Category Archives: Faith

I went to church in a prison: Part 2

The Salvation Army Midland Division’s communications department recently visited Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro, Ill., in an effort to learn more about the Army’s services offered to prisoners. This is the second post in a two-part series about what they learned from their experience. This post is written by Ashley Kuenstler, Content Specialist for The Salvation Army and Cardinals fan extraordinaire. Part One can be found here.

Nathaniel knew his wife was cheating on him. He had been slamming drink after drink at a local bar when a friend called to tell him there was a man at his house who shouldn’t be there.

“We were technically separated, but I still had keys to the house. In my eyes, the only choice I had was to go to that house and take care of the situation,” he said. “The devil had me in his grips and I had no idea.”

Nathaniel arrived at the house to find neither his wife or a mysterious man. But after listening to her voicemails and confirming his friend’s allegations, Nathaniel was filled with a rage that sequestered any kind of normal thought process. He lit a piece of paper on fire, threw it on her bed, and left the house.

“I had no idea that my stepson was asleep inside,” Nathaniel said. “He died in that fire, and it’s my fault. It was the worst day of my life. I’ve spent 11 years in prison with that on my mind all day, every day.”

He paused for a moment and looked down to his folded hands. My mind could not physically grapple with what Nathaniel must endure to his mind and his spirit on a daily basis. I wanted to say something comforting to ease the pain I saw in his face, but the only thing my body could manage was a single tear that raced down my left cheek. My heart broke for him and it broke for the loss of his stepson. But for Nathaniel, this is what it took for him to change his life.

“Thanks to God, I’m not the same person anymore,” he said. “I’ve been surrounded by good people and I’ve been introduced to the word of God. I learned how to be a man and I’m blessed to be able to turn this situation into a chance to help others, to the be the kind of man others can look up to.”

Major Jack Holloway standing in front of Graham Correctional Facility in Hillsboro, IL

Major Jack Holloway standing in front of Graham Correctional Facility in Hillsboro, IL

Major Jack Holloway – The Salvation Army’s Correctional Services Secretary – said seeing this kind of transformation is what continually inspires him while working in the Army’s prison ministry.

“It’s an often forgotten population that I don’t want us to forget,” Major Holloway said. “I continually meet men who have no sense of value or future and I’m able to tell them, ‘Yes, you do have great value and purpose.’ And then I get to prove it to them through the word of God.”
Major Holloway has spent the last three years travelling to prisons throughout Missouri and Illinois, finding placement for inmates upon their release, helping them find employment, ministering to them, and getting to know them on a personal level.

“I meet with them on a one-on-one basis as often as I can to just talk,” Major Holloway said. “We talk about how their day is going, what’s weighing on their heart, and how God can help to fix it. They know what they did was wrong, and they realize there is a penalty for that action. They dream of a better life and a chance to start over, to make their lives worth something, and we are there to help them realize that dream.”

For Ollie – a former gang member imprisoned for murdering a man and trying to kill a woman – his faith and trust in The Salvation Army and its message was solidified when he realized Major Holloway knew his name.

“One day, I covered up my nametag to see if he would know my name. He knew it without missing a beat,” Ollie said. “And then it just hit me: I didn’t need the gang life or anything associated with it to be memorable. I just had to be a good and righteous man and lead by example.”

For Major Hollway – seeing the transformation firsthand is something that never fails to strike a chord.

“One of my most memorable experiences in the prison ministry was several months ago while I was giving a sermon on Sunday morning,” he said. “I was reading scripture and compared the men to clay and God to a potter. I said, ‘A potter’s clay is often marred and scarred and full of imperfections, but the potter will never throw his clay away. And as I looked out over the men in the congregation, I could just see it hit 20 of them right between the eyes. I saw it in their faces and I could see that transformation take place instantaneously. It struck such a chord with me and it’s something I’ll never forget.”

The Salvation Army offers volunteer opportunities in the prison system for people interested in working with inmates and furthering their transformation. In order to keep in accordance with prison regulations, the approval process can be long and complicated, but definitely rewarding. Volunteers can assist in fatherhood classes, general education, spiritual guidance, and more.

“There are people who volunteer their time and work with us on a regular basis,” Ollie said. “I’d never seen a man do anything for free – and they are doing that for me of all people? That changed my heart.

“To so many people, we are scum. We are not worth a second glance, we’re not worth anything at all,” Nathaniel said. “But The Salvation Army and Major Holloway realize that’s not true. God knows that’s not true.

“I am forever changed from this experience and have given my life to God. And when He allows me to leave this place, he will have me until it’s time for me to come home to Him.”

To learn more about The Salvation Army’s prison ministry or how you can volunteer, please visit


A Lenten suggestion (even if you don’t practice)

I love seeing what people give up for Lent.

Chocolate. Fried foods. Drinking. I even have a friend that gave up cussing. And if you knew this friend, that’s probably a really good idea.

I’ve seen giving up buying shoes, drinking caffeine, Facebook is a big one now, and so many other worldly things that people have become accustomed to.

But I have also seen some very humbling gestures that people have left behind in this time tradition after the last big blowout of Mardi Gras. Teenagers that have given up their beds to sleep on the floor. Another that is writing a hand-written letter to a new person each day that has touched their life. And while I chuckle at my chocolate obsessed friend that is in agony from giving up their vice, it’s the tales of those that strive to truly inconvenience themselves to have a higher understanding or to leave behind indifference that really touches my soul.

So I’m going to make a suggestion… for all of us.

Give up indifference for Lent. 

Homeless Man Sleeping Under Bridge

Take the time to do something kind for someone else. Really walk your dog (and not just a trip down the block and back, I mean a good, hour long walk). Chat up a homeless neighbor on the street and see if they need services or shelter–and please, send them our way. Visit someone in your life in a nursing home or a psychiatric facility. Make contact with a lost friend or relative in prison–they need more support than you realize.

Yes, our lives are busy. Yes, we do important things. But it takes no time to pay for an extra coffee in the line at Starbucks or help an elderly friend with their groceries leaving Schnucks.

The Salvation Army’s tagline is “Doing the Most Good”. But we believe wholeheartedly that doing the most good can’t possibly exist solely within our organization. It lies within you, within our community, within our hearts.

Be well this season.

Dana Biermann, Digital Marketing and Communications Manager

Overcoming Temptations and Hardships

A Woman’s Journey to follow the Straight and Narrow Path

By: Bethany Williams, Midland Division

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

From a young age, Ashley Berigan (pictured right) has endured many hardships that have influenced who she is today. Her father died when she was only 14, and by the time she was 17, Ashley was surrounded with negative influences.

Partying constantly and abusing drugs and alcohol, Ashley found herself pregnant and homeless when she was just 19 years old. After her mother kicked her out of their house, Ashley was terrified and alone. She ended up finding comfort and shelter at The Salvation Army in Alton, Illinois.

“That was the first time I’ve ever been homeless,” says Ashley. “It was scary.” Living at the shelter, she went to counseling once a month and received hope from the people at The Salvation Army. Ashley soon realized that she personally was not in a good position to take care of a child, and ultimately decided to give her son up for adoption after he was born. After making this tough decision, Ashley realized that she needed to change.

“Life can get pretty scary,” says Ashley, “so I wanted to follow the straight and narrow path.”

Today, Ashley is 26 and has a variety of new positive interests that include watching scary movies, listening to music, taking pictures and creating artwork for her family. Ashley has completed an art course at Lewis and Clark Community College and will be taking a photography class in the fall. One of her favorite paintings she has created is featured on the left.

Staying sober and away from drugs, Ashley looks toward the future in hopes of getting married and starting a family.

“God is trying to tell me something. All of the people who have helped me have come into my life for a reason.”

Because of this, Ashley has found a desire to give back and help others by sharing the importance of surrounding themselves with positive people.

“I am grateful for what I have, ” says Ashley, “and I thank God everyday because I am lucky to be alive.”

To make a donation to The Salvation Army and support people like Ashley, please visit

Dynamic Duo Volunteers Make a Difference

By: Becky Kreienkamp, Midland Division

Scott and Dan are more than just coworkers – they are best friends.

As volunteer maintenance workers for The Salvation Army-Harbor Light Center this dynamic duo always is on the move. They do just about everything from plumbing, electrical work, painting, organizing warehouses, fixing trucks and trailers, and disaster relief – always performing these tasks as a partnership.

Both men began their volunteering journey with The Salvation Army by performing construction at the Harbor Light Center. Realizing the poor condition of this location, their hearts were moved to help all St. Louis-area Salvation Army locations in any way possible. They have been working as an unstoppable team ever since.

Their previous projects include fixing up a playground at the Temple Corps, picking up supplies Boy Scouts collected, fixing up the Emergency Disaster Services warehouse where all the disaster relief supplies are stored, fixing up the social services warehouse where furniture for The Salvation Army is stored, among a myriad of others.

Scott (pictured left) and Dan (pictured right) saw what unfortunate condition these warehouses previously were in, so say they knew there was no other choice but to reorganize them.

In fact, upon arrival at the Emergency Disaster Services warehouse, Scott sat down and immediately wrote a list of everything that needed to be fixed. His list grew to six pages.

Following Scott’s new guidelines, every last box and machine was taken out of the warehouse, supplies were sorted through and the warehouse was reorganized in only two weeks, showing his passionate dedication.

“When we get on a job site, we don’t waste time,” says Dan proudly.

Scott and Dan’s biggest undertakings have been disaster relief projects. This unparalleled duo has helped after the tornado of New Year’s 2011, the Good Friday tornado of 2011, the Harrisburg tornadoes and the Joplin tornadoes. These two have had countless opportunities to touch lives.

“…Cleaning front yards from tornados, it’s simple stuff that really touched people,” explains Dan.

But both Scott and Dan realize while this work is rewarding, it is challenging as well.

“I’ve seen a lot of hurt people,” says Dan as he continues to briefly tell a story about a man in Joplin who didn’t even know his house had been hit by the tornado until he saw The Salvation Army volunteers working on his broken home.

They have definitely seen it all. Dan also explains about a tree that had been picked up by a tornado and planted back down, smack dab in the middle of someone’s house.

“It looked like a flower pot!” says Dan with a hearty laugh.

There is nothing they can’t tackle as long as they are together.

“[The most challenging part of volunteering is] explaining to other people how to do a job other than just doing it yourself,” says Dan. “Others don’t have the sense of immediacy that [Scott and I] do.”

While it might be difficult to take a step back and let others join in when you are as talented as these two, Dan sums up the most rewarding part of volunteering for The Salvation Army in a few words.

“Getting away from yourself,” he says as Scott silently nods in approval with a solemn smile on his face.

In addition to being a volunteer maintenance man, Scott has been pursuing his Ph.D. and heading a research project to cure sepsis. Scott previously served in the Army for 34 years, starting in Vietnam and finishing in Afghanistan. He worked as a special forces medic for the last 31 years of his army career.

Since his army days, he has received a Masters degree in microbiology and a Masters degree in public health. Currently, he teaches graduate students at Washington University Medical School while working toward his Ph.D. and continuing his research. In the fall, he will begin teaching full time and will receive his Ph.D. in December.

“At his age, what else has he got to do?!”  Dan jokes with him.

All jokes aside, however, these men inspire people with their big actions and even bigger hearts.

“We’re the only two they have like us,” says Dan “We’re floaters.”

This couldn’t be a more true testimony, as these two are a one-of-a-kind pair. People might hesitate separating them if they want a job done right. They have been working together for only two-and-a-half years and they are already finishing each other’s sentences, helping each other remember details when recalling past projects and laughing about inside jokes.

It’s apparent they like their job best if they can work together. They work as a team to improve the shelters so the shelters can improve the lives of the homeless. Their impressive skill level allows them to be useful throughout The Salvation Army’s Midland Division.

To put it simply, they can truly go anywhere and do anything. These two absolutely love what they do and they are moved by God every day to fulfill His work.

Redefining Dedication

By: Bethany Williams, Midland Division

At 72 years old, Margie Duff (pictured left) definitely does not look her age as she gleams with dedication in her eyes and love in her heart. Her relationship with The Salvation Army goes back roughly 25 years, starting as a patron of her local Salvation Army store in East St. Louis. Purchasing clothes and toys, Margie was able to provide her large family with basic needs. Finding refuge and faith in The Salvation Army, she decided to send each of her seven children to Sunday Bible School at the center.

“My children would not have turned out to do the amazing things they do today without the Christian upbringing they received from The Salvation Army,” says Margie.

In 2008, Margie believed that a spirit led her to serve at The Salvation Army. She felt an urge to make a difference within her community and give back to the place that assisted her family through hard times. To her surprise, Wanda Carson (pictured right) opened the door the first day she came into volunteer. Wanda, a caseworker at the East St. Louis center, has known Margie her entire life and regards Margie as a mother figure. Because they had not seen each other in 15 years, both women believe that the Lord led them back to each other to share their time and talents through The Salvation Army.

During the past several years, Margie has come to consider The Salvation Army her second home. Wanda considers Margie as a “superwoman” as she dedicates herself in a variety of tasks from teaching nutrition and health classes, and cleaning the kitchen and play areas to supervising summer programs and tutoring children after school. Margie primarily works with the Women’s Ministry in the areas of planning and preparing lunch and serving as a speaker at meetings.

“Margie has been an asset to the center,” says Wanda. “She is talented in many areas and never has a problem taking on more responsibilities. She is concerned about the people here. You can feel it. You can see it through her works.”

When Margie’s husband of 50 years passed away from cancer a few years ago, she turned to The Salvation Army as a place where she could always go to if she ever needed anything or simply to have someone to talk to. Although Margie is an active member at another church, she dedicates her spare time to serving others.

“I always remind my grandchildren that it is better to give than to receive,” says Margie. “I always feel the need to help someone because you never know what situation you might need help with in the future. God blessed me, so I keep blessing other folks.”

While Margie is known for her dedication to volunteering, she also is famous for her cooking, especially her mostacholi dish and carrot cake. In her free time, Margie loves to travel to see her children and she has visited 38 states.

If you’d like to make a difference, see how on The Salvation Army website.

Camper Stands Out From Peers at Kids Camp

By: Becky Kreienkamp, Midland Division

Enthusiastic and definitely not shy, Robin talks a mile a minute when describing her adventures at Camp Mihaska Kids Camp. She is a member at The Salvation Army O’Fallon Corps, and it was here where she first learned of Camp Mihaska.

The captains that were serving when her family became members at the O’Fallon Community Center introduced Robin’s family to Camp Mihaska, and Robin hasn’t looked back since. Having attended a Music Camp and other Kids Camps in the past, Camp Mihaska’s wonders are very familiar to this passionate camper.

Robin seemed to be different from the other campers. When her cabin group stood in a line or huddled in a group, Robin always managed to stand out from her peers.

It might have been her knowledge of the camp, and her ability to communicate this knowledge to her fellow campers.

Not only could she share her understanding, but she also spoke about camp in a way that seemed to be wiser beyond her years. It was as if being at camp in the past had made her somewhat of an expert on Camp Mihaska and how to behave at Kids Camp.

Robin seemed to know everything about this camp. She was often seen helping the girls in her cabin if they had questions about that night’s festivities. She knew to follow her counselor, and she knew the difference between the proper time to participate and the proper time to listen. She followed her counselor’s orders to put on bug spray, sunscreen and clean up after herself. She is a careful camper, but she is not afraid to have fun.

This lively camper also was striking because of her immense enthusiasm for camp life. One could pick Robin out of the entire camp’s crowd because of her loud cheering or loud voice asking to participate in an activity.

As evidence to her enthusiasm, she had four beads on her necklace by the second day of camp, and was determined to gain more. These beads meant that Robin had completed more tasks than other campers by the second day.

Robin was always ready to move to the next activity, as she is a spry young camper prepared to tackle the next adventure Camp Mihaska could throw her way.

Robin volunteered for activities, to be a helper for a camp staff member and to tell a story about camp. At one of the campfire ceremonies when the leader of the games asked for volunteers, Robin was on her feet, hand raised as high as she could manage, and eager to participate. Her zeal was so evident, that she was indeed chosen for the game. She truly wanted to grab at every opportunity that Kids Camp could give her.

One special moment that really stuck out in her mind at camp, was about her counselors and how they have helped her love Jesus while at camp.

Besides finding a new love for Jesus, being at camp also means making new friends for Robin. She claimed she made a lot of close friendships especially this year.

Just by observing Robin’s passion, one could immediately tell Camp Mihaska was like a second home to this young camper, and she will no doubt be back for more Camp Mihaska next year.

A Physical and Spiritual Transformation

By: Bethany Williams, Midland Division

Today, Tommy Windom, who doctors once said would never be able to walk again, believes that it is by the healing power of God he is mobile and leading a better life dedicated to service. At the age of 45, Tommy, a retired chef, has faced many physical and spiritual feats, but has found hope and faith thanks to The Salvation Army.

In December of 2010, Tommy started experiencing problems with his hand, which ultimately led to a decline in his mobility and paralysis in his right hand. This was trigged by a closed fluid line in his spinal chord and compressed discs in his back. With this diagnosis, Tommy was convinced that he was never going to be able to walk or use his hand again.

After three weeks of physical therapy in the hospital, Tommy was released, but faced the harsh reality of not having a safe place to live. With a dampened spirit and weakened quality of health, Tommy felt lost and alone. His family had relocated to other portions of the country, leaving Tommy without a support base to rely on.

Tommy’s case manager referred him to the Harbor Light Center and enrolled Tommy into the Respite Care program, specifically for homeless people with disabilities. The first Friday night he was at Harbor Light, Tommy prayed to God. Tommy asked God “What do you want me to do?” and questioned why God had blessed him with a roof over his head, food to eat and people genuinely care for him.

The following Sunday, Tommy attended the service at the chapel in the Harbor Light Center. Captain Moore asked the congregation, “Is God calling you to do anything?” It was this moment that Tommy realized doors started opening in his life.

“As soon as I said yes to God, everything else fell in line,” says Tommy. “Everybody has a purpose and their own free will. My will is to serve the Lord now.”

Tommy began to develop a closer relationship with God due to the ministry and The Salvation Army captains.

While living at Harbor Light, Tommy applied for disability coverage that would allow him to receive payments because of his inability to work. His request was approved. Two weeks later, Tommy also was granted social security benefits. Additionally, he was able to reconnect with family members, who had moved away from the St. Louis area.

Due to all of these blessings, Tommy felt a desire to help others that were in places of hardship and loneliness and to call them to seek refuge in the Lord.

“The more I gave, the more the Lord was giving to me,” says Tommy. “I spread God’s mission by challenging others to give their burdens to the Lord because He is always there, even during the hard times. The Salvation Army changed my life. The Lord showed me how he wanted me to serve and opened my eyes to my spiritual gifts.”

Recently, Tommy has completed his training to become a Salvation Army soldier and enjoys his time as a member of the Praise Team gospel choir.

“Joining as a soldier, I can give back and I can help,” explains Tommy. “The Salvation Army truly cares about people in all that they do. There is no better place to serve the Lord and people who cannot help themselves. This place has opened my eyes to have compassion and to be a free-giver. The love and good news he has given me is my duty to spread.”

Intentional Living

By: Danni Eickenhorst, Midland Division

The Salvation Army’s Temple Worship & Community Center in South City is working to truly know every facet of the community in which they minister. The surrounding neighborhoods are marked by violence, high incidences of drug use, school dropouts, teen pregnancy and marked poverty.

When several buildings being used for transitional housing across the street lost their funding, a new program was developed to better serve the community. The 11-units owned by The Salvation Army became difficult to upkeep without funding, so they had to be sold or repurposed.

The Salvation Army’s Divisional Commander Major Lonneal Richardson worked with Envoys Steve and Ketsia Diaz of Temple and decided the best use of the buildings would be to use several of them for an urban ministry program. In this program, called the Intentional Living Program, Christian individuals with a heart for leadership can live in the units rent-free in exchange for donating their time and talents to The Salvation Army and other neighborhood efforts.

Upon launching the program, the envoys moved their family into one of the units so they could become more effectively ingrained in their community.

“Without living among the people you serve, it’s difficult to effectively minister to them, especially if you’re driving in every day from the suburbs,” said John Aho, Community Partnerships and Program Development Director for Temple.

Aho, the children of Salvation Army pastors who often served in inner-city churches, came to St. Louis to serve in the Intentional Living Program as an unpaid volunteer. “Jesus came into the world and experienced it, and lived among the people. This program allows us to experience the same challenges our friends, clients and soldiers face every day. Instead of dictating principles from on high, you do it from their level, where they live – where you live,” said Aho.

The program continues to grow and has created a unique bond between the neighborhood and The Salvation Army. “With the additional Christ-centered community-focused volunteers we now have at our fingertips, we have been able to work more hands-on with schools, neighborhood associations, arts organizations, local businesses and other non-profits to strengthen the community. Those of us who are in the program are essentially good role models, planting seeds in the community among the youth. We are showing the kids that you don’t have to quit school. You don’t have to get married young. There is another option.”

As a result of the Intentional Program’s intensive neighborhood focus, Temple recently received a Thomas Lyle Williams Grant and matching funds from the Dana Brown Charitable Foundation which will allow them to fund a CHOICES program, allowing neighborhood adults and children to come to the community center to take elective courses that will broaden their horizons, helping to stimulate interests that may lead to future career choices – such as sound engineering, dance and drama.

“We are doing big things in Benton Park West and the surrounding communities,” said Aho, “and we are actively recruiting for more people to join us in our work.”

Those with a heart for leadership interested in giving a year or more to an inner city neighborhood, offering hope to the hopeless and help to the hurting are encouraged to reach out to John Aho at 314.771.3460 for more information on the Intentional Living program, or visit for more information.

This March Madness, Join God’s Squad

By: Major K. Kendall Mathews, Columbia Salvation Army

K. Kendall Mathews played high school basketball in Detroit. This worn picture is of Mathews when he was a member of the varsity for the Detroit Mumford Mustangs in 1978.

March madness is upon us and many NCAA basketball teams are looking to extend their season to include the NCAA tournament. I know many players have worked hard in an attempt to be the superlative team in college basketball. For them winning is everything, as each team plays like it’s the last game.

God wants us to be focused on more than winning the basketball playoffs. He wants us to be a conqueror in our battle against sin and humiliation and to live each day as if it were our last. To prevail, we can’t be on God’s All-Glory team one moment, and be a bench warmer the next moment, just because life is not going our way. We must be on His team and playing by His rules that are found in the Holy Bible. “For all have sinned and fallen short of his glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

The question is, “Whose team are you on?” I hope you are playing on God’s squad. There is no losing while you’re practicing Christian standards or living out your salvation on God’s side. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that Satan will leave you alone. He will not, so be prepared to work through the tough times of life. We are Christian winners because of the salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ. He promises to be a very present help in the time of dilemma. Because Jesus whitewashed sin by dying on the cross, rising from the dead and promising to return, we have a greater hope for eternal life.

God is our spiritual coach and we should surrender to his ways because He knows what’s best for us when life seems to overtake us. God compensates those who are submissive to his teachings. Playing on his team is saying, “Yes, Lord,” to his ways in all practical life situations. Our calling is to trust and obey Him, even when we don’t want to, because He is an everlasting-life coach. Jesus surrendered his life graciously when He relinquished it on that old rugged cross. You see, humility and “teachability” on God’s squad is responding to his voice without resistance, and being open to learning from his Son, Jesus Christ, as our supernatural team captain.

Playing on his team is our willingness to be taught by God, to put aside what we think and erasing from our heart any preconceived notions when we consider the possibilities that God might be taking us in new directions on his winning team. Winning isn’t everything, but being on God’s team surely has greater value and an everlasting benefit that will stand the test of time. With God as our coach, Jesus as our captain, and the Holy Spirit as our guide, we can not lose in this game of life. I don’t know about you, but I want to be undefeated on God’s squad. It may be March Madness, but for me it’s Mission Madness – my relationship and teamwork with God is first and foremost.

I recall a high school basketball game in Detroit, where there were three seconds left in the game. The coach called timeout and worked out a play where I was to take the last shot. I thought to myself, “I can win the game and be the hero.” Well, the ball came to me and I took the last second shot, only to miss it. We lost the game. I felt so bad, thinking that it was all my fault. In the locker room all my teammates reassured me that we lose as a team and win as a team.

Unlike that high school game, for those of us who are on God’s squad, we win every time; losing is not a part of this game of life. Although the Christian life is not a cakewalk, we will have our temptations and trials just like Christ. So, rejoice that our Christly captain took that last second shot for the world when he said to God our spiritual coach; I’ll surrender my life, I’ll give my all, so the unsaved may obtain salvation from sin. This fearless victory over death secures a win for those who receive it. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

Healthy competition is a good thing when it is kept in the right perspective and proper intention. From a Christian point of view, however, it’s a competitive fight between good and evil, God and Satan. We have to play both offense and defense. We know that Jesus overcame Satan when He defeated death on the cross, but too many times we have to be reminded of that fact. In the game of life, our souls are being influenced by what’s around us and whether or not God is our spiritual coach. Our eternal future is on the line making it essential to come to blows with Satan and stay on God’s squad, truly connected to him. We read in Romans 8:35-39, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.'” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let’s team up with our Lord and captain Jesus Christ where losing is out of the question, but winning over sin becomes our eternal goal of Christian life.

Jesus did not tell us that all our drives to the basket will be easy, but He did tell us that He will show us the way. We know that sometimes we will need to use a full-court press, but we can’t lose if our daily practice includes keeping the faith and keeping our eyes on our captain. As March Madness begins, think of whose team you will play on from a Christian perspective. Will it be on God’s squad or Satan’s losing lineup? It’s your call, but I would strongly encourage you to pick Christ to be your captain and allow God to be your coach and a victorious life is but one shot away. Have you heard the song, Victory in Jesus by Eugene M. Bartlett (1885-1941): “I heard an old, old story, how the Saviour came from glory, How He gave life on Calvary to save a wretch life me; I heard about His groaning, of His precious blood’s atoning, Then I repented of my sins and won the victory. O victory in Jesus, my Saviour, forever. He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood; He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him – He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.”

So, when the final buzzer sounds, whose team will you be on, God’s squad or Satan’s losing lineup?


Genuine Holiness: Serving God & Staying True to Yourself

By: Captain AmyJo Ferguson, O’Fallon (MO) Worship & Community Center

ImageThe usual Christian approach to purity involves this sort of heaping on of the good while eschewing the bad.  If I can listen to the right music, watch the right shows, read the right books, and do the right things while simultaneously avoiding all the wrong stuff, I’ll somehow attain some level of purity.  I suppose this works out pretty well if one really enjoys the Gaither Vocal Band, Lifetime original movies, Janette Oke, and scrapbooking, because those are the things that the church has deemed “pure and right.”

We probably take this approach from the many “Garbage In/Garbage Out” sermons and devotionals that we were exposed to in the late 80s and early 90s.  We use verses like Philippians 4: 8 (“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”) to justify our “try harder” theology.   We keep believing that one day we will be holy enough to vote Republican. I recall one particularly trying time when the party I was traveling with decided to listen to the same two worship CDs over and over again on a six hour journey.  These CDs featured 10 two or three minute songs first with vocals and then again without vocals.  I found myself praying for some sort of temporary deafness as the two adults in the front seat sang, “Ha la la la la la la hallelujah” for the 3rd time.  As they began the 4th time through and I didn’t enjoy it any more than the 1st, I began thinking, “Is there something wrong with me?”

There are people like me who vote a mixed political ticket, love the Ramones, adore Kurt Vonnegut and Lawren Harris and worship Chris with our whole heart, yet we struggle with the church’s idea of holiness.  We are supposed to “be like Jesus” even though Jesus never dealt with a computer, radio or television.  We are supposed to fully consecrate ourselves to Christ and to act in his service.  How does that work out in a two party system where all too often the choice seemingly comes down to morally straight or socially responsible?   I’m afraid that the reason why a whole bunch of people have given up on this holiness thing is that they feel trapped between the church sanctioned ideas of purity and their own sense of good taste and ideology.  Churches are full of “followers of Christ” who in frustration have given up on actually following Christ and that problem extends beyond just the music we listen to and the books that we read.

At this point, some pastors would suggest that we “surrender it all.” I would rather suggest this: Stop pursuing some preconceived notion of righteousness and go on a whole-hearted pursuit of God.  Romans 9: 30 – 32 “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.”  Jesus never really fit into the accepted norms of his day, perhaps the most holy of us don’t exactly fit in either.

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