A World-Changing Relationship

It’s a privilege to greet you this Christmas, my first as the General of The Salvation Army. Throughout 130 countries around the world, The Salvation Army is bringing a message of hope as we seek to work for justice, righteousness and the extension of God’s Kingdom—not in our own strength, you understand, only through His power.

Our hope this Christmas is founded in the person of Christ Jesus who is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace and Everlasting Father. The titles are first found in the early verses of Isaiah (9:2,6-7), which contain a message of hope to a people living in darkness and death—hope of light and life which are only found in the promised Savior. Into this situation comes not a theory or a method, but a person. A living, breathing human—born as a vulnerable baby.

Hope is found in relationship with Jesus—the Light of the World who shatters the darkness. Hope is found not in dead ritualistic religion, but in vibrant, life-giving relationship with God.

Who is this Jesus? He is God in human form—no longer distant and unreachable, but right here with us. He is our Wonderful Counselor, who speaks words of wisdom and guides us into truth. He is our Mighty God for whom nothing is impossible—He forgives sins, heals diseases and raises the dead. He is our Prince of Peace, who comes in love, providing rest for the weary and comfort for the troubled. He is our Everlasting Father, offering a familial relationship that can last for eternity, including protection and provision in the here and now. This is the Jesus who was born in the manger, hangs on the Cross and bursts out of the grave!

You can know this Jesus today.

Jesus is all about justice, righteousness and salvation. The people who heard Isaiah’s prophecy, the people who lived at the time of Jesus and we who are alive today are all too familiar with a broken world where injustices are prevalent and which is blighted by lack of morality. The person, message and method found in Jesus bring a countercultural perspective that transforms the dark and lifeless falsehood of the kingdom of this world into the gloriously bright, vivacious reality of the Kingdom of God.

You and I can experience this transformation and share the same with others when we live in relationship with Jesus.

It may sound like an idealistic vision or too good to be true. We can’t achieve this on our own—if we could, humankind would have figured it out by now! As the words from Isaiah remind us, it can only be accomplished through the power of God—“The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (v.7, NIV).

So this Christmas, let us trust God, rely on His power, live in relationship with Him and partner with Him to bring life, light and hope to our world.

May God bless you.

General Brian Peddle became the Army’s 21st General in August. With offices at International Headquarters in London, he oversees the Army’s worldwide mission.

Fear Not!

“Don’t be afraid!” he said.

“I bring you good news that will bring great 

joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the

Messiah, the Lord—has been born…”

—    Luke 2:10-11

The cold winter rains made shepherding that much more miserable. Open fields afforded little shelter for sheep or shepherds. The sheep crowded next to each other sharing some warmth between them. But the shepherds only shivered, their damp, dirty clothing releasing an odor of the weeks-old sweat. Blending with it was the hanging smell of sheep manure, all mixing together in a medley of stench. There was the fire, but finding a place where one could be close enough to be warmed but not too close to be burned was an art in itself. Then whatever side of the body was not facing the fire felt the chill heightened by wet clothing hanging heavy on their thin frames. Just over yonder was the village of Bethlehem, its lights beckoning to warmer, dryer places. But not for them.

No one wanted to talk in this mess. Not that anyone had anything new to say. Somehow, they talked about the same things, told the same stories, heard the same stale jokes. It was remarkably boring. One night looked like another night like another night like another night.

Why be a shepherd anyway? Musing that question led back to the reality that there weren’t a lot of choices. In this economy a person was fortunate to have any work. And a man did what his father, grandfather, great-grandfather did. “We’re a family of shepherds,” was the rationale heard while growing up. It was expected.

Was there a group more unlikely than this for something
WONDERFUL, INCREDIBLE, UNBELIEVABLE TO HAPPEN?

Being trapped in shepherding was bad enough, but the treatment they were given didn’t help. The religious leaders looked down on them because they didn’t observe the Sabbath, but how could they? What would happen to the sheep? Predators don’t take the day off. Those same religious leaders wanted these sheep for sacrifice. You’d think they’d keep that in mind before turning their noses up at the shepherds.

Admittedly, shepherds were not the best table company. Their hands had ingrained dirt made blacker by the years. Their fingernails were packed with enough grime to raise a small garden. Their manners—like manners mattered on hillsides—were not the thing for polite company. And they smelled. Bad. The sheep didn’t mind but other humans sure did.

Was there a group more unlikely than this for something wonderful, incredible, unbelievable to happen?

But there on that countryside the previously wretched skies blazed with light, the bleating of sheep replaced in a flash by their terrified cries as they scattered to who knows where. The shepherds hardly cared because in that moment, that unforgettable, indescribable moment their eyes were fixed heavenward. Running was impossible with fear freezing their feet to the ground. Falling to their knees was all they could do. They were shaking now, not from the chilly rain but from sheer terror.

The sky boasted not one angel but thousands upon thousands. They sang a song whose melody was too beautiful to be written, words too glorious to record. In the years to come they would try to remember it but found that their little brains were still too overwhelmed to comprehend it. But they remembered the most important words:

“Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize Him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

Next, the sky split open, for the vast host of heaven now filled each space and crevasse as Heaven’s army sang: “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (vs. 14). The shepherds wanted to sing but it was all too much. Their lips moved but they could only hear themselves croaking.

With instructions to go into the village to find the Savior, they hurriedly charged into the streets hardly knowing where they were going or how they knew they were in the right place. Was it then that they heard a newborn cry? Or did their feet take them unmistakably to the feeding trough that was His bed? However it happened, in the moment they saw, they knew it was Him. What could they do but worship Him? What could they do but let tears trace streaks down their sun–blistered faces?

It hardly mattered that the shepherds had been scorned because on this night they were accepted. Ten thousand empty nights were worth getting to this one supreme night in history. Though unschooled and crude, on this night they were the most privileged people on earth. Succeeding generations would try to picture what happened to them, would speak of them, would yearn to have been in their place.

But wait! He comes now to the most unpromising one who has been pushed to the margins. His song is sounded in the heart that looks toward Him. His coming makes ten thousanddays of emptiness and misery worthwhile to get to the great moment of salvation.

Listen! The moment is yours now. He has come for you. 

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is Editor–in–Chief and National Literary Secretary.

Finding Forgiveness at Christmas

At Christmas time a veteran confided in me that he had done things for which he could never be forgiven. Was it something he had done in the context of war? As a veteran? As a teenager? Troubled by his conscience, he moved around, unable to hold a job, establish a family or live a normal life.

He is not alone. Counselors at a mental health center told me the number one issue their clients struggle with is guilt, shame and regret over things they did wrong which no amount of restitution, apologies or even time in prison can ever make right.

Strangely enough, on the branches of Jesus’ family tree hang answers to the questions “Can God ever forgive me for what I have done? Can I ever be free from my own terrible guilt?

If so, how?”

You might expect Jesus to come from a long line of godly ancestors. The genealogy that Matthew lists at the beginning of the Christmas story reveals something different.

There are a few godly ancestors on Jesus’ family tree, and the Bible commends some of them as models of the faith. Their biographies reveal that even the best were deeply flawed. King David loved God and had an extremely close relationship with Him. Yet in a time of weakness, David committed adultery with a married woman, arranged for her husband to be killed in battle and married her to cover his infidelity when she became pregnant. God was outraged and David was miserable, plagued with guilt (Psalm 32). What changed everything is when David made a heartfelt confession to God (Psalm 51). God forgave him, once David acknowledged his sin and asked for forgiveness. David never ceased to praise God for His mercy.

Jesus had ancestors no one would want to admit having. Manasseh was chief among them, and I have always regretted not telling that veteran about him. Manasseh’s biography (see 2 Kings 21:1-18 and 2 Chronicles 33:1-20) begins with the words, “Manasseh did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Manasseh worshiped other gods, worshiped the stars, sacrificed his sons in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, consulted mediums and spiritists—all sins the Lord detests. “Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood, that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused [the nation of] Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord”
(2 Kings 21:16, NIV). If ever there was a person God could not forgive, it would have to be Manasseh.

Manasseh’s deeds were so evil that God brought disaster on him, and rightly so. The King of Assyria took Manasseh (who was also a king) prisoner, “put a hook in his nose, bound him with a bronze shackle and took him to Babylon”
(2 Chronicles 33:11, NIV). We might think the story would end, there. Instead, it takes a dramatic turn. Manasseh sought God’s forgiveness. “In his distress [Manasseh] sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” (v.12, NIV).

Astonishingly, God, not only forgave Manasseh, He gave him another chance to turn his life around. “When [Manasseh] prayed to Him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so He brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God” (v.13, NIV). Manasseh spent the rest of his life trying to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord to make up for all the evil he had done (vs.14-20).

Individuals are not the only ones in Jesus’ genealogy who demonstrate humanity’s need for a Savior and for the salvation that comes only through the forgiveness of sins. Matthew arranged his genealogy around the exile of the Israelites from their land. The entire nation had become so persistently sinful that God brought judgment on them all. God abandoned His people because they had abandoned Him (Matthew 1:11-2, Micah 5:3). Yet God did not abandon His plan and His promise to send a Savior, Jesus Christ, whose very name means salvation.

Why does Matthew remind us of David’s sins by cryptically mentioning the woman with whom David committed adultery, and her husband Uriah, whom David arranged to have killed (Matt. 1:6; 2 Sam.11:1-27)? Why does Matthew include Manasseh in his genealogy of Jesus, when he could have excluded him? Why highlight such a shameful time in Israel’s history when the entire nation angered God so greatly?

Could it be for the sake of all who wonder whether God can forgive their sins? What God asks of us is what He expected of David and Manasseh: That we be truly sorry for the things we have done wrong. That we humbly acknowledge our wrongs before God and seek His forgiveness and His mercy. That we receive by faith the Savior, Jesus, who died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. That we commit, with God’s help, to spend the rest of our lives striving to do what is right in God’s eyes and all that we can to further His kingdom.

The genealogy of Jesus foretells the story of the Savior none of us deserve but all of us desperately need.

May you find forgiveness in Him.

Nancy Overgaard of Albert Lee, MN, holds a Doctor of Ministry from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

Budgeting Just Makes Sense

Most people know they need to watch their spending. Like dieting and eating less, spending less is easier if you have a plan. It’s called a budget. And using one can help save you money and make life easier.

5 Reasons to Budget

  1. You identify the difference between true necessities and wasteful spending.
  2. You gain control over buying and reckless use of credit.
  3. You can apply the savings to an emergency or retirement fund.
  4. You begin to focus on your future financial security.
  5. You can ease stress and worry over making ends meet financially.
Living on a budget is easier said than done, of course. But given time and practice, you’ll appreciate the results of your budget. After all, knowing how much money you’ve got coming in and going out is very important — not only for your future, but for your peace of mind. Read on to get started.

STEP 1: Pull your numbers together. Collect the paperwork related to your monthly expenses: credit card and bank statements, check register, and all your fixed bills, such as loan payments, insurance, utilities, tuition, child support and automatic retirement deposits.

 

STEP 2: Do the math. List all of your income and expenses using the worksheet below. Don’t include income that you’re not sure to receive, such as year–end bonuses or tax refunds.

 

STEP 3: Determine your debt. Does your budget worksheet show your spending consistently exceeds your income? If so, your No. 1 goal is to cut spending quickly before your debt causes a serious money shortfall. Use the Budget Worksheet to calculate how much you can save and how long it will take after meeting obligations each month.

The content herein is in no way intended to serve as a substitute for professional advice. Unauthorized reproduction in any form of any part of this publication is a violation of federal copyright law and is strictly prohibited. Ebix Benefits Administration and Wellness Publications © 2018, Ebix Inc. All rights reserved. • Two Perimeter Park South, Suite 160 East, Birmingham, AL 35243 • 1-800-871-9525 • www.ebix-ebaw.com. Certified financial planner review: 8.2014 BMM60221

Vacant Stare Man

I jerked my car into the left turn lane. Late again! Stopping for hot tea at the dingy gas station had taken longer than I’d anticipated. The woman in front of me couldn’t decide on filtered or unfiltered smokes. Rushing out to my mini-van, I noticed him.

He stared vacantly at the busy beach intersection. No shoes, dirty jeans—skin blistered by the hot Florida sun. My heart warred between compassion and anger. Still, I started the van and rode away, attempting to make it to Bible study on time.

But I couldn’t get “Vacant Stare Man” off my mind. I had to go back.

I pulled back into the station and searched through my purse. I know I have five bucks in here somewhere. I found it and headed in. Catching the manager’s eye, I told him of my plan. He agreed.

I exited and found the man still sitting by the side of the building, feet tucked under his body, arms circling his thin legs. Vacant Stare Man.

I cleared my throat as he looked up.

“My name is Pauline Hylton. I’ve left five dollars inside for you to buy food,” I stated irritably. “I want you to know that I’m doing this because I am a Christian!” I almost spat the words.

He stood. I noticed stains on a shirt that had seen better days. His glossy eyes rose to mine. This time, I really looked at him. He did the same.

“My name is Timothy.”

I don’t remember what I said. I only know I couldn’t get to my van fast enough. Once inside, I bawled. Who did I think I was? I thought I cared when in truth, I was just checking Vacant Stare Man off my list so I could attend Bible study with a clear conscience. I didn’t care about Timothy.
When faced with the truth about my indifference, it’s painful. Caring is hard. Caring is exhausting. Caring takes time.

Caring is important.

Maybe you’ve got the same problem. Maybe you want to care, think you should care—even know you should care, but don’t know where to start.

We could begin together.

I’m no expert in caring. But as followers of Jesus Christ, caring should pour from us like springs of living water….The Living Water.

But how? Let’s think through a few suggestions.

Keep Your Eyes & Ears Open 

All around you, people have needs. Some are physical, others emotional, some mental, mostly a combination. Begin by really looking at people. The cashier at the store may be going through a divorce. The older gentleman who sits alone in church could be lonely. Oftentimes just noticing people and acknowledging them makes a difference.

While stopping by our church office a few years ago, I noticed an older woman I had not seen in a while who carried a worn look on her face.

“Hey Joan, how are you doing?”

“John had a stroke while he was in rehab about six months ago. He came home after three months and I’ve been caring for him. It’s tough, he cannot walk and can hardly get into his wheelchair.” She paused. “I’m exhausted!”

I knew her husband had been in the hospital, but I had no idea she was the sole caregiver for a man who normally would have been placed in a nursing facility.

That conversation jump-started a ministry in our church called. A Caring Life that reached out to caregivers and the ones being cared for. Volunteers were assigned a family, given some suggestions of how to minister to them and then asked to contact them both in person and by phone at least once a month.

Ephesians 6:18 states “Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

Being alert is a great way to start caring.

Caring should pour from us like springs of living water… The Living Water.

Try Different Ministries

I grew up serving The Salvation Army, but my children did not. When they were in grade school, we began to serve once a month in a homeless ministry. They were exposed to many different kinds of people who did not fit nicely into their middle-class lives.

That was my purpose.

Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones to meet the challenges of today’s culture.

The Salvation Army has such varied programs, along with other Christian-based organizations. The needs are vast—the workers are sometimes few.

So read your newspaper, or your church bulletin, or call the Army and ask if they need help. It may be a good fit, and it may not. You may walk away and think, I was made for this. Or you may say, Lord help!

Which brings me to my last suggestion, which is really a command.

Ask the Lord

Scripture says to pray about everything. (The command.)

He will answer because Jesus not only commands us to care but He is the ultimate caregiver.

A few years ago, I went back through the gospels. My love for Christ had grown cold. I literally prayed, “Lord, help me fall in love with You, again.”

He answered that prayer. When I read and studied the book of Matthew, Christ’s compassion jumped off the page at me. A particularly poignant example is found in Matthew 8:1-3: “Large crowds followed Jesus as He came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached Him and knelt before Him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if You are willing, You can heal me and make me clean.’

“Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ He said. ‘Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared.”

Jesus did not have to touch the leper, but He did. It had probably been years since the man had been touched by anyone.

When was the last time you touched someone? I have found that the blessing is more for the giver than the receiver.

Don’t walk by the homeless man, or pass the elderly, or avoid the mentally challenged.

Be like Jesus.

Pauline Hylton lives in Mt. Airy, NC.

New Apartments Support Services to Veterans

Just as Christ sacrificed Himself for the sake of others, our veterans have made tremendous sacrifices for the sake of our freedom. Since World War II, The Salvation Army has recognized those sacrifices and worked hard to support veterans. Efforts to aid veterans began with the work of the Donut Girls, who risked their lives to minister to soldiers near the front lines. Efforts continue today through programs, residences and rehabilitation centers around the country, such as at a homeless shelter just outside the city limits of Los Angeles.

Bell Shelter operates a comprehensive program that offers transitional care for up to 350 homeless men and women. The goal of Bell Shelter is to meet the needs of the homeless population by addressing the myriad of reasons why people become homeless and assisting them in developing a higher quality of life through independence.

Image Bell Center Chef

Photo by John Docter

Services include:

  • Life Skills Program: Clients address the emotional and psychological barriers to escaping homelessness and learn to overcome them.
  • Job Search Assistance: Clients are assisted in procuring meaningful employment. Computer access is available for job searching. Job referrals are offered.
  • Veterans: Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program & Supportive Services for Veteran Families.
  • Individual and Group Counseling: Psychological help is provided through collaboration with ENKI mental health services
    (http://www.ehrs.com).
  • Neurofeedback Program: Non-invasive way of treating PTSD for veterans and victims of violence.
  • Mobile Medical Services: Available to clients at Bell Shelter twice a week, this service offers on-site health care and medical referrals.
  • Emergency Shelter
  • Transitional Housing 
  • Substance Abuse Rehabilitation
  • Case Management
  • HIV/AIDS Education
Image Bell Center Computer Skills

Photo by John Docter

Adjacent to the Bell Shelter is a forward-looking rapid re-housing project. Formally dedicated on September 27, the Donald and Priscilla Hunt Apartments at Bell Oasis offer formerly homeless individuals the chance to begin new lives of hope and restoration in a clean, safe and nurturing environment. The development consists of 64 affordable housing units, including 43 reserved for veterans. Residents have full access to The Salvation Army’s social services and programs located across the street at the larger Bell Shelter campus. The completion of the apartment complex was made possible thanks to the generosity of corporate partners such as The Home Depot Foundation, which awarded a $400,000 grant to the project.

“The Salvation Army cannot do the work it does without the vital financial assistance it receives from a variety of sources—from individuals to government entities to corporations with a conscience,” said Lt. Colonel Kyle Smith, divisional commander of the California South Division. “The Home Depot Foundation and its new grant will now become part of life-changing landmarks for the people we have the privilege to serve.”

Unshakable Hope: An Interview with Max Lucado

The editor-in-chief caught up with author Max Lucado to discuss his most recent book, Unshakable Hope. In lieu of a traditional question-and-answer format, quotes were selected from the book for Max to share his additional comments. 

God did not emphasize the Israelites’ strength, He emphasized His. He did not underscore their ability, He highlighted His. For the next chapter of their history when God was preparing the Israelites, He didn’t tell them anything except how good He was, how strong He was and how faithful He was. The big takeaway is that what matters most to God is His ability to take care of us, as opposed to our ability to take care of ourselves.

Your imagination is too timid to understand God’s dream for you.

God has plans for us that are beyond our highest expectations, our highest dreams. We tend to assume that if we’re in a tough season, we’ll always be in a tough season. That’s wrong. Every tough season comes to an end. Every difficult challenge passes. On top of that Heaven awaits us with the new version of earthly life in our new bodies, in our new minds, and all that experience of being in eternity that’s simply beyond the possibility of being imagined.

Your prayers impact the actions of God.

It’s a remarkable thing to stand on these promises, you know, like the one in the Book of James. “That the prayers of the righteous person availeth much” (James 5:16, KJV). Or as other translations put it: “The prayers of a believer are mighty and effective.” Just think that our prayers impact the actions of God! We parents get this. If my daughter were to call me right now and say, “Hey Dad, I’ve got to have some help,” I would probably stop everything I’m doing to help her. And so we can call upon our heavenly Father and He will accelerate His ways of helping us. Or He will come at a different approach of helping us then if we don’t pray. Again, it’s not up to us to understand why our prayers should matter. What is up to us is to stand on His promise and pray and know that our prayers have an impact upon our Heavenly Father.

Pride is the hidden reef that shipwrecks the soul.

Pride is dangerous, because the prideful heart will not do what is necessary to come to God. The prideful heart will not bend the neck to pray or bow before God, will not bend the knees to worship, will not lift up problems before the Heavenly Father, because the prideful heart is self-centered. What it means to be a person of faith and find the joy that comes from that is to be God centered. At the core of many of our issues is that stubborn resolve to do it “my way.”

“THE PRAYERS OF A BELIEVER ARE MIGHTY AND EFFECTIVE.
JUST THINK THAT OUR PRAYERS IMPACT THE ACTIONS OF GOD!”

Storms come to the obedient.

We would think they wouldn’t. There’s a part of us that thinks that, “If I’m a follower of Christ then I shouldn’t have to face any problems.” That is quickly dismissed by a simple reading of the New Testament. Jesus faced storms. He walked out into the middle of the storm to rescue the disciples. He did not have a protective bubble built around Him. He did not live up on a mountain in a protected chalet but walked right here in the middle of our lives feeling what we feel. Let’s not be surprised when storms come. If we do then that will lead to more storms. Let’s say, “Okay. There’s a promise in Scripture, that says, ‘Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world’” (John 16:33).

God does not stand on a mountain and tell us to climb it and find Him. He comes down into the dark valley and finds us.

That’s such a reassuring thought. He is the shepherd in search of the one lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7). He is the housewife in search of the one coin that was lost (Luke 15:8-9). She had nine others, but that wasn’t enough for her to be satisfied. She had to find the other one. The shepherd had 99 other sheep, but he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to have that lost sheep back. That’s the picture that Jesus gives us of our Heavenly Father’s heart. He’s not going to stay up on a mountain and wait for us to find Him. He enters our world and finds us. He finds us through messages, acts of nature, miraculous interventions. He gets our attention or at least tries to get our attention.

Night might delay the dawn, but it cannot defeat it.

The promise in Psalms is “If the weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (30:5). We sometimes pass through seasons that are so difficult and so protracted that we think we’ll never see the sunrise again. But we always do and always can. There’s a promise of joy that will come. The darkness will not pass as quickly as we want, sometimes not as dramatically as we desire, but it will always pass.

Your soul needs an anchor, a hooking point that is sturdier than the storm.

That’s because our soul is so precious. That’s the part of us that carries the image of God. So let’s take that soul. Let’s hook it to the throne room of Christ. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, the Bible says (Hebrews 6:19). The image is tying that rope around our soul and taking the anchor into the very Holy of Holies, wrapping it around the leg of the throne room and then to the throne upon which Jesus sits. Since the devil cannot go in there, we can be assured that our hope will be sturdy, steady and we’ll weather the storm anchored to the throne of Christ.

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is the editor-in-chief and national literary secretary

Kroc Centers

Banner Image of Camden NJ Street

The Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Camden, NJ is an oasis of spiritual growth and community in one of the most dangerous places in America. This is the last of the 26 Kroc Centers to be built, bringing to a close a nationwide legacy that was Joan Kroc’s dream.
Read more [...]

Banner Image Kroc Center San Francisco CA

The San Francisco Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, rising above the mean streets of the Tenderloin District, is also home to a residential facility. Read how these to ministries are changing lives through their service to the community. [...]

Part I: Walk Before Me

Possessed of a staggering promise, Abraham was puzzled as to the when and how. God told him: “I will make you into a great nation…I will give this land to your descendants” (Genesis 12:2,7). There was only one problem. Abraham and his wife Sarah were childless. Not only that, they were old. Abraham was 75 when God spoke to him and Sarah was a spry 65. Hardly the age when couples want to start a family.

No doubt Abraham and Sarah were excited nonetheless. Monthly they looked for the signs of a coming baby. Each month they were disappointed. Months became years. Years piled on top of each other. No baby. No descendants. Just a promise that seemed more like mockery than a source of hope.

Abraham came up with an idea to help God out. In the ancient world, trusted servants could be counted as family members and take the family name. The descendants of that servant could be counted as if they were blood relations. So, Abraham offered God the option of using his servant, Eliezer (Genesis 15:1-3). Nice try. But God made it known that Abraham would father the child.

The waiting began once more. The weeks became months that became years. Had God forgotten? Where was this child? After all, their old wrinkled bodies were looking no more fit for childbirth or rearing children than before. It was then that Sarah hatched up an idea. If she could not be the mother, Abraham could at least be the father. So, she offered her handmaid Hagar as a concubine to bear a child to Abraham. Ishmael was born and with that Abraham and Sarah thought they had solved God’s problem for Him.

It didn’t turn out well at all. There was immediate friction between Hagar and Sarah resulting in Hagar and Ishmael being driven away (Genesis 16). And though God promised to bless Ishmael, he was not the child of promise. A baby was still in the works. But now Abraham was 86, his wife 76.

QUESTIONING GOD’S POWER

Before God dealt with Abraham about his descendants, He needed to deal with him about his divided heart. Abraham is heralded for his faith and, indeed, up to this point there is evidence of it. When told to leave his home of Ur, he left to become a wanderer. When God delayed fulfilling His promises, Abraham still clung to Him in spite of any questions he had. But he seemed to have struggled with his belief in God’s power. Twice when he thought he might be threatened, he lied about the relationship between he and his wife (Genesis 12:10-17; Genesis 20). And although he wanted to believe God’s promise regarding his child and the descendants that would come through him, he struggled with believing God really had the power to do it. Not unlike many people today who give lip service to trusting God but act as if God is too far away to make a difference in their world.

Then God spoke. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am El-Shaddai— ‘God Almighty’” (Genesis 17:1). God had never before identified Himself as the Almighty. It was a statement to Abraham that He didn’t need Abraham’s assistance, that He knit the human body together in the first place and knew full well how it worked, as well as how to overcome any difficulties that age or health had compromised. The God who set the galaxies in motion was not perplexed about a little old Middle Eastern couple who needed a baby.

With this affirmation came a requirement. “Serve Me faithfully and live a blameless life” (Genesis 17:1). Most modern Bible translators have elected to use the term blameless for the original Hebrew word. But that is not a strong enough translation of what God was saying to Abraham. The King James Version uses the term “perfect” that back when it was published meant something different than it does now. When we say something is perfect we mean flawless but that is not what the word meant a few centuries ago. Dr. Jonathan Pennington offers that the original word is better translated, “whole, complete or even virtuous.” That includes the idea of being blameless but it is something more as well.

God is telling Abraham to live a whole life of devotion, a holy life. No more of this lying when you’re in a tight fix. No more of this trying to manipulate events to make the outcome the way you want it. No more of this wavering. You may not be flawless but you can be complete in Him. Abraham had learned that his way, though painted with a religious brush, was not necessarily God’s way. For Abraham part of his problem was that he wasn’t quite ready to turn it all over completely to God.

That is precisely where many Christians are today. They know they should live a better life, that their faith should be stronger, that they ought to be living on the side of victory instead of skulking about in the shadow of defeat. God, through His Holy Spirit, will take the one who means to get down to serious business with Him and purify, empower and equip. God wants you to be complete, whole – wholly holy.

Soon after this encounter, the child came. Daddy was 100 and Mama was 90. They named him Isaac. That would be the only child the couple would have. But Isaac had two sons and then his son, Jacob, had twelve sons and those sons had many, many sons until the descendants were in the uncounted millions.

Where is the proof that Abraham’s heart was whole before God? We find the story in Genesis 22 when God came and demanded the sacrifice of Isaac as a human sacrifice. Without question, Abraham and Isaac went together to the appointed mountain to obey. Fortunately, God rescinded the demand and Isaac lived. But this did not happen until Abraham knew through this test of faith that he was indeed whole and complete before God.

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is the Editor-in-Chief and National Literary Secretary