He was strong enough to conquer sin and death and open the doors of heaven for us.

We are all Gollum…but we don’t have to remain that way any longer!  We can be free!  If you have been set free by Christ, what’s stopping you from sharing this with others who are still captured in their enslavements?  This good news must be shared to help set the captives free!

We don’t’ have to be fallen and rejected any longer!  We can be transformed and renewed by the grace of God and the salvation of Jesus Christ.  Will you let go of your ‘precious’ and give Him a try?  If you do, you will find yourself set free indeed!

In His Returning (The Prodigal)

 

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If I am lost…

If these hands

no longer

Grasp you

If these feet,

Feeble and calloused

Refuse to inch forward

Static… and alone

If this body,

Aching and groaning

Heart ache

Life ebbing away

Flowing out more

Than flowing in

If this is who

I am now…

If I am found

If I am empty

Then I am powerless

I am a broken

Vessel

Used up

Dropped and shattered

 

If I am lost…

Who can save?

Who can save…me?

Because if I am lost

If I am indeed static

Like an empty radio signal

If this is me…

Who will rescue this…

This mess

Who would even dare

To care?

Everything flows out of me

Except for this empty

Am I my own worst

Enemy?  

Is there any hope left…

For me? 

 

Just when I pray

For the end…

The end of this

The end of all things

Within this broken

Shattered heart

Within the shell

Of an empty man

Something happens

It’s not desperation

nor spiritual exsanguination

 this mind has not

left for vacation

but something happens

from the outside

flowing life back into me

something I can’t explain

Fear replaces hopelessness

It ignites my fingertips

Ignites and increases my shallow breathing

Fear gives way to something

Long lost to me…

A warmth, blanket thick

Envelops me

I am assured

With arms around me

That I am safe

I am home

Was I lost?  Was I truly found?

Then I hear his words

In my ear

A feast for me

For me?  I don’t deserve anything but blame and guilt…for me?  My savior

My hope…turns and says to others near

This is my son…he was lost but now he’s found

My life, my love, my joy is returned to me

Come let us help him see

Let us celebrate in his

Returning. 

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