Tag Archive for: Hope

Leadership is about inspiring and empowering people to become who they were created to be. It is about relating and connecting in such a way that the world is impacted and changed for good. Although there will always be opinions about the characteristics of effective leadership, there are specific characteristics that people want from you as their leader.

A recent Gallup survey of 10,000 followers, revealed that people want trust, compassion, stability, and hope from their leaders. People want and need leaders who will help navigate the challenges of today’s world. Below are resources to assist you in meeting those challenges as a Christ-centered leader. These resources will assist you in becoming the leader God has created you to be. 

There is a brief statement of each characteristic and then resources to take you deeper. Please know of my prayers for you and for your church as you continue to lead in these difficult days.

Trust

People want leaders who they can trust. In that Gallup survey, what surfaced as the top characteristics people need from their leaders are honesty, integrity, and respect. These words describe the outcomes of strong relationships built on trust.

People look for role models whose behavior they feel is worth emulating. Whether it be coaches, professors, co-workers, bosses, or pastors, people look for leaders who can be trusted to lead through ordinary situations as well as times of learning, adventure, and uncertainty. People want leaders who take them seriously and who can adapt when everything is not ideal.

As a leader, you earn trust when you follow through on commitments. Then as trust grows, people feel more at ease with you with bigger commitments in other areas of leadership. As you live out your trustworthiness, people learn that they can rely upon you.

Learn More:

Compassion

In the Gallup survey, words like caring, friendship, happiness, and love are used to describe what people need and want from their leaders. In a word, people are looking for leaders with compassion. They are looking for leaders, whether spiritual, political, corporate, or educational, to listen to them, affirm their worth, and love them.

To lead with compassion means contributing to the happiness and well-being of the people entrusted to your care. It is more than “being nice.” It is an intentional action to nurture people to their full potential. As the leader, you develop authentic relationships for the purpose of helping people become who they were created to be. 

Explore More About Compassion here:

Stability

We are living in a time of enormous change. Daily we experience the anxiety of the ground moving under our feet. When the foundation upon which we have been living begins to shift, our anxiety levels intensify.

When you are driven by anxiety, you see the world differently. You begin to make your decisions based upon the fear of scarcity and to focus on problems and shortages rather than possibilities and abundance. As a leader, it is during such anxiety you need the courage to stay focused and to lead the people entrusted to your care.

During times like this, one of the qualities people want in a leader is stability. According to the Gallup survey, words like strength, support, and peace are used to describe what people need and want from their leaders. The survey reveals that people are looking for leaders who provide stability.

It is during times of uncertainty, that people want and need leaders of stable influence to navigate the unknowns of changing culture, communities, and churches. Whether you believe it or not, your leadership makes the world a better place. 

Explore More about Stability:

Hope

As our world changes, our churches struggle, and we face uncertainty and fear, people are looking for leaders who can make a positive impact upon their lives and in the community. They are looking for inspiration that speaks to their needs. They want and need a leader who instills hope for the future. 

What has surfaced in the Gallup survey, is people want and need direction, faith, and guidance from their leaders. These words describe the outcomes of hope.

At this point and time in history, people are tired of false promises, disillusioned with artificial relationships, and disheartened with the sensationalism of political positions and conflicting opinions. They are looking for authenticity and integrity. In a word, they want and need hope. And they are looking to you, as their leader, to provide it.

Explore more about Hope: 

To learn even more about becoming the Christ-centered leader needed to navigate the challenges people are facing today, we’re exploring hope throughout 2022. The Blog and Podcast page for our most recent resources.

Healthy Relationships

Just one more thing before you go. The four characteristics of trust, compassion, stability, and hope are fundamental to developing and maintaining healthy relationships. Relationships are necessary if you as a leader are going to have influence in the places you live, work, and play.

Take time to listen to the LeaderCast episodes and read the blogs listed above. You can only improve your leadership skills as you learn to adapt to the changing landscape and lead through challenging times.

As you explore these resources, keep in mind the relational skills that grow from these characteristics. As you listen and reflect upon the resources above, here are five things to keep in mind.

  • Listen Carefully – Give your full attention and reflect thoughtfully. Use empathy to connect more authentically with others.
  • Ask Questions – Model the behavior of being curious and encourage others to do the same.
  • Stay True to Your Values – Model integrity and authenticity.
  • Communicate Clearly – Remember that clear is kind. Be clear in your statements and be aware of how you are perceived in what you say and do.
  • Be Generous – Provide useful and genuine feedback to those entrusted to your care. Give them the benefit of your best thoughts and responses and be open to receiving feedback. 

Leadership is about inspiring and empowering people to become who they were created to be. It is my hope that you can and will begin to build a file of resources that assists you in becoming the leader that makes a difference.

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Note: Explore the podcast and blog for more resources to guide you on your leadership journey.  

You have been leading through difficult times. I don’t have to tell you how difficult it has been or what you have had to navigate. But I imagine that about the time you are ready to take a breath and to get some traction, there is a war breaking out and denominational turmoil unfolding. So, how are you doing today? 

If you are wondering if there is any hope in the midst of all the difficulties, chaos, and confusion, I can tell you there is hope.  Hope centered in Jesus. Hope for our future. I’m sure of it. 

It has been my experience that in the midst of change, whether I want it or not and whether I like it or not, God has something new and exciting on the other side of the difficulties and confusion. 

Remembering Hope

Take a journey with me today that will lead to remembering the hope that God has offered to us in and through Jesus. As we start this journey, there are several things you can do.  

You can remember the past. 

You can think about how things used to be and yearn for something that is never coming back. You might be thinking of your congregation during its “glory days” and are convinced that with the right leadership, (young pastor with a family), your church could get those glory days back…just as you remember them.   

You can remember the present. 

You can think about how things are now and enter survival mode. You are realistic about the uncertainty of the future, not only of the denomination but of your own congregation. People are getting older, there are fewer and fewer young people, so let’s go into a holding pattern and “wait and see” what happens. 

You can remember the future. 

With the mission as your guide, you can think about what is possible at the moment with the resources you have been given. 

Revelation

The writer of The Revelation of John remembers the future.  He “pulls back the curtain” of the future and presents a vision of hope. 

So, this is what I want you to do. Take a day this week, or better yet, take the days of this week, and READ the scripture, REFLECT upon one aspect of it, RESPOND by focusing upon that aspect during the day, and RETURN at the end of the day to reflect upon and assess what you have experienced and learned. 

Participating in the practice of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return, can and will lead you into remembering the future with hope. 

READ: Revelation 21:1-7 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  

I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  

I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end. To the thirsty, I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters. 

REFLECT 

The world in which John and the people entrusted to his care have been living is in turmoil. Their lives have been interrupted and what they have known as normal has been changed. John is writing to give them a vision of the future. The image that comes to mind is, “he pulls back the curtain to the future” and he tells what he sees.  

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth…”  This is a way of saying that he saw a new day, a new order, a new life. He sees healing and hope. 

“The former heaven and the former earth had passed away…” He is saying that what has been known as normal is gone. There is good news in that statement because what has been normal was separation and chaos.  His next statement, “and the sea was no more” is a hope-filled statement. The “sea” was a symbol of separation. When he says, “the sea was not more” he is saying that there will be no more separation or that in the new day there will be reconciliation, a bringing together of the people who have been separated from one another.  

“I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…” He is saying that in the new day there will be a shift from being good enough to get into heaven to God getting heaven into us. And it will be as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Those words are words of intimacy and relationship. God has come to be intimately related to us. It will be God’s relationship with us that gets heaven into us.

“I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” John is saying what he just said in another way. He is telling his followers and us that God is with us. We are his people. We can trust God for this new day. 

Then he quotes scripture to tell us what is going away, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” It is a new day in relationship to God. What has been normal, including the terror of death, is behind us. There is a new day, new life, a new order. 

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters.” John is trying to get his point across to the people he loves, the people entrusted to his care. He repeats what he has been saying, again, in a different way. 

God is making all things new. We are God’s children. God will provide for us. 

By pointing out the future, John is offering hope to his people. 

RESPOND 

Take one of those themes and live it out each day this week. 

  • Day One: Where will you experience new life or a new order? Where will you experience healing and hope? 
  • Day Two: Where will you experience change or transformation? Where will you experience reconciliation?  With whom will you experience reconciliation? 
  • Day Three: Where will you experience God’s presence today? Where will you see Jesus? 
  • Day Four: Where will you experience being so close to God that you will stop and give God thanks for God’s presence and love? 
  • Day Five: Where will you experience God’s healing and wholeness today? With whom will you experience love and peace today?  
  • Day Six: Where will you experience new life today? Where will you be renewed by God’s grace? 

RETURN

At the end of each day, take time to look back over the day and reflect upon the experiences you have had, the encounters you have had with individuals, and the places you saw Jesus, God’s love, at work. Give thanks for the new life God is giving you. Give thanks for the people God placed in your life today. With whom did you experience forgiveness? Who might you need to forgive? 

As you come to the end of this part of our journey, remember God is doing a new thing in our midst. John pulls back the curtain of the future to let us see the hope that God provides as we step into the days, weeks, and months ahead. It will be different.  But with God with us, it will be just what we need to be who God created us to be. 

You are a beloved child of God and a hope-filled leader with Jesus at the center of your life. Pull back the curtain and catch a glimpse of what God has in store for you. You were created to lead at this time in history. Be the hope-filled leader God created you to be. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

If you sat down with any group of people and said, “Today, our subject for discussion is temptation,” someone would quote Oscar Wilde, “I can resist anything but temptation.” The discussion would go from there to stories of pranks, parties, and pies. Each story illustrates some form of temptation. But the point of our reflection today is not to reduce the temptation to a few harmless activities. 

You, as a Jesus follower and a leader, are tempted, in one way or another, to be successful. Being successful, by itself, is not a bad trait. But how you get there can be. Whether you are a pastor, a parent, a small group leader, or an executive, the temptation to be someone other than who God created you to be is always present and sometimes overwhelming. 

To discover the key to becoming a hope-filled leader in the midst of temptation, let’s use the pattern of READ, REFLECT, RESPOND, RETURN as a lens to look at Matthew’s story of the temptation. 

1. Read Matthew 4:1-11 

Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.” 

 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” 

 After that, the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” 

Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.” 

Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.” 

Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, you will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him. 

2. Reflect

Immediately following his baptism where he has been claimed by God as “my beloved son in whom I am pleased,” Jesus entered a time of fasting. This was a time for Jesus to come to terms with who he was as “God’s beloved child.”

I find it fascinating that Matthew tells his story of Jesus like the story of Israel. Israel passed through the waters into the wilderness, was tested, and failed. They were disobedient and worshiped other gods. Jesus, the true Son of God, repeats Israel’s experience in coming out of Egypt, is tested in the wilderness, and remains obedient to God. He refuses to worship another. In contrast to Israel in the wilderness, whose faith faltered until restored by the miraculous manna, Jesus is hungry but remains faithful without the miracle.

After fasting for forty days, Jesus is prepared to be who God has claimed him to be. The story is not about Jesus deciding whether he is God’s beloved child but about what it means to be God’s beloved child.

Question for Reflection

Here is the question for reflection. What does it mean for you to be a leader who is a beloved child of God? Keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

Henri Nouwen, in his book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, tells how Jesus overcomes the three basic temptations leaders face.

First Temptation: Please People

The first temptation is to please people. For Jesus, the temptation was to live into the Jewish expectations of the Messiah. He was challenged to use his power to not only gratify himself but to meet the human need around him. Both are good actions, but to “Turn these stones into bread,” was not who he had been created to be. Jesus replied, “People do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

It is not wrong to want to please people or to make them happy, but if you form your leadership around applause, you will soon be unproductive and fruitless in your ministry. The temptation is not to please others as much as it is to become someone other than who God created you to be. Hope-filled leaders do not always please people, but they lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

Jesus found his identity and strength in being who God created him to be. He experienced God’s love to the point that he trusted God’s direction in loving people and giving them what was needed so they too could become who God had created them to be. He often disappointed people, but he was true to being a beloved child of God.

As a leader, you are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead.

Second Temptation: Impress People

The second temptation is to do something to impress people. For Jesus, the temptation was to make some sensational demonstration to show he was the Son of God. He is challenged to do something spectacular like “Jump from the pinnacle of the temple!” Jesus resisted and said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:6-7).

It is not wrong to set lofty goals and high expectations, but if you form your leadership around unrealistic accomplishments, you will soon be burned out and cynical in your ministry. There will always be pressure to do something new, exciting, bigger, and better. There will always be people who want you to do something that is not true to who you are as a leader. Your temptation will be to feed your ego, to compare yourself to your peers, and to slip into a behavior that is less than authentic. Hope-filled leaders do not always impress people, but they lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

You don’t have to be a hero. But you do have to love people for who they are and to teach them the very things you have been taught about loving one another, forgiving one another, and leading one another to become the people God has created them to be.

As a leader, you are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead.

Third Temptation: Compromise Who You Are

The third temptation is to compromise who you are by focusing upon something or someone other than the God who has created you. For Jesus, the temptation was to control the kingdoms of the world. He could do all the good he wanted to do, by giving up who he was created to be. He responded to the temptation by saying, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10).

It is not easy being a Jesus follower when you are taught to “turn the other cheek,” “to make things right with those who have something against you,” and to “love your enemy.” It is not easy to “forgive 70 x 7 times.” But to give into the temptation to control your life and relationships is to compromise who God has created you to be. Hope-filled leaders are flexible. They know to pivot to lead people to the hope they desire. But they do not comprise who they are. They lead courageously in assisting people into becoming followers of Jesus who make a difference in the lives of the people with whom they encounter each day.

Jesus didn’t use his power to build an empire. He didn’t make people serve him, he served them. He included persons no one else wanted, washed the feet of those who hurt him, and cooked breakfast for those who had given up on him. He made friends with the poor, associated with outcasts, and disciplined them to be leaders. He helped them all discover that they were beloved children of God.

This is what Matthew is teaching us. To be a follower of Jesus means to have a trusting relationship with God that does not ask for miraculous exceptions to the limitations of being an authentic human being. You have been claimed by God, gifted to lead at this time in history.

You are a beloved child of God. Who you are is how you lead. 

3. Respond

Today, be aware of the temptation to be someone other than who God has created you to be. Be aware of where you are tempted to gratify yourself? And where you might compromise who you are to please or impress others. Look for Jesus throughout the day. Be aware of how being a Jesus follower helps you make the decisions needed to help others.

4. Return

  • Give God thanks for the day, for the people you have encountered, and for the places you have encountered God? 
  • What temptation did you face? 
  • In what situations did you try to please people? 
  • Impress people? Compromise who you are to get what you want? 
  • Who are some of the people who enriched your life? 
  • Who are some of the people you need to forgive or who you need to ask for forgiveness? 
  • How have you grown to become more of who God has created you to be? 

You are a leader at an incredible time in history. You were created for this time. So, don’t give in to the temptation to be someone other than who God has created you to be. You are needed just as you are…a beloved child of God.  

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

We begin another Lenten journey this week. Recently, I have had the opportunity to listen to several of you talk of your preparation for this journey, about Ash Wednesday Worship, the imposition of ashes, and Lenten studies as well as sermon series. In each conversation, whether directly discussed or implied, you have talked about a spiritual preparation to reflect upon God’s redemptive work in the world.

Your Relationship with Jesus

As I have thought about those conversations, I have been reminded of a fundamental aspect of the Lenten experience, the focus upon who we are in relationship to Jesus, the church, and the community. It is a focus upon the inner reality and depth of God’s love in our lives and upon how God’s love is lived out in and through us in real everyday and ordinary relationships. As I have reflected upon this, I have begun to ask myself the question, “For whom am I living my life?” 

Matthew 6

Our fundamental focus, our journey, begins with these words of Jesus, “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure, ‘play actors’ I call them, treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. 

When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. 

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for fifteen minutes of fame! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace” Matthew 6:1-6 (The Message). 

Holiness and Righteousness

I like Jesus’ direction in Matthew’s story. In the bigger picture, Matthew is concerned about holiness and righteousness. Our Lenten journey begins with being holy or righteous before God. Now, if I understand Matthew’s point of view, holiness means “set aside” or “different.” You live your life as “set aside” and as “different” from others. In fact, if you look at his writings closely, being set aside or different means being recognized as daughters and sons of God. You will find that in the beatitudes. 

Right Relationship

Being righteous means being in right relationship with God and with your neighbor, the people around you. Again, if you look closely at Matthew’s writings, he focuses upon relationships more than anything else. For example, “when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember your sister or brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” In other words, relationships are as important if not more important than your piety.

Loving Neighbors and Enemies

And it not just your primary relationships, Matthew records Jesus as saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your father in heaven…” Being righteous means living as daughters and sons of God, reflecting God’s image of love, even for your enemies. In fact, Jesus says, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Said another way, “You are God’s children, so live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” 

This Lenten experience can be interesting when taken seriously, especially when it comes to loving one another as God in Christ has loved you. If you take Jesus seriously from Matthew’s perspective, the total substance of your faith, your relationship to God, is lived out in loving your neighbor. 

For Whom am I Living my Life?

I like Kierkegaard’s understanding of neighbor. He wrote that neighbor was a category that included everyone, from one’s enemy to one’s spouse. It was the whole spectrum of human relationships from the least love-worthy to the most love-worthy. So, as you begin your Lenten reflections, focusing upon God’s love for you and your love for others, ask yourself the question, “For whom am I living my life?” 

Your Lenten Reflection

May I ask you to include this in your Lenten reflections this year? As you reflect upon for whom you are living your life, include the thought and actions of loving the persons who might not ever return your love as well as the persons who love you. It is easy to love those who return your love, but to love those who do not love you or are not worthy of your love takes God’s grace deep within your being. Practice the means of grace so that you can and will reflect more on the God who loves you and sends people to you to love.

Conflicting Values

Why do I ask you to include this? We are living in a time of conflicting values. There is a conflict between individual responsibility of loving friends and family and social responsibility of loving the neighborhood, the stranger, and even our enemy. 

It seems that most of us believe that we have done our part, as Jesus followers, when we smile, are nice, and are kind to one another. We love our neighbors, especially those who are friends, who agree with who we are, what we believe, and how we respond to the needs of the world. It also seems that most of us reduce our social responsibility to the level of humanitarian care. It is good that you care, but too often our efforts are reduced to caring for those who are worthy of our care. What happens if your neighbor ceases to be worthy of your love? 

When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor,” there are no conditions. There is nothing that terminates it. We are bound to our neighbor, whether friend or foe, through the love of God. We love because that is who we are as children of God.

Respond as a Follower of Jesus

There is a story of St. Francis of Assisi being attacked by a thief who had leprosy. Francis was beaten, stripped of his clothes, and robbed of his money. Before the thief could get away, St. Francis embraced his feet and kissed them. Now, I am not recommending that exact response, but I am trying to explain the behavior of St. Francis. Here it is. He responded out of who he was as a follower of Christ. St. Francis loved his neighbor because he had been told to love his neighbor. He loved for no other reason than being who God had created him to be. This kind of love is not easy. It is not based upon what you think or how it feels. It is based on who you are in relationship to God. Who you are is how you love your neighbor. 

Love is Who You Are

Fred Rogers, in his book The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember, wrote “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” 

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, described it this way, “Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 

In other words, love is not something you do but is who you are as followers of Jesus, as daughters and sons of God. 

Your Next Step

So, this brings us back to our Lenten journey. It seems to me there are three actions you can take regarding your experience this Lenten season.

  1.  You can ignore the development of your inner life of love and do what “playactors” do. That is another word for hypocrites. You can treat personal piety as a private matter and use prayer and study like a stage, saying the right things and acting compassionately as long as someone is watching. Does loving your neighbor mean loving only when it benefits you?
  2.  You can go overboard with your spirituality and try to prove that you are worthy of God’s love by becoming a martyr. There is a need for people to go down in defense of high ideals. There is a need for advocacy, for someone to stand up for those you cannot stand up for themselves. Is being a martyr for your cause what God created you to do? Take time this Lenten season to reflect upon who you are and why God has gifted you. You can only be a martyr once.
  3.  You can love your neighbor and your neighborhood. This could include advocacy with a different focus. You can focus upon God’s love for you as a beloved child of God and upon God’s love for the people around as beloved children of God, and upon God’s love for the people who are not worthy of your love as beloved children who God loves as much as God loves you. 

Works of Love

What could happen if you began to express your faith in works of love in your neighborhood? That you not only loved the people entrusted to your care, but you loved the strangers around you as well. That you would love all people with the same love that God in Jesus has loved you? Here is what Jesus says, “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”

Alone with God

It will be in those moments, alone with God, that you will begin again to experience why you are a follower of Jesus and why God has gifted you to be a hope-filled leader.  With God and God alone as your audience, begin your Lenten journey focused upon the life and love God has given you. It is my prayer that you will become the love you have experienced in and through Jesus. The hope you offer will grow out of the love you have received and offered in Jesus’ name. 

Seeing Me Play

Lou Little was the head football coach at Columbia University for 26 years. One of those years he had a boy who loved to play football but was not a very good player. The coach liked him not only because he played hard but because he had a strong character. He would see the boy occasionally walking arm in arm with his father across campus.

One day the boy’s mother called the coach and said that the boy’s father had died. She asked, “Would you tell him? You are close to him, and he respects you.” So, the coach found the boy, told him of his father’s death, and stayed with him until his mother arrived to pick him up and take him home.

After the funeral, there was a big game. The boy came to the locker room, suited up, sought out the coach, and asked, “Coach, may I start today?” 

The coach, feeling especially caring for the boy under the circumstances, said, “Yes, you may start, but remember, this is a big and important game. You might only play a few minutes. I’ll have to take you out. But you can start today.” 

The boy started and played the entire game. After the game, the coach came into the locker room, sought out the boy and asked, “Great game, son. Tell me, why did you have to play today?”

The boy answered, “Well coach, it is like this. Today was the first chance my father ever had to see me play. He was blind you know.”

Love One Another

You and I will only begin to love each other, our neighbors, and our neighborhoods, when we develop a more acute sense of the unseen eyes upon us, the eyes of God.

So, for whom are you living your life? May your Lenten experience bring you into the presence of God so real that you live only and wholly for God.

Remember, who you are is how you lead…and how you love.

Looking for Hope

Hope is a powerful thing. “It is the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so,” found Dr. Shane Lope. Martin Luther said, “Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.” 

When you have hope, you have a purpose in your life and a plan to live out that purpose. 

People are looking for hope-filled leaders. They want leaders who help them face the future with courage and confidence; leaders who can guide them in making the future better for themselves, their families, and the people for whom they care. 

Hope Around the World

With that said, Gallup International found that 57% of people around the world believe 2022 will be less hopeful or happy than 2021. You and I can name several reasons for the growing hopelessness we face. Our lives have been disrupted. Our routines are no longer routine. 

Too many of us feel that we have no control over our lives, that we are not taken seriously, and basically, we do not matter to the people with whom we interact. Life has become transactional. 

Whether it is as simple as customer service regarding an appliance repair or being represented by our political leaders, we no longer have the relationships that bring contentment and peace to our lives. So how do you as a leader help people see a way forward when they feel uncertain and powerless? 

Hope Filled Leaders & Relationships

Healthy Relationships

First, hope-filled leaders are people-focused and engage in healthy relationships. So, consider how you experience hope in and through the people around you. Think especially of relationships with family, relatives, acquaintances (co-workers and causal associations), neighbors, and, yes, Jesus. Who are the people you enjoy? Who brings you a sense of peace and contentment? Who offers you a reason to move forward with courage and confidence? 

This sounds silly, but relationships with people are key to hope. People, as well as relationships, come in all shapes and sizes. Some people enter our lives for a season, add value, and leave us better than human beings. Other people enter our lives for a lifetime, and we grow together, learning to live and love as God created us to live and love. Some people are work friends who add value to our daily lives, while other people are life friends, who become so much a part of us that we feel we are not complete without them. 

The people with whom you interact each day help you become more who God created you to be. So, focus on people and develop healthy relationships. Who you are is how you lead.

Characteristics of Hope-Filled Leaders

Second, hope-filled leaders share at least four characteristics in their relationships:  presence, commitment, anticipation, and celebration.

Presence

Hope-filled leaders show up, care, and notice others. They share God’s love as they have received God’s love. It is an affirmation when people say they can see and experience Jesus in you.  

Commitment

Hope-filled leaders are committed to people and have a purpose. Your purpose is to love and care for people as you help them become the people they are created to be. Your commitment to helping people live into their God-given purpose takes commitment. It also takes being focused. 

Anticipation

Hope-filled leaders offer stability. You see far enough ahead to identify needs and equip people to meet the needs. You navigate the barriers for the purpose of reaching your goals. While sometimes anticipation can be associated with being nervous. Here, anticipation is all about keeping an eye on the future. Again, with the goal of helping people become who God created them to be.

Celebrate

Hope-filled leaders celebrate the gifts and strengths of the people entrusted to your care. You honor your call by equipping and empowering people to become who God created them to be. 

You offer hope to the people with whom you interact each day. So, focus on people and develop healthy relationships. 

What Happened Here?

One of my favorite stories illustrates hope in relationships. It is about a man by the name of Tom Wiles. While he was a university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, he purchased a new pickup truck. While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door. The scratches looked like deep white scars on the new truck’s exterior.  

A friend happened to notice the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?”  

Tom replied with a downcast voice, “My neighbor’s basketball post fell and left those dents. I asked him about it. He doesn’t feel responsible for the damage.”  

“You’re kidding! How awful! This truck is so new I can smell it.” His friend continued, “Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?”  

Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me. After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right, or I can be in a relationship with my neighbor. Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than the truck, I decided to focus on our relationship. Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.” 

Stay Focused on Relationships

The story illustrates “who you are is how you lead.”  In the story, Tom Wiles focused upon his neighbor. He sought to redeem the relationship rather than insist on his rights. He had the presence to take his neighbor seriously by responding to his neighbor with the love he had received in and through Jesus.

His purpose was to stay in a relationship with his neighbor. He decided that his neighbor was more important than his truck and that his neighbor was more important than his personal satisfaction of being right. He offered stability to the relationship by looking ahead, identifying the needs, and navigating the situation. 

He celebrated by understanding that his neighbor was more than a transaction. His response was a witness to who God had created him to be and a model to his neighbor who God had created him to be. 

Being a Hope-Filled Leader

It is tough to be a hope-filled leader when you are not feeling hopeful yourself. So, here is what I want you to do. I want you to do it now.

Take a deep breath in and let it out slowly. Say to yourself, “I am a cherished and treasured child of God.” Say it again, “I am a cherished and treasured child of God.”  Take a breath in and let it out slowly. Now, say to yourself, “God has uniquely gifted me with strengths and abilities for this time.” Say it again, “God has uniquely gifted me with strengths and abilities for this time.”

When you are true to who you are, people feel cared for and feel a sense of stability. When people sense the compassion you have for them, your leadership will instill trust. Be authentic, vulnerable, and courageous. Become a model for people to follow. Your hope-filled living shapes your hope-filled leadership. 

The People Entrusted to Your Care

Now, focus upon the people entrusted to your care. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Say to yourself, “God has entrusted to my care people who are uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities.” Say it again, “God has entrusted to my care people who are uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities.”

The people entrusted to your care are important. As a leader, you have the opportunity to discover and develop their potential. Remember, people need to feel a sense of stability. They want to be able to say, “I fit into that hopeful future.” Because you are helping them live into who they are created to be, they will trust your leadership and will sense the compassion you have for them. They will step up and out to move toward the hope you are holding before them. 

I am grateful for you and your leadership. Remember, hope is powerful. When you have hope, you have a purpose in your life and a plan to live out that purpose. May this next week bring a new sense of hope to you and your leadership.

Who you are is how you lead.

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

Hope is a powerful thing.

 “It is the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.”

-Dr. Shane Lopez, Gallup

Building hope is essential for these times of complexity and change. It helps people see a way forward when facing uncertainty. It helps people face the future with courage and confidence. It is what people look for in their leaders. 

Looking for Hope

You know better than I can describe that we are living in a time when people are looking for hope in every aspect of their lives. Whether it is their workplace or in their schools so much has changed and seems to continue to change. Everything from vaccines to supply chains have people looking for something or someone they can depend upon for hope. 

So, how do you build hope? How do you guide people toward a tomorrow that looks better than today?

People usually move toward what you hold before them. Are you holding a grim and gloomy vision of what lies ahead or are you creating a sense of direction toward exciting possibilities? 

Hope-Filled Living

I know it is tough to build hope when you, as the leader, are not feeling hopeful. Let me suggest that you become aware of who God created you to be. Who you are is how you lead. You are a child of God, uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities for this time. When you are true to who you are, people feel cared for and feel a sense of stability. When people sense the compassion you have for them, your leadership will instill trust. Be authentic, vulnerable, and courageous. Become a model for people to follow. Your hope-filled living shapes your hope-filled leadership.

The Beloved Community

Then become aware of the people entrusted to your care. They, too, are children of God. Each of them is a beloved child, uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities. As a leader, you have the opportunity to discover and develop their potential as you move into the future together. Remember, people need to feel a sense of stability. They want to be able to say, “I fit into that hopeful future.” Because you are helping them live into who they were created to be, they will trust your leadership and will sense the compassion you have for them. They will step up and out to move toward the positive future you are holding before them. 

Hope: Connecting Voice and Touch

Max Dupree, in his book Leadership Jazz, tells the story of his granddaughter Zoe. She was born prematurely and weighed one pound and seven ounces. She was so tiny that his wedding ring fit over her arm. In addition to being born prematurely, Zoe’s biological father abandoned her mother a month before she was born

The first time Max suited up in protective gear to visit Zoe in her isolate in the neonatal unit of the hospital, she had two IVs in her arms, one in her navel, and a feeding tube and a breathing tube in her mouth. A wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave Max his instructions. 

She said, “For the next several months, you will be the surrogate father. I want you to come to her every day. While you are here, I would like you to rub her arms and her legs with the tip of your finger. While you are caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her because she needs to connect your voice with your touch.” 

DuPree writes, “Ruth was doing exactly the right thing for Zoe and without realizing it, she was giving me the perfect description of the work of a leader. At the core of being a leader is the ability to always connect one’s voice with one’s touch.” 

DuPree understood the leader’s voice to be an expression of one’s beliefs and the leader’s touch as an expression of competence and resolve. Using DuPree’s description, I want you to think of leading with hope as bringing “who you are” together with “your relationships.” Think of it this way:

Your Voice: Who you are

1.      You are a child of God

2.      You are uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities

3.      You are a leader created to lead at this time

4.      You are learning about and adapting to the changing situations and circumstances

5.      You have something special to offer to life and leadership

6.      As a child of God, who you are is how you lead

Your Touch: Your relationships

1.      You live and work with people who are children of God

2.      You live and work with people who are uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities

3.      You have the opportunity and responsibility to help people discover their potential and to help mentor, coach, lead people into living their potential

4.      You are assisting them to learn about and to adapt to the changing world around them

5.      You are learning how each person entrusted to your care helps you become more who God created you to be

6.      You model trust and compassion in your interactions

Leading with hope means you are learning about yourself, and the people entrusted to your care, and at the same time, you are adapting to the needs and ideas of the people around you. You are learning when to step up to lead and when to step aside to be a follower.

The Leader You Were Created to Be

So, as you step into this new year, here are three questions to reflect upon. Your reflection will assist you in becoming the leader you were created to be.

  1. What are you good at doing?
  2. What brings you joy when you are doing it? Whether at work or at play, what brings you joy?
  3. How are you helping others discover their joy? How are you celebrating their joy?

I recently read this quote, “If, as a leader, you are not creating hope and helping people see the way forward, chances are, no one else is either.” You were created to build hope and lead during this time. Hope is a powerful thing and you, as a leader, have the opportunity to lead like no other time in history.

The time is now to lead with hope. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Advent is a time of preparation. We are invited to prepare the way for something new and unknown. When Kim and I were expecting our first child, we did not know exactly who or what we were expecting. We did not know what the child would look like, be like, or how it would change our lives. All we knew for sure was that nothing would ever be the same. Even with all we did not know, we still cleared space, a nursery, a place for this unknown child to become a part of our lives. 

Advent is a time to prepare the way by becoming vulnerable and letting go of the things that take up too much room in our lives. We may not understand all we are preparing to receive, but we know the One who is coming brings us hope. 

Yearning for What We Cannot Name

That is what makes the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist so interesting. They both yearn for something they cannot name. For Isaiah, it is the revealed glory of the Lord. For John, it is the one who will come after him, who is mightier than he. Neither of them knows any details.

John cannot even give his hearers a name to listen for. All that either one of them can proclaim is that the old ways of life are passing away and that new life is on its way. Without the luxury of details and with no concession to our need to know who or what is coming, they call us to prepare the way for that new life, to clear away anything that might get in its way, and to wait without knowing when it will come, or what it will look like, or how it will change our lives. 

With that said, there is hope in making room for Jesus. 

Read: Isaiah 40:3-8 and Mark 1:1-7

A voice is crying out: “Clear the LORD’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God! Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain a valley plain. The LORD’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together; the LORD’s mouth has commanded it.”

A voice was saying: “Call out!” And another said, “What should I call out?” All flesh is grass; all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field. The grass dries up and the flower withers when the LORD’s breath blows on it. Surely the people are grass. The grass dries up; the flower withers, but our God’s word will exist forever. – Isaiah 40:3-8

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah: “Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.’”

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals.” – Mark 1:1-7

Reflect

A couple was expecting their second child. They looked in vain for a place in the house to create a nursery. After several lengthy discussions, they decided that the husband’s study would have to go. His library was divided up and moved into smaller bookshelves throughout the house. Even though he loved his library dearly, there was new life on the way, and the way had to be prepared. 

Making Room

Here is where we are in Advent. Whether we are expecting our own baby, the baby Jesus, or a grown-up Lord coming in great power and glory, we are called to prepare the way for new life. We are called to make room by letting go of our old ways, even our old loves, as painful as that might be. It is either we prepare the way for this new life or prepare ourselves for the news that we have been passed over because there is no room in us. 

At the heart of the messages of Isaiah and John is the challenge to wait without clinging to our preferences and to receive what new life God has for us. Both tell us that what we are hanging onto fades, withers, and passes away. It is only when we stop clinging to what has become gods for us and stop looking to those things to save us, that we can receive who the living God brings to us. It is only when we are able to empty our hearts and wait without our preferences that there is room for God to bring himself to us.

Deceptive Preferences

What is surprising is how deceptive some of our preferences are. My guess is that any one of us can turn and walk away from a golden calf. We could toss our savings out the window if we believed our souls depended on it. 

Those preferences are obvious, but what about our desire for independence? The belief that everything will be alright if we can just take care of ourselves and not have to ask anyone to help us. Or the romantic idea of friendship? The belief is that we can face anything in life if we just have one other person to love us the way we are, and to love in return. Or a variation on that one, the obsession with family. The idea of family is good, but the belief that our happiness and success is based upon surrounding ourselves with close and committed people who are just like us is not real. 

The most deceptive preference of all is the belief we can worship the way we want, when we want, and who we want if we live good lives. Being good and doing good is what is needed to get into heaven.

What preferences can you name?

The list is long, health, friendship, patriotism, power, money. I know you want to say to me that these are good things. And I will say, of course, they are. How else would they get in the way of what God has for us? 

The first criterion of an idol is that it makes us feel good in our hearts. That is why we grab ahold and hang on. We cling so tightly that eventually what we like and want becomes the only source of life for us. The only problem is that if our hearts and souls are full of what we want and prefer, we have lost our ability to receive what God has for us. We are full up; there is no room at the inn. While God is looking for a nursery, we are in our offices with the door closed.

Advent Hope

During Advent, we are invited to come out, to let go, and become vulnerable, not to forsake the things we love and want, but to put them in proper perspective and priority. We are invited to learn to hold our likes and dislikes lightly and to give them up when it becomes clear that they are taking up too much room. 

Our hope is in making room for Jesus. But to have room for Jesus, we must prepare for something new. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t even have to understand how it all is to happen. But we do have to wait with nothing but faith in the promise that the advent of God himself comes to those who saved him room. 

Respond

Be mindful of the people around you today. How is God inviting you to receive them into your life? What new life is being offered? How will you make room for who and what God is sending to you? 

Pray

O God, shape my life with divine humility. By your grace, help me make room for you by giving up my place and by letting go of my preferences. Help me become a dwelling place for your love and peace. I offer my life to be your residence in my everyday and ordinary life. Amen

Return 

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. With whom did you interact? What new life were you offered? Give God thanks for the people you met today. What room do you need to prepare for whom God is sending you? 

This Advent Season, we are again asking ourselves, “How do we as the people of God live out God’s mission for the world? We are in the midst of profound shifts in our church, in our country, and in the world. Whether the shifts are religious, cultural, racial, generational, or political, we are ready to hear the prophecies of the Advent message. And we are not only ready to hear the message, but we are anointed to live out the message as God comes to be with us in Jesus. 

New Life is Born

Even though we have been through a number of Advents, we know that when we, as Jesus followers, take seriously our mission in this world and when we truly believe and live out God’s love, there is hope for our broken and hurting world. New life is born, and hope emerges. 

“O Holy Night”

This hope has been offered in many ways over the years. When we gather to worship this Christmas, many of us will hear the song, “O Holy Night.” It was written as a Christmas poem in France in the mid-1800s. When the words were put to music, their message began to change the world. In fact, “O Holy Night” was banned in several churches in France. Later, the third verse of the song was left out because of its message. The reasons were always based on theology, but the message of hope and justice was clearly proclaimed. The third verse is as follows:

“Truly He taught us to love one another.

His law is Love and His gospel is Peace. 

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,

and in his name all oppression shall cease.”

Advent is a time of preparing for God’s justice to bring hope to those who are broken and lost in this changing world. May the hope of the coming of Jesus fill you with world-changing justice. 

READ: Isaiah 61:1-2, 8 and Matthew 5:3-6

The LORD God’s Spirit is upon me because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and a day of vindication for our God…I, the LORD, love justice… – Isaiah 61:1-2, 8

Happy are people who are hopeless because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.  – Matthew 5:3-6

Reflect

A Raging River

Imagine a raging river full of rapids that surge over a waterfall. You see people struggling in the current of the river. As they are trying their best to swim to shore or grab a hold of rocks, they are being swept downstream toward the falls.

You also see people along the shore trying to help those struggling in the rushing currents. Some are reaching out at the edge of the falls to snatch victims at the last moment. Others are upstream, stepping out on the rocks to grab whomever they can reach. A bit further upstream there are some throwing out lifelines and pulling the struggling people to shore. Even further upstream there are some people teaching people how to swim. You even notice that there are some trying to install fences along the river to prevent people from falling in. At the same time, you see others, gathered at the bottom of the falls, trying to recover and save the few who survived going over the edge.

Not one of the helpers along the riverbank can catch everyone in need, but together they each do their part along the way. The one thing they all have in common is a love for helping others. 

An Example of Love

One example of that love can be found in a man named Trevor Ferrell. When Trevor was eleven years old, he saw a television news report on Philadelphia’s inner-city homeless. He couldn’t believe people were homeless and lived on the streets. He began questioning his parents why people didn’t have a place to live. It took a while, but his parents, Frank and Janet, reluctantly agreed to broaden their sheltered horizons. 

One evening, they left their home in an exclusive suburb and drove downtown. One block past city hall, they spotted an emaciated figure crumpled on a side-walk grate. Frank stopped the car and eleven-year-old Trevor got out and approached the man. 

With a blanket in hand, he said, “Sir, here’s a blanket for you.” The man stared up at Trevor at first. Then, he said softly, “Thank you. God bless you.”

Jesus Inside Me

That encounter altered the Ferrell’s life forever. Night after night they would drive downtown, trying in small ways to help the street people. They emptied their home of extra blankets, clothing, and dozens of peanut-butter sandwiches. When people learned what they were doing, someone donated a van and others charted nightly food distribution routes. To the Ferrell’s surprise, “Trevor’s Campaign” had begun.

At a young age, Trevor found himself explaining what he and his family were doing to local media. Eventually, he was explaining his campaign to major news outlets, late-night television, daily talk shows, the President of the United States, and Mother Teresa. They all wanted to meet the small boy with the big mission. When asked why he was caring for the homeless, he simply replied, “It is Jesus inside of me that makes me want to do this.”

Trevor’s Campaign

In an interview regarding “Trevor’s Campaign,” his father stated, “Our social life has changed a lot since the campaign began. Our church is behind us one hundred percent, but some of our old friends don’t understand why we’re messing with the homeless. They just tolerate our ‘idiosyncrasies.’”

For twenty years, a van traveled each night to the downtown streets of Philadelphia. It stopped first to deliver food to the residents of Trevor’s Place, a ramshackle rooming house where some of the former homeless lived. Then it proceeded to feed the hungry people gathered on sidewalk grates and street corners. 

Short Term Need & Long Term Changes 

When asked how the handouts have made a difference in the complex business of helping the homeless, Frank Ferrell sighed deeply and said, “We’re trying to meet short-term needs and figure out ways to bring long-term changes to people’s lives. Sometimes it seems like just a band-aid. But this is how we build relationships. These people become our friends, and they trust us to help them in bigger ways.”  Then Frank paused for a moment, looked at the landscape of broken bottles and bodies, and said, “There are plenty of struggles, But I know one thing: giving has made all the difference in my life. I used to just read the Scriptures. Now I feel like I am living them.”

Meeting a Need

Trevor’s Campaign has evolved over the past 32 years. His objective is to meet human needs, alleviate suffering, and restore hope by developing comprehensive programs for vulnerable children and adults in the Greater Philadelphia area. 

Trevor is one of those people along the riverbank seeking to save those who are drowning in the changing world in which we live.

Respond

Where will you see a human need today? How might God’s love become human in you? Begin to imagine how you might respond to the needs around you. 

Pray

O God, you have taught me to love you and the people around me. You have put within me a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Use me as an instrument of your peace, so that the people I meet each day will experience your love in and through my words and actions. Help me be a person who offers hope in the name and love of Jesus. Amen.

Return

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. Where did you see human need? How did you respond? What do you need to become more the person God needs you to be for this time of change?