O.S. Hawkins is president and CEO of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Prior to beginning his service at GuideStone in 1997, he served as the pastor of the historic First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas; before that, he was senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Hawkins has served as president of the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference and is the author of more than 25 books, including the best-selling The Joshua Code and The Jesus Code. His newest book is The James Code: 52 Scripture Principles for Putting Your Faith into Action (Thomas Nelson). He recently visited with Executive Editor Michael Duduit.
Preaching: You have written The Joshua Code, The Jesus Code and now The James Code. So, you have a knack for breaking codes! What is The James Code all about?
O.S. Hawkins: This came about actually when I came to know Christ. I was 17, and an old gentleman put a piece of paper in my hand that morning. I didn’t know Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were books of the Bible. I could count on one hand the times I had been in church. He said, “Son, you’re going to need this. Memorize it.”
It said on this little paper: C-O-R with a 1 and a 3. It was hieroglyphics to me. I soon found out it meant 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says, “There is no temptation that has overtaken you except that which is common to mankind. God is faithful and will not allow you to be tempted but will make a way to escape.” I cannot tell you, in my first few months and years of my Christian walk, how many times I was in temptation’s corner; and that verse I memorized the day after I was converted to Christ came up in my mind and kept me on the right line.
Scripture memory always has been something very important to me. Recently, I was listening to my 7-year-old granddaughter quote a whole passage from one of the psalms, and it dawned on me that there are so many believers—so many pastors—who haven’t memorized a verse of Scripture in years and years. So, out of that came that first devotional, The Joshua Code, from Joshua 1:8: “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you should meditate on it day and night.” The Joshua Code is 52 Scripture verses every believer should know.
I believe there are 52 verses in the Bible every believer ought to know. It’s a year-long devotional journey where you memorize a verse a week, and a lot of churches have been taking their people through this. The issue was not trying to get people in the Word of God but getting the Word into people. The Joshua Code came about that way, and I had no intention really to follow up; but then I was reading the gospels devotionally and was taken by how many times Jesus asked questions in the Bible. So, I wrote The Jesus Code, which is 52 Scripture questions every believer ought to know and be able to answer.
The James Code follows that. It is 52 Scripture principles. As you know, James is the most practical book in the New Testament. They are synergistic in nature, because there are only three relationships in life. There is the outward expression, relationships we have with each other in the social arena, at home and at the office; we are made to connect with each other. There is the inward expression, the relationship I have with myself. Then there is another expression that differentiates us from all the other created order: We have the opportunity to come into relationship upwardly with God though Jesus Christ and know Him in the intimacy of Father and child. The bottom line is that we never are related properly to each other until we are properly related to ourselves, and that’ll never happen until we are finding our self-worth in Christ by being properly related to Him.
The Joshua Code really is about the upward connection; it’s devotional. It is getting the Word of God into hearts, and The Jesus Code is about the inward expression, giving an answer of the hope that is within us, and having the ability to answer the 52 most important questions in the Bible. Now, The James Code is about the outward expression because it is so practical, as is James. These are scriptural principles that move us into action.
Preaching: You spent many years as a pastor. I’m sure you preached in James, and maybe through James. How much of the material that you developed for this book came from your sermon material?
Hawkins: Most all the application and relevancy is new (I hope), and the illustrative material is new. My first pastorate was in 1970 in Hobart, Okla., and I was 24 years old. I got out there by myself in the pastorate, and I decided that every sermon I preached, I was going to prepare it as though it might be in print someday. I knew they wouldn’t, but it disciplined me to have an expanded outline, a detailed expanded outline, to footnote everything I had. Through the decades of my pastoral experience, every sermon I preached, I did that with full manuscripts and stuff. So, I have thousands of sermons in my file to which I can refer back.
I had the research done, the word studies and all the information there when I did The James Code. When I was in Fort Lauderdale, I preached for two years through the Book of James, and I went back through and I had so much of that research there and so much of the study that I had done through sermon preparation. I wouldn’t have had it if I just slapped at it and put a few notes down on the paper. I had all that already done, so that was so helpful. To bring it up to date and relevant to issues of the day—that was the real hard part of writing the book.
Preaching: That’s a great practice. I hope some of the young pastors reading this pick up on that the idea of keeping that material, because you never know when you’re going to come back and use it again.
Hawkins: That’s true; and you know, I’ve always been a firm believer that if a song blesses people and they hear it, there’s no reason that a soloist shouldn’t sing it again sometime. If a message is really anointed of God, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be preached. R.G. Lee must have preached “Payday Someday” thousands of times!
Preaching: James lived in the first century, and here we are living in the 21st century. What does James have to say to people and the issues that impact their lives in our own day?
Hawkins: It’s so relevant and so misunderstood actually because James is not about faith and works. James is about a faith that works. It’s so relevant. He dealt with so many things, and he’s writing (as you know) to these people who were stressed and scattered. They were under tremendous persecution, and religious liberty was a big issue of the day, just as it is for us. Civil disobedience was in play, as we find in Acts 4 and 5. So, a bunch of what he wrote is so relevant to where the church is in the Western world today.
Preaching: What makes the Book of James such an appealing area for preachers? I know you preached through it, and it was the first book I ever preached through as a young pastor.
Hawkins: I’ll tell you what is appealing to me about it, and that is because of who James was. This isn’t the son of Zebedee, the son of thunder. This is the half-brother of our Lord. This is the guy who probably slept in the same room with Jesus for years, who obviously worked at the carpenter’s shop next to Him, played in the dusty streets of Nazareth with Him every day, and knew Him in the intimacy of a half-brother, yet who didn’t believe in Him until after the resurrection. Then when he did, he literally became the leader, along with Peter, of the Jerusalem church and convening the Jerusalem Council. In fact, Paul called him a pillar of the faith.
So, the thing that appeals to me as a pastor is that he was what I was. He was a pastor, and he dealt with these practical issues that everybody is dealing with. So many people today try to pit Paul against James—Paul with his emphasis on grace, and James with his emphasis on work—but they are not contradicting each other. They complement each other. They both are saying the same thing. Paul, in his great discourse on grace and faith in Ephesians 2, said in Ephesians 2:10, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God had ordained before that we should walk in.” So, he said the same thing James did.
James said the same thing Paul did. In James 1:18, he said, “God in His own will brought us forth.” Paul was writing primarily to the Judaizers, who were saying, “Yes, you have to have faith, but you have to add works and circumcision,” while his emphasis was on faith alone. James, on the other hand, was writing to those on the other extreme who were saying believers could live however they wanted to live; so, his emphasis was on the fruit of our faith.
The reason he is so appealing to me is that he complements Paul in a very important way—and he has a pastor’s heart.
Preaching: Do you have a particular tip to pastors as they preach and teach through James?
Hawkins: I don’t know if I have any tips other than this is a book that is rich in word studies. It never made sense to me that somebody would be called of God to preach the Word of God, and we would have the language in which it was written but wouldn’t want to know it. I’m talking about Greek. James is so rich in these Greek word pictures, which I’ve added to almost every chapter [because] they bring it out so beautifully.
My biggest tip when anyone is preaching in James is to dig in there, and if you don’t know the language of the New Testament, there are a lot of helps out there so you can see what he’s talking about and study it. There are a lot of good commentaries on James. It is the richest book I’ve ever preached as it relates to Greek word studies for sure.
Preaching: Let’s shift directions a little bit. You lead an organization now that ministers to the financial retirement needs of thousands of pastors across America. What do you sense are some of the greatest areas of struggle and challenge for pastors in our own day?
Hawkins: There’s a lot of tension out there. Some of the younger guys think the older guys are irrelevant, and the older guys think the younger guys are irreverent! When I went to pastor in Oklahoma, we all dressed the same. We all wore suits back in the day. We all sang the same songs and the same hymns. We all went to the same meetings and conferences. Today, we don’t dress alike. We don’t sing the same songs, and we don’t go to the same meetings. There is this divide and this tension.
My feeling always has been to take the attitude that Barnabas took when James and Peter sent him to Antioch to check out what was going on there. He said, “Well you know everything is true, they aren’t doing everything we are doing here in Jerusalem,” and it says in Acts11:23 that Barnabas saw the grace of God and was glad. So, my point is, I want to see the grace of God in everybody’s life and rejoice and be glad, though they may not do things the way I think they ought to do it or the way I did.
Preaching: What advice would you give to pastors regarding their financial lives—not just retirement but other areas?
Hawkins: There is a booklet I wrote called Ant-ology. I took it from Proverbs 6, where Solomon said, “Go to the ant, you sluggard, and be wise, and see how they store up food in the summer.” That book is online, free. Go to OsHawkins.com, where there’s also hundreds of free sermons, leadership material, ministry helps, and free book downloads. That book is a free download, and it’s filled with advice. I think it’s a real biblical principle that we do this, and this book really tries to build that case.
Retirement planning is similar to a marathon where you have four stages: [for those readers who’ve run marathons] you’ve got your start. You have to get a good start, and if you get behind 500 people in a race, you’d spend a lot of energy trying to get around them. It takes a good start, then you set your pace, and that is the way you run the large majority of the race. Then at the end, you get a kick, a little extra spurt; and then you see the finish line, and you sprint toward the finish. That’s the way any pastor ought to deal with stewardship responsibilities as they relate to getting ready for retirement.
You have to get a good start, and start early. The thing called compound interest is what makes it happen. Then, you determine your pace, your timeline, your risk tolerance, and then forget about it; you go on about your business, set your pace and get those diversified. Then when your kids are gone and out of college and you have a little extra money, you maximize that pool, and put the kick in there. Then as you get near the end, you can maximize it more tax-free and sprint toward the end. That is really the basic way to do it.
What we are trying to do is to get a couple generations on our watch to the place of vocational retirement with financial security because we are going to live 20 or 25 years after most of us vocationally retire. If we can get people to that place of financial security, then we are going to unleash on the world the greatest force of volunteers on mission the world ever has seen.
Preaching: I know your book royalties go to a program called Mission Dignity. Tell me what that is.
Hawkins: All the royalties of all my books (that we don’t give away on the website) go to Mission Dignity. We are on a mission to bring dignity to some forgotten folks such as retired pastors and their widows in their declining years. The average age is 85, and more than 60 percent of them are widows of pastors. They pastored out in the crossroads somewhere, never had much money or an opportunity to put much in retirement; they lived in a church-owned home and had to get out of it.
We have a lot of those folks who are in their declining years and in such great need financially and living at the poverty level. So, Mission Dignity comes alongside these folks. Ten years ago, we were able to give them $50 extra a month to help them along. Now, we have been able to raise money so the neediest among them get $630 a month.
One lady wrote me the other day and said, “I get to eat at night now, and it’s not just a piece of toast.” So, any time anyone buys one of these books, he or she is supporting Mission Dignity. It’s a worthy cause and close to the heart of God. In fact, James said this is pure religion: to take care of widows.
One reason these books have taken off is that churches are using them. Jack Graham at Prestonwood took 1,000 men through The Joshua Code, and they memorized a verse a week this past year. I could name church after church after church, taking their whole congregations through The Joshua Code or The Jesus Code and preaching them on Sunday. There are devotional helps, preaching resources and these devotional books. I encourage folks to use them in their churches and get their people memorizing Scripture. Every time you buy one, the money goes to support these precious people.
Preaching: If you were to find yourself back in the pastorate, what would you do differently now than in your early ministry?
Hawkins: Oh, do we have four or five more hours? If we did, I could go into that! There are many things I wouldn’t do one bit differently, and so many things I would do differently.
Dr. W.A. Criswell was like my father, and one of my highest honors was to preach at his funeral. When I was in Dallas, he was still alive. He was my biggest advocate and greatest supporter. He was asked that question from time to time, and he always said, “I’d spend more time with my family.”
That is one thing I always did…I always gave my girls and my wife, Susie, priority. If I was in any meetings and one of them called, everyone knew I would take that call. Family is always important. If you lose your family, you’ve lost most of your integrity and credibility in many ways. That’s important.
I’d pray more. I don’t know how I could have spent more time studying because that was my life, but I don’t think you ever can study enough. There are so many things I’d do differently; but as I look back, I just thank God for His blessings upon it.