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For the seasons of Advent and Christmas, I’ll be sharing a series of devotions focused on hope. Look for an invitation next week about this devotional series.

Read 

Matthew 1:18-21

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary, his mother, was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit.  Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 

2 Corinthians 5:17-19

“So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!  All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ…”

Reflect

The incarnation provides a window into the hope offered to us in Jesus. In the midst of chaos and confusion, and in the mess of challenges and changes, God is with us.

When we read the biblical stories, we find that the birth of Jesus, in a stable to humble parents named Mary and Joseph, is God’s dramatic way of coming into the world in a way that we can understand. It is the story of God taking on the life of a human being and coming into this world to live with us.

The Incarnation

I like this illustration of incarnation. In the 1996 Olympics, an American runner, Derek Redmond, was entered in the 400-meter race. For years he had practiced just for this race. His father, who was also his trainer and coach, had helped him become one of the fastest people in the world.

As the race began, Redmond took an early lead. He was well out in front of the other sprinters when his Achilles tendon snapped. He fell to the track but did not drop out of the race. He struggled to his feet and began limping toward the finish line, dragging his wounded leg behind him. The crowd stood and cheered him on, but the pain was so great and the wound so serious that he struggled to finish the race. Suddenly, a middle-aged man jumped over the guardrail onto the track, caught up with Redmond, put his arms around his waist, and helped him finish the race. The man was Redmond’s father.

In an interview after the race, Redmond said, “He was the only one who could have helped me, because he was the only one who knew what I had been through.”

God With Us

God always comes to us in a way that satisfies our need for God at those times when we need God most. Matthew reminds us that the name Jesus means savior, and that the name Emmanuel means God is with us. Matthew is telling us that in Jesus, God’s saving love is with us.

Luke reminds us that Jesus came alongside the poor, the marginalized, the outcasts. Being born in a stable points to the fact there was no respectable place for him. His birth being announced to shepherds symbolizes the good news for those considered unclean and unacceptable in good religious circles. Luke is telling us that God’s saving love is for everyone.

John reminds us that Jesus was present in the beginning with God because Jesus is God. Then God becomes flesh and lives among us in Jesus. I understand the words lived among us to mean “pitched his tent next to ours.” Eugene Peterson in the Message says, “moved into our neighborhood.” John is telling us that God in Jesus has come to live with us.

And Paul reminds us that God is in Christ “reconciling the world to himself.” It might be helpful to think of the word reconciled as being embraced or hugged. God is in Christ “embracing” the world or “hugging” you with love.

A Window of Hope

So, the incarnation provides a window into the hope offered to you. Your hope is seen in the fact that no matter what your situation or circumstance, God has come to you in Jesus to hug you with a love that will never let you go. In the midst of sin and failure, God embraces you with forgiving love. While seeking meaning and purpose, God embraces you with encouraging love. When struggling with grief and despair, God embraces you with comforting love. No matter the chaos and confusion, or the challenges and changes, God is with you, embracing you with love and offering you hope. When you catch a glimpse of that kind of love, there is nothing left to do but to move forward in hope.

Respond

As you go about the activities of your day, be aware of the people in the places you live, work, and play. Whom will you meet Jesus today? Will you meet him at the grocery store, at the office, on the street, at the park? Will you meet him on the golf course, at the spa, at the club? Look for Jesus in the people and be aware of God’s loving embrace.

Pray

O God, I am grateful that you have come to be with me in Jesus. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation and circumstance and in every relationship and acquaintance of this day. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear you. Give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize what you are doing. Make me a blessing to someone somewhere today as you embrace me and the people around me with your love that makes me more who you want me to be. I offer my life to be a home for you and for the people you send my way. Amen

Return

Take a few moments to name the places you experienced God’s love today? Through whom did you see Jesus? Through whom did you experience God’s love? Who came alongside you to help you reach the finish line?

Leadership is stressful even in the best of times. When you are leading through a time of crisis, sometimes the stress feels unmanageable. Learning to cope with stress is one of life’s most important lessons. Learning to lead in the midst of stress is a mark of a courageous leader. So, how are you coping with stress these days? How are you facing the difficulties of leading?

Acknowledgment or Denial?

My assumption is you are doing one of two things. You are either avoiding the stress by denying it or facing the stress by acknowledging it. You are either escaping it by numbing yourself or you are coping with it by finding a way through it. You are either blaming others for it or you are dealing with it responsibly, learning about yourself and learning how to lead in the midst of it.

Feeding the 5000

One of the most popular stories in the bible gives us insight into coping with stress. It is the story of the feeding of the 5000. When we read the story from Mark’s perspective, we gain insight into coping with the difficulties that come with leadership.

The disciples have just returned from a mission trip, and they are wanting to tell Jesus about their experiences. But there are so many people coming and going that the disciples don’t have time for themselves. Not even time to eat. So, Jesus says to them, “Let’s go off to a place by ourselves. You can rest while you report on your mission encounter.”

They get in their boats to cross the Sea of Galilee to a place less populated, a deserted place. When the people see the disciples leaving, they run ahead to meet them at their destination. When Jesus and the disciples arrive, they are met with the crowd they were trying to leave on the other side of the lake.

The Response

Jesus, out of deep compassion, rearranges his plans and works with the people all day. But his followers are not as flexible or as generous. By late afternoon they are tired and irritable. They realize that the people are hungry and could soon get hostile if something isn’t done to help them. Out of concern for the people, the disciples want to send them away to get their own food and provisions. They pull Jesus aside, point out the difficulty, and suggest that he disperse the people quickly before things get out of hand. It seems logical based upon what they perceive. A problem situation, full of stress and perceived danger.

So, how does Jesus cope with the situation?

Jesus Faces the Situation

First, Jesus decides to face the situation openly. He chooses not to escape or to avoid by rationalizing the situation. When the disciples want to send people away, Jesus responds out of integrity and compassion. He does not see people as a nuisance, so the situation becomes an opportunity to be who he was created to be.

Jesus Surveys his Resoures 

Second, Jesus surveys his resources. He chooses to find out what he has in hand to meet the need of the situation. Although it is not much, it is what he has. In their hurry to escape the problem, by sending the people away, the disciples do not consider what they have going for them. Even though it is not much, they are amazed to discover that there is some food available in the group.

Jesus Uses Available Resources to Address the Need 

Third, Jesus takes the resources and begins the task of meeting the need of the situation. He chooses to do the best he can with what he has. What seems impossible to the disciples, as they look at the problem, becomes a possibility through the courage and decisiveness of Jesus. He is not immobilized by the need or the lack of resources. He knows that nothing can begin until the first step is taken. So, he acts on the basis of what he has. His action gathers strength and turns an unsolvable problem into a success.

Untapped Potential

Now, it is obvious that there is a radical difference between the way Jesus coped with the difficulty and the way you and I usually go about dealing with reality. But the difference is not so much about lack of capacity as it is unused potential.

When you are tired and irritable, you become short-sighted and reduce your field of vision. Too often, in the face of problems or in the midst of difficulties, you don’t always see the possibilities. Instead of utilizing what God has already placed in your midst, you seek a way out either by denying the difficulty or by avoiding the situation.

The reality is, there are always “five loaves and two fish” in every problem. And when you don’t see the possibilities or recognize the resources at hand, you waver, hesitate, and become immobilized. There is nothing that intensifies stress more than inactivity. The longer you standstill in the face of a problem, the more stress you create. On the other hand, the decision to act, no matter how useless it may seem, often breaks the spell and turns the tide. The ability to start acting, even when it seems small and insignificant is key in facing difficulties and solving the problem.

Problem Solving

Life is, and always will be, a process of problem-solving. Jesus came to terms with that fact. He seems to have laid aside all the fantasies of a place where there is no conflict or difficulty. He accepted the fact that such a place does not exist for us humans. This realistic outlook enabled him to focus all his energies on the real issues of life rather than trying to escape them by seeking “the way things used to be” or by longing for things to get back to “normal.”

Posture of Gratitude

How was Jesus able to cope? The secret is found in a posture of gratitude. In facing a hungry crowd when his followers were wringing their hands, Jesus calmly looked up to heaven and gave thanks to God. I don’t think this act pertained only to five loaves and two fish. It included not only that event, but life as it was given to Jesus day by day.

God is Good

Jesus learned the deepest secret there is to learn. The secret? God is good. And God, who gives us life, also loves us, is for us, and is working for our good. Out of that realization came the ability to receive the events of life with gratitude, not resentment. He learned to regard the events and encounters in his life as expressions of love rather than acts of hostility. He was able to see the events as God’s way of dealing positively with humanity.

It is amazing the difference such a posture of gratitude can make in the way we cope with difficulty. If we really begin to look at the things that happen to us as good gifts from God, even the problems take on a different form. Instead of seeing them as hopeless obstacles to our happiness, we come to see them as the challenges that give life its meaning and hope. Problems cease to be overwhelming when we see them as something to be received with gratitude.

Posture of Thanksgiving

The posture of thanksgiving opens our eyes to the resources that are present. Even though the resources might be hidden by the problem, our eyes are opened and we no longer say, “We don’t have enough” or “There is nothing here we can use.” No matter how deep the crisis, God has provided “five loaves and twelve fish” to meet the need. Gratitude opens our eyes to what we already have going for us.

Gratitude encourages us to begin with what we have and to expect more as we move forward. After all, what we have at the beginning has been given by a gracious God. Can’t we expect God to give even more to complete the task? This is what Jesus did. He began to act out in a profound sense of gratitude. His trust and action gathered up strength from earth and heaven until a multitude was fed.

Coping with Reality

So, how are you coping with stress these days? How are you facing the difficulties of leading? There are a thousand unhealthy ways of coping, like avoiding or escaping being two. 

But there is at least one healthy way of coping. It is the way Jesus modeled for us on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. There in the shadow of great difficulty, he faced the problem. He laid hold of the resources already present, and he began to act in terms of what he had.

The truth is you can do the same. It is possible for you to lead through the stress and difficulties you face today. It is as simple and profound as this: let Jesus show you God by letting him reconcile you to the fact that God, who gives life, is good. Let him teach you to receive all of life in gratitude. When this becomes not only your perspective but your way of living, the courage to cope will rise from the depths of your being. Your problems will become the shape of a challenge. Your difficulties will be seen as the bearers of hidden resources. And the crisis will become nothing more than the moment to begin.

Your Next Step

This week, try coping with your stress by giving God thanks for your anxiety. Ask God to open your eyes to the resources present in the situation. And then, by God’s grace, take your first step toward addressing the difficulty. Again, try coping with your stress by giving God thanks in the midst of what seems impossible to overcome. It was good enough for Jesus. Shouldn’t it be good enough for you?

Remember, who you are is how you lead! 

Wow. We have come to the end of September. Where has the year gone?  Over the past nine months, you have moved forward in your leadership by adapting to unexpected changes and developing new relationships. You have navigated a pandemic and established different patterns. From my perspective, you have learned to lead in surprisingly new ways. 

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn

In his book, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, John Maxwell, playing off the quote, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” points out that we learn from our losses.  He writes that if we apply what we learn in the midst of our losses to the situations and circumstances in which we lead, we will be much closer to reaching our goals. I’m guessing you have learned a lot over the past nine to eighteen months. 

Learning is one of the key values of leadership. Effective leaders are learning leaders. Learning is as much a part of your life as eating. Leaders who are learners improve the environment for everyone around them. Learning is key to improvement.

What have you been learning?

So, what have you been learning over the past nine months? As I have been listening, I have heard you say you have learned:

New Technology

You said, “I need to learn how to…” and you learned what you needed to move forward with worship, bible study, virtual gatherings, etc. You learned to approach routine encounters in fundamentally different ways.

Alternative strategies

You have experimented with different ways of living out the mission by engaging a coach and/or peers to provide feedback regarding what you have learned.  

To become a more effective leader

You have been determined to learn useful insights by reflecting on what worked well, what didn’t so well, and what might work better next time.

I know you have learned much more than what I have listed above. But from my perspective, you have learned some significant patterns for effective leadership.  I am grateful for you and for what you are learning. You were created to lead for this time.

What Have I Learned?

Over the past nine months, I have learned some things as well. I have learned:

Effective Christ-centered leaders become part of the fabric of the community

To be the leader needed for today, you must be intimately involved in the life of the community. You know the assets as well as he needs. You know the marginalized as well the influential people by name. You are recognized and known by people in the places you show up. (For help in becoming the fabric of the community, check out 7 Missional Questions).

It takes courage to follow Jesus

If you assume I should have learned this early in my ministry, you are correct. But I think it takes more courage today than in my earlier years. In the culture in which we live, “you can safely assume you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” (Anne Lamott). It takes courage to show up in the places Jesus leads and to love the people Jesus loves.  I saw a sign recently that read, “I love you. You’re probably thinking, ‘You don’t even know me.’ But if people can hate for no reason. I can love.” When you invite Jesus into your life, he tends to bring all his friends with him.

It matters where you start

I have known this for a long time, but it seems more applicable today. 

You might think of it this way, the starting place is not whether someone or some issue is progressive or evangelical, liberal or conservative, socialist or capitalist. To start with a political stance is to argue your political stance. Starting with this, does my action love my neighbor, look out for his or her interests more than my own, and produce the fruit of the Spirit? It matters where you start.  I am learning that when we figure out that God is more concerned with loving creation than judging it, we will then be part of the transformation of our churches, communities, and the world. As Jesus followers, we start with Jesus.

Effective Leaders are Learning Leaders

Just like you, I have learned more than I have listed. The point is learning leaders are effective leaders. Learning leaders model for others what they are learning and invite others into learning as well.

An Invitation

I want you to join me in an experiment for the month of October. I have been reflecting on one way you and I, as leaders, can model God’s love for those entrusted to our care as well as our communities. This is an experiment in courageous leadership. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

Here is what I want you to do. Whether you are in an urban church, suburban church, or a rural church, get in your mind one of the persons you encounter at an intersection holding a sign. 

The sign usually says something like, “Homeless. Need Help. Hungry. God Bless you!” or “Homeless and hungry vet. Anything will help.” Get the face of the person in your mind. Regardless of what you feel or think, God loves that person as much as God loves you. So, this month, as a child of God, try something other than passing by another child of God. 

Do one of the following: (Just try one for the month)

  • Pray asking God how you can best share God’s love with the person
  • Prepare a sandwich and/or some fruit and hand it them
  • Give them something to drink. Something warm on a cold day, something cold on a hot day
  • Better yet, park your car, get out and introduce yourself to the person, and listen as he/she introduces themselves to you.
  • When you get to know the person by name, take food to them on a daily basis.

When you have done one of the above, give God thanks for loving you in and through the person at the intersection. I promise your action of care and compassion will transform your life and make you a more courageous leader. Who you are is how you lead.

Sometimes You Learn

Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. Let me know how you are doing with the experiment. I’ll check back with you. May what you learn assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be.

And remember, who you are is how you lead.

How are you doing? How are you holding up while leading through these days of fear and uncertainty? I thought of you recently during a conversation about courageous leadership. 

The conversation was with a guest on LeaderCast. While telling of his experiences of courageous leaders he said, “It takes courage to follow Jesus.”  Wow. I know that to be true, but I have not heard it articulated regarding leadership. 

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

So, I began to think, it takes courage to love your neighbor as yourself.  

It takes courage to love the people with whom you disagree much less love your enemy. It takes courage to pray for those who hurt you as well as to be reconciled with them. It takes courage to turn the other cheek, forgive as you have been forgiven, and to serve with care and compassion. It takes courage to lead in times of fear and uncertainty. 

Courageous Leadership

I confess, sometimes I would rather not think about courageous leadership, especially when I fall so short of my own expectations. When I stop and think about it, I have had enough of my life being turned upside down. I would rather live life peacefully, without a lot of noise and turmoil. But, while writing this blog, I began to ask myself why I am resistant to stepping up and leading with courage? 

With the statement of “It takes courage to follow Jesus” ringing in my ears, I discovered that more times than I want to admit, I’m afraid to follow. My fear is not rooted in a lack of belief.  It is rooted in the uncertainty of following without knowing all that it means to follow.  What are the risks? What are the pitfalls? What does it mean to say/sing, “All to Jesus I surrender?” How does following Jesus make me look as a leader? 

Fear

Early in my ministry, I read a statement by Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia. He wrote, “Fear is the polio of the soul. It paralyzes us from living by faith.” He talked about a healthy fear. It is the fear that allows us, as human beings, to survive. Healthy fear is a built-in, automatic, and dependable system that alerts us to the presence of danger. On the other hand, there is an unhealthy fear, the fear that paralyzes us.  It is the fear that is based upon assumption and projected onto reality. There are times we are confronted with real threats, but most of the time you and I create our own fears.  

The Middle of the Night

When I was in seminary, my wife and I lived in a neighborhood just south of Atlanta.  Although crime was rising in the city, we felt safe in the community in which we lived, until about four o’clock one Sunday morning. 

We were awakened by a loud knocking at our back door. When I realized I was not dreaming, a sense of terror swept over me. Kim, my wife, said in a frightened voice, “someone is banging on the door?” I remember thinking, “Who in the world could this be in the middle of the night? Is someone trying to break in? Are we going to be robbed? Killed?” In my terror, all kinds of possibilities flashed through my mind.  Should Kim and I try to escape by climbing out a window? Should we barricade ourselves in the bathroom and hope that the lock on the door keeps us safe?

Finally, I grabbed my baseball bat, told Kim to call the police, and managed to creep to the door. With my heart pounding as hard as I can remember, I forced myself to push aside the curtain covering the window on the door. There, to my relief as much as my fear was my next-door neighbor.  He was sitting on the step outside the door, holding his chest. 

I opened the door. My neighbor was having a heart attack. Because his family was gone for the weekend, his only hope for help was to come to me, his neighbor.   

The Unknown

The fear I had experienced from the moment I awakened until I finally opened the door was entirely my own making.  It was what I had done to an event, rather than what the event had done to me.  

Think of a time you let the unknown send you into a panic.  A time when instead of “going to the door” and directly confronting reality, you let your anxiety and imagination take over. Did you imagine the worst and react, not to what was really there, but to the terrible things you created in your mind?  

Genesis and Fear

According to Genesis, one of the reasons our world is in such a mess is rooted in the mishandling of fear.  The first man and woman are seen as living in an unbroken harmony with reality.  Then a serpent appears and proceeds to give “a knock at the door.” 

The serpent stirs up a sense of anxiety by insinuating that they do not know what they are doing, that they are not okay as they are, and that they are only a fraction of what they can be.  Then the serpent identifies God as the problem.  He lays the blame squarely on the Creator, claiming God has lied to them about the forbidden fruit. Then, in the midst of the anxiety, the serpent explains that they will not die if they eat the fruit, but their eyes will be open, they will be able to determine right and wrong for themselves, and they will become gods in their own right. 

It was their first experience with the anxiety that grows out of uncertainty. What would have happened if they had responded differently? What would have happened if they had faced their fear and taken their uncertainty straight to the reality in question? Would they have seen the positive joy that is the source of everything and not be afraid anymore? 

The tragedy is that they did not answer the door.  Instead of finding out for themselves about God’s true nature, they jumped to a conclusion about God that had no basis in fact, and they proceeded to act self-destructively. 

The Key to Courageous Leadership

So, what does this have to do with courageous leadership? Who you are is how you lead. Let’s go back to “It takes courage to follow Jesus.” Here is the key to courageous leadership. 

You have been created to lead at this time in history. Whether you like or want it, God has gifted you to live in this time and to love the people entrusted to your care. The greatest gift God has given you is the gift of faith. Your leadership depends upon your desire to trust who God is and who God has created you to be. The ultimate source of your existence is working for your good. While there will be painful and harmful things that happen, nothing has the power to separate you from the God who created you and who loves you.

I know it goes without saying, but you and I know this God in and through Jesus. Over and against all the confusion, anxiety, and fear of the day, God sent Jesus so we could see what God looked like in history, walking our streets, living in our neighborhoods, caring for all people, loving even the unlovable. The leadership question is, “Can you trust a God like that?” Are you willing to take this action of God seriously enough to let God do God’s work in you? It takes courage to trust and to follow. 

It Takes Courage

It takes courage to get in touch with your true thoughts and feelings, but until you do, you will not realize how big a part fear plays in your living and in your leadership. It takes courage to follow Jesus. 

Maybe you can look at it this way: Fear of failing can paralyze you, but you can look at failure as a learning experience. Failure only stops you if you let it. Fear of facing unwanted situations can paralyze you, but you can face what is before you with the confidence that you are not alone and that the situation is resolvable. Fear of relationships can paralyze you, but you can risk being vulnerable and empathic, knowing that you are loved and accepted. 

Who you are is how you lead. Knowing what you know about God in and through Jesus, you do not have to be paralyzed by fear. The knock at the door just might be Jesus. When you answer the knock, I pray you will, by God’s grace, have the courage to follow him.  

Take time this week to reflect upon why you think and feel the way you do. What one fear is paralyzing you? How will you face that fear this week?

Final Reminders  

Let me remind you that Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

This week on LeaderCast, Sara Thomas and I have a conversation with Bishop Cal Holloway as we discussion of the essential callings of Christ-centered leaders. Listen to Episode 196 here, Being Among the People. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

And, remember, who you are is how you lead.

Would it be fair to say that this past year has been a year of interruptions? Whether it has a pandemic, working from home, learning new ways to communicate, connecting with people, experimenting with worship, or an email from your district superintendent, this has been one year full of interruptions. 

Just as you think you have a plan of action and a routine that works, there comes another “knock on the door” in the form of a change, an additional request, or an extra task. You feel a passing tinge of irritation and think to yourself, “Why this? Why now?”  

The Ministry of Interruption

The disruptive “knock on the door” presents itself relentlessly throughout the day, in the form of Zoom meetings, emails, text messages, questions to answer, problems to solve, fires to put out. It seems the information age has morphed into the interruption age. So how do you respond? 

It’s a matter of perspective. What if you were to change your view of these interruptions? What if you began to see them as opportunities that didn’t interrupt your work but became your work? What if they became opportunities for you to be the leader God created you to be? It is tempting to lock the door, hold the calls, ignore the emails, and miss the meetings. But what if you stepped up and made these interruptions a crucial part of your work?

What’s Your Role?

Years ago, I read a story about a boy named Wally. He was seven years old, big for his age, considered to be a slow learner, and always eager to be in the middle of what was happening. That’s why everyone wondered what role the teacher would give him in the annual Christmas play. He was hyper and didn’t pay attention. Perhaps she would let him pull the curtain to open and close the play.  To everyone’s surprise the teacher gave Wally the role of the innkeeper. He was delighted. All he had to do was to learn one line, “There is no room in the inn.”

He practiced in the mornings and in the evenings.  He had the line down.  His timing was perfect in rehearsals.  He was ready and eager to play his part.

On the night of the program, parents and guests took their places.  Every seat in the auditorium was filled. The children entered singing “Oh come all ye faithful.” The lights dimmed. A hush moved over the audience. The curtain opened on the scene. Mary and Joseph entered the stage and walked up to the inn. Joseph said to the Innkeeper, “Please sir, my wife is not well. Could we have a room for the night?”

Wally was ready for his line. He knew it. He had rehearsed it. But at that moment, his mind went blank. He began, “There is…” and he hesitated. He started over again, “There is…” and again his mind went blank. The audience began to laugh nervously. Some people were embarrassed for him. A prompter, just off the stage, whispered, “There is no room in the inn,” but Wally couldn’t hear what was being said. At that moment, neither Wally nor Joseph knew what to do. So, Joseph started to walk away toward the stable on the left side of the stage. Seeing him walk away, Wally in desperation called out, “Look, there’s plenty of room at my house. Come and go home with me.”

Over the years the characters in the Christmas story have become clearly defined for us. The issues all seem clear cut. Herod is a villain, the shepherds and the wise men are heroes. And the Innkeeper has become one of the people who turns Mary, Joseph, and baby away. In our imagination, we envision him as a bearded old man, sticking his head out a window, and shouting, “There is no room in the inn. There might be something in the stable out back. Check there.”

Who is Central to the Story?

I think the innkeeper might be a key figure in this story. Although preachers and storytellers have presented him in a negative way, I think his action is a symbol for Luke. Throughout Luke’s story of Jesus, he tells of how there was room made for people who had been left out and forgotten.

He takes this one line, “There is no room in the inn,” and illustrates how it is a theme throughout the ministry of Jesus. He shows us how Jesus and the church have responded to unexpected interruptions.

He tells us that John, one of the disciples, tried to stop someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The person was not part of their group. But Jesus says, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.” Jesus makes room for those who are not part of the group.

He tells us that people were bringing their babies to Jesus so that he might bless them. When the disciples saw the parents bringing their children, they ordered them to stop. But Jesus called for the parents and the children and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them…” Even though the parents and children were an interruption, Jesus made room for them.

What’s Holding You Back?

He also tells us of Philip, when filled with God’s spirit, went to Samaria to tell people about God’s love and acceptance in Jesus.  The Samaritans had been excluded from the main part of the Jewish religion. They were considered outcasts and unworthy to be part of the Jewish community. Yet, the Spirit interrupts what Philip had been taught and leads him to these outcasts. Luke reports that the crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said. There was great joy in that city. The Samaritans had been considered unworthy in the past. Although they were considered an interruption to the main community, the church found room for them.

Philip, on his way back to Jerusalem from Samaria, met an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the queen of Ethiopia. He was a Gentile and unable to father children. In Deuteronomy 23 it states that any man who cannot father children is not admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Yet, Philip befriends him and shares the story of Jesus with him. The eunuch asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” In other words, what prevents me from being a part of the group, the community, the church? Although Philip is interrupted by this Ethiopian eunuch, he baptized him. The church found room for those who had been excluded in the past.

Another Interruption 

Luke tells us of Simon Peter and his conversation with Cornelius. Cornelius was a commander in the Italian Cohort. Directed by God’s spirit, Simon Peter and Cornelius meet at Cornelius’ house. There is a large group waiting to hear from Peter. Now, because Cornelius is a Gentile, Simon Peter says, “You yourselves know that is it unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”

Peter continues, “I truly understand that God shows not partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…” Peter shares with Cornelius, his family, and friends about Jesus. By the end of the meeting the Holy Spirit is poured out even on the Gentiles. Peter baptizes them in the name of Jesus Christ. Another interruption that became an opportunity to share the love and acceptance of God.  

Not The Room You Expected

For Luke, the innkeeper is a key figure in his story, because he did find room for Mary and Joseph. It just was not the room expected. In the midst of all he was facing, he was ready for the interruption. Every Christmas season, we rehearse the story of God’ saving and healing work coming to be with us in Jesus. The question is, do you and I have room for such an interruption?  

Jesus comes knocking at the door of our hearts in various ways, through various people, in various events, providing us an opportunity to be who God created us to be. Often, we dismiss the knock by saying, “I’m tired of all these interruptions” or “I’m just a layperson” or “I’m not a preacher” or “I’m not a pastor or theologian or…” 

The Innkeeper’s Response

The innkeeper was an ordinary person, doing his job. He was overworked because of the census. He was on the frontline. I imagine that Mary and Joseph were not the only ones seeking a room that night. Although there was not room in the expected place of the inn, he did have a place for them.

He responded with compassion. Even though it was an interruption, he made room. Just as Mary and Joseph came to the innkeeper that night, Jesus comes to you, not in the form of a king but in the lives of people, like Mary and Joseph, who need a place. 

He comes in the lives of people outside our groups, our clubs, our churches, looking for a place. He comes as those who have nothing to offer but themselves, who need a place.  He comes as outcasts, those pushed aside, those excluded, who need a place. He comes as those who are seeking healing and hope. We all need a place.

God Makes a Place for You

The Christmas good news is, God has made a place for you and for me. Whether we are insiders or outsiders, whether we are good or not so good, whether we feel we belong or feel left out, whether we think we deserve it or feel that we are unworthy of any goodness, God has already made a place for you. Because of God’s love in Jesus, you have a place.

Now, we can look at the innkeeper and say that he claimed there was no room in the inn. I suppose we could say the crowded inn is like our lives so cluttered with things that there is just no time, no energy, no money, no room left. We could say that Mary and Joseph were an unexpected interruption to a long and tiresome day.

Or you can say, as full as my life is, I still have room. 

Jesus Comes When Least Expected

Just as in Bethlehem, Jesus comes when you seem to least expect him. Mary and Joseph came late at night when the innkeeper was tired. Again, I’m guessing they were an interruption to his evening. Although there was no room in the expected place of the inn, the innkeeper had room for them. 

So, what if you were to change your view of these interruptions? What if you began to see them as opportunities that didn’t interrupt your work but became your work? What if you responded to these interruptions as opportunities for you to be the leader God created you to be? Try the following: 

Focus upon the person or persons involved

Look for Jesus in each person. With every encounter take advantage of the opportunity to make a positive and lasting connection.

Adapt to each person and context

Remember that “one size does not fit all” persons or contexts. Be alert to the fact that behavior that works remarkably well with one person may turn another person off completely. It’s important to be able to adapt in each unique circumstance.

Respond authentically

Your genuine response will add a little “magic” to the moment. Lead out of who are and not out of your title or position. Listen carefully, understand the issue, and respond with compassion, care, and confidence.

Intentionally develop care and compassion in others

As you address the most pressing issue in a way that helps now, intentionally empower those you are assisting. Help them develop the skills of compassion and care. Assist them in becoming who they have been created to be.  

Don’t Dismiss the Interruptions

This coming year don’t dismiss all interruptions as barriers to work. Begin to view these moments as an important part of your work. Open yourself to a more fulfilling expression of your leadership. Even a single interruption is an opportunity to help people think differently about themselves and their future.

It is almost Christmas. Keep your mind and your heart open for an interruption. For the hour approaches when Jesus will come to you and to me. And like the innkeeper, you and I will have to decide. The knock at the door will come.  Will it be another knock in a long series of knocks of interruption and inconvenience? Or will the knock be the next opportunity to love in the name of Jesus?

Merry Christmas

Even though this Christmas might be different in its gatherings and celebrations, Jesus still comes, and he still brings all his interrupting friends with him.

Remember, Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader.

From Diana, Sara, and Tim, in your Capitol Area South District office, we interrupt you with this blessing, “May the joy of Jesus be yours this Christmas! May you have a blessed Christmas!”

Are you ready for a little hope?

Who isn’t?

2020 has been a tough year.

More than any other time in recent history, people are looking for any morsel of hope. It is the one thing that lifts our spirits and keeps us going despite our difficulties. It looks beyond life’s hardships to a better and brighter tomorrow. It keeps us believing and expecting that out of today’s darkness, tomorrow’s light will shine.  It is seeing a future that we can live into if we keep moving forward adjusting and adapting as we go. We are all looking for a little hope and all we need leaders like you to dispense that hope.   

What is Hope?

The word “hope” comes from an old English word that means to “leap forward with expectation.” It is more than a wish or an optimistic thought. It is a real genuine feeling of possibility. It has substance when there is a clear vision and a defined direction.  Maintaining and dispensing hope has to do with being able to evaluate and understand the present context, recover from discouragement, and hold onto the vision of what can be. 

From that perspective, hope is essential to leadership. To imagine and present a better future requires hope. To recognize the potential in people and processes and work to develop that potential requires hope.  If you feel hopeless about the future, there is no reason to change your behavior in the present. But when you believe your actions matter and that you can change or influence the future, you interact and engage with people differently. That difference in behavior and belief is experienced in and through effective leadership.

Hope is Essential to Leadership

That is why hope is essential to leadership. Hope and leadership are in an interdependent relationship. This relationship shows up in a couple of ways. We either see a preferred outcome and sit back waiting for things to happen or we see a preferred outcome and we work to make it become a reality. We either wish things were different or we do something to make things different.

Joseph, Mary, and Hope

Let me illustrate by using a story from Matthew 1:18-25. Joseph was engaged to Mary. The engagement was like a marriage.  It was serious business, legal and binding in nature. It could only be broken by going to the courts. So, the families of Joseph and Mary came together, signed the papers, and the engagement began. Only when they became of age, would they marry. So, to say that Joseph was engaged to Mary is significant.  

It is during their engagement that Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant.  Now, what is he going to do? He is a good man, a righteous man, a man who wants to do the right thing. That’s great, but what is the right thing? 

1. He could proceed with a passive hope.

This is called “wishful thinking.” With passive hope you can still see a better future, you just don’t believe you can influence people or processes that make that future a reality. Joseph could have proceeded by:

Seeking Approval

He could go to the coffee shop and ask, “What do you think I ought to do?” He could get on the phone, go to work, sit in a Sabbath school class, and tell everyone who will listen, “Did you hear about Mary? What do you think I ought to do?” 

Could you blame him? We elect people to public office and remove people from positions based upon their approval ratings. What do the polls say?  Joseph could have sought out the approval of his friends.  

Making it About Himself

He could tell his side of the story and expose Mary for being unfaithful. He could disgrace her and humiliate her. “Did you hear about Mary? Can you believe what she did to me? She seemed like such a nice girl.” 

In fact, Matthew tells us that, “Joseph, her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement  quietly.” He didn’t want to humiliate her. But, quietly calling off the engagement would also mean he was saving himself from being embarrassed.

Quoting Scripture

He could do what the Bible says to do.  You can’t go wrong by following the Bible, because the Bible makes everything clear.   You can quote the Bible before killing a person to justify the killing. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Men, you can quote the Bible before divorcing your wife, “If a man finds something displeasing in his wife, let him give her a divorce and send her out of the house.” It’s in the Bible. Women, do you know what the Bible says? “Let the women keep their heads covered and their mouths shut.” Joseph could do just what the Bible says, “She is to be taken out and stoned to death in front of the people.” (Deuteronomy 22) 

That is passive hope. It is when you desire something to happen but feel you don’t have any control over making it happen. So, you wait for someone or something else to make things better. Passive hope ignores current reality. You just wish things were different and hope for them to go back to normal. There is little or no courageous leadership, because you seek out programs or people as quick fixes to problems. There is a lot of activity with passive hope but very little action to change things or to make them better.  

2. He could proceed with active hope.  

He could become an active participant in his future. He didn’t wait for someone else to act. He knew who he was and where he was going, so he began to navigate the obstacles in the way so he could reach his goal.  He had a clear view and understanding of reality

He and Mary were engaged to be married. They are legally bound to one another and Mary is pregnant.

Active hope is anchored in reality.

It knows its context. It understands the current situation. It is able to face reality, name it, and acknowledge what is happening.

He had a clear vision of a goal

He decides to be who God created him to be. He has experienced God’s presence in his life.  He has been blessed through his study of the scriptures. He has read his Bible through the lens of the character and nature of a God who is loving and kind. So, he decides to be a person of grace. He will be loving and kind. He says, “I will not harm her, abuse her, expose her, shame her, ridicule her, or demean her value, her dignity, or her worth. I will protect her.” So, instead of calling off the engagement, he takes responsibility for the situation and sets his sight on being Mary’s husband. 

This active hope pictures a better and preferred future and begins to move toward that vision. So, a second aspect of active hope is to fix your eyes on a goal and move toward that goal.  

He set out to achieve his goal.

Not knowing exactly what is going to happen, instead of passively trying to get out of the agreed relationship, he actively steps into it. He marries Mary and together they raise the baby. I can only imagine that there were obstacles and barriers with his decision. But Joseph moved forward.   

Active hope is aligned with the future it wants to happen. It does not require optimism or positive thinking. But it does require a desire to navigate the obstacles when there is a gap between reality and the desired future. Active hope chooses to move toward the goal even in the midst of uncertainty, chaos, and fear. This is often called courageous leadership.

He takes the initiative to make decisions and to act

He becomes vulnerable.  He steps out in courage. He decides to care for Mary and the baby. He feeds the baby and cares for Mary. He decides to be who God created him to be, a person of grace.

Active hope adapts to the changing contexts and makes necessary adjustments along the way.  With eyes upon the goal, active hope moves forward in courage. 

Aligned with the future, active hope produces energy to make things happen. It invites you to act and to make something happen, even if it doesn’t exist today. 

Active Hope and Leadership

That is why active hope and leadership are so tightly related. If you lead without a firm grip on reality, or without a sharp vision of what you want the future to look like, then your actions won’t matter. Your behaviors won’t align with a better future. Leadership is about showing up and behaving as if what you do matters. When you align your actions with your goal, you not only practice leadership, you dispense hope. 

Today, you can choose your response to your current situation. You can choose to be who God created you to be and lead the people entrusted to your care into a better future. That is what active hope is.

So, what do you want your future or the future of your church to look like? What is one thing you will do to step into the future you see for yourself and for your congregation? What obstacles are in the way? What will you do to keep yourself focused as you navigate the obstacles? To address these questions is to lead with hope.

Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to give insights and resources to assist you in becoming a courageous leader.

Are you ready for a little hope? Decide to take another step in becoming the leader God has created you to be!

How are you doing this week? As you know, I have asked that question several times regarding your focus on leadership, your personal health, and your overall attitude. I have asked because I am interested in you, your community, your church, and your impact upon the people entrusted to your care. As I have said several times in different ways, you were created to lead at this time in history. I am grateful for you and your ministry.

How Am I Doing?

As we have had conversations, several of you have asked how I am doing. Thanks for asking. 

Most of you have heard me say, “I miss seeing you face to face”, or “I miss our lunches together,” or “I miss our general interaction of just being in the presence of each other.”  Again, thanks for asking. I truly value our relationships and look forward to the time we are face to face again. So, today, I am ready to tell you how I really feel.  

How am I doing, you ask? This week I am weary. There is a heaviness in my heart and spirit like I have felt only a few times in my life. Another black man, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back seven times by a police officer in front of his three sons this week. He is paralyzed from the waist down and unable to move. Yet, for a little over 24 hours, he was handcuffed to his hospital bed. Even as he fought to stay alive, he was considered to be a threat. 

Why Am I Weary?

I know that not all of you feel as I do. I’m not trying to make you feel differently, but I do what you know how I feel. I am weary of all the racial hatred. I am weary of human beings, my brothers and sisters, being treated as prey just because of the color of their skin. I am weary of people of good character being quiet, unwilling to name the sin of racism, not acknowledging their participation in it, and then pleading ignorance instead of stepping up and out to resist it and eradicate it.   

Please hear me.  I am weary because I am hurting. My heart and spirit are broken. So, I know you will understand when I say that I don’t want to hear there were circumstances the media didn’t report and we don’t know all the facts. A 29-year-old father of three small boys was shot in the back. In what world is it okay for a human being to be shot seven times at point blank range because of the color of his skin? 

How many more people?

I know you will understand when I say I don’t want to hear about black on black crime.  To me, that is a naive distraction. How many more unarmed black men and women will be murdered before we face reality?

Listen, another unarmed black man was shot by a police officer, a person in power. Don’t tell me that the police officer felt threatened and he reacted as he was taught to react. If that is true, then we have been wrong in how we have been training our law enforcement officers.

Don’t tell me that most police officers are good, and we just need to get rid of a “few bad apples.” I know most law enforcement officers are good people and that their work is hard and dangerous, but police officers are required to respect and protect human lives, all human lives, regardless of skin color. Please don’t tell me about protecting property, every human being is infinitely more valuable than property.

Please hear me. I am not saying we need to “defund” the police.  But is it too much to expect police officers to be taught and trained that every human being, regardless of color, is a person of infinite worth and is worthy of ultimate respect, care, and grace? 

What I Don’t Want to Hear About

I know you will understand when I say I don’t want to hear that talking about this only perpetuates the problem.  It is precisely because we have not talked about racism that the sin persists to overtake us.

Racism is woven and embedded into the fabric of each of our lives.  Whether we like it or not or do so intentionally or not, each of us participates in and perpetuates racism. Just the simple idea that black people are more violent than white people is a racist idea that perpetuates an unrealistic fear and suspicion.

Just the simple idea that black people are inferior to white people is a racist idea perpetuated by centuries of laws and policies based upon black people being less than human. Is it too much to ask that we learn our history, face it honestly, and take the responsibility to put an end to racism? 

If we are to face it, name it, and put an end to it, we will have to talk about it. 

Why I Am Weary

I am weary because I am afraid. I’m not afraid of men and women of darker skin color.

I am afraid because my wife and I, along with my children and my granddaughters live in a country where a 17-year-old radicalized white supremacist, an agent of racial terror, can travel across state lines, carry an assault rifle, shoot and kill two people during a protest march.

A 17-year-old.

Now it is illegal for someone under 18 years-of-age to carry a gun in Wisconsin, but because of the color of his skin, he is privileged. He carries the gun, an assault rifle, down the middle of the street, in the presence of law enforcement officers, but because of the color of skin, he is not considered a threat.  In fact, by some people, he is considered a hero. 

Will You Understand?

I know you will understand when I say that I do not want to hear about our Second Amendment Right to bear arms.  I am not questioning your right or any one’s right to bear arms. But, in what civilized culture is it acceptable for a teenager to carry an assault rifle down the middle of the street? In fact, in what Christian environment of care and compassion is it acceptable to carry loaded weapons in public? 

I know you will understand when I say, “Black Lives Matter.” I am not making a political statement. So, I don’t want to hear how it is a Marxist movement or it is designed to undermine our American culture. When I say, “Black Lives Matter,” I am making a statement of Christian love, hospitality, and hope. I know that all lives matter and blue lives matter, but until you and I take Black lives seriously, we will not face, name, and overcome the evil of racism. 

A Word of Hope

When I decided to write this blog, I was not only weary, I was sad. If you are still reading, thank you. Because you have taken my feelings seriously, I want to offer a word of hope. There are several places to start to address the evil of racism.  I want to offer four, based upon the love and acceptance each of us have experienced and received in and through Jesus Christ. 

As a leader of Jesus followers, who seeks to deepen your relationship with Christ, your church, and your community, here is what I want you to do: 

Reach out and receive the people around you.

You might feel uncomfortable developing relationships with strangers and people who think and feel differently than you, but “welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Welcoming people into your life is who you are as a follower of Jesus. Every person you meet is a gift from God. To reach out and receive others is to be who God created you to be. Anything less than being open and receptive to all people is to miss the point of God’s purpose and desire for your living. Because this is true, you take each human life seriously, regardless of skin color.

Offer love and acceptance to all people.

As a follower of Jesus, you “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Loving your neighbor is so important, Jesus taught, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). As a follower of Jesus, you love people as you have been loved by God in and through Jesus. It is by the way you love people that you reveal your true character. Your love is an invitation to others to love. Your greatest witness is to love each human being as God has loved you, regardless of skin color.

Practice loving others.

John, in his letter, tells us, “We know love by this, that he (Christ) laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 John 3:16).

It might seem simplistic, but this is where you learn to lay down your life by having conversations about race and racial injustice. This is where you learn to be empathetic. Try to understand what it is like to live each day aware of your race, to always be on guard, and to feel like you must give up and keep the peace.

Then, try to imagine what it is like to live with trauma in your bones. Where you must remind your children to get home safely by following certain unwritten rules when stopped by the police. Try to imagine the anxiety in your heart when your son or daughter does not come home on time and you worry whether he or she is still alive. This is where you lay aside your agenda and have serious conversations about Black Lives Matter.

This is not a political conversation about an organization.  This is a conversation about putting the love of God into action in everyday situations. If you do a good job here, you will be modeling the values that our law enforcement officers need to respect and protect all people, regardless of skin color.

Invite others to engage in loving people.

As a follower of Jesus, this is where you put your love into action and invite others to join you in loving as they, too, have been loved. Jesus said, “You study the scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.

These are the very scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:40). In other words, the study of scripture leads you to Jesus. In the love you have received in and through him, you stand up, speak out, and work for justice.

It is important that you do not miss this action. The whole purpose and point of the scripture are to lead you to Jesus and to follow him into the world so that the world might be who and what God created it to be. Truly, this is not up for debate or negotiation.

The Bible can give you truth, wisdom, guidance, hope, encouragement, inspiration, warning, correction, and so on, but it does not give you life. Only Jesus gives you life.  And Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

This is the place for action. This where you and your church can make a public statement against racism and for anti-racism.  This is where you can boldly proclaim “Black Lives Matter” because you are loved, regardless of skin color. 

What’s Your Next Step?

Lesslie Newbigin wrote, “It is a terrible misunderstanding of the Gospel to think that it offers us salvation while relieving us of responsibility for the life of the world, for the sin and sorrow and pain with which our human life and that of our fellow men and women are so deeply interwoven.” 

With that in mind, what one step will you take to address racism. I know it can be confusing, but you must start somewhere. So, as a Jesus follower, seeking to grow in your relationship with Christ, with your church, and with the community, what one step will you take to address racism? 

There are books to read, conversations to have, and relationships to develop. There are lessons to learn, habits to unlearn, and people to encounter. Not everyone is in the same place in their understanding and participation in racism. But it is past time to begin. What one step will you take to address racism in your life, your church, and your community? 

Please know that you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are available to assist you and your congregation to deepen your relationships as you face the evil of racism.  

If you are reading this sentence, know that I am praying for you and your ministry.  Now, pray for me that I will become more the person God has created me to be for this time in history. I may be weary, but I have not lost hope.   

How are you doing this week? Last week I asked that question in relation to leading the mission. This week I am asking the question in relation to you personally? How are you doing? To be the leader needed for this time, you must keep yourself healthy and focused.  You can’t lead others to become who God created them to be if you aren’t at peace with yourself, your work, and with God.

In the midst of all the noise and chaos of our everyday living, it can be hard to feel at peace. It can be so hard that we can go days, weeks, even months without feeling a true sense of calm. I understand. There are days that it would feel good just to feel good for a change. 

You Are a Leader

I want to remind you that you are the leader for this time. You are leading in ways you never imagined. Now I get it. On any given day, as you are learning another aspect of technology, there are people upset that they are not back in the sanctuary. 

As you work with them, you get an email from someone who points out that the guidelines say “no more than 10 persons” should gather. Then, there is the person who is upset that you have said something about racism and loving your neighbor. All you want is to be the pastor, preacher, and leader you know you can be. 

Before the Pandemic

Before the pandemic, you had time to read and reflect and enjoy the relationships. Now, you feel as if you are rushing from event to (virtual) event, from conversation to conversation, and you might even feel the world would be a better place if it weren’t for people. (It’s ok to admit you’ve said it, too.) 

I get it. It would be nice to have a little time and space for yourself. It would be great if you felt some peace and calm.  

If you are willing to take a little journey with me, I guarantee peacefulness at the end. So, if you are willing, here is what I want you to do.

1. Read

Get your Bible or open your Bible app.

  • Read Lamentations 3, paying attention to verses 22-24. I am using the Good News Translation. “The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning and as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so in him I put my hope.” (Good News Translation)  

2. Reflect

Consider the context of Lamentations.

Israel is in captivity.

The people are grieving. The writer, speaking on behalf of the people, writes, “I am the one who knows what it is to be punished by God. He drove me deeper and deeper into darkness and beat me again and again with merciless blows.” (Verses 1-3) All they have known and depended upon is gone. Their lives have been disrupted.  The people are totally preoccupied with their own pain.

They are grieving physically.

The people are weary. “He (God) has left my flesh open and raw and has broken my bones” (Verse 4). When you are physically weary, you will do just about anything, other than what you are doing, to get past the weariness.

 They are grieving spiritually.

“He (God) has bound me in chains; I am a prisoner with no hope of escape” (Verse 7). The people feel like there is no future and things will not get better. They want God to comfort them, but God cannot be reached. “I cry aloud for help, but God refuses to listen” (Verse 8).

They are grieving psychologically.

Read verses 10-18. The imagery is of being attacked and alone, humiliated with no hope. “The thought of my pain, my homelessness, is bitter poison. I think of it constantly, and my spirit is depressed” (Verses 19-20). No matter how much we think we are prepared for the loss, it always comes with pain. The writer of Lamentations had been preparing for this for 40 years, yet the people are still surprised.

But they continue to pray.

They do what they know to do. Earlier in the chapter, they could not pray.  They didn’t feel like praying. They didn’t think praying made any difference.  Remember, “Even when I cry out, God shuts out my prayer” (Verse 8).

So here is a turning point. 

What do you do when your experience does not match what you have been taught or what you expect? The writer chooses to embrace hope. The writer chooses to hope in God’s goodness. Remember, hope is shaped and strengthened through a personal and internal struggle. “The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning and as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, in the Lord I will place my hope” (verses 22-24).

The writer, speaking on behalf of the people, places their confidence in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God.  God’s mercy never ceases.

3. Respond

Take the reflection of this scripture with you today. Think about how the truth of this scripture will come alive for you. To help stimulate your thinking:

  • Where might you experience God’s unfailing love and mercy?
  • In what you are facing, where will you embrace hope?
  • As you navigate the changes brought about by a pandemic, how will you show your trust in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?
  • As you lead and teach about anti-racism, how will you show your trust in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?

4. Return

At the end of day, or at a time of reflection upon the scripture and your interactions of the day, consider:

  •  Where did you experience God’s unfailing love and mercy today?

Remember, God’s love will not run out.  God’s merciful love will not dry up. The love of God is created new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.

A Pattern for Living with Jesus 

This pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, Return” is a great practice of creating a little time and space to be connected to God. It provides you the opportunity to recognize God every day even in the midst of the chaos and confusion. Your connection to God is what brings the peace that allows you to become who you were created to be.

So, what is one thing you will do to create a little time and space for yourself?  What is one thing you will do to place your confidence and hope in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?

Remember, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are available to assist you along your journey. Head over to the podcast and explore episodes 122-128 or 129-131 to use this pattern to explore discipleship in the context of Matthew or John’s gospels. 

So, now, how are you? May you always be as blessed as you are a blessing!

How are you doing this week? Over the past several months we have talked about navigating a pandemic, addressing the evils of racism, and becoming the leader God has created you to be.  We have not focused as much upon our mission. So, my question today is related to our mission, “How are you doing with leading and nourishing Jesus followers to make a difference in their communities and the world?” 

Our Responsibilities

Maybe a better way to ask the question is, “How are you leading the people entrusted to your care in responding to the pandemic and to racism?”  One of the misunderstandings of Christians today is to think that the Gospel offers us salvation while relieving us of responsibility for the life and well-being of the people in our communities, neighborhoods, and cities.

The pain and sorrow we have experienced over the past several months is interwoven into the fabric of our culture and deeply influence the thoughts and actions of all of us. Our mission, as Jesus followers, is to invite and equip people to not only address the pain and sorrow but to address the evil, the root causes, of the pain and sorrow. 

How are you doing in leading your congregation in reaching out and receiving people, introducing them to God’s love in Jesus, practicing the teachings of Jesus, and engaging them in God’s love as they navigate the pandemic and respond to racism? 

It’s NOT About a Political Position

To make disciples of Jesus is to call and equip people to be signs and agents of God’s justice in all human affairs. An invitation to accept the name of Jesus but fail to call people to be engaged in God’s love in everyday life is not Christian and must be rejected as false. 

How are you leading the people entrusted to your care in responding to the pandemic and to racism? Another misunderstanding of many Christians in our culture today is to think that the Christian faith is a particular political position.  People tend to politicize everything from “wearing a mask” to “Black Lives Matter.”

Our mission is not a political mission, it is a Gospel mission. A mission of love. Another way of saying it is, “Jesus didn’t call it ‘social justice.’ He simply called it love.  If we would only love our neighbors beyond comfort, borders, race, religion, and other differences that we have allowed to be barriers, ‘social justice’ would be a given.  Love makes justice happen.” (Bernice King in response to the death of John R. Lewis). 

Jesus Moves Us Beyond Self-Interest

Now let’s be clear, the uncomfortable and unsettling conversations we are having about racism, white privilege, and white supremacy are not on the same scale as what many in our marginalized communities have experienced.  Yet, the conversations are necessary.

The mandates to wear masks for the health and well-being of the people around us are not on the same scale of Constitutional rights. Yet, the wearing of masks is necessary. Our mission moves us beyond self-interest to moral conversations and actions. As uncomfortable as any conversation or action might be, loving our neighbors is enough to motivate us to change our behavior for the sake of God’s love and care for all people.  

To make disciples of Jesus is more than inviting people to the church.  It is to equip them to be signs and agents of God’s justice in all aspects of human life. To invite people to accept the name of Jesus is not an invitation to a particular political platform but is to immerse people in God’s love and to engage them in developing life changing relationships in their communities and the world.   

Reminders

So, as you are leading the people entrusted to your care, remember:

  1. We are all created by God.  No one is created to be superior or inferior. Each of us, as human beings, regardless of color, race, nationality, or gender is created by God.
  2. As Jesus followers, we know that to love God is to love our neighbor and to love our neighbor is to love God.  Regardless of political persuasion, to love God is to love neighbor.  Regardless of color, race, or gender, to love God is to love neighbor, to love others, and to love one another.
  3. Each human being, regardless of race or color, is created in God’s image and is called to faith.
  4. To love one another is one-way people will know that we are Jesus followers and that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  5. The way we treat one another we treat Jesus.

Your Next Step

How are you leading the people entrusted to your care in responding to the pandemic and to racism? Take a moment to think of the people entrusted to your care. With the people God has given to you to love in mind, I want you to do the following: 

  • Give God thanks for the opportunity to live and work in this time of chaos and confusion.
  • Confess your need for a relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your care.
  • Place the people, situations, and circumstances into God’s hands.
  • Ask God to use you as an instrument of peace and love.  

O God, thank you for the opportunity to live and work at this time in history. I confess that I do not know what to do, but I do know I need you and I need the people you have given me to love and to serve. As I place my relationships, the church, and the people around me into your hands, I pray that you will use me as an instrument of your peace and love. By your grace, I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus.  Amen.  

If you need and want help, contact us, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are ready to assist you in leading the mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world.    

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. 

In a recent Gallup survey of 10,000 followers, what surfaced as some of the top characteristics people needed from their leaders were direction, faith, and guidance. 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. 

What is Hope?

Hope means different things to different people. To some it has religious connotations. To others it’s a strong feeling that motivates them to do great things. Some people think of hope as wishful thinking where they wish for something but have no control over the outcome. Still others see hope as a genuine possibility of making dreams reality by reaching goals. When there is a clear vision and a defined direction, hope is more than wishful thinking. It is the driving force of being able to evaluate the current situation, navigate discouragement, adapt to new realities, and renew the vision of what can and will be.  Hope keeps you focused in the midst of the challenges. 

Hope is the one thing that lifts our spirits and keeps us going despite the difficulties we face. It looks beyond the hardships to a better and brighter world. It keeps us believing and expecting that out of today’s darkness, God’s light will shine brightly. Hope is seeing the future we can attain by moving forward and, when needed, adjusting and adapting to the changing landscape. The importance of hope cannot be overstated. 

As a hopeful leader, you are constantly in pursuit of what ought to be. You are holding before those entrusted to your care the picture of what’s next and empowering them to see beyond today’s challenges to tomorrow’s answers.

C. Richard Snyder, in his book Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths, defines hope as an emotional state accompanied by clear thoughts about what the future can be and how to get there”. He contends there are three main things that make up hopeful thinking:

  • Goals – Approaching life in a goal-oriented way,
  • Pathways – Finding different ways or pathways to achieve your goals,
  • Agency – Believing that you can use those different pathways to achieve your goals.

Are YOU a Hope-Filled Leader? 

Hope-filled leaders are:

1. Goal-Oriented

They always have the end in mind. They know their present situation and context, but don’t allow it to steal their joy. Hope-filled leaders are happy where they are but refuse to stay there. They are forward-thinking, inspiring, enthusiastic, and positive. They believe tomorrow holds great opportunities and motivates others to move toward those opportunities.

 2. Adaptable

Hope-filled leaders embrace change because they know change is the best path to their goal.  They are able to adapt to change because they know that change is the fastest path to growth and improvement. Leaders filled with hope are innovative and try new things at the risk of failing. They understand that failure is not final. In fact, it is required. They also know that courage is necessary to reach the goal, so they are willing to step out, to become vulnerable, and to risk change for the overall health of the people and institutions entrusted to their care.

3. Focused on people

They focus on the strengths and gifts of the people around them. They offer encouragement with care and compassion as they equip others to reach the goal. Because they are confident in where they are going and are openly inviting others on the path, they are able to partner with people, engaging their strengths and gifts, to live into the new opportunities and possibilities along the path.  

4. Able to Navigate the Challenges

They have their eyes upon the goal.  It is the goal that moves them forward.  They know where they are going and are able to navigate the challenges to get there. They adapt to unexpected changes, face the unanticipated obstacles, and depend upon the strengths and gifts of others to follow through and to reach the goal. Because they have built trust and credibility, they have what is needed to complete the journey and to reach the goal. 

We live in a time when people are looking for leaders who can make a positive impact. They are looking for inspiration that speaks to their needs.  They want and need a leader who instills hope for the future. 

Your Turn

Take a moment to think of the people entrusted to your care. What is one thing you can do today to instill hope in their lives? 

If and when you need and want help, contact us at transformingmission.org, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are ready to assist you in becoming a hope-filled leader. Hope is one characteristic every leader needs to be the leader people want to follow.