God is doing a new thing in my life. I officially retired June 30 with 50 years under appointment as a United Methodist minister. As I have shared with you before, I was a 20-year-old college student when I was appointed to two small churches in West Virginia.  Now, 50 years later, God is doing a new thing in my life.

I confess I struggled a little with the idea of retirement. What was I going to do? I had been a pastor/preacher all my adult life. I confess I do not hunt, fish, golf, woodworking, or garden. In other words, I have no hobbies. So, retirement was not going to give me more time to do what I really wanted to do. And besides, being a pastor/preacher is what I wanted to continue to do. I might be old, but I’m not quite over the hill.

Refocusing

My struggle within was about refocusing my life upon something that would bring meaning and purpose. So, God and I had a conversation. I tried to put it off on God. I asked “What am I going to do now? You created me, called me, and gifted me to do what I have been doing. That is coming to an end with retirement. What am I going to do now?”

What I heard (discerned) God say, “Set the past 50 years aside. I have something new for you.”

I laughed, “Okay. Are you going to teach this “old” dog some new tricks?”

So when the phone rang, God’s voice sounded like the Bishop in West Virginia, “I have a place for you in West Virginia. I want you to come and be the pastor of Christ Church in Charleston.”

In the back of mind I heard God laughing, “Tim, how many times over your short 50 years of ministry have you experienced, I always get the last laugh?”

“But God. I’m retired. How can I be the pastor of a church like Christ Church when I am retired?”

And God said, “If I can make paths in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, I can still make a pastor/preacher out of you.”

God is Doing a New Thing

Okay, thanks for being my therapist for a moment. God is doing a new thing in my life. The new thing is the opportunity to refocus upon God’s love for me in Jesus and to share that love with a new community of people. At Christ Church we seek to connect one another and you with Christ and with the community.

The refocus is always upon the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I now have the opportunity to put into practice what I have been sharing with you over the past eight years as a district superintendent. With 50 years of experience as a United Methodist minister, I am still in the ministry of resourcing Christ-centered leaders.

Through Transforming Mission, Sara Thomas and I are still providing the resources you need to lead a movement of Jesus followers.

Okay, with that said, it is time to refocus. Read Isaiah’s words to the Hebrew people. He is challenging them to refocus.

Read Isaiah 43:18-21

Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

Reflect

These words were written while Israel was in exile. The people were separated from what was meaningful. Their lives were disrupted, and they felt hopeless.

God, through Isaiah, calls them to refocus. Isaiah reminds them who created them, who formed them, and who redeemed them.  He reminds them they have nothing to fear because God has been with them through all the trials, disruptions, and disconnections.

God has been good to them. God led them out of Egypt and out of slavery. God led them through the Red Sea and protected them in the wilderness. God provided manna when they were hungry, quail when they wanted meat, and water out of rock when they were thirsty. God had led them to the promised land, a land of milk and honey. God had been good to them. 

God Makes A Way

I am projecting here, but my guess is, Israel had grown accustomed to God’s goodness and lost focus of who God was for them and who they were in relationship to God. And even though they might have lost focus; God did not condemn them. Amid their disconnections and lack of focus, God offered hope. God makes a way for them.

So, Isaiah challenges them to set aside the past. God is doing a new thing, a new work in their midst.  They are reassured that they can trust God because God is able to make a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert.

Now, here is what is interesting to me. The new thing is refocusing on God. Why? God wants the people to declare God’s praise.

They are asked to set aside all God had done for them in the past, the things that had gotten them to this point, and to focus on the present. “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?

When they lost focus on God, they began to focus on themselves. So, the challenge is to focus on what God is doing for them now. It is like God is saying, “If I can make a path in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, you can trust me for this moment in time.”

And speaking through Isaiah, God continues to say, “for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” In other words (Bias translation), “I am providing water for you, because I love you and I created you to love. All I want is for you to live the way I created you to live.”

To declare God’s praise was to focus upon God and God’s goodness, and to not only receive God’s goodness but extend God’s goodness to others.

Respond

Today, look for the situations and circumstances where you are being challenged to refocus. Where you are being challenged to receive God’s love and to extend God’s love to others. Look for the “new thing” God is doing in the lives of the people you encounter today? Be aware of how you are responding and how you might respond differently. When you are uncomfortable or are feeling especially challenged to refocus, remember if God can make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, God and certainly love you into becoming the person you have been created to be.

Today, set aside the past and experience what God is doing now in your midst.

Prayer

O God, I do believe you are doing something new in my life and in the lives of the people around me. Give me the eyes to see it and the heart to embrace it, so that I may become the person you have created me to be.  I offer myself to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you see Jesus? What new thing did you experience? How did it help you see a way to refocus? Give God thanks for the experience. What did you learn that you will do differently tomorrow?

Pray for the faith to continue to step into the unknown with courage and hope. Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

Where have the past eight years gone? It seems just like yesterday that I was first appointed to the Capital Area South District, then to the Capital Area North District, and then to the Olentangy River District. In many ways, the past eight years have been some of the best and most enjoyable of my fifty years of appointed ministry. 

I am at that rare juncture in life, which is at the same time fragile and strong.  Although it is most beautiful, it carries with it the possibility of being the ugliest of any transaction I can know. I am at the stage of giving and receiving a gift. 

On July 1, I will become the lead pastor of Christ Church in Charleston, West Virginia. So, as I am leaving the season of district superintendent, I’m entering a new season of being a pastor of a local church. As I am giving God thanks, I am receiving a gift. 

Grace 

Paul, more than any other writer recorded in the Bible, uses the same word for giving and receiving. The word is charis. It is usually translated as “grace.” But it can also be translated as “gift,” or “thanks.” 

When Paul uses it, you don’t know whether it is being given (thanks), being received (grace), or being given (gift). In a way, I am at a charis moment. It is as sacred as the Eucharist (thanks) and at the same time, it is charisma and charismatic. In other words, as I am giving thanks, I am both receiving and giving. 

Giving Thanks for You

All of that to say, I’m at a moment of giving thanks for you, but as I do, I am acknowledging what I have given and what I have received. May I say it again? I am at the juncture of the most beautiful and rarest moments that any one of us can know. 

So, with one last feeble attempt, I want to thank you for the opportunity and honor of serving with you over these past eight years. Using Paul as my guide, I want to thank you for helping me grow in my relationship with Jesus. Paul says, “I have been initiated into the mystery (secret). 

What is the mystery? What is the secret? 

Let’s see if Paul gives us a clue in his letter to the Philippians. 

Read: Philippians 1:3-11 

3 I thank my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always in every one of my prayers for all of you, praying with joy 5 for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.  

Reflect 

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a note of thanks. Throughout his letter he expresses his gratitude for them, his affection for them, and offers prayer for them. 

As I reflect upon his words, I want to use his structure to express my gratitude for you and your ministry.    

I Thank My God for Every Remembrance of You

Paul writes, “I thank my God for every remembrance of you…” 

Friends, I am who I am because of you. I am convinced that God brought us together so that I might become more who God created me to be. I am even more convinced that God puts people in my life because I still need to experience and to be shaped by God’s love. 

Bonhoeffer wrote, “In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” 

I am grateful for you, your ministry, your friendship, and for all God has done to make me who I am in and through you. Please know that every time you come to mind, I will give God thanks for you as I pray for your health and well-being. May I ask you to do the same for me? Every time I come to mind, pray for me. Even if you don’t remember my name and don’t know what to pray, just pray, “Jesus, help that old man. He needs all the help he can get.” 

“I thank my God every time I remember you…” 

Paul writes, “praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel…” Colleagues in ministry, “I have you in my heart…and I long for you…” (Philippians 1:7-8). 

Paul gives thanks for the joy of their partnership in the gospel. They have taken up residence in his heart. Wow. I know what that is like. You now live in my heart. You have helped expand my heart to include not only you but many others I did not know existed until I opened my heart to you.

I am grateful. 

But there is something I am learning because I have allowed you into my heart. 

The Deeper the Bond…

The deeper the bond, the more painful the absence. 

How will I manage the separation from you and our ministry together? I have been thinking about it and I have concluded that it is a matter of memory.  I’ll remember the good times, the special occasions, the profound worship. I will remember the Lord’s Table (Do this in remembrance of me), baptism (Remember your baptism and be thankful), and the conversations we have had describing God’s call upon our lives. 

I will hold you in my heart, as I sing the hymns, pray the prayers, and preach the gospel. I will hold in my heart what we have experienced together, the memories that we have made, whether through celebrations of worship, one-to-ones, or strategizing mission. We have made memories together. 

As I reflect upon it, what we have shared together is what will sustain us tomorrow and beyond.  I have you in my heart, and I long for you to be who God has created you to be as a Christ-centered leader. You must know, that will never change. 

I am praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel…Know how much you are loved and appreciated. 

The One Who Began A Good Work in You

Then Paul adds, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”   

What do you think he intended to say with those words? If your reading continues to include verses 9-11, you will find an answer. Paul prays that they will grow and mature in love, a love that is undergirded by understanding and knowledge, a love rooted in experience and discernment, a love that is put to the test and strengthened in real-life situations, a love that is the foundation for making choices in matters that count. He assures them that God is working in and through them because he is certain that they are instruments of God’s love and peace.   

No prayer, no power. 

Little prayer, little power. 

Much prayer, much power.

Paul prays for them because he is holding them in his heart. If you take nothing else from this blog, take this, “No prayer, no power. Little prayer, little power. Much prayer, much power.”

Listen to me closely, for all the education and training you have, no one can teach, train, or give you the love you need for your congregation. 

There is no education that will break your heart for the church or your church’s heart for the community. There is no training that makes you get up early in the morning to pray for the people entrusted to your care. There is no one who can give you the burden for the broken and marginalized in your community. But that is what it means to be about God’s business. If God called you, God will equip you, but you have to be in conversation with God to keep God’s love at the center of who you are and what you do. Truly, it is a matter of prayer. 

What is Needed: Prayer

Let me say it another way. Education, knowledge, and training are good, but you do not need more training. I know you want to learn more about leadership and organizational structure. I have heard your desire to learn more of the scripture and to communicate with clarity. I have experienced your yearning to be effective in every aspect of your ministry. But from what I have learned over these past eight years, you do not need more training to be who God created you to be or who God needs you to be at this important time in history.

It is my “bias” opinion that what is needed most is prayer. So, more than anything else, here is what I hope you learn and put into practice. Learn to pray. Prayer is the good work God has started in you, and it is prayer that needs to continue until the day of Jesus Christ.

Prayer is Hard

Let me say it this way: prayer is hard. Effective prayer is even harder. A.W. Tozer, author, and preacher in the 20th century, had a person who sat outside his office door while he prayed each day. That person was not to let anyone interrupt him during his prayer time. Think about it. Learn to pray not as an exercise in worship but as an expression of your relationship with Jesus. The good work God has started in you is a matter of prayer.

At the end of Matthew 9, Jesus tells His followers to pray to the Lord of the harvest that workers would be sent into the harvest. With his own heart broken in compassion, Jesus sent his followers into the world, the community, because he saw the people as sheep without a shepherd. Think about it. Jesus is saying, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest so that your hearts will be broken in compassion for the people you encounter each day.” This is part of the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul calls the followers of Jesus to pray. He reminds them that they do not fight flesh and blood, but they fight against the spirits and powers of the day. He identifies prayer as the full armor of God. So, to fight the powers and injustices of this time in history, you first need to pray and then act. The action grows out of the love of God. This is part of the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer. 

Clear is Kind

One of the things I have learned over these past years is “clear is kind.” May I be clear with you? Most of us, as leaders, lack a deep and meaningful prayer life. It is my experience that we are too busy. There are too many meetings, too many expectations, and too many demands upon time and energy. When translated, it means that your time and solitude with Jesus is cut short so you can “run the church” effectively. Your leadership is a byproduct of the good work God has started in you. To be connected to that good work, you first must pray, seeking to know about God’s business of loving others.

As a leader, your authority comes from your closeness to Jesus. The hours you spend in prayer will change your heart, will deepen your sermons, and be experienced in your compassion. You will lead with trust, compassion, stability, and hope.  This is the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer.

Prayer is Our Primary Work

Now, please know that I understand that few churches allow their pastors to spend this kind of time and effort in prayer. Most church members don’t see prayer as real work.

So, let me once again be clear. Prayer is the primary work of the church. How can you be a Christ-centered leader if Christ is not the center of your faith and work?

When prayer becomes your primary work, you will provide and protect time to pray, to study the scripture, and to seek God’s guidance in loving others as you have been loved. This is what it means to be about God’s business. This is the good work God has started in you. You were created to be in relationship with God, to reflect his glory in the community and all your relationships.

I know this to be true, your time with Jesus will not only change you, but it will change your church, and transform your community and the world.

“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  

Respond 

So, what is the secret Paul refers to when he writes, “I have been initiated into the mystery.” 

May I tell you what I think? It is gratitude. The secret of the fundamental relationship with God that sets you free is gratitude. The closer you get to Jesus; the more your gratitude grows and deepens. 

From my experience, people of gratitude are people of grace and generosity in their relationships. They are people of hope and compassion, as well as people of courage and care. I can tell that they have spent time with Jesus because they love the people Jesus loves, and they give themselves for the welfare of the people around them and for the community in which they live. 

Let me say it this way. If I were on a Pastor Parish Relations Committee, waiting to receive a new minister for the church, and I had a chance to ask one question, before I would say, “Tell me about your preaching or about study habits or your leadership style,” I would ask, “What evidence of gratitude is there in your life?” 

How will you thank God for the people in your life today? Whether you call it grace, gift, or gratitude, keep your eyes and ears open to God’s good work in your midst. How will you live the good work God has started in you today? 

Prayer 

O God I am grateful for the good work you have started in my life, and I am grateful that you will continue your good work in me until the day of Jesus. By your grace, give me the faith to assist people to grow in their faith. Give me the courage to lead people into the community to love others as you have loved me. I am grateful for the opportunity to thank you for the people who have helped shape me into the person I am today. By your grace, give me faith to love and trust you more. Amen. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you meet Jesus? Where did you discover the need to assist people in growing in their faith? How did you respond to their need and desire to give care, support, encouragement, and hope to others? What good work has God started in you that you want to share with others? What did you learn that you will do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead. 

Now, please pray for me as I turn my face toward Christ Church in Charleston, West Virginia. Just know this, “I thank my God for every remembrance of you…” I am grateful!

SPECIAL NOTE

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The “Bias Opinion” and Transforming Mission Podcast are continuing. 

Tim’s transition to a new ministry setting will not stop the resources here. The blog and podcast will continue with the resources and insights you need to lead a movement of Jesus followers. If you do not receive the Tuesday email from Transforming Mission and wish to continue receiving the blog “The Bias Opinion,” click the button below to let us know. 

Engaging the mission is about following Jesus into the community and being about God’s business. It is a way of relating to and loving others within the community in which you are located.

To help resource you in Engaging the Community, we have explored The Seven Missional Questions (Engaging In Mission: Engaging the Community) and have done an overview of koinonia, the New Testament understanding of community (Engaging in Mission: Engaging the Community Part 2). 

Focusing On God’s Mission

Keep in mind that you are about God’s business. So, through the lens of being a follower of Jesus, what does it mean to live in community with other Jesus followers? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus amid diverse people and beliefs?  

As you reacquaint yourself with your local community and grow in your understanding of koinonia, it is important to develop relationships, deepen your faith, and deploy into mission the people entrusted to your care.  

As you move forward in engaging the community, remember that John Wesley worked to develop both an identity of personal piety and an identity of social holiness. Wesley developed and organized a system to help followers of Jesus grow in their personal faith and to live out their faith in the places they lived, worked, and played. Wesley said it this way, “true Christianity cannot exist without the inward experience and the outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth.”  

With that in mind, let’s look again at the Acts of the Apostles and focus specifically on the two verses below:   

Read: Acts 2:42, 46  

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts…  

Reflect on Acts 2:42, 46

On the Day of Pentecost, one hundred and twenty frightened, self-centered, discouraged, and disheartened men and women were transformed into newly empowered followers of Jesus. They were filled with new life and perspective, intellectually, emotionally, and physically.  

By the power of the Holy Spirit, those newly empowered followers began to communicate the story of Jesus in ways people understood and responded to positively. The people were amazed and perplexed. They asked, “What does this mean?”  Others mockingly said, “They are full of new wine.”  

The First Christian Sermon

It was a careless, scoffing comment that prompted the first Christian sermon. When the followers of Jesus were accused of being drunk, Simon Peter took responsibility for telling the story of Jesus. He told the people about the life, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and presence of Jesus. He explained God’s offer in Jesus, what people did to refuse it, what God did despite the refusal, and what could happen to each of them.  

When the people heard Peter’s sermon, “…they were cut to the heart…” and they cried out, “What shall we do?”  

Repent

Simon Peter was ready with an answer and the first Christian invitation to a congregation was extended: “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  

The word repent means “to change one’s mind,” or “to perceive after a mind-changing truth or understanding.”  Peter wanted them to change their thinking about God’s messiah, the Christ, and to see their own need for him as the Lord of their lives.  

The word repent can also refer to becoming who you were created to be. By God’s love, you begin to live as God intends for you to live. Think of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. You are in the process of repentance as you begin to love more the way God has loved you. 

God’s Love and Power

Think of it this way. One of the things that changed for those at Pentecost was their way of communicating with one another. Instead of insisting that everyone learn to speak and communicate like they spoke and communicated, by the power of God’s love and presence, they learned new ways of communicating and relating to the people around them.  

The scripture says that those who welcomed Simon Peter’s message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 

That first community of faith was…:  

A learning community. 

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching…  The word for “teaching” is a dynamic word. It means that they persisted in listening to the apostles as they taught.  

A fellowshipping community.

The word “koinonia” means having something in common or in fellowship. There is no true fellowship without Christ’s Spirit in us and between us. Jesus Christ is what we have in common. He is our common bond. That bond is greater than anything or anyone else. He draws us into oneness and loves each of us through each other.  

A praying community.

Life together was described as the breaking of bread and prayers. For people to be one with Christ and one with each other, it takes time to be together to listen to each other, to care for and be for each other. Praying together becomes the time of communication with the Lord in which we are replenished in God’s Spirit in order to continue unselfish and non-manipulative concern and caring for each other  

A worshiping community.

They had “gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God.”  Praise became an outward sign of the indwelling of the Spirit. It continued to be an outward sign as Jesus lived in them and in their fellowship. They could not praise God enough for what God had done for them in and through Jesus.  

A growing community.

People were attracted to the joy of the community and wanted to know the source of it. People wanted to be with those contagious, praising followers of Jesus and have what he had given them.  

At that time, the people began to gather in homes as they continued to gather in the temple. They broke bread together when they gathered and praised God with glad and generous hearts.  

Koinonia Helps Develop Community

An effective way of developing community in our day is to establish koinonia groups for personal faith development and for developing relationships that impact the community in which your church is located.  

To engage the community outwardly, you first develop relationships inwardly. Based on our scripture, five essential ingredients in developing relationships will make a difference in your local community:   

1. Study

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching…” Wesley called this “searching the scriptures.” One of the distinctive marks of the followers of Jesus is the understanding and engaging the gospels. Just as the apostles’ teaching was transformational in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, a focus upon the teachings of Jesus is essential in living out the good news of Jesus Christ and will be transformational both personally and socially.  

2. Fellowship

 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship.” Koinonia Fellowship is both an informal time when people get to know and love one another and a formative time when people grow together in their personal faith and learn to give care and encouragement in their social interactions.  

3. Accountability

“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple.” Those early Jesus followers spent time together every day. I can imagine they were sharing stories, asking questions, learning, and growing together.  

Although most of us do not feel comfortable being held accountable, especially regarding our faith, koinonia provides a space and safety to develop trust and courage. We grow into our accountability. I can imagine that was what was happening as they spent time together.  

Think of it this way: if you are a koinonia group member and want to develop a pattern for bible study, you might say to the group, “Please hold me accountable to reading the Bible each day this next week.”  The following week your group would ask you, “How did you do with reading your Bible this week?”  You respond by saying, “Well, I read my Bible each day until I got to the weekend. I want you to keep asking me the question until Bible study becomes a regular daily practice.”  

As your koinonia matures, your group might agree to ask each other questions as you gather. Questions related to personal faith development and to your interaction with Jesus and the people you meet each day. We all need help in developing and maintaining our walk with Jesus.  

4. Worship and Prayer

 It is important that each group has a time of worship and prayer. Sometimes singing a hymn or a praise chorus will lead your group into worship. At other times, it will be prayer or sharing experiences of experiencing God’s love or how Jesus showed up unexpectedly, leading to “glad and generous hearts…”   

5. Mission and Outreach

Your journey inward leads to your journey outward. Your koinonia leads you into developing relationships outside your group. Together, you find ways to love others the way God in Jesus has loved you. You might feed people who are hungry or find shelter for those who are homeless. You might provide care for children or jobs for the unemployed. One way to discover where to be in mission is to ask the question, “What can we do that no one else is doing?” God always provides people to love and places to serve. Koinonia helps turn your inner faith into outward expressions of love and care.  

“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts…”  

To engage the community outwardly, you first develop relationships inwardly. 

Respond  

How are you engaging the people of your church to engage in the local community? Which of the five ingredients in developing relationships does your church do well? Which ingredients are missing or not done so well? How will you help equip those entrusted to your care to become a koinonia that will make a difference in your local community? What will you start? What assistance do you need? 

Prayer 

O God, I am grateful for your call upon my life and for the opportunity to be a leader centered on your love of Jesus. By your grace, give me the faith to assist people in growing in their faith. Give me the courage to lead people into the community to love others as you have loved me. Thank you for the ways you have provided to become more who you have created me to be. Thank you for John Wesley and for the way he has modeled personal piety and social holiness. Oh, God, thank you for your love. Give me faith to love and trust you more. Amen. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you see Jesus? Where did you discover the need to assist people in growing in their faith? How did you respond to their need and desire to give care, support, encouragement, and hope to others? What do you need to do to lead others into koinonia? What did you learn that you will do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

This is part 3 of a 3 part series.

Read Part 1  Read Part 2

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to equip and assist persons in the mission of offering Christ. You have the responsibility to remind them that they are God’s children, and as God’s children, they are about doing God’s business. They are living God’s love by loving others as they have been loved. So, to engage in the mission of offering Christ is to be about God’s business in your living and loving each day. (Read Preparing for Mission: Being About God’s Business).

How to Engage People in Offering Christ?

The question for most of us comes down to how. How do you engage people in God’s business of love? How do you engage people in offering Christ?

At this point, it is easy to jump into techniques and practices of faith sharing. I believe there are practical ways of living your faith that naturally lead to sharing your faith and offering Christ. But I also believe many of those practical ways fall short without a clear understanding of who you are as a follower of Jesus.

Who are You As a Follower of Jesus?

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity and responsibility to remind those who are entrusted to your care that:

They are beloved children of God. 

They are claimed by God and commissioned to be about God’s business. With that in mind and heart, offering Christ is not a personal choice of whether you are good at it or not. It is how you live your life in relationship with the people you encounter each day. When you are claimed as a beloved child of God, you are also equipped with a love that will not let you go and a love that is meant to be lived out and shared in every situation and circumstance in which you find yourself. Offering Christ is about loving others as you have been loved.

God’s claim upon their lives is bigger than themselves…

God’s claim on their lives is also bigger than their church and their denomination. They have been claimed, commissioned, and equipped to be the human touch of God’s love in the places they live, work, and play. Every time you say the words “remember your baptism and be thankful” you are reminding them that they have been claimed and commissioned to be God’s love with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, and even enemies. Offering Christ is about loving others as you have been loved.

Jesus is the way of love. 

Offering Christ is about Jesus. It is not about getting people into the church, or getting people to worship, or getting people to believe what you believe, or about gender, sexuality, politics, economics, race, nationality, (add what I left out), etc. When you are a follower of Jesus, you love others as God in Jesus has loved you. Offering Christ is about Jesus.

All people are included in God’s love. 

Offering Christ is about loving people. I know that sounds redundant, but your responsibility is to lead people into God’s business. People thrive and find fulfillment in companionship, support, and relationships. Relationships play a significant role in the overall well-being, happiness, and fulfillment in everyday living. Offering Christ, as difficult and inconvenient as it can be at times, is loving others as God has loved you. It is who you are as a follower of Jesus. (Read: Reflections on 50 years of Ministry: The Importance of People).

When you engage in the mission of offering Christ, people respond in different ways. Below are seven responses to God’s love. It is certainly not an exhaustive list, but is an offering of several “biblical models of offering Christ.” 

Saul Encounters Christ Acts 9:1-19

A dramatic experience of someone coming to Jesus is found in Acts 9:1-19. It is the story of Saul of Tarsus and his experience of the Risen Christ. Saul was so firm in his faith convictions as a Pharisee, that he participated in persecuting Stephen and other early followers of Jesus.

The offer of Christ came as he experienced the faith and forgiveness of those he was persecuting. His transforming experience came, not in dialogue with Christians, but in his interaction with them. Even in the midst of his misguided theological views, he received a clear offer of God’s love through the Christians around him. 

Cleopas on the Road to Emmaus Luke 24:13-32

Another experience of the Risen Christ is found in Luke 24:13-32. It is the story of Cleopas and his companion walking on the road to Emmaus. As they are walking, they are talking about the events of the crucifixion and the resurrection related to Jesus.  In the midst of their conversation, a stranger joins them. As the stranger is invited into the conversation, he begins to teach them.

Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interprets to them “the things about (Jesus)” in all the scriptures.  Cleopas invites the stranger into his home. It is in the midst of this act of hospitality, while breaking bread together, that Cleopas and his companion recognize the stranger as Jesus. The offer of Christ came in their offer of hospitality. In the midst of welcoming a stranger, they received a clear offer of God’s presence. In whom have you experienced Jesus lately? Where have you seen Jesus? 

Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy – 2 Timothy 1

Another experience of an offer of Christ comes in Paul’s second letter to Timothy (II Timothy 1:3-5). In his letter, he remembers Timothy’s sincere faith, a faith that lived first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. From Paul’s perspective, it was a faith learned at home. The offer of Christ came through the faithful living and loving of family. 

The Gospel of John & Offering Christ

In John’s story of good news, there are several experiences of offering Christ. In John 1:40-42, Andrew, after spending the day with Jesus, finds his brother Simon and says, “We have found the Messiah.” (which translated Anointed). He brings Simon to Jesus, who looks at him and says, “You are Simon son of John.  You are to be called ‘Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” The offer of Christ comes through the excitement of a brother. 

In John 1:43-46, Philip, after being invited by Jesus to follow, Philip finds his friend, Nathanael, and invites him to follow Jesus as well.  Even faced with Nathanael’s skepticism, Philip offers the invitation, “come and see.” Come and see is a common theme of offering Christ in John’s good news about Jesus. (For more, read Engaging the Mission: Offering Christ Part One and Engaging the Mission: Offering Christ Part two

Simon Peter Encounters Jesus

There are several stories of Simon Peter experiencing the love of God in and through Jesus. Most of his stories focus on his struggles with faith. After he drops his fishing net to follow Jesus (Matthew  4:18-20), his faith journey is anything but a smooth one. He argues with the other disciples over which of them is to be regarded as the greatest (Luke 22:24).  

He challenges Jesus to allow him to walk on the water and cries out to be saved when he becomes frightened (Matthew 14:25-33).  He is affirmed by Jesus when he confesses his faith by saying “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-20).  Then, the very night he tells Jesus, “I will never desert you,” he denies Jesus three times (Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75).  Yet his faith matures through his struggles.  

Because of his faithful response and his proclaiming Christ, “More than ever believers were added to the Lord…so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by” (Acts 5:12-15).  Simon Peter offered Christ through his own experiences of failure and maturity. His faith was anchored in his strong commitment, but his faith grew because of the grace he experienced in both good and not so good ways.

Experience Jesus for Yourself

And maybe one of the most dramatic experiences of offering Christ comes in John 4:39-42. It is a story of a woman who encounters Jesus and begins to tell everyone in the community about him. John writes that many of the people from the community believed in Jesus because of her testimony.  

They say to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that he is truly the Savior of the world.” The offer of Christ is to experience Jesus for themselves. Again, the offer came through the invitation to “come and see.” 

Love People As You Have Been Loved

So, as you engage in the mission of offering Christ, practice loving the people around you as you have been loved. 

Think of two or three people with whom you will interact over the next week. The people might be friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues. Write their names in your phone, or a piece of paper you will carry with you or make a mental note not to forget them. 

A Commitment of Prayer

Commit yourself to pray for each person, especially when they come to mind. Give God thanks for their lives and for what they mean to you. Pray for their well-being and health. Offer them to God’s love and care.  Your prayer might be like this: 

O God, I give you thanks for _______ and her ministry. I pray that she might have a good day as she experiences your love in and through the people she meets. I also pray that she might be an instrument of your love to those people as well. Keep her safe as I offer her to your love in Jesus’ name. 

As you go through each day, continue to offer yourself as an instrument of love and peace in the situations and circumstances in which you find yourself. Make yourself available to be a conduit of God’s love for the people you meet. 

Always be ready to offer a kind, caring, encouraging word. In each encounter, you are offering Christ just by being who God created you to be. 

Prayer

Here is a prayer for today:  

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me offer them Christ by the way I live out your love. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today.  

Reflect on Offering Christ 

At the end of the day, reflect on the following regarding Offering Christ: As you reflect back upon your day, give God thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. Who did you meet who needed a kind, caring, encouraging word? In what ways did you offer Christ to the people you met? What did you learn about yourself? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to offer Christ. To whom do you need to respond with words of hope, words of encouragement, or words of forgiveness? What will you do differently tomorrow?

As a follower of Jesus, you can share God’s love with every person you encounter. Whether family, friend, colleague, neighbor, stranger, or enemy, you have the opportunity to be God’s loving presence in the way you live your faith when interacting with them. 

Sharing the love you have received in and through Jesus is part of God’s mission. You were invited into that mission when you were claimed as a “beloved child” of God, called and commissioned for ministry at your baptism (Read more: Preparing for Mission: Being About God’s Business and Preparing for Mission: Hospitality is a Lifestyle).

A Community of Jesus Followers 

With that in mind, think of the church as a community of Jesus followers who exist primarily for people who are not members. As a follower of Jesus, you are an instrument of God’s love for people who do not know or understand the love of God.  

The apostle Paul instructed the church in Galatia, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Loving others as God has loved you is the main way you offer Christ. When people see and experience Jesus in you, you are offering Christ.  

Said another way, as a beloved child of God, you love others to be who God created you to be. You become an instrument of God’s grace. You are God’s love in human form. Offing Christ is who you are. It becomes the way you live your life. God sends people your way every day. So, love them as God in Jesus has loved you, all for the glory of God.

Offer Christ By Being You

So, let me share with you one way you can offer Christ, just by being you. Each of us faces times of uncertainty in our lives. Uncertainty comes with death or disaster. It comes with divorce, unemployment, or retirement. It comes with disappointment, lack of security, or the fear of the unknown.

At those times of uncertainty, disappointment, or instability, people need someone they can trust. Someone who shows compassion. Some who can bring stability and who can offer hope. They need and want someone who will love them unconditionally.

The apostle Paul gives us clues to offering Christ in several of his letters. I want to focus on one part of one letter, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

Read Ephesians 5:1-2

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Reflect on Ephesians 5:1-2

These words come immediately following Paul’s instruction on what it means to live as a follower of Jesus. The word “therefore” refers back to the instruction. When taken in their full context, the words refer to living and behaving as God’s children.

The words, when understood in the light of engaging in the mission of offering Christ, refer to the followers of Jesus as beloved children of God. And as a beloved child of God, you pattern your life, your behavior, most specifically your forgiveness, love, and care after the love you have experienced in Christ. Your nature, as a beloved child of God, is to love others as God in Christ has loved you. In other words, Christ’s love for you and for others is the same as God’s love.

Love Others as God Loves You

One major expression of offering Christ is to love others the way you have experienced God’s love in and through Jesus. You will have many opportunities to offer Christ. 

Each opportunity comes with its own context and specific need. As a child of God, you love others the way each needs to be loved at the time they need it the most.

Times of Uncertainty & Offering Christ

As one way of offering Christ, I want to share with you an experience that has transformed my life. As with most of you, I have come through several times of uncertainty. Times of not knowing what the future might hold and being paralyzed regarding what decisions to make. At one particular time, I was caught in a place I had never been before. 

The uncertainty was so great that I could not see beyond the moment. Uncertain about my future, I felt confused, hurt, and alone. It was at that point, in my anxiety, that a colleague and friend stepped in to offer Christ, which helped me face my future. I didn’t get a lot of sympathy, shallow agreements, or unrealistic platitudes. What I did get was a person of faith who allowed me to be me at the moment of my greatest need. 

She created a space for me to talk about my disappointments, hurts, fears, and anxiety. Although there were times she did not agree with my assessments, she never passed judgment. She listened with compassion and, at the appropriate time, asked me questions I needed to answer for clarity and healing. 

She offered Christ by embodying God’s grace. I began to trust her compassion and look forward to her questions. The space she created and the grace she offered allowed me to move past my anxiety to see new possibilities beyond what I had known or experienced up to that point in my life. 

New Possibilities

Within the process of healing, she provided opportunities to put into practice the new possibilities that were beginning to emerge. Along with plans for reading and reflecting on scripture, occasions to practice the presence of God through prayer and conversation, and the challenge to look beyond myself to see what new thing God might be doing, I was invited to put my faith into action. It was at that point I rediscovered God’s desire, to use me as his beloved child, to make a difference in the places I encountered the people God wanted me to love. 

It was in and through her offering of Christ that this Jesus follower helped me experience hope in a time of uncertainty. She did not bring easy answers. In fact, she did not bring any answers. She did bring God’s promises to bear on my uncertainty. 

She came alongside me, at the moment of my greatest anxiety, embodying God’s love, to journey with me through my most difficult moments, to see what God might have in store for the future. She was an instrument of God’s love which brought hope and new possibilities. 

As a beloved child of God, she bore God’s image. She walked in love and invited me to walk with her. She modeled Christ’s love as she offered herself as an instrument of God’s love and peace. 

To Offer Christ

That is what it means to offer Christ. There are many ways to come alongside individuals and to love them, nurture them, guide and care for them. It is in times of greatest need that Jesus comes alongside us. Over my 70 years, Jesus has come alongside me in and through the people God has sent to guide, mentor, love, and admonish me. 

That is what it means to engage in the mission of offering Christ. Be the presence of Jesus in the lives of the people you meet each day. By your living, you offer them Christ. 

Respond

I know my words can come across as arrogant and condescending. Often when someone talks with us about “offering Christ,” we feel inadequate and even unworthy. It is common in the church for us to urge each other to witness to our faith. Sometimes we assume that sharing stories of our faith is easy to do. I must confess that I have found it incredibly difficult. It might be my personality, but it is tough to talk about things so deeply meaningful and profoundly intimate.

It is even more difficult to create spaces for conversation, where people can talk about fears, disappointments, and uncertainty. It is difficult to offer new possibilities when you, yourself, are uncertain about today and tomorrow.

So, before we explore ways to offer Christ, take some time to think about what offering Christ means to you. What would happen if you took John Wesley seriously and began to “Offer them Christ” as you developed relationships and talked about what was deeply meaningful to you?

Be Who God Created You to Be

Think of it this way, to offer Christ is to be who God created you to be. The offer is more than sharing “spiritual facts” which lead to a mental assent to correct understanding and logical decisions.  You and I don’t experience God’s love as a form of indoctrination.

The offer of Christ is not, what I grew up hearing, “closing the deal” for Jesus.  You and I don’t experience God’s love by being manipulated into saying “yes” to carefully worded questions.

The offer of Christ is a two-way process of honest interaction. Because you and I simply do not see everything the same way, we develop a friend-to-friend relationship.  So, the offer of Christ is not a single encounter.  It is an extended relationship of mutual respect and care.  It is within the relationship that God’s love is experienced, and hope is developed, and lived out.

Offering Christ Is More Than An Invitation

As important as it is, the offer of Christ is more than inviting people to worship or to participate in the programs of the church.  To offer Christ is to offer God’s love to those who are discontent and dissatisfied in their search for God. It is in and through relationships that we can share our experiences of God searching for us in Jesus.  New possibilities are found in the love you offer. Offering Christ becomes who you are.

I believe we can change the world by offering Christ.  Receiving one friend’s offer of Christ certainly has changed me. It was in her offer of Christ that I have experienced the love of God. In the midst of my disappointment and despair, God found me and embraced me with a love that will not let me go.  

T. S. Elliot wrote, “the life we seek is not in knowing but in being known, not in seeking but in being sought, not in finding but in being found.”

To offer Christ is to come alongside those who are lost in uncertainty, disappointment, or instability, and show compassion, stability and hope. It is loving others unconditionally as God in Jesus has loved you.

In Offering Christ Part Two, we will look at several practices that assist in “Engaging in the Mission” of offering Christ. 

Prayer

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me offer them Christ by the way I live out your love. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give God thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. Who did you meet who needed a kind, caring, encouraging word? In what ways did you offer Christ to the people you met? What did you learn about yourself? Give God thanks for the people God sent your way and for the opportunities you had to offer Christ. To whom do you need to respond with words of hope, words of encouragement, or words of forgiveness? What will you do differently tomorrow?

This is Part 2 on Hospitality

Read Part 1 Here

My fourth grade Sunday school teacher, Mary, would greet me every Sunday at the classroom door with the words, “Timmy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” Then with a welcoming hug, she would send me into the classroom to meet other classmates who had gathered.  As I entered the room, I would hear her say, “Nancy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” When I would look back, she would be hugging Nancy and sending her into the room to meet the rest of us.  Mary greeted us as if she had been waiting all week for us and as if we were the most important people she knew.

Modeling Hospitality

She modeled hospitality.  She acted out what she taught us in class. I remember her lesson on Jesus touching a person with leprosy and the story of Jesus receiving a woman that was sick.  I will always remember her saying that we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us.

Several times a year, Mary would bring a meal to our Sunday School class. As we ate, she would tell us how Jesus invited people to eat at his table. Once when we did not have enough room around the table in our classroom, I remember her saying, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” With those words, she added an extension to include all of us.

For Mary, hospitality was more than a gesture of welcoming, it was who she was as a person. Her extension of hospitality was an offering of love.

Several stories in the bible tell us about hospitality, but as you begin to engage in mission, there is one characteristic that is necessary for reaching out, receiving, and welcoming others as God in Jesus has welcomed you and the people of your congregation.

Read Matthew 25:31-46 

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 

37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 

40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ 

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 

44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ 

45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”

Reflect on Matthew 25

I know that it seems strange to use a parable referring to judgment as a story of hospitality, but Matthew uses the parable as a tool to instruct what it means to be a follower of Jesus, a “daughter or son” of God. It is in his last formal teaching in Matthew’s good news, that Jesus gives us a clue to the righteousness and the works of mercy that grow out of that righteousness. According to Matthew, the sons and daughters of God live lives of righteousness especially toward the weak and marginalized.

Good News According to Matthew

With that in mind, there are several layers to the understanding of this parable. The first is the good news according to Matthew. “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God.” For Matthew, righteousness and holiness are characteristics of the children of God. At this point, keep in mind, hospitality grows out of righteousness and holiness.

Although Matthew says it differently from John, it is the same perspective of “being born from above.” Holiness and righteousness are seen in our relationships with God and with others.  So, for Matthew, you are a child of God and God sent Jesus to teach you how to live as a child of God. Hang on to that because this parable reveals the depth of holiness and righteousness of being God’s son and daughter. 

Understanding a Parable

The second layer is the understanding of a parable. Parables are reflections of reality as opposed to mirrors of morality. Said another way, this parable does not tell us what we should be doing. It reflects back to us what we are doing.

I have often heard this scripture quoted to leverage people to care for others, to raise money, or, at its worst, to shame people into acts of care and compassion. This parable is not a moral teaching. All the acts of care, compassion, and hospitality are good and needed, but the point of the parable is not “you should be doing these things.” The parable actually reflects reality. It reflects back what you are doing.  When you are doing acts of care, compassion, and hospitality for anyone, but especially for “the least of these” you are showing care, compassion, and hospitality to Jesus.

Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a follower of Jesus, a human being bearing the image of one of God’s children. Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a child of God. It is not a calculated action of doing what you should be doing.

Who You Are

The difference is subtle but significant. You are either caring for others because that is who you are, or you are caring for others out of calculated action to do good. Do you see the difference?

Maybe you can think of it this way, are you welcoming because that is who you are as a follower of Jesus or are you welcoming because it is what you are supposed to do to get more people into the church?

That brings us to the third layer of the parable, judgment. In light of becoming who God created you to be and in the light of the reality of your living as one of God’s children, your actions reveal who you are.  Judgment is experienced in the reflection of reality. It simply brings out what is already present.

Caring for People Around You

Notice the criterion of judgment is not a confession of faith in Jesus. Nothing is said of grace, justification, or forgiveness of sins. What counts is whether or not you have acted with loving care for people around you, especially those in great need.  

Your care, compassion, and hospitality are not acts of “extra credit” but are the basis of who you are as a follower of Jesus, a child of God, and a person of loving others as God in Jesus has loved you.

Responding to Jesus

Let’s look at this in another way. In the parable, when people respond, they are responding to Jesus. Yet both groups are surprised. Those who provide food, drink, clothing, shelter, and hospitality respond entirely based on who they are. It is no big deal. It is part of their living in relationship to God and to others. They are surprised to learn that there was a deeper dimension to their acts of human compassion. Without knowing it, they are responding to Jesus.

Those who plan their response to provide food, drink, clothing, shelter, and hospitality have worked intentionally to respond to human needs. They have done good work. But they are surprised to learn that their good work has not brought them the results they were planning to receive. Their acts of care, compassion, and hospitality are calculated. Even though they have worked to respond to human need, they have missed the point of God’s love thus missing the deeper dimensions of what it means to be a child of God. Because of their focus on themselves, they have missed Jesus.

Being Children of God

Both groups respond to human needs. Both respond out of who they are. The difference is, one group responds out of being children of God, living in holiness and righteousness in relationship to others. The other group responds to their need to care for others. Their need grows out of satisfying themselves as opposed to satisfying God. Because it feels good to help others it must be what God wants them to do.

Both groups are surprised. One group is living life as they have been created to live, in relationship with others whether they need help or not. The other group is living a life of self-satisfaction and does not understand that their hard work and care for others is a sign of their disconnectedness with others.

And there is the reflection of reality, the judgment of the parable. So, to be clear, it is not the doing of good things that brings holiness or righteousness to a person. It is the very nature of the person that reflects God’s holiness and righteousness. 

Who You Are is How You Lead

It is a tough parable.  But it reveals who you are and why you lead the way you do. It is a parable of character. That is why I can say that for my fourth-grade Sunday School teacher, hospitality was more than a gesture of welcoming, it was who she was as a person. Her hospitality was an offering of love. She greeted each 10-year-old in her class as if each one of us was Jesus.

Hospitality is rooted in the character of righteousness, God’s righteousness, which is revealed in the way you live in relationship with the people God sends your way every day.

Respond: Engage the Mission

How will you engage in mission today? The ultimate mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is not a creed, biblical knowledge, or adherence to the rules. The mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is seen and revealed in the nature of the person who responds out of love to human need. The practical demonstration of love is the ultimate proof.

So, be hospitable. Be aware of your responses. Do you feel normal and natural or are you calculated and self-seeking? The choice is not between the obviously bad and the obviously good. The choice is rooted in the love you have experienced in and through Jesus.

How Will You Engage in Mission?

How will you engage in mission today? The follower of Jesus does not have to present his or her case or argue his or her cause. Neither does the follower of Jesus request evidence of faith or goodness. He or she simply extends an invitation of hospitality.

So, be hospitable. As you respond to the emotional, physical, spiritual, and professional needs of the people around you, how will you find joy in being who God has created you to be? It does not have to be anything big or unusual, but it does have to be rooted in God’s love. Are you deep enough in God’s love that you can love others as you have been loved?

Your Character Revealed in Light of God’s Love

How will you engage in mission today? Be prepared to experience the reality of your character. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Your character will be revealed in how you respond to the people around you. Be mindful of the moments you are measuring your responses. Be aware of the moments you are responding normally.  

So, be hospitable. Your character will be revealed in the light of God’s love. The reality of who you are will come when you least expect it. It comes when you are unaware and catches you off guard. It is in those moments that you truly reveal yourself. The test will come, not in your remembered actions, but in your unconscious reactions, instinctive, and unplanned responses. 

Remember the words of Jesus, “When you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.” How will you reach out, receive, and welcome Jesus today? 

Prayer

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me welcome others as you have welcomed me. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you invite and welcome people into your life and into the life of your congregation? Did you think of your invitation as an invitation of Jesus? Why? Why not? When did you respond in love for no other reason than to love? When were you confronted and convicted of your behavior? What did you learn about yourself? Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. To whom do you need to respond with words of hope, words of encouragement, or words of forgiveness? What will you do differently tomorrow?

This is Part 1 on Hospitality

Read Part 2 Here

As a follower of Jesus, you have an opportunity for hospitality with every person you encounter. Whether family, friend, colleague, neighbor, stranger, or enemy, you have the opportunity to be God’s loving presence in the way you receive them and interact with them. Hospitality is part of God’s mission, and you were invited into that mission when you were claimed as a “beloved child of God, called and commissioned for ministry at your baptism

Explore more: Preparing for Mission: Being About God’s Business and Preparing for Mission: Hospitality is a Lifestyle

Why Does the Church Exist?

With that in mind, think of the church as a community of Jesus followers who exist primarily for people who are not members. As a follower of Jesus, you are an instrument of God’s love for people who do not know or understand the love of God.  The apostle Paul instructed the church in Rome, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Hospitality is your response to God’s grace, God’s great hospitality offered to you in Jesus.  

Said another way, as a beloved child of God, you love others for the purpose of being who God created you to be. You become an instrument of God’s grace, extending a welcoming heart and hand in the name of Jesus. Hospitality becomes who you are. It becomes the way you live your life. God sends people your way every day. So, reach out and receive them for the glory of God. It is who you are. Love them the way you have been loved by God in and through Jesus.  

The story of the road to Emmaus gives us insight into Luke’s understanding of hospitality. 

Read Luke 24:28-32 

When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” 

Reflect on Luke 24

Luke’s story clearly reveals his understanding of the resurrection faith being an act of hospitality. It is a story of two Jesus followers, walking to Emmaus, having a conversation about the events over the past couple of days. 

In the middle of their conversation, Jesus joins them on their journey. He is received as a stranger. Luke writes, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” This is Luke’s way of saying that being with the earthly Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles and knowing the example of his life are not enough apart from an experience of the risen Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In other words, to recognize God’s act in Jesus is not a matter of our human insight but is a divine gift. 

Understanding the Divine Gift

Jesus, the stranger in their midst, asks, “What are you talking about?” The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place over the last few days?” And Jesus asks, “What things?”

The two Jesus followers began to give a summary of what had happened. Their summary was not wrong but, because of his death, they did not perceive that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the anointed one. They recited the correct events but had a different perception of what had happened. The events did not fit their understanding of Messiah. 

One of them said, “We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.” It is important to understand that Jesus’ followers believed that God was present in what Jesus said and what he did. They believed that God’s kingdom of justice was about to dawn. 

There is Always Hope

Then came the crucifixion and the shattering of their hopes. Their human wisdom said, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The death of Jesus was the death of their hope. Even though they had his message, his example, and his ministry, the crucifixion meant that Jesus was another failed idealist. They had no reason to think differently. 

Their hope was that God would send the Messiah to restore Israel and set Israel free from oppression. These two on the road with Jesus perceived God’s redeeming work in nationalistic terms. For them, it was over. Hope was gone. 

A Clue About Hospitality

While on the road with the two travelers, Jesus is not recognized as the Christ but only as a weary fellow traveler. The two extend an invitation to food and fellowship. As they offer hospitality, Jesus is revealed to them. It is here we get a clue about hospitality. 

Luke tells us, “So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…” Luke 24:29-31. Jesus did not force himself on them, but when invited, the guest became the host. The meal was an ordinary meal, but the words were the familiar words of Holy Communion. The words, “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it…” reflect the language of the liturgy of the Lord’s Table. It was the language of “do this in remembrance of me.” 

Hospitality is Demonstrated

Hospitality was shown in the blessing and breaking of the bread. Blessing in the Greek is the word “eulogy.” To bless was to eulogize God. 

Three times in Luke’s gospel, we get a story of eating with others: feeding of the 5000, last supper in the Upper Room, and with the travelers on the road to Emmaus. In each story, we have the “blessing, breaking, and giving” of bread. Could it be that hospitality is extended in and through Holy Communion?

The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, is central to the life of the Church. In the house at Emmaus Jesus is a stranger, yet a guest. Even though he is the guest he becomes the host. 

It is in the breaking of the bread that the stranger, the outsider, becomes known to them as Jesus himself. 

Hospitality to the Stranger

For Luke, this is the church. To read and understand the scriptures is not solely a matter of human intellect and insight but is a gift in and through Jesus, the risen Christ.

When the Lord’s Supper takes place, there is an invitation to the outsider and hospitality to the stranger. It is in the breaking of bread that the risen Christ is made known to the community.

Even though there were only three at the table that day, the table was large enough for the stranger. 

Respond to Luke 24: Four Ways to Extend Hospitality 

(Read the blog: Extending Hospitality is Offering Hope

Here are four practical ways you can extend hospitality: 

1.      Be Curious and Become a Learner 

 Seek to understand. Jesus was interested in the two walking on the road. He asked questions and listened. His offerings in the conversation were for clarity and direction.   

Seeking to learn or to understand could be as simple as getting to know your neighbors. Learn their names, their needs, talents, and interests. Show an interest in people as a way of building relationships. Soong-Chan Rah writes, “In the household of God, we are called to a humility that places our relationships in a new light.” 

2.      Learn the language of the community.

Although Jesus was the Risen Christ, he took an interest in the two on the road. Even though they did not know who he was, He was able to communicate through their grief and hopelessness. 

Learning the language of the community could mean learning the language of teens and young adults.  It could also mean communicating with a Hispanic population, Congolese, or Vietnamese population. You might consider it could also mean that you are sensitive to different styles of music, and that you learn and participate in different cultural experiences. It means listening to the community and learning to communicate in ways that the people who live in the community understand and appreciate. Attempting to learn the language is a sign of hospitality that brings hope. 

3.      Share a meal together.

Jesus shared a meal with the two. Although Jesus was invited to eat with them, Jesus extended an invitation as a stranger. Jesus was present as a stranger. 

It is around the table, sharing a meal, that you have the opportunity to make room for others, especially the strangers and the outcasts. In the fourth grade, I had a Sunday school teacher who taught us, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” You can always add an extension to the table. 

We extend hospitality when we bring children, teens, and senior adults together. How could you create cross-cultural connections with another congregation or with other groups of people in the community?  What would happen if you offered to provide the food they liked and gave them the opportunity to prepare it for everyone? 

4.      Examine and Evaluate

How are you inviting people to the movement of God’s grace and the mission of God’s love? Within the church building, practice hospitality by offering people opportunities to interact with one another. Even if they know one another, offer opportunities to practice hospitality.  “Welcome one another as God in Jesus has welcomed you.” And remember, your extension of hospitality is always to God’s glory. 

Be aware and sensitive to the practices you take for granted. Make everything you do an extension of hospitality. Do strangers know your routines? Who explains to people why you do what you do? Do the announcements include language that outsiders can understand? Do not assume people know the Lord’s Prayer, how to respond following the reading of scripture, and/or how to pray before worship begins. Just simple acts of hospitality are signs of hope to those being included.

Practice Hospitality

As you are working on the four practical ways to extend hospitality, practice praying, “Lord, send us the people no one else wants” and “Help us receive the people you are sending to us.”  When you do, you will find the above suggestions helpful. 

Remember, we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us.  I am convinced that when you extend hospitality, you can expect your church and community to experience the beauty, complexity, and love that comes with recognizing Jesus in the strangers you meet along the way.

Welcome one another as God in Christ welcomed you. Engaging in mission is extending hospitality. And hospitality is a sign of hope. 

Prayer

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me welcome others as you have welcomed me. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you invite strangers into conversation? How were you curious? What questions did you ask? What did you learn about others as you asked questions and listened? Do you learn new ways to communicate with the people encountered today? How will you incorporate what you have learned? Did God send you anyone? How did you receive them? How did you express God’s love? What will you do differently tomorrow? 

Engaging in any mission is challenging. Engaging in God’s mission is even more challenging. The challenge is not the mission, but how you engage in the mission. So, here it is. Mission is not an activity you do to or for others, it is a way of living with and relating to others. It is more about following Jesus than it is about who and where you are going to serve. 

The Mission of God’s Love

Your life changes when you engage in mission. Whether it is your life or the life of your church, engaging in mission means constantly challenging personal preferences, the fear of losing control of who to serve, and the anxiety of not having enough resources. Yet, engaging in mission means learning to relax in the experience of loving others as you have been loved. It is an experience of transformation and new life.

So, what better time to explore engaging the mission than the season of the resurrection? When I reflect upon the resurrection, I continually discover that the attention of the early church was focused on the mission of God’s love. Even though there were those who did not want Jesus around, God raised him up and put him back to preaching, teaching, healing and loving. His followers understood themselves to be the evidence of God’s power of resurrection and God’s love still alive in Jesus.    

On the morning of the Resurrection, God gave a transforming presence for engaging in mission. 

Engaging in mission reshapes your life to live the way Jesus lived and to think and act the way Jesus thought and acted. Engaging in mission is to change your way of living and loving. It means to live all of life in the presence, love, and power of Jesus.

For one example of engaging in mission, read John 21:1-17

Read John 21:1-17 

21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,[a] Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So, they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he had taken it off, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them, and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

Reflect: Engaging in Mission

In the story above, when Jesus says, “Feed my lambs” or “Tend my sheep,” he is sending his followers out on God’s mission of love. Just as Matthew had “The Great Commission,” John has a commission. “Feed my sheep” is John’s commission story of engaging in mission. 

He uses Simon Peter, who is known as the leader of those early followers, to tell his story. Simon Peter received the Holy Spirit and was commissioned for God’s mission directly from Jesus (John 20:19-23). So, John uses Simon Peter to model what it means to follow Jesus. 

After the resurrection, Simon Peter decides to go fishing. While fishing all night and not catching any fish, Jesus shows up and life changes. It is after Jesus has had a meal with them that Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus sends him out to love others as he has been loved.  

To Live with Jesus 

Here is where living with Jesus and engaging the mission comes in.  I know it feels arbitrary, but to live with Jesus is to feed his lambs. To feed his lambs is to live with his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner sisters and brothers as well. 

Just to be clear, Simon Peter was doing what he knew to do, yet Jesus engaged him in the mission of feeding his lambs.  As good as it is, there is more to loving Jesus than doing what you know to do. There is more to loving Jesus than discussing the scripture and deciding who needs care. It is more than raising questions for missional discussions, entertaining differing points of view, and being tolerant and open. 

Each of these things are extremely important, but loving Jesus is more than being friends with him or knowing about him. Engaging in mission is to live with Jesus in such a way that you are transformed by your relationship with him.  

What is Engaging in Mission About?

Engaging in mission is not about how you feel about Jesus or God’s mission. It is not about your opinion, your point of view, or your thoughts about particular scriptures. It is not about how much or how little education you have or what position you hold. It is about loving people as you have been loved. 

Engaging in mission is about living with Jesus and loving the people he loves. In fact, he says, “I want you to keep doing what I was doing. As the Father sent me so I send you.” In other words, “feed my lambs” means feeding people, caring for those who were pushed aside, healing those who were broken, restoring relationships for those who have become marginalized, serving in humility, and even dying on a cross. 

You engage in mission, not because it is a good thing to do, but because God’s love for you and your love for God is expressed in real acts of love for others. Regardless of who they are or what they have done, you love because God first loved you. 

Engaging in mission means living with Jesus so that when you hear him say, “As the Father sent me so I send you,” you go. 

Respond with Love

You have been commissioned to love others as you love Jesus. How will you engage in God’s mission today? Be aware of the people God sends your way. Be mindful of the opportunities you have to respond with love. How will you practice who you are as a follower of Jesus?  In what new way will you love others as Christ has loved you? 

Engaging in mission transforms you. Be aware of what helps turn your love for Jesus into an outward expression of love and care. 

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me be an extension of your love in the lives of the people you send my way. Help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you engage in God’s mission of love? When were your preferences challenged? When were you anxious about expressing your love? When were you aware that you were being sent to love others as God in Jesus loves you? When did you relax in loving others? What will you do differently tomorrow?

Do you need the cross to follow Jesus?  

This is Holy Week. It is a time to reflect upon God’s action on the cross and to remember and rehearse everything about Jesus, who he was, what he said, and what he did. Holy Week is much more than a Palm Sunday sermon, Maundy Thursday Holy Communion, and special Easter music.  Holy Week is about the cross and the kind of life God calls you to live in Jesus.  

So, do you need the cross to follow Jesus? Maybe the question is, who needs the cross?  

Who Needs the Cross?

You do when your spirituality denies someone’s humanity. In fact, the cross speaks directly to hatred wrapped upon in religiosity.

You do when you want to make law greater than grace. “Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion. Which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)

We all do when we make our faith a mirror of morality, giving more value to one stage of human life than another. We all do when we deny the reality reflected back to us in Jesus regarding who is loved and who is not. God’s love is not based upon our moral values. In fact, it is the cross that gives us moral and ethical ground upon which to stand.   

We all do when we support systems that benefit us while at the same time take benefits away from others. Regardless of political, social, economic, or cultural structures, we all need God’s grace in and through the cross when one life is valued more than another.

It Matters Where You Start

It matters where you start when it comes to following Jesus. The question is, do you need the cross to be a follower of Jesus, a disciple, a Christian?

The apostle Paul would tell us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” It is in and through Jesus the Christ, that God’s grace abounds. So, why do we act so entitled in this world when all we have is grace?

It is Holy Week. It is time to reflect upon such questions. So, as you reflect, it is time to pick up your cross and follow. If God and God’s movement of grace and mission of love are the point and purpose of your living, then all other loves, perspectives, preferences, beliefs, and wisdom are far less by comparison. 

The only gospel that can change our world today is the “word of the cross.” Foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others. But to those who are not allergic to obeying God’s call, it is the hope of our future. 

Do you need the cross to follow Jesus? Read what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. 

Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of the proclamation, to save those who believe. 

22 For Jews ask for signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Reflect

When it comes to following Jesus, it matters where you start. As an example, the apostle Paul starts with the cross. For him, the cross is the core of the good news. The event of the cross is the hinge point that makes a difference not only in all of history, but in everyday living. That is why, in the middle of addressing divisions in the Corinthian church, he stops to talk about the cross.

The Cross and God’s Mission

He understood the cross as part of God’s mission. When he writes, “It is written,” he is drawing a connection between the God revealed in Jesus as the same God revealed to Israel and the prophets. (Read Isaiah 29:14)

From his perspective, the response to the event of the cross divided humanity into two categories. The first was nonbelievers. They were the people who relied on their own potential and achievement. The second was believers. They were the people who responded in faith to God’s grace. Both groups represented an action in process. Non Believers were not necessarily eternally doomed, and believers might have been on the way, but had not arrived.

Paul Addresses Divisions in the Church

So, he is addressing the divisions within the church. Their disagreements were centered on where they started. Each group viewed things in terms of their own human wisdom. Their thinking and living revealed they still missed the point.  And because they were missing the point, their divisions continued to grow.

So, Paul focused on the cross as the way to address the conflict. He said that the world did not know God through wisdom, but through the foolishness of what was preached. It was not the act of preaching but the content of the preaching that was considered foolishness. The word he used is related to the English word “moron.” Crucified savior was a contradiction of terms, an oxymoron.  It was foolish to think that a “crucified savior” would make the difference.

The God Revealed in the Cross

From his perspective, the Christian faith was not the confirmation of their best efforts, and insights. The Christian faith was the replacement of their efforts.  Following Jesus was not based on best practices. In fact, the gospel overturns not only our worst practices, but our best practices as well. The God revealed in the cross of Jesus does not and cannot fit into our ideas of how the world works. The cross is a reversal of all our expectations, not just those that are evil or stupid.

All Humanity is Included

Here is where it matters where you start. When Paul refers to the Jews and the Greeks, he is not using ethnic or national terms. He is referring to all humanity. Jews corresponded to the Jewish way of speaking of “Jews and Gentiles” and the Greeks corresponded to the Greek way of designating the whole of humanity as “Greeks and barbarians.” He refers to the Jews as those who represent the people who believe that God’s act is made obvious and clear by miraculous events. The “Greeks” represent those who assume that God’s way of working is a confirmation of their own intellectual system, or ordinary “common sense.”  Both types presume that God works according to their presuppositions. The truth is the cross turns both sets of beliefs upside down. To claim to believe the Christian faith because it has measured up to our expectation, whether of miracle or intellect, is still to operate with the wisdom of this world, which has been shattered by the unanticipated, unpredicted, incalculable event of the cross. In other words, grace that is not amazing is not grace. It matters where you start.

The Scandal of the Cross

The term “stumbling block” literally means “scandal.” There is a necessary scandal of the cross. When it is watered down or eliminated, the gospel has been domesticated to our expectations, and the Christian faith is only a projection of our “best” insights and ideologies.

Two thousand years of using the cross as a positive religious symbol, as decoration, and as jewelry, has dulled the impact of the scandal. The Romans used crucifixion to make an example of those who disturbed the good life of Roman peace. Crucifixion was a public display of how important they considered “law and order.” It is important to note that Roman citizens were not one crucified. Crucifixion was reserved for revolutionaries, terrorists, slaves, and unpatriotic lowlife.

God’s Movement of Grace & Mission of Love

So, the event of the cross of Jesus, though meant to maintain the law and order of the status quo, was in reality the reversal of our best into God’s movement of grace and mission of love. The very event itself, when understood and incorporated into human living, transforms our human wisdom into God’s love.

Paul’s term “those who are called” refers to followers of Jesus, Christians. Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. What we could not attain or verify by miracles or intellectual systems or common sense, God has freely provided in the surprising event of the crucified Christ.  

Paul uses the people in the Corinthian Church as testimony to his point. The church included both rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile. This was part of the message of the cross, the overturning of all human priorities and expectations.

The Cross is Experienced in Your Living

Let me say it one more time in a different way. For Paul, the church was not a matter of developing human potential but the work of God. The Corinthians wanted to be proud of their church, their preachers, and their apostles. They were so proud that they could not live the love of God. So, Paul reminds them that Jesus is the true wisdom of God. True wisdom is not intellectual systems or common sense retrofitted into the gospel.  Jesus, as the wisdom of God, is God’s act of love on the cross.

So, the cross does make a difference in your life not by how much you know or how great your faith but is experienced in your living. The difference is seen in your righteousness or your right relationship with God and with the people around you. The difference is seen in the way you act on behalf of people who are either down and out or up and out. The difference is seen in your everyday living at work, at home, and the places you play. This is what true wisdom is all about.

There are places in the world today where the Christians all come from the edges of society, intellectually, socially, politically, and culturally. They read Paul’s words and dismiss them as true but foolish. They read Paul’s words but pay little attention. There is a movement today, in our country, to be seen, recognized and accepted by the world. The church lives with this temptation. Do we follow the way of God’s love, or do we seek acceptance in the world?

You might use the social status of members to penetrate the upper levels of society, but you must be careful not to abandon the “people of the land.” You might seek out the healthy, wealthy, and wise, but your call is fulfilled when in loving service to those faceless ones who are powerless. When you start with the cross, God calls you to love all people just as God has loved you.

Let me crass for a moment. Paul never wore a t-shirt or a cap that said, “Make Rome Great Again.” Now let me be truthful, the cross speaks directly against making the best practices of religion an established form of government in its relationship with the world.  I know it sounds foolish and it gets in the way, but the cross of Jesus is our way, truth, and life.

During this Holy Week, consider this: Jesus rises from his knees and says to his followers, “Get up, let us be going.” He then goes before them to the Cross. As a follower of Jesus, it is not your wisdom or your faith that makes the difference. Picking up your cross and following Jesus is what makes the difference. Picking up your cross and following Jesus is who you are as a Christ centered leader.   

So, do you need the cross to follow Jesus? As foolish as it seems, I have put my life on it. 

Respond

Warner Sallman is known for his paintings of Jesus. In one of his paintings Jesus is knocking at a door. There is no handle or knob on the outside of the door. The implication is that the door must be opened from the inside. 

Over my years of ministry, I have heard preachers say, and rightly so, “Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart, or at the door of your life. Because there is no handle on the outside, you must open the door to let him in.”  

I like that, but this Holy Week, I challenge you to think of it in slightly a different way. Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart, or at the door of your life. Because there is no handle on the outside, you must open the door to hear him say, ‘Come out and follow me. I have some friends I want you to meet.’” 

I once used that as an illustration in a sermon. A woman, when greeting me after the sermon, said, “You misunderstood the meaning of the painting. Jesus is knocking on the door to come in.” 

And I replied, “I agree with you. Jesus is knocking on the door to come in. I just know that when he was knocking at the door of my heart, I opened the door and he said, ‘I have some friends I want you to meet. When I come into your life, I am bringing them with me.” 

For Consideration During Holy Week

Holy Week This Holy Week, as you journey toward the cross and reflect upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, consider the following:   

You have work to do to follow Jesus and to be grounded in love. Has the cross made any difference in your living? What would it take for you to pick up your cross and get in line behind Jesus? It might seem foolish, but who will you love unconditionally with the love of Jesus? How will you be a person of healing hope in your family, in your church, in your community, and in the world? How will you work for justice? How will you shine with the light of love until God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love is a reality in everyday situations and circumstances? How will the people around you experience God’s love in and through you? 

It might seem foolish, but how has the cross made a difference? Why not show your community and the world the difference the cross has made by the way you live your life and in the relationships you are developing? Following Jesus is who you are, and who you are is how you lead. 

Pray

O God, make me aware of the people around me today and throughout this Holy Week. By your grace, help me be an extension of your love in the lives of the people you send my way. Help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. What difference did the cross make in how you responded to people? How you loved them? Cared for them? Advocated for them? How did you invite people into God’s movement of grace and mission of love? How did you offer Christ to the people around you?

Think about the people you encountered today. With whom do you need to practice your faith so you will become more who God has created you to be. What will you do differently tomorrow?

As a Christ-centered leader, in a rapidly changing world, you have the responsibility to lead forward in mission. By centering on God’s mission, engaging with the community, and embracing your local context, you can lead with purpose and authenticity. You have the opportunity to lead your church in reclaiming its role as a vibrant and relevant force in the lives of the people in your community and beyond. 

Engaging in Mission

You have been preparing for mission. The time has come to engage in the mission for which you have been preparing.  David Bosch wrote, “Mission is seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is the church because there is a mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people; since God is a fountain of sending love.” 

The time has come to move into the community with God’s love. But before you move too quickly, take a quick overview of the mission in which you are engaged.  (For a more in depth overview go to Preparing for Mission: Building on HOPE) .  

Our Mission

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).

People are sent out into the community to live the life of love as they have experienced in and through you and other followers of Jesus. As they experience hospitality, they extend hospitality. As they are immersed in God’s love, they invite others to be immersed in God’s love. As they practice loving as they have been loved they are inviting others to experience and to practice God’s love. 

Remember, you are sent out by Jesus. “Go” literally means “as you go.”  Wherever you are, you are set apart to live the life of love as experienced in and through Jesus.  

You are sent out to “make disciples.” A disciple is a student or follower. You have been invited, called, and commissioned to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus. This is important. You have not chosen Jesus. Jesus has chosen you. You are a follower of Jesus for the purpose of loving others as you have been loved. 

Making Disciples

Now, some people misread the word “make” as coercion, but that is not what Matthew means by “make.” Matthew is concerned about developing healthy relationships. So, how do you make disciples? You make disciples, followers, and students of Jesus, the same way Jesus did. You love people. You bless them, help them, and care for them. Just as with Jesus, (agape) the well-being of people becomes your priority.  

You practice the love of Jesus so you might become like Jesus. When you read the Gospel of John, you discover that the followers of Jesus are known by the way they love one another. So, to “make disciples” means to love people as you have been loved.  It is to engage in the love of God in the places you live, work, play, and associate with people. 

Making Disciples Begins with Love

The greatest part of loving others as you have been loved is, you are not left alone to love others.  The Risen Christ is with you.  God does not leave you to fend for yourself. The very birth of Jesus is announced as “and they shall name him Emmanuel which means, ‘God is with us.’” The mission of making disciples is God’s mission. You have been invited to participate in God’s mission.  If God calls you, God will equip you. When God calls and equips, God will be with you, even to the end. 

With that review, you are not ready to move forward with the mission clearly in focus. 

Read Matthew 28:19 

“Go therefore and make disciples…” 

To help engage in mission, below are seven questions to answer: (Click here for a more in-depth look at the 7 Missional Questions

1.      Where have you witnessed God’s presence in your community? (God’s Presence)

To help lay a foundation for mission and assist in developing a clear focus, consider asking this question at the beginning of every meeting. Have every group that meets engage in answering this question. It is one of two foundational questions that contribute to congregational health. People who follow Jesus should be able to articulate God’s movement in their life. The question can be asked in different ways. For example, “Where did you experience the light of Christ today? (Matt 5:14-16) How did God’s love become real today? Take note of the responses as one way of preparing for mission.

2.      What is the mission of the church? (Mission)

This question is about the purpose of the church. It is not about mission projects, trips, or work. It is about why your church exists. What is the church’s mission (purpose)? Does everyone know the mission? Can they repeat it? Do they embody it? This is the partner question to naming God’s presence. Both are essential for healthy disciple-making movements. It’s one thing to have words on a website or framed on the wall. It’s another thing to use the mission to guide what you do and to measure the direction and activities of the church. Use the mission as a sorting mechanism to ask, “Does this help us further or fulfill our mission?” If not, why are we doing it? Don’t confuse activity for missional impact. Don’t try to justify all your activities as contributing to your mission. If you’re having a party and it’s simply for fun, name it as fun. Otherwise, the mission becomes fuzzy for people. Lack of focus leads people to inaction.

3.      What is our mission field? (Mission Field)

Your mission field can be described in multiple ways. Most often, it is a geographic region where people live. Using the location of your church building as the center of a radius, what is the geographic area of your missional outreach? Although most of your church members live in the suburbs, if your building location is in the urban core of the city, your mission field is a section of the urban core of the city. The question to answer is, “are you a suburban church that meets downtown or are you an urban church in ministry downtown?  Once you have defined and are clear regarding your geographic region, then identify who lives within the mission field. What are their habits and interests? Listen to their stories, identify activities and symbols that help you learn more about them. Although you live someplace other than where your building is located, identify the area around your building as your mission field and the people within your mission field as your mission partners.

4.      What are the assets of our community? (Assets)

This is an important “preparing for mission” activity. Your assets start with the people who live in your mission field. As you meet people and begin to develop relationships, take note of their skills and resources. As you walk your mission field, take note of the services, businesses, physical attributes (parks, attractions, poverty, trash, etc.) and financial assets. If you’re having trouble identifying assets, take a walk in your community and ask people to respond to the questions: “What do you love about our community (neighborhood, or city)?” and “What would you change if you could change it?”

5.      What are the needs in our community? (Needs)

 This is another important “preparing for mission” activity. The needs start with the needs of people in your community. In general, the basic needs are food, water, and shelter. These are followed by safety, love, belonging and self-esteem/respect. Recognizing and realizing our potential, learning, faith, and service round out the list. As you walk your mission field, ask the people you meet to respond to a couple of questions. The first question is, “What do you love about our community (neighborhood, city, etc.)” Make sure to start with what they love, or you will not get much feedback. People like to talk about what they love to anyone who will listen. Then ask the second question, “What needs does the community have?” As you engage people in conversation, follow-up with “Would you like to help address the needs?” Make sure to get contact information so that you might engage them in meeting their needs.

6.      What relationships exist with leaders in our community? (Relationships)

 How are you and other church leaders developing relationships with the following sectors of the community: business, government, education, first responders, faith/religion, arts and entertainment, non-profit, health (hospitals, doctors, nurses, clinics)? Who are the people you already know and what relationships do you have with them? What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, re-established? What community leaders are members of your church? One person with whom to start building a relationship beyond the walls of the church is the principal of your local elementary school.

 7.      What is one way we can collaborate with another church? (Collaborations)

Every local church, at their best, is focused on Jesus. Your practices and theology may differ, but you are in the same business of loving others as you have been loved. In other words, you are not in competition with other churches. We are all on the same team. Now is the time to model for others what collaboration can look like, even in the face of differences. Now is the time to have a conversation with another local church leader or pastor. Listen to their stories. Learn of their faith and God’s call upon their lives. Take note of how they express their mission and what disciple-making looks like to them and their faith community.  Reflect upon how you might partner with them in God’s movement of grace and mission of love in your mission field.

You have received much information regarding engaging in mission. As you read, reflect, and respond to this information, prepare your head and heart for the next part of Preparing for Mission: Engaging in Mission Part 2.

Respond

To engage in mission, prepare your heart and mind with prayer. Ask God to help you to be aware of and sensitive to the people you encounter in your mission field. 

Prepare your heart and mind with bible study. Read Luke 10:1-12 and ask God to send you out as a missionary to learn about the mission field you have defined and within which you serve. 

Engage the leaders of your church in participating in the seven questions above. Send your leaders out in teams of two or three to experience the mission, to encounter the people, to assess the assets and needs of the mission field. 

Assist your leaders in identifying and developing the relationships within your mission field. What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, or re-established? 

Continue to engage our team in prayer and study. Continue to ask God to help you be aware of and sensitive to the people you encounter. 

Now, how will you love the people God sends your way?  How will you reach and receive them in love? How will you introduce them to God’s love? How will you practice who you are as a follower of Jesus?  In what new way will you love them as Christ has loved you? 

Remember, practice makes perfect. It helps you become who you are created to be. And who you are is how you lead. 

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me be an extension of your love in the lives of the people you send my way. Help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what did you engage in God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love? How did you engage the seven missional questions?  Who did you invite to participate with you? How did you feel like a missionary?  

If you did not engage the seven questions today, how will you engage them in the near future? Who will you invite to participate with you? How will you use prayer and study to prepare?