Friday, May 21, 2010


Here’s a classic quote from William Booth’s excellent little book Purity of Heart. Maybe you’ve seen it…

"A Pure Heart will make you a blessing to those around you, and that not merely as a result of what you do, but from the fact of what you are. (NOTE: The emphasis is mine. This is a h-u-g-e point, as “being” will always trump mere “doing.” – W). People will, no doubt, be drawn to love Christ, and seek Salvation, and fight for The Army by what you say and sing. Your appeals and your prayers will all affect them; but if, in addition, you possess this treasure, they will also be led to God and holiness and Heaven by what they see you are!" (again, the emphasis is mine – W)
– General William Booth
Purity of Heart

Holiness of heart, of life, of mind, of attitude, of purpose, of mission… These hallmarks were all at the core of Army teaching, emphasis, theology, and practice. After all, we identified ourselves, and saw ourselves very much as a holiness movement. The telltale marks of a holy life were easily seen by everyone from the proverbial “poor lost girl upon the streets” and men living under bridges, to the aristocracy and royalty.

But fast-forward to today and answer this question – Are we still seen as holy people who are part of a larger holiness movement?

Unfortunately, the answer is a frustrating “that depends..."

Why the lack of a definite answer? Because the truth of the matter is that there really is no corporate, all-inclusive answer. The question can only be answered by YOU as an individual. Not the General, not the Territorial Commander, not the Doctrine Council, not your corps officer, but YOU.

You see, it’s this simple: The Army will only be seen as what YOU decide and show it to be. That’s the point Booth was making in the quote above.

So if we use the everyday lives of those who wear the name “Salvationist” as our measuring stick – and you already know that everyday lifestyle, habits, and actions are among the most accurate measurements people around us have for determining what the Army is and how the Army behaves – could we still be accurately described as holy people who are part of a larger holiness movement, as mentioned above?

Here’s the simple fact of the matter, gang… People see who and what we are. That is, they quickly connect the dots that our lives, words, attitudes, and actions give them, and arrive at their own conclusion. The Army will be seen as a holiness movement only if others see you and me living holy lives.

So whaddya say…? Let’s go for it!

Keep your altar ready and your fire hot…!


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Covenant Thoughts

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking over and pondering the nature of covenant. Partly because the Prayer Warriors session is only a couple of weeks away from prayerfully signing their Officers Covenant , which is always a very moving ceremony for me. And each year, as Covenant Sunday approaches, I’ve also made it a practice to re-read James Garlow’s excellent little book on the subject – cleverly entitled The Covenant – as well as Commissioner Ed Read’s classic Keepers of the Covenant.

Add to all this the fact that I’ve recently had the chance to read through the manuscript of a fine, soon-to-be-published book on covenant by a Canadian Salvationist.

All in all, I’ve been enjoying a fantastic reminder of the unique covenant relationship I’ve entered into with God, as a Salvationist and as an officer.

Each of us, as Salvationists, has willingly bound ourselves to God by at least one of three different covenants: the Junior Soldier Promise, the Soldier’s Covenant (previously The Articles of War), and the Officer's Covenant. The terms, declarations, and promises we commit to in these covenants very much defines how we relate to God and others, and describes what people can expect of us by way of our actions and values.

In the forward to Commissioner Read’s book, then-General Paul Rader shared well-worded insights about the relationship between Salvationism and covenant when he wrote:
If there is one thing that sets Salvationists apart in these times more than any other it is that Salvationists are people of Covenant. If you want to know what makes the Army tick at its best, then you must understand the compelling significance of Covenant. A single woman officer refuses to abandon her post in a region exploding in cruel violence. A young couple defies all the stereotypes of their generation in a willingness to reach the people of a country recently reclaimed from Marxism. A former officer in his nineties in Communist China is still loyal to his calling after 45 years of separation from all the usual supports of his Salvationism. A man and wife whose marriage is under stress press their way through to a deeper commitment to one another and to their family and future. An aging husband devoted himself entirely to the care of his now helpless wife whose darkening mind the kindly light of reason has long since been denied. It’s all about Covenant.

…This is an era of contractual negotiation, of ensuring that one’s options are open, that one always preserves the chance to cut and run when the going gets tough or the constraints of commitment too binding. Covenant is a very different arrangement. Benefits and options, important as they may be, are not the issue

…We never needed to understand [Covenant] more than now. It is vital to the understanding of every Salvationist who may have been dedicated under an Army flag, later sealing their Soldier’s Covenant as they entered the family of faith and enlisted in this global fighting force. [Covenant] is what makes members into soldiers, and faithful attenders into fighting units. It is what makes otherwise sincere supporters the very stuff that makes an Army.
Tell me…when was the last time you read through the covenant(s) that you’ve promised, and signed before God? Why not take a look today and see the extent to which your life matches what you’ve promised?

Keep your altar ready and your fire hot…


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mind the Gap

Recently, I was living in London as a delegate to the Army’s International College for Officers (“ICO” in Armyspeak). All in all, it was an extremely memorable experience, spiritually, relationally, as well as culturally!

Living in any culture that’s different from your own, however, always requires some degree of getting used to. Take Americans going to England, for example… Although both countries speak the same language (more or less), you have to get used to the fact that there are words common to both cultures while having completely different meanings. These differences run the range from being innocently funny to sometimes embarrassing or potentially offensive! It takes getting used to the fact that the two countries have completely opposite ideas as to which side of the road you should drive on. Now this is no big issue if you’re a passenger in a vehicle, right? You just sit in your seat and enjoy the ride. But this “which-side-of-the-road-does-traffic-come-from" difference can be hugely life-threatening if you’re a pedestrian! I never got the hang of which way to look before crossing the street. In fact, it was nothing short of God’s grace and protection that allowed me to leave England before I became a hood ornament on a London taxi!

Let me focus on another point of English culture for just a moment. Specifically, I want to call attention to the little three word phrase that you regularly see or hear when you travel by way of the London rail system – “Mind the gap.” Those three words are prominently posted on signs as well as stenciled on the edge of train and subway (“tube”) platforms. And when the train you’ve been waiting for pulls into your station, you’ll also frequently hear a crisp, English-accented robotic voice cautioning you again to “Mind the gap, please.”
The constant written and verbal reminder is a safety thing. It’s intended to continually reinforce the point that the presence of a “gap” represents potential danger.

This truth has an application for Christians, too.

You see, unless we’re careful and intentional about such matters as how we live, what we value, what motivates us, and how we care for our souls, dangerous inconsistencies – “gaps” – can develop between what we profess and what people actually see.

Now let’s face it… There’s a long list of areas and aspects of our spiritual development that can lead us down one of the many roads to “Gap-ville.” But I’d like to focus on a particular one that many believers seem to fall into. As I said, this isn’t the only gap believers fall into, and perhaps it’s not even the widest one. But from my experience, it’s among the most popular of gaps that we seem to step into: compartmentalization.

Compartmentalization happens when a believer, instead of seeing their life as a consistent, related, connected whole, views his/her life as having different sections or unrelated, independent “compartments.” They have a professional life compartment, a personal life compartment, social life compartment, and so on. Each compartment carries its own set of rules, standards, and dynamics, and allowances. And to their thinking, what happens within the sphere of one life compartment really ought to have no bearing, influence, or consequence on another.

A few years back, an officer was talking to me about his upcoming furlough. “When I go on vacation,” he said, "I’m not an officer...!”

“Really?” I answered. “So then what are you? Who are you?”

He wasn’t simply referring to the fact that for the time of his furlough he’d have a period of time where he was out from under the daily responsibilities of phone calls and assorted meetings. No, he explained to me that he would regularly live a completely different life for the period of time he was on vacation. He was making very clear the fact that he compartmentalized his life and ministry. It made me think of the old country preacher’s line, “if you ain’t who you are, you are who you ain’t!”

Now let’s be realistic…each of us have a number of roles we’re responsible to fulfill, right? But unlike a pearl necklace which is a series of independent components merely strung together, our lives are meant to be more like cut and polished diamonds, where our roles and responsibilities are nothing more than facets of the one stone which help to add beauty and uniqueness to it.

Check this out from The Message

You're fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent.
But if you're not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent
with what you believe…then you know that you're out of line.
If the way you live isn't consistent with what you believe, then it's wrong.
Romans 14:22-23

So when you look at your life, do you see a consistent whole, or a fragmented, inconsistent, sectioned-off series of differing compartments? As believers, and especially as Salvationists, each of us would do well to persistently “mind the gap.”

Keep your altar ready and your fire hot...!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

One Date -- Two Milestones!

February 11, 2009 – just one year ago today – Fan the Flame first began; a small, insignificant pinpoint in the cyberspace blogosphere, really.

It started because of an incessant urging from God’s Spirit within me. You know that feeling…? Well this was one of those things that He just wouldn’t let up about (I guess that’s what’s meant by incessant, huh?). But I wrestled with the insecurity of thinking that I really didn’t have anything unique or significant to add to what others had said – and continue to say – so much better than me. I mean, c’mon…if you’ve ever read anything on this site, you’ve figured out pretty quickly that I’m not exactly what you’d call a scholar, right? I don’t possess any particularly special insights, and there’s certainly no one waiting in line to label me an intellectual! But still, God had lit something within me that I couldn’t shake – a 21st century “burning in my bones,” so to speak. So He just kept poking at my heart in that way of His, prodding me to do some small thing that might be used to, well…“fan the flame” of Christian passion, holy living, and Army mission.

So if FtF has ever – in any way – been useful, challenging, or encouraging to your Christian life, thanks be to God and His constant nudging! So may this Flame, as well as the flame of your holy passion, burn hotter and brighter in the days ahead of us.

Now let me tell you about the other flame that God ignited on this date…

On February 11, 1978 – thirty two years ago now(!) – Barbara Leidy and I became Willis and Barbara Howell! God’s gifts and blessings are always more than we deserve, aren’t they? That’s certainly the case with me being blessed with a life-partner like Barbara.

As often happens with the gifts God gives us, I have to admit that when we were first married, I didn’t come anywhere close to grasping the extent of the blessing I had been given with this woman, let alone all that she would come to mean to me (people who know me understand just how dim my bulb can be, at times!). But moment by moment, experience by experience, one day at time, the pages of thirty two years of life have steadily turned. His “Barbara gift” has continued to unfold, bringing delightful surprises and ever-deeper blessing. I find myself now filled with with wide-eyed wonder and gratitude to God for His incredible gift of Barbara to me.

Now as I look back from my present vantage point over the story of our life together – from then till now – I see that like any couple we’ve had our share of storms, challenges, and struggles (Barbara would call them “opportunities”). But what stands out as a testimony of God’s faithfulness to us, however, is that the problems and “opportunities” have only served to cause us to hold tighter in our love for each other and to drive our shared roots deeper into our dependency on God’s protection and grace.

For thirty two years, I’ve been blessed to have Barbara beside me, to feel her support of me, and to be on the receiving end of her love for me. Over this time, I’ve been rescued from any number of my own dumb choices or crazy ideas by her incredible, God-given insight, and have come to rely on the unimaginable peace of heart that comes through her prayers on my behalf. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am far deeper in love with her, more strongly attached to her, and have a much greater appreciation for her now than ever before in my life. You see, we haven’t simply grown old together – we’ve matured together in Jesus.

I guess some flames just burn hotter over time…!

So here’s to anniversaries -- long ones and short ones -- and the Lord who works in and through them all to His glory.

I love you, Barbara…

Keep your altar ready and your fire hot…!


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Critical Question

Here's a great question from John Piper...
"The critical question for our generation -- and for every generation -- is this: If you could have Heaven with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with Heaven if Christ were not there?"
Now that ought to get you thinking...!

Keep your altar ready and your fire hot...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Beware of Imitations

Here’s a question for you…

What is it that makes a Salvationist a Salvationist?

I think there would be general agreement that a case could be made to support the idea that not everyone who wears an Army uniform is a Salvationist. It's a complete reversal of the old axiom: clothes alone don’t make the man (or woman, as the case may be). Now of course an equal case could be made for the flip side of the issue in that not everyone who doesn’t wear a uniform – or attend a corps, or in some other way align themselves with the Army in a denominational sense – isn’t a Salvationist.

So if all that’s true, then let’s come back to the question… What’s the “it” that brands or identifies someone as a Salvationist? What defines one? What is “it” that sets the genuine article apart from the “wanna-be’s” and posers? Working from the assumption that we can readily recognize one when we see one, what is “it,” then, that would cause any one of us to sit up and say “now there’s a Salvationist”?

Here’s another way of asking it: Are Salvationists Salvationists because of their actions, or do they do what they do because they’re Salvationists?

To my thinking, I’m not sure that I could put my finger on any one thing that specifically sets the Salvationist apart from the Salvationist. But I’m convinced that the “it” factors that make the difference have to do with certain attitudes of the heart, such as a burning inner passion, a goading and compelling holy determination, a complete abandonment of self to such an extent that whatever grieves or breaks the heart of Jesus grieves or breaks the heart of the Salvationist to the point that they have to do something about it.

Lately I’ve been reading through Talks With Officers, an old Army book from way back in November of 1920. The book is simply a collection of old Officer Magazine interviews with General Bramwell Booth.

One of the interesting features of the book comes at the end of each of the interviews. After Bramwell has had his say about a given subject or concern, there is a closing quote from his father, William. Now I have no idea as to whether Bramwell asked that these specific quotes be included or if the editor added them on his own (NOTE: One way or another, however, the quotes would’ve had to have Bramwell’s approval. If he didn’t choose them himself, he certainly would have had to give his endorsement of their addition before the book ever got within a mile of a publisher.). Either way, the quotes are highly motivating and thought provoking.

Here’s one that caught my attention. It relates to this very matter of Salvationist vs. Salvationist :

If you are a Salvationist, your lips will say so; your clothes will say so; your holy life will say so; your prayers and tears and songs will say so; your standing up for God in the face of a perverse and rebellious generation will say so; your efforts to save people from sin , and devils, and Hell will say so. The word of the Lord will be as fire in your bones, it will compel you to speak – that is confess your Lord.

While there cannot be the possession of Salvation without the profession, there can be the profession without the possession. You can have the form of a thing without the spirit which the form represents.

-- William Booth

The guy sure had a clear way of putting things, wouldn’t you say?

So let’s use Booth’s description above as the basis for a little exercise in self-examination…

If someone were to follow you or me around every minute of every day for, say, a solid month – listening in on all of our conversations, taking note of everything we wore and what it communicated about our values, observing our lifestyle and attitudes, documenting the TV shows and movies we watch, the books and articles we read, the music that entertains us, hearing our prayers, keeping a record of the passions that stir us – what would they conclude at the end of that month? Salvationist, or Salvationist?

It’s kin
d of like telling the difference between a genuine, first quality watch – built with all the materials and precision Swiss craftsmanship that allows it keep accurate time – and the cheap look-alike, knock-offs that are sold on the streets of some large metropolitan cities. Put the two side-by-side, and they look almost identical at first glance. But the pretender just can’t stand up to a closer examination. There are shortcomings and inconsistencies in the fake that just aren’t there in the authentic Swiss watch. And before long you’re aware that the performance difference between the two will only become more and more evident over time (no pun intended). You see real quality isn’t cheap. It comes at a cost, and you know it when you see it.

The same is true when it comes to the quality of a genuine Salvationist spirit. It can be cheaply imitated, but it can never be truly duplicated by any artificial means. Oh, let’s be clear…the pretend version can be made to look similar to the real thing. But like the watch, over time the difference only becomes more and more obvious. You see, the real spirit can only come from the real Spirit. And while it’s available to everyone, only those willing to pay the price of complete self-surrender actually receive it. And again like the real Swiss watch, you know “it” when you see it.

What was it the General said…?

While there cannot be the possession of Salvation without the profession, there can be the profession without the possession. You can have the form of a thing without the spirit which the form represents.
So what about you…? Real or imitation? Salvationist or Salvationist?

Here’s a thought – why not ask God to give you His answer since He’s the one who does, in fact, take note of all we do and why we do it.

Keep your altar ready and your fire hot…!


Monday, January 25, 2010

Daily Bread, Daily Blessing

Sooner or later, lettuce wilts, meat spoils, milk turns, apples get soft and mushy, bananas turn black… In short, food rots.

Hardly an insight, I know….

But who of us has never experienced the unique stink of a rotten egg? Is there anyone reading this who has never mistakenly swallowed a big gulp of milk gone bad? Can we each relate to the strong churning in your stomach that happens when you find and – foolishly – open the mysterious container long buried in the back of the refrigerator, only to find – and smell – the black, fuzzy thing that 3 months ago was a leftover half of a tomato?

So let me say it again – in spite of our best efforts to prevent it, eventually all food rots.

This is why when we’re hungry, none of us want a year-old orange, or a piece of chicken that has sat opened and exposed on your counter top for the last 3 weeks. No, we want something that’s new, unopened, just-baked, or freshly picked from the valley of the Jolly Green Giant. This is also why we need a constant supply of fresh food, because what was good for yesterday may not, in fact, be good for today.

Evidently, even Heaven’s bread rots. Way back when the Hebrews first left Egypt for the Promised Land, they had to wrestle with the rot-factor of manna sent from the very hand of God. You remember the story…?

God had miraculously delivered the entire nation of Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Perhaps as many as 2 million people were suddenly on a group hike away from the only place they’ve ever known – Egypt – and the only life they’ve ever known – slavery. As they left in something of a rush (see Ex. 12:33), they understandably took what food they could, including, according to Scripture, their unleavened bread dough (Ex 12:34).

Well you certainly don’t have to be a biblical scholar to figure out that regardless of the amount or variety of food they might have had with them, there’s no way it could last very long when you’re trying to feed 2 million people a day, not to mention the effects of desert heat on unpreserved food. And sure enough, not long after “…the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt…” the Israelites are giving Moses an absolute fit over the fact that they now don’t have anything to eat. Moses passes their complaint up the line to God.

The Lord said to Moses, "I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel. So tell them at twilight you will eat meat, and every morning you will eat all the breayou want. Then you will know I am the Lord your God.'"

That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost were on the desert ground. When the Israelites saw it, they asked each other, "What is it?" because they did not know what it was.

So Moses told them, "This is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. The Lord has commanded, 'Each one of you must gather what he needs, about two quarts for every person in your family.'"

So the people of Israel did this; some people gathered much, and some gathered little. Then they measured it. The person who gathered more did not have too much, nor did the person who gathered less have too little. Each person gathered
just as much as he needed.

Moses said to them, "Don't keep any of it to eat the next day." But some of the people did not listen to Moses and kept part of it to eat the next morning. It became full of worms and began to stink, so Moses was angry with those people.

Every morning each person gathered as much food as he needed, but when the sun became hot, it melted away.

Exodus 16:11-21 (NCV)

Time after time throughout the Exodus story God has to continually drive home the point to the Israelites that He wanted them to depend on Him constantly and completely for protection, guidance, blessing, and – as this story illustrates – provision. “Don’t try to stockpile my blessings. What you gathered yesterday doesn’t count for today. And all that I provide for you today is just that – for today. You don’t have to s-t-r-e-t-c-h what I give in the hope of making it last longer. I won’t ask you to warm up bit of blessing leftovers that you have to try to preserve somehow. I don’t work that way. Rather, I have an infinite store of graces, and gifts, and mercies, and blessings that I’m anxious to share with you daily. And make no mistake, I WILL PROVIDE!”

So God gives them a practical object lesson to drive home His point. God caused the manna from heaven to rot – quickly.

When Jesus taught His disciples – the original bunch as well as the present-day group of us – to ask the Father to “give us this day our daily bread,” it wasn’t because refrigerators and modern food storage techniques hadn’t yet been invented! No, it was a manna reference. Jesus was pointing to the fact that God still wants to be depended on to provide the daily gifts, graces, and blessings we need. Why? Because, in the figurative sense, God’s blessings grow stale when we try to hoard and hold them past their daily expiration date.

In spite of that fact, many Christians (in the West, anyway) are frustratingly content to settle for a once-a-week, pre-packaged Sunday serving of God’s blessing. Now understand, many of these same folks will move heaven and earth to ensure they have something fresh and nourishing to eat – multiple times a day! But when it comes to the daily care and nourishing of their souls, rather than spending time each day gathering a ration of new and nourishing blessings fresh from the hand of God, they choose to gnaw on some fuzzy out-of-date bit of spiritual leftovers of gifts and graces that simply were not meant to last beyond the day they were given. And then, adding insult to injury, they drag themselves around in their spiritually under-fed and weakened state, wondering why it is they have little or no spiritual stamina and/or power!

It’s just not the way God set it up to work! His faithfulness in providing for our daily soul-nourishment is custom made to intersect with our obedience in coming to Him to receive. And when His provision and our obedience come together you have a believer who has the understanding described in Annie Johnson Flint’s classic hymn (SASB #579):

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase,
To added afflictions he addeth his mercy,
To multiplied trials he multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father's full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, his grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of his infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

Don’t let God’s blessings rot out from under you. Instead, go to Him every day for more!

Keep your altar ready and your fire hot…!