Rader Theme Challenging
By Mark A. Kellner –
One of the opportunities the Great Victory Congress provided was the chance to hear from General Paul A. Rader in a concentrated form. Over the course of three days, there were a half-dozen such opportunities, which is more than many of us get in the course of a year.
New Frontier asked this writer to bring the General’s words to its readers. What the reporter got, however, was more than just grist for a summary of sermons. Here, then, are some perspectives on the words a leader shared in Long Beach.
Packing the house is nothing new at the Long Beach Arena. It’s happened long before The Salvation Army rolled into town, but it was nonetheless exciting (and a little surprising) to see section upon section of the seating filled with ARC beneficiaries, new soldiers, retired officers, all before the bulk of the crowd could come in. To this diverse, massive crowd, the General’s first words were a call of challenge and encouragement.
“We were meeting with some of our men and women of the ARC,” he said, recalling that one of them described his arrival at a center succinctly: ‘When God was taking out the trash,’ this ARC client said, ‘He picked up me’.”
That was not a view shared by Rader, whose late father, Lt. Colonel Lyell Rader, O.F., ran the Army’s famous “soul-saving station” in New York’s Times Square more than 50 years ago: “If in your eyes you’re trash,” he declared, “in the heart of God you’re pure treasure. He reached down and gripped us in our needs.”
Like a refrain in a song or epic poem, that image of God reaching down and lifting up fallen sinners was repeated again and again by the General, who first quoted Psalm 18:16, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.” (NIV) He spoke of a new Salvationist, Lurabal, in Sao Paolo, Brazil, who through this Army found deliverance from Satanic oppression, and testified that God reached down and lifted her up.
“No matter how ensnared in the powers of evil, Jesus Christ can reach down and rescue you tonight,” the General declared. “We come praying that God will make plain the way to you.”
Throughout his talk, the General mixed modern imagery with ancient truths: “We can’t all afford a cellular phone,” he told the new soldiers on Friday night, “but we can by prayer be in touch with God.”
Then, he challenged his audience to avoid using their soldiership to “cocoon at home to avoid infection by the world,” but rather to go forth and reach those in need of the same truths they received.
“Our God specializes in things thought impossible,” he declared. “There is a world yet to be won, and we are working for the salvation of the world.”
The General then referred his listeners to Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
Yes, it was repetition of the same point, but no, it wasn’t repetitious or boring. From different angles, the way one might walk around a unique sculpture to appreciate its form and texture, the General came back to his theme in different ways.
If one way to measure the effectiveness of a message is the response of the audience, then the sight of kneeling Salvationists, hundreds of them, at the conclusion of those Friday night remarks was the sign of a very effective presentation. But what is one to say when you add the sight of hundreds more in the balcony standing in response, praying with the masses below?
Talk to an entertainer, Bill Cosby, say, or even Fred Rogers, and you’ll likely hear that young people can be a tough audience. Kids and teens are sharp, savvy, with a built-in detector for the false and phony. Now imagine the appeal of a man decades removed from his teen years to today’s cyber-aware generation. If you think there’d be little appeal, you weren’t sitting in the Center Theatre in Long Beach’s Convention Center on a recent Saturday morning.
In that space, bracketed by loud “rasta”style Christian music and without the traditional podium, the General delivered a heartfelt message that not only captivated the young crowd, but also connected with their thinking, if the audience response was any indication.
His theme, oddly enough, started not from scripture but from popcorn. A book by Faith Popcorn, to be precise, she being a corporate consultant and “futurist.” Her latest work, Clicking, attempts to define important trends for the near term and beyond, and urges readers to get their lives in sync with these future trends.
Ms. Popcorn uses the word “Click” as an acronym: “C” is for having the courage to say that perhaps you don’t want to continue with what you’ve been doing; “L” is for letting go of that life; “I” is for insight into what you want to do; the second “C” is for a commitment to find a way to do it; and “K,” she says, is for the know-how to accomplish those goals. The General, in turn, suggested the committed Christian life as the only one in which it is truly possible to click. He recounted example after example of young Salvationists whose lives “clicked” when they put their service behind the furtherance of the Gospel.
“I need committed young people to make their lives ‘click,’ and to work with me for the salvation of the world,” he declared. “Will you join me?” At that request, hundreds of young people stood in commitment.
Earlier that morning, he made the notion of striving in the Christian life relevant to an audience of hundreds of men. He recounted the story of a man in India whose life had been one of dissipation and despair, until turned around by the influence of a Salvationist, who brought the man to the Lord. Now, someone who used to drink and abuse his family is climbing mountains and living a productive life, a testimony to the transforming power of the Gospel, the General said.
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(l) interest Mrs. General Rader
For a church that eschews some of the sacramental practices of other Christian fellowships, The Salvation Army does have its own particularly sacred moments. One such is the day in which new lieutenants are added to the ranks of officership. In this moment, when a leader might bask in some of the reflected light of these new ministers, this leader downplayed his own role and focused attention where it belonged, on the God in whose name they all serve.
“I have special power to ordain,” General Rader declared. “I only affirm that God the Holy Spirit has ordained them.”
And for a ceremony where things can often happen by rote, this General made the moment special for each officer.
“May you dream a dream of God, a beautiful dream, and by the grace of God may you make it happen,” he told one. “May God keep you questing for his best,” he said to another.
“May you ever know God’s guidance along the way, so you may move ahead with confidence,” was his charge to a third.
Some of the General’s words could not be recorded by this writer: they were in Korean, a language he mastered in 22 years of service there, and showed yet another effort to make the day and the ceremony one of meaning for each individual.
Not forgetting the audience who had come both to cheer the new officers and hear a message for their hearts, the General’s sermon that Sunday morning focused on the theme of victory, and its application to individual lives.
Contrasting “a world of ‘I deserve,’ a world under the spell of the false sanction of Eros, a world in which the self has become the substitute for the soul,” the General declared this “a world of skewed values and false hope.”
He said, “Life is not about things but about people. The faith that overcomes [is faith] that snuffs out the pollution of the world. The faith that wins is the faith that works by love.”
The outworking of that faith need not be in a remote location, he added.
“There is no other evidence of salvation that we need to see today than in the healing of broken families,” he said. “If you’re looking for a mission field, why not your kitchen?
“This victory brings deliverance from the fear and finality of death,” he added. “If you think this is a victory congress, wait until that scene around the throne.”
In a wrap-up that would gladden the heart of any corps officer, the morning message drew the kind of response many would hope for. Hundreds poured into the aisles near the front of the theater, prompting concern for fire law violations and extending the prayer session of the service. Those present testified to changed attitudes and renewed purpose.
You can add my name there: hearing the timeless message of the Gospel afresh, I, too, responded.
Mark Kellner and his wife, Jean, are soldiers at the Pasadena Tabernacle Corps.