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

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

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

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What great work does God have for you to do?  You know the desires of your heart and the stirrings in your soul.  You also know the tensions and anxieties of living into who you know God created you to be and the pressures of the work and world around you.

So, how do you respond or react to the tension?

As you reflect upon that question, let me ask you to be honest with yourself. Read the following statements. Which statement describes you?

  • You live alone. Even though you have a family and you are surrounded with friends and colleagues, you live separated from the benefit of others speaking into your life.
  • You feel more comfortable with isolation than you do with letting people get close to you. Keeping your personal distance protects you.
  • You know what to do with your isolation and you are intentional in developing the relationships that feed your soul.

Which of the three statements best describes your mode of operation?  Be honest. No one knows but you.  Which one?

Lonely Leaders

Lonely leaders are everywhere.  Although you are surrounded by people, you can’t seem to connect in meaningful ways. So, you have entered a self-imposed separation.  It is easier to disconnect from people than it is to risk being vulnerable.

Bruce Thrall, one of the authors of The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, did research around “deception” as a leadership dysfunction.  The title of his project was “Everybody Lies, But Leaders Do It Better.”

He interviewed leaders who had deceived and been publicly caught, from the fields of medicine, journalism, law and law enforcement, the church, etc. The interviews exposed isolation as the primary reason the leaders gave themselves permission to lie.¹ Although these leaders were constantly around people such as family, friends, and colleagues, they were isolated, fearful, and alone.

Isolation robs you from becoming who God has created you to be. So, how do you and I overcome the isolation that threatens to keep us from the authentic community and courageous leadership?

An Example of Leading with Vulnerability

Let’s look at the life of a vulnerable leader.  His name, William Wilberforce. As a popular member of Parliament in Great Britain, Wilberforce liked the power and prestige of his office. Even though his personal life was not of the highest character, his political career looked promising.

Through the encouragement of a college friend, Wilberforce began to take a serious look at his life, which lead him to an encounter with Jesus.  After some personal struggle, he trusted God with his life.  As he considered the implications of his decision, through personal study and reflection, Wilberforce wrestled with the idea of leaving politics and becoming a minister. Here is one place he became vulnerable.  Instead of moving forward with a decision, he first went to several trusted friends, asking for their counsel.

Allies and Friends

He approached William Pitt, the soon-to-be prime minister of Great Britain.  Pitt wanted Wilberforce as a political ally, especially with his improving reputation.  So, he asked Wilberforce to stay in politics. Wilberforce was not convinced.  He knew what he wanted while he listened to his trusted friends. As he continued to wrestle with his conscience, he sought out John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” himself a convert to Christ.  Surely Newton would understand his desire to pursue the ministry.  Instead, Newton encouraged him to use his political position and knowledge as his ministry.

I can imagine that no one knew how much Wilberforce struggled to open his life to his colleagues and friends.  But knowing myself, it could not have been easy. He knew what he wanted, but he chose to become vulnerable, listening to those who knew him and loved him.

What are the Desires of Your Heart?

Let me ask you, how many people have you shared the desires of your heart, asking them to help you make sense of those desires?  How many people have asked you for direction regarding their lives?  How many people do you know who have gone as far as Wilberforce, following the advice of others even while disagreeing with their advice?

Sometimes our resistance to vulnerability comes after a profound experience of God’s love.  Once we come to the point of trusting God, we jump to conclusions about our calling in life, choosing to do things inconsistent with our capacities and character.  I know some people who have been encouraged to leave their careers and enter into a more “spiritual” work when it might have been the opposite of God’s purpose.

Choosing Vulnerability

Choosing vulnerability is tough work. You might not like what people say.  You might even disagree. But recognizing God as you focus upon your purpose, allows you the courage to listen, discern, and enter into dialogue with the people around you.

Here are some things to remember:

  1. Know who you are and whose you are. Whether you agree or disagree with others’ advice, choosing to be vulnerable cannot happen without trusting who God has created you to be.
  2. Find colleagues and friends who can be trusted. As hard as it might seem, becoming who God has created you to be is not a casual practice done in isolation.
  3. Vulnerability does not mean transparency. It is more than disclosing yourself at times and in ways that are convenient for you. Vulnerability is deliberately submitting yourself to the strengths and influences of trusted friends and colleagues at times that might be inconvenient.
  4. Vulnerability means you choose to let others have access to your life, teach you, and influence you. To the degree that you become vulnerable with others is the degree to which you will experience the love of others.
  5. Vulnerability invites trust. The trust others have in you depends upon your level of integrity. Your vulnerability expresses and sustains such integrity.

What Great Work Does God Have for You?

For Wilberforce vulnerability was not a passing fad.   He chose vulnerability over and over again.  After a time of doubt and reflection, he decided to stay in politics. He chose vulnerability when he asked is friends and colleagues to help him choose which issues to focus upon.

Slavery was the issue at the top of the list. He decided to recruit others to assist in his fight against slavery.  He met with groups of people regularly to listen, to develop mutual vulnerability, and support.  Vulnerability became a pattern of his life as he consistently opened his heart to the influence of others.  As a result of choosing to be vulnerable, Wilberforce is remembered as a great reformer whose work led to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.²

So, I’m wondering, what great work does God have for you?  To become who God has created you to be, you need to start with vulnerability.  What one step will you take to get started. Consider the following:

  • What one thing will you do to address your isolation?
  • In what relationship(s) are you willing to become vulnerable?
  • What relationship(s) will you develop that will feed your soul?

Our families, our communities, our jobs, our churches, need vulnerable leaders, leaders who are willing to take the risk of opening their lives to the influence of others. Who knows what God has in store for you as you open yourself to the care, compassion, and influence of trusted friends and colleagues?

Choose vulnerability and become the leader God has created you to be.

 

 

Notes

  1. Thrall, Bruce, The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, page 76.
  2. The story of William Wilberforce was adapted from The Ascent of a Leader

You are a person of influence. You might not see yourself as influential, but there are individuals and groups of people you influence by your relationships, interactions, and decisions. Your influence gives you the opportunity to be a leader.

Brené Brown writes, “A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” Whether you hold a position in a corporation, a company, a church or you are a parent, a teacher, a dance instructor, or a little league coach you influence people by finding and developing potential in their lives.

The question is, do you have the courage to be that kind of leader?

Ordinary Courage

The word “courage” comes from the Latin word for “heart”. It originally meant, “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, the definition has changed. Today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. We certainly need heroes. But courage has a deeper meaning.

I want to know if you have the heart to be vulnerable with the people you influence. Do you have the heart to be vulnerable? I like the way Brené Brown expresses it, “I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.”¹

Putting Your Vulnerability on the Line as a Disciple

I experienced this kind of courage through my fourth grade Sunday school teacher. Although she worked as a clerk, collecting money for the water department, and never held a position of leadership in the church, I was within her sphere of influence. 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 we were the most important people she knew.

She developed relationships with eight 10-year-olds who gathered every Sunday morning. Because she took responsibility to develop those relationships, we listened to her lessons on Jesus. I remember her telling us about Jesus touching a leper and about Jesus receiving a woman who was sick. I will always remember her saying that we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us. We were under her influence as she developed our potential to become followers of Jesus.

Several times a year, Mary would bring cookies or brownies or little square sandwiches, along with Kool-Aid 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, she said, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” She then asked us to help her add an extension to the table so everyone had a place. By her teaching and action, she influenced how we related to one another.

Teaching the Great Commission

I remember the Sunday she taught us about Jesus sending his disciples into the world to tell others about God’s love. As was her custom, Mary pointed her finger at one of us and said, “You read the first verse.” We continued around the table, each of us reading a verse. When we ran out of verses, she said, “Okay, let’s start over.” Again, she pointed her finger and said, “Now, you read the first verse” and we continued until everyone had an opportunity to read.

On that Sunday, our scripture was Matthew 28:16-20. Each of us took a turn reading a verse:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

I don’t think I will ever forget what happened next. When we finished reading, she looked at each of us and said, “One day, one of you will go someplace in the world and tell people about Jesus.”

Mary was taking responsibility for the people with whom she had influence. She was developing the potential of a group of 10-year-olds to follow Jesus into the world. She put her vulnerability on the line to lead fourth graders.

When we “graduated” from fourth grade, Mary continued to send us notes of encouragement. I still have the gift she gave me for my high school graduation. It was a book on character. She led with courage. She encouraged my development as a person and as a Jesus follower.

Living the Great Commission

When I was 32, I was invited by the Institute for World Evangelism to participate in a school of evangelism in West Africa. I was partnered with a Nigerian pastor and assigned to a Methodist church in a fishing village just outside of Accra, Ghana. Titilayo, my Nigerian partner, and I joined the pastor of the church in visiting the people of his parish, teaching bible studies, leading prayer meetings, and preaching on Sunday mornings.

One afternoon the pastor took us to visit the matriarch of the church. She lived in a small four-room house with her sisters, their children, and their children’s children. There was a total of 40 people in the house. As we entered the compound behind the house, there were children playing, chickens and goats running, and several women cooking dinner on an open fire.

The pastor greeted everyone in his language “Ga.” With his greeting, we were welcomed with smiles, waves, and extended hands. As he introduced us to the group, several of the younger women went into the house and led an older woman, the matriarch, out of the house and into the compound. One of the women placed a small white bench on the ground. The older woman sat on the bench. Everyone in the compound gathered around to listen.

The pastor introduced us, Titilayo Fatimyembo from Nigeria and Timothy Bias from the United States of America. He told the group that we had come to tell them of God’s love in Jesus. As he introduced us, the older woman reached out her hands to welcome us. Titilayo and I instinctively took her hands. With everyone standing around us, she began to sing in her language a tune that I recognized.

In Christ there is no east or west
In Him no south or north
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

Leaders Develop the Potential of Others

Do you know who I thought of at that moment? My fourth grade Sunday school teacher. I remember the day Mary said, “One day, one of you will go someplace in the world and tell people about Jesus.” Mary had taken the responsibility of finding the potential in a group of 10-year-olds and had the courage to develop our potential.

Your Next Step

You decide: are you a person of influence? You are if you’re leading the people around you to live into the potential of their lives.

Take the next step by doing one or more of the following:

  • Focus on your purpose. As a person of influence, you have the opportunity to lead people into becoming who God has created them to be. Knowing your purpose is fundamental in helping others find their purpose.
  • Look for God’s presence in the lives of the people around you. As a leader, being able to identify God in the people you influence allows you the opportunity to connect them with God.
  • Cultivate relationships with the people you influence and lead. It is the depth of your relationships that allow you the opportunity to be vulnerable and courageous.
  • Listen to “Do You Want To Lead With Courage?
  • Download the Transformation Guide to take this next step. The Transformation Guide offers you four skills that will assist you in identifying what is needed and what is missing in Leading with Courage.

As a Jesus follower, you have the opportunity to develop the foundation of God’s presence and purpose in your life. As a person of influence, you have the responsibility of finding and developing the potential in the lives of the people you influence. Because of who you are and how you lead, one day someone will contact you and say, “Thank you for having the courage to lead me in becoming who God created me to be.”

Today is the day you can begin to change your corner of the world. Let’s lead with ordinary courage.

 

Notes

Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, as found on http://www.bhevolution.org/public/gifts_of_imperfection.page

We all want healthy, life-giving, encouraging, relationships in our lives.  Relationships of mutual respect, grounded in compassion and care.  Relationships built on love and integrity which give us the strength to live our lives to the fullest.

Courageous relationships give us support to be the leaders needed at work, at home, in the community, and even in our churches. Yet, too often we find ourselves in relationships carved out of fear where we are tentative in our commitments and based upon co-dependency where we seek to survive.

Read more

When Tim and I set up TransformingMission.org in 2015, we did so to share resources about disciple-making. From 2015 until now, we’ve experimented, pivoted, and developed resources to serve Christian leaders in changing times.

Why?

Because as Bob Dylan said all the way back in 1964, Times They Are A Changin’

We recognize the challenges Christian leaders face. We see the challenges within our own denomination. And most importantly, we want to serve you.

We are committed to developing and equipping Christ-centered leaders for changing times.

And by leader, we borrow Brené Brown’s definition. A leader is:

Anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.

If that’s you, we need your help.

Will you please take a few minutes and complete this simple feedback form?

Looking Back to Look Ahead

  • This is our 264th post.
  • We released Episode 087 of LeaderCast on October 1, 2019
  • I’ve lost track of the number of Bible Studies and reading plans we’ve produced. But, we’re working on two right now. One is on courage and another is on call.

Neither one of us ever envisioned a weekly podcast as a part of what we’d share with you. Nor did we envision regular Bible Studies. That may sound silly given our focus on disciple-making. But, really, we thought there we enough Bible Study resources available.

But, you guessed it…Times they are a changin’.

And we’ve recognized while the number of resources could never be larger (hello, Google), there are few places that help people follow Jesus every day.

You see, the broad concept of disciple-making is central to our lives and leadership. And, as we regularly take time to pause, reflect, and pivot so we can continue to serve you with excellence we recognize the critical pause has helped us:

  • Launch a podcast
  • Identify topics for Bible Reading plans
  • Curate blog posts that encourage and equip you as leaders

Our focus remains on Jesus, and…

Yes, we’ll refer to Bob Dylan once more: Times They Are a Changin’.

So when we recently took a critical pause to reflect on what we’re offering you here, we realized we never asked YOU what would be helpful.

You’ll have to trust us that we listen closely to the conversations we have with leaders like you and to the emerging needs in local congregations. But, we’d really like to hear from YOU.

If you’d like to help us serve you, please complete this simple feedback form before October 9 at noon.

Integration

If we’re going to live into our commitment to develop and equip Christ-centered leaders for changing times, we know that means helping you live an integrated life.

But, for many, following Jesus is simply showing up to a religious service on Sunday morning.

That means we have a long road ahead.

If following Jesus means your thinking, feeling, and actions are an embodiment of Jesus every day, we also know there is work to do. And we want to help you grow and develop as Christ-centered leaders. At the center of leadership is living on the outside what you know on the inside. We believe that is true for you and for every Jesus follower who seeks to lead.

Will you please take a few minutes and complete this simple feedback form?

Thanks, in advance, for your time. We know it’s one of the most valuable resources you have. Thanks for sharing your feedback with us.

In Christ,

Sara Thomas and Tim Bias

PS – We’ll keep the feedback link active until Wednesday, October 9 at noon.

Well, I have done it again. I was reflecting on the gospel lection for Sunday and I jumped ahead in the chapter. The gospel for Sunday was Luke 15:1-10. The shepherd finds the lost sheep, and comes home shouting, “Rejoice with me, my lost sheep has been found.” The woman cries to her neighbors, “Come rejoice with me, the lost coin has been found.” These are great stories.

There is enough of God’s grace for me, you, and everyone we know. Besides, the remainder of the chapter, verses 11-32, the story of the Prodigal Son, was dealt with in Lent.

But, no. I jumped to the story that was not the focus of the week. And I know why. Read more

On December 14, 2012, twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I (Sara) remember thinking then, surely, this will lead to public outrage and there will never be another mass shooting in our country again.

I was wrong.

We were wrong.

In 2019 alone, there have been 250 mass shootings in our country as of this writing. One reporter in Tennessee noted we’ve had more mass shootings in our country than days in the year. (August 4th was Day 216.)

Let that sink in.

If it is sobering, it should be.

The unfortunate reality is this: we’ve been writing about responding to violence and hatred for years. That is not a badge of honor. It is a sad reality that must change.

The following resources are offered to help you navigate this time as a leader. The cities, circumstances, and names of victims vary, but the challenge to our society remains.

In Christ,

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

Resources on Transforming Mission

11 Reflections on Responding to Violence

  1. A Response to Violence: Part 1
  2. A Response to Violence: Part 2
  3. A Response to Violence: Part 3
  4. A Response to Violence: Part 4
  5. A Response to Violence: Part 5
  6. Charlottesville
  7. Hope in Uncertain Times 
  8. What is Our Response?
  9. Holy Week Terror: Pause, Pray, and Wait
  10. Can We Be Forgiven?
  11. A Call to Ordinary Courage
Responding to Violence with Prayer Transforming Mission

A difficult prayer to pray in times of violence. Prophets often challenge us to experience God’s mercy in new ways. May God’s mercy be new each day for you and for the people you encounter today.

 

Prayer & Prayer Resources

30 Days of Prayer (use the arrows on the right to navigate to the next day)

These prayers were written at the beginning of 2017. Let us remind you, prayer is timeless.

A Prayer in Response to Acts of Violence

A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Resources to Contact Your Elected Officials

US Senators for the 116th Congress (2019)

US House of Representatives (note the search box in the upper right-hand corner)

You local city officials can usually be found by a simple Google search.

Share the Love

We’ll offer one last suggestion. Remind the first responders, community leaders, teachers, and/or government officials in your community that you appreciate their service.

For many of the above individuals, their daily life involves being put in harm’s way. Often, the cost is high. Reach out to someone in your local community and remind them they are loved and appreciated. Not sure what to do?

7 Ways You Can Share God’s Love

  • Write a note of thanks on the back of a postcard to a police officer
  • Write a prayer on a notecard and mail it to a firefighter
  • Say thank you to a teacher. Do it in writing.
  • Personalize a psalm of thanksgiving for an EMT
  • Send a thank you along with a written story of witnessing the service of a community leader
  • Express gratitude and care for your local government officials
  • Remind someone you see in service today that they are appreciated. Simply say, “Thank you.”

It doesn’t have to be a long letter or note. It doesn’t have to be a grand speech. But it does need to happen.

Saying “Thank you” or”I’m thinking of you” can be as simple as that, “thank you.” You also don’t have to wait until tragedy strikes. As you already know, everyday work has its own challenges. Let someone know you noticed their act of service today.

Finally, your note/action doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. If you have children or grandchildren, they can participate, too. Your note or words of encouragement and care are appreciated more than you know.

Invitation

Soon, we’ll begin offering a downloadable card/postcard to recognize one person each month to shower them with God’s love. But, you don’t need to wait for us to get started. Use the resource above. Then, sign-up here to be notified about “Share God’s Love.”

We welcome your nominations for people who serve our communities that could use a little extra love from all of us. Simply email us at connect@transformingmission.org to nominate someone and we’ll share the next steps.

What are you waiting for? Go Share God’s Love!

Common Prayers for Ordinary Radicals Transforming Mission

 

 

Read Part 1: “Is Anybody Listening?”

As I’ve been preparing to share thoughts about listening with you, I read several interesting stories. Some of them were about listening. Others were about the lack of listening.

One of those stories was about Vincent van Gogh.

Before I share what I learned by “listening” to his story, I want you to know that I draw some parallels regarding his life and the life of leaders of our congregations.

It is my hope that as you read this story you will find places to stop and to ask yourself, “Am I listening to God in and through the people around me?”

Is van Gogh a Teacher?

At age twenty-four, Vincent Van Gogh was struggling with what to do with his life.  Although he was a successful art dealer, he felt there was more he needed to do with the life God had given him.

At this point, no one seemed to question is restlessness. His brother, Theo, who seemed to know him the best, encouraged him to become an artist.  But Vincent refused his brother’s advice.  Instead, he left a promising career as an art dealer and began studying to be a teacher.

Now, please know that being a teacher was a great life decision, but for Vincent, it was the beginning of a harmful pattern.

Is van Gogh an Evangelist?

Within the year, it became apparent that Vincent would not make it through the rigorous training required of teachers. He neither had the temperament nor the talent for it.  Again, he asked his brother, Theo, for advice.  But against the encouragement of Theo, his parents, and other relatives, Vincent decided to become an evangelist.

Again, I want to say, being an evangelist would have been a great life decision, but for Vincent, it was a continuation of a harmful pattern.

Who Am I?

The pattern?

Vincent van Gogh had a difficult time receiving the counsel and coaching of others.  It seems as if he had a strange sense of who he was.  At this point in his life, as religious as he was, instead of trusting God and others with his life, he trusted only himself with himself.

He refused to listen to the people around him, particularly the people who loved him and cared about him.  No matter what his vocation, his behavior was a sign, not of spiritual maturity, but of well-masked pride and arrogance.

Am I Listening? Transforming Mission

Am I Listening?

Here is where I want you to ask yourself the question, “Am I listening to God in and through the people around me?”

Only as an example and not to be overly critical, I want to say that over my years of ministry, I have met people like Vincent van Gogh.  People who have been greatly talented and skilled for what they are doing, but who think they can maintain a personal relationship with God while avoiding the relationships of everyday human interaction.

I have heard them say, “My faith is private.  It is between me and God.”

They believed they could experience all that God had for them without receiving the love of others. Vulnerability was seen as a weakness.  They isolated themselves. Sometimes the isolation was based upon ideas of purity or hard work and at other times it was based upon spiritual superiority. I have heard them say, “I have worked hard for what I have.  I am blessed.”

Are You Listening to God?

My question is, “Are you listening to God in and through the people around you?”

A quick look at the life of Jesus might help answer the question.  Jesus intentionally chose to live and work with fallible and ordinary people.

According to the stories in the gospels, the twelve disciples were not the model of perfection.  Jesus broke with the customs of his day and allowed women into his inner circle.  Even in the home of the rich and famous, Jesus allowed Mary Magdalene to minister to him. There are many other examples of vulnerability.  He chose a lifestyle of isolation over vulnerability.

Real-Time Relationships

Van Gogh recoiled from vulnerability.  He chose to abandon all his relationships, except the one with his brother.  Even with that relationship, he refused to listen to Theo’s ongoing insights into his artistic gift.

Van Gogh rejected the counsel and coaching of church leaders regarding his service.  In his isolation, he wallowed in self-pity.  He said he wanted to live for others but all is actions proved differently.

Ultimately, his remorse brought him to the point of giving up his faith.  He became disappointed with God because God did not reward his self-denial and pure aspirations to love his fellow humans.

I find it interesting that van Gogh never considered that God did not abandon him but rather was speaking to him in and through the people who loved him and who counseled and coached him.

Let me ask you again: Are you listening to God in and through the people around you?

Is van Gogh an Artist?

Van Gogh finally found his calling as an artist.  In a particularly dark moment in his life, he wrote to Theo, “I said to myself, ‘I’ll take up my pencil again, I will take up drawing,’ and from that moment everything had changed for me.”

He finally found his calling, but in doing so, he abandoned the relationships he longed for and needed, including his relationship with God. As a result, his capacity for creating art become a curse to him instead of a blessing.

Through his artistic career, van Gogh persisted in ignoring the advice of those who cared deeply for him, leaving a trail of broken relationships.  He pursued his painting with such an obsession that he demanded people accept his terms for living and loving.  His lonely life became representative of a person misunderstood and unloved by an antagonistic culture.

Was it Art or the Heart?

One tragedy of van Gogh’s career was his refusal to listen to the guidance of others.  If he had listened to those who he could trust, he would have begun painting much earlier in life, avoiding the frustrations and pain of choosing unwisely.

But the greatest tragedy of his life was he could not love others because he was not fulfilled himself.  He would not allow God or others to meet his deepest needs.

Can you image what he could have produced had he found his dream community of artists pursuing art for the common good?

But his desire to control and manipulate the lives of others got in the way.  Van Gogh drove people away. He would not allow people to come close to him, alongside him, to help him develop his real talents and strengths.  He would not allow those closest to him to address his personality flaws, weaknesses, or poor habits.  So ultimately, it was not his art that brought him down, it was his heart.

Ask Yourself: Am I Listening?

So, here is the question, “Am I listening to God in and through the people around me?”

That is a question, not only for you as a leader but for your congregation.  Are you listening to the community in which you are located?  As local churches, we can no longer be isolated, doing our own thing, and expect the community to pay attention to us.

What would happen if we began to listen to God in and through one another and the community?

We might just find our true calling.

Are you listening?

Coming Soon!

I want to Dare to Lead!
 
Send me more information about Dare to Lead and the next opportunity to participate in a workshop experience.

 

Last week when I sat down to write “The Bias Opinion,” I did not know what to write.  This week it is different. The writing still comes with pain, but this is pain that grows in my heart.

How can I be quiet when the images of children in detention centers keep flashing before my eyes, taking up residence in my thoughts, and knocking at my heart?

Children, who have been separated from parents, surrounded by strangers, confused, afraid, not knowing what will happen next.  There are children who have become abstract statistics and detached policy arguments.  Children, who have become the fodder of political debates.

How Can I Keep Quiet?

How can I be quiet when people, wanting to help children who are in need of drinking water, clean clothing, and soap, are told that their supplies cannot be accepted? The basis for the rejection is a federal mandate known as the Antideficiency Act.  Under the act, the government cannot spend any money or accept any donations other than what Congress has allocated to it. Really? Is that true?

(Spoiler Alert: Yes.)

The US Border Patrol reported to Congress that they were holding 2,081 children in detention centers. Children sleeping on concrete floors. No access to soap or showers. No access to toothbrushes or toothpaste. Inadequate food. Lord, have mercy on us! How can this happen?

Pain Intensified

As the pain intensifies in my heart, I try to make sense of such incomprehensible conditions and treatment. Oh, I hope I’m wrong but children have been used for political expediency throughout the ages. Didn’t the king of Egypt tell the Hebrew midwives when a child is born, “…if it is a boy, kill him…?” When the midwives did not obey the Pharaoh, he commanded, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile…?”1 How can little boys create such fear and anxiety?

And the one Christmas story we do not read each year is the story after the wise men from the East visit Jesus.  Wasn’t it after their visit that Herod, out of anger, ordered the death of all the children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem? There are times, even today when I can hear “Rachel weeping for her children.”

Whose Children Are They? Transforming MissionUsing Children for Political Expediency

I must confess, that doesn’t help. But isn’t it true? Children continue to be used for political expediency. Remember when World Vision, a humanitarian organization, announced a change to its hiring policy allowing people in same-sex marriages to work in its United State offices? In response, there was a group of people who rallied in protest, and within seventy-two hours, more than ten thousand children had lost their financial support from canceled World Vision sponsorships. Ten thousand children.

Then the CEO of World Vision announced the charity would reverse its decision and return to its old policy.  Children had been successfully used as bargaining chips in our culture war.

In February, as a result of the decision of the special General Conference of our United Methodist Church, several churches not only threatened to stop paying apportionments but did stop funding for projects in African countries through Global Ministries. I’m not sure who we thought we would leverage.

Digging in a Dry River Bed for Water

The first image that came to my mind was the little girl digging in a dry river bed in Nigeria. She and other children in her village would spend hours each day, digging in the sand to reach water so their families would have enough for that evening and the next morning. When I heard of the decisions to withhold apportionments, I thought of the well that Global Ministries had provided in her village.

Children, more often than not, pay the price in our attempts to leverage the system to get what we want. Even when we are acting for the right reasons, we might be doing more harm than good.

When Mark wrote, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children…,”3 he was not implying that children are perfect or that we should become more like children.  We all know that children, if given matches, can burn the house down, or given a saw, and cut the family dog in half.  No, what Mark implies is that children are vulnerable and powerless.  And Jesus says, “Let the vulnerable and powerless come to me…Let those who have nothing to offer but themselves come to me…” 

As Jesus followers, as kingdom people, we receive the vulnerable and care for the powerless.

How Can We Be Quiet?

So, as a Jesus follower, how can I be quiet?  At the border, when the children arrived with a parent or a relative, the border officials separated them. How can I be quiet? When many of the children have parents and relatives in the United States who are able and eager to care for them, yet the children remain in limbo, pawns in an ongoing battle over immigration enforcement, how can you and I be quiet?

Would it be different if they were our children?  Would we find ways to hold them, to defend them, to soothe them, and to set them free?

Peter Arnett, former CNN television reporter, tells the following story:

I was in Israel, in a small town on the West Bank, when there was an explosion. Bodies were blown through the air.  Everywhere I looked there were signs of death and destruction.  The screams of the wounded seemed to be coming from every direction.

Shortly after the explosion, a man came running up to me holding a bloodied little girl in his arms.  He pleaded with me, “Mister, I can’t get her to a hospital. The Israeli troops have sealed off the area.  No one can get in or out.  But you are the press.  You can get through.  Please, Mister! Help me get her to a hospital.  Please! If you don’t help me, she is going to die!”

I put the man and the girl in my car, got through the sealed area, and rushed to the hospital in Jerusalem.  The whole time we were traveling through the city streets, the man was pleading from the backseat, “Can you go faster, Mister? Can you go faster? I’m losing her.  I’m losing her.”

When we finally got to the hospital, the girl was rushed to the operating room.  Then the man and I sat in silence in the waiting area.  We were too exhausted to talk.

After a short while the doctor came out of the operating room and said, “I’m sorry.  She died.”

The man collapsed in tears.  I put my arms around his shoulders to comfort him.  Not knowing what to say, I said, “I can’t imagine what you must be going through. I’ve never lost a child.”

The man, with a puzzled look on his face, said, “Oh, Mister, that Palestinian girl was not my daughter. I’m an Israeli settler.  That Palestinian was not my child.  But, Mister, there comes a time when each of us must realize that every child, regardless of that child’s background, is a daughter or son.  There must come a time when we realize that we are all family.”

So, whose children are these children in the detention camps at the border of our country?  If they aren’t our children, whose children are they?

An Invitation from Bishop Palmer

The United Methodist Church has spoken very clearly on this matter. General Conference delegates from around the world call on us to advocate for the “elimination of indefinite detention [and the] incarceration of children.” (Book of Resolutions 3281). We also stated very clearly that we “oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children. (Social Principles paragraph 162.H).

I am asking you to join me in these actions:

  1. Organize a public prayer vigil. A resource to assist you in organizing one is found on our webpage.
  2. Contact your Congressional Representatives and our two Ohio Senators. Let them know that you are a United Methodist, a follower of Christ and that the separation and detention of children is cruel and immoral. Demand they work together to find a moral solution to the care of children fleeing violence and civil unrest. Click Here.
  3. Help your children and young people draw pictures and write letters to send to members of Congress. Click Here.
  4. Join the West Ohio Immigration Network. Email Dee Stickley-Miner at  dstickley@wocumc.org

Regardless of what you and I may think or feel.  The children are not a political issue. It doesn’t matter whether you are Democrat or Republican, Libertarian or Independent. As a follower of Jesus, as a Christian, it is time to speak on behalf of the children.  Whose children are they anyway?

  1. Exodus 1:15-22
  2. Matthew 2:16-18
  3. Mark 10:13-16

Additional Resource

Looking for a book to explore the stories of Scripture about migrants and the meaning of belonging in a Christian context? Here’s a book that is a part memoir and part Biblical exploration by Karen Gonzalez. The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible and the Journey to Belonging.

Karen Gonzalez immigrated to the United States from Guatemala. She explores the Biblical stories about migrants and shares her personal stories and reflections in The God Who Sees. Meet people who fled their homelands: Hagar, Jospeh, Ruth and Jesus.

Sometimes when I sit down to write “The Bias Opinion,” I do not know what to write.  Even though I have more than my share of opinions, I do not see myself as a writer.  So, often times writing comes slowly and with some pain.  Not physical pain, but the pain of not being able to express myself the way I want to in the written word.

Today is one of those days.

So, I am just going to let a couple of my thoughts and opinions flow.  Hopefully, I can and will express myself in an intelligent and Christian way that will be in service to our work together.

Where Have All the Christians Gone?

Recently, I have been reflecting on a couple of issues.  One of the issues focuses upon the condition and position of the United Methodist Church. I have been asking myself, “Where have all the Christians gone?”

Now, I know most of us say we are followers of Jesus, but, friends, we are known by our fruits.  What fruits are we producing?

 

The Church that Forms

My life and ministry have been shaped by the church. It was the church that pointed me to Jesus and taught me the Jesus way of living. The church taught me that my relationships with the people of this world are shaped and directed by my relationship with God. Those relationships when shaped by Jesus are characterized by mutual love, respect, trust, and vulnerability.

  • It was in the church that I experienced that the last are first and first are last and where those who hunger and thirst, physically, spiritually, emotionally find what is needed to be who God created them to be.
  • It was the church where I experienced that there was room at the table for everyone: regardless of economic status, whether they had positions of power or were marginalized with no one to call family or a place to call home.
  • It was in the church where I learned that the kingdom of God knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture.  It was the church that taught me that life was not about power and might but about acts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

What Has Happened to the Church?

Over the past several weeks, months, even years, I have wondered “what has happened to the church where my faith was born, shaped, and nurtured?” Have we lost our focus? Have we lost our identity in Christ?

  • Where is “love one another as I have loved you” being practiced?
  • Where is “don’t use harmful words, but helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you” being lived out?
  • Where has “they will know we are Christians by our love” gone?

Are we so focused upon ourselves that we no longer follow Jesus? Are we so blind that we are not aware of God expressed in the everyday, ordinary acts of love and kindness?

I have begun to think that we are like Herman, the 90-year-old gentleman who was driving down the interstate. His cell phone rang.   It was his wife.  She said, “Herman, I just heard on the news that there is a car going the wrong way on I-71. Please be careful!”

Herman answered, “It’s not just one car, Dear, it is hundreds of them!”

Tell me that is not where we are at as a church? You do know that the chief sin of a good person is thinking that your experience defines reality.  What if, like Herman, you are right in all the wrong ways?

So, what do we do?

Where You Begin Matters

For years, I assumed that the church pointed me and the world to God.  Boy, have I been naïve. What I have learned is this, if we begin with the church, the kingdom of God may or may not be recognized. But, if we begin with Jesus, the church becomes an instrument to participate in the kingdom of God.  When we begin with Jesus we can and will point people to the reminders of God’s love.

So, what do we do?

Pointing People to Jesus quote Transforming MissionPoint People to Jesus

I have been in conversation with a friend and colleague.  In our conversation, we recommitted ourselves to this: “Let’s point people to Jesus.”  That means you and I need to be related to Jesus, constantly nurturing and deepening our relationship with Jesus and with one another.

If we are going to point people to Jesus, then Jesus is to lead and we are to follow.  We must get out of the way and let Jesus have his way.

Will this be easy?

No!

It will require integrity, choosing courage over comfort, what is right over what is fun, fast, and easy.  It means practicing our values, not just professing them.

Valuing Jesus Means Encountering Jesus

If Jesus is the center of our faith, the reason for our faith, and the invitation to faith, we are saying we value Jesus.  And if we value Jesus, we need to do more than giving Jesus lip service. We need to be constantly looking for, pointing people to, and inviting people to encounter Jesus.

So, if you get frustrated, like I do, because people around you are focusing on issues, what are you doing to circle back and to focus on Jesus?  If you get frustrated when there are inconsistencies in actions, what are you doing to point out the inconsistencies? What are you doing to circle back and to attempt consistency again?

I know it is not easy. But here is where the rubber hits the road.

Growing In Grace

You and I are not perfect. The church is not perfect. But we are growing in grace. Growing in grace, God’s grace, is one of the highest, if not the highest, values we hold.  God is not finished with any of us yet. We’re on the way to becoming more like Jesus, so let’s stop getting in the way of Jesus.

Maybe the best I have to offer today is this: let’s point people to Jesus in the midst of this lousy, screwed-up, glorious community called the church, which by God’s grace is enough.

Well, I have taken all my space expressing only one opinion.  So, I’ll keep the rest of my opinions to myself until next time.  Until then, will you join me in pointing people to Jesus?

 

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Pointing People to Jesus Transforming Mission