From the time you enter this world on the day you are born, you are growing in one form or another. From infancy through toddlerhood and eventually, to adolescence, you hear announcements like, “You are growing so fast” or “You have grown so much I didn’t recognize you.” From weight and height numbers recorded in “baby’s first book” to measurement marks on the door facing, you have evidence that you are growing. 

Then from adolescence into your young adult years, you experience moments, even years, of maturing. Whether physically, emotionally, or mentally, you can look back and see how much you have matured in stature, in knowledge, and in self-reliance. Through the moments of embarrassment, you want to forget, to the experiences of self-confidence you want to capture, you have evidence that you are maturing.

Interwoven into the fabric of your living, are experiences of being at one with God and creation. At times you recognize those experiences as growing spiritually, other times you articulate them as growing in faith, and still, at other times you are at peace with God and the people around you. These experiences are evidence that you are becoming who you have been created to be.

The Human Experience

Growing and maturing is part of your human experience. Yet when it comes to becoming more who God created you to be, sometimes you live as if you have arrived at a special place where your life and the world around you does not and should not change.

 You anchor your identity in special issues or beliefs and when those issues or beliefs are challenged there is no room for growth. Even to love the people who are challenging your life forming beliefs or tightly held positions is beyond open conversation and the possibility of transformation. Personal growth and emotional maturity are set aside as you draw a line in the sand, plant your stake in the ground, and refuse to interact with the people who hold different beliefs and opinions. 

Becoming Like Christ

For me, most of my growing and maturing has come with pain and discomfort because I had to change to live into the likeness of Christ. As one example, when I first became a Jesus follower, it was all about me being a good Christian. It was about me being saved, doing the right things, and believing the right beliefs.

As I have encountered Jesus in and through the people I have met over the years, I am grown to understand that being a Jesus follower means I am either a Christian or I am not a Christian. It is about my relationship with others, developing a sensitivity to people, and sharing life’s joys and hurts with people.

I have grown to understand I can only be who God created me to be when I am in a relationship with the people around me and that I can only know the joy of Jesus when I know the sorrow of Jesus.

Are You Growing?

That leads me to this question: how do you know you are growing in Christ? As a Jesus follower, what evidence is there that you have your eyes on Jesus and that you are maturing into a who God created you to be?

When I stop and reflect on these questions, Paul’s letter to the Philippians comes to mind. What I remember is this:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11

The characteristics of Jesus’ life were humility, obedience, and self-giving. He did not desire to dominate but to serve. Jesus did not desire his own way but God’s way. He did not desire to exalt himself but to give himself for the glory of God and the goodness of the people around him.

Love So Amazing

So, to grow into the likeness of Christ means that you will exhibit humility, obedience, and self-giving in your ordinary daily living. Here are some things to remember.

  1. Jesus won your heart not by blasting you with power, but by showing you a love which moved your heart. My guess is, you did not say, “I cannot resist such power,” but you did say, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” I bet you did not say, “I have been beaten to surrender.” But you did say, “I am lost in wonder, love, and praise.” It is not the might of Christ which reduces you to a defeated surrender; it is the amazing love of Christ before whom you kneel in transforming wonder. 

2. Growing and maturing is part of your human experience. So, imagine yourself growing into the likeness of Christ. The one aim of Jesus was to serve others, no matter what the cost of self-giving love. Jesus focused his eyes upon glorifying God. So, as a follower of Jesus, imagine yourself, not thinking of yourself but of others, not of your own glory but of the glory of God.

Can you see yourself with the same mind that was in Christ Jesus? 

Make Me Like Jesus

Let me tell you about Joe. Joe was known as a hopeless, dirty, drunk for whom there was little hope. Sleeping in the back alleys of the inner city, he was alone, known only as an alcoholic and a drug user. 

One night, trying to keep dry at the Salvation Army shelter during a heavy rainstorm, Joe met Jesus. Everything changed for him that night. He became the most caring person that anyone at the shelter had ever known. He spent his days and nights doing whatever needed to be done. Whether it was cleaning up the remnants left by a sick alcoholic or scrubbing the toilets in the men’s room, or offering words of encouragement to a person in detox, there was never a task that was too low or a person he considered beneath him. 

Joe greeted everyone with a soft smile. He was grateful for the chance to help. Joe could be counted on to feed the hurting and broken men who wandered in off the streets. He was known to tuck them into bed when they were too out of it to take care of themselves. 

Is Jesus Like Joe?

One evening, the shelter chaplain was delivering his nightly sermon to the usual crowd. Most people present were simply waiting for the sermon to be over so that they could eat the evening meal. 

At the end of the sermon, an invitation was given. One man came down the aisle to the altar. He knelt there and began crying for God to help him change. He cried out, “Oh God! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Please, O God, make me like Joe.” 

The chaplain knelt beside him to assist him. He leaned over and said to him, “You know, I think it would be better if you prayed, “Make me like Jesus!” 

The man looked up at the chaplain and said, “Why? Is Jesus like Joe?” 

Who Does Jesus Look Like?

Does Jesus look like Joe? Or does Jesus look like Tim? Does Jesus look like Sara or Amy, Dennis or Greg, Karen or Bill, or does Jesus look like you? For people who don’t know Jesus or know about him, they will be looking at you. “Who does Jesus look like?” If they are going to know Jesus or anything about him, it will be through someone they already know, someone they recognize, someone who is familiar, someone who bears the likeness of Jesus, someone like you. 

Can you see yourself growing into the likeness of Christ for the sake of the people around you? 

Your Turn

Over the next week, respond to these questions with your actions.

1. How will your actions show Jesus?

Where will you show mercy? In our day, mercy seems to be rare. When people sense it, it always seems to be extraordinary. Whenever you show mercy, you show Jesus. To grow into the likeness of Jesus is to engage in acts of mercy. Where will you show mercy this week?

2. How will your words show Jesus?

What message will you share? Dorothy Day said, “If I have achieved anything in my life, it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God.” Take a minute to write down five things you want to say out loud about Jesus. Now, have a conversation with your spouse, your children, your parents, your best friend. Tell each of them about who Jesus is in your life. Ask each of them to help you grow into the likeness of Jesus so that when you speak, your words show Jesus. What message will you share this week?

3. How will your relationships show Jesus?

With whom will you express God’s love? The love you experience in and through Jesus keeps you in a relationship with the people around you. This Christlike love knows no bitterness and always seeks the good of others. It may reside in your heart, but it does not originate in your heart. God’s love is given to you so you have the Christlike ability to love the unlovely and the unlovable. The love of God is given to you because you will need it to love those who do not love you. It is the very essence of the life of a Jesus follower. It is what makes a lasting impact on the lives of people God loves through you. With whom will you express God’s love this week? 

What one step will you take to grow into the likeness of Christ? As a Jesus follower, you have this strange and wonderful authority from God to be Christ for others, to be the very presence and love of God. You will not always see it. But, God’s grace is shown and known in your acts of mercy, in your words of kindness, and in your friendships. God’s love, when fully realized, leaves a lasting impact on who you are and what you do. 

What evidence in your life shows you are growing into the likeness of Christ? If you are not growing in pointing people to Jesus, then what is the point of your life? 

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.

Well, I have done it again. I was reflecting on the gospel lection for Sunday and I jumped ahead in the chapter. The gospel for Sunday was Luke 15:1-10. The shepherd finds the lost sheep, and comes home shouting, “Rejoice with me, my lost sheep has been found.” The woman cries to her neighbors, “Come rejoice with me, the lost coin has been found.” These are great stories.

There is enough of God’s grace for me, you, and everyone we know. Besides, the remainder of the chapter, verses 11-32, the story of the Prodigal Son, was dealt with in Lent.

But, no. I jumped to the story that was not the focus of the week. And I know why. Read more

As part of my discipline, I read and reflect upon the weekly lectionary texts.  This past week, I noticed something that surprised me.  The lectionary skipped Luke 13:1-5. It reads as follows:

Some who were present on that occasion told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifice.  He (Jesus) replied, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.  What about those twelve people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”

I was surprised because I think that scripture speaks directly to what is happening in the United Methodist Church as well as what is happening in our country.

Change Your Hearts and Lives

As I reflect upon the continual mass shootings, the blatant racism, the hurtful rhetoric, the tension within The United Methodist Church, I hear Jesus saying, “I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”

I don’t know about you, but I find that to be a hard saying. I want Jesus to say something more comforting or at least more directly related to the issues.

  • When innocent people are killed while at school, shopping, attending concerts, and on the streets.
  • When racism is becoming more publicly acceptable (as if racism is something new).
  • When we fight among ourselves over who is right and just.
  • When our leaders who have been given the responsibility of moral righteousness are the ones spewing hurtful rhetoric and setting immoral agendas.
  • When the world’s climate changes as the rainforests are destroyed and the polar ice caps melt all for economic purposes…

I want my faith to protect me.  I want justice for those who are being wronged.  I want Jesus to say something more than, “…unless you change your hearts and lives…”

Try a Different Question

Yet, my United Methodist Church is caught in the same dilemma.  There are times I feel helpless.  So, I as I reflected upon the lectionary texts, I also looked at Luke 13:1-5.

This is what I hear Jesus saying. “You are not asking the right questions.  You are shocked at the wrong points.  You have located your pain, dismay, and astonishment at a different place from where I am looking.”

One of my favorite hymns is “Amazing Grace.”  At the center of our Wesleyan theology and as amazing we may say it is, I wonder if we really are amazed by grace.  I think we express more amazement over our evil acts than at God’s mercy.  We have come to the place in our religious thinking where we assume that God will be merciful; God will be kind; God will be gracious.  We’re not surprised when we experience God’s kindness.  What shocks us is seeing something bad take place.

By God’s Grace

That is why I say I hear Jesus saying, “You are asking the wrong questions.  You are asking why these events take place.  You should be asking, “By God’s grace how do I respond?” I think, you and I have become so calloused, that our hearts have become so hard, that we are no longer surprised by God’s grace but we are paralyzed to inaction because we assume God’s grace.

One of my favorite illustrations of God’s grace and the dilemma we face today in The United Methodist Church comes from R. C. Sproul.  He tells the story of one of his first teaching assignments as a college professor. He was teaching a required course for 250 college freshmen: Introduction to the Old Testament.

He said, “I was uncomfortable trying to communicate with so many students at one time. I printed in advance the requirements for the course, because I’d already learned that college students were all budding Philadelphia lawyers, and I had to dot my I’s and cross my t’s to make sure that the assignments were clearly set forth.  So, I gave them a published syllabus and told them what the requirements would be for the class.”

The assignments for the semester were three very small papers, book report type things. The first one was due at noon on September 30, the second one October 30, and the third on November 30.  He told the class he wanted the completed papers on his desk at 12:00 noon on the appointed dates unless they were physically confined to the hospital or infirmary, or there was a death in the immediate family. If the papers where not in on time they would get an F for that assignment.

Begging for Grace

Everyone said they understand the assignment.

When September 30 came around, 225 of students brought their papers in and presented them dutifully at the proper time.  Twenty-five of students in the class failed to complete the assignment. They were scared to death.  Being freshmen, they were just making the transition from high school, and they were in a posture of abject humility.

They came to the Professor and said, “Professor Sproul, please don’t give us a F for this grade!  Please give us a little more time.  Give us one more chance.  We’re so sorry.”  They begged the Professor for grace.

The professor granted them an extension and said, “But don’t let it happen again.  Remember the next assignment is due October 30, and I want the papers in on time.”

They said, “Absolutely.  They’ll be here.”

Second Chances – Again

When October 30 came around, two hundred of the students came and put their term papers on the professor’s desk.  Fifty of them assembled outside the professor’s office. They had not planned their time properly and were not prepared.  So once again they pleaded, “Professor, we didn’t budget our time properly. It’s midterm. We had so many assignments all coming at the same time. It’s homecoming. Please just give us one more chance.”

The professor, a softhearted guy, said, “Okay, I’ll give you one more chance, but don’t let it happen again.”  The students began to sing spontaneously, “We love you, Professor Sproul.  Oh yes, we do.”

That’s Not Fair

Sproul said he was the most popular professor in the school for thirty days. Because thirty days later the third paper was due.  This time 150 students came into the classroom with their papers prepared, while the other 100 came in as casual, as cavalier, as you can imagine. They didn’t have their papers, but they weren’t worried in the slightest.

The professor asked, “Hey, where are your term papers?”

They said, “Prof, don’t worry about it. We’ll have them for you in a couple of days. No sweat!”

Sproul said, at that moment, he took out his grade book and his pen and began to ask each student about his or her term paper.  “Johnson, where is your term paper?”

Johnson replied, “I don’t have it, Professor.” Sproul said he wrote an F in the book.

“Greenwood, where is your paper?”

“I don’t have it, Sir.” So, Sproul put F in the book.

Suddenly several voices cried out, “That’s not fair!”

The professor asked, “What’s not fair? Johnson, did I just hear you say that’s not fair?”

Johnson, who was furious, said, “Yes, that’s not fair.”

Professor Sproul said, “Okay, I don’t ever want to be thought of as being unfair or unjust.  So, it is justice that you want?”

Johnson, “Yes”

“Okay, If I recall, you were late the last time, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

Okay, I’ll go back and change that grade to an F.”

Assuming Grace

The first time the students pleaded for mercy. And the professor said, “sure.”  The second time, they pleaded for understanding.  By the third time, not only did they begin to assume mercy, but they began to demand it. They assumed grace.

That is what we do with God. The history of our personal relationship with God is a history of grace.  You and I could not live on this planet for five minutes without God’s grace. But because God is so gracious, we take it for granted.

When the world starts falling apart, when mass shootings, blatant racism, hurtful rhetoric, and all we know is coming apart at the seams, we are astonished.

We have grown accustomed to God’s grace.

The question is, “Why has God been so God to me, to us?  And what are we going to do about it?” God’s grace is sufficient.

Some of you are stepping into new appointments in a few weeks. You will transition from one congregation to another, learn the names and lives of another group of Jesus followers, and develop life-long relationships which will bring meaning to your lives.

Others of you will return to faith communities where you are investing your lives in developing relationships, learning the needs and assets of the congregation, and engaging the congregation with the community.

Whether stepping into a new appointment or returning to a congregation, I want to remind you of three basic practices for leaders.

Three Essential Practices Transforming MissionPractice 1: Prayer

The first practice is Prayer. As a pastor, I learned early that most people wanted something from me or wanted me to do something for them. Early in my ministry, I liked the idea of being needed and wanted. The demand-filled day was welcomed. It was nice to be needed. After a while I realized that all requests for my time and energy were urgent. Even the trivial actions were dressed in words of importance.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but the edge of the flattery began to wear off when I realized no one demanded that I practice a life of prayer. Even though I thought prayer was at the heart of my ministry, I was not praying. Oh, I prayed in worship and in public events, but I was not personally listening to God or guiding others into listening to God.

It was only when I began to intentionally focus upon prayer and to develop a life of prayer that I began to focus upon God’s desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of prayer. Please don’t let the urgent keep you from focusing on and listening to God.

Practice 2: Reading, Reflecting, and Responding to the Scriptures

The second practice is the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures. Again, early in my ministry, I found myself reading, teaching, and preaching the Scriptures more for information than for formation. Although reading and reflecting upon the Scripture was basic to my work, I began to realize that using the Scripture was not the same as listening to God.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but I began to recognize that I was out of relationship with God and with God’s people. I began to understand that a major part of my work was to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. So, I began to study Scripture more for formation. I began to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. I began to ask God to help improve the acoustics so I could reflect and respond more clearly.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures that I discovered more of God’s design and desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of Bible study. Develop a pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding to Scripture. Improve the acoustics so you can hear God more often and more clearly.

Practice 3: Self-Awareness and Self-Leadership

The third practice is to be who God created you to be. Over the years of my ministry, I have wasted too much time and energy focused upon pleasing people. There have been times when I have lost myself in wanting people to like me. My insecurity showed up when I worked harder for compliments than I did at caring and compassion.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but trying to be all things to all people got old in a hurry. I learned that for me to be my best was to be who God created me to be. So, I surrounded myself with people who loved me as I was but who would not let me stay the way I was.

Through the development of mature and intimate relationships, I learned and experienced God’s love in life-transforming ways. I was encouraged to be who God created me to be which set me free to lead courageously with hope.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon developing caring relationships that I truly began to trust God and the people around me. It was when I began to be who God created me to be that I began to live the life God desired for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of getting to know yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you and who will clear a space for you to be who God created you to be. It will be in living out God’s design for your life that you will make the greatest impact upon family, friends, and congregation.

You and I have the opportunity to shape the course of our lives. As you enter this next season of your work, develop a life of prayer; and, read, reflect, and respond to the Scriptures. Let’s grow together in becoming the leaders God has created us to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership Checkup Transforming Mission

Trust

What am I Trusting?

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

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

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

Gratitude

For whom or what am I grateful?

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

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

Inspiration

 

What is inspiring me?

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

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

Faith

How am I practicing faith?

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

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

It’s time for A Check-up

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

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

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

What transformation will you experience this Easter?

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Transformation quote Transforming MissionLove as Jesus Loved  

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

Without hesitation, Gandhi responded with clarity and directness.

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

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

Are you “All In”? 

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

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

“All In” Actions

Consider the following actions:

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

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

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

Read Mark’s story,

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

Are You Listening?

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

Will you?  

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

Tom Wiles, while university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, purchased a new pickup truck.  While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door.  The scratches looked like deep white scars on the new truck exterior. 

A friend happened to notice the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?” 

Disciple-making involves building relationships. Growing in love with Jesus is at the heart of discipleship. But, we have a challenge in western culture. #jesus #disciple #discipleship #faith transforming mission

Tom replied with a downcast voice, “My neighbor’s basketball post fell and left those dents. I asked him about it. He doesn’t feel responsible for the damage.” 

“You’re kidding! How awful! This truck is so new I can smell it.” His friend continued, “Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?” 

Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me.  After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right, or I can be in a relationship with my neighbor.  Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than the truck, I decided to focus on our relationship.  Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.”¹

In Relationship or In the Right?

Wow!  How many times have we sacrificed being “in relationship” for the personal satisfaction of being “in the right?” How many times have we won the argument, but lost a friend or damaged a heart?  

Did Jesus come to teach us “right” theology? Or did he come to redeem our relationships with God and with one another? Jesus’ own prayer in John 17 revolves around the stewardship of his relationships.  He saved the world by teaching twelve individuals how to get along and to belong to one another.  In other words, Jesus saved the world by teaching them how to be in a relationship with one another. 

This should not surprise any of us who call ourselves Christian. Relationships are central to Christian theology because God is love. Love is impossible outside of relationships. Relationships are central to God’s kingdom, the new creation.  From my perspective, we have no choice but to live with, listen to, and learn from one another. 

We have a disciple-making challenge in western, American culture. At the root of the challenge is relationships. #faith #jesus #disciple #discipleship #transformingmission

Courageous Leadership

In our work of developing leaders, we have learned that improving relationships and sharing the stories of those relationships are indicators of courageous leadership. We are learning:  

  1. Nothing takes the place of being a Jesus follower.  Being in a relationship with God and with one another, in and through Jesus, is central to our witness and to our leadership. Relationships are key to Jesus followers and are taken seriously by courageous leaders.  
  2. The Word of God, the scripture, bears fruit, not when it is comprehended, but then it is lived. The fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) found in Galatians 5:22-23 is proven in and through relationships. Knowing about Jesus; his life, teaching, and message, is part of being a student of Jesus. But following Jesus, becoming like him, growing in grace and sharing that grace, requires not only thought but a transformation of heart, soul, mind and strength.  No one has ever become more like Jesus by saying, “If I just think hard enough about Jesus, I’ll become more like Jesus.” When relationships are healthy, our lives, our work environment, and our congregations become healthier.   
  3. Developing healthy relationships is hard work. Because it is hard work, it is hard to identify quantifiable behaviors (relational ministry), so we end up focusing on what we can count (membership, attendance, finances, etc.). When relationships are healthy, there are stories to back up the relationships. Relationships, not numbers, show if growth is biblical, healthy, and truly fruitful.  

Evidence of Spiritual Fruit 

So, maybe it is time to declare a moratorium on statistics in the church. What if the one thing we reported on was the answer to this question: “What is the evidence that spiritual fruit being produced in my church?  Give us the stories, not more statistics.    

When we are focused more on being right than upon relationships, our disciple-making conversations are reduced to what we do not have in the church.  It is at that point we begin to protect what we have and yearn for the “good ole days” when we had children, youth, young families, people involved in church activities, and money for ministry. 

It’s Not a Scarcity Problem

It is difficult when the focus is on shrinking resources and lack of people who want to engage in the mission. But the disciple-making challenge is not a scarcity problem.  More money and more people will not fix it.  If we go back to the “good ole days” and project forward, we don’t have a scarcity problem, we have a disciple-making problem.   

Read more or listen to Episode 051 of LeaderCast: We Have a Disciple-Making Problem

The disciple-making challenge is not focused upon getting more people into the church building, although we all would welcome more people. The disciple-making challenge is focused on leading and assisting people in becoming Jesus followers. And that begins with relationships.

It’s a Relationship Problem

We don’t have a scarcity problem, we have a relationship problem. We are convinced that when God’s love is lived out in our relationships: reaching out and receiving new people in God’s love, offering God’s love in Jesus, practicing God’s love in relationships, and engaging our communities in God’s love, our greatest focus will not be upon “do we have enough money or people,” but will be upon “are we breaking God’s heart?”  

There is no quick fix program for our disciple-making challenge.  We can’t expect to fix it overnight. But we can start today. Ready to get started?

We invite you to begin the experiment introduced at the end of LeaderCast Episode 050 and Episode 051 of LeaderCast. No time to listen? Download the Sqaure Sqaud experiment here. Whatever you do, take a step toward building new relationships with people in your community.

In Christ, 

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

 

  1. Story adapted from Out of the Question…Into the Mystery, by Leonard Sweet. Chapter 7, Loving the ‘One Anothers’: When Being Right Is Just Plain Wrong, page 91. 

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

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

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

hope transforming mission

What is Engagement?

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

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

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

Extend the Table Throughout the Year

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

We also know hope is needed the entire year.

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

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

Hope for A Blessed Thanksgiving

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

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

-Philippians 1:3-4

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

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

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

-Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

Oswald Chambers in his book, My Utmost for His Highest, wrote, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater works; prayer is the greater work.” Over the past 4 months, we have focused upon the great work of prayer. As I stated in the beginning, it is my hope, my desire, to raise up a new generation of Methodists who will do for our day what John and Charles Wesley did for their day.

I am writing to invite you to continue this prayer journey with me. I want to provide you with a weekly prayer and with prayer resources between now and the conclusion of the Special Session of General Conference in February. If you are willing to take this journey with me, click here to receive the prayer for this week. Please enter your first name, email address, and click submit. You will immediately receive the prayer for this week via email. Then, every Sunday afternoon, you will receive a prayer for the week.

Prayer Resources

This invitation is in relationship to Bishop Palmer’s invitation to pray daily for the Special Session of General Conference, February 23-26, 2019. I want to use our Bishop’s invitation as another point of raising up a new generation of Methodists.

Below are several suggestions and resources for your use.

  • Pause and pray daily for our church’s mission and way forward. For four minutes every day, from 2:23 through 2:26 PM, stop and pray for the Special Session of General Conference. (Notice that 2:23 to 2:26 coincides with the dates of the Special Session). I will be providing at least one prayer a week to assist you. You will receive a weekly email with prayers and/or prayer resources.
  • Engage in a weekly Wesleyan 24-hour fast from Thursday after dinner to Friday mid-afternoon.  Those who have health situations making food fasts undesirable might consider fasting from social media, emails or another daily activity.
  • Consider using the weekly prayer calendar that is posted on the UMCPrays.org website. The calendar will be there through the end of February 2019. We will have the opportunity to pray for a unique group of names each week. The names will balance United States bishops and delegates with Central Conference bishops and delegates. It will also include General Secretaries, Commission on a Way Forward members, the Commission of the General Conference and the staff of the General Conference.

If you are ready and willing to take this prayer journey with me, just click this link, to receive the prayer for this week. Sara Thomas and I have provided a considerable amount of prayer and leader development resources for you and your church on www.transformingmission.org. Please let me know if you can’t find what you are looking for.

The Invitation

It is through prayer that you and I keep our focus upon God’s plan and purpose for our lives. It is easy to give into doing good things, even if it is for all the right reasons. It is easy to lose our focus upon God’s call upon our lives. It is easy to switch our allegiance from God to working for the “common good.” It is easy to lose our identity even in midst of spiritual activities and social action. It is easy to give into the “this must be right” feeling when the crowd agrees. It is difficult to speak up and act when it is against the crowd. The power to focus upon and live out God’s plan and purpose come through prayer.

There is a difference between a prayer life and a life of prayer. It is the life of prayer that keeps us focused upon God’s desire for the church and all of creation.

Let us become more who God has created us to be by praying together for one another and our church.