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Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” ends with Hamlet saying, “In this harsh world, draw thy breath in pain to tell my story.”

When this harsh world continues to give us tragic, racially charged, and unnecessary deaths of black sisters and brothers, it is way past time to speak up, regardless of how painful or uncomfortable it might be. The list of Black lives who have been needlessly killed grows each day. The killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, are more chapters of the pervasive culture of racism and white privilege in our country. 

We have been fighting the pandemic of racism and white supremacy my entire lifetime. Whether you and I understand it or not, we are complicit in the racism that is ravaging our communities, our public institutions, our churches, and our families. Racism is deeply embedded in our white identity. 

Draw Our Breath to Speak

Today, I draw my breath in pain to name and condemn white nationalism.

We have 400 years of history to face if we are going to change our future. 

As we draw our breath to speak, we have a Word upon which to stand. If we are to change our future, we must stand upon this Word.  

  • It is a Word that claims every human being, regardless of color, gender, nationality, is a child of God. This is not rhetoric. We are of one family and we are responsible for one another. 
  • It is a Word that claims the unconditional embrace of each and every family member in the face of discrimination and exclusion based upon color or gender.
  • It is a Word that declares God’s unapologetic advocacy of and standing with our sisters and brothers who are oppressed and marginalized.
  • It is a Word that cries for God’s inescapable justice against embedded hatred and habitual violence. Regardless of what we call it, hatred has no place in our human family. 

Draw Our Breath to Acknowledge Racism

Now, let us draw our breath and acknowledge that racism is sin and a direct assault on the Word upon which we stand. Let us confess and renounce our own complicity. Let us stand against all expressions of racism and white supremacy, beginning with the racial, cultural, and class disparities in our country, our state, and our church.  

If we are to face our history of racism and to shape our future without racism, let us draw our breath to examine our own attitudes and actions.  Let us draw our breath as we vote for governmental leaders. Let us draw our breath as we fight the disease that threatens our ideals and the lives, livelihoods, and dignity of too many of our family members. Let us draw our breath to love each other regardless of our differences.

Draw Our Breath as Jesus Followers

Let us draw our breath to be followers of Jesus, who taught us how to live in relationship with God and with one another. Let us draw our breath with transformed hearts as we yield to the righteousness and love of God.  

I have not given up hope, but I have decided writing words on a page or posting them on social media is not the answer.  So, I am asking you to join me in taking one step toward learning about and stopping racism in your community.

What is one thing you can and will do to learn about the racism in which you participate every day? If you say you are not participating in racism, I say you have some learning to do.  If you say you don’t know or have any ideas, email me. I can and will give you some things you can do. If you say you don’t want to and that you are fine the way you are, I will say I am praying for you and for your soul. 

In the meantime, let us draw our breath in prayer.  Let us pray for the Floyd family, for the Arbery family, and the Taylor family as well as the many families whose lives are tragically altered or whose fears have been heightened as a result of these inexcusable tragedies. 

Know that I draw my breath to pray for you, for our church, and for our future as followers of Jesus and as citizens of the United States of America.

On Friday, May 1 Tim and Sara hosted a Facebook Live question and answer period to respond to questions submitted. You can find the list of questions and approximate time stamps below.

You can also find the original Facebook post here.

Approximate Time Stamps, Notes, and Questions Covered 

[00:00:00] Welcome and greeting one another
[00:02:45] Defining the purpose/boundaries of this video
[00:04:39] How do we best love one another in a way that shows a witness to the rest of the world?
[00:06:17] You are loved.
[00:07:07] Timeframe of Phase 1-3: The Virus Doesn’t Know a Calendar
[00:11:30] What will stage one, stage two, stage three, what is going to look like, and what is expected of us come May 24
[00:14:23] How long will Phase 1 -3 last? What does the calendar look like?
[00:18:19] Story of one Freshman in High School – Expectation Setting
[00:19:42] What about VBS, summer activities, and outside groups using the church building?
[00:21:05] Are there recommendations somewhere for proper cleaning?
Here are two documents from the CDC:
[00:22:50] Explain what 10 people in the building means? Per space or total?
[00:24:17] Are the phases set by each individual church or do we follow the guidelines given by government officials?
[00:25:24] What is, what’s the age for, what is the age at which we’re talking about folks being at risk? What about at-risk groups?
[00:29:50] What is the significance of May 24?
[00:33:19] Why can we not use bulletins? What’s the thinking on that? And if we just put the bulletins out for people to pick up on their own, could we do it that way?
[00:36:26] Are there additional guidelines that can be offered? Can we continue to celebrate communion if you already have the authority to do so?
NOTE: As we concluded the live stream it occurred to us that during phases 1 and 2, face masks will be worn. It is impossible to partake of the elements with a facemask on. When you take a face mask off, you should wash your hands. As you can see, the logistics of celebrating Holy Communion in person are challenging, if not impossible.
[00:44:16] What about hallways and aisles?
[00:45:45] What about the length of service?
[00:48:30] Why no responsive readings?
[00:50:35] Why wear masks?
[00:52:30] Wrap-up and reminders
[00:54:24] Closing Prayer

I’ve had several conversations/emails from Pastors leading smaller, older congregations asking something like, “How can I lead worship during this time?”

Often, the congregation is not on Facebook, individuals don’t have a computer, and are in the high-risk group for COVID-19. If this is you, keep reading. If it’s not, jump down to the section “Daily Devotional” below.

Leadership Pivot

First, thank you for asking and seeking to find new ways to lead, worship, and care for the community of faith.

This is a leadership pivot. Here’s what I mean. Plant one foot in what is essential at this moment (faith, hope and love; Scripture, prayer, the spiritual disciplines; reminding people they are not alone, God is with them, etc)

Then scan for opportunities. Here are a few opportunities I found that may be helpful. Please comment below to share your resources, too!

Scanning for Opportunities

  1. Sign up at freeconferencecall.com
    • You’ll get a phone number that you can then share.
    • Everyone calls one number and you’re all on the line together. 
    • Do a devotion/prayer request/reflection time.
      • Give people opportunities to talk too. Don’t be the only voice.
      • This is a different medium. You’ll need to pivot to adapt to the medium.
    • UPDATE from FreeConferenceCall.com (3-20-2020 email). To help alleviate the strain on their system, the following steps are suggested:
      • Download The Mobile App. Tap here to Download for iPhone, here to Download for Android. This will give you the ability to call in over WiFi. Our app also has smart call routing so when you dial-in using your phone we’ll route you to carrier networks that have the most bandwidth.
      • Download The Desktop App. This lets you call in using your computer and also lets you stay better connected with screen-sharing and video conferencing. Tap the following link and scroll down to Download the Desktop App. 
      • Schedule meetings to start 15 or 45 minutes past the hour rather than on the hour. Carrier networks are less congested at these times.
  2. Sign up for zoom.com (free version).
    • Zoom uses both telephone and internet/video, so this can be an ideal solution for everyone.
    • Distribute the phone number and link via a church mailing or phone chain.
    • Share a devotion/prayer request/reflection time. Give people opportunities to talk too. Don’t be the only voice. This is a different medium. You’ll need to pivot to adapt to the medium
    • The benefit of zoom is you can break people into groups. And some will be able to see one another, too. There is an app for smartphones and iPads, too.

Pilot

Remind people we’re living in an ever-changing time. You might try a conference call a few times and find it works. You might do the same with zoom. It might be awkward, weird, and different.

And that’s ok.

Remember you can pivot at any time if you find a better solution.

Here’s what I wouldn’t do: don’t try one of the above options once and quit. There’s a learning curve for everyone. Be patient as you pilot.

And, yes, I may have written that as much as a reminder for you as for me.

Launch

Do one of the above at least weekly. Either of the above will be great for worship, a mid-week check-in, and meetings. Try something! That’s all I’m encouraging.

Daily Devotional 

To help with the devotion piece, starting Sunday, Tim and I are facilitating a daily devotional.

I say facilitating because we’re inviting anyone to write a devotional.  My point of bringing this is is to say, feel free to use one (or more as the weeks go on) on your calls outlined above. Here’s all we ask – acknowledge the writer, just like you’d do in a sermon. Give credit where credit is due. 🙂 

If you sign up for “God Is With Us,” we’re also working on a pdf version that won’t be dated so it can be copied and mailed to people without email/tech. 

Again, you can sign up to write or receive the devotional here: https://www.transformingmission.org/god-is-with-us/

For anyone who is tech-savvy, you can share this bit.ly link

bit.ly/GodwithUs (case sensitive)

Your Ideas

Tell us in the comments, what are you doing to stay connected as a faith community and support those who are quarantined?

What happens when what you have believed about God begins to crumble?

In times of stress and dis-ease, human nature is to feel overwhelmed. You might be feeling that right now as we navigate a new reality with the coronavirus.

Or, consider when a loved one dies, an unexpected illness emerges, and you begin to question whether God is really a good God.

Or, you have your beliefs challenged at the university or you see the hunger, hurt, and violence in the world and the doubts you have about “the end times” or biblical infallibility are called into question.

What is your response?

When you’re overwhelmed, what do you do?

Perhaps you doubt. Perhaps you question. Or perhaps, you do nothing, frozen by inaction.

Everyone has doubts.  To question and to wrestle with who you trust and what you believe does not mean you are unfaithful or an unbeliever. In fact, many who honestly wrestle with their faith, in the end, strengthen their faith.

You live in a chaotic and fragmented world. As you grapple with pandemics, partisan politics, social inequality, and cultural turmoil, your faith is not immune to the anxiety. Even the Church is going through its own crisis of faith. Again, what do you do?

Whether you are conscious of it or not, your understanding and practice of faith are shaped by your environment. Below are some of the cultural factors that help shape your faith.

Cultural Factors to Consider

Individualism

  • There was a time in history when your identity was defined in the context of family and community. But today, your desire, meaning, and value is self-defined. Because you are the builder and judge of your own truth, the truth has become relative. This form of individualism shapes your faith. It is subtle.  It can be found in the words of your favorite worship songs, in the conditions of discipleship, and in the way you relate to the people around you. Because you are the center of your own story, your faith can be easily shaken.

Consumerism

  • You live, survive, and thrive in a system-oriented around the consumption of goods and services. In fact, you are so immersed in this cultural system, you have developed anxiety of scarcity.  You are never satisfied because there is never enough. Again, it is subtle. It is found in church programs, ministries, and Sunday worship. You pick and choose which products and services best meet your needs, desires, and preference.  When those products and services are not offered, the church is not living up to your ideals and your faith is shaken.

Fundamentalism

  • As individuals have become the center of their own stories, they have also become the center of their own faith.  The shift is from being centered upon God’s goodness to be centered upon your own goodness. It is seen in individual purity, individual obedience, and individual salvation.  Purity, obedience, and salvation are good, but when the goal of faith is your personal betterment, then the object of faith shifts from God to yourself. When you are in the center, you set your standard of individual purity and legalistic obedience upon others. When people don’t live up to your expectations, your faith is not only shaken but you blame others for your shaken faith.

My point here is not to call out the inconsistencies and hypocrisy of faith but is to name the current reality in which you are presently living your faith.

As the Lord said in the play “Green Pastures,” “Everything that is nailed down is a’comin’ loose!” So, what do you do?

Focus Your Faith on Jesus

One simple answer is, focus your faith upon Jesus.

I am assuming you know Jesus, so let’s examine faith and particularly Christian faith.

John Hendrick, in his book Opening The Door of Faith, writes, “Christian faith is a centered, personal, relational response involving trust and obedience.”  Using his definition, Christian faith is:

A centered faith

  • According to scripture, the object of Christian faith is the living God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth whom we call the Christ, Messiah, Son of the Living God. It is a particular faith.  The adjective “Christian” is taken seriously.
  • So, the Christian faith is neither a generic faith nor faith in general. You don’t have faith in faith. You have faith in Jesus. Neither is the object of Christian faith a philosophy of life about which you speculate, nor a system of ethical ideals about which you argue, nor a set of doctrinal propositions to which you must give mental assent.
  • The Christian faith is centered upon the living God revealed in Jesus.

A personal faith

  • Faith is centered on a living person – Jesus. Jesus is a living person because of the resurrection. Resurrection is not merely an event that happened two thousand years ago, which you celebrate every Easter. Resurrection means that Jesus Christ is alive now, today.
  • Christian faith is also personal because it requires a personal response from each human being. Although you can come alongside someone, love them, encourage them, and support them, you cannot have faith for them.
  • Because Christian faith is centered in the person of Jesus the Christ, it is a personal faith but not a private faith. It is not centered upon you and your preferences, it is centered upon God, the gospel, and the Christ the gospel announces.

A relational faith

  • It makes possible a right relationship with God, with the people around you, with yourself, and with creation. It is the grace of God that provides the basis for a relationship.
  • By faith, you respond to God’s grace. It is by faith that you love your neighbor.  It is by faith you become who God created you to be. By faith, you are related to and care for creation.
  • By faith, you are brought into a relationship with God and with the people around you. You cannot be properly related to God and improperly related to your neighbor. You cannot claim to love God while you do not love your neighbor.
  • By faith, you are brought into a relationship with yourself. You cannot become who God created you to be when you are not in a relationship with God and neighbor. It is in and through your relationship with the people around you that you become more who God intended.
  • It is by faith that you become one with God, one with your neighbor, one with yourself, and one with creation.  When you are in a relationship with God, your neighbor, and yourself, you can no longer be content to treat God’s creation selfishly.  It is this relationship that helps transform the consumer mentality that leads to greed and the exploitation of creation.

A response to God’s grace

  • God has acted on your behalf in Jesus.  By God’s grace, you respond to God’s action by becoming a follower of Jesus.  Your response is not based on what you feel or what you have done.
  • Your response is based upon what God feels toward you and has done on your behalf.  So, the foundation of your faith is not so much your commitment to God but God’s commitment to you. You respond to God’s commitment with your whole self, body, mind, soul, spirit, sensibility, and will.  Your response involves your whole self as a human being.

Trust and Obedience

  • Trust defines the relational and personal aspects of your faith.  Your very existence and identity are made up of a network of trusts that you hold. There is a definite sense in which you are who and what you trust.  You tend to treasure what you trust and trust what you treasure.
  • The only appropriate response to the living God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth is ultimate trust.  To trust God is to commit yourself totally to God, to rely on God, and to allow yourself to be shaped by God.
  • Ultimate trust leads to obedience.  The response becomes the responsibility and you are faced with the ethical dimension of faith. When God becomes your ultimate trust, you align all other trusts accordingly.  To align your trust is to align your life at its center.
  • Your response of trust and obedience as you follow Jesus into your neighborhood, your community, and your city.  Your response of trust and obedience has you love your neighbor and participate, by God’s grace, in the transformation of the structures, systems, and relationships of the world.

What do you do when what you believe about God begins to crumble? You focus or refocus upon the object of your faith, Jesus Christ.

Your Next Steps

You remember who you are

    • You are a beloved child of God. God has chosen you, loves you, and given you a name. Because your faith is centered upon the person of Jesus, when “everything that is nailed down starts comin’ loose,” you don’t.

You remember whose you are

    • You belong to God and nothing can separate you from God’s love that you know in Jesus. When you are at one with God, your neighbor, and yourself, and everything around you is at its worst, you are at your best.

You remember why you are

    • You are created by God to make the world, your community, your neighborhood who God created it to be. As a result, you love as you have been loved.  Your neighborhood and community will know that you are a Jesus follower by the way you love those around you.

When you understand your Christian faith, as a centered, personal, and relational response involving trust and obedience, your faith becomes contagious.  In fact, it becomes so contagious and powerful that it spreads from person to person.

So, regardless of who you are or what you have done, regardless of your situation or circumstances, regardless of how tough life gets or how much you might doubt, God loves you and nothing can separate you from God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus Christ.

Focus your faith on Jesus.  He is God’s way of letting you know that when everything around you seems to be coming apart, you are loved, and you have a place. You are a beloved Child of God and nothing can change that reality.

 

Last week, I received a call from my doctor’s office.  The voice on the line said, “Mr. Bias, it is time to schedule your next checkup.  May we schedule your appointment today?”  I wanted to say, “No,” but I knew that my regular checkup helped to keep me physically healthy.

Over the years, I have learned the same is true about effective leadership.  I have not always called them checkups, but I have regularly stopped to evaluate or to take an account of my life and actions.  For me, regular checkups are necessary for effective leadership.

At the beginning of the year, 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. Who or What is INSPIRING me?
  4. How am I practicing FAITH?

So today, I am sharing with you my most recent checkup in regard to becoming a more compassionate leader.

Leadership Checkup Transforming Mission

Trust

What am I Trusting?

I am trusting my listening skills.  Over the past several weeks, I have listened closely to the needs, aspirations, and mission of our local churches.  At the same time, I have listened closely to the strengths, skills, and needs of our clergy.

I am trusting what is emerging.  In the midst of listening, what emerges is not exactly what I have in mind.  I am trusting the new things God is doing.

I am also trusting the shift in my prayer habits.  I continue to make the shift from having a prayer life to living a life of prayer.

Gratitude

For whom or what am I grateful?

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 in their lives. I am grateful that the love I experience in and through them encourages me to be more like Jesus.

Because I am surrounded by friends who embody such love, I am becoming a more compassionate leader.

Inspiration

 

What is inspiring me?

Most recently, the Galatians: Following Jesus Every Day reading plan. It is this habit of reading, reflecting, and responding that helps keep me focused and growing.

This past week, to hear the names of the persons participating in the study lifted in prayer was an awe-inspiring experience.

Faith

How am I practicing faith?

By God’s grace, I am working on being clear about what I think and how I act. I know that might sound strange, but I am trusting that God wants me to live in the real world.  There are times that I find it easy to “interact” with God in seclusion, where I can escape from responsibility.  I find it more difficult to follow God into the office, the community, or into relationships I cannot control.

I am practicing faith by stepping away from a fear of failure.  It is my fear of failure that keeps me from taking risks and keeps me in my comfort zone. I am also practicing my faith by not talking about success, but by stepping into the arena to participate in the possibility of success.

It’s time for A Check-up

It is nothing spectacular. But being a healthy leader allows me the opportunity to see the people around me as God sees them, to understand more who I am becoming in God’s work, and to catch a glimpse of God in and through trust and obedience.

So, how are doing with Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, and Faith?

Church leader, it is time for your next checkup.  Are you willing to participate in it today?