Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Spirit of Holy Warfare

Audio Message:

“You must fight devils, lies, fleshly indulgences, hardships, disappointments, and everything that sets itself up against God, or that is apposed to the living of a holy life, or which threatens the damnation of man. At all risks and consequences, you must fight for God and the salvation of souls.” -William Booth, The Seven Spirits

Today, we consider holy warfare. For this I will direct you to a famous story that William Booth recounts, and is commonly referred to as “What will you do?” Many of you have probably heard of it. If you’d like to read the full story, get a copy of this book titled “William Booth’s Amazing Visions.” Booth one day was home, sitting alone considering the plight of the millions of lost in the world. And he saw this vision. He saw a raging sea, storming, lightning and thunder, and he saw thousands and thousands of people drowning in the waters. Then he saw a mighty rock rise up from the waters. And there was a platform at the rock, on which people were rescued. Some on the rock were working tirelessly to help save the people that were still trapped in the water, throwing them life preservers, and building boats to go down into the water, and even some dove into the water to help fish people out that way. But to Booth’s astonishment most of the people on the platform were not helping to pull people out of the water at all. They were going about their worldly affairs, gathering money, working, going on vacations, playing sports; while others were growing flowers, playing music, accumulating products, others debating about theology, and still others painting, taking classes, and so on and so forth.

Then in his vision Booth saw one drop down into the water, helping to save people dying in the water, and he was bright and brilliant, fighting with all his might, and he cried out to the people on the platform “Come help me! Come help me!” But they did not respond. Sadly, they did not care.

Booth realized quickly what the vision meant. The storming sea and the people it in were the unsaved in this world drowning in sins and brokenness. The rock that rose from the sea was the salvation provided in Christ. The platform and the people on it were the church. And he realized that the people in the boats and the ones throwing out life preservers were salvation soldiers, those who burned with the true spirit of holy warfare. But most of the church didn’t care, for the lost. The bright one in the waters was Jesus Christ himself, fighting to save the lost to this very day.

And this visions I believe perfectly describes what it means to be living the Spirit of Holy Warfare. There are only two kinds of Christians, the Christian who sits on the platform, enjoying worldly pleasures, and the Christian who is down in the waters tirelessly fighting to save souls from damnation. Which one are you? Are you down there in the water fighting tooth and nail to get people saved? Or are you up on the platform, ignoring the cries of the dying? Only you can answer that question.

It could just as easily be me. In fact as an officer it is very easy to get bogged down in paperwork, fundraisers and food drives, that pretty soon there is no soul winning going on at all. And what will be my fate on judgment day, if I live that way? Is there any chance of my attaining to eternal life? None-whatsoever. I must be a soul winner. I must be one who practices holy warfare.

Everyday we suite up for conflict, in fact conflict is our very nature. We fight to provide for our families. We fight to teach our children. We fight to make money. We fight against disease and old age. Life is often a conflict, and we meet it daily in the struggle of life.

If we fight in this world, how much more do we fight in the Christian faith? The Christian faith is a constant battle. Once first get saved, all sorts of problems suddenly spring up to try to tear us back down, and rip us away from God. The enemy does his best to dissuade us, to get us to turn back. Sins of the flesh boggle our minds and we find ourselves confessing and repenting, and desperately trying to live holy lives. And how bleak it seems at first, in those first few years, wondering if there’s even any chance to live like Christ.

That is the personal struggle. But we must too struggle to get others saved. William Booth said, “This is desperate, agonizing, wounding business.” My goodness Booth could turn a phrase. I recall when at training college we went out did evangelism at a public event in downtown Chicago. It was exhausting, talking to person after person about Jesus Christ. But after being there a few hours, I had spoke to probably about ten people about Jesus. And on the way back in the van, I felt the wounds. The harsh answers, the debates, the discussions, and the stress and strain on my soul.I felt beat up in my spirit. But I felt so… real. So complete in those moments. I tell you today that there is never any time that I feel more alive, more Spirit-filled, more completely like a true, real Christian, than when I witness to the unsaved. I always feel as I do that, that this is the single, most important thing I can do as a Christian, to win the lost to Christ, by simply sharing the faith with a stranger. Or a friend, or a neighbor.

I dare you to do it. Do it daily in your life. And feel the Spirit declare in you the fullness of who you are, a real Christian.

That is true holy warfare! That is the difficulty we are called to. We’re all here on the platform, and we see the raging sea around us. And how clearly we can see it in Flint. We see the dying people slowly drowning in the waves and crashing sea. And how difficult and agonizing work it is, to try to fish them out of the sea, with row boats and life jackets and ropes. It is not easy work. It is thankless work. But it must be done.

Booth said, “Think of the difficulties that have to be surmounted before a man can have ground for expecting the “well done” at the judgment throne, or a victorious crown in Heaven. “Be thou faithful unto death!” Do you ever consider what that faithfulness unto death meant to those to whom the words were first spoken? The visions of the torture chamber, the wild beasts in the arena, the crucifixion, which it called up in their minds?”

Even today, in the middle-east, in China, in north Africa, in India, there are Christians who are dying everyday for their faith in Jesus. These are the heroes of our faith. And who is to say that something like that couldn’t happen here in America? It is closer that we might all realize. But when we consider the blood of the martyrs, and the struggle of our faith, we are drawn back to the first one who offered up his blood.

In our scripture today, Revelation chapter five, we see the one on the throne holding a scroll. This scroll ushers in the final conclusion of God’s kingdom program. And there is one who is able to take the scroll and open the seven seals. The messenger of God declares, “Fear not, for the lion of Judah has triumphed!”

Now let’s just pause there for a moment. We’ve gone through Revelation, and we see these amazing displays of God’s throne, these scrolls, all this sort of esoteric imagery. Does it seem strange to you? Does it seem just like a little bit too much? I must admit at times, I doubt. I think to myself, could that really be true? Is this really real?

Could it really be true that an ark carried all that was left of the animals and people of the Earth at one time. Could it really be true that a giant fish swallowed Jonah? Is it really true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead? Isn’t it all just a bit too extreme? Haven’t they disproved all of this with science?

And I would answer myself this way: Has science disproved religion? Absolutely not. Science simply measures the observable universe. It doesn’t have anything to say about religion. In fact I’ve found that science and religion complement each other quite well. A natural process shows how rain falls, or how water freezes, or how vapor becomes clouds, and so on. Our religious faith answers the questions as to why we exist at all on this planet. Can everything be explained through natural means? Not at all. In fact I think the single best argument for the existence of God comes from science. Science indicates that the universe is expanding. Scientists discovered that the universe is not eternal, but that is began to exist at a fixed point in time. They call this “the big bang.” Now ask a scientist, where did the big bang come from? And some would say that it’s simply a mystery. There was nothing, then bang, the universe. But someone whose honest would have to say, “What caused the bang?” And one could indicate, that God is the best explanation for the cause of the universe. Something that begins to exist must have a cause. Therefore God exists.

Now, if God can make the universe, the stars, and craft the planet is Earth from nothing, into a lush green ecosystem, and create humanity, in all our complexity, from our auto-focusing eyeballs to our fully functional endocrine and circulatory systems, then is it really that hard for God to resurrect Jesus from the dead? Is it really that hard for God to keep Jonah safe in the belly of a whale? And is it really so difficult to believe that God exists in some sort of ethereal throne room on a plain of reality we refer to as “heaven”? No, it isn’t that hard. If God can make the universe from nothing, imagine what he can do in our lives.

Revelation 5:6 “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[a] of God sent out into all the earth.” The lamb is at the center of the throne, that astonished me. Jesus Christ is God. He ‘s right there on the throne with the Father.

Then the elders and the living creatures cried out in worship to Jesus saying, ““You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Jesus Christ triumphed in his life. He lived a life of holy warfare fighting tooth and nail for the lives of lost humanity. He fought so hard, toiling in prayer, constantly surrounded by crowds, preaching the word, constantly dealing with people who would argue with him, call him a demon, mock him, and ridicule him. He fought against the religious leaders the Pharisees. He fought for the weak, the poor, and the sick. And Jesus Christ fought a very certain sort of holy warfare. He fought with love, grace, and truth. He fought by dying on the cross, by giving up His life to the Father of Lights. And by offering up his blood, Jesus Christ our King purchased us. He purchased for God people from every nation and language and group across the face of the Earth. He purchased lost souls in China, he purchased homeless boys in India, he purchased settlers in America, he purchased rich business men, prostitutes on the streets, drug addicts and Nobel prize winners. All gathered to God, because of the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, to pay off our debt of sins, and take us home to God.

In the Salvation Army, God worked through two rather ordinary people named William and Catherine Booth. Through two people, not all that special, just ordinary folks, he launched a war on Satan and his dominion over the poor, the homeless, the starving, the alcoholic, and the addicted, that were being sorely neglected by the churches of their day. From a poor, broke man named William, preaching to drunks in bars, and having beer bottles thrown at him, God launched a war against Satan and a war for the souls of humanity, that has spread to 130 countries in the world today.

The goal of my life, is to fight tooth and nail for the lost souls of humanity in this world, by winning them to Jesus Christ, and teaching them to live in holiness. I want to bring as many souls with me to heaven as possible.

And I believe on that day, when each of return to the God that made us, there will be a special sort of ceremony for salvationists who have won their battle and proceeded home triumphantly. I can see it now. The bright golden hauls of heaven. And we are walking down a long, long corridor. And to the left and to the right of us, we see thousands and thousands of salvationists in their uniforms cheering and applauding as we march forward, step by step. Can you see it? I see them cheering and giving glory to God, and praising Jesus Christ, as we march forward. And standing along the path we walk, will be the people we preached to, the people we prayed for, the people we won to Christ, stopping us, and hugging as we go by, and shaking our hands, with huge smiles, and tears in their eyes. And we’ll walk forward together with them, to a brightness beyond our comprehension, a glowing love and beauty, from the throne, where Jesus will stand, and say to us, “Well done good and faithful soldiers.” You have won your battle.

In conclusion today, William Booth said:

“If you are saviors of men you must fight. Make up your minds that it is so, and that nothing on earth or in Heaven, human or divine can change it. The Devil has got possession of the world; anyway, of the people that dwell in it, and if you want them for Christ and holiness and heaven, you will have to take your stand and hold your post, and close with your enemy, and fight for their rescue, and you may be sure he won’t loosen his grip without inflicting all the damage he can upon you who dare to attack him and his prey. This law is not of my making. I am not responsible for it. I found it in my Bible. It is God’s plan and God’s plan for us. Have you accepted it? I have.” –William Booth

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Spirit of Divine Holiness

Audio Message: 

“If borne on a burning seraph’s wings I could rise to the Heaven of Heavens, and, like it’s holy inhabitants be allowed to enter the holy of holies where Jehovah especially manifests his glory; and if, prostrate before that Throne, with all reverence I should ask the question: “What is the first and most important qualification a salvationist must possess in order to do your Blessed Will?” God would reply: “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” -William Booth, The Seven Spirits

Divine holiness is that chief nature which God himself is. Particularly, God the Father. Divine holiness is who God is, fundamentally. Before anything, before heaven and Earth, before the angels and humanity, and all else, there was God alone and His holiness as the constant reality of everything. Divine holiness is the natural and proper state of everything as it was meant to be.

It's important to note that Earth was originally intended to be a paradise where God lived in peace and harmony with humanity, humanity was meant to be holy, perfect and good, building civilizations, art, music, society, and liberty on a perfect Earth, in endless cities of people and animals, living in harmony with nature, building great cities, works of art, and cosmopolitan metropolises reflective of God’s endless glory. And God would especially reside amongst us, and enjoy fellowship with us, and us with Him.

Unfortunately, our ancestors chose to disobey God, and preferred to try to go it alone, to redefine reality, and tried to claim sole lordship over the Earth. So instead of a paradise, we got this, what we have today. A place where man reigns supreme, and behind the thrones of man, we have Satan and his demons at work, attacking humanity, twisting truth and reality, destroying, corrupting and adding endlessly to the misery of mankind.

Yet we also find God, who came to Earth, as Jesus Christ, to make a way for us to escape this broken reality, which is destined for destruction. So as we look back in history, the last two thousands, we saw a radical break from the madness of evil on this planet, with the rise of the church, the body of Christ, spreading across the Earth, as a sort of resistance movement against the kingdoms of darkness and evil.

God’s holiness, as the reality behind the spread of the church, is cleansing humanity of sin, and preparing humanity, through the blood of Jesus, to be presented spotless and blameless, for a new heavens and new Earth. Essentially, we were washed clean in Jesus Christ, and called to live in holiness, to prepare us for when God removes this broken universe, and makes a new universe, and a new Earth, and the city called the New Jerusalem. That is what we are being prepared for.

The other reality is the world as we see it now, Satan and his demons, attempting to drag us down to hell with them. They know they are doomed to hell. So they want to bring as many humans as they can with them. And we fight against them as the church, calling humanity home to God, day and night. The clock is ticking everyday on that clock. Which is why we fight so hard to get people saved before it’s too late.

Holiness at work in the heavens, sin at work on the Earth, and holiness come through the church, as the resistance movement against the kingdoms of darkness. All bound together by a reality of our existence known as free-will. Free will is our choice in the matter: Will we choose to walk the difficult path back home to God? Or will we choose the easy way of sin and pleasure, and lose everything with it? Ultimately we each make that choice, every day.

So if we are indeed the blood washed saints of God, made righteous in Christ, then we must choose holiness! Each and every day. I want heaven on Earth. I want it so badly. This bland life on Earth has little appeal to me. Anything, anything at all for heaven, for eternal life. So the question is how! How are we to live out holiness? What is holiness and how can we have it? William Booth wrote, first of all, as his prime definition for holiness these words: “…Holiness, in the sense in which The Salvation Army uses the word, means entire deliverance from sin.” -William Booth, The Seven Spirits, Pg. 25.

He said “holy souls are saved from sin.” All unrighteousness is sin. And he continues writing that “To be holy is to be delivered from the penalty of sin. Holiness is deliverance from the guilt of sin. Holiness is deliverance from the defilement of sin. Holiness means complete deliverance from the bondage of sin. And Holiness is the deliverance of the soul from the reign of selfishness.” Each of those phrases were headings for various subsections which Booth writes on what holiness is. But he also continues to indicate that holiness means “separation.” Holiness as a biblical term means to be set apart for special, or sacred use. And that is what it means for a Christian to be in the world, but not of the world. We as Christian salvationists are set apart from the old world, born again, into Christ, yet still living in this world, called to win the world for Christ, and live a “set apart” life, in which we keep ourselves from being defiled by the sins of the world.

That I believe in this last hour we live in, is a very difficult thing to do. It truly is very difficult. There are so many allurements of the flesh out there. So many temptations. It is very difficult to live holy in this world. But in Christ it can be done. And it must be done. The increase in wickedness in our world is foretold, as part of the end times. And it says in the word that the love of many will grow cold, because of the increasing wickedness. But as we discovered last week, we cannot allow ourselves to grow cold, and instead we see to have a heart of burning love.

Burning love, and divine holiness are of course intrinsically linked. They are two sides of the same coin. Divine holiness is simply the source of the flame of burning love. But still we struggle to truly understand what holiness really is. To understand what holiness really is, we have to ask the question, who is God, and what does it mean that God is holy? For that we must rise to the highest heaven, with John, in our scripture for today.

In Revelation chapter four, we find that John of Patmos has received the revelation of the message to the seven churches, and now John is called up to heaven. A voice like a trumpet blast burst forth into John’s ears and said, “Come up here.”

So we find ourselves with John in the very throne room of God. And it says he saw a throne, and someone seated on the throne. It was this massive brightness. But John looked intently into the brightness and he said it had the appearance of jasper. Here is a picture of what jasper rocks look like, jasper comes in all sorts of colors. And he said God also appeared as ruby. Here is what rubies look like. And there was a rainbow arching over the throne, that appeared to glow like emerald stone. Beautiful.

Why is God described in terms of precious stones and colors and brightness? Perhaps because God is not like us, in most ways. God is so far beyond us. And our minds and eyes, and senses can only perceive of God in terms of visuals, expressions of beauty, purity, and goodness. These precious stones, and brightness and colors and the majesty of the rainbow point us to the beauty and glory of God. But we also have another sensation being triggered here. It says there were bursts of lightning, visual power, and crackling of thunder and rumblings of thunder. This declares God’s power. God is fearful, mighty, and all powerful. And then we have the sea of transparent glass, this great expanse of glass, that seems to ripple like an ocean. Perhaps this represents God’s infinite nature, the fact that He exists outside of time, and has no beginning or end.

Before God’s throne we see the seven lamp stands which represent the 7 spirits of God, and perhaps also represent the church. We also see 24 elders, dressed in white, with crowns on their heads. And there are four beasts before God’s throne, constantly declaring these words: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”

They are saying, pure, pure, pure, is our God, who is infinitely in the past, infinitely in the present, and infinitely forward into the future.

Wow. Simply amazing. All these things before God’s throne point us to God the Father’s unique holy nature. And that is ultimately the divine nature we here on Earth must adopt for ourselves in this world, to be fit for the next world that is to come.

Just as my cats walk around my house on all fours, watching me change, watching me read and write, and watching me think and consider, we also watch God do things that we can hardly understand. My cats don’t understand what I’m doing when I’m reading my Bible, or when I’m watching TV or talking on the phone. They just look on with wonder, and crawl onto my lap and love to be near me. It’s the same with you and I like God. We are like the cat watching the human. Or the ant watching the skyscraper. We don’t understand what he’s doing usually, and we don’t have to. We just love him and crawl onto his lap and love him anyway.

What amazes me is that this God, who resides in this throne room, is not only there, but also connected with us down here. God the Father’s presence goes from there, through Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to us. And so God this infinite being in the highest heaven, so mighty, and endless, resides within us as well. That is absolutely shocking, stunning, and amazing. It is an incredible honor that God would reside in us.

In the past during the times of Moses and the tabernacle, God resided in the temple, in the holy of holies, but today, we as the church are God’s temple, so God actually resides within us. That is amazing. And it is also a great motivator to fight tooth and nail to remain temples that are pure and undefiled.

William Booth wrote “Holiness is the royal road to peace, contentment, and joy for you.” We sometimes think of holiness as a terrible burden ,this long list of things we can’t do. And it feels like at times God just wants to stop us from having fun. But that is not the reality my friends, truly it is not. For what sin has ever brought us lasting joy? What sin has ever made us better people? What sin has ever made us more fulfilled? None of them. Not one. Sin is the enemy of our peace, and sin is misery. It may at first appear to be fun or pleasurable, but so quickly it leads to misery.

So what is holiness, for us?

Booth wrote, “Holiness is a distinct definite state; a man can be in it, or out of it. Holiness is enjoyed partially or entirely by all converted people.”

He continues writing, “Every truly converted man is the master of sin, although he may not be entirely delivered from it.”

Yet Booth also said, “Then again, Holiness is a continued growth in sincere souls. With faith, watchfulness, prayer, and obedience, the power of sin diminishes as the days pass along, and the strength of Holiness increases.”

And finally Booth wrote, “The line which separates a state of entire from a state of partial Holiness may be approached very gradually, but there is a moment when it is crossed.”

Just a word on my own walk in holiness. I do not consider myself to have come to the point of “entire sanctification” which is a reality of the Christian life. I’ve only been a Christian for about seven years. I’m not there yet. But I do believe I walk in a sort of holiness, though at this point in my life, it’s one in which I sort of slip in and out of, on any given day. Just the other day, it was about noon I felt the Lord calling me to go before him and repent of something sinful I had said to another. So I did. So in my life, there is this sort of balancing act, where I live holy in Christ, but every few days in prayer I have to confess and repent of certain things that I do that should not be in my life. But I honestly and sincerely believe that there will come a day in my life when I realize, I’ve come to the point of entire sanctification, where sin no longer occurs in my life.

As Booth himself, “By perseverance in the sanctified life spiritual manhood is reached, and the soul is perfected in love; that is maturity.”

Some don’t believe this is possible, unfortunately. They think they must always be mired in sin. But that is not the case. But I do think I understand why some think that. Booth has a good word for us on that. He wrote: “I have no doubt that many fail here by confounding temptation with sin. They pray-they consecrate they believe that they receive, and they rejoice. But by and by when bad thoughts are suggested to their minds, they say to themselves, “Oh I can’t be saved from sin, or I would not have all those wicked thoughts and suggestions streaming through my soul. They confuse temptation with sin.” Being tempted is not sinning. Never forget that. Remember the Bible says Jesus was tempted in every way we are, but He never sinned.

A second mistaken reality is that people assume that holiness must mean total freedom from serious depression and low spirits. That is completely false. Holiness is not to be mistaken for “happiness” or feeling good all the time. If you feel really down or depressed, you can be pure and holy at that same moment. Believe it. Always recall that Jesus Christ himself was a man of sorrows and deeply acquainted with grief and loss. Yet he was perfectly holy.

A third mistake is made also, in that people think it is for others but not for them, or doesn’t really apply to them. Booth said, ““They think there is some fatal necessity laid upon them to sin---at least a little or just now and then. They think that God cannot, or that He will not, or that He has not arranged to save them altogether from their inward evils. They know that the Bible says over and over again in a thousand different ways that the Blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin; and they read God’s promises again and again, that He will pour out His Spirit upon them, to save them from all their idols and filthiness; but they doubt whether it is strictly true or anyway whether it applies to them. And so tossed to and fro by doubts about this holy experience, no wonder that they do not seek to realize it in their own hearts.”

In conclusion today, hear these words clearly: Holiness is not something always out of reach. Remember that today. Hide that truth in your heart. Persevere in your walk with God toward holiness. Never give up. Keep persevering, over weeks, months, years, decades, and further. Holiness is possible. Because our God is holy. And he has put His Spirit in us. And our ultimate destiny is holy universe. A new heavens. A new Earth. A new city of God. Holy heavens. Holy Earth. Holy City. With a holy people residing in the city.

Holiness is the natural state of the ultimate meaning and baseline for the universe. God is holy. Therefore holiness is the default setting for everything. Sin is the exception. Sin is the defect in the system that will be removed. In the end there will be a great burst from the throne room of God, that destroys everything in this universe, the earth, the universe, the heavens, all of it. A giant reset button. All that is sin, whether, Satan, his demons, the works of the flesh, and the people who decided to side with Satan in the rebellion, they will be quarantined in a place of darkness, called hell. Sin must be quarantined, because is ruins everything.

And we ourselves who live out holiness in Christ, will then be taken from this world, found fitting for paradise, and placed in the new heavens, the new universe, on the new Earth, in the new city of God, to live out blissful holy joyous happiness for all eternity. Billions and billions of years, and we will live forever. It wont’ be boring, there will work for us to do, works of art to create, books to write, structures to build, and roads to traverse that lead to places we can hardly imagine. That is your destiny if you will live out holiness in this world. Live it personally, live it in community, and may your humble holiness always shine out as a witness to the world of the amazing glory and goodness of God our heavenly Father. 

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

What is Biblical Social Justice?

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.

Let's talk about social justice in the context of Christianity.  What exactly is social justice?  Depending on who you ask you might get any number of definitions.  But we see that justice ministry is an important subsector of the historic Christian church, and an important teaching in the pages of the Bible.  

From the book of Isaiah chapter 1 verses 16 and 17: (NIV)
16 "Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow."

Again in Proverbs 31:8-9 (ESV) "Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy."

These old testament scriptures are telling, and we also see modeled by Jesus in the New Testament, his seven woes to the pharisees (Matthew 23) and his teachings to care for our neighbors (Luke 10:25-37) and to be salt and light to civilization (Matthew 5:13-16).

Justice ministry is certainly a biblical practice.  But what exactly should it look like?  What issues should we speak out on?  And how do we go about doing it?  

For the founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth, winning people to the gospel of Jesus Christ was the primary concern in 1865. That's what he wanted, to win people to Christ, the destitute and afflicted, who had no one to preach to them.  But along with that, as a secondary concern, there was justice ministry.  Let's consider a few examples.

Salvationists fought for the age of consent to be raised in London.  At the time it was only 13 years old, and they fought successfully, by politically advocating, and by drawing attention to the sexual misconduct taking place, to get the age of consent raised to 16.

Salvationists seeing harmful work conditions, decided they would create their own match factory with more safe conditions and better pay/benefits for workers.  

Salvationists seeing so many Londoners addicted to alcohol traveled around picking people up and putting them on the water wagon, to help them get sober.

There are numerous additional examples. So we see that in the history of the church, and particularly in the Salvation Army, justice ministry has been an important part of the work we do as Christians.  

Historically as well in the larger church, Christianity has in the protestant vein been a force for liberty and freedom for the western hemisphere. God given rights were enshrined in the American founding, as well as other similar democracies throughout the west. The freedom of religion, the right of assembly, and other personal liberties were largely fought for and enshrined in law by Christians active in human history. 

Christians were on the front lines of justice conflicts like the fight to abolish slavery in the United Kingdom, with William Wilberforce successfully defeating the slave trade.  In the United States abolitionist societies cropped up everywhere, and produced the underground railroad, ferrying escaped slaves to freedom. 

Today justice ministry continues in many ways. The Salvation Army has been on the forefront of many of those ministries, including emergency disaster services, feeding programs, utility assistance, child care, hospitals, and orphanages.

If I were to apply a simple definition to Christian justice I would define it as: "The process by which the body of Christ tactfully advocates for the lost, hurting, and marginalized of society, by activities that preserve, protect, and build up human civilization."

Justice ministry however, in the past 10 to 20 years has morphed slightly into social justice. In the recent past we've seen the growth of social justice culture on college campuses across the United States and Europe.  We've seen these social justice warrior groups holding protests, preventing certain 'controversial' speakers from visiting campuses, and promoting ideas like wealth inequality, rape culture, institutional racism, and white privilege among other things. We see the concept being taught that white supremacy is a growing danger in the west.  We see concepts like intersectionality being taught on college campuses.  We see a sort of political correctness taking hold in these institutions.  We see the curtailing of freedom of speech and the development of hate speech laws that often target people with viewpoints that dissent against the current prevailing orthodoxy.  The west's academic institutions have increasingly become places where things like trigger warnings and safe spaces are overriding freedom of speech, and free thought.

So we see these more secular social justice concerns have increasingly migrated from the universities, and have taken hold and been institutionalized as justice ministries within many churches and evangelical/mainline protestant movements.  So we see this wider umbrella ideology of social justice being intertwined with Christianity, and then we see churches beginning to advocate in similar ways to social justice warrior culture.  Is this a good thing?  Should we thoroughly embrace these secular social ideas?  

The important question to ask ourselves is: Are these ideas truly Christian and biblical?  Or are they rooted in something else?  Unfortunately many of these ideas are not rooted in historic Christianity. They are not rooted in natural law, or in any sort of underpinning of a worldview that sees God as the creator, and truth as inherently objective.  Instead these sociological theories of oppression and systemic racism and intersectionality are rooted in a contrary worldview, that of cultural marxism.

This is not to somehow label all those who espouse such beliefs as "marxists" or "socialists." This is simply to recognize the reality that these theories are based in general viewpoints of the world as fundamentally a struggle between oppressor and oppressed. This is to recognize the reality that these viewpoints see the story of civilization as power struggles between groups of people vying for dominance.  

The vast majority of those who espouse viewpoints within this realm are not bad people.  They are good, decent people who are trying to improve the world for Jesus Christ.  They are simply taking what they were taught in the universities and attempting to apply it to Christian faith and practice. 

These people should not be demeaned or mistreated, or told that they are socialists or feminists or Marxists.  They are using information they were taught, to try to make the world a better place.  What we do need to do however is take time to sit down, and process a lot of these ideas and viewpoints, and test them according to the scriptures, according to prayer, and according to their results.  

Do these viewpoints like intersectionality, group identity, institutional racism, and so on really bring people together?  Do they bring people closer to Jesus Christ?  Do they bring about racial reconciliation?  Or do they in fact actually drive people further apart?  Do they bring about Christian love, or do they stir up increased hatred?  That is the real question.  Would Jesus Christ if he were physically on Earth right now be asking people to "check their privilege?"  Or would Jesus Christ be more concerned with me checking myself, and me actually loving people and serving people, instead of me telling others to check themselves?  

We need to have a conversation about social justice, and how Christians should live out justice in the world.  And we should recognize that if we want a fair balance of Christian justice practice, we have to be willing to think outside the box. We have to be willing to talk about issues that are not just sanctioned by the culture, but also issues that political correctness tell us we can't talk about: Yes, like abortion.  Yes, like biblical marriage.  Yes, like human trafficking.  And yes, like racial reconciliation.  

We need to stop for a moment and ask ourselves: Are these Christian practices we see in the realm of social justice? Or are they something else?  Are they really biblical, based in humility, love, kindness, and truthfulness?  

When we get up on the stage at the conference and tell people about how racist they are, and how hateful their ancestors are, and how awful their country is, and how their culture is virtually beyond redemption, honestly, is that really a humble, loving, reconciling Christian way of speaking and living?  When we get up there and virtue signal about how we have all the culturally-correct viewpoints on race and class and gender, is that really helping anyone?  Or is it just making us feel morally superior?  Maybe we need to talk less about justice, and get out there and do more of it.  

So what is Biblical Christian justice?  To me, it means yes, some of the flashy topics like human trafficking and abortion and fighting racism, but it's also a lot of other less glamorous causes to fight, like advocating for the rights of the elderly, and making sure orphans are cared for properly, visiting those nursing homes, visiting those orphanages, and visiting those at-risk youth centers, and sitting down and talking with those addicted teenagers.  It's about setting up those food pantries and soup kitchens. It's about developing educational and after school programs.  

Is it super glamorous? Probably not as much.  But it sure is biblical Christian justice, straight out the Bible.  Does it mean we get to speak out and call out injustice verbally? No, I suppose it doesn't. But it does mean we get to serve people in love.  Does it mean we get to jump on stage and talk about how mean Donald Trump is, and how racist and evil the border wall is?  No, I suppose it doesn't.  It doesn't get that controversial when you visit some old ladies at the nursing home, and tell them that Jesus loves them.  It doesn't get that political when you stop over at the at-risk teen center and tell the kids about how Jesus changed your life.  But boy is it beautiful, full of love, and a glorious, quiet, humble expression of biblical Christian justice.  

I know Christians with a desire to promote justice and equality have a lot of passion to speak out and fight the man, and we can do those things in proper biblical ways.  But we should also focus in on how we do those things, and if we're crossing the line from Christian justice, and into partisan politics.  It can easily go both ways sadly. In a rural community it can mean pretty soon a church is becoming increasingly right wing in their 'justice causes.'  And in the urban context it can look like 'social justice' causes that look pretty left wing in their political agenda.  We have to avoid both of those extremes, and walk the narrow way of biblical Christian justice.  

I'm the first one to say that we need to speak out on controversial issues like racism, abortion, human trafficking, religious liberty, and marriage.  But let's consider our methods.  Is it better to love, or better to stir up dissension and anger?  Is it better to mock and ridicule, or better to understand?  Will racism be destroyed by dividing up people based on the color of their skin, or by bringing people together as one body, one people, united in Christ Jesus?  I'll let you make that determination.  Let's consider our ways carefully, and let us return to the Lord, in love, in truth, and in great humility, great compassion, and yes, a great zeal for justice to be done. 

“Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways." -Haggai 1:5-7 NIV

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Spirit of Burning Love

Audio Message:

“You must love each other. You must love your soldiers. You must love poor sinners. You must love God. And that not after a fickle, cold, half-hearted fashion, but with a changeless, quenchless, burning love. The vast majority of this poor undone world are hopelessly sinking down into slavery, debauchery, idolatry, and all manner of iniquity. These things lead to every kind of wretchedness in this life and in the life to come. Luxury, law, wealth, science, learning, and no end of other human contrivances have failed to remedy this state of affairs, and have failed. Love is the remedy. Here is the divine panacea, this is the recipe for the millennium-love. Divine love. Oh, for a deluge of this blessed spirit. “ –the word of William Booth, the founder.

The quotation I just read was penned by William Booth and spoken to a congress long, long ago. It’s been recorded for us in a book called “The Seven Spirits” by William Booth. Over the next three weeks I’ll be sharing a series on three key mindsets of the holy born again Christian which are outlined in the Seven Spirits. Today, we consider the vitally important Spirit of Burning Love. If you recall at commissioning Dr. Bill and Diane Ury made mention of the Seven Spirits, and it’s a book that I love, so I thought it would wonderful to delve into this book. Let’s begin.

God is love. His heart burns with complete love for the world and the people in it. God’s love goes beyond anything we can imagine. We have only a poor understanding of God’s love as it truly exists. But we do have a picture of God’s love, when Jesus Christ bled and died on the cross, for the sins of the world, sins that he did not commit, He put on himself, all for the hope of bringing us to heaven pure and blameless.

But love is a word that gets tossed around in our culture a great deal. It’s a word that’s been abused and misused in our time. So it’s important that we consider what biblical Christian love really means. William Booth calls worldly love something of mere instinct at it’s best. It’s really just a give and take sort of affair. We love someone because they are nice to us. We “love” ice cream. We “love” our sports teams. But that is not what biblical Christian love is.

Biblical Christian love is an action.

This is how William Booth defines biblical love. He calls it a “Holy celestial flame which emanates from the heart of God, which unselfishly seeks the highest well being of it’s object, both for this world and the next.” It is a completely unselfish desire for the very best for someone else, here and in the world to come.

Today we try so hard not to offend anyone, not to say anything that might make someone feel hurt, or unhappy. But that is not biblical love. Biblical love cares so much for someone that is lost in sin, it warns them that they are on the wrong path and pleads with them in love to come to Jesus Christ for salvation.

Worldly love says don’t make a scene, just keep walking, be polite, don’t say anything. Don’t tell them they are wrong. Don’t try to convince them to come to Jesus. Just walk right on by. Then at least we didn’t cause a scene. Then at least we didn’t have to put ourselves out on a limb. But that’s not love. That’s disregard for our neighbors.

True biblical love is a selfless desire for the very best of that person we see. Even if it means we have to offend them. I’ll give you an example.

My friend Pam and Henry are stationed in Connor Creek. Great Godly people. But Pam told me this story once about how she came to know Jesus. She was out somewhere, in a very provocative outfit. And a woman came up to her, and gently placed her hand on Pam’s shoulder and said to her “My dear, you shouldn’t be dressed that way. God has better things for you than that. God loves you.” And Pamela turned around and glared at her and said, “Don’t you touch me. You don’t know me. Get away from me!” Now that person left having loved Pam with biblical love. Many of us might say, But who is this woman to tell Pam how to dress? That is the wrong reaction. This woman was sharing the truth in love with Pam. And I’ll tell you how it ended. Pam my dear friend, could not stop thinking about that phrase “God loves you.” It repeated in her mind for months, and months, and eventually she gave her life to Jesus. All because some lady was willing to be brave enough to talk to Pam, and get yelled at, and walk away feeling rejected. That woman who talked to Pam succeeded in her calling.

Many of us would never dream of doing something like that. It’s not polite. It’s not politically correct. But today Pam is a minister of the gospel. Imagine if that woman had been too afraid, and just decided to mind her own business.

It’s not quite what we might expect, this idea of Christian love. Christian love is to speak the truth in love.

Now we can feel love for people. I’ve felt love many times, for my family, for my session mates at training college, and for congregation members at the corps I’ve served in. That is a good thing. But we need more.

We as salvationists are in need of a burning passionate love, a continuous burden for the people of the world. Now this is not referring to a feeling. Biblical love is not chiefly a feeling. But this is an attitude of the mind, grounded in scripture, that entails emotion as it is practiced. Let me say that again: Burning love is an attitude of the mind, grounded in scripture, that entails emotions as it is practiced. Meaning we serve people in action, and the emotional response comes later.

Up to this point we have talked of this burning love as one we pour out to the people of the world, righteous and unrighteous, good and evil, but this burning love must first be found. Where does it come from? Not from us.

Burning love flows from God, to us, through Jesus. In effect God is the one who works in us, in the Holy Spirit, making us able to love with a love so far beyond what is possible in and of ourselves.

As Jesus said, you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And also love your neighbor as yourself.

This burning love that flows from the throne of God, comes to us through Jesus Christ, applied to us by the Holy Spirit, and flies from our own souls back to the throne of God in our adoration of God, and from our souls to the souls about us, as love for our neighbor.

Now, do not be overly concerned if you do not at this time sense a great burning love flowing from your heart. But do pray earnestly, and study the scriptures diligently to seek after this burning love. For as we seek to love God, and to love others, prayerfully, and in scripture, the Holy Spirit will gradually begin to reveal this love in our lives.

Soon, after months, and years, we will realize, I love these people. I really love them. I love sinner. I love God. I love trees. I love good food. I love my cats. I love my dog. I love that homeless man. I love Jesus. I love the beautiful sunset, the sunrise, the rippling water on the lake. And we will realize over time that this love has been spread forth by the Holy Spirit within us into a rippling burst of sunlight, rays shining in a great circle from our soul bursting forth to everything and everyone around us, and bursting forth upward to the throne of God, to our great, glorious God whose love he provides to us, and whose love he receives again from us. Hallelujah, God be praised. He crafts us into love sick burning ones who burn with compassionate biblical love for the world.

Yet we also must add this caveat. As William Booth rightly put it “Nevertheless, with all this sympathy for men and goodness, the officer possessed of this burning love will be a fierce hater of evil. His love of God and truth and righteousness will make him the uncompromising opponent of sin. The more he loves God the more he will hate the devil. The more he loves purity, the more he will hate filthiness. His love of goodness will so educate him into the understanding of the hellish character of badness, and so inflame his heart with hatred of it, that at the Last Day he will consent, nay, rejoice in the everlasting banishment from God of those who will persevere in wickedness.”

In the heart of Jesus Christ was the deepest hatred for evil, so much so that he drove the tax collectors and money changers from the temple in a great fury that blazed in his eyes. Yet the word also says, that when Jesus saw the multitudes, lost in sin, as sheep without a shepherd, He had compassion on them. His heart ached for them, and he had great compassion them.

So William Booth also wrote, “You and I may condemn wickedness. We must condemn it. We cannot help but condemn and hate the drunkenness, the pride, the selfishness, the lust, and a thousand other devilish things that are carried on around us. But if we are possessed of this Burning Love we shall compassionate the guilty doers of these hateful things.”

I couldn’t agree more. The maxim is true, hate the sin, love the sinner. I hate sin. I hate how sin ruins homes. I hate how sin causes ugly divorces. I hate how sin brings about injustice, human trafficking, and domestic violence. I hate sin in all it’s forms. Sin has ravaged our world. It ruins us. But I love the sinner so much. I must have great mercy, great compassion, and great love for the people lost in sin. I don’t find this terribly hard actually. Because as you know from my story I’ve been in so many sins, up to the neck in the slimy pits of sin. I know how seductive it can be. I know how powerful it’s hold is. I know how addictive sins of the flesh can be. And I know how often times we are impacted negatively by circumstances beyond our control.

I’ve ministered to many people, from drug addicts, to those struggling with pride. It doesn’t matter what the sin is. Sin is sin, it’s God word, it doesn’t change. Every sin listed in the Bible is permanently forbidden. That’s just the truth. As much as some in our world want to change the word of God to suit their own opinions, it doesn’t change. But neither does God’s love, and our mandate to radically love those caught up in sins.

In conclusion, in our scripture today, Jesus said this: “5 The one who is victorious will be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name." -Revelation 3:5-12

The one who is victorious, as Jesus Christ mentions twice in our scripture today, is the one who live a pure life in Christ Jesus, practicing the two great commands, to Love God, and love our neighbors. True, biblical love is a consistent, action oriented burning love, that flows from the throne of God, through Jesus, into us, and back out to God and to our neighbor. Love is not merely a feeling. Love is not a nice suggestion from Jesus. Love is a command from almighty God. Therefore, let us live biblical burning love in everything we do. Love the sinner, hate the sin, and take action to disturb the moment by interrupting people as they walk toward destruction, by inviting them to the path of salvation found in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Last night we had a bonfire in my backyard. And I watched the fire crackling and burning. Slowly around us darkness set. But it was still light enough to see the beautiful trees swaying in the wind. Birds swooped by flapping their wings through the air. The smell of freshly cut grass filled our nostrils. A rabbit hopped about in the neighbors yard. Then all at once, fireflies began bursting forth their lights across the grasses, bursting forth in waves, all at once, then darkness, then another wave, over the bushes, the grasses, and all about. They danced back and forth over the beautiful trees and grasses, plants, flowers, and bushes. Nature has a song, for those willing to hear it. The beauty of this world, the way is all fits together just right, is astonishing. If this is not evidence for God, I don’t know what is. As the darkness grew, we could only see the fire, and the fireflies. Sometimes, in our lives, we think the darkness has set in. And we can’t handle what is coming next. But in darkness is when we shine brightest. Like the fireflies, we must burst forth the light of God. We aren’t seen, but God is. That is the ultimate love, the love that comes from the Holy Spirit through us, to another. It’s not of us, it’s of another world. It’s supernatural. And if we do it right, we’re like the firefly, declaring God’s glory, but ourselves, we are invisible, and the light that is seen is God’s love, not our own. Be a vessel of that burning love, so that you burst forth so brightly, that in someone elses darkness, you become a light of hope, and glory, pointing them to Jesus Christ.