Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Ministry as Moses leading the Israrelites through the Wilderness

Audio Message: 

You’re in the woods, in the depths of night. You’re searching for something. Your life has been an aimless journey of twists and turns that seemed to be leading nowhere. You’ve done evil, you’ve struggled... You’ve never known what you’re supposed to do with your life.

The stars are shining down… and darkness surrounds, and as you turn in the cold night, you hear coyotes howling. Something within leads you up along an ancient path up a steep slope, and around the corner you see something burning. A fire is roaring, and it doesn’t go out, it seems to beckon you forward. You feel something present in this place: It’s God. And you fall to your knees in revelation of His glory.

Just like God called Moses to the burning bush, and toward his great calling for his life, each of us have been called out of the dead end ways of the world. God has given our lives purpose, when we used to be aimless wanderers.

God said to Moses from the consuming fire, “The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Moses’ response is probably similar to ours: “Who am I to go?”

That is a question we often ask ourselves. I’m nobody special, how can I go? But God is calling us. There are people out there counting on you to fulfill your calling. We must go! Or someone else may steal our blessing. This calling is ours. As William Booth said:

“Who is to go? You! You who read this; who else is there to go?... You are saved. You say your sins are forgiven, and that you belong to the family of God. You say the promises apply to you; why not the commands? Have one and shirk the other? Never, never, never! They are united. Do not say you are a child and not a servant. You must go yourself. This is a personal call which comes down through the centuries to you! You cannot evade it and remain true to yourself and your God.”

So we must go, no matter how high the cost. I’m not speaking this to scare you, but it’s true that many people leave the work in the Salvation Army. Difficulties will come in officership. Hold fast to your mission. And what is our mission? We do many things in the Salvation Army, but there is one primary mission.

Your primary mission is not giving out food. Your primary mission is not social services. Your primary mission is not budgets and finances. Your primary mission is not political social justice action. Your mission is to make the winning of souls the first purpose of your life. It’s easy to get caught up, in good things, that we ought to do, but lose touch with the most important thing: The gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hold fast to your calling. Don’t ever give up. Even when you’ve worked to exhaustion. Even when you’re sick, bed ridden, burnt out and overwhelmed. Even when your DHQ treats you poorly. Even if your wife or husband leaves you. Even when no one seems to care.

Hold on, for the good times… When someone new joins the church and gets saved. When a baby is born and you get to do the dedication. When you lead an elderly woman from this life and into the next. When you stop what you’re doing for a moment, at the corps, and you smile to yourself and realize, I absolutely love what I do here.

God will deliver people through your ministry, from bondage in Egypt, to freedom in the promised land. God brings people out of bondage to sin, entirely of Himself, just as the Israelites crossed over dry ground. God himself parts the waters, through Moses’ lifting his staff. And when you lift up your voice, and speak the gospel, souls will be saved by Christ.

But the journey doesn’t end there. After the Israelites crossed over the dry land, they began their journey to the promised land. In the same way, as we lead corps in the future, we will be like Moses, journeying with the Israelites in the wilderness.

We don’t believe in “once saved always saved” in the Salvation Army. We don’t just cross on dry ground and then stand there at the other side. This Christian life, is a lifelong journey of obedient faith in Christ. As the 9th doctrine says “We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.”

So we will walk with our people, our corps families as we journey together through the wilderness, and toward the promised land. We’ll be there to help our people overcome sorrows, challenge them to defeat sin in their lives in the Spirit, we’ll be there to guide our people toward acts of service, and missional lifestyle. We’ll be there, to face the strongholds of Jericho, the dry deserts of affliction, the idolatry of golden calves, and the bitter waters of dark nights of the soul, alongside our people.

So I hope your excited for this journey. Right now we’re all being prepared for this bright future. And I want to tell you something: You will do great things in Christ. God did not make a mistake when he chose you. You may feel weak, you may feel empty, you may feel overwhelmed, but let me tell you a secret: So did Moses. So did Gideon. So did Peter. So did Paul. And so did Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. But if we cling to Christ, we have nothing to fear.

As Jesus said to his disciples on that fateful night: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” –John 15:5-6

Jesus Christ loves you. So remain in his love. If we depart the faith and walk off into sin, we will inherit an eternity of darkness. So be diligent in this faith walk, and you will persevere. Jesus doesn’t just call us servants; he calls us friends. He helps us to obey his commands and remain in his love.

In conclusion, two applications from the scriptures of Exodus 3 and John 15. First of all, while you’re here on campus: Build your prayer and personal study life. Everyday. Not just a quick prayer, or 10 minutes a day. But spend real time with God. Moses spent real time with God. He climbed mount Sinai, searching tirelessly for the Creator.

Full disclosure: If we neglect the life of prayer, we’ll be useless as officers. There will be no power in us.

Secondly, get real about sin in your life. Fight those battles now, today. Once you’re in the field, it will be harder. While you’re here, put to death the sins that are in your flesh. And come to love the doctrine of Wesleyan holiness. Dare to believe that Christ will fully deliver you from every sin you struggle with.

Jesus says, “You did not choose me, I chose you.” Jesus called us into the Salvation Army. And he has appointed us to go, and bear good fruit, by saving souls and making disciples. So seek God in the dry mountains of pain and darkness, and the consuming fire of God’s presence will find you. Remain in the love of Christ on this journey, through unconditional obedience, as we lead our people home to paradise. If you do these things, you will be a truly great officer of the Salvation Army.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

How God Communicates through Dreams

"For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword." -Job 33:14-18 ESV 

God has spoken to many through dreams, while they were asleep. Some examples include Abimelech, Daniel, Solomon, and Joseph among others. And we can even dare to believe that in these times God will speak to us through dreams (Acts 2:17). 

I remember I had this dream, and I can't stop thinking about it. I was sitting in a chair in this giant church. And all the seats were filled, and I was surrounded by children, and there were other adults, but lots of children. And we were all waiting for Jesus to enter. I knew he was coming soon. And there were no sides to this church, to the left and right it extended beyond my view. The anticipation was amazing. And then I looked up. I saw the most beautiful star filled sky. And I knew the stars were a reflection of what was around me, all the people. I realized that the body of Christ, the billions of people part of the church, were all a massive fulfillment of the promise God gave to Abraham when he said,"Count the stars if you can." And "I will make you a blessing to all nations." It was all connected. Then I woke up. One of the most beautiful dreams I've ever had...

I often have these intoxicating dreams where I'm running joyfully along beautiful golden trails, through the woods, along gorgeous sunny mountain paths.  I see lakes, and rivers, and fluffy golden fields, and patches of trees, and deep luminous forests.  Often I'm jogging along filled with the most inexpressible joy.  And other times it's night time, but I'm not afraid, in fact I'm enchanted by the wonders of the night.  I climb through dense forests, swinging from branch to branch, I climb from house to house, and walk into houses, exploring their rooms and then I walk back into the night.  

I used to do something I called "night walking" in the past.  I'd walk for hours, usually between 11pm and 6 am, walking across the city, through the woods, thinking, listening to music, exploring scenarios in my mind.  It was amazing.  To understand how God communes with us in dreams, is to understand something very special about how God communicates with us.

God meets us where we are.  That's something quite clear about how God communes in our dreams.  God meets me on those journeys through the woods. He speaks to me in ways I can understand.  

Yet God transforms how I see the world.  And God interrupts my own ideas, delusions, and confusions about life, and leads me to the ask the right questions.  Often times we get off course.  Often God will simply come to us and guide us back into the right direction.

It's important to remember in all this that God will never contradict His word.  The word of God is how we know God, understand God, and the primary way we hear from God.  In Christ, we have all things.  God shares Christ with us through His own word, and other ways he speaks to us, like dreams, should be considered secondary, and beneath the scriptures in authority. 

So, if you want to interact with God in this way, then I'd encourage you to pray and ask God to speak to you through dreams and visions. It doesn't necessarily mean that God will do this, but it is good to ask.  Ask, and we open ourselves to receive from God.

Now, perhaps God simply delights to commune with certain people in this way, like Joseph, Daniel, Job, and so on.  And perhaps he does not often commune this way with most, I don't know for certain.  But what I can tell you is, spiritual dreams over my years have not been exceedingly often.  I have many of the normal, bizarre, inexplicable dreams that we all have.  But occasionally, maybe every few months or so, I'll have a dream and I wake up knowing that it was a dream from God. 

Let's look at some various kinds of dreams, and what they can mean:

A Reflection of the Present - People also calls these "stress dreams" but I think there's quite a bit more to it than that.  It's a dream that reflects our thoughts, emotions, and our current position in life.

Things of the Past - I dream regularly of three places from my very early life... from about ages 5-10.  I dream of my grandma's house, my aunt's house, and my parents house.  Many, many dreams will bring up things from our past, and reflect them back to us. I'm not sure why, honestly.  Perhaps nostalgia, or a sincere love for those times that draws us back there.  I had a great childhood. 

Expression of your larger journey - I've noticed at times I will have dreams that reflect my larger journey through life.  I see myself on forest trails (I grew up in the woods) and I see myself walking along roads in the wilderness, or walking along water, and often these dreams are reflecting aspects of my life's progression.

Expression of Faith - A dream that expresses faith will often take place in ornate church buildings.  These dreams tend to express our spiritual explorations. 

Nightmare - Can nightmares come from God?  Hard to say.  They are certainly disturbing though. 

Night terror - A night terror is when you can't be woken up. Often it means that you'll be screaming, while your asleep.  And people can't wake you, like family and friends.  This is a scary experience for the family, but for the dreamer, they won't remember what they were dreaming. 

Demonic dreams - It's important to discern between a nightmare and a spiritually influenced dream.  I can tell the difference between a simple nightmare and a demonic dream from discerning the emotion of the dream.  If I'm seeing decidedly dark imagery that feels excessive, and it feels "evil" then I know I'm in a demonic dream.  The best thing to do is realize that your dreaming, and drop to your knees in the dream, close your eyes, and start praying, using the name of Jesus, to wake up. 

If that sounds spooky to you, I don't care. I've had dreams like this many, many times, and I've always found refuge in Christ during those times.  

Premonition (God given prophecy) - God will give you this sort of dream if He chooses to. We can ask for these gifts from God, but ultimately it is up to Him.  God delights in us, and we ought to delight in Him as well. I've experienced this phenomenon in my life, before and after becoming a Christian.  It's always a powerful experience.  Usually it's quite easy to tell that it was a special dream.  But one way to discern it further, is to pray, and to talk about it with a fellow Christian.  If they have the gift of discernment, they'll be able to tell you about it, or give you an interpretation.  

Quickly, here are four things you should do to grow in this area of communications with God in the realm of dreams...

Write down your dreams - That is very important.  You'll want to write them down, and then reflect on them.  Usually right when you wake up, you'll want to write it down, so keep a notebook or journal by your bed, and simply write down your dreams. Pray as you write, and ask the Lord for clarity about the dream's meaning.

Learn to distinguish symbolism - Let's take an example from my dreams... I dreamt I was walking down a dark road, and I came to a bridge that was broken down. I knew I had to get across. But the water was deep, and there were broken power lines dipping into the water.  What are the symbols to distinguish?  

The road could represent the progression of my life.  The water could represent a perceived danger. The fallen bridge could symbolize what had seemed to be a clear path, now being more treacherous after a serious problem.  Unfortunately much of dream interpretation is guess work.  But when uncertain, request help from God.  

Breaching into the real world - Something rather interesting will happen as you examine your dreams more and more.  First of all, you'll begin to remember more of your dreams.  Second, you'll begin to see dream imagery in the real world.  You'll see something, and realize you've seen it prior in a dream.  Most experience this as deja' vu.  

Meditate on your dreams - I often think about my dreams.  They're often beautiful, mysterious, and emotionally mysterious.  I enjoy reflecting on them, and trying to understand them.  Often I will go for walks and simply think about things I've dreamed about.  The more you reflect on your dreams, the more you'll understand them. 

In conclusion, dreams are just another part of the beautiful universe God has created. Enjoy them, and explore them. And maybe someday soon you'll experience the power and glory of prophetic dreams.  God is good. Amen. 

Related Posts:

  1. Wisdom from Above: Living in Light of the Victory of Jesus Christ
  2. The Mindset of Christ: Teach Me How to Live, Lord
  3. A Rational Inquiry of the Bible: Is it reliable? Is it the word of God?
  4. You Oh Lord are my Strength: The Manifold Provision of God
  5. Love Others: The Second Great Command
  6. What is the Gospel?
  7. Does man need God in Western Civilization: Young People are Hungry for the Truth
  8. Real Christianity: Clothing, Buildings, Money, & Extravagance
  9. The Stairway to Heaven
  10. Salvation of the Soul: Is it Conditionally Secure or Eternally Secure?

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Mighty Faith Community: Committing Subversive Acts of Love and Holiness

Audio Message:

The story is told of a religious man who was shipwrecked on a deserted island. He found ways to survive, for seven years, and finally he was rescued by a ship passing by. When the ship crew came upon his encampment they saw his shelter. But they were surprised to see another building, and then another building next to that one. So two additional buildings. And the captain asked the man, “What is this building here?” And the man replied, “That’s my church. Where I worship God.” The Captain smiled and said, “What about the second building?” And the man replied, “Oh that’s the church I used to go to.”

Many today church shop, for the church that is the most engaging, that has the best preacher, the best music, or the best morning coffee? It’s funny to think that even on a deserted island a man might switch churches. But it’s endemic of our culture. We go most places to be served, to receive care and service. And sometimes we bring that attitude of entitlement, and I want what I want to church, instead of thinking of church as a place where I serve.

Church membership… what does that bring to mind for you? I think of a dusty church building, with an old binder, that hasn’t been looked at in years, full of a list of names who no longer go to the church.

Church membership, as a knee jerk reaction makes me think of something passe’, something I don’t care about, something institutional, denominational, something that is part of a bygone era. And if I’m seeing “church membership” in this way, then I’m not seeing it correctly.

Let me tell you who you really are: you are part of a holy insurgency, a great Jesus movement that began 2,000 years ago at the resurrection of Christ. And we as that body of Christ, this army on Earth, have been fighting, tooth and nail, day and night, to pull souls from the depths of hell and darkness, ever since Christ left us with His Holy Spirit and returned to heaven. You are part of a legacy of victory over death that spans human history. You are a holy resistance movement against the kingdoms of darkness of this world.

You’re currently under orders from Christ our commander, to commit subversive acts of love and holiness that shock people out of their apathy, toward realization of ultimate reality. You are bursts of light and color in a shadowed world of bland grays, cubicles, contracts, bills, and dull monotonous consumerism.

You bring a clear, meaningful message to a confused world: God does exist. Sin is a disease on humanity. And Jesus Christ is the cure. Heaven is real, hell is real. And everything hangs in the balance, today.

Catherine Booth said, “To better the future, we must disturb the present.”

Be a disturbance to your friends, neighbors, and people you see at gas stations, department stores, and grocery markets. Disturb their misery with just a few words: I’m praying for you. Jesus loves you. Can I give you a Bible? Or even, “Let’s pray right now.” Make the other people in line wait a little longer.

You’ve been chosen by God for this task. You’ve been chosen by the creator of space, time, the universe, and humanity to be part of his own personal family. This is a great gift. But also a great responsibility: People out there are counting on you to fulfill the calling God has placed on you. And we’re all called to serve.

Each of us… chosen by God. That’s crazy to me. Because I never get chosen for anything. I’ve never won a prize drawing in my life. I was never cool in high school; I’m still not cool today. But I’m chosen by God. He chooses outcasts, the most unlikely people. And let me add this: He has chosen you for just such a time as this.

Christianity was once the predominant view of what life really is on this Earth. But we’ve seen in the past 100 years, a decline in the influence of Christianity in public life. Today, sometimes we treat it as if it’s a nice thing, a nice social activity that isn’t really true though. Or maybe we believe in God but practically we live like an atheist. To me, there’s far too much at stake to live as if there is no God.

As C.S. Lewis said: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

Once I got saved, I saw what was happening to my own generation. So many young people are estranged from the church, lost in sin, cut off from the God that loves them. I get on the L train, and I sit down, and I watch people. I’m an introvert I like to watch people, what they do. And my heart aches as I look at their faces. They need Jesus. And if only someone just a little braver than me was there to speak up and say something, do something. But it’s just me. But sometimes, every once in a while, I do say something. Hope.

Honestly, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” I’ve lived that. You go to school, work the job, play videogames, drink on weekends, watch football, go to concerts, go to the dentist, visit grandma, and… they just don’t know about Jesus. There is a massive stream of people, millions and millions out there who are oblivious to the reality of Christ.

Jesus is coming back, and he is making all things new. So there is a great urgency to our church mission. And you and I are chosen by God, to be part of the body of Christ, what we call, the church. We are church members.

So, I will cherish church membership as a gift. It is a gift. It’s a sacred gift, better than any gift I’ve ever received in my life, or will receive. Better than millions of dollars, better than the perfect house and the white picket fence, better than true love, marriage and children, better than retirement, better than anything, is my love relationship with the eternal God.

That said, I have to ask the question: Is something out of order in your life? My membership in the body of Christ is ultimate, #1. Do we treat it like that? Or do we show up once a month, or less? Do we treat our faith relationship with God as some sort of caboose, an end attachment that doesn’t really matter?

Are you cherishing something above God? Anything above God is an idol. And anything we put above God we will lose. Do you love your wife or husband or children more than God? Do you love your car, your house, and your big bank account more than God? Here’s a good one, do you love your own selfish pleasures and desires more than God?

We have so much in our society: All the science, all the technology, the free market system, the internet, insurance policies, and every luxury… it’s a house of cards. The only reason we have any of these blessings is because God gave us those things.

The entire world is held together by the one God-man, Jesus. The Jesus who went to the cross. So I want to transition to Jesus. Because everything in the Bible, in the world, and in our lives as church members is ultimately about Jesus.

And if you’ve never heard the gospel, or maybe you’ve forgotten it, the gospel is this: Jesus Christ, lived perfection, as God with us, on a secret mission, to free us from the shackles of sin. Jesus was nailed to a cross, and slaughtered as a substitution for you and me. They call this the great exchange. Every sin I committed, every time I lied, stole something, hurt someone, got drunk, used a girl, manipulated someone.. all of that was put upon Jesus, on the cross. Jesus said, put your sins on me, I’ll take the punishment you deserve. And in exchange, Christ gives us his righteousness, his life, is put inside us… and we are reborn. And just as Jesus Christ came to life, after 3 days of death, so we also, though we die one day, we will be raised just as Christ himself was raised.

Through the long sleepless night of his suffering, and the long morning of his death, Jesus carried our death and sorrow, and pain, away from us, and onto himself.

I’ll direct your attention to John 17:13-23, when Jesus spoke with his disciples at the last supper. And after they had fellowship together, Jesus prayed. Jesus prayed to the Father saying: John 17:13-23 (MSG)

“Now I’m returning to you. I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing, So my people can experience My joy completed in them. I gave them your word; The godless world hated them because of it, Because they didn’t join the world’s ways, Just as I didn’t join the world’s ways. I’m not asking that you take them out of the world But that you guard them from the Evil One. They are no more defined by the world Than I am defined by the world. Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth; Your word is consecrating truth. In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world. I’m consecrating myself for their sake. So they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.”

Several of those words stand out to me. We are not defined by the world. We are consecrated “set apart” separate from the world. We are made holy by his word. And we have a mission, in which to live differently. Defined By God, not the world. Consecrated, how, by the word, biblical truth. Holy, set apart from the world for… Mission, our mission in the world, as the church, to move people toward Christ.

I like how the Message translates Jesus’ words as my people are “truth-consecrated” in their mission. Which is why we consider so carefully the reality of church membership, as an expression of ultimate reality. To be “truth-consecrated” I think means for us, to see our eternal future and to see the infinite value of what we do for God.

Because of this consecration the glory of Christ reflects off us, and is a stark evidence to the gray world out there, that there is a God over creation. Thus the lost are invited to partake through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, into a unified fellowship, as we ascend on the road to heaven. God’s future kingdom is coming; indeed, it is coming very soon.

Let’s look at three ways we can put this into practice:

1. Live missionally on a personal level – Be a self-driven evangelist, on an individual level. Just you and God, taking action throughout the week: Pray for your friends. Talk to your friends about Jesus. Invite your neighbors to become part of the church family. Post about Jesus on social media. Hand out Bibles at a homeless shelter. Go for a weekly prayer walk. Make a personal plan.

2. Serve on a church level – Serve in this corps. Help out with one of the programs. Get to know someone here that is different than you are. Start an evangelism group, and go door to door around this neighborhood. Tithe regularly, tithing isn’t a suggestion, it’s a command of God.

3. Become an adherent or a soldier- Is God calling you to step up and become a soldier of the Salvation Army? If you aren’t ready to be a full on soldier, you could become an adherent. And maybe, just maybe, God is calling you to become an officer. If God is tapping you on the shoulder right now, start praying about it.

In conclusion, our church membership is a gift from God. So please do cherish it as a gift. Because it’s not a binder in a church basement, it’s your life, your future, and your only check against the ways of the world, that are ever present, trying to dissuade you from following Jesus. Thankfully we are not alone. Jesus guides us along this journey, walking beside us every day. And as such, you are a subversive, set apart, revolutionary movement to spread Jesus to lost humanity. We’re traveling home together, to our ultimate home in the new city of God, a perfect, timeless reality. And it’s not simply a nice idea, but a concrete, real future. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Speak Up for Jesus: Be the Voice of Christ in the World

Mark 16:15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation."

Speak up for Jesus. Speak up now. Be the voice of Christ in the world. Too often we're afraid to speak up, because we know we'll be criticized. We'll be attacked, often by other Christians who will call us judgmental.  Speak up anyway, because when you speak, things change. Speak up, and don't stop speaking. Shout Jesus from the rooftops.

Preach the gospel on the streets, preach the gospel in the coffee shops, preach the gospel in the broken places of this world, preach the gospel in the city, preach the gospel in the prairie, preach the gospel outside sporting events, preach the gospel on the subway, preach the gospel at the park, preach the gospel at the dinner table; preach the gospel everywhere. 

Talk about Jesus Christ on social media.  Post about Jesus on Facebook. Tweet about Jesus on twitter. And keep on doing it, even when you get nasty messages in your inbox.  Keep forcing the world out there to encounter Jesus Christ. 

Talk to that homeless person. Tell that waitress. Hold up a sign. Walk along a busy beach. Speak into a megaphone. Go into the jail. Visit those in the hospital. Hang out at a soup kitchen. Do something. Say something. Don't be silent!

There is only a little time left. The clock is ticking. We must speak now, before it's too late. 

The world won't like it.  They don't want to hear from us. And even fellow Christians will get angry. They'll tell you to stop making a scene. They'll tell you to keep it in the church on Sunday.

Christians will criticize you for being so vocal about your faith. They will criticize you for living missionally. They will call you names, tell you "this isn't the way" or say "you're being judgmental."  Unfortunately many Christians today are lost in the ways of the world.  They don't evangelize, they don't pray too much either, and then they go about criticizing those who do.  

But don't let them dissuade you from your mission.  Fulfill the great commission.  Carry the gospel to the lost. And do it with great love, and mercy. 

Romans 10:14 "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"

But be assured, if you decide to really live out your calling you will face skepticism from many. You will be criticized. You will be hated for the stand you take.  I can assure you of that.  And should we expect anything less? All those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.  

But we want to make sure that we're being persecuted for righteousness sake, not because of our own poor choices.  Then again, we will make mistakes, so it's OK to make a mistake, confess it, repent, and then keep pushing forward.  But it's tough, especially if you're a sensitive person like myself. 

In my own family movement, the Salvation Army, there are people I've never met who despise me because of what I write and share with others.  I'll go to conferences, or events, and find people who won't even speak to me, or will just glare at me, and give me the cold shoulder. For someone as sensitive as I am, it's heartbreaking. I will ruminate on those sort of things for days, even weeks.  It's bitterly painful at times. But what can I do? I can only continue speaking. And so should you.

It's well worth it, to proclaim the gospel and do my duty to teach the truth of biblical Christianity.  I'm not accountable to people of the world.  I'm accountable to Jesus Christ, my Lord and master.

It's all worth it, is what I'm saying. Don't be surprised when you're finding yourself at times isolated, and hurting, because it happened to the prophets, the disciples, the apostle Paul, and to Jesus.  When the Salvation Army was first founded by William and Catherine Booth, a counter movement formed on the streets called "the skeleton army" that would launch attacks on the Salvation Army, and throw trash, beer bottles, and bricks at them.  If you're doing God's will, you will be apposed. Just make sure you're being apposed for the right reasons, not because you've been foolish.

I'm the first to admit, I've been foolish at times in the past.  I've made mistakes.  I've gone too far with things. But I've tried to repent, and to do the good work of an evangelist.  I will make mistakes. And I'll try to correct them.  But I won't stop speaking. 

Everyone needs Jesus. Jesus is real.  Jesus is life.  Jesus is the meaning of everything.  Everything is about Jesus.  Jesus Christ is the cure for death.  Jesus is the hope of humanity.  Jesus is the gospel.  Jesus paid it all. Speak up for Jesus.  Proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

Yes, live it out as an example of faith.

Yes, pray hard. Pray often.

Yes, serve suffering humanity.

But there is no gospel without words.  

So speak up for Jesus.  

Even if it means that to some you may seem intolerant or exclusive.  The gospel is an offense to the world. But to those who are being saved, it is life itself.  

1 Corinthians 1:18 "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

I'm no one special. I'm just a guy that Jesus loves.  Jesus paid it all for me.  And I'm the most undeserving of all, yet Jesus even offered salvation to me, of all people!  It's insane, and beautiful, and unimaginably wonderful. 

And I'm a coward.  I make it sound like I speak up so much, but I don't really.  I wish I spoke up a lot more.  I wish when I saw that homeless person that I had the courage to go tell them about Jesus.  But often I'm too afraid.  And I shy away.  But I keep trying.  Because the world needs Jesus.  I hope you'll keep trying too.  Don't give up.  Keep praying.  Keep speaking.  And you will be the hero. I believe in you.  I know you will do great things for God.  Amen. 

If I've offended you in the past, please forgive me.  I'm sorry for what I said. I'm a work in progress. 

If your near me say hello! If I'm speaking, listen.  If I'm silent, speak up yourself. Someone has to speak.  

There's so many people out there, so many thousands and millions. If they're near you, go to them. If they come to you, speak to them.

Jesus is Lord. Jesus lives today, the door is open. If you're afraid, do it anyway. Never give up hope. Never stop fighting. Gather a band of mighty men and women, and go to work for Christ. Start an evangelism group. Start a Bible study. Start a discipleship group. 

Speak up for Jesus. Make a plan. Do it today. Speak up for Jesus. He is the only way. Hope is kindled, when you speak up for Jesus. Wherever you are right now, you can do it.  In Christ all things are possible.  If I don't see you on this side of Earth, then I'll see you in heaven. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Mission Statement of the Salvation Army: What's your personal mission statement?

We’re looking at the Salvation Army mission statement and how that is applied to ministry work. My own personal mission statement is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in full time ministry. For my ministry career my mission statement will be functionally the same as that of the organization I work for, the Salvation Army. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, my own mission statement will be synonymous with that of the Salvation Army, which states: “The mission of the Salvation Army is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and meet human needs in His name without discrimination.” 

What is your mission statement?  Does it jive with the organization or church you serve with?  We should each take a few minutes to write down our mission statement for life, and consider how we'll accomplish it.

The mission statement of the Salvation Army jives perfectly with my own personal mission statement. It reflects well the dual emphasis of Jesus Christ to carry the message of the kingdom, and to meet the temporal needs of the people in his context. Jesus Christ fundamentally did two things: He spoke about the kingdom of God and he performed acts of healing, mercy, love, and compassion. That is my life mission, to preach the gospel, and to meet the needs of those around me.

The theological basis is two-fold: Make disciples of all nations and meet the needs of people near me. This is the core imperative of the scriptures. It is not a full demonstration of the entirety of the scriptures. It is a concise definition of a primary imperative. That’s how I draw my imperative from the scriptures. 

 There are so many things that could be listed off, like “loving God and loving others” or “worship and praise” or “evangelism” but fundamentally what is the chief imperative? The chief imperative is to make disciples and meet needs. The primary imperative that flows out from the revelation of the kingdom of God, the gospel, is the great commission to make disciples of all nations and meet human needs (Matthew 28:19, Matthew 25:31-46). That’s what Jesus did, that’s what he taught and what he lived.

So if this is the theological basis, if this is the profile of the full revelation of the scriptures the question becomes: What are the core ministry values that emerge from this scriptural exegesis?

If we are looking at a holistic approach to the kingdom program of God revealed in the scriptures, then I see four core values that emerge from the words of Jesus in practicing the core theology of scripture: Worship, evangelism, discipleship, and meeting needs. These four key values are derived from the scriptures, and the kingdom program of God. Therefore, they should be the primary concern of my ministry.

It's interesting that people with a certain passion in ministry, they often tell us that we have to be passionate about it too: prison ministry, social justice, multicultural ministry, and all these various concerns. It is true that we are all gifted in many areas. But there are a thousand different things we can do in ministry. And if we don’t have a primary imperative then we’ll run ourselves thin trying to do a little of everything. My mission is to teach about Christ and to reach people for Christ. I’ve got to do this through the most direct means I can summon.

Worship is an absolute must. We have to worship to grow in fellowship with God. That’s why worship comes into the four basic areas. Worship is vital, in gathering the community together, teaching the Bible and singing songs of worship. That’s the basic format of the church community. And therefore it is vital.

Evangelism also comes very high on the core ministry functions. Evangelism is about sharing the gospel with non-believers. It’s about doing the real work that Christ taught us to do. And it’s absolutely vital. Especially in our broken world and de-energized church, where young people no longer see faith as a viable option regarding the meaning of life, more and more we’ll have to go out on the streets and carry the gospel to our neighbors through evangelism. Of course there is no good “evangelism program” evangelism instead will have to be baked into everything we do as a church movement.

Discipleship is absolutely vital as well. Christ taught us to make disciples of all nations. That requires really digging into the scriptures and moving into a deeper, more mature Christian walk. Discipleship is necessary, otherwise we’ll never mature as believers.

Meeting needs is absolutely vital as well. What is the point of evangelism or worship if we aren’t really living as Jesus did? We have to live it out and show our faith through acts of love and mercy. That’s what Jesus taught us to do, so we must do it. Meeting needs is important, but it shouldn’t overtake the other areas, which seems to have happened to a certain extent with the Salvation Army. The main goal has to always be at the fore-front, of carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The core values that I see in fulfilling the mission statement of the Salvation Army are worship, evangelism, discipleship, and meeting needs. Each of these are absolutely necessary to living out the gospel given in the sacred scriptures.  I want to challenge you: What is your mission statement?  And, what does fulfilling it look like in practical ministry?  Figure that out, and you'll be able to fulfill that mission.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Holy Insurgency: Called to Acts of Sabotage against the Kingdoms of Darkness

As I live in the big city, I realize that I am part of a holy insurgency. As C.S. Lewis said, we are warriors on a battlefield called to acts of holy sabotage against the kingdoms of darkness that cover this world. 

The truth exists in our world in a state of subjection to lies and misery.  The truth exists only as something put down, locked out, and openly ridiculed.  That is the state of things.  Why?

Because as Jesus said, The truth shall set you free (John 8:31-32). Who is the truth? Jesus is the truth (John 14:6).  The truth is scandalous and powerful because it breaks every chain. It breaks things we're told are unbreakable.  It frees people from the binding contracts of hell, Satan, and darkness.  The grace of Christ cancels every sin, every condemnation, and every binding cord of the enemy of God. Once we discover the truth, then we're charged with proclaiming it to to others (Matthew 10:27, Matthew 28:16-20).

I'm charged with the seemingly impossible task of portraying a living gospel to a dead people, who would much prefer to hear nothing of it. They don't want to hear anything of the truth, and yet... Something inside them craves it (Ecclesiastes 3:11). 

I know only too well, and if I were too quick to judge them, I might remind myself that I was once thick as thieves with just such folk.  I was the misanthrope, I was the nihilist, the cynical guy who hated the God he didn't believe in. 

So, I must discover how exactly to be a subversive pastor. The world will try to push me into the position of being self-help chaplain to the secular culture. I have to fight out of that role, and be something more, someone who is proclaiming a living gospel, a real kingdom that messes up peoples perfect picture of their life, the white picket fence, the family, the nice car, and the great job.  I must discover how to be one who, having found humanity subverted, must then subvert the subversion.  When I subvert the subversion I'm helping disconnect people from the lies of the world, and plug them into the transforming reality of God's kingdom.

We're insurgents against the kingdom of Satan.  We just won't stay in line and keep our mouths shut about Jesus.  We just won't stay obedient to the worldly values, feeding at the trough of carnal pleasure.  How dare we break up perfectly good misery by bringing up Jesus?  Just who do we think we are?  

After all it's impolite and impolitic to talk to some stranger about the love of Christ!  That's simply not done! There are social norms.  And they demand silence!  Don't talk to people in line at the grocery store, don't introduce yourself to your neighbors, and don't give a Bible to your friend. Just stay in your church, have your little service, be quiet, and be content to preach to a dwindling congregation.

We make ourselves targets when we do these things, targets for the enemy's kingdom.  Oh, such a thought puts a smile on my face. There is a beautiful word for it... defiance.  We defy the enemy, reject the false social standards, and proclaim the gospel  stubbornly.  Hit, and run, hit and run, day in and day out, gospel here, gospel there, and we stubbornly refuse to stay silent.

We're a small minority among the cities of the west.  We're a small minority among the churches of the west!  We're the insurgency.  And we're working day and night, behind the scenes, to expose the world to Jesus Christ.

Our acts of sabotage are not material. Our act of sabotage is to declare Jesus Christ, organize Bible studies, plant churches, and develop fellowship. The overall goal of course being to subvert the kingdoms of man with the kingdom of God. 

The kingdom of God is coming.  In fact it's here right now.  But Christ will return in the flesh.  And I want to be busy at work for his kingdom when he returns. I'm sure you do too!  Get to work.  Make a plan. Be subversive. Get a group of insurgents together and be subversive together.  Subvert the kingdom of Satan, and strengthen and spread the kingdom of God.  Amen. 

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Monday, September 17, 2018

The Value of Christian Fellowship: Why Gather Together?

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries of God."
-Hebrews 10:23-27

If there is anyone who has been a lonewolf in life it’s me. I love to be by myself. I love to have a one man party at my apartment by myself. It’s great. But the truth is, in the body of Christ, among the church, there are no lonewolfs.

Again and again in the scriptures we’re instructed as believers to get together with one another, to break bread, to study the word of God, and to hold one another accountable.

Indeed it says in Proverb 27:17 that Iron sharpens iron, and in the same way, one man sharpens another.

Remember that each of us are called to be a blessing, encouragement, and a challenger to one another. We can bless one another by meeting together, and sharing honestly about our lives.

We can encourage one another by meeting together outside of church on Sunday, to engage in some real talk about how to face life on life’s terms.

We can challenge each other by getting real about sin, and freedom from sin in our Christian lives. Iron sharpens iron. And we each need each other to sharpen each other.

If I’m left to my own devices, at home by myself, I begin to drift away from Jesus. I begin to drift away from the fellowship of believers. And a sheep by himself in the wilderness is an easy mark for the enemy of our souls to ambush and destroy.

If we fail to continue forward in our Christian life, and drift away from faith in Christ, we won’t share in eternal life. We’ll face a dark abyss, for all time. For these reasons, and many more, we ought to carefully pursue fellowship with one another. Fellowship brings strength.

Imagine if an NFL football team didn’t meet together during the week to discuss their tactics and practice their skills. Would they ever win on Sunday? No, they’d be crushed each week. So how much more should we as Christians gather together throughout the week to bless, encourage, and challenge each other? Men sharpen one another. And we each need each other to survive this difficult, but worthwhile Christian journey.

Just before Jesus was going to be crucified for our sins, he prayed for his disciples in this way saying: John 17:21 “Father I pray that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

How to Minister to the LGBT Community: Wesley's Quadrilateral as a Guide

This is a personal blog. The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them, based on the teachings of the Bible, in the Spirit.

How can we as Christians minister and carry the gospel to the LGBT community? Let us consider this difficult issue, which centers around gender, homosexuality, gay marriage, and past hurts through the lenses of Wesley's Quadrilateral.  The quadrilateral is a time tested tool for discerning difficult issues from a multi-pronged approach.

First of all, let's consider the pressures within the churches right now regarding theology, and the desire to change theology to embrace gay marriage.  This is a present issue for many faith traditions in the west at this point in history. There are several faith traditions that have flipped their positions on gay marriage, such as the PCUSA (Presbyterians), the ELCA (Lutherans), and the MCGB (Methodists). Many other faith movements are beginning to appear weak in the knees as well, such as UMC, Salvation Army, the SBC, and others. What should I, as one single pastor in training do in regard to this issue? Should I speak out? Should I remain quiet? What is the proper position on this issue?

So I turn to the Wesleyan quadrilateral. The first question I ask is what do the scriptures say on the issue? Well, the scriptures say that all people are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27 NIV). The word says that Christians should treat people with kindness, dignity, respect, and love (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV). And it also says that the message of salvation is open to all who would repent and believe in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15 NIV). Additionally, the scriptures are clear that the practice of homosexuality is contrary to New Testament teachings (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Timothy 1:10 NIV). There have been attempts by individuals like Matthew Vines and Andrew Marin to somehow re-interpret and shift the meaning of the New testament scriptures regarding homosexuality, however, those attempts to re-interpret the scriptures falter in a fair reading of the biblical texts (Brown, 2015). A plain reading of the New Testament makes this abundantly clear. 

Next, I consider tradition. For the past two thousand years virtually every faith tradition has considered homosexuality a sinful practice. Sadly, many of these faith traditions mistreated those who struggle with the sin of homosexuality, especially in the last one hundred years in the United States and Europe. This means that I need to be especially careful to treat these individuals with compassion, dignity, and love. The Salvation Army’s historic tradition has been to affirm marriage between man and woman, and the Salvation Army’s position statement is that homosexuality is a sinful practice, but those who struggle with that sin should be treated with love, kindness, and dignity (The Social Issues Committee, 2007). Those who struggle with this sin, like any other, must repent, by abstaining from the practice. But "conversion" to attraction to the opposite sex is not necessarily possible.

From the area of reason there is a great deal of debate and speculation, much of it propaganda, from both the spirit of the age and from the church. But research does show increased health risks for men practicing homosexuality (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017). Reason also shows me that there is a great deal of controversy and apostasy around this issue in the world and the church. So I must tread exceedingly carefully. Additionally, I see that many in the LGBTQ movements have placed their very identity in their sexuality, and so I see that I should help these people to see human identity is not found in sexuality, but in Jesus Christ. 

Finally, experience shows me that many people of the homosexual persuasion feel marginalized and hurt by the church. So I must reach out to them in a kind, loving way, and avoid condemnation, while also encouraging repentance from sin, over time. Experience shows me that having relationships and friendships with people of this persuasion is useful. Experience has also taught me that there is a lot of misunderstanding from the LGBTQ community toward the church, and the Salvation Army specifically. For that, experience tells me I must make use of apologetics to help these people understand the love we have for them, and the truth we expound from the scriptures.

So now we turn to the experience I had. I was preaching at a church facility and among other sins that I was preaching about, homosexuality had come up as a topic to briefly discuss. I faced the temptation of being silent. I also faced the temptation to be overly harsh about it. I tried instead to be assertive. I preached about it and I tried to make sure it was understood that this sin was no different than many other sins that can afflict Christians. Afterward, I realized that perhaps some of the men struggle with that very sin, who were in the congregation. In the hallway on my way to dinner I noticed a man I’ve encountered several times at the facility, and I realized that he was most likely a homosexual person. I nodded and smiled to him as he walked by. Later in the dining room I made a point of sitting at the same table as him, and I simply engaged in friendly conversation with him. I wanted my actions and conduct to show that I didn’t hate him, or want to kick him out or hurt him. I tried to show indirectly, through love and fellowship that I love him and think of him with dignity as a person made in God’s image. I also hope that the message I gave in the chapel will stay with him, in hope that he will repent over time, and give himself in fullness to the mercy found in Jesus Christ, and live a new lifestyle of purity in Christ.

Another experience I had was about two months ago in Chicago, IL. The training college I attend in Chicago exists in the midst of “boy’s town” an LGBTQ neighborhood. I went out to do evangelism with people in the neighborhood from 3:00 AM to 5:00 AM with another cadet on a Saturday. We set up a table and chairs, and people would walk by and sit down and talk with us. 99% of them were practicing homosexuals. So we would talk with them, about God, and often they would say to us: “Why are you out here, doesn’t the Salvation Army hate gays?” And our answer was always to look back at them with surprise and say: “No, not at all! We love you.” So we seek to do healing through that, and show these people that God loves them and wants to save them from all their sins. This is now a common attitude in the Salvation Army. We sat out there talking with various people for two hours. One man who sat there the whole two hours talking with us, had refused to take a gospel of John book, but at 5:00 AM he changed his mind, because he realized that we loved him. This is how evangelism to the homosexual community should be done, with love. 

Sadly, there are some in my faith movement who want to go further than this, much further. They seek to redefine marriage, to redefine the sacred scriptures, and to change the historic views of the Salvation Army on marriage, to fully embrace and affirm gay marriage, homosexuality, and gender ideology as a positive good. This is a troubling development. And there is a lot of misinformation out there. 

So I write, and share the truth, and try to equip people in our movement to outreach to the gay community, but also to stand firm on the unchanging truth of the scriptures. Given scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, there is no other pathway forward. We want to be loving, in Christ, but it’s not loving to encourage people to continue in their sin. That is the opposite of love, it is hatred. Therefore, the best pathway forward, is to strongly affirm the biblical definition of marriage, while reaching out to the homosexual/LGBTQ community with great compassion, love, kindness, and dignity. Hatred is unacceptable, either through bigotry toward the lost or through encouraging the sin. Jesus came full of grace and truth, and we as a church movement have to find a way to live that out (John 1:14 NIV).

Brown, M. (2015, October 7). Dr. Michael Brown Has 40 Answers and 2 Questions for 'Gay' Christian Matthew Vines. Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/in-the-line-of-fire/50477-dr-michael-brown-has-40-answers-and-2-questions-for-gay-christian-matthew-vines

Carpenter, E. E., & McCown, W. (1992). Asbury Bible commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House. Retrieved July 8, 2018, from https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/asbury-bible-commentary/John-Wesley

Dickey, R. (n.d.). What Is Theological Reflection? Retrieved July 7, 2018, from https://www.sttaustin.org/documents/youth ministry/Theological_Reflection_Handbook_Section_R_Dickey.pdf

Graham, E., Walton, H., & Ward, F. (2005). Theological Reflection: Methods. London: SCM Press.

Hazzard, J. (1998). Marching on the Margins: An Analysis of the Salvation Army in the United States. Review of Religious Research, 40(2), 121-141. doi:10.2307/3512298

Kilby, C. S. (1995). The Christian world of C.S. Lewis. Retrieved July 8, 2018.

Macemon, S. (2003, July 20). Wesley and Theological Method. Retrieved July 7, 2018, from http://www.sunnyhillsumc.org/sermons/wesleyatm.htm

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017, October 05). Health issues for gay men and men who have sex with men. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/health-issues-for-gay-men/art-20047107

Mercer, J. L. (1985). Toward A Wesleyan Theology of Experience. Wesleyan Theological Journal, 20(1), spring, 78-94. Retrieved July 7, 2018, fromhttp://wesley.nnu.edu/fileadmin/imported_site/wesleyjournal/1985-wtj-20-1.pdf

Nouwen, H. J. (1989). In the name of Jesus. New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company.

Peterson, E. H. (1996). The contemplative pastor: Returning to the art of spiritual direction. Grand Rapids (Mich.): William B. Eerdmans.

Reasoner, V. (n.d.). Spiritual Geometry - Evaluating the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Retrieved July 7, 2018, from http://www.fwponline.cc/v14n2/v14n2reasoner.html

Social Issues Committee. (2007, February 1). The Salvation Army Canada & Bermuda Territory Position Statements. Retrieved July 12, 2018, from http://www.use-salvationarmy.org/SA_Annuals/Position_Statements.pdf

Theological Reflection - What Others Say. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2018, from https://divinity.vanderbilt.edu/academics/fielded/fielded_theologicalreflection.php

Trokan, J. (2013). Models of Theological Reflection: Theory and Praxis. Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice, 1(2), 143-158. Retrieved July 7, 2018, fromhttp://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=ce

United Methodist Communications. (2013, October 15). Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Retrieved from http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/wesleyan-quadrilateral

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