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Over the past several months, you have learned new ways to stay healthy physically, spiritually, and emotionally. You have learned different ways to communicate with and stay connected to the people entrusted to your care. You have discovered innovative ways to be and do church. Each of these experiences has helped to shape you into the leader needed for this point and time in history. My question is, how have you kept yourself relationally healthy? 

We know that relationships create the conditions that lead to trust, hope, and satisfaction. So, how are you doing in caring for and cultivating the relationships needed to navigate the uncertainty and confusion of a pandemic and of anti-racism?   

A Person and a Story

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The only two things that can satisfy the soul are a person and a story; and even a story must be about a person.” How are you keeping yourself focused and healthy regarding your relationship to Jesus, the people with whom you live, work, and associate, and the community in which you live?  

Let’s focus upon two relationships that are necessary for leading today. These relationships are with God’s story and with God’s people. 

Your Relationship with God

Let’s start with your relationship to God’s story. 

1. Listen to God’s story.

Listening keeps your relationship alive. As you listen:

  • Put yourself in the story.  Ask yourself, “What voices of truth do I hear in the story?”
  • Reestablish your relationship with stories that have grown too familiar.
  • Give God thanks and express your gratitude for others.

2. Learn God’s story

The Christian life is a story of relationships. It is your RELATIONSHIP(S)…

  • with others and a peace regarding those relationships that is the number one ingredient in a quality life.
  • to God and to the people God has entrusted to your care that has you in your leadership role at this time. 
  • that help make you who you are. God is Love, and love is impossible outside of relationships. In relationship to God and to one another, you have no choice but to live with, listen to, and learn from the people around you.

3. Live the story

Christians live the story of Jesus.

  • God gives you a new heart and puts a new spirit within you. The word dwells within you. You become a living container for God’s word.
  •  When you tell the story of Jesus forgiving his enemies, you become someone who forgives his or her enemies.  When you tell the story of Jesus’s crossing the street to help an outcast, you cross the street to help the nearest outcast.
  •  Remember your relationship with God’s story is hazardous to your status quo. God’s story has the power to change the world. Be grateful for the ways your life is transformed. 

Your Relationship with God’s People

Another relationship necessary for leadership today is the relationship with God’s people. 

Whether you like it or not, as a leader, you are in the people business. Loving and caring for people has become a way of life. It is never easy but greatly rewarding. It is in and through the people God has put into your life that God shapes you into the person and leader you were created to be. With that in mind, here is a little exercise to assist you in becoming a healthier and more effective leader: 

  • Think of one person for whom you are grateful. A person who helps keep you healthy by reminding you of God’s love and acceptance.  A person who encourages you.
  • Get a face in your mind and a name on your lips. Keep that person in mind as you read the following:

Was It Just Two Pieces of Paper?

Sister Helen P. Mrosla, an assistant professor in the School of Education at Seattle University in Washington, tells the story of Mark and his classmates in a ninth grade math class she taught in Minnesota. One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. The class had worked hard on a new concept all week, and she sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves, and edgy with one another.

Two Pieces of Paper

To stop the crankiness, she asked the students to put their books away and to take out two sheets of notebook paper. She then asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on their paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she asked them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and to write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment. As the students left the room, each one handed her their papers. One of the students, Charlie, smiled.  Another student, Mark said, “Thank you for teaching me today, Teacher. Have a good weekend.”  

On Saturday, she wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper and she listed what everyone had said about that individual. On Monday, at the beginning of the class, she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. She listened as the students said things like, “Really? I never knew that meant anything to anyone!”  “I didn’t know others liked me so much.” After a few minutes, the class went back to studying math. There was no mention of those papers in class again.

A Common Experience from an Uncommon Moment

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

After the funeral, most of Mark’s classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. Sister Helen was invited to come by the house. When she arrived, Mark’s mother and father met her at her car. “We want to show you something,” Mark’s father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded, and refolded many times. Sister Helen knew what it was without looking at the paper.

A Folded Treasure

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

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

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

“I have mine too,” Marilyn said.  “It’s in my diary.”

Then Vicki reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. “I always carry this with me. I take it out and look at it every time I need encouragement. I think we all saved our lists.” 

Your Turn

  •  Do you still have a person in mind? Sometime today, tomorrow or this week, practice addition. Add a word of gratitude to their lists.
  • Make a phone call. Send a Text. Write an Email. Write a note and let them know how much you appreciate them and care for them. It can be as simple as “Giving God thanks for you today. Know how much you are loved and appreciated.” 

Relationships create the conditions that lead to trust, hope, and satisfaction. There are two relationships necessary for leading today: relationships with God’s story and with God’s people.

So, how are you doing in keeping your relationships healthy? Remember, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are available to assist you along your journey. Please do not be afraid or hesitate to ask for help. Let us know what questions you have or what you might need as you develop the relationships that help make you the leader needed for this time in history.

God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. “Love one another as I have loved you.” You and I are a part of that story. May your relationships always reveal the blessing!

You have just experienced your third Sunday with worship outside the church building. You are starting the second week of the “stay at home” order.  You are working from home and discovering new ways to be socially connected while being physically distant. So, how are you doing with this new normal?  

Maybe a better question is: how are you caring for yourself during this disruption?

Here are four things to remember regarding self-care and the care of others.

1. Be Curious

  • When you are curious you ask questions and learn about people, situations and circumstances. Learn as much as you can about Covid-19 so that you can manage your own thoughts and feelings as you assist others in managing their thoughts and feelings. The more you know the better equipped you are to rely on the facts.
  • Learn as much as you can about the people who are researching the virus and who are leading us through the shrinking the curve.  By listening and learning, you are more able to assist the people who are entrusted to your care.
  • Your curiosity leads to creativity. The more curious you are, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can find ways to care, connect, and communicate. Be curious, but don’t be consumed by the media.

2. Be Aware

  • Be Present. Become aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and surroundings as well as the thoughts and feelings of the people around you. When you are present to what is unfolding and happening, you are more able to pay attention to the reality of the moment.
  • Appreciate Current Reality. When you are able to see things clearly, you are more able to lead in these uncertain times. Your calm and peaceful leadership is anchored in your appreciation of reality.  
  •   Keep the End in Mind. As you lead in the reality of the moment, remember that there will be an end to this crisis. Keep moving forward with the assurance that you will make it through.
  •   Be Grateful. As you become present to the reality of the situation with the assurance that you can and will make it through, you will become more aware and more connected to life, to the people around you, and all the new and different expressions of life emerging. Make time to give God thanks.

3. Develop A Routine

  • Routines create high achievers. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not on act, but a habit.”  
  • Routines help you achieve more, think clearly, and do work that matters. They keep you from stumbling through your day and make sure you get the most important things done. 
  • If you have not done so, it is important that you develop a routine that works for you.  You might consider the following:
    • Getting up at the same time every day
    • Participate in God is with Us
    • Exercise
    • Eat healthy food
    • Remember and reflect on the day’s activities and achievements
    • Give God thanks for the moments you experienced God’s presence
    • Get plenty of rest/sleep

 

4. Have Realistic Expectations

  • The balance between realism and optimism, in times of uncertainty, is a key to survival.
  • In times of uncertainty, expectations centered on the future must be realistic.  Check out the Stockdale Paradox for a greater understanding of the balance of realism and optimism. 
  • Stockdale explained, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end, which you can never afford to lose, with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Your Next Step

You might think of it this way. 

  • (Be Curious) What can you do to help with Covid-19?  Regardless of all you might have to offer, you can pray. As a Jesus follower, pray is part of your life.
  • (Be Aware) Who are people you can pray for? There is no shortage of persons for whom you might pray. At this point in time, you can pray for the doctors and medical personal who are on the front lines, exposing themselves to the virus as they discover ways to keep the rest of us safe. 
  • (Develop a Routine) When can I pray for them? You can pray for them every day as you pray for your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. 
  • (Have Realistic Expectations) How should you pray for them? You can pray for their well-being as they offer themselves in service and compassion for their local hospitals, communities, and the world.

As you lead into and through this disruption, it is imperative that you know the facts, name current reality, keep moving forward, with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of current reality.

Know how grateful I am for you and your leadership. Take care of yourself so that you can be the leader God has created you to be.

Know also that you are not alone.  We (Sara Thomas and Tim Bias) are available to help you care for yourself as you care for others.

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Over the past several weeks I have been asking friends and colleagues, “For what are you grateful?”  

One friend thought a moment and said, “I am grateful for the paperweight on my desk.  I have had it for over 30 years.  It is an ordinary rock that has red and yellow paint splattered on it. It is not worth much, but I wouldn’t sell it for any amount of money in the world. My son was 5 years old when he made it for me in a Sunday School class. It is a symbol of his love.  

Another friend said, “I love the homemade greeting card I got from my daughter. On the front of the card, she drew a picture of the earth and wrote the words, “To the World’s Most Sweetest Mom.” Inside the card she wrote, “Happy Birthday,” then scratched through it and wrote, “Happy Mother’s Day.” She signed the card, “Love, Sarah (6 years old)” When she gave me the card, she pointed out her mistake inside and said, “Even though I made a mistake, you are the same Mom.” 

Other friends and colleagues named things like family, friends, work, relationships. One person even said, “I’m grateful for my district superintendent.”

Well, how cool is that?   

The Practice of Gratitude

As I have listened, I have learned three things about you: 

  1. You are people of gratitude.  
  2. You are most grateful for your relationships 
  3. Your gifts are valuable because of the giver of those gifts.  

I think that is genuine gratitude.  Focusing upon the giver of the gift rather than on the gift itself. To paraphrase Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “You can gain the whole world and all the gifts in it, but without gratitude, you will miss the giver and lose your soul.” Celebrating the giver rather than the gift is the point. When you make that breakthrough, you will never be the same. That kind of gratitude will change your life.

So, let’s put our gratitude into action.  I want you to think of someone for whom you are grateful.  Someone who has brought love, joy, and gladness into your life. Someone who, because of their generosity, has changed your life. Get that person’s face in our mind and name on your lips.

Two Sides of Gratitude

Now, let me tell you about Bonnie Shepherd.  She was having surgery two weeks before Christmas. She said it was a terrible time to be in the hospital, but her husband assured her that he could take care of things at home. But she wrote, “Christmas baking, shopping, and decorating would have to wait.”

She said, “I struggled to open my eyes after sleeping for almost two days following surgery. As I became more alert, I looked around to what seemed like a Christmas floral shop.  Red poinsettias and other bouquets crowded the windowsill. A stack of cards waited to be opened. On the stand next to my bed stood a small tree decorated with ornaments my children had made.  The shelf over the sink held a dozen red roses from my parents…and a yule log with candles from our neighbor. I was overwhelmed by all the love and attention.”

That day, she watched a heavy snowfall outside the hospital window.  She began thinking about her four children. Her husband had told her that friends had brought meals and offered to care for the children. She began to imagine them bundled in their snowsuits building a backyard snowman and skating at the outdoor ice rink. Then, she thought of her son, Adam.  He had a physical disability. At age 5 he had just started walking independently. She worried about him on the ice and snow with his thin ankles. She wondered if anyone would take him for a sled ride?

More Flowers

About that time, she heard the nurse’s voice, “More flowers!”  The nurse handed her the card from the beautiful centerpiece and then made room for the bouquet among the poinsettias on the windowsill. She took more cards from her pocket and put them on the tray.  Before leaving the room, she pulled back the pale green privacy curtain between the two beds.

While Bonnie was reading her get-well cards, she heard, “Yep, I like those flowers.” It was the woman in the bed beside her.  She had pushed the curtain aside so she could see better. “Yep, I like those flowers,” she said again.

Bonnie said her roommate was a small 40-something woman with Down’s syndrome.  She had short, curly, gray hair and brown eyes. Her hospital gown hung untied around her neck, and when she moved forward it exposed her bareback.  Bonnie said she wanted to tie it for her but she was still connected to an IV. The woman stared at the flowers with childlike wonder.

Bonnie spoke to her.  “I’m Bonnie. What’s your name?”

“Ginger,” she said, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling and pressing her lips together after she spoke.  “Doc’s gonna fix my foot. I’m going to have suur-jeree tomorrow.”

Bonnie and Ginger talked until dinnertime. Ginger told her about the group home where she lived and how she wanted to get back for her Christmas party.  She never mentioned a family. Every few minutes she reminded Bonnie of her surgery scheduled for the next morning saying, “Doc’s gonna fix my foot.”   

Plans and Visitors

That evening, Bonnie had several visitors, including her son Adam. Ginger talked with everyone who entered the room, telling each of them about Bonnie’s pretty flowers.  She kept an eye on Adam. Later that evening, when everyone had gone, Ginger repeated over and over how much she liked the flowers and then she said, “I like your Adam too.”

The next morning, while Ginger was in surgery, the nurse helped Bonnie take a walk down the hall.  When she returned to her room, she noticed the contrast between the two sides of the room. Ginger’s bed was neatly made, waiting for her return.  But she had no cards, no flowers, and no visitors. Bonnie said her side of the room bloomed with flowers, and the stack of get-well cards reminded her of just how much she was loved.

No one sent Ginger flowers or cards.  Bonnie began to wonder if it was going to be that way for Adam one day.  She quickly decided that she would give Ginger something. Some of her flowers.    

Justified Guilt?

She walked to the window and picked up the red-candled centerpiece with holly sprigs.  She thought, “This would look great on our Christmas dinner table.” So, she set the piece down. What about the poinsettias? Then she thought about how much the deep-red plants would brighten the entry of her turn-of-the-century home.  And of course, she could not give away her Mom and Dad’s roses.

Bonnie said the justifications kept coming: the flowers are beginning to wilt; this friend would be offended; I really could use this when I get home. She said she could not part with anything.  So, she climbed back into bed. She calmed her guilt with a decision to call the hospital gift shop when it opened in the morning. She would order Ginger some flowers of her own.

When Ginger returned from surgery, a candy-striper brought her a small green Christmas wreath with a red bow.  She hung it on the bare white wall above Ginger’s bed. That evening, Bonnie had more visitors. Even though Ginger was recuperating from surgery, she greeted each visitor and proudly showed them her Christmas wreath.

Home In Time for Christmas

The next morning, after breakfast, the nurse returned to tell Ginger that she was going home.  “The van is on its way to pick you up.” Bonnie felt happy for Ginger. She would be home in time for her Christmas party, but Bonnie felt guilty when she remembered that the hospital gift shop would not open for two more hours.  She looked around the room at her flowers one more time.

The nurse brought the wheelchair to Ginger’s bedside.  Ginger gathered up what few things she had and pulled her coat from the hanger in the closet. Bonnie said, “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you, Ginger.”  She said her words were sincere but she was feeling bad for not following through on her good intentions.

The Gift of Gratitude

The nurse helped Ginger with her coat and into the wheelchair.  Then she removed the small wreath from the nail on the wall and handed it to Ginger.  They turned toward the door to leave when Ginger said, “Wait.” Ginger stood up from her wheelchair and hobbled slowly over to Bonnie’s bed.  She reached out her hand and gently laid the small wreath in Bonnie’s lap. “Merry Christmas. You are a nice lady.” Then Ginger hugged Bonnie.

Bonnie whispered, “Thank you.”  She said she could not say anything more as she watched Ginger hobble back to the chair and out the door. She looked at the small wreath in her hands and thought, “Ginger’s only gift.  And she gave it to me.” As she looked toward Ginger’s bed, she saw, again, her side of the room was bare and empty. But as she heard the elevator doors closing, Bonnie said, “I experienced gratitude as I had never experienced it before.  I don’t think I will ever be the same.” 

Your Next Step

Now, let’s go back to the person I asked you to remember. 

  1. Get that person’s face in your mind and name on your lips
  2. Give God thanks. You are who you are today because of that person’s presence and influence. 
  3. How will you express your gratitude? make a phone call? send a text? bake cookies?  What one thing will you do to express your gratitude?
  4. Now, do it!    

By God’s grace, you express your gratitude by loving as you have been loved.  When gratitude overtakes you, you forget to be afraid. You become able to trust and you have time for the greater things in life. Once you experience and express your gratitude, you will never be the same.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership Checkup Transforming Mission

Trust

What am I Trusting?

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

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

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

Gratitude

For whom or what am I grateful?

I am grateful for trusted friends. I am grateful for those so close they not only love me just the way I am, but they give of themselves so I can become who God created me to be. I am grateful for the embodiment of unconditional and unselfish love in their lives. I am grateful that the love I experience in and through them encourages me to be more like Jesus.

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

Inspiration

 

What is inspiring me?

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

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

Faith

How am I practicing faith?

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

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

It’s time for A Check-up

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

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

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

If I could give one quality gift to each of my family members and to all my friends, it would be the gift of gratitude. If I could have God do anything for you, I would ask that God make you grateful. Gratitude is the central virtue of the Christian faith. Over my 40+ years of ministry, I have never known a person who was grateful who was at the same time bitter, hurtful, mean, or vengeful.

One Returned in Gratitidue

In the story of the ten Lepers found in Luke 17:11-19, all ten are healed but only one, an outsider, returned in gratitude. Lepers, because of their condition, were required to stay outside the boundaries of the community. They were socially, religiously, and physically isolated from family, friends, church, and all that was important to them. They had no quality relationships outside of the leper community. Not only were they isolated, they had the responsibility of announcing their condition to everyone who came close. Then into their lives walked Jesus. They cried out, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.”

Jesus gave them the direction, to “Go show yourselves to the priest.” What I think is interesting here is Jesus gave each of them what was needed for healing and wholeness. His direction was an act of grace. It was on their way to see the priest that all of them were healed. All 10 were healed and given new lives. All ten received the same treatment, the same grace. But only one returned in gratitude.

I believe, without any stretching of the truth, that leprosy in the scripture is a symbol of our fallen human condition before God. We are sinners, disconnected from God, one another, and our communities. In our condition, we do not have the capacity within ourselves to reconnect with God and to one another. Our hope is that Jesus, the embodiment of God’s grace, comes into our lives. Just as with the lepers, our relationships are restored, God’s peace takes root deep within us, and we live new lives. New lives in Christ.

Are We Grateful?

In the story, ten lepers are healed but one returned in gratitude and praise.

I confess that I have always thought of the church as the community of the grateful. We gather in response to God’s grace to offer ourselves in gratitude for what God has done, not only for us, but for all people. We connect with people in our communities in response to God connecting with us in Jesus. Recently, I have wondered what it is like in the churches in the Capitol Area South District. All of us have been offered new life by God’s grace. My question is, “Are we grateful?”

There is a story told about Rudyard Kipling. He was being interviewed by a reporter who said, “Mr. Kipling, I just read that somebody calculated that the money you make for your words amounts to over $100 a word. The reporter reached into his pocket, pulled out a $100 bill, gave it to Kipling and said, “Here is a $100. Now give me one of our $100 words.” Kipling looked at the money. Put it in his pocket. Looked at the reporter and said, “Thanks!”

There were ten healed. Ten who returned to the world from which they had been isolated. Ten who had been invited by grace to a new life. But only 1 who returned as an expression of gratitude.

The words “grace” and “gratitude” have the same root in the Greek. In other words, if there is no awareness of grace, there is no gratitude. There is no gratitude without an awareness of grace. In the story, all received grace but only one returned with gratitude and praise.

I was just wondering…are you the one? Are you the one?