IDENTITY MATTERS

One of the most basic questions that we all ask is, “Who am I?” This question is usually followed by another question that goes something like this, “Do I matter?” Everyone wants and needs to feel valued and accepted. We have an innate desire to know that who we are and what we do counts for something or someone bigger than ourselves. And so we do, strive, work to become someone who contributes something to someone. 

We want to matter. I wanted to matter.

 

For much of my life I struggled to believe I had worth and value, and hid my struggle really well. I had loving parents, but often felt as though I couldn’t measure up. And so my identity became deeply rooted in a desire to perform and please. I needed that “A” in EVERY subject. I needed to be the captain of the basketball team and the president of the club. I needed to be the Resident Assistant in my dorm and the leader of the Youth for Christ intern team. It was more than using gifts and abilities, I needed to lead and to achieve because I placed my identity in my achievements. Graciously, God still used the talents He had given me and, graciously, He kept prompting me to face my own false thinking.

The more He prompted me, the more I became aware of the false identity I had created. I realized that I was living out of a false sense of self and that I believed the lie that God loved me more when I was good, successful, serving, and “put together.”  

My first real step toward a true understanding of identity was when I truly believed that I was loved no matter what I did or didn’t do. As I surrendered my need for approval and accepted that I already had God’s approval, I began to see myself differently. I began to believe that who I was could best be explained by seeing myself through God’s eyes, and I began to live from a deep sense of wholeness. God began to integrate every part of me into one complete person. I accepted His identity for me. I am His beloved daughter, no matter what.

Identity does matter. The Creator of the universe desires to be our Father and give us our identity which is far greater than any identity I can create on my own. Will you give Him permission to “poke and prod” at your thoughts and beliefs? Will you then allow Him to transform and change your very identity?  You are a new person in Christ; live that way!

 

Deb Hinkel is the Director of Spiritual Formation and Family Ministry at Hershey Free Church. She joined the church’s staff in 2015 after spending fourteen years as an assistant professor in the Church and Ministry Leadership department at Lancaster Bible College. Deb holds a Master of Arts degree in Ministry from Lancaster Bible College; and prior to her work there, she spent fifteen years in church ministry, developing programs in Christian education, children’s ministry, and women’s ministry.

DARKNESS VS. THE LIGHT

A personal reflection from Associate Superintendent Peter Johnson.

Being in darkness is never good when you know that you should be in the light. A month ago, I was mowing the grass and gathering up the leaves one last time before the winter season. The last thing I remember was mowing around the garden next to the garage door. The mower bag was filling up with shredded leaves from our oak tree. The next thing I remember was groggily looking around and seeing doctors looking down on me as I was being placed in an MRI machine.  

Then I was unconscious again until I awoke being wheeled into a bay in the ER, my wife and daughter nearby. I have no memory of what had just happened. I heard them say that I had a broken rib, had a gash in my forehead that needed stitches, and had a concussion. They listed out a litany of possible reasons as to why I might have fallen. Dehydration? Stroke? Heart attack? Seizure?

While ongoing tests are ruling each of these out, we are pretty sure that I was just clumsy, that I slipped while on an incline near the street, perhaps tripping while trying to maneuver the mower with a full bag of leaves. Whatever happened, because of my weak right side, I was unable to put out my right arm to protect myself while falling and I landed head first on my driveway. Fortunately, someone was driving by as I fell, saw the whole thing happen, stopped to help me as I laid there dazed and bleeding, and called 911. 

Once home from the ER, I mostly slept for the first few days, lying flat on my back in a darkened room. Any movement caused aggressive dizziness. Any noise or light was too much for my bruised brain. Now, a month into this experience, the world has pretty much stopped spinning when I try to get up, and the rib is just about healed. While still a little wobbly, I am gaining my strength back and getting stronger all the time. Hopefully after a few more medical tests, I will be cleared to drive.       

I have to tell you, it is very disconcerting to wake up and have no memory of several hours. But the truth is, I have already lost a month to this fall. And what a month to lose. I was only able to observe Advent and Christmas from the sidelines. I totally missed the tree being decorated. I could not handle the light from the first Advent candle flickering across the room. 

As Christmas approached I sat in a recliner watching as the family gathered to celebrate together.  Decorating the sugar cookies. Wrapping gifts. Going on outings with the grandchildren. Anticipating the birth of Jesus at church. I missed it all. 

Laying in a darkened room gives a person time to think. To pass the time and think about Advent themes I had my daughter read to me from a favorite book called The Birth by Gene Edwards (part of the Chronicles of the Door series). In the story, Michael the archangel breaks through the dark, brassy hardness between heaven’s throne room and earth after centuries of silence from heaven due to humanities sin. 

Once more God’s Light would shine upon God’s favored realm. Ultimately the host of heaven would watch in awe as the very essence of Almighty God would shrink, without losing any of its all-encompassing glory, and the doorway between heaven and earth would open into the womb of Mary, implanting this incredible Almighty seed of God into her womb. The door between heaven and earth would eternally be open in the person of Incarnate Jesus. God’s glory in the person of Jesus Christ would now change everything. 

Light would dispel the darkness. 

As we begin a New Year, what darkness is encumbering you? Like me, do you feel like life has come to a standstill? Are you struggling with a desert wilderness because of some emotionally charged quagmire? Has paying too much attention to the darkness of the world around you dragged you down? Maybe there is sin that is causing your heart to become brassy, hard, and dark?  

Let me challenge you as we begin 2018. Psalm 119:105, 130 says that opening the Word … is a light to your path. Commit to reading the Word devotionally, not just to prepare for a sermon but to prepare your soul to follow God’s path for you this year. Why? John 12:35 says we are to walk in the light of the word so the darkness will not overcome you.   

I found it intriguing that the online verse of the day for January 1 comes from Isaiah 43:19 (ESV).  “Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? It will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Listen to what His Word has to say. Talk to Him. Pray that God will release you from the hard brassy darkness in your soul. What new thing does God have waiting for you this year? What path through the wilderness and river in the desert has God already prepared for you to walk through? The doorway to Heaven’s throne is open and well lit.  Because of Jesus, it will never be closed again. There is Light. Walk in it.                    

A 2018 KIND OF LEADER

I’ve been deeply committed to growth as a leader for more than 20 years. Admittedly, I haven’t always had the same idea of what kind of leader I should be. This has often looked different to me, according to whatever stage of ministry or season of life I was in at a given time.

For example, in my earliest years as a pastor, I would often say that John Maxwell was helping me pastor my church. I read everything he published, listened to every cassette (it was the mid-late 90’s!) or CD he released, and I took dozens of church members and staff with me to his conferences. Sp, for about 3 years my two biggest influencers were Jesus and John Maxwell. Jesus was certainly my Lord, but John was my leadership guru. It was a great season and I grew a lot.

As time progressed I found myself being deeply influenced by other leaders with more Church-specific expertise, such as Tim Keller, Jim Cymbala and many other lesser-known but incredible leaders.

Reflecting on this makes me recognize that the objectives of the organization and needs of the people I lead determine what kind of personal growth I should invest in at any given point. 

Because I knew very little about providing clear and concrete leadership, John Maxwell was perfect for me in those early days. When I moved to Staten Island, NY I needed to build on that knowledge base and get more specific to NYC so I could effectively lead there. I chose to learn from other very gifted, more experienced local leaders.    

One thing is certain and unchanging – leaders need to be committed to grow in character and in skill at every stage and in every season of life. And we need help from others on the journey.

Where are you leading others to in 2018? What are your God-given goals? What are your plans to accomplish them? Who are you learning from?

Below are five characteristics that should be true of every Christian leader. You will also see some related blog posts. You may want to subscribe to one or more of them in order to help you grow in 2018. The right blog posts often prick my mind regarding important things and connect me to other pieces of information that I might not know about. Take a look…

Holy: 10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year

Humble: 5 Bad Habits to Break for a Better New Year

Hungry: Ten Critical Trends for Churches in 2018

Hopeful: 19 Leadership Hacks to Start the New Year

Helpful: Hero or Hero Maker: Which Will You Be?

I hope God makes 2018 the most fruitful year of our lives as we become the kind of leaders He wants us to become.

Blessings to you and those you lead!

Eddie

THREE THINGS WE MUST SEE IN 2018

USA Today recently released its list of 10 Must See Films of 2018. What came to mind for me when I scanned the list was how bad things must be here in the real world, because 7 of the 10 movies were fantasy or science fiction. There must be some belief that people need to escape reality.

With all the drama that has accompanied 2017, its understandable. But maybe what we need to do is to fix our eyes on something that is still real, but more hopeful than the daily news.

The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus and reminded them of what they’ve received from the Lord. He told them he was praying for them that they might see all that they have received…

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:15-23

Believers have hope that is unshakable, riches that are immeasurable, and power that is uncontainable.

As ministers of the Gospel, let’s leave 2017 with the eyes of our hearts enlightened to all that is ours, in spite of our challenging circumstances. It’s easy and far too common to forget how blessed we are, but brothers and sisters, let’s go into 2018 not looking for an escape from reality, but with a more clear and comprehensive view of our reality because of the goodness and grace of God in our lives.

Happy New Years!

Blessings,

 

 

THE GREATEST OF ALL HINGE MOMENTS

Near the end of our recent All Peoples East Gathering in Charlotte, a man got up and made a presentation about hinge moments. Do you know what a hinge moment is?

Using a case study from a church in Birmingham, Alabama this man taught us about hinge moments. Though not an EFCA congregation, the church he spoke of was from another solid evangelical denomination. It was located in the center of what is now referred to as the Civil Rights District. Having started in the 1920’s by a pastor who was a transplant from California, the church initially had a profound impact in the community.

In addition to leading many people to Christ, they had a soup kitchen to help feed the poor, they had launched their own radio station and even opened a bible college. Incredibly, they had done this work in Birmingham with both white and black people. Imagine that for a minute – integrated ministry in Birmingham before the civil rights movement! God was clearly doing a beautiful work.

Then, in 1953, the founding pastor had some “friends” reach out to advise him he was about to encounter some really tough times with the a growing civil rights movement. They suggested someone with his talents and skills should consider taking his talents elsewhere…kinda like the pastoral version of when Lebron James took his to Miami. So off he went to another church far away from Birmingham.

Looking back on the history of the church, people say that it was like a spirit of fear came over him. Consequently, the same thing happened to the church. Whereas they had boldly ministered to both black and white people with great impact, the next couple of pastors and leaders gave into fear and eventually stopped trying altogether.

One Sunday morning, Martin Luther King and about 30 others from his movement showed up at the front door of the church. The pastor and others showed Dr. King and his friends their guns and told them they weren’t welcome.

That was a hinge moment. It was the defining moment when the people in the church openly and brazenly allowed the spirit of the age to be more compelling to them than the Spirit of Christ. For decades following this moment, the ministry suffered. Their weekly attendance dwindled from 1500 to 70, the building became dilapidated, and their witness in the community to both whites and blacks was lost. Everything measurable seemed to cry, “Ichabod!”

Then, in the mid 2000’s, a pastor came who had a heart to do ministry for God’s glory among all the people groups in the community. Slowly, things improved, but it just seemed to be such a grind that the pastor brought in an outside ministry to consult them to see what they could do to get over this invisible hump. The pastor and other leaders refused to accept that God was finished with this church.

Together, the church leaders and the para-church organization did a historic survey of the church and discovered the terrible event with Dr. King. They agreed that this was indeed a hinge moment. The departure of the pastor in 1953 had begun a downward trend, but that moment with Dr. King needed to be repented for thoroughly and publicly.

The pastor and leaders called for a solemn assembly and repented corporately for the church’s sinful past. Then they wrote an article that was published in the two leading papers in the city. The letter was an expression of open and heartfelt repentance. Additionally, they contacted individuals and businesses in order to make things right with them. They repented for allowing the spirit of fear to control the ministry. This repentance was another hinge moment.

Today they are once again doing effective ministry in their community. They minister in a way that glorifies Christ with all kinds of people. This no longer means just white and black people, but immigrants and refugees, as well as to members of the LGBTQ community. The church stands as an incredible testimony to the power of God and of repentance that time and space won’t allow for here. 

The point of this post is this… hinge moments are those rare moments in life and ministry when things essentially change. Directions are changed. Moods and outlooks are different than they were before. 

Hinge moments are real and they are sometimes necessary.

We are in a season right now where the greatest of all hinge moments is remembered – Christmas. Looking back on history, that moment changed everything.

Maybe you need to slowly study your your ministry for past hinge moments? Maybe its time for a new hinge moment?

What is true for ministry is also true for us as people. We all have hinge moments in our lives. Maybe we need some new ones?

If nothing else, thank God for the hinge moment of our Lord’s incarnation and our salvation.

Blessings.