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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Thankful for Local Newspaper Story

This appeared in today's St Joseph News Press. I am grateful to Jena for the story, and for her accurate reporting.

Posted: Saturday, August 29, 2015 6:00 am
Several decades after being released from an Oregon prison, the Rev. Jack Hager continues to return to prison several times a week — this time, to minister to offenders as a volunteer prison chaplain.
The Rev. Hager has worked in prison ministry for several decades, spurred by his own experience with incarceration in the 1970s. Now, he focuses on fulfilling the needs of offenders at the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in St. Joseph and Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Mo., several times a week for the last seven years.
“Basically, I think ministry is ministry,” the Rev. Hager says. “You love God and you love people, whether it is a teenager or a convicted murder or a sex offender. Other than the fact that they are confined, it’s really not any different than any other kind of ministry.”
Finding God
After serving in Vietnam, he eventually became a “stereotypical child of the ’60s,” the Rev. Hager says, experimenting with drugs and crime.
“I got busted in Texas on fugitive charges,” he says. “They threw me in a jail cell. A few days later, they found some drugs in the cell, which isn’t terribly unusual. They took everything out except the religious things.”
At 26 years old and “reasonably well educated,” he had never been to church except for weddings and funerals, the Rev. Hager says.
“I’d always believed in God or a higher power or something, but I had no clue what Jesus Christ claimed to be,” he says. “I got bored and read a book that introduced me to the Bible, then I read the Bible for a while. After that, the light went off and I trusted Christ.”
Unlike many people’s journeys to Christ, the Rev. Hager says, his was taken alone.
“It’s unique in the sense that there was no human being directly involved,” he says. “It was just the word of God.”
After he finished his four years in prison, he was released and eventually attended religious training in Kansas City. As an ordained minister, he has planted a church in New York, served as an interim pastor for several churches and works for various ministries including Midland Ministries in St. Joseph. He now also gives presentations about his experiences in prison, ministry and military service.
As a volunteer prison chaplain, he attends Bible studies and speaks at the prison chapel. He is also available for one-on-one meetings with offenders.
“There are some people who think ‘if I just come to Jesus, they will be OK,’” the Rev. Hager says. “But that’s not true. Some sins are legal. Some sins are illegal. If a guy’s got a heavy meth habit, although my goal is to introduce them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s not some simple way of saying ‘now you are going to be a good guy for the rest of your life.’ “
Taking personal responsibility for actions is key to being successful, the Rev. Hager says.
“With or without Christ, until a guy mans up and says ‘I blew it,’ he can’t change,” the Rev. Hager says. “I’m real big on personal responsibility. Coming to Jesus Christ doesn’t make everything all right for anybody. It does long term, but short term, you’ve still got to make your choices.”
His experience in the correctional system is a testament to the fact that it is possible to remain out of prison after being released, the Rev. Hager says.
“I think it helps in some sense,” he says. “It gives me credibility to guys. Whether or not they buy into my faith, I’ve been out since 1977 and I’m making it.”
The biggest challenge comes when offenders are released and can face more temptations, the Rev. Hager says.
“Some of these guys, they hit the gate and they aren’t supposed to associate with someone who’s got a record. But mom’s got a record. Dad’s got a record ... It’s really really tough,” he says. “I think anyone can make it on the street if they’ve got the want to, but it’s really really difficult.”
He encourages the men to get involved with a church, if possible, after their release, and encourages churches to be open and accepting.
“I tell churches not to patronize the guys,” he says. “They aren’t your token ex-convicts. They are just the guy who happened to be incarcerated for a while. Treat him just like a brother.”
He hopes that more people will be interested in working in prison ministry in the future, but acknowledges that it isn’t right for everyone.
“It’s not for everyone,” he says. “I don’t like going to nursing homes. Some people don’t like going to the prisons. And that’s OK. But I’d recommend they try it sometime.”
In the end, it is a rewarding volunteer role, the Rev. Hager says.
“It’s seeing a guy come to the faith, number one, that’s rewarding,” he says. “And it’s seeing a guy with that glimmer of hope that ‘yes, I can make it.’ “

It's Not All Relative...

While reading the August 31 issue of "Time" I came across an interview with Beverly Johnson.

I had no idea who she is; after skimming the article I guess she was/is a famous model.

Not much of interest, but her answer to the last question reminded me of the importance of "little" words.

She was asked, "When do you feel the most beautiful?

Her response?

"I feel the most beautiful when I'm really speaking my truth in my soul..."

Catch it?

"my truth"

It reminded me of the former governor of New Jersey who in August of 2004 resigned after the married man realized one of his male lovers was going public.

In his resignation speech he said, "At a point in every person's life, one has to look deeply into the mirror or one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world, not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but as it is. And so my truth is that I am a gay American..."

"Thy Word is truth." "I am the truth."

We who follow Christ and His Word need not be ashamed of truth.

Therein is the danger in saying things like, "What this verse says to me..."

It is not relative. It is truth. It says one primary thing (yes, there may be application etc, but it is not flexible like jello).


Stand on it. 

Rest in it.

Share it.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Preacher's Reality

Stumbled across these two quotations this morning.

Resonate deeply with both.

After all these years, after all these sermons, these prove true in deepening measure:

“There is no good preacher who is not moved almost to the point of tears at the end of every sermon at how poor was the message he just delivered.” Spurgeon

"...any man who has had some glimpse of what it is to preach will inevitably feel that he has never preached.” Martin Lloyd-Jones

I have outlines etc for hundreds of sermons in my files. There are some messages I preach often; if you've ever camped with me more than two weeks you know that to be true.

But I work hard and plan hard to have new messages birthed out of my regular study and intake of the Word.

Another Spurgeon favorite: "He who has ceased to learn, has ceased to teach. He who no longer sows in the study will no more reap in the pulpit."

Teens and younger men often ask me if I'm still scared before I speak.

"Yeah," I say - often surprising them -, "If I'm not scared it means I'm relying on me instead of the Spirit of God...I treat seriously the Biblical warning - 'Let not many of us become teachers, for as such we shall incur the stricter judgment.'"

Thursday, August 20, 2015

It's All About the Heart

Ages-old truism, "Many people in North America will miss heaven by about 18.5 inches."

Lots of Jesus/gospel in head, no Jesus/gospel in heart.

Yeah, if you are a nitpicker you'll slam that, but I'll ignore you.

This is one of the most heart-wrenching yet heart-encouraging videos I've ever seen.

It is loaded with illustrations.

What's your takeaway? I'm really curious, so let me know in the comments...

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"The Battle Starts Now"

Pioneers for Christ (aka "korean kamp) camp ended this Saturday noon.

At least the six days together came to a halt...

But, as a camper facebooked me just a moment ago, "The battle starts now."

In prison we talk about inmates "leaving Jesus at the gate."

Too many campers also "leave Jesus at the driveway out."

This particular camper does not want to have the stereotypical "camp high."

Thankfully, many others also want to keep fighting the good fight.

We are saved by grace but grace works (because it is He who is at work within us both to desire to do and to do His good pleasure)

As I have at every camp this summer, I encouraged the young men and women to "S.T.A.N.D.":

Study (no way they can grow without a regular, systematic intake of the Word of God)

Talk (prayer is our declaration of dependence)

Assemble (be part of a local church, not a mere attender

Notice (be aware of what's going on in your life, your family, your neighborhood, your country, your              church, etc)

Do (It's not enough to know God's will, it must be done)

It was a great week. Exhausting, but exhilarating. A time to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.

Jacob and I got some Chinese to go this evening. The fortune I found in my cookie reads, "One learns most from teaching others."

I'm still processing what I learned this week, but the premise is true. The hours of preparation and prayer (and the prayers of those who support Jane and I in prayer and finance), culminate in a 45-minute (or so) message, hours and hours of hanging with campers, and the ongoing relationship with many maintained by mail, email, facebook, phone, etc.

Why did God elect to use me this way? Beats me. But I sure am blessed to be able to do what I get to do...

Off to New Jersey in a couple days to "do" the final camp of the season.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Enough to Convict?

I've been in vocational youth ministry since 1977.

I served with Kansas City Youth For Christ for a number of years.

Back in the day we did "Russian meetings," in which we'd have off duty police or military men barge into the meeting, "arrest" us, take away our Bibles, with the intent of showing how our brothers and sisters lived in the former Soviet Union etc.

Usually such a meeting would end with the question, "If Christianity were suddenly declared illegal in our nation, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

I think about that often as I look at the Facebook pages of friends who profess to be Christians.

If Christianity were declared illegal, would there be enough evidence in your social media to convict you?

Perhaps worth pondering, honestly.