Read Part 1: “Is Anybody Listening?”

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

One of those stories was about Vincent van Gogh.

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

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

Is van Gogh a Teacher?

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

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

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

Is van Gogh an Evangelist?

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

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

Who Am I?

The pattern?

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

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

Am I Listening? Transforming Mission

Am I Listening?

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

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

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

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

Are You Listening to God?

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

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

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

Real-Time Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

Is van Gogh an Artist?

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

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

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

Was it Art or the Heart?

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

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

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

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

Ask Yourself: Am I Listening?

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

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

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

We might just find our true calling.

Are you listening?

Coming Soon!

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

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

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

How Can I Keep Quiet?

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

(Spoiler Alert: Yes.)

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

Pain Intensified

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

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

Whose Children Are They? Transforming MissionUsing Children for Political Expediency

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

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

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

Digging in a Dry River Bed for Water

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

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

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

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

How Can We Be Quiet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Invitation from Bishop Palmer

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

I am asking you to join me in these actions:

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

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

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

Additional Resource

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

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

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

Today is one of those days.

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

Where Have All the Christians Gone?

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

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

 

The Church that Forms

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

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

What Has Happened to the Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what do we do?

Where You Begin Matters

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

So, what do we do?

Pointing People to Jesus quote Transforming MissionPoint People to Jesus

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

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

Will this be easy?

No!

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

Valuing Jesus Means Encountering Jesus

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

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

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

Growing In Grace

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

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

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

 

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Pointing People to Jesus Transforming Mission

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

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

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

Read more

Last week, I received a call from my doctor’s office.  The voice on the line said, “Mr. Bias, it is time to schedule your next checkup.  May we schedule your appointment today?”  I wanted to say, “No,” but I knew that my regular checkup helped to keep me physically healthy.

Over the years, I have learned the same is true about effective leadership.  I have not always called them checkups, but I have regularly stopped to evaluate or to take an account of my life and actions.  For me, regular checkups are necessary for effective leadership.

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

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

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

So today, I am sharing with you my most recent checkup in regard to becoming a more compassionate leader.

Leadership Checkup Transforming Mission

Trust

What am I Trusting?

I am trusting my listening skills.  Over the past several weeks, I have listened closely to the needs, aspirations, and mission of our local churches.  At the same time, I have listened closely to the strengths, skills, and needs of our clergy.

I am trusting what is emerging.  In the midst of listening, what emerges is not exactly what I have in mind.  I am trusting the new things God is doing.

I am also trusting the shift in my prayer habits.  I continue to make the shift from having a prayer life to living a life of prayer.

Gratitude

For whom or what am I grateful?

I am grateful for trusted friends. I am grateful for those so close they not only love me just the way I am, but they give of themselves so I can become who God created me to be. I am grateful for the embodiment of unconditional and unselfish love in their lives. I am grateful that the love I experience in and through them encourages me to be more like Jesus.

Because I am surrounded by friends who embody such love, I am becoming a more compassionate leader.

Inspiration

 

What is inspiring me?

Most recently, the Galatians: Following Jesus Every Day reading plan. It is this habit of reading, reflecting, and responding that helps keep me focused and growing.

This past week, to hear the names of the persons participating in the study lifted in prayer was an awe-inspiring experience.

Faith

How am I practicing faith?

By God’s grace, I am working on being clear about what I think and how I act. I know that might sound strange, but I am trusting that God wants me to live in the real world.  There are times that I find it easy to “interact” with God in seclusion, where I can escape from responsibility.  I find it more difficult to follow God into the office, the community, or into relationships I cannot control.

I am practicing faith by stepping away from a fear of failure.  It is my fear of failure that keeps me from taking risks and keeps me in my comfort zone. I am also practicing my faith by not talking about success, but by stepping into the arena to participate in the possibility of success.

It’s time for A Check-up

It is nothing spectacular. But being a healthy leader allows me the opportunity to see the people around me as God sees them, to understand more who I am becoming in God’s work, and to catch a glimpse of God in and through trust and obedience.

So, how are doing with Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, and Faith?

Church leader, it is time for your next checkup.  Are you willing to participate in it today?

Living into Easter

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

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

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

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

Now what do we do? Transforming Mission

What do we do now?

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

So, what do we do after Easter?

A Conversation Between Jesus & Simon Peter

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

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

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

Or maybe like this:

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

The Right Question

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

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

“Yes.”

“Do you love me?”

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

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

Your Assignment

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

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

Now what do we do?

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

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

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

Now, do you believe that?

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

“Simon, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

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

Now, what are you going to do?

What transformation will you experience this Easter?

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Transformation quote Transforming MissionLove as Jesus Loved  

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

Without hesitation, Gandhi responded with clarity and directness.

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

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

Are you “All In”? 

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

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

“All In” Actions

Consider the following actions:

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

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

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

Read Mark’s story,

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

Are You Listening?

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

Will you?  

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

When do you do it?

John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, tells the story of the first time he attended worship in a Christian church. He said he didn’t know what to expect, but what he thought was going to happen did not happen. After attending worship for three Sundays, he became frustrated.

One Sunday, after worship, he approached a man who looked like someone with authority.

Wimber asked, “When do you do it?”
The man, who was an usher that morning, asked, “When do we do what?”
Wimber answered, “You know, the stuff,”
The usher replied, “And what stuff might that be?”
Wimber said, becoming more frustrated by the moment, “The stuff in the Bible.”
Now the usher is frustrated, “I still don’t understand. Help me. What do you mean?”
Wimber said, “You know, multiplying loaves and fish, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, giving sight to blind people. That stuff.”
The usher replied somewhat apologetically, “Oh, we don’t do that. We talk about it and pray about it, but we don’t actually do it. No one really does it, except maybe those crazy fundamentalists.”

What does the church value?

The values of the church in the above story are revealed through the actions and inactions of the congregation. Anyone of our congregations will reveal who we are to the community through our actions and inactions with the people we encounter.

Often our values are unnamed. When this is the case, it is only when a conflict of values occurs, that we become aware of what we value. As a congregation, when conflicts arise around core values, consider whether you have stated your core values.

But don’t stop there.

Name the behaviors that bring the values to life. When you do, you’ll be better able to encourage people as well as define expectations of within the church culture. people understand the expectations of following Jesus. Afterall The core values point to who we are as Jesus followers.

After all, if our core values are going to help reveal who we are as Jesus followers, they will propel us to action. If this seems like a challenge, remember, you’re not alone on this journey. Scripture reveals the conflict of values that can unfold as we encounter the love of Jesus.

As a leader, consider exploring the core values of your congregation. Then, identify the behaviors that accompany the values. You'll be better able to encourage your congregation to follow Jesus. Find out more on the blog. #values #church #jesus #faith #transformingmission Transforming MissionA Conflict of Values in Scripture

Look at the story in John, chapter 9. It was the Sabbath day. A blind man comes to Jesus for healing. With a little spit, dirt, and a loving touch, Jesus restores the man’s sight. You would think the church would rejoice and celebrate this miracle performed in their very midst. But they are working from a different set of values.

A theological debate breaks out. It goes like this:

Part 1

“Wait a minute, doesn’t this man know that it’s against the law to heal on the Sabbath? The man must be a sinner, or he wouldn’t break the law like that.”
“Yes, but if he’s a sinner, how did he heal the blind man?”
“Well maybe the guy was just pretending to be blind.”
“His whole life he’s been pretending to be blind? I just don’t think he could pull that off. He’s not that smart, you know. He’s never even been to school. What would have been the point? You can’t teach a blind man to read and write.”
“Well, let’s go ask his parents. They ought to know.”

Part 2

So off they go to question the man’s parents.

“Is this your son?”
“Well, yes, he looks like our son, except for the fact that he can see and our son has been blind all his life.”
“Well, how could it be that he’s been blind all his life, but now he can see?”
“I don’t know! You’ll have to ask him.”

So, they question the man again.

Part 3

I can imagine this conversation going like this: “Hey you. Yes, you, the one who was once blind. You! What is going on here? We better get some answers from you, or you’re going to be in serious trouble.”

And the man replies, “Look, I really don’t know how to answer you. All I know for sure is that I was blind until Jesus came along, and now I see. Can’t you just accept that and leave me alone?”
“Oh, we’ll leave you alone, all right. Get out of here, and don’t come back! Find someplace else to go to church!”
Now, why would they do that? The answer is, or at least my answer is, they are operating out of a different set of values. Even though they say they are God’s people, they are revealing a different identity.Your value comes not in what you do or accomplish. Your value comes in following Jesus. As a leader, consider exploring the core values of your congregation. #values #church #jesus #faith #transformingmission Transforming Misssion

Walk As Children of the Light

This story reveals a conflict of values. The one who was born blind learns to walk in the light, while those who were gifted with normal sight choose to remain in darkness.

When we consider our own calling to “walk as children of light,” it’s easy to recognize which character in the story we ought to imitate. Like the man born blind, we too have been restored by our encounter with Jesus. We too have been saved by God’s free grace, and our eyes have been opened to see the world in a new, counter-cultural way.

If God’s grace is a value we’re willing to claim, our response to God’s grace will also come from our values. The challenge is, when aspirational values lead the way, we leave people wondering, “Is this who we are?” “Is this what defines us?” Instead of questioning who we are, let’s help people celebrate who we are as followers of Jesus.

Our core values motivate and sustain our behavior over the long run. Our values guide our behavior as well as our relationships with one another and with the community. Let’s be intentional in developing, sharing, and teaching the core values that focus our ministry and mission. When we do, we’ll be better able to help others encounter Jesus – the One who feeds, heals, and gives us eyes to walk as children of the light.

So let it be.

What’s Your Next Step?

  1. Download the Congregational Core Values Companion Sheets. You’ll be guided through leading local church leadership in identifying the congregation’s core values and the accompanying behaviors the church seeks to encourage.
  2. Listen to LeaderCast Episode 062: Are You Walking Your Talk? A conversation about congregational core values and behaviors
  3. Participate in Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Gracea daily Bible Study that invites you to read, reflect, and respond to Scripture every day. We’ll deliver an email to your inbox each morning to help you journey through the book of Galatians. Sign up today! We’re starting April 22.

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

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

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

Following Jesus Every Day

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

That’s exactly what happened with Galatians.

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

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

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

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

The study of Galatians continues to offer that reminder.

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

An Invitation


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

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

What to do next:

We look forward to exploring the depths and breadth of Galatians with you starting April 22. In the meantime, sign-up and explore the daily reading plan.

Words are Powerful

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.?

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

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

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

Yes, words are powerful.

Words Create Worlds

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

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

A word from the Word

As I have reflected upon our situation, I have wondered if we are anything like the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul wrote, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.”

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

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

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

Ephesians 4:25 – 4:29

Let’s look at this passage closely.

Ephesians 4:25

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

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

Ephesians 4:26

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

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

Ephesians 4:28

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

Ephesians 4:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Final Reminder

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

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

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 TEV).

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

 

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