Tag Archive for: Isaiah

Have you ever had a member of your congregation approach you and say something like, “I’m not being fed”? Most of the time it comes out like this, “My family and I are leaving because we just aren’t getting what we need here. We are going to go to a church where we can get what we need.” 

The underlying assumption for such statements is passive consumerism. “I am not being fed” are code words for “I’m not getting what I am paying for.” 

Vicarious Spirituality

We have cultivated a culture of performance where people show up to be entertained, delighted, or made happy. If the entertainment, whether worship style, quality of preaching, or the temperature in the gathering space does not meet their expectation, then there are better places to get what they want. 

We have narrowed our responsibility down to paying the pastor/leader and staff to do ministry for us, which has cultivated a vicarious spirituality. As long as we feel good about what is going on at our church and the pastor/leader is providing leadership and care regarding our preferences for ministry, we feel good and faithful, whether we participate or not. 

Discipleship has been reduced to showing up for worship a couple of times a month, attending a study to gather information about topics of interest, and maybe participating in a fellowship gathering at particular times of the year. 

Caught in Christendom

With all of that being said, the expectation for you, the leader, is to attend all the administrative, social, and spiritual meetings because your presence validates the purpose of the meeting or gathering. And because it is a church, you do all it in the name of Jesus. 

I know it feels like I am being overly negative and that I have overstated the current reality of many of our churches, but what I have stated above fits most of the congregations still working within a Christendom model of ministry. 

In fact, it is not a stretch to say that many leaders, as well as people participating in the life and ministry of the church, feel caught in a system that is burdensome and unproductive…and that is just the local church. 

Enslaved to the Way Things Have Always Been

So, I think it is fair to say that many leaders feel enslaved to the way things have always been done. Whether it is because of dwindling funds or fewer people, you are being told that you are responsible for the decline. The members like you, but you aren’t bringing new people in, and please don’t make any changes, we don’t want to lose the few dollars and people we have left. 

I have just described what I call the enslavement of many of the churches in our culture. We find ourselves in a new missionary age while living in the old Christendom mindset. Although most of us still believe we live in a Christian culture, we can no longer assume the church has the interest or influence it once had. A new way of living out the mission is emerging. 

Let’s use our pattern of READ, REFLECT, RESPOND, and RETURN to discover the hope God is offering us as we shift from the Christendom mindset to a missionary approach.   

Read Isaiah 43:14-24 

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation. I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army, and warrior; they lie down; they cannot rise; they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

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?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals, and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

Reflect

Isaiah wrote these words to the people who have been enslaved by Egypt. They have been separated from what they held important: family, community, country, religion, etc.  They felt overwhelmed and hopeless, because of their enslavement, lack of trust, and the circumstances beyond their control.  Isaiah reminds them that God created them, that God cares for them, and that God has been with them through the trials of their uncertainty and separation.  

God Makes a Way

Isaiah announces to them that God is going to set them free from their enemies. “For your sake 

I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.”  In the midst of their situations of slavery (hopelessness), God is making a way for them. 

For them to be set free, they are challenged to set the past aside, to reframe their future. God is doing a new thing, a new work in their midst, and they are challenged to see it.  He reassures them that they can trust God because God is able to make a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert. Isaiah is offering them hope.

God is Offering You Hope

As you reflect upon this story, could it be that Isaiah is offering you hope as well? In the midst of what you have experienced over the past several years, the isolation, disconnectedness, political polarization, being stuck in old ways, etc. it would be natural to feel overwhelmed, hopeless, and even enslaved.

But God is doing a new thing so that you might declare God’s praise. Speaking on behalf of God, Isaiah tells the people that God is not only making a way for them in the wilderness and providing a river in the desert, but God is giving them water to drink because they are his beloved children, created to declare God’s praise.

God is With You

When the going gets tough, remember, you are a beloved child of God, created for the purpose of bringing God praise by living, loving, and leading as God has gifted you.  Even when you feel alone and are thirsting for love and connection, God is with you, providing for you. 

Your connection to God is the heart of being a Christ-centered leader. Your work is to help others know of God’s love and presence in the midst of the chaos and disconnection. When people feel hopeless and entangled in behaviors that keep them from moving forward, look for what God is doing in your midst to set you free.

God is Doing a New Thing

God is doing a new thing. You are no longer being sent to other places to be a missionary. God has gifted you to love and serve right where you are. Your mission field is no longer limited to faraway countries. There are people hungering and thirsting for love just outside your door, in your community. God has created and gifted you to be a missionary just by stepping out the door of your home or leaving the church building. 

You are a missionary wherever you encounter people in your everyday life. It is in and through your interaction with people that God is setting you free, releasing you from the burden of doing to and for people. God is making a way in the wilderness for you by sending people to you who need love and care. It is in your response to the people God is sending your way that sets you free to become who God created you to be.

Teach and Model God’s Love

This is your work as a Christ-centered leader, to follow Jesus out the door of your building and into the community. As much as people want you to meet their preferences or demand a better performance, your work is to teach and model God’s love.  You love people by learning and understanding where they live, by meeting their families, and discovering what is important to them. You love people by becoming aware of their traditions, needs, and giftedness. 

As you follow Jesus and learn about your context, you develop relationships, by listening, learning, and responding. You bring praise to God by the way you love people. The larger community will know that you are following Jesus by the way you love and care for the people around you. You will be transformed by God’s love as the community is transformed by God through you.

The Time Has Come 

God is doing a new thing. As much as passive consumerism has enslaved the church, God is making a way for you to lead people into positive actions of love. The day of preferences is ending. The day of insisting on what you like, being the center of your church participation is over. 

The time has come to give yourself in love and service to the people around you. Be open to new ideas and approaches to ministry. There is no longer time or energy to cling to traditional methods that are no longer effective. God is doing a new thing, so let Jesus set your agenda and let his agenda become your new preference for ministry.

What is God Already Doing?

You might think of it this way. God is doing a new thing. The shift is from “How do we get people to come to our church?” to “What are people doing that we need to know about and join in with them?”

As a Christ-centered leader, you are responding to God’s grace. God is setting you free to declare God praise by loving and caring for God’s people in the places you live, work, and play.  

Respond

Just as the people of Israel were challenged to set the past aside, as a Christ-centered leader, you are being challenged to do the same. God is doing a new thing, a new work in your midst and you are being challenged to see it. Just as Isaiah reassured the people that they could trust God, you are being invited to trust the One who has created you, who loves you, and who called you to this work. 

Be The Leader God Has Created You to Be

Become the leader you have been created to be. God has given you strengths and gifts for leading in a challenging time. Are you able to recognize what God is doing in your life and leading? What must you set aside to see and participate in what God is doing?

What I know is this, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” It is difficult to change course when all you know is what you are doing.

But what I believe is this, “the answer to being the leader God has created you to be is already within you.” You have what is needed to be the leader God has created you to be. It is seen and experienced in your faithful response to God’s love where you are living, loving, and leading at this very moment.

Two Questions

So, here is what to do to strengthen your faith and to equip the people entrusted to your care. These two questions, by God’s grace, will assist you in making the shift needed to experience what God is doing. Start today with the leaders of your congregation and ask the following questions for reflection and discussion: (For more details see the blog: Who or What is the Church Today

1.      Where have you seen/experienced God in the past week? 

2.      How are you living out the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?”

Seriously reflecting upon and answering these two questions will help you strengthen your identity as a follower of Jesus. You will fall in love with Jesus again, love the people around you more deeply, and learn to love your community. In other words, it will help you see and participate in the new thing God is doing in you, your community, and your church. 

So when you are facing difficulty leading in this new age, remember you are a child of God, loved and gifted by God, to lead with love the people of God. Yes, iIt is difficult to be a Christ-centered leader in the midst of chaos and disconnection, but God has put within you the gifts and strengths to lead people into the new thing God is doing.

So remember, who you are is how you lead. God is doing a new thing, Even in the midst of the difficulty, now is the time to participate. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • Where did you see God? 
  • What new thing was taking place? 
  • Who from the community did you meet? 
  • What did you learn about them? 
  • How can you best develop a relationship with them? 
  • Through whom did you receive love and care? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in the lives of the people entrusted to my care. Create a pure heart in me, because I have learned that the pure in heart can see you. With my pure heart, and open eyes and ears, help me experience you in the people I meet tomorrow and every day. In the name of Jesus. Amen

This first week of Advent, Isaiah announces, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:2, 6) 

Isaiah announces the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, the one we know as Jesus. As a Christ-centered leader, you are a follower of Jesus, and your leadership is centered upon Jesus. So, what does Isaiah’s announcement mean for you and for your leadership? What difference does Jesus, the Christ, make in your living and leading? 

Over the past several weeks we have explored distinguishing characteristics of Christ-centered leaders. We have focused upon leaders as those who share the good news, are mission-focused, develop koinonia, relate people to their local communities, and have glad and generous hearts. As we journey through this season of Advent, let’s conclude with the characteristic of leading with the heart, mind, and work of Christ. 

Let’s begin by focusing on leading with the heart of Jesus. 

Read Matthew 5:8 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” 

Reflect

The Hebrews understood the heart to be the center of all reasoning as well as devotion. To hear the word “heart” brought forth an understanding of the inner person. It was the place where choices were made, where thoughts, feelings, and intentions were generated. So, for those early followers of Jesus to hear the words, “Blessed are the pure in heart…,” they understood it to be single-minded, clearly focused, and living life in full devotion to God. 

The good news according to Matthew is God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God. From this good news, to have a pure heart is more than the avoidance of impure thoughts. It is more than being a nice person who says and does the right things. To have a pure heart is to be so single-minded in your devotion to God that you love others as God in Jesus has loved you. You love with agape, not centered upon emotion, but centered upon choice. 

When Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself,” he is giving a description of the life God intends for you to live. The heart of Jesus is a single-minded devotion of loving God and loving neighbor. It is loving with agape, not because you feel like it, but because you are living life before God. 

Live a Holy Life

So, to lead with the heart of Jesus is to live a holy life. 

To live a holy life is to live a life that is different from the way others are living their lives. Holiness is based upon agape. Instead of being rooted in emotion or feeling, it is rooted in a pure heart, where choices are made, and where thoughts, feelings, and intentions are generated. It is the love that works for the good of all people. From the perspective of a pure heart, it is to choose to love people, all people, especially those who have no one else to love them. 

Chuck Colson, in his book Loving God, writes about the “Everyday Business of Holiness.” Although he does not call it “pure in heart,” he describes a pure heart in loving and obeying God. He writes: 

  • Holiness is obeying God: Loving one another as God has loved you.
  • Holiness is obeying God: Event when it is against your own interest.
  • Holiness is obeying God: Sharing God’s love, even when it is inconvenient.
  • Holiness is obeying God: Finding ways to help those in need.

Lead with the Heart of Jesus

Paul, when writing about holiness, wrote this to the church in Rome: 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2). 

Blessed are the pure in heart, the holy, for they will see God. To lead with the heart of Jesus to live a holy life, a life devoted to God. It will be different from the lives of others, but it is the life God has created you to live. 

To lead with the heart of Jesus is to love as you have been loved. 

Remember, the pure heart is shaped by agape. It is to love by choosing to work for the good of others, even when you might not feel like it. 

Love as You Have Been Loved

In a Veteran’s Hospital in Pennsylvania, there was a nurse who worked in the psychiatric ward. One day, during lunchtime, the patients who had the privilege to leave the wards of Building Four had gone to the main dining room. For the sixty patients left in the wards, there was a small dining room with food delivered from the main kitchen. The nurse and two orderlies had the responsibility of getting the patients through their meals. 

A toilet had overflowed, but the nurse could not find anyone to clean it. So, she tried to do it herself. While keeping an eye on four patients in wheelchairs, along with a dozen others walking the hallway, she tried to serve meals and clean the bathroom floor. In the twenty minutes that passed, she had to rush past a patient curled up in a corner before she could stop and gently urge him to his feet. 

A visitor who had been watching the nurse asked, “Doesn’t this ever depress you?” 

The nurse with a smile replied, “Not really. If I ever begin to feel overwhelmed or depressed, I remember that I may be the only person who cares about what happens to these men. And then comes the strength and patience to keep going, to keep loving them.” 

Wow. Just to love as Jesus loves would be enough to transform the world. 

Loving the People Jesus Loves

Blessed are the pure in heart, the loving, for they will see God. To lead with the heart of Jesus to love others as God in Jesus has loved you. 

To lead with the heart of Jesus means loving the people Jesus loves. 

Jesus liked being around the poor, the marginalized, and the forgotten. He made a place for the disabled, the outcasts, and the overlooked. I am reminded of the love Jesus had for people every time I see the painting of Jesus knocking at a door that does not have a knob on the outside. It is the Warner Sallman painting. 

I have heard several explanations of why Jesus is knocking at the door. One is the door represents our hearts and Jesus will not force his way into our lives. You have to open the door from the inside. Another is Jesus is faithful in presenting himself as the solution to our problems but will not interfere unless we open the door and invite him in. 

I have often used the painting as an illustration of Jesus knocking on the door of our lives. Because there is no knob on the outside, you and I have to open the door for him, not to come in but for him to invite us to come out and meet his friends, the poor, the marginalized, and the forgotten. 

I used that illustration once and a woman suggested I was misrepresenting the meaning of the painting. I listened as she explained that the knock on the door is for us to invite Jesus in. I agreed with her and then said, “maybe he is knocking on the door so we will invite him in, and he can bring all his friends in with him. I know that when I invited him into my life, he brought all his friends with him…including you.” 

Lead with the Heart of Christ 

You remember Jesus saying, “just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.” To lead with the heart of Jesus is to identify with the poor and forgotten. Too often we miss seeing God because we are too busy connecting people with the memory of Jesus instead of looking for him in the lives of the people God sends our way. To be a Christ-centered leader is to love the people Jesus loves. 

In other words, blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God in the people God sends to us to love. To lead with the heart of Jesus is to make room for all his friends. 

So, another one of the distinguishing characteristics of Christ-centered leaders is to lead with the heart of Jesus. 

Respond

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 

There is an old story about three African elders visiting the West. The visitors were asked, “How can you tell when night ends and the day begins?” 

The first man responded, “When I can distinguish the olive trees from the fig trees, then I know that night is over, and day has begun.” 

The second answered, “When I can see the forms of the animals across the Serengeti, I know that the darkness is leaving, and the light of day is arriving.” 

The third visitor took an entirely different perspective, “When we can see a black woman and a white woman and call them both ‘sister,’ when we see a poor man and a rich man and call them both ‘brother,’ then the darkness of night has lifted, and the light of day has come.” 

The third visitor understood the deeper meaning of the question. The darkness lifts not according to the time of day, but according to the practice of relationship. 

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has downed…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:2, 6) 

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God in the people they meet each day. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you experience the light of God’s love in the midst of the darkness? In whom did you see Jesus? What opportunities did you have to love as God in Jesus has loved you? Give God thanks for the opportunities to love others as you have been loved.

Pray

O God, help me lead with the heart of Jesus. Create a pure heart in me so I may see you. Open my eyes so I may recognize you in the people you send my way. Remind me again that who I am is how I lead. In Jesus name. Amen

The Lord says…Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. — Isaiah 43:19 CEB
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