Over the past several weeks I have been asking friends and colleagues, “For what are you grateful?”  

One friend thought a moment and said, “I am grateful for the paperweight on my desk.  I have had it for over 30 years.  It is an ordinary rock that has red and yellow paint splattered on it. It is not worth much, but I wouldn’t sell it for any amount of money in the world. My son was 5 years old when he made it for me in a Sunday School class. It is a symbol of his love.  

Another friend said, “I love the homemade greeting card I got from my daughter. On the front of the card, she drew a picture of the earth and wrote the words, “To the World’s Most Sweetest Mom.” Inside the card she wrote, “Happy Birthday,” then scratched through it and wrote, “Happy Mother’s Day.” She signed the card, “Love, Sarah (6 years old)” When she gave me the card, she pointed out her mistake inside and said, “Even though I made a mistake, you are the same Mom.” 

Other friends and colleagues named things like family, friends, work, relationships. One person even said, “I’m grateful for my district superintendent.”

Well, how cool is that?   

The Practice of Gratitude

As I have listened, I have learned three things about you: 

  1. You are people of gratitude.  
  2. You are most grateful for your relationships 
  3. Your gifts are valuable because of the giver of those gifts.  

I think that is genuine gratitude.  Focusing upon the giver of the gift rather than on the gift itself. To paraphrase Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “You can gain the whole world and all the gifts in it, but without gratitude, you will miss the giver and lose your soul.” Celebrating the giver rather than the gift is the point. When you make that breakthrough, you will never be the same. That kind of gratitude will change your life.

So, let’s put our gratitude into action.  I want you to think of someone for whom you are grateful.  Someone who has brought love, joy, and gladness into your life. Someone who, because of their generosity, has changed your life. Get that person’s face in our mind and name on your lips.

Two Sides of Gratitude

Now, let me tell you about Bonnie Shepherd.  She was having surgery two weeks before Christmas. She said it was a terrible time to be in the hospital, but her husband assured her that he could take care of things at home. But she wrote, “Christmas baking, shopping, and decorating would have to wait.”

She said, “I struggled to open my eyes after sleeping for almost two days following surgery. As I became more alert, I looked around to what seemed like a Christmas floral shop.  Red poinsettias and other bouquets crowded the windowsill. A stack of cards waited to be opened. On the stand next to my bed stood a small tree decorated with ornaments my children had made.  The shelf over the sink held a dozen red roses from my parents…and a yule log with candles from our neighbor. I was overwhelmed by all the love and attention.”

That day, she watched a heavy snowfall outside the hospital window.  She began thinking about her four children. Her husband had told her that friends had brought meals and offered to care for the children. She began to imagine them bundled in their snowsuits building a backyard snowman and skating at the outdoor ice rink. Then, she thought of her son, Adam.  He had a physical disability. At age 5 he had just started walking independently. She worried about him on the ice and snow with his thin ankles. She wondered if anyone would take him for a sled ride?

More Flowers

About that time, she heard the nurse’s voice, “More flowers!”  The nurse handed her the card from the beautiful centerpiece and then made room for the bouquet among the poinsettias on the windowsill. She took more cards from her pocket and put them on the tray.  Before leaving the room, she pulled back the pale green privacy curtain between the two beds.

While Bonnie was reading her get-well cards, she heard, “Yep, I like those flowers.” It was the woman in the bed beside her.  She had pushed the curtain aside so she could see better. “Yep, I like those flowers,” she said again.

Bonnie said her roommate was a small 40-something woman with Down’s syndrome.  She had short, curly, gray hair and brown eyes. Her hospital gown hung untied around her neck, and when she moved forward it exposed her bareback.  Bonnie said she wanted to tie it for her but she was still connected to an IV. The woman stared at the flowers with childlike wonder.

Bonnie spoke to her.  “I’m Bonnie. What’s your name?”

“Ginger,” she said, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling and pressing her lips together after she spoke.  “Doc’s gonna fix my foot. I’m going to have suur-jeree tomorrow.”

Bonnie and Ginger talked until dinnertime. Ginger told her about the group home where she lived and how she wanted to get back for her Christmas party.  She never mentioned a family. Every few minutes she reminded Bonnie of her surgery scheduled for the next morning saying, “Doc’s gonna fix my foot.”   

Plans and Visitors

That evening, Bonnie had several visitors, including her son Adam. Ginger talked with everyone who entered the room, telling each of them about Bonnie’s pretty flowers.  She kept an eye on Adam. Later that evening, when everyone had gone, Ginger repeated over and over how much she liked the flowers and then she said, “I like your Adam too.”

The next morning, while Ginger was in surgery, the nurse helped Bonnie take a walk down the hall.  When she returned to her room, she noticed the contrast between the two sides of the room. Ginger’s bed was neatly made, waiting for her return.  But she had no cards, no flowers, and no visitors. Bonnie said her side of the room bloomed with flowers, and the stack of get-well cards reminded her of just how much she was loved.

No one sent Ginger flowers or cards.  Bonnie began to wonder if it was going to be that way for Adam one day.  She quickly decided that she would give Ginger something. Some of her flowers.    

Justified Guilt?

She walked to the window and picked up the red-candled centerpiece with holly sprigs.  She thought, “This would look great on our Christmas dinner table.” So, she set the piece down. What about the poinsettias? Then she thought about how much the deep-red plants would brighten the entry of her turn-of-the-century home.  And of course, she could not give away her Mom and Dad’s roses.

Bonnie said the justifications kept coming: the flowers are beginning to wilt; this friend would be offended; I really could use this when I get home. She said she could not part with anything.  So, she climbed back into bed. She calmed her guilt with a decision to call the hospital gift shop when it opened in the morning. She would order Ginger some flowers of her own.

When Ginger returned from surgery, a candy-striper brought her a small green Christmas wreath with a red bow.  She hung it on the bare white wall above Ginger’s bed. That evening, Bonnie had more visitors. Even though Ginger was recuperating from surgery, she greeted each visitor and proudly showed them her Christmas wreath.

Home In Time for Christmas

The next morning, after breakfast, the nurse returned to tell Ginger that she was going home.  “The van is on its way to pick you up.” Bonnie felt happy for Ginger. She would be home in time for her Christmas party, but Bonnie felt guilty when she remembered that the hospital gift shop would not open for two more hours.  She looked around the room at her flowers one more time.

The nurse brought the wheelchair to Ginger’s bedside.  Ginger gathered up what few things she had and pulled her coat from the hanger in the closet. Bonnie said, “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you, Ginger.”  She said her words were sincere but she was feeling bad for not following through on her good intentions.

The Gift of Gratitude

The nurse helped Ginger with her coat and into the wheelchair.  Then she removed the small wreath from the nail on the wall and handed it to Ginger.  They turned toward the door to leave when Ginger said, “Wait.” Ginger stood up from her wheelchair and hobbled slowly over to Bonnie’s bed.  She reached out her hand and gently laid the small wreath in Bonnie’s lap. “Merry Christmas. You are a nice lady.” Then Ginger hugged Bonnie.

Bonnie whispered, “Thank you.”  She said she could not say anything more as she watched Ginger hobble back to the chair and out the door. She looked at the small wreath in her hands and thought, “Ginger’s only gift.  And she gave it to me.” As she looked toward Ginger’s bed, she saw, again, her side of the room was bare and empty. But as she heard the elevator doors closing, Bonnie said, “I experienced gratitude as I had never experienced it before.  I don’t think I will ever be the same.” 

Your Next Step

Now, let’s go back to the person I asked you to remember. 

  1. Get that person’s face in your mind and name on your lips
  2. Give God thanks. You are who you are today because of that person’s presence and influence. 
  3. How will you express your gratitude? make a phone call? send a text? bake cookies?  What one thing will you do to express your gratitude?
  4. Now, do it!    

By God’s grace, you express your gratitude by loving as you have been loved.  When gratitude overtakes you, you forget to be afraid. You become able to trust and you have time for the greater things in life. Once you experience and express your gratitude, you will never be the same.

 

 

What great work does God have for you to do?  You know the desires of your heart and the stirrings in your soul.  You also know the tensions and anxieties of living into who you know God created you to be and the pressures of the work and world around you.

So, how do you respond or react to the tension?

As you reflect upon that question, let me ask you to be honest with yourself. Read the following statements. Which statement describes you?

  • You live alone. Even though you have a family and you are surrounded with friends and colleagues, you live separated from the benefit of others speaking into your life.
  • You feel more comfortable with isolation than you do with letting people get close to you. Keeping your personal distance protects you.
  • You know what to do with your isolation and you are intentional in developing the relationships that feed your soul.

Which of the three statements best describes your mode of operation?  Be honest. No one knows but you.  Which one?

Lonely Leaders

Lonely leaders are everywhere.  Although you are surrounded by people, you can’t seem to connect in meaningful ways. So, you have entered a self-imposed separation.  It is easier to disconnect from people than it is to risk being vulnerable.

Bruce Thrall, one of the authors of The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, did research around “deception” as a leadership dysfunction.  The title of his project was “Everybody Lies, But Leaders Do It Better.”

He interviewed leaders who had deceived and been publicly caught, from the fields of medicine, journalism, law and law enforcement, the church, etc. The interviews exposed isolation as the primary reason the leaders gave themselves permission to lie.¹ Although these leaders were constantly around people such as family, friends, and colleagues, they were isolated, fearful, and alone.

Isolation robs you from becoming who God has created you to be. So, how do you and I overcome the isolation that threatens to keep us from the authentic community and courageous leadership?

An Example of Leading with Vulnerability

Let’s look at the life of a vulnerable leader.  His name, William Wilberforce. As a popular member of Parliament in Great Britain, Wilberforce liked the power and prestige of his office. Even though his personal life was not of the highest character, his political career looked promising.

Through the encouragement of a college friend, Wilberforce began to take a serious look at his life, which lead him to an encounter with Jesus.  After some personal struggle, he trusted God with his life.  As he considered the implications of his decision, through personal study and reflection, Wilberforce wrestled with the idea of leaving politics and becoming a minister. Here is one place he became vulnerable.  Instead of moving forward with a decision, he first went to several trusted friends, asking for their counsel.

Allies and Friends

He approached William Pitt, the soon-to-be prime minister of Great Britain.  Pitt wanted Wilberforce as a political ally, especially with his improving reputation.  So, he asked Wilberforce to stay in politics. Wilberforce was not convinced.  He knew what he wanted while he listened to his trusted friends. As he continued to wrestle with his conscience, he sought out John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” himself a convert to Christ.  Surely Newton would understand his desire to pursue the ministry.  Instead, Newton encouraged him to use his political position and knowledge as his ministry.

I can imagine that no one knew how much Wilberforce struggled to open his life to his colleagues and friends.  But knowing myself, it could not have been easy. He knew what he wanted, but he chose to become vulnerable, listening to those who knew him and loved him.

What are the Desires of Your Heart?

Let me ask you, how many people have you shared the desires of your heart, asking them to help you make sense of those desires?  How many people have asked you for direction regarding their lives?  How many people do you know who have gone as far as Wilberforce, following the advice of others even while disagreeing with their advice?

Sometimes our resistance to vulnerability comes after a profound experience of God’s love.  Once we come to the point of trusting God, we jump to conclusions about our calling in life, choosing to do things inconsistent with our capacities and character.  I know some people who have been encouraged to leave their careers and enter into a more “spiritual” work when it might have been the opposite of God’s purpose.

Choosing Vulnerability

Choosing vulnerability is tough work. You might not like what people say.  You might even disagree. But recognizing God as you focus upon your purpose, allows you the courage to listen, discern, and enter into dialogue with the people around you.

Here are some things to remember:

  1. Know who you are and whose you are. Whether you agree or disagree with others’ advice, choosing to be vulnerable cannot happen without trusting who God has created you to be.
  2. Find colleagues and friends who can be trusted. As hard as it might seem, becoming who God has created you to be is not a casual practice done in isolation.
  3. Vulnerability does not mean transparency. It is more than disclosing yourself at times and in ways that are convenient for you. Vulnerability is deliberately submitting yourself to the strengths and influences of trusted friends and colleagues at times that might be inconvenient.
  4. Vulnerability means you choose to let others have access to your life, teach you, and influence you. To the degree that you become vulnerable with others is the degree to which you will experience the love of others.
  5. Vulnerability invites trust. The trust others have in you depends upon your level of integrity. Your vulnerability expresses and sustains such integrity.

What Great Work Does God Have for You?

For Wilberforce vulnerability was not a passing fad.   He chose vulnerability over and over again.  After a time of doubt and reflection, he decided to stay in politics. He chose vulnerability when he asked is friends and colleagues to help him choose which issues to focus upon.

Slavery was the issue at the top of the list. He decided to recruit others to assist in his fight against slavery.  He met with groups of people regularly to listen, to develop mutual vulnerability, and support.  Vulnerability became a pattern of his life as he consistently opened his heart to the influence of others.  As a result of choosing to be vulnerable, Wilberforce is remembered as a great reformer whose work led to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.²

So, I’m wondering, what great work does God have for you?  To become who God has created you to be, you need to start with vulnerability.  What one step will you take to get started. Consider the following:

  • What one thing will you do to address your isolation?
  • In what relationship(s) are you willing to become vulnerable?
  • What relationship(s) will you develop that will feed your soul?

Our families, our communities, our jobs, our churches, need vulnerable leaders, leaders who are willing to take the risk of opening their lives to the influence of others. Who knows what God has in store for you as you open yourself to the care, compassion, and influence of trusted friends and colleagues?

Choose vulnerability and become the leader God has created you to be.

 

 

Notes

  1. Thrall, Bruce, The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, page 76.
  2. The story of William Wilberforce was adapted from The Ascent of a Leader

We all want healthy, life-giving, encouraging, relationships in our lives.  Relationships of mutual respect, grounded in compassion and care.  Relationships built on love and integrity which give us the strength to live our lives to the fullest.

Courageous relationships give us support to be the leaders needed at work, at home, in the community, and even in our churches. Yet, too often we find ourselves in relationships carved out of fear where we are tentative in our commitments and based upon co-dependency where we seek to survive.

Read more

When Tim and I set up TransformingMission.org in 2015, we did so to share resources about disciple-making. From 2015 until now, we’ve experimented, pivoted, and developed resources to serve Christian leaders in changing times.

Why?

Because as Bob Dylan said all the way back in 1964, Times They Are A Changin’

We recognize the challenges Christian leaders face. We see the challenges within our own denomination. And most importantly, we want to serve you.

We are committed to developing and equipping Christ-centered leaders for changing times.

And by leader, we borrow Brené Brown’s definition. A leader is:

Anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.

If that’s you, we need your help.

Will you please take a few minutes and complete this simple feedback form?

Looking Back to Look Ahead

  • This is our 264th post.
  • We released Episode 087 of LeaderCast on October 1, 2019
  • I’ve lost track of the number of Bible Studies and reading plans we’ve produced. But, we’re working on two right now. One is on courage and another is on call.

Neither one of us ever envisioned a weekly podcast as a part of what we’d share with you. Nor did we envision regular Bible Studies. That may sound silly given our focus on disciple-making. But, really, we thought there we enough Bible Study resources available.

But, you guessed it…Times they are a changin’.

And we’ve recognized while the number of resources could never be larger (hello, Google), there are few places that help people follow Jesus every day.

You see, the broad concept of disciple-making is central to our lives and leadership. And, as we regularly take time to pause, reflect, and pivot so we can continue to serve you with excellence we recognize the critical pause has helped us:

  • Launch a podcast
  • Identify topics for Bible Reading plans
  • Curate blog posts that encourage and equip you as leaders

Our focus remains on Jesus, and…

Yes, we’ll refer to Bob Dylan once more: Times They Are a Changin’.

So when we recently took a critical pause to reflect on what we’re offering you here, we realized we never asked YOU what would be helpful.

You’ll have to trust us that we listen closely to the conversations we have with leaders like you and to the emerging needs in local congregations. But, we’d really like to hear from YOU.

If you’d like to help us serve you, please complete this simple feedback form before October 9 at noon.

Integration

If we’re going to live into our commitment to develop and equip Christ-centered leaders for changing times, we know that means helping you live an integrated life.

But, for many, following Jesus is simply showing up to a religious service on Sunday morning.

That means we have a long road ahead.

If following Jesus means your thinking, feeling, and actions are an embodiment of Jesus every day, we also know there is work to do. And we want to help you grow and develop as Christ-centered leaders. At the center of leadership is living on the outside what you know on the inside. We believe that is true for you and for every Jesus follower who seeks to lead.

Will you please take a few minutes and complete this simple feedback form?

Thanks, in advance, for your time. We know it’s one of the most valuable resources you have. Thanks for sharing your feedback with us.

In Christ,

Sara Thomas and Tim Bias

PS – We’ll keep the feedback link active until Wednesday, October 9 at noon.

As I write this, seven more persons have died because of a drive-by shooting spree. I just read that a woman drowned because of the negligence of a 911 dispatcher. It is unbelievable. We have had 283 mass shootings in the United States since January 1. It seems that we grow more and more callous to human need with each day.

At the risk of being offensive, “Thoughts and prayers” are not going to do it. But if it is not “thoughts and prayers” what will make the difference? What will bring an end to such evilness? What can and will bring about the changes needed for us, as human beings, to live in peace with one another and the world?

Over the past several years, you have been challenged to recognize God in your midst. You have been asked questions like, “Where have you seen God this past week?” and “Where have you experienced God recently?” I am convinced that when we experience God in our everyday lives our everyday lives change.

Being Known By God

This is what I have learned. As a child, I put on my best behavior on Sunday mornings. I dressed up for God and for the Christians around me. It never occurred to me that the church was a place to be honest. I confess that it has taken most of my life to allow myself to be known by God.

After years of ministry, God spoke through my pride, while I was reading a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 7:22 Jesus says, “…many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.”

Jesus did not say “You never knew me,” or “You never knew the Father.” I had that part down. I had preached sermons, taught Bible studies, led work teams, help build a hospital, and started schools. You get the point.

Do You Need God?

I not only did good things I was a good human being. But God’s grace gripped me when I read the commentary on Jesus words, “I never knew you.”

My goodness, me being good, was not enough. At that moment I realized that what counted was “being known” by God. My relationship with God was based upon full disclosure. Thomas Merton wrote, “We cannot find God unless we know we need God.”

Since that grace experience, I have grown to understand that my wounds, defects, and failures, are the very cracks through which grace can pass. I once read that God holds each of us by a string. When we sin, we cut the string. Then God ties it up again, making a knot, bringing us a little closer to God. Every time our sin cuts the string, God ties another knot. With each knot, God keeps drawing us closer and closer.

Changed by Grace with Transforming MissionThirsty For Grace

Once my life changed, I began to see the church differently. I began to see the church as a community of people thirsty for grace. I began to understand that as I allowed myself to become known by God I was, by God’s grace, more able to share God’s grace. As a person in need of grace, drinking from the fountain of grace, I was more able to offer the water of grace to the people who were thirsty for grace.

So, as an adult, as a “grace-filled” follower of Jesus, I look at the world through the lens of grace. I know it seems simplistic, but I am convinced that God’s grace can and will change the world.

Amazing Grace

Several years ago, Bill Moyers’ hosted a documentary on the hymn “Amazing Grace.” One segment of the film included a scene at Wembley Stadium in London where Moyers interviewed an opera singer by the name of Jessye Norman. Various musical groups, mostly rock bands, had been invited to celebrate the changes in South Africa. Jessye Norman was invited to be the closing act.

The film cuts back and forth between scenes of the unruly crowd in the stadium and Jessye Norman being interviewed. For twelve hours groups like Guns ‘n’ Roses blasted the crowd through banks of speakers. As the crowd yelled for more curtain calls, and the rock groups obliged. Meanwhile, Jessye Norman sat in her dressing room discussing “Amazing Grace” with Moyers.

Grace is a Redemption Song

You and I know the hymn. It was written by John Newton, a coarse, cruel slave trader. He first called out to God in the midst of a storm that nearly threw him overboard. Even though he continued in the slave trade after his conversion, he gradually came to see the light. He wrote the song “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” while waiting in an African harbor for a shipment of slaves. He later became a minister and joined William Wilberforce in the fight against slavery. John Newton never lost sight of the depths from which he had been lifted. He never lost sight of grace. When he wrote “…That saved a wretch like me,” he meant those words with all his heart.

In the film, Jessye Norman tells Bill Moyers that Newton borrowed an old tune from the slaves themselves, redeeming the song, just as he had been redeemed.

In the Company of Thousands

Finally, the time came for her to sing. A single circle of light followed Norman, an African-American woman, as she walked out on stage. She had no backup band, no musical instruments. She walked out as Jessye Norman. The crowd was restless. A few people recognized her and some shouted out for more Guns ‘n’ Roses. Others took up the cry. The scene was getting ugly.

Alone, with only her voice, Jessye Norman began to sing:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now am found

Was blind, but now I see.

Something remarkable happened in Wembley Stadium that night. Seventy thousand raucous fans fall silent as she sang amazing grace.

By the time she sang the second verse, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved…” the soprano had the crowd in her hands.

By the time she reached the third verse, “’Tis grace has brought me safe this far, And grace will lead me home,” several thousand people in the crowd were singing with her. It was as if they were remembering words they had heard long ago.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we first begun.

Sharing Grace

Jessye Norman later confessed she had no idea what power descended on Wembley Stadium that night. She was simply a person of grace sharing grace. When grace descended, the crowd fell silent.

The world thirsts for grace. What could happen if you and I offered grace to the people who are thirsty for grace? Consider for a minute what could happen if you allowed your wounds, defects, and failures to become the cracks through which grace could pass?

What could happen if you, simply a person of grace, shared grace? I believe the world would fall silent. Do you?

If you’ve spent any time with me at all, you likely know one of the questions that I will ask at some point. The question is some variation of, “Where have you experienced God’s presence?” 

The simplicity of the question can stun people to silence.

When I first started asking the question, I thought the silence I received was my failure to communicate. Then I learned the truth.

To answer the question, you have to be paying attention to where God is at work in your life. In nearly a decade of asking questions about God’s presence, one thing has become clear: most of us are beginners on this journey.

Before you reply, “I was raised in the church. I’m not a beginner!” Let me explain. Read more

Have you seen the television ad about the boy who learns sign language so he can share his sandwich with a classmate?  His name is Joey. The ad opens with Joey lying on his bed, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language.

In the next scene Joey is in a swing, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and again, positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language. In the third scene, Joey is signing in a mirror while he is brushing his teeth.  The scene cuts to his father making a sandwich for Joey’s lunch.

Then we see Joey on a bus, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and practicing sign language.  He arrives at school, walks down the hall, looking at his phone, wearing his headphones, practicing his sign language.  In this scene he is so engrossed in learning and practicing sign language, he does not hear his teacher say, “Hey, Joey,” as he walks down the hall.

The Final Scene

The final scene is in the lunchroom.  Joey enters the room with his lunch.  He spots a girl carrying her lunch tray.  As she sits at a table by herself, Joey walks up to her, with his sandwich, and signs out the words, “Hi. My name is Joey. Do you want to share my sandwich?”

And she signs in response, “I’d like that.” Joey sits down with her, offers her half his sandwich, and they eat lunch together.

The caption at that point in the ad is “Good feeds our connections. Good feeds us all.”

 

Connections

Wow!

When I saw that commercial for the first time, I could not believe it was a lunch meat commercial.  I thought it was an ad for a church.

The makers of the ad say,

“…choosing good isn’t always about grand gestures; sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a sandwich or doing the right thing by making better decisions when the path might be confusing and out of reach…choosing to be more imaginative, generous, kind, or loving, there can never be too much good in the world.”

Oh, one more bit of information.  The title of the commercial is “Connections.”

God’s Presence

Now, I don’t want to make more of this than it is, but I want to share with you what this ad has stirred up in me.  I experienced God’s loving presence in and through this story.

I experienced God’s love through Joey offering hospitality to someone who was marginalized by her disability.  Joey exemplified hospitality at its best.

  • Joey decided he wanted to connect with the girl in the lunchroom.
  • He learned what was needed to make the connection. Because she had a hearing disability, he needed to learn sign language so he could talk with her in her language.
  • He focused on making the connection. Joey not only identified what needed to be done (sign language), he took the time to learned and to practice the sign language.
  • Joey made his connection by sharing part of himself to meet her need. He not only learned the sign language but he developed a relationship with the girl by sitting with her, offering part of his sandwich, and making the connection.

…all in a 30-second commercial.

Sharing God’s Love Through Hospitality

Have you considered showing God’s love through offering hospitality? Consider the following:

  • “Welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Roman 15:7). What would happen if you welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed us?
  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God came to be with us in a way we could understand. God relates to us to help us relate to God and to one another. What could happen if we engaged with our community or neighborhood in a way that takes the people seriously?
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). Love is the motivation for the connection. Do you and your congregation love the people in the community so much that you are willing to give yourselves?

The Question of Hospitality Transforming Mission

Consider Hospitality

Will you consider Joey’s pattern in sharing God’s love with your community and neighborhood? Consider the following:

  • Do you and your church want to connect with the community or neighborhood where you are located? Just saying you want to connect does not make the connection.
  • What is needed to make the connection? What do you need to learn about the community or the people with whom you want to connect?
  • We can and should pray. “O God, send us the people no one else wants and help us receive the people you send to us.”
  • We can and should engage people in conversation. Take a walk through the community and ask the people you meet these three questions:

1) “What do you love about our community/neighborhood?”

2) “What are the needs in our community?”

3) “Would you be willing to help us meet any of those needs?”

  • Are you willing to make your connection a priority? Are you willing to learn what you need to learn and to practice what you have learned to make the connection?

It’s time to develop relationships to make connections with others.

 

Hospitality as a Response to God’s Grace

The foundation of hospitality is found in responding to God’s grace in your life.  As individuals, we become hospitable when we receive God’s acceptance from others.  As a community of faith, we become hospitable when we live in an authentic relationship with one another.

So, who in your community would benefit from God’s love?  Are you willing to learn to connect with them? What part of yourself are you willing to give to love as you have been loved?

Your answer reveals your hospitality!

Prayer for Hospitality Transforming Mission

Leonard Sweet, in his book Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, writes, “We know how to save the world.  We just don’t realize that we know what we know.  The way to save the world is not through more rules to live by, but through right relationships to live for.  People are fast losing the art of being with one another.”

I experienced this recently in a church meeting (of all places).  It was a meeting where information was being shared. The people in attendance were giving their opinions and offering their advice.  The group was seeking direction.

Although everyone in attendance had something to say, not everyone in attendance was heard.

One of the people who offered, what I thought was a good direction, was not even acknowledged.  In fact, it was as if this person was not even present in the meeting.

Although there was nothing malicious, my attempts at getting this person recognized were dismissed as the group discussion moved on to other topics.

As I reflect on this experience, I know this is not new for those historically marginalized.  People have been fighting for a place at the table, struggling to be heard, to be taken seriously for too long.

  • Why is it that we recognize some people but not all people?
  • Why is it that we look over some people without even noticing we have done so?
  • And, if we do this with individuals, do we do this with the community and our neighborhoods as well?

 

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Are You More Willing to Talk than Listen?

From my perspective, we live in a time when we are more willing to talk than we are to listen.  As I write these words I am aware that I am talking through this blog.

If you can give me a moment to offer my “bias” opinion, I want to enter into dialogue with you regarding our disconnection with one another and the disconnection between our local churches and our communities.

I want to find out if anyone is listening.

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Five Reasons We Don’t Listen

Is it too harsh to say that we don’t listen because…

1.We are too busy. It is not even about time.

We seem too preoccupied with our own thoughts, needs, technology, worries, and problems. Perhaps we’re too busy talking about ourselves to listen to others.

2. We don’t know how to listen.

Listening is the ability to relate to people with a genuine interest in them and compassion for them. It not easy and it takes practice. It does not come naturally.

3. We think faster than we talk.

Our brains can receive spoken words and still have time for thinking.  Anyone sitting through a sermon on Sunday morning knows that to be true. Too often we go on mental sidetracks and miss what is being said or we are formulating our opinions without taking seriously what is said.

4. We don’t hear what we want to hear.

When someone hits upon one of our issues or prejudices, we stop listening and begin rehearsing our objections, without listening to what is being said.

5. We don’t particularly care for the person speaking.

In this situation, we form our opinions and dismiss someone without giving them the opportunity to be heard. I think that is what happened at the meeting I attended.

Too_____.

I’ve grown to understand that when we don’t listen, we fail God.  I think it is important to remember that God has given us two ears and one mouth.  Could it be we have opportunities to listen more than we do to speak?  God has given us the capacity to listen, but we misuse that capacity when we are too busy, too distracted, too preoccupied, too privileged to hear what the other person is saying.

When we don’t listen, we shut ourselves off from one another.  We give up the opportunity to learn from one another, to understand one another, and to love one another. We give up the opportunity to develop the relationships that help us become who God created us to be.

I think Sweet is on to something when he writes, “The way to save the world is…through right relationships to live for.”

Is Anybody Listening? Transforming Mission

Five Characteristics of a Good Listener

I offer the following to assist us in developing the relationships that make a difference? I believe listening will help us connect with one another and connect our local churches with our communities.

What does it mean to be a good listener?  A good listener is a person of:

1. Compassion:

The word compassion literally means “to suffer with” or “to empathize.” To listen with compassion means to relate to persons as individuals and not as “types” of persons who we have classified and labeled. To listen with compassion means to relate to the community with an open heart and mind, not telling the community what it needs, but listening to what the community says it needs.

2. Concentration

This means focusing attention, eyes as well as ears on the person, concentrating on what is being said and not on what we want to say next. This means focusing on the community, learning the assets as well as the needs, in such a way that the church interacts within the community and not interjects into the community.

3. Control

This involves patience and self-control. We learn when to speak and when not to speak. As individuals, we do not need to have an answer to every question.  As the church, we do not need to be experts on all the issues.  We don’t need to feel threatened when church and culture collide. But we do need compassion to be with the community in uncertain times.

4. Comprehension

The responsibility of the listener is not to agree or to get others to agree with him or her. As the listener, it is your responsibility to seek to understand “what is going on” and “what is being said.” The same can be said for the church.  The responsibility of the church is to understand the dynamics of the community and to engage in the life of the community, connecting assets with needs and developing relationships of trust and care.

5. Commitment

Good listening is built on love and care. As Christians, you and I do what love demands. If we are genuinely concerned for others, then we make ourselves available.  As the church, if we genuinely care about the community, then we make a commitment to listen, to interact, and to respond with the appropriate action.

Let me ask you again, is anybody listening? Let’s see if we can listen to a conversation between a pastor and church leader and discover our response.

Is Anybody Listening?

Is Anybody Listening?

There once was a church who developed a community meal for the neighborhood.  The people of the church, most of whom lived in other communities, wanted to help feed the people who seemed to be hungry and who lived close to the church building.

Over time, the guests who came on Thursday evenings to the community meal started to attend Sunday morning worship.  The people in the church began to feel a little uncomfortable.  They had moved out of the community because it had changed.  The one thing that had not changed was their church.

Eventually, one of the leaders took the pastor aside and asked him, “Do these people have to here with us.  Can’t we provide a special service just for them?  You know, on Thursday evening when they are here to eat?”

The pastor answered, “Well, I think everyone should have a chance to meet Jesus face to face.”

The leader replied, “Of course everyone should have a chance to meet Jesus.  I think they should have the same opportunities to meet Jesus as we all do.”

The pastor responded, “I’m not talking about them! I’m talking about you.”

We know how to save the world.  We just don’t realize that we know what we know.

Is anybody listening?

 

Your Next Step

Pick one action below to act on in the next three days.

  1. Explore the LeaderCast Podcast Episodes and listen to one episode in the next three days. Here’s your opportunity to practice what you’ve just read!
  2. Download the Workbook for 7 Missional Questions and listen to one of the accompanying LeaderCast episodes below.
  3. Sign-up to learn the skills to lead with courage – and yes, that includes the skill of listening!

Transforming Mission exists to help you transform your relationship with Christ, with your congregation and with your local community. If you can’t find a resource on this site to address your needs, please contact us. We’re here to help!

 

 

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

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

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

How Can I Keep Quiet?

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

(Spoiler Alert: Yes.)

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

Pain Intensified

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

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

Whose Children Are They? Transforming MissionUsing Children for Political Expediency

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

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

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

Digging in a Dry River Bed for Water

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

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

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

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

How Can We Be Quiet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Invitation from Bishop Palmer

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

I am asking you to join me in these actions:

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

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

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

Additional Resource

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

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

I have always heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Is that the same for the church? Are we, as the church, beyond learning new ways of relating to our communities? Are we too old to share God’s love with one another and with the people around us?

I remember a story told by Fred Craddock.  He said he had never been to the greyhound races, but he had seen them on television. He said:

Running, Running, and Running…

They have these beautiful, big old dogs. I say beautiful, but they are ugly old dogs.  These dogs chase that mechanical rabbit around the ring. They run and run, exhausting themselves chasing that rabbit. When those dogs get to where they can’t race, the owners put a little ad in the paper, and if anybody wants one for a pet, they can have it. Otherwise, they are destroyed.

I have a niece in Arizona who can’t stand that ad.  She goes and gets one every time. Big old dogs in the house. She loves them.

I was in a home not long ago where they had adopted a dog that had been a racer.  It was a big old greyhound, spotted hound, laying there in the den.  One of the children in the family, just a toddler, was pulling on its tail, and a little older child had his head over on that dog’s stomach, using it as a pillow. That old dog just seemed so happy. I watched the children and the dog for a few minutes.

Then I said to the dog, “Are you still racing?”

He said, “No, I don’t race anymore.”

I said, “Do you miss the glitter and excitement of the track?”

He said, “No.”

“Well, what’s the matter? Did you get too old?”

“No, no, I still have some race in me.”

“Well, did you win anything?”

He said, “I won over a million dollars for my owner.”

“Then what was it? Did they treat you badly?”

“Oh, no, they treated us royally when we were racing.”

I said, “Then what was it? Did you get hurt?”

He said, “No, no.”

Then what?

He said, “I quit.”

“You quit?”

He said, “Yeah, I quit.”

“Why did you quit?”

And he said, “I discovered that what I was chasing was not really a rabbit.  And I quit.” Craddock said the dog looked at him and said, “All that running, running, running, running, and what I was chasing wasn’t even real.”

Craddock finished by saying, “If you believe in God, you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Is it the same for the church? If we trust God, can we learn new ways of loving our neighbors?

Chasing What is Real Transforming MissionChase What is Real

Our culture is going through some massive changes.  These changes are shaping our values regarding how we define family, live our faith, gain knowledge, and understand science. The changes we are experiencing are complex and coming at lightning speed. As a result, the church is being left behind as a quaint spiritual artifact and dusty theological antique.

In such an open arena of competing values and counter-Christian views, what do we need to learn to step into the future? How will we make an impact in our communities and the world?

Let’s stop chasing what is not real and begin to chase what is real.

So, what is real?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission1. Relationships

Develop faithful, trusting relationships with Christ, within the congregation, and in your local community.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about adding more activities to keep people busy. We’re busy enough!

When I started in ministry 45 years ago, the focus was upon the “7 Day a Week Church.” The idea was to have some form of activity in the church building every day.  There was to be no “white space” on the church calendar.  This activity form of ministry was based on getting people into our church buildings. Although it created lots of opportunities, we did not develop what was real.  Our focus was on activity and getting people inside a building.  We did not focus on developing relationships with people.

All the activity has worn us out.

We have three types of relationships that need to be nurtured: our relationship with Christ, relationships within the congregation, and relationships in the community. If one of those relationships is missing, the other relationships suffer.

Our relationship with Christ and with one another in the congregation can always deepen. Often, we fail to see the community right outside our doors. The people who live in our communities who do not have a relationship with Jesus or a church continues to grow.

Go outside the church building and into the community. Get to know the people who live in your city, neighborhood or town. Listen to their stories, their dreams, and their needs. One of the greatest gifts you can offer to others is your time. As you take the time to nurture relationships, you’ll also have the opportunity to embody the love of Christ to others.

What would happen if we were less mesmerized by numbers and more involved in developing relationships Christ, the congregation and your local community?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission2. Holiness

Be intentional in strengthening your inner life and bringing together your personal faith and your missional participation in the community. John Wesley called it personal piety and social holiness.

You are a child of God, free to serve in God’s love.  As God’s love takes root in your life, serve the community, neighborhood, or city in God’s love.

Be the person God created you to be. As a responsible representative of God’s love, you are free to take initiative to test your thoughts, to honor your intuition, to see what requires doing, and to accomplish it. At the same time, you are free to trust God and the people around you. You can be faithful in your living because you believe God is faithful to you.  When you face anxious times, your inner life allows you to test your wisdom, your patience, and your hope.  You draw courage, trusting God’s grace and the relationships you have developed with God’s people.

Knowing and trusting your relationship with God through Jesus, you are free to model God’s love.  You know that God is with you.  Others will come to trust God’s love because they see and experience God’s love in and through you.

What would happen if we were less concerned about looking good and more concerned about being centered upon the well-being of others, loving as we have been loved?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission3. Integrity

Be the person God created you to be both in what you say and what you do. Model integrity by living the life that produces the behaviors of love. When you are in Christ and are moved by the Spirit, the unexpected acts of Christian love will come in response to God’s grace.

What would happen if we were less focused upon being successful and more focused upon developing lives of love from the inside out and living lives of love, both inside and outside the church building?

I think we could teach an old church new ways of living and loving.

Let’s chase what is real!