Monday, April 29, 2019

A Corrections Officer Who Lived Micah 6:8 in Prison Work - Guest Post by John Stephenson

Correctional Work as a Christ Follower 
I spent the majority of my working career as a Correctional Officer with my Provincial (State) Corrections Division. After attending University I worked in the business world.

I had a period when my use of alcohol and drugs caught up with me. I had an 8 to 10 week binge that started in Halifax, Nova Scotia and ended in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I had traveled about 2,200 miles. That motivated me to seek treatment and deal with my addictive behavior. This was in the summer of 1973. I entered a Rehab Program at The Salvation Army and 3 months into it came back to faith in God, and became a Salvation Army Soldier in January 1974.

Coming off the program I took a temporary fill in position as Science Resource Specialist at a High School for a couple of months while the incumbent was off sick. When they returned I started working as Counselor/Chaplain and Evening supervisor at The Salvation Army Men’s Social Services Hostel in Winnipeg.

During that time I started dating a woman who was a lifelong Salvationist and we got engaged and married. We entered Training College in 1975 and were commissioned in 1977. We left TSA a few years later and worked for a Presbyterian Church in Canada for a few years, mainly on a Northern Mission field before returning to Winnipeg. 

It was just after that I took a position with Manitoba Corrections as a Correctional Officer. I worked at the Winnipeg Remand Centre (Pretrial Detention). I had wanted a Probation Officer role but they weren't hiring for that at the time. Little did I know that I would spend 20 plus years working in institutional corrections.

So I then began to experience a world that was dark and different. As a new CO1 I was tested by both staff and inmates. Staff, knowing I had been a Minister and a Salvation Army Officer were leery thinking I was a bleeding heart liberal. Inmates tried to pull the wool over my eyes for the same reason.

But I saw an opportunity to effect how Inmates were treated in Correctional facilities. I also saw an opportunity to affect how staff dealt with Inmates and how they viewed inmates, often times, as less than human.

I resolved to try and practice what one of my favorite verses said in the Bible. Micah 6:8 (NCV):

“The Lord has told you what is good. He has told you what He wants from you: ‘Do what is right to other people, love being kind to others. And live humbly, trusting you God.’"

This verse speaks of compassion, mercy, and justice. It was my goal to live this out in my duties. Staff saw that I could deal with violent inmates and hold my own in an environment where use of force was often needed. Inmates saw that I treated them as humans who mattered. In fact I often joked that their job was to be a criminal while mine was to make sure they stayed in jail and behaved while there.

So how did a brand new CO1 do that? One example came from one of the duty assignments that two staff had during the working shift-Coffee and Cleaning…you and your partner saw to the Inmate Trustees who swept, mopped and cleaned that jail, did the laundry and distributed the coffee between meals to Inmate locations. I noticed that many of our trustees were being fired or thrown into segregation and figured out through talking to them and watching that many had no idea of how to sweep and clean properly. So I began asking each new trustee if they knew how to sweep, mop, do laundry and took time to show them how to. All of a sudden the function was being done properly.

It did not take long for the message to get around to inmates that I , while tough and demanding, actually was willing to teach them, and would take time to talk with them and give them suggestions.

They noticed I was different. Staff took notice as well, including our Shift Managers. But it didn’t become an issue because they realized that in a fight situation or a code call that I could hold my own. Our facility was a dangerous one with issues regarding safety and health. Not just for staff, but also for inmates.

It didn’t take long before I was trusted by both staff and inmates. In fact within a year and a few months, I was elected President of the Corrections Component covering the jail, a youth facility, and component chair for the full provincial corrections component.

As a result I ended up as Operations Coordinator for that facility with CO4 rank within 3 to 4 years of my start. I was then tasked by Corrections Division and our Superintendent to coordinate the building process of a new standalone Remand Centre and to create a new method of Inmate Supervision.

Balancing the need for staff safety and providing safe housing for inmates in an environment that included Correctional Officers, providing case management, and counselling as well as Security was like walking a tightrope at times but it worked.

Along the way in those first 8 years of my career in Corrections both staff and inmates picked up on the fact that I was a believer. 

No, I didn’t tell them you need to get saved or else but I practiced and lived Micah 6:8. I tried to show compassion and mercy, even when disciplining inmates, and as a manager disciplining staff. And it worked.

I can remember as a CO1 being on a Hospital Escort with another CO1 when he asked me why did I even talk with him, and treat him as a friend when I knew he was going straight to hell due to his lifestyle of drugs, booze, and sex. My answer was: "You're my friend." I ran into this guy at a funeral 2 years ago-almost 30 years after that day, and he believes in Jesus.

I also remember being on mercy seat duty at a Divisional Congress here in Winnipeg. It was a Sunday evening meeting when a guy off the street came to the mercy seat. I recognized him! 

I knew that I had to deal with him rather than some of the others on mercy seat duty. He was a regular prisoner who on almost every occasion when he came into jail was a major security problem, and fought staff constantly. I knelt and prayed with him, talked with him, and all of a sudden he was a friend. The next few times when he came in to jail I never had an issue with him. 

Many years later when I was Jail Security Operations for the Division I was at Headingly Gaol in the basement gym and off in a corner I could see him using weights. He noticed me, put down the weights and headed over. Staff tried to intercept him. I told them not to-just watch. He reached where I was, put his arms around me and hugged me thanking me for what I had done years before. That turned into a teaching moment for me when I turned to the staff there, and explained what happened and why.

And today as a 68 year old retiree I am convinced that we need more Christians working as Correctional Officers. It is the influence and attitude that comes with faith and following Micah 6:8 that can impact a criminal and bring change as well as impact staff to realize that inmates are humans who are no different in their needs than ourselves.

Biography of John Stephenson
I was born in New Waterford on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia on 24 May 1950. I was brought up Roman Catholic and was active as an Altar Boy through to about 17. I was being recruited by a couple of Orders of Priests and our Diocese to be a Priest.
I started University in September 1967 under the Regular Officer Training Plan with the goal of being an Officer in Canada’s Military. Finished University in 1971. While at University I get heavily involved in the Hippie Movement of the late 60s as well as Radical Politics and Student Activism. As well I became a user of illicit drugs (LSD, Marijuana, Hashish, Magic Mushrooms et al) as well as alcohol abuse .
Eventually dealt with my straying from faith and my chemical addictions in 1973 after a 10 to 12 week 2,000 mile drug and alcohol binge. This also meant coming back to faith in God and joined The Salvation Army. Got married attended Training College (1975-1977). My wife and I were commissioned and ordained in 1977. Eventually resigned and worked for PCIC as a Minister and Missionary in a far Northern Isolated area for a few years.
Started working for Manitoba Justice-Corrections in 1984.
Retired in 2005 as Chief Correctional Officer working for Director of Institutional Corrections as Jail Operation Specialist.
Have 4 children and 4 grandchildren.
Presently a member of living Hope Community Church of  The Salvation Army in Winnipeg where I serve as Vice-Chair of Ministry Board , teach Bible Study , and serve as Chair of Social Services Advisory Community Board of The Centre of Hope.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Waking Up in the Dream - Epic Poem

Star light, glorious
Moon light, the mystery of God’s hand
The warmth of the day, a breeze
In awe of this undertaking.

Living dreams in a reality in which I’m awaking,
Confusion, hard metal surfaces,
Grit and grime, rust and faded paint
Yellow tint of the cat tails along the highways

One day eyes opening,
Discovering a touch of light
That penetrates within me
It becomes part of me,

I am transformed
the grit and grime washed away
set as a heir of an empire
named as a person of great worth
marked with the symbol
property of God

I have a mission
A calling
No longer a slave to the consumerist nightmare
No longer a freak show repeating disaster
Instead a light in the darkness
A prince of the king
A chariot of fire
On a mission, in a battle,
Carrying a torch in the city,
A rally cry for the provision of the many,
A caring mention of something better,
A light to the cities beyond us, ever crumbling,

Yet the battle rages within,
Between what I used to be, and Who I am now,

I want to speak up, I want to shout from the rooftops
But I’m so afraid to say something,
Distracted by the limelight, distracted by this life,
So many people living lives for selfish pleasure
Outside the valley of broken dreams
I want to shout come home to Jesus
But there’s a trembling within,

Lakes, rivers, and streams
Chariots of fire over the valleys
The roaring of the people in their rejection
Of the beauty of the one behind the mountains

A trumpet blast upon the air waves
It echoes across the broken cities
Terror and rejoicing join in the air
As a son makes ready those he loves

He’s coming sooner than we think,
The clock is ticking,
I can see the clocktower overlooking the cities,
The people walk around in their apathy
Looking at their smart phones,
Looking at the reflection of themselves in the bean downtown
Selfies, selfies, and modern ideologies,
Despairing children in broken homes,
And endless lines of people at the counter,
Waiting for their products and purchases,
Living do they realize,
Dying mighty they recognize,
That to live is to die, and to die is to gain,
The whole world in Jesus Christ,
The living gospel proclaimed,

I see a people rising up around me,
One by one, day by day,
In no great rush, but steadfastly and determined,
A great holy army, rising up,
Proclaiming the mighty gospel
Doing great deeds in the name of Jesus,
The Holy Spirit reigning in a great awakening,
That brings this hallowed out shallow miserable generation,
To the feet of the cross, where he lay dying,
Nailed to the tree he did so willingly,
And the world was changed that day, forever and always,
This generation brought home,
This generation opening into the gates of heaven,
God’s people rising up,
Could it be?  Could it really come? 
Or is it just a dream?
I see brilliance in the eyes of God’s mighty people
Here comes the end time army,
Bringing these people, to the open arms of Jesus,
To wash them, save them, give them hope, a future, holiness, eternal life.
I’m a part of this,
Someone pinch me,
I’m living in a dream,
This dream, too good to be true,
I have to pinch myself,
Sometimes I do,
And I think I might wake up in a hospital bed, a near dead junkie,
Who was having a dream, the best possible dream he could have,
But it turned out Jesus came into my story,
And turned that dream into reality,
And now I live, I’m a live, born again, and part of a holy, Spirit-filled end times salvation army waiting for the return of the Lord Jesus!
 Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Jesus is Literally Alive Right Now

Audio Message:

The disciples were terrified. They hid together in their dwelling in Jerusalem, trembling with fear. They didn’t know if roman soldiers or temple guards might burst through the doors at any moment and arrest them all. They might all die, just like Jesus died, scourged with whips, and nailed to wooden blanks. They didn’t know what would happen.

But something was strange about how Jesus died. There were a series of strange reports. There was an earthquake while Jesus was on the cross, and before the earthquake there had been 3 hours of darkness, from noon until 3. The two women who went to the tomb said they saw Jesus there, and he was alive. But most of them didn’t believe it. Rumors spread that the cloth barrier that separated the holy of holies in the temple had been torn in two from top to bottom, the massive quilt barrier that separated the people from God in the temple, at the very moment Jesus died.

What was happening? What was going on? Would you turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter 24, and we’re looking at verses 36-48. And we see Jesus has been crucified, and his followers are in hiding.

Two of the disciples had just arrived. And they tell the story of how they walked on the Emmaus road and were talking to a fellow traveler on the road. They talked for some time, and then they realized that the man walking with them was Jesus! And then he suddenly vanished. What a strange story!

Then Jesus suddenly appears right in front of all of them. And he says “I’m alive! It’s me!” The disciples are terrified and they think they’re seeing a ghost. He shows them his hands and feet. He tells them that he is no ghost, he is real. He shows them his hands and feet, the holes where he was pierced in his flesh. Those wounds would never fully heal, never. Think about that, what God himself was willing to do for you and me.

Jesus did something eternal for us. Today he bears those same marks. He still has the hole in his side where the spear was driven into his abdomen. And Jesus is alive. Jesus is alive right now!

And He is hard at work. He is hard at work in many beautiful ways. He’s active in the world through his body, the church, which is you. He’s active in heaven, the reality beyond this world, where God lives.

He is actively interceding for us, that is, talking to God on our behalf, and asking for God the Father to have mercy on us who are in the world. Jesus is also active preparing our dwellings in the eternal city of God, which will come down out of heaven when God remakes the world.

Why then are we so often like the disciples? Why are we so afraid? We often fear and misunderstand what God is doing in our lives. Just like the disciples didn’t understand that Jesus intentionally went to the cross for the purpose of being a sacrifice for our sins.

It’s scary when things go wild in our lives. We often don’t understand what’s happening. Especially when something terrible happens. But often it’s a blessing in disguise, even if simply for the fact that it’s molding us into the image of Christ.

The disciples must’ve thought it was over, Jesus had died. And that was it. But it doesn’t end there. It’s the same in our lives. We think it’s over, but it isn’t over.

Yet we so often doubt God. Why do we doubt? Why did the disciples doubt Jesus? I mean they could see him and touch his hands and feet. He was right there in the room, yet they were still doubting.

We often have the same problem today. We’ve seen how Jesus has transformed our lives. We’ve seen how Jesus has changed the lives of our loved ones. We’ve seen it all. Yet we still doubt.

I suppose it’s natural to doubt the supernatural. We don’t naturally see things like resurrection, or miracles. But it’s really not that difficult when you think about it. I mean, think about it, God made the world from nothing. Everything we see. How hard is it then for Him to resurrect Jesus from the dead?

In any case, it’s wise to consider all the facts in a situation. So I’d like to share with you three quotations from prominent thinkers about the resurrection of Christ:

First we have a quotation from Timothy Paul Jones: “The central claim of the NT is that Jesus was physically resurrected after being crucified. If this claim arose from decades of embellishment instead of historical truth, then Jesus is dead, the apostles were liars, and our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:14–17). But evidences from the first and second centuries reveal that eyewitness testimony about Jesus emerged rapidly and circulated reliably. The NT texts relied on testimonies from apostolic eyewitnesses, and all of these texts were completed while the eyewitnesses were still alive. That’s why we can declare with confidence: Don’t worry; I read the book. He didn’t stay dead.”

Our second quote comes from Nabeel Qureshi, a muslim man who converted to Christianity:

“After studying the historical origins of the Christian faith, I came to these conclusions: that Jesus died on the cross is as certain as anything historical can be; that he rose from the dead is by far the best explanation of the events surrounding his death; and that Jesus claimed to be God is the best explanation for the immediate Christian proclamation of Jesus’ deity. Putting it all together: Jesus claimed to be God, and he proved it by rising from the dead. The case for Christianity is powerful.”

Finally, we hear from William Lane Craig a Christian apologist:

“When we turn to the Gospels, we find multiple, independent attestation of this burial story, and Joseph of Arimathea is specifically named in all four accounts. On top of that, the burial story in Mark is so extremely early that it’s simply not possible for it to have been subject to legendary corruption. When you read the New Testament, there’s no doubt that the disciples sincerely believed the truth of the resurrection, which they proclaimed to their deaths. The idea that the empty tomb is the result of some hoax, conspiracy, or theft is simply dismissed today.”

Those are really powerful historical evidences for the resurrection. Atheists often try to make it seem like we Christians believe in some legendary myth, but any real historian knows the Christian faith is rooted deeply in history.

But let’s continue forward in the text. I want to direct your attention to verse 44, where Jesus plainly tells them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Jesus is saying, essentially, I told you this would happen. This was the plan all the way back to four thousand years earlier, when it was promised that one in the line of Adam would crush the head of Satan. Everything in the Old Testament was pointing forward to the coming of Jesus, Genesis, Exodus, every book, it all points to Jesus.

Look at verses 46 through 48. This is really powerful:

46 Jesus said “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 You are witnesses of these things.”

I want to direct you toward the word “repentance” in verse 47. Jesus could’ve easily said, “this message of faith.” But he used the word repentance. And this is the number one thing that I’ve learned at the Salvation Army officer’s training college. The issue of holiness. I don’t think I really understood repentance and holiness before.

We serve a holy God, who commands us to repent of our sins. What does it mean to repent? To repent means we turn away from sin and live the way God wants us to live. If you don’t remember anything else we’ve talked about today, remember this: You must live a holy life to get into heaven. If you have any active sins in your life, they are a threat to your eternal soul. I never understood this is the past. But it’s a fact. We can’t be cavalier with sin. Sin will lead us to hell.

Jesus is essentially telling his disciples: This is the plan. I died on the cross, I was resurrected on the third day, and now the plan must move forward. Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached to all the nations. People will be washed in my blood, to be made holy, and their lives will be changed completely. And that’s exactly what has happened over the last two thousand years. The message of the gospel has spread across the face of the Earth, from Jerusalem, across Europe, down into Africa, to the east, to the north, and today here in north America, and if you think about it virtually every nation on the planet has heard the gospel. It’s changed billions of lives. Jesus’ plan is being fulfilled.

Jesus is alive right now! He is in heaven. And the ultimate culmination of history is when Jesus Christ returns. I truly believe that Jesus Christ will return, very very very soon. I believe he will almost certainly return in my lifetime.

It's been nearly six thousand years exactly since God created mankind in the garden. The word says that one day is like a thousand years to the Lord. Could it be that we’re in the six day right now? Could the return of Christ be at hand? Of course no one knows the day and the hour. But with all we see happening in the world, Christ is coming very soon. He is coming for a spotless and blameless church, a church without sin.

Just like the disciples, we often tremble in fear, at what we see happening in the world around us. We can’t imagine how things could change or get better. Just like the disciples, we often doubt Jesus power. But then Jesus walks in that door, and stands in our midst, and reminds us powerfully: Here I am. I’m alive right now. And you are my disciples. When Jesus appeared to the disciples they went from men and women whimpering in fear to mighty proclaimers of the resurrection willing to die for their witness of Christ. We are all such witnesses. Friends, I may never see you again. I’ll be sent out somewhere in 49 days, to minister. But remember friends, Jesus is alive, He will help you, so live zealous service in true holiness, and freedom from sin.

Stay on fire for God. Live out your faith in Christ. Because Christ is alive right now. And he is coming, indeed he is at the door. So be holy, as he is holy. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Street Evangelism is Powerful: The Majesty of Carrying the Gospel

"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many." -2 Corinthians 1:8-11

We often dream of great and mighty things. We dream of love that would be like a beautiful song, or music video. We dream of doing great things for God. We dream of revivals and great awakenings. We dream of a world that would made right by Christ. We dream of winning thousands to our savior Jesus.

And sometimes, after the days pass by, and things come about rather normally, like they did for me, as I’ve been here, and it didn’t happen for me, we often feel quite saddened.

We can find ourselves in the Christian life, under pressure, filled with stress, and scrambling to meet deadlines. Just as Paul and his companions. It says they were under great pressure, far beyond what they could even endure.

Have you ever heard that saying “God will not give you more than you can handle?” Yeah, that isn’t true. Jesus sweat blood in the garden because he couldn’t handle it. And Paul felt so overpowered, so burdened, so stressed that it says “he despaired of life itself.”

Have you ever felt that way? It’s not uncommon to those in the ministry. Think of the great prophet Elijah. He had won a great victory for the Lord in his showdown with the 500 false prophets of Baal. But he was overwhelmed and fled when he was threatened by Jezebel. He hid alone in the wilderness and said to God that he wishes he would just die.

But this is not the end of the story. Because God delivers us. In that very same verse it says, that Paul felt that they had suffered the sentence of death. They felt so disturbed, so overwhelmed that they felt dead. Like they’d been cut down. But it doesn’t end there.

It says But this happened, why? That we might rely on God, not on ourselves. Instead, we rely on God, who does what? Raises the dead. He delivered them from the deadly peril they faced, and Paul knew they would be delivered again.

We’re constantly offered up in this life to death. We carry the very death of Christ with us. We’re constantly offered up to trials, tribulations, persecutions, and sorrows. Yet we set out hopes on Christ, who does come and deliver us. Not by preventing the troubles we face, but by allowing those troubles to shape us, form us, and mold us into the likeness of Christ.

We may see great revivals, and great awakening, and great moves of God that we get to take part in. Someday I may just meet my wife and get married, and be truly in love. Each one of us have hopes and dreams and secret desires that we just see come to fruition. Or maybe they won’t. But our job is to be faithful to our God, whether we get what we want, or don’t get what we want.

No matter where Paul went in his ministry, he was doing one thing: Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that always came with one thing: Trouble. Controversy. Stress. Rejection. Yet he continued, despite being beaten, dragged out of the city, arrested, flogged, and so on. All for the desperate desire for people to get saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Today we have the great opportunity to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is our call. That is our mission. We can go out and learn. We can go out and speak. We can meet human needs. But eventually we must ourselves speak the word that brings life, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The good news that Jesus Christ, God in human form, came into human history, on a rescue mission to save us, that Jesus took the penalty for our sins, and was slaughtered on the cross as a substitutionary atonement for you and for me.

We have a lot excuses for why we don’t evangelize. Why we don’t share the gospel. Why we don’t talk to people about Jesus. We’re too busy. We’ve got too much homework. We’ve got to get stats in. But I think it comes down to something pretty simple. We’re afraid. We don’t want to be rejected. We don’t want to offend anyone.

If we’re afraid to preach the gospel, what hope is there for the world? We have to be brave. We have to bold as lions. We have to be willing to speak up. Because time is running out for the people of this world. Their souls hang in the balance. All people who have ever been born will go to one of two places, either heaven with God in eternal joy or hell to be tormented endlessly for all eternity. Heaven is real, and hell is real. How much do we have to hate people to not tell them about Jesus? Yet I do it everyday. I don’t speak up at Jewel at the cash register. I don’t speak up at the laundry mat. I don’t speak up at the street corner. I don’t say a word at the bank. Unnacceptable. Completely unacceptable.

Sometimes we say well, you can’t evangelize like that it has to be relationships. And it’s true that relational evangelism is a good thing. But you’d be amazed how many stories I’ve heard about how people, total strangers, willing to be Jesus to people, got people saved. A pastor was visiting at the drug rehab center in St Louis at my summer assignment. Young guy in his late twenties. And he told the story of how he got saved. He was standing outside at college, smoking a cigarette, and a Christian walked right up to him, made a B-line to him, and started talking to him about Jesus. And he got saved. Today he’s a pastor impacting hundreds of people. Imagine if that man had been too afraid to walk up to him. Where would he be today? I think of Pam. Pam told me the story of how a woman she didn’t walked up to her, and said, “God loves you.” And Pam yelled at her, said don’t touch me, you don’t know me. But you know what? Those three words, Jesus loves you, stuck in Pam's mind for months, and she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Just because one woman was willing to say three words to a stranger. I always remember that, when I’m afraid to open my mouth. And then there’s me.

Two girls at college walked up to me in the hallway and said, “Do you think if you died today you would go to heaven?” They were using a method called evangelism explosion on me. I took the bait and they talked to me about Jesus. I laughed them off. They probably thought they blew it. They didn’t. They didn’t. I still remember that conversation to this very day, with two strangers, who were brave enough to come trembling to me, and speak the name of Jesus. Street evangelism is powerful. Never forget that.

And if your afraid, let me tell you this: The word of God says you must not fear them, instead you should fear God. So if you’re afraid switch that fear over to God. What will happen if you don’t preach to them? Will God hold you responsible on the day of judgment for their blood? Tremble at the thought of not reaching them for Jesus. Don’t tremble at the thought of talking to them. Tremble at what will happen if you don’t.

But most of all, remember, remember, remember, what Jesus Christ our dear friend, our dear savior did for you. Remember the nails that were pounded through Jesus own hands, and own feet. I have a little nail on my key chain, as a reminder. When I get nervous, I slip my hand into my pocket and rub the nail, and remember what Jesus did to remove my sin. If Jesus had not come and died on the cross, all of us would be sent to the fires of hell, plain and simple. That’s a fact. Jesus paid it all, without that payment, we are all doomed, because we’ve all sinned terrible. Jesus did everything. He was slaughtered as sin, for my sin, despite how perfect and righteous and holy he was and is.

Please, pause for a moment, and remember the nails that Jesus took for us. And remember the fate of those who don’t know Jesus as Lord.
Love is why Jesus came. And love why Jesus died. Let us carry that love to others. Finding Jesus was the greatest thing that ever happened to my life. Let’s give others that opportunity. 

Related Posts:
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  4. What does it mean to Repent?
  5. The Divine Image, the Family & the Social Order
  6. 25 Powerful Quotes on Why Christianity is actually True
  7. The Destroyers of America & the Home of the Peacemakers
  8. Post-modernism is Dead, Jesus is AliveThe Illusions of Modern Society and the Gospel
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Monday, April 8, 2019

Living a Lifestyle of Repentance: Unhooking the Plugs of the World

Matthew 4:17 "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

God has transformed my world! The crazy thing is it happens over and over again. I get to watch as God reshapes me over and over again!  It's intense man, it is really intense sometimes.  But it's also incredibly joyous.  

I want everyone to experience God this way. But we have to go deeper with God than most really do.  I hate, hate, hate going half-way.  I want radical, all out, all in faith in God.  I want all of God, or nothing at all.  I'm not willing to just give God a few minutes here and there and call it good.  No, I'm going to praise God for an hour.  I'm going to study His word longer, and go deeper.  I'm going to chase after wisdom and knowledge.  I'm gonna read, I'm gonna watch sermons and listen to podcasts.  I'm seeking God, all of God.

God show me your glory!  Is that the cry of your heart? I truly hope it is.  Too many have settled in. We've gotten comfortable. Too comfortable!  Things need to be shaken up.  We need more prayer.  We need more of the Christian worldview.  We need deeper depths of experiencing God.  We need harsher challenges.  We need more furiously burning trials.  We need to sleep and dream of heaven's glory, we need to wake and see a battlefield for the souls of humanity.  

We need repentance.  True repentance, deep repentance.  We needs tears before the throne of God.  I lament for my the state of my soul.  I lament for how easily I do stupid things that God calls sin.  I lament for any bit of sin in me.  I want holiness.  Make me holy Lord!  Make us holy as you are holy! 

We need a time of fasting, prayer, and confession of our sin.  We need extended times of openly forgiving those who have hurt us. We need a time of repentance, to confess that we've set God off to the side of our lives, when He should be the center.

It's not to make us feel bad.  It's not to hurt our feelings.  No. This is about being transformed by God.  This is about God clearing away things in us that need to go, so that we can grow in his grace and become all that He has called us to become.  

What we have failed to realize in our lost generation of passivity, luke-warmness, and tolerance of sin is that the sins we don't repent of are deadly, and they will take us away to hell.  We have a very cavalier attitude toward sin in our modern time.  We just promote 'grace, grace, grace' and we don't even teach our people about heaven and hell and the reality of the coming judgment.  

If we have sins in our lives that we haven't repented of, do you think God will hold us guiltless?  No, he will not.  God loves us incredibly, so very deeply, but God cannot allow sin into heaven.  Sin is what pollutes the Earth.  He has died for us to cleanse us of sin, so we may live in holiness. 

Ephesians 5:6-8 "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord."

We have a lot of preachers today who don't talk about sin and accountability.  It's just grace through faith, that's all, and it's true we receive salvation by grace through faith.  But they leave out the repentance.  We have to repent, which means to turn away from sin, and live pure lives.  Don't let anyone deceive you with hollow words.

Galatians 6:7 "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap."

But if we persist in unrighteousness, if we continue to gossip, if we continue to commit sexual immorality, if we continue to slander others behind their backs, and curse, and mock, and get drunk, and indulge in lustful thoughts, we will not be entering the kingdom of God.  We will go before God and he will say, "I never knew you, you worker of lawlessness. Depart from me."  Now that would be a very, very, very bad day.  

Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’"

I don't share this to scare anyone, or to hurt anyone, or to be mean or judgmental.  But I have to share the truth.  We take sin too lightly! And we are in need of a great cleansing in the church.  Please take some time to repent of sin. Live in holiness. Reject the enemy and the ways of the world.  Embrace Christ, all of Christ.  That is the way of love! We must unhook the plugs of this world that pour sin into our souls, and plug into the Holy Spirit, so that we may walk in purity, as Christ walked.  

This should be our daily practice.  At the end of each day, get down on your knees before God, and ask Him to search you, and put all your ways before Him.  God will walk you through the past day. Take an inventory, and repent of any sins you committed that God shows you.  Be zealous, be quick, and turn away from sin.  

Fight against it tooth and nail. Fight until you're exhausted.  Fight until the flesh cries out for satisfaction, and refuse to give in!  Fight for your soul, fight for your life, fight for eternal life!  We must be Holy as God is Holy! That is our calling.  That is our life.  And God will help us.  Jesus loves us so much.  He will be here everyday to help us live holy, though the enemy attacks, and the flesh is weak in temptation, the Spirit is strong in us to resist.  Stand firm in the faith.  Put on the armor of God each day in the morning.  God will help us.  Let us live a lifestyle of repentance.  Let us unplug from the world, and plug into the kingdom of God!  God be praised for the victory.  Amen. 

1st Peter 1:13-23 "Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially,live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God."

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Exploring the Salvation Army Soldier's Covenant

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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.

The Salvation Army Beliefs:

Becoming a soldier in the Salvation Army is tantamount to becoming a "church member."  That is the best analogy.  But there is also something more there.  It's a dedication to a radically different lifestyle than the world.  It's almost as if we take on a specialty of service to others, by setting ourselves apart as abstaining from certain practices that might trip up those who we seek to serve.  

Personally, I love the original title of the soldier's covenant which was "The Articles of War." I love to sign me some articles of war!  I want to make war on hell and nothing less! 

Let's take a look. These are the imperatives in the soldier's covenant.  Therefore, believing the doctrines are true...

"1. I will be responsive to the Holy Spirit’s work and obedient to His leading in my life, growing in grace through worship, prayer, service and the reading of the Bible.

2. I will make the values of the Kingdom of God and not the values of the world the standard for my life.

3. I will uphold Christian integrity in every area of my life, allowing nothing in thought, word or deed that is unworthy, unclean, untrue, profane, dishonest or immoral.

4. I will maintain Christian ideals in all my relationships with others: my family and neighbours, my colleagues and fellow Salvationists, those to whom and for whom I am responsible, and the wider community.

5. I will uphold the sanctity of marriage and of family life.

6. I will be a faithful steward of my time and gifts, my money and possessions, my body, my mind and my spirit, knowing that I am accountable to God.

7. I will abstain from alcoholic drink. tobacco, the non-medical use of addictive drugs. gambling, pornography, the occult, and all else that could enslave the body or spirit.

8. I will be faithful to the purposes for which God raised up The Salvation Army, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, endeavouring to win others to Him, and in His name caring for the needy and the disadvantaged.

9. I will be actively involved, as l am able, in the life, work, worship and witness of the corps, giving as large a proportion of my income as possible to support its ministries and the worldwide work of the Army.

10. I will be true to the principles and practices of The Salvation Army, loyal to its leaders, and I will show the spirit of Salvationism whether in times of popularity or persecution.

11. I now call upon all present to witness that I enter into this covenant and sign these articles of war of my own free will, convinced that the love of Christ, who died and now lives to save me, requires from me this devotion of my life to His service for the salvation of the whole world; and therefore do here declare my full determination, by God’s help, to be a true soldier of The Salvation Army."

(numbers 1-11 added by me, so we can refer to them one by one in analysis)

First of all, living life by the Spirit's leading.  Don't overlook this precept too quickly.  How many of us do truly follow God's will for our lives?  Do we really seek to follow God's plan?  What if I want to go to one college and God is pointing me toward another?  What if I want to be an engineer and God wants me to be a biologist?  As a soldier we declare that where the rubber meets the road, we will follow God's will, not our own.  And implicit in this, are the basic practices of any Christian, worship, prayer, service and Bible reading.

Second, I will make the values of the kingdom of God, not the values of the world my baseline for life.  And it's pretty easy to tell by someone's life, if they are living by kingdom values or by worldly values. Brass tacks, have you embraced God's design for human sexuality?  Or are you engaging in pre-marital sex?  If you're married, how seriously do you take your marriage covenant?  Do you treat others with love, or are you harsh?  There are hundreds of applications.  There are kingdom values, found in the scriptures, and there are values of the world.  When we become soldiers, we are declaring that we will find our base values of how we live from the Bible, and not from pop culture or the universities, or Hollywood/media/television.  

Three, I think we already touched on that, but the declaration is made that we will uphold Christian integrity and allow nothing that is unclean or impure in our thoughts or actions.  This is basically saying we will live out holiness, as doctrine ten states, 'we believe it is the privilege of all believers to be wholly sanctified.'  A Christian is called to live a holy life, plain and simple. Living out holiness means living as Jesus lived, abstaining from sins of the flesh, and living by the Spirit's leading, manifesting the fruits of the Spirit such as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, and so on. 

Four, we see the application of holiness in the 3rd statement applied to our relationships with others and the larger community of salvationists.  Holiness must be lived out in relationship.  If we dishonor and abuse our neighbors, how can we possibly be living rightly as Christians? 

Five, "I will uphold the sanctity of marriage and of family life." We live in a time when romantic relationships, marriage, and family are not really considered sacred anymore.  Sanctity means that we hold God's standard for our relationships as our ideal, and consider these things dedicated to God.  Sanctity means that these practices of marriage and family are set apart, as different from the ways of the world.  Marriage is a God-given gift, between man and woman, and too often in our world it's treated as a fungible contract, like it can be ended simply because we get tired of the person, or someone more attractive comes along.  It's similar with family, our family life is sacred.  And we should make sure we are practicing sanctity in how we raise our children, treat our children, and how we treat our spouses.  

Six, faithful stewardship.  Time is sacred.  We must practice what we preach, and make wise use of our time and talents, money, and our physical and spiritual being.  We put our spiritual gifts to work for God.  We take time each week to share the gospel. We tithe.  We give offerings. We use our time and talents to bring glory to God and preach the gospel.  As a salvation soldier, we declare that this will be our lifestyle, as stewards of what God has given us.  To one whom much is given, much is required.

Seven is the one that can be a stumbling block for some, and probably the one statement of the soldiers covenant that is most often brought up in practice.  It reads, "I will abstain from alcoholic drink, tobacco, the non-medical use of addictive drugs, gambling, pornography, the occult, and all else that could enslave the body or spirit."  

If your a soldier you've declared that you will abstain from alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, pornography, the occult, and anything else that could enslave us.  

Why is this in there?  It's not a sin to drink!  Jesus drank wine!  Notice nowhere in this statement does it say that drinking is a sin.  It simply says that we've agreed to abstain from it.  Why? One of the reasons is that we don't want to cause others to stumble.  Many who we work with in TSA struggle with alcohol addiction, I myself as a recovered alcoholic, was grateful to find a place where people don't drink.  I found it a very safe place to spend my time, knowing they didn't drink.  That is one of the reasons why.  But we also recognize that these addictive drugs and practices can easily become a slippery slope, leading to outright addiction over time.  We try to protect ourselves against that. 

Most of these are fairly self-explanatory.  

But notice the one that mentions drugs, sometimes we can be prescribed drugs temporarily that are addictive. But also, sometimes we can doctor shop to get the stuff we want, I know in the past I used to do that, please be aware just because a doctor signs off on it, it doesn't necessarily mean it's right with God. Recall that in the past seventy-five years cigarette smoking was considered medically safe.  The Holy Spirit will speak to you about this of course.  Please follow His leading.  Also realize this list is not exhaustive, there are other things that can enslave mind and body, such as over-eating/gluttony, social media, music, politics, pop culture, social popularity, violent/sexual movies & tv series, attention from the opposite sex, and many other things, please seek the Lord if you fear you might be enslaved to anything in your life.  

I would also add a word of caution about the occult: Some of these practices are making a come back in our society!  It used to be a bit more simple, with kids playing with Ouji boards in the basement of grandmas house, or reading astrology in the newspaper, or the tarot card shop downtown.  Today it can be a bit more insidious, we can find certain television shows, or books subtly encouraging children toward occult practices. So we really have to be careful what we're putting before our eyes.  Additionally, under the umbrella of the 'new age' movement we see many occult practices being repackaged and mass marketed to the general public.  So please be prayerfully aware of these influences in our culture, and be discerning in what you watch, read, and listen to. 

Eight, I will be faithful to the reason God raised up the Salvation Army: to win souls to Christ.  That's pretty straight forward.  Some in TSA want us to become more and more all about social services, but we need to be faithful to the prime mission: Win people to Christ. That is the primary goal of all we do, winning people to Christ and discipling them in the faith. 

Nine, I will be actively involved in my corps.  Obviously if one becomes a soldier, they should be active in the corps, present at worship, volunteering in various ways, and leading in various ways. In the past I've known people who would sign up, become soldiers, put on the uniform, and then the moment they have some disagreement with the officer their, or the officer changes, or someone says something to them the wrong way, they disappear and leave the corps.  This sort of "church hopping" is not healthy.  We have to grow up a bit sometimes, and learn to deal with conflicts in a healthy way.  Sometimes things may happen where there is no other option, but usually a conflict can be resolved in a church without leaving. (I'm preaching to myself here too)

Additionally, we commit to giving as large a portion of our income as possible to the work of TSA (tithe 10% and above preferably). Preferably a dedicated soldier should be there every week on Sunday, and active at the corps during the week as well! And wear the uniform proudly!

Ten, we will be loyal to our leaders, to the principles and doctrines of the army, and uphold the army in all the work we do.  Sometimes we can get into a spirit of murmuring against our leaders. (I'm talking to myself here too) Or we can begin to engage in gossip and slander against those we dislike.  This can be very tempting when decisions are being made that don't sit well with you, but please refrain.  The Bible is very clear that we must submit to our leaders, even if we disagree with them.  Surely this is a tough teaching, but we must obey it.

I love the phrase "loyal to the Spirit of salvationism whether in times of popularity or persecution."  It's easy to be a warrior for Christ when it's popular, it's much harder when we're hated for the gospel message.  But we have to stick it out in times of goodness and difficulty. Will you stick with Christ even if a newspaper slanders you for sharing the gospel?  Will you still proclaim Christ if your friends and coworkers call you a backwards bigot?  Will you still proclaim Christ if you have nothing but the clothes on your back and a Bible in your hand?  What if it becomes illegal to talk about Jesus?  Would you still speak up for Jesus?  Things can change very quickly, in almost any country.  Recall the persecution going on in China right now against Christians.  And think about the culture in the United States, how quickly from the 90s to now that the nation went from sympathetic to Christianity, to increasingly hostile and accusatory toward Christianity!  We must be faithful in times of support and in times of opposition.

Eleven, having ascribed to all these facets of the covenant, we declare it publicly before all those present, and put our faith in Jesus Christ, that he has called us to soldiership and that he will enable us to live it out in all it's fullness, adhering to everything we have ascribed our signature to live and practice.  

That's the soldiers' covenant!  But one can also participate in TSA worship and holiness services as an "adherent" which says that we adhere to the doctrines of the army, but do not take the extra step of soldiership.  And for those so called by God, officership is another step beyond soldiership, where we hold ourselves to even more rigorous standard of devotion to Christ and His ways.  God is good! Hallelujah Amen! 

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