Monday, April 28, 2014

A Saccharin Gospel


Jesus Daily


Probably one of my biggest social media pet peeves is when friends and family share an obnoxious picture, with phrases such as, "Click like if Jesus is your Savior. Keep scrolling if you don't care." Another one says, "Type '1' if you can't live with out Jesus! Type '2' if you don't care." Finally, a regrettable, "Jesus, I pray for my unsaved family and friends!!! ***Say "Amen" if you pray for the unsaved going to Hell."

Those posts irritate me to no end.

God's Not Dead


Several weeks ago, the movie, God's Not Dead, came to theaters. I have not seen the movie and am not planning to see it. Mr. Peabody and Sherman was better for my children and I to watch, than the rants of a Straw Man.

Shortly after the movie was released, I began to see tons of Facebook posts and Tweets from people simply stating, "God's Not Dead." Apparently this was plot point in the movie at a Newsboys' concert, where people began sending text messages to others, telling everyone that God's not dead.

A Saccharin Gospel


First of all, I don't think it's our responsibility to state whether or not God is dead. God can take care of himself. We do not need to defend him.

Some of you might be thinking, "What's the matter? Don't you love God? Don't you want to share his message with everyone, even if it is through Facebook posts?" 

How many people have had a true conversion through one sharing of a Facebook post or through a Twitter tweet? I have no problem with people breaking the ice by sharing something they are passionate about, but I doubt there is much follow up with anyone.

I believe many people are sadly satisfied with simply sharing "Press 'Like' if Jesus is your savior," rather than actually taking the time to befriending someone and sharing the love of God with a total stranger. Too many people are satisfied with the bitter-sweet, Saccharin-tasting "Jesus Daily" (almost 26 million likes at last count and 103 of my Facebook friends). Too many people tweet or post "God's Not Dead," but ignore their fellow neighbors at their work, school, or community. God might as well be dead in their lives.


Do you love God? Are you convinced he's not dead? Let your life show it and not simply your Facebook profile or your Twitter account.

Thanks to Jeff Carter for the Passive-Aggressive Jesus meme!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Catharsis



What do you do when you feel under pressure or stressed?

Various things work for me and the one that works best for me is a type of musical catharsis. If I am feeling under pressure or stressed, I don't listen to music that is soothing or calms me down. I do just the opposite. I listen to music that expresses the emotion I am feeling.

Tonight was a Gravity Kills night. I will let you guess what type of emotions I was feeling at that particular moment, but it's not too difficult once you hear their music.

I tend to listen to quite a few eclectic tastes. I was listening to maNga, which is a great Turkish band that I was first exposed to during the Eurovision Song Contest of 2010. People like to describe it as a combination of Linkin Park and Anatolian style and it works.

If I am in a somber mood, nothing reveals it more than the Second Movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony. In a romantic mood, Kristian Leontiou's "Shining" hits me every time.

Being an introvert as I am, it is often difficult for me to express how I am feeling. As such, people think that I am aloof or unfeeling. This is far from the truth. I am just hesitant to share those feelings for fear that they will be trampled upon. It's a weakness of mine. I'll readily admit it. However, once I do express my emotions, 2 things normally happen:  I am physically exhausted or I feel emotionally exposed. Because it's so emotionally draining, I tend to repress everything. That is quite unhealthy.

One thing I love about the Psalms is that they do the exact same thing:  They express the raw emotions that the Psalmists are going through. They are not always theologically sound, but they are the true emotions and feelings of saints who have gone before us. They knew how important it was to express their feelings to God, even if it seemed as if God were far off.

When you need to express yourself, what do you do?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Pathway of Hope




Last year shortly before Thanksgiving, a Cleveland Walmart made a request of its own associates to donate food items so that their fellow co-workers could "enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner." What struck many people as ironic is the fact that if Walmart gave decent wages to its own employees, their employees could buy themselves a Thanksgiving dinner.

When it was investigated how much Walmart must raise its prices to ensure that at least their employees could earn $12 per hour, the answer was that each customer would only have to pay an additional $0.46 per trip. (1)

Most people were outraged that Walmart would even ask for such help, but it means more money for them if the U. S. government supplies Walmart's workers with food stamps to make up the difference.

The Pathway of Hope

 

These past 2 days I have been participating in a seminar to learn how to implement a new program/approach of The Salvation Army called the Pathway of Hope. This program is a new approach for us to do case management with a few families to help them get out of the cycle of dependence on agencies and see how we can best make them self-sufficient.

I love the concept. I embrace it wholeheartedly. I think it will be great for the people we serve. It will take time and effort, but in the end I believe it will change lives.

. . . but

I have a problem.

My own employees would benefit from the services of the Pathway of Hope. My corps in Ludington is not able to afford to pay them a livable wage. Our thrift store does not make enough money as it is to support the services we provide. There is no fat to cut off of our budget and I cannot pay them a good enough wage to make ends meet.

They deserve more! They deserve to be able to live off of the income they earn from serving in The Salvation Army.

Unfortunately, there is a conundrum. When people donate to The Salvation Army, they want to donate for direct services. Not too many people think of the overhead costs, including utilities, upkeep, and personnel. I once heard someone remark that our employees should realize that it is a ministry and that we are not in it for the money; however, when our employees have to resort to government aid to make ends meet, something is terribly wrong.

I don't have an answer. I only have questions. As I heard from one caseworker during our conference, "How can I teach someone to be self-sufficient when I can't be self-sufficient on my own?"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Before Sunrise



I really enjoy the movie, Before Sunrise, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. It's basically one long conversation between a young American man who convinces a young French woman to get off a train in Vienna to get to know each other before his flight leaves the next morning. There is no action. No fight scenes. It's just about 2 people getting to know each other rather quickly as they toured one of Europe's most beautiful cities.

There was one scene that I will not forget. The two protagonists were sitting on the back of the bus and Ethan Hawke's character (Jesse) says that you never hear someone say, "Because of the time I saved using my word processor, I'm going to use that time to go meditate." That floored me. He was right!

We save all of this time in doing things quicker, but to what end?

I sometimes get worried that the more efficient we become at doing things, we will get so busy that life will pass us by and we will miss life altogether.

One of the most difficult passages that I deal with is Psalm 46:10. To give you context, the entire Psalm is about people fighting each other and God has to say, "Cease striving and know that I am God." (NASB) Some translations say, "Be still and know that I am God." However, I like the NASB translation. There is actual battle going on.

Our lives can be like a battle. We rush to do this. People go a few miles over the speed limit, thinking that it's OK to sin a little by breaking this law. I'm not certain why they think that. The law says there is a certain speed limit and they have the audacity to think that it's OK to go faster. I never understood that reasoning.

Why is it so important to be so quick? Why do we have to rush? What would happen if we actually force ourselves to slow down and experience God?

While in seminary, I took a class on prayer. One of the requirements we had to do was to take an entire day to do nothing but pray. That was a huge challenge for me! I also must admit that I have not done that since then, but I remember the blessing I had just doing that for one day. At first, all I could think about was myself. At the end of the day, all I could think about was how lovely it was to be in the presence of God.

This is a discipline that one needs to work at, too. If you start "cold turkey," you might get frustrated. Start slowly. Be silent for 5 minutes first, then gradually work your way up.

When we pray collectively at church, I sometimes get the feeling that people are uncomfortable when there is silence, forgetting that prayer is a two-way conversation. Being in the presence of God and listening to him instead of always talking can be the most rewarding experience we have in our life. I would encourage you to try it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Why continue?

Just this past weekend, a friend of mine and I were discussing some of the differences and problems that I have been having in regards to serving in The Salvation Army. There have been some ideological differences that have arisen where I take issue with the official stance. I won't discuss these here, but those of you who know me know exactly what those differences are.

My friend's question to me was:  "Why do you stay when you have these differences?"

It's a very valid question. Why should I stay and serve when I have a difference of opinion? Granted these differences tend to be sometimes at tremendous odds. It came to a point where an officer colleague said that those who do not agree with the official Position Statements should "separate themselves from the organization."

When I first saw that, I thought I did not read it correctly. Those who disagree should leave the organization? That was one of the most dastardly things I had read from a fellow colleague in a long time. With statements and opinions like these from fellow colleagues, it doesn't make it actually very conducive to a good working relationship.

So what does one do? What was my calling?



MY COVENANT


CALLED BY GOD
to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
as an officer of The Salvation Army

I BIND MYSELF TO HIM IN THIS SOLEMN COVENANT
to love and serve him supremely all my days,
to live to win souls and make their salvation the first purpose of my life,

to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable, and befriend those who have no friends,

to maintain the doctrines and principles of The Salvation Army, and, by God's grace to prove myself a worthy officer.
Done in the strength of my Lord and Savior, and in the presence of (the following wording to be adapted to local circumstances) the Territorial Commander, training college officers and fellow cadets. (1)

I have never shirked my responsibilities in this regard. My whole life is based on Deuteronomy 6:4,5. I feel that my main goal is always to go about seeking to win souls for Christ. Part of this expresses itself in meeting the needs of people. As I have told reporters before, what I consider evangelism is perhaps not what they consider evangelism. When I am feeding people, clothing them, loving them, this is my form of evangelism.

So while I disagree with some of the official Position Statements of The Salvation Army and how it executes those views, I am still committed to my covenant that I made with God. I made a commitment to uphold the doctrines and principles of The Salvation Army as well. This is not, however, the Position Statements.

There is a significant difference between the Doctrines of The Salvation Army and our Position Statements. The Doctrines refer to what we believe. The Position Statements attempt to show how we view certain issues in society in the light of our Doctrines. I agree with a vast majority of the Position Statements, but not all. It should also be noted that the Position Statements vary from country to country, especially in its wording. That is why I am not posting a link to our Position Statements.

Our theology is ever-changing. There are some things that remain the same, but some things have evolved. For instance, it used to be unheard of for a divorced person to remain a soldier of The Salvation Army. He or she would have to be struck from the roles. Now not only do we enroll divorced people, but also perform wedding rites for them and ordain them as officers (clergy).

With that in mind, I recall one of my favorite songs regarding my calling:  "I'll Not Turn Back," written by John Gowans with music by John Larsson, both later becoming Generals in The Salvation Army.

I was going to record my own version for this blog, but experienced some technical difficulties. (Seriously!) So here is a YouTube recording of it. The words are as follows:

If crosses come, if it should cost me dearly,
To be the servant of my Servant Lord,
If darkness falls around the path of duty.
And men despise the Saviour I've adored.


Refrain:
I'll not turn back, whatever it may cost,
I'm called to live, to love and save the lost,
I'll not turn back, whatever it may cost,.
I'm called to live, to love and save the lost.



If doors should close then other doors will open,
The word of God can never be contained.
His love cannot be finally frustrated,
By narrow minds or prison bars restrained.



If tears should fall, if I am called to suffer,
If all I love men should deface, defame,
I'll not deny the One that I have followed,
Nor be ashamed to bear my Master's name.


In 2004 I was stationed in Hanover, Germany. That year happened to be a Congress (convention) of The Salvation Army. Interestingly enough, the Congress took place in Hanover, too. Our special guest for that weekend was General John Gowans. At one point, I had been asked to help with one of his workshops regarding his musicals. The General asked me to sing a solo, so I complied with this one. Being overcome with the words to the last verse, I started breaking up and crying as I sang the last verse. If you know me, I don't always show my emotions publicly, one of my many faults. General Gowans afterwards said that this was exactly how it was supposed to be sung.

When the Congress was over, our Chief Secretary asked me to entertain the General and his wife in our apartment for 4 hours because his flight did not leave until 6 in the evening. As nerve-wracking as that was, I thoroughly enjoyed the time of fellowship that we had together. It also gave me the opportunity to thank General Gowans for writing such a beautiful song that became an anthem for me. He died in 2012 and I will always be grateful for the opportunity just to have said "thank you" to him.

Am I called? Yes, absolutely. Will I serve? Always. They will have to kick me out before I leave.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Homeless Jesus





The Christian Left


A couple of years ago I was introduced to the Christian Left, a Facebook page for Christians, such as myself, who hold a progressive/liberal worldview. Besides all of the politics that are discussed, they also delve deeply into social justice. As an officer in The Salvation Army, this appeals to me greatly. Once, they showed a picture of the sculpture "Homeless Jesus," done by Canadian artist, Timothy Schmalz.


As one can see, it is a statue of a homeless figure, wrapped in a cloak, and one can only tell that it is Jesus through his pierced feet. I was struck immediately by the powerful message behind this sculpture:

"I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in" -- Matthew 25:43 (NASB)

I was and continue to be deeply moved by this statue. It represents to me my mission as an officer in The Salvation Army:  "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me."


Nearby!

I found out that one of these statues was purchased by some parishioners of St. John's Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, which is very close to me. I had to go see it. So I traveled down this morning for my own little pilgrimage to this statue.

Once again I was impressed by the simplicity of this message.

I have had some friends complain about the cost of this statue (approximately $22,000). I was not disturbed by this act of devotion. It reminded me very much of Judas Iscariot complaining to Jesus when a woman opened up a bottle of pure nard perfume, worth approximately $51,000 in today's reckoning. People said that this money could have been better used to actually help the poor, just like Judas said.

Even this church received complaints from their own parishioners regarding the expense of the statue. Wherever this statue has been erected, it causes people to either love it or despise it, as evidenced in this article.

My problem with this complaint is that the vast majority of people who complain about wasted funds do actually nothing to help the poor. They are offended even by the idea of the appearance of someone homeless in the neighborhood.


The Homeless and the Foreigner

People do not like having to confront the homeless. In my own community of Ludington, several organizations have attempted to establish a homeless shelter, but zoning is next to impossible to get approval for a shelter and if it is approved, the neighbors don't want the homeless near them. Often the homeless in Ludington have to resort to either couch surfing or tenting. Those who couch surf don't consider themselves to be homeless.

Tenting is illegal within the city limits, with the exception of campgrounds, which the homeless cannot afford. However, I do know of some property owners who allow the homeless to tent, despite the ordinances against them.

I have also been aghast at how we treat the undocumented immigrants in our country. The United States is not the only one with this problem. When I was in Germany, foreigners were also viewed as encroaching on their rights. However, the undocumented immigrants contribute more to the economy than we would believe. They often do the jobs that no one else wants to do. Since they are undocumented, their employers can treat them in the worst way possible and they have no recourse.

It is convenient to say from the comfort of being a citizen that these immigrants should go about the proper way to enter the country. In that case, I would recommend that they try themselves to immigrate to another country to see how easy it is. It isn't. Even for Americans, it is not so simple to move to another country. (For my example, see the blog I wrote here.)

It is easier for the public to turn a blind eye and think that there is no homeless or foreigner problem. To them I say, with Jesus, "I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in."



Friday, April 18, 2014

The Glazed Expression

 

The Conference

In April of 2000, then Major Bill Harfoot called me into his office. I was a cadet in The Salvation Army. I had put in a request that once I was commissioned (ordained) as an officer (pastor), that I could be sent overseas, preferably to Germany since I could already speak German fluently and I knew that Germany desperately needed officers.

Major Harfoot sat me down and told me, "All of the cadets know to which country they are going to be commissioned, except you. So I want to let you know that you are going to be commissioned to Germany. We will tell you your appointment at the Service of Appointments, but we felt that you should know so that you could make the necessary preparations to move overseas." After instructing me not to tell anyone, especially my family, I left his office euphoric and excited.

Commissioning Weekend came. People were trying to speculate, as they always did, where the new officers were going to be stationed. My parents pulled me aside and told me that one of the divisional commanders said that they could ask for the services of any cadets, except for Lee Sang-jung, who was returning to Korea, and for me. My parents wanted to know what that was all about. Somehow I expressed my ignorance.

Then Commissioner Hinson called me to the front and told me that I was being appointed to be the corps officer of the Dortmund, Germany Corps. I was excited, elated, and expecting God to be doing mighty things.

10 Years

 Then the years went by. During my time overseas I experienced many things:

  • The Attacks on 11 September 2001
  • Meeting, courting, and marrying my wife within 11 months
  • Being transferred to Nuremberg
  • Being transferred to Hanover after only 1 year in Nuremberg
  • Expecting our first child
  • Losing our first child due to miscarriage
  • Defending my country as it needlessly attacked Iraq without provocation
  • The birth of Zachary
  • The birth of Nathanael
  • Being told that we were being transferred back during the middle of our fourth 3-year term to the United States with no explanation as to why. When we repeatedly asked why we were being recalled, we were given 3 reasons, none of which were exactly accurate.
  • Becoming pregnant with Gabriel in the midst of preparing to move back to the United States

The Return

My family returned back to the United States and were sent to Ludington, Michigan. I was told that returning missionaries had a more difficult time with culture shock than when they left their homelands. This is true.

I became aware of several things:
  • Americans seemed extremely paranoid.
  • Americans seemed to be extremely patriotic, to the point that it seemed to be idolatrous.
  • My oldest children stopped speaking German and refused to speak it with us.
  • The healthcare system in America was atrocious compared to the medical care we had in Germany.
  • People were obsessed with guns.
  • Thousands of people in America were dying every week by guns, but it seemed as if Americans were more interested in protecting their right to have guns than to save lives by getting rid of them.
  • I now had a slight German accent when I spoke that (to this day) I cannot get rid of.
  • I was no longer the same person. America was no longer the same country.

The Glazed Expression

After this revelation, I thought to myself, "Maybe I can at least talk to people about my experiences overseas in Germany and how God used my family to serve others there."

So I started to incorporate aspects of what I had learned in Germany to my ministry here. I would introduce songs in our Songbook that were originally German, translated into English. I would speak about my experiences in my sermons.

However, I was told to stop talking about the differences between the United States and Germany. People thought I wasn't patriotic enough. When confronted with that, I began to look at my patriotism. They were right. My patriotism is not what it used to be. I no longer view my country as better or more beloved than any other country. When I die, God will not give me preferential treatment for being an American. To insist that our country is somehow better than another is nothing more than the product of either low self-esteem or a bully syndrome.

Then I was told by well-meaning individuals to stop talking about Germany and my experiences overseas. That was a low blow to my own self-esteem. It was as if the 10 years I spent in Germany did not matter any more.

When people did ask me about my time overseas, it ran normally like this:

"Did you like being in Germany?"


"Yes, let me tell you about it," I would reply. Then as I began to talk, I noticed a glazed expression come across their faces. They were just being polite and only wanting to engage in small talk. They were not actually interested in hearing about my time overseas.

They didn't want to hear about the struggles I went through:

  • How twice during my stay overseas, we couldn't be paid for 3 months because there was no money.
  • How Germany did not receive any World Services (missionary) funds from The Salvation Army, even though it was dirt poor and a mission field.
  • How my first corps had to close.
  • How I did more funerals and less enrollment of soldiers.
  • How I came home from visiting taverns, begging for money and smelling like smoke, just so that we could make ends meet.
  • How The Salvation Army actually shrank in size while I was over there.
  • How I missed the ministry I had, despite the hardships. 
  • How I would forget a word in English because the German word made better sense. 

 

The Sojourner

I realized that there was one apt word that described me best:  I am a sojourner. I reside in a land that is not my own. Even if I were to return to Germany, I would never be fully accepted either because I am a foreigner there, too.

I also realized that I am not alone in my feelings. Many missionaries returning to their home countries go through the same issues. Returning missionaries go through a period of grieving, as if someone had died. Missionaries often feel as if they are no longer doing anything of significance in their home country compared to the ministry they did abroad. Returning missionaries go through depression. Their children have difficulties in adjusting to their new country. Returning missionaries often feel alone and isolated.

The Solace

Shortly after arriving in Ludington, I received a phone call from St. John's Lutheran Church in Ludington. They had built the building where The Salvation Army was now located. They asked me for permission to remove a time capsule they thought was in there. I gave my permission, of course.

On the day they removed the time capsule, I was present. They opened it up and several documents were revealed:  a newspaper from that time, blueprints of the building, and a 14-page document, chronicling the history of that church in Ludington, all written in GERMAN! I was able to translate the document for them and let them know some history about their church's beginnings in Ludington.

Was it serendipity? Was it Providence? I like to think so. It was God reassuring me that he had not left me and would be with me here.

 My Advice

If you know of a missionary who has returned overseas, my best advice would be to give him/her an opportunity to tell about the experiences he/she had overseas. Befriend them. Take an interest in them. Let them know that their service was not in vain. Give them a forum to express their true feelings in regards to their service. In turn, God will bless you by this simple act of kindness.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hospitality

Romans 12:9-13

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; [j]give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the [k]saints, [l]practicing hospitality.  (NASB)

What does hospitality look like? I thought I knew that until I was sent to Albania and Kosova in 1999 as a cadet (seminary student) in The Salvation Army. It was during the Balkan War when the Serbs attempted to cleanse Kosova of all Albanians  by either killing them or driving them out.

During that time it was my honor to serve the Albanians as they tried to survive the horrors of that war. One of the things I enjoyed the most was visiting Albanians either in their home or, in the case of the refugees, in their tents.

When the Kosovars returned to their homeland, they often invited us into their homes and prepared meals for us without hesitation. I was an honored guest. They sat and talked with us for hours about our family. They cooked fresh byrek (a filo dough pastry stuffed with ground beef or feta cheese) and roasted lamb. Lamb tasted the best when roasted over an open spit!

I realized that I knew nothing about hospitality. I tend to be introverted and opening myself up to others, especially, my home, tends to be difficult for me. However, one main lesson I do learn from this is that I need to put others first in my life. I need to put my selfish desires down and give to those in need. Hospitality means putting others first.

One common misconception in the Bible is that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of homosexuality. This misconception often occurs because of a simple lack of knowledge of the culture of that era. Indeed, our term for "sodomy" refers to same-sex acts. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because they thought of themselves first and not others. Ezekiel makes this point very plain:

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. -- Ezekiel 16:49 (NASB)

In this instance "sodomy" would actually be the state of being inhospitable and refusing to help the poor and needy. Lot and his wife knew this. They showed hospitality to the 2 angels and (perhaps in part because of this) they were saved from destruction. (The aftermath of what happened to Lot and his family is tragic, but for another blog.)

Hospitality is so important because it shows one of the central tenets of our faith:  to love your neighbor as yourself.




(This picture shows Arab hospitality:  offering a cup of coffee.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Trying Vegemite

Being All Things To All People

One of the things I have learned as a missionary is that one should be open to all things. This is probably one of the reasons why I have become so progressive (or liberal) in my thinking.

When I was in Albania and Kosova, I tried Turkish Coffee. Coffee beans are ground to a fine powder, boiled in water with sugar, and then poured with grounds into an espresso cup. Powerful stuff and definitely not "good until the last drop!" However, it was delicious. In fact, beforehand I was a tea purist. One could say that I was a "tea-totaler." One phrase that was helpful to me which I learned in Albanian was "me shumë sheqer" (with lots of sugar).

Living in Germany, one dish that I really loved was mett. Mett is raw, spiced ground pork, usually eaten on bread with chopped onions. It was delicious! Yes, I got no trichinosis. Germans prepare the mett fresh and it is only allowed to be served the day it is prepared. I still remember when I was a lieutenant in Dortmund, Germany and writing back to friends and family back in the United States about my experiences, Commissioner Nancy Moretz personally wrote me to warn me against eating raw pork.

I had been speaking with many friends of mine from Australia regarding Vegemite. They kept extolling its virtues and taste and many of my American friends, save one, told me of its horrors. So I told my friend, Allyson, that I would have no problem trying it.

So she sent me a jar of Vegemite, SAO crackers, and Tim Tams. This is what happened. (My youngest son, Gabriel, makes an appearance, too.)


Now, in all fairness, my wife said it would have been funnier if she had been filmed. Shortly thereafter you see the quintessential American reaction.










Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Online Corps

 

Tonight!

I am very excited about tonight! I wanted to do a more in-depth blog today, but have simply not had the time. A friend of mine, Major Kevin Jackson, and his wife, Linda, have been visiting me this day. He has been interviewing me for a book that he will be writing. I spent the majority of the morning being interviewed. I got to talk about my passion, my ministry, and my experiences about being a Salvation Army officer in another culture.

Tonight I will be doing a podcast with him and some other Salvationists from California. We will be discussing Luke 12:22-34. There will also hopefully be a chance to start a series on discussing other World Religions.

This is something that I am passionate about and am looking forward to seeing how God can use this ministry!

For those of you who would like to join, simply go to this link. When you click on it, it will tell you when it is ready to begin.

I look forward to interacting with everyone! Please consider joining!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Monster

A Horror Story

This morning I awoke to read a horror story about a woman who is accused of killing at least 7 of presumably her own children and hiding the corpses in her former home after allegedly giving birth to the babies there. This case has just been opened and there will be many people terribly fascinated with the story and unable to turn away.

This year we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda.

Yesterday, a 73-year old former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan was arrested after killing 3 people simply because he thought they were Jewish.

That these are despicable acts of humanity's inhumanity is self-evident. However, I noticed something disconcerting happening:  We are quick to denounce these people as not being human at all, but being monsters.

Are they really monsters? What I believe is that each and everyone of us are capable of making such monstrous decisions. We are no more of a monster than this woman who killed her 7 infants. We all have the same capability of hate, but we also have the same capability of love.

Der Untergang (The Downfall)

In 2004, the movie "Der Untergang" (The Downfall) came to theaters. It was produced in Germany, played by German actors and Bruno Ganz (a Swiss actor) portrayed a very accurate image of Adolf Hitler, complete with Austrian accent. In it, people can see a very human Adolf Hitler. This met with some consternation in Germany (1). People were uncomfortable with the fact that Hitler was portrayed as a human being, who loved his dogs, loved his wife, was kind and considerate to his employees, yet could do such despicable acts of horror.

I believe this is what made the movie such a success.

Evil Incarnate

Living in Hannover, Germany, I lived a short distance from the former concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen. Nothing remains of the buildings there because they were destroyed by fire when the British troops in charge were afraid that typhoid would spread among the survivors. The German soldiers who were left along with the local rural citizenry were forced to bury the dead. Anne Frank is a famous victim of this camp.

When one walks up to the Memorial, one notices how peaceful it is. There are several small hills where heather grows abundantly. When one walks up to the hills, one sees a sign similar to this:


The inscription says simply, "Here rest 5000 dead. April 1945." There is mound after mound of these graves with similar inscriptions:  "Here rest 2000 dead. Here rest 1000 dead. Here rest 500 dead." In so much beauty, there is so much evil.

The Love of God Triumphant

I saw a terrible "documentary" recently where Ray Comfort went around interviewing people, trying to convince them with arguments that he was right and that Hell was a real place. The documentary was supposed to be about Noah, but contained little to nothing about it. His argumentation with people about the necessity of Hell and punishment were badly done and in poor taste. I don't know of anyone who has ever come to a personal relationship with Jesus through argumentation.

One of his points about Hell was that it had to exist for people like Hitler. I won't get into the various arguments about whether or not Hell exists, but simply to say that our perception of Hell is probably different than the judgment God is giving to us, his creation.

However, one thing that I would like to touch upon is the fact that Jesus' love is more powerful than all of Hitler's hate. His love is so powerful that it overcomes the hate in this world. I believe that if Judas had not have killed himself, that Christ's forgiveness could extend to him as well.

Shortly before his murder in prison, Jeffrey Dahmer (the serial killer who was also a cannibal) apparently accepted Christ as his savior. I believe that the love of Christ is powerful enough to save someone like Jeffrey Dahmer.

That's the issue at hand. Do we believe that God can forgive all sins? I believe that all sins are equal before God, but his love is more powerful than those sins. In the end, Love Wins.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Progressive Salvationist

 On 20 December 2012, a good friend of mine, Jeff Carter, and I decided to form a group on Facebook for Salvationists and former Salvationists (i.e.: members of The Salvation Army) who identified themselves as liberal both theologically as well as politically. We both knew of a couple of other people who considered themselves to be liberal and we wanted to give ourselves a forum where we could discuss those topics.

This became a turning point in my life.

It started out slowly and the discussion was good. We got to know each other and our various beliefs. We talked about issues that confronted us in our everyday life. It was during that time that the terrible shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School took place in Connecticut. We shared our disappointments with each other as we realized that my country would do nothing to curb the violence in our schools, other than what the President could enact via executive order. The division seemed too great in our country.

We celebrated when our group crossed the 200 threshold. People began quoting from the movie, "Fight Club," jokingly saying that we weren't supposed to talk about the group to anyone. When the group crossed over the 300 mark, we celebrated with Spartan 300 memes; although in retrospect, perhaps Gideon's 300 would have been more appropriate.

I noticed something else happening. People in my denomination were beginning to talk about me and not always in a good way. I was at a Men's Conference in Southern Illinois last weekend and more than once, someone made the comment that I was plotting something sinister. This was said in a joking manner, but I felt there was some seriousness in it. In fact, I had one officer tell me that everyone who thinks like I do needs to leave The Salvation Army.

Why? Because I'm a liberal? Because I believe that guns are not a cultural symbol of America, but a blight on our society? Because I have no issue with repealing the Second Amendment? Because I believe that helping the sick should be a mandate in our country and goes along with Matthew 25? Because I believe that we need to be more loving of humanity and less condemning? (Some Christians call this act of condemnation "exposing sin.")

I will admit that I was severely demoralized when this officer told my fellow liberals and me to leave The Salvation Army. This officer believed that our theology was incompatible with the doctrines of The Salvation Army. I don't see how that's possible.

Do we disagree on certain things? Absolutely. Do we always need to fight over them? No.

I love The Salvation Army. I love that we serve those in need. I love that Matthew 25 is our vision and our mission in life. My worldview adds to this and enhances it.

 I love the Progressive Salvationist group. I love that it's a safe haven for those of us looking to talk about these issues without fear of reprisals or people putting us down, simply because we are heterodox. I also realize that we are all part of the Body of Christ, helping each other out. To this I say with Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:18 (NASB):  "But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Response

 

The Conduit

My good friend, Jeff, wrote an amazing poem that speaks to me more than anything else he has written lately. It probably had to do with the fact that he and I had been talking about God using us to do his will and feeling the presence of God.

Here is his poem:

What does the wire know
of the lamp’s illumination?
Electricity flows through him
undetected.


And what does the pipeline know
of a refreshing glass of water?
It flows through him
unperturbed.



The Response

I am not by any stretch of the imagination one who considers himself to be a poet. However, I was unsettled at the idea of not realizing God was at work. Am I always going to know when God is at work? Am I always going to feel him moving? Then I realized that this, too, is a part of doubt that leads to faith. Here is my response:

How would the light shine without the wire?

How would the water flow without the pipeline?

Even in this they perform a task
Although they are unaware of the results.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hosanna!

 

Michael W. Smith

Growing up in a Christian Community, one was invariable exposed to all the traditional Contemporary Christian music scene. I can't remember how many times I had been to a Salvation Army Camp and heard several renditions of "El Shaddai," "Father's Eyes," and "Friends." The last one was written by Michael W. Smith and was sung ad nauseum. I am not putting down Michael W. Smith. However, too much of a good thing is still too much.

One of the songs I really enjoyed was also by Michael W. Smith:  "Hosanna." Of course, I always associate that song with Palm Sunday.

Matthew describes it in this way (Chapter 21, NASB):

When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
Say to the daughter of Zion,
Behold your King is coming to you,
Gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest!”
10 When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Prophecy Fulfilled

 Two prophecies are fulfilled in this passage. The first is fulfilled in one of my favorite Old Testament books, Zechariah.  In Zechariah 9:9 the prophet states,

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

I love this passage. It shows the humility of the Eternal King, arriving not as we would imagine with pomp and circumstance, but on a colt. An Advent song we sang in Germany, Tochter Zion, uses this text. I always thought it was strange that this be sung in Winter; however, it quickly became one of my favorite Advent songs. I even got my corps in Hanover to sing it on Palm Sunday on a couple of times.

The second prophecy fulfilled was in Psalm 118 (NASB):

25 O Lord, do save, we beseech You;
O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity!
26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord;
We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.

The people in Jerusalem were shouting this in the streets.

A Play on Words

 At first, glance, one might not understand the play on words going on. It's not like everyone speaks Hebrew, though. Names are important in Hebrew.  The Hebrew root word "to save" is "yasha'."  This might look somewhat familiar. Jesus' name in Hebrew is Yeshua, which means "Yahweh saves." In Psalm 118:25, the Psalmist is saying:  "Hoshiana," which we understand as "Hosanna." It is in an imperative form:  "Save us!" It is not a word of praise, but an imperative word of command. So when the people were greeting Jesus, they were in effect saying, "Jesus (the Lord saves), Hosanna! (Save us!)" For us in The Salvation Army, this play on words would be similar to our "Soup, Soap, and Salvation."

The question I have is:  Did the people of Jerusalem realize what they were doing? The answer is no. I have a feeling that when they were shouting Hosanna, it was more in the style of the Hosanna from the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. They wanted Jesus to free the from tyranny and he came to free them from the tyranny of their sins.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Geborgenheit

 

 The Background

In pursuit of my Master of Arts in Missions in 1997, I was required to do a 6-month mission trip to Germany. Having been to Germany before, I realized that when I listened to something being sung in German, it took me a bit longer to understand it rather than when it was spoken. Now, I haven't done any research into this, but something tells me (at least in my case) that music is processed in a totally different way with our brains than spoken language is.

One of my real pleasures about visiting any new culture was also experiencing their music. In church, however, I quickly realized to my disappointment that there were way too many songs translated from English into German and fewer German ones at all. In the German edition of The Salvation Army Song Book, there are only 3 songs composed in German that were written in the 20th Century. In other traditions, especially with the Praise and Worship music (Lobpreismusik), there were several songs translated from English to German. There were even some denominations I knew who preferred singing in English rather than German for various reasons.

  • It takes a shorter amount of time to say something in English than in German. (Perfect example:  "Matchbox" in German is "Streichholzschachtel.")
  • Many of the songs were difficult to translate into German or sounded a bit off.
  • Some Germans felt that their language is unlovely. (I reject such notion outright.)
I even had some pastors who had to insist that at least one third of the songs sung were songs in German.

 The Song

I sang in a worship band in Hamburg with The Salvation Army's Mission Team. Occasionally we would find a song that I really enjoyed that was also originally written in German. One of these was entitled "Vater ich komme jetzt zu dir."

Here are the words in German:
Vater, ich komme jetzt zu dir
Als dein Kind lauf ich in deine Arme.
Ich bin geborgen, du stehst zu mir, lieber Vater.

Refrain:
Vater, bei dir bin ich zu Hause.
Vater, bei dir berge ich mich.
Vater, bei dir finde ich Ruhe.
O, mein Vater, ich liebe dich.

Vater, du gibst mir, was ich brauch'.
Du empfängst mich mit offenen Armen.
Du füllst all' meine Sehnsucht aus, lieber Vater.

Translation?

Before I come to the translation, I got stuck on a word:  "geborgen". In this case it's an adjective. The verb form of that you can see in the refrain: "berge". The noun version of this word is the title of this blog:  "Geborgenheit". I have found that this word is nearly untranslatable.  Dutch and Afrikaans have a similar word in their language, but in English, this is nearly impossible to translate. We have to use several words to translate it.

Which words?

Security, protection, invulnerability, closeness, warmth, quiet, peace. It has the idea of being surrounded and buried in love. I became fascinated with this concept and this word! If you are familiar with with Gary Chapman's book, Five Love Languages, you will know that there are 5 types of languages of love that we identify with most readily.  They are:  Giving Gifts, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. For me, my love language is Physical Touch. So this beautiful image of being surrounded, buried, and encompassed by a loving God appealed to me like no other.

So here is my feeble attempt at translating this beautiful song (but not to be sung to). The words in bold are my translation of "geborgen" and "berge":

Father, I am coming right now to you.
Like a child I run into your arms.
I am warm and secure.
You stand at my side, dear Father.

Refrain:
Father with you I am home.
Father with you I am safe and sound.
Father with you I find quiet.
O, my Father, I love you.

Father you give me what I need.
You receive me with open arms.
You fulfill all of my deep desires, dear Father!

 I couldn't use just one word to translate "geborgen". It's simply impossible.

My loving God, in whom I am geborgen

Our Creator is a loving God in whom we have a very special relationship. We can also be "geborgen" in him. He calls out to us as our Father. He seeks to draw us nearer to him. When Israel was disciplined by God for their idolatry and sent off into exile under the Babylonians, he still had not forgotten Israel. They were far off, but God said to Israel,

The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying,
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.
- Jeremiah 31:3 (NASB)

God calls out to us today! Do you hear him? Do you hear his love for us? 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Word of God ≠ Bible?


The Armor of God

This past week we had Vacation Bible School where our theme was "The Armor of God." My wife did an excellent job at teaching our kids what the Armor of God is. She found some good material, but we ran into a snag when we were talking about the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." The material stated that the sword, representing the word of God, was the Bible.

Is that true? I don't believe so.


Where is the Word of God found?

The phrase "the Word of God" or "the Word of the Lord" appears often in both the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament, it often refers to a message from God (e.g.:  Hosea 4:1, 1 Chronicles 17:3). Whether or not this message has been written down is not specified, but doesn't seem to be necessary. This would make sense because literacy was something highly prized and few could read, let alone write (1).

In the New Testament, this concept continues in the Gospels. When Jesus was teaching, Luke's Gospel says in chapter 5, verse 1, "Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret . . ." (Italics mine). When the apostles preached, it is recorded that they "were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness." (Acts 4:31 NASB)

In Romans 9:6, Paul speaks about the Word of God not failing in relation to God's promise to Israel. In this, it clearly is about God's spoken Word. In speaking about the Word of God throughout his epistles, it is clear that this is a message from God to his people, but it no way signifies that it is Scripture. (See 2 Corinthians 4:2 and Philippians 1:14 for examples.) In this instance, if Paul had meant Scripture, he would have meant the Old Testament because he surely would not have believed that his own writings were scripture.

If the Word of God is not Scripture, but the message of God to his people or audience, then the armor of God takes on a whole new meaning, especially the Sword of the Spirit.

The Ultimate Word of God

Finally, we have the ultimate Word of God:  Jesus himself. John's Gospel has that beautiful description of Jesus, reminiscent of the Creation Story itself:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

This theophany of Jesus represents something powerful. The Word of God has become flesh. These two concepts represent a synergy. The Word of God becoming flesh is more powerful than the Word of God by itself, being spoken by mortal humans. The author of Hebrews expresses this concept succinctly:  "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12 NASB)

And Scripture? Is that the Word of God? No.

Does Scripture contain the Word of God? Yes.

What does this mean, then, for Scripture? God can speak through Scripture, but His Word goes beyond Scripture. This helps me in dealing with inconsistencies and obvious contradictions in Scripture. (How did Judas die? Did he hang himself, as Matthew 27:5 maintains, or was it an accident, as Acts 1:18 declares?)

Scripture was written by humans who made mistakes and had a very different worldview than we do today, but Scripture still contains the inspiration of God, even if it isn't inerrant or infallible.

Better than Scripture:  We have the Word of God, which is "living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Hullaballo About Noah

So many people lately have been complaining about Darren Aronofsky's film, Noah, that one would think the world was about to end. Well, it did in the movie! There were so many objections on so many different levels that I will not attempt to address each and every one of them. That would be pointless.

I had seen 2 of Aronofsky's films (The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream) and was quite aware of their dark, existential, and introspective nature. The Fountain dealt with immortal life and Requiem for a Dream dealt with drug addiction and the death of the "American Dream." I do not recommend Requiem for a Dream, unless you have a strong stomach for the brutalities of addiction.

The problem that many people have with the movie is that it does not hold up to our traditional image of Noah. I have a feeling that most people still conjure up images such as this:

Although such imagery is nice for children, this is not what happened. I believe that one of the most difficult scenes in the entire movie to deal with is the fact that the majority of humanity was killed. The screams from those outside of the ark were deafening and nerve wracking. Those inside the ark even debate about whether they should let some in or drag ropes to bring them in. None of them dare do it because those people were under God's judgment.

I believe that the main problem so many people have with the movie is that someone has interpreted the story in a completely different way than our preconceived notions. We like the idea of the happy animals on the ark with a rainbow afterwards. We conveniently forget the reason there was an ark in the first place.

There are definitely some things that the movie could have done without. If you haven't seen the movie yet, then be forewarned:  SPOILERS ALERT!

My Main Problem with the Movie

The main problem I had with the movie was the idea of a stowaway on the ark. I'm not certain it was necessary. However, it does make one feel extremely sorry for Ham, who unfortunately gets a bad reputation not only in this movie, but in the Bible, too. After Ham notices that his father is naked and drunk, Noah curses Ham's son, Canaan, in a clear reference to why the Canaanites were to be punished in later years. (It should be noted that Noah did not curse Ham in this movie.)

In all honesty, that was the only problem I had with the movie. They did not need to have the stowaway on board.

What is Praiseworthy about Noah

There are many things that are praiseworthy about this movie.

  • When we first see the Earth, the land mass is Pangaea. It is simply one land mass. Geologists have speculated this for many years now, as evidenced by the tectonic shifts in the Earth's crust.
  • I loved how the creation of the Earth was depicted. It incorporated modern science's understanding of the Big Bang, evolution, etc., yet understood from an Ancient's perspective. We sometimes forget that the Bible was not written to us in the 21st Century. It was written to a people who had no concept of planets, astrophysics, or even that the world was round.
  • I got a secret delight out of seeing two Paraceratherium board the ark. I'm certain Ken Ham was unhappy that there were no dinosaurs on the ark, as he maintains.
  • The fact that Aronofsky was even willing to tackle the complex issue of the Nephilim is laudable. Many of us would like to skip over the fact that the Bible seems to say that either angels mated with humans or they came to Earth and there were actual giants. Who are we to say that Aronofsky's vision is wrong or incorrect?
  • The film depicted the absolute depravity that humanity had sunk to. Certain people take issue with the vegetarianism portrayed by Noah and his family, but this was a non-issue to me. According to many Jewish commentaries, eating flesh was not permitted until after the Flood. Aronofsky, being a Jew, would understand this. The depravity of humanity was so great that the Earth had become a virtual wasteland.
Probably the best thing that I enjoyed about the film was the fact that Noah was presented to us as a normal human who has his moments of uncertainty. He is not God. There is no Scripture for him to go by to deduce what God wants from him. He has his doubts. He has misconceived notions about what God wants with humanity. In hindsight, we can see perfectly that God meant to save humanity, too. However, I can see how Noah might not have been so certain.

As a work of art, Noah is breathtaking. The scenes are beautifully displayed. We are not in the Mideast in this movie. We could be anywhere. Humanity is more advanced than we presuppose.

What concerns me is the reaction that I have seen to the movie, especially and most regrettably by Evangelicals. Condemnation seems to be easier than noting what is good about the movie. Theologically there is nothing wrong with this interpretation. The fact that not only is Darren Aronofsky a Jew, but an atheist, brings out strong reactions from the Evangelical community. We tend to view atheists like the mad professor in the recently panned movie, "God's Not Dead." However, atheists as a rule are just as moral and ethical as Christians. I do understand that Christianity is more than morals and ethics, but it is worthy to note that atheists are not the bogeyman we think they are. They are our brothers and sisters.

If we Christians are going to be fair in our condemnation of films based on the Bible, then we should note all the fallacies in every production. As an example, I give you the widely praised film (even by Evangelicals), The Prince of Egypt:


My Personal View on Noah

If, however, you want me to be technical about what I truly think of the Biblical account of Noah, it is as follows:

We have many tales throughout the Mideast about a Deluge that killed huge numbers of people, most notable Utnapishtim from the Gilgamesh Epic. A nice comparison between the two stories (which hold a remarkable number of similarities) may be found here.

The physical evidence for a worldwide Flood is lacking; however, there is archeological evidence for a localized flood catastrophe. Therefore, I believe that a significant Flood did happen in the Mideast and left its collective cultural impact on the survivors. According to the Bible, these survivors were Noah and his family. I do not believe a worldwide flood did occur because it would have killed off all vegetation and made all freshwater undrinkable. It would have killed off any freshwater fish life, too.

My personal belief is that the story of Noah is more important to us theologically rather than literally. God punished the wicked and promised never to do so in the same way. God cares very deeply for us and is slow to anger, not wanting to punish us at all. (See Isaiah 54:9-10.)

“For this is like the days of Noah to Me,
When I swore that the waters of Noah
Would not flood the earth again;
So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you
Nor will I rebuke you. 
“For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake,
But My lovingkindness will not be removed from you,
And My covenant of peace will not be shaken,”
Says the Lord who has compassion on you.