Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Can We All Get Along?

These famous words were spoken by Rodney King following his public beating by police officers and a week of rioting in Los Angeles. Many times, I ask it myself in relation to our society and the church. It appears that the early church also asked itself this question. In James 3:13-18 (MSG), the writer of this books states it this way:

"Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor."

Three things jump out at me and challenge me in this scripture. "It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts." The old adage of actions speak louder than words echoes in this verse. I often think more highly of myself in my head than how I live. The reminder here is to guard against that type of thinking. What does a holy life look like? It is "characterized by getting along with others." It can be difficult at times because other people can be difficult, and so can I. Finally, we are reminded that healthy community is a result occurs "...only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other..."

We need to treat others with respect and common decency. It is hard work, but it is how we are told we should act. Let's reflect God’s wisdom and not our own, and I think we can answer the Mr. King's question with, "It is possible."

Written by Chip Kelly
Territorial Lay Leader
Development Bureau Director

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Groundhog Day

Well, did he see his shadow? I’m talking about Punxsutawney Phil, who had thousands of people gathered yesterday morning to observe what he would do. According to folklore, if February 2nd is a cloudy day, spring will come early. If it is sunny on this day, when Phil emerges from his burrow and sees his shadow, he returns to his snug nest, and the winter weather will persist for six more weeks. If you live in Staten Island, New York, you will wait for Staten Island Chuck, and if you reside in Cumberland, Maryland, Maryland Murray will determine the next six weeks of weather.

According to Groundhog Day organizers, the rodents' forecasts are accurate 75-90% of the time. However, a Canadian study for 13 cities in the past 30 to 40 years found that the weather patterns predicted on Groundhog Day were only 37% accurate over that time period. According to StormFax Weather Almanac and records kept since 1887, Punxsutawney Phil’s weather predictions have been correct 39% of the time. Based on the law of averages, you and I can do better than that. In reality, the groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years.

Did you know that February 2nd is also known as Candlemas Day? Candlemas is a Christian holiday, known as the "Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple". It is believed that Jesus’ mother, Mary, presented her son to God at the temple in Jerusalem after observing the traditional 40-day period of purification of mothers, following his birth. Scriptures record that a righteous and devout man named Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit moved Simeon to go to the temple courts, and when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, Simeon took the baby in his arms and declared:

"God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised.
With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone
to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your
people Israel"
(Luke 2:29-32 MSG).

More than 30 years later, Jesus said of himself: "I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12 NIV)


This two-fold promise is for everyone who will trust in Christ and accept the salvation He brings. By trusting Him, we need never walk in darkness because His Spirit lives within us, and He is Light. We also have the privilege of reflecting this Light of the World in all the circumstances of our daily lives.

This reflection will bring hope and encouragement to all who see it.

Did the groundhog see his shadow?  It doesn't matter. If we choose to follow Christ, we will walk in the light of God which leads to the everlasting springtime of eternal life.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Put Down Your Stones

Believe it or not (and you should believe it), I struggle. I used to struggle with a great variety of issues - some spiritual and some social. Then, I realized just how linked they were. One of the most difficult issues I encountered was judging people. My problem with judging others wasn't that I did it too often, rather that I didn't understand what it was.

John 8:3-7 says:

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

This is where I was tripped up!

You see, the way I understood judging meant that since I wasn't perfect, I had no right to bring up ANYTHING wrong with anyone else. My imperfections should not only limit but stifle my attempts to speak out about the behavior of others. I really missed the mark on this one! I was right in the sense that judgment was a task that I was not qualified for. Like the Pharisees in this passage, when we cast a net of judgment, we often become ensnared by it ourselves.

I was wrong because like them, my heart sat on a throne of hypocrisy as I cast down my judgments. Worse even still, I was dreadfully confused. In my lack of understanding, I had swapped a divine role with my earthly responsibility. Judging was not my job, but correction in the appropriate manner was!

James 5:19-20 says this:

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

My place is not to judge, but I do have a responsibility to correct. How can I say I love my brother if I leave him in his sin (2 Tim. 3:16-17)?  How can I say to my daughter that I love her, yet neglect to correct her (Proverbs 13:24)? I couldn't. It wouldn't be possible. As I continue to understand these truths, I would ask that you journey with me. While you do, remember that the key to this equation isn't the correction. The key to this equation is the love.

Written by Lt. Darell Houseton
Newark Ironbound Corps

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Salvation Army Responds to Apartment Fire in Edgewater, NJ

The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services Team Responds to Devastating Fire

The Salvation Army New Jersey Division Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) team is responding to yesterday’s fire in Edgewater, NJ that has left hundreds of residents homeless.

The Salvation Army EDS team will be on hand with a canteen to provide lunch and dinner for first responders. The canteen is able to provide 1500 meals per day and will be set up near the apartment complex on Undercliff Avenue and Winterburn Place.

 “During this time, we want people to know that we are here for the community and will continue relief efforts for as long as we are needed,” says Michael Clayton, Director of Emergency Disaster Services.

In addition to the feeding, Salvation Army Officers and volunteers will be available to offer emotional and spiritual support for those who need someone to listen.

For additional information on The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services work or ways to help, please visit SalvationArmyNJ.org/eds. Donations can be made by clicking here.
Donations can be made by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Be a Better Servant

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, but I've made one this year, and it's to be a better servant. Not just of the Lord but also of those around me - at work, at home, anywhere I go. In preparation, I asked myself, "What does it look like to be a good servant?"

To answer this question, it's natural that we look to Jesus himself, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45 NIV)


We know the greatness of Jesus' character and how He extends Himself to us through the Holy Spirit. And I hope we know how deep His love is for us, so deep that He took it to the cross. But do we know some practical ways that Jesus served others? We can't die on a cross to save souls, but what are some tangible examples that we can apply to our own lives today?

1. When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14 NIV)

We, too, can serve strangers when it's inconvenient, when we don't want to or didn't plan to. Jesus sought some well-deserved alone time and was interrupted by scores of people. Not only did He heal the sick, but He also hung around to help feed five thousand! When interruptions happen in our lives, rather than huffing and puffing (which I admit I do), we can be open to servanthood opportunities.

2. Jesus served women by respecting them and not being condescending when others were - like the story in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery. We, too, can serve both women and men by treating all honorably, regardless of what they've done.

3. Jesus washed His disciples feet in John 13, a filthy task that no one wanted to do. Can you think of a task at work or at home that no one wants to do? Do it!

I think, next holiday season, instead of organizing Secret Santas, we should plot to be Secret Servants. Think of how much fun that would be! Like a game of "Who can do the most good?" A game that can bring victory in our relationship with the Lord.

When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. (Matthew 6:4 MSG)

When we serve, we not only grow closer to God, we grow to be more like Him!

Servanthood is leadership. When someone serves me, they give me an example of how I can serve others. That example, if I'm turned into it, can lead me to serve.

And what can come of that?

Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 MSG)

The cycle of servanthood to leadership to servanthood changes minds, changes hearts and can change the world.

You might have a new year's resolution of your own, and you don't have to adopt mine, but I would encourage you to consider - How do the people in your life serve you? How can you serve them? How can you serve people whom you've never met?


Written by Elyse Jankowski
Community Relations Associate

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

WWJD in 2015

It’s time for New Year's resolutions. I have made many over the years. Some have been broken within the first week of the new year; some have lasted a little longer. Almost none have lasted beyond January. They have been varied, such as my annual resolution to lose weight, or my hope to do a better job of keeping in touch with friends. I am sure you can add your own resolutions, made with good intentions each year, and then soon forgotten.

I have a new resolution this year. Some years ago, I received a key chain from my son. It is simply a ring to hold keys and attached to a leather lace that has four pewter beads. These beads are embossed with the letters W W J D - "What would Jesus do?"  


I have carried that key chain for almost twenty years. The leather lace has been replaced, and the keys have been changed as I moved to different locations. But the message has always been the same and is appropriate in every situation - "What would Jesus do?"

This year, I am not going to make resolutions that I know will not last very long, no matter how good my intentions are. I am simply going to ask myself that very important question whenever I face a moment of indecision. It reminds me of the story of a church in Strasbourg, France.

During World War II, a church in Strasbourg was destroyed. Nothing remained except a heap of rubble and broken glass, or so the people thought, until they began clearing away the masonry. Then, they found a statue of Christ still standing erect. In spite of all the bombing, it was unharmed except that both hands were missing. Eventually, rebuilding of the church began.


One day, a sculptor saw the figure of Christ, and offered to carve new hands. The church officials met to consider the sculptor's friendly gesture - and decided not to accept the offer. The message of the broken sculpture remains even today. Christ has no hands to minister to the needy or feed the hungry or enrich the poor - except our hands. He inspires. We perform.

While serving with The Salvation Army in Germany, I visited an elderly woman, living alone in a small, sparsely furnished apartment in Stuttgart. I spent some time with her, giving her an opportunity to share what was on her mind. Before I left, I asked her if I might pray with her. She agreed readily, and I took her hands in mine and bowed my head and prayed, asking God to bring a special awareness of His presence with her in her loneliness. When my prayer was finished, she thanked me and said, "You are the first person who has touched me all week!" That little gesture of kindness assured her she was not forgotten. It was what Jesus would have done.

That's what I want to do in 2015; I want to ask myself that question each and every day. I know Jesus will guide me to do what He wants. How about you?


Written by Gloria Hohn
Asbury Park Corps

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Where's the Wonder?

If I asked you about the Christmas story, I'm sure you would be able to tell me the entire story. You would remember the angels, the shepherds, the manger...no room in the inn. You have the story memorized, or worse, you have it familiarized.

"Familiarity breeds contempt. How accurate that is." - Mark Twain

Mr. Twain was definitely on to something. Familiarity is so often a great thing. It's safe and breeds comfort. I would suggest to you that it is also extremely dangerous and puts our faith in danger.

Luke 2:8-12 says:

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

We know this story ever so well. So well in fact, that it no longer amazes us. I recently read a sermon that suggested the most wonderful event in human history is losing its wonder. I sometimes think about how excited the shepherds and angels were on that night. For years, the Jewish people had been waiting for the arrival of the Messiah, and now, before their very eyes, these men saw that Savior. The angels even celebrated because of the victorious birth of their Lord. The joy and awe shouldn't stop there. Verse 10 says, "...I bring you good news that will cause great joy for ALL people."

Yes, that includes us, today and tomorrow.

Unfortunately, the story has become a habit for us to participate in and not a joyous occasion we get to celebrate. Have we missed the importance of this event? Have we missed the wonder of it?

In 1903, the Wright brothers sent a telegram back home saying they had sustained flight for the first time and that they'd be home for Christmas. When it arrived at the local paper, they were thrilled to see that the boys would be home for Christmas but overlooked the amazing fact that now men could fly.

Many of us get to this time of year, year after year, and get swept up in the gifts, the tree and even the family gatherings. We miss the amazing fact that we are remembering the birth of the Savior of the world! I pray that this Christmas, the joy of the birth of Christ breaks the levies and floods your life! I pray that it truly is the most wonderful time of the year!


Written by Lt. Darell Houseton
Newark Ironbound Corps

Friday, December 19, 2014

Comfort

Comfort - we all crave it. Commercials advertising comfort repeat hundreds of times. Comfort food, get a relaxing massage for only $49, come sip fancy drinks on our Caribbean cruise. How much is too much? These messages can lead to complacency and an expectation that my comfort is a priority and all that matters in this life. Being comfortable can easily become the status quo. 

Isaiah, the prophet, speaks of another type of comfort. The words recorded in this book of the Bible are often shared at this time of year because they speak about the coming of a Messiah - one who would bring comfort. The type of comfort described in the writings of Isaiah sound a little different than the world's view on comfort.  

Isaiah repeats words describing comfort more than a dozen times throughout his writings.  Isaiah 40, a passage often used during advent, speaks of this comfort: 

1 Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

28 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Isaiah 40:1-2a, 11, 28-29 (NIV)

Verse 11 highlights the way God cares for His people. He watches, pulls us close, looks out for those with children, and we are loved. Verses 28-29 reinforce the comfort and care He provides. It never ends - He does not grow tired of caring for us, and there is a special place for the weary and weak in God's kingdom. 

God's view of comfort reminds me clearly of the way he arrived in the flesh. There was nothing comfortable about his birth. A long donkey ride, straw, smelly animals, scrounging for a blanket. Who was told about this arrival? The weak and least of these, simple shepherds tending to their sheep in a field.

In this season, we can become easily distracted, believing comfort can be found in trinkets, relationships or comfort food. Jesus' arrival reminds us of an everlasting comfort that lavishes care, love, and strength on His children. Embrace that comfort this season.



Written by Chip Kelly
Territorial Lay Leader
Development Bureau Director

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Even the Dark Side Can't Hide from the Joy of the Christmas Season

Each day, I get Google alerts for news items from the Internet that contain Salvation Army in them. This time of year, I generally see 80 to 90 a day flow through my email, and if I'm lucky, I fully read 2 or 3 that catch my eye.

The other day, I was grabbed by the headline "Darth Vader as a bell ringer?" from an article on Mlive.com that reported on a Grand Rapids group of Star Wars fans who stood at a kettle for us last Christmas. While it was an old article, I couldn't resist seeing a picture of Darth Vader, bell in hand, at a kettle. The image got me thinking about what Darth Vader's character represents in the movies, the Dark Side of the Force, and while Vader is fictional, the symbolism is inescapable. At this time of year even the Dark Side can't resist helping a neighbor in need...

In Scripture, Jesus mentioned this concept in two passages. In Matthew 19:19 (NASB), He tells us, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," and in Luke 6:31 (NASB), He says, "Treat others the same way you want them to treat you."


During the holidays, it seems that our hearts are most open to these messages - as most of us can't fathom the idea of our neighbors not having enough to eat or a warm place to call home. Regardless of the holiday that one celebrates, it seems to me the feeling is universal and transcends social, political and theological beliefs. Perhaps this is why the image of Darth Vader helping at a kettle caught my eye. I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if we didn't limit our generosity to Christmas. Perhaps it's time to consider allowing ourselves to see those in need year round? If we did, maybe the joy, peace and hope we feel during the holidays would always be present.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, I pray that you feel the joy of the season and the love of your neighbor.



Written by Richard Pease
Divisional Controller

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Doing The Least Bad

"Jesus, I’m not as bad as that person..."

Maybe not in those words, but this just might be the phrase spoken around the world. How often do we compare ourselves to others? As a kid in Newark (Best city in the whole wide world!), there wasn't a basketball court you could go to that didn’t have someone shooting a basketball and exclaiming, "KOBE!" as they shot the ball. He was my generation's Michael Jordan and, therefore, was the standard of basketball supremacy. We all compared ourselves to him, and he was the standard upon which we judged skill.

Somewhere, between childhood and becoming an adult, we changed our comparative focuses. They went from desiring to be as good as Kobe, to not wanting to be as bad as the worse player. No longer did we compare ourselves to the best, rather we judged ourselves based on the worse.

Instead of doing the most good, we've settled for doing the least bad.
 

"Jesus I may not be the best, but I’m not the worse..."

That's got to count for something, right? Right? In the words of the old lady explaining Facebook to another old lady, "That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works."

Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. - 2 Corinthians 10:12

When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, there were several false teachers spewing their poison into any set of ears that would hear them. Paul needed the people to be weary of these people, because foolishness can be contagious. To prevent the spread of this ignorance, Paul knew the first step in prevention is identification. He was telling the people of Corinth that they will know the truth by the standard it's compared to. Paul boasted in Jesus, whereas these teachings set themselves as the standards by which all things are measured.

Like them, we compare ourselves to the wrong thing. In our minds, "If I’m not the poorest, then I'm not poor." When in reality, we are. In the same way, "If I'm not the worse, then I'm not bad at all." Even though we do a fantastic job of convincing ourselves of this, we know it isn't true.

So what then should we do?

Instead of straddling mediocrity, let us strive for excellence! Easier said than done, right? I know because #TheStruggleIsReal. Well, since we are changing perspectives, why stop now? We fear failure and disappointment. These fears make the decision to avoid striving for the standard of Jesus easier. Perhaps we should change our perspective on what we are afraid of failing to reach.

Perfection.

It's out of our reach. A place we can't get to. This is true for our earthly selves. Luckily for us, perfection isn't a destination or the last stop on a train. It's a moment-by-moment opportunity. Each of these moments is a chance to see how our actions compare to that of the one true standard, Jesus Christ!

Ecclesiastes 7:20 says, "Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins." because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). However, we are commanded to try because our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48). 


Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:12-15 that this goal is worth striving for, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you."

A wise man once said, "If you're not first, you're last." Although he may have been a bit misguided, he still pointed out the truth that we should always strive to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. That's only possible if we dare to be like Jesus.

To be like Jesus, this hope possesses me.
In every thought and deed, this is my aim, my creed.
To be like Jesus, this hope possesses me.
His Spirit helping me, like Him I'll be.


Written by Lt. Darell Houseton
Newark Ironbound Corps