Don’s Study

What does God want?

Matthew 22:15-22

      It was a classic ‘no-win’ question that was asked of Jesus.  When he was asked, “is it lawful to pay tribute to Cesar… or not?” it was a lawyerly question posed by an unusual alliance of Pharisees (who debated Jewish law endlessly) and Herodians (who were loyalists under Roman rule).  It was a question intended to trip up this Nazarene preacher who was causing lots of turmoil in Judea.

      It’s a ‘no win’ question – like “when did you stop beating your wife?” – because it calls for a simple answer (‘yes’ or ‘no’) when it is not a simple issue.  The tribute tax was particularly galling for the Jews because it was paid to the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome; and to add insult to injury, the coin with which that tax was paid – the denarius – bore an inscription with the image of Caesar:  “Tiberias Caesar, majestic son of the majestic God, and High Priest.”  So you can see that the payment of that coin in tribute to Caesar and in support of a pagan temple was a complex issue far above and beyond the lawfulness of it.

      It was a lawyerly question because it was calculatingly prepared by enemies who became allies only to make Jesus their common enemy. They conspired to pose a question to Jesus that would place him at risk no matter how he answered it.

      It was intended to trip him up. If he answered simply “yes, it’s lawful,” he would have been denounced as a Roman collaborator and thus alienated from the poor and oppressed to whom his preaching and ministry had been directed. But if he said, “no, don’t pay the tax,” he would have been regarded as a seditionist and condemned as a subversive.

      It is ironic to say the least that, although Jesus sent them away “marveling” at his response, the Pharisees continued to assail his ministry — and the charge which eventually led to his death was treason against Rome.  What the question had failed to do, the evil in the hearts of Jesus’ enemies eventually accomplished.

      Well, enough about the question … what was Jesus’ answer?

      It was beautiful: it was tactful; politically prudent; effective; and sublime in its force and simplicity.  He was well aware of the malice of the questioners. So he let the questioners answer their own question: “bring me a denarius…” (The mere fact that they had one showed their hypocrisy. For Pharisees to carry a coin with Caesar’s image on it was idolatry.)

“Whose image and inscription is on it?”

Caesar’s.

“Then what’s the problem? Give him what is his – but remember — Give God what is his!”

      In the ancient world, coinage was the sign of kingship.  As soon as a king came to his throne, he struck his own coinage and that coinage was held to be the property of the king whose image it bore. Jesus simply said, “Give to that king in Rome what is his… And give to your heavenly King what is his.” With that simple reply, Jesus lays down a principle that is timeless: every Christian has a dual citizenship. A Christian is a citizen of the country in which he/she resides and he/she is a citizen of heaven. What God wants from us is to be good citizens in both realms.

I. We are to be good citizens of the land

A. “Because the Christian is a man of honor, he must be a responsible citizen; and failure in good citizenship is also failure in Christian duty.” (Wm. Barclay)

      Consider the dilemma of the Jew of Jesus’ day. He had been taught from the scriptures that his nation was under the rule of divinely anointed kings and that his ancestors give allegiance to the kings who were God’s representatives. But he was born into a nation that was under the political rule of Rome; the Caesar did not know his God, in fact the Caesar claimed to be a God himself.

Different factions sought to accommodate this dichotomy in different ways. Some thought to overthrow Roman rule so that Jewish rule could be set up once again. Others sought to set up a dual system of justice, taxation, authority, etc. withinthe freedoms allowed by some Roman governors. Still others felt that capitulation to the rule of Rome was necessary to ensure peaceful freedom of worship.

B. I think that today’s Christians struggle with defining good citizenship in much the same way that first century Jews did.  We pledge allegiance to a nation “under God” and see “In God we Trust” imprinted on our coins and currency, but our Constitution requires a secular government. We consider our nation a Christian country, but immigration from the Middle East and Far East is reducing the plurality of Christians… and the percentage of practicing Christians (church attendance, Bible-reading, etc.) is at an all time low.

      What does God want from Christians in a secular society? “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

      Implicit in that general principle, I believe, are the following:

  1. Respect the government. Keep the civil law out of respect for the authority of government. Obey the law because it is the law. 
  2. But if civil law ever conflicts with God’s law (which gratefully is rare in the U.S.), dissent and disobedience may be necessary. In that case, our duty as citizens is to work to correct that which troubles our informed conscience. Making government better is our responsibility. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
  3. That which is good for society as a whole needs the Christian’s wholehearted support. We need to participate in the process of citizenship.

C.   We live in confounding times. Participating in the process of citizenship is complicated. We know that we should oppose that which oppresses our fellow citizens such as racism; we know that we should seek to influence our society to value human life; we know we should set examples of holy living that impact our society toward honesty, courtesy, fidelity, generosity, etc.

   But exactly what activities are we called to? Marching in demonstrations? Signing or circulating petitions? Writing to our legislators? I confess that I do not have good, Scripture-based answers to these questions. However, there are two things of which I am confident: 

  1. Good citizenship means voting. Prayerfully considering the choices before me, and voting as a Christian who wants every thought and act to be performed in submission to my Lord Jesus Christ is what God wants from me.
  2. And Micah’s words are still true: What the Lord requires of us is to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him.”

But Jesus didn’t stop with our role in secular society; he went on to say, “Render unto God the things that are God’s.”

II. We are to be good citizens of Heaven

A. “There is an implicit warning here to give Caesar no more than what belongs to him. Also implicit is the affirmation that ultimately everything belongs to God – not just some token of God’s power, but one’s whole existence. “ (Furnish)

      “While response to God is not in conflict with the duties of earthly citizenship, such response involves another greater rule and claim. All things rightfully belong to God, while only some things belong to Caesar.” (Thulin)

B. God wants Citizens of Heaven who serve him singularly, with wholeheartedness. No man can serve two masters. God demands our singular loyalty. James 1:8 says that “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Earthly citizenship is secondary to heavenly citizenship.

  1. God wants our worship … our obedience … our service … our life.
  2. God wants the gift of our time … our talent … our tithe.

C. I am struck by the reality that God – who has a prior claim on all that we have or are – is often stuck with the leftovers and yet we expect his gratitude.

  1. We pay our taxes, but fail in our tithe.
  2. We support our community with our participation and civic duties, but fail to participate in the faith community of our church.
  3. We voice our opinion on public affairs, but fail to voice our testimony of praise to God.
  4. We fly the flag or wear it on our lapel, but a cross or other Christian symbol is nowhere to be found.

D. God wants what our country expects: our money, our allegiance, and our lives and service. “A real Christian – and this is the permanent truth which Jesus here lays down – is at one and the same time a good citizen of his country, and a good citizen of the kingdom of heaven. He will fail in his duty neither to God nor to man. He will, as Peter put it, ‘fear God and honor of the king.’ (I Peter 2:17)”  (Wm. Barclay)

Jesus said, this is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. The answer is a principle:  give to God his due and give to your leaders theirs.

It’s not a case of ‘either/or’:  either to Caesar or to God.  It’s a case of ‘both/and.’ We are to be good citizens of earth andheaven. 

That’s what God wants.

Paradigm Shift

Change usually happens slowly over time. Television moved gradually over seven decades from three black-and-white channels operated by a knob on the front of the 20-inch TV and received by ‘rabbit ears’ on top to high-def color streaming over the internet operated by remote control. Telephone service was once a black phone hard-wired to the wall with a rotary dial that connected to the other phone through an operator (yes, that’s what the zero once represented) to a device that fits in your pocket, goes anywhere, and has more computer power than a room full of the early computer systems.

Such incremental, step-by-step changes are much more easily accommodated than sudden shifts. Organizational change is difficult and almost always needs to take place incrementally so that those affected can adjust to one change before another is thrust upon them.

When change takes place too rapidly, disequilibrium occurs. When disaster strikes, those affected undergo immense changes that “throw them for a loop” as my Mom would say. Where does one begin and how does one adjust when home is destroyed, belongings are gone, and everyday routines of job and school no longer exist?

2020 has confronted us with multiple paradigm shifts. The concept of “paradigm shift” entered our conversation in the early sixties. It refers to a fundamental “change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way.”

The political environment underwent a paradigm shift in 2017 with the inauguration of President Trump. We were suddenly confronted with a President who did not act or speak as did his predecessors, and with an opposition party that claimed itself “the Resistance.” We had a Congress that seemed incapable of legislating, exacerbated in 2018 by the House going Democrat.

The country seemed unable to accommodate these sudden changes. Then came COVID-19. The pandemic overlaid the political miasma and worsened it. The swine flu in 2009 and ebola in 2014 would prove to be puny compared to the juggernaut of COVID-19. No living American had any experience to prepare for the impact of this novel virus.

Suddenly – yes, suddenly – we were being asked to make huge adjustments in conducting our everyday lives: stay inside, don’t go near other people, when you’re out wear a mask, etc., etc. Schools closed, businesses shut down. Those whose jobs did not permit remote work lost employment. It was as if Hurricane Katrina struck the entire country.

And then – protests, civil unrest, BLM, Antifa, counter-protests, etc. etc. Rampant wildfires in the West. Hurricanes and tropical storms along the Gulf Coast. COVID cases rising and falling amid arguments over fatality rates and the risk of opening schools, restaurants, etc.

Against this backdrop, federal Election Day is three weeks away; over 5 million votes have already been cast. And did I mention that we have been arguing about HOW we vote?

2020 has confronted us with multiple paradigm shifts!

In times like this, people of faith turn to their faith for confidence and assurance that God will provide their needs. But among the challenges of 2020 has been the reality that recharging one’s spiritual battery through corporate worship has suddenly changed, too. For weeks, it was forbidden altogether. Now, in places where corporate worship is occurring, it is a far different experience due to face masks and social distancing.

Worship is undergoing a paradigm shift. We do not yet know what the eventual outcome will be. But the unease brought on by the incremental changes of the recent past – what music we sing, whether we sing from a book or a screen, e.g. – may pale in comparison to post-COVID worship.

Our consolation is this. Amid change, whether sudden or gradual, we have these assurances:

“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are never consumed, for his compassions never fail.” (Lamentations 3:22)

I sing, “Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not; As Thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

Exhaustion

It was, as Jake Tapper described it, “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” The Presidential Debate on Tuesday night was a lot of things, but it was not “presidential” in the least. My wife and I are apparently among a small number of Americans not paid to do so who watched the entire thing. Comments made afterward often included the word “exhausting” – it was so hard to watch that it was emotionally exhausting for the viewer.

I have heard that word used a lot in 2020. And, given the extent to which physical exertion has been limited by COVID restrictions, the word is not used to describe a depletion of physical energy, but rather of emotional energy in dealing with the adjustments required during the pandemic.

I have a friend who is afflicted with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a state of ongoing physical exhaustion. Although for him it is episodic rather than continuous, it is frustrating due to an absence of interventions to restore normal energy. For most of us, there are steps we can take when exhausted.

Ministry can be exhausting. Sometimes it is physical fatigue created by long hours, lack of sleep, multiple activities, etc. While ministry seldom involves manual labor, there are sometimes conditions that bring on a state of exhaustion. As anyone who has been a part of Emergency/Disaster relief efforts will attest, rest is critical to rehab from the physical demands of such work.

But emotional and/or spiritual exhaustion may not be so readily discerned and responded to as when one knows he/she is physically tired. The need for intervention may not be as readily apparent.

2020 has been an emotionally and spiritually demanding year for anyone involved in ministry. It is always critical for the minister to remain emotionally and spiritually healthy oneself to minister effectively; as the flight attendant says, “secure your own oxygen mask before you seek to help another.” But COVID has added stress to the minister and his/her family that can sap resources even before acts of ministry are undertaken.

Just as rest is essential to recover strength following extreme physical exertion, steps must be taken to recover emotional or spiritual strength when it has ebbed. Usually, withdrawing temporarily from the most significant stressors helps. This is why Sabbath is so important for clergy; it is a time to reenergize emotionally and spiritually. (By the way, the fact that this “withdrawal” to recreation – read re-creation – activities has been limited during COVID has added to the exhaustion.)

For the next month, news broadcasts and social media posts are likely to be stressors for many of us. So, I recommend withdrawal. For most of us, social interactions can now resume in-person with proper precautions. Visit a friend personally instead of tagging him/her on Facebook.

And take your emotional and spiritual temperature to see if you are approaching exhaustion level.

And for active Salvation Army officers on the front lines – don’t let the added stress of the holiday season rob you of your joy. And make sure to “secure your own oxygen mask” of emotional and spiritual renewal each day.

Blessings, y’all!

A Shared Story

As the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg captured the attention of the nation this week, accounts of her storied friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia appeared in my Facebook feed. The two were very different; one a male, Catholic, conservative the other a female, Jewish progressive. Their views on the interpretation of the Constitution were radically divergent and they tore each other apart in the opinions they wrote. Yet they remained fast friends because of common interests, chief among them a reverence for the law.

In commenting on the Ginsburg/Scalia relationship, most have pointed out how relationships can prosper even when there are disagreements. Yet the furor that has erupted in the Capitol over the appointment of a successor points to a seemingly intractable divide, based on competing views of the law, politics, and procedure.

Writing at UnHerd.com about differing views of American history and ethos, Douglas Murray says, “It is becoming harder to communicate across the [ideological] gulf, as increasingly the two Americas cannot consort or discuss with each other. And if there is one reason above all why that should be the case it is because they no longer have a shared story.” 

That sentence leaped off the page to me. “A shared story!” I thought to myself, ‘Christians have a powerful shared story that should unite us in common cause: the redemption of Jesus Christ.’

In our Salvationist tradition, the “testimony time” gave individuals the opportunity to tell their story of being saved by grace. This not only encouraged others but also reinforced the power of the salvation message to those who might not yet have responded.

Our shared story is one of personal experience – “Once I was blind, but now I see“– that has universal application. In its telling, we invite those who do not share our story to experience it for themselves.

I confess that I sometimes worry whether we Christians spend more time arguing over our differences of doctrine, ecclesiology, and worship styles than we do celebrating our shared story.

I want to loudly sing Fanny Crosby’s testimony: “This is my story, this is my song: ‘Praising my Savior all the day long!’”

Will you join me?

False Dichotomy Fallacy

My favorite college graffiti: “There are two types of people in the world. People who believe there are two types of people in this world and people who do not.” Of course, that statement is a tautology – it relies upon itself for its own proof. But an internet search for that initial statement garnered 143,000,000 hits. Apparently, there are lots of ways to divide the world into merely two types of people.

The current racial tensions in the USA have tended to divide people into two camps. E.g., building on the work of Ibram Kendi in How to be an Antiracist, many have said that if one is not antiracist, then he/she must be racist – there is no middle ground, no grey area. (This notion strikes me as ironic, given that biological sex is clearly dual, but gender is increasingly “non-binary.” One variation of the graffiti I quoted above is this: “There are 10 types of people in this world. Those who understand binary, and those who do not.”)

My fear is that much of the acrimony in our current political debate is due to this false dichotomy fallacy. One must choose between two starkly opposite extremes. No other range of options is presented. One is either racist or antiracist … period.

Examples of false dichotomy fallacy abound. Congress seems incapable of discovering a middle ground on legislation; choose the Democrats’ bill or the Republicans’ but make no effort to reconcile the differences. Antifa/BLM or Proud Boys/QAnon – one side’s good the other’s evil; what about “both are extreme and do not represent the views of the vast majority of Americans”?

It is my view that this false dichotomy fallacy threatens a proper understanding of Biblical theology. In the realm of good and evil, there is a real distinction made between the two. When choosing a path to follow, obedience to God stands in contrast to disobedience. These are real, not false, dichotomies.

Psalm 1 draws a picture comparing the godly person to the unrighteous one. Joshua (Joshua 24:15) and Elijah (I Kings 18:21) both challenge Israel to choose to follow God.  Jesus draws a contrast between those who are saved and those who will be condemned (John 3:16-17). 

Followers of Jesus face some challenges of discernment. One is identifying the difference between good and evil in an age of relativism, avoiding the beguiling appeal of evil that masquerades as good. Another challenge is confining our moral outrage to only certain kinds of evil.

Evangelical Christians have tended to focus their attention almost exclusively on abortion and LGBTQ issues in their political advocacy. Such staunch support often contrasts with ambivalence, even disdain, for addressing social ills that keep some classes of people under oppression. The Salvation Army has a rich heritage of advocacy in this arena and we are still fond of quoting William Booth’s “I’ll fight!” speech.

My appeal is to be certain that we maintain a Biblical view of good and evil, taking care to avoid the false dichotomies that the political world presents to us. Let’s preach the whole Gospel, including “good news to the poor, … freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, [and releasing] the oppressed.”

Blessings to you as you “go about doing good.”

A “love/hate” relationship?

I’m not sure I believe that there is such a thing as a “love/hate relationship.” It’s used to describe ambivalence: sometimes I love him; sometimes I hate him. Apart from fictional relationships like Ross and Rachel on “Friends,” I don’t know that one can swing all the way to hate from real love, and then back again.

I think the phrase is more likely to be used to describe an activity that one does because of the benefits it brings but is not a source of enjoyment while doing it – running, exercise, calisthenics, etc.

The notion came to mind recently when discussing “hate speech” and its definition. It seems to me that voicing disagreement with another’s opinion is too often labeled “hate speech” even when it is nothing of the sort. Just look at the ease with which Chi-fil-A’s Cathy family have been called “haters” for vocalizing their support for traditional marriage and lamenting the way society has moved to accept gay marriage. 

One of the common phrases we have used to explain our position to unbelievers is “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” For decades, condemning sin and preaching God’s forgiveness and redemption was an effective evangelistic strategy. But for a half-century or so, evangelism has focused on God’s love and mercy, calling unbelievers into relationship with Him (think ‘Evangelism Explosion’ and ‘The Four Spiritual Laws.’). This change in strategic direction coincided with society dispensing with the notion of “sin,” as witnessed by psychologist Karl Menninger’s seminal work “Whatever Became of ‘Sin’?”

In today’s world, labeling someone’s behavior as sin is perceived as being hateful. To say we “hate the sin, but love the sinner” is dismissed as being impossible. If one hates the sin, one must also be expressing hatred of the sinner. In fact, it is considered hateful to even use the word “sinner”!

So what are we to do? If acknowledging sin and repenting of it is necessary to receive forgiveness, how do we preach the Gospel with integrity without identifying the sin? I believe it is a matter of relationship. Welcoming unbelievers into our fellowship exposes them to God’s love through us. The Holy Spirit will convict of sin; our relationship with the unbeliever then provides the opportunity to explain repentance. It is the same as a parent who has demonstrated love for the child correcting his/her behavior. Love is the platform on which the correction is based.

My wife was won to the Lord and to the Army by the warm fellowship she found at the Corps. She was not labeled a sinner (though that was her state of grace). She was wooed by the love of God as demonstrated by the officers and locals of the Corps; they welcomed her to find the same relationship with God that they enjoyed.

In a time when the Church is challenged by a variety of factors that threaten our witness, I am grateful for those on the front lines of ministry who demonstrate God’s love daily in word and deed. Blessings!

Integrity, Simplicity, Effectiveness

Here are the final three of my nine statements of organizational values which I tried to apply in my ministry as an active officer. The first two are also values that I try to maintain in my personal life.

#7. Integrity will be the hallmark of our business practices.  We will avoid deception in fund-raising, we will not exploit others for the benefit of The Army, we will be truthful and accurate in all our public communication.

“Integrity – the state of being whole and undivided.” On a personal level this meant that my wife and kids should never see a different person in the home than what they saw in the pulpit. On the organizational level, integrity means that we should always do our work consistent with the image of that work that we present to the public.

In times when resources are scarce and survival seems threatened, the temptation can arise to sacrifice integrity to the urgency of the circumstances. But the testimony of our forebears is that God honors those who maintain their covenant with him even amid trying times.

#8. Simplicity is preferred over ostentation, keeping faith with the needs of those we serve as well as those who support us.

Our culture has a fascination with the best, the fastest, the newest, the prettiest, etc., etc. It’s not enough to have a smart phone that’s great at performing multiple functions if there is a newer device that does it better or faster. A 50” HDTV isn’t good enough when you can fill the wall with an 8K LED UHDTV with maximum image refresh.

So it is counter-cultural to prefer simplicity. But it is eminently consistent with Jesus’ teachings. To illustrate this principle Tony Campolo famously asked the question whether Jesus would wear a Rolex.

It is important for us who follow Jesus to value the stewardship of the resources that He entrusts to our care. There is no subject on which Jesus had more to say than this. 

#9. We will strive for maximum effectiveness in all that we do, seeking an efficiency that turns 85% or more of our resources into direct service to those in need.

The graveyard of evangelical ministries contains the remains of organizations and their leaders who failed in their first purpose and spent their dollars recklessly. The Army has a well-earned reputation for turning the maximum of the donor’s dollar into the services they donate to provide. Let’s keep it that way.

I recognize that this four-week foray into organizational values is not particularly inspiring or uplifting. My hope is that it provides a framework for thinking through those principles that should permeate who we are and what we do.Remaining in prayer for my beloved Salvation Army and those who keep its ministry honest, vigorous and effective. Blessings!

A matter of perspective

Position determines perspective. A photographer takes shots from many different points of view because lighting, focus, depth perception, etc. create different images from different angles.

The same idea is stated in organizational terms that where you stand on any issue depends on where you sit in observation of that issue. Many problems look much different in the boardroom than on the front lines.

This concept came to mind as I was reviewing the next two values I want to share. As the political rhetoric heats up and as I hear starkly different views from speakers at the two parties’ national conventions, the reality that “position determines perspective” is underlined to me. And there are several dimensions to this; “position” might refer to socio-economic status, age, occupation, family history, religion, political ideology, etc. If you don’t think so, just listen to the different take on the same set of facts: COVID statistics, unemployment rates, economic growth, mail delivery, and on and on.

Don’t misunderstand; I have my own “spin” on these political issues, my own interpretation of “the facts.” (It was once fashionable to quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” It now appears that many political commentators and journalists feel entitled to their own facts.) But a failure to acknowledge that our position informs our perspective leads to misunderstanding and mischaracterization of others’ perspectives.

This political season is perilous for evangelical Christians. We who are called to be salt and light are too often at odds with one another over a political point of view. When I first drafted these value statements, I had no clue that my elaboration on these two would have a political element to them.  But here we go:

#5.  The Gospel is not “culture bound”; we will refuse to encumber it with cultural trappings, insisting that the imperative is to take the Gospel to all people without cultural pre-requisites for salvation.

When first written, this was to caution against requiring certain kinds of music in worship, requiring certain dress codes for attending worship, etc. Right now, for me, the imperative for The Church is to avoid a political litmus test for whether one is a true follower of Jesus Christ.  We are already divided on public policy issues such as abortion and gay marriage; let’s not add party affiliation to our “cultural prerequisites” for whether or not one can call himself/herself a Christian.

I wrote these values to describe what is important to me as a leader in The Salvation Army. For me, the Gospel is preeminent. We are to “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human need in his name.” Anything that I say or do that diminishes my capacity to proclaim the saving love of God with clarity and integrity is anathema. The Gospel must not be encumbered. 

#6.  As part of “the universal Christian Church,” The Salvation Army will operate as a body of believers, caring for the needs of its members and enjoying fellowship with believers of other denominations.

Again, this was written to encourage the care of those who are part of the worshipping community of a Corps or ARC, and to discourage isolation from Christians of other affiliations. But this, too, has undergone a “perspective change” more recently. Hear me out–

Salvation Army preachers (myself included) have concentrated on personal piety to the near exclusion of messages that call for engagement in building community. This is based partly on an assumption that community building happens naturally when believers grow individually and partly on the Army’s institutional efforts to serve the community.

But now, it seems to me that caring for the needs of our congregation in these times of COVID and civil strife calls for prophetic proclamation formed from a proper understanding of scripture rather than the worldviews found in news, entertainment, and social media. This means calling our congregation to engage in reconciliation efforts rather than choosing sides in political warfare. This value also calls for us to revisit what it means to obey Jesus’ second great commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself; it means not just individual acts of charity, but advocating on behalf of the poor and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19).

I ask myself, “What would I preach if I were a pastor in Kenosha WI?” … or a Corps Officer in Anytown USA. I know the Spirit answers that question for the searching heart. Thus, I am praying as always for God’s matchless grace to flood your spirit as you minister in His name.

Constant values; changing times

Management consultant Fred W. Smith put it in the form of a couplet: “Methods are many, principles few./ Methods often change; principles never do.”

As every individual, every organization, and every congregation contemplates what kinds of lasting impact COVI-19 will make, I think it is important to review the principles – the values – by which we operate. Here are the next two value/principle statements I articulated for my work in The Salvation Army: 

#3. Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) will energize our activity:

  •             — we will work for the salvation of the lost,
  •             — disciple them in the faith,
  •             — enlist them in the “salvation war,”
  •             — and train them to disciple others.

Most preachers are aware that in the Great Commission there are four verbs, only one of which is an imperative. “Going (participle), therefore … make disciples (imperative) of all nations, baptizing (participle) them … and teaching(participle) them what I have commanded you.” Jesus assumes that his followers will go and teach and baptize; he wants to make certain that they are not mere activities but methods to make disciples.

Just so, while we are fond of counting our activities (and recounting how busy we are), we ought to make certain that our activities are directed toward the salvation of the lost and discipling them in the faith.  

#4. Jesus’ Great Command (Luke 4:18-19; Matthew 25:31-46) will drive us to:

  •             — feed the hungry,
  •             — clothe the naked,
  •             — visit the sick and imprisoned,
  •             — love others as ourselves

Our Salvation Army mission is singular: preach the gospel and meet human need in Jesus’ name. “Methods are many,” said Fred Smith. “Preach the gospel every day. When necessary, use words,” said St. Francis of Assissi. Our works of mercy are not a distraction from preaching the gospel; they are intrinsic to it.

I confess that in retirement my personal value on obeying Jesus’ Great Commission and Great Command has undergone a methodological change. It is no longer “built in” to the work I do; it has to be intentional and I must see neighbors and acquaintances as those to whom I minister.

Maybe this week’s reminder is unnecessary to those still active on the front lines of ministry. You put methods to these principles every day. But, just maybe, the reminder is useful in a time when change is inescapable.

            “Methods are many, principles few.

            Methods often change; principles never do.”

Submitted for your consideration with prayers for focused ministry.

What do you value?

Mission, vision, purpose, values. These are words that drive much of an organization’s attempts to increase its effectiveness as an organization. For me, the one most frequently overlooked or undervalued is the matter of values. Values drive decision-making in many ways because what you consider important (whether articulated or not) is what determines your decision.

Shared values are important for organizational effectiveness. When Commissioner David duPlessis became Territorial Commander in South Africa, he confronted the treacherous realities of ministering in a culture emerging from decades of apartheid by articulating the values by which he would lead the Territory. Some years ago, I followed his example and set forth the values by which I wanted the part of the organization that I was leading to operate.

During our current time of social upheaval, it has become obvious to me that there is a clash of values at the heart of what is happening: safety vs. freedom, rights vs. responsibilities, economic security vs. health security, which identity group dominates our thinking (race, religion, nationality, gender, etc.), etc., etc.

For the purpose of this blog, I decided to revisit the values statement I used to guide decision-making in the Divisions I led. Over the next few weeks, I’ll set them out and reflect on their current applicability.

#1. Our common love for God will be the principal motivation for all we do, our devotional life will be the source of our strength, and the Scriptures will be the basis of our guiding principles.

This value comes directly from The Salvation Army’s Mission Statement: our “ministry is motivated by the love of God.” There are two dimensions to this statement – 1) the love of God for us draws us to him and issues in 2) our love for him, expressed in obedience to his commands.

Our love for God means a desire for intimacy with him, which drives our devotional life and results in a deepening relationship and growing spiritual strength.

The Word of God revealed in Scripture is “the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice.” Our guiding principles must be Biblical principles – for us as individuals and for the organization we serve. As Christians contend with new paradigms for worship and fellowship, e.g., it is important that we keep Scripture and not politics as the source of our guiding principles. 

#2. People matter to God, therefore they matter to us. Compassion will characterize our ministry, courtesy our social and business interactions, and consideration of the needs of others our service.

It is easy in the warp and woof of organizational life to forget that “meet[ing] human needs in His name” is intrinsic to our gospel proclamation. It is about people! (For example, any discussion about schooling during a pandemic that talks about anything other than the best interests of the children is a sad case of missing the most important thing. It is about the children!)

We do damage to our witness when compassion, courtesy, and consideration give way to anger, argument, and arrogance – which is happening too much lately IMHO. We are quarreling over “black lives” vs. “blue lives” and more than our egos are being bruised!! People matter. PERIOD

This is where I start. It’s where Jesus started when asked the greatest commandment. He replied, “Love God. Love your neighbor.” That’s the foundation for all other values.

More to come. Praying for you still.