Commencement address 2016
‘Blood, toil, sweat and tears.’
By Edward Hill, Lt. Colonel –
If you had been alive in 1940, you would have known that World War II was shaping up to be a blowout. The military forces of Nazi Germany were having their way throughout Western Europe and North Africa. Hope was fading fast, but the tide would turn. It began—in my mind—on May 13, 1940, when the newly elected Prime Minister of England, Sir Winston Churchill, made his first public address in front of the House of Parliament and made this declaration: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat…”
Churchill would stand tall to the free world as a beacon of hope, a mountain of strength, and a “messenger of light.” History confirms that Churchill was the right person in the right place at the right time with the right message to lead his nation to victory.
I believe God has called the Messengers of Light—and all contemporary Salvationists—to this moment in time, to this place and, I would suggest, with a message and ministry reflected by the four words spoken long ago by Churchill: blood, toil, tears and sweat.
Messengers of Light: Preach the blood of Jesus Christ.
Years ago, I went to see the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” As I entered the theater, three clergyman were leaving dressed in their formal pastoral attire. I asked, “What did you think of the movie?” The men replied practically in unison, “It missed the point.” Now, I know what they were saying: the controversial movie about Jesus’ crucifixion was likely tainted, in their minds, by “too much suffering; too much anguish; too much blood.”
And yet, I would argue that the blood of Jesus is the whole point of the Christian message. It’s the blood that saves. It’s the blood that cleanses. It’s the blood that motivates us to share the gospel with the unsaved.
Messengers of Light, there are lots of topics for you to teach and preach about, but don’t stray much “from a hill far away where there stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame.”
Preach the blood of Jesus Christ.
Messengers of Light: be prepared to toil in ministry.
I wish I could assure you that being an officer was easy…that ministry is like sailing on smooth waters. The reality is that being an officer is sometimes a grind.
Your advisory board will second-guess your decisions. Finances may get tight. Your flock will sometimes truly smell like sheep. And your divisional commander may occasionally seem unreasonable.
The response of the Messenger of Light to hard days should be faithful endurance. That’s what it means to toil. The called of God press on even when things are difficult because when they do, God draws strangely near.
Pastor Wang spent many years in a communist prison camp in North Korea and because he refused to renounce his faith in Christ, he was given the worst job in prison—cleaning out the cesspool. Pastor Wang would share later that he did not mind because the smell was so bad that the guards would leave him alone, so he could pray and sing as much as he liked.
Pastor Wang’s favorite song during those days was this hymn:
“I come to the garden alone,
while the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And he walks with me and he talks with me
And he tells me that I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.”
“The cesspool was my garden,” said Pastor Wang, and “God my ever present companion.”
Preach the blood of Jesus. Be prepared to toil in hard places.
Messengers of Light: be ready to shed tears.
Jesus was. When Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary died, John 11:35 records, Jesus wept.
A young and rather green lieutenant didn’t have much to say or counsel to offer when a family’s patriarch was disconnected from life support, but to his credit, he did stay close at hand until the old man slipped into eternity. Now, some decades later the daughter of that parent still thanks the lieutenant every time she sees him for just being in the room, sharing in the sorrow of the family, and shedding a tear at a moment of loss.
Messengers: Guard against a calloused heart, a crammed schedule, or detachment from the hurting. Cultivate empathy and sympathy with your people…shed tears.
Toil through hard times. Preach the blood of Jesus Christ.
Finally, Messengers of Light: be willing to work up a sweat.
1 John 3:18 says, Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
I believe that the College for Officer Training is a fabulous institution. You’ve been blessed with a wonderful staff and a challenging curriculum. You’ve honed your skills and sharpened your mind through academic study. Keep that up even as you leave here.
The Army can always use another MBA, MSW, MFT, MLS, or MDiv, but what congregations and communities are truly starving for in this territory—from Anchorage to Yuma—are officers with pure hearts, common sense, and a willingness to break a sweat. Those are the essentials to fruitful ministry.
I’m embarrassed to admit that when I went to my first appointment I holed up in my office for hours writing A+ sermons. They were sermons about serving and saving the lost; living a life of love and compassion; evangelizing the world…while outside my closed door was a steady stream of people coming in and out of the reception area. These people were not particularly interested at that moment in my well-reasoned theology, but rather desperate for help to solve real world problems. It wasn’t until I flung open the door of my office and met people at the point of need that I began to grow chest hairs as a Salvation Army officer.
Messengers of Light, starting next week, you will receive as generous a compensation package as any officer in the Salvation Army world. The security and benefits provided by the Army will be far beyond what most other denominations give to their entry level ordained pastorate. In return, the Army, your congregation and community have every right to expect you to put in a full day’s work, to make ministry a 24/7 priority, and to pursue excellence in all you do.
Break a sweat as if it depends on you because in Anchorage to Yuma and 500 places in between, it may.
Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of classic books like “Treasure Island,” spent his childhood in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 19th century. The familiar story goes that as a boy, Robert was intrigued by the work of the old lamplighters who went about with a ladder and a torch, setting the street lights ablaze for the night.
One evening, as young Robert stood watching with fascination, his parents asked him, “Robert, what in the world are you looking at out there?” With great excitement he exclaimed, “Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”
That’s the divine calling placed on you and me.
Jesus declared, “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
In my mind, the best way to shine light in the darkness is by preaching the blood of Jesus, by toiling with a faithful endurance, by shedding tears with people in crisis, and sweating as if it depends on us.
Just as Winston Churchill was the right person at the right place at the right time with the right message for the free world in the dark days of World War II, so God has positioned us to minister in the present age.
Messengers of Light: Follow God’s call. Be faithful. Depend on him. Punch holes in the darkness.
God bless you and your ministry.