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.

 

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

Evangelism is inviting other people into a relationship with Jesus by telling your stories of Jesus. Your stories become the spiritual interactions that assist them in experiencing God’s love, that allows them to journey with Jesus, and to make his story their story.

My mother was a storyteller.  For much of my life, she was one of the best storytellers I knew. Whether she was talking about growing up in Virginia or teaching my sister, brothers, and me to tell a joke, she entertained us in the car, on camping trips, and at family dinners. Although she told her stories over and over, I never grew tired of hearing them. The words she used, the descriptions she provided, the details of the conversations between the characters, seemed better each time she told her story.

As a nurse, Mom worked several years in an industrial setting and later in a mental health hospital. Her patients were eager to listen to her stories and to tell their own stories. She kept anyone who would listen on the edge of their seats or doubling over in laughter.  She could hold their interest in the midst of the workplace as well as their never-never land of wide experiences.

Shaping a Generation

When I went off to seminary, my professor of preaching was Dr. Fred B. Craddock.  Without question, no one has had more influence in shaping a generation of preachers than Fred Craddock. He, more than any other preacher I know, could tell stories in a way that made me, as a listener, feel as if I was in the midst of the events of the story.

Given my mother’s influence and what I learned from and experienced with Fred Craddock, it should be no surprise that I find storytelling important in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. But even more than my experience, it is a well-known fact that telling God’s story has the power to warm your heart, transform your living, and to keep your relationship with God and others healthy and alive.

As we share our God stories and the stories of God we're helping others people to see they have a story. #jesus #faith #church #story #transformingmission Transforming MissionTelling God’s Stories

I learned long ago that evangelism is not convincing other people to accept what I believe, but is telling the world a better story, a story of love, peace, and forgiveness. In a world where people are seduced by the wrong stories, you and I have the opportunity to tell God’s story.

One of the fascinating things I have learned about telling God’s story is this: the more I tell the story, the more I live the story. As I grow in my relationship with God, the more I become part of God’s story.

Martin Buber, in his book Tales of the Hasidism: The Early Masters, tells the story of a grandfather who was paralyzed. One day one of the grandchildren asked their grandfather to tell about an incident in the life of his teacher, the great Baal Shem. So, the grandfather began telling how Baal Shem, when he was at prayer would leap about and dance.  The more into the story the old man got, the more he became Baal Shem until he stood up from his wheelchair and, to show how the master had done it, began leaping and dancing. From that moment the grandfather was cured.  Buber went on to say, “That’s the way to tell a story.”

Participating in God’s Story

It works like this: when you tell the story of Jesus forgiving his enemies, you become someone who forgives your enemies.  When you tell the story of Jesus crossing the street to help an outcast, you cross the street to help the nearest outcast. When you tell the story of Jesus being open and accepting of persons living on the margins of life, you become the person who is open and accepting of those marginalized. As Christians, we don’t just tell the story of Jesus, we become part of the story of Jesus.

Now, you have a story that no one else can tell.  It is important that you tell your part of the story.  Here is why:

  • You are a Christ introducer and a life connector to an ongoing, never-ending story of love, peace, and forgiveness. When you don’t tell your story, your silence is saying that God has done all that God is going to do. Your silence turns the work of evangelism into a program. You are no longer a storyteller but a salesperson of a tradition.
  • You are the giver of living water and of the bread of life. When you don’t tell your story, your silence is saying that the water stagnates and the bread is stale. The work of evangelism is “one beggar offering another beggar bread.” It is inviting other persons to drink of the water that quenches their thirsts.
  • Your story is a gift of grace, grafted into God’s story. When you don’t tell your story, your silence is saying that the experience of God’s grace is nothing more than a “box” to be checked and an addendum to a busy life.

So, let me say it again, evangelism is not convincing other people to accept what you believe but is telling the world a better story, a story of love, peace, and forgiveness. In a world where people are seduced by the wrong stories, you and I have the opportunity to tell God’s story. We invite them into a relationship with Jesus by telling our stories of Jesus. Our stories become the spiritual interactions that assist them in experiencing God’s love, that allows them to journey with Jesus, and to make his story their story.

An Invitation to Tell Your Story

Today, I invite you to step up and to step out to tell your story. When you are motivated to share your story, share it.  When your story makes you think of another person; call, text, email that person and share your story with them. You have a story to tell, so tell it. You have a story to share, so share it.

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.”

As Christians, we don’t just tell the story of Jesus, we become part of the story of Jesus. The more we tell the story, the more we live the story.

The world around us is setting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear the greatest story ever told. So, let me tell you a story.

 

Is it possible for the church to be a center of hope and healing in your community? If so, what needs to happen to make it so?

Consider the people in your community this week of Thanksgiving and beyond. When we pause to reflect on how the church can be the center of hope and healing, we consider engagement with people in our communities all year.

Penny Lernoux described engagement in the community and the world this way, “You can look at a slum or peasant village, but it is only by entering into the world, by living in it, that you begin to understand what it is like to be powerless, to be like Christ.”

hope transforming mission

What is Engagement?

  • It is living grace and truth in the communities in which we live.
  • Engagement is reaching out and receiving people, offering Christ by living and loving as God in Christ has loved us, growing in a Christian community, and living out our faith in the communities in which we live.
  • Engagement is the weaving together of Wesley’s “personal piety and social holiness” in the development of relationships with the community. Wesley modeled care and compassion for the hungry and hurting. He knew at the center of life-transformation were relationships with people in a variety of life circumstances.

What would happen if your congregation began to “enter the community” to develop relationships with local schools, with people living in poverty, with health care facilities? What would happen if you began to pray with people from your congregation, “What do we need to do that no one else is doing?”

We believe you would take a giant step toward, not only offering hope but, by becoming hope.

Extend the Table Throughout the Year

As we celebrate the ways we bless people from Thanksgiving to Christmas, we also pause. What we do at the end of the year offers hope to our communities. We celebrate the connections we make with people, the ways needs are met during the winter, and the joy that comes from being a blessing to others.

We also know hope is needed the entire year.

Perhaps what you do this week and in the weeks to come to engage with people in your community will be the spark for a quarterly, monthly, or occasional experience with your community. Said more directly, our hope is the relationships you nurture in the coming weeks will be seeds of hope for your engagement in the community in 2019.

Whatever this week and the weeks ahead bring for you and the church, may you consider how God is inviting you to be an agent of hope.

Hope for A Blessed Thanksgiving

Tomorrow we will celebrate with family and friends. We will serve meals in our communities and perhaps enjoy a football game on television. There will be laughter and conversation, new connections and reunions. While we gather, we ask you to consider how we can intentionally extend the table throughout the year.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.”

-Philippians 1:3-4

It is our hope that as you continue leading people to follow Jesus by engaging in the community, there will be one who will say to you, “I thank my God every time I remember you…”

We give God thanks for you and your leadership. We are grateful for how God has shaped and enriched our lives through you. May each of you be as blessed as you have been a blessing.

O God, by your grace, shape us into your loving presence in the world. Thank you for the opportunity to be partners with you in your work of transformation in Jesus’s name. Amen

-Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

Each of us faces times of uncertainty in our lives. Uncertainty comes with death or disaster. It comes with divorce, unemployment, or retirement. It comes with disappointment, lack of security, or the fear of the unknown.

Personally, I have come through several times of uncertainty. Times of not knowing what the future might hold and being paralyzed in regard to what decisions to make. I have felt I was caught in a place I had never been before.

Recently, I faced a time of uncertainty so great that I could not see beyond the moment. Uncertain about my future, I felt confused, hurt, and alone.

Facing the Future

It was at that point, in my anxiety, that a colleague and friend stepped in to help me face my future. I didn’t get a lot of sympathies, shallow agreements, or unrealistic platitudes. What I did get was a person of faith who allowed me to be me at the moment of my greatest need.

She created a space for me to talk about my disappointments, hurts, fears, and anxiety. Although there were times she did not agree with my assessments, she never passed judgment. She listened with compassion and, at the appropriate time, asked me questions I needed to answer for clarity and healing.

She offered Christ by embodying God’s grace. I began to trust her compassion and look forward to her questions. The space she created and the grace she offered allowed me to move past my anxiety to see new possibilities beyond what I had known or experienced up to that point in my life.

Healing and Hope

Within the process of healing, she provided opportunities to put into practice the new possibilities that were beginning to emerge. Along with plans for reading and reflecting on scripture, occasions to practice the presence of God through prayer and conversation, and the challenge to look beyond myself to see what new thing God might be doing, I was invited to put my faith into action. It was at that point I rediscovered God’s desire, to use me, to make a difference in the places I encountered the people God wanted me to love.

It was in and through her engagement in my life that this Jesus follower helped me experience hope in a time of uncertainty. She did not bring easy answers. In fact, she did not bring any answers.

She did bring God’s promises to bear on my uncertainty. She came alongside me, at the moment of greatest anxiety, embodying God’s love, to journey with me through my most difficult moments, to see what God might have in store for the future. She was an instrument of God’s hope.

Hope in Uncertain Times

It is stating the obvious to say that we live in a time of great turmoil. People are killed not only in the streets but in their places of prayer. We are experiencing the deliberate strategy of fear and hate that has turned into violence. If I had to choose one diagnosis for what wounds people the most today, I would say that the root of the fear and hatred is found in uncertainty.

People lack certainty in their jobs, in the economy, in their children’s future. They are asking questions like, “Will my pension be enough?” “Will my job last?” “Will there be a place for me?” I know that some of you are uncertain about the future of our United Methodist Church. We are trying to hang on to what we know and we are wondering what will happen if it turns out differently than what we expect.

Agents of Hope

I am convinced, that in this time of uncertainty, God is ready for the congregations of the Capitol Area South District to be agents of hope. We are the people to bring the great promises of God to bear on this time and place in history. So, why don’t we become agents of hope?

Let’s create spaces for conversation, where we can talk about our fears, disappointments, and uncertainty. Let’s create places of trust where, even if we disagree, no one is judged for their thoughts, feelings, or opinions. Listen with compassion and offer hospitality even in the midst our uncertainty.

Let’s offer Christ by embodying God’s grace. The space we create and the grace we offer will allow individuals and churches, to see new possibilities beyond what they have known or experienced up to this point.

Let’s put the new possibilities that begin to emerge into practice. And if no new possibilities emerge, let’s just be Christian in our living. Let’s come together as congregations and pray for the people that no one else wants and put our faith into action by receiving the people God sends to us. These simple acts of faith will help us rediscover God’s love and we will begin to love our communities the way God in Christ has loved us.

Engagement Brings Hope

Friends, colleagues, readers, it will be in and through our engagement in the lives of individuals, our churches, and our communities, that we will experience hope during our uncertainty. There are no easy answers. We have not come this way before. But, because of the faith God has given us, we can bring God’s promises to bear on this moment. We can become instruments of hope for this time and place.

Let’s come alongside the people with whom we live, work, and serve. Let’s embody God’s love and journey together through these difficult moments to see what God might have in store for the future.

The people around us, our families, our churches, our communities, are longing for hope to face the future. God has placed in our hands “the single most indispensable, non-negotiable, irreplaceable resource required for big challenges and noble battles.” It is the power of HOPE.

So, let’s give people what they are longing for. Let’s give them hope in these uncertain times.

 

 

Lindsay had been unconscious for hours. She had felt horrible all weekend, but when she didn’t answer her door, her friends became concerned and broke into her dorm room. Neither her friends, the EMTs, nor the emergency room doctors could get a response. Her parents were called to the hospital. They tried to get all the information they could, but the only detail that mattered was that their oldest child, away from home for her freshman year, was in unexplored territory for all of them.

Lindsay was life-flighted to a hospital better equipped to address her condition. It was during this time of crisis that the church, the community of faith, surrounded Lindsey and her family.

A woman by the name of Becky, a mother of two girls, decided to visit Lindsay with a gift. She took her gift with a disciple’s faith and a mother’s heart.

A Disciple’s Faith and A Mother’s Heart

When Becky arrived, Lindsay was in the Critical Care Unit. As she entered the room, the doctor and the nurse in the room at the time said, “We’ll leave so you can be alone with her.” While Lindsay lay unconscious, this woman, with a disciple’s faith and a mother’s heart, began to pray.

Becky said, “I stood at the edge of her bed, and I touched her leg. And I prayed for her. I can’t tell you for how long. But as I prayed, I was filled with this overwhelming assurance that this young woman was going to be all right.” Then she said, “I finished praying. I wiped the tears from my eyes. I turned to leave. That’s when I realized that the nurses from the unit were gathered outside the room. They had been watching while I was praying.”

So, what kind of gift can a disciple’s faith and a mother’s heart possibly give an unconscious teenager? What gift is worthy for a group of caregivers in a critical situation? How about the gift of hope?

The Power of Hope

Hope is the most powerful force in the universe. More powerful than death and despair, hope is lifegiving.  The power of hope brings God’s promises to bear on the here and now. There is absolutely nothing else like it in the world. Doctors will step out of the way to let hope in. Nurses will stand outside the room in awe to watch hope at work. There is nothing more life-giving and death-defeating than the power of hope.

Friends, colleagues, whoever will listen, I write today to tell you that the power of hope has been given to the church. That’s the real surprise, isn’t it? That the opportunity and honor of giving hope is given to you and me.

Whenever God wants to bring God’s promises to bear on the here and now, God looks for one of us. God looks wherever God can find a disciple’s faith and a willing heart. God looks for the church to be the people of hope. God has placed in our hands, “the single most indispensable, non-negotiable, irreplaceable resource required for big challenges and noble battles,” the power of hope.

We cannot live without hope. Hope is the backbone that holds us up and holds us together. Transforming MissionWhat Can People Live Without?

Victor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, tells about his life as a prisoner in a Nazi death camp. He recalls a fellow prisoner who was in good health, considering the conditions of the camp. Each day on the way out to the work site this man would talk about what he and his wife were going to do together at the end of the war when they were released.

Then one day the man received the news of the death of his wife. Two days later, he died. Frankl concluded from this experience that people can live longer without bread than they can without hope.

Hope is More Powerful Than…

We live in a time of great turmoil. People are killed not only in the streets but in their places of prayer. We are experiencing the deliberate strategy of fear and hate that has turned into violence. But if I had to choose one diagnosis for what wounds people the most today, I would not say it’s greed, or selfishness, or apathy. I would say that the root of the fear and hatred we are experiencing is found in uncertainty.

People lack certainty in their jobs, in the economy, in their children’s future. They are asking the questions, “Will my pension be enough?” “Will my job last?” “What if the election doesn’t go the way I want it to go?” I know that some of you are uncertain about the future of our United Methodist Church. We are trying to hang on to what we know. We are wondering what is going to happen if it turns out differently than what we expect.

What I know is this, there are only a few things more powerful than life and death put together, hope is one them. As human beings, we can live for forty days without food, four days without water, and four minutes without air. But we cannot live without hope. Hope is the backbone that holds us up and holds us together. Anchored in God’s promises, hope gives us life. It is hope, given to us in and through Jesus, that is same today and tomorrow.

Agents of Hope

I believe that God is ready for the congregations of the Capitol Area South District to be agents of hope. We are the people to bring the great promises of God to bear on this time and place in history. God has placed in our hands “the single most indispensable, non-negotiable, irreplaceable resource required for big challenges and noble battles.”

So, God is looking for one of us to have a disciple’s faith and willing heart. God is looking for one of us to bring the promises of God to bear on the here and now? God is looking for one of us to be an agent of hope in the neighborhood, the community, and the city? God is looking for one of us to pray, “Where do you need me to be hope today?”

Friends, colleagues, fellow human beings, God is looking for you!

 

 

 

 

 

Then he (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hand, he blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them… (Luke 24:50-51)

Luke presents Jesus as a person of prayer.

Whether it is at his baptism, dealing with popularity, choosing leaders, or feeding 5000 people on the hillside, Jesus is praying. Throughout his gospel, Luke shows us that Jesus maintains his relationship with God through prayer. Now, at the end of his gospel, he has Jesus praying as he blesses his followers.

Luke also presents Jesus as being empowered and energized by the Holy Spirit. Jesus begins his public ministry with the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me (or Christed me) to bring good news to the poor.”

Holy Spirit Power

This Holy Spirit power in Jesus is also the Holy Spirit power in the church. It is the power to move beyond the cowardice and hesitation to witness across the barriers that keep people separated from God’s love and one another. So, at the end of his gospel, Luke has Jesus preparing his followers to receive power to be his witnesses.

This connection between prayer and the Holy Spirit is unique in Luke. In John, Jesus is divine by nature. He does not need prayer. He comes from God and is going back to God.

He is aware of everything. There is no agony, no struggle, no Gethsemane.

Matthew has Jesus as the authoritative teacher of the Word of God. Jesus is the final authority in his teaching.  Mark presents Jesus like an exorcist, constantly in contact with forces of evil.

But Luke has Jesus as a person of prayer. He is filled with the Spirit of God. The Spirit in Jesus is the same Spirit available to the church. The qualities of Jesus are the qualities of church.

In the gospels, there are no photos of Jesus, but four portraits of Jesus. It is in Luke’s portrait that we begin to understand why we are in the presence of God.  We get an up close view of the Holy Spirit in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  We begin to see that Jesus is available to us as the church.

And, we begin to understand that Holy Spirit power comes through prayer.

The Blessing

So, here we are at the end, or is it the beginning? “Then he (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hand, he blessed them.”  Is this a prayer of benediction or is it a blessing to send the disciples into a new mission?  Whether end or beginning, it is a good word.  Jesus is calling down the blessing of God.  He has prepared them and is saying, “Farewell.”

The Benediction is the final word, the final blessing. But the blessing is also the assurance of God’s favor and protection. It is also the promise of God’s grace and peace.  Just as God instructed Moses to equip Aaron and his family to bless the Israelites, Jesus now blesses his followers.

Moses said, “Bless the people saying, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’”

And Jesus blessed his followers saying, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…”

With his blessing our witness begins!