Where have the past eight years gone? It seems just like yesterday that I was first appointed to the Capital Area South District, then to the Capital Area North District, and then to the Olentangy River District. In many ways, the past eight years have been some of the best and most enjoyable of my fifty years of appointed ministry. 

I am at that rare juncture in life, which is at the same time fragile and strong.  Although it is most beautiful, it carries with it the possibility of being the ugliest of any transaction I can know. I am at the stage of giving and receiving a gift. 

On July 1, I will become the lead pastor of Christ Church in Charleston, West Virginia. So, as I am leaving the season of district superintendent, I’m entering a new season of being a pastor of a local church. As I am giving God thanks, I am receiving a gift. 

Grace 

Paul, more than any other writer recorded in the Bible, uses the same word for giving and receiving. The word is charis. It is usually translated as “grace.” But it can also be translated as “gift,” or “thanks.” 

When Paul uses it, you don’t know whether it is being given (thanks), being received (grace), or being given (gift). In a way, I am at a charis moment. It is as sacred as the Eucharist (thanks) and at the same time, it is charisma and charismatic. In other words, as I am giving thanks, I am both receiving and giving. 

Giving Thanks for You

All of that to say, I’m at a moment of giving thanks for you, but as I do, I am acknowledging what I have given and what I have received. May I say it again? I am at the juncture of the most beautiful and rarest moments that any one of us can know. 

So, with one last feeble attempt, I want to thank you for the opportunity and honor of serving with you over these past eight years. Using Paul as my guide, I want to thank you for helping me grow in my relationship with Jesus. Paul says, “I have been initiated into the mystery (secret). 

What is the mystery? What is the secret? 

Let’s see if Paul gives us a clue in his letter to the Philippians. 

Read: Philippians 1:3-11 

3 I thank my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always in every one of my prayers for all of you, praying with joy 5 for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.  

Reflect 

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a note of thanks. Throughout his letter he expresses his gratitude for them, his affection for them, and offers prayer for them. 

As I reflect upon his words, I want to use his structure to express my gratitude for you and your ministry.    

I Thank My God for Every Remembrance of You

Paul writes, “I thank my God for every remembrance of you…” 

Friends, I am who I am because of you. I am convinced that God brought us together so that I might become more who God created me to be. I am even more convinced that God puts people in my life because I still need to experience and to be shaped by God’s love. 

Bonhoeffer wrote, “In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” 

I am grateful for you, your ministry, your friendship, and for all God has done to make me who I am in and through you. Please know that every time you come to mind, I will give God thanks for you as I pray for your health and well-being. May I ask you to do the same for me? Every time I come to mind, pray for me. Even if you don’t remember my name and don’t know what to pray, just pray, “Jesus, help that old man. He needs all the help he can get.” 

“I thank my God every time I remember you…” 

Paul writes, “praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel…” Colleagues in ministry, “I have you in my heart…and I long for you…” (Philippians 1:7-8). 

Paul gives thanks for the joy of their partnership in the gospel. They have taken up residence in his heart. Wow. I know what that is like. You now live in my heart. You have helped expand my heart to include not only you but many others I did not know existed until I opened my heart to you.

I am grateful. 

But there is something I am learning because I have allowed you into my heart. 

The Deeper the Bond…

The deeper the bond, the more painful the absence. 

How will I manage the separation from you and our ministry together? I have been thinking about it and I have concluded that it is a matter of memory.  I’ll remember the good times, the special occasions, the profound worship. I will remember the Lord’s Table (Do this in remembrance of me), baptism (Remember your baptism and be thankful), and the conversations we have had describing God’s call upon our lives. 

I will hold you in my heart, as I sing the hymns, pray the prayers, and preach the gospel. I will hold in my heart what we have experienced together, the memories that we have made, whether through celebrations of worship, one-to-ones, or strategizing mission. We have made memories together. 

As I reflect upon it, what we have shared together is what will sustain us tomorrow and beyond.  I have you in my heart, and I long for you to be who God has created you to be as a Christ-centered leader. You must know, that will never change. 

I am praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel…Know how much you are loved and appreciated. 

The One Who Began A Good Work in You

Then Paul adds, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”   

What do you think he intended to say with those words? If your reading continues to include verses 9-11, you will find an answer. Paul prays that they will grow and mature in love, a love that is undergirded by understanding and knowledge, a love rooted in experience and discernment, a love that is put to the test and strengthened in real-life situations, a love that is the foundation for making choices in matters that count. He assures them that God is working in and through them because he is certain that they are instruments of God’s love and peace.   

No prayer, no power. 

Little prayer, little power. 

Much prayer, much power.

Paul prays for them because he is holding them in his heart. If you take nothing else from this blog, take this, “No prayer, no power. Little prayer, little power. Much prayer, much power.”

Listen to me closely, for all the education and training you have, no one can teach, train, or give you the love you need for your congregation. 

There is no education that will break your heart for the church or your church’s heart for the community. There is no training that makes you get up early in the morning to pray for the people entrusted to your care. There is no one who can give you the burden for the broken and marginalized in your community. But that is what it means to be about God’s business. If God called you, God will equip you, but you have to be in conversation with God to keep God’s love at the center of who you are and what you do. Truly, it is a matter of prayer. 

What is Needed: Prayer

Let me say it another way. Education, knowledge, and training are good, but you do not need more training. I know you want to learn more about leadership and organizational structure. I have heard your desire to learn more of the scripture and to communicate with clarity. I have experienced your yearning to be effective in every aspect of your ministry. But from what I have learned over these past eight years, you do not need more training to be who God created you to be or who God needs you to be at this important time in history.

It is my “bias” opinion that what is needed most is prayer. So, more than anything else, here is what I hope you learn and put into practice. Learn to pray. Prayer is the good work God has started in you, and it is prayer that needs to continue until the day of Jesus Christ.

Prayer is Hard

Let me say it this way: prayer is hard. Effective prayer is even harder. A.W. Tozer, author, and preacher in the 20th century, had a person who sat outside his office door while he prayed each day. That person was not to let anyone interrupt him during his prayer time. Think about it. Learn to pray not as an exercise in worship but as an expression of your relationship with Jesus. The good work God has started in you is a matter of prayer.

At the end of Matthew 9, Jesus tells His followers to pray to the Lord of the harvest that workers would be sent into the harvest. With his own heart broken in compassion, Jesus sent his followers into the world, the community, because he saw the people as sheep without a shepherd. Think about it. Jesus is saying, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest so that your hearts will be broken in compassion for the people you encounter each day.” This is part of the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul calls the followers of Jesus to pray. He reminds them that they do not fight flesh and blood, but they fight against the spirits and powers of the day. He identifies prayer as the full armor of God. So, to fight the powers and injustices of this time in history, you first need to pray and then act. The action grows out of the love of God. This is part of the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer. 

Clear is Kind

One of the things I have learned over these past years is “clear is kind.” May I be clear with you? Most of us, as leaders, lack a deep and meaningful prayer life. It is my experience that we are too busy. There are too many meetings, too many expectations, and too many demands upon time and energy. When translated, it means that your time and solitude with Jesus is cut short so you can “run the church” effectively. Your leadership is a byproduct of the good work God has started in you. To be connected to that good work, you first must pray, seeking to know about God’s business of loving others.

As a leader, your authority comes from your closeness to Jesus. The hours you spend in prayer will change your heart, will deepen your sermons, and be experienced in your compassion. You will lead with trust, compassion, stability, and hope.  This is the good work God has started in you. It is a matter of prayer.

Prayer is Our Primary Work

Now, please know that I understand that few churches allow their pastors to spend this kind of time and effort in prayer. Most church members don’t see prayer as real work.

So, let me once again be clear. Prayer is the primary work of the church. How can you be a Christ-centered leader if Christ is not the center of your faith and work?

When prayer becomes your primary work, you will provide and protect time to pray, to study the scripture, and to seek God’s guidance in loving others as you have been loved. This is what it means to be about God’s business. This is the good work God has started in you. You were created to be in relationship with God, to reflect his glory in the community and all your relationships.

I know this to be true, your time with Jesus will not only change you, but it will change your church, and transform your community and the world.

“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  

Respond 

So, what is the secret Paul refers to when he writes, “I have been initiated into the mystery.” 

May I tell you what I think? It is gratitude. The secret of the fundamental relationship with God that sets you free is gratitude. The closer you get to Jesus; the more your gratitude grows and deepens. 

From my experience, people of gratitude are people of grace and generosity in their relationships. They are people of hope and compassion, as well as people of courage and care. I can tell that they have spent time with Jesus because they love the people Jesus loves, and they give themselves for the welfare of the people around them and for the community in which they live. 

Let me say it this way. If I were on a Pastor Parish Relations Committee, waiting to receive a new minister for the church, and I had a chance to ask one question, before I would say, “Tell me about your preaching or about study habits or your leadership style,” I would ask, “What evidence of gratitude is there in your life?” 

How will you thank God for the people in your life today? Whether you call it grace, gift, or gratitude, keep your eyes and ears open to God’s good work in your midst. How will you live the good work God has started in you today? 

Prayer 

O God I am grateful for the good work you have started in my life, and I am grateful that you will continue your good work in me until the day of Jesus. By your grace, give me the faith to assist people to grow in their faith. Give me the courage to lead people into the community to love others as you have loved me. I am grateful for the opportunity to thank you for the people who have helped shape me into the person I am today. By your grace, give me faith to love and trust you more. Amen. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you meet Jesus? Where did you discover the need to assist people in growing in their faith? How did you respond to their need and desire to give care, support, encouragement, and hope to others? What good work has God started in you that you want to share with others? What did you learn that you will do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead. 

Now, please pray for me as I turn my face toward Christ Church in Charleston, West Virginia. Just know this, “I thank my God for every remembrance of you…” I am grateful!

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Engaging the mission is about following Jesus into the community and being about God’s business. It is a way of relating to and loving others within the community in which you are located.

To help resource you in Engaging the Community, let’s focus on two distinct community ideas. The first is koinonia found in the New Testament. The second is the community in which your congregation is located. In both communities, you can share the gospel and grow your relationship with Jesus and the people entrusted to your care.  

To focus on these two concepts, remember that you are about God’s business. So, through the lens of being a follower of Jesus, what does it mean to live in community with other followers of Jesus and what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in a diversity of people and beliefs?  

It is important to know and understand koinonia as you engage the community in which you are located. So, let’s start with koinonia, the New Testament understanding of fellowship or community.   

Read: Acts 2:42:47 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  

Reflect 

The first followers of Jesus, “…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…” Gathering in community was important. It is mentioned three times: They devoted themselves to “fellowship” (verse 42), “All who believed were together” (verse 44), and “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple…” (verse 46). Being together was an important characteristic of their faith development.  

Koinonia

This fellowship was known as “koinonia.” Before describing what “koinonia” is, let’s identify what it is not. Koinonia is not formal gatherings for potluck dinners nor informal gatherings of people who are like us. Koinonia is neither being a part of a country or civic club nor is it like being a part of a service organization. Koinonia is more than participating in worship. All of these are good and needed, but they do not describe what those early followers of Jesus experienced as koinonia. 

Koinonia for them was gathering to listen and learn of the gospel (apostles’ teaching). They were trying to make sense of what they had experienced at Pentecost. Gathering was to eat together, (breaking bread). It was an expression of God’s love, agape, working for the good of others, especially those who had little to eat. Gathering to pray (prayers). They gathered with glad and generous hearts in gratitude to God, seeking direction on how to live their lives as followers of Jesus. 

Koinonia and John Wesley

It is this same koinonia that John Wesley experienced when he expressed that “I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  

Wesley was motivated to establish a koinonia system to help others, whose hearts were also “strangely warmed.” He was surrounded by people who not only wanted to hear the gospel but wanted to experience it. They lived in a time of spiritual apathy in which there was a disconnect between themselves and their faith. There was also an institutional disconnect that created disillusionment and distrust of the church.  

Wesley’s Aldersgate experience became a model for heartfelt faith. For the people whose hearts were warmed by God’s love, Wesley developed a system to help keep the heartfelt faith alive with experiences of care, support, encouragement, and correction.  

Koinonia and Methodism

He developed community by using class meetings and bands in which followers of Jesus were nurtured in faith and held accountable with compassion. People cared for and looked after each other’s souls. It was in the fellowship where loving hearts set other hearts on fire.  

Koinonia was woven into the DNA of those early Methodist Christians. Whether you are a United Methodist or not, this koinonia has shaped your faith as a Jesus follower. It is an essential experience in assisting you in becoming who you are created to be.  

Embodying Koinonia

Although I did not know it then, my earliest memories of faith are of people teaching, caring, supporting, and encouraging me in the faith community. Whether it was a fourth-grade Sunday school teacher telling me I would go somewhere else in the world to tell others of Jesus, a junior high school teacher who taught me to pray and to listen for God to speak, a high school teacher who cried with the class the day after a major disaster, or the Jesus followers who nurtured me in faith with compassion from a child to an adult, koinonia was part of my experience in becoming who I am today.  

Over the years, I have attempted to develop koinonia through small groups or other fellowship experiences. Still, the most common experience I have experienced koinonia was when it was woven into the fabric of the community of faith. It was when other followers of Jesus, whose hearts were warmed with God’s love, shared their faith and love with one another, the larger community, and the world.  

Heartfelt Faith

As a follower of Jesus and a Christ-centered leader, you lead with a heartfelt faith. There are two aspects of this heartfelt faith: the experience of God’s love in each individual’s life and the gathering of followers of Jesus who have experienced God’s love. Think clearly about providing opportunities for the “warm heart” and the structures of care that will lead to transforming individual lives, communities, and the world.  

When Wesley insisted that “true Christianity cannot exist without the inward experience and the outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth,” he gave us our focus on koinonia.  

So, take a moment to reflect upon these questions for yourself:

  • How is my relationship with Jesus growing in depth and expression?
  • How am I living out my heart being warmed by God’s love?
  • How do I grow in faith and live out my faith in meaningful ways? 
  • Take a moment to reflect upon this question for your faith community:
  • Am I developing the structures of care where people can grow in grace and discipleship, where the fruits of the spirit are being cultivated, and where loving hearts are setting others’ hearts on fire?  

The early followers of Jesus “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…” So, one of the characteristics of engaging the community is to develop koinonia, Christian community. 

Respond 

Beware of moments when your heart is “strangely warmed” by the presence of Jesus in the lives of the people you encounter and in the situations you find yourself today. Continue to be mindful of how you are growing in faith and living in God’s love.  Be intentional in extending God’s love to the people around you. Ask God to help you be a blessing to someone, somewhere today. 

Prayer 

O God, thank you for your fellowship so I can grow in my faith. By your grace, continue introducing me to people who can provide care, support, instruction, and correction. Thank you for the ways you have provided for me to become more of the person you have created me to be. Give me the faith to trust you more. Make me aware of the people around me today so that I might become a blessing to someone, somewhere today. I offer myself to be in koinonia with you in the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you meet Jesus? How was your heart strangely warmed? What structures did you put in place to give others care, support, encouragement, and hope? What do you need to do to lead others into koinonia? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. 

As you learn and grow in engaging the community, keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

Next we will look at the second concept of community in Part Three of Engaging In Mission: Engaging the Community.

As a Christ-centered leader, in a rapidly changing world, you have the responsibility to engage your church in loving and caring for your community. By centering on God’s mission, embracing your local context, and engaging with the community, you lead with purpose and authenticity. You have the opportunity to lead your church in reclaiming its role as a vibrant and relevant force in the lives of the people in your community and beyond. 

Engaging the mission is about following Jesus into the community and being about God’s business. It is a way of relating to and loving others within the community in which you are located.

Engaging In Missions

As much as churches talk about caring and serving, your life changes when you engage in missions. Whether it is your life or the life of your church, engaging the community means constantly challenging personal preferences, the fear of losing control of who to serve, and the anxiety of not having enough resources. 

Although the work is challenging, engaging in mission means you can relax in the experience of loving others as you have been loved. Engaging the community is an experience of transformation and new life.

Focus on the Mission of God’s Love

So, what better time to explore engaging the community than the season of Pentecost? When I reflect upon the presence and power of God in and through the Holy Spirit, I discover that the early church was focused on the mission of God’s love and that the power of the Holy Spirit helped those early followers to overcome the barriers of race, gender, theology, faith, and persecution.

When engaging the community, you are given the power to overcome the barriers that keep people from experiencing God’s love by resisting evil in whatever form it presents itself.

So, the question is, “What do you need to do to engage the community with God’s love? 

Start with Prayer

Prayer facilitates your engaging the community. Since you are engaging in God’s business, it makes sense to seek God’s direction. So, as you begin to engage the community, provide opportunities for everyone in the congregation as well as your leaders to pray. 

Make prayer part of every Sunday School class, small group, administrative meetings (Administrative Council, Leader Board, Finance, Trustees, Pastor Parish Relations, etc.) rehearsals, trainings, or other gatherings of your church community.  

Remind your leaders, in whatever context they are leading, that when there is no prayer, there is no power. When there is a little prayer there is little power. When there is much prayer there is much power. Said another way: No prayer, no power. Little prayer, little power. Much prayer, much power. 

Ask God for new possibilities to break through in your church and community. Ask God to give you the eyes to see and hearts and minds to receive and understand what God is doing in the community.

  • Ask God to help you discover what you need to do that no one else is doing in the community. Ask God to send you the people no one else wants and for the grace to receive the people God sends to you.
  • As you surrender yourself to God’s direction, be mindful of how God can use you and your church to make a difference in your community.    

Prayer

To get you started, here is a sample prayer:   

O God, by your grace give each of us obedience to yield a little more of ourselves today.  Put us where you want us and help us be content.  If we can’t be content, make us faithful.  Let us be a part of what you are blessing and let us learn everything we need to learn in every situation and circumstance.  Teach us and equip us to bring here on earth what you have in heaven.  Break our hearts for the church and the church’s heart for the community. Send to us the people no one else wants and by your grace help us receive the people you send to us.  Let us see you in the tasks you have given us to perform and may you find us faithfully performing those tasks.  Fill us with your grace and glory so all with whom we come in contact will experience your grace and glory in us. 

Remember, prayer facilitates engaging the community. No prayer, no power. Little prayer, little power. Much prayer, much prayer. It was while the disciples were praying that the Holy Spirit came upon them. They received power to be witnesses (the Greek work means “martyrs) starting where they were and moving into their communities, surrounding areas, and to the world 

Engage in the Seven Missional Questions 

Read the blog ENGAGING IN MISSION: Seven Missional Questions. 

ENGAGING IN MISSION: Seven Missional Questions gives you the details of each question. The questions are:

  1. Where have you witnessed God’s presence in your community? (God’s Presence)
  2. What is the mission of the church (Mission)
  3. What is our mission field? (Mission Field)
  4. What are the assets of our community? (Assets)
  5. What are the needs of our community (Needs)
  6. What relationships exists with leaders in our community? (Relationships)
  7. What is one way we can collaborate with other churches? (Collaborations)

To engage the community, prepare your heart and mind with prayer. Ask God to help you to be aware of and sensitive to the people you encounter in your mission field. 

Prepare your heart and mind with bible study. Read Luke 10:1-12 and ask God to send you out as missionaries to learn about the mission field in which you live and serve.  

Engage the leaders of your church in participating in the seven questions above. Send your leaders out in teams of two or three to experience the mission, to encounter the people, to assess the assets and needs of the mission field. 

Assist your leaders in identifying and developing the relationships within your mission field. What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, or re-established? 

Continue to engage your team in prayer and study. Continue to ask God to help you be aware of and sensitive to the people you encounter. 

Read, Reflect, Respond, Return

When you are engaging the community, you are loving and serving people in all you do. Keep in mind that you are about God’s business as a follower of Jesus whether you are feeding people, providing housing, caring for children, sharing in a work team, or on a mission trip. To assist you in keeping focused, use the following pattern as a way of focusing upon God’s business and growing as a follower of Jesus. 

Before leaving for the site on which you are serving, gather your team together. The team must gather together before arriving at the site. In other words, the focus is on becoming who God created you to be, a follower of Jesus, and not upon the work you are involved in or the service you are providing. Both are important but becoming a disciple of Jesus and being about God’s business of loving others is the main focus. 

As important as this is, before leaving for the site, take no more than 15 minutes to do the following: 

Read

Pick a scripture for the day. Before reading it, ask each member of the team to focus upon a part of the scripture, then read it aloud for the team to hear. 

Reflect

Have each person briefly tell which part of the scripture they will carry with them throughout the experience. Keeping the scripture in mind, ask each member of the team to be aware of the people they meet and to look for Jesus in the midst of their serving, working, and interactions. 

Pray

Remember, prayer facilitates your engaging the community. So, before you leave for the site, pray. It can be short and simple. Here are three examples: 

“O God, make us aware of the people around us today so that we may be a blessing to someone, somewhere today. Use us as instruments of your love and peace.” 

“O God, give us the eyes to see, ears to ear, hearts to receive, and minds to understand your presence in our experience today. Give us pure hearts, because blessed are the pure in heart, they will see You.” 

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

Respond

Remind each person to be aware of how they will be living the scripture in the places they encounter. Sounds simple enough, but keep the following in mind:

  • How will you love the people God sends your way? 
  • How will you reach and receive them in love?
  • How will you introduce them to God’s love?
  • How will you practice who you are as a follower of Jesus? 
  • In what new way will you love them as Christ has loved you? 

Return

At the end of the experience, gather the team together. Give God thanks for the experience and for the people with whom you interacted. Then, in small groups of 3 or 4 persons, ask them to discuss the following questions:

  • How did you live the scripture today?
  • How did you experience God’s love? In whom did you see Jesus?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • Were there times you felt uncomfortable, afraid, or alone? How did you respond?  
  • For whom are you grateful at this moment? Give God thanks for them. 

Engage The Community

There are many ways to engage the community. Each context will call for specific ways of loving and serving. As you move forward, use the tools of prayer, 7 Missional Questions, and the pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return to keep you focused on the mission. 

You have been commissioned to love others as you love Jesus. As you engage in mission you will be transformed, so be aware of what helps turn your love for Jesus into an outward expression of love and care. 

It is time to engage the community. You have been given the power to love as you have been loved, to overcome the barriers that keep people from experiencing God’s love, and to resist evil in whatever form it presents itself.

Listen for your call into the neighborhood. It will come with the words of Jesus, “Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Go and live into the life God has created you to live.

As you engage in the mission of practicing your faith, you will find it to be the simplest yet the most difficult aspect of HOPE. (Read Preparing for Mission: Practicing Your Faith Part One and Preparing for Mission: Practicing Your Faith Part Two). 

It is simple because it is the one aspect of HOPE that you participate in the most. Whether it be Sunday School classes, small groups, worship, administrative meetings, rehearsals, training, the list goes on. You have the opportunity to rehearse or practice your faith through activities and programs. 

It is difficult because to practice your faith is more than anything goes.  To engage in the mission of practicing your faith means you are about God’s business, focused upon the mission, living out who God has created you to be. You are applying what you are rehearsing in your everyday living. 

Building H.O.P.E.

As you build systems of hospitality in which you reach out at receive people, of offering Christ in which you introduce people to the Christian faith, and practicing your faith in which you nurture people in their faith, you have the opportunity to assist them in learning about Jesus, what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and how to live out their faith in everyday situations and circumstances.    

So, you engage the mission of practicing faith as you invite people into the movement of God’s grace and equip them for the mission of God’s love, you provide opportunities for them to practice by learning and growing in their faith. As simple as it sounds, the difficulty is in keeping focused on God’s business of loving others as you have been loved. 

The Means of Grace

John Wesley knew it was difficult. That is why he developed what he called “the means of grace.” It is in and through the practice of daily prayer, reading, studying, and reflecting on the scriptures, regularly attending worship, celebrating Holy Communion, conversations about faith, regular fasting for reflection, and doing acts of mercy which include humanitarian acts of compassion or social justice acts of advocacy. People experience God’s love and learn to share God’s love through practicing the “means of grace.” 

We usually talk of the “means of grace” as personal practices of individuals. Wesley instituted class meetings and bands as ways of assisting individuals in their personal faith development. Individual practice of the means of grace is good and essential to personal faith development. 

But corporate participation in the “means of grace” leads to another level of practicing faith.  

Learn about God’s Business

Below are three ways of practicing the means of grace that will not add activities to your over-scheduled calendar. You already have the structure in place. 

Below are three ways to participate in the means of grace whether you are engaging in a Sunday School class, small group, administrative meetings (Administrative Council, Leaderboard, Finance, Trustees, Pastor Parish Relations, etc.) rehearsals, training, or other gatherings of your church community.   

Make every gathering, meeting, rehearsal, class, training, an opportunity to learn about God’s business. 

Ways to Practice the Means of Grace

At the beginning of every meeting, ask people to gather in groups of two or three.  Explain to them that our job is to be about God’s business and one way to be about God’s business is to read and reflect upon the Scripture. This exercise should not take more than 10 minutes. 

First, Read and Reflect on the Scripture. 

Be creative. You might use the scripture text you will be using on Sunday morning, you might provide a guided study of a book of the Bible, you might have a mission focus, or you might center on special events in the life of the church. (If you use a scripture like Isaiah 43:18 ff, you can use the text for several meetings). The point is to take advantage of every gathering. Every time you gather, read and reflect upon the Scripture. 

Second, Give a brief exegesis or explanation of the Scripture. 

Again, be creative. Don’t leave the context, specific intention, or form of the scripture to a “anything goes” interpretation. You are providing an opportunity for reflection and conversation by giving the context and the intention of what has been read. Take advantage of the opportunity to “do” a little Bible study. Every time you gather, read, reflect upon, and respond to the Scripture. 

Third, Provide a few minutes for conversation.

By providing a few minutes for conversation, you open space to talk about what has been read and expounded upon by asking several guided questions. For example: if the scripture is Isaiah 43:18-19, 

“Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?” 

It might help to give some directions at this point. The questions are not designed as “like” or “dislike” questions. They are questions to stimulate thought, reflection, and conversation. The questions you might ask are: What new things are happening in your life? What new things are you participating in with your family, at work, on the golf course? (You get the point) What new things are happening in our church? How are you participating in the new things that are happening? 

Fourth, have each little group pray for the others in their group. 

At first, you might have one person pray for their group. As you continue with this process of “practicing faith,” you might ask each person to offer a prayer for each person in the group.

As you can see, this exercise provides the opportunity to practice the “means of grace” as well as assist leaders develop healthy relationships.  As simple as it sounds, it will not be easy. But it is one way to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the church and community. 

Practicing the Means of Grace – Example 2

Another way to make every gathering, meeting, rehearsal, class, training, an opportunity to learn about God’s business is similar to the exercise above. 

Again, at the beginning of every meeting, ask people to gather in groups of two or three.  Explain to them that our job is to be about God’s business and one way to be about God’s business is to recognize God’s love and God’s presence in everyday and ordinary experiences. This exercise should not take more than 10 minutes. 

Over a period of time, weeks if your group meets weekly or months if your group meets monthly, ask a series of questions. In the beginning, limit the discussion to “one question” per meeting. Below are examples of questions that will help people be more focused on God’s business. 

  • Where did you see or experience Jesus this past week? 
  • Who has God unexpectedly put into your life who has helped you learn about yourself? 
  • Where or with whom have you experienced God’s love? 
  • With whom have you shared God’s love? 

Be creative with your questions. The point is to assist people in recognizing God’s love and presence in everyday situations and circumstances. Providing an opportunity to practice will help them become more aware of what God is doing in their midst. It also helps shape them into followers of Jesus who make a difference in their everyday living. 

Celebrating Holy Communion is Practicing the Means of Grace

As you assist people in practicing the “means of grace,” what would happen, if once a quarter or twice a year, you celebrated Holy Communion with every gathering, meeting, rehearsal, class, or training? As a means of grace, Holy Communion keeps you focused on God’s business. In fact, Jesus’ words “do this in remembrance of me” provides the invitation to keep your focus on God’s movement of grace and mission of love, whether the meeting is Administrative or spiritual in nature. 

Providing opportunities for people to engage in the mission of practicing their faith is part of your work as a Christ-centered leader. You are assisting them to develop their inner faith so they can and will practice their faith beyond themselves. As they practice their faith together, they will practice their faith outside each gathering. As you help them identify Jesus in their midst, they will discover new ways to love others as God in Jesus has loved them. Your church and community will begin to change as the focus on God’s love becomes a way of living for the people entrusted to your care. 

It’s Your Turn to Practice the Means of Grace

How will you participate in the “means of grace” today? With whom will you practice your faith? In what new way will you love others the way God in Christ has loved you? 

Practicing your faith helps to turn your inner faith into an outward expression of love and care. How will you practice your faith today? 

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

 

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you practice your faith? How did you participate in the “means of grace.” With whom did you share God’s love? Where and in whom did you experience Jesus today? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced today? What will you do differently tomorrow?

Keep in mind, as you engage others in the mission of practicing faith, you are becoming the Christ-centered leader God has created you to be.  Who you are is how you lead.

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

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

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

Be Who God Created You to Be

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

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

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

Offering Christ – An Honest Interaction

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

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

Offering Christ – It Matters Where You Start

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

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

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

Offer Christ – Love Others As God Loves You

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

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

So, it matters where you start. 

Evangelize the Gospel – Four Perspectives

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

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

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

The Good News – Matthew

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

The Good News – Mark

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

The Good News – Luke 

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

The Good News – John 

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

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

Preach What You Practice

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

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

Love Others as God Loves You

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

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

Prayer

Here is a prayer for today:  

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

Reflect on Offering Christ

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

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

As a follower of Jesus, you can share God’s love with every person you encounter. Whether family, friend, colleague, neighbor, stranger, or enemy, you have the opportunity to be God’s loving presence in the way you live your faith when interacting with them. 

Sharing the love you have received in and through Jesus is part of God’s mission. You were invited into that mission when you were claimed as a “beloved child” of God, called and commissioned for ministry at your baptism (Read more: Preparing for Mission: Being About God’s Business and Preparing for Mission: Hospitality is a Lifestyle).

A Community of Jesus Followers 

With that in mind, think of the church as a community of Jesus followers who exist primarily for people who are not members. As a follower of Jesus, you are an instrument of God’s love for people who do not know or understand the love of God.  

The apostle Paul instructed the church in Galatia, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Loving others as God has loved you is the main way you offer Christ. When people see and experience Jesus in you, you are offering Christ.  

Said another way, as a beloved child of God, you love others to be who God created you to be. You become an instrument of God’s grace. You are God’s love in human form. Offing Christ is who you are. It becomes the way you live your life. God sends people your way every day. So, love them as God in Jesus has loved you, all for the glory of God.

Offer Christ By Being You

So, let me share with you one way you can offer Christ, just by being you. 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.

At those times of uncertainty, disappointment, or instability, people need someone they can trust. Someone who shows compassion. Some who can bring stability and who can offer hope. They need and want someone who will love them unconditionally.

The apostle Paul gives us clues to offering Christ in several of his letters. I want to focus on one part of one letter, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

Read Ephesians 5:1-2

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Reflect on Ephesians 5:1-2

These words come immediately following Paul’s instruction on what it means to live as a follower of Jesus. The word “therefore” refers back to the instruction. When taken in their full context, the words refer to living and behaving as God’s children.

The words, when understood in the light of engaging in the mission of offering Christ, refer to the followers of Jesus as beloved children of God. And as a beloved child of God, you pattern your life, your behavior, most specifically your forgiveness, love, and care after the love you have experienced in Christ. Your nature, as a beloved child of God, is to love others as God in Christ has loved you. In other words, Christ’s love for you and for others is the same as God’s love.

Love Others as God Loves You

One major expression of offering Christ is to love others the way you have experienced God’s love in and through Jesus. You will have many opportunities to offer Christ. 

Each opportunity comes with its own context and specific need. As a child of God, you love others the way each needs to be loved at the time they need it the most.

Times of Uncertainty & Offering Christ

As one way of offering Christ, I want to share with you an experience that has transformed my life. As with most of you, I have come through several times of uncertainty. Times of not knowing what the future might hold and being paralyzed regarding what decisions to make. At one particular time, I was caught in a place I had never been before. 

The uncertainty was so great that I could not see beyond the moment. Uncertain about my future, I felt confused, hurt, and alone. It was at that point, in my anxiety, that a colleague and friend stepped in to offer Christ, which helped me face my future. I didn’t get a lot of sympathy, 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. 

New Possibilities

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 as his beloved child, to make a difference in the places I encountered the people God wanted me to love. 

It was in and through her offering of Christ 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 my 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 love which brought hope and new possibilities. 

As a beloved child of God, she bore God’s image. She walked in love and invited me to walk with her. She modeled Christ’s love as she offered herself as an instrument of God’s love and peace. 

To Offer Christ

That is what it means to offer Christ. There are many ways to come alongside individuals and to love them, nurture them, guide and care for them. It is in times of greatest need that Jesus comes alongside us. Over my 70 years, Jesus has come alongside me in and through the people God has sent to guide, mentor, love, and admonish me. 

That is what it means to engage in the mission of offering Christ. Be the presence of Jesus in the lives of the people you meet each day. By your living, you offer them Christ. 

Respond

I know my words can come across as arrogant and condescending. Often when someone talks with us about “offering Christ,” we feel inadequate and even unworthy. It is common in the church for us to urge each other to witness to our faith. Sometimes we assume that sharing stories of our faith is easy to do. I must confess that I have found it incredibly difficult. It might be my personality, but it is tough to talk about things so deeply meaningful and profoundly intimate.

It is even more difficult to create spaces for conversation, where people can talk about fears, disappointments, and uncertainty. It is difficult to offer new possibilities when you, yourself, are uncertain about today and tomorrow.

So, before we explore ways to offer Christ, take some time to think about what offering Christ means to you. What would happen if you took John Wesley seriously and began to “Offer them Christ” as you developed relationships and talked about what was deeply meaningful to you?

Be Who God Created You to Be

Think of it this way, to offer Christ is to be who God created you to be. The offer is more than sharing “spiritual facts” which lead to a mental assent to correct understanding and logical decisions.  You and I don’t experience God’s love as a form of indoctrination.

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

The offer of Christ is a two-way process of honest interaction. Because you and I simply do not see everything the same way, we develop a friend-to-friend relationship.  So, the offer of Christ is not a single encounter.  It is an extended relationship of mutual respect and care.  It is within the relationship that God’s love is experienced, and hope is developed, and lived out.

Offering Christ Is More Than An Invitation

As important as it is, the offer of Christ is more than inviting people to worship or to participate in the programs of the church.  To offer Christ is to offer God’s love to those who are discontent and dissatisfied in their search for God. It is in and through relationships that we can share our experiences of God searching for us in Jesus.  New possibilities are found in the love you offer. Offering Christ becomes who you are.

I believe we can change the world by offering Christ.  Receiving one friend’s offer of Christ certainly has changed me. It was in her offer of Christ that I have experienced the love of God. In the midst of my disappointment and despair, God found me and embraced me with a love that will not let me go.  

T. S. Elliot wrote, “the life we seek is not in knowing but in being known, not in seeking but in being sought, not in finding but in being found.”

To offer Christ is to come alongside those who are lost in uncertainty, disappointment, or instability, and show compassion, stability and hope. It is loving others unconditionally as God in Jesus has loved you.

In Offering Christ Part Two, we will look at several practices that assist in “Engaging in the Mission” of offering Christ. 

Prayer

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

Return

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

This is Part 2 on Hospitality

Read Part 1 Here

My fourth grade Sunday school teacher, Mary, would greet me every Sunday at the classroom door with the words, “Timmy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” Then with a welcoming hug, she would send me into the classroom to meet other classmates who had gathered.  As I entered the room, I would hear her say, “Nancy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” When I would look back, she would be hugging Nancy and sending her into the room to meet the rest of us.  Mary greeted us as if she had been waiting all week for us and as if we were the most important people she knew.

Modeling Hospitality

She modeled hospitality.  She acted out what she taught us in class. I remember her lesson on Jesus touching a person with leprosy and the story of Jesus receiving a woman that was sick.  I will always remember her saying that we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us.

Several times a year, Mary would bring a meal to our Sunday School class. As we ate, she would tell us how Jesus invited people to eat at his table. Once when we did not have enough room around the table in our classroom, I remember her saying, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” With those words, she added an extension to include all of us.

For Mary, hospitality was more than a gesture of welcoming, it was who she was as a person. Her extension of hospitality was an offering of love.

Several stories in the bible tell us about hospitality, but as you begin to engage in mission, there is one characteristic that is necessary for reaching out, receiving, and welcoming others as God in Jesus has welcomed you and the people of your congregation.

Read Matthew 25:31-46 

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 

37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 

40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ 

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 

44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ 

45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”

Reflect on Matthew 25

I know that it seems strange to use a parable referring to judgment as a story of hospitality, but Matthew uses the parable as a tool to instruct what it means to be a follower of Jesus, a “daughter or son” of God. It is in his last formal teaching in Matthew’s good news, that Jesus gives us a clue to the righteousness and the works of mercy that grow out of that righteousness. According to Matthew, the sons and daughters of God live lives of righteousness especially toward the weak and marginalized.

Good News According to Matthew

With that in mind, there are several layers to the understanding of this parable. The first is the good news according to Matthew. “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God.” For Matthew, righteousness and holiness are characteristics of the children of God. At this point, keep in mind, hospitality grows out of righteousness and holiness.

Although Matthew says it differently from John, it is the same perspective of “being born from above.” Holiness and righteousness are seen in our relationships with God and with others.  So, for Matthew, you are a child of God and God sent Jesus to teach you how to live as a child of God. Hang on to that because this parable reveals the depth of holiness and righteousness of being God’s son and daughter. 

Understanding a Parable

The second layer is the understanding of a parable. Parables are reflections of reality as opposed to mirrors of morality. Said another way, this parable does not tell us what we should be doing. It reflects back to us what we are doing.

I have often heard this scripture quoted to leverage people to care for others, to raise money, or, at its worst, to shame people into acts of care and compassion. This parable is not a moral teaching. All the acts of care, compassion, and hospitality are good and needed, but the point of the parable is not “you should be doing these things.” The parable actually reflects reality. It reflects back what you are doing.  When you are doing acts of care, compassion, and hospitality for anyone, but especially for “the least of these” you are showing care, compassion, and hospitality to Jesus.

Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a follower of Jesus, a human being bearing the image of one of God’s children. Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a child of God. It is not a calculated action of doing what you should be doing.

Who You Are

The difference is subtle but significant. You are either caring for others because that is who you are, or you are caring for others out of calculated action to do good. Do you see the difference?

Maybe you can think of it this way, are you welcoming because that is who you are as a follower of Jesus or are you welcoming because it is what you are supposed to do to get more people into the church?

That brings us to the third layer of the parable, judgment. In light of becoming who God created you to be and in the light of the reality of your living as one of God’s children, your actions reveal who you are.  Judgment is experienced in the reflection of reality. It simply brings out what is already present.

Caring for People Around You

Notice the criterion of judgment is not a confession of faith in Jesus. Nothing is said of grace, justification, or forgiveness of sins. What counts is whether or not you have acted with loving care for people around you, especially those in great need.  

Your care, compassion, and hospitality are not acts of “extra credit” but are the basis of who you are as a follower of Jesus, a child of God, and a person of loving others as God in Jesus has loved you.

Responding to Jesus

Let’s look at this in another way. In the parable, when people respond, they are responding to Jesus. Yet both groups are surprised. Those who provide food, drink, clothing, shelter, and hospitality respond entirely based on who they are. It is no big deal. It is part of their living in relationship to God and to others. They are surprised to learn that there was a deeper dimension to their acts of human compassion. Without knowing it, they are responding to Jesus.

Those who plan their response to provide food, drink, clothing, shelter, and hospitality have worked intentionally to respond to human needs. They have done good work. But they are surprised to learn that their good work has not brought them the results they were planning to receive. Their acts of care, compassion, and hospitality are calculated. Even though they have worked to respond to human need, they have missed the point of God’s love thus missing the deeper dimensions of what it means to be a child of God. Because of their focus on themselves, they have missed Jesus.

Being Children of God

Both groups respond to human needs. Both respond out of who they are. The difference is, one group responds out of being children of God, living in holiness and righteousness in relationship to others. The other group responds to their need to care for others. Their need grows out of satisfying themselves as opposed to satisfying God. Because it feels good to help others it must be what God wants them to do.

Both groups are surprised. One group is living life as they have been created to live, in relationship with others whether they need help or not. The other group is living a life of self-satisfaction and does not understand that their hard work and care for others is a sign of their disconnectedness with others.

And there is the reflection of reality, the judgment of the parable. So, to be clear, it is not the doing of good things that brings holiness or righteousness to a person. It is the very nature of the person that reflects God’s holiness and righteousness. 

Who You Are is How You Lead

It is a tough parable.  But it reveals who you are and why you lead the way you do. It is a parable of character. That is why I can say that for my fourth-grade Sunday School teacher, hospitality was more than a gesture of welcoming, it was who she was as a person. Her hospitality was an offering of love. She greeted each 10-year-old in her class as if each one of us was Jesus.

Hospitality is rooted in the character of righteousness, God’s righteousness, which is revealed in the way you live in relationship with the people God sends your way every day.

Respond: Engage the Mission

How will you engage in mission today? The ultimate mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is not a creed, biblical knowledge, or adherence to the rules. The mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is seen and revealed in the nature of the person who responds out of love to human need. The practical demonstration of love is the ultimate proof.

So, be hospitable. Be aware of your responses. Do you feel normal and natural or are you calculated and self-seeking? The choice is not between the obviously bad and the obviously good. The choice is rooted in the love you have experienced in and through Jesus.

How Will You Engage in Mission?

How will you engage in mission today? The follower of Jesus does not have to present his or her case or argue his or her cause. Neither does the follower of Jesus request evidence of faith or goodness. He or she simply extends an invitation of hospitality.

So, be hospitable. As you respond to the emotional, physical, spiritual, and professional needs of the people around you, how will you find joy in being who God has created you to be? It does not have to be anything big or unusual, but it does have to be rooted in God’s love. Are you deep enough in God’s love that you can love others as you have been loved?

Your Character Revealed in Light of God’s Love

How will you engage in mission today? Be prepared to experience the reality of your character. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Your character will be revealed in how you respond to the people around you. Be mindful of the moments you are measuring your responses. Be aware of the moments you are responding normally.  

So, be hospitable. Your character will be revealed in the light of God’s love. The reality of who you are will come when you least expect it. It comes when you are unaware and catches you off guard. It is in those moments that you truly reveal yourself. The test will come, not in your remembered actions, but in your unconscious reactions, instinctive, and unplanned responses. 

Remember the words of Jesus, “When you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.” How will you reach out, receive, and welcome Jesus today? 

Prayer

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me welcome others as you have welcomed me. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you invite and welcome people into your life and into the life of your congregation? Did you think of your invitation as an invitation of Jesus? Why? Why not? When did you respond in love for no other reason than to love? When were you confronted and convicted of your behavior? What did you learn about yourself? Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. To whom do you need to respond with words of hope, words of encouragement, or words of forgiveness? What will you do differently tomorrow?

This is Part 1 on Hospitality

Read Part 2 Here

As a follower of Jesus, you have an opportunity for hospitality with every person you encounter. Whether family, friend, colleague, neighbor, stranger, or enemy, you have the opportunity to be God’s loving presence in the way you receive them and interact with them. Hospitality is part of God’s mission, and you were invited into that mission when you were claimed as a “beloved child of God, called and commissioned for ministry at your baptism

Explore more: Preparing for Mission: Being About God’s Business and Preparing for Mission: Hospitality is a Lifestyle

Why Does the Church Exist?

With that in mind, think of the church as a community of Jesus followers who exist primarily for people who are not members. As a follower of Jesus, you are an instrument of God’s love for people who do not know or understand the love of God.  The apostle Paul instructed the church in Rome, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Hospitality is your response to God’s grace, God’s great hospitality offered to you in Jesus.  

Said another way, as a beloved child of God, you love others for the purpose of being who God created you to be. You become an instrument of God’s grace, extending a welcoming heart and hand in the name of Jesus. Hospitality becomes who you are. It becomes the way you live your life. God sends people your way every day. So, reach out and receive them for the glory of God. It is who you are. Love them the way you have been loved by God in and through Jesus.  

The story of the road to Emmaus gives us insight into Luke’s understanding of hospitality. 

Read Luke 24:28-32 

When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” 

Reflect on Luke 24

Luke’s story clearly reveals his understanding of the resurrection faith being an act of hospitality. It is a story of two Jesus followers, walking to Emmaus, having a conversation about the events over the past couple of days. 

In the middle of their conversation, Jesus joins them on their journey. He is received as a stranger. Luke writes, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” This is Luke’s way of saying that being with the earthly Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles and knowing the example of his life are not enough apart from an experience of the risen Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In other words, to recognize God’s act in Jesus is not a matter of our human insight but is a divine gift. 

Understanding the Divine Gift

Jesus, the stranger in their midst, asks, “What are you talking about?” The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place over the last few days?” And Jesus asks, “What things?”

The two Jesus followers began to give a summary of what had happened. Their summary was not wrong but, because of his death, they did not perceive that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the anointed one. They recited the correct events but had a different perception of what had happened. The events did not fit their understanding of Messiah. 

One of them said, “We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.” It is important to understand that Jesus’ followers believed that God was present in what Jesus said and what he did. They believed that God’s kingdom of justice was about to dawn. 

There is Always Hope

Then came the crucifixion and the shattering of their hopes. Their human wisdom said, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The death of Jesus was the death of their hope. Even though they had his message, his example, and his ministry, the crucifixion meant that Jesus was another failed idealist. They had no reason to think differently. 

Their hope was that God would send the Messiah to restore Israel and set Israel free from oppression. These two on the road with Jesus perceived God’s redeeming work in nationalistic terms. For them, it was over. Hope was gone. 

A Clue About Hospitality

While on the road with the two travelers, Jesus is not recognized as the Christ but only as a weary fellow traveler. The two extend an invitation to food and fellowship. As they offer hospitality, Jesus is revealed to them. It is here we get a clue about hospitality. 

Luke tells us, “So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…” Luke 24:29-31. Jesus did not force himself on them, but when invited, the guest became the host. The meal was an ordinary meal, but the words were the familiar words of Holy Communion. The words, “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it…” reflect the language of the liturgy of the Lord’s Table. It was the language of “do this in remembrance of me.” 

Hospitality is Demonstrated

Hospitality was shown in the blessing and breaking of the bread. Blessing in the Greek is the word “eulogy.” To bless was to eulogize God. 

Three times in Luke’s gospel, we get a story of eating with others: feeding of the 5000, last supper in the Upper Room, and with the travelers on the road to Emmaus. In each story, we have the “blessing, breaking, and giving” of bread. Could it be that hospitality is extended in and through Holy Communion?

The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, is central to the life of the Church. In the house at Emmaus Jesus is a stranger, yet a guest. Even though he is the guest he becomes the host. 

It is in the breaking of the bread that the stranger, the outsider, becomes known to them as Jesus himself. 

Hospitality to the Stranger

For Luke, this is the church. To read and understand the scriptures is not solely a matter of human intellect and insight but is a gift in and through Jesus, the risen Christ.

When the Lord’s Supper takes place, there is an invitation to the outsider and hospitality to the stranger. It is in the breaking of bread that the risen Christ is made known to the community.

Even though there were only three at the table that day, the table was large enough for the stranger. 

Respond to Luke 24: Four Ways to Extend Hospitality 

(Read the blog: Extending Hospitality is Offering Hope

Here are four practical ways you can extend hospitality: 

1.      Be Curious and Become a Learner 

 Seek to understand. Jesus was interested in the two walking on the road. He asked questions and listened. His offerings in the conversation were for clarity and direction.   

Seeking to learn or to understand could be as simple as getting to know your neighbors. Learn their names, their needs, talents, and interests. Show an interest in people as a way of building relationships. Soong-Chan Rah writes, “In the household of God, we are called to a humility that places our relationships in a new light.” 

2.      Learn the language of the community.

Although Jesus was the Risen Christ, he took an interest in the two on the road. Even though they did not know who he was, He was able to communicate through their grief and hopelessness. 

Learning the language of the community could mean learning the language of teens and young adults.  It could also mean communicating with a Hispanic population, Congolese, or Vietnamese population. You might consider it could also mean that you are sensitive to different styles of music, and that you learn and participate in different cultural experiences. It means listening to the community and learning to communicate in ways that the people who live in the community understand and appreciate. Attempting to learn the language is a sign of hospitality that brings hope. 

3.      Share a meal together.

Jesus shared a meal with the two. Although Jesus was invited to eat with them, Jesus extended an invitation as a stranger. Jesus was present as a stranger. 

It is around the table, sharing a meal, that you have the opportunity to make room for others, especially the strangers and the outcasts. In the fourth grade, I had a Sunday school teacher who taught us, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” You can always add an extension to the table. 

We extend hospitality when we bring children, teens, and senior adults together. How could you create cross-cultural connections with another congregation or with other groups of people in the community?  What would happen if you offered to provide the food they liked and gave them the opportunity to prepare it for everyone? 

4.      Examine and Evaluate

How are you inviting people to the movement of God’s grace and the mission of God’s love? Within the church building, practice hospitality by offering people opportunities to interact with one another. Even if they know one another, offer opportunities to practice hospitality.  “Welcome one another as God in Jesus has welcomed you.” And remember, your extension of hospitality is always to God’s glory. 

Be aware and sensitive to the practices you take for granted. Make everything you do an extension of hospitality. Do strangers know your routines? Who explains to people why you do what you do? Do the announcements include language that outsiders can understand? Do not assume people know the Lord’s Prayer, how to respond following the reading of scripture, and/or how to pray before worship begins. Just simple acts of hospitality are signs of hope to those being included.

Practice Hospitality

As you are working on the four practical ways to extend hospitality, practice praying, “Lord, send us the people no one else wants” and “Help us receive the people you are sending to us.”  When you do, you will find the above suggestions helpful. 

Remember, we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us.  I am convinced that when you extend hospitality, you can expect your church and community to experience the beauty, complexity, and love that comes with recognizing Jesus in the strangers you meet along the way.

Welcome one another as God in Christ welcomed you. Engaging in mission is extending hospitality. And hospitality is a sign of hope. 

Prayer

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me welcome others as you have welcomed me. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you invite strangers into conversation? How were you curious? What questions did you ask? What did you learn about others as you asked questions and listened? Do you learn new ways to communicate with the people encountered today? How will you incorporate what you have learned? Did God send you anyone? How did you receive them? How did you express God’s love? What will you do differently tomorrow? 

Do you need the cross to follow Jesus?  

This is Holy Week. It is a time to reflect upon God’s action on the cross and to remember and rehearse everything about Jesus, who he was, what he said, and what he did. Holy Week is much more than a Palm Sunday sermon, Maundy Thursday Holy Communion, and special Easter music.  Holy Week is about the cross and the kind of life God calls you to live in Jesus.  

So, do you need the cross to follow Jesus? Maybe the question is, who needs the cross?  

Who Needs the Cross?

You do when your spirituality denies someone’s humanity. In fact, the cross speaks directly to hatred wrapped upon in religiosity.

You do when you want to make law greater than grace. “Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion. Which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)

We all do when we make our faith a mirror of morality, giving more value to one stage of human life than another. We all do when we deny the reality reflected back to us in Jesus regarding who is loved and who is not. God’s love is not based upon our moral values. In fact, it is the cross that gives us moral and ethical ground upon which to stand.   

We all do when we support systems that benefit us while at the same time take benefits away from others. Regardless of political, social, economic, or cultural structures, we all need God’s grace in and through the cross when one life is valued more than another.

It Matters Where You Start

It matters where you start when it comes to following Jesus. The question is, do you need the cross to be a follower of Jesus, a disciple, a Christian?

The apostle Paul would tell us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” It is in and through Jesus the Christ, that God’s grace abounds. So, why do we act so entitled in this world when all we have is grace?

It is Holy Week. It is time to reflect upon such questions. So, as you reflect, it is time to pick up your cross and follow. If God and God’s movement of grace and mission of love are the point and purpose of your living, then all other loves, perspectives, preferences, beliefs, and wisdom are far less by comparison. 

The only gospel that can change our world today is the “word of the cross.” Foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others. But to those who are not allergic to obeying God’s call, it is the hope of our future. 

Do you need the cross to follow Jesus? Read what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. 

Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of the proclamation, to save those who believe. 

22 For Jews ask for signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Reflect

When it comes to following Jesus, it matters where you start. As an example, the apostle Paul starts with the cross. For him, the cross is the core of the good news. The event of the cross is the hinge point that makes a difference not only in all of history, but in everyday living. That is why, in the middle of addressing divisions in the Corinthian church, he stops to talk about the cross.

The Cross and God’s Mission

He understood the cross as part of God’s mission. When he writes, “It is written,” he is drawing a connection between the God revealed in Jesus as the same God revealed to Israel and the prophets. (Read Isaiah 29:14)

From his perspective, the response to the event of the cross divided humanity into two categories. The first was nonbelievers. They were the people who relied on their own potential and achievement. The second was believers. They were the people who responded in faith to God’s grace. Both groups represented an action in process. Non Believers were not necessarily eternally doomed, and believers might have been on the way, but had not arrived.

Paul Addresses Divisions in the Church

So, he is addressing the divisions within the church. Their disagreements were centered on where they started. Each group viewed things in terms of their own human wisdom. Their thinking and living revealed they still missed the point.  And because they were missing the point, their divisions continued to grow.

So, Paul focused on the cross as the way to address the conflict. He said that the world did not know God through wisdom, but through the foolishness of what was preached. It was not the act of preaching but the content of the preaching that was considered foolishness. The word he used is related to the English word “moron.” Crucified savior was a contradiction of terms, an oxymoron.  It was foolish to think that a “crucified savior” would make the difference.

The God Revealed in the Cross

From his perspective, the Christian faith was not the confirmation of their best efforts, and insights. The Christian faith was the replacement of their efforts.  Following Jesus was not based on best practices. In fact, the gospel overturns not only our worst practices, but our best practices as well. The God revealed in the cross of Jesus does not and cannot fit into our ideas of how the world works. The cross is a reversal of all our expectations, not just those that are evil or stupid.

All Humanity is Included

Here is where it matters where you start. When Paul refers to the Jews and the Greeks, he is not using ethnic or national terms. He is referring to all humanity. Jews corresponded to the Jewish way of speaking of “Jews and Gentiles” and the Greeks corresponded to the Greek way of designating the whole of humanity as “Greeks and barbarians.” He refers to the Jews as those who represent the people who believe that God’s act is made obvious and clear by miraculous events. The “Greeks” represent those who assume that God’s way of working is a confirmation of their own intellectual system, or ordinary “common sense.”  Both types presume that God works according to their presuppositions. The truth is the cross turns both sets of beliefs upside down. To claim to believe the Christian faith because it has measured up to our expectation, whether of miracle or intellect, is still to operate with the wisdom of this world, which has been shattered by the unanticipated, unpredicted, incalculable event of the cross. In other words, grace that is not amazing is not grace. It matters where you start.

The Scandal of the Cross

The term “stumbling block” literally means “scandal.” There is a necessary scandal of the cross. When it is watered down or eliminated, the gospel has been domesticated to our expectations, and the Christian faith is only a projection of our “best” insights and ideologies.

Two thousand years of using the cross as a positive religious symbol, as decoration, and as jewelry, has dulled the impact of the scandal. The Romans used crucifixion to make an example of those who disturbed the good life of Roman peace. Crucifixion was a public display of how important they considered “law and order.” It is important to note that Roman citizens were not one crucified. Crucifixion was reserved for revolutionaries, terrorists, slaves, and unpatriotic lowlife.

God’s Movement of Grace & Mission of Love

So, the event of the cross of Jesus, though meant to maintain the law and order of the status quo, was in reality the reversal of our best into God’s movement of grace and mission of love. The very event itself, when understood and incorporated into human living, transforms our human wisdom into God’s love.

Paul’s term “those who are called” refers to followers of Jesus, Christians. Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. What we could not attain or verify by miracles or intellectual systems or common sense, God has freely provided in the surprising event of the crucified Christ.  

Paul uses the people in the Corinthian Church as testimony to his point. The church included both rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile. This was part of the message of the cross, the overturning of all human priorities and expectations.

The Cross is Experienced in Your Living

Let me say it one more time in a different way. For Paul, the church was not a matter of developing human potential but the work of God. The Corinthians wanted to be proud of their church, their preachers, and their apostles. They were so proud that they could not live the love of God. So, Paul reminds them that Jesus is the true wisdom of God. True wisdom is not intellectual systems or common sense retrofitted into the gospel.  Jesus, as the wisdom of God, is God’s act of love on the cross.

So, the cross does make a difference in your life not by how much you know or how great your faith but is experienced in your living. The difference is seen in your righteousness or your right relationship with God and with the people around you. The difference is seen in the way you act on behalf of people who are either down and out or up and out. The difference is seen in your everyday living at work, at home, and the places you play. This is what true wisdom is all about.

There are places in the world today where the Christians all come from the edges of society, intellectually, socially, politically, and culturally. They read Paul’s words and dismiss them as true but foolish. They read Paul’s words but pay little attention. There is a movement today, in our country, to be seen, recognized and accepted by the world. The church lives with this temptation. Do we follow the way of God’s love, or do we seek acceptance in the world?

You might use the social status of members to penetrate the upper levels of society, but you must be careful not to abandon the “people of the land.” You might seek out the healthy, wealthy, and wise, but your call is fulfilled when in loving service to those faceless ones who are powerless. When you start with the cross, God calls you to love all people just as God has loved you.

Let me crass for a moment. Paul never wore a t-shirt or a cap that said, “Make Rome Great Again.” Now let me be truthful, the cross speaks directly against making the best practices of religion an established form of government in its relationship with the world.  I know it sounds foolish and it gets in the way, but the cross of Jesus is our way, truth, and life.

During this Holy Week, consider this: Jesus rises from his knees and says to his followers, “Get up, let us be going.” He then goes before them to the Cross. As a follower of Jesus, it is not your wisdom or your faith that makes the difference. Picking up your cross and following Jesus is what makes the difference. Picking up your cross and following Jesus is who you are as a Christ centered leader.   

So, do you need the cross to follow Jesus? As foolish as it seems, I have put my life on it. 

Respond

Warner Sallman is known for his paintings of Jesus. In one of his paintings Jesus is knocking at a door. There is no handle or knob on the outside of the door. The implication is that the door must be opened from the inside. 

Over my years of ministry, I have heard preachers say, and rightly so, “Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart, or at the door of your life. Because there is no handle on the outside, you must open the door to let him in.”  

I like that, but this Holy Week, I challenge you to think of it in slightly a different way. Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart, or at the door of your life. Because there is no handle on the outside, you must open the door to hear him say, ‘Come out and follow me. I have some friends I want you to meet.’” 

I once used that as an illustration in a sermon. A woman, when greeting me after the sermon, said, “You misunderstood the meaning of the painting. Jesus is knocking on the door to come in.” 

And I replied, “I agree with you. Jesus is knocking on the door to come in. I just know that when he was knocking at the door of my heart, I opened the door and he said, ‘I have some friends I want you to meet. When I come into your life, I am bringing them with me.” 

For Consideration During Holy Week

Holy Week This Holy Week, as you journey toward the cross and reflect upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, consider the following:   

You have work to do to follow Jesus and to be grounded in love. Has the cross made any difference in your living? What would it take for you to pick up your cross and get in line behind Jesus? It might seem foolish, but who will you love unconditionally with the love of Jesus? How will you be a person of healing hope in your family, in your church, in your community, and in the world? How will you work for justice? How will you shine with the light of love until God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love is a reality in everyday situations and circumstances? How will the people around you experience God’s love in and through you? 

It might seem foolish, but how has the cross made a difference? Why not show your community and the world the difference the cross has made by the way you live your life and in the relationships you are developing? Following Jesus is who you are, and who you are is how you lead. 

Pray

O God, make me aware of the people around me today and throughout this Holy Week. By your grace, help me be an extension of your love in the lives of the people you send my way. Help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. What difference did the cross make in how you responded to people? How you loved them? Cared for them? Advocated for them? How did you invite people into God’s movement of grace and mission of love? How did you offer Christ to the people around you?

Think about the people you encountered today. With whom do you need to practice your faith so you will become more who God has created you to be. What will you do differently tomorrow?

One of the characteristics of God’s mission is practicing your faith. Practicing your faith comes in two ways. First, to practice means to perform an activity or exercise a skill repeatedly in order to improve or maintain your proficiency. In other words, you rehearse or practice. 

Second, practice means to put into action or to implement what you have learned and experienced. It is the actual doing or application of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to talking about it. In other words, you apply or practice what you have rehearsed. 

Nurture and Equipped to Live Out Your Faith 

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to nurture people in their faith as well as equip them to live out their faith in everyday situations and circumstances. You have the opportunity to assist them in rehearsing their faith as well as applying their faith in everyday situations with every person they encounter.    

So, as you invite people into the movement of God’s grace and equip them for the mission of God’s love, you provide opportunities for them to practice by learning and growing in their faith. It might be you’re helping people practice their faith through the means of grace, a small group, or a Sunday School class. Whether it be serving meals, caring for those who are homeless, or teaching children to read, assist people by incorporating scripture, prayer, and reflection as ways of practicing their faith. Whether it be a finance meeting, trustee meeting, choir rehearsal, a women’s or men’s meeting, youth fellowship, or nursery school board, offers people opportunities to talk about faith experiences as ways of practicing their faith. 

The point is, as a Christ-centered leader, you nurture and equip people by providing opportunities to rehearse their faith and apply what they have rehearsed.    

People experience God’s love and learn to share God’s love through practice. Jesus gives clear direction in Matthew’s good news. He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

When you are preparing for mission, practice makes perfect.

Let’s explore several examples of practicing faith from the early church in The Acts of the Apostles, Acts 2:42. (It would be helpful to read Christ-Centered Leaders Develop Community and Christ-Centered Leaders Develop Community – Part 2

Read Acts 2:42-47 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  

Reflect

The first followers of Jesus practiced by devoting “themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…” Part of the practice of the first followers was to gather in community. Practicing community was important. 

It is mentioned three times: They devoted themselves to “fellowship” (verse 42), “All who believed were together” (verse 44), and “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple…” (verse 46). Being together was an important characteristic of their faith development. They practiced their faith in relationship with other Jesus followers. 

Practicing Community

Practicing community was seen in the relationships they made and deepened as they gathered to listen and learn of the gospel (apostles’ teaching). They practiced community when they ate together, (breaking of bread). 

They practiced God’s love, agape, by working for the good of others, especially with those who had little to eat. They practiced relationships by praying together and by gathering with glad and generous hearts in gratitude to God. They practiced by seeking direction on how to live their lives as followers of Jesus. 

Studying the Scripture

They practiced by studying the scripture together. “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching…” Wesley called this “searching the scriptures.” 

One of the distinctive marks of Jesus followers was they sought to understand how to live their lives in relationship with one another.  Just as the apostles’ teaching was transformational in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, practicing living the good news of Jesus Christ is transformational both personally and socially.  

Practicing Fellowship

They practiced fellowship together. “They devoted themselves to…fellowship.”  When they gathered, they practiced loving one another. Their time together was formational as they grew together in their personal faith and learned to have compassion and encouragement in their social interactions.  

They practiced accountability. “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple.” Those early Jesus followers spent time together sharing stories, asking questions, learning, and growing together. It was in their conversations (Christian conferencing) they practiced accountability. 

For a more in-depth exploration of accountability can be found in the blog Christ-Centered Leaders Develop Community 

Practice Sharing Your Faith

Their practice inward led to their practice beyond themselves. As they practiced their faith together, they were led to practice their faith outside their group. They discovered new ways to love others the way God Jesus had loved them. They practiced their faith by sharing what they had with others. Whether it was their food, clothing, shelter, money, or other possessions, they practiced generosity by offering themselves to one another in love. 

Their practice helped them become more who God had created them to be. How are you practicing your faith? Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

How will you practice your faith today? Be aware of the people God sends your way today. How will you participate in community? How will you develop relationships with people who are not part of your inner circle? In what new way will you love others the way God in Christ has loved you? 

How will you practice your faith by reading and studying the scripture, by praying, by entering conversations about faith and how to grow in love? 

How will you practice your faith by feeding people who are hungry or finding shelter for those who are homeless? How will you provide care for children or find jobs for those unemployed? 

Practicing your faith helps to turn your inner faith into an outward expression of love and care. How will you practice your faith today? 

Prayer

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

Return

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