Tag Archive for: Bible Study

God is doing a new thing in my life. I officially retired June 30 with 50 years under appointment as a United Methodist minister. As I have shared with you before, I was a 20-year-old college student when I was appointed to two small churches in West Virginia.  Now, 50 years later, God is doing a new thing in my life.

I confess I struggled a little with the idea of retirement. What was I going to do? I had been a pastor/preacher all my adult life. I confess I do not hunt, fish, golf, woodworking, or garden. In other words, I have no hobbies. So, retirement was not going to give me more time to do what I really wanted to do. And besides, being a pastor/preacher is what I wanted to continue to do. I might be old, but I’m not quite over the hill.

Refocusing

My struggle within was about refocusing my life upon something that would bring meaning and purpose. So, God and I had a conversation. I tried to put it off on God. I asked “What am I going to do now? You created me, called me, and gifted me to do what I have been doing. That is coming to an end with retirement. What am I going to do now?”

What I heard (discerned) God say, “Set the past 50 years aside. I have something new for you.”

I laughed, “Okay. Are you going to teach this “old” dog some new tricks?”

So when the phone rang, God’s voice sounded like the Bishop in West Virginia, “I have a place for you in West Virginia. I want you to come and be the pastor of Christ Church in Charleston.”

In the back of mind I heard God laughing, “Tim, how many times over your short 50 years of ministry have you experienced, I always get the last laugh?”

“But God. I’m retired. How can I be the pastor of a church like Christ Church when I am retired?”

And God said, “If I can make paths in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, I can still make a pastor/preacher out of you.”

God is Doing a New Thing

Okay, thanks for being my therapist for a moment. God is doing a new thing in my life. The new thing is the opportunity to refocus upon God’s love for me in Jesus and to share that love with a new community of people. At Christ Church we seek to connect one another and you with Christ and with the community.

The refocus is always upon the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I now have the opportunity to put into practice what I have been sharing with you over the past eight years as a district superintendent. With 50 years of experience as a United Methodist minister, I am still in the ministry of resourcing Christ-centered leaders.

Through Transforming Mission, Sara Thomas and I are still providing the resources you need to lead a movement of Jesus followers.

Okay, with that said, it is time to refocus. Read Isaiah’s words to the Hebrew people. He is challenging them to refocus.

Read Isaiah 43:18-21

Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

Reflect

These words were written while Israel was in exile. The people were separated from what was meaningful. Their lives were disrupted, and they felt hopeless.

God, through Isaiah, calls them to refocus. Isaiah reminds them who created them, who formed them, and who redeemed them.  He reminds them they have nothing to fear because God has been with them through all the trials, disruptions, and disconnections.

God has been good to them. God led them out of Egypt and out of slavery. God led them through the Red Sea and protected them in the wilderness. God provided manna when they were hungry, quail when they wanted meat, and water out of rock when they were thirsty. God had led them to the promised land, a land of milk and honey. God had been good to them. 

God Makes A Way

I am projecting here, but my guess is, Israel had grown accustomed to God’s goodness and lost focus of who God was for them and who they were in relationship to God. And even though they might have lost focus; God did not condemn them. Amid their disconnections and lack of focus, God offered hope. God makes a way for them.

So, Isaiah challenges them to set aside the past. God is doing a new thing, a new work in their midst.  They are reassured that they can trust God because God is able to make a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert.

Now, here is what is interesting to me. The new thing is refocusing on God. Why? God wants the people to declare God’s praise.

They are asked to set aside all God had done for them in the past, the things that had gotten them to this point, and to focus on the present. “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?

When they lost focus on God, they began to focus on themselves. So, the challenge is to focus on what God is doing for them now. It is like God is saying, “If I can make a path in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, you can trust me for this moment in time.”

And speaking through Isaiah, God continues to say, “for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” In other words (Bias translation), “I am providing water for you, because I love you and I created you to love. All I want is for you to live the way I created you to live.”

To declare God’s praise was to focus upon God and God’s goodness, and to not only receive God’s goodness but extend God’s goodness to others.

Respond

Today, look for the situations and circumstances where you are being challenged to refocus. Where you are being challenged to receive God’s love and to extend God’s love to others. Look for the “new thing” God is doing in the lives of the people you encounter today? Be aware of how you are responding and how you might respond differently. When you are uncomfortable or are feeling especially challenged to refocus, remember if God can make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, God and certainly love you into becoming the person you have been created to be.

Today, set aside the past and experience what God is doing now in your midst.

Prayer

O God, I do believe you are doing something new in my life and in the lives of the people around me. Give me the eyes to see it and the heart to embrace it, so that I may become the person you have created me to be.  I offer myself to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you see Jesus? What new thing did you experience? How did it help you see a way to refocus? Give God thanks for the experience. What did you learn that you will do differently tomorrow?

Pray for the faith to continue to step into the unknown with courage and hope. Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

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

To help resource you in Engaging the Community, we have explored The Seven Missional Questions (Engaging in Mission: Engaging the Community), have done an overview of koinonia, the New Testament understanding of community (Engaging in Mission: Engaging the Community Part 2), and explored the components of mission (Engaging in Mission: Engaging the Community Part 3).  

What do we need to do that no one else is doing?

As you focus on God’s business, one way to discover your particular focus is to ask God, “What do we need to be doing that no one else is doing?” God will answer your prayer by opening opportunities you may not have considered. By broadening your perspective on the community, you will begin to recognize where God is working.

God might lead you to a partnership with a local elementary or middle school. As simple as it sounds, few churches are in partnership with the schools in the community they serve.

So, let me say it this way: One tangible way to be about God’s business is to partner with a school in your community. In partnership with children, you can grow personally as a follower of Jesus as you share the love of God unselfishly. In conversation with school administrators and teachers, you learn ways to develop relationships of love and care.

God might lead you to a feeding or housing ministry. Most churches find participating in these ministries relatively easy. Whether it be a food pantry, serving meals, or participating in building a Habitat for Humanity home, you have the opportunity to grow as a follower of Jesus as you actively respond to meeting immediate needs in the community.

So, responding to basic human needs such as food and housing is another tangible way to be a part of God’s business of loving people as God has loved you.

Praying for Your Community

God might lead you to pray for the first responders in your community. What better ministry is there than to hold before God the well-being, safety, and families of the people who serve the community in which you live. Praying for police officers, firefighters, and other first responders keeps you focused on the community and helps you develop a pattern of prayer for your own life and well-being.

So, as you seek to engage in mission in the community, it is only natural to pray. Prayer is another tangible way to be about God’s business in the community. The fact is, you will be blessed by God as you respond to the invitation to be a part of something that no one else is doing.

In one church I had the opportunity to lead, we prayed, “What do we need to do no one else is doing?” God led us to a local HIV/AIDS Clinic. As we developed a partnership with the clinic, we developed a ministry of love, care, prayer, and compassion for people who were pushed to the margins of the community. We provided what the clinic said they needed to serve their clients. As we partnered with the clinic, God provided a place for us to develop relationships and to grow as followers of Jesus as we gave ourselves in love and care to God’s children in the community.

Follow God’s Lead

I am sure you have gotten my point. When you ask the question, God will lead you into your community, into your ministry context, and provide opportunities for you to love and care for others as God has loved and cared for you.

As you seek to engage in mission in your community, God will lead you to places you might not have considered. Just ask God the question, “What do we need to do that no one else is doing.”

To help with your engagement in the community, read the following story from Matthew:

Read: Matthew 25:31-46

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

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

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,  for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”

Reflect: What are you doing? 

Matthew uses a parable of Jesus to help his readers to understand holy or righteous living. He is not telling them what they should be doing but is showing them what they are doing.

Parables are not mirrors of morality but are reflections of reality. In teaching us how to live a holy and righteous life before God, Jesus tells a parable to help us understand how we live in a relationship with God and our neighbors.

The Reality of Our Living

The parable is often used out of context to tell people or to encourage people to respond to human need. It is used out of context when it is used to say “we should” feed people, or care for people, or work for the good of others.  Feeding, caring, and working for the good of others is good and needed work, but that is not the point of parable.

The parable reflects how we are living our lives in feeding, caring, and working for the good of other ways. In other words, it reveals the reality of our living.

So, what does this parable have to do with “What do we need to do that no one else is doing?” 

Recognize Jesus

To engage in mission in the community, you must be able to recognize Jesus in the people you are being called and led to serve. Jesus offers the invitation to follow him into the community. It is following Jesus so closely, that you can recognize and respond to God’s call and invitation to “do what no one else is doing.”

Tom Long, retired Bandy Professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology, attended a Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta. Like many downtown churches, it had a ministry with people living on the streets. During the winter, when the church opened its gymnasium to provide shelter, people from the congregation would serve as hosts and hostesses.

On one occasion, Long volunteered to be a host for the night. When his night came to serve, he invited a friend to come and serve with him for the evening. His friend was not a church member but enjoyed engaging in conversation about faith and religious matters. He would often say, “Tom, I’m not a theologian, but it seems to me…,” and then he would express his opinion.

On the night Long was hosting the shelter, the two greeted the men as they arrived. They ensured each man had something to eat and a place to sleep. Both Tom and his friend hung out with the men for a while before they began to retire for the night. Tom’s friend said, “Tom, you get some sleep. I will stay with them the first watch, then I’ll wake you up, and you can come and stay with them for the rest of the night.”

So, the friend stayed up and mingled with the guests, listened to them, and asked questions about who they were, what had happened to them in their lives that they were now homeless. At 2:00 AM he went in to awaken Tom. He said, “Wake up! Wake up! I want you to come and see this. I am no theologian, but I think that Jesus is down there.”

As Tom Long tells the story, he says quoting Jesus, “Those who show hospitality to the least of these have done it to me.”

By asking the question, “What do we need to do that no one else is doing?” God is reflecting back to you the love you are offering to Jesus in and through the people you meet, care for, and serve. So, what is it that we need to be doing that no one else is doing?

Respond 

Where are you seeing Jesus in your community and in the ministry of your congregation? What are you doing that no one else is doing in the community? How are you responding to the needs and assists of your community? How are you bringing needs and assists together to engage the people of your church in mission in the community? As Jesus invites you into the community, where will you start? What assistance do you need to get started?

Prayer

O God I am grateful for your call upon my life and for the opportunity to be a leader centered upon your love in Jesus. By your grace, give me eyes to recognize you in the people I meet each day. Give me ears to hear your voice above all other voices. Give me faith to assist people in growing in their faith. Give me the courage to lead people into the community to love others as you have loved me. Thank you for your love, which will never let me go, and that enables me to love and trust you more. Amen.  

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. In whom did you see Jesus? With whom did you experience something new? Who did you encounter who needed special love and care? What do you need to be doing that no one else is doing? What did you learn that you will do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to become more who God has created you to be. Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

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

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

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

Grace 

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

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

Giving Thanks for You

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

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

What is the mystery? What is the secret? 

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

Read: Philippians 1:3-11 

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

Reflect 

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

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

I Thank My God for Every Remembrance of You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am grateful. 

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

The Deeper the Bond…

The deeper the bond, the more painful the absence. 

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

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

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

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

The One Who Began A Good Work in You

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

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

No prayer, no power. 

Little prayer, little power. 

Much prayer, much power.

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

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

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

What is Needed: Prayer

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

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

Prayer is Hard

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

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

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

Clear is Kind

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

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

Prayer is Our Primary Work

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

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

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

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

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

Respond 

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer 

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

Return 

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

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

SPECIAL NOTE

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The “Bias Opinion” and Transforming Mission Podcast are continuing. 

Tim’s transition to a new ministry setting will not stop the resources here. The blog and podcast will continue with the resources and insights you need to lead a movement of Jesus followers. If you do not receive the Tuesday email from Transforming Mission and wish to continue receiving the blog “The Bias Opinion,” click the button below to let us know. 

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

To help resource you in Engaging the Community, we have explored The Seven Missional Questions (Engaging In Mission: Engaging the Community) and have done an overview of koinonia, the New Testament understanding of community (Engaging in Mission: Engaging the Community Part 2). 

Focusing On God’s Mission

Keep in mind that you are about God’s business. So, through the lens of being a follower of Jesus, what does it mean to live in community with other Jesus followers? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus amid diverse people and beliefs?  

As you reacquaint yourself with your local community and grow in your understanding of koinonia, it is important to develop relationships, deepen your faith, and deploy into mission the people entrusted to your care.  

As you move forward in engaging the community, remember that John Wesley worked to develop both an identity of personal piety and an identity of social holiness. Wesley developed and organized a system to help followers of Jesus grow in their personal faith and to live out their faith in the places they lived, worked, and played. Wesley said it this way, “true Christianity cannot exist without the inward experience and the outward practice of justice, mercy, and truth.”  

With that in mind, let’s look again at the Acts of the Apostles and focus specifically on the two verses below:   

Read: Acts 2:42, 46  

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts…  

Reflect on Acts 2:42, 46

On the Day of Pentecost, one hundred and twenty frightened, self-centered, discouraged, and disheartened men and women were transformed into newly empowered followers of Jesus. They were filled with new life and perspective, intellectually, emotionally, and physically.  

By the power of the Holy Spirit, those newly empowered followers began to communicate the story of Jesus in ways people understood and responded to positively. The people were amazed and perplexed. They asked, “What does this mean?”  Others mockingly said, “They are full of new wine.”  

The First Christian Sermon

It was a careless, scoffing comment that prompted the first Christian sermon. When the followers of Jesus were accused of being drunk, Simon Peter took responsibility for telling the story of Jesus. He told the people about the life, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and presence of Jesus. He explained God’s offer in Jesus, what people did to refuse it, what God did despite the refusal, and what could happen to each of them.  

When the people heard Peter’s sermon, “…they were cut to the heart…” and they cried out, “What shall we do?”  

Repent

Simon Peter was ready with an answer and the first Christian invitation to a congregation was extended: “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  

The word repent means “to change one’s mind,” or “to perceive after a mind-changing truth or understanding.”  Peter wanted them to change their thinking about God’s messiah, the Christ, and to see their own need for him as the Lord of their lives.  

The word repent can also refer to becoming who you were created to be. By God’s love, you begin to live as God intends for you to live. Think of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. You are in the process of repentance as you begin to love more the way God has loved you. 

God’s Love and Power

Think of it this way. One of the things that changed for those at Pentecost was their way of communicating with one another. Instead of insisting that everyone learn to speak and communicate like they spoke and communicated, by the power of God’s love and presence, they learned new ways of communicating and relating to the people around them.  

The scripture says that those who welcomed Simon Peter’s message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 

That first community of faith was…:  

A learning community. 

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching…  The word for “teaching” is a dynamic word. It means that they persisted in listening to the apostles as they taught.  

A fellowshipping community.

The word “koinonia” means having something in common or in fellowship. There is no true fellowship without Christ’s Spirit in us and between us. Jesus Christ is what we have in common. He is our common bond. That bond is greater than anything or anyone else. He draws us into oneness and loves each of us through each other.  

A praying community.

Life together was described as the breaking of bread and prayers. For people to be one with Christ and one with each other, it takes time to be together to listen to each other, to care for and be for each other. Praying together becomes the time of communication with the Lord in which we are replenished in God’s Spirit in order to continue unselfish and non-manipulative concern and caring for each other  

A worshiping community.

They had “gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God.”  Praise became an outward sign of the indwelling of the Spirit. It continued to be an outward sign as Jesus lived in them and in their fellowship. They could not praise God enough for what God had done for them in and through Jesus.  

A growing community.

People were attracted to the joy of the community and wanted to know the source of it. People wanted to be with those contagious, praising followers of Jesus and have what he had given them.  

At that time, the people began to gather in homes as they continued to gather in the temple. They broke bread together when they gathered and praised God with glad and generous hearts.  

Koinonia Helps Develop Community

An effective way of developing community in our day is to establish koinonia groups for personal faith development and for developing relationships that impact the community in which your church is located.  

To engage the community outwardly, you first develop relationships inwardly. Based on our scripture, five essential ingredients in developing relationships will make a difference in your local community:   

1. Study

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching…” Wesley called this “searching the scriptures.” One of the distinctive marks of the followers of Jesus is the understanding and engaging the gospels. Just as the apostles’ teaching was transformational in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, a focus upon the teachings of Jesus is essential in living out the good news of Jesus Christ and will be transformational both personally and socially.  

2. Fellowship

 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship.” Koinonia Fellowship is both an informal time when people get to know and love one another and a formative time when people grow together in their personal faith and learn to give care and encouragement in their social interactions.  

3. Accountability

“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple.” Those early Jesus followers spent time together every day. I can imagine they were sharing stories, asking questions, learning, and growing together.  

Although most of us do not feel comfortable being held accountable, especially regarding our faith, koinonia provides a space and safety to develop trust and courage. We grow into our accountability. I can imagine that was what was happening as they spent time together.  

Think of it this way: if you are a koinonia group member and want to develop a pattern for bible study, you might say to the group, “Please hold me accountable to reading the Bible each day this next week.”  The following week your group would ask you, “How did you do with reading your Bible this week?”  You respond by saying, “Well, I read my Bible each day until I got to the weekend. I want you to keep asking me the question until Bible study becomes a regular daily practice.”  

As your koinonia matures, your group might agree to ask each other questions as you gather. Questions related to personal faith development and to your interaction with Jesus and the people you meet each day. We all need help in developing and maintaining our walk with Jesus.  

4. Worship and Prayer

 It is important that each group has a time of worship and prayer. Sometimes singing a hymn or a praise chorus will lead your group into worship. At other times, it will be prayer or sharing experiences of experiencing God’s love or how Jesus showed up unexpectedly, leading to “glad and generous hearts…”   

5. Mission and Outreach

Your journey inward leads to your journey outward. Your koinonia leads you into developing relationships outside your group. Together, you find ways to love others the way God in Jesus has loved you. You might feed people who are hungry or find shelter for those who are homeless. You might provide care for children or jobs for the unemployed. One way to discover where to be in mission is to ask the question, “What can we do that no one else is doing?” God always provides people to love and places to serve. Koinonia helps turn your inner faith into outward expressions of love and care.  

“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts…”  

To engage the community outwardly, you first develop relationships inwardly. 

Respond  

How are you engaging the people of your church to engage in the local community? Which of the five ingredients in developing relationships does your church do well? Which ingredients are missing or not done so well? How will you help equip those entrusted to your care to become a koinonia that will make a difference in your local community? What will you start? What assistance do you need? 

Prayer 

O God, I am grateful for your call upon my life and for the opportunity to be a leader centered on your love of Jesus. By your grace, give me the faith to assist people in growing in their faith. Give me the courage to lead people into the community to love others as you have loved me. Thank you for the ways you have provided to become more who you have created me to be. Thank you for John Wesley and for the way he has modeled personal piety and social holiness. Oh, God, thank you for your love. Give me faith to love and trust you more. Amen. 

Return 

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

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

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

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

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

Read: Acts 2:42:47 

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

Reflect 

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

Koinonia

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

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

Koinonia and John Wesley

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

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

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

Koinonia and Methodism

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

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

Embodying Koinonia

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

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

Heartfelt Faith

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

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

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

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

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

Respond 

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

Prayer 

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

Return 

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

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

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

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

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

Engaging In Missions

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

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

Focus on the Mission of God’s Love

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

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

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

Start with Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

To get you started, here is a sample prayer:   

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

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

Engage in the Seven Missional Questions 

Read the blog ENGAGING IN MISSION: Seven Missional Questions. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read, Reflect, Respond, Return

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

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

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

Read

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

Reflect

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

Pray

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

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

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

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

Respond

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

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

Return

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

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

Engage The Community

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

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

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

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

This is part 3 of a 3 part series.

Read Part 1  Read Part 2

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to equip and assist persons in the mission of offering Christ. You have the responsibility to remind them that they are God’s children, and as God’s children, they are about doing God’s business. They are living God’s love by loving others as they have been loved. So, to engage in the mission of offering Christ is to be about God’s business in your living and loving each day. (Read Preparing for Mission: Being About God’s Business).

How to Engage People in Offering Christ?

The question for most of us comes down to how. How do you engage people in God’s business of love? How do you engage people in offering Christ?

At this point, it is easy to jump into techniques and practices of faith sharing. I believe there are practical ways of living your faith that naturally lead to sharing your faith and offering Christ. But I also believe many of those practical ways fall short without a clear understanding of who you are as a follower of Jesus.

Who are You As a Follower of Jesus?

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity and responsibility to remind those who are entrusted to your care that:

They are beloved children of God. 

They are claimed by God and commissioned to be about God’s business. With that in mind and heart, offering Christ is not a personal choice of whether you are good at it or not. It is how you live your life in relationship with the people you encounter each day. When you are claimed as a beloved child of God, you are also equipped with a love that will not let you go and a love that is meant to be lived out and shared in every situation and circumstance in which you find yourself. Offering Christ is about loving others as you have been loved.

God’s claim upon their lives is bigger than themselves…

God’s claim on their lives is also bigger than their church and their denomination. They have been claimed, commissioned, and equipped to be the human touch of God’s love in the places they live, work, and play. Every time you say the words “remember your baptism and be thankful” you are reminding them that they have been claimed and commissioned to be God’s love with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, and even enemies. Offering Christ is about loving others as you have been loved.

Jesus is the way of love. 

Offering Christ is about Jesus. It is not about getting people into the church, or getting people to worship, or getting people to believe what you believe, or about gender, sexuality, politics, economics, race, nationality, (add what I left out), etc. When you are a follower of Jesus, you love others as God in Jesus has loved you. Offering Christ is about Jesus.

All people are included in God’s love. 

Offering Christ is about loving people. I know that sounds redundant, but your responsibility is to lead people into God’s business. People thrive and find fulfillment in companionship, support, and relationships. Relationships play a significant role in the overall well-being, happiness, and fulfillment in everyday living. Offering Christ, as difficult and inconvenient as it can be at times, is loving others as God has loved you. It is who you are as a follower of Jesus. (Read: Reflections on 50 years of Ministry: The Importance of People).

When you engage in the mission of offering Christ, people respond in different ways. Below are seven responses to God’s love. It is certainly not an exhaustive list, but is an offering of several “biblical models of offering Christ.” 

Saul Encounters Christ Acts 9:1-19

A dramatic experience of someone coming to Jesus is found in Acts 9:1-19. It is the story of Saul of Tarsus and his experience of the Risen Christ. Saul was so firm in his faith convictions as a Pharisee, that he participated in persecuting Stephen and other early followers of Jesus.

The offer of Christ came as he experienced the faith and forgiveness of those he was persecuting. His transforming experience came, not in dialogue with Christians, but in his interaction with them. Even in the midst of his misguided theological views, he received a clear offer of God’s love through the Christians around him. 

Cleopas on the Road to Emmaus Luke 24:13-32

Another experience of the Risen Christ is found in Luke 24:13-32. It is the story of Cleopas and his companion walking on the road to Emmaus. As they are walking, they are talking about the events of the crucifixion and the resurrection related to Jesus.  In the midst of their conversation, a stranger joins them. As the stranger is invited into the conversation, he begins to teach them.

Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interprets to them “the things about (Jesus)” in all the scriptures.  Cleopas invites the stranger into his home. It is in the midst of this act of hospitality, while breaking bread together, that Cleopas and his companion recognize the stranger as Jesus. The offer of Christ came in their offer of hospitality. In the midst of welcoming a stranger, they received a clear offer of God’s presence. In whom have you experienced Jesus lately? Where have you seen Jesus? 

Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy – 2 Timothy 1

Another experience of an offer of Christ comes in Paul’s second letter to Timothy (II Timothy 1:3-5). In his letter, he remembers Timothy’s sincere faith, a faith that lived first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. From Paul’s perspective, it was a faith learned at home. The offer of Christ came through the faithful living and loving of family. 

The Gospel of John & Offering Christ

In John’s story of good news, there are several experiences of offering Christ. In John 1:40-42, Andrew, after spending the day with Jesus, finds his brother Simon and says, “We have found the Messiah.” (which translated Anointed). He brings Simon to Jesus, who looks at him and says, “You are Simon son of John.  You are to be called ‘Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” The offer of Christ comes through the excitement of a brother. 

In John 1:43-46, Philip, after being invited by Jesus to follow, Philip finds his friend, Nathanael, and invites him to follow Jesus as well.  Even faced with Nathanael’s skepticism, Philip offers the invitation, “come and see.” Come and see is a common theme of offering Christ in John’s good news about Jesus. (For more, read Engaging the Mission: Offering Christ Part One and Engaging the Mission: Offering Christ Part two

Simon Peter Encounters Jesus

There are several stories of Simon Peter experiencing the love of God in and through Jesus. Most of his stories focus on his struggles with faith. After he drops his fishing net to follow Jesus (Matthew  4:18-20), his faith journey is anything but a smooth one. He argues with the other disciples over which of them is to be regarded as the greatest (Luke 22:24).  

He challenges Jesus to allow him to walk on the water and cries out to be saved when he becomes frightened (Matthew 14:25-33).  He is affirmed by Jesus when he confesses his faith by saying “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-20).  Then, the very night he tells Jesus, “I will never desert you,” he denies Jesus three times (Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75).  Yet his faith matures through his struggles.  

Because of his faithful response and his proclaiming Christ, “More than ever believers were added to the Lord…so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by” (Acts 5:12-15).  Simon Peter offered Christ through his own experiences of failure and maturity. His faith was anchored in his strong commitment, but his faith grew because of the grace he experienced in both good and not so good ways.

Experience Jesus for Yourself

And maybe one of the most dramatic experiences of offering Christ comes in John 4:39-42. It is a story of a woman who encounters Jesus and begins to tell everyone in the community about him. John writes that many of the people from the community believed in Jesus because of her testimony.  

They say to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that he is truly the Savior of the world.” The offer of Christ is to experience Jesus for themselves. Again, the offer came through the invitation to “come and see.” 

Love People As You Have Been Loved

So, as you engage in the mission of offering Christ, practice loving the people around you as you have been loved. 

Think of two or three people with whom you will interact over the next week. The people might be friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues. Write their names in your phone, or a piece of paper you will carry with you or make a mental note not to forget them. 

A Commitment of Prayer

Commit yourself to pray for each person, especially when they come to mind. Give God thanks for their lives and for what they mean to you. Pray for their well-being and health. Offer them to God’s love and care.  Your prayer might be like this: 

O God, I give you thanks for _______ and her ministry. I pray that she might have a good day as she experiences your love in and through the people she meets. I also pray that she might be an instrument of your love to those people as well. Keep her safe as I offer her to your love in Jesus’ name. 

As you go through each day, continue to offer yourself as an instrument of love and peace in the situations and circumstances in which you find yourself. Make yourself available to be a conduit of God’s love for the people you meet. 

Always be ready to offer a kind, caring, encouraging word. In each encounter, you are offering Christ just by being who God created you to be. 

Prayer

Here is a prayer for today:  

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

Reflect on Offering Christ 

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

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

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

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

Be Who God Created You to Be

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

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

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

Offering Christ – An Honest Interaction

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

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

Offering Christ – It Matters Where You Start

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

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

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

Offer Christ – Love Others As God Loves You

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

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

So, it matters where you start. 

Evangelize the Gospel – Four Perspectives

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

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

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

The Good News – Matthew

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

The Good News – Mark

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

The Good News – Luke 

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

The Good News – John 

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

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

Preach What You Practice

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

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

Love Others as God Loves You

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

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

Prayer

Here is a prayer for today:  

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

Reflect on Offering Christ

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

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

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

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

A Community of Jesus Followers 

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

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

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

Offer Christ By Being You

So, let me share with you one way you can offer Christ, just by being you. Each of us faces times of uncertainty in our lives. Uncertainty comes with death or disaster. It comes with divorce, unemployment, or retirement. It comes with disappointment, lack of security, or the fear of the unknown.

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

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

Read Ephesians 5:1-2

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

Reflect on Ephesians 5:1-2

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

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

Love Others as God Loves You

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

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

Times of Uncertainty & Offering Christ

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

The uncertainty was so great that I could not see beyond the moment. Uncertain about my future, I felt confused, hurt, and alone. It was at that point, in my anxiety, that a colleague and friend stepped in to offer Christ, which helped me face my future. I didn’t get a lot of sympathy, shallow agreements, or unrealistic platitudes. What I did get was a person of faith who allowed me to be me at the moment of my greatest need. 

She created a space for me to talk about my disappointments, hurts, fears, and anxiety. Although there were times she did not agree with my assessments, she never passed judgment. She listened with compassion and, at the appropriate time, asked me questions I needed to answer for clarity and healing. 

She offered Christ by embodying God’s grace. I began to trust her compassion and look forward to her questions. The space she created and the grace she offered allowed me to move past my anxiety to see new possibilities beyond what I had known or experienced up to that point in my life. 

New Possibilities

Within the process of healing, she provided opportunities to put into practice the new possibilities that were beginning to emerge. Along with plans for reading and reflecting on scripture, occasions to practice the presence of God through prayer and conversation, and the challenge to look beyond myself to see what new thing God might be doing, I was invited to put my faith into action. It was at that point I rediscovered God’s desire, to use me as his beloved child, to make a difference in the places I encountered the people God wanted me to love. 

It was in and through her offering of Christ that this Jesus follower helped me experience hope in a time of uncertainty. She did not bring easy answers. In fact, she did not bring any answers. She did bring God’s promises to bear on my uncertainty. 

She came alongside me, at the moment of my greatest anxiety, embodying God’s love, to journey with me through my most difficult moments, to see what God might have in store for the future. She was an instrument of God’s love which brought hope and new possibilities. 

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

To Offer Christ

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

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

Respond

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

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

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

Be Who God Created You to Be

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

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

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

Offering Christ Is More Than An Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Return

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

This is Part 2 on Hospitality

Read Part 1 Here

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

Modeling Hospitality

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

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

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

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

Read Matthew 25:31-46 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflect on Matthew 25

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

Good News According to Matthew

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

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

Understanding a Parable

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

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

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

Who You Are

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

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

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

Caring for People Around You

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

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

Responding to Jesus

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

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

Being Children of God

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

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

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

Who You Are is How You Lead

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

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

Respond: Engage the Mission

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

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

How Will You Engage in Mission?

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

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

Your Character Revealed in Light of God’s Love

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Return

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