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As I write this, seven more persons have died because of a drive-by shooting spree. I just read that a woman drowned because of the negligence of a 911 dispatcher. It is unbelievable. We have had 283 mass shootings in the United States since January 1. It seems that we grow more and more callous to human need with each day.

At the risk of being offensive, “Thoughts and prayers” are not going to do it. But if it is not “thoughts and prayers” what will make the difference? What will bring an end to such evilness? What can and will bring about the changes needed for us, as human beings, to live in peace with one another and the world?

Over the past several years, you have been challenged to recognize God in your midst. You have been asked questions like, “Where have you seen God this past week?” and “Where have you experienced God recently?” I am convinced that when we experience God in our everyday lives our everyday lives change.

Being Known By God

This is what I have learned. As a child, I put on my best behavior on Sunday mornings. I dressed up for God and for the Christians around me. It never occurred to me that the church was a place to be honest. I confess that it has taken most of my life to allow myself to be known by God.

After years of ministry, God spoke through my pride, while I was reading a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 7:22 Jesus says, “…many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.”

Jesus did not say “You never knew me,” or “You never knew the Father.” I had that part down. I had preached sermons, taught Bible studies, led work teams, help build a hospital, and started schools. You get the point.

Do You Need God?

I not only did good things I was a good human being. But God’s grace gripped me when I read the commentary on Jesus words, “I never knew you.”

My goodness, me being good, was not enough. At that moment I realized that what counted was “being known” by God. My relationship with God was based upon full disclosure. Thomas Merton wrote, “We cannot find God unless we know we need God.”

Since that grace experience, I have grown to understand that my wounds, defects, and failures, are the very cracks through which grace can pass. I once read that God holds each of us by a string. When we sin, we cut the string. Then God ties it up again, making a knot, bringing us a little closer to God. Every time our sin cuts the string, God ties another knot. With each knot, God keeps drawing us closer and closer.

Changed by Grace with Transforming MissionThirsty For Grace

Once my life changed, I began to see the church differently. I began to see the church as a community of people thirsty for grace. I began to understand that as I allowed myself to become known by God I was, by God’s grace, more able to share God’s grace. As a person in need of grace, drinking from the fountain of grace, I was more able to offer the water of grace to the people who were thirsty for grace.

So, as an adult, as a “grace-filled” follower of Jesus, I look at the world through the lens of grace. I know it seems simplistic, but I am convinced that God’s grace can and will change the world.

Amazing Grace

Several years ago, Bill Moyers’ hosted a documentary on the hymn “Amazing Grace.” One segment of the film included a scene at Wembley Stadium in London where Moyers interviewed an opera singer by the name of Jessye Norman. Various musical groups, mostly rock bands, had been invited to celebrate the changes in South Africa. Jessye Norman was invited to be the closing act.

The film cuts back and forth between scenes of the unruly crowd in the stadium and Jessye Norman being interviewed. For twelve hours groups like Guns ‘n’ Roses blasted the crowd through banks of speakers. As the crowd yelled for more curtain calls, and the rock groups obliged. Meanwhile, Jessye Norman sat in her dressing room discussing “Amazing Grace” with Moyers.

Grace is a Redemption Song

You and I know the hymn. It was written by John Newton, a coarse, cruel slave trader. He first called out to God in the midst of a storm that nearly threw him overboard. Even though he continued in the slave trade after his conversion, he gradually came to see the light. He wrote the song “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” while waiting in an African harbor for a shipment of slaves. He later became a minister and joined William Wilberforce in the fight against slavery. John Newton never lost sight of the depths from which he had been lifted. He never lost sight of grace. When he wrote “…That saved a wretch like me,” he meant those words with all his heart.

In the film, Jessye Norman tells Bill Moyers that Newton borrowed an old tune from the slaves themselves, redeeming the song, just as he had been redeemed.

In the Company of Thousands

Finally, the time came for her to sing. A single circle of light followed Norman, an African-American woman, as she walked out on stage. She had no backup band, no musical instruments. She walked out as Jessye Norman. The crowd was restless. A few people recognized her and some shouted out for more Guns ‘n’ Roses. Others took up the cry. The scene was getting ugly.

Alone, with only her voice, Jessye Norman began to sing:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now am found

Was blind, but now I see.

Something remarkable happened in Wembley Stadium that night. Seventy thousand raucous fans fall silent as she sang amazing grace.

By the time she sang the second verse, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved…” the soprano had the crowd in her hands.

By the time she reached the third verse, “’Tis grace has brought me safe this far, And grace will lead me home,” several thousand people in the crowd were singing with her. It was as if they were remembering words they had heard long ago.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we first begun.

Sharing Grace

Jessye Norman later confessed she had no idea what power descended on Wembley Stadium that night. She was simply a person of grace sharing grace. When grace descended, the crowd fell silent.

The world thirsts for grace. What could happen if you and I offered grace to the people who are thirsty for grace? Consider for a minute what could happen if you allowed your wounds, defects, and failures to become the cracks through which grace could pass?

What could happen if you, simply a person of grace, shared grace? I believe the world would fall silent. Do you?

If you’ve spent any time with me at all, you likely know one of the questions that I will ask at some point. The question is some variation of, “Where have you experienced God’s presence?” 

The simplicity of the question can stun people to silence.

When I first started asking the question, I thought the silence I received was my failure to communicate. Then I learned the truth.

To answer the question, you have to be paying attention to where God is at work in your life. In nearly a decade of asking questions about God’s presence, one thing has become clear: most of us are beginners on this journey.

Before you reply, “I was raised in the church. I’m not a beginner!” Let me explain. Read more

Sometimes when I gather for the business of the church, expecting a report, I receive invitations that surprise and move me. You may have been there with me when I heard this invitation. Perhaps you heard the invitation at another location or even watched on a video in the days following.

As I sat in the sanctuary at Peace UMC – Pickerington listening to Bishop Palmer debrief General Conference proceedings, we were invited to respond in several ways. Two of those responses included studying Galatians and A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

Listening to the invitation shared with all of us, I was surprised by my response. There were no plans detailed, but I was being nudged by two very different thoughts. First, with a question of curiosity, “Why Galatians?” Second, with an imperative, “Study Galatians.”

Following Jesus Every Day

As has often happened in my journey with Christ, when I hear an invitation, a message, a prompting that piques my curiosity, I jump in…with both feet…to the deep end of the pool. That’s my mojo when it comes to following Jesus every day: I’m all in.

That’s exactly what happened with Galatians.

I would love to tell you the imperative touched me at the depths of my soul to “study Galatians” was because of memories of the complexity, beauty, and challenge of this book. That wasn’t the case. I’d studied Paul’s Prison Epistles, I’d taught Romans, I’d explored many of Paul’s letters. But, most of my time with the Book of Galatians was spent in Chapter 5. You know, the chapter where Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit.

Follow Jesus every day by studying the book of Galatians. We offer a reading plan, reflection questions, and a daily prayer. #bible #scripture #biblestudy #galatians #prayer #pray #transformingmission Transforming MissionThe Transformative Power of Scripture

As I began to explore the letter, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, I found myself seeing the diversity of gifts offered in the church, the tension of our current situation as United Methodists, and the gospel of grace Paul challenges us to live in new ways. I am encouraged, challenged, and humbled as I continue to study the Scriptures.

The transformative power of studying the Scriptures comes in the challenge of living out what I am learning. Said differently, it’s in following Jesus every day that the Scripture moves from words on a page to life-giving fuel for our soul.

The study of Galatians continues to offer that reminder.

As a result, Tim and I started working on a reading plan for Galatians to share with you after Easter. Because many of us were listening that day, a team of us from across the conference are working to create resources for worship and small groups. Watch for more information very soon.

An Invitation


Today, we invite you to a daily study of Galatians we’re calling, Follow Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Grace. The daily study runs April 22- June 2, coinciding with all other conference resources being developed. We’ll journey through each chapter and verse of Galatians, offering questions for reflection, a daily prayer, and opportunities to interact online.

Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Grace can be used as a companion or independently from the conference resources being developed.

 

Did you hear the story of the little boy who fell out of bed? When his mother asked him what happened, he answered, “I don’t know.  I guess I stayed too close to where I got in.”

It is easy to do the same with our faith.  It is tempting to stay close to where we got in and never move.

Growth is important to every Christian. When a Christian stops growing, help is needed.  If you are the same Christian you were a few months ago, be careful.  You might need a checkup.  Not on your body but on your heart. You don’t need a physical checkup, you need a spiritual checkup.

Growth is especially important in becoming a courageous leader.

Courageous, faithful leaders are growing leaders. Courageous leaders know when change is needed. Here's a four step check-in process for staying in touch with your growth & development. #tgif #grow #courage #faith #christian #transformingmission Transforming Mission

 

Becoming a Courageous Leader – Grow

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

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

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

T.G.I.F.

Today, I want to share my experience with this spiritual habit.  It has become a weekly checkup for me.

Trusting

What am I trusting?

I am trusting the habit of prayer. I have been reflecting upon Paul’s words to the Roman Christians, “Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer” (Romans 12:12 CEB). I have learned that the only way I can deepen my prayer life is to pray.  In fact, I am trusting a shift in my habit.  It is a shift from having a prayer life to living a life of prayer.

I have also learned that courageous leaders have a habit of prayer.  So, let me offer you some encouragement.  If you want to deepen your prayer life, then pray.  Trust your relationship with God and pray.  Don’t attend a prayer lecture, engage in prayer discussions, or read “how-to” pray books.  Each activity is important, but the best way to establish a habit of prayer is to pray.

Grateful

For whom or what am I grateful?

This week, I am grateful for trusted friends. I am grateful for those so close they not only love me just the way I am, but they give of themselves so I can become who God created me to be. I am grateful for the embodiment of unconditional and unselfish love. I am grateful for the habit of meeting with or connecting with those who can speak truth with such love that I want to be more like Jesus.

It has been my experience that courageous leaders are surrounded with trusted friends who love so deeply they can speak the truth that brings transformation. As leaders, we have the opportunity to model such love.  I have learned that without those trusted friends, it is easy to compete with one another, insist on our own way, and quarrel with one another.  Courageous leaders, surrounded in love, step into the world to live and lead in such a way that we model the love of Jesus.

Inspiration

What is inspiring me?

This week, the habit of worship is inspiring me. Consider the words from the letter to the Hebrews, “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing.  Instead, encourage each other especially as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25 CEB).  Because I worship in different churches, with different Christians, at different times, I have learned to celebrate God’s love in every act of worship.

Through my experience of worship, I have learned that courageous leaders are inspired in and through a habit of worship. So often, as leaders, you and I need support and encouragement.  We need to be with people who celebrate God’s love in Jesus and who share God’s love as natural as breathing. We need the fellowship of like-hearted people, focused upon Jesus, leading the mission of reaching out and receiving people in God’s love, introducing people to God’s love, practicing God’s love, and engaging the community in God’s love.

Faith

How am I practicing faith? I am practicing faith by fixing my eyes on Jesus. My Lenten journey has me engaged in reflecting and sharing the grace I have experienced in and through Jesus and my friends.

This week I have reflected upon Jesus looking at the broken and distorted parts of my life. Instead of judging and condemning me, Jesus knelt in front of me and, from the basin of grace, he scooped a palm full of mercy and washed away my sin.  This week I have reflected upon how he has taken up residence in my life and has given me the opportunity to offer the grace I have received.  Because he has a forgiving heart, I have a forgiving heart.  Because he has forgiven me, I can forgive others.

Are you growing in your faith? Courageous leaders know when change is needed. Here's a four step check-in process for staying in touch with your growth & development. #tgif #grow #courage #faith #christian #transformingmission Transforming Mission

Courageous Leadership

John, in his Gospel, writes, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet.  I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15).

As courageous leaders, you and I must look beyond the literal reading of that scripture and allow ourselves to be washed by God’s love.  Courageous leadership is rooted in the message of God’s mercy.  Jesus offers unconditional love so we can offer unconditional love.  God’s grace precedes our mistakes, so our grace precedes the mistakes of others.  Those of us in the circle of Christ have no doubt of his love.  We now have the responsibility of enlarging the circle to include others who should have no doubt of our love.

If you and I are going to be who God created us to be, we need to keep growing in our faith. So, how are you growing in faith? What are you trusting? For whom or what are you grateful? What is inspiring you? How are you practicing faith?

Courageous leaders don’t make the mistake of the little boy.  They have habits that help them grow beyond where they started, engage in God’s love, and grow to become who God created them to be. So, let it be!

 

During the month of March, there are abundant reminders of the importance of resilience, fortitude, and determination. Lent always has these reminders.

But, there’s another event that happens annually that’s also hard to miss. Whether or not you’re a college basketball fan, the stories that unfold during the NCAA Tournament can leave you sitting on the edge of your seat.

More than once over the weekend, I thought to myself, “It’s over.” And then…

The Unimaginable Happened.

Late Saturday night, the Michigan Wolverines were in a battle with Houston. With 3 seconds on the clock, Houston was in the lead, 63-61.

They had a chance to add two more points but missed two free throws.

At the opposite end of the court, Michigan passed the ball to a freshman, Jordan Poole, who had not scored the entire game. He lobbed a 3-point-shot in the air with one second on the clock, and at the buzzer, won the game. (Perhaps much to the dismay of Buckeye fans following their 86-90 loss to Gonzaga.)

The Wolverines said, “the game is not over.”

After the Michigan v. Houston game, Coach John Beilein said of Jordan Poole, “He practices that shot at the end of every practice.” They also made their free throws, a fundamental shot in basketball.

Reminders of Resilience

Sunday’s games reinforced the message of resilience:

  • Nevada, down 22 points, came back to beat Cincinnati in a 75-73 stunner. The Nevada team said, “the game is not over.”
  • Syracuse, a first four qualifier, beat Michigan State, a favorite to be in the Final Four, 55-53 in the last minute of the game.
  • The 2017 National Champs, North Carolina, fell to 7 seed, Texas A&M.
  • Xavier, another favorite, fell to Florida State. The Seminoles showed the Musketeers “the game’s not over” with four minutes on the clock. Florida State won 75-70, knocking off a number one team.

Perhaps you’ll say, that’s why they call it March Madness.

Or, perhaps, you’ll say, “the game is not over.” While there is nothing about leading the church that is “a game,” I do believe God’s not finished with us yet.

God is NOT Finished With Us Yet

Just like the players, the coaches, fans, and referees, we have a choice to make as we lead the church. God’s not finished with any of us. The challenges leading the church can feel like the pressure of a big game.

Whether you’re frustrated because of leadership challenges in your church or trying to navigate a changing community. God’s not finished with you yet.

Whether you’re lamenting the demands of the church or yearning for the Easter morning celebration. God’s not finished with you yet.

Whether you’re feeling your church is disconnected from your community or you’re tired of trying to connect with little support from your church. God’s not finished with you yet.

Whether you’ve raised money in your church for special ministries or you have run out of money to be the special church in your community. God’s not finished with you yet.

To stay the course and embody the resilience, determination, and fortitude of those who are “playing to win” we need to practice our fundamentals.

If we’re honest, we all know how easy it is to overlook the daily practice of reading Scripture, prayer, and reflecting the love of God in my life. Busyness and the weekly rhythms of the local church can wear on even the most faithful.

You’re Invited to Practice

We’re on the Saturday side of Easter. Sunday is coming. There are opportunities to continue to live as faithful followers of Jesus who are filled with resilience and fortitude.

During the season of Easter, we’re heading into spiritual spring training with Parables: Reflections of Reality.

Sign up below. You’ll practice the disciplines that remind you, “the game is not over.” Or more importantly, God is not finished with you yet.

 

 

I grew up listening to the Cincinnati Reds on the radio. I remember placing my transistor radio under my pillow and listening to Waite Hoyt call the play by play. Over the years I have listened to Al Michaels, Joe Nuxhall, Marty Brennaman, and “The Cowboy,” Jeff Brantley. Today, I still wait to hear Marty say, “This one belongs to the Reds.”

In recent years, I have had the opportunity to attend several Reds’ Caravans. I have met some of my favorite players, talked with new prospects, gotten autographs, and listened to the hopes and expectations of those in the front office.

Read more

We’re expecting you at Spring Training…whatever the current season is!

Only there won’t be baseball bats and hotdogs. (Sorry to disappoint you ;))

There will be parables, prayers, and a reason for you to pause. This is Spiritual Spring Training!

“Parables: Reflections of Reality” is a seven-week journey of reading and praying the Parables, reflecting on the parable, and responding to God. It’s for individuals and/or groups.

That means this spring training is for YOU!

The Process:

  1. Read a Scripture.
  2. Reflect on a question.
  3. Respond to one question.

We’ll include a Deeper Dive into parables several days of the week. But, most of all, here’s your opportunity to engage the Scripture.

Head over to our Facebook Page to follow Transforming Mission. Then, request to join the Parables: Reflections of Reality Facebook Group. And make sure you “see first” to follow along.

Who is the For?

Individuals

Parables: Reflections of Reality is for anyone wanting to practice the disciplines of the faith, seeking to grow closer to Christ, and/or follow Jesus in an everchanging time.

Leadership Team/Church Council/Small Groups

“Parables: Reflections of Reality” gives groups a chance to practice talking about their faith. While it sounds simple, it’s not a practice most of our leaders embrace. What would happen if over seven weeks you practiced naming and listening for God’s movement together?

We’re certain you’ll grow closer to Christ, closer to each other, and may even have clarity on how God is inviting you to be a blessing in your neighborhood/community.

For the one looking to engage the spiritual disciplines, this process can provide structure and guidance. For anyone seeking to be faithful today, tomorrow, and the next day, this is a practice of faithfulness.

So, tell us, what spiritual practice are you ready to practice? Sign up below.  Here’s your opportunity to enter a season of spiritual spring training.

See you on the [mission] field!

 

The season of Lent begins on Wednesday.

Lent has traditionally been a time of preparation for baptism.  The early Christians utilized the time before Easter to prepare to be baptized on Easter morning.  The preparation could be an intense time of self-exploration, wonder, and questioning. 

No doubt, the preparation was also a holy time. People were learning what it meant to be disciples of Jesus.

I got to thinking about what it would mean to prepare people for baptism this Lent. There are two actions I’d take as we journey together this Lent.

  • First, we’d engage together in a discipline of reading, reflecting, and responding to God. You can find out more and download the Get Real Guide.
  • Second, we’d explore a pathway of discipleship together.

Disciple-Making Pathway Questions

Disciple-making is an ongoing journey of becoming who God would have us be. Here are the questions we’d reflect on with people preparing to be baptized and leaders of the congregation.

Welcome

  • How are you and your congregation reaching out and receiving new persons? For the people preparing for baptism, I’d ask them to share how they came to be a part of this congregation. Then ask the current members joining you in the conversation how they became a part of the congregation.
  • How is your congregation connecting with the people of your community, developing relationships, and engaging persons in service and care? Explore here their relationships with others throughout the congregation.
  • What would happen if you began to pray, “O God, send us the people no one else wants and help us receive the people you send to us?” How about we find out? Include this in your prayers for the weeks ahead.

Invitation

  • How are you and your congregation intentionally offering opportunities for people to make commitments to Christ? Something happened that led people preparing for baptism to this moment. Listen to their story and share your stories.
  • How are you leveraging the relationships of people in your congregation to develop relationships in your community?
  • What are you doing to equip people in your congregation to tell their God stories? Everyone has a story. What is yours?
  • What would happen if you began to pray, “O God, make us the church this community needs and give us the courage to be who you would have us be?” Here’s another prayer for your Lenten disciplines.

Nurture

  • How are you and your congregation growing in faith? Again, with the Get Real Guide close at hand, pause together and answer a few of the questions.
  • Are you participating in regular Bible study, prayer, learning, sharing, and accountability? That’s what the Get Real Guide is all about.
  • Are you reading the scripture, reflecting upon it, and responding to it? You’re correct, the Get Real Guide outlines this pattern for you to engage.
  • In your congregation, is every ministry an opportunity to reflect and respond to God’s presence in the community? Perhaps as you share together you’ll celebrate the ministries that point to God’s presence. Along the way, you might even identify places you’d like to serve in ministry.
  • What would happen if you focused more on participating on the mission of making disciples and less on meeting the preferences of the church members? No, that’s not a rhetorical question. Really, what would happen?

Engage

  • How are you and your congregation engaged in serving others in the community in which your church is located? Perhaps you’ll serve together this Lent.
  • How are you blessing others, meeting people in their place of need, and offering gifts of compassion, love, and justice?
  • What would happen if the people in your congregation, even those who live outside the community in which you are located, were engaged in the community (schools, city or community leaders, safety personnel, etc.)?

Imagine what might happen come Easter if we were welcoming, inviting, nurturing, and engaging people in the process of disciple-making while practicing together the disciplines of faith.

As we begin the journey of Lent, let’s be intentional about the journey ahead. We have forty days, plus Sundays, to get real about disciple-making.

I know where my focus will be. I’ll be focused on the questions above and Get Real. Where will you focus this Lent?

 

Faithful followers

Jesus invited ordinary people to follow him. They were fishermen and tax collectors who became faithful followers. I imagine today Jesus would invite baristas and stock market brokers, parents and school teachers, the one selling cars and the one washing our cars. Read more

Disciples make disciples.

The church grows because people, followers of Christ, are living as disciples. When we live as disciples, relationships are central to a growing, vibrant faith. The content of disciples’ relationships is Jesus Christ. The context of disciples’ relationships is the local community. Together, relationships with Jesus, one another, and your community help people to grow as disciples and remain faithful disciples.  Read more