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.

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?

 

Pin it for Later

Pointing People to Jesus Transforming Mission

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!

Over the past two weeks, my wife and her sister have been preparing for an estate sale.  They are sifting and sorting through 60+ years of financial records, photographs, keepsakes, furniture, clothes, etc.

Since the death of both of her parents, the house is sitting empty, filled with years of memories and stuff. I use the word “stuff” because what was once seen as a keepsake, Kim and I are questioning, “Why do we need to keep that?”

For example, my wife ran across the candles, the table decorations, worship folders for our wedding. They were neatly tucked away in a box, placed in a closet, and forgotten. Kim and I have been married for 43 years.

Do we need the candles, the decorations, and folders of our wedding? We have some very good memories over our 43 years together. Those candles are a part of those memories. But we have long passed the time to keep those candles.

Moments of Nostalgia

For some reason, my dear mother-in-law kept all the little dresses my wife wore before she ever started to school. Over the years she added my daughter’s dresses, and my son’s pants and shirts, along with some boots and shoes. Oh, there have been some moments of nostalgia, but we have long past the need to keep those clothes, just for the memories.

So, Kim has been placing most of the “stuff” in the “for sale” pile. There are tears, as well as laughter at “one person’s trash, is another person’s treasure.”  It was not difficult to decide that we needed an estate sale. Even with all the memories, my wife said, “It just is not the same without Mom and Dad here. They were the ones who made this house a home.”

The 500 Year Rummage Sale

Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Great Emergence, used the analogy of “The 500-Year Rummage Sale” to describe religious change over the years. She wrote that historically, the church “cleans house” roughly every 500 years, holding what she calls a “giant rummage sale,” deciding what to dispose and what to keep, making room for new things.

She wrote that the time of Christ was the first rummage sale.  It was an era she called “The Great Transformation.” It began when Jesus, who was “Emmanuel, God With Us,” created a new understanding of our relationship with God.

Then five hundred years later was the collapse of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages. It was in this period, the church entered an era of preservation as the church went underground with monks and nuns practicing the monastic tradition in abbeys and convents.

At the beginning of the new millennium in 1054, came “The Great Schism,” when the Christian Church split into the Eastern and Western branches that we still see today in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

Then in the 1500s, “The Reformation” resulted in new branches of the Christian tradition, with different understandings of how people relate to God personally through direct prayer and individual interpretation of the bible.

Is the Church Ready for the Next Rummage Sale?

Every 500 years or so, Tickle wrote, there are tectonic shifts in the Christian tradition, resulting in huge changes of both understanding and of practice.  So, it’s been 500 years since the Reformation. Is the church ready for its next giant rummage sale?

Over the years of my ministry, the world has changed tremendously. Our understanding of science has progressed exponentially, forcing us to reconcile scientific and religious thought. We are culturally more diverse. We are living longer. Family units take a variety of forms. We are a global community, no longer confined to the boundaries of our physical neighborhoods. We have access to facts, data, opinions, and information instantly through computers we keep in our pockets. Communication and access to news are immediate and unfiltered.

We change our minds, for better or for worse, with every bit of information we process. How could these things not alter how we understand who we are, why we exist, and where God is in our lives?

500 Year Rummage Sale for the church? Transforming Mission

We’re In a New Era

I remember when the church was the religious and social center of the activities of most families. Everyone went to church on Sunday morning and often Sunday evening as well. Today, church affiliation, not to mention church attendance, is no longer the norm. Yet, people who identify as “spiritual but not religious” are on the rise. God is still important, but identifying with a religious brand is not.

Tickle said we are in a new era of “The Emergent Church.” It is a religious movement that crosses denominational boundaries, seeks common ground, engages diverse cultures, and embraces social causes as ways of living out Christ’s call to serve others. It is interesting that it takes place largely outside of church buildings.

Just for the Memories…

So, have we come to the time for our next great rummage sale?  Reflect upon your faith. What is necessary for you to be a Jesus follower?  Consider what you need to love the people around you as God in Christ has loved you? What do you need to give away, throw away, or move past? Even though it brings good memories or it has helped you become who you are, what is it that you have no need of keeping, just for the memories?

I have given my life to the church.  I admit that change is hard.  Yet, because our world has changed and our culture is different, it is time to give up what is no longer useful and to take up what best shares God’s transforming love.

Weighing What’s Important

Glen Adsit served most of his years of ministry in China.  He was under house arrest in China when the soldiers came and said, “You and your family can return to America.” The family was celebrating when the soldiers said, “You can take two hundred pounds with you.”

The family had been there for years.  They had a lot of stuff. It was when they got the scales out and began to weigh their belongings, that they began to disagree on what to take with them. He, his wife, and two children all had something they wanted to take.  They weighed everything. The vase, the new typewriter, the books.  Finally, they got the weight down to two hundred pounds.  It was painful but it was done.

The soldiers returned the next day and asked, “Ready to go?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Did you weigh everything?”

“Yes.”

“Did you weigh the kids?”

“No, we didn’t.”

“Then, weigh the kids.”

It was at that moment that the vase, the typewriter, and the books all lost their importance.  Each item became trash.

A New Life is Ahead!

As painful has it might be, it is time for an estate sale. God is calling us to something bigger than ourselves, bigger than the United Methodist Church, even bigger than the church universal.

The message of our Christian faith is one of resurrection and renewal. Paul wrote, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” It is time to give up some of the “stuff” we have been hanging onto. It is time to move boldly and faithfully into the future. Let’s follow God’s lead and stay focused on Jesus. I believe a new life is ahead for you, for me, and for the church.

What happened to our study on Galatians? Is it over already?

I must confess, I miss the daily readings and reflections. Over the past six weeks, I have reflected seriously on my life, my ministry as a leader in the church, and the legacy I am leaving behind. And when I say legacy, I am not talking only about my years of ministry within the United Methodist Church but what am I leaving behind for my granddaughters, for my friends, and for the world?

I have reached an age in my life where I ask myself a lot of questions. The Galatians study guided me in asking some of those questions. Questions I have been reluctant to face. Questions like: “For whom have I been living my life?” “What do I have to show for my life and ministry?” “What of significance am I leaving behind?”

Thy Will Be Done

As I reflected upon Paul’s contrast between freedom as self-indulgence with freedom as walking in the life of the Spirit, I realized that much of my life and ministry have been focused upon me and my success. As a leader, I have been focused more on my capacity to lead as it is related to my career and not as much upon my character as it is related to my capacity to lead. Would you believe that sobering thought leads me to conclude that the way I live and work shapes the destiny I receive and the legacy leave?

C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end; those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” You and I know what leaders look like when they chose to do things their own way, alone, relying upon their own capacity. That is not how I want to be remembered.

So, I have been thinking. What would it take to be a leader who first develops relationships of vulnerability and trust, who aligns with truth, and who pays the price of living a life of integrity? Will we accept only that which we can accomplish on our own? Or will we begin to focus more upon the character shaped by God in Christ, trusting God to lead us to a destiny far greater than we can imagine?

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “each of us must decide whether we will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” The latter comes naturally. The former comes supernaturally. We only live in service and care of others when we cease living solely for ourselves.

Helping Others Win

A few years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all with physical or mental disabilities, assembled at the starting line for the hundred-yard dash. At the sound of the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a desire to run the race to the finish. All, that is, except one little boy, who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The others slowed down and looked back. Then, they stopped, turned around, and went back. All eight of them. One little girl bent over, kissed the fallen boy, and said, “This will make it better.” A couple of runners helped the boy to his feet, then, all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood and applauded. The cheering went on for several minutes.

This story always stirs something deep inside of me. I think part of it is related to hearing about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But, another part hits the core of my being. Deep down in my heart, I know that helping others win matters far more than my hollow victories. Just like the children, changing my course requires me to pause and hear the cries of those around me. What I have learned is, I can only change my course when I am willing to pause and hear the cry within my own heart. Maybe that is the difficulty, being authentic, honest, and transparent.

What a Legacy Transforming Mission

Confirmation from Studying Galatians

So, the study on Galatians reaffirmed a couple of things for me. First, our character, who we are matters more than what we do. Second, for whom we care matters more than how we care.

As I look back upon my life and ministry, upon who I have become and upon whom I have served, I see that it has exposed the intent of my living. Career and character are not mutually exclusive, but which I choose will determine the destiny I receive and the legacy I leave.

There is a story of a woman who had a dream of wandering into a shop at the mall. She found Jesus behind the counter. He said to her, “You can have anything your heart desires.” Surprised but pleased, she asked Jesus for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, happiness, wisdom, and freedom from fear. Then she added, “Not just for me, but for the whole world.”

Jesus smiled and said, “I think you misunderstood me. We don’t sell fruit here, we only sell seeds.”

So, what seeds am I planting? What am I leaving behind?

How Do You Want to Be Remembered?

Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath, in their book The Ascent of a Leader, write, “The seed of destiny within each of us awaits the day when it will bear fruit in the lives of others. It awaits the fertile soil of community. It awaits an environment of grace…In the making of our own lives, some choices must inevitably be left to the Master. But God leaves many of the choices to us. We participate in the creation of our own lives and legacies.”

In and through the daily readings and reflections, I have become more focused upon the life and legacy I want to leave behind. In Christ, I have crucified my self-indulgence and I live in the Spirit. So, if I live in the Spirit, let me live the life of love.

Now, that is how I want to be remembered.

 

 

 

 

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.

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

Over the past several weeks, I have been reflecting upon several things. From General Conference to Bible study to the Resurrection, I have been asking myself the question, “Is it worth my life?”

Without exception, every congregation I visit, whether to worship or to introduce a new pastor, there is a question and conversation about the action of the February General Conference.

I hear statements like the following:

  • Our church is open to all people, do we have to have a pastor that supports the Traditional Plan?
  • Because that pastor supported the One Church Plan my family will be leaving the church.
  • Our congregation has voted to leave the United Methodist Church because the leadership doesn’t believe in the authority of the Scripture.
  • You get the point.

I have been accused of being “focused to a fault” upon our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I found myself reflecting on the actions of the General Conference, the rulings of the Judicial Council, and the unlimited commentaries (the good, the bad, and the ugly).

Personally, because I have found it all to be a huge distraction, I have been asking myself the question, “Is this worth my life?”

Reading, Reflecting, Responding

The Monday after Easter, the West Ohio Conference began a study of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. As I look at the context of this letter, written primarily to a Gentile church, a group of outsiders, I have taken the truth of the text and applied it to my everyday life.

I have experienced the tension between law and grace, the misunderstanding of grace, a challenge to examine the foundations of my faith, and an invitation to deepen my relationships with you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.

As I have opened myself to a daily pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding to Paul’s discussion and how the truth of the letter can be applied to my life, I have been asking myself, “Will this study really make a difference in the life and ministry of the people called Methodists in the West Ohio Conference?” “Is this worth my time and effort?” And I wondered again, “Is it worth my life?”

Now, I must confess, I have asked myself that question many times over the years.  Every Easter, as I reflect upon the events of the day, I ask myself “is the resurrection worth my life?”

Returning to the Question

Over the 45 years of my ministry, as I have observed that church people like the idea of “God, Christ, and the church” but seem to be afraid to trust that if Christ really was God they would be perceived as being simple-minded, shallow, foolish, or “old fashioned.”  It seems that to believe in Jesus is just not sophisticated enough to gain their loyalty.

If I take that thought one step further, I believe I can safely say that one of the reasons that most self-identifying Christians stay home on Sunday mornings is because, deep down inside, they really don’t believe that “if you have seen Jesus you have seen God.”  Because there is no real foundation of faith or depth of relationship, there is no motivation to go to a place that is grounded in that very specific conviction. So the question becomes, “Is this worth my life?”

As I have reflected upon this, one of my favorite scriptures comes to mind. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, “…the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (I Corinthians 1:25)

Is It Worth My Life Title Slide Transforming Mission

Feeling Foolish?

John Updike, in “A Month of Sundays,” tells the story of Clint Tidwell.  Tidwell is the pastor of a church in a small Southern town. One of the members of his congregation is the 80-year-old owner and editor of the local newspaper. The old journalist believes Tidwell to be one of the finest preachers around and wants everyone to know of Tidwell’s wisdom. So, he publishes a summary of Tidwell’s Sunday sermon every Monday morning in the paper.  Although the journalist means well, Tidwell is often amazed and embarrassed by the difference of what is reported he said and what he actually said.

Tidwell’s deepest amazement and embarrassment came one Monday morning after Easter. He was startled to read the words of the headline, “Tidwell Claims Jesus Christ Rose from The Dead.” A red flush crept up Tidwell’s neck. He thought to himself, “Of course I claimed that Christ rose from the dead, but was that headline news? What would the neighbors think?” He thought to himself, “I said what I was supposed to say on Easter. Christ rose from the dead.” But suddenly, as he looked at the headline, what had been a routine Easter sermon had Tidwell feeling rather foolish.

Claiming a New Life in Christ

As I think about it, many of us feel foolish because we have not claimed our new life in Christ. We continue to live on the Saturday side of Easter. Because the resurrection is so incredible, we have not decided whether it is worth our lives or not.

Kirk Bryon Jones, author of the Jazz of Preaching, wrote, “We don’t do different well.  In social relations, all too often we interpret different as deficient…But the resurrection means constantly challenging our fear of the unknown, and even more…challenging our fear ‘of the loss of the known.’ The resurrection means learning to relax in the experience of new life.”

Any reflection I do upon the resurrection brings me to the discovery that the attention of the early church was focused on the transforming power of the risen Christ.  Those early followers of Jesus saw themselves as evidence of the power of the Resurrection.  Their lives had changed.

Dare We Believe It

Mary met Jesus as a gardener. She is the forerunner of all Easter faith. Mary believed and passed along the legacy of Christ. She prompted folks, like John and Peter, like Tidwell, and like you and me, to say what we believe: “I believe in Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell…and on the third day…”

Dare we believe it? Dare we put everything on it?  Is it worth our lives?

I have been thinking about it and reflecting upon it. As foolish as it might seem, I have come to this conclusion again: It is worth every breath!

How about you?