This is Part Two of a three-part series on Offering Christ. Read Part 1 

As you begin to engage in the mission of offering Christ, take some time to reflect upon what offering Christ means to you. I ask that question because many people think that offering Christ is about personally witnessing by either going “door to door” to invite people to attend worship or by asking people carefully worded questions to engage in a conversation which leads to a faith conversion.

I am in full agreement that offering Christ is both personal and about giving a witness to God’s love, but if either of the above statements are true for you, I invite you to read this blog on Offering Christ. Although you have heard that both are necessary, this is neither a blog on “how to convert” nor on how to share your faith. This is a blog on how you, as a follower of Jesus, offer God’s love in everyday ordinary situations.  So, as a Christ-centered leader, before you engage in the mission of offering Christ, take time to reflect upon what offering Christ means to you.

Be Who God Created You to Be

With that in mind, to offer Christ is to be who God created you to be as a Christ-centered leader.  

It is more than sharing “spiritual facts” or biblical beliefs. For some, to offer Christ has been reduced to a list of beliefs. If you believe the beliefs on the list, you are saved. This is a form of mental assent to correct beliefs which leads to logical decisions. You and I don’t experience God’s love as a form of indoctrination. We experience God’s love through relationships with one another.

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

Offering Christ – An Honest Interaction

The offer of Christ is a two-way process of honest interaction. Because you and I simply have the same need for love, particularly God’s love, we develop a friend-to-friend relationship.  So, the offer of Christ is not a single encounter.  It is an extended relationship of mutual respect and care.  It is in and through our relationship that God’s love is experienced, and hope is developed, and transformation takes place.

As important as it is, the offer of Christ is more than inviting people to worship or to participate in the programs of the church.  To offer Christ is to offer God’s love to those who are discontented and dissatisfied in their search for God. It is an offer of God’s love to those who are disenfranchised and separated. It is an offer of God’s love to those who are up and out as well as those who are down and out. It is in and through relationships that we can share experiences of God searching for us in Jesus.  New possibilities are found in the love you offer. All of that is to say, offering Christ becomes who you are and is expressed in how you live in everyday ordinary situations and relationships.

Offering Christ – It Matters Where You Start

There is another important aspect of offering Christ that must be taken into consideration as you begin to engage in the mission. It matters where you start regarding your understanding of offering Christ.

The very origin, pattern, and basis for offering Christ is rooted in the nature of God’s mission. (Read: What Is Mission” Part One).

In the New Testament the word for evangelism, what I am calling offering Christ, comes from two words which mean a good message. We have shortened it to “good news” or “gospel.” As a verb, evangelism (offering Christ) means “bringing, spreading or announcing the good news.” So, evangelism, offering Christ, describes the spreading of the good news of God’s love in and through Jesus Christ.

Offer Christ – Love Others As God Loves You

Notice that the primary focus is on the living and sharing of God’s love and not on the recipient or target of the message. In other words, to offer Christ is to love others as God in Jesus has loved you and not to convert or save someone.

In recent years, it seems that we have confused the process of offering Christ with the goal of the process. We do not evangelize people or nations, or even structures. We evangelize the gospel, which is to introduce people to the love of God in life changing ways.

So, it matters where you start. 

Evangelize the Gospel – Four Perspectives

The words used for evangelism were common words when the New Testament was written. They were used to bring good news about a great event. The words were picked up by the followers of Jesus to describe the great event of Jesus coming into the world. 

Each of the gospel writers share the good news in different ways based on their context and their listeners. They evangelized Jesus so we, the hearers, can live the life of God’s love experienced in and through Jesus the Christ. 

As you begin to engage in the mission of offering Christ, it will be helpful to study and understand the gospel stories. For example: (Although these are brief and incomplete summaries of the good news presented by each gospel writer, they are examples of offering Christ). 

The Good News – Matthew

The good news according to Matthew is, “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live a holy or righteous life.” From Matthew’s perspective, “holy” and “righteous” are related to relationships.  When you read Matthew 28:20, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…,” you will find that the word “teaching” in this place refers to what Matthew wants us to know about “holiness.”  It is what we learn as followers of Jesus. It is what the movement of God is all about.  At the very heart of “holiness” or “righteousness” is relationship, relationship with God and with one another. (Read the blog “What Is Mission? Part 2). To offer Christ from Matthew’s perspective is to build and maintain healthy relationships with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, and enemies. 

The Good News – Mark

The good news according to Mark is, “God sent Jesus to oppose the evil, suffering, pain, in the world.” Mark’s community was facing persecution.  The good news of Jesus is that he faced the pain and suffering of those being persecuted. Half of Mark’s gospel is about the suffering and death of Jesus. You get a clue to Mark’s good news when Jesus heals a man with leprosy (Mark 1:40-45). Leprosy was a sign of suffering and separation. When a person suffered with leprosy, they were separated from all that was important and meaningful to them. To be healed was to be restored to family, work, synagogue, and all that was meaningful. To offer Christ from Mark’s perspective is to work to oppose the structures and behaviors that separate people from God and from one another.   

The Good News – Luke 

The good news according to Luke is “Jesus not only possessed the Holy Spirit but promised the Holy Spirit to his followers.” The Holy Spirit, God’s presence and power, gave the followers of Jesus the power to witness beyond the barriers of race, gender, age, nationality, theology, religion, and influence The witness was both in word and deed. Take for example the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch or Simon Peter visiting Cornelious’ house. Both are examples of offering Christ to people, in word and action, who were considered unacceptable or were outsiders, or people of influence who were not Hebrews. To offer Christ from Luke’s perspective was to work to overcome the barriers that separated people from God’s acceptance and from accepting one another.    

The Good News – John 

The good news according to John is “if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” On several occasions Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” John knows people want to know God. Even Philip says to Jesus in John 14, “Show us God and we will be satisfied.” Throughout John’s good news there are stories of seeing Jesus. When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him, he says to his followers, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Even Jesus responds to two of John’s disciples with “come and you will see” (John 1:39). And when Philip goes to tell his brother, Nathanael, about seeing Jesus, he says to him, “Come and see” (John 1:46). When some Greeks came seeking Jesus, they came to Philip and made a request, “Sir, we want to see Jesus” John 12:20-22). Even at the tomb on the morning of the resurrection, Mary sees Jesus and she goes to tell the disciples the news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20: 18). If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. (Listen to Transforming Mission Podcast Episode 314). 

There is one other aspect of offering Christ in John’s gospel. To offer Christ is to love others as God has loved you. Loving others becomes who you are.

Preach What You Practice

N.T. Wright wrote it this way, “If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. If you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus. If you want to know what love is, look at Jesus.  If you want to know what grief is, look at Jesus.  And go on looking until you’re not just a spectator, but you’re actually part of the drama which has him as the central character.”

To offer Christ means you become part of the story. You shift from “practicing what you preach” to “preaching what you practice.” The more you tell the story, the more you live the story. 

Love Others as God Loves You

So, what does offering Christ mean to you? Before engaging in the mission of offering Christ, practice loving others as God in Christ has loved you. Learn of God’s mission and how you have been invited into it. Become an instrument of God’s love and then you can tell people what you are doing.

Next week, I look forward to sharing with you part 3 of Engaging in Mission: Offering Christ. 

Prayer

Here is a prayer for today:  

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

Reflect on Offering Christ

At the end of the day, reflect on the following regarding Offering Christ: 

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

As a Christ-centered leader, your primary purpose is to focus on God’s mission and to equip those whom you lead to do the same.  So, as a reminder, it is not your mission, and it is not your church’s mission. It is God’s mission. It is important that you start with the knowledge and understanding of “missio Dei,” God’s mission. 

It is also important to understand that you and the people you lead are invited into God’s mission through baptism. Each of you are claimed by God and commissioned to be about God’s business of loving others as you have been loved.  So, your primary call is to be who God created you to be. You are a “beloved child of God” gifted for loving and serving the people you encounter every day in everyday situations. Every aspect of your life and ministry is focused upon God’s mission. 

Your Priority is Jesus

To say it another way, your priority call is to follow Jesus and to teach, equip, and lead others to do the same. When Jesus becomes your priority, you love others as you have been loved and the church fulfills God’s mission by loving the people in the community, the neighborhood, and the world. 

When Jesus is the priority, the church itself is not only a product of God’s love but is compelled and destined to share God’s love. The mission flows directly through every Jesus follower and every group of people who define themselves by God’s love. So, to focus on God’s mission is to make Jesus your priority and become agents of God’s love in the world. 

For a more in-depth exploration, read the other blogs in the Preparing for Mission series:

Now, let’s move on to structuring for God’s mission. Let’s look again at Matthew 28:19-20.    

Read Matthew 28:19-20 

 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Reflect on HOPE

(To get a firm foundation for Building on Hope, read Preparing For Mission: What is God’s Mission? Part 2) 

Using Jesus’ commissioning of his followers, Matthew provides a structure of HOPE upon which you can build a system for living into and equipping others regarding God’s mission. Although it is an imposed structure, it is one way to live into loving others as you have been loved in and through Jesus. 

HOPE is an acronym for Hospitality, Offering Christ, Practicing Faith, Engaging the Community. So, since it is God’s mission and you are invited to participate in it, Jesus sends you out to live into and to participate in God’s mission. He says, “Go…” 

The word “go” literally means “as you go.”  It carries with it both presence and movement. The idea here is that wherever you are, you are in mission. For example, as you go (wherever you are) to the office, to school, to the grocery store, on vacation, etc. These are the times and places you are set apart to live a life of love. These are the times and places you live in the life of HOPE. 

Let’s look at the structure of HOPE. 

H – HOSPITALITY

Verse 19 notes, “make disciples of all nations.” The word “nations” literally means “ethnic” or “people.”  “All nations” is an all-inclusive word. At the risk of being over-simplistic, it includes all people. So, wherever you go, you are participating in God’s mission. At every moment you are working for the well-being of the people you encounter. 

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” You have been invited, called, and commissioned to be a person of hospitality, where you live, work, and play, for the purpose of loving others as you have been loved. 

You are a person of hospitality as you reach out and receive the people God sends your way. Why do you receive them? It is who you are as a follower of Jesus. Hospitality is God’s business. You reach and receive all of God’s people, loving each of them as you have been loved. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you are modeling hospitality for the people entrusted to your care so that each of them will become persons of hospitality by loving others as they too have been loved. 

You reach and receive all people, for the glory of God. 

O – OFFER CHRIST

 Verse 19: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  The words “to baptize” carry with them something more than water baptism.  “To baptize” means to dip or to immerse. As you encounter people, you love them. You dip them, you immerse them in the love of God by the way you receive them and care for them. But only that, you immerse them in the “name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” 

The words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit refer to the movement of God. We are instructed to immerse those becoming Jesus followers in the movement of God, or into “missio Dei,” God’s mission.  We are instructed to saturate them in God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus. So, wherever you are or whatever you are doing you have the opportunity to love the people you encounter. You have the opportunity to invite people to learn of Jesus and to immerse them in God’s love in such a way they too will love others. 

The movement of God’s grace and the mission of God’s love, agape, is made real in and through you and through your relationships with the people you encounter each day. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you are offering Christ, God’s agape, to the people you meet by what you say, how you say it, and by the way you receive and love them. Your action of agape is a greater invitation than your words. You become so immersed in the love, the movement, the mission of God, that all you say and do invites others to love as they are being loved. 

You offer Christ by the way you live your life and interact with the people you meet each day. By your living, you are inviting people into God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love. 

P – PRACTICE

 Verse 20” “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” The word “teaching” for Matthew refers to what he wants you to do about “holiness.”  It is what you learn as a follower of Jesus. It is what the movement of God is all about.  At the very heart of “holiness” or “righteousness” is relationship, relationship with God and with one another. 

This “holy living” or different living implies a right relationship with family, friends, strangers, and enemies.  It includes being proactive in how you treat others.  You act on behalf of others not because they have acted on your behalf but because you have been loved by God in and through Jesus. 

This “holy living” means having integrity. It means being as good as your word. It means you can be trusted when you let your “yes” mean “yes” and “no” mean “no.”  It means that you are not conflicted but integrated into your living.  How you act and relate to others grows out of who you are, from the convictions of your heart. 

This “holy living” does not get tripped up on things but seeks first the kingdom of God. The “holiness” of God is not focused on buildings or furniture, but upon people regardless of their economic, social, or political status. 

This “holy living” means your caring for others becomes so natural that you care for everyone the way you would care for Jesus. You care because that is who you are, a grace-filled Jesus follower who is putting your faith into action. 

This “holy living” means taking the initiative in forgiveness.  It means to forgive as many times as it takes to restore the relationships that are being broken.  It is the relationship that is important. 

The words “to obey” mean “to observe” or to “pay attention to.”  To obey “these things” means to practice what you are learning. To obey these things means to observe or pay attention to this holy living.  It is easy to talk about this “holy living,” but it is not so easy to live it.  To “obey” or “pay attention” means to do or to live these things.  It means to make these “holy living” a part of our daily living. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you lead others in practicing hospitality and in offering Christ in all they say and do. You practice faith by the way you love others. You practice faith by inviting others to practice what they are learning about “holy living” in relation to the people they meet each day. 

You nurture the people around you in God’s love and lead them into practicing God’s love in everyday situations and circumstances. 

E – ENGAGE

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

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

Verse 19: “make disciples.” A disciple” is a student or follower. You have been invited, called, and commissioned as a follower of Jesus. This is important. You have not chosen Jesus. Jesus has chosen you. You are a follower of Jesus. 

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

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

Verse 20: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  The greatest part of this “holy living” is that you are not left alone to do these things. The Risen Christ is with you.  God does not leave you to fend for yourself. The very birth of Jesus is announced as “and they shall name him Emmanuel which means, ‘God is with us.’” The mission of making disciples is God’s mission. You have been invited to participate in God’s mission.  If God calls you, God will equip you. When God calls and equips, God will be with you, even to the end. 

So, you have been given a structure of HOPE to help facilitate God’s mission in and through the church. The structure of HOPE equips followers of Jesus to live out God’s mission in the world. HOPE assists you to become who God created you to be, and who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

Today be aware of how you model HOPE for the people you lead. Be alert to opportunities to welcome others as Christ has welcomed you.” Take notice of the occasions you have to offer Christ by what you say and do. Be mindful of your “holy living” in your interactions with the people you meet. Begin to build a structure of HOPE by the way you model hope in everyday situations and circumstances. 

Prayer

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

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways were you hospitable? Who did you invite into God’s movement of grace and into God’s mission of agape? How did you practice your faith? With whom did you practice? How did you engage your community in God’s mission, God’s love? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? What will you do differently tomorrow?

We have been exploring how the themes of Advent are opportunities for improving and enhancing your leadership. This fourth week let’s look at the theme of the birth of Jesus as another way of helping you become the leader needed at this time in history. 

How does rethinking the birth of Jesus help you be a Christ-centered leader? 

In a way, it is strange to “rethink the birth of Jesus” but slogans like “Let’s put Christ back into Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season” invite us and challenge us to look closely at the meaning and purpose of the birth of Jesus.    

The Birth of Jesus

When we read the biblical stories, we find that the birth of Jesus, in a stable to humble parents, is God’s dramatic way of coming into the world in a way that we can understand. It is the story of God taking on the life of a human being and coming into this world to live with us. It is a story of incarnation. 

When you read Matthew’s story you find that the name Jesus means savior and that the name Emmanuel means God is with us. Matthew is telling us that in Jesus, God’s saving presence is with us.  

John points out that Jesus was present at the beginning with God because Jesus is God. Then God becomes flesh and lives among us. The words “became flesh and dwelt with us” literally mean “to pitch his tent.” Eugene Peterson in the Message says, “moved into our neighborhood.” John is telling us that God in Jesus has come to live with us.  

And Paul teaches us that God is in Christ “reconciling the world to himself.” It might be helpful to think of the word reconciled as being embraced or hugged. God is in Christ “embracing” the world and “hugging” us, each of us, holding us close in love. Paul tells us that God came to be with us to bring us back to him and to his purpose. 

Read Luke 2:1-20

So, let’s look at Luke’s story to discover how rethinking the birth of Jesus can help you lead through Advent. 

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room. 

8 Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”  

16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them, 19 and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them. 

Reflect 

The birth of Jesus is a story of an encounter with the divine in the midst of the ordinary. Luke uses ordinary people to introduce his good news. Within the historical context of political struggle, taxation, and the governmental and religious claims of Rome, Luke tells of God coming to be with us in the person of Jesus. In the midst of the ordinary, we have an encounter with God. 

Sometimes it seems that we have heard the story of the birth of Jesus so often that we miss Luke’s purpose in telling the story. As much as I like to think of Christmas as family gatherings, special decorations, lights, trees, candles, singing carols, and a winter wonderland, Luke’s first-century Christmas was different. 

God with Us

The birth of Jesus is about God coming to be with us. It is about light coming into our darkness.  Luke tells the story of Mary, a young woman from Nazareth, whose life is turned upside down by God’s call upon her life. In his first chapter, Luke tells of the angel Gabriel arriving with a greeting that is unsettling: “Favored woman! The Lord is with you.” As much as you and I might want to be favored by God, to be in God’s favor means God has some extraordinary work to be done. 

When you read Mary’s call to the ministry, she is “confused and disturbed.” There is always a mix of surprise, fear, and faith when you encounter God’s call. But like other stories in the scripture, we tend to focus only upon a portion of the story, like “the virgin birth,” and miss the purpose of the story.   

Luke’s good news is that Jesus not only possessed the Holy Spirit but promised the Holy Spirit to his followers. For Luke, the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to communicate the good news of God beyond the barriers that separate people from God and one another. 

God’s Promise Fulfilled

In chapter one, the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary (1:35) in the same way Luke understood the Holy Spirit to come upon the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 1:8). The fulfillment of God’s promise, to be with us, is part of the intention of this story. Mary becomes God’s agent, God’s instrument, fulfilling God’s promise. This is Luke’s way of emphasizing the true humanity of the One who shared our life by being born, growing up and dying 

God comes to be with us, through the faithful response of Mary, to give us what we need to navigate the barriers that separate us from one another. When you read the good news according to Luke and the stories recorded in The Acts of the Apostles, you will discover that the Holy Spirit that came to Mary and the disciples is the same Holy Spirit that has been given to you. 

Holy Spirit Power

So, here is a clue for your leadership. When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, O favored one, you will be given the power to witness beyond the barriers of theology, race, nationality, gender, economics, politics, social standing, etc. God’s purpose is being worked out in and through you. 

When Luke writes that there is “no place” for the newborn Messiah, he is saying that Jesus is a displaced person for whom the world will not make a place. “No room” is not simply a matter of space but a matter of choice. Jesus born in a stable will find “no vacancy” signs throughout his ministry and will finally be buried in a borrowed tomb. 

Empowered for Love

Jesus being born in a stable and placed in a manger represents solidarity with people of poverty. Luke brings this into dramatic contrast with Caesar who has a place in the empire. As a Christ-centered leader, you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a place for God’s love in the lives of the people who have been pushed aside and forgotten. 

The story of the shepherds and angels emphasizes God’s affirmation of the poor and despised. Although the image of shepherds is more positive in the Old Testament, in the first century, shepherds belonged to the lower class, irresponsible thieves who grazed their sheep on the land of other people. They were nomadic people taking advantage of others while using the care of their sheep as excuses for their behavior. 

Yet, it is to the shepherds that the angels bring the good news. Using the words and images meant for the emperor, Luke has the angels announce the birth of Jesus as the One who fulfills the aspirations and yearnings of all people. The message begins among the outsiders of Galilee and Judea and extends to Samaritans, Romans, and then to all people. 

Reimagine

The word “savior” was a word of honor often applied to the emperor and the word “lord” was a designation for the emperor and for pagan gods, as well as for the God of the Old Testament. The word “Christ” is the one anointed by God to fulfill God’s promises. The announcement was meant to reimage the empire. He was bringing good news to all people, Jews and Gentiles. As a Christ-centered leader, you are now a part of “the hopes and fears of all the years” are met in Jesus, God with us. 

The announcement of “peace” or “shalom” refers to the birth of Jesus as an act of the grace of God. Jesus is bringing wholeness and completeness to all people and every aspect of life. It carries with it the image of becoming who God created you to be. 

A Message of Peace

So, here is what is so awesome about the birth of Jesus. God gave the message of peace to amateurs. It is like the message was too important to be left to the diplomats and those in positions of power.  

Think about it. The great diplomats and ambassadors of the past 2000 years, the councils that have met, and the peace treaties that have been signed have mostly been forgotten. But we still remember and are shaped by the peacemaking messages of a host of angels, a group of unimportant shepherds, and Christ-centered leaders like you.   

After the shepherds had seen such wondrous things, they went back to their ordinary lives. And that is the rethinking of the birth of Jesus. How has the birth of Jesus changed your life and the way you relate to people? What difference has the birth of Jesus made in your leadership? 

Respond 

What does it mean to “rethink the birth of Jesus”? Slogans like “Let’s put Christ back into Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season” are good slogans, but what do they mean? 

To rethink the birth of Jesus, you will have to ask yourself, “What will I do with the baby?” God has chosen to come to us in a way that we can understand. Now, how will you live and lead so others will know and understand God with us?    

After a busy morning of activity, a family decided to stop for lunch at a restaurant. The mother places her 12-month-old son, Erik, in his highchair. As soon as he was placed, he squealed with glee. He was giggling as he looked across the restaurant. 

His mother followed the direction of his eyes to see who or what had amused her son. Her eyes met a homeless-looking, unkempt old man just across from their table. With his hands waving at Erik, the man said “Hello baby. You are such a big boy.” 

Erik’s parents were startled. They were unsure how to respond to the situation. The baby didn’t seem to care that others in the restaurant were now staring at him and the old man. But his parents were uneasy. As soon as their meal arrived, they hurried and ate, not enjoying their food or one another. 

The old man was still making faces and playing with Erik. “Peek-a-boo . . . I see you.” The man was anything but cute and obviously intoxicated, but Erik didn’t care. 

As soon as they finished their meal, Erik’s dad told his wife to meet him in the parking lot and he hurried to pay the check. While Erik’s mother was gathering their belongings, she noticed that the old man sat between her and the door. “Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik,” she prayed. 

As she drew closer to the man, she turned her back trying to sidestep the man and avoid any air he might be breathing. As she did, Erik leaned over her arm, reaching with both arms in a baby’s “pick-me-up” motion. Before his mom could stop him, Erik propelled himself from her arms to the old man’s arms. Suddenly the ragged, unkempt old man and the baby were face to face in a full embrace. Erik was giggling and squealing the whole time. 

The baby, in an act of total trust and love, laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and tears filled his eyes. His old hands, full of grime and pain, cradled the baby and stroked his back. Erik’s mother stood stunned. She felt helpless and scared of the unknown. As the old man rocked and cradled Erik, he looked at the mother and said, “You take care of this baby.” 

Somehow, she managed to say, “I will.” 

He handed Erik back to her and said, “God bless you, ma’am; you’ve given me my Christmas gift.” 

She could say nothing more than mutter, “Thanks. With Erik in her arms, she walked to the car weeping, “Oh God, forgive me.” 

Rethink the Birth of Jesus

As you rethink the birth of Jesus, what are you doing with the baby? Maybe you can think of it this way, how is the birth of Jesus helping you love others as God in Jesus has loved you? 

Ann Douglas Vaughan tells the story of when she was ten, she found a wallet. There wasn’t any money in it, but even at ten years of age she knew how those things worked. She couldn’t wait to return the wallet and get her reward. All day long she called the phone number which she found in the brown leather wallet, but no one answered. 

She finally convinced her dad to drive her to the owner’s address. Once there, they found a modest military housing unit with a torn screen door. It was at that moment she noticed her dad doing something unexpected. As he rang the bell, he took three $20 bills and tucked them into the empty wallet. 

Ann Douglas Vaughan wrote, “Turns out my reward, for returning the wallet, was getting to see true love in action.” She witnessed, through the actions of her father, grace through generosity to a stranger. 

Rethink the Birth of Jesus

As you rethink the birth of Jesus, how do others experience love in action through you? How will you extend grace through generosity?   

To rethink the birth of Jesus, you will have to ask yourself, “Will I follow Jesus where he leads me?” Mary replied to the angel, “May it be to me as you have said.” You might not entirely understand what is going on. You might not anticipate what will happen. You only know that to put Christ back into Christmas, you have to allow yourself to be loved and to love others as you are loved. It means becoming vulnerable and available.    

When the Bible Grasps You

There once was a seminary student who approached the theologian Paul Tillich after a lecture on the authority of Scripture. The student was clutching a large, black, leather-bound Bible in his hand. As he approached Tillich, waving his Bible above his head, he shouted, “Do you believe this is the Word of God?” 

Tillich looked at the student’s fingers tightly gripping the Bible and responded, “Not if you think you can grasp it.” There was a moment of silence, then Tillich continued, “When the Bible grasps you, I believe it is the Word of God” 

God is Calling You to Participate in the Good News

The heartfelt music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and sweet words are all good, but they have numbed us to the intrusion of God’s love. Christmas is saying, “Yes” to something beyond all your emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying, “Yes” to a hope based on God’s initiative which has nothing to do with what you think and feel. It is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work, and that God is calling you to not only announce the good news but to participate in it.  

So, when Jesus comes knocking on the door of your church building, be ready for his invitation. Because when you open the door to invite him in, he is going to invite you to follow him into your neighborhood. Get ready because he will introduce you to his friends. His poor, forgotten, disabled, overlooked friends. And if, by faith, you have the courage to follow him, you will take your first step in becoming the incarnational leader needed to meet the needs of people today.  

Join Mary in responding,  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” It will be at that moment that you will join the heavenly host singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 

Put Christ back into Christmas by loving others as God in Christ has loved you. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return  

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. What did you decide to do with the baby Jesus? How did you experience God’s love for you? How did you express God’s love for others? To whom is Jesus leading you? How will your experience of the birth of Jesus help you love as you have been loved? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced in and through them? 

Merry Christmas! May the joy of Jesus be yours as you rethink the meaning and purpose of his birth in your life and in the lives of the people entrusted to your care.

As you continue to lead through Advent, how are you practicing and improving your leadership skills? This season we have looked at how rethinking waiting and preparing are growth opportunities. With waiting and preparation in mind, have you considered how Advent provides you with the opportunity to rethink your focus on life and leadership?   

Life is not found by focusing on yourself but is found in giving yourself for the sake of others. It is not self-protection but self-giving that opens you to your best self. Effective leadership is not found by focusing on likes and dislikes, but by listening and responding to the hopes, dreams, and desires of those entrusted to you.   

Rethinking with John the Baptist

It is easy to get caught up in our own stories. When you think about the highs and the lows of daily life and add the chaos of disease and distress in the world, it is easy to lose focus on who is life-giving and what is important.   

In an age where the focus on self is promoted as the path to happiness, Advent provides the opportunity to rethink your focus. Today, John the Baptist teaches us to refocus by shifting our attention from ourselves to God and God’s mission. In a culture of weariness, John calls us to discover a different path to life. He invites us to focus on the light in the darkness.    

To help refocus, take a few minutes to read this scripture, John 1:6-8, 19-28. 

Read John 1:6-8, 19-28. 

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but he confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 

23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why, then, are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. 

Reflect 

John the Baptist points us toward a greater vision than ourselves. He, himself, embodies a self-giving life. Despite the attention given to him, he keeps his focus on the One who is to come after him. In other words, he refused to claim an identity that would overshadow his mission or that would take the focus off of the light, off of the Messiah, off of Jesus, the One who is coming. 

So, John, the gospel writer tells us, John the Baptist was a witness to the light. He was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. Why? So, all might believe. His focus was on his mission and not himself. 

A Voice in the Wilderness

Even when the Jews sent priests to question him, John responded, “I am not the Messiah.” “I am not Elijah.” “I am not a prophet.” He could have elevated himself to a level of importance, but he kept his focus. They asked, “Who are you?  What do you say about yourself?” 

And he answered, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” He knew who he was and his place in God’s mission. Even though some wanted to make him the center of attention, John kept his focus on his mission and not on himself. 

The Power of Self-Giving

The scripture is clear, John the Baptist’s life is a witness to the power of self-giving. His witness was a light for others, but his light was only a reflection of the One to come, the one true light. John’s life is a model of humility. 

His insistence that he is the voice in the wilderness highlights a profound humility. He is not even worthy to untie the strap of the sandal of the One who is coming. John is directing everyone to the Messiah, the Christ, the One to come, Jesus. Why? So, all might believe. 

The scripture is clear. John’s humility models for us what it means to follow Jesus. 

Respond 

This Advent season, John challenges us to rethink our focus. John invites us to turn our eyes upon Jesus and to place our attention on the mission. He came to point people to Jesus. John is calling us to do the same. 

So, as you listen to John, how are you leading through Advent? Are you focused on the baby in the manger or on the commercial aspects of Christmas? Let me be clear, it is very difficult if not impossible to give your full attention to both and hold Jesus, God with us, clearly in focus. 

Leading Through Advent

So, how are you leading through Advent? Are helping people prepare for the birth of Jesus, and the coming of Christ, or are you lost in the timing of activities and the proper trimmings of the season? Advent candles are good and necessary. They provide a way of telling the story. 

But when you get upset because someone lights the pink candle on the wrong Sunday, where is your focus? When you are more concerned about the poinsettias being delivered and properly placed than you are about the people who only attend worship once a year, with family, at Christmas, where is your focus?   

The Why of Christmas

Advent provides a wonderful opportunity to rethink your focus on why you participate in some activities. How is baking cookies, wrapping gifts, decorating, going to parties, and assisting you in keeping your focus upon “God with us” the savior of the world? They are good activities that bring joy and pleasure, the question is, how do they keep you focused on the “why” of Christmas? 

In today’s culture, we often celebrate ourselves more than we celebrate the One whom God sends to set us free. Because of God’s love for us, God sent John the Baptist to challenge us to rethink our focus. His mission was not about gaining recognition. Instead, he was committed to pointing to the One greater than himself. John the Baptist didn’t seek personal glory. His life was a message, urging people to look beyond their desires to the Messiah. 

Rethink Your Focus

So, as a Christ-centered leader, Advent provides the opportunity to rethink your focus. It is easy to lose focus of the One who calls us and equips us for leading and loving. When we are out of focus, we misunderstand the connection between serving others and the life we are called to live. It is in focusing on others and loving others, that we become more who God created us to be. 

As followers of Jesus, as good as it is, you are not invited to a life of serving others as a way to be and do good. You are invited to love and serve as a way of expressing God’s goodness you have experienced in and through Jesus. You love your neighbors as you love yourself and you love others as God has loved you. As good as it is, it is not about your service, it is about God’s love.   

Undefeated

Maybe this story will help. It is from the Academy Award-winning documentary film, “Undefeated.” 

In 2004, Bill Cortney left his position as a schoolteacher to open his own lumber business. While participating in a small group from his church, he was challenged to volunteer to go into the North Memphis neighborhoods and be a friend to some kids. Through that experience, Bill Cortney learned that the Manassas High School football team needed a coach. Through the encouragement of his friends, he volunteered to be the coach for one year.  

The Manassas High School football team had never won a playoff game. In fact, in 2004, they had only won four games in ten years. Bill Courtney offered to help the Manassas Tigers turn the football team around. 

Are you a Turkey Person?

That first year, there were 17 players on the team. About midway through the season, the coach was concerned about his relationship with his players. He felt he had a good relationship with half of them, but he wanted something more than being the coach, something of greater depth than football. So, he had a conversation with one of the seniors, Jamie, about his relationship with the team. 

The coach asked Jamie, “What is the deal? I am here every day. I’m giving all I have to give. What do I have to do?” 

Jamie responded almost dismissively, “Just keep doing what you are doing, Coach. We appreciate it.” 

Coach Courtney: “Tell me what is going on.” 

Jamie: “Real talk? I don’t want to hurt your feelings. 

Coach: “Straight talk, Jamie.” 

Jamie: “Straight up. They are trying to figure out if you are a turkey person. 

Coach: “I have no idea what you are talking about. What is a turkey person?” 

Jamie: “You know coach, every Thanksgiving and Christmas some white folks roll up into our neighborhoods in their vans and SUVs. They have turkeys, hams, and gifts. They unload them. We take the gifts and the food because we need them. But then, they all get back into their cars, vans, and SUVs and they go back out to the suburbs, and we don’t see them ever again.   

“Now, Coach, are they delivering those turkeys and gifts because they really care about us or are they going back out to the suburbs to tell people how they helped some poor black folks. Are they doing what they are doing because they care about us or just so they can feel good about themselves? 

“Coach, what are you doing? Everyone is trying to figure it out. What are you doing?” 

Loving and Nurturing

For Bill Courtney that was the beginning of six years as the Coach of the Manasses High School Tigers. Through his loving and nurturing of the players and helping them develop their physical and emotional strengths, Courtney coached the team to a winning season in 2009 and their first playoff win in the history of the football program. 

What made the difference? I think it was focus. Bill Courtney kept his focus on why he was doing what he was doing and on the people he was serving. His focus was not on himself but on the character and integrity of the players on his team. 

What is Your Focus as a Leader?

This Advent season provides you the opportunity to rethink your focus as a leader. 

Too often we are absorbed in our own worlds. We do what we do because it makes us feel good about ourselves. Even when it has implications of helping others, we too often are more concerned about how it affects us than we are about how we truly reflect the light of love and care for others.  Our actions are more self-serving than they are of humility and love. 

When you’re focused on yourself, your preferences, and your conveniences, your vision narrows, and your focus becomes blurry. When you keep your focus on Jesus, it is clear who God sends your way to love and serve. 

John the Baptist is challenging you to focus upon the light of the One who is to come. That is who you are as a Christ-centered leader. This Advent season, rethink your focus and become the leader needed for this time and season. And remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Return  

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. With whom did you rethink your focus? What brought you to the moment of refocusing? How do you clear a path for others to rethink their focus? In the future, how will you respond differently? How did you express God’s love today? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced in and through them?   

Have you given thought to how you might practice and improve your leadership skills during the season of Advent? Think about it. Advent provides an excellent opportunity to focus on and improve certain aspects of your leadership that you might not otherwise choose to improve.

So, as you enter this Advent season, I challenge you to take advantage of the opportunity to grow and improve as a leader. Start by rethinking the coming of Jesus by answering these two questions, “What is Advent? and “What does Advent have to do with being a Christ-centered leader?”

What is Advent?

It is relatively simple to answer the question “What is Advent?” In the early church, Advent began with watching and waiting for Jesus to return. Remember, from the Acts of the Apostles, when Jesus ascended, the message to his followers was, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”

As the centuries passed and the church grew weary of waiting, Advent became preparing for the birth of Jesus. So, there were seemingly two advents, the celebration of his first coming, Jesus born in Bethlehem, and the preparation for his second coming, Jesus who will return someday.

Over the years, Advent has become more of a focus on the birth of Jesus, with one exception. The first Sunday in Advent focuses upon what is known as “the second coming” of Jesus.

Christ-Centered Leaders & Advent

It is a little more complicated to answer the question “What does Advent have to do with being a Christ-centered leader?” The answer depends on your understanding and focus on being a leader.

Advent provides an opportunity to practice key disciplines in your Christian living. Beyond the energy-draining activities of preparing for Christmas and trying to resist the pressure to sing Christmas carols before Christmas arrives, Advent provides you with the time and space to practice the discipline of waiting, particularly the discipline of waiting in hope. Advent gives you the opportunity to model waiting as a leader and to participate in waiting as a member of the community of faith.

Waiting is a Challenge

In our culture, waiting is a challenge. Most of us are not very good at it. We live in a time when we want what we want when we want it. And we want it on our own terms, exactly the way we perceive it. We have not had training in waiting. There are no seminary courses that teach waiting. There are no church programs to provide steps on learning to wait. Yet waiting is a necessary aspect of life and is a valued characteristic of Christ-centered leaders.

So, how do you lead others in something you are not very good at yourself? Well, because most of us learn waiting either by experience or by practicing it as a spiritual discipline, let’s take advantage of the opportunity to rethink the coming of Jesus and the practice of waiting.

To help you focus, take a few minutes to read this scripture, Mark 13:24-37,  reflect upon it from the context in which it was written, respond to it by thinking about the implications of its truth, and return at the end of the day to focus upon how the scripture came to life for you. This particular practice will help you rethink the coming of Jesus as well as assist you in becoming the Christ-centered leader needed at this time. 

Read Mark 13:24-37

24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels and gather the elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he[b] is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert,[c] for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Reflect

The good news according to Mark is, that God sent Jesus to oppose the evil, pain, and suffering of the world. He wrote his good news during a time when the followers of Jesus were known as insurrectionists, enemies of the government. So, the followers of Jesus were under great persecution. 

Mark wrote to give his people hope. Because there was a danger in writing the truth about the government and about the persecution, he used figurative language to get his message out. He used imagery to express the inexpressible. He wanted his people who were experiencing the evils of hate and persecution, that there was hope.  

Mark’s Message for Advent

It is difficult for us today to grasp the rich meaning of Mark’s message.  Too many people get caught up in a desperate attempt to know the future, so they focus more on the imagery and miss the point of the hope. They try to predict the future or confuse the imagery with reality. The truth of the scripture is, in the midst of pain, suffering, and evil, there is hope of deliverance.  

So, Mark’s story is not to be taken literally. It is not a travel guide into the future, but an assurance that despite all signs to the contrary, all the hurt, chaos, wars, separation, and uncertainty, there is hope. Hope in the living God we know in and through Jesus.

The Context of Hope

Let’s put Mark into context. The world as his people knew it was coming apart. It was like the sun was not shining. There was darkness. Even the darkness was darker than usual. The situation was so bad it was like the stars falling from heaven because even the powers of heaven were being shaken. The situations the people were facing were indescribable except for imagery and metaphors. 

The imagery he used helped put the situations and circumstances in which they were living in the context of hope. The shock of the coming of Jesus was not destruction. At the heart of Mark’s story is hope. Mark understood that God sent Jesus to oppose the suffering, pain, and evil in the world.

God’s offer of a New World

At the heart of Mark’s story is the shattering of the shapes of oppression, injustice, and evil that keep us from living the way God has intended for us to live. It is not a “business as usual” festival of things that make us feel warm and fuzzy. It is not an innocent baby who comes gently to fit into our preconceived world. Instead, it is both a welcomed prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and it is a dreaded experience because it disrupts our comfort and convenience. 

With the coming of Jesus, there is a growing awareness that this world is not the one God has in mind for us. God is offering us a new world shaped according to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God is working on a world precisely for those who are ready and able to relinquish the old world. Part of preparing for the coming of Jesus is to acknowledge our participation in the darkness and despair of the old world so we can be embraced by the light and hope of the new one. Part of our preparation is to wait for the coming of the One who brings the light and hope of new life. 

The Coming of Jesus

To experience and receive God’s Advent, we have to rethink the coming of Jesus. That means that the coming of Jesus shatters our preconceived notions, our preferences, and our participation in the hate, lust, greed that leads to racism, crime, war and a thousand other evils. By rethinking the coming of Jesus, we focus upon him who has come to oppose the evil, pain and suffering of this world. Jesus is our hope!

The coming of Jesus meets you precisely where your hurt and hope meet. The question is, are you bold enough to be honest with yourself and with the people around you? Are you ready and open for the new life he brings? Have you experienced hope in and through Jesus for whom you are waiting? Has God’s grace led you to trust Jesus enough to relinquish the old world and to receive the new one?   

A Promise from God

The new world is a promise from God. It is not a domesticated political agenda or some form of a doctrine of progress. God does not provide happy endings for the futures we are engineering. God provides a future beyond our knowledge and control, and not even the angels in heaven know the hour of its coming. 

But even with this caution against wanting to know too much, we are still left with too little. We still have the question of how to hope in the meantime when nothing ever happens. And that is why the writer of Mark remembered the other word which Jesus said. This word was a parable about a man who went on a trip and left his servants to manage the house while he was gone. That, of course, is a description of the situation of the church, left in charge of the house while the Master is absent. 

Be on the Lookout

What Jesus said about the servants is also true of the church: we need constantly to be on the lookout. The house can never be in disarray, because, as Jesus stated it, “You do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (Mark 13:35-36). 

Mark is pointing out something significant here. The master could come “in the evening,” and, in the very next chapter, he tells us that “when it was evening” Jesus ate his last meal with the disciples, and told them, “one of you will betray me.” 

The master could come “at midnight,” and Mark records that, later that night, the disciples went with Jesus to Gethsemane. While Jesus prayed his cry of anguish, the disciples, no doubt weary of waiting, slept. Jesus asked them, “Could you not watch one hour?” 

Maybe the master will come “at cockcrow,” and Peter turned to the accusing maid with a curse and a denial, “I do not know this man.” The rooster crowed. 

Maybe the coming of the master will be “in the morning,” and “as soon as it was morning,” Jesus was bound and led away to his trial and to his death. 

The Promise of God’s Future

Mark has woven into the fabric of his gospel the possibility that every moment of the day is already alive with the promise of God’s future. As we look toward the horizon for the coming of Jesus, we know that each passing moment is filled with the potential for faith or denial, decision or tragedy, hope or despair. 

Those who trust the promise are able to see signs of its coming all around them. Those who believe that, in God’s good time, something is about to happen, also know that, even now, something is happening. 

Wait

Waiting is so important that Mark wrote three times to wait. Using the word “watch” he is instructing his followers to “wait”: “Take heed, watch” (verse 33). “Watch therefore” (verse 35). And “watch” (verse 37). To watch is “to shake off sleep” which implies being awake, alert, and prepared. It suggests staying aware of your actions, thoughts, and surroundings, so you can recognize Jesus in your everyday relationships and interactions with people. 

The point is clear. Although Jesus will come at a time known only to God, he will surely come, and no amount of delay or suffering we experience while waiting should dissuade us from that fact. The expectation of the second coming should keep us alert, and faithful to being who God has created us to be.

The question is, “Where have you seen Jesus this week?” 

Respond 

Advent is when you become a leader in waiting. You have the opportunity to give yourself the space to grow in faith as you keep watch for Jesus. When you have waited for God in the darkest and most difficult moments of your life, you can effectively model for others the spiritual discipline of waiting. It is only when you have stood still waiting for God’s transforming love that you not only have the power to face and address evil, pain, and suffering, but you develop the inner authority to ask others to do the same.

It is as you wait, trusting God’s leading, that you experience the grace to step out in faith and to lead with courageous action. As you learn to wait on God, God provides clear direction. It is at that point that you have the courage to act when the time is right. Christ-centered leadership is about knowing when to wait and when to act.

So, let’s be clear regarding waiting. Waiting is more than:

Having patience. 

Although patience is a virtue and one of the fruits of the spirit, waiting is different than having patience. Waiting is a spiritual discipline and strength that grows out of a deep inner peace given by God’s presence to those who trust God. By learning to wait upon God’s direction, Christ-centered leaders will produce loving, forgiving, generous attitudes toward others, but the purpose of waiting is to act courageously in God’s time.

Being tolerant.

Although tolerance is the ability or willingness to accept feelings, habits, beliefs, or behaviors that are different from your own, waiting is different than being tolerant.  Waiting is a spiritual discipline and strength that grows out of your convictions of trust and obedience in response to God’s grace and is not a reaction to the beliefs and behaviors of others. By learning to wait, Christ-centered leaders learn to accept opinions and behaviors of different people, but the purpose of waiting is to respond courageously in God’s time.

The Meaning of Waiting

Maybe this will help put meaning and face to waiting. Sue Monk Kidd tells a story about her daughter being the Bethlehem star one year in a Christmas play. After her first rehearsal, her daughter burst through the door with her costume, a five-pointed star lined in shiny gold tinsel. It was designed to drape over her like a sandwich board.

Sue asked her daughter, “What exactly will you be doing in the play?” Her daughter answered, “I just stand there and shine.” 

Shine

Jesus’ disciples were concerned about the future and their part in it. Jesus wanted them to know that their role was to stay behind and shine. But they would not be alone. He would be with them. Christ-centered leaders learn to shine while waiting. So, you work while waiting. You live as God has created you to live while waiting. 

Once John Wesley was asked what he would do if he knew this was his last day on earth. He replied, “At 4:00, I would have some tea. At 6:00, I would visit Mrs. Brown in the hospital. Then at 7:30, I would conduct a mid-week prayer service. At 10:00, I would go to bed and would wake up in glory.”

When Martin Luther was asked what he would do on the day of Jesus’ return, he said he would go out and plant a tree. Mark tells us that Jesus expects each of us to be about our work so that when he comes, he will find us faithfully taking care of the world.

The Coming of Jesus

Some years ago, a tourist visited the Castle Villa Asconti along the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. The old gardener opened the gates and the visitor stepped into the garden, which was perfectly kept. The visitor asked when the owner was last there. The gardener replied, “Twelve years ago.”

“Does he ever write?” “No,” was the answer.

“Where do you get your instructions?” The gardener answered, “From his agent in Milan.”

“Does the master ever come?” “No,” was the reply.

“But you keep the grounds as though your master was coming back tomorrow.” The old gardener quickly replied, “Today, sir, today.” 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Take a few moments to reflect on the following questions. They are designed to lead you into the waiting room of your soul. This is where you wait for God to revive you, to restore you, and to make you new. This is the place where you wait for God to come to you in ways you can see and know.

Where are you longing for God to enter your life with love, hope, and peace? In the words of Mark, where do you long for God to “shake the heavens” and to do something that you do not expect? What relationships do you desire to be restored? In what parts of your life do you need a tender shepherd to lead you and to care for you?

Where is the place in your ministry where you need to be “strengthened to the end” by the presence of God revealed to you in some new way?

Give God thanks for the day and for the ways God has shown up in your life. With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced?   

In a world that is changing as quickly as you are reading these words, may I state the obvious? The foundation of Christ-centered leadership is Jesus.

When the earth is moving under your feet, the one person you can depend upon to remain the same today and tomorrow is Jesus. As you attempt to lead in the midst of the changes, developing the characteristics of trust, authenticity, vulnerability, and courage, keep your heart, mind, and work-focused upon Jesus. It is your focus on Jesus that makes you a Christ-centered leader. So, that brings me to my question, “What does it mean to be a Christ-centered leader?” 

Lead With Love

May I, again, state the obvious? The greatest distinguishing characteristic of Christ-centered leaders is love. To lead with love involves genuinely caring for the well-being and growth of those you are entrusted to your care. It means developing a sense of belonging, empathy, and positive relationships. Love-centered leadership focuses on building strong connections, showing appreciation, and supporting the development of individuals. It creates a nurturing environment where people feel valued, understood, and motivated to contribute their best selves in loving as they have been and are being loved. It encourages collaboration and helps cultivate a culture of love and compassion.    

There are many places in the scriptures we can go to reflect upon love, but let’s start with a well-known scripture, even to those who are not religious or part of the church as we know it. 

Read 1 Corinthians 13 

13 If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing. 

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part, 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.

Reflect

Paul describes the heart of a Christ-centered leader. He is describing the love lived out in everyday relationships. Too often, today, his words to the church in Corinth are taken as poetry idealizing love. It is part of the Christendom culture, but to idealize love is to miss the point.

Again, from a cultural perspective, his words are used to give a general description of love. To generalize love is to miss the point. Paul wrote his words to a church in the midst of painful conflict and unwelcome change. He lays out the way of Christian living. So, from the perspective of a Christ-centered leader, he is teaching you to love as God in Jesus has loved you.  

Lead in Relationship with Others

His teaching is strong and to the point. We may say it this way, “You might have and exceptional gift for preaching, or have great prophetic powers, or even the strength to make noticeable sacrifices, but without loving others as God in Jesus has loved you, your gifts, strengths, and powers are useless.” Those are strong words. Paul was not giving a general description of love and was giving poetry for a wedding ceremony; he was instructing followers of Jesus on what it meant to live in relationship with one another.

So, what does it mean to lead with love? Let’s start with the word “agape.” Although “agape” is not a word we use in our everyday language, it is a concept found in the New Testament. It is used to describe the distinct kind of love embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus. It is the kind of love that focuses on people and develops communities of care and compassion.

Leading with Love

Agape defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for us, all of us. It is God’s ongoing, outgoing, self-sacrificing interest and concern for creation. God loves you, me, humanity, and all creation without condition. Agape is the work of the Christ-centered leader.  

To put it another way, this love is not dependent upon the worth of the people being loved. It does not count the cost based on the return. It is spontaneous and does not consider beforehand whether it will be effective or proper. It is the extension of God’s love lived out in and through our relationships with each other. 

Leading with love gives meaning and purpose to all other leadership characteristics. To lead with love means:

To lead with the highest form of love described and experienced in the Bible.

It is more than an emotion. It is a matter of will. As much as we talk about the church being a family, this love is greater than friends and family. In fact, this love is greater than race, color, or belief. It is a love that intentionally works for the good of each individual regardless of who they are or whether you feel anything or not. This love is greater than politics, nationality, gender, and race. To be a Christ-centered leader means you lead with love.

To understand the greatest expression of a relationship.

As much as I dislike conflict, this love is not about “getting along” with one another or “being nice” to one another. Sometimes, for the sake of unity, we set this love aside and become nice instead of loving. It is in the midst of our differences and disagreements that love is the source of our relationships. It is working for the good of all people whether we agree or not. To be a Christ-centered leader means to love courageously as God has loved you in and through Jesus.

To love as Jesus loves.

It is to be focused on the good of others before it is focused on our own goodness, desires, expectations, or results. Too many times we talk of loving others so we can get something from them, get them into the church, or meet our budgets. To lead with love is greater than our institutional concerns. We love because God in Christ first loved us. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is about being who God created you to be for no other reason than being who God created you to be. 

To express through action.

Too often we talk about love and loving others but are slow to live the love we talk about. John, in his first letter wrote, “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also” (I John 4:19-21). 

To lead with love is to lead as a follower of Jesus. He said, “Love one another. By this people will know that you are my disciples.” Who you are is how you lead.

Respond

As a Christ-centered leader, to lead by this love, you must focus on people. People first. There is always a place for policy and procedure, but they come in relationship to putting people first and by loving others, people, the way God in Jesus has loved you.  With that said, this is a different kind of love.

Focused upon people, you lead with this love by:   

Listening

You are quick to listen and slow to speak. It is important for people to know that you care enough to listen to them. You elevate the importance of a person when you take them seriously by listening. Too often, in conversations, we form our responses and interrupt before the other person finishes speaking. As important as your position and opinion might be, it is more important to listen, especially to those with whom you disagree. Love people by listening first. 

Being Patient

You are slow to anger. You are patient with people more than patient with circumstances. Regardless of how unkind and hurtful people might be, you show the same patience with others as God has shown you. The patience of love always wins.  

Being Kind

On one hand, you are quick to compliment and affirm, and on the other hand, you are clear with feedback. Being clear is kind. You build meaningful relationships with kindness. Being kind helps with connection and cooperation, as well as trust and well-being. To lead with love is to be kind. 

Being Generous

You are slow to pass judgment and quick to offer grace. You freely offer space and time for people to be who they have been created to be. So, when people don’t move as fast as you, you are generous with “they are doing the best they can do.” Then you ask, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me to do what you need to do?” You are being who God created you to be by being who God needs you to be for people entrusted to your care. Being generous is a major act of leading with love.   

The early followers of Jesus showed love in everything they did. For them, to love God and to love the people around them was motivation for everything. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14 CEB). Leading with love is the main work of the Christ-centered leader.  Who you are is how you lead.

Return

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you experience God’s love? Through whom did you experience it? With whom did you share God’s love? Who are one or two people who have helped you love others as you have been loved? Give God thanks for them. What will you do differently tomorrow? Reflect upon “Who I am is how I lead.”

Pray

O God, I want to be the leader you have created me to be. As I learn to love more like Jesus, fill me with the love that is patient and kind and a love that is not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. Forgive me when I insist on my own way and for being irritable when things don’t go my way. Help me tear up the list of wrongs I have kept regarding the actions of others and help me be more generous and rejoice in the truth of others. Keep working with me so that I become more of the leader you need me to be. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus whose love gives me meaning and purpose. Amen.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “church”? A building where you worship? An organization of which you are a member? A place you work or volunteer? A community of believers who gather for Christian worship, fellowship, and learning? What comes to mind?

How often do you hear or say:

  • “I am going to the church?”
  • “I am a member of First Church,”
  • “I attend worship at Good Shepherd Church?” or
  • “That used to be a church?”

What is the Church?

The exact meaning of “church” varies based on the context in which the term is used, as well as the experience of the person using the term. So, who or what is the church to you?  

Throughout history, the church has been defined and understood in different ways. It has been most effective when it has responded to and addressed the needs and concerns of the community or city in which it is located. It has been less effective when it has turned inward attempting to protect itself from theological challenges and cultural changes. 

As we have said, it matters where you start. Whether being vulnerable in moving outward or in preservation moving inward, the church has usually entered an identity crisis when it has moved away from its purpose. That is why I am asking the question, who or what is the church today?

What Shaped the Church

Before answering the question, let’s take a look at what has shaped the church as we experience it. This is a much too simple overview, but it will help with context.

The early followers of Jesus found their identity in his mission. They understood themselves as evidence of the resurrection and that they became part of the loving, healing, feeding, serving, and dying of the Risen Christ. Their witness was seen in their loving, serving, and caring for the sick, the prisoner, the widow, the fatherless, and the poor. 

They engaged the world and witnessed the work of Jesus in the midst of a hostile environment. Whether it was living in tension with the established religion (Judaism) or being persecuted by the government (Roman), they did not withdraw from the world or forsake their mission.

Baptism was a powerful symbol of new life in Christ. It symbolized death to things of the world and new birth in the way of Jesus. Through baptism, believers knew they had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry out his loving service. How they lived out their call and commission was determined by their context. They were driven to ask “Who are we in relationship to those around us? To whom are we sent?” They struggled with their answers as they worshiped week by week and listened to the stories of Jesus and his mission. It was out of their daily experiences in relationship to the people around them that their understanding of mission emerged. 

They put their lives on the line for Jesus as they witnessed God’s love across boundaries of race, nationality, and economics. The mission field was at their front door.   

The Early Years

Loren Meade in his book, The Once and Future Church, called this initial stage of the church the Apostolic Age. Along with his book, you can read stories of the emergence of the church in the New Testament, especially in The Acts of the Apostles and in the letters of Paul. 

Then, with the conversion of Constantine, the church shifted in its identity and mission. It shifted from being a voice and force in a hostile culture to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. The mission moved from the front door of the congregation to areas outside the boundary of the empire. Over time, the life of the empire and the mission of the church became so intertwined that to be part of the empire made you a Christian.

Shifting Landscape

The responsibility of a Christian moved from witnessing in a hostile world to being a good, law-abiding citizen, who paid taxes and supported both religious and secular institutions, which in turn was supporting the empire, the government, or the culture. 

Unity was no longer centered upon Jesus but upon theology, administration, and politics. The shift moved the church from being a community of convinced, committed believers supporting one another to an organized hieratical structure with believers working, at times, in competition with one another.

The demand of faith was uniformity. Loyalty and obedience were primary virtues. Discord within the church became the enemy of the church. When there were disagreements, people started their own churches and even denominations.

Baptism shifted to a rite of passage. It affirmed what was already a reality, you were born into the church. A call to follow Jesus became a professional decision more than one of dynamic faith and transformation.  

The Christendom Church

The church became a business more than an instrument of faith and cultural change. Over the years it has aligned itself with governments, movements, and philosophies. Because of its alignment with governments, at times the church has been used as an excuse for rivalry and warfare. Most recently, some forms of the church have aligned themselves with capitalism which shows up in different forms of consumerism. Programs and preferences have become the prevailing reasons to include people in the church.

Even attempts to move the church back to effectiveness use the very alignments that have moved the church away from its roots. This stage in the life of the church has been commonly known as Christendom. All of us, in the church today, are products of the church formed in Christendom.

Where is Your Faith?

I know my brief synopsis sounds negative, so I will let you answer the question regarding your own faith. Is your faith in Jesus or in the systems and structures designed to help the world know Jesus. There is a difference.

So, who and what is the church today?  A simplistic answer is the church is part of both the Apostolic Age and of Christendom.  A more realistic answer is the church is in the midst of an identity crisis. 

I am sure we want to thrive as a vital witness in the world, but we are struggling to survive as an organizational institution. The struggle to be faithful in the midst of hostility still exists in the DNA of the church. The shift has been from facing cultural hostility to creating hostility within our internal structures. In other words, the church is no longer at odds with the culture but is fighting within itself. Again, I know that sounds negative and hopeless, but I believe there is hope for the church.    

A New Missionary Age

Part of the struggle is, we are in a new missionary age while living in the old Christendom mindset. Although most of us still believe we live in a Christian culture, we can no longer assume everyone is Christian or assume that the community is part of the church. A new way of living out the mission is emerging. The mission field is, once again, just outside the front door.

So, what does that mean? Let me illustrate with a story.

Our Town

When I was a freshman in high school, the junior/senior play was “Our Town.” It was a story/play written by Thornton Wilder. It was that play that drew me into drama class and into participating in drama productions in both my junior and senior years of high school. I apologize for my reminiscing.  

In the story “Our Town,” A young woman and wife, Emily, dies in childbirth. Given the opportunity to return to one special day of her life, she chooses to go back to a birthday she remembers as a child. She sees her family, her loved ones, going about their ordinary routines. They can’t see her or the beauty visible to her from beyond the grave. It is painful and disturbing for Emily. She watches for a short time and then returns to where the pain is at least bearable.

Wilder has given us a portrayal of what it is like to be awakened in a new paradigm and the difficulty of communicating with those still living in the old one. Emily could not stand the pain. As I reflect upon it, the younger generations of today might be suffering a similar painful contradiction. They are born into a new paradigm and are unable to communicate with those of us who inhabit the old one. 

According to Loren Meade, our situation may be even more desperate than Emily’s. We are losing our home in Christendom and have little clarity about how to be at home in the turbulence of what is emerging. As much as we want to lay blame either on what has been or on what has gone astray, the real truth of our situation and our hope lies within our own hearts.

Who and what is the church today? 

I believe the answer is within you and is experienced in and through your faithful response to God’s love in the community in which you live.

Here is what I want you to do to strengthen your faith and to equip your church for ministry in this new missionary age. These two questions, by God’s grace, will assist you in making the shift needed to impact the world. Start today with the leaders of your congregation and ask the following questions for reflection and discussion:

1.      Where have you seen/experienced God in the past week?

Ask your church leaders to join you in praying for the next 40 days. Pray for a pure heart, because “blessed are the pure in heart, they will see God.” Make every meeting, study, gathering, a prayer meeting focused upon recognizing God’s activity in your life and the life of your neighborhood, community, or city. 

After 40 days, begin every meeting, study, or gathering with the question, “Where have you seen or experienced God since we last met? Note: it is important that you pray together for 40 days before asking the question. This is not a program of prayer. The point is to pray for 40 days. You are not seeking results. You are praying, asking God to help you recognize God at work in your community, neighborhood, or city.

This seems simplistic, but when you begin to see God at work you can join God in God’s work.

2.      How are you living out the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

After your 40 days of prayer, have your church leaders and congregation decide if they want to offer HOPE to the people of your community? If the answer is “No, we do not want to offer HOPE to the community,” please continue to pray to see and experience God in the places, you live, work, and play.

If the answer is “Yes, we want to offer HOPE to the community,” then take every program, project, activity, committee, and ministry of your church and evaluate them by this pattern of HOPE for making disciples of Jesus. This is a pattern based upon Paragraph 122, “The Process for Carrying Out Our Mission,” in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.

Think of the statements in the paragraph as HOPE: reaching out and receiving as Hospitality. Introducing others to faith as Offering Christ. Nurturing people in the faith as Practicing faith. And sending people back into the community to serve as Engagement.

Use HOPE to evaluate your congregational ministry.

Hospitality: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us reach and receive new people? How does it help us relate to people in the community?

Offer Christ: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us introduce others to Jesus or to the Christian faith?

Practice: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us grow and mature in our faith?

Engage: How does this program, project, activity, committee, or ministry help us engage our community? Build relationships with the community? Engage resources to meet needs in the community?

When any program, project, activity, committee, or ministry is not helping with the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world, or is not offering HOPE to your community, then ask the question, “Why are we doing it?” Then decide how you can reshape the ministry to meet the mission of making disciples.

Identity and Hope

This process will first help you with your identity as a follower of Jesus. You will begin to shift your focus from protecting a building, institution, and theology, to focus on loving people. 

Second, it will help you fall in love with Jesus again. You will become more of a follower, being transformed as you look for Jesus in the lives of the people you meet each day. Third, it will help you fall in love with people. You will discover that the people you meet each day, in whatever context, are helping you become the person God has created you to be.

Fourth, it will help you fall in love with your community, neighborhood, or city.  You will begin to meet Jesus in the lives of the people you encounter, and you will want to be where Jesus is, in the community, involved in the lives of the people.

Who or What is the Church?

Who or what is the church today? The answer is within you and is experienced in and through your faithful response to God’s love in the community in which you live.

Now that you have finished reading this blog post, what comes to mind when you hear the word “church?” Remember, you are living in a new missionary age. So, when you walk out the door of your home, your office, or out the door of any building in which you encounter people, you are entering the mission field where people need a kind, caring, supportive, and encouraging word. And God, by grace, has given you the word needed in and through Jesus. The joy and peace of this life comes from sharing what you have received. So, wherever you are, be at peace and experience the joy in the name of the God who loves you in Jesus and who empowers you to be an impactful missionary witness by the Holy Spirit.

Let me tell you who comes to mind when I hear the word “church.” You come to mind. You are a beloved child of God, gifted to live God’s love with the people you meet each day. You and I are in the church together. And remember, who you are is how you lead!

This blog is Part Two of It Matters Where You Start and the conclusion of the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” Although Part Two can stand on its own, it might be helpful to read Part One for greater context.

Read Part 1 here

Thanks for joining me on this journey of reflections on ministry. I hope you discover them to be effective and fruitful in your ministry as a Christ-centered leader. 

Another important thing I have learned over my years of ministry is people tend to put more faith in the Bible, the written word of God, than they do in Jesus, the living Word of God. Both are important, but one is a written document and the other is a living person. 

The Word of God

It matters where you start. It is one thing to say, “The bible is the word of God” and go no farther, and it is another thing to say, “The Bible is the written word of God that shows us the living Word of God, the Word made flesh, Jesus.” 

The distinction is subtle, but the difference is a matter of who or what you trust. As a Christ-centered leader, your life is transformed by God’s love in and through Jesus. Your response to God’s love is a response of faith. Where you place your faith impacts who you are as a leader.  Who you are is how you lead. 

As far back as I can remember, the Bible has been important to me. I learned a lot about the Bible and its importance through my formative years. From the influence of my grandmothers to the lessons of my fourth grade Sunday School teacher, to the devotions I led or experienced in youth fellowship, the bible became an anchor in my faith.   

Faith in the Bible or Faith in Jesus?

I was in my first year in college when I experienced my initial crisis with the bible. Up to that point, my faith was anchored in the bible. In my freshman year, I had an “Introduction to the Bible” course. Without going into all the details, my faith was tested. Because I had put my faith in the bible, and not in Jesus, any questions of faith related to the bible, challenged my faith. With the assistance of a trusted friend and mentor, I came through my initial faith crisis. What I learned was, I had put more faith in the bible than I did in Jesus. 

Let me say that in another way. Faith in Jesus and faith in the bible are not the same thing.  The written word of God points us to the living word of God. Over my nearly 50 years of ministry, I have learned that most people conflate the two, the written word is not the living word. Jesus is the living word in the flesh. The Bible is the written word that points us to Jesus.

Living Word and Written Word

I am sure I have said more than enough to create some anxiety, so let’s move to our pattern of READ, REFLECT, REPOND, and RETURN to focus on the living Word as he is talked about in the written word. 

Before we move to scripture, there are two things to keep in mind with each scripture reference and reflection. The first is context. Each gospel writer is addressing people in a specific context. So, we want to look at the scripture from the point of view of their context. The second is the understanding of “to believe.” The word believe in the scripture means to trust and obey. It is an action of trust and obedience as opposed to a passive acceptance of a list of beliefs. 

All of that is to say, it matters where you start. 

Read Matthew 28:18-20 

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Reflect

The good news in Matthew is “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to live a life of righteousness. When you read Matthew’s story of Jesus, righteousness is not the purity of living as much as living in right relationship with God, “Love the Lord your God…” and right relationship with others, “love your neighbor as yourself.” 

When Jesus says, in what we know as the great commission, “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” he is referring to living in a loving relationship, working for the well-being of, neighbor, stranger, and enemy. Jesus is referring to the way you make promises and commitments to the people around you. Jesus is referring to forgiving others as you have been forgiven. 

Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel

Matthew writes for a Hebrew Christian community. The people in his community know the Laws of God, but there has been a shift in their faith. They have placed their faith more in the Law than in the God who gave them the Law. So, you have Jesus teaching them, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…” 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working for the good of others, and living with integrity. 

Read Mark 1:21-27 

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He[a] commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 

Reflect

The good news in Mark’s Gospel is “God sent Jesus to oppose all the evil, suffering, and pain in the world.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to oppose the evil, suffering, and pain in your communities, neighborhoods, and the world at large. A close read of that scripture implies that there are opposing forces and views at work. 

Mark is writing to a community whose life has been disrupted by persecution. He is offering hope in the midst of suffering and pain by telling stories of Jesus restoring relationships. When Jesus heals a man with leprosy, he is restoring the man to his family, to his community, to his synagogue, to his job. When Jesus encounters a man with demons in the cemetery, he frees the man from living life as if he were dead, trapped in the evil of his living. 

Jesus in Mark’s Gospel

Over and over in Mark’s story, Jesus is facing and overcoming evil, suffering, and pain. Half of his story is about Jesus’ own suffering and death. The question is, “Did Jesus overcome the conflicting forces in the sanctuary?” Did he overcome evil, suffering, and pain? 

It matters where you start. In the story, the unclean spirits know who Jesus is, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” There is no change of behavior. No love of neighbor or enemy. Just a disruption of the life of a man, who knows who Jesus is, but who does not live in trust and obedience. 

Yet, over my years of ministry, I have experienced hundreds of people who have given hours upon hours of their lives to relieve pain and suffering, to work for mercy and justice. Again, with his response to the evil, suffering, and pain did Jesus win in the sanctuary that day? 

The answer to the question is found in your own living, in your own heart. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. Your response of trust and obedience makes a difference in opposing the forces that separate people from God and one another. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working to address evil, pain, and suffering in whatever form they present themselves. 

Read Luke 4:14-21 

14 Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding region. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Reflect

The good news in Luke is “Jesus not only possessed the Holy Spirit but offers the Holy Spirit to his followers.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, to have the power to communicate across the barriers of race, nation, gender, and culture. When you read Lukes’s story of Jesus, you read stories of the Holy Spirit moving the church past theological, cultural, and marginal differences. 

When Jesus says, “let the children come to me. Do not hinder them…” he is addressing the need in the church to accept persons who have little to offer, and who are not candidates for ministry. When he says, “If they are not against us, they are for us,” he is addressing the concern that there are persons outside of the group of disciples who are working for the good of others. 

Jesus in Luke’s Gospel

Luke tells stories of Saul of Tarsus, who we might say was theological and religiously misaligned with the new community of Jesus followers, he is telling his community that Jesus is greater than the barriers of theology and religion.  When he tells the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, he is telling his community that Jesus cares for those who have been pushed to the edges of society, cut off from the community of faith, and who are not taken seriously. When he tells the story of Simon Peter visiting Cornelius and his family, he is telling us that Jesus is greater than cultural norms and religious laws. 

Luke helps his community understand that even Peter, the leader of the whole movement, had to learn that God does not create anyone to be profane. The power to overcome the barriers comes from the Spirit who is in Jesus, who is in the church, and in you as the followers of Jesus. 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. God provides the power and insight to navigate the barriers that separate people from God and one another. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working to overcome the barriers that separate us from one another, and living with integrity. 

Read John 4:5-9 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. 

Reflect

The good news in John is “If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to trust and obey God. When Philip says, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied,” he is speaking on behalf of all of us. humanity. Just show us God, that is all we need to trust and obey. Jesus responds by saying, “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?” 

John tells his followers that they see God at work in and through Jesus when he feeds 5000 people with loaves and fish, when he heals a woman pushing her way through the crowd, when he relieves a boy of seizures, when a man returns to his family after being healed of leprosy, when he washes their feet, and when he dies upon a cross. John’s good news is experienced in Jesus saying, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” 

The implication is that the work of God is seen in the work of Jesus. The work of God’s love is seen in the way Jesus loves. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. 

Then, as if to turn things around, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In other words, to trust and obey Jesus is to live the life of Jesus, loving people the way Jesus has loved you. 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. To believe means you will be loving others through your feeding, healing, loving, and serving. To say you believe in Jesus is to love others the way God in Jesus has loved you by developing healthy relationships and living with integrity. 

Respond

Over my years in ministry, I have learned that making assumptions is an essential part of leadership. But, when you fill in the gaps in your understanding with unchecked and unexamined assumptions, you set in motion a set of chain reactions of bad decisions and miscommunication. 

Your unchecked assumptions pertain to the scriptures as well. I have experienced gifted leaders who have been fairly accurate in their assumptions. I have also experienced gifted leaders who have alienated themselves from the people they are serving because their assumptions were not accurate. 

The tricky thing about assumptions, especially regarding the scripture, is that you don’t always know when you are relying on them. You are designed, as a human being, to develop shortcuts and to eliminate excess mental processing. The problem is that once your assumptions have been established in your mind, they tend to be enshrined in your heart, never to be questioned again. 

When it comes to the interpretation and understanding of scripture, inaccurate assumptions are blind spots that lead to misconceptions and misunderstandings. When you place your faith in misconceptions and misunderstandings, you cause unnecessary pain and anxiety. The pain and anxiety can be cured through healthy self-awareness and a clearer focus on the living word, Jesus. 

It matters where you start. As a Christ-centered leader, you start with Jesus. It is Jesus who makes you who you are, and who you are is how you lead.   

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How did you experience placing your faith in Jesus? How did the scripture point to Jesus? In whom did you experience God’s love? With whom did you share God’s love? Who is helping you grow as a leader? What will you do differently tomorrow? Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be. 

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A Final Note

Again, thanks for the opportunity to share a few reflections on my years of ministry. As you already know, a few weeks of blogs does not reflect a lifetime of ministry, so watch for more reflections on ministry. 

Other Posts in the Series, Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry:

It Matters Where You Start, part 1

The Difficulty of Prayer

The Grace in Gratitude

Words are Powerful

The Importance of People

This is the fourth blog in the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” You can find the previous three blogs linked at the bottom of this page.

How often do you pray? Do you have a particular posture? Do you say particular words? What is your focus when you pray? Who taught you to pray? What is prayer anyway?

Over my years in ministry, I have discovered that one big assumption is people know how to pray.  The reality is we have difficulty praying. We have learned to pray short prayers publicly for dinners or special occasions, but few of us have a pattern for prayer.  Our difficulty in praying is not that we don’t have time, or that we lack discipline. Our difficulty in praying reveals that we do not know how to pray, what to pray, or even why to pray.

Heartfelt Prayer

In the tradition in which I grew up, I experienced prayer as heartfelt, genuine, and spirit-led. People prayed extemporaneously from the heart. They just let prayer flow because what just flowed was more genuine. They didn’t think about what to pray. 

What I remember is, what flowed naturally was what was on their minds and in their hearts at the moment. Too often they were not thinking of the conditions of the world or of the people beyond their own families or community. Their prayers were genuine, but the brokenness of the world and the pain of others beyond themselves did not automatically flow. 

As a teenager, I attempted to follow what I had experienced by watching and listening to others.I even went through a time of thinking that real prayers were unrehearsed prayers. In other words, the written prayers, whether in liturgies or offered by worship leaders, were not “real prayers.”

Understanding of Prayer

I certainly am not saying I know how to pray today, but as I reflect back upon my years of ministry, I have matured not only in my understanding of prayer but in my practice of prayer. Prayer is no longer something I do. Prayer is interwoven into who I am.

My prayer life has matured and deepened through several seasons of life. During each season there have been certain individuals, resources, and experiences to help me grow in faith and practice.  I am grateful for each person, resource, and experience, but early in my ministry, I was introduced to E. Stanley Jones through his book How To Pray.

Much of what is recorded in that book is true today. He wrote, “If I were to put my finger on the greatest lack on American Christianity, I would unhesitatingly point to the need for an effective prayer life among laity and clergy.”

“If I had one gift, and only one gift to make to the Christian Church, I would offer the gift of prayer, for everything follows from prayer. Prayer tones up the total life.” 

“Prayer, in the curriculum of living, is the required subject. We do not graduate into adequate human living without it…the difficulty comes in the how of prayer.” *

Prayer is Bigger than Anyone of Us

One of the difficulties of prayer is that it is bigger than anyone of us. To not give thought to what to pray makes prayer small. To not give time to prayer makes prayer insignificant. Not to pray keeps you from becoming all who God has created you to be.  

I think the disciples had not given much thought to prayer until they experienced Jesus praying. Other than observing Jesus, their only experience of prayer was with John’s disciples. They had seen the power of prayer and they wanted their prayers to make a difference. They knew that John had taught his disciples to pray and now they wanted to pray.

I find it interesting that the disciples did not ask Jesus to teach them how to tell a parable, multiply the loaves, or heal the sick. They asked him to teach them how to pray. And when asked, Jesus taught them a pattern of prayer. 

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on prayer.   

Read Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  

 So, he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, may your name be revered as holy. May your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So, I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for a fish, would give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asked for an egg, would give a scorpion? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

Reflect

Luke has Jesus praying at important points in his ministry. His pattern is to go off to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. It was in those times of prayer that Jesus kept his focus on the ministry God called and commissioned him to do. 

Through prayer, Jesus not only received his call and commission for ministry, but he also sought direction for his ministry. When he experienced success in his ministry, he prayed. He prayed to check the desires of his heart, “Do I go with the crowd, or do I go to the cross?”

It was through prayer he chose twelve apostles out of all the disciples who followed him. He was seeking those who, in the present, could hold together Israel and the emerging Christian community. 

In the feeding of the 5000, Jesus was feeding those who are hungry as the sacrament of Holy Communion. In relation to Simon Peter’s confession, Jesus prayed because Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. 

In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus prayed because his identity and purpose as a suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him. In the mission of the 70, it is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers. 

Teach us to Pray

Now, when he returns from his time of prayer, his disciples are asking him to teach them to pray. They knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, so when Jesus returned from prayer, they took advantage of the opportunity, “Lord, teach us to pray.” 

They have been present with him through each of these experiences of prayer and they have not prayed. Jesus has been praying to keep his focus on God and what God has called and commissioned him to do. Are the disciples now asking for the same focus? 

Persistence in Prayer

Luke gathers Jesus’ teaching material on prayer in chapter 11. Immediately following what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Luke tells a story of persistence or perseverance in prayer. This teaching is to reassure believers that their prayers are heard and answered. 

If a grouchy neighbor awakened from sleep will respond to an urgent request for bread, how much more will God respond to our prayers? The story is not about praying harder or longer. Luke is encouraging his community to persist in prayer because to pray is to stay focused upon God and God’s call and commission to ministry. 

Jesus’ pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. Luke’s encouragement to persevere in prayer is to keep your focus on God. 

Perseverance in Prayer

Next to persistence in prayer, Luke places the “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” sayings. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” He teaches perseverance in prayer.

In Chapter 10, Luke tells of Jesus sending the disciples out, his instructions on what to take with them, and how to respond to those who accept them and reject them. The “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” material was adopted by the early Christian missionaries as an encouragement to live out their mission, depending only on friendly supporters along the way. Luke uses the sayings in relation to prayer. Since God is eager to hear and respond to the believer’s prayer, we may confidently ask, seek, and knock, no longer on human doors, but on the gates of heaven. 

Luke concludes the teaching material with, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

The Focus of Prayer

So, the difficulty of prayer is seen in the persistence and perseverance of staying focused upon God and God’s call to ministry. Focused prayer involves preparation. There are times when your mood may not be right; an irritated or anxious temper may get in the way. Or perhaps the preoccupation with work and family may be clouding and crowding your thoughts. 

A dozen different demands and pressures make special preparation an absolute necessity for real prayer. So, remember this: To pray is to focus on God and God’s call. To pray is to live in God’s presence and to receive God’s power.

Prayer is who you are as a Christ-centered leader, and who you are is how you lead.

Respond

We are not sure what brought the disciples to the point of asking Jesus to teach them to pray. But as I think about it, motivation is not as important as participation. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus was ready to provide them with direction. He did not ask them about their motivation; he provided them with a pattern for participation. 

His pattern was to pray, so he could engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to that call.

Pray to Stay Focused on God

As a follower of Jesus, called and commissioned as a leader, you pray to keep your focus on God and to keep the desires of your heart in alignment with God, as you have experienced in and through Jesus. 

To learn to pray, practice focusing your prayers. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What would happen if I walked through the neighborhood focusing upon my neighbors as I prayed? 
  • What would happen if I educated myself to think naturally of children, poverty, gun violence, prejudice, hunger, or homelessness in my neighborhood, community, or city? 
  • What would happen if I listened to the news or read news stories in preparation for prayer? 
  • What would happen if I became more aware of the politicians, the first responders, the teachers, the medical personnel in my neighborhood, community, or city?  

Asking Jesus to teach you to pray means that you prepare yourself to focus upon more than your thoughts and feelings. As a Christ-centered leader, focus your prayers to become more than “just how I feel” prayers. Praying extemporaneously is important, focused prayer is what makes the difference. 

The difficulty of prayer is experienced in actually praying. When prayer becomes a part of who you are, you begin to participate in your prayer. So, I offer this caution with prayer, when you pray be ready to act, because God will empower you to be the answer to your prayers.

Prayer helps make you who you are, and who is are is how you lead. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • When and where did you pray?
  • In what ways were you assisting others to pray?
  • How were you exercising leadership when you prayed?
  • What did you learn about yourself and about your feelings and actions toward prayer?
  • How did you experience God’s love?
  • With whom did you share God’s love?
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer 

O God, as I open myself to you, I am asking you to teach me to pray. Keep me focused on you and your direction for my life. Keep me mindful of the world around me so that I may pray for the well-being of the people around me and the community. By your grace, continue to make me an instrument of your love and peace so others might know of your love and acceptance. Thank you for the opportunity to be one of your leaders at this point and time. I do believe you created me and gifted me to lead for such a time as this. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen*

*How to Pray, by E. Stanley Jones, first published in 1943. Reprinted by the E. Stanley Jones Foundation 2015.

Other Blogs in this Series

This is the third in a series of Reflections on 50 years of ministry. As I reflect back upon the years, I have decided to share some things I have learned. So, over the next several weeks, I want to emphasize what I have found important for Christ-centered leaders to know and act upon. 

The first blog in this series focused on people. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Importance of People.  The second blog in the series focused on the power of words. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: Words Are Powerful  – Transforming Mission.  Here is the third in the series: Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Grace in Gratitude.

So here it goes. 

The Gift of Gratitude

If I could give one quality gift to you as a leader, I would give you the gift of gratitude. I have found gratitude to be the fundamental value of the Christian faith. It has the potential to transform your life, impact your relationships, and to change the world. If I could have God do anything for you, I would ask that God make you a grateful person. 

Here’s why.  The words “grace” and “gratitude” have the same root in Greek. In other words, if there is no awareness of the grace of God, there is no gratitude. And there is no gratitude without an awareness of the grace of God. Over my years of ministry, I have never known a person who was grateful, who was at the same time bitter, hurtful, mean, or vengeful.   

Words of Gratitude

As I began my first appointment, I was introduced to the song “My Tribute.” Andre Crouch, who wrote and recorded the song, put words to what I understood to be my call to ministry.   

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me?

Things so undeserved yet You gave to prove Your love for me.

The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude.

All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee.

To God be the glory. To God be the glory. To God be the glory.

For the things He has done. 

Gratitude in Everyday Life

As I have matured in my faith, I have grown to understand that gratitude is more than something I simply express with words. Gratitude is woven into the fabric of everyday living, relationships, perspectives and assumptions, and the way I see the world. 

As I have searched the scriptures, I have found that the Bible emphasizes the importance of gratitude from “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus…” (I Thessalonians 5:18) to “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1). 

In the scripture and in the Christian community, gratitude is seen as a virtue that fosters a positive and humble attitude, acknowledging the blessing of God in people and all of creation. 

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on the grace in gratitude. 

Read Luke 17:11-19 

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with a skin disease approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’s[b] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? So where are the other nine? 18 Did none of them return to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” 

Reflect

Leprosy was a physical condition that had broad implications. It was an incurable disease that separated people from one another. It was a living death. Individuals with leprosy were required, by their religion, to stay outside the boundaries of the community.  

If you had leprosy, you were physically, as well as socially, isolated from family, friends, synagogue, and all that gave meaning and purpose to your life. To have leprosy meant that you had no quality relationships outside of the diseased community. Your only means of living was to beg for handouts. And not only were you isolated, but you had the responsibility of announcing your condition to everyone who came close. In other words, because of your condition, you were marginalized, ostracized, and humiliated.  

In the story, as Jesus walks by, it is not clear whether they were begging or if they had confidence in Jesus’ power to cleanse them. But as Jesus passed, they cried out, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.” Although they did nothing to get leprosy, they have no rights to which they can appeal. Healing is not owed to them.  

Jesus directed them to “Go show yourselves to the priest.” The priest was one who could announce that each of them was cleansed of the disease. What is interesting here is Jesus gave each of them what was needed for healing and wholeness. His direction was an act of grace. 

They followed his direction. Their action of going to show themselves to the priest was their response. On their way, they were healed of their leprosy. They did not first simply believe and then go to the priest. They followed the direction of Jesus. As they followed his direction, they discovered they had been restored to health. Each of them received the same direction, the same grace, and were given hope of a new life. 

No Gratitude Without an Awareness of Grace

There is no gratitude without an awareness of grace. In the story, ten individuals experienced God’s grace. Each of them returned from the world in which they had been isolated. Each of them experienced a new life. Even though they each received grace and did what Jesus told them to do, there was no requirement to return. Yet, in a completely spontaneous expression of gratitude, one returned giving thanks and praise to God.  

Gratitude is a response to experience grace. It is the fundamental value of following Jesus. 

Respond

Effective leadership starts with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead. So, how will you express your gratitude this week? Below are several things you might do to cultivate gratitude in your life. 

Saying Grace 

First, may I suggest that you start today by saying grace over your possessions? Bow your head and say a word of thanks over the things you possess. By giving thanks, you live more by the God who holds you than by the things you are trying to hand onto. 

Saying grace over your possessions is the final test. Because gratitude is the central virtue of the Christian life. There is no other virtue like it. Let me say it (write it again). I have never known a person who was grateful who was at the same time, mean or small or bitter or hurtful. 

Make gratitude a Way of Life

Secondly, when you express gratitude, you weave gratitude into the fabric of your life. When you are a person of gratitude you lead with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead. 

You can explore more on gratitude being a way of life through the resources below: 

Make Time to Be Grateful

Third, if you are ready to become a more effective leader, another way to express your gratitude is:  

Over the next 5 days, make time each day to think about being grateful. Notice the people who inspire you. What do you see that makes you smile or to notice their actions? Keep in mind that no person or experience is insignificant. From the person who started a friendly conversation to the laughter of children, they are all part of what makes you who you are. The small joys are just as valuable as all the others. Give God thanks for the people you encounter each day.

Think about what makes your life easier. Is it the alarm that reminds you to get up each morning? The water in the shower? Your car, umbrella, cellphone? The list goes on. For what are you grateful at this moment? Give God thanks for what makes life easier.

Consider past relationships. Upon whose shoulders are you standing? What did the person do to make life better for you? Why are you better off for having known that person? Give thanks for the toughest relationship of the day. On my best days, I have come to experience sincere gratitude, even for difficult people, by looking for the good in my encounters with them. Give God thanks for the people who have gone before you, who are mentoring you, and who are helping you grow more in grace and generosity.

Add yourself to your gratitude list. You might feel uncomfortable. Most of the time you quickly focus upon things you do not like about yourself. But, when you practice gratitude, you can alter that negative cycle. What would happen if you, instead of focusing on your flaws, paid attention to what makes you most proud of yourself? Make a list of the talents and strengths God has given you. Now, give God thanks for those gifts and how God is using you to make a difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care.

Finally, remember, who you are is how you lead. Effective leadership starts with gratitude.  

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • Did you say grace over your possessions? Why? Why not? 
  • How did you notice that gratitude is woven into the fabric of your life? If it is not, what will do to cultivate gratitude in your living and leading? 
  • What did you learn about yourself and about your feelings and actions of gratitude? 
  • How did you experience God’s love? 
  • With whom did you share God’s love? 
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 

Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be. 

Prayer

O God, I give you thanks for the people and things in my life that make life meaningful and easy. Help me remember that I can let go of the things that hold me captive and trust you for meaning and purpose.  I give you thanks for my friends and colleagues who, through their gratitude, are helping me become more who you created me to be. I am grateful. Amen.