Saturday, January 31, 2015

LET US “UNDERSCORE SACRIFICE”

The phrase “underscore sacrifice” is lifted from the General’s 2013 message on this blog page, which is titled “WE NEED OFFICERS”.  Sacrifice for her (Linda Bond) means “availability” and “mobility”, that is, “to be prepared to serve sacrificially, anywhere and everywhere, whenever and wherever, The Salvation Army requires.

To my way of thinking there are two sides to sacrifice.

The first is: that it’s a way of expressing one’s deepest appreciation to God.  So it is that humanity has always asked the question: What can we give to God to express our appreciation, and the thing that was most precious to people in prehistoric times was a child.

It’s against that background, that we see Abraham starting out with Isaac in the biblical story, preparing to make a sacrifice.  Abraham believes, according to the best light of his day, that this is the offering he must make to God.  That’s one side of sacrifice: it’s a gift of gratitude.

The other side is this: sacrifice is God’s way of fulfilling life’s greatest possibilities. When we say it’s God’s way we mean that it’s written into the nature of things. There’s no use asking why it’s that way, or why God didn’t choose some other way.  We don’t know why; all we know is that this is the way.

For example, how much real family life can there be without sacrifice?  The parents of children sacrifice a great deal of their independence and freedom, their time and money, and often their peace of mind, and in the end the child goes off and leaves home and it seems as though they also sacrificed the child.

Again, look at a person, who launches out on a career.  One has to cut out one thing – in order to have something else.  One may have to give up the blessings of a family for example, in order to bind oneself more closely to one’s work.

Or think of a person, who is going to be a great artist:  one cannot pursue one’s own private pleasures and, at the same time, be the channel of the great creative power of the living God. One must have one or the other; one of them has to be sacrificed.

So while there is about sacrifice, a kind of voluntariness, something excessive, over and above, uncalculated, that streams freely, gladly, cheerfully from a person’s heart who wants to express gratitude to someone else, there is also a kind of compulsion about sacrifice.

Furthermore, the story of Abraham and Isaac makes clear that there is more than one kind of sacrifice.  Abraham, knowing what he’s about to do has all the necessary equipment for a burnt sacrifice:  his son and the wood for the fire.

You can see why this story was included in the records of the Jewish people. It marks a great step forward in humanity’s growing concept of God.  The story was told to sanction the custom of substituting an animal for a person in a sacrifice.

Put the other way around, and it means something like this: that God didn’t want people to sacrifice their children. When God sent a child into the world, God wanted the child to have every opportunity to live and grow, bloom and flourish in the fullness of his or her potentialities.

In this story then, we find two kinds of sacrifice, a child and an animal. Later on, there was still another substitution. The prophets of the time began to see the unreality of sacrificial ceremony in which there was no moral meaning, and they said to the people: Why are you offering all these animals?  God doesn’t need the best of your flock; God wants you!

If you and I are thinking of something we can give God we had better look within: “for the sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart.” God wants our will, our mind, our pride, our ambition, our desires, so that they can be refined and made as instruments of creative purpose.

Finally, there are two ways of looking at this story.  One can look at it with a kind of sophisticated superiority and say how primitive it is, or look at it and say how profound it is.  For it is a truism that we are still making the mistake that Abraham almost made, of sacrificing the wrong thing, our children instead of our selves.

How many officers’ homes are there in which people are sacrificing their children in order to fulfill the demands of their careers; being available to go anywhere when marching orders arrive?  It doesn’t seem to matter to the organization how many times their children have to be uprooted from their schools and friends, and even sometimes, being left behind to fend for themselves.

How many mothers are there who sacrifice their children to their own needs, smothering them, keeping them tied to their apron strings, never letting them go to their own life?  And how many fathers are there who seek for their sons and daughters to follow in their steps, to carry on the Army tradition, when the child is in no way prepared to do it, and wants something entirely different?

We’ve not gone so very far, still sacrificing the wrong thing.

One of the great poets of the First World War was Wilfred Owen.  In one poem he took this old story of Abraham and Isaac and used it as a parable to show the way in which people, still make the wrong kind of sacrifice and offer their own children.

Abram bound his son Isaac with belts and straps and built parapets and trenches there and stretched for the knife to slay his son.  When lo! An angel called him out of heaven saying: Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do any harm to him.  Behold, a ram caught in a thicket by its horns.  Offer the ram instead of him.  But the old man would not so, but slew his son, and half the seed of Europe, one by one.”


The story of Abraham and Isaac, old-fashioned, primitive, comes to us with all the warmth of a human narrative born down there in the depths of a parent-child relationship – of which there can be nothing on earth more wonderful, not even serving the Army, or the Church!  And it comes to us with a solemn and sober reminder, that we had better sacrifice the thing that God really wants: us!

Dr. John Sullivan
Canada

Friday, January 30, 2015

Has Accountability Disappeared from the Church?

Merriam-Webster defines accountability as “the quality or state of being accountable; an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” As we watch the news today, it appears as if no one wants to be held accountable. Sadly, leaders in the church are not excluded. I have heard friends discuss their need for accountability, yet many people frown at the concept and shout, “I only need to be accountable to Jesus.”

I recently had a conversation with a pastor who was living in habitual sin. I pleaded, “How can you stand and teach your congregation and continue in sin?”

He responded, “I have learned to not let it bother me and continue to preach.” He told me that he has successfully learned how to sin and continue in ministry without even feeling any remorse.

How did this happen? I’m sure it didn’t happen overnight. After I listened to his many stories, it appears he’s been living in habitual sin during his entire ministry. How could this happen? No one ever held him accountable; in fact, his leaders were also living in habitual sin. At what point will we turn things around in the church and hold leaders accountable? 

Leaders should be above reproach, should be hospitable, must love what is good, must be self-controlled, and should hold faithful to the word of God. Leaders should be faithful to their spouses and be people of dignity, among other things.

I taught this one day at Sunday school, and the senior pastor came behind me and discredited everything I said. His response: “Can anyone in here meet these standards?” The class shouted, “No!” He responded, “Neither can I, thank God for the blood.” I almost ran to my car and cried. I called my friend later and read her my sermon. I read it word for word and read every note. I asked her if I did something wrong or committed error in any way. She told me no, but that didn’t stop the tears from flowing. I learned later about the systemic sin in that church. Why would they want someone to teach about the moral demands on leadership? They really should have skipped that lesson in the Sunday school lesson book.

Unfortunately, I have seen many accounts where pastors and deacons are involved in open affairs and the congregation tolerates their sin. I’ve heard stories where children have been molested by leaders and the church did nothing to respond. As an attorney, I know stories of pastors stealing money from their churches and the church failing to hold them accountable.

I’ve been told by so many people, “Oh he’s saved; he’s just not walking in it.” Huh? Galatians 5: 16-17 states, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.” I’m not saying a person must be perfect; surely I have had my share of shortcomings. But in those times do you know where I sat? I sat in the pews. I sat down until I got myself together.

Why do I care? I care because the flock is dying and the “lost” don’t trust the leaders in the church. God has allowed me to minister to men and women who refuse to come to the church because a pastor, minister, or deacon has molested them. I have sat with men and women who confided in me that when they were children, their father or grandfather (who was the pastor) was raping them at home. Why would they want to return to church?

Why do I care? I care because I have a friend who has been in the same abusive relationship her whole life. Why? It is because she doesn’t know what true love feels like. When your grandfather is a pastor and is sleeping with (and beating) you, where do you go from there?

I know that the church in the United States is so focused on fighting the “culture wars,” but we need to fight the battles in our own churches. It is not the government’s or Hollywood’s fault that there is so much darkness in the world. I believe we must accept some responsibility because we have lost our impact in the world. We have failed to hold leaders accountable, so we have lost our saltiness. Jesus warns us in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.”

The church is losing its flavor, and lack of accountability is one of the reasons. Let us refocus and regroup and hold leaders accountable, so once again we can be the salt of the earth.


Carmille Akande





Carmille Akande is a licensed attorney, a freelance writer, and a full-time missionary in Ghana, West Africa.   She graduated for Winston-Salem State University with a degree in Political Science and received her law degree from the University of Dayton School of Law. She is licensed to practice law in the State of Ohio and the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio. .

Carmille blogs at carmilleakande.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarmilleAkande.

#3 - INCLUSION in THE SA - Anything new here?

We oppose any discrimination, marginalisation or persecution of any person. We find no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for any reason.

Anyone who comes to The Salvation Army will receive assistance based solely on their need and our capacity to provide help.  We work with people who are vulnerable and marginalised across the world, and offer very practical help, unconditional assistance and support regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

We employ a large number of people of other faiths, cultures and varying sexual orientation and we respect and value the rich diversity of our staff and the communities in which we serve.

Interdenominational and interfaith work
The Salvation Army works to promote interdenominational and interfaith collaboration across the UK and Ireland. In August 2014 our Territorial Commander Clive Adams signed a letter to The Telegraph alongside other leaders from the Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish faiths to  condemn the ‘crimes against humanity’ taking place in Iraq. This united stand by multi-faith movements was followed by a vigil in September 2014 at Westminster Abbey, where representatives of The Salvation Army joined other senior religious leaders to affirm solidarity with the people of Iraq. Underlying our work with ecumenical and interfaith work is a belief in the common humanity and equality of all people.

Catering for learning and physical disabilities
Furthermore, we believe each person is intentionally created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This means everyone is of infinite worth. Living in this world can involve pain, suffering and varying degrees of disability but this does not diminish the value of life. We strive to include and involve anyone with a learning or physical disability within our day to day activities, and aim to make adjustments and provide support to enable anyone to access everything we provide.

Condemning homophobia
The Salvation Army stands against homophobia, which victimises people and can reinforce feelings of alienation, loneliness and despair. We aim to be an inclusive church where members of the LGBT community find welcome and the encouragement to develop their relationship with God.

A diverse range of views on homosexuality may exist within The Salvation Army – as among the wider Christian (and non-Christian) community. But no matter where individual Salvationists stand on this matter, The Salvation Army does not permit discrimination on the basis of sexual identity in the delivery of its services or in its employment practices.

Gender equality
"I insist on the equality of women with men,” said our founder William Booth in 1908.  “Every officer and soldier should insist upon the truth that woman is as important, as valuable, as capable and as necessary to the progress and happiness of the world as man.”

As The Salvation Army became established, so women were given leadership responsibilities. Catherine Booth, William’s wife, fought to expand the role for women in church and public life, advocating better conditions and pay for women workers in London’s sweated labour, most notably in the match-making industry. In the early days of The Army, women were sent to open new corps (churches), while others started social work among the women of the streets.   By 1878 there were nearly equal numbers of women officers (41) as there were men officers (49). William’s daughters are great examples of how important women were in the early development of The Army. Catherine (Kate) pioneered work France, while Emma became the principal of the first Army training home for women, Evangeline became the first female international leader (General) of The Salvation Army and Lucy led the Army’s work in India, Denmark, Norway and South America.


This commitment to equality remains today.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

NUMBER 7 29 January, 2015

NUMBER 7


'Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about"' Genesis 22:2.

Abraham and his family lived in a world and amongst a people, (the Canaanites), where the sacrifice of children was common place. It was the norm when it came to appeasing or honouring their gods. In such a world, Abraham must have been relieved that God had given him the promise, that through Isaac he would have innumerable descendants. Thank goodness, unlike the gods around me my God will never require that of me,' he may well have thought.

But then God spoke to Abraham and punctured that sense of security. With what confusion he must have climbed that hill. 'How could God fulfil his promise if my son dies?' There was only one conclusion Abraham could come to. As ridiculous as it was, if God was going to be true to his promise AND required what Abraham was about to do, then God must be capable of resurrecting the dead, (Hebrews 11:19).

What joy must have filled his heart when God stopped him as he was about to lunge the knife into the boy.  Yet the walk back down the mountain may not have been as easy as we like to think. How would those who observed him returning with his son judge him? There were those who saw him return that day who will have sacrificed their child. What became clear following this, was that Abraham's God did not desire child sacrifice, (Lev 18:21), however,
1. He does require that we love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and put him ahead of all others, even our dearest and best.
2. He expressed that same love towards us in his giving of Jesus, his only Son whom he loved, to die to save us.
3. Sometimes what God requires doesn't seem to make sense but God would have us believe and hope, like Abraham did, even when there is no reason for hoping.(Romans 4:18).
4. The walk we walk will open us up to the world's criticism, judgement and even ridicule. It will not comply with the culture we find ourselves in, but nevertheless, may we 'Trust the Lord with all out hearts and not lean on our own understanding,' Proverbs 3:6, and then discover, like Abraham did, the wonder of what God then does! 

God bless you all.
Howard Webber
Bournemouth UK