Have you seen the television ad about the boy who learns sign language so he can share his sandwich with a classmate?  His name is Joey. The ad opens with Joey lying on his bed, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language.

In the next scene Joey is in a swing, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and again, positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language. In the third scene, Joey is signing in a mirror while he is brushing his teeth.  The scene cuts to his father making a sandwich for Joey’s lunch.

Then we see Joey on a bus, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and practicing sign language.  He arrives at school, walks down the hall, looking at his phone, wearing his headphones, practicing his sign language.  In this scene he is so engrossed in learning and practicing sign language, he does not hear his teacher say, “Hey, Joey,” as he walks down the hall.

The Final Scene

The final scene is in the lunchroom.  Joey enters the room with his lunch.  He spots a girl carrying her lunch tray.  As she sits at a table by herself, Joey walks up to her, with his sandwich, and signs out the words, “Hi. My name is Joey. Do you want to share my sandwich?”

And she signs in response, “I’d like that.” Joey sits down with her, offers her half his sandwich, and they eat lunch together.

The caption at that point in the ad is “Good feeds our connections. Good feeds us all.”

 

Connections

Wow!

When I saw that commercial for the first time, I could not believe it was a lunch meat commercial.  I thought it was an ad for a church.

The makers of the ad say,

“…choosing good isn’t always about grand gestures; sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a sandwich or doing the right thing by making better decisions when the path might be confusing and out of reach…choosing to be more imaginative, generous, kind, or loving, there can never be too much good in the world.”

Oh, one more bit of information.  The title of the commercial is “Connections.”

God’s Presence

Now, I don’t want to make more of this than it is, but I want to share with you what this ad has stirred up in me.  I experienced God’s loving presence in and through this story.

I experienced God’s love through Joey offering hospitality to someone who was marginalized by her disability.  Joey exemplified hospitality at its best.

  • Joey decided he wanted to connect with the girl in the lunchroom.
  • He learned what was needed to make the connection. Because she had a hearing disability, he needed to learn sign language so he could talk with her in her language.
  • He focused on making the connection. Joey not only identified what needed to be done (sign language), he took the time to learned and to practice the sign language.
  • Joey made his connection by sharing part of himself to meet her need. He not only learned the sign language but he developed a relationship with the girl by sitting with her, offering part of his sandwich, and making the connection.

…all in a 30-second commercial.

Sharing God’s Love Through Hospitality

Have you considered showing God’s love through offering hospitality? Consider the following:

  • “Welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Roman 15:7). What would happen if you welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed us?
  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God came to be with us in a way we could understand. God relates to us to help us relate to God and to one another. What could happen if we engaged with our community or neighborhood in a way that takes the people seriously?
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). Love is the motivation for the connection. Do you and your congregation love the people in the community so much that you are willing to give yourselves?

The Question of Hospitality Transforming Mission

Consider Hospitality

Will you consider Joey’s pattern in sharing God’s love with your community and neighborhood? Consider the following:

  • Do you and your church want to connect with the community or neighborhood where you are located? Just saying you want to connect does not make the connection.
  • What is needed to make the connection? What do you need to learn about the community or the people with whom you want to connect?
  • We can and should pray. “O God, send us the people no one else wants and help us receive the people you send to us.”
  • We can and should engage people in conversation. Take a walk through the community and ask the people you meet these three questions:

1) “What do you love about our community/neighborhood?”

2) “What are the needs in our community?”

3) “Would you be willing to help us meet any of those needs?”

  • Are you willing to make your connection a priority? Are you willing to learn what you need to learn and to practice what you have learned to make the connection?

It’s time to develop relationships to make connections with others.

 

Hospitality as a Response to God’s Grace

The foundation of hospitality is found in responding to God’s grace in your life.  As individuals, we become hospitable when we receive God’s acceptance from others.  As a community of faith, we become hospitable when we live in an authentic relationship with one another.

So, who in your community would benefit from God’s love?  Are you willing to learn to connect with them? What part of yourself are you willing to give to love as you have been loved?

Your answer reveals your hospitality!

Prayer for Hospitality Transforming Mission

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.

 

Leonard Sweet, in his book Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, writes, “We know how to save the world.  We just don’t realize that we know what we know.  The way to save the world is not through more rules to live by, but through right relationships to live for.  People are fast losing the art of being with one another.”

I experienced this recently in a church meeting (of all places).  It was a meeting where information was being shared. The people in attendance were giving their opinions and offering their advice.  The group was seeking direction.

Although everyone in attendance had something to say, not everyone in attendance was heard.

One of the people who offered, what I thought was a good direction, was not even acknowledged.  In fact, it was as if this person was not even present in the meeting.

Although there was nothing malicious, my attempts at getting this person recognized were dismissed as the group discussion moved on to other topics.

As I reflect on this experience, I know this is not new for those historically marginalized.  People have been fighting for a place at the table, struggling to be heard, to be taken seriously for too long.

  • Why is it that we recognize some people but not all people?
  • Why is it that we look over some people without even noticing we have done so?
  • And, if we do this with individuals, do we do this with the community and our neighborhoods as well?

 

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Are You More Willing to Talk than Listen?

From my perspective, we live in a time when we are more willing to talk than we are to listen.  As I write these words I am aware that I am talking through this blog.

If you can give me a moment to offer my “bias” opinion, I want to enter into dialogue with you regarding our disconnection with one another and the disconnection between our local churches and our communities.

I want to find out if anyone is listening.

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Five Reasons We Don’t Listen

Is it too harsh to say that we don’t listen because…

1.We are too busy. It is not even about time.

We seem too preoccupied with our own thoughts, needs, technology, worries, and problems. Perhaps we’re too busy talking about ourselves to listen to others.

2. We don’t know how to listen.

Listening is the ability to relate to people with a genuine interest in them and compassion for them. It not easy and it takes practice. It does not come naturally.

3. We think faster than we talk.

Our brains can receive spoken words and still have time for thinking.  Anyone sitting through a sermon on Sunday morning knows that to be true. Too often we go on mental sidetracks and miss what is being said or we are formulating our opinions without taking seriously what is said.

4. We don’t hear what we want to hear.

When someone hits upon one of our issues or prejudices, we stop listening and begin rehearsing our objections, without listening to what is being said.

5. We don’t particularly care for the person speaking.

In this situation, we form our opinions and dismiss someone without giving them the opportunity to be heard. I think that is what happened at the meeting I attended.

Too_____.

I’ve grown to understand that when we don’t listen, we fail God.  I think it is important to remember that God has given us two ears and one mouth.  Could it be we have opportunities to listen more than we do to speak?  God has given us the capacity to listen, but we misuse that capacity when we are too busy, too distracted, too preoccupied, too privileged to hear what the other person is saying.

When we don’t listen, we shut ourselves off from one another.  We give up the opportunity to learn from one another, to understand one another, and to love one another. We give up the opportunity to develop the relationships that help us become who God created us to be.

I think Sweet is on to something when he writes, “The way to save the world is…through right relationships to live for.”

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Five Characteristics of a Good Listener

I offer the following to assist us in developing the relationships that make a difference? I believe listening will help us connect with one another and connect our local churches with our communities.

What does it mean to be a good listener?  A good listener is a person of:

1. Compassion:

The word compassion literally means “to suffer with” or “to empathize.” To listen with compassion means to relate to persons as individuals and not as “types” of persons who we have classified and labeled. To listen with compassion means to relate to the community with an open heart and mind, not telling the community what it needs, but listening to what the community says it needs.

2. Concentration

This means focusing attention, eyes as well as ears on the person, concentrating on what is being said and not on what we want to say next. This means focusing on the community, learning the assets as well as the needs, in such a way that the church interacts within the community and not interjects into the community.

3. Control

This involves patience and self-control. We learn when to speak and when not to speak. As individuals, we do not need to have an answer to every question.  As the church, we do not need to be experts on all the issues.  We don’t need to feel threatened when church and culture collide. But we do need compassion to be with the community in uncertain times.

4. Comprehension

The responsibility of the listener is not to agree or to get others to agree with him or her. As the listener, it is your responsibility to seek to understand “what is going on” and “what is being said.” The same can be said for the church.  The responsibility of the church is to understand the dynamics of the community and to engage in the life of the community, connecting assets with needs and developing relationships of trust and care.

5. Commitment

Good listening is built on love and care. As Christians, you and I do what love demands. If we are genuinely concerned for others, then we make ourselves available.  As the church, if we genuinely care about the community, then we make a commitment to listen, to interact, and to respond with the appropriate action.

Let me ask you again, is anybody listening? Let’s see if we can listen to a conversation between a pastor and church leader and discover our response.

Is Anybody Listening?

Is Anybody Listening?

There once was a church who developed a community meal for the neighborhood.  The people of the church, most of whom lived in other communities, wanted to help feed the people who seemed to be hungry and who lived close to the church building.

Over time, the guests who came on Thursday evenings to the community meal started to attend Sunday morning worship.  The people in the church began to feel a little uncomfortable.  They had moved out of the community because it had changed.  The one thing that had not changed was their church.

Eventually, one of the leaders took the pastor aside and asked him, “Do these people have to here with us.  Can’t we provide a special service just for them?  You know, on Thursday evening when they are here to eat?”

The pastor answered, “Well, I think everyone should have a chance to meet Jesus face to face.”

The leader replied, “Of course everyone should have a chance to meet Jesus.  I think they should have the same opportunities to meet Jesus as we all do.”

The pastor responded, “I’m not talking about them! I’m talking about you.”

We know how to save the world.  We just don’t realize that we know what we know.

Is anybody listening?

 

Your Next Step

Pick one action below to act on in the next three days.

  1. Explore the LeaderCast Podcast Episodes and listen to one episode in the next three days. Here’s your opportunity to practice what you’ve just read!
  2. Download the Workbook for 7 Missional Questions and listen to one of the accompanying LeaderCast episodes below.
  3. Sign-up to learn the skills to lead with courage – and yes, that includes the skill of listening!

Transforming Mission exists to help you transform your relationship with Christ, with your congregation and with your local community. If you can’t find a resource on this site to address your needs, please contact us. We’re here to help!

 

 

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.

I have always heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Is that the same for the church? Are we, as the church, beyond learning new ways of relating to our communities? Are we too old to share God’s love with one another and with the people around us?

I remember a story told by Fred Craddock.  He said he had never been to the greyhound races, but he had seen them on television. He said:

Running, Running, and Running…

They have these beautiful, big old dogs. I say beautiful, but they are ugly old dogs.  These dogs chase that mechanical rabbit around the ring. They run and run, exhausting themselves chasing that rabbit. When those dogs get to where they can’t race, the owners put a little ad in the paper, and if anybody wants one for a pet, they can have it. Otherwise, they are destroyed.

I have a niece in Arizona who can’t stand that ad.  She goes and gets one every time. Big old dogs in the house. She loves them.

I was in a home not long ago where they had adopted a dog that had been a racer.  It was a big old greyhound, spotted hound, laying there in the den.  One of the children in the family, just a toddler, was pulling on its tail, and a little older child had his head over on that dog’s stomach, using it as a pillow. That old dog just seemed so happy. I watched the children and the dog for a few minutes.

Then I said to the dog, “Are you still racing?”

He said, “No, I don’t race anymore.”

I said, “Do you miss the glitter and excitement of the track?”

He said, “No.”

“Well, what’s the matter? Did you get too old?”

“No, no, I still have some race in me.”

“Well, did you win anything?”

He said, “I won over a million dollars for my owner.”

“Then what was it? Did they treat you badly?”

“Oh, no, they treated us royally when we were racing.”

I said, “Then what was it? Did you get hurt?”

He said, “No, no.”

Then what?

He said, “I quit.”

“You quit?”

He said, “Yeah, I quit.”

“Why did you quit?”

And he said, “I discovered that what I was chasing was not really a rabbit.  And I quit.” Craddock said the dog looked at him and said, “All that running, running, running, running, and what I was chasing wasn’t even real.”

Craddock finished by saying, “If you believe in God, you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Is it the same for the church? If we trust God, can we learn new ways of loving our neighbors?

Chasing What is Real Transforming MissionChase What is Real

Our culture is going through some massive changes.  These changes are shaping our values regarding how we define family, live our faith, gain knowledge, and understand science. The changes we are experiencing are complex and coming at lightning speed. As a result, the church is being left behind as a quaint spiritual artifact and dusty theological antique.

In such an open arena of competing values and counter-Christian views, what do we need to learn to step into the future? How will we make an impact in our communities and the world?

Let’s stop chasing what is not real and begin to chase what is real.

So, what is real?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission1. Relationships

Develop faithful, trusting relationships with Christ, within the congregation, and in your local community.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about adding more activities to keep people busy. We’re busy enough!

When I started in ministry 45 years ago, the focus was upon the “7 Day a Week Church.” The idea was to have some form of activity in the church building every day.  There was to be no “white space” on the church calendar.  This activity form of ministry was based on getting people into our church buildings. Although it created lots of opportunities, we did not develop what was real.  Our focus was on activity and getting people inside a building.  We did not focus on developing relationships with people.

All the activity has worn us out.

We have three types of relationships that need to be nurtured: our relationship with Christ, relationships within the congregation, and relationships in the community. If one of those relationships is missing, the other relationships suffer.

Our relationship with Christ and with one another in the congregation can always deepen. Often, we fail to see the community right outside our doors. The people who live in our communities who do not have a relationship with Jesus or a church continues to grow.

Go outside the church building and into the community. Get to know the people who live in your city, neighborhood or town. Listen to their stories, their dreams, and their needs. One of the greatest gifts you can offer to others is your time. As you take the time to nurture relationships, you’ll also have the opportunity to embody the love of Christ to others.

What would happen if we were less mesmerized by numbers and more involved in developing relationships Christ, the congregation and your local community?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission2. Holiness

Be intentional in strengthening your inner life and bringing together your personal faith and your missional participation in the community. John Wesley called it personal piety and social holiness.

You are a child of God, free to serve in God’s love.  As God’s love takes root in your life, serve the community, neighborhood, or city in God’s love.

Be the person God created you to be. As a responsible representative of God’s love, you are free to take initiative to test your thoughts, to honor your intuition, to see what requires doing, and to accomplish it. At the same time, you are free to trust God and the people around you. You can be faithful in your living because you believe God is faithful to you.  When you face anxious times, your inner life allows you to test your wisdom, your patience, and your hope.  You draw courage, trusting God’s grace and the relationships you have developed with God’s people.

Knowing and trusting your relationship with God through Jesus, you are free to model God’s love.  You know that God is with you.  Others will come to trust God’s love because they see and experience God’s love in and through you.

What would happen if we were less concerned about looking good and more concerned about being centered upon the well-being of others, loving as we have been loved?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission3. Integrity

Be the person God created you to be both in what you say and what you do. Model integrity by living the life that produces the behaviors of love. When you are in Christ and are moved by the Spirit, the unexpected acts of Christian love will come in response to God’s grace.

What would happen if we were less focused upon being successful and more focused upon developing lives of love from the inside out and living lives of love, both inside and outside the church building?

I think we could teach an old church new ways of living and loving.

Let’s chase what is real!

This past week, I ran across a story I first read over 15 years ago. I remember liking it then, just as I like it now.

There is a story of two brothers, John and Joe, who lived on adjoining farms. They worked side-by-side for over 40 years, sharing machinery, trading labor and goods as needed. Then one day, the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding, but it grew into a major difference. It finally exploded into an exchange of bitter and angry words, followed by weeks of silence.

The rift moved from weeks into months. Then, one morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened the door to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. John asked, “May I help you?”

The man replied, “I’m looking for a few days’ work. Do you have a few small jobs here and there I could do for you?”

John thought for a moment and answered, “Yes, I do have a job for you.” Leading the man out into the yard, John pointed over to his brother’s farm and said, “Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor. In fact, he’s my younger brother. Two weeks ago there was a meadow between us. One we shared for over 40 years. As you can see, he destroyed the meadow and built a creek to separate us. I can’t bear looking in his direction.”

“So, here is what you can do for me. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence, an 8-foot fence, so I don’t see his place or his face anymore.”

The carpenter said, “I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to build just what you need.”

So, John, before leaving for the day, helped the carpenter get the materials together. The carpenter worked hard all that day; measuring, sawing, and nailing. He finished his work just as John was returning. John’s eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. The carpenter had not built a fence. He had built a bridge.

The bridge stretched from one side of the creek to the other. It was a fine piece of work, with wide steps, smooth handrails, and a bench to sit upon.

It was at that moment, Joe, came toward them. With hand outstretched and a smile on his face, he said, “John, you are quite a fellow to build this bridge, after all, I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met at the bench in middle. They started by taking each other’s hand, but they ended in an embrace. As they were offering each other words of confession and forgiveness, they noticed the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder.

John called out, “Please wait! Stay a few days. We have other projects for you.”

“I would love to stay, but my work here is done. I must be going. I have other bridges to build.”

Imagine Your Church Transforming Mission

Take a moment to imagine your church as a bridge. What needs to be in place to “bridge” the creeks, the barriers, and the thoughts and emotions that keep the people in your church from connecting with the people in your community?

Imagine your church as a bridge. What if you extended an invitation to hurting and hungry people offering faith, hope, love, and dignity? What would need to be overcome, set aside, or changed to extend such an invitation?

Imagine your church as a bridge. What if you extended grace to the people on the outside just as God has extended grace to you? What fear or anxiety would you have to overcome?

The reality is, Jesus the Carpenter, has not only built the bridge, but Jesus is also the bridge. God has come over the Jesus bridge to us. Although in our good intentions, we have built a beautiful place along the river, God’s relentless love, will not allow our creeks, our ideologies, our rituals, nor our requirements to get in the way of God’s love for God’s people. When we least expect it, the carpenter shows up to give us what we need.

Imagine Jesus as the bridge. We’re expecting a fence and he builds a bridge. A bridge of grace. His toolbox? A Roman cross. His outstretched hands looked out upon those who hang him there and declared, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” His work? Grace!

So, what if the Jesus bridge is grace? Let me ask you again, what fear or anxiety would you have to overcome? What would you have to set aside to extend grace to hurting and hungry people? How much grace do you need to offer faith, hope, love, and dignity to the people in your neighborhood, community, or city?

Let me offer a suggestion. Give the carpenter the materials, he will build just what you need.

Now, imagine your church…

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.

What transformation will you experience this Easter?

Over the years, as I prepare for Easter Sunday, I wonder why the women, in Mark’s story of the resurrection, did not say anything to anyone.  I know the story is that “they were afraid.”

But who else can truly tell the story? They are witnesses to the resurrection. They are involved in it.

Similarly, the late Dr. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard extends this message to each one of us today. He wrote,

“…the resurrection is a continuing event which involves everyone who dares be involved in it. Easter is not just about Jesus, it’s about you.  Jesus has already claimed his new life. What about you?  Easter is not just about the past, it’s about the future.  Your best days are ahead of you.  The proof of the resurrection is in your hands and in your life.”

So, how can we be involved in the resurrection?  How do we become proof of the resurrection?

Easter Transformation quote Transforming MissionLove as Jesus Loved  

To be involved with the resurrection, you and I must love as Jesus loved. E. Stanley Jones, in his book Gandhi: A Portrayal of a Friend, tells the story of his first encounter with Mahatma Gandhi. Jones asked him, “What would you, a Hindu leader, tell me, a Christian, to do in order to make Christianity a normal part of India?”   

Without hesitation, Gandhi responded with clarity and directness.

“First, I would suggest that all of you Christians begin to live more like Jesus Christ.  Second, practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.” 

The great Hindu leader said, “Your faith doesn’t need to be changed; it doesn’t need to be added to or subtracted from; it needs to be lived as it is.” 

Are you “All In”? 

In other words, to be involved with the resurrection, you and I must be “all in” followers of JesusWe identify, not only with Jesus but, with the people with whom Jesus identified.

That means we will have to identify with the poor and oppressed, the marginalized and forgotten, and with the uber-religious.  Identification and relationships are essential to being “all in”. You and I will have to have personal contact with people who suffer as well as celebrate.

“All In” Actions

Consider the following actions:

  • serving meals, visiting the sick and lonely.
  • assisting those who are physically or mentally disabled
  • befriending a neglected child
  • leading your church into the community to engage with the people in your neighborhood or city

These actions are ways we can identify with the people with whom Jesus identified. As we do, we can discover the humbling joy of receiving more than we give.  Through identification with persons and involvement in their lives, we can become the proof of the resurrection.  

To be involved with the resurrection, you and I, must not only love like Jesus, be “all in” followers of Jesus, but we must listen to the witness of those who have been with Jesus themselves.

Read Mark’s story,

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him…And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 

Are You Listening?

The greatest clue to being involved in the resurrection is in the witness of the women at the empty tomb. When the women do speak, when they find their tongues, when they witness, I will listen.

Will you?  

Maybe the greatest proof of the resurrection is seen in the transformation of our living.  We don’t even have to say much when we are loving one another as we have been loved. But we do need to listen for the ones who know Jesus personally. That’s where we’ll hear, see, and experience the power of the resurrection. That’s where we’ll claim the new life. This Sunday, my prayer for you and all who gather is this: Easter transformation. May it be so!

Tom Wiles, while university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, purchased a new pickup truck.  While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door.  The scratches looked like deep white scars on the new truck exterior. 

A friend happened to notice the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?” 

Disciple-making involves building relationships. Growing in love with Jesus is at the heart of discipleship. But, we have a challenge in western culture. #jesus #disciple #discipleship #faith transforming mission

Tom replied with a downcast voice, “My neighbor’s basketball post fell and left those dents. I asked him about it. He doesn’t feel responsible for the damage.” 

“You’re kidding! How awful! This truck is so new I can smell it.” His friend continued, “Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?” 

Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me.  After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right, or I can be in a relationship with my neighbor.  Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than the truck, I decided to focus on our relationship.  Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.”¹

In Relationship or In the Right?

Wow!  How many times have we sacrificed being “in relationship” for the personal satisfaction of being “in the right?” How many times have we won the argument, but lost a friend or damaged a heart?  

Did Jesus come to teach us “right” theology? Or did he come to redeem our relationships with God and with one another? Jesus’ own prayer in John 17 revolves around the stewardship of his relationships.  He saved the world by teaching twelve individuals how to get along and to belong to one another.  In other words, Jesus saved the world by teaching them how to be in a relationship with one another. 

This should not surprise any of us who call ourselves Christian. Relationships are central to Christian theology because God is love. Love is impossible outside of relationships. Relationships are central to God’s kingdom, the new creation.  From my perspective, we have no choice but to live with, listen to, and learn from one another. 

We have a disciple-making challenge in western, American culture. At the root of the challenge is relationships. #faith #jesus #disciple #discipleship #transformingmission

Courageous Leadership

In our work of developing leaders, we have learned that improving relationships and sharing the stories of those relationships are indicators of courageous leadership. We are learning:  

  1. Nothing takes the place of being a Jesus follower.  Being in a relationship with God and with one another, in and through Jesus, is central to our witness and to our leadership. Relationships are key to Jesus followers and are taken seriously by courageous leaders.  
  2. The Word of God, the scripture, bears fruit, not when it is comprehended, but then it is lived. The fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) found in Galatians 5:22-23 is proven in and through relationships. Knowing about Jesus; his life, teaching, and message, is part of being a student of Jesus. But following Jesus, becoming like him, growing in grace and sharing that grace, requires not only thought but a transformation of heart, soul, mind and strength.  No one has ever become more like Jesus by saying, “If I just think hard enough about Jesus, I’ll become more like Jesus.” When relationships are healthy, our lives, our work environment, and our congregations become healthier.   
  3. Developing healthy relationships is hard work. Because it is hard work, it is hard to identify quantifiable behaviors (relational ministry), so we end up focusing on what we can count (membership, attendance, finances, etc.). When relationships are healthy, there are stories to back up the relationships. Relationships, not numbers, show if growth is biblical, healthy, and truly fruitful.  

Evidence of Spiritual Fruit 

So, maybe it is time to declare a moratorium on statistics in the church. What if the one thing we reported on was the answer to this question: “What is the evidence that spiritual fruit being produced in my church?  Give us the stories, not more statistics.    

When we are focused more on being right than upon relationships, our disciple-making conversations are reduced to what we do not have in the church.  It is at that point we begin to protect what we have and yearn for the “good ole days” when we had children, youth, young families, people involved in church activities, and money for ministry. 

It’s Not a Scarcity Problem

It is difficult when the focus is on shrinking resources and lack of people who want to engage in the mission. But the disciple-making challenge is not a scarcity problem.  More money and more people will not fix it.  If we go back to the “good ole days” and project forward, we don’t have a scarcity problem, we have a disciple-making problem.   

Read more or listen to Episode 051 of LeaderCast: We Have a Disciple-Making Problem

The disciple-making challenge is not focused upon getting more people into the church building, although we all would welcome more people. The disciple-making challenge is focused on leading and assisting people in becoming Jesus followers. And that begins with relationships.

It’s a Relationship Problem

We don’t have a scarcity problem, we have a relationship problem. We are convinced that when God’s love is lived out in our relationships: reaching out and receiving new people in God’s love, offering God’s love in Jesus, practicing God’s love in relationships, and engaging our communities in God’s love, our greatest focus will not be upon “do we have enough money or people,” but will be upon “are we breaking God’s heart?”  

There is no quick fix program for our disciple-making challenge.  We can’t expect to fix it overnight. But we can start today. Ready to get started?

We invite you to begin the experiment introduced at the end of LeaderCast Episode 050 and Episode 051 of LeaderCast. No time to listen? Download the Sqaure Sqaud experiment here. Whatever you do, take a step toward building new relationships with people in your community.

In Christ, 

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

 

  1. Story adapted from Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, by Leonard Sweet. Chapter 7, Loving the ‘One Anothers’: When Being Right Is Just Plain Wrong, page 91.