Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year’s Solutions Versus Resolutions



[Please Note: This article include reflections along the lines of what we have shared together in the FSAOF blog and private Facebook site during the Advent season re: preparing our hearts and minds, making room in our hearts and homes for Christ-or, in other words, our spiritual journey]

Every December, when magazines for the following month (i.e., January) arrive at stores we read the predictable cover headlines. For example, there are catchy phrases that address how to lose the holiday pounds we’ve gained (usually next to a large cover photo of a delectable dessert to make!), how to organize our homes and our lives, and how to get a head start on making New Year’s resolutions—in other words, how to make a fresh start.

There is something very hopeful and appealing in the idea of new beginnings--we all want a second chance to get something right. While there are some aspects of our lives that don’t provide a ‘do over’, we recognize that there are many ways in which we can recreate our lives (e.g., searching for a new job, getting fit and healthy, or developing new relationships).

So, after Christmas, as the current year winds down, many people begin to think about the coming New Year’s celebration. For many people, part of this preparation for a new year includes making resolutions. Some newer trends suggest skipping the idea of aiming for specific goals and choosing a theme instead. Others create a “bucket list”. Those who like to operate on a 3-5 year plan create a “mission statement, which is a plan of action that outlines an individual’s purpose and goals.

Whatever approach we use to manage our lives, the busier life gets, the more we need real solutions in our lives and the more we crave inner peace, a sense of equilibrium. Many of us are seeking solutions, which provide balance in our lives and in our homes. Our yearnings for inner peace may also be described as our desires for a deeper spirituality. Although there is no standard definition of spirituality, most people agree that it goes beyond religion. The National Cancer Institute defines spirituality as, “Having to do with deep, often religious, feelings and beliefs, including a person’s sense of peace, purpose, connection to others, and beliefs about the meaning of life,” From this definition, it is apparent that faith plays a crucial role in spirituality.

How do we evaluate our spirituality or our spiritual maturity? Does the answer lie in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach? Is there a check-list for spiritual growth—is it a uniform process? Some people have reduced the idea of spiritual development to a formula, which includes attending church services and engaging in a daily quiet time (i.e., to read the Bible and pray). Other individuals include daily Scripture readings from the Old and New Testament. And some folks follow a reading “through the Bible in a year” approach. In the pursuit of a deepening faith, these routines have worked for some individuals. However, not everyone has found them to be helpful.


Finally, another means that some people have found helpful in their spiritual walk is to choose a Scripture verse or passage to use as a model and guide for daily living. One popular verse comes from the Old Testament, and it is one of the Scripture verses that Christians often aspire to fulfill: “But he’s [God] already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously,” (Micah 6:8, The Message). Jesus’ life clearly demonstrated the directives outlined in Micah 6:8, and our mission is to emulate Him. Our goal is to become increasingly like Him, but we will not imitate Him perfectly. In Philippians 3: 12-21, the Apostle Paul emphasizes that we need to focus on the goal of staying on track and following Christ. It seems to me that Paul, in this passage, answers the question re: how do we evaluate our spiritual growth. Maybe it’s less about getting an “A”, taking a ‘report card’ approach. Maybe it’s more about determining the direction in which we are headed. Like Paul, I am not claiming that I have this all sorted out or have it all together.
However,I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” As we enter a new year, maybe that’s the bottom line: forgetting our past shortcomings and failures and keeping our eyes on Jesus, on becoming more like Him.

Many blessings as you continue your spiritual journey. May your New Year be one that is peace-filled and fulfilling.

Elizabeth Hogan Hayduk
Former Officer

Canada & Bermuda Territory





Tuesday, December 30, 2014

TAKING FLIGHT… (repost)


“Another one bites the dust.”

 Just today, I heard of another couple who is “without appointment,” the euphemistic label placed upon officers who, for a variety of reasons, are unwilling or unable to remain in or move to a Salvation Army appointment. While I’ve been told that the officer resignations and terminations in my territory are within the normal numbers for departure, it sure seems as though an epidemic is raging throughout my corner of the Salvation Army.


Sitting in the midst of corn and soybean fields in Central Ohio, I’m often slow to hear the news of the departure of a colleague, but simply doing the math in my own division, it seems as though 10% of the officer corps has ‘left the work’ within the past 2 years or so, and that pattern is not unique to our division.

While marital struggles do play a role in this attrition (single spouse officership not being an option in the US), many others are leaving for a myriad of reasons, and others are not far behind. Many of my colleagues are hanging on by a thread, and if other job options become available, they too will be out the door, even with the tough economic times. Some will choose early retirement, still a financially challenging route in the US, while most will grudgingly resign their officers’ commission, giving up their ordination in order to meet the needs of their families and their own hearts.

Does it have to be this way? As an organization, as a ministry, we are only as strong as the people who provide leadership, both in the pews and in the corps offices around the world. We are losing good people at a rate that sure seems to be accelerating, and we are asking senior leadership to remain past their scheduled retirement years to fill in the gaps.

I’m concerned. Yet am I the boy crying wolf? We’ve certainly survived officer resignations in the past. But my gut is telling me that we are at a tipping point in our history, at least in North America and Europe.

What can stem the tide? Short answer: flexibility.

Life isn’t the same as it was in the 60’s and 70’s, when many of our senior leaders began their service. Blind obedience isn’t working on any level of our lives, and isn’t working in the Army. We’ve got to find ways to allow for a level of self-determination in appointments, respect for family needs and wishes, single-spouse officership options, and respectful and informed conversations about the needs of the Army versus the hopes and desires of its officers.

While I sound like a broken record, “I cannot leave the dear old flag, ‘twere better for to die” just doesn’t make it anymore (and I’m not sure that it was ever biblically sound). It’s hard enough for my baby-boomer generation to remain as officers, and that mentality will not keep the next generations. They live in a world that offers many, many options for ministry, and even a golden handcuff will not be enough to keep them if they don’t sense that they have a voice in their – and the Army’s – future. 

 Is anybody listening?

JoAnn Shade

Major JoAnn Shade is a retired SA Pastor and lives in Ohio, USA

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Reflection – The Manger Scene Part Three (3/3)

The Wise men

As a child, it puzzled me as to who they were, and why they were there.  They weren’t Jews, so why would they care about a Jewish baby – even if they did believe he was a new born king?  They were people who most likely believed things that were completely heretical to any Jew.  They likely had long accepted the computations that deduced the exact circumference of the earth.  Their understanding of science, and the knowledge it taught, would have been at complete odds with everything that was in the laws, and teachings, and traditions of the Jews.  Yet here they are, bowing before the Christ child.

Again, we are presented with a picture of Christ accepting all people – regardless of who they are, or even what their faith or religion they are.  We are presented with a picture of the complete Lordship of Christ – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  All that is required is that one bows before Christ.  The Wise men didn’t suddenly convert to Judaism.  They were still the same men that returned from whence they came, but not before presenting us with another picture of Christ’s inclusive love and acceptance.

The Star – and the rest of nature
No Manger scene would be complete without the bright shining star or the presence of the animals all announcing the birth.  As if the miracle of the birth alone, or the presence of the Shepherds and the Wise men weren’t enough to convince us of the complete Lordship of Christ, we have this picture of all of nature acknowledging the holy babe, and submitting to his Lordship.

This picture of the Manger scene, with all its’ actors and many parts, sets the scene for what would become the rest of Christ’s life.  He was the fulfilment of the law and the prophets, ushering in a new era that included all people – no matter what.  Throughout his life, Christ associated and identified with the marginalised, the excluded, as well as the respectable.  He showed that the old teachings are no longer binding now that they have been fulfilled in him.  He came to bring Salvation to all – not just to those who believed what the Jews believed, or who lived a particular way.  He came to all, and for all, and embraced all.

May we each this Christmas, discover anew the beauty of the Manger scene, and perhaps find ourselves kneeling next to the Shepherds and Wise men.

Merry Christmas.


Graeme Randall
Former Officer
Sydney, Australia








Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Reflection – The Manger Scene Part Two

The Shepherds

It is cute to see the shepherds kneeling before the baby Jesus, with perhaps one or two sheep bleating away.  But the question that comes to my mind is ‘who is looking after the flock?’  They were all looking after the flock in the fields, then the Angels came and announced the good news to them, and they all decide to go and see the new born babe.  So who was looking after the flock?  This raises a deeper question – Why did the Angels appear to the Shepherds?  There were other people around that the Angels could have appeared to.  It was obviously a hot night.  Many people would have been sleeping on their roofs trying to stay cool.  The heat no doubt was probably keeping many people awake.  Why didn’t the Angels appear to them?

Shepherds were a vital part of society.  But they were also an excluded part of society.  Their work was a 24/7 job.  No days off.  That meant no going to the Synagogue on the Sabbath because there would have been no one to mind the sheep.  I don’t imagine that the sheep had their own Synagogue to go to as good Jewish sheep, while their shepherds went off to Synagogue. 

Not only did they not go to the Synagogue on the Sabbath as was required by law of all good Jews, but they actually worked on the Sabbath.  They couldn’t take time off remember.  So they would have been excluded from fellowship by the very fact of who and what they are.  Yet it was to these people that the Angels came, and it was these shepherds that Christ accepted as his first disciples when the rest of the church of the day excluded them.  I say disciples because they left everything to bow before the Christ Child.  I can’t imagine that they herded their entire flock from the fields to where the baby was.  They left everything.  These excluded people were arguably the first disciples.

It is interesting that throughout his life, Christ refers to himself as a shepherd.  He identifies with a group of people who by their very nature were excluded from society.  The presence of the Shepherds in the Manger Scene talks about the all encompassing love of Christ.  No one is excluded.

End Part Two

Graeme Randall
Former Officer
Sydney, Australia






Christmas Reflection – The Manger Scene Part 1 (1/3)

It’s that time of year again when we start seeing Christmas decorations popping up everywhere.  

I find it interesting having just moved back to Australia after living 6 years in London UK, how many Manger scenes there are everywhere.  In the UK, fewer and fewer Manger Scenes seem to be displayed for fear of offending someone. 
Now I’m not going to engage in a discussion on the accuracy of the classic Manger Scene (I’ll leave that for others to rant about).  However, I do think that the image of the Manger Scene presents an interesting Theological reflection.  When we take a close look at this scene, we discover a narrative that sets the scene for the rest of Christ’s ministry on earth.  We are also presented with an image of full inclusion, with Christ at the centre.  Let us examine it closer, and I will explain what I mean.

Mary, Joseph and Jesus

Let us start with the mother of Jesus – Mary.  It is remarkable that she is even there.  A young, single woman (though engaged to be married to Joseph), found to be pregnant.  She believed that this is God’s will, that she was visited by an Angel, and that she is carrying the Messiah.  However, in the culture where she lived, the very fact that she is pregnant and un-married should have meant that she was stoned to death.  At the very least, her unborn child would have been forcibly aborted.  The fact that she is there at all, and giving birth to Jesus is a miracle in itself.  The only reason she is there is because the man who she is engaged to be married to, has accepted her.  Joseph has shown her love, and allowed that love to override millennia of teaching and culture and tradition.  Love has trumped the law.

Now this is no small act by Joseph.  He was a carpenter – a very highly respected tradesman, and probably very wealthy.  As a carpenter, he would have had a very high standing in his community.  To show such love and acceptance – inclusion – to a pregnant, unmarried woman, despite what they both believed (or not) regarding the origin of the child, meant he risked everything.  He risked his position in his community.  He risked his financial security – after all – who was going to continue giving him commissions if he disregarded all the traditions and teachings, and laws of his community and faith?  He risked everything.  But love won out.

Christ’s very birth then shattered tradition, shattered the law, and shattered millennia of scriptural teaching.  Yet perhaps it was not so much a shattering, but a fulfilling of those things.  Christ said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.  Laws, traditions, and teaching are only binding until the need for them has been fulfilled.  Christ was not only the fulfilment of prophecy, but the fulfilment of the law.  It is no longer binding on us.  Those traditions, those scriptural teachings from Old Testament scriptures are fulfilled in Christ, thereby abolishing the need to adhere to them.

The Holy family then points towards a new era, a new way of engaging with God.  The old has gone, the new has come.

End Part One

Graeme Randall
Former Officer
Sydney, Australia



Friday, December 26, 2014

Reconciliation means many things...


WELCOME HOME!
Reconciliation means many things to many people.  There are countless moving stories of reconciliation that brings tears to the eye, all very good and illustrative of reconciliation – especially at this time of Christmas (I love a good tear jerker).  For me however, I see a wealth of reconciliation in the Christmas story.  Let me explain...

Reconciliation between Mary and Joseph
After Mary finds herself pregnant, Joseph plans to separate from her.  However, he reconciles with her, and stays with her, despite the fact that she is pregnant, he is not the father, and to stay with her risks everything – his position in society, his friends, possibly his family.  Non-biblical sources suggest that Joseph was probably an extremely wealthy and successful businessman.  Yet later we find him as the local carpenter.  Yep, he lost everything, but he was reconciled with Mary.

Reconciliation between Joseph and his family
When May and Joseph finally arrive in Bethlehem, they go to the house of Joseph’s family, not knowing what reception they are likely to receive.  They were there for a census – and those who had family there would have been expected to stay with family.  However, there was no room in the ‘Inn of the House’ – the upstairs living quarters of the family home.  The family had arrived in force.  However, instead of being turned away, they were offered the downstairs area completely to themselves.  This area was where the livestock lived during winter.  The livestock received shelter, and they provided warmth that would permeate upwards to keep the house, and the family, warm during winter.  However, during summer (when Christ was born), this area would have had no animals in it.  It would have been completely mucked out and sterilised so that there would be no chance of any lingering diseases making its’ up to the family upstairs, and so that the livestock were not re-infected next winter – causing the family to lose all their livestock in one disastrous stroke.  It would have also been nice and cool for a mother giving birth to her first-born.  The perfect place for Mary to deliver the Christ-child.  Cool, sterile, quiet, and plenty of room.

Joseph’s family could have – should have – disowned him.  But they didn’t.  They also risked everything by having him and his unwed teenage mother stay with them.  They were reconciled.

Reconciliation between Humans and God
Humankind had been estranged from God since the fall.  We had been required to bring sacrifices of various kinds to God to show our repentance, to get close to God.  The act of Christ coming into the world did away with that, and reconciled us once and for all back to God.  Christ risked everything – including rejection from us, and his eventual death on the cross, but we were reconciled.

Reconciliation with The Law
In order for all these reconciliations to take place, The Law that the Jews clung to needed to be reconciled and fulfilled.   The law had become the end in itself, devoid of love or forgiveness.  In risking everything, the actors in this narrative showed us that the law is only a means to an end, fulfilled in Christ.  We received reconciliation, but the authorities lost everything – their power and prestige.

Reconciliation between Love and God
A number of years ago I saw a fringe play in a fringe theatre on the outskirts of Sydney.  One line towards the end stuck with me... ‘God and love have now been reconciled’.  A very strange line.  Why would love need to be reconciled with God?  God is Love as 1 John 4:8 tells us.  But then I realised that we have lost the meaning of what love is.  To the ancient Greeks, there were at least four different words for love – all having very different meanings.  Today, we bastardise it all into one word.  We have lost the meaning and nuances that make up the concept of love.  Love means accepting someone no matter the cost.  No matter what we risk losing, we love and accept others.  We may lose our standing, our reputation, our long-held Theology.  But we will be reconciled with our fellow humans, and with love, and with God.  No longer will love and God be separated by Theology and law.  They will be reconciled again.

This Christmas, as we consider the meaning of reconciliation, how will we allow our lives to live out the concept of reconciliation.  What we will we lose?  How will we be reconciled with those around us?  The actors in the Christmas story risked everything.  Joseph should have rejected Mary, but they were reconciled.  Joseph’s family should have rejected them both, but they were reconciled.  The law told them that they (particularly Mary) were evil, and had no place in the Kingdom of God.  But all was reconciled.  Who in our community are marginalised, excluded, shunned from our fellowships?  How will we work out reconciliation in our community, and perhaps even within our families?

God bless us each at this Christmas time, and especially as we grapple with the challenge that reconciliation brings to each of us.

Graeme Randall
Former Officer
Sydney, Australia








Thursday, December 25, 2014

Thursday, December 25/14 The Christ Candle

Today we celebrate the Birth of Christ! For the past four Sundays (November 30th-December 21st) we have explored the meaning of each of the candles in the Advent wreath, and we have used these reflections to help us get ready for this great commemoration. For the first week of Advent a purple candle is lit, which is the Candle of Prophecy (a.k.a., the Candle of Hope). The second week another purple candle is lit, which is the Candle of Bethlehem (a.k.a., the Candle of Preparation). The third week we examined the only pink candle in the Advent wreath—the Shepherds’ Candle (a.k.a., the Candle of Joy). And on Sunday just past (December 21) we looked at the meaning of the Angel Candle (a.k.a., The Candle of Love).

We have now arrived at the final candle in the Advent wreath, the “Christ Candle.” This candle is lit on either Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day, depending on when churches hold their Christmas services. It probably seems obvious that the Christ Candle—the only white candle in the Advent wreath-- represents Jesus. The wait is over! The Messiah has come and we are excited to celebrate His birth with reverence and with joy! As we celebrate Jesus’ first coming to earth, the white candle is a reminder to Christians, that Christ is the light of the world. Jesus said, “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 Common English Bible).

The focus--particularly on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day-- is the joyful proclamation of the Good News of His first coming. The time we have spent preparing our hearts and minds enriches our celebration. It enables us to fully participate in the meaningful aspects of Christmas (embracing our faith,spending time with loved ones, and reaching out to others), to stay focused on the reason that we have Christmas (i.e., Jesus’ birth), and to enjoy this holy season. It’s the reason that we love to sing Christmas carols as part of our celebration: “Yeah, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning,” and “O, come let us adore Him”. We recognize the spiritual truths in our favourite Christmas carols.

However, the time of Advent also embraces the wait for His second coming. In that regard, it’s also a time of celebrating the hope that we have of His promised return. So, in that sense, the wait is NOT over. Although Christ came as a King on an undercover mission, His second coming will not be so subtle (although, many angel visitations—to Mary, Joseph, Zachariah, John the Baptist’s father--, angelic appearances to shepherds, a large, shiny star that  lured magi to their Bethlehem destination hardly seem subtle). Still, when He came to earth the first time, it was as a vulnerable infant. When He comes the second time, the entire world will know that He has arrived! I remember when I first heard that “Joy to the World” was really about Christ’s second coming. That was a little startling, but as I studied the words, I realized it was true! Maybe that’s why it has always been my favourite Christmas carol—because it’s filled with hope! [For those of you who may be interested in reading what Christ said about His return, I have included verses from the Gospels at the end of the suggested daily scripture readings.]


Challenge:

Earlier this month my husband and I attended a Christmas service at Southern Wesleyan University, where he is a professor. When we entered for the program, we received a candle. At the conclusion of the evening, a candlelight service was held. In the vast auditorium, with all the house lights shut off, celebrants received light for their candles from the university chaplain’s candle. Then these individuals moved down from the platform into the aisles of the sanctuary, and began to share the light with the person at the end of each row. The people in the rows passed the light down their rows. The light was also shared across the entire platform and with the pit band. It was a very moving moment when, with all the candles, the chaplain held his candle high, and we all followed his lead. One little lit candle in that room might not have seemed significant, but it was essential to the profound result.

We need to remember the same principle of light applies to our lives. We are called to be a light in the world to reflect God’s love and grace to others, (Matthew 5:13-15). There are so many hurting and lonely people. We may not always know what the result will be in others’ lives when we offer them the Light of the World. We don’t have to be preaching at people. I remember, when I was in my teens, reading something to the effect that, “Christians are the only Bible the world will ever read”. So, others are looking/observing our lives to see if the faith that we claim to have is evidenced in our daily lives.

Dear Lord, Your people walking in darkness had their lives transformed by Your Light. And our lives have also been changed by the Light of the World. May we be prepared to share the light of our candle, of our lives, with those who are hungry for hope and light, and faith. May we hold our candle high so that Your light in us draws others to us; and may we be faithful and diligent in pointing them back to You.

Happy Birthday, Jesus!
 Elizabeth Hogan Hayduk

 Suggested Scripture Readings:
Wednesday, December 24th The Birth of Jesus
 Luke 2: 1-20
Thursday, December 25th: Jesus, Light of the World  John 8:12
Friday, December 26th:  Live as Children of Light Ephesians 5:5; Let Your Light Shine  Matthew 5:15
Saturday, December 27: Jesus Speaks about His Second Coming: Matthew 16:27; 24th chpt of Matthew; 25:1-13; Luke 12: 37-38, 40; 17:28-30; 21: 34-36; John 14:1-3; Mark 8:38

 Sunday, December 28th:  New Years Solutions Vs. Resolutions