As part of my discipline, I read and reflect upon the weekly lectionary texts.  This past week, I noticed something that surprised me.  The lectionary skipped Luke 13:1-5. It reads as follows:

Some who were present on that occasion told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifice.  He (Jesus) replied, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.  What about those twelve people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”

I was surprised because I think that scripture speaks directly to what is happening in the United Methodist Church as well as what is happening in our country.

Change Your Hearts and Lives

As I reflect upon the continual mass shootings, the blatant racism, the hurtful rhetoric, the tension within The United Methodist Church, I hear Jesus saying, “I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”

I don’t know about you, but I find that to be a hard saying. I want Jesus to say something more comforting or at least more directly related to the issues.

  • When innocent people are killed while at school, shopping, attending concerts, and on the streets.
  • When racism is becoming more publicly acceptable (as if racism is something new).
  • When we fight among ourselves over who is right and just.
  • When our leaders who have been given the responsibility of moral righteousness are the ones spewing hurtful rhetoric and setting immoral agendas.
  • When the world’s climate changes as the rainforests are destroyed and the polar ice caps melt all for economic purposes…

I want my faith to protect me.  I want justice for those who are being wronged.  I want Jesus to say something more than, “…unless you change your hearts and lives…”

Try a Different Question

Yet, my United Methodist Church is caught in the same dilemma.  There are times I feel helpless.  So, I as I reflected upon the lectionary texts, I also looked at Luke 13:1-5.

This is what I hear Jesus saying. “You are not asking the right questions.  You are shocked at the wrong points.  You have located your pain, dismay, and astonishment at a different place from where I am looking.”

One of my favorite hymns is “Amazing Grace.”  At the center of our Wesleyan theology and as amazing we may say it is, I wonder if we really are amazed by grace.  I think we express more amazement over our evil acts than at God’s mercy.  We have come to the place in our religious thinking where we assume that God will be merciful; God will be kind; God will be gracious.  We’re not surprised when we experience God’s kindness.  What shocks us is seeing something bad take place.

By God’s Grace

That is why I say I hear Jesus saying, “You are asking the wrong questions.  You are asking why these events take place.  You should be asking, “By God’s grace how do I respond?” I think, you and I have become so calloused, that our hearts have become so hard, that we are no longer surprised by God’s grace but we are paralyzed to inaction because we assume God’s grace.

One of my favorite illustrations of God’s grace and the dilemma we face today in The United Methodist Church comes from R. C. Sproul.  He tells the story of one of his first teaching assignments as a college professor. He was teaching a required course for 250 college freshmen: Introduction to the Old Testament.

He said, “I was uncomfortable trying to communicate with so many students at one time. I printed in advance the requirements for the course, because I’d already learned that college students were all budding Philadelphia lawyers, and I had to dot my I’s and cross my t’s to make sure that the assignments were clearly set forth.  So, I gave them a published syllabus and told them what the requirements would be for the class.”

The assignments for the semester were three very small papers, book report type things. The first one was due at noon on September 30, the second one October 30, and the third on November 30.  He told the class he wanted the completed papers on his desk at 12:00 noon on the appointed dates unless they were physically confined to the hospital or infirmary, or there was a death in the immediate family. If the papers where not in on time they would get an F for that assignment.

Begging for Grace

Everyone said they understand the assignment.

When September 30 came around, 225 of students brought their papers in and presented them dutifully at the proper time.  Twenty-five of students in the class failed to complete the assignment. They were scared to death.  Being freshmen, they were just making the transition from high school, and they were in a posture of abject humility.

They came to the Professor and said, “Professor Sproul, please don’t give us a F for this grade!  Please give us a little more time.  Give us one more chance.  We’re so sorry.”  They begged the Professor for grace.

The professor granted them an extension and said, “But don’t let it happen again.  Remember the next assignment is due October 30, and I want the papers in on time.”

They said, “Absolutely.  They’ll be here.”

Second Chances – Again

When October 30 came around, two hundred of the students came and put their term papers on the professor’s desk.  Fifty of them assembled outside the professor’s office. They had not planned their time properly and were not prepared.  So once again they pleaded, “Professor, we didn’t budget our time properly. It’s midterm. We had so many assignments all coming at the same time. It’s homecoming. Please just give us one more chance.”

The professor, a softhearted guy, said, “Okay, I’ll give you one more chance, but don’t let it happen again.”  The students began to sing spontaneously, “We love you, Professor Sproul.  Oh yes, we do.”

That’s Not Fair

Sproul said he was the most popular professor in the school for thirty days. Because thirty days later the third paper was due.  This time 150 students came into the classroom with their papers prepared, while the other 100 came in as casual, as cavalier, as you can imagine. They didn’t have their papers, but they weren’t worried in the slightest.

The professor asked, “Hey, where are your term papers?”

They said, “Prof, don’t worry about it. We’ll have them for you in a couple of days. No sweat!”

Sproul said, at that moment, he took out his grade book and his pen and began to ask each student about his or her term paper.  “Johnson, where is your term paper?”

Johnson replied, “I don’t have it, Professor.” Sproul said he wrote an F in the book.

“Greenwood, where is your paper?”

“I don’t have it, Sir.” So, Sproul put F in the book.

Suddenly several voices cried out, “That’s not fair!”

The professor asked, “What’s not fair? Johnson, did I just hear you say that’s not fair?”

Johnson, who was furious, said, “Yes, that’s not fair.”

Professor Sproul said, “Okay, I don’t ever want to be thought of as being unfair or unjust.  So, it is justice that you want?”

Johnson, “Yes”

“Okay, If I recall, you were late the last time, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

Okay, I’ll go back and change that grade to an F.”

Assuming Grace

The first time the students pleaded for mercy. And the professor said, “sure.”  The second time, they pleaded for understanding.  By the third time, not only did they begin to assume mercy, but they began to demand it. They assumed grace.

That is what we do with God. The history of our personal relationship with God is a history of grace.  You and I could not live on this planet for five minutes without God’s grace. But because God is so gracious, we take it for granted.

When the world starts falling apart, when mass shootings, blatant racism, hurtful rhetoric, and all we know is coming apart at the seams, we are astonished.

We have grown accustomed to God’s grace.

The question is, “Why has God been so God to me, to us?  And what are we going to do about it?” God’s grace is sufficient.

If you’ve spent any time with me at all, you likely know one of the questions that I will ask at some point. The question is some variation of, “Where have you experienced God’s presence?” 

The simplicity of the question can stun people to silence.

When I first started asking the question, I thought the silence I received was my failure to communicate. Then I learned the truth.

To answer the question, you have to be paying attention to where God is at work in your life. In nearly a decade of asking questions about God’s presence, one thing has become clear: most of us are beginners on this journey.

Before you reply, “I was raised in the church. I’m not a beginner!” Let me explain. Read more

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

Some of you are stepping into new appointments in a few weeks. You will transition from one congregation to another, learn the names and lives of another group of Jesus followers, and develop life-long relationships which will bring meaning to your lives.

Others of you will return to faith communities where you are investing your lives in developing relationships, learning the needs and assets of the congregation, and engaging the congregation with the community.

Whether stepping into a new appointment or returning to a congregation, I want to remind you of three basic practices for leaders.

Three Essential Practices Transforming MissionPractice 1: Prayer

The first practice is Prayer. As a pastor, I learned early that most people wanted something from me or wanted me to do something for them. Early in my ministry, I liked the idea of being needed and wanted. The demand-filled day was welcomed. It was nice to be needed. After a while I realized that all requests for my time and energy were urgent. Even the trivial actions were dressed in words of importance.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but the edge of the flattery began to wear off when I realized no one demanded that I practice a life of prayer. Even though I thought prayer was at the heart of my ministry, I was not praying. Oh, I prayed in worship and in public events, but I was not personally listening to God or guiding others into listening to God.

It was only when I began to intentionally focus upon prayer and to develop a life of prayer that I began to focus upon God’s desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of prayer. Please don’t let the urgent keep you from focusing on and listening to God.

Practice 2: Reading, Reflecting, and Responding to the Scriptures

The second practice is the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures. Again, early in my ministry, I found myself reading, teaching, and preaching the Scriptures more for information than for formation. Although reading and reflecting upon the Scripture was basic to my work, I began to realize that using the Scripture was not the same as listening to God.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but I began to recognize that I was out of relationship with God and with God’s people. I began to understand that a major part of my work was to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. So, I began to study Scripture more for formation. I began to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. I began to ask God to help improve the acoustics so I could reflect and respond more clearly.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures that I discovered more of God’s design and desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of Bible study. Develop a pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding to Scripture. Improve the acoustics so you can hear God more often and more clearly.

Practice 3: Self-Awareness and Self-Leadership

The third practice is to be who God created you to be. Over the years of my ministry, I have wasted too much time and energy focused upon pleasing people. There have been times when I have lost myself in wanting people to like me. My insecurity showed up when I worked harder for compliments than I did at caring and compassion.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but trying to be all things to all people got old in a hurry. I learned that for me to be my best was to be who God created me to be. So, I surrounded myself with people who loved me as I was but who would not let me stay the way I was.

Through the development of mature and intimate relationships, I learned and experienced God’s love in life-transforming ways. I was encouraged to be who God created me to be which set me free to lead courageously with hope.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon developing caring relationships that I truly began to trust God and the people around me. It was when I began to be who God created me to be that I began to live the life God desired for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of getting to know yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you and who will clear a space for you to be who God created you to be. It will be in living out God’s design for your life that you will make the greatest impact upon family, friends, and congregation.

You and I have the opportunity to shape the course of our lives. As you enter this next season of your work, develop a life of prayer; and, read, reflect, and respond to the Scriptures. Let’s grow together in becoming the leaders God has created us to be.

Are you participating in Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians – Gospel of Grace daily reading plan? I am.

My participation in this study is making a difference in the way I understand the scriptures. I am learning something each day. However, this study has been more formational than informational. The daily pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding is shaping my thinking from deep within.

It might seem strange, but over the years of my ministry, I studied the scriptures more for preaching sermons and leading Bible Studies than for spiritual growth and personal maturity. I have often fallen into the category described by William Sloan Coffin, “Too many Christians use the Bible as a drunk does a lamppost, more for support than for illumination.”

Read more

Living into Easter

I have a confession to make. Over my years of ministry, I was much busier on the Saturday side of Easter than I was on the days following Easter.

The week preceding Resurrection Sunday, beginning with Palm Sunday, was full of activities. Each activity had its own meaning and purpose. Everything from the children singing in the parade of palm branches to the sounds of silence in a darkened sanctuary. From egg hunts with children running and laughing to holy communion with adults somber and reflective.

Add to those activities Easter Sunrise service, Easter breakfast, and Easter worship, with people busy cooking, singing, teaching, and preaching, I was worn out on Easter Sunday afternoon. Although it was all good and mostly went well, I was relieved when it was over. I could go back to my routine where everything was not so special.

May I state the obvious? There is nothing profound here, but I have to say it. The important part of Easter happens after the resurrection, not before. As good and as necessary each and every activity is leading up to Easter, what is vital and what gives life and hope to the world comes after the resurrection celebration.

Now what do we do? Transforming Mission

What do we do now?

In John 21, we have a story that captures the mood and dilemma of the followers of Jesus after the Resurrection. In my imagination, I can hear them asking one another “What do we do now?”

So, what do we do after Easter?

A Conversation Between Jesus & Simon Peter

Simon Peter and six others went fishing. Easter was over. It was beautiful while it lasted. So, Simon Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” While he was fishing, the Risen Christ shows up and asks, “Simon, do you love me?”

Based upon my years of ministry, I can imagine the conversation going something like this:

Simon Peter responds, “Well, truthfully, that question is embarrassing; it makes me uncomfortable. It isn’t that I don’t like questions. I like questions. I like to discuss and entertain ideas. There’s something about the uncertainty that keeps my mind open. And I like the sophistication of considering various viewpoints on every issue. I like to be tolerant and open. I especially liked the three years we spend together in conversation and discussion. That’s why your question is embarrassing. ‘Do you love me?’ Maybe if you would rephrase the question. Ask me: ‘Are we good friends?’ I can answer that. What a friend we have in Jesus.”

Or maybe like this:

Simon Peter says, “I don’t think you’ve asked me the right question. What difference does it make whether or not I love you? That’s not the important thing. Faith has its own objective reality and we shouldn’t go around talking about how we feel. We should just present the message as it is. We should just read the scripture and express our thoughts. Ask me another question that is more appropriate to the three years of learning that I’ve had with you. None of those old questions that make a person feel guilty. Ask me about Christology or ecclesiology. I like essay questions.”

The Right Question

I can image Jesus responding, “But, Peter, it is the right question. What is to prevent you from being arrogant when you’re successful if you have not answered this question? What is to prevent you from being depressed at failure if you have not clearly faced up to this question? When it has all been said and done, it is the quality of the relationship you have with me that will make all the difference in your life.”

Now Simon Peter asks, “Would you repeat the question?”

“Yes.”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” said Simon Peter.

Jesus responds, “Then tend my lambs and feed my sheep.”

Your Assignment

This is the assignment of Easter. Because of the resurrection, this assignment is made meaningful each and every morning. You and I have the opportunity to translate it into our everyday living and into the life and ministry of our congregations.

But after all the activity on the Saturday side of Easter, who has the energy to tend the lambs and feed the sheep on Monday? Some of those lambs will still be lambs 40 years from now. Some of them will refuse to eat.

Now what do we do?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in moments of exasperation reminding them of the long-term meaning of Easter. As an example, we started the bible study “Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Grace.” This is one of the letters Paul wrote to a church struggling to decide “what do we do now?”

According to our story in John, Jesus said, “I want you to keep doing what I was doing. As the Father sent me so I send you.”

So, what was Jesus doing? He was feeding people, caring for people who were pushed aside, healing those who were broken, restoring relationships for those who had become disconnected, serving in humility, and dying on a cross.

Now, do you believe that?

Easter Sunday is over. Now, what will you do? Go back to business as usual?

“Simon, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

“Then tend my lambs and feed my sheep. As the Father sent me so I send you.”

Now, what are you going to do?

Sometimes when I gather for the business of the church, expecting a report, I receive invitations that surprise and move me. You may have been there with me when I heard this invitation. Perhaps you heard the invitation at another location or even watched on a video in the days following.

As I sat in the sanctuary at Peace UMC – Pickerington listening to Bishop Palmer debrief General Conference proceedings, we were invited to respond in several ways. Two of those responses included studying Galatians and A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

Listening to the invitation shared with all of us, I was surprised by my response. There were no plans detailed, but I was being nudged by two very different thoughts. First, with a question of curiosity, “Why Galatians?” Second, with an imperative, “Study Galatians.”

Following Jesus Every Day

As has often happened in my journey with Christ, when I hear an invitation, a message, a prompting that piques my curiosity, I jump in…with both feet…to the deep end of the pool. That’s my mojo when it comes to following Jesus every day: I’m all in.

That’s exactly what happened with Galatians.

I would love to tell you the imperative touched me at the depths of my soul to “study Galatians” was because of memories of the complexity, beauty, and challenge of this book. That wasn’t the case. I’d studied Paul’s Prison Epistles, I’d taught Romans, I’d explored many of Paul’s letters. But, most of my time with the Book of Galatians was spent in Chapter 5. You know, the chapter where Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit.

Follow Jesus every day by studying the book of Galatians. We offer a reading plan, reflection questions, and a daily prayer. #bible #scripture #biblestudy #galatians #prayer #pray #transformingmission Transforming MissionThe Transformative Power of Scripture

As I began to explore the letter, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, I found myself seeing the diversity of gifts offered in the church, the tension of our current situation as United Methodists, and the gospel of grace Paul challenges us to live in new ways. I am encouraged, challenged, and humbled as I continue to study the Scriptures.

The transformative power of studying the Scriptures comes in the challenge of living out what I am learning. Said differently, it’s in following Jesus every day that the Scripture moves from words on a page to life-giving fuel for our soul.

The study of Galatians continues to offer that reminder.

As a result, Tim and I started working on a reading plan for Galatians to share with you after Easter. Because many of us were listening that day, a team of us from across the conference are working to create resources for worship and small groups. Watch for more information very soon.

An Invitation


Today, we invite you to a daily study of Galatians we’re calling, Follow Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Grace. The daily study runs April 22- June 2, coinciding with all other conference resources being developed. We’ll journey through each chapter and verse of Galatians, offering questions for reflection, a daily prayer, and opportunities to interact online.

Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Grace can be used as a companion or independently from the conference resources being developed.

 

Did you hear the story of the little boy who fell out of bed? When his mother asked him what happened, he answered, “I don’t know.  I guess I stayed too close to where I got in.”

It is easy to do the same with our faith.  It is tempting to stay close to where we got in and never move.

Growth is important to every Christian. When a Christian stops growing, help is needed.  If you are the same Christian you were a few months ago, be careful.  You might need a checkup.  Not on your body but on your heart. You don’t need a physical checkup, you need a spiritual checkup.

Growth is especially important in becoming a courageous leader.

Courageous, faithful leaders are growing leaders. Courageous leaders know when change is needed. Here's a four step check-in process for staying in touch with your growth & development. #tgif #grow #courage #faith #christian #transformingmission Transforming Mission

 

Becoming a Courageous Leader – Grow

A few weeks ago, Sara Thomas introduced us to a weekly checkup called TGIF: Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, and Faith.  She wrote, “…if all leadership begins with self-leadership, there are things that need to improve.”  She continued, “I know the impact reflection has on transformation.  If you want growth, stop and reflect.”

She proposed taking time each week to reflect upon four TGIF questions to assist in growing in faith and in developing as courageous leaders:

  1. What am I TRUSTING?
  2. For whom or what am I GRATEFUL?
  3. What is INSPIRING me?
  4. How am I practicing FAITH?

T.G.I.F.

Today, I want to share my experience with this spiritual habit.  It has become a weekly checkup for me.

Trusting

What am I trusting?

I am trusting the habit of prayer. I have been reflecting upon Paul’s words to the Roman Christians, “Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer” (Romans 12:12 CEB). I have learned that the only way I can deepen my prayer life is to pray.  In fact, I am trusting a shift in my habit.  It is a shift from having a prayer life to living a life of prayer.

I have also learned that courageous leaders have a habit of prayer.  So, let me offer you some encouragement.  If you want to deepen your prayer life, then pray.  Trust your relationship with God and pray.  Don’t attend a prayer lecture, engage in prayer discussions, or read “how-to” pray books.  Each activity is important, but the best way to establish a habit of prayer is to pray.

Grateful

For whom or what am I grateful?

This week, I am grateful for trusted friends. I am grateful for those so close they not only love me just the way I am, but they give of themselves so I can become who God created me to be. I am grateful for the embodiment of unconditional and unselfish love. I am grateful for the habit of meeting with or connecting with those who can speak truth with such love that I want to be more like Jesus.

It has been my experience that courageous leaders are surrounded with trusted friends who love so deeply they can speak the truth that brings transformation. As leaders, we have the opportunity to model such love.  I have learned that without those trusted friends, it is easy to compete with one another, insist on our own way, and quarrel with one another.  Courageous leaders, surrounded in love, step into the world to live and lead in such a way that we model the love of Jesus.

Inspiration

What is inspiring me?

This week, the habit of worship is inspiring me. Consider the words from the letter to the Hebrews, “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing.  Instead, encourage each other especially as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25 CEB).  Because I worship in different churches, with different Christians, at different times, I have learned to celebrate God’s love in every act of worship.

Through my experience of worship, I have learned that courageous leaders are inspired in and through a habit of worship. So often, as leaders, you and I need support and encouragement.  We need to be with people who celebrate God’s love in Jesus and who share God’s love as natural as breathing. We need the fellowship of like-hearted people, focused upon Jesus, leading the mission of reaching out and receiving people in God’s love, introducing people to God’s love, practicing God’s love, and engaging the community in God’s love.

Faith

How am I practicing faith? I am practicing faith by fixing my eyes on Jesus. My Lenten journey has me engaged in reflecting and sharing the grace I have experienced in and through Jesus and my friends.

This week I have reflected upon Jesus looking at the broken and distorted parts of my life. Instead of judging and condemning me, Jesus knelt in front of me and, from the basin of grace, he scooped a palm full of mercy and washed away my sin.  This week I have reflected upon how he has taken up residence in my life and has given me the opportunity to offer the grace I have received.  Because he has a forgiving heart, I have a forgiving heart.  Because he has forgiven me, I can forgive others.

Are you growing in your faith? Courageous leaders know when change is needed. Here's a four step check-in process for staying in touch with your growth & development. #tgif #grow #courage #faith #christian #transformingmission Transforming Mission

Courageous Leadership

John, in his Gospel, writes, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet.  I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15).

As courageous leaders, you and I must look beyond the literal reading of that scripture and allow ourselves to be washed by God’s love.  Courageous leadership is rooted in the message of God’s mercy.  Jesus offers unconditional love so we can offer unconditional love.  God’s grace precedes our mistakes, so our grace precedes the mistakes of others.  Those of us in the circle of Christ have no doubt of his love.  We now have the responsibility of enlarging the circle to include others who should have no doubt of our love.

If you and I are going to be who God created us to be, we need to keep growing in our faith. So, how are you growing in faith? What are you trusting? For whom or what are you grateful? What is inspiring you? How are you practicing faith?

Courageous leaders don’t make the mistake of the little boy.  They have habits that help them grow beyond where they started, engage in God’s love, and grow to become who God created them to be. So, let it be!

 

Words are Powerful

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.?

There are two characters I want to point out: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. In one cartoon, the woman is beating the snake with her stick.

One day, as she is walking up one side of a hill, the snake is coming up the other side of the hill. They meet at the top. At that moment the woman realizes that she does not have her stick. So, she looks at the snake and says, “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!”

In the next frame, the snake is in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “Oh the power of the spoken word.”

Yes, words are powerful.

Words Create Worlds

You can use words to create images and assumptions. Those words shape the way we view one another and the world. You can use words to encourage and build up as well as discourage and tear down. Words feed our prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making.

Over the past several weeks, in the United Methodist Church, there has been a plethora of words that have given birth to disillusionment and disappointment. I have felt the distress, anxiety, and pain that have come with words like anger, fear, and defeat.

A word from the Word

As I have reflected upon our situation, I have wondered if we are anything like the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul wrote, “Do not use harmful words, but only 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.”

Because Paul wrote those words to a church, does it mean that there were problems with the way people spoke to one another?

The church in Ephesus was a diverse church. Because of its diversity, there was a conflict of values. The Jews, who had a deep ethical background, were people who lived with religious values. The Gentiles, who did not have the same background or heritage, had a different set of values.

I can image there were times when the two sets of values clashed and created tension. So, Paul is teaching about the new life in Christ. He was teaching what would become some of the values of the Christian faith.

Ephesians 4:25 – 4:29

Let’s look at this passage closely.

Ephesians 4:25

“…putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors.”

In other words, stop making up what you don’t know and tell the truth. You don’t have to exaggerate your importance or project a more desirable image. You belong to one another. Your life and talk are dedicated to the truth rather than to yourself. So, give up falsehood and speak the truth.

Ephesians 4:26

“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the devil.”

Anger is not necessarily evil or sinful, but nursing a grudge or unforgiveness is. It poisons your life and the life of the church or community. It is in the unforgiveness that gives root to evil. So, care for your anger. Understand your emotions and respond appropriately.

Ephesians 4:28

“Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” Paul gives a warning against stealing. The assumption is that those who have the world’s goods will share with others.

Ephesians 4:29

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (TEV)

In a time of conflict, Paul is instructing the church to say kind, supportive, encouraging words. When you open your mouth, do not let evil talk come out of your mouth. Don’t diss one another. Say only what is useful for building up as there is need so that your words may give grace to those who hear. The teaching is similar to Jesus saying, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…”

What are the courageous words you're speaking today? How are your words building people up, encouraging them, and helping them? Explore what Ephesians has to say to us in this blog post and hear the wisdom of a modern truth teller along the way. #courage #ephesians #bible #leadership #leaders #transformingmission Transforming MissionWhat Is Paul Teaching Us?

May we learn something from Paul here? In times of stress and conflict, use kind, caring words of truth. Be a courageous leader. Step up and name the current reality while speaking the truth with care and encouragement. Be the leader who uses helpful words to build up those who hear them.

Although she is writing about more than words, Brene Brown writes, “In times of uncertainty, it is common for leaders to leverage fear and weaponize it to their advantage…If you can keep people afraid, and give them an enemy who is responsible for their fear, you can get people to do just about anything.”¹

Consider for a moment: How have your words created fear? How are you creating time and space for safe conversations?

Brown also says, “…when we are managing during times of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty…We need to be available to fact-check the stories that team members may be making up, because in scarcity we invent worse case scenarios.”²

Consider for a moment: Are you making up what you don’t know? How are you helping lower the levels of anxiety with your words?

A Final Reminder

In times like these, we don’t need to be right. But we do need to be righteous. Not self-righteous but holy as God is holy. If you are unsure about God holiness, look at Jesus. In Jesus, you will find the embodiment of God’s holiness and love.

Remember, it is Jesus who said, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” As a leader, take the time to allow God’s Word, Jesus, to take up residence in your life. When you do, it will be Jesus who comes out.

“Do not use harmful words, but only 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.” (Ephesians 4:29 TEV).

Ready to put your words and actions together? Download the Rumble Starter Kit and Listen to Episode 059 of LeaderCast: How to Rumble

 

  1. Brene Brown, Dare to Lead, p. 104
  2. Ibid., p. 105