Tag Archive for: God’s love

You are a disciple of Jesus who leads. Sounds simple enough, but sometimes you lose your connection to the source of your leadership. It is easily done. Have you ever prepared a sermon without reading the scripture text? Have you ever experienced prayer as a practice that could be cut if you were running short of time? And what about holy communion? Has the celebration of the Lord’s Supper become so routine that you are glad when the service is over?

Tend to Your Soul 

Hey, it happens to the best of us. Sometimes in the busyness of ministry, you can forget the most important thing you can do as a leader, tend to your soul.

I remember reading a confession by Mother Teresa. She wrote, “Pray for me that I do not loosen my grip on the hands of Jesus even under the guise of ministering to the poor.”  

That says it, doesn’t it? Isn’t that our primary calling as Jesus followers? Isn’t that the only way we become who God created us to be? We grip the hand of Jesus with such firmness that we cannot help but follow his lead.

Leading with Grace

Following Jesus in this way requires discipline. It is not easy. But to be the leader needed for today, you must learn to receive and to give God’s gift of grace freely given to all. I know this will sound narrow-minded but being a follower of Jesus is impossible without God’s grace extended to you.

The good news is, God has already given you the grace needed to be who God created you to be. Take a moment to think of an experience of grace in your life. As you think of your experience, I will tell you mine.

Noticing God

Over the years, to help people recognize God’s grace, I have challenged groups, whether a church council, finance committee, personnel, or trustee committee, to recognize God in their midst. I would ask questions like, “Where have you seen God this past week?” or “Where have you experienced God recently?” 

I was convinced that if individuals could recognize and experience God in their everyday lives their lives would change and the people around them would experience God’s love through them.

Everyday Faith

Please understand, I was not taught by the church or my parents to look for God in my everyday living. As a child, I learned to put my best foot forward when it came to the church. I was on my best behavior on Sunday mornings. I dressed differently, I did not run in the sanctuary, and I was in awe of people who were leaders. At age 14 I felt a definite call to be a preacher. That urge never left me, but I did not understand it until ten years later.

Everyday Grace

I was a student in seminary, serving my first congregation when God’s grace broke through to me. l was 24 years old, in my fourth year as the pastor of two small churches, preaching, teaching, providing care and instruction, when I learned that my father, who I wanted to love me and who I had worked to prove to him I was worthy of his love, had adopted me. 

At that point, the reality of God’s grace came rushing into my life. My father had chosen me to be his child, given me his name and loved me from the beginning. I realized that day that what God had done for me, God had done for all you reading these words. You have been chosen by God, given a name, and loved from the beginning, and the reality is, there is nothing you can do about it except accept it. That is the gift of God’s grace. 

The Means of Grace

It was a few years later, after graduating from seminary and serving as a pastor that I felt like I had little to offer to the people around me. I felt empty, like a well that was going dry. Although I had studied the means of grace, I confess I did not use them to nourish my soul. 

I had preached sermons, taught Bible studies, led work teams, helped build a hospital, and started schools. Not only did I do good things, but I was also a good human being. But something was missing. At that moment I realized that what I needed was to be connected to God’s grace.

The Means of Grace in Daily Life

I realized that I was not strong enough or good enough on my own to become who God created me to be. That is when I began to utilize the means of grace. 

I had experienced God’s grace, but it was the practice of the means of grace that kept me connected and mindful of God and that allowed me to experience the joy and fruit of following Jesus. 

Practice the Means of Grace

This is what I have learned:

  • The means of grace give access to God’s presence in the world.
    • Ask yourself the question, “Where have I seen God at work today?
  • The means of grace keep you on the path to becoming who God created you to be.
    • Ask yourself the question: “How have I been growing in my faith?
  • The means of grace keep you close to God. Ask yourself these questions:
    • Do I want a more vital relationship with God?
    • Do I want to grow as a follower of Jesus?
    • Am I paralyzed by fear?
    • Do I feel isolated and alone?
    • Do I want to become who God has created you to be?

Following Jesus is not easy, but God has the means of grace available for you to stay connected with the One for whom all things are possible. 

Leading with Grace

There are times the means of grace work like this. A large prosperous downtown church in London had three mission churches under its care. On the first Sunday of the New Year, all the members of the mission churches came to the city church for a combined communion service.

In those mission churches, which were located in lower-income areas of the city, were some people who had experienced God’s grace in life-changing ways. Some of the people had been arrested for drugs, some were recovering alcoholics, and some were convicts who had served their time in jail. Yet, they all came to the same table, kneeling side by side at the same communion rail.

Kneeling Next to Grace

On one occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England. This judge had sent the burglar to jail where he had served for seven years. After his release, this burglar had been converted and became a strong Christian witness in one of the mission churches. As they knelt beside each other, the judge, and the former convict, neither one was aware of the other.

A Grace-filled Conversation

After the service, the judge was walking home with the pastor. He said to the pastor, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the communion rail this morning?”

The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.”

The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.”

The pastor nodded in agreement, “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace.”

And then the judge turned and asked: “But to whom do you refer?”

And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.”

The judge said, “But I wasn’t referring to him. I was thinking of myself.”

The pastor was surprised and replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.”

Receiving Grace

The judge explained. “It did not cost that burglar much to get converted when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him and when he saw Jesus as his Savior, he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help.

But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take communion, and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar, and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for all my pride and self-deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict that I had sent to prison.”

Then after a moment of silence, the judge said, “Pastor, thank you for being a means of grace for me this morning.”

Offer Hope

Following Jesus is not easy, but you have the opportunity to offer hope as you become a person of grace for the people entrusted to you care.

What one step will you take toward caring for your soul this week? Perhaps this week you’ll take toward practicing the means of grace? What one step will you take toward becoming more who God created you to be? Just imagine what could happen if you, simply a person of grace, shared grace.

I will be praying that you don’t loosen your grip on Jesus. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Learn more about Hope Throughout the Year

The last 22 months have added a whole new level of challenge to your leadership. To state the obvious, it has been difficult at times. In 2020 you had to pivot without warning. You poured your heart and soul into leading others. You gave God your best, waiting for things to return to normal. Then 2021 came and nothing changed. In fact, you faced even more discouragement and frustration. Now, as you enter 2022, you might be asking yourself, “will this year be any different than the previous two years?” 

The Hope of New Possibilities

Although much of what you have experienced has been beyond your control, it is possible to go through life with your own repeated and frustrated attempts at effectiveness. It is possible to find yourself exhausted and miserable, and at the end of each day with little or nothing to show for your efforts. It is also possible to be hanging on to “how you wish things were” so tightly that you are unable to see the hope of new possibilities. 

Christian hope is not fleeting wishful thinking. It’s also not pie in the sky dreaming. Christian hope is grounded in the love of God we know in Jesus and our belief that the worst thing is never the last thing. We are resurrection people and as followers of the living God, we are people of hope. 

Take a minute to read this story and reflect upon how God is working in your life with new possibilities of hope for this year. Notice where Samuel finds the presence and power of God

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-13

     The LORD said to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found[a] my next king among his sons.”

     “How can I do that?” Samuel asked. “When Saul hears of it, he’ll kill me!”

    “Take a heifer with you,” the LORD replied, “and say, ‘I have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will make clear to you what you should do. You will anoint for me the person I point out to you.”

     Samuel did what the LORD instructed. When he came to Bethlehem, the city elders came to meet him. They were shaking with fear. “Do you come in peace?” they asked.

     “Yes,” Samuel answered. “I’ve come to make a sacrifice to the LORD. Now make yourselves holy, then come with me to the sacrifice.” 

     Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well. When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, that must be the LORD’s anointed right in front. ” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart.”

     Next Jesse called for Aminadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The LORD hasn’t chosen this one either.” 9 So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the LORD hasn’t chosen this one.” 10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD hasn’t picked any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”

     “There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”

     “Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”

     So, Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The LORD said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” 

     So, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The LORD’s spirit came over David from that point forward.

Reflect

The Main Character

The Lord sends Samuel on a mission to anoint the next king of Israel. Samuel reluctantly responds to God’s call but proceeds with his own preconceived ideas about the new king. 

Notice, even though there will be a new king, the main character in this story is God. The critical decisions are made by God. The mission directions are given by God. Samuel, Jessie, and his sons and especially David, are actors in a story where God produces, directs, and plays the lead role. David is not asked his opinion, asked to produce a resume, or asked if he wants to be king. He simply shows up. This is God’s mission and Samuel has been invited into it.

God’s Presence and Power

The story reveals that God’s presence and power are easily overlooked by Samuel. His ideas and perceptions get in the way. 

It is interesting that Samuel, being from northern Israel, was more familiar and comfortable with the northern context. He expresses his fear of going to Bethlehem, a city in southern Israel. 

God’s presence and power are in the new and unfamiliar places, as well in encounters with people we do not know or even care to interact with.

God Sees Into the Heart

Samuel uses a common act of worship to bring Jesse and his sons together. Samuel, remembering his mission, looks at each of Jesse’s sons, noticing their physical stature, strength, and appearance. 

In Samuel’s mind, one of those good-looking persons would be the next king of Israel. But God did not choose any of the persons Samuel would have chosen. God says to Samuel, “God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

In other words, the situations, and circumstances in which you are living are not the last word on your life or upon your living. Just because you have not perceived it does not mean it is not true or good or hope-filled. 

Where is the Presence and Power of God?

So, where is the presence and power of God? Just as God had a mission for Samuel and provided guidance for Samuel, God has a mission for you and sends you on your own life journey. In whatever situation or circumstance, God is with you and is providing for you. You can trust God’s action on your behalf. 

Remember, God’s presence and power can and will be found in new, risky, and scary places. 

Samuel went through the unfamiliar and encountered strangers to complete what God had called him to do. God was with him all the way helping him carry out what God had planned for Israel’s future. 

Inside Your Heart

God’s presence and power are deep inside your heart. It is God’s presence within you that prepares you to enter the new and challenging encounters that lie ahead. 

So, what do you do to get the Lord’s presence and power? Well, you do not have to do anything to “get it.” God gives it. David did not say anything at all. In fact, he did not even do anything except show up, “and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13).

Receive the Gift

God has given you God’s presence and power in and through Jesus. Your response is to receive God’s gift. Just like Samuel, God is with you, providing for you, and guiding you in the mission you have been given. In whatever situation or circumstance, you find yourself, your hope is in the presence and power of God. When God calls, God provides what is needed to live into the call. 

Respond

Become aware of God’s presence in the situations and circumstances you find yourself in today. Look for God’s presence in the lives of the people you meet today. Take note of how God surprises you. Remember, God has called you into mission, God is with you, and God is providing what you need to be the person and the leader needed for this time.

Pray

O God, help me be aware of the people around me today. Help me not only be a blessing to someone but help me experience your love in and through the people I encounter. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in every situation and circumstance of the day. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus, who is your presence and power with me each and every day. Amen. 

Return

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. How did you experience God’s presence and power today? Who helped you experience God’s love? Where did God surprise you with God’s presence and power? Together, what do your thoughts, feelings, and actions tell you about God’s call upon your life? 

So, let me remind you that God is with you in whatever situation or circumstance you find yourself. In fact, God will surprise you in the lives of the people you encounter along the way. It is through God’s presence and power that you find hope for new possibilities. 

I am grateful to be with you on this journey of Hope Throughout the Year. May you experience God’s presence and power this week in life-changing ways. And remember, who you are is how you lead.

Learn more about Hope Throughout the Year

  • What do you do when you eat out, the food is delicious, and the service is exceptional? 
  • Or, when you have your car repaired, the service is better than you expected, and your bill is less than the quote?
  •  Or you see a movie that captures your interest and touches you emotionally? 

What do you do? You tell somebody about your experience. You recommend the restaurant, the garage, or the movie. And depending upon who is listening, you talk about your experience until someone says, “I’ll have to experience that for myself.” 

Evangelism

The word for such experiences in the church is “evangelization.” It means “to tell good news” regarding your experience. So, when you talk about your delicious meal and the exceptional service, you tell the good news of or “evangelize” the restaurant. When you say to your friends about the deal you received for your car repairs, you “evangelize” the repair shop and the mechanic. You even say, “You might what to have your car repaired there.” When you go on and on about how good the movie was, you are “evangelizing” the movie.

In the church at its best, evangelism is living and talking about how you experience God’s love in and through Jesus Christ. When you talk about your faith, you are evangelizing the presence of God in your life, and the love of God experienced the lives of the people with whom you live, work, and play. Most pastors and church leaders agree that individual Christians and churches should evangelize the gospel and make disciples. It is easy to get agreement on the importance of evangelism, but it is not so easy to get people to talk about their faith experiences.

Faith Sharing

Because talking about your faith is essential in the life of the church, there have been programs designed to help Jesus followers “share their faith” with friends, relatives, acquaintances, and neighbors. The motivation for such evangelism programs is usually built upon obeying the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19-20 (NRSV): 

“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 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” 

These evangelism resources assume you will talk about your faith when you know how to talk about it in a non-offensive, non-manipulative way. Many of these resources have good training materials regarding how to share your faith, but they make one big assumption. They assume you want to tell others about your experience of God’s love in Jesus. Being taught to share your faith, to talk about your experience of God’s love, is of little use when you don’t have a faith to talk about, and to share. 

How do you understand evangelism?

As simple as it sounds, evangelism has come to be known as something different than “sharing faith” or talking about God’s love in Jesus Christ. The word “evangelism” has come to be known as coercing people to accept Jesus Christ. “Evangelizing” neighborhoods or communities reduces the meaning of evangelism. Consider for a minute, are you seeking to give witness to the love of God experienced in Jesus? 

So, evangelism is now identified as outdated programs once used to “add” names and numbers to membership rolls of churches and completed by a few “truly” committed people in the congregation. 

I once held a denominational position of “Evangelism Executive.” I have done the research. Although I thought I was doing the work of evangelism, I confess I have helped to develop and to write some of the evangelism programs that have fallen short of their designed and desired results. 

Methodists & Evangelism

I have also learned some critical facts regarding evangelism. 

  1. The motivation of the early Methodists was the love of God in Jesus Christ, not the Great Commission. John Wesley taught that the Great Commission had already been fulfilled by the early Christians. He focused more on the commission as given to the apostles for their time rather than it being relevant to his own time. 
  2. The early Methodists (preachers, class leaders, and members) were laity who were highly motivated to share the gospel with others. They had a deep desire to tell others about Jesus Christ and the difference he made in their lives. 
  3. At the root of their deep desire to tell others about Jesus was a life-changing experience of God’s love. It was expressed as a heart renewed in love by the Holy Spirit. The new life was a work of grace that brought forth new motives and desires, new relationships shaped by a love for God and love for neighbor. It brought peace, joy, and righteousness.
  4. With this new life came a deep sense of well-being and purpose. The early Methodists had a deep concern for the well-being of others, both spiritual well-being as well as physical well-being. The new life led to new ways of living. Because of the love in their hearts, the early Methodists not only had a story to tell but a deep concern for others. 
  5.  The early Methodists received a wonderful new life in Christ through the grace of God. It was too wonderful to keep to themselves. Their best evangelism was rooted in their deepest relationship. They wanted to share this good news with everyone, and they did in the way they lived. 

The evangelism of the early Methodists transformed England and spread across the North American continent like wildfire. Their sincere desire to tell others what they had experienced changed the world. 

Who Do You Know Like This?

Over the years, I have met a few people who had this deep desire. These persons shared their faith because they could not do anything but share their faith, both in words and actions. Their witness was to preach what they practiced. What was in their hearts, they lived in their relationships.

Meeting Bob

I remember the first time I met Bob. He greeted me with a warm, inviting smile and a gracious welcome. He was an usher at the 8:30 worship service. As I began to learn more about the ministry of the church, I discovered that Bob was present in most places. 

When we started a ministry at a nearby elementary school, Bob was there. As the ministry was moved to another school, Bob was there loving, caring, and serving. When the weekly feeding ministry expanded on Saturday mornings, Bob stepped up with his genuine care and compassion. 

Because of his love for people, regardless of age, he had a unique way of connecting with them. He was often the first person to meet guests on Saturdays, to greet worshippers on Sunday, and to offer words of encouragement to children during the week. 

Bob’s Connection with People

One Saturday, during the weekly feeding ministry, one of the guests was agitated. He was known to have a mental health illness. That day he was talking to himself, growling at anyone who got too close, and violent when anyone tried to touch him. As it sometimes happened, the leader for the day directed the volunteers to be watchful and to stay clear of this gentleman. 

It was at that moment that everyone noticed the man was not in the room. The leader began to look for him, hoping to find him before someone was hurt. As the leader turned the corner in the hallway, he noticed Bob sitting with the man in the Chapel. Bob had his arm around him, listening to the man share something important. The man had a scripture book in his hand. As he got up to leave, he shook Bob’s hand and gave Bob a hug. 

As the man left the Chapel, the leader approached Bob to tell him about the man’s disposition and agitation. Bob responded, “Thanks for telling me. I saw he was not feeling well, so I asked him if he needed to talk. I think he is better now.” With that, Bob smiled and went out to greet the other guests. 

Bob’s Impact

At the school, Bob made a lasting impact on the students. He was often mistaken for one of the staff because he found time to be there three, and sometimes four, days a week. He made a difference by loving each child as if he or she was the only one he had to love. 

Bob spent most of his career at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. Even when he retired, he found time to keep his connection with students and faculty. He gave of himself whenever he was needed. 

Bob never participated in an evangelism program, yet he was an evangelist in word and deed. He never had a course on how to share his faith, yet he shared the gospel by the way he lived in a relationship with the people around him. 

Your Turn

Here is what I want you to do. Take time this week to participate in this exercise. Get a pen and paper and write down your responses to the following questions:

  1.  When you go on and on about what is important in your life, who or what are you talking about?
  2.  When have you experienced love so deeply that you wanted to tell others about it?
  3. How has your experience of being loved affected your living? How has your experience of love affected your relationships with the people where you live, work, and play?
  4. When you talk about is important to you, do you try to persuade others to adopt a point of view, or do you point people to who is important to you?
  5. People give their lives to God, not to programs. How are you telling people about God? What experiences of God’s love are you sharing? 

The five questions above are based upon one big assumption. The assumption that you want to tell others about your experiences of who and what is important to you. 

Share Your Experience of God’s Love

The same is true of evangelism. When you experience God’s love so deeply that you want to tell others about it, you will find ways to share your experiences of God’s love. As God’s love affects your living and your relationships so significantly that you can’t keep it yourself and when God’s love in Jesus is primary in your life, you will find ways to share your experiences of God’s love. 

Remember, your new life in Christ comes through the grace of God. When you experience God’s love it will be too wonderful to keep to yourself. Your best evangelism is rooted in your deepest relationship. So, share the good news with everyone in everything you do and say. The world will be better for it! 

As part of my discipline, I read and reflect upon the weekly lectionary texts.  This past week, I noticed something that surprised me.  The lectionary skipped Luke 13:1-5. It reads as follows:

Some who were present on that occasion told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifice.  He (Jesus) replied, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.  What about those twelve people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”

I was surprised because I think that scripture speaks directly to what is happening in the United Methodist Church as well as what is happening in our country.

Change Your Hearts and Lives

As I reflect upon the continual mass shootings, the blatant racism, the hurtful rhetoric, the tension within The United Methodist Church, I hear Jesus saying, “I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”

I don’t know about you, but I find that to be a hard saying. I want Jesus to say something more comforting or at least more directly related to the issues.

  • When innocent people are killed while at school, shopping, attending concerts, and on the streets.
  • When racism is becoming more publicly acceptable (as if racism is something new).
  • When we fight among ourselves over who is right and just.
  • When our leaders who have been given the responsibility of moral righteousness are the ones spewing hurtful rhetoric and setting immoral agendas.
  • When the world’s climate changes as the rainforests are destroyed and the polar ice caps melt all for economic purposes…

I want my faith to protect me.  I want justice for those who are being wronged.  I want Jesus to say something more than, “…unless you change your hearts and lives…”

Try a Different Question

Yet, my United Methodist Church is caught in the same dilemma.  There are times I feel helpless.  So, I as I reflected upon the lectionary texts, I also looked at Luke 13:1-5.

This is what I hear Jesus saying. “You are not asking the right questions.  You are shocked at the wrong points.  You have located your pain, dismay, and astonishment at a different place from where I am looking.”

One of my favorite hymns is “Amazing Grace.”  At the center of our Wesleyan theology and as amazing we may say it is, I wonder if we really are amazed by grace.  I think we express more amazement over our evil acts than at God’s mercy.  We have come to the place in our religious thinking where we assume that God will be merciful; God will be kind; God will be gracious.  We’re not surprised when we experience God’s kindness.  What shocks us is seeing something bad take place.

By God’s Grace

That is why I say I hear Jesus saying, “You are asking the wrong questions.  You are asking why these events take place.  You should be asking, “By God’s grace how do I respond?” I think, you and I have become so calloused, that our hearts have become so hard, that we are no longer surprised by God’s grace but we are paralyzed to inaction because we assume God’s grace.

One of my favorite illustrations of God’s grace and the dilemma we face today in The United Methodist Church comes from R. C. Sproul.  He tells the story of one of his first teaching assignments as a college professor. He was teaching a required course for 250 college freshmen: Introduction to the Old Testament.

He said, “I was uncomfortable trying to communicate with so many students at one time. I printed in advance the requirements for the course, because I’d already learned that college students were all budding Philadelphia lawyers, and I had to dot my I’s and cross my t’s to make sure that the assignments were clearly set forth.  So, I gave them a published syllabus and told them what the requirements would be for the class.”

The assignments for the semester were three very small papers, book report type things. The first one was due at noon on September 30, the second one October 30, and the third on November 30.  He told the class he wanted the completed papers on his desk at 12:00 noon on the appointed dates unless they were physically confined to the hospital or infirmary, or there was a death in the immediate family. If the papers where not in on time they would get an F for that assignment.

Begging for Grace

Everyone said they understand the assignment.

When September 30 came around, 225 of students brought their papers in and presented them dutifully at the proper time.  Twenty-five of students in the class failed to complete the assignment. They were scared to death.  Being freshmen, they were just making the transition from high school, and they were in a posture of abject humility.

They came to the Professor and said, “Professor Sproul, please don’t give us a F for this grade!  Please give us a little more time.  Give us one more chance.  We’re so sorry.”  They begged the Professor for grace.

The professor granted them an extension and said, “But don’t let it happen again.  Remember the next assignment is due October 30, and I want the papers in on time.”

They said, “Absolutely.  They’ll be here.”

Second Chances – Again

When October 30 came around, two hundred of the students came and put their term papers on the professor’s desk.  Fifty of them assembled outside the professor’s office. They had not planned their time properly and were not prepared.  So once again they pleaded, “Professor, we didn’t budget our time properly. It’s midterm. We had so many assignments all coming at the same time. It’s homecoming. Please just give us one more chance.”

The professor, a softhearted guy, said, “Okay, I’ll give you one more chance, but don’t let it happen again.”  The students began to sing spontaneously, “We love you, Professor Sproul.  Oh yes, we do.”

That’s Not Fair

Sproul said he was the most popular professor in the school for thirty days. Because thirty days later the third paper was due.  This time 150 students came into the classroom with their papers prepared, while the other 100 came in as casual, as cavalier, as you can imagine. They didn’t have their papers, but they weren’t worried in the slightest.

The professor asked, “Hey, where are your term papers?”

They said, “Prof, don’t worry about it. We’ll have them for you in a couple of days. No sweat!”

Sproul said, at that moment, he took out his grade book and his pen and began to ask each student about his or her term paper.  “Johnson, where is your term paper?”

Johnson replied, “I don’t have it, Professor.” Sproul said he wrote an F in the book.

“Greenwood, where is your paper?”

“I don’t have it, Sir.” So, Sproul put F in the book.

Suddenly several voices cried out, “That’s not fair!”

The professor asked, “What’s not fair? Johnson, did I just hear you say that’s not fair?”

Johnson, who was furious, said, “Yes, that’s not fair.”

Professor Sproul said, “Okay, I don’t ever want to be thought of as being unfair or unjust.  So, it is justice that you want?”

Johnson, “Yes”

“Okay, If I recall, you were late the last time, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

Okay, I’ll go back and change that grade to an F.”

Assuming Grace

The first time the students pleaded for mercy. And the professor said, “sure.”  The second time, they pleaded for understanding.  By the third time, not only did they begin to assume mercy, but they began to demand it. They assumed grace.

That is what we do with God. The history of our personal relationship with God is a history of grace.  You and I could not live on this planet for five minutes without God’s grace. But because God is so gracious, we take it for granted.

When the world starts falling apart, when mass shootings, blatant racism, hurtful rhetoric, and all we know is coming apart at the seams, we are astonished.

We have grown accustomed to God’s grace.

The question is, “Why has God been so God to me, to us?  And what are we going to do about it?” God’s grace is sufficient.

Have you seen the television ad about the boy who learns sign language so he can share his sandwich with a classmate?  His name is Joey. The ad opens with Joey lying on his bed, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language.

In the next scene Joey is in a swing, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and again, positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language. In the third scene, Joey is signing in a mirror while he is brushing his teeth.  The scene cuts to his father making a sandwich for Joey’s lunch.

Then we see Joey on a bus, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and practicing sign language.  He arrives at school, walks down the hall, looking at his phone, wearing his headphones, practicing his sign language.  In this scene he is so engrossed in learning and practicing sign language, he does not hear his teacher say, “Hey, Joey,” as he walks down the hall.

The Final Scene

The final scene is in the lunchroom.  Joey enters the room with his lunch.  He spots a girl carrying her lunch tray.  As she sits at a table by herself, Joey walks up to her, with his sandwich, and signs out the words, “Hi. My name is Joey. Do you want to share my sandwich?”

And she signs in response, “I’d like that.” Joey sits down with her, offers her half his sandwich, and they eat lunch together.

The caption at that point in the ad is “Good feeds our connections. Good feeds us all.”

 

Connections

Wow!

When I saw that commercial for the first time, I could not believe it was a lunch meat commercial.  I thought it was an ad for a church.

The makers of the ad say,

“…choosing good isn’t always about grand gestures; sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a sandwich or doing the right thing by making better decisions when the path might be confusing and out of reach…choosing to be more imaginative, generous, kind, or loving, there can never be too much good in the world.”

Oh, one more bit of information.  The title of the commercial is “Connections.”

God’s Presence

Now, I don’t want to make more of this than it is, but I want to share with you what this ad has stirred up in me.  I experienced God’s loving presence in and through this story.

I experienced God’s love through Joey offering hospitality to someone who was marginalized by her disability.  Joey exemplified hospitality at its best.

  • Joey decided he wanted to connect with the girl in the lunchroom.
  • He learned what was needed to make the connection. Because she had a hearing disability, he needed to learn sign language so he could talk with her in her language.
  • He focused on making the connection. Joey not only identified what needed to be done (sign language), he took the time to learned and to practice the sign language.
  • Joey made his connection by sharing part of himself to meet her need. He not only learned the sign language but he developed a relationship with the girl by sitting with her, offering part of his sandwich, and making the connection.

…all in a 30-second commercial.

Sharing God’s Love Through Hospitality

Have you considered showing God’s love through offering hospitality? Consider the following:

  • “Welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Roman 15:7). What would happen if you welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed us?
  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God came to be with us in a way we could understand. God relates to us to help us relate to God and to one another. What could happen if we engaged with our community or neighborhood in a way that takes the people seriously?
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). Love is the motivation for the connection. Do you and your congregation love the people in the community so much that you are willing to give yourselves?

The Question of Hospitality Transforming Mission

Consider Hospitality

Will you consider Joey’s pattern in sharing God’s love with your community and neighborhood? Consider the following:

  • Do you and your church want to connect with the community or neighborhood where you are located? Just saying you want to connect does not make the connection.
  • What is needed to make the connection? What do you need to learn about the community or the people with whom you want to connect?
  • We can and should pray. “O God, send us the people no one else wants and help us receive the people you send to us.”
  • We can and should engage people in conversation. Take a walk through the community and ask the people you meet these three questions:

1) “What do you love about our community/neighborhood?”

2) “What are the needs in our community?”

3) “Would you be willing to help us meet any of those needs?”

  • Are you willing to make your connection a priority? Are you willing to learn what you need to learn and to practice what you have learned to make the connection?

It’s time to develop relationships to make connections with others.

 

Hospitality as a Response to God’s Grace

The foundation of hospitality is found in responding to God’s grace in your life.  As individuals, we become hospitable when we receive God’s acceptance from others.  As a community of faith, we become hospitable when we live in an authentic relationship with one another.

So, who in your community would benefit from God’s love?  Are you willing to learn to connect with them? What part of yourself are you willing to give to love as you have been loved?

Your answer reveals your hospitality!

Prayer for Hospitality Transforming Mission

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

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

Advent Bible Reading Guide

 

God is With Us

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

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

Going into the Community

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

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

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

An Invitation

Emmanuel God is With Us Transforming Mission

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

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

Love

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” John 13:34-35

Martin Luther King, Jr, in A Testament of Hope writes, “I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Think about those words for a minute.

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