How are you doing? I have been thinking of you and praying for you over these past six weeks. We entered the new year with the hope things were going to be different. Yet, we are still living in the confusion of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are still learning new ways of interacting with one another, making decisions, and worshiping together. 

We are living in a time of great social, economic, and political polarization. I cannot recall a time when people divided into contrasting groups as much as they do now. It seems people, whether in politics or the church, are moving in opposite directions. They are becoming as separate as the North and South poles. 

Conflicting Values

It is confusing to hear people say, “you don’t have the right to mandate masks” and at the same time want to ban books in public schools. It is disheartening to hear the insinuations of distrust and blame from people who we look to model lives of trust and understanding. It is disappointing when we separate over theology, issues, and politics, especially when we are leaders of love and reconciliation. 

So, my question “How are you doing?” is genuine. You are navigating conflicting values as well as deep feelings, both your own and the people entrusted to your care. I pray you will always be clear in your thinking and courageous in your actions. 

Being a Hope-Filled Leader

With that said, how can you be a leader with hope in times like these? The things I have listed above are as much about the church as they are about our culture. The truth is we are part of the culture. We are not on the outside looking in. We are not above it looking down. We are the culture. We not only have the financial and political means to shape it but we have been created to be the leaders to transform it. 

So, consider this: as a follower of Jesus, you have been called and gifted to offer hope and direction during these difficult and troubling times. So, instead of starting with your stance on social issues or your personal political point of view, start with Jesus. I am convinced he can and will lead you through these challenging times. When Jesus pointed out that we “love one another” he was putting love in the context of relationships. We don’t love in isolation. We love in relationship. In fact, we have no identity in isolation. We are only truly ourselves when we operate within a network of relationships. Without faithful relationships, “loving one another” relationships, there cannot be Christian discipleship. 

Your Relationships

Your relationships help make you who you are. I believe that God puts people in my life so I can become more who God created me to be. Now, I know that sounds like I am using people, but consider this: your relationships are not simply for encouragement or for help in times of need. They reveal God to you, and they offer something you need to know or incorporate into your thinking and living.

Start looking for God in the people you encounter each day. You will become more who God created you to be. Jesus models for us a life that gives priority to others, whether they be on the fringes or whether they be in center. Your relationship with Jesus demands that you love all people, even those who oppose you, misuse you, or disagree with you. Too often we limit relationships to those in the church, the people who are most like us. Thomas Morton, in his book Knowing Jesus wrote, “It is not in the church that we know Jesus, but in the world. We know him in the life of love, suffering, and hope that he shared with all people. But without the church few of us would be in the position to recognize him in the world.” 

Loving People

To be a follower of Jesus means building relationships with people who have different points of view and different values. You love them because of who they are, not because of what they believe. You accept them and their differences and you are willing to be enriched by those differences. It involves discovering Jesus in places and people you don’t expect Jesus to be. 

Even at his last supper, Jesus was open to people who betrayed him and who were using him to get what they thought they wanted. The disciples were less concerned about Jesus than they were about who was going to get the best seats in the kingdom. But never forget that Jesus loved Judas. This is the relational understanding that you, as a leader, need to navigate the times in which we live. You must love a culture and people who are more like Judas than faithful followers of Jesus. 

Being a Leader of Hope

It is not easy being a leader of hope, but because it is not easy does not mean you don’t move courageously forward. Being a Jesus follower, in our culture, is often more the problem than the solution. But following Jesus helps you recognize him in the people you meet along the way. And you will begin to lead people into the light of hope needed so desperately today. There is an old story about three African Elders visiting the West. The visitors were asked: “How can you tell when the night ends and the day begins?” 

The first Elder responded: “When I can distinguish the olive trees from the fig trees, then I know that night is over, and the day has begun.” 
The second Elder answered, “When I can see the forms of the animals across the Serengeti, I know that the darkness is leaving, and the light of day is arriving.” 

The third Elder took an entirely different view, “When we can see a black woman and a white woman and call them both “sister.” When we see a poor man and a rich man and call them both “brother.” Then the darkness of night has lifted, and the light of day has come.” The darkness lifts according to the practice of relationships. The problem you face is not the breaking of commands; it is the breaking of relationships. It is not the laws in stone that are broken, it is God’s heart of love that is broken.

That is why the answer is not better education or better willpower. It is not better social policies or inclusive programs. The answer is a better means of reconciliation and restoration of relationships. The answer is loving one another as God in Jesus as loved you. You are a leader at an incredible time in the life of your community, your city, and the world. You were created for this time. So, don’t give up.

Keep Steady in Following Jesus

Keep steady in following Jesus. In fact, when you lead on the path of hope, and you must make tough decisions, take the path in the shadow of the cross. It will be the least traveled, but it will bring the greatest blessings. Be intentional to look for Jesus in the people you encounter this week. As you recognize Jesus, what is he telling you about who you are? Where are you experiencing hope?  Remember, who you are is how you lead.

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