By Cheryl Luke, National Director of Cultural Communities

So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife.

Genesis 16:3 (ESV)

Hagar was a woman with no voice. An Egyptian captive, pregnant with another woman’s child. Powerless to control her environment, and rather than submitting to Sarai, she chose to run away to escape her mistreatment. While wandering in the desert, in utter distress, Hagar had an unexpected encounter with God that would alter her thinking and change the trajectory of her life.

“She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13 NIV).

The Lord saw her! A writer for Christianity.com notes, “God saw Hagar in her faults, she despised Sarah.” “God saw her frustrations.” He knew she was powerless and abused, and “he saw her fear.” He found her wandering, alone, in the wilderness, with nowhere to go.

To say Hagar felt lonely, afraid, and…

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You’ve heard people say that you can’t take your money with you when you die. But that doesn’t mean you can’t send your resources ahead of you. 

The Bible says, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20 NLT). You can store up your money in heaven by investing in the purposes of God. It’s the most secure investment you can make because it yields dividends forever.

Any good investment strategist would tell you not to put all your money in one place. God’s financial wisdom is no different. We need a diversified giving portfolio. Specifically, God calls us to invest in five funds that represent his purposes for our lives.

1. Treasury Fund

The first purpose of life is to know and love God. The Bible calls this worship. One way you can express worship is to contribute to the Treasury Fund, which is based on the principle found in Proverbs: “Honor the…

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Leadership is influence. The quickest way to see if you’re a leader is to look over your shoulder. If no one is following you, you are not a leader.

If leadership is influence, then influence is earned by respect. If you don’t have the respect of others, you’re not leading anyone. 

So how can you become a leader who people respect? By developing these six characteristics:

  1. Integrity.

“Respected people do not tell lies” (Proverbs 17:7 GNT).

Integrity is the foundation of any good relationship. Your character as a leader matters. D.L. Moody said, “Character is what you are in the dark.” Your character is who you are when nobody is watching. 

A reputation isn’t the same as character. People build reputation instantly. But it takes a lifetime to build character. The key to a good reputation is having good character. And character is what you have left when you’ve lost your reputation.

The leader who walks with integrity is free to be confident. They’re not afraid of anything, because they  don’t have any skeletons in their closet. Genuinely confident

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Spiritual growth isn’t automatic. Your congregation must be intentional about growing spiritually. They won’t grow by accident.

The same is true corporately as a church. As pastors, we need to be intentional about helping people grow in their faith. Discipleship, spiritual growth, spiritual maturity—whatever you call it—is one of the five purposes of the church. You won’t help people grow unless you specifically focus on it. 

Paul tells us, “Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity” (2 Corinthians 10:6 The Message). 

To be intentional about helping people grow, we need tools. One of the most important spiritual growth tools we employ at Saddleback is sermon outline handouts. 

When I was a teenager, I read a U.S. Air Force statistic that showed we forget 90 to 95 percent of what we hear within 72 hours. And that’s a depressing statistic for pastors! 

That means that despite all those hours you devote to studying Scripture to deliver a life-changing message, your listeners will forget most of it in just…

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Risk and ministry go hand in hand. You can’t have a faithful ministry if you’re not willing to follow Jesus into places that make you feel uncomfortable. 

In Part 1 of this article, I wrote about how fear keeps us from fully following God’s leadership in our ministries. Once you step past fear, the next step is to go. But the Bible teaches us that taking Jesus-led risks isn’t the same as rashness. Throughout Scripture, you’ll find five principles for how to move forward when God calls you to take a step of faith.

  • Get the facts.

Faith requires risk, but those risks shouldn’t be foolish. It’s important that when you’re making a big decision, you follow the wisdom of Proverbs 23:23: “Get the facts at any price” (TLB).

Getting the facts at any price means reading a book, attending a seminar, or searching the Internet. You could also talk to someone who has already been where you want to go and ask them some questions. 

As I was finishing seminary,…

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Taking risks is a vital part of ministry. You don’t need to take every risk in front of you, but you do need to take every risk God calls you to take, even when you’re afraid. 

Maybe you’re uprooting your family to go somewhere new to serve the Lord. Or you’re starting a new ministry, and you have no idea how you’ll fund it. Opportunities like these will require you to take faithful risks, because “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV). 

Why is it important to God that we learn to take risks? Because he wants us to learn to trust him. And we can’t lead others to live by faith if we refuse to do it ourselves.

Throughout the Bible, God calls people to take risks in faith. In Exodus 14, before the Israelites crossed the Red Sea with the Egyptians in pursuit, they became fearful. Here are four things we learn from the Israelites about fear.

  1. Fear makes us skeptical. 

“ said to Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out…

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The Path Back to God

By Rick Warren

“When you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”

Jeremiah 29:13 (The Message)

When you’ve drifted away from God, how do you get back to him? What does it look like to “get serious about finding” God again? 

Be honest with yourself because nothing is going to change until you admit that things aren’t working as they should. Finding God requires your full commitment—half measures won’t work here! You will need to want it “more than anything else.” 

God wants to be first in your life; if you are distant from him, something else has taken the number one spot in your heart. You will need to do some significant soul-searching to discover what has taken God’s place. Then you need to confess your sins to God. He loves you unconditionally, just as you are! But you need to ask for his forgiveness for the things you’ve done that have taken you away from him. 

Once you’ve said yes to Jesus, you’ll never lose your relationship with him. However, when God isn’t…

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By Dickie Everman

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)

As I read this verse, it reminds me of when my wife and I had taken one of my daughters and three of our grandchildren up to see the Ark Encounter in northern Kentucky. We spent one day at the Ark, which was amazing, but that’s another story.

The next day we took the grandchildren shopping for school clothes. I am not sure how this always happens, but we were in a clothing store, and Bennie, who is four, and Abagail, who is seven, found the table with closeout toys. I told them we were there to buy school clothes, not toys.

To make a long story short, I gave in and bought the toys. Bennie had picked out the Star Wars ship, the Millennium Falcon. I decided to go ahead and pay for it, so that I could take him to the car and the girls could continue shopping. He was so excited to open the toy to…

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By Mary Jane

I’m a grateful believer in Jesus who struggles with life hurts and low self-confidence. My name is Mary Jane.

My childhood memories consist of a typical loving home, rules and regulations, attending church activities regularly, and being the youngest of four daughters. When I started school, I was told I had a speech defect. I was held back to repeat the 2nd grade while my friends went on to the next grade. I was left behind feeling stupid. I often felt out of place because of this. If that wasn’t bad enough, I knocked my permanent front teeth out in the 3rd grade, which also affected my confidence. As a child, I never remember anyone saying anything negative to me, but in my mind, I thought I was not as good as others.

As an adult, I got married, divorced, married a second time, and started a family. When I went to work outside of my home, I thought I had to dedicate my life to being successful, to be a “somebody” so people would like me, and I could show everyone I was as good as others.

A job offer came…

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There will be times in ministry when you’ll want to quit, especially when your efforts get criticized and you become discouraged. You may even write a resignation letter. It happens to all of us. 

But persistence is a key attribute in ministry. Paul understood this because he had every reason to quit. In 2 Corinthians 4, he gave a laundry list of reasons to be discouraged. Yet twice he said, “We do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1 NIV).

What was Paul’s secret to persistence in ministry? In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul highlights seven motivating principles we can apply to our own lives to help us persevere in ministry.

  1. Remember God loves me.

“We don’t become discouraged, since God has given us this ministry through his mercy” (2 Corinthians 4:1 GW). 

Recognizing God’s love and mercy gives you the courage you need to navigate difficult seasons in ministry. God knows everything you’re going through, and he wants to help you.

Paul remembered the grace God showed to him. He wrote, “Whatever I am…

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Spiritual ruts are common to every believer. Having been a pastor for more than 60 years, I’ve discovered it’s easy to fall into spiritual slumps—times when even as pastors we don’t feel close to God. 

David experienced this in his walk with God. He wrote about it in multiple places in the Psalms, including Psalm 71: “O God, do not be so distant from me” (v. 12 GW).

We don’t lose our salvation when we go through these dry spells, but we do lose the joy God wants us to have in our relationship with him.

How do you know if you are in a spiritually dry season?

First, you’re no longer focused on loving others. Your heart grows cold. You preach the Bible week after week, yet Jesus isn’t warming your heart. Ministry becomes a duty, not a delight. 

Second, you stop taking steps of faith. Your vision shrinks.

Does that sound like you? There’s hope. God provides some important insights from 2 Kings 6 about what to do when you’ve lost your “cutting edge.”

In this…

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No matter what you do vocationally, whether you’re a full-time pastor, bi-vocational pastor, or a lay leader working another job, your work life matters to God. 

And since you’ll spend 40 percent of your waking hours at a job, the hours you spend at work are a big part of what God wants to do in your life. 

The Bible says, “Commit your work to the Lord, then it will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3 TLB). That’s an amazing promise every one of us can claim. Notice there is a premise to that promise, though. God says we need to commit our work to him in order to succeed.

How do we do that? The Bible gives us four keys to committing our work to God: 

  1. Seek God’s direction.

“The Lord is pleased when good people pray” (Proverbs 15:8 GNT).

Over and over in the book of Proverbs, the Bible tells us that planning and prayer go together. In the same way you can’t score a touchdown without a game plan, you need more than hard work to succeed….

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