Life Has No Opposite

As the final days of this year have drawn to a close and the first day of the New Year has come, I, like many people, become more reflective and introspective. This past month has been a source of much emotion. The month started with the loss of people. A good friend and good man lost his battle to a horrible disease later in the month. But, two days ago, I met a new baby who came into this world full of life.

While at the hospital, I had a interesting moment of clarity. On the third floor of the locGift-of-Life-imageal hospital, there are three very unique departments. They are the Intensive Care Unit, the Oncology Care unit, and the Family Birthing Center. Caught in the divide between birth and death, a phrase came to my attention. Eckhart Tolle wrote in his book, A New Earth, “Life has no opposite. The opposite of death is birth. Life is eternal.” We have all heard a situation describe as a life and death matter, which portrays those two statuses as opposites, But, as Tolle reminds us, birth is the opposite of death.

Life has no opposite. The opposite of death is birth. Life is eternal.

In this New Year, my choice is to see life as a gift from our Heavenly Father. Romans 6:23 NIV says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If we accept the gift that God has for us in the New Year, then we can echo the author’s thought and say, “Life is eternal.”

Know His peace in this New Year! Soli Deo Gloria!

Empty Kettles, Full Lives

Every day, The Salvation Army in locations all around the world, and in your local community, send out bGive Til It Helpsell ringers, red kettles, and shiny bells out into the world in the hopes that the general public would be generous. Each day these empty buckets go out empty. The plan is for them to come back full.

The empty kettles mean full lives.

The Red Kettle campaign originated in San Francisco, CA many years ago as a way for The Salvation Army to feed people a holiday meal. Today, it still provides meals. It also helps provide toys, clothing, utility assistance, prescription assistance, emergency sheltering, weeks at camp, disaster assistance, and many other life-changing services. The Red Kettle campaign also allows the Army to reach the people with the Good News of Jesus Christ as we celebrate His birth.

Every evening I see these full kettles come back. The money gets taken out of them. The empty kettles mean full lives. I try not to see the kettles. I try to see the kid who will go to camp this summer. I try to see the family that can stay in their homes because the electricity is still on. I try to see the man who is down on his luck that does not have to sleep on the street tonight. Empty kettles mean full lives.

Throughout this kettle season, as I have traveled around, people have greeted me and shared that they put something into a kettle. One of the familiar phrases that is often repeated is that “I wish it could be more.” Believe me when I tell you that every little bit helps! Every little bit is counted! Every little bit changes lives! Empty kettles mean full lives.

To all of you who have donated to a kettle this year, thank you! To all of you that meant to donate to a kettle, thank you! To all of you who wanted to donate to a kettle, thank you! Because of you, the kettles get full and every evening they become empty again. Empty kettles mean full lives.

Merry Christmas! Soli Deo Gloria!

So, You Are Moving! 10 Things to Remember During a Transition

file0001207444674 This weekend is a transition week for The Salvation Army in the South! Officers (ministers) have received their farewell orders and will be leaving their congregations and communities that they have poured heart and soul into for other “harvest fields.” While officers are aware of this reality during the training period, reality still sets in and feels differently from the classroom. But, the Army needs to keep moving forward!

Having gone through this process before and expecting to go through it again a few more times, here are 10 things that I have learned throughout the experience. While this is coming from the perspective of Army officership, I think you will see that they can be applied across many disciplines.

1. Your family is moving with you!

It is important to remember that when ministers move, their families move with them. They are leaving friends and relationships as well. They are leaving schools they know and places they care about. They may not always respond well. They do not dislike where they are going, but it is not home. They are leaving home to go there. It will take a while until it feels like home. Also, involved in this, if a child or family member has other neurological concerns, the adjustment time can be even longer. Patience is what is required, not judgement! Actually, for that matter, leave judgement out of the equation all together.

Patience is what is required, not judgement!

2. It is OK to be excited about the new assignment or location.

There is a plan for you when you get to the new location. It is not disrespectful to where you are now to be excited about where you are going. One of the advantages to moving and transition is the new life and energy that the new people are bringing to the location. Bring the joy! Bring the new ideas! Bring the energy! You are going there for a reason. Somebody saw something in you that they wanted there!

3. It is OK to miss the location and people you are leaving.

While it is OK to be excited about where you are going, it is also OK to be sad or miss where you are now. You have spend a lot of time with the people at your current place. You have invested in lives and, in return, they have invested in yours. It is natural to miss those relationships and to grieve for the change. I would be more worried about people who do not miss the people they spent so much time with. In fact, if you do not miss them, maybe you were not that close!

This is connected to #4…

4. Remember that the people where you are going are connected to your predecessor!

When you get to your new assignment or place, remember that the people at the new place are going to be missing the people that you are replacing. You need to respect the fact that they may need time to grieve and get through the change. It will feel like a loss to them. It may even feel like a betrayal. They may not be able to explain themselves. They may even lash out at you. They may even refer to your predecessor over and over. You will be compared to them. You will be measured against them. Get over your ego! The people before you did a great job! Admit it. Praise them for it. Copy some of it. Give them credit for it.

You need to respect the fact that they may need time to grieve and get through the change.

5. You do not know why things were done before you got to the new place. So, keep your opinions to yourself!

From why the piano is positioned in a certain place to why certain employees have different starting times in the morning to the reason behind the schedule of a certain department, there are usually very good reasons why certain things are done certain ways. Even thought they may need to be changed, your opinion on why it was done in the first place does not help the situation. This is an area that I often struggle with because my personality type is one of being a “fixer.” I have heard a lot of advice in this area. Some people say wait 90-180 days before making any major changes. This analogy breaks down when something needs to be changed because it is adversely affecting the health of your organization. In those cases, you need to get it done! I have also been told the “paint a wall” methodology. This method says that you should find something in the first week and change it, even if it means to “paint a wall.” I have never been a big fan of changing just for the sake of change. You need to find the balance and the right timing.

6. Stay away from social media, unless it is necessary!

Let’s face it, social media has unfortunately become a place where people release a lot of passive aggressive energy cleverly disguised in thought-provoking prose! It is probably a good idea to stay away from such a volatile platform. Even if you mean well, your attitude and demeanor can inappropriately color your responses.

There are some good ideas found in this article called, “Social Media and Pastoral Moves.” I do not completely agree with all of the ideas, but there are some good thought-provoking concepts!

7. Guarantee that the person following you has what they need to succeed!

Ensuring that the person who follows you succeeds is one of the best ways to leave a lasting legacy! Just remember all of the things that you wish you would have know, and make sure that the person who follows you knows it. If it is important, make sure they know about it! Transition is hard enough without having to guess where the cord to the coffee pot is, or what the upcoming vacation schedule is, or who orders the supplies, or …

8. Make sure the friendships you have now only extend into the personal, not the professional.

When you transfer from a place, your relationships with the people that are staying need to be personal only, not professional. If you stay in contact with someone, you should only be discussing your personal lives, not what is happening at the office. This is hard when you have worked with someone for many years and part of your relationship is the work you do together! If the relationship is worth keeping, it is worth working hard for! So, it worth the extra effort to keep your nose out of what is happening after you leave! Nobody wins in this scenario! Trust me! We have been on both ends of this one.

9. Do not overanalyze a transition or move!

For some reason, you are moving or transferring!

Embrace it! Accept it! Trust it!

When you constantly analyze the “why’s” and “wherefore’s” and the “who’s” involved, you will not find any peace. You are there for a reason. I believe that it is OK to ask what that reason is. Whether you get an answer that satisfies your curiosity or not, you are still going there for a reason. And, more importantly, God is going to use you there for His reason!

10. Give yourself time and space to adjust to your new surroundings!

While this does relate to #3, it is important to remember to give yourself time to adjust! You will have a new place to learn, a new place to settle your family into, and a new set of circumstances to work through! You cannot expect yourself to get it all down in a week. How long did it take you to settle into the last place? It is reasonable to assume that it will take the same amount of time (more or less) to settle into the new place.

These are just a couple of ideas! What else would you add to the list?

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5 Lessons I Learned from the General’s Visit

General André CoxRecently, General André Cox visited the southern part of the United States for an annual gathering of The Salvation Army. General Cox is the 20th General of The Salvation Army. As General, he is the international leader of the Army. He was elected into office on August 3, 2013. You can find some more detail about General Cox by clicking here.

In observing the actions of the General while on stage and some while not on stage, there were five lessons that I learned that weekend.

#1: Be yourself, not your position

Throughout the whole weekend, I saw the General differ to local leadership in all areas. He never presumed a position or looked for an opportunity to assert himself into a situation. He was part of the experience. He did not make the experience about him. As an international leader, there is a certain amount of “pomp and circumstance” that surrounds a visit. Finding out that the General stayed at the Training School with the cadets (student ministers) spoke volumes about his character.

#2: Laugh loud and often

The General appears to be a person who enjoys humor and likes to laugh. Whether it was spending time with kids or laughing with those around him, the General laughed and laughed often. He showed his emotions where it was appropriate. There were serious times, but there were also lighter time. He was himself during both times.

#3: Say What Needs to Be Said

The General did not shy away from what needed to be done or said. If he felt led to say something, he did. He was encouraging and full of praise for the Army in the South. But, he also challenged us to do more, love more, grow more, worship more, pray more, and be led by God more! In a day where leaders do not often say what needs to be said because of concerns of popularity, General Cox increased his popularity by saying what needed to be said! He was honest, brave, and compassionate.

#4: Love and support your spouse

Along with the General, his wife, Commissioner Silvia Cox, also visited the southern states. She was just as much a part of what was happening as he was. Although they hold different ranks based on Army tradition, he admitted many times that she was valued and that, at home, she was in charge! While not expressing outward displays of affection for the camera, the General’s love for his wife was evident in how he walked with her, talked to her, and shared the experience with her. She was not an afterthought! She was a priority!

#5: Take Time for the People Around You

The General must have taken hundreds of pictures with people during the weekend. In fact, it became quite thegeneral selfie in vogue thing to have a “selfie” with the General. From whole families to individuals to groups to children, the General smiled in each and every one of them. Not being much of a “selfie” person myself, it was not one of the goals of my weekend. I did have the opportunity to shake his hand briefly during Saturday afternoon. He looked me in the eye and said, “Hello.” He did not look beyond me to the next person. He did not look for an aide to move me along. He did not look at his watch in concern for his schedule. He looked me in the eye. He took the time for every person he came in contact with that weekend.

I was very impressed with the General’ visit. If you are interested, you can view some of his messages from the weekend by clicking here.

What other things did people notice about his visit or know about him from previous visits?

Soli Deo Gloria!

Place of Quiet Rest

Do you have a special place? Do you have a place of “quiet rest”?

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
Cleland Boyd McAfee (1866-1944)

Photo credit to Paula Blevins
Photo credit to Paula Blevins

Some people enjoy being out in nature. Some people like being in beautiful spaces. Some people have a special “prayer closet”. Where do you go when you want to be with God?

I have not always had a place or a time. In fact, it is something that I still struggle with! I have also struggled with time. I am not necessarily a morning person.

What is your best place and time? Where do you find your place of “quiet rest”?

Thoughts from Oklahoma: Day 3-Two Generations of Service

I have served on, including this one, eleven deployments for disaster services. I have served in various capacities from operating canteens to working in the warehouse to being the Incident Commander. On all of those deployments, I never did something that I have now done. In Oklahoma, I have had the opportunity to serve with my mother, Major Susan McClure (Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi Divisional Headquarters). My mother and I have both been assigned to this deployment as a Emotional and Spiritual Care Specialists. My mother has a long history of disaster experience stretching back over thirty years. Some of the skills and abilities that I have now came from somewhere!

Photo credit: Major Connie Long
Mom and Me at Plaza Towers Elementary
Photo credit: Major Connie Long

On Tuesday, we were both assigned to the same team that drove through the neighborhoods surrounding Plaza Towers Elementary ministering to the families and relief workers. I watched my mother pray with people and serve people and love people. Proverbs 22:6 KJV says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” I grew up watching my mother serve OTHERS! She taught me the values of service to others. She taught me the importance of meeting people right where they are.

In our mad scramble to constantly improve ourselves, it’s quite possible that we are not taking time to learn from those around us who have been there and done it all before! I know where some of who I am came from! It came from my mother!

I am proud of who my mother is and what she does, but more importantly, I am proud of who my mother lives and serves for!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Thoughts from Oklahoma: Day 2-Partners in Service

One of the greatest thing that I have witnessed today is the wonderful partners in service that have come along side of The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services. Pictured here is a trailer from Papa John’s that has been preparing pizzas for anyone who walks up.

Papa John's Trailer

This is the first time we have partnered with Papa John’s at this level and it has been a great experience. Today I was responsible for monitoring a distribution center that had this crew stationed at it. The employees were extremely helpful and were willing to help everyone who came up!

In situations like these tornadoes, it truly does take all of us to make a difference! One I think is great about this relationship, and other relationships, is that our partners are taking what they do well (making pizzas) and using it to assist other people.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 NIV).

Soli Deo Gloria!

Thoughts from Oklahoma: Day 1-Seat at the Table

Lately, I have found that writing out my feelings helps me to express some of the complex emotions that I experience. Having served on my first complete day at the Oklahoma City area tornadoes, I am left with those very same complex emotions!

All rights reserved by HoangHuyManh images
All rights reserved by HoangHuyManh images

As we drove through many affected and destroyed neighborhoods, I noticed a few common elements around the houses. One of those common elements was chairs! There were chairs of every size and type! People were seating outside of their homes and sometimes even in the middle of a room that no longer existed! There were chairs!

These empty chairs struck me profoundly in two ways. The first way makes my eyes well up and my knees want to fold into prayer. The second way lifts my spirit and gives me strength. Let me tell you about both of them!

During the musical, Les Misérables, Marius Pontmercy returns to the ABC Café and remembers his lost friends. He sings the heart-breaking song, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. | There’s a pain goes on and on. | Empty chairs at empty tables | Now my friends are dead and gone.

While driving through the neighborhoods, I was struck by the fact that people will not be sitting in these chairs at these tables in those houses (or any houses) for a long time! The people in this area will experience a long clean-up period. And, there may be some members of these families that will not be eating with their families ever again. There were lives lost during this storm, and for some people there will be “a pain” that “goes on and on.” Glory to God for He is our Deliverer and Healer!

The second thing that the empty chair reminds me of in this time is related to a story that was shared with me by my fellow servant, Captain Charles “Chas” Engel from Delaware. Chas told me a story of serving in another disaster in another part of the country. He was finishing a hard day and felt very overwhelmed. He received a call from some of his teammates. They wanted him to come out to dinner. His first reaction was to refuse, but they persuaded him. Due to the wonder of GPS technology, he got lost several times and almost gave up the opportunity. He persevered and eventually arrived at the restaurant. When he got there, he walked up to the table and his teammates had a spot set aside for him. Don’t miss this! They did not move over to make room. They already had a spot for him! He said and I agree that it made him think of the words of Christ,”

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:3 NIV).

When The Salvation Army arrives in disaster area, we have “prepared a place” for all of the people who were affected and for all of the people serving the affected people.

The empty chairs represent loss but also represents the service to OTHERS!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Finding the LIKE button :: Thoughts from @CraveableChurch

In chapter 5 of Craveable, Artie Davis ends chapter 5 with the thought, “People have to like me before they will listen to me” (Davis, Artie (2013-02-05). Craveable: The irresistible Jesus in meImage (p. 37). Passio. Kindle Edition). The whole idea or concept of the book is becoming a person that reflects the image of Christ and causes others to want to be like Him. What the author says is true! People do not listen to those people they do not like! We fool ourselves thinking that people will listen to us just because we are right! The battle for the “right” has left many bodies strewn along it’s path! John Maxwell says that, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Being right about something should also have the physical component of us expressing “being right” in how we carry ourselves and interact with others!

Thoughts about Inauguration 2013

Inauguration_nightatcapitol

I am praying for the President of the United States…

Not because…

  • I think he will do a bad job
  • I do not agree with his viewpoints
  • He is outside of God’s will
  • I think 2016 will be better without him
  • He has made poor choices

But, because:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.–1 Timothy 2:1-4 NLT

I ask everyone to make this about our country and our people, and not about your issues and yourself!

Soli Deo Gloria!