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The Red Bucket & The Ringing Bell

I am about to tell you a secret, dear Reader, that only I and my husband know. It's a secret I've carried for many years now and one that comes each Christmas. My secret is this:

I cannot walk by the Salvation Army bucket without putting something inside.

As soon as I hear those bells start ringing outside of shopping centers around Thanksgiving, I get so excited. My husband sees my face and often says, "Uh-oh," in a joking manner because he knows what's about to happen. I scrounge around in my car and wallet looking for even a penny that I may give to this mission. I walk along the parking lot, searching for any coin a passerby has dropped. I want to put in money when I go into the store and put in money when I come out of the store. I am compelled to give all I can into that little red bucket. Why? Because I know its story. I know its history and it is one that lit a fire in my heart years ago. Every year I am extremely tempted to stop and ask the bell ringer a specific question - "Do you know about the history of that bell in your hand?" I want to ask them, "Do you know the Founders of this great mission and why it all began?" The bell ringer should know. The church should know the history of this ministry that began as so much more than an outreach to the poor.

I was 19 the first time I heard the story of the founders of The Salvation Army, William and Catherine Booth. I listened to their story and my heart was stirred. I later bought a book that gave me more in depth history and the flame was fanned even more. Their desire to help the poor, the homeless, and the outcast was beautiful, but it wasn't that focus that stirred me alone. It wasn't even their focus alone. The true mission of the Booth's passion is seen in the very name of their work: The Salvation Army. Their hearts were burning to see souls saved and lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and Fire. The cry that they radically shared was the rallying call to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what that little bell is all about that is ringing in parking lots each Christmas - the call to Jesus. Not a call to social justice. Not a call to simply feed the poor and provide saving shelter from the cold, but a call to a salvation that is eternal and much more important than a temporary grace. Still, if a meal or shelter leads people to that True salvation, I will give all the money I can. So each year I am compelled to give.

The name Salvation Army is exactly how the Booths intended their ministry to be known - as an army of God's people bringing the light of the gospel boldly to the lost. Their intention in the name was that believers would "fight the good fight of faith" against sin and the Devil; to burn bright with the fires of the Spirit and to passionately advance the Kingdom of God. William and Catherine were both bold in their sermons and bold in their evangelism. In a well-known sermon, Catherine once proclaimed:

We should build churches and chapels; we should invite the people to them; but do you think it is consistent with these two commissions, and with many others, that we should rest in this, when three parts of the population utterly ignore our invitations and take no notice whatever of our buildings and of our services? They will not come to us. That is an established fact. What is to be done? They have souls. You profess to believe that as much as I do, and that they must live forever. Where are they going? What is to be done? Jesus Christ says, `Go after them.' When all the civil methods have failed; when the genteel invitations have failed; when one man says that he has married a wife, and another that he has bought a yoke of oxen, and another that he has bought a piece of land--then does the Master of the feast say, `The ungrateful wretches, let them alone?' "No." He says, "Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled." I will have guests, and if you can't get them in by civil measures, use military measures. Go and COMPEL them to come in. It seems to me that we want more of this determined aggressive spirit. Those of you who are right with God this afternoon--you want more of this spirit to thrust the truth upon the attention of your fellow men.

Oh! people say, you must be very careful, very judicious. You must not thrust religion down people's throats. Then, I say, you will never get it down. What! Am I to wait till an unconverted, godless man wants to be saved before I try to save him? He will never want to be saved till the death-rattle is in his throat. What! Am I to let my unconverted friends and acquaintances drift down quietly to damnation, and never tell them about their souls, until they say, `If you please, I want you to preach to me?' Is this anything like the spirit of early Christianity? No. Verily we must make them look--tear the bandages off, open their eyes, make them bear it, and if they run away from you in one place, meet them in another, and let them have no peace until they submit to God and get their souls saved.

Their mission was clear: reach the lost at any cost. In a day and age when women were not known to preach, when women were expected to keep quiet, Catherine stood boldly by her husband and preached the same gospel he proclaimed. The church sneered at such passion, but William said, "I am for the world's salvation, I will quarrel with no means that promises help.”

William was just as bold as his bride, calling the church to return to firey devotion for Christ. His song, "Send the Fire" has stood the test of time as a rallying cry for the Bride of Christ. In it he penned:

O God of burning cleansing flame

Send the fire

Your blood-bought gift today we claim

Send the fire today

Look down and see this waiting host

And send the promised Holy Ghost

We need another Pentecost

Send the fire today

God of Elijah hear our cry

Send the fire

And make us fit to live or die

Send the fire today

To burn up every trace of sin

To bring the light and glory in

The revolution now begin

Send the fire today

It's fire we want for fire we plead

Send the fire

The fire will meet our every need

Send the fire today

For strength to always do what's right

For grace to conquer in the fight

For power to walk the world in white

Send the fire today

To make our weak hearts strong and brave

Send the fire

To live a dying world to save

Send the fire today

Oh see us on Your altar lay

We give our lives to You today

So crown the offering now we pray

and send the fire today.

Oh, Lord, how the bells of passion for your name need to ring across our land again! How it needs to start in your church! I confess that last week as I was loading Christmas purchases into my car outside of Walmart, the air filled with the bells of the ringer, I heard a teenage girl ask her mom, "Why is it called Salvation Army? Doesn't salvation mean something about church?" I turned, ready to run over and answer them, just as they were getting into their car. I was too late. They drove off without me getting to explain the meaning of salvation to them. "Oh," my heart yearns, "how they need to know. They need to know." As I reflect on how great a truth that statement is - that they need to know - and on how passionate the Booths were to see the glorious gospel shared, I confess now, dear reader: I have a secret that I was never suppose to keep. I must be compelled not just with coins and dollars and "God bless you"s - but I must be compelled to be a part of that Army, boldly sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ - starting with the ones who should have known a long time ago - the bell ringers. I will no longer fail to stop and ask them if they know the reason for their bell and for the Eternal Hope that is offered them this season.

So, dear Reader, will you help me get this secret out this Christmas?


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