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Waging War

The Oscars were on TV last night. This event is like the Super Bowl for Hollywood. In times past, I would love to stay up and watch it. You know, in the days when Billy Crystal and Steve Martin hosted. These days, it has become SO political; I just care not to watch. I don’t mind politics, but when it gets extreme (either way), I tend to tune out because the truth does not usually exist in the extremes. The ratings for the Oscars have been sliding for years, so maybe I’m not alone in my sentiments.

At any rate, there are some pleasant surprises. Since the debut of this cultural phenomenon in 1927, only two films with overt Christian/faith-based virtue have ever won: Ben Hur in 1955 and Chariots of Fire in 1981. One might add Schindler’s List (1993) to the list as well. This is not to say that some great movies with important themes haven’t made the list. For example: 12 Years a Slave (2013), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and Ghandi (1982).

Nonetheless, one performance emerges from the myriad of opinion and speculation in this year’s Oscars race (which I did not watch but read about this morning). It was Gary Oldman’s depiction of Winston Churchill—for which deservedly won an Oscar.

“The Darkest Hour” is a cinematic blockbuster depicting the fate of England in the face of the onslaught of Hitler and the Third Reich. It presents Churchill’s dilemma on how to save his nation when the Germans are about to annihilate English troops near Dunkirk. More than just a historical masterpiece, The Darkest Hour shows leadership in the face of certain defeat. It reminds me of Moses after the 12 spies return home with the news that the Promised Land. Here’s a paraphrased version (Numbers 13:1ff).

Spies: Folks, the good news is that land is really awesome. The bad news is that we can’t have it because the people there are too big and strong.

Joshua/Caleb: Wait a minute. We can do this.

Spies: Dudes (I think this word is in the original Hebrew), you don’t get it; they’re like the Dwayne the “Rock” Johnson and we’re like Chris Rock!

Sometimes, we see our world through this same lens. But as I sat in the darkened movie theater, I wondered what the section of the speech “Blood, Toils, Sweat, and Tears” might say if he were speaking to the spiritual battles we face as the people of God. Here’s what I came up with for your consideration.

“I write to you today to set in print the circumstances facing our movement. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months and years of struggle and possibly suffering in order to apprehend the fullness of the dream God has given to this movement. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, in our homeland and abroad; it is to wage war by getting our hands dirty in the sea of human sin and by using the airwaves to announce Jesus is the Subject. We will do this with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny known as Satan, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human delinquency. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. We will—we must—take back what Hell has stolen for eternity’s sake. This and this alone is the victory!”

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that! (Forrest Gump, 1994)

It's All A Matter Of The Heart

REFLECTION: Thinking more deeply about ministry

Often in our hectic efforts to get through the day, we forget how much we're loved and how much favor (grace) He extends to us, often without us even realizing it. God is all about relationships. He's not moved by ritual, efforts to be self-righteous by keeping the rules or by "lip-service." It's not what we say to Him or even what we do in an effort to impress, please, or perhaps appease Him, it's ALL a matter of the heart. What is your heart's desire? Is it to please the Lord or yourself? To have YOUR way or HIS? To walk in the fullness of His life for you or circle the proverbial wagons and protect what is YOURS?

As important as reading and studying the Bible is, if our efforts to do those things aren't driven by a heart of love for our Savior, it won't yield the right results; it will only lead to further frustration. You don't even need to SEEK God's favor, as His beloved child, it's already yours in Jesus. Accept it. Bask in it. Enjoy it, let it drive you to the Savior's arms for respite, relaxation and renewal.

I love my wife more today than ever before and she's more beautiful to me than the day we met. Why? Because she's opened her heart to me and I've seen the beauty that was hidden until I got to know her as she truly is. It's similar in my walk with the Lord Jesus. I loved Him initially because of all He did for me to make it possible for me to go to heaven, but now, as good as heaven will be, heaven holds little attraction for me, except that I know Jesus will be there. I don't just love Jesus for what He did for me, I love Him for who He is. And the better able I am to understand His heart for me and this lost world, the greater my desire to devote ever fiber of my being to Him and serve Him without reservation.

To the extent you "see" the heart of Jesus, that's the extent to which you'll experience His favor and be driven by your passion to love Him in return.

Place and Person Eternally Together

There is more to life than life; more specifically, there is more to life than this life.

Our ability to live vibrantly results from the confidence we have in our death. If we see the here and now as the ultimate experience, then death become like the school bell at recess — the fun is over. If, however, it signals the commencement of something greater and more valuable, fear and dread diminish. 

If our thinking about life moves from place to Person, the crescendo builds more significantly. The theme music playing in the background of our life swells and rises with anticipation, as move closer to the Person our soul loves. We round the bend of life and before us we see Jesus, Who is the greatest experience of all. Living in relationship with Him, face to face, as it were, eclipses all things. To believe this, moves the center of our world from place to Person and death’s sting dissipates.

Our eternal hope is based on confidence in Scripture. We know the pages of the Bible to be true, so when Jesus tells us He prepares a place for us, He does. When Paul says to be absent from the body and present with the Lord is The penultimate human experience, then it is. The beauty of our future is this: Person and place go together and we need not live in regret. Wherever we are (place), there He is (Person). Period. Full stop. 

There is more to this life than this life. Rejoice in it. Hope for it. Live for it. It is yours!

Are You Person 1, 2, 3, or 4?

Matthew 13 contains the parable of the sower. In verses 3-9, Jesus presents the story to the crowds who have followed him. In verses 18-23, He explains the meaning to his very interested and confused soon-to-be apostles. I know you’ve read it, but let me give you the text again here.

13:3 He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one: “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. 5Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. 7Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. 8Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! 9Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” (NLT)

The text highlights four different kinds of people to whom the gospel is given and the results of the gospel in their lives.

Person 1: The Preoccupied. These are folks who have a chance to receive the eternal gift but because of their preoccupied state aren’t even aware a valuable gift has landed on them.

Person 2: The Pain-Intolerant. This gospel lands quickly and grows fast with this person. Unfortunately, painful life events, like persecution or tribulation, befalls them and scare the seed out of them.

Person 3: The Pleasure-Seeker. For this person, the gospel has grown enough to see it in contrast to the weeds that have also grown. Unfortunately, the need for comfort, wealth, and success “choke it.”

Person 4: The Producer. Here is the person offering the most to the kingdom. He/she hears the word, understands it, and as a result, their life bears much fruit.

Here is what I hear from this text as it applies to me. I believe myself to be Person 4. I’m striving to be Person 4. Other people generally think of me as Person 4. My middle name could be “Producer” since I’ve been able to make good things happen in my ministry. BUT, if I’m not careful, I can easily be lured into the challenges of Person 3. One part of the problem is my American value system; my society rewards and expects rewards for hard work. Another part is my background. Having grown up with little can make one want to have more later in life as some sort of delayed compensaion. Furthermore, “wealth” is more fun than poverty. I must continually fight Person 3 who lives in me so that I can always be Person 4.

What about you? Where do you find the struggles in life?   Which of the above best describes you? It’s only as you own your reality that great strides can be made. Hit me up if you wanna talk about it.

God's Presence Leads To God's Practice

Pastor Ed Hager is the guest author for this edition of the eNews.  Ed is now retired and living in the greater Dallas area to be near his grandchild.

“Pastoral ministry is hard work and is not for the faint of heart. As a pastor I was sometimes asked: "What do you do anyway? You get up and talk on Sunday morning, but what do you do the rest of the week?" In some respects, that's a hard question to answer, isn't it? As pastors we wear a lot of hats, and depending on the size of our congregation, we often don't have much help. People have very high expectations of us and, as a rule, we're "pleasers" and don't want to disappoint anyone, especially if they're in leadership, so it often pushes us in some directions we'd rather not have to go.

So, when I was pastoring, anytime I had opportunity to hear from someone who was making progress in their ministry, whether in preaching, counseling, evangelism, children's ministry, leading worship - you name it, I wanted to hear what they had to say. Why? I wanted to be the best I could be for the Lord and for the people I served. But for me, after hearing their story, the initial "high" I rode coming home from the seminar or conference, and all the enthusiasm I gained by going, seemed to seep out while I was sleeping. The next morning I was facing the same issues that drove me to the meeting in the first place, and not understanding the dynamics of the process the speaker had gone through, I had fixed in my mind only the picture of his or her resultant success that I wanted to duplicate, not the often lonely and difficult journey that got them there.

Jesus asked in regard to John the Baptist, "What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see?" (Mt. 11:7b NLT) In other words, "What were your expectations? What drew you to John?" I believe that's a fair question for us as we travel the country or read books to find answers we'll only find in our own heart. So, am I implying we shouldn't listen to or read the stories of others? No, not at all. What I'm saying is, we need to search our own hearts to discover what we're really looking for and what motivates us to seek that in the first place.

Having pastored in Florida, I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know our recent 1-Day Seminar leader, Ken Love. I'm retired, so all of my pastoral problems are behind me (can I hear a "Hallelujah!"), so why would I want to drive hours to a leadership conference and listen to a man I've heard speak many times? What were my expectations? What motivated me to attend?

As I near the end of my life and ministry, the driving passion of my heart is to know Jesus and serve Him without reservation. The Bible is more alive to me in this season of my life than ever before. My heart aches for my loved ones, friends and neighbors who don't yet know the freedom, peace and joy of moment-by-moment fellowship with the Lover of their soul. I long to see people I've never met lining the hallways of heaven to tell me they know Jesus because of my influence.

What's my point? I no longer attend conferences to learn "how-to's," I go to hear the speaker's heart. Why? Because it's through their heart the Lord will speak. God doesn't very often speak to me through methodology; He speaks through passion for Him. Methodology grows out of the determination to do whatever it takes to let the Lord have His way in our lives and do what's He's calling us to do.

Ken Love's heart burns with passion for Jesus and I love to be in his presence, simply to watch him "burn." His methods, the journey he's traveled to get where he is, is personal and unique and probably wouldn't work for me if I tried to "copy" it in my life, church or ministry, but what's transferrable is his desire to listen to the Lord's heart and obey His leadings. I can do that and so can you, my friend. It was worth the effort I made to attend the meeting to hear brother Love say: "His Presence leads to practice. Everything flows out of Presence."

There was a point in Pastor Ken's life when he was experiencing deep sadness, heaped with shame because it seemed no matter what he did, it wasn't enough, it didn't work (been there!). So in a conversation with the Lord, the Lord asked Ken, "Are you sad for me or for you?" And, like me across the years of my defeats and failures, Ken responded, "I'm sad for me." And the Lord said, "If you can find a way to shift 'sad for you' (shame) to 'sad for Me' (Godly sorrow), you'll find your destiny." Then brother Love said to us, "The shift from shame to sorrow comes through experiencing His majesty. If God can't do anything in us, He won't do anything through us."

The Lord doesn't want to lead you or me down the same path as Ken Love or Andy Stanley or anyone else who is blazing new trails for the Lord. He wants to lead us down our own pathways of adventure, ultimately shaping OUR passions, OUR longings to serve Him well, OUR heart's desires to do something that will pay eternal dividends in the lives of those who are watching us "burn" for Jesus.

So, yes, go to conferences, read books, learn all you can about the "how-to's," but don't ignore the investment of time needed to listen to the voice of God as He speaks directly to YOU about HIS passion to develop YOUR heart. Don't be so overly concerned about what you'll preach next Sunday, as you are about opening yourself to your people in such a way as to allow them to listen to your heart. Before you can share good news, you have to BE good news. It's not about content as much as character. Let them watch you "burn." Bask in the majesty of God and let Him turn your shame into sorrow, creating for you the pathway to your destiny in Him and for Him.

I love men of God like Ken Love and Tim West. They bless me just being in their presence.”

Qualified Leaders

January 29, 2018
On this day: In 1555, agents of Mary Tudor degrade and condemn the Protestant bishop John Hooper along with John Rogers, Rowland Taylor, and other preachers of the Reformation. Hooper will be executed the following month.

REFLECTION: Thinking more deeply about ministry
2 Timothy 2:2 reads: And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” This verse illustrates three important aspects of leadership development.

First, it addresses the issue of conviction (“the things you have heard me say”). Leaders must possess a compelling sense of persuasion and conviction in the absolute truth of the gospel message. This is one of our biggest gifts we share with the world around us. It moves us to action and shapes the service we perform. One should not be invited to lead who does not share the conviction of Scripture.

Second, the leadership of the church must be “entrusted” to reliable men and women. By legal standards, a trust is a sacred endeavor and responsibility, and in this way, it’s akin to a will in intent. Who is this great responsibility given to in the church? It’s to persons of character; people who are faithful, sure, and true. It’s not a task for just anyone.

The final mark of quality leadership is communication, or an ability to teach others. Little good is accomplished if one cannot transfer the gospel from oneself to another. Because of the trueness of Scripture and the trueness of the leader, the message will be imparted truly and received as truth.

If I had to only choose two things to do in kingdom work, I have come to the place where it would be these: winning the lost and building leaders. The second cannot happen without the first, but the first will not happen with second. They are undeniably and indelibly married to one another.

Blessings to you as you seek to build leaders with conviction and character to communicate the sacred and eternal gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Care Initiative

REFLECTION: Thinking more deeply about ministry

Church of God Ministries was able to secure a special Lily Endowment grant to help pastors in various stages and circumstances of their financial life. It’s called the CARE Initiative. Financial security for the believer is an interesting issue. On the one hand, Proverbs tells us to accumulate “wealth” slowly, bit by bit (Proverbs 13:11; 28:20). And yet, Jesus says don’t worry about it and instead pursue the kingdom and all things will be given to you (Matthew 6:25ff). Which is it? Get ready, here’s the answer: it’s both!

I’m not playing politician (no shut down here!), but there is wisdom in both. As we live this life our first love is Jesus and his kingdom not money. So we make monetary decisions with this first priority in mind. Tithing is one expression of our spiritual commitment. At the same time, the last I checked, it still takes real money to buy real stuff. I’ve tried to buy stuff with my looks, but it’s not working; what’s wrong, people? Today, let me offer a few financial principles, without explanation, that might help you as you begin the New Year.

  1. God is the source (Philippians 4:19).
  2. Giving (tithing) is an essential expression of real discipleship (Luke 6:38; Dt. 14:23).
  3. Keep a budget (Prov. 23:23—the Bible doesn’t talk about budgeting but it talks about wisdom. Budgets are wise, grasshopper!).
  4. Save bit-by-bit (Prov. 13:11; 21:20; 28:20).
  5. Avoid unwise debt (or any debt) (Prov. 22:7; Ps. 37:21).
  6. Live with contentment (Heb. 13:5; Matt. 6:25ff).
  7. Do not co-sign on a loan (Prov. 27:13).
  8. Work hard—it’s one of your greatest assets (Prov. 14:23; 28:19).
  9. Seek godly counsel when you need help (Ps. 1:1; Prov. 15:22).

So where does the CARE Initiative come in to this conversation? This program may help you in the following ways.

Financial Planning. This is FREE to all pastors/spouses and you may receive 3 sessions.

Retirement Assistance. If you are 40 years old or less OR you have less than 10 years as a credentialed minister, you may receive up to $3,720.00 in retirement assistance.

Education Debt Assistance. If you are 40 years old or less OR you have less than 10 years as a credentialed minister, you may receive up to $3,000 in annual contribution to student loans.

Transition Assistance. Any pastor who finds him/herself in a transition may apply to receive up to $1,500.00 in 3 monthly installments during transition.

Overture. Servant Solutions offers an additional benefit to pastors who can see the finish line of ministry (often called retirement). It is for those pastors over age 50 that wish to focus on their financial readiness in a retreat format.  This experience is designed to give you (and your spouse) a time of rest, reflection and preparation as you look to the future in your financial life and retirement planning. 

As you can see, WE (national, state, local, and you) are in this together. WE want to be of help in all areas of your ministerial life—including finances. I hope you will take advantage of these offerings.

Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. For many people in our country, this day celebrates the sacrifices he made for particular causes in our country. For all of us, it should commemorate and encourage the continuing fight against injustice in whatever form it may take. After all, the Scriptures speak to this in the following manner:

  • “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor (Leviticus 19:15).”
  • “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9).”

Here are a few words about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was the most visible and well-known leader of the Civil Rights Movement, King was a Baptist minister who helped advance civil rights through non-violent methods based on his Christian beliefs. King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and helped lead the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott early in his career. After the unsuccessful Albany Movement to end segregation in Albany, Georgia, he organized the March on Washington in 1963 where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Though he alienated many of his liberal allies by calling for opposition to the Vietnam War, he remained highly popular. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In the midst of planning the Poor People's Campaign in Washington D.C., he was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. His death sparked massive nationwide riots. In 1986, Martin Luther King Day was inaugurated as a federal holiday. (https://www.onthisday.com/people/martin-luther-king-jr)

Coretta Scott King wrote describes the meaning of the holiday in the following way: “The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate as well the timeless values he taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.” Go to http://www.thekingcenter.org/meaning-king-holiday to read more.

A New Definition Of Illiteracy

REFLECTION: Thinking more deeply about ministry
Today’s reflection is not for the faint of heart. So, get a cup of orange juice and a bowl of oatmeal and get ready to read.

The following quote is from a book I’m reading entitled, “Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World” by JR Woodward.

“The sociologist Alvin Toffler once rightly observed that the illiterate of the future will not be those that cannot read or write. Rather, they will be those that cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. If you are indeed willing to unlearn the cloying, missionally impotent ecclesiology of the traditionalist paradigms, and subsequently relearn what the Bible itself (and the history of missions) directly says in this matter, then there will be much hope.”

Two things jump out at me from the above quote. First, it’s the new definition of illiteracy. As the author highlights, the new illiteracy relates to one’s ability to learn, or more precisely, to unlearn limiting practices and relearn empowering ones. Human beings tend to be creatures of habit and these routines can shelter us from exploring new ideas and experiences. Please understand, habits are not necessarily bad. In fact, they help us through our day. They make life more effortless and often promote comfort. But, if ministry practices are never re-examined, illiteracy will mark the ministry. It will stymie growth, reach, and connection with our mission field.

The second observation is this: previous paradigms of ministry probably need to be re-conceptualized to rebirth missional vitality. The truth is that many leaders already realize this already but just needs to figure out how to make the change. To strengthen ministry, you can read a book. Attend a conference. Talk to another leader. Take a class. Listen to a podcast. Watch a webinar. These are all great ways to stimulate creativity in the re-conceptualization process. I would recommend something in addition to these: talk to an unbeliever. If our mission is to reach lost people, then perhaps we should talk to lost people and figure out what they think is important. The church must always be biblically organized but this does not preclude incorporating ideas from those we are reaching.   Remember, learning comes in a lot of forms.

Since you’re reading this eNews, I know you are not illiterate in the traditional form. I trust you are not illiterate as defined earlier, either. Life is too short to do ministry habitually. So…

Look up and see your destiny!
Genesis 15:5

A Reflection About Life

REFLECTION: Thinking more deeply about ministry
It’s been exactly 53 weeks since my wife was re-diagnosed with breast cancer. This time it was Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer. When we received the news, it altered our plans for 2017—dramatically! As you can imagine, these have been difficult days.

Many of you ask about Cindy and how she is doing, so here is the word at the moment. We live with what we call a new normal. She is able to do most things, as before, but she is just a bit slower and more deliberate. The newest treatment plan seems to be working although she finds herself much more easily fatigued. She (we) no longer accept the doctors’ estimate of life-span projections instead submitting to the will of the Great Physician. She (we) believe God can heal her directly or that He will inspire research to find a cure. Either way, to God be the glory.

While this unexpected and undesired turn of event is most challenging, it has helped me (us) to learn and re-learn some important life lessons.

First, Cindy is of great value to me. Not so much because she makes a great lemon-chicken asparagus rice dish or she folds a mean sheet, but because she is one of my teachers and mentors. She helps me grow as a person and as a professional. I can rely on her to give me the unvarnished truth without fear that she is trying to take advantage of me or lead me down scurrilous paths. I can trust her. Every pastor needs a spouse like this. For our ministries to be healthy, we need healthy and helpful co-laborers who share our bed with us.

Second, we have re-learned the value of a day. The scriptures remind us that all we have is ­ day. There are no promised tomorrows. Once today is gone, the only thing that remains is memories and lessons. This means today, right now, is eternally important. Thus, we need to live with a divine sense of urgency. We need to act as though tomorrow may not come. Of course, I’m not advocating recklessness, like those who pontificated on the return of Christ and everyone sold their belongings to wait on the prophesied time. I’m talking about following the promptings of the Spirit promptly. Act now when we are clear we should. We cannot assume tomorrow will come to speak a word, perform a deed, mend a broken relationship, or anything else.

Three, we are embracing relationships in new ways. We have decided that we will not be apart from each other unless we both are very clear we should be. Time together is treasured. We also spend more time with our kids and grandkids (better known as young Jedi to Yoda Tim). We want them to know us, and the God we serve, in a way their parents can’t teach them. We also want to spend more time with you, as we are able. You are important to us because God, in his unquestionable wisdom, has placed us together for this season. And for this reason, I need to listen to what you share with me, and you should listen to what we can share with you.

We do not despair, though, despite the circumstances. We live by Philippians 1:21, which reads: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” We also live by Philippians 3:8: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” I hope 2018 will be a time of gain for you, despite the challenges and circumstances you may face. Press on dear friends!

Look up and see your destiny …
Genesis 15:5

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