Tag Archive for: Bible Study

This blog is Part Two of It Matters Where You Start and the conclusion of the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” Although Part Two can stand on its own, it might be helpful to read Part One for greater context.

Read Part 1 here

Thanks for joining me on this journey of reflections on ministry. I hope you discover them to be effective and fruitful in your ministry as a Christ-centered leader. 

Another important thing I have learned over my years of ministry is people tend to put more faith in the Bible, the written word of God, than they do in Jesus, the living Word of God. Both are important, but one is a written document and the other is a living person. 

The Word of God

It matters where you start. It is one thing to say, “The bible is the word of God” and go no farther, and it is another thing to say, “The Bible is the written word of God that shows us the living Word of God, the Word made flesh, Jesus.” 

The distinction is subtle, but the difference is a matter of who or what you trust. As a Christ-centered leader, your life is transformed by God’s love in and through Jesus. Your response to God’s love is a response of faith. Where you place your faith impacts who you are as a leader.  Who you are is how you lead. 

As far back as I can remember, the Bible has been important to me. I learned a lot about the Bible and its importance through my formative years. From the influence of my grandmothers to the lessons of my fourth grade Sunday School teacher, to the devotions I led or experienced in youth fellowship, the bible became an anchor in my faith.   

Faith in the Bible or Faith in Jesus?

I was in my first year in college when I experienced my initial crisis with the bible. Up to that point, my faith was anchored in the bible. In my freshman year, I had an “Introduction to the Bible” course. Without going into all the details, my faith was tested. Because I had put my faith in the bible, and not in Jesus, any questions of faith related to the bible, challenged my faith. With the assistance of a trusted friend and mentor, I came through my initial faith crisis. What I learned was, I had put more faith in the bible than I did in Jesus. 

Let me say that in another way. Faith in Jesus and faith in the bible are not the same thing.  The written word of God points us to the living word of God. Over my nearly 50 years of ministry, I have learned that most people conflate the two, the written word is not the living word. Jesus is the living word in the flesh. The Bible is the written word that points us to Jesus.

Living Word and Written Word

I am sure I have said more than enough to create some anxiety, so let’s move to our pattern of READ, REFLECT, REPOND, and RETURN to focus on the living Word as he is talked about in the written word. 

Before we move to scripture, there are two things to keep in mind with each scripture reference and reflection. The first is context. Each gospel writer is addressing people in a specific context. So, we want to look at the scripture from the point of view of their context. The second is the understanding of “to believe.” The word believe in the scripture means to trust and obey. It is an action of trust and obedience as opposed to a passive acceptance of a list of beliefs. 

All of that is to say, it matters where you start. 

Read Matthew 28:18-20 

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Reflect

The good news in Matthew is “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to live a life of righteousness. When you read Matthew’s story of Jesus, righteousness is not the purity of living as much as living in right relationship with God, “Love the Lord your God…” and right relationship with others, “love your neighbor as yourself.” 

When Jesus says, in what we know as the great commission, “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you,” he is referring to living in a loving relationship, working for the well-being of, neighbor, stranger, and enemy. Jesus is referring to the way you make promises and commitments to the people around you. Jesus is referring to forgiving others as you have been forgiven. 

Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel

Matthew writes for a Hebrew Christian community. The people in his community know the Laws of God, but there has been a shift in their faith. They have placed their faith more in the Law than in the God who gave them the Law. So, you have Jesus teaching them, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…” 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working for the good of others, and living with integrity. 

Read Mark 1:21-27 

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He[a] commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 

Reflect

The good news in Mark’s Gospel is “God sent Jesus to oppose all the evil, suffering, and pain in the world.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to oppose the evil, suffering, and pain in your communities, neighborhoods, and the world at large. A close read of that scripture implies that there are opposing forces and views at work. 

Mark is writing to a community whose life has been disrupted by persecution. He is offering hope in the midst of suffering and pain by telling stories of Jesus restoring relationships. When Jesus heals a man with leprosy, he is restoring the man to his family, to his community, to his synagogue, to his job. When Jesus encounters a man with demons in the cemetery, he frees the man from living life as if he were dead, trapped in the evil of his living. 

Jesus in Mark’s Gospel

Over and over in Mark’s story, Jesus is facing and overcoming evil, suffering, and pain. Half of his story is about Jesus’ own suffering and death. The question is, “Did Jesus overcome the conflicting forces in the sanctuary?” Did he overcome evil, suffering, and pain? 

It matters where you start. In the story, the unclean spirits know who Jesus is, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” There is no change of behavior. No love of neighbor or enemy. Just a disruption of the life of a man, who knows who Jesus is, but who does not live in trust and obedience. 

Yet, over my years of ministry, I have experienced hundreds of people who have given hours upon hours of their lives to relieve pain and suffering, to work for mercy and justice. Again, with his response to the evil, suffering, and pain did Jesus win in the sanctuary that day? 

The answer to the question is found in your own living, in your own heart. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. Your response of trust and obedience makes a difference in opposing the forces that separate people from God and one another. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working to address evil, pain, and suffering in whatever form they present themselves. 

Read Luke 4:14-21 

14 Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding region. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Reflect

The good news in Luke is “Jesus not only possessed the Holy Spirit but offers the Holy Spirit to his followers.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, to have the power to communicate across the barriers of race, nation, gender, and culture. When you read Lukes’s story of Jesus, you read stories of the Holy Spirit moving the church past theological, cultural, and marginal differences. 

When Jesus says, “let the children come to me. Do not hinder them…” he is addressing the need in the church to accept persons who have little to offer, and who are not candidates for ministry. When he says, “If they are not against us, they are for us,” he is addressing the concern that there are persons outside of the group of disciples who are working for the good of others. 

Jesus in Luke’s Gospel

Luke tells stories of Saul of Tarsus, who we might say was theological and religiously misaligned with the new community of Jesus followers, he is telling his community that Jesus is greater than the barriers of theology and religion.  When he tells the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, he is telling his community that Jesus cares for those who have been pushed to the edges of society, cut off from the community of faith, and who are not taken seriously. When he tells the story of Simon Peter visiting Cornelius and his family, he is telling us that Jesus is greater than cultural norms and religious laws. 

Luke helps his community understand that even Peter, the leader of the whole movement, had to learn that God does not create anyone to be profane. The power to overcome the barriers comes from the Spirit who is in Jesus, who is in the church, and in you as the followers of Jesus. 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. God provides the power and insight to navigate the barriers that separate people from God and one another. To believe is an active response of trust and obedience in developing healthy relationships, working to overcome the barriers that separate us from one another, and living with integrity. 

Read John 4:5-9 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. 

Reflect

The good news in John is “If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” So, to believe in Jesus, to trust and obey Jesus, is to trust and obey God. When Philip says, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied,” he is speaking on behalf of all of us. humanity. Just show us God, that is all we need to trust and obey. Jesus responds by saying, “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?” 

John tells his followers that they see God at work in and through Jesus when he feeds 5000 people with loaves and fish, when he heals a woman pushing her way through the crowd, when he relieves a boy of seizures, when a man returns to his family after being healed of leprosy, when he washes their feet, and when he dies upon a cross. John’s good news is experienced in Jesus saying, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” 

The implication is that the work of God is seen in the work of Jesus. The work of God’s love is seen in the way Jesus loves. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. 

Then, as if to turn things around, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In other words, to trust and obey Jesus is to live the life of Jesus, loving people the way Jesus has loved you. 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, people and relationships are a priority. To believe means you will be loving others through your feeding, healing, loving, and serving. To say you believe in Jesus is to love others the way God in Jesus has loved you by developing healthy relationships and living with integrity. 

Respond

Over my years in ministry, I have learned that making assumptions is an essential part of leadership. But, when you fill in the gaps in your understanding with unchecked and unexamined assumptions, you set in motion a set of chain reactions of bad decisions and miscommunication. 

Your unchecked assumptions pertain to the scriptures as well. I have experienced gifted leaders who have been fairly accurate in their assumptions. I have also experienced gifted leaders who have alienated themselves from the people they are serving because their assumptions were not accurate. 

The tricky thing about assumptions, especially regarding the scripture, is that you don’t always know when you are relying on them. You are designed, as a human being, to develop shortcuts and to eliminate excess mental processing. The problem is that once your assumptions have been established in your mind, they tend to be enshrined in your heart, never to be questioned again. 

When it comes to the interpretation and understanding of scripture, inaccurate assumptions are blind spots that lead to misconceptions and misunderstandings. When you place your faith in misconceptions and misunderstandings, you cause unnecessary pain and anxiety. The pain and anxiety can be cured through healthy self-awareness and a clearer focus on the living word, Jesus. 

It matters where you start. As a Christ-centered leader, you start with Jesus. It is Jesus who makes you who you are, and who you are is how you lead.   

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How did you experience placing your faith in Jesus? How did the scripture point to Jesus? In whom did you experience God’s love? With whom did you share God’s love? Who is helping you grow as a leader? What will you do differently tomorrow? Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be. 

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A Final Note

Again, thanks for the opportunity to share a few reflections on my years of ministry. As you already know, a few weeks of blogs does not reflect a lifetime of ministry, so watch for more reflections on ministry. 

Other Posts in the Series, Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry:

It Matters Where You Start, part 1

The Difficulty of Prayer

The Grace in Gratitude

Words are Powerful

The Importance of People

Well, we have reached the fifth blog in the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” So, enough is enough. I have been at this work long enough to know that you have been gracious with this old guy. As you might guess, I have more to share. It will come later. You’ll find the previous posts linked at the bottom of this page.

This blog will be in two parts. Part One this week and Part Two, which will conclude the series, will be next week. I am grateful for this opportunity to highlight and emphasize what I have learned to be important for Christ-centered leaders. I hope you have found this helpful and fruitful in leading people to become who God has created them to be.

It Matters Where You Start

One of the major learnings of the past 50 years is “It matters where you start.”  Early in my ministry, I came across a cartoon of a man who is intoxicated. He’s forgotten where he parked his car. He is leaning against a lamppost on a city street. His only hope is to call his wife and to ask her to come and get him.

When he calls, she is disappointed but sympathetic. She asks, “Where are you? I’ll come and pick you up if you can tell me where you are.”

The man looked to find the street name and replied, “I am at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk.”

If you don’t know where you are when you start, the chances of giving misinformation or moving in the wrong direction are highly possible. It is difficult to get to where you are going if you don’t know and understand your starting place.      

How are you making decisions?

When you, as the leader, make decisions based on reliable information, communication, self-awareness, and examination, you are effective and courageous. When you make decisions based upon incorrect assumptions without research and communication, not understanding why you think and act the way you do, the consequences can be disturbing for you and for the people entrusted to your care.

Where you start makes a difference. All of us have internalized thoughts, behaviors, theologies, and practices that need to be examined and refined, if not transformed. If you start with your assumptions, values, and point of view, you will work to help people see your point and come over to your way of thinking.  If you start from a particular political position like progressive or evangelical, conservative or liberal, traditional or postmodern, you will spend your time and energy trying to get people to see things your way.

Faith or Politics?

Please hear me, I am not questioning your values or your point of view. But in a time when people are confusing Christian faith with political positions, our politics is informing our faith more than our faith in Jesus is informing our politics.   

It shows up in why people attend worship and participate in the life of the church. When you start with how the church can contribute to your professional life and financial success, you spend your time working on your preferences, trying to get what you want to your advantage. 

When you start with your personal preferences, whether theological, political, or social, your preferences are informing your faith more than your faith in Jesus is informing your preferences. 

Start with Jesus 

It matters where you start. When you start with Jesus, your values, point of view, and preferences are shaped by his influence in your living. When you start with Jesus, your values, point of view, and preferences can be transformed. May I say it this way? Your view is not as important as God’s view. Your preferences are not always God’s preferences. As a Christ-centered leader, as a Jesus follower, you start with Jesus. 

To start with Jesus means that Jesus informs who you are, what you say, and how you act. I am sure you are with me at this point.  But, over the years I have learned that people misunderstand what it means to believe, to have faith, or to live their lives in response to God’s love and acceptance.

Dynamic Faith

I have learned that people have replaced dynamic faith with a passive belief in beliefs. They have shifted their starting place from faith in Jesus to a list of what they believe about Jesus. Although the shift seems subtle, it reveals itself in the way people relate to one another. In reality, because of that shift, we are experiencing some painful consequences today. It matters where and in whom you place your faith.

As a child, when I did something to hurt one of my brothers, be disrespectful to my parents, or misbehave in some way, it would upset my mother. She would discipline me and tell me how disappointed she was. After a little time passed, I would apologize and say, “I love you, Mom.” And she would say, “I love you too. But, if you really love me, show me in the way you behave.”

Live What You Believe

Here is the key to believing. You show what you believe in the way you live your life. Think of it this way, when you say, “I believe in Jesus,” you are saying that you not only believe in the existence of Jesus, but that you trust and obey Jesus to be the leader of your life and living.

What you believe is important and reciting and remembering what you believe with creeds like the Apostle’s Creed, or the Nicene Creed are helpful in keeping you focused. But believing in Jesus is more than a belief system or adopting a creed. There is a danger of allowing what you believe to become passive. Passiveness creeps in when believing becomes intellectual acceptance. Again, hear me. I am not questioning your intentions, but when you take believing and make it a static list of propositions you are no longer talking about faith in Jesus. Your list of beliefs becomes your object of faith.

In the scripture, the word for believe and the word for faith come from the same word. To believe is to have faith. To believe Jesus, to have faith in Jesus, is to trust and obey Jesus. 

John Hendrick, in his book, Opening The Door Of Faith, defines Christian faith as a personal, relational, centered, response involving trust and obedience.

Christian faith is: 

Centered

Centered because it has a particular object. According to the scriptures, the object of Christian faith is the living God revealed in Jesus, whom we call the Christ, Messiah, Son of the living God.  This means that Christian faith is not faith in general. It is not a philosophy of life about which we speculate. It is not a system of ethical ideals about which we may argue. It is not the object of a set of doctrinal beliefs to which we might agree.   

Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The implication is, if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. Jesus is the way to understand the way, the truth, and life of God. 

Personal

Personal first because it is centered in a person, a living person, Jesus. The resurrection is true. It is not merely an event that happened over two thousand years ago. It means that Jesus is alive right now Second because it requires a personal response. Each person must own faith in Jesus for themselves. 

Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The implication is, in Jesus you and I can see who God is and what God is like. 

Relational

Relational first because it makes possible a right relationship with God. Second, because it properly relates you to your neighbor. You cannot be properly related to God and improperly related to your neighbor. And third because it establishes a right relationship with yourself.    

Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The implication is, you and I love others as God has loved us.

Trust and Obedience

A response involving trust and obedience.  Life is transformed by God’s love in and through Jesus. Your response to God’s love is a response of faith seen in your trust of God and in your relationship with the people you encounter each day.

The Foundation of Faith   

The foundation of faith is not based upon your feelings toward God or upon what you have done for others as much as it is upon what God feels toward you and what God has done on your behalf.  The foundation of faith is not about your promise to God as much as God’s promises to you. Your commitment is a response to God’s commitment. It is a response that involves your whole being: heart, soul, mind, strength, and will.   

So, it matters where you start. The question is this: do you start with a list of beliefs of what you are supposed to believe, or do you start with Jesus, the presence of the living God? Let me say it again, starting with Jesus means there is a dynamic transformation that shows up in your relationships in the places you live, work, and play. Starting with Jesus means life changes as you trust and obey.

I want to love Jesus, but…

One of the writers who has influenced my ministry over the years is Henri Nouwen. In his reflection on the story of Nicodemus and the words “you must be born from above” (John 3:7), he wrote,

“I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus. I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own independence even when that independence brings me no real freedom. I love Jesus but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues, even though I know that their respect does not make me grow spiritually. I love Jesus but do not want to give up my writing plans, travel plans, and speaking plans, even when these plans are often more to my glory than to the glory of God.”

Nouwen realized that he wasn’t all that different from Nicodemus. He wrote, “So I am like Nicodemus, who came by night, and said safe things about Jesus to his colleagues.”

It matters where you start. And if you start with keeping Jesus at a distance and controlling your beliefs, whether focused upon him or not, there will be little or no transformation and little or no quality leadership.

Sharing the Love of God

It matters where you start. Tom Long, while teaching homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary, attended a nearby Presbyterian church that prided itself on being an academic, intellectual church. He said early on he went to a family night supper and sat down next to a man, introduced himself, told the man he was new, and asked, “Have you been here long?”

The man replied, “Oh yes. In fact, I was here before this became such a scholarly church. I am probably the only non-intellectual left. I haven’t understood a sermon in over 25 years.”

Tom asked, “Then why do you keep coming?”

“Because every Monday night a group of us get in the church van and drive over to the youth correctional center. Sometimes we play basketball or play other games with the kids. Usually, we share a Bible story. But mostly we just get to know these kids and listen to them.

“I started going because Christians are supposed to do those kinds of things. But now I could never stop. Sharing the love of God at that youth center has changed my life.”

Then the man said, “You cannot prove the promises of God in advance, but if you live them, they’re true, every one of them.”

Over my 50 years of ministry, I have learned that it matters where you start. So, when you say you believe in Jesus is it intellectual acceptance or a response of trust and obedience?  Only you know. 

Part Two of “It matters where you start” comes next week. Until then, know that I am praying that you always start with Jesus and, as a Christ centered leader, who you are is how you lead.

Other Posts in the Series, Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry:

This is the fourth blog in the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” You can find the previous three blogs linked at the bottom of this page.

How often do you pray? Do you have a particular posture? Do you say particular words? What is your focus when you pray? Who taught you to pray? What is prayer anyway?

Over my years in ministry, I have discovered that one big assumption is people know how to pray.  The reality is we have difficulty praying. We have learned to pray short prayers publicly for dinners or special occasions, but few of us have a pattern for prayer.  Our difficulty in praying is not that we don’t have time, or that we lack discipline. Our difficulty in praying reveals that we do not know how to pray, what to pray, or even why to pray.

Heartfelt Prayer

In the tradition in which I grew up, I experienced prayer as heartfelt, genuine, and spirit-led. People prayed extemporaneously from the heart. They just let prayer flow because what just flowed was more genuine. They didn’t think about what to pray. 

What I remember is, what flowed naturally was what was on their minds and in their hearts at the moment. Too often they were not thinking of the conditions of the world or of the people beyond their own families or community. Their prayers were genuine, but the brokenness of the world and the pain of others beyond themselves did not automatically flow. 

As a teenager, I attempted to follow what I had experienced by watching and listening to others.I even went through a time of thinking that real prayers were unrehearsed prayers. In other words, the written prayers, whether in liturgies or offered by worship leaders, were not “real prayers.”

Understanding of Prayer

I certainly am not saying I know how to pray today, but as I reflect back upon my years of ministry, I have matured not only in my understanding of prayer but in my practice of prayer. Prayer is no longer something I do. Prayer is interwoven into who I am.

My prayer life has matured and deepened through several seasons of life. During each season there have been certain individuals, resources, and experiences to help me grow in faith and practice.  I am grateful for each person, resource, and experience, but early in my ministry, I was introduced to E. Stanley Jones through his book How To Pray.

Much of what is recorded in that book is true today. He wrote, “If I were to put my finger on the greatest lack on American Christianity, I would unhesitatingly point to the need for an effective prayer life among laity and clergy.”

“If I had one gift, and only one gift to make to the Christian Church, I would offer the gift of prayer, for everything follows from prayer. Prayer tones up the total life.” 

“Prayer, in the curriculum of living, is the required subject. We do not graduate into adequate human living without it…the difficulty comes in the how of prayer.” *

Prayer is Bigger than Anyone of Us

One of the difficulties of prayer is that it is bigger than anyone of us. To not give thought to what to pray makes prayer small. To not give time to prayer makes prayer insignificant. Not to pray keeps you from becoming all who God has created you to be.  

I think the disciples had not given much thought to prayer until they experienced Jesus praying. Other than observing Jesus, their only experience of prayer was with John’s disciples. They had seen the power of prayer and they wanted their prayers to make a difference. They knew that John had taught his disciples to pray and now they wanted to pray.

I find it interesting that the disciples did not ask Jesus to teach them how to tell a parable, multiply the loaves, or heal the sick. They asked him to teach them how to pray. And when asked, Jesus taught them a pattern of prayer. 

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on prayer.   

Read Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  

 So, he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, may your name be revered as holy. May your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So, I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for a fish, would give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asked for an egg, would give a scorpion? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

Reflect

Luke has Jesus praying at important points in his ministry. His pattern is to go off to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. It was in those times of prayer that Jesus kept his focus on the ministry God called and commissioned him to do. 

Through prayer, Jesus not only received his call and commission for ministry, but he also sought direction for his ministry. When he experienced success in his ministry, he prayed. He prayed to check the desires of his heart, “Do I go with the crowd, or do I go to the cross?”

It was through prayer he chose twelve apostles out of all the disciples who followed him. He was seeking those who, in the present, could hold together Israel and the emerging Christian community. 

In the feeding of the 5000, Jesus was feeding those who are hungry as the sacrament of Holy Communion. In relation to Simon Peter’s confession, Jesus prayed because Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. 

In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus prayed because his identity and purpose as a suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him. In the mission of the 70, it is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers. 

Teach us to Pray

Now, when he returns from his time of prayer, his disciples are asking him to teach them to pray. They knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, so when Jesus returned from prayer, they took advantage of the opportunity, “Lord, teach us to pray.” 

They have been present with him through each of these experiences of prayer and they have not prayed. Jesus has been praying to keep his focus on God and what God has called and commissioned him to do. Are the disciples now asking for the same focus? 

Persistence in Prayer

Luke gathers Jesus’ teaching material on prayer in chapter 11. Immediately following what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Luke tells a story of persistence or perseverance in prayer. This teaching is to reassure believers that their prayers are heard and answered. 

If a grouchy neighbor awakened from sleep will respond to an urgent request for bread, how much more will God respond to our prayers? The story is not about praying harder or longer. Luke is encouraging his community to persist in prayer because to pray is to stay focused upon God and God’s call and commission to ministry. 

Jesus’ pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. Luke’s encouragement to persevere in prayer is to keep your focus on God. 

Perseverance in Prayer

Next to persistence in prayer, Luke places the “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” sayings. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” He teaches perseverance in prayer.

In Chapter 10, Luke tells of Jesus sending the disciples out, his instructions on what to take with them, and how to respond to those who accept them and reject them. The “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” material was adopted by the early Christian missionaries as an encouragement to live out their mission, depending only on friendly supporters along the way. Luke uses the sayings in relation to prayer. Since God is eager to hear and respond to the believer’s prayer, we may confidently ask, seek, and knock, no longer on human doors, but on the gates of heaven. 

Luke concludes the teaching material with, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

The Focus of Prayer

So, the difficulty of prayer is seen in the persistence and perseverance of staying focused upon God and God’s call to ministry. Focused prayer involves preparation. There are times when your mood may not be right; an irritated or anxious temper may get in the way. Or perhaps the preoccupation with work and family may be clouding and crowding your thoughts. 

A dozen different demands and pressures make special preparation an absolute necessity for real prayer. So, remember this: To pray is to focus on God and God’s call. To pray is to live in God’s presence and to receive God’s power.

Prayer is who you are as a Christ-centered leader, and who you are is how you lead.

Respond

We are not sure what brought the disciples to the point of asking Jesus to teach them to pray. But as I think about it, motivation is not as important as participation. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus was ready to provide them with direction. He did not ask them about their motivation; he provided them with a pattern for participation. 

His pattern was to pray, so he could engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to that call.

Pray to Stay Focused on God

As a follower of Jesus, called and commissioned as a leader, you pray to keep your focus on God and to keep the desires of your heart in alignment with God, as you have experienced in and through Jesus. 

To learn to pray, practice focusing your prayers. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What would happen if I walked through the neighborhood focusing upon my neighbors as I prayed? 
  • What would happen if I educated myself to think naturally of children, poverty, gun violence, prejudice, hunger, or homelessness in my neighborhood, community, or city? 
  • What would happen if I listened to the news or read news stories in preparation for prayer? 
  • What would happen if I became more aware of the politicians, the first responders, the teachers, the medical personnel in my neighborhood, community, or city?  

Asking Jesus to teach you to pray means that you prepare yourself to focus upon more than your thoughts and feelings. As a Christ-centered leader, focus your prayers to become more than “just how I feel” prayers. Praying extemporaneously is important, focused prayer is what makes the difference. 

The difficulty of prayer is experienced in actually praying. When prayer becomes a part of who you are, you begin to participate in your prayer. So, I offer this caution with prayer, when you pray be ready to act, because God will empower you to be the answer to your prayers.

Prayer helps make you who you are, and who is are is how you lead. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • When and where did you pray?
  • In what ways were you assisting others to pray?
  • How were you exercising leadership when you prayed?
  • What did you learn about yourself and about your feelings and actions toward prayer?
  • How did you experience God’s love?
  • With whom did you share God’s love?
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer 

O God, as I open myself to you, I am asking you to teach me to pray. Keep me focused on you and your direction for my life. Keep me mindful of the world around me so that I may pray for the well-being of the people around me and the community. By your grace, continue to make me an instrument of your love and peace so others might know of your love and acceptance. Thank you for the opportunity to be one of your leaders at this point and time. I do believe you created me and gifted me to lead for such a time as this. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen*

*How to Pray, by E. Stanley Jones, first published in 1943. Reprinted by the E. Stanley Jones Foundation 2015.

Other Blogs in this Series

This is the third in a series of Reflections on 50 years of ministry. As I reflect back upon the years, I have decided to share some things I have learned. So, over the next several weeks, I want to emphasize what I have found important for Christ-centered leaders to know and act upon. 

The first blog in this series focused on people. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Importance of People.  The second blog in the series focused on the power of words. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: Words Are Powerful  – Transforming Mission.  Here is the third in the series: Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Grace in Gratitude.

So here it goes. 

The Gift of Gratitude

If I could give one quality gift to you as a leader, I would give you the gift of gratitude. I have found gratitude to be the fundamental value of the Christian faith. It has the potential to transform your life, impact your relationships, and to change the world. If I could have God do anything for you, I would ask that God make you a grateful person. 

Here’s why.  The words “grace” and “gratitude” have the same root in Greek. In other words, if there is no awareness of the grace of God, there is no gratitude. And there is no gratitude without an awareness of the grace of God. Over my years of ministry, I have never known a person who was grateful, who was at the same time bitter, hurtful, mean, or vengeful.   

Words of Gratitude

As I began my first appointment, I was introduced to the song “My Tribute.” Andre Crouch, who wrote and recorded the song, put words to what I understood to be my call to ministry.   

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me?

Things so undeserved yet You gave to prove Your love for me.

The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude.

All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee.

To God be the glory. To God be the glory. To God be the glory.

For the things He has done. 

Gratitude in Everyday Life

As I have matured in my faith, I have grown to understand that gratitude is more than something I simply express with words. Gratitude is woven into the fabric of everyday living, relationships, perspectives and assumptions, and the way I see the world. 

As I have searched the scriptures, I have found that the Bible emphasizes the importance of gratitude from “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus…” (I Thessalonians 5:18) to “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1). 

In the scripture and in the Christian community, gratitude is seen as a virtue that fosters a positive and humble attitude, acknowledging the blessing of God in people and all of creation. 

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on the grace in gratitude. 

Read Luke 17:11-19 

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with a skin disease approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’s[b] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? So where are the other nine? 18 Did none of them return to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” 

Reflect

Leprosy was a physical condition that had broad implications. It was an incurable disease that separated people from one another. It was a living death. Individuals with leprosy were required, by their religion, to stay outside the boundaries of the community.  

If you had leprosy, you were physically, as well as socially, isolated from family, friends, synagogue, and all that gave meaning and purpose to your life. To have leprosy meant that you had no quality relationships outside of the diseased community. Your only means of living was to beg for handouts. And not only were you isolated, but you had the responsibility of announcing your condition to everyone who came close. In other words, because of your condition, you were marginalized, ostracized, and humiliated.  

In the story, as Jesus walks by, it is not clear whether they were begging or if they had confidence in Jesus’ power to cleanse them. But as Jesus passed, they cried out, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.” Although they did nothing to get leprosy, they have no rights to which they can appeal. Healing is not owed to them.  

Jesus directed them to “Go show yourselves to the priest.” The priest was one who could announce that each of them was cleansed of the disease. What is interesting here is Jesus gave each of them what was needed for healing and wholeness. His direction was an act of grace. 

They followed his direction. Their action of going to show themselves to the priest was their response. On their way, they were healed of their leprosy. They did not first simply believe and then go to the priest. They followed the direction of Jesus. As they followed his direction, they discovered they had been restored to health. Each of them received the same direction, the same grace, and were given hope of a new life. 

No Gratitude Without an Awareness of Grace

There is no gratitude without an awareness of grace. In the story, ten individuals experienced God’s grace. Each of them returned from the world in which they had been isolated. Each of them experienced a new life. Even though they each received grace and did what Jesus told them to do, there was no requirement to return. Yet, in a completely spontaneous expression of gratitude, one returned giving thanks and praise to God.  

Gratitude is a response to experience grace. It is the fundamental value of following Jesus. 

Respond

Effective leadership starts with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead. So, how will you express your gratitude this week? Below are several things you might do to cultivate gratitude in your life. 

Saying Grace 

First, may I suggest that you start today by saying grace over your possessions? Bow your head and say a word of thanks over the things you possess. By giving thanks, you live more by the God who holds you than by the things you are trying to hand onto. 

Saying grace over your possessions is the final test. Because gratitude is the central virtue of the Christian life. There is no other virtue like it. Let me say it (write it again). I have never known a person who was grateful who was at the same time, mean or small or bitter or hurtful. 

Make gratitude a Way of Life

Secondly, when you express gratitude, you weave gratitude into the fabric of your life. When you are a person of gratitude you lead with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead. 

You can explore more on gratitude being a way of life through the resources below: 

Make Time to Be Grateful

Third, if you are ready to become a more effective leader, another way to express your gratitude is:  

Over the next 5 days, make time each day to think about being grateful. Notice the people who inspire you. What do you see that makes you smile or to notice their actions? Keep in mind that no person or experience is insignificant. From the person who started a friendly conversation to the laughter of children, they are all part of what makes you who you are. The small joys are just as valuable as all the others. Give God thanks for the people you encounter each day.

Think about what makes your life easier. Is it the alarm that reminds you to get up each morning? The water in the shower? Your car, umbrella, cellphone? The list goes on. For what are you grateful at this moment? Give God thanks for what makes life easier.

Consider past relationships. Upon whose shoulders are you standing? What did the person do to make life better for you? Why are you better off for having known that person? Give thanks for the toughest relationship of the day. On my best days, I have come to experience sincere gratitude, even for difficult people, by looking for the good in my encounters with them. Give God thanks for the people who have gone before you, who are mentoring you, and who are helping you grow more in grace and generosity.

Add yourself to your gratitude list. You might feel uncomfortable. Most of the time you quickly focus upon things you do not like about yourself. But, when you practice gratitude, you can alter that negative cycle. What would happen if you, instead of focusing on your flaws, paid attention to what makes you most proud of yourself? Make a list of the talents and strengths God has given you. Now, give God thanks for those gifts and how God is using you to make a difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care.

Finally, remember, who you are is how you lead. Effective leadership starts with gratitude.  

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • Did you say grace over your possessions? Why? Why not? 
  • How did you notice that gratitude is woven into the fabric of your life? If it is not, what will do to cultivate gratitude in your living and leading? 
  • What did you learn about yourself and about your feelings and actions of gratitude? 
  • How did you experience God’s love? 
  • With whom did you share God’s love? 
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 

Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be. 

Prayer

O God, I give you thanks for the people and things in my life that make life meaningful and easy. Help me remember that I can let go of the things that hold me captive and trust you for meaning and purpose.  I give you thanks for my friends and colleagues who, through their gratitude, are helping me become more who you created me to be. I am grateful. Amen.

As a leader, one of the most effective tools you have is your word(s). I know that sounds strange, but you are only as good as your word.  Your followers need a leader they can trust. They are looking for a leader who speaks with hope and compassion as well as a leader who puts words into action. Every day, in almost every situation, you have the opportunity to model the character and action needed, not only by what you say but how you say it.

I just entered my 50th year under appointment as a United Methodist minister. As I reflect back upon the years, I have decided to share some things I have learned. So, over the next several weeks, I want to emphasize some things that are important for Christ-centered leaders to know and act upon. 

Words are Powerful

The first blog in this series focused on people. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Importance of People.  So here is the second blog. Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: Words are Powerful. 

Regardless of whom you are speaking or writing, your intention in speaking or posting, whether in public, private, or social media, the words you use have the power to hurt or heal. One of the most important things I have learned is, just as God’s Word became flesh in Jesus, God’s Word is real and alive in me. As I have grown deeper in my relationship with Jesus, I have learned that whether spoken or written, words are powerful.   

Words that Hurt and Heal

Early in my ministry, there was a church-wide study titled Words that Hurt and the Words that Heal: Language About God and People. (From the 1988 General Conference of the United Methodist Church).  That study has had an impact on my ministry regarding the words I use in sermons, public speaking, social media, meetings, and conversations. 

While I was participating in the study, I ran across an image in a newspaper (The word “newspaper” reveals how old I am).  It was from the cartoon “B.C.” 

There are two primary characters: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. Most of the time the woman is beating the snake with her stick.

One day, she is walking up one side of a hill and the snake is coming up the other side of the hill. They meet at the top. The woman realizes that she does not have her stick. So, she looks at the snake and says, “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!”

In the next frame, the snake is in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “O the power of the spoken word.” 

Words Shape Worldviews

Whether you believe it or not, words create images and assumptions that shape the way people view one another, the community, the church, and even God. You can use words to encourage and build up as well as discourage and tear down. Words feed prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making. You have a powerful tool in your toolbox.

Whether giving a speech, delivering a sermon, writing an article, or posting on social media, it is important to pick your words wisely. As you lead a group, teach a class, or are in casual conversation, think about your words. The words you use reveal who you are and who you are is how you lead.

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on the power of words. 

Read Ephesians 4:29 

 “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (TEV) 

Reflect

It is interesting that Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus at all. It’s even more interesting that he wrote what we know as Ephesians 4:25-5:2.  If he had to say it, does it mean that there were problems with the way people spoke to and interacted with one another?

Words and Values

The church in Ephesus was a diverse church. Because of its diversity, there was a conflict of values. The Jews, who had a deep ethical background, were people who lived with religious values. The Gentiles, who did not have the same background or heritage, had a different set of values. 

I can imagine there were times when the two sets of values clashed and created tension. In a time of conflict, Paul was instructing the church to say kind, supportive, encouraging words. When you open your mouth, do not let evil talk come out. Don’t diss one another. Say only what is useful for building up as there is need so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Paul’s direction is similar to Jesus’s teaching when he says, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” 

Words and Leadership

Although she is writing about more than words, Brene Brown writes, “In times of uncertainty, it is common for leaders to leverage fear and weaponize it to their advantage…If you can keep people afraid and give them an enemy who is responsible for their fear, you can get people to do just about anything.” 

Brown also says, “…when we are managing during times of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty…We need to be available to fact-check the stories that team members may be making up, because in scarcity we invent worse-case scenarios.” 

Your words are powerful. Simply by what you say and how you say it, you can create fear and uncertainty. By what you say and how you say it, you can and do reflect the love you have experienced in and through Jesus. 

God’s Word

God’s word of love and grace was made real in Jesus.  So, Jesus is God’s encouraging word to us. As a Jesus follower, it makes sense to me that our words would reflect that same love and grace. That our words would be words of kindness, compassion, and encouragement.

Just as in Jesus we find the embodiment of God’s love and grace, the people we lead should find and experience the same love and grace in us.

Respond

We are living in some uncertain times. Whether it be in the politics of our government, of our employment, or our church, we are living in a time that is crying out for leaders who are trustworthy, compassionate, stable, and hope-filled. As a leader, you have the opportunity and responsibility to model the character and action needed for this time.  

Reflecting on how your words can influence others, negatively and positively, can help you to respond more effectively and achieve better results. Words can change emotions and actions, and you, as a leader, must hold yourself accountable for how you communicate to ensure that people understand your intention.

Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble. Think of the power you have and the impact you can make if you become more intentional regarding how you speak and communicate with the people entrusted to your care. The right words make all the difference.

Practice Addition

Think of one or two people who need an encouraging word. Persons who need to know of God’s love and acceptance. People who need to experience God’s grace. Get their face in your mind and their name on your lips. Keep them in mind as you read the following:

There was a first-year teacher at Saint Mary’s School in Morris, Minnesota. She said she had 34 students who were all dear to her. But one student stood out. His name was Mark. She said he was one in a million. He was very neat in appearance with a happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful. There was just one thing about Mark: he talked incessantly.

She had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. Every time she corrected him, he responded, “Thank you for correcting me, Teacher.”

She said, “I didn’t know what to make of it at first. But before long, I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.”

One morning her patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often. She said, “I made a first-year teacher mistake. I looked at Mark and said, ‘If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!’”

It wasn’t ten seconds later when one of the students blurted out, “Mark is talking again, Teacher.”  I hadn’t asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark’s desk, tore off two pieces of tape, and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark’s desk, removed the tape, and shrugged my shoulders.

His first words were, “Thank you for correcting me, Teacher.”

At the end of the year, Mark went on to fourth grade. The teacher eventually moved on to teach junior-high math. Several years passed. As Mark entered the ninth grade, Mark and the teacher met again.

She said Mark was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to the instruction on the “new math,” he did not talk as much. One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. The class had worked hard on a new concept all week, and the teacher sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves, and edgy with one another.

To stop the crankiness, she asked the students to put their books away and to take out two sheets of notebook paper. She then asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on their paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she asked them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment. As the students left the room, each one handed her their papers. Mark said, “Thank you for teaching me today, Teacher. Have a good weekend.”   That Saturday, she wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper and she listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday, at the beginning of the class, she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. She listened as the students said things like, “Really? I never knew that meant anything to anyone!”  “I didn’t know others liked me so much.” After a few minutes, the class went back to studying math. No one mentioned those papers in class again.

It was several years later that the teacher learned that Mark had been killed in Vietnam. She had gotten word that Mark’s family wanted her to attend his funeral. At the funeral she watched and listened. One of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her and asked, “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” She nodded. He said, “Mark talked a lot about you.”

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. The teacher was invited to come by. Mark’s mother and father wanted to speak with her. When she arrived, they met her at her car.

“We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. She knew what it was without looking at the paper.

Mark’s mother said, “Thank you so much for doing that. As you can see, Mark treasured it.”

Mark’s classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk at home.”

Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album. I have mine too,”

Marilyn said.  “It’s in my diary.” Then Vicki reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. “I carry this with me at all times. I take it out and look at it every time I need encouragement. We all saved our lists.” *

Your Turn

Do you still have the people in mind I asked you about? Sometime today, tomorrow, or this week, practice addition. Add an encouraging word to their lists. Send a text, an email, or make a phone call. Let them know how much you appreciate them and care about them. Offer a kind, caring, encouraging word. After all, God sent us his Word. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Be who God created you to be, use your words to make a difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care. And remember, who you are is how you lead.

You will find more stories on the power of words in the following blogs found at transformationmission.org/blog.

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 1 

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 2

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 3

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 4

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 5

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 6

Respond

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • How did you experience talking with people? 
  • How did you pay attention to your words? 
  • When did you use kind, caring, supportive, and encouraging words? 
  • When did you use words you later wish you had not used? 
  • What did you learn about yourself and about the words you use?
  •  In whom did you experience God’s love? 
  • With whom did you share God’s love? 
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 
  • Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.

Prayer

Gracious God, guide me today to be an instrument of healing and hope in the world. Help me to be a bearer of good news, planting words of love and hope in the hearts and minds of others. May all that I say and do today give you glory and work for the good of the people you have entrusted to me. In Christ’s name, Amen.

*Story adapted an article in The Reader’s Digest written by Sister Helen Mrosla, a Franciscan nun and the teacher in the story. The story first appeared in the Topeka Capitol-Journal in 1998.

How often do you stop and reflect upon what you are learning about yourself, your ministry, and your leadership? What triggers your times of reflection? And what do you do with what you are reflecting upon? Heavy questions for summer reading, but I have a reason for asking.

I am in a period of reflection. I just entered my 50th year under appointment as a United Methodist minister. Yeah, you read it correctly. I have been at this work of loving, learning, and leading for a long time. As part of my reflection, I have decided to share some things I have learned over the last half-century. Wow, now I am making myself feel old.

So, will you give me a few minutes of your time over the next 5 weeks to share some of the things I have learned? (I wrote a blog several years ago “10 Things I’ve Learned in 4.5 Decades of Ministry.”

The focus over the next several weeks is to emphasize what is important for Christ-centered leaders to know and act on. It is my hope that you will find this helpful and fruitful in leading people to become who God has created them to be.

The Most Important Lesson: People are Important

So, here goes. The most important thing I have learned over 50 years of ministry is: People are important. Regardless of who a person is or what that person has done, regardless of whether a person agrees with me or even likes me, regardless of whether the person lives the life I want them to live, each and every person is loved by God.

Over the years, as I have experienced God’s love for me, I have learned to love others the way God has loved me. As I have grown deeper in my relationship with Jesus, I have learned that each and every person is a person God has given to me to love. A lot of words to say, People are important.

When I was 10 years old, the musical “Funny Girl,” was on Broadway. One of the famous songs from that musical has shaped my life for almost 60 years. I first heard it on the radio and television. I sang it in junior high and high school choruses. I have seen the movie several times. Even today, I am taken back to times of my childhood when I hear the song, “People.”

People,

People who need people,

Are the luckiest people in the world.

We’re children, needing other children.

And yet letting a grown-up pride

Hide all the need inside.

Acting more like children than children

A feeling deep in your soul

Says you were half now you’re whole.

No more hunger and thirst.

First be a person who needs people

People who need people

Are the luckiest people in the world. 

The musical is about a woman who has discovered that the luckiest people are not those who have enjoyed fame and fortune, but rather those who find special relationships with others. She is disconnected with almost everyone around her, then she sings, “people who need people are the luckiest people.” The song suggests that you only become one of the luckiest people “first” being “a person who needs people.” Another way of saying it is, people are important.

The Importance of Meaningful Connections

As part of my reflection one of the things I have learned over and over is, as followers of Jesus, you and I are in the people business. People thrive and find fulfillment when they have meaningful connections with others. People require companionship, support, and interaction with other people to lead fulfilling lives. Relationships play a significant role in the overall well-being, happiness, and fulfillment of all of us.

I have also learned that you and I are not only in the people business, we are also in the loving people business. As difficult and inconvenient as it can be at times, loving others as God has loved us is who we are. Remember, as a Christ-centered leader, who you are is how you lead.

The Scriptural Foundation: Love One Another

There are more than a few scriptures that undergird the importance of people. Scriptures like “…love your neighbor as yourself;” “welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed you…” and “faith, hope, and love remain…the greatest of these is love.” I am aware that I shortened my examples by leaving out references to loving God and to the glory of God. I have made an assumption, if you are a Jesus follower, God is in the first place of your loving and leading, which makes loving people extremely important as a response to God’s love for you.

The list goes on, but let us use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on the importance of people.

Read: John 13:34-35

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

Reflect

These words of Jesus are part of his farewell teaching to his followers. Before he leaves them, he gives them this commandment to love one another as he has loved them. Why does he give them this commandment? By loving one another they are showing others what it means to be one of his followers.

A New Perspective on Love

In the accounts of the good news according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment is to love God, your neighbor, and even your enemies. In John’s account of the good news, Jesus teaches a new perspective to love. Just as in the other accounts, love is inclusive. God’s love is directed to all people.

The difference for John is, the love of God is not an individualistic personal blessing, but a distinctive action of goodwill and care for others. Love received and shared reveals that the followers of Jesus are not merely “nice people” but are agents of God’s love for the world.

Love as a Deliberate Act of Goodwill

I hope it goes without saying that the love used in the above verses is “agape.” The love of God expressed by John is not an abstract quality, attitude, or feeling. It is a deliberate act of goodwill and care for others. God loves us, and we love others in response to God’s deliberate action on our behalf in and through Jesus.

Maybe the best way of saying it is, love acts before it feels. So, what does that mean for you as a Christ centered leader?

When you discover the authentic life of trusting God and living in love, your priorities shift from trying to nail down just the right doctrine to following the living Jesus every moment of every day. Your relationships shift from trying to control those in your life to discovering the potential of others and assisting them in developing and living into their full potential.

Loving Others: Relating Authentically and Caring Deeply

Said another way, when people are important, you learn how to relate to others in authentic and caring ways, you begin to understand the spiritual connection you have with others, and you learn to love those with whom you disagree or who put you off. When people are important, you will appreciate the bigger picture of God’s truth and begin to live your faith as a witness to God’s love for you and others. You will move from the settledness of mere belief and learn to live and lead with unimagined possibilities.

From John’s perspective, Jesus loved his followers selflessly. He was not concerned, as often you and I are, of what he might receive in return for his love. He did not think of what he might feel if his love failed or was not returned. His one desire was to give himself to those he loved. Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Sacrificial Love: No Limits, No Cross

Jesus loved his followers sacrificially. There was no limit to what his love would give, and to where his love would go. If love meant the Cross, he was prepared to go to that Cross. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that love is meant to bring us happiness. Ultimately it does, but love will first bring pain and sacrifice. Hear the words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Understanding Love: Knowing and Accepting

Jesus loved his followers understandingly. He knew his followers. He knew their strengths as well as their weaknesses. The people who really love you are the people who know you at your worst as well as your best. The great thing about love is, you are loved for who you are. The love of God, we know in and through Jesus, is real love and total love. It loves not just part of a person but loves the whole person, the better and the worse. The heart of Jesus is big enough to love you as you are. Hear the words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Leading with Love: The Call of a Christ-Centered Leader

People are important. As a Christ-centered leader, you are called to lead the way in loving and accepting others. By the way you love and care for the weak as well as the strong, the strugglers as well as the achievers, will show, not only who you are as a follower of Jesus but, will show the world what it means to be a Jesus follower.

Loving others as you have been loved reveals who you are, and who you are is how you lead.

Respond

For you, as a Christ-centered leader, people are important. So…

Take People Seriously

Take people seriously. Many people have no one to love them. Whether it is by their own behavior or belief, people have separated themselves from others. Regardless of their reasons for separation or disconnection, each person is a person who God loves. You, being a receiver of God’s love, are also a conduit and giver of God’s love. God wants to love people through you. Be who God has created you to be, take people seriously so that God can love them through you.

Listen to People

Listen, listen, listen to people. One of the most important ways to take people seriously is to listen to them. One thing I have learned is many people just want to know that they have been heard. As time-consuming as it might seem, give time to listening to others. Whether you are interested or not, whether it makes sense or not, whether it is part of your agenda, loving others as you have been loved is not about you. Be who God created you to be, listen to people so that God can love them through you.

Be Generous with People

Be generous with people. I have learned that most of us think the worst of people. Regardless of the situation or circumstance, think the best of others. Please give them the benefit of your doubt until you learn differently. Too often you react to people based on your assumptions or perceptions. Learn to respond out of the love you have experienced in and through Jesus. God did not create you to be the judge. God created you to be the witness. Be who God created you to be. Be generous with people so that God can love them through you.

Be Kind, Patient, and Honest

Be kind, patient, and honest with people. Encourage them, support them, and assist them in becoming who God has created them to be. Model God’s love in the way you interact with others and work for their well-being. By the way you love and care for them, you will be a witness to who you are as a follower of Jesus, and you will be a conduit of God’s love.

People are More Important Than Policies, Positions & Politics

Remember that people are more important than policies, positions, and politics. We all work within organizations and institutions that seek to love and serve people. But too often, we emphasize the things put in place to help us love and serve more than the people we are given to love and serve. To love others as you have been loved will mean you will learn to navigate the systems and policies that too often separate people, create anxiety, and cause harm. Keep in mind, what separates and causes harm often was created to bring people together and to work for their good. People are important. Learn to use the policies, positions, and politics as instruments of God’s love, to work for the ultimate good of others. Be who God created you to be, so God can love others through you.

People are Important

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

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

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

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

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

Wow! What a model of people are important. How many times have we sacrificed being “in a relationship” for the personal satisfaction of being “in the right?” How many times have we won an argument but lost a friend or damaged a heart?

Jesus Came to Redeem our Relationships

Did Jesus come to teach us “right” theology? Or did he come to redeem our relationships with God and with one another? He saved the world by teaching twelve individuals how to get along and to belong to one another. In other words, Jesus saved the world by teaching them that people are important. He taught them how to be in a relationship with one another.

Relationships are central to who we are as followers of Jesus. God is love, and love is impossible outside of relationships. One of the most important things I have learned over 50 years of ministry is that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.

Love one another as you have been loved. It is who you are as a follower of Jesus. And who you are is how you lead.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • How did you experience taking people seriously, listening, being generous, and placing people before policy, position, or politics?
  • In what other ways did you put people first?
  • In whom did you experience God’s love?
  • With whom did you share God’s love?
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.

Leadership and power go together. Some leaders use power to project their attitudes and perspectives upon others. They use their position and influence to keep situations and circumstances from changing, which prohibits people from becoming who God has created them to be. 

Other leaders have received the power to change their attitudes and perspectives. As they grow in their leadership, they invite others to explore their own attitudes and they work for the changes needed to bring about the full potential of the people entrusted to their care. The question is, how do you use the power given to you? 

The Power to Reshape Attitudes

As a Christ-centered leader, you have been given the power to challenge and reshape attitudes that are deeply rooted in people. As you work to empower people to become who God created them to be, you help them confront and understand their attitudes. 

Attitude is more than disposition or feeling. One aspect of attitude is understanding where you are and what direction you are going. As you help others discover and develop their potential to lead, you assist them in knowing who they are and why they live, act, and lead the way they do. 

Remember, the key to your power is the source of your power. The source shapes your values, character, faith, and attitudes. It helps you become more aware of the people God gives you to love and to lead. And as you grow closer to the source, you begin to be more aware of the people around you, your attitude toward them, and what God has provided for you to love them as you have been loved. 

So, how does this power work for you as a leader? 

Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return

Let’s use our practice of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to explore how this power helps you discover the attitudes that hinder you from communicating across barriers of prejudice and exclusion. 

Below is a story from the 10th Chapter of Acts. It is a three-part story of Simon Peter and his ministry with the Gentiles. This story will give you insight into understanding leadership and the power of attitude. Please do not skip over the scripture. It is a great story that actually provides insight into your leadership. 

Read Acts 10:1-28 

Cornelius’ Vision

1In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2 He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. 3 One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4 He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6 he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, 8 and after telling them everything he sent them to Joppa. 

Peter’s Vision

9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. 

17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three[a] men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation, for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous[b] and God-fearing man who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish people, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So Peter[c] invited them in and gave them lodging.

The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the brothers and sisters from Joppa accompanied him. 

Peter and Cornelius Meet 

24 The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 On Peter’s arrival, Cornelius met him and, falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26 But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled, 28 and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is improper for a Jew to associate with or to visit an outsider, but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 

Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days. 

Reflect

This story is traditionally known as the conversion of Cornelius, but it could be called the conversion and attitude change of Peter. Peter has been preaching among the Gentiles, but his attitude has been one of “God loves all people but not all people are acceptable.” As he is reaching out to non-Jewish people, he is not convinced they are to be totally included. 

Cornelius’ Vision

Cornelius was one of the Roman soldiers who was interested in Jesus. He was among the Gentiles who was impressed with Jewish monotheism and ethics, and sometimes attended the synagogue. Yet, he remained a Gentile. He was a good man who prayed and gave to the poor. One day while praying he had a vision of an angel of God. In the vision God spoke to him, affirmed his good works, and told him to send for Peter. At the conclusion of his vision, he sent a delegation of three to ask Peter to come to his house. 

Peter’s Vision

At the same time, Cornelius had his vision, Peter had his own vision. He was at Simon the Tanner’s house. He had gone up on the roof to pray before lunch. While praying and waiting for lunch, he had his vision. Heaven opened and something like a large sheet came down with all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds. At that point, he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 

Peter responded to the voice by saying, “Lord, I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” Then the voice said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times before the vision concluded. 

It is in the midst of this vision that God was planting a seed for an attitude change. Peter was hesitant to eat because some of the animals were unclean according to Jewish dietary laws. But through this vision, he learned that God’s message was not about specific foods, but about accepting all people, even the Gentiles. His attitude began to change. 

While Peter was trying to understand the vision, the delegation sent by Cornelius arrived. They asked for Peter. While Peter was still reflecting upon the vision, the Spirit told him that three men were searching for him. So, Peter met the delegation, listened to why they had come, and then provided hospitality for them. The next day Peter went with the delegation to Cornelius’ house. 

Peter and Cornelius Meet

When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, he realized the significance of his vision. He was being taught that God’s message was not as much about keeping dietary laws as it was about loving and accepting people, all people, including Gentiles. 

This discovery for Peter led to a major attitude change. From “You yourselves know that it is improper for a Jew to associate with or to visit an outsider…” to “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Peter made a huge journey from holding people at arm’s length to sharing the good news of Jesus with outsiders, strangers, and Gentiles. It is while he is in the home of Cornelius that he understands the vision from the day before. 

This event convinced Peter that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles as well. They were baptized, and Peter acknowledged that Gentiles were also included in God’s plan of salvation. 

The power of the Holy Spirit transforms leaders. In fact, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that makes and shapes Christ-centered leaders. For Luke, this is a pivotal moment in the spread of Christianity, from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and now to the ends of the earth. 

For you and me, this is the heart-opening moment that as followers of Jesus, all people are included in his love and acceptance. It is the presence and power of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, who gives you the power to lead as you have been created to lead. Just remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Respond 

This story illustrates the breaking of traditional barriers and the widening of God’s grace to all people. Regardless of ethnic or cultural background, God’s love is available to everyone. There are several things to notice in this story. 

God Hears Your Prayer

First, God hears the prayers of non-Christians just as God hears the prayers of Christ-centered leaders. Both Peter and Cornelius pray. The prayers of both are heard, and both have visions in which they receive revelations from God. The answer to their prayers is to bring together those who share the good news of Jesus with those who need to hear the good news of Jesus. The question is, are you open to God leading you to share God’s good news, especially with those persons who are not a part of your group or who you might consider to be sinners or unworthy? 

The Power of the Holy Spirit

Second, the transformative power of the Holy Spirit changes the attitudes of Christ-centered leaders. God has created you to be who God needs you to be. Although you think and feel one way at this moment, God is working to bring about something new and greater for you in the next moment. The question is, are you open to the power of God to change your attitudes, especially toward the people you have always kept at a distance? 

Your Response

Third, no Christ-centered leader is above rejecting a direct command of God. When God tells Peter to eat what has been provided on the sheet, Peter speaks back to God, “Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” Peter is being faithful to the biblical command that is to be obeyed. So, Peter’s refusal is not simply his pettiness or prejudice, although it is obvious that God intends to include all people. Peter is simply too narrow-minded to accept what is clearly God’s will. The question is, are you open to becoming more who God has created you to be and to lead in ways you are being called to lead? 

What God has made clean…

Fourth, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” is a fundamental declaration of the Christian faith. God is the Creator of all people, the one who loves and accepts all people, and the one who wants to create a community within the divided world that will be God’s witnesses to the inclusiveness of God’s love. Peter finally sees this, not as the result of his vision, but on the basis of further experience within the Christian community. The question is, how are you growing in your faith as a Jesus follower and how is the community of faith helping you become the Christ-centered leader needed for this time? 

Christ-centered leaders have been given the power to communicate beyond the limits of nation, race, gender, sexual orientation, social and economic status within the community of faith. After conversations and reflection, Peter changed his attitude. 

This is how God’s revelation works in the community as it continues to face new situations and discover the will and direction of God. You have been given the power to change your own thinking, attitudes, and direction. It is in your faithfulness that you have the power to lead others in the development of their own attitudes as Jesus followers. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • What did you learn about yourself and your attitudes today? 
  • What do you plan to do with what you are learning about yourself and about God’s work in and through you? 
  • How did you interact with the people God sent your way? 
  • Who is helping you remember that you are a child of God and that you have been empowered to love others as God has loved you? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?
  • Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be. 

Prayer

O God, today I give you thanks for life and work. I pray for the power to be your witness starting where I am now. Remind me throughout the day of how you love me and how you have empowered me to love the people around me. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen

Leadership and power go together. Some leaders use power to control people. Other leaders use power to set them free. The question is, how do you use the power given to you? One answer is, who you are is how you lead. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you have been given the power to influence people by empowering them to become who God created them to be. You discover and develop their potential to lead and then set them free to lead. The key to your power is the source of your power. The source shapes your values, character, and faith. It helps you become more aware of the people God gives you to love and to lead. And as you grow closer to the source, you begin to share what you are receiving with the people around you.   

So, how does this power work for you as a leader?   

Let’s use our practice of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to explore how this power helps you communicate across barriers of prejudice and exclusion. 

Read Acts 8:26-40 

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.” 

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Reflect

As a Christ-centered leader, you have been given the power to communicate beyond barriers. Jesus told his followers, who were looking for power to restore Israel, that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit had come upon them and that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Luke is telling the story of how the church is becoming a worldwide and inclusive community representing God’s love and acceptance of all people. This story, of Philip’s encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch, is an illustration of the power to communicate beyond the prejudices and exclusions that separate people from one another and the community of faith.

As you look at this story, there are three characters, a eunuch from Ethiopia, Philip, and the Holy Spirit, who help us understand the power to communicate.

The Power to Communicate: the Eunuch

The first character is the eunuch from Ethiopia. A eunuch was a man who by surgery, accident, or disposition could not father children. Eunuchs were trusted servants in a royal household. Although they were welcomed and trusted by royalty, according to Deuteronomy 23:1, “No eunuch is to enter the congregation of God.” (The Message). So, the eunuch in our story is not included or accepted in the community of faith. Being excluded from the community of faith is a barrier in this story.

He was a high court official for the queen of Ethiopia. Because he was from Ethiopia, he was considered a foreigner and not welcome in the community of faith. Being a foreigner is a barrier in this story. He is returning to Ethiopia from Jerusalem where he had been participating in a Jewish festival. Even though he was not welcomed or included, he had been in Israel to worship the Lord in the Temple. It was while he was on his way home that he encountered Philip.

The Power to Communicate: Philip

The second character is Philip, known in tradition as Philip the evangelist. He had been in Samaria, one of the areas Jesus had said he would have the power to witness (communicate), and now was on the road between Jerusalem and Gaza. On the road, in a chariot, was the Ethiopian eunuch. He was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah.

Philip was prompted by the Spirit to approach the chariot. As he got close, he overheard the eunuch reading from Isaiah. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading. The eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” The eunuch then invited Philip to come sit with him in the chariot. Understanding the scripture is another barrier in this story.

The passage the eunuch was reading was:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.” (Isaiah 53:7-8)

The eunuch asked about the prophet and about whom the prophet was describing. Philip used the opportunity to explain the passage. He began to tell the story of Jesus. As he shared the good news (gospel), the eunuch trusted what he was hearing. When they came to some water by the side of the road, the eunuch asked to be baptized. Remember the words from Deuteronomy 23:1, “No eunuch is to enter the congregation of God.” (The Message).

But Philip, empowered by the Holy Spirit, agreed to baptize him. The eunuch ordered the driver to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. Philip had communicated beyond the barriers of backgrounds and prejudices. He had received power to witness beyond the lack of hospitality and acceptance, and beyond the lack of understanding.

Tradition says that the eunuch carried the gospel back to Ethiopia, and Philip found himself at Azotus, where he continued to witness to the love of God on his way to Caesarea. 

The Power to Communicate: The Holy Spirit

The third character is the Holy Spirit, the power of God given to Philip. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon a group of frightened self-centered, willful, and discouraged men and women. They were transformed into new creatures.  They were infused with supernatural power, intellectually, emotionally, and physically. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they began to communicate the story of Jesus in ways people understood and responded to positively.  Philip was one of the people empowered to witness to God’s love. 

Philip had grown up hearing that he and other Hebrew children should not go to Samaria. Samaria was a community of “half-breeds” who were not truly Hebrew in their faith. Yet, when the Holy Spirit came upon Philip, the first place he went to witness was Samaria. He had received the power to communicate across the barrier of prejudice. 

He was leaving Samaria when he encountered the eunuch. It was his relationship with God and his sensitivity to God’s leading that led to the encounter with the eunuch. The words of Jesus had come alive in his life and ministry, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Philip was a living example of God’s desire that those who received power would witness beyond the barriers that separated people from one another. He had begun to lead with the power given to him by God’s grace. 

Respond

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the power to witness across the barriers of prejudice and ignorance. 

According to Deuteronomy 23:1, physical eunuchs were excluded from the people of God, but Isaiah 56:1-8 points to a time when eunuchs and foreigners will be included, and God’s house will be “a house of prayer for all peoples.” Luke sees the Ethiopian as a transitional figure who worships the Jewish God, reads the Jewish Scriptures, but is still an outsider to the people of God. In this story, he hears the good news, is baptized, and is incorporated into the Christian community. 

Christ-Centered Leaders Communicate Across Barriers

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the power to communicate across the barriers of biblical and theological misunderstanding. 

Philip was invited into an encounter with the Ethiopian because he heard him reading the scripture. In the ancient world, private reading was done aloud. The truth is, all the Bible was written to be read aloud. You can often come to good insights about the meaning of the scripture by hearing it and listening to it.   

For Luke, scripture was not self-interpreting. It required a community of faith in order to be faithfully interpreted. In other words, (here is a barrier to the understanding of scripture), the Bible is not the individual’s book. The Bible belongs to the church. Please hear me, this does not mean there should not be private Bible reading and study, but it does mean that Christian readers of the Bible should listen closely to the insights and meaning of scripture provided by the whole community of faith. Philip, by the Holy Spirit, was present to help with the interpretation of the whole truth of the scripture. 

You Have the Power to Communicate

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the power to present the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus through preaching, teaching, study groups, conversations, and encounters with people. You have the power to communicate clearly across barriers to invite people to be followers of Jesus in all they say and do. You have the power to witness across the barriers of exclusion using the wisdom of the whole church. 

Now listen closely. This is important. The Bible had hindered the eunuch from participating in the covenant people of God (Deuteronomy 23:1). But now the same book was promising full participation to those excluded (Isaiah 56:3-4). When interpreted in and through Jesus, God’s love crosses all hindrances and barriers. You as a Christ-centered leader, and a follower of Jesus, have been given the power, by the Holy Spirit, to witness across those barriers and hindrances.   

The Power to Communicate Across Barriers

As you respond to the reflection, think about the people who experience exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance. You have been given the power to communicate across the barriers that are rooted in what has been taught and experienced over centuries. God’s love in Jesus is greater than the prejudices that keep people out of the community of faith. You have been given the power to communicate across the barriers of biblical and theological ignorance rooted in the misunderstanding of who has received God’s grace and who is included in the community of faith.   

You have been given power by God, through God’s holy spirit, to be a witness, starting where you are, in the church, in the community, and in all the world. It is God’s power given to you that communicates beyond the barriers. 

As a leader, you decide whether you will receive and live by God’s power. Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. When did you have the opportunity to witness beyond a barrier or hindrance? Did you speak up when you had the opportunity to speak up on behalf of those who have been excluded or forgotten? How did you interact with the people God sent your way? What did you learn about yourself? Who is helping you remember that you are a child of God and that you have been empowered to love others as God has loved you? What will you do differently tomorrow? Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.  

Prayer

O God, today I give you thanks for life and work. I pray for the power to be your witness starting where I am now. Remind me throughout the day of how you love me and how you have empowered me to love the people around me. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus.  Amen

Leadership and power go together. Most people think of power as the control that high-level leaders exert from their positions. But power extends beyond the formal authority that comes from a position or title.   

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the power to influence people by the power given to you by God. As you live in the responsibility of power, you have the opportunity to discover and develop the potential of people to live and to lead by that same power. You influence people, not by control or micromanaging, but by giving your power and influence away. To be an effective and courageous leader, you learn to use your power to empower others. 

The source of your strength grows out of this power. As it shapes your values, character, and faith, you become more aware of the people God gives you to love and to lead. You begin to recognize Jesus as the source of your power and you want to share what you are receiving with the people around you.   

So, as a follower of Jesus, a Christ-centered leader, you have the power to communicate beyond the barriers that separate people from one another. You have the power to strategize how the people entrusted to you will not only experience this power but live by the power in everyday situations and circumstances.   

So, how does this power work? What does this power mean for you as a leader? 

Let’s use our practice of “read, reflect, respond, and return” to explore how this power works in different situations and circumstances. 

Read 

Read Luke 9:49-50 

49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” 

Read Luke 18:15-17 

15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Reflect

Jesus told his disciples when they were asking if the time had come to restore power to Israel, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8

From Luke’s perspective, you have the power to communicate, to be a witness of God’s love, the love you have experienced in and through Jesus, starting with family and friends, moving to neighbors and colleagues, and then moving to strangers and even enemies. 

The Power to Communicate Across Barriers

You have the power to communicate across the barriers that keep people from being who God created them to be. Look at the scripture from Luke 9:49-50.

The disciples have just returned from a mission trip. Jesus had sent them out in pairs, and they are now returning to tell the stories of their experiences. So, John tells of his experience. “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not one of us.” John could not see that God’s work is sometimes done by those we consider outsiders, those who we have decided “don’t belong.” 

What? They encountered someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and they tried to stop him. Why? Was it because he did not believe what they believed? Didn’t have the depth of their theology? Didn’t have their philosophy of mission? Was more progressive? More traditional?  Was the person not a part of their group? 

Was this the beginning of sectarian denominationalism? There are only 33,000 plus denominations, all claiming to follow Jesus. Was it the first attempt? 

Here is a clue to the power God has given you to lead.  Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” The person was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The focus was on Jesus. The disciples changed the focus. They shifted from Jesus to their mission. The person was not one of them, so they tried to stop him. 

The Power to Keep Jesus as the Focus of Our Mission

You have the power to keep Jesus at the center of the mission. When you keep Jesus at the center, you are not looking for what separates people, but for what holds people together. “If he is not against you, he is for you.” As a Jesus follower, you have the power to witness across barriers of theology, philosophy, differing opinions, and preconceived prejudices. You must decide if this is the kind of power you want. Who you are is how you lead. 

You have the power to communicate across the barriers that keep people from being who God created them to be. Look at the scripture from Luke 18:15-17

Jesus is teaching, healing, and caring for people. A group of mothers bring their babies to be blessed by the rabbi, Jesus. The disciples, who have been given the responsibility to meet and greet the people, tell the mothers that Jesus is busy. He doesn’t have time to bless babies. The scripture doesn’t say that specifically, but when I read the words, “they sternly ordered them not to do it” that is what comes to mind. The disciples had decided that those who have nothing to contribute were not worth Jesus’ time. 

What? The people closest to Jesus are turning away parents with infants. Why? Is it because they are not candidates for ministry? It is because they are not a revenue resource. What power and influence do children have anyway? So, his nearest and dearest say Jesus is too busy to mess with those who are not going to contribute to the movement. 

Was this the beginning of leadership seniority? We all know that children are not candidates for ministry and don’t contribute to the ministry of the church. Does this mean that you only have time for those who have influence and power? Who has earned the right to be blessed by Jesus anyway? Can you afford to receive people into membership who are going to cost us more than they bring in? 

The Power to Lead

Here is a clue to the power God has given you to lead.  Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” The parents are bringing their children to Jesus. The focus is on Jesus. The disciples changed the focus. They shift from Jesus to their understanding of the movement. The children could not contribute. So, those closest to Jesus missed the point of Jesus and turned the parents and children away.   

You have the power to keep Jesus at the center of the mission. When you keep Jesus at the center, you are not looking for people based on their financial capacity or what influence they might have in the community. Both are good and both are needed, but neither is the focus of following Jesus.  As a Jesus follower, you have the power to witness across barriers of influence, economics, and misconceived power, and to identify the presence and power of God in the people God sends your way every day. You must decide if this is the kind of power you want. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond 

God’s love and acceptance are not based on whether someone is a part of your group, thinks the way you think, believes what you believe, or even seeks the same transformation you seek. God’s love and acceptance are offered to all people, and each person and group of people, will respond in the faith given to them by God’s grace. 

God’s love and acceptance are not based upon human achievement. Even those who have little influence and have achieved nothing are welcomed, loved, and blessed by God. 

Over this next week, be aware of the barriers that separate people from one another. Be aware of the people who have influence and the people who do not. 

How will you lead in situations where there are differences of opinion, differences in what people believe, and differences of race, culture, and gender? You have received the power to witness beyond the barriers of differences. How will you lead with Jesus being your focus? 

How will you lead in situations where people of influence and position overlook and do not include people of little influence and power? You have received the power to witness beyond the barriers of political, economic, and social barriers? How will you speak up to communicate the love and acceptance of God so all receive God’s blessing? How will you lead with the words of Jesus, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them…,” as the focus of your leadership? 

This week be intentional in your decisions to be the leader God has gifted and empowered you to be. You have received the power to witness to God’s love in Jesus, starting where you are with the people around you. As you reflect and respond to God’s call upon your life, decide if this is the kind of power you want. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • When did you catch yourself shifting the focus from Jesus to your wants and desires?
  • Did you speak up when you had the opportunity to speak up on behalf of those who have little or no voice and who have little or no influence?
  • How did you interact with the people God sent your way?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • Who is helping you remember that you are a child of God and that you have been empowered to love others as God has loved you?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.  

Prayer

O God, today I give you thanks for life and work. I pray for the power to be your witness starting where I am now. Remind me throughout the day of how you love me and how you have empowered me to love the people around me. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Leadership and power go together. As a leader, you have the power to influence people. As you live into the responsibility of discovering and developing the potential of people, you learn how to use your power appropriately. You learn to influence people, not by controlling or micromanaging, but by giving your power and influence away.  To be an effective and courageous leader, you learn to use your power to empower others. 

Most people think of power as the control that high-level leaders exert from their positions. But power extends beyond the formal authority that comes from a title or a position. Before looking at the power you have as a Christ-centered leader, let’s name seven bases of power that often are used and misused in leadership. 

7 Bases of Power

The power of position. This is the power of formal authority that derives from a person’s title or position in a group.

The power of expertise. This is the power of influence that comes from developing and communicating specialized knowledge, or the perception of knowledge.

The power of charisma. This is the power of influence that is generated by a leader’s style or personality.

The power of relationships. This is the power of influence that leaders gain through their formal and informal networks both inside and outside of the church or organization.

The power of information. This is the power of control that is generated through the use of evidence either used or withheld.

The power to reward others. This is the power to reward and recognize individuals for adhering to standards or expectations.

The power of punishment. This is the power to sanction individuals for failure to conform to standards or expectations. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you have another base of power. You have a power that comes from a higher source. Effective leaders draw their strength from an inner source of values, character, and faith. Let’s use our practice of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to explore that base of power. 

Read Acts 1:6-8 

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

Reflect

This scripture reflects two different understandings of power. The early followers of Jesus had political power in mind. They had grown up learning about the Messiah being a military and political leader. In their hearts and minds, Jesus was the Messiah. He was the anointed one of God who would restore Israel to power, a political and military power. For them, the Messiah was going to drive out and destroy the Romans and restore power to Israel. 

Their question shows that they have missed the point of Jesus returning in the power of the Spirit. Jesus’ teaching had become twisted in their understanding and ideas of the kingdom. They had missed what Jesus was teaching and were wanting Jesus to meet their agenda. 

Missing Power

I can imagine them saying, “Jesus, we appreciate all you have done on the cross and in the resurrection, and what you are saying about the kingdom and power is fine, but is it going to move toward our agenda? We became your followers because we thought you were to restore Israel to power.  Now, we aren’t pressuring you, we are just reluctant to ask, “Are you going to do it or not?” 

With their assumption that the Messiah would drive out and destroy the Romans, Jesus replied that only God knows the time of the coming of the kingdom.  Instead of answering their misunderstandings, those early followers were given a job to do. 

Holy Spirit Power

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” 

Jesus is saying, you will receive power, but it is not the power you think it is. You shall receive power, but not political or military power. You will receive power from God when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. 

The church’s mission is not carried out in its own strength. The church is not merely a group of good people trying hard to make the world a better place. The church functions by the presence and power of God. This is a unique kind of power rooted in communication, service, compassion, and a deep sense of purpose. To lead from this kind of power involves empowering others. It involves sharing your influence beyond yourself to bring about transformation in your church, your community, and in the world. 

The presence and power of God is the power of Christ-centered leaders. So, what does that mean for you? 

You will receive power: 

To Communicate:

 “…you will be my witnesses…” To be a witness means several things. One, a witness is a person who says I know this is true. Two, a witness is a person who lives the truth. Three, a witness is a martyr, not in the sense of dying for what you know is true, but living for what you know is true. To be a witness means to be loyal no matter the cost. “You will be my witnesses” means you will be loyal to Jesus, regardless of the cost, in what you say and do. 

To be a witness is enough, but there is more to the power of communication. There is an example of the power in the second chapter of Acts. “Now there were devout Jews from every people under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

This story is an example of the power of communication. When you look at the story closely, it says once that “They…began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enable them to speak.” It says three times people heard in their own languages.

The early followers of Jesus were given the power to communicate in ways people could understand. This is a power given by God and practiced by followers of Jesus. As a Christ-centered leader, you are assisting followers of Jesus to communicate in the language of the people in the neighborhood and community. 

To organize and strategize

“in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This scripture is the introduction to the story of the Acts of the Apostles being commissioned to reorient their lives from looking up and expecting Jesus to return to looking out into the world and their mission in it. 

The story in Acts is about communicating and sharing God’s love starting in Jerusalem, where they are at the moment, moving to Judea, which would represent home for most of them, moving to Samaria, which represents an area of hundreds of years of prejudice, and then moving to the ends of the earth, which includes their enemies in Rome. 

The deeper meaning here is that Luke presents the church as a community that, though it began as a Jewish sect, will become a universal inclusive community transcending languages and cultures. 

The early followers of Jesus were given the power to start right where they were and to move out in taking God’s love to all the world. This organized effort did not happen all at once. In fact, you, as a Christ-centered leader, are a part of the movement at this very moment. You are leading people in becoming witnesses, first at home, then with friends, colleagues, and neighbors, then with people who are marginalized, outcasts, and looked down upon, and then to all the world which includes your enemies. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the power to replicate, at home, what you have been leading people to do in other communities and cultures. You have the power to teach people to welcome others as God in Christ has welcomed them and to love others as they have been loved. I know it seems strange to say you have the power to organize and strategize such love in action, but if you don’t plan it, it will never happen. When you aim at nothing, you usually hit it. You have the power to organize and strategize God’s power starting right where you are. 

To embrace diversity: 

“in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Luke knows that the church is destined to become a universal community. In the second chapter of Acts, the list of nations is symbolic of the whole world. His list transcends the Roman Empire and includes the Parthians who have been a constant enemy threat. Jews and Arabs are both embraced in the vision of the universal church. Luke includes those born into Jewish families and those who have been converted to Judaism from Gentile religions. Ethnic and racial diversity is represented from the very beginning. There are even visitors from Rome. Luke concludes his story with the arrival of Paul in Rome. But there were people from Rome present at the beginning of the church. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the power to appreciate and value different perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds. You also have the power to lead others in that same appreciation. 

You will receive power…Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

As a Christ-centered leader, you have a base of power that comes from outside yourself. Your power is not based upon position, although you can leverage your position to give your power away; expertise, although as you learn and gain knowledge you have more to offer; charisma, which comes more from character as it does from personality; information, which means you have the opportunity to share what you know and are learning; reward or punishment. 

Your power comes from a higher source. And as a Christ-centered leader, you draw your strength from that source that forms your values, character, and faith. You draw your strength from God who you know in and through Jesus. 

Although the early followers of Jesus missed the point of power, you have the opportunity to assist people beyond such misunderstandings. You have received the power to communicate in ways people will understand, to organize and strategize so the world will know of God’s love, and to embrace diversity. So, be who God has created you to be, not by the power of position but by the power of God. 

Who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you exert your power? Did you use your position to leverage power? How did you interact with others? What did you learn about yourself? Who is helping you remember that you are a child of God and that you have been empowered to love others as God has loved you? What will you do differently tomorrow? Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.  

Prayer

O God, today I give you thanks for life and work. I pray for the power to be your witness starting where I am now. Remind me throughout the day of how you love me and how you have empowered me to love the people around me. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus.  Amen