Tag Archive for: Hope

As you engage in the mission of practicing your faith, you will find it to be the simplest yet the most difficult aspect of HOPE. (Read Preparing for Mission: Practicing Your Faith Part One and Preparing for Mission: Practicing Your Faith Part Two). 

It is simple because it is the one aspect of HOPE that you participate in the most. Whether it be Sunday School classes, small groups, worship, administrative meetings, rehearsals, training, the list goes on. You have the opportunity to rehearse or practice your faith through activities and programs. 

It is difficult because to practice your faith is more than anything goes.  To engage in the mission of practicing your faith means you are about God’s business, focused upon the mission, living out who God has created you to be. You are applying what you are rehearsing in your everyday living. 

Building H.O.P.E.

As you build systems of hospitality in which you reach out at receive people, of offering Christ in which you introduce people to the Christian faith, and practicing your faith in which you nurture people in their faith, you have the opportunity to assist them in learning about Jesus, what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and how to live out their faith in everyday situations and circumstances.    

So, you engage the mission of practicing faith as you invite people into the movement of God’s grace and equip them for the mission of God’s love, you provide opportunities for them to practice by learning and growing in their faith. As simple as it sounds, the difficulty is in keeping focused on God’s business of loving others as you have been loved. 

The Means of Grace

John Wesley knew it was difficult. That is why he developed what he called “the means of grace.” It is in and through the practice of daily prayer, reading, studying, and reflecting on the scriptures, regularly attending worship, celebrating Holy Communion, conversations about faith, regular fasting for reflection, and doing acts of mercy which include humanitarian acts of compassion or social justice acts of advocacy. People experience God’s love and learn to share God’s love through practicing the “means of grace.” 

We usually talk of the “means of grace” as personal practices of individuals. Wesley instituted class meetings and bands as ways of assisting individuals in their personal faith development. Individual practice of the means of grace is good and essential to personal faith development. 

But corporate participation in the “means of grace” leads to another level of practicing faith.  

Learn about God’s Business

Below are three ways of practicing the means of grace that will not add activities to your over-scheduled calendar. You already have the structure in place. 

Below are three ways to participate in the means of grace whether you are engaging in a Sunday School class, small group, administrative meetings (Administrative Council, Leaderboard, Finance, Trustees, Pastor Parish Relations, etc.) rehearsals, training, or other gatherings of your church community.   

Make every gathering, meeting, rehearsal, class, training, an opportunity to learn about God’s business. 

Ways to Practice the Means of Grace

At the beginning of every meeting, ask people to gather in groups of two or three.  Explain to them that our job is to be about God’s business and one way to be about God’s business is to read and reflect upon the Scripture. This exercise should not take more than 10 minutes. 

First, Read and Reflect on the Scripture. 

Be creative. You might use the scripture text you will be using on Sunday morning, you might provide a guided study of a book of the Bible, you might have a mission focus, or you might center on special events in the life of the church. (If you use a scripture like Isaiah 43:18 ff, you can use the text for several meetings). The point is to take advantage of every gathering. Every time you gather, read and reflect upon the Scripture. 

Second, Give a brief exegesis or explanation of the Scripture. 

Again, be creative. Don’t leave the context, specific intention, or form of the scripture to a “anything goes” interpretation. You are providing an opportunity for reflection and conversation by giving the context and the intention of what has been read. Take advantage of the opportunity to “do” a little Bible study. Every time you gather, read, reflect upon, and respond to the Scripture. 

Third, Provide a few minutes for conversation.

By providing a few minutes for conversation, you open space to talk about what has been read and expounded upon by asking several guided questions. For example: if the scripture is Isaiah 43:18-19, 

“Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?” 

It might help to give some directions at this point. The questions are not designed as “like” or “dislike” questions. They are questions to stimulate thought, reflection, and conversation. The questions you might ask are: What new things are happening in your life? What new things are you participating in with your family, at work, on the golf course? (You get the point) What new things are happening in our church? How are you participating in the new things that are happening? 

Fourth, have each little group pray for the others in their group. 

At first, you might have one person pray for their group. As you continue with this process of “practicing faith,” you might ask each person to offer a prayer for each person in the group.

As you can see, this exercise provides the opportunity to practice the “means of grace” as well as assist leaders develop healthy relationships.  As simple as it sounds, it will not be easy. But it is one way to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the church and community. 

Practicing the Means of Grace – Example 2

Another way to make every gathering, meeting, rehearsal, class, training, an opportunity to learn about God’s business is similar to the exercise above. 

Again, at the beginning of every meeting, ask people to gather in groups of two or three.  Explain to them that our job is to be about God’s business and one way to be about God’s business is to recognize God’s love and God’s presence in everyday and ordinary experiences. This exercise should not take more than 10 minutes. 

Over a period of time, weeks if your group meets weekly or months if your group meets monthly, ask a series of questions. In the beginning, limit the discussion to “one question” per meeting. Below are examples of questions that will help people be more focused on God’s business. 

  • Where did you see or experience Jesus this past week? 
  • Who has God unexpectedly put into your life who has helped you learn about yourself? 
  • Where or with whom have you experienced God’s love? 
  • With whom have you shared God’s love? 

Be creative with your questions. The point is to assist people in recognizing God’s love and presence in everyday situations and circumstances. Providing an opportunity to practice will help them become more aware of what God is doing in their midst. It also helps shape them into followers of Jesus who make a difference in their everyday living. 

Celebrating Holy Communion is Practicing the Means of Grace

As you assist people in practicing the “means of grace,” what would happen, if once a quarter or twice a year, you celebrated Holy Communion with every gathering, meeting, rehearsal, class, or training? As a means of grace, Holy Communion keeps you focused on God’s business. In fact, Jesus’ words “do this in remembrance of me” provides the invitation to keep your focus on God’s movement of grace and mission of love, whether the meeting is Administrative or spiritual in nature. 

Providing opportunities for people to engage in the mission of practicing their faith is part of your work as a Christ-centered leader. You are assisting them to develop their inner faith so they can and will practice their faith beyond themselves. As they practice their faith together, they will practice their faith outside each gathering. As you help them identify Jesus in their midst, they will discover new ways to love others as God in Jesus has loved them. Your church and community will begin to change as the focus on God’s love becomes a way of living for the people entrusted to your care. 

It’s Your Turn to Practice the Means of Grace

How will you participate in the “means of grace” today? With whom will you practice your faith? In what new way will you love others the way God in Christ has loved you? 

Practicing your faith helps to turn your inner faith into an outward expression of love and care. How will you practice your faith today? 

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

 

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you practice your faith? How did you participate in the “means of grace.” With whom did you share God’s love? Where and in whom did you experience Jesus today? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced today? What will you do differently tomorrow?

Keep in mind, as you engage others in the mission of practicing faith, you are becoming the Christ-centered leader God has created you to be.  Who you are is how you lead.

Followers look for different qualities in their leaders. A recent Gallup Poll revealed that one of the top qualities followers look for is hope. Although there are people who perceive hope as passive and as wishful thinking, you instill hope when you understand the reality of the present, can imagine a better future, and live and work to make the future a reality.

When you are hopeless about the future, there is no reason to change your behavior. When you are hopeful about the future, you take the initiative to make a difference, as you shape the future and influence the people you lead. 

Hope is essential to leadership. Dr. Shane Lopez, of Gallup, spent his life studying hope. He wrote, “Hope 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.” 

Passive Hope 

When you see hope as wishful thinking, you wait for external forces to shape your future. Even with wishful thinking, you can see a better future, but you don’t believe you have the power to influence situations or people to achieve that future. When hope is passive, people look for “leaders” who will fix their problems. They sometimes complain about their leaders who aren’t delivering on the vision of a better future.

Leadership is about identifying potential in people and actively assisting them to live into their potential. Passive hope blocks that behavior. You aren’t a leader when you are waiting for someone else to show up and make things happen. 

Active Hope 

When you understand hope as active, you become a participant in bringing about that for which you hope. You need active hope to be the leader needed today. Active hope is something you do rather than something you have. 

It is about knowing what you want to happen and working to get there. For example, my wife, Kim, and I grow daylilies in our flower garden. Every spring we anticipate the lilies blooming. We watch as the green leaves begin to form, push their way up out of the ground, and blooms burst open. 

Because lilies and weeds grow together, I weed the garden on a regular basis. Although most of my work depends on how fast the weeds grow, there are times I must remove dead leaves from the plants. In fact, this year, because the lilies were not blooming, I cut them back so they could produce new growth. 

Kim and I are enjoying our lilies in full bloom. For the lilies to grow and bloom, I must be active in caring for them. I must show up throughout the growing months and weed the garden, even though I know more weeds will be there tomorrow. 

My blooming lilies are an example of active hope. 

Active Hope in Action

Think about it this way: 

First, know your current reality. 

Hope is rooted in the reality of your situation. Anchor yourself in that reality. Face it, name it, and acknowledge it. Where you start makes a difference. So, start where you are with what you have, not where you aspire to be or with what you aspire to have. 

Kim and I had an area of our yard, in front of the porch, where we wanted flowers. So, we started with that area. It was bare, covered only with dirt and random weeds. It had not been cultivated to grow flowers. But that was our current reality. We could have done nothing. We could have said, “I hope grass grows there someday.” But we didn’t. Instead, we started where we were with a bare, random weed and dirt-covered area. Honestly, it did not look like much would ever grow there. But that area is where we started. 

Second, identify what you desire to happen. 

Hold that vision/mission before you and the people whom you are leading. Keep your values in mind and imagine what “being better” would look like for yourself and others. This sets the direction in which you lead. 

Kim and I decided we wanted flowers to grow in the uncultivated area. So, we began to imagine what the area could look like with daylilies. We identified what we wanted to happen, which set the direction we needed to move. Again, we could have done nothing. We could have said, “It would look nice to have daylilies in the area.” But we didn’t. Instead, we began to imagine what that bare random weed area could become. It was that image we set out to make a reality. 

Third, begin to move in that direction. 

In other words, you show up and act in a way that is aligned with the future you want to happen. You navigate the obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of your goal. Active hope does not require your optimism, it requires your resolve. You choose what you want to achieve. Rather than weighing your chances and proceeding only when you feel hopeful, you focus on your goal/mission and let it be your guide. 

Kim and I knew that to make our daylilies a reality, we had to buy daylilies. But before that, we had to cultivate the ground. Even before that, we had to have the tools to cultivate the ground. So, to make our vision a reality, we had to have a shovel, a rake, and other garden tools. We had to break up the ground, remove the rocks, pull the weeds, and make the ground ready for daylilies. As we moved forward, we adjusted our vision. We decided the lilies would do better if surrounded by rock as opposed to mulch. So, we bought our lilies, planted them, surrounded them with rock, and watched as green leaves began to form, push their way up out of the ground, and bloom. 

We made our desire a vision and our vision a reality. That is active hope. It invites you to make something happen, even if it doesn’t exist at the moment. 

Hope Shaped Leadership

Hope-shaped leadership has a realistic understanding of reality and a clear vision of the future. Hope is experienced in your behavior to make the vision a reality. It is about showing up and behaving as if what you do matters, not only to you but also matters to the people entrusted to your care. When you lead through the challenges and obstacles with your future in sight, you not only practice leadership, but you also offer hope…a real and active hope. 

Who You Are is How You Lead

One other thing that is critically important regarding hope-shaped leadership. Who you are is how you lead. Whether you like it or not, people are watching you and they take their cues from you. They are listening to your words, they are watching your behavior, and they are observing your relationships. They follow your lead. As the leader, you paint the picture of the future. If you are negative and manipulative, don’t be surprised when the people around you become negative and do not trust you or others. You might get what you want for the immediate future, but the culture you have created will not be one of hope and productivity.

Who you are is how you lead. So, as a leader, when you are hopeful, you help people see a path that leads to a better future. Even though there are challenges and distractions, your words and actions fill the hearts and minds of the people around you with possibilities of healthiness and wholeness. 

Impact of Hope Shaped Leadership

Finally, hope-shaped leadership makes an impact. Here are five ways hope-shaped leadership makes an impact.

Renews Faith 

Hope allows you to become more of the person you were created to be. As you grow in faith, the people around you renew their faith as well. With renewed faith, hope introduces you to a path of new beginnings and to solutions you never knew existed. 

Builds Confidence

Hope helps you build your self-confidence. As you grow in confidence, you assist others in living into their potential. They begin to achieve things they never knew were possible. With the confidence to face the future, you know you can face your fears and move forward. You have the confidence to know that “perfect love casts out fear.”

Promotes Clarity

Hope broadens your perspective and gives you the vision to see around, beneath, and beyond the goals you seek. It allows you to translate complexity into clarity. When you begin to see through a wider lens, you begin to see the potential of the people around you and it fuels your perspective. Clarity assists you in modeling vulnerability and authenticity.

Gives purpose

Hope helps navigate all obstacles that stand between you and your purpose in life. You find a way to get things done. Living into your purpose gives others the hope to live into their purpose. The truth is hope is an ultimate life changer. It keeps you and the people around you moving toward dreams, goals, and aspirations.

Strengthens relationships

Hope is a force that brings people together. It instills a sense of unity, pride, and optimism. It builds trust. When people can trust you as their leader and you can trust them as your partners, relationships are strengthened, and everyone becomes more who God created them to be.

Hope-shaped leadership is about making a difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care. “If, as a leader, you are not creating hope and helping people see the way forward, chances are, no one else is either.” (From Strengths Based Leadership) As a hope-shaped leader, you must keep your eyes, and the eyes of the people entrusted to you, on a hopeful future. 

Hope 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.” 

Who you are is how you lead.

Do you remember a time when you pronounced a blessing upon an individual or upon the people around you? As a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you pronounce a blessing in every worship experience. Whether it be a baptism, holy communion, or a benediction, blessings are common in worship. But have you ever had the opportunity to bless someone outside of worship? 

Have you ever considered offering a blessing in a greeting, or words of encouragement, or an offer of peace? I know you bless people when they sneeze and I know you have heard people (even those who have no interest in God) use the words, “God Bless You” in their daily lives. Sometimes, even when you get a diet drink at the drive-thru, you hear the words, “Have a blessed day.” 

Most blessings are simple sayings that communicate kindness and goodwill. In the Bible, however, we learn that God’s blessings carry far more significance than just a casual greeting or obligatory saying. 

Let’s look at one of my favorite blessings. I memorized it as a teenager. It was used every Sunday evening at the end of Youth Fellowship. I confess that I was an adult before I realized that I had been quoting scripture every Sunday with the UMYF benediction. 

Read Number 6:22-27 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: Thus, you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them: 

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

“So, they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” 

Reflect 

This blessing comes at a low and chaotic time for the people. They are in the wilderness, suffering for their separation from what has made them God’s people. Even though they blame others, their suffering has come from their own distrust, disobedience, and disloyalty. 

It is at this low point in their lives that God instructs Moses to speak to Aaron and his family (the priests). God wants to bless the Israelites. In the midst of their disobedience and unfaithfulness, God wants the Israelites to know his heart. Aaron and his family are to be the instruments of the blessing. 

So, what is the meaning of this blessing for you and your leadership? 

The Lord bless you…

You are a beloved child of God. God never abandons you nor breaks covenant with you even when you have turned away and broken covenant with God. God’s blessing is a reminder that you are in a right and loving relationship with God and the people God places in your life. 

And keep you…

God protects you and provides for you. As a leader, God protects you by sending people into your life to love and care for you. God also provides the grace you need to extend the same love to the people entrusted to your care. Just as God kept Israel, Jesus keeps you. 

The Lord make his face shine upon you…

When God turns his face upon you, you are in God’s favor. God’s face represents God’s presence. Because God’s face is shining upon you, you are assured that you are never alone. Being in God’s favor allows you the freedom to love as you have been loved. 

And be gracious unto you…

God never deals with you according to your misunderstanding or you missing the point. God always deals with you according to God’s goodness. God always sees the best of you and the potential in you. It is by God’s grace that you can lead at this time in history. 

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you…

When God looks upon you there is acceptance and reconciliation. What has been in the way is taken away and what has been broken has been healed. When God looks upon you, God is hugging you, drawing you close, and letting you know how special you are. 

And give you peace.

The word for peace is shalom. It means wholeness, completeness, and well-being. God’s peace makes you whole and complete. When you are at peace with God, you are who God created you to be, a beloved child of God in the right relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your care. 

It is important to remember that the priests, led by Aaron and the rest of the Levites, were set apart to lead the people in worship and spiritual teaching. The priests were God’s chosen intercessors and a direct mouthpiece to the people. They were trusted by the people and looked to for guidance and instruction. 

God’s Blessing

So, just like the priests, you are the trusted leader for today. You are being called upon to bless God’s people, the people entrusted to you. One thing to always remember, the blessing is not your blessing. The blessing is God’s blessing upon the people. “So, they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” 

You have the distinct responsibility to bless the people of God with God’s blessing. You not only remind them of God’s blessing but name them and claim them for God. What a grand and glorious opportunity. 

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

Respond

O God, make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Whether family, colleagues, friends, or foes, use me as an instrument of your love and peace, so that each person I meet receives a blessing through me and then becomes a blessing to others. I offer myself to you in the name of the greatest blessing of all, Jesus. Amen. 

Return

From whom did you receive a blessing today? Where were you when you received the blessing? Who did you bless? What opportunities did you have that you missed either receiving or extending God’s blessing? How might you offer a blessing to the people you encounter tomorrow? 

To be a blessing you must acknowledge and receive a blessing. So, read and listen closely: 

May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

May you be as blessed as you are a blessing. Remember, who you are is how you lead!

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.

[adinserter block=”1″]

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