Tag Archive for: gospel

This is part 3 of a 3 part series.

Read Part 1  Read Part 2

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

How to Engage People in Offering Christ?

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

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

Who are You As a Follower of Jesus?

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

They are beloved children of God. 

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

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

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

Jesus is the way of love. 

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

All people are included in God’s love. 

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

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

Saul Encounters Christ Acts 9:1-19

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy – 2 Timothy 1

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

The Gospel of John & Offering Christ

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

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

Simon Peter Encounters Jesus

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

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

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

Experience Jesus for Yourself

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

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

Love People As You Have Been Loved

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

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

A Commitment of Prayer

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

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

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

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

Prayer

Here is a prayer for today:  

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

Reflect on Offering Christ 

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

Engaging in any mission is challenging. Engaging in God’s mission is even more challenging. The challenge is not the mission, but how you engage in the mission. So, here it is. Mission is not an activity you do to or for others, it is a way of living with and relating to others. It is more about following Jesus than it is about who and where you are going to serve. 

The Mission of God’s Love

Your life changes when you engage in mission. Whether it is your life or the life of your church, engaging in mission means constantly challenging personal preferences, the fear of losing control of who to serve, and the anxiety of not having enough resources. Yet, engaging in mission means learning to relax in the experience of loving others as you have been loved. It is an experience of transformation and new life.

So, what better time to explore engaging the mission than the season of the resurrection? When I reflect upon the resurrection, I continually discover that the attention of the early church was focused on the mission of God’s love. Even though there were those who did not want Jesus around, God raised him up and put him back to preaching, teaching, healing and loving. His followers understood themselves to be the evidence of God’s power of resurrection and God’s love still alive in Jesus.    

On the morning of the Resurrection, God gave a transforming presence for engaging in mission. 

Engaging in mission reshapes your life to live the way Jesus lived and to think and act the way Jesus thought and acted. Engaging in mission is to change your way of living and loving. It means to live all of life in the presence, love, and power of Jesus.

For one example of engaging in mission, read John 21:1-17

Read John 21:1-17 

21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,[a] Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So, they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he had taken it off, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them, and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

Reflect: Engaging in Mission

In the story above, when Jesus says, “Feed my lambs” or “Tend my sheep,” he is sending his followers out on God’s mission of love. Just as Matthew had “The Great Commission,” John has a commission. “Feed my sheep” is John’s commission story of engaging in mission. 

He uses Simon Peter, who is known as the leader of those early followers, to tell his story. Simon Peter received the Holy Spirit and was commissioned for God’s mission directly from Jesus (John 20:19-23). So, John uses Simon Peter to model what it means to follow Jesus. 

After the resurrection, Simon Peter decides to go fishing. While fishing all night and not catching any fish, Jesus shows up and life changes. It is after Jesus has had a meal with them that Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus sends him out to love others as he has been loved.  

To Live with Jesus 

Here is where living with Jesus and engaging the mission comes in.  I know it feels arbitrary, but to live with Jesus is to feed his lambs. To feed his lambs is to live with his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner sisters and brothers as well. 

Just to be clear, Simon Peter was doing what he knew to do, yet Jesus engaged him in the mission of feeding his lambs.  As good as it is, there is more to loving Jesus than doing what you know to do. There is more to loving Jesus than discussing the scripture and deciding who needs care. It is more than raising questions for missional discussions, entertaining differing points of view, and being tolerant and open. 

Each of these things are extremely important, but loving Jesus is more than being friends with him or knowing about him. Engaging in mission is to live with Jesus in such a way that you are transformed by your relationship with him.  

What is Engaging in Mission About?

Engaging in mission is not about how you feel about Jesus or God’s mission. It is not about your opinion, your point of view, or your thoughts about particular scriptures. It is not about how much or how little education you have or what position you hold. It is about loving people as you have been loved. 

Engaging in mission is about living with Jesus and loving the people he loves. In fact, he says, “I want you to keep doing what I was doing. As the Father sent me so I send you.” In other words, “feed my lambs” means feeding people, caring for those who were pushed aside, healing those who were broken, restoring relationships for those who have become marginalized, serving in humility, and even dying on a cross. 

You engage in mission, not because it is a good thing to do, but because God’s love for you and your love for God is expressed in real acts of love for others. Regardless of who they are or what they have done, you love because God first loved you. 

Engaging in mission means living with Jesus so that when you hear him say, “As the Father sent me so I send you,” you go. 

Respond with Love

You have been commissioned to love others as you love Jesus. How will you engage in God’s mission today? Be aware of the people God sends your way. Be mindful of the opportunities you have to respond with love. How will you practice who you are as a follower of Jesus?  In what new way will you love others as Christ has loved you? 

Engaging in mission transforms you. Be aware of what helps turn your love for Jesus into an outward expression of love and care. 

Prayer

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

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you engage in God’s mission of love? When were your preferences challenged? When were you anxious about expressing your love? When were you aware that you were being sent to love others as God in Jesus loves you? When did you relax in loving others? What will you do differently tomorrow?

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

Read Part 1 here

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

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

The Word of God

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

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

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

Faith in the Bible or Faith in Jesus?

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

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

Living Word and Written Word

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

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

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

Read Matthew 28:18-20 

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

Reflect

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

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

Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel

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

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

Read Mark 1:21-27 

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

Reflect

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

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

Jesus in Mark’s Gospel

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

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

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

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

Read Luke 4:14-21 

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

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

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

Reflect

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

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

Jesus in Luke’s Gospel

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

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

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

Read John 4:5-9 

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

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

Reflect

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

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

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

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

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

Respond

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

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

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

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

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

Return

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

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A Final Note

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

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

It Matters Where You Start, part 1

The Difficulty of Prayer

The Grace in Gratitude

Words are Powerful

The Importance of People

Well, I have done it again. I was reflecting on the gospel lection for Sunday and I jumped ahead in the chapter. The gospel for Sunday was Luke 15:1-10. The shepherd finds the lost sheep, and comes home shouting, “Rejoice with me, my lost sheep has been found.” The woman cries to her neighbors, “Come rejoice with me, the lost coin has been found.” These are great stories.

There is enough of God’s grace for me, you, and everyone we know. Besides, the remainder of the chapter, verses 11-32, the story of the Prodigal Son, was dealt with in Lent.

But, no. I jumped to the story that was not the focus of the week. And I know why. Read more

Living into Easter

I have a confession to make. Over my years of ministry, I was much busier on the Saturday side of Easter than I was on the days following Easter.

The week preceding Resurrection Sunday, beginning with Palm Sunday, was full of activities. Each activity had its own meaning and purpose. Everything from the children singing in the parade of palm branches to the sounds of silence in a darkened sanctuary. From egg hunts with children running and laughing to holy communion with adults somber and reflective.

Add to those activities Easter Sunrise service, Easter breakfast, and Easter worship, with people busy cooking, singing, teaching, and preaching, I was worn out on Easter Sunday afternoon. Although it was all good and mostly went well, I was relieved when it was over. I could go back to my routine where everything was not so special.

May I state the obvious? There is nothing profound here, but I have to say it. The important part of Easter happens after the resurrection, not before. As good and as necessary each and every activity is leading up to Easter, what is vital and what gives life and hope to the world comes after the resurrection celebration.

Now what do we do? Transforming Mission

What do we do now?

In John 21, we have a story that captures the mood and dilemma of the followers of Jesus after the Resurrection. In my imagination, I can hear them asking one another “What do we do now?”

So, what do we do after Easter?

A Conversation Between Jesus & Simon Peter

Simon Peter and six others went fishing. Easter was over. It was beautiful while it lasted. So, Simon Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” While he was fishing, the Risen Christ shows up and asks, “Simon, do you love me?”

Based upon my years of ministry, I can imagine the conversation going something like this:

Simon Peter responds, “Well, truthfully, that question is embarrassing; it makes me uncomfortable. It isn’t that I don’t like questions. I like questions. I like to discuss and entertain ideas. There’s something about the uncertainty that keeps my mind open. And I like the sophistication of considering various viewpoints on every issue. I like to be tolerant and open. I especially liked the three years we spend together in conversation and discussion. That’s why your question is embarrassing. ‘Do you love me?’ Maybe if you would rephrase the question. Ask me: ‘Are we good friends?’ I can answer that. What a friend we have in Jesus.”

Or maybe like this:

Simon Peter says, “I don’t think you’ve asked me the right question. What difference does it make whether or not I love you? That’s not the important thing. Faith has its own objective reality and we shouldn’t go around talking about how we feel. We should just present the message as it is. We should just read the scripture and express our thoughts. Ask me another question that is more appropriate to the three years of learning that I’ve had with you. None of those old questions that make a person feel guilty. Ask me about Christology or ecclesiology. I like essay questions.”

The Right Question

I can image Jesus responding, “But, Peter, it is the right question. What is to prevent you from being arrogant when you’re successful if you have not answered this question? What is to prevent you from being depressed at failure if you have not clearly faced up to this question? When it has all been said and done, it is the quality of the relationship you have with me that will make all the difference in your life.”

Now Simon Peter asks, “Would you repeat the question?”

“Yes.”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” said Simon Peter.

Jesus responds, “Then tend my lambs and feed my sheep.”

Your Assignment

This is the assignment of Easter. Because of the resurrection, this assignment is made meaningful each and every morning. You and I have the opportunity to translate it into our everyday living and into the life and ministry of our congregations.

But after all the activity on the Saturday side of Easter, who has the energy to tend the lambs and feed the sheep on Monday? Some of those lambs will still be lambs 40 years from now. Some of them will refuse to eat.

Now what do we do?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in moments of exasperation reminding them of the long-term meaning of Easter. As an example, we started the bible study “Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Grace.” This is one of the letters Paul wrote to a church struggling to decide “what do we do now?”

According to our story in John, Jesus said, “I want you to keep doing what I was doing. As the Father sent me so I send you.”

So, what was Jesus doing? He was feeding people, caring for people who were pushed aside, healing those who were broken, restoring relationships for those who had become disconnected, serving in humility, and dying on a cross.

Now, do you believe that?

Easter Sunday is over. Now, what will you do? Go back to business as usual?

“Simon, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

“Then tend my lambs and feed my sheep. As the Father sent me so I send you.”

Now, what are you going to do?

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As a preacher of the good news of Jesus Christ, what does it mean to start the year with new resolve, new hope, and new vision? If I may be so bold to offer some advice at the beginning of this year.

Preach like you know they almost didn’t come. That is what Bill Muehl said to his students when he was a professor of preaching at Yale.  “Remember, about half of your congregation almost didn’t come this morning.”

Improving the Acoustics Transforming Mission Blog

The trend seems to be that our most committed people are attending worship less frequently. Yet, if we look carefully, we will see many who could have chosen to be elsewhere have come back early from a meeting or vacation. There are others who are so sad, lonely, or distraught that the emotional toll of coming to church is huge.

Don’t take them for granted. The preaching task is too important. There is never a good excuse not to handle the proclamation of God’s word with great thought, preparation, and integrity.

Important Events

Several years ago, Fred Craddock told the story of a young woman who attended a service at which he was a guest preacher.  She told him that when she anticipated that a sermon might make her feel uncomfortable or call her to change something about her living, she brought her three small children into the sanctuary with her.  She said the distraction usually worked.

On another occasion, he asked a young visitor, a 20 something, about his first visit to a church.

He asked, “Do you remember ever being in church before today?”

The young man replied, “I’m sure this is my very first time.”

“Well, how was it?”

“A bit scary.”

“Scary?”

“Yes, I found it a bit frightening.”

“How so?”

“The whole service seemed so important.  I try to avoid events that are important; they get inside my head and stay with me.  I don’t like that. To be honest I prefer parties.”

“Then will you come back?”

After a long pause, the young man answered, “Yes.”

A Day Ruined by Jesus

As a preacher, to start the year with new resolve, new hope, and new vision is to remember that the subject matter is so important that it is life changing. It is possible that the one who listens can be radically affected in relationships, in ethical standards, and in moral decisions.

As you step into this new year, preach like you know that they almost didn’t come.  There will always be resistance.  Who wants to be disturbed by the truth?

  • There are 1300 children killed and 6000 children wounded by gunfire every year.
  • Twelve million children go to school every day in clothes given to them and thirteen million children go to bed hungry every night.

Who wants to have a nice day ruined by Jesus?

Listen to him:

If you have two coats;

go the second mile;

turn the other cheek;

if you love only those who love you;

forgive seventy times seven;

love your enemies;

your will be done on earth as it is in heaven;

I was hungry, naked, a stranger, in prison;

you fool, where is all your stuff now;

God is kind even to the ungrateful and wicked;

do not be anxious about tomorrow.

Improving the acoustics Transforming Mission

New Resolve, New Hope, New Vision

As difficult as it is to hear, it is extremely important to listen. Preach the good news.  Sometimes, Jesus gets into your head and your heart and stays with you.  I think that is what Paul is referring to in his letter to the Romans. “So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher?”

Step into this new year with new resolve, new hope, and new vision. Remember that the subject matter is so important that it is life changing.

Since I’m handing out advice, what does it mean to start a new year as a leader of a church, a congregation, a community of faith with new resolve, new hope, and new vision? Again, it is Paul in his letter to the Romans, “Welcome one other, in the same way that Christ has welcomed you. All for God’s glory.”

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

It is my opinion that we have told ourselves that we must walk the walk and that our living is our witness, to the detriment of telling people who we are and why we do what we do. Without giving testimony with our words, we are telling only half the truth. It’s not enough to walk the walk. Someone has to talk the talk.

What would happen if you and I began to tell how God, in Jesus, has made a difference in our lives? What would happen if we came alongside of persons, in the community as well as the church, created a space for conversations, developed meaningful relationships, practiced our faith of loving as we have been loved, inviting people to engage in developing their faith, not with easy answers, but to become who God created them to be?

I believe people would begin to discover how they could make a difference in their families, in their employment, and in their communities.

Improve the Acoustics

As we step into this new year, let’s improve the acoustics.  Let’s speak more boldly and clearly the truth of God’s love.  Let’s preach like we know they almost didn’t come. And let’s tell how God, in Jesus, has made a difference in our lives. That is my resolve, hope, and vision for this new year.

O God, give us the words that give witness to your Word in our speaking and in our living.  Amen


 

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1

The implication of this scripture is prayer is a learned experience. If that is so, were the disciples asking Jesus to teach them “how to” pray or were they asking Jesus to help them to focus upon “for what to pray?”

Whatever motivated them to ask was not as important as to pray.

How to Pray

As I reflect upon “how to” pray, I think of the tradition in which I grow up. The persons who prayed felt their prayers were more genuine and spirit led when they prayed extemporaneously. They just let it flow because what just flowed was more genuine.

They didn’t think about what to pray. What I remember is, what flowed naturally was what was on the surface of their minds. Too often they were not thinking of the conditions of the world or upon the people in need or distress. Those concerns did not automatically flow.

Engaging Prayer with Daily Life

What would happen if you listened to the news or read news stories to pray?

What would happen if you walked your neighborhood focusing upon your neighbors as you prayed?

Would you naturally think of the children, the gun violence, the prejudice, the hunger, or the homeless in your neighborhood?

Would you naturally think about the politicians, the first responders, the teachers, the medical personnel?

Without preparation, to share your feelings from the surface is to say the same thing all the time. If we do not focus our prayers, our prayers become nothing more than “just how I feel” prayers. I think that is important, but not that important.

Is this what the disciples were asking Jesus to teach them to do? Teach us “how to” pray?

Luke on Prayer

In Chapter 11, Luke has gathered Jesus’ teaching material on prayer. The same material is scattered about in Matthew, but Luke gathers the material in one place.

Immediately following what we know is as the Lord’s Prayer, Luke tells a story on persistence or perseverance in prayer. This teaching is to reassure believers that their prayers are heard and answered. If a grouchy neighbor awakened from sleep will respond to an urgent request for bread, how much more will God respond to our prayers. The story is not about praying harder or longer. Luke is encouraging his community to persist in prayer because to pray is to stay focused upon God and God’s call and commission to ministry.

As we have discussed, Jesus’ pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus upon God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. Luke’s encouragement to persevere in prayer is to keep our focus upon God.

Ask, Seek, Knock

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

Remember in Chapter 10, Luke tells of Jesus sending the disciples out, his instructions on what to take with them, and how to respond to those who accept them and reject them. The “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” material was adopted by the early Christian missionaries as encouragement to live out their mission, depending only on friendly supporters along the way.

Luke uses the sayings in relation to prayer. Since God is eager to hear and respond to the believer’s prayer, we may confidently ask, seek, and knock, no longer on human doors, but on the gates of heaven.

Prayer & the Holy Spirit

Luke concludes the teaching material with, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Remember, in Luke’s gospel, there is a relationship between prayer and the Holy Spirit.

We see the connection in Jesus’ ministry. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the connection where the Holy Spirit comes on the church in response to prayer. Luke is letting his community know that the Holy Spirit in Jesus, and in the church, is just as accessible for them through prayer.

Do you think that the Holy Spirit could work in and through your prayers? The power in prayer is to stay focused upon God and God’s call to ministry.

Had the disciples seen the presence and power of God in Jesus? Were they asking Jesus to teach them “to pray for the power?”

Prayer Requires Preparation

Successful prayer involves special preparation. There are times when your mood may not be right; an irritated or anxious temper may get in the way. Or perhaps the preoccupation with work and family may be clouding and crowding your thoughts.

A dozen different demands and pressures make special preparation an absolute necessity for real prayer. So, remember this:

To pray is to focus on God and God’s call. To pray is to live in God’s presence and to receive God’s power.

So, what does prayer have to do with it?

Everything! “Lord, teach us to pray!”