Tag Archive for: Advent

This Advent Season, we are again asking ourselves, “How do we as the people of God live out God’s mission for the world? We are in the midst of profound shifts in our church, in our country, and in the world. Whether the shifts are religious, cultural, racial, generational, or political, we are ready to hear the prophecies of the Advent message. And we are not only ready to hear the message, but we are anointed to live out the message as God comes to be with us in Jesus. 

New Life is Born

Even though we have been through a number of Advents, we know that when we, as Jesus followers, take seriously our mission in this world and when we truly believe and live out God’s love, there is hope for our broken and hurting world. New life is born, and hope emerges. 

“O Holy Night”

This hope has been offered in many ways over the years. When we gather to worship this Christmas, many of us will hear the song, “O Holy Night.” It was written as a Christmas poem in France in the mid-1800s. When the words were put to music, their message began to change the world. In fact, “O Holy Night” was banned in several churches in France. Later, the third verse of the song was left out because of its message. The reasons were always based on theology, but the message of hope and justice was clearly proclaimed. The third verse is as follows:

“Truly He taught us to love one another.

His law is Love and His gospel is Peace. 

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,

and in his name all oppression shall cease.”

Advent is a time of preparing for God’s justice to bring hope to those who are broken and lost in this changing world. May the hope of the coming of Jesus fill you with world-changing justice. 

READ: Isaiah 61:1-2, 8 and Matthew 5:3-6

The LORD God’s Spirit is upon me because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and a day of vindication for our God…I, the LORD, love justice… – Isaiah 61:1-2, 8

Happy are people who are hopeless because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.  – Matthew 5:3-6

Reflect

A Raging River

Imagine a raging river full of rapids that surge over a waterfall. You see people struggling in the current of the river. As they are trying their best to swim to shore or grab a hold of rocks, they are being swept downstream toward the falls.

You also see people along the shore trying to help those struggling in the rushing currents. Some are reaching out at the edge of the falls to snatch victims at the last moment. Others are upstream, stepping out on the rocks to grab whomever they can reach. A bit further upstream there are some throwing out lifelines and pulling the struggling people to shore. Even further upstream there are some people teaching people how to swim. You even notice that there are some trying to install fences along the river to prevent people from falling in. At the same time, you see others, gathered at the bottom of the falls, trying to recover and save the few who survived going over the edge.

Not one of the helpers along the riverbank can catch everyone in need, but together they each do their part along the way. The one thing they all have in common is a love for helping others. 

An Example of Love

One example of that love can be found in a man named Trevor Ferrell. When Trevor was eleven years old, he saw a television news report on Philadelphia’s inner-city homeless. He couldn’t believe people were homeless and lived on the streets. He began questioning his parents why people didn’t have a place to live. It took a while, but his parents, Frank and Janet, reluctantly agreed to broaden their sheltered horizons. 

One evening, they left their home in an exclusive suburb and drove downtown. One block past city hall, they spotted an emaciated figure crumpled on a side-walk grate. Frank stopped the car and eleven-year-old Trevor got out and approached the man. 

With a blanket in hand, he said, “Sir, here’s a blanket for you.” The man stared up at Trevor at first. Then, he said softly, “Thank you. God bless you.”

Jesus Inside Me

That encounter altered the Ferrell’s life forever. Night after night they would drive downtown, trying in small ways to help the street people. They emptied their home of extra blankets, clothing, and dozens of peanut-butter sandwiches. When people learned what they were doing, someone donated a van and others charted nightly food distribution routes. To the Ferrell’s surprise, “Trevor’s Campaign” had begun.

At a young age, Trevor found himself explaining what he and his family were doing to local media. Eventually, he was explaining his campaign to major news outlets, late-night television, daily talk shows, the President of the United States, and Mother Teresa. They all wanted to meet the small boy with the big mission. When asked why he was caring for the homeless, he simply replied, “It is Jesus inside of me that makes me want to do this.”

Trevor’s Campaign

In an interview regarding “Trevor’s Campaign,” his father stated, “Our social life has changed a lot since the campaign began. Our church is behind us one hundred percent, but some of our old friends don’t understand why we’re messing with the homeless. They just tolerate our ‘idiosyncrasies.’”

For twenty years, a van traveled each night to the downtown streets of Philadelphia. It stopped first to deliver food to the residents of Trevor’s Place, a ramshackle rooming house where some of the former homeless lived. Then it proceeded to feed the hungry people gathered on sidewalk grates and street corners. 

Short Term Need & Long Term Changes 

When asked how the handouts have made a difference in the complex business of helping the homeless, Frank Ferrell sighed deeply and said, “We’re trying to meet short-term needs and figure out ways to bring long-term changes to people’s lives. Sometimes it seems like just a band-aid. But this is how we build relationships. These people become our friends, and they trust us to help them in bigger ways.”  Then Frank paused for a moment, looked at the landscape of broken bottles and bodies, and said, “There are plenty of struggles, But I know one thing: giving has made all the difference in my life. I used to just read the Scriptures. Now I feel like I am living them.”

Meeting a Need

Trevor’s Campaign has evolved over the past 32 years. His objective is to meet human needs, alleviate suffering, and restore hope by developing comprehensive programs for vulnerable children and adults in the Greater Philadelphia area. 

Trevor is one of those people along the riverbank seeking to save those who are drowning in the changing world in which we live.

Respond

Where will you see a human need today? How might God’s love become human in you? Begin to imagine how you might respond to the needs around you. 

Pray

O God, you have taught me to love you and the people around me. You have put within me a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Use me as an instrument of your peace, so that the people I meet each day will experience your love in and through my words and actions. Help me be a person who offers hope in the name and love of Jesus. Amen.

Return

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. Where did you see human need? How did you respond? What do you need to become more the person God needs you to be for this time of change?

Advent is a season of waiting and expectation. As we wait, we reflect upon the events of the past year. With expectation, we anticipate receiving the hope needed to navigate the year ahead. 

It is obvious, as we enter this Advent Season, we are coming to the end of another difficult year. In both big and small ways, our lives have been filled with constant, and often painful, reminders that something is not right. Things are just not the way they are supposed to be. 

The Hope of Jesus

At the same time, Advent provides us, in the midst of brokenness and pain, the opportunity to look beyond the worst situations and circumstances and to see the hope offered to us in Jesus. 

The biblical story is that in the darkest of hours, whether by our own doing or at the doing of others, God comes to us as the light in our darkness. In Jesus, God enters the darkness of our brokenness and pain to bring us the light of healing and hope. 

So, we wait, expecting our hope to come. The good news is, God is with us. God has come as the Light of the World to be with us. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish the light. This is our hope. 

Read

Isaiah 2:2-6: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned. You have made the nation great; you have increased its joy. They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest, as those who divide plunder rejoice. As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them, the staff on their shoulders, and the rod of their oppressor. Because every boot of the thundering warriors, and every garment rolled in blood will be burned, fuel for the fire. A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

John 1:1-5: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

Reflect

The Bible uses the image of darkness to describe chaos, fear, uncertainty, and death. The image of darkness is used in a variety of stories from the prophecy of Isaiah to the birth of Jesus. 

The prophet Isaiah was called to speak to the people of Israel. They were a people walking in the darkness of sin, danger from enemies, and judgment from God. The only hope for their darkness was light. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined…For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.”

A New Day

The birth of Jesus was the dawning of a new day. According to John, Jesus is the Word that was from the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life and the life was the light of all people. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

So, Advent is preparing for the light to come in the darkness. It is the preparation for Jesus, the light of the world. It is Jesus, God’s light, who comes into our world and breaks the chains of darkness and brings hope for the future. 

So, we wait, expecting our hope to come. I get it. Darkness comes in a variety of ways. It shows up when you are looking for direction, fearful of the circumstances, feeling alone, and paralyzed by anxiety. It shows up when you have doubts and fears as you look to the future. I understand that darkness. 

Times of Darkness

Several years ago, I faced a time of darkness. I faced uncertainty so great that I could not see beyond myself or the moment of pain I was experiencing. Hurt, confused and feeling alone, I was uncertain about the future. It was at the moment of my greatest distress, a colleague and friend stepped in to help me face my future. I was not offered a lot of sympathy or unrealistic platitudes. I don’t ever remember hearing the words, “Call me if you need me.” What I do remember hearing was, “You know where to find me.” 

God sent me a person of faith, a Jesus follower, who allowed me to be me at the moment of my greatest need. She created a space for me to talk about my anxiety, disappointments, pain, and fear. Although there were times she did not agree with my assessments, she never passed judgment. She listened compassionately. At appropriate times would ask me the questions I needed to answer for clarity and healing. She offered Christ to me by becoming the embodiment of God’s grace. I began to trust that I was not alone in darkness of my uncertainty. 

The space created and the grace offered allowed me to move beyond the moments of my anxiety to see new possibilities. I began to look beyond what I had experienced and to create a new story for myself.

I began to heal. My friend provided several ways for me to put into practice the new possibilities that began to emerge. We created plans for reflection, prayer, and conversation. She challenged me to look beyond myself to see what new things God might be doing in my life. I was invited to put my faith into action by looking beyond myself. 

It was at that point that I rediscovered God’s work in my life. God began to use me to make a difference in the places I encountered the people God wanted me to love. It was through the engagement of this colleague and friend in my life, this Jesus follower, who helped me see the hope in the midst of my uncertainty. There were no easy answers. In fact, there were no answers at all. 

She came alongside me, in the darkness of great anxiety, embodied God’s love, and journeyed with me through difficult moments. Helping me see what God might have in store for the future, she was an instrument of God’s hope in the midst of my uncertainty. She was a light in my darkness.

God came in the person of a Jesus follower. While I was in darkness, I saw a light that brought hope. 

The Good News

There is good news in this Advent prophecy: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined… For a child has been born for us, a son given to us. He is called by many names, but we call him Jesus. He is the Light of the world, the One who comes from God to save us from our darkness. “Light and Life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.”

Whatever your need, whatever your circumstances, whatever your darkness, there is hope. For unto us a child is born and unto us a Son is given. And his name is Jesus, the light of hope in your darkness. 

Respond

As you go about the activities of your day, be aware of the people who are broken and in pain. Be aware of the people who bring light into their lives. As you become aware of the people around you, be thinking of how you might be a person of light in the lives of the people you encounter along the way. Look for Jesus in the people you meet today and be aware of God’s loving embrace. 

Pray

O God, I am grateful that you are the light in the midst of my darkness. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation, circumstance, relationship, and acquaintance of this day. When it is so dark, I think I cannot see, give me eyes to see your light. When the noise is so great that I think I cannot hear, give me ears to hear your still small voice. Give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize what you are doing. Help me be your light to the people you send my way. I offer all I am to you in the name of Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.

Return

Take a few moments to name the places you experienced God’s light today? Through whom did you experience Jesus, God’s light? Who came alongside you to be a light in your darkness? To whom were you God’s light today? 

For the seasons of Advent and Christmas, I’ll be sharing a series of devotions focused on hope. Look for an invitation next week about this devotional series.

Read 

Matthew 1:18-21

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary, his mother, was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.  Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 

2 Corinthians 5:17-19

“So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!  All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ…”

Reflect

The incarnation provides a window into the hope offered to us in Jesus. In the midst of chaos and confusion, and in the mess of challenges and changes, God is with us.

When we read the biblical stories, we find that the birth of Jesus, in a stable to humble parents named Mary and Joseph, is God’s dramatic way of coming into the world in a way that we can understand. It is the story of God taking on the life of a human being and coming into this world to live with us.

The Incarnation

I like this illustration of incarnation. In the 1996 Olympics, an American runner, Derek Redmond, was entered in the 400-meter race. For years he had practiced just for this race. His father, who was also his trainer and coach, had helped him become one of the fastest people in the world.

As the race began, Redmond took an early lead. He was well out in front of the other sprinters when his Achilles tendon snapped. He fell to the track but did not drop out of the race. He struggled to his feet and began limping toward the finish line, dragging his wounded leg behind him. The crowd stood and cheered him on, but the pain was so great and the wound so serious that he struggled to finish the race. Suddenly, a middle-aged man jumped over the guardrail onto the track, caught up with Redmond, put his arms around his waist, and helped him finish the race. The man was Redmond’s father.

In an interview after the race, Redmond said, “He was the only one who could have helped me, because he was the only one who knew what I had been through.”

God With Us

God always comes to us in a way that satisfies our need for God at those times when we need God most. Matthew reminds us that the name Jesus means savior, and that the name Emmanuel means God is with us. Matthew is telling us that in Jesus, God’s saving love is with us.

Luke reminds us that Jesus came alongside the poor, the marginalized, the outcasts. Being born in a stable points to the fact there was no respectable place for him. His birth being announced to shepherds symbolizes the good news for those considered unclean and unacceptable in good religious circles. Luke is telling us that God’s saving love is for everyone.

John reminds us that Jesus was present in the beginning with God because Jesus is God. Then God becomes flesh and lives among us in Jesus. I understand the words lived among us to mean “pitched his tent next to ours.” Eugene Peterson in the Message says, “moved into our neighborhood.” John is telling us that God in Jesus has come to live with us.

And Paul reminds us that God is in Christ “reconciling the world to himself.” It might be helpful to think of the word reconciled as being embraced or hugged. God is in Christ “embracing” the world or “hugging” you with love.

A Window of Hope

So, the incarnation provides a window into the hope offered to you. Your hope is seen in the fact that no matter what your situation or circumstance, God has come to you in Jesus to hug you with a love that will never let you go. In the midst of sin and failure, God embraces you with forgiving love. While seeking meaning and purpose, God embraces you with encouraging love. When struggling with grief and despair, God embraces you with comforting love. No matter the chaos and confusion, or the challenges and changes, God is with you, embracing you with love and offering you hope. When you catch a glimpse of that kind of love, there is nothing left to do but to move forward in hope.

Respond

As you go about the activities of your day, be aware of the people in the places you live, work, and play. Whom will you meet Jesus today? Will you meet him at the grocery store, at the office, on the street, at the park? Will you meet him on the golf course, at the spa, at the club? Look for Jesus in the people and be aware of God’s loving embrace.

Pray

O God, I am grateful that you have come to be with me in Jesus. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation and circumstance and in every relationship and acquaintance of this day. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear you. Give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize what you are doing. Make me a blessing to someone somewhere today as you embrace me and the people around me with your love that makes me more who you want me to be. I offer my life to be a home for you and for the people you send my way. Amen

Return

Take a few moments to name the places you experienced God’s love today? Through whom did you see Jesus? Through whom did you experience God’s love? Who came alongside you to help you reach the finish line?

Are you ready for a little hope?

Who isn’t?

2020 has been a tough year.

More than any other time in recent history, people are looking for any morsel of hope. It is the one thing that lifts our spirits and keeps us going despite our difficulties. It looks beyond life’s hardships to a better and brighter tomorrow. It keeps us believing and expecting that out of today’s darkness, tomorrow’s light will shine.  It is seeing a future that we can live into if we keep moving forward adjusting and adapting as we go. We are all looking for a little hope and all we need leaders like you to dispense that hope.   

What is Hope?

The word “hope” comes from an old English word that means to “leap forward with expectation.” It is more than a wish or an optimistic thought. It is a real genuine feeling of possibility. It has substance when there is a clear vision and a defined direction.  Maintaining and dispensing hope has to do with being able to evaluate and understand the present context, recover from discouragement, and hold onto the vision of what can be. 

From that perspective, hope is essential to leadership. To imagine and present a better future requires hope. To recognize the potential in people and processes and work to develop that potential requires hope.  If you feel hopeless about the future, there is no reason to change your behavior in the present. But when you believe your actions matter and that you can change or influence the future, you interact and engage with people differently. That difference in behavior and belief is experienced in and through effective leadership.

Hope is Essential to Leadership

That is why hope is essential to leadership. Hope and leadership are in an interdependent relationship. This relationship shows up in a couple of ways. We either see a preferred outcome and sit back waiting for things to happen or we see a preferred outcome and we work to make it become a reality. We either wish things were different or we do something to make things different.

Joseph, Mary, and Hope

Let me illustrate by using a story from Matthew 1:18-25. Joseph was engaged to Mary. The engagement was like a marriage.  It was serious business, legal and binding in nature. It could only be broken by going to the courts. So, the families of Joseph and Mary came together, signed the papers, and the engagement began. Only when they became of age, would they marry. So, to say that Joseph was engaged to Mary is significant.  

It is during their engagement that Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant.  Now, what is he going to do? He is a good man, a righteous man, a man who wants to do the right thing. That’s great, but what is the right thing? 

1. He could proceed with a passive hope.

This is called “wishful thinking.” With passive hope you can still see a better future, you just don’t believe you can influence people or processes that make that future a reality. Joseph could have proceeded by:

Seeking Approval

He could go to the coffee shop and ask, “What do you think I ought to do?” He could get on the phone, go to work, sit in a Sabbath school class, and tell everyone who will listen, “Did you hear about Mary? What do you think I ought to do?” 

Could you blame him? We elect people to public office and remove people from positions based upon their approval ratings. What do the polls say?  Joseph could have sought out the approval of his friends.  

Making it About Himself

He could tell his side of the story and expose Mary for being unfaithful. He could disgrace her and humiliate her. “Did you hear about Mary? Can you believe what she did to me? She seemed like such a nice girl.” 

In fact, Matthew tells us that, “Joseph, her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement  quietly.” He didn’t want to humiliate her. But, quietly calling off the engagement would also mean he was saving himself from being embarrassed.

Quoting Scripture

He could do what the Bible says to do.  You can’t go wrong by following the Bible, because the Bible makes everything clear.   You can quote the Bible before killing a person to justify the killing. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Men, you can quote the Bible before divorcing your wife, “If a man finds something displeasing in his wife, let him give her a divorce and send her out of the house.” It’s in the Bible. Women, do you know what the Bible says? “Let the women keep their heads covered and their mouths shut.” Joseph could do just what the Bible says, “She is to be taken out and stoned to death in front of the people.” (Deuteronomy 22) 

That is passive hope. It is when you desire something to happen but feel you don’t have any control over making it happen. So, you wait for someone or something else to make things better. Passive hope ignores current reality. You just wish things were different and hope for them to go back to normal. There is little or no courageous leadership, because you seek out programs or people as quick fixes to problems. There is a lot of activity with passive hope but very little action to change things or to make them better.  

2. He could proceed with active hope.  

He could become an active participant in his future. He didn’t wait for someone else to act. He knew who he was and where he was going, so he began to navigate the obstacles in the way so he could reach his goal.  He had a clear view and understanding of reality

He and Mary were engaged to be married. They are legally bound to one another and Mary is pregnant.

Active hope is anchored in reality.

It knows its context. It understands the current situation. It is able to face reality, name it, and acknowledge what is happening.

He had a clear vision of a goal

He decides to be who God created him to be. He has experienced God’s presence in his life.  He has been blessed through his study of the scriptures. He has read his Bible through the lens of the character and nature of a God who is loving and kind. So, he decides to be a person of grace. He will be loving and kind. He says, “I will not harm her, abuse her, expose her, shame her, ridicule her, or demean her value, her dignity, or her worth. I will protect her.” So, instead of calling off the engagement, he takes responsibility for the situation and sets his sight on being Mary’s husband. 

This active hope pictures a better and preferred future and begins to move toward that vision. So, a second aspect of active hope is to fix your eyes on a goal and move toward that goal.  

He set out to achieve his goal.

Not knowing exactly what is going to happen, instead of passively trying to get out of the agreed relationship, he actively steps into it. He marries Mary and together they raise the baby. I can only imagine that there were obstacles and barriers with his decision. But Joseph moved forward.   

Active hope is aligned with the future it wants to happen. It does not require optimism or positive thinking. But it does require a desire to navigate the obstacles when there is a gap between reality and the desired future. Active hope chooses to move toward the goal even in the midst of uncertainty, chaos, and fear. This is often called courageous leadership.

He takes the initiative to make decisions and to act

He becomes vulnerable.  He steps out in courage. He decides to care for Mary and the baby. He feeds the baby and cares for Mary. He decides to be who God created him to be, a person of grace.

Active hope adapts to the changing contexts and makes necessary adjustments along the way.  With eyes upon the goal, active hope moves forward in courage. 

Aligned with the future, active hope produces energy to make things happen. It invites you to act and to make something happen, even if it doesn’t exist today. 

Active Hope and Leadership

That is why active hope and leadership are so tightly related. If you lead without a firm grip on reality, or without a sharp vision of what you want the future to look like, then your actions won’t matter. Your behaviors won’t align with a better future. Leadership is about showing up and behaving as if what you do matters. When you align your actions with your goal, you not only practice leadership, you dispense hope. 

Today, you can choose your response to your current situation. You can choose to be who God created you to be and lead the people entrusted to your care into a better future. That is what active hope is.

So, what do you want your future or the future of your church to look like? What is one thing you will do to step into the future you see for yourself and for your congregation? What obstacles are in the way? What will you do to keep yourself focused as you navigate the obstacles? To address these questions is to lead with hope.

Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader.

Are you ready for a little hope? Decide to take another step in becoming the leader God has created you to be!

A year ago, not one of us would have guessed that this Advent Season would be as valuable as it is. Advent has always been an important time to rehearse our hope in God’s love and care as experienced in the coming of Jesus. But who knew that in this Advent season, our proclamation of hope, peace, and goodwill would be interrupted by a killer virus?

You are not alone in your feelings of disappointment, discouragement, weariness, and despair. It has been a long nine months of starts and stops, of foggy vision, and wondering what to do next. Whether you feel it or not, you have done well in providing leadership at critical moments along the way.

A Critical Moment

This advent season is another critical moment. The world, our communities, our churches are facing the unknown of COVID-19. We have not experienced a time like this in recent history. What we know is, when we face the unknown, our default setting is to focus upon every negative consequence imaginable. I usually say, “We make up what we don’t know.” It is a way of expressing fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. When we are anxious and fearful, we are often paralyzed. Because we don’t know what to do, we do nothing and blame those around us for our circumstances. That is why this is a critical moment. 

This advent season provides you the opportunity to use your influence to offer hope and to lead a movement forward, shifting from the paralysis of fear to hopeful action. The question is, how do we make that shift?   

An Advent Opportunity

There are many people working to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves.  Most people are intentional in their care for one another and for themselves. I am grateful for the many acts of care I have noticed and for the reports I have received. You have done well.

To take advantage of our Advent opportunity and to help move forward, I want to share an image with you. It has been helpful to me as I have attempted to offer encouragement and hope.  

A River of Hope or Despair?

Imagine a raging river full of rapids that surge over a waterfall. You see people struggling in the current of the river. As they are trying their best to swim to shore or grab a hold of rocks, they are being swept downstream toward the falls.

You also see people along the shore trying to help those struggling in the rushing currents. Some are reaching out at the edge of the falls to snatch victims at the last moment. Others are upstream, stepping out on the rocks to grab whomever they can reach. A bit further upstream there are some throwing out lifelines and pulling the struggling people to shore. Even further upstream there are some teaching people how to swim. You even notice that there are some trying to install fences along the river to prevent people from falling in. At the same time, you see others, gathered at the bottom of the falls, trying to recover and save the few who survived going over the edge.

Not one of the helpers along the river back can catch everyone in need, but together they each do their part along the way. The one thing they all have in common is a love for helping others. 

Dispenser of Hope

So, here is your Advent opportunity. As a leader, decide to be a dispenser of hope. Build upon the love and care people have to offer. Give encouragement and support to those who are working to navigate the fear and anxiety of the time. 

You know your present situation (current reality). You also know the goals you have in mind (mission). Now, how will you navigate the obstacles in the way? Your navigation of the obstacles will be where you become a hopeful leader and a dispenser of hope.  

Here are some things to help in your navigation.

  • Use the Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love as ways of leading through the anxiety and fear of this time. Be forward-thinking, inspirational, and positive.
  • Encourage the people entrusted to your care. Be generous with them. Focus upon their strengths and encourage them to be courageous in their leadership.  
  • Embrace change. The quickest path to growth and improvement is by embracing the changes that come your way. Be vulnerable. Step into the changes, even at the risk of not knowing what to do.   
  • Accept failure. Your failure is not final or fatal. Hopeful leadership requires courage and courageous leaders often fail. The question is, are you learning from what you have tried that did not work? 
  • Keep your heart and mind on the mission. Keep moving forward. Invite others to join you on the journey and encourage them to become courageous leaders. Because your hope is in God, be confident in your mission. 
  • Hold the future before the people entrusted to you. Hopeful leaders believe tomorrow holds great opportunities. Even when COVID-19 messes up schedules and routines, morale is low, and discouragement is high, hopeful leaders don’t sit back and let things happen. Hopeful leaders know where they are going and how to navigate the obstacles along the way.    
  • Follow through and do what you say you will do. No matter how significant or insignificant the task or assignment, get it done. Credibility is built over time because of hundreds and hundreds of small assignments done well.

Offer Hope

So here is your Advent opportunity. Offer hope to those who are giving themselves in love to care for and to protect the people around them. 

  1. Write a note of thanks to the individuals who have worn masks, kept their distance, and have helped in keeping protocols.
  2. Send an email or text of encouragement to the individuals who have been doing double duty. Whether as parents working at home and teaching their children at the same time, whether as care-givers to aging family members and neighbors, whether giving up social activities like not gathering in groups to play cards, or not gathering as family during special holiday meals, a note of encouragement and care goes a long way in offering hope.
  3. Be intentional in giving thanks and support to those healthcare providers, whether in hospitals or test sites, whether you know them personally or not, make the effort to share with them your gratitude and appreciation. Your support will become contagious.  
  4. Proclaim with clarity and boldness the hope that God provides in and through Jesus. It is the Season of Advent that provides us the opportunity to remember and rehearse God’s love and care for us and for all people. 

Don’t Get Swept into the River

Even at our best, not one of us can solve the COVID-19 crisis on our own. But as a team of people, as the Body of Christ, the church, we can do our part. We can link arms with those to our right and to our left and trust one another. It really does no one any good if any of us gets swept into the river as we try to help.

Throughout the remainder of this Advent Season be a dispenser of hope. What is the one thing you will do to instill hope and a positive vision in the people entrusted to your care? Okay. Now is the time to do it. 

Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader.

Before you say, “How can angels be courageous?” Stick with me. The messengers of God have a word for us about courage.

When I consider the messengers of God – the real-life angels among us – the people who speak God’s truth, embody God’s love and call forth grace in others, I can tell you about some of the most courageous people I know.

  • She is the one who challenges the long-held assumptions with grit, grace, and gumption. She steps onto a platform once reserved for men and owns the space as a brave, clear, loving determined leader.
  • He is the one who loves unconditionally, speaking his mind by telling his heart every chance he gets…and even when the stress of in-laws and out-laws are driving his blood pressure to new heights.
  • They are the ones whose arms are open to the least of these – the children. The ones caught in an unending cycle of neglect, abuse, divorce, crime, addiction, lack of care, and much, much more.

They do not judge. Instead, they embrace. 

They do not rant. Instead, they open their doors. 

They do not demand that others should embrace their cause, but model compassion, grace, conviction, and adaptability like no other.

And none of the above people would consider themselves angels.

But, here’s why I call them God’s messengers.

Read more

It is the second week of Advent. It’s time to explore the courage of two more characters involved in the birth of Jesus. This week, through the LeaderCast, we will look at the Courage of Elizabeth.  Today through this blog, we will look at the courage of Zechariah.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are married and have been for years.  They are an older couple who approach each day with the same activities, the same people, and the same thoughts as every other day. They have no children and because they are older, they are past their childbearing years. In the culture in which they are living, being childless is a disgrace. Yet, it is with this older couple, that the story of the birth of Jesus begins. 

Zechariah has been chosen to be the priest to burn incense before God.  It is not only a special opportunity to perform such a high priestly function, but it is a privilege to enter the Holy of Holies where the tradition of experiencing God is too real to be true. Because of his position among the priests, he takes advantage of the opportunity and privilege.  

Read more

It is the first week of Advent.

Time to reread the Christmas story and become familiar again with Gabriel visiting Mary, of Elizabeth becoming pregnant well past her childbearing years, of Zechariah being silenced because of his lack of faith, of Jesus being born in a stable manger, of the choir of angels singing to shepherds in the fields, of visitors bringing gifts from the East, of the dreams of Joseph, and of Mary pondering all these things in her heart.  Wow! What a story! It is Advent. Time to anticipate and prepare for Emmanuel, “God with us.”  

As Christmas approaches, we yearn to experience again the excitement, the joy, and the wonder of the baby born to humble parents, Mary and Joseph. The story of Christmas tells us of God’s dramatic way of coming to be with us, at the time and in the way, we need God the most. 

When you read the story, you recognize that courage makes this season possible.  The theme of courage comes to the surface over and over again. Over these few short days before Christmas, let’s explore the courage of the persons in the story.  This week, through LeaderCast, we looked at the Courage of Mary. Today, let’s look at the courage of Joseph. Remember the story?

Engagement

Joseph was engaged to Mary. Engagement back then was like a marriage.  It was serious business, legal and binding in nature. It could only be broken by going to the courts. So, the families of Joseph and Mary came together, signed the papers, and the engagement began. Only when they became of age, would they marry. So, to say that Joseph was engaged to Mary is significant.  

While they are engaged, Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant.  Now, what is he going to do? He is a good man, a righteous man, a man who wants to do the right thing. That’s great, but what is the right thing? How do you know? Here is a businessman in the community and his fiancée is pregnant. What is he to do?

Joseph’s Options

There are several options available to Joseph. 

Seeking Approval

  • He could seek out the approval of his friends. Joseph could go to the coffee shop and ask, “What do you think I ought to do?” He could get on the phone, go to work, sit in a Sabbath school class, and tell everyone who will listen, “Did you hear about Mary? What do you think I ought to do?” 

Could you blame him for seeking approval?  We elect people to public office and remove people from positions based upon their approval ratings. What do the polls say?  Joseph could have sought out the approval of his friends. 

Making it About Himself

  • He could make it about himself. Joseph could tell his side of the story and expose Mary for being unfaithful. He could disgrace her and humiliate her. “Did you hear about Mary? Can you believe what she did to me? She seemed like such a nice girl.” 

In fact, Matthew tells us that, “Joseph, her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly.” He didn’t want to humiliate her. But, quietly calling off the engagement could also mean he was saving himself from being embarrassed.

Quoting Scripture

  • He could do what the Bible says to do.  You can’t go wrong by following the Bible, because the Bible makes very clear.    

You can quote the Bible before killing a person to justify the killing. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Men, you can quote the Bible before divorcing your wife, “If a man finds something displeasing in his wife, let him give her a divorce and send her out of the house.” It’s in the Bible. Women, do you know what the Bible says? “Let the women keep their heads covered and their mouths shut.” Joseph could do just what the Bible says, “She is to be taken out and stoned to death in front of the people.” (Deuteronomy 22)

The Above are Not Viable Options

Now, let me be clear.  For me, these are not viable options. I mention them, not only because they were available to Joseph, but because each of them is used when you lack the courage to become vulnerable. You engage in them when you are unclear of your purpose and when you are not looking for God in the midst of your everyday living and relationships. 

Respond as a Person of Grace, Goodness, Love

  • Joseph could be who God created him to be. He has experienced God’s presence in his life.  God’s messenger visited him in a dream. He has been blessed through his study of the scriptures. He has read his Bible through the lens of the character and nature of a God who is loving and kind. So, he says, “I will not harm her, abuse her, expose her, shame her, ridicule her, or demean her value, her dignity, or her worth. I will protect her.” 

I am amazed at the courage of Joseph.  He is the first person in the New Testament who learned how to read the Bible. He lives into who God created him to be by responding as a person of grace, goodness, and love.

Again, let me be clear. When reading the Bible, you find justification for abusing, humiliating, disgracing, harming, or hurting, especially when it makes you feel better about yourself, you are absolutely wrong. That is not courage. It’s manipulation. 

Advent and the Courage of Joseph

Reading Through the Lens of Grace

The Bible is to be read in light of the character of God.  It is to be read through the lens of the grace, the goodness, and the love of God when you are deciding how you will respond to the people around you. 

So, what does Joseph do? He becomes vulnerable.  He steps out in courage and listens to God’s messenger.  In a dream, God says, “Go ahead and marry her. I want you to take care of her. I have chosen you to raise her boy.” God says, “Joseph, I want you to raise the baby. You feed the baby. Joseph, care for the mother. You care for the baby.” He becomes who God intends for him to be.

Every Christmas, I marvel at how this story hits the world with the force of a hint.  We want God to be God, but God wants to be a human baby in a manger. We want God to be strong so that we can be weak, but God wants to be weak so that we can be strong. 

God, in Jesus, came to earth, not to overpower, but to empower. William Sloan Coffin wrote, “He (Christ) came to provide maximum support but minimum protection. It is precisely his support that should help you stop sheltering yourself between the covers of the Bible…” 

Your Turn

So, here is what I hope you will do this Advent Season:

  1. Read the Advent/Christmas Story – Every day read part of the story.
    • Download the Advent Bible Reading Guide
    • Become familiar with each character. Put yourself in the story.
    • After reading the story or stories, ask God to help you identify those characters in your everyday life, work, and play.
  2. Reflect upon the story.
    • Throughout the day or at the end of the day, ask yourself:
      • Where do I see God in the story?  Where do I see God in my life? Do you see God in my family, my work, and/or in my community?
      • Where did the story become real for me today? Make a note to share your reflection with someone you trust, then share it.
  3. Respond in the following ways:
    • Become vulnerable.  Let God’s Word become flesh in you.  What is one thing you will do today or tomorrow that will reflect the nature of God’s grace, goodness, and love? 
    • Be courageous. Express your gratitude by specifically reaching out in some form of kindness, care, or compassion. What one thing will you do to be who God created you to be?

The Courage of Joseph

It is Advent.  The baby is not born yet; Mary is not even in labor, but it is already Christmas because of the vulnerability and the courage of Joseph. Because Joseph decided to be who God created him to be, I know that when Jesus is born, the man who will teach him, raise him, care for him, show him how to be a carpenter, take him to the synagogue, and teach him his Bible, is a good man. He is a man of God’s grace, goodness, and love. 

When you have somebody with that kind of courage, it is already Christmas. 

If God can find someone in every family, in every community, in every church who says, “I will do what is right,” it is Christmas. 

What is right?

To read the Scripture and to read the human condition in the light of the love, grace, and kindness of God. As long as there is one person in every situation, it will be Christmas. The question is whether or not you have the heart to be that person.

It is the first week of Advent.  Do you have the courage to be who God created you to be?

Advent Bible Reading Guide

Part of the good news of Christmas is God is with us.  I like the idea of God being with me in every situation and circumstance of my life.  But, as I have reflected upon God being with me, I confess that my thinking has been one dimensional.

As Emmanuel, God has disrupted my living. Yet, it is in the disruption that I experience the good news.

Advent Bible Reading Guide

 

God is With Us

I’ve been thinking of it this way.  God is with us in the midst of all the chaos and crisis of our time.  God is with us in the midst of the violence and pain we continue to endure.  God is with us in the midst of the joys and celebrations we experience with family and friends.  God is with us, embracing with a love that will never let us go.  God is with us offering us peace, even in the midst of the disruption.

So, I’m thinking about Christmas in a different way this year. I have received and read invitations, from several local churches to Christmas Eve worship. All of them invite anyone who reads them, to join that local congregation, to experience holy communion, candle lighting, special music, and God’s love with them at their place. It is wonderful to have such invitations. But, it is Christmas.  God is with us.  The good news is that God left God’s place and came to our place.Emmanuel God is With Us Transforming Mission

Going into the Community

I’ve been thinking, what would happen if we disrupted the community by leaving our places and going into the community to be with the people? What would happen if we took the love of God, the special music, the light of the world and became holy communion in the communities in which we live? God did not say “come to my place and I will give you peace.” God came to us with peace and love.

I will attend Christmas Eve worship, and I’ll be thinking of how over the next year you and I might disrupt our communities by bringing love and peace into every situation and circumstance we find ourselves. I’ll sing the carols and listen to the music, but I will be thinking about how you and I can bring a kind, caring, encouraging word into our communities by being God’s Word in the places we live, work, and play.

I look forward to celebrating holy communion with God’s people. But, I will be thinking of how you and I might enter our communities, come alongside our neighbors, both friends and strangers, to include all people in God’s love in Jesus. I’ll light a candle with all who gather to worship. I look forward to the symbolism of being a light in the darkness. But I will be thinking of how you and I might become part of the light of God’s love that brings peace to our communities and goodwill to all people whether we like them or not.

An Invitation

Emmanuel God is With Us Transforming Mission

I hope you will make Christmas Eve worship part of your Christmas practice. I will be praying that your worship will be a true celebration of disrupting the world so that we might become more the presence of God in the midst of the chaos and crisis, the violence and pain, and the joy and celebrations of our communities. I’ll be praying that your worship will lead you into the community with God’s peace and love. So, let it be!

O God, disrupt our peace so that we may experience your peace. By your grace fill us with so much of your presence that we have to disrupt the world in which we live to share your love and peace in all places with all people. O come, thou long expected Jesus!  Come and set us free! Amen.