The single most important factor that distinguishes a good leader from a great leader is love. I am not talking about warm and fuzzy feelings that lead to being nice and not wanting to offend others. I am talking about the kind of love that comes from a conscious decision to work for the good of others. It is the kind of love that allows people to be imperfectly human and at the same time inspires them and empowers them to become who God created them to be. 

Who You Are

Sometimes leaders seek out “what feels good” or “what feels right.” I don’t want to discount feelings. There is a place for feelings. But as a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you lead by who you are and not by the way others make you feel. 

Other times leaders fall back upon what they think they know. Without asking why they think or feel the way they do; leaders often default to what they have always done in their decision-making and how they relate to people. Again, I don’t want to discount the experience. There is a place to honor and build upon experience. But as a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you lead by who you are and not by what you think you know or what has worked in the past. 

When Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ he was helping people to look beyond their feelings, and what they had experienced, to a new way (which was the old way) to relating to people.

What does that mean for you as a leader?

Read Matthew 5:38-39, 5:43-44

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, (Matthew 5:38-39)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44)

Reflect

Jesus’ understanding of the love of God was the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. Just as the fruit of a tree fulfills the blossom, his teaching brought the Law to its highest conclusion. In his sermon on the mount, he points out the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s love. 

It is important to understand what is meant by the love of God and how that love is lived out in your leadership. Based upon the context of the scripture, there is a distinct progression. Let us take a little journey to understand the progression. 

Unlimited Retaliation

The first way of relating to people was the way of Unlimited Retaliation. According to this principle, if someone knocked out one of your eyes, you were justified in knocking out both of their eyes. If someone knocked out one of your teeth, you could knock out their complete set of teeth. There was no limit placed on revenge. It was the law of every person for him or herself. 

A recent example of unlimited retaliation can be seen when a patient did not like the outcome of his surgery. In the midst of his pain, he bought a handgun and an AK-15, went back to the hospital, and killed the doctor as well as several people who got in his way. His actions are an example of unlimited retaliation. 

Limited Retaliation

A second way of relating to people was Limited Retaliation. It became evident that the result of unlimited retaliation would be mutual self-destruction. A better way was sought, so the law of limited retaliation arose. This principle declared that if anyone harmed you, “then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-25). 

It is the law of getting even. Someone knocks out one of your eyes, you must not knock out both of his, just one. Or if someone knocks out one of your teeth, you must not retaliate by knocking out all his teeth, just one. In other words, limit your retaliation to the exact amount of the injury. Get even. But no more. It is a twist on the “golden rule.” Do unto others as they do unto you. The books must balance. 

It is easy to see that limited retaliation is a little better than unlimited retaliation. But Jesus taught us we should go further. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer,” or never respond with evil.

An example of limited retaliation is capital punishment. Some people have limited retaliation in mind when they speak of “justice,” citing that it is biblical. True, it is found in the bible. But it is only biblical in the sense that it is found within the pages of the bible. Out of context, limited retaliation is not biblical. 

Limited Love

A third way of relating to people was Limited Love. This method is found in Leviticus. It is the law Jesus referred to when he said, “All of you have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” (Leviticus 19:18). Some deeply religious people, devout people, agreed with loving your neighbor if their neighbor was a person of their ethnicity. If your neighbor, one of your people, knocked out your eye or your tooth, you might forgive them, but if the person was not part of your group, then you could get your revenge. 

Limited love is certainly better than limited retaliation. But it is interesting that there had to be some limit to love and goodwill. So, the proper place to draw the line was with your own race or nationality. In this way, a person could have two standards of righteousness: one in dealing with relatives and another in dealing with strangers. 

I know my examples might be offensive. My intent is to provide context. An example of limited love is nationalism. It is a form of prejudice and is heard in slogans like “American is for Americans,” which, of course, does not refer to true original Americans. Another example is the backlash to “Black Lives Matter.”  It is another form of prejudice and is heard in slogans like “Make America Great Again” which has come to mean, not a presidential campaign slogan but, a slogan for “white supremacy.” Even though loving your neighbor is in the bible, taken out of context, limited love is not biblical. 

Unlimited Love

A fourth way of relating to people was Unlimited Love. Love, even when limited to one’s own group, was far superior to retaliation, whether it be limited or unlimited. But Jesus didn’t feel that even this brought the law to its final goal or fulfillment. God’s love is not complete until it becomes unlimited love. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

I have always asked “why” at this point. Why love outsiders, strangers, people who are different, people from Central America, people from Africa, Asia, or even Russia? Especially Russia. Aren’t the Russians our enemies? Aren’t they trying to overtake us and defeat us? Why love people who don’t like me or try to hurt me? Why? 

Jesus’ Answer to Why

In his sermon on the mount, Jesus answered my question “why?” He said so you and I could become daughters and sons of God. To love unconditionally is to be who God created us to be. Now, what I understand that to mean is what I understand Jesus saying when he says that God lets the sun rise and the rain fall on both good and bad people, both saints and sinners. Which I understand as God does not give anyone an advantage based upon our goodness. 

I understand that my life does not change if I only interact with my friends or love only the people who love me. As I think about it, I would be no different than non-Christians, even if they do that. Then I understand Jesus telling me to grow up. He doesn’t say it that way. He says, “Be mature…be holy.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

Unlimited Love is  Lived Out In Relationship

If I take what I understand to be the way of unlimited love, Jesus followers apply God’s love to all relationships. Whether it be to my race and to the United States of America or to another race or people from another country. In God’s way of loving, there is no double-dealing, no two-facedness, no partiality. Unlimited love, God’s love, does not stop at artificial borders and is not affected by differences. 

Reasons Unlimited Love is Practical and Impractical

Allow me to continue to provide context for reasons we do not engage in unlimited love. Some people say that unlimited love is not practical. The idea of turning the other check is good, but it just won’t work in the real world. Sometimes they go on to say, force is the only language some people can understand so we have to be realistic. 

There are other people who say that unlimited love is very practical and will work if given a chance. They believe that even the cruelest person has a tender spot that will respond to a continuous barrage of love and goodwill. They can cite examples from history and present a strong case for the effectiveness of non-retaliation and active love. Many of them are willing to back up their belief in this idea with their lives, which within itself is a compelling argument. 

We Love Because We are Loved

Then there are still others who say, we don’t love one another or strangers or enemies because it is practical or because it works. We love because we are the sons and daughters of God. We love because it is who we are. It is not easy. People who love unconditionally usually wind up on a cross. Remember that crucifixions have a way of being followed by resurrections. The end of love is its beginning. Only those who are foolish enough to lose their lives will find them. It is the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies that lives. 

Jesus did not tell his followers to love because it would work. It never occurred to him whether it was practical or not. As followers, we love because that is who we are. 

God does not limit God’s love to those who love him or obey him. As daughters and sons of God, the same love flows naturally from us. Being who God is, God cannot help but love all people. Being children of God, you and I have the same nature. Our nature is not determined by the action or reaction of the people around us, whether friends or foes. Our nature is determined by our relationship to God in and through Jesus. 

Of course, you don’t have to be a follower of Jesus. But if you are, one of the conditions is that you love outsiders, people who are different, whether they be your friends or not, and that you pray for people you consider to be enemies, those who hurt you and take advantage of you. Because it is God’s nature to love, you love who God loves. There are no limits to God’s love. 

The single most important factor that distinguishes a good leader from a great leader is love. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

God, I confess that I find it difficult to love others as you have loved me. I know that it is only by your grace that I will ever be able to love. So, I ask, by your grace, fill me with your love so that I may become more who you have created me to be by loving the people you have given me to love. By your grace, help me see you in the people I meet today. I offer myself to you in Jesus’ name. Amen 

Return

At the end of the day, return to these questions: In whom did I experience God’s love today? To whom did I extend God’s love today? With whom did I need God’s grace to love? Give God thanks for the people you experienced today. 

Your assumptions make a difference. They affect how you relate to people, make your decisions, and how you understand God and God’s love for you and the people entrusted to your care. Your assumptions shape your political viewpoints, your view of social issues, and your relationships with people. Your assumptions shape your leadership. Your assumptions make all the difference. 

Over the years, I have learned that most of us do not take the work of assumption building seriously enough to understand why we think what we think or say what we say. We tend to accept what we think and do as being the right way. How do you go about forming the realities that influence your decision-making and your leadership? 

It is important that you understand how your assumptions are formed. Let us look at a scripture that can assist us in our assumption building. 

Read Genesis 3:1-7 

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ”But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took off its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. – Genesis 3:1-7

Reflect

When I was in the ninth grade my English teacher and her doctor husband moved to our small town in West Virginia. We all attended the same church. They sat across the sanctuary from where I usually sat. The doctor had long hair, a beard, was a VietNam veteran, and drove a little red sports car. All topics of conversation at one place or another in the community. 

I remember the headlines of the local newspaper when they reported that the doctor had been arrested for the illegal use of drugs. The next Sunday in worship, I sat with my grandmother and a couple of her friends. Although the doctor and my teacher were not present, there were two different reactions to the doctor’s arrest. 

One reaction was, “I’m surprised. I simply don’t believe it. I’ve known his family for over 40 years. They are good people and I know he is too. He is so caring and attentive to the needs of others.” 

The other reaction was, “It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve never trusted him. Look at that long hair, the beard, and the car he drives. I have always been suspicious of him and his family.” 

I remember how confused I was. Two different views of the same event. It was not until years later that I began to understand the complexity of our human decision-making processes. Too often our decisions involve more than an objective response to facts. 

Over the years, I have learned our assumptions are important in how we deal with facts. We are rational and objective creatures. We end up with a conclusion that is shaped by our assumptions. Your assumptions make a difference. 

Where you start affects where you end. Whether it be in politics regarding reactions to vaccines, how we view our rights, health care, guns, etc. or it is in the church regarding reactions to decisions, who makes those decisions, and how people follow policies and guidelines, each of us responds or react based upon our assumptions. 

Our assumptions also affect how we view and live out our faith. It matters where you start with God. Do you start with trust or mistrust of God? Your assumptions make all the difference. 

A single event with two different reactions. Because the assumptions of each woman were different, each conclusion was different. Assumptions are critical in your decision-making. The question is, how do you go about forming these powerful realities that influence what you think and do? It is my assumption that we don’t take the work of assumption building seriously. We tend to be sloppy, irrational, and arbitrary which throws our decision-making processes out of alignment. 

Forming Assumptions

So, how do you go about forming your assumptions? Do you base them on solid evidence or arbitrary hearsay? Are you seeking truth through searching the scripture, praying, developing relationships, and testing what you are learning through conversation and interaction with others? Or are you reacting based upon something you learned as a child or taking the word of someone who might have ulterior motives? 

This scripture from Genesis describes how the first assumption of mistrust of God came into existence. It is an example of irrational assumption building. It was out of joy that God created the world. There were no ulterior motives. God wanted to share the joy, so God widened the circle by creating human beings. 

Having set the experiment of joy into action, God showed the man and woman how things were meant to be in the garden. God said they were free to eat the fruit from all the trees of the garden except one tree. It was the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God said the fruit of that tree was poisonous to their systems. It was placed there to serve a religious purpose rather than a nutritional purpose. 

God was pleased and saw that it was good. It was at that point the snake entered the picture. The snake addressing the woman asked, “Did God put you in the beautiful place and then prohibit you from eating all this fruit?” Notice the overstatement and false characterization. 

The woman replied, “Oh no. We can eat everything in the garden except this one true. God said it is poisonous to us.” 

The snake shook his head and said, “That old scoundrel. God is threatened by you. God knows that if you eat that fruit, you will be like God. You know God cannot stand that. You were created to feed God’s ego. Holding you down builds God up. If you know what is good for you, you will call God’s bluff. You will eat the fruit and take over this place.”

Checking Your Assumptions

That one conversation put creation into a whole different light. There was no indication that such suspicion had ever entered their minds. There was no evidence for such an attitude of mistrust. Nothing up to that point had God done to give the humans reason to believe the snake’s accusations. So, without checking things out or going to the source trying to get the truth of the situation, the first humans bought into that unfounded suspicion. For no good reason, they embraced rumor and began to act as if it contained the truth about God. Such carelessness brought about devastating results. 

That is the point of this story. Our forebears took the word of a snake over the word of God the creator when it came to interpreting life. Because of their carelessness, the world became a conspiracy rather than a creation of joy. God became a foe rather than a caring parent of love. This is the story that explains why we humans continue to take life apart and try to put it back together in ways that do not work. 

The first humans drank the poison and got sick. That is how God got a bad reputation. It is based upon a flimsy accusation along with some sloppy careless assumption work. We, humans, even to this day, continue to build our assumptions in the same way. 

Impressions

I confess that my earliest impressions of God were negative. I thought if I became a Christian, I would be giving up all the fun things in life. Somehow I was convinced that if I did not live a certain way, God would send me to hell. The result was that I attempted to change my behavior, but my heart remained unchanged. Deep within, God suffered from bad press. 

So, how has God responded to our careless attitudes and assumptions? Did God blow up in rage? Did God become defensive or strike back? Was God revengeful? No. The single most creative thing God could have done is heard in the words of Paul to the Romans, “God did not spare his own son but gave him us for us all,” It is while we are yet sinners, missing the point of God’s love and joy for us, that Christ died for us. 

Reshaping Assumptions

My assumptions were reshaped, and my attitudes changed when I encountered God in and through Jesus. John Killinger said that “Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation.” In Jesus, I began to see and understand God’s love for us and God’s joy in sharing creation with us. It was over and against this confusion and suspicion, that God sent Jesus so could see what God looked like in history and understand what God looks like every day. 

Can you trust a God like you see in Jesus? If so, will you let Jesus reshape your assumptions about God and your assumptions about the people you encounter each day? To put it another way, are you willing to take the action of God, in Jesus, seriously enough to let it do its work in you? Will you allow the image of Jesus to penetrate your assumptions so your attitudes will change? 

When you are shaping your assumptions about God, politics, race, gender, health care, etc., will you do it carefully and realistically? 

Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation. Will you let God do his redemptive work in you? 

Respond

O God, I am grateful for your grace when it comes to my carelessness in forming my assumptions and my attitudes toward you and toward the people you send into my life. In Jesus, I have experienced your extravagant love. Again, by your grace, help me let Jesus do his work in me so that I take more seriously the work of building and shaping my assumptions. By your grace, help me become more the person you have created me to be and become a conduit of your love and joy to be people entrusted to my care. I offer myself to you in Jesus. Amen 

Return

In whom did you encounter God today? What were your assumptions of those persons? How were your assumptions formed and shaped? With whom do you need to confess your careless assumption building? With whom do you need to celebrate God’s presence and love? Give God thanks for the people you experienced today. 

It is my prayer that you will take your assumption building seriously. Your assumptions shape your leadership. Who you are is how you lead.

Do you remember a time when you pronounced a blessing upon an individual or upon the people around you? As a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you pronounce a blessing in every worship experience. Whether it be a baptism, holy communion, or a benediction, blessings are common in worship. But have you ever had the opportunity to bless someone outside of worship? 

Have you ever considered offering a blessing in a greeting, or words of encouragement, or an offer of peace? I know you bless people when they sneeze and I know you have heard people (even those who have no interest in God) use the words, “God Bless You” in their daily lives. Sometimes, even when you get a diet drink at the drive-thru, you hear the words, “Have a blessed day.” 

Most blessings are simple sayings that communicate kindness and goodwill. In the Bible, however, we learn that God’s blessings carry far more significance than just a casual greeting or obligatory saying. 

Let’s look at one of my favorite blessings. I memorized it as a teenager. It was used every Sunday evening at the end of Youth Fellowship. I confess that I was an adult before I realized that I had been quoting scripture every Sunday with the UMYF benediction. 

Read Number 6:22-27 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: Thus, you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them: 

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

“So, they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” 

Reflect 

This blessing comes at a low and chaotic time for the people. They are in the wilderness, suffering for their separation from what has made them God’s people. Even though they blame others, their suffering has come from their own distrust, disobedience, and disloyalty. 

It is at this low point in their lives that God instructs Moses to speak to Aaron and his family (the priests). God wants to bless the Israelites. In the midst of their disobedience and unfaithfulness, God wants the Israelites to know his heart. Aaron and his family are to be the instruments of the blessing. 

So, what is the meaning of this blessing for you and your leadership? 

The Lord bless you…

You are a beloved child of God. God never abandons you nor breaks covenant with you even when you have turned away and broken covenant with God. God’s blessing is a reminder that you are in a right and loving relationship with God and the people God places in your life. 

And keep you…

God protects you and provides for you. As a leader, God protects you by sending people into your life to love and care for you. God also provides the grace you need to extend the same love to the people entrusted to your care. Just as God kept Israel, Jesus keeps you. 

The Lord make his face shine upon you…

When God turns his face upon you, you are in God’s favor. God’s face represents God’s presence. Because God’s face is shining upon you, you are assured that you are never alone. Being in God’s favor allows you the freedom to love as you have been loved. 

And be gracious unto you…

God never deals with you according to your misunderstanding or you missing the point. God always deals with you according to God’s goodness. God always sees the best of you and the potential in you. It is by God’s grace that you can lead at this time in history. 

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you…

When God looks upon you there is acceptance and reconciliation. What has been in the way is taken away and what has been broken has been healed. When God looks upon you, God is hugging you, drawing you close, and letting you know how special you are. 

And give you peace.

The word for peace is shalom. It means wholeness, completeness, and well-being. God’s peace makes you whole and complete. When you are at peace with God, you are who God created you to be, a beloved child of God in the right relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your care. 

It is important to remember that the priests, led by Aaron and the rest of the Levites, were set apart to lead the people in worship and spiritual teaching. The priests were God’s chosen intercessors and a direct mouthpiece to the people. They were trusted by the people and looked to for guidance and instruction. 

God’s Blessing

So, just like the priests, you are the trusted leader for today. You are being called upon to bless God’s people, the people entrusted to you. One thing to always remember, the blessing is not your blessing. The blessing is God’s blessing upon the people. “So, they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” 

You have the distinct responsibility to bless the people of God with God’s blessing. You not only remind them of God’s blessing but name them and claim them for God. What a grand and glorious opportunity. 

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

Respond

O God, make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Whether family, colleagues, friends, or foes, use me as an instrument of your love and peace, so that each person I meet receives a blessing through me and then becomes a blessing to others. I offer myself to you in the name of the greatest blessing of all, Jesus. Amen. 

Return

From whom did you receive a blessing today? Where were you when you received the blessing? Who did you bless? What opportunities did you have that you missed either receiving or extending God’s blessing? How might you offer a blessing to the people you encounter tomorrow? 

To be a blessing you must acknowledge and receive a blessing. So, read and listen closely: 

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

May you be as blessed as you are a blessing. Remember, who you are is how you lead!

Who you are is how you lead. Authenticity and integrity are two characteristics of effective and courageous leadership. What is the basis of those characteristics? Today, let’s explore one fundamental truth of leading as a Jesus follower.

Read Exodus 20:7

Below are three different versions of the same scripture text. Each version portrays the same message but each in a unique way.

  • New King James Version: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
  • New Revised Standard Version: “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.”
  • Common English Bible: “Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.”

The message?

Don’t mess around with God’s name. Take it seriously. Live it in high regard. Who you are is how you lead. 

Reflect

Name

Name is important to God. There was a moment when Moses had the nerve to ask God, “Who shall I say sent me?” or “What is your name?” God was gracious and answered, “I AM.” The name translated in Hebrew is YHWH.

Hebrew scholars have noted that the letters YHWH, when pronounced, sound like breathing.

YH (inhale) WH (exhale).

There is so much more to say at this point, but what is important to know is that God’s name is as important as breathing. YHWH. YHWH. YHWH. Name is important to God.

The Hebrews were a nomadic tribe. They did not stay in one place long enough to take the name of a nation like the Canaanites, the Egyptians, or the Assyrians. So, they took the name of their deity, YHWH. For them, taking the name was serious business. As the scripture says not to be taken lightly or in vain. They understood that their very lives depended upon the name of God.

As a Christian, you have taken the name of Christ. You have particularly taken the name of Jesus Christ, God’s name in the flesh. In the same sense as the Hebrews understood their very lives depended upon the name of God, who you are, as a Christian, is important.

In Vain

The words “in vain” mean “empty and meaningless, of no account, of no seriousness.” For the Hebrews, to take the name of God was to live a holy and different life. So, to take the name of God in vain meant that taking God’s name had little significance or impact on their lives. Instead of being holy and different in their living, they continued to live the same old life, have the same old attitudes, and relate to people with the same old prejudices. The name meant nothing, so life did not change.

From this perspective, there are two more things to consider. The first is, taking God’s name in vain is more than saying God’s name in profanity. You don’t take the name of God in vain with your lips. You take it in vain with your living. Somehow, in our culture, we have reduced taking God’s name in vain to saying God’s name in a vulgar way. Please understand, I am not saying that is good. But I am saying, you take God’s name in vain when you confess you are a child of God, and you live contrary to God’s purposes.

The second thing is, you can’t take God’s name in vain if you have not taken God’s name. We often point to people outside the church who use God’s name in profane and vulgar ways. But, if they have never taken the name of God, how can they take God’s name in vain? It is those of us inside the church, we nice people who would not dare let one little cuss word fall over our lips, whose lives are totally unchanged by the grace of God, who take the name in vain. In other words, if you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, but you live your life outside the love of God for you and for others, you have taken God’s name in vain.

If you are still with me, let’s go a little deeper. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Those words can be translated as Jesus saying, “Be different as I am different” or “Be different as God is different.” The question is, what is it that distinguishes you? What makes you different?

The Hebrews had the idea that when God gave you a name God made you a daughter or a son. You were adopted into God’s family. You were a child of God. From that time on, God’s name was important to you. That is what Jesus is teaching when he says to pray, “Hallowed be thy name.”  Let your name mean something.

At your baptism, you were given God’s name. You were baptized in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You were claimed by God as a daughter or son of God. As a child of God, you live as one of God’s beloved children.

In the Flesh

Why is this important?

God is made known to people and is identified in and through those of us who wear God’s name. You can see God in the lightning and hear God in the thunder; you can experience magnificent sunsets and breathtaking views of mountains; you can experience God in the wind and watch the mighty waves roll; but God is made known to us in human flesh.

If God is to be known in the world around us, and known by the people we encounter, it will be because we are wearing God’s name. We are identified as God’s children.

In John 17, Jesus prays that his followers might be kept “in the name.” The way our churches and our communities will experience God’s love is to see and experience God’s love being translated into flesh, your flesh, through your living and loving relationships. Just as Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” You and I continue the incarnation over and over and over again. We live our lives in such a way that we say, “If you have seen me, you have seen Jesus and if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” The world will be transformed by God’s name becoming flesh in you and me.

You translate who God is by your words, your prayers, and your preaching, and ultimately by the way you relate to people in God’s name. To take God’s name in vain is to give people the wrong or distorted image of God.

Your Identity

As a teenager, I delivered newspapers, cut grass, and did odd jobs in the neighborhood to earn money for school. I opened a bank account at the bank in town. When I needed or wanted spending money I would go to the grocery store and cash a check. It was easy and simple. I made my check out for cash and Freda, the woman at the cash register, would give me the amount of the check. The system worked well until I graduated from high school and went off to college.

When I got to college, I opened an account and transferred my money to the bank where I was living. One weekend, while home visiting, I wanted spending money. I went to the grocery store, where I had gone for years, to cash a check. I made my check out for cash and gave it to Freda, the same woman who had cashed my checks for years. She looked at the check and then looked at me, and said, “We don’t cash out-of-town checks.”

I said, “But you have been cashing my checks for years. Can’t you cash this one for me?”

Before she could say anything, a man standing in line behind me said, “Freda, cash his check. That is Dick Bias’s boy. Look at him. He is a spitting’ image of his old man.”

She said, “He does resemble Richard. Why didn’t you tell me you were Richard’s boy?” With that, she took my check and cashed it.

The man in line had seen in me the image of my father. I didn’t have a name on my forehead. I didn’t tell him my name. He said it was the “image of my father” that identified me.

The Image of God

When people see you as a person of peace, of reconciliation, of mercy, of humility, of kindness, they say “I know who you are. You are God’s daughter,” or “You are God’s son.” They see Jesus, the image of God, in you.

The apostle Paul called it the “fruit of the Spirit,” “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If you live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”

In other words, “Don’t mess around with God’s name. Take it seriously. Live it in high regard.”

Respond

How will you define God’s name today? What will set you apart? How will you live differently with the people you meet? What will you do to show them whose name you wear? In whom will you identify God’s image? How will you let them know you have seen Jesus in them?

Return

Inhale YH, exhale WH. YHWH.

  • How did you define God’s name today?
  • How did you live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with the people around you?
  • In whom did you see God?
  • With whom could you have responded with more grace?
  • With whom might you need forgiveness?
  • Give God thanks for the day and for the people who are helping you become more who God created you to be.

“O God, you have given me your name and you have asked me to keep it holy, to keep it different. By your grace, keep me in your name so that the world might see you in me and experience your love through my living. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Who you are is how you lead.

If you sat down with any group of people and said, “Today, our subject for discussion is temptation,” someone would quote Oscar Wilde, “I can resist anything but temptation.” The discussion would go from there to stories of pranks, parties, and pies. Each story illustrates some form of temptation. But the point of our reflection today is not to reduce the temptation to a few harmless activities. 

You, as a Jesus follower and a leader, are tempted, in one way or another, to be successful. Being successful, by itself, is not a bad trait. But how you get there can be. Whether you are a pastor, a parent, a small group leader, or an executive, the temptation to be someone other than who God created you to be is always present and sometimes overwhelming. 

To discover the key to becoming a hope-filled leader in the midst of temptation, let’s use the pattern of READ, REFLECT, RESPOND, RETURN as a lens to look at Matthew’s story of the temptation. 

1. Read Matthew 4:1-11 

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.” 

 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 

 After that, the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” 

Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.” 

Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.” 

Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, you will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him. 

2. Reflect

Immediately following his baptism where he has been claimed by God as “my beloved son in whom I am pleased,” Jesus entered a time of fasting. This was a time for Jesus to come to terms with who he was as “God’s beloved child.”

I find it fascinating that Matthew tells his story of Jesus like the story of Israel. Israel passed through the waters into the wilderness, was tested, and failed. They were disobedient and worshiped other gods. Jesus, the true Son of God, repeats Israel’s experience in coming out of Egypt, is tested in the wilderness, and remains obedient to God. He refuses to worship another. In contrast to Israel in the wilderness, whose faith faltered until restored by the miraculous manna, Jesus is hungry but remains faithful without the miracle.

After fasting for forty days, Jesus is prepared to be who God has claimed him to be. The story is not about Jesus deciding whether he is God’s beloved child but about what it means to be God’s beloved child.

Question for Reflection

Here is the question for reflection. What does it mean for you to be a leader who is a beloved child of God? Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

Henri Nouwen, in his book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, tells how Jesus overcomes the three basic temptations leaders face.

First Temptation: Please People

The first temptation is to please people. For Jesus, the temptation was to live into the Jewish expectations of the Messiah. He was challenged to use his power to not only gratify himself but to meet the human need around him. Both are good actions, but to “Turn these stones into bread,” was not who he had been created to be. Jesus replied, “People do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

It is not wrong to want to please people or to make them happy, but if you form your leadership around applause, you will soon be unproductive and fruitless in your ministry. The temptation is not to please others as much as it is to become someone other than who God created you to be. Hope-filled leaders do not always please people, but they lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

Jesus found his identity and strength in being who God created him to be. He experienced God’s love to the point that he trusted God’s direction in loving people and giving them what was needed so they too could become who God had created them to be. He often disappointed people, but he was true to being a beloved child of God.

As a leader, you are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead.

Second Temptation: Impress People

The second temptation is to do something to impress people. For Jesus, the temptation was to make some sensational demonstration to show he was the Son of God. He is challenged to do something spectacular like “Jump from the pinnacle of the temple!” Jesus resisted and said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:6-7).

It is not wrong to set lofty goals and high expectations, but if you form your leadership around unrealistic accomplishments, you will soon be burned out and cynical in your ministry. There will always be pressure to do something new, exciting, bigger, and better. There will always be people who want you to do something that is not true to who you are as a leader. Your temptation will be to feed your ego, to compare yourself to your peers, and to slip into a behavior that is less than authentic. Hope-filled leaders do not always impress people, but they lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

You don’t have to be a hero. But you do have to love people for who they are and to teach them the very things you have been taught about loving one another, forgiving one another, and leading one another to become the people God has created them to be.

As a leader, you are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead.

Third Temptation: Compromise Who You Are

The third temptation is to compromise who you are by focusing upon something or someone other than the God who has created you. For Jesus, the temptation was to control the kingdoms of the world. He could do all the good he wanted to do, by giving up who he was created to be. He responded to the temptation by saying, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10).

It is not easy being a Jesus follower when you are taught to “turn the other cheek,” “to make things right with those who have something against you,” and to “love your enemy.” It is not easy to “forgive 70 x 7 times.” But to give into the temptation to control your life and relationships is to compromise who God has created you to be. Hope-filled leaders are flexible. They know to pivot to lead people to the hope they desire. But they do not comprise who they are. They lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

Jesus didn’t use his power to build an empire. He didn’t make people serve him, he served them. He included persons no one else wanted, washed the feet of those who hurt him, and cooked breakfast for those who had given up on him. He made friends with the poor, associated with outcasts, and disciplined them to be leaders. He helped them all discover that they were beloved children of God.

This is what Matthew is teaching us. To be a follower of Jesus means to have a trusting relationship with God that does not ask for miraculous exceptions to the limitations of being an authentic human being. You have been claimed by God, gifted to lead at this time in history.

You are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead. 

3. Respond

Today, be aware of the temptation to be someone other than who God has created you to be. Be aware of where you are tempted to gratify yourself? And where you might compromise who you are to please or impress others. Look for Jesus throughout the day. Be aware of how being a Jesus follower helps you make the decisions needed to help others.

4. Return

  • Give God thanks for the day, for the people you have encountered, and for the places you have encountered God? 
  • What temptation did you face? 
  • In what situations did you try to please people? 
  • Impress people? Compromise who you are to get what you want? 
  • Who are some of the people who enriched your life? 
  • Who are some of the people you need to forgive or who you need to ask for forgiveness? 
  • How have you grown to become more of who God has created you to be? 

You are a leader at an incredible time in history. You were created for this time. So, don’t give in to the temptation to be someone other than who God has created you to be. You are needed just as you are…a beloved child of God.  

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

How are you doing this week? Last week I asked that question in relation to leading the mission. This week I am asking the question in relation to you personally? How are you doing? To be the leader needed for this time, you must keep yourself healthy and focused.  You can’t lead others to become who God created them to be if you aren’t at peace with yourself, your work, and with God.

In the midst of all the noise and chaos of our everyday living, it can be hard to feel at peace. It can be so hard that we can go days, weeks, even months without feeling a true sense of calm. I understand. There are days that it would feel good just to feel good for a change. 

You Are a Leader

I want to remind you that you are the leader for this time. You are leading in ways you never imagined. Now I get it. On any given day, as you are learning another aspect of technology, there are people upset that they are not back in the sanctuary. 

As you work with them, you get an email from someone who points out that the guidelines say “no more than 10 persons” should gather. Then, there is the person who is upset that you have said something about racism and loving your neighbor. All you want is to be the pastor, preacher, and leader you know you can be. 

Before the Pandemic

Before the pandemic, you had time to read and reflect and enjoy the relationships. Now, you feel as if you are rushing from event to (virtual) event, from conversation to conversation, and you might even feel the world would be a better place if it weren’t for people. (It’s ok to admit you’ve said it, too.) 

I get it. It would be nice to have a little time and space for yourself. It would be great if you felt some peace and calm.  

If you are willing to take a little journey with me, I guarantee peacefulness at the end. So, if you are willing, here is what I want you to do.

1. Read

Get your Bible or open your Bible app.

  • Read Lamentations 3, paying attention to verses 22-24. I am using the Good News Translation. “The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning and as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so in him I put my hope.” (Good News Translation)  

2. Reflect

Consider the context of Lamentations.

Israel is in captivity.

The people are grieving. The writer, speaking on behalf of the people, writes, “I am the one who knows what it is to be punished by God. He drove me deeper and deeper into darkness and beat me again and again with merciless blows.” (Verses 1-3) All they have known and depended upon is gone. Their lives have been disrupted.  The people are totally preoccupied with their own pain.

They are grieving physically.

The people are weary. “He (God) has left my flesh open and raw and has broken my bones” (Verse 4). When you are physically weary, you will do just about anything, other than what you are doing, to get past the weariness.

 They are grieving spiritually.

“He (God) has bound me in chains; I am a prisoner with no hope of escape” (Verse 7). The people feel like there is no future and things will not get better. They want God to comfort them, but God cannot be reached. “I cry aloud for help, but God refuses to listen” (Verse 8).

They are grieving psychologically.

Read verses 10-18. The imagery is of being attacked and alone, humiliated with no hope. “The thought of my pain, my homelessness, is bitter poison. I think of it constantly, and my spirit is depressed” (Verses 19-20). No matter how much we think we are prepared for the loss, it always comes with pain. The writer of Lamentations had been preparing for this for 40 years, yet the people are still surprised.

But they continue to pray.

They do what they know to do. Earlier in the chapter, they could not pray.  They didn’t feel like praying. They didn’t think praying made any difference.  Remember, “Even when I cry out, God shuts out my prayer” (Verse 8).

So here is a turning point. 

What do you do when your experience does not match what you have been taught or what you expect? The writer chooses to embrace hope. The writer chooses to hope in God’s goodness. Remember, hope is shaped and strengthened through a personal and internal struggle. “The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning and as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, in the Lord I will place my hope” (verses 22-24).

The writer, speaking on behalf of the people, places their confidence in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God.  God’s mercy never ceases.

3. Respond

Take the reflection of this scripture with you today. Think about how the truth of this scripture will come alive for you. To help stimulate your thinking:

  • Where might you experience God’s unfailing love and mercy?
  • In what you are facing, where will you embrace hope?
  • As you navigate the changes brought about by a pandemic, how will you show your trust in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?
  • As you lead and teach about anti-racism, how will you show your trust in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?

4. Return

At the end of day, or at a time of reflection upon the scripture and your interactions of the day, consider:

  •  Where did you experience God’s unfailing love and mercy today?

Remember, God’s love will not run out.  God’s merciful love will not dry up. The love of God is created new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.

A Pattern for Living with Jesus 

This pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, Return” is a great practice of creating a little time and space to be connected to God. It provides you the opportunity to recognize God every day even in the midst of the chaos and confusion. Your connection to God is what brings the peace that allows you to become who you were created to be.

So, what is one thing you will do to create a little time and space for yourself?  What is one thing you will do to place your confidence and hope in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?

Remember, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are available to assist you along your journey. Head over to the podcast and explore episodes 122-128 or 129-131 to use this pattern to explore discipleship in the context of Matthew or John’s gospels. 

So, now, how are you? May you always be as blessed as you are a blessing!

It is the second week of Advent. It’s time to explore the courage of two more characters involved in the birth of Jesus. This week, through the LeaderCast, we will look at the Courage of Elizabeth.  Today through this blog, we will look at the courage of Zechariah.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are married and have been for years.  They are an older couple who approach each day with the same activities, the same people, and the same thoughts as every other day. They have no children and because they are older, they are past their childbearing years. In the culture in which they are living, being childless is a disgrace. Yet, it is with this older couple, that the story of the birth of Jesus begins. 

Zechariah has been chosen to be the priest to burn incense before God.  It is not only a special opportunity to perform such a high priestly function, but it is a privilege to enter the Holy of Holies where the tradition of experiencing God is too real to be true. Because of his position among the priests, he takes advantage of the opportunity and privilege.  

Read more

There is in most of us a deep uncertainty and tension about change.  On one hand, you want to grow, develop, and expand. Even when it brings anxiety, you may like some level of adventure.  Growing is a part of who you are. The idea of becoming more than you are is exciting.

On the other hand, you recoil at the change.  There is fearful anxiety of the unknown.  What will the “not-yet-experienced” be like? Then, when someone or something even suggests that you change, you defend yourself, dig in, and protect who you are.

Then there is the tendency to do nothing.  You just don’t want to make the effort to adjust to what change means or calls forth?

These are some of the inner challenges you face as you change and grow. That is why I ask the question: Do you want to grow? As a Jesus follower, do you want to become who God has created you to be?

Are you willing?

If you have been baptized, I assume that you have said, at least symbolically, “I want to grow” or “I am ready to grow.” Because with baptism, you respond to God’s invitation to grow into who God has created you to be. So, you have a desire to grow.  That is what you bring to growth, your desire, your willingness, your response to God’s invitation.

You know, that really is all you bring to the process of growth: your willingness or unwillingness.  You are created so that you can choose to either grow toward God’s dream for you or to set yourself against the tide and refuse it.  If you want to grow, there is no end to what you can become. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But this is precisely what is written: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being.” (I Corinthians 2:9) But if that desire does not exist, because it has been choked out by fear or pride or shame or resistance, not even the God who made heaven and earth is willing to force it upon you.

Questions from Jesus

Do you remember the story of Jesus walking beside the pool of Bethesda?  There were sick people gathered by the pool.  The tradition was that when the waters stirred an angel was nearby and the first person to get into the pool would be healed of his/her affliction.  People came from all around with the hope of being healed.  As Jesus moved through the gathering of sick people, his attention was drawn to one man who had been lying there for thirty-eight years.  Jesus went over to him asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

On the surface that sounds like a ridiculous question.  That man had been waiting for thirty-eight years. Of course, he wants to be healed. Yet Jesus was aware that change is never simple. Have you read the story?  The man’s response reveals his uncertainty and tension regarding change.  He begins to make excuses and shifts the blame to other people.  He says, “The problem is, I have no one to help me into the pool. When the water bubbles, someone else always gets in ahead of me.”

Jesus’ Persistence

Notice that Jesus does not let him sidestep the issue.   Jesus asks him again, “Do you want to be healed?”  I can imagine the conversation going like this, “Man, the real issue is your willingness to be healed. Have you become so accustomed to this life of lying here and blaming others that you really don’t want to change? After all, there are benefits to being sick. No one expects anything of you.  You don’t have to work.  You don’t have to face the pressures of being active. You don’t have to do anything any different than what you have been doing.

Truthfully, would you really accept the help if it were offered?  You would have to become vulnerable enough to acknowledge you need help and then accept it. You must swallow pride and shame and a sense of self-sufficiency.  So, I am asking you the real question. Here and now, do you want to be healed?”

The Answer

For the first time in thirty-eight years, the real issue was spelled out for the man.  He could no longer evade it or blame it on someone else.  So, when confronted by Jesus, the man dared to say, “Yes, I want to change.”  Immediately the process of healing began.  A thirty-eight-year cycle was broken, and a new way of living began to take shape.  He began to take responsibility for carrying his own load rather than being carried.

Sure, there were pains in this new life. Significant change brings both gain and loss. But, look at the new possibilities available to the man. Once he made the decision to grow, to change, he had a whole new world before him.  It is the same for you when you are willing to become vulnerable by stepping out in courage to brave the new reality. The good news is, it is never too late to start growing again. You are never too old to start. If after thirty-eight years of immobility this man could begin to move again, why can’t you?

Your Turn

Do you want to grow? As a Jesus follower, are you willing to do what it takes to become who God has created you to be? If so, then here is what you need to do:

  1. Name four trusted friends with whom you are willing to become vulnerable.
  2. Through prayer and reflection, focus upon who God has created you to be. Test your desires with your friends.
  3. Trust your friends to name what must be addressed for you to step out in courage to brave your new reality?
  4. What one thing will you do, today, to step into that new reality?
  5. Now, with the love, care, and encouragement of your friends, step out in faith to live the life God created for you.

Do you want to grow? If you do, then the sky is the limit.

God is “able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us…” Ephesians 3:20.

There is nothing more basic than the desire to grow. If the desire is present in your life, no number of obstacles can keep God from finishing that which God has begun.  If the desire is not present, then not even our great creator God can make God’s dream come true.

Do you want to grow?  Then, in the name of Jesus, get started!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever taken a journey in your mind?  When you read something or hear a word, a phrase, or you think of someone or an event and it reminds you of something which is related to something else.

You begin to think of people or events related to whatever triggered the thought and before you realize it you are off on a different subject. I admit I do it all the time.

For example, yesterday, while making a mental list of things I had to accomplish for the day, I saw a police car.  The car reminded me of an obituary I saw last week. The obituary was of state policeman I once knew in West Virginia.  He was injured in a training exercise and had to retire early.  So, I wondered why he died so young? Now, what did that have to do with my list of things to accomplish?

As I said, I do it all the time.

Read more

How have you experienced God’s call in your life?

Although the words, God’s call, can be associated with the vocation of ministry, to answer God’s call is to decide how you are going to live your life in service to God.

There is nothing necessarily mystical about God’s call. Isaiah saw a vision and Samuel heard a voice. Paul was confronted with a presence and Simon Peter answered an invitation. Such encounters with God have marked the call of many people, but they are not the only ways you experience God’s call.

Read more