Tag Archive for: Jesus

As a Christ-centered leader, your primary purpose is to focus on God’s mission and to equip those whom you lead to do the same.  So, as a reminder, it is not your mission, and it is not your church’s mission. It is God’s mission. It is important that you start with the knowledge and understanding of “missio Dei,” God’s mission. 

It is also important to understand that you and the people you lead are invited into God’s mission through baptism. Each of you are claimed by God and commissioned to be about God’s business of loving others as you have been loved.  So, your primary call is to be who God created you to be. You are a “beloved child of God” gifted for loving and serving the people you encounter every day in everyday situations. Every aspect of your life and ministry is focused upon God’s mission. 

Your Priority is Jesus

To say it another way, your priority call is to follow Jesus and to teach, equip, and lead others to do the same. When Jesus becomes your priority, you love others as you have been loved and the church fulfills God’s mission by loving the people in the community, the neighborhood, and the world. 

When Jesus is the priority, the church itself is not only a product of God’s love but is compelled and destined to share God’s love. The mission flows directly through every Jesus follower and every group of people who define themselves by God’s love. So, to focus on God’s mission is to make Jesus your priority and become agents of God’s love in the world. 

For a more in-depth exploration, read the other blogs in the Preparing for Mission series:

Now, let’s move on to structuring for God’s mission. Let’s look again at Matthew 28:19-20.    

Read Matthew 28:19-20 

 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Reflect on HOPE

(To get a firm foundation for Building on Hope, read Preparing For Mission: What is God’s Mission? Part 2) 

Using Jesus’ commissioning of his followers, Matthew provides a structure of HOPE upon which you can build a system for living into and equipping others regarding God’s mission. Although it is an imposed structure, it is one way to live into loving others as you have been loved in and through Jesus. 

HOPE is an acronym for Hospitality, Offering Christ, Practicing Faith, Engaging the Community. So, since it is God’s mission and you are invited to participate in it, Jesus sends you out to live into and to participate in God’s mission. He says, “Go…” 

The word “go” literally means “as you go.”  It carries with it both presence and movement. The idea here is that wherever you are, you are in mission. For example, as you go (wherever you are) to the office, to school, to the grocery store, on vacation, etc. These are the times and places you are set apart to live a life of love. These are the times and places you live in the life of HOPE. 

Let’s look at the structure of HOPE. 

H – HOSPITALITY

Verse 19 notes, “make disciples of all nations.” The word “nations” literally means “ethnic” or “people.”  “All nations” is an all-inclusive word. At the risk of being over-simplistic, it includes all people. So, wherever you go, you are participating in God’s mission. At every moment you are working for the well-being of the people you encounter. 

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” You have been invited, called, and commissioned to be a person of hospitality, where you live, work, and play, for the purpose of loving others as you have been loved. 

You are a person of hospitality as you reach out and receive the people God sends your way. Why do you receive them? It is who you are as a follower of Jesus. Hospitality is God’s business. You reach and receive all of God’s people, loving each of them as you have been loved. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you are modeling hospitality for the people entrusted to your care so that each of them will become persons of hospitality by loving others as they too have been loved. 

You reach and receive all people, for the glory of God. 

O – OFFER CHRIST

 Verse 19: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  The words “to baptize” carry with them something more than water baptism.  “To baptize” means to dip or to immerse. As you encounter people, you love them. You dip them, you immerse them in the love of God by the way you receive them and care for them. But only that, you immerse them in the “name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” 

The words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit refer to the movement of God. We are instructed to immerse those becoming Jesus followers in the movement of God, or into “missio Dei,” God’s mission.  We are instructed to saturate them in God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus. So, wherever you are or whatever you are doing you have the opportunity to love the people you encounter. You have the opportunity to invite people to learn of Jesus and to immerse them in God’s love in such a way they too will love others. 

The movement of God’s grace and the mission of God’s love, agape, is made real in and through you and through your relationships with the people you encounter each day. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you are offering Christ, God’s agape, to the people you meet by what you say, how you say it, and by the way you receive and love them. Your action of agape is a greater invitation than your words. You become so immersed in the love, the movement, the mission of God, that all you say and do invites others to love as they are being loved. 

You offer Christ by the way you live your life and interact with the people you meet each day. By your living, you are inviting people into God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love. 

P – PRACTICE

 Verse 20” “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” The word “teaching” for Matthew refers to what he wants you to do about “holiness.”  It is what you learn as a follower of Jesus. It is what the movement of God is all about.  At the very heart of “holiness” or “righteousness” is relationship, relationship with God and with one another. 

This “holy living” or different living implies a right relationship with family, friends, strangers, and enemies.  It includes being proactive in how you treat others.  You act on behalf of others not because they have acted on your behalf but because you have been loved by God in and through Jesus. 

This “holy living” means having integrity. It means being as good as your word. It means you can be trusted when you let your “yes” mean “yes” and “no” mean “no.”  It means that you are not conflicted but integrated into your living.  How you act and relate to others grows out of who you are, from the convictions of your heart. 

This “holy living” does not get tripped up on things but seeks first the kingdom of God. The “holiness” of God is not focused on buildings or furniture, but upon people regardless of their economic, social, or political status. 

This “holy living” means your caring for others becomes so natural that you care for everyone the way you would care for Jesus. You care because that is who you are, a grace-filled Jesus follower who is putting your faith into action. 

This “holy living” means taking the initiative in forgiveness.  It means to forgive as many times as it takes to restore the relationships that are being broken.  It is the relationship that is important. 

The words “to obey” mean “to observe” or to “pay attention to.”  To obey “these things” means to practice what you are learning. To obey these things means to observe or pay attention to this holy living.  It is easy to talk about this “holy living,” but it is not so easy to live it.  To “obey” or “pay attention” means to do or to live these things.  It means to make these “holy living” a part of our daily living. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you lead others in practicing hospitality and in offering Christ in all they say and do. You practice faith by the way you love others. You practice faith by inviting others to practice what they are learning about “holy living” in relation to the people they meet each day. 

You nurture the people around you in God’s love and lead them into practicing God’s love in everyday situations and circumstances. 

E – ENGAGE

People are sent out into the community to live the life of love as they have experienced in and through you and other followers of Jesus. As they experience hospitality, they extend hospitality. As they are immersed in God’s love, they invite others to be immersed in God’s love. As they practice “holy living,” they are inviting others to experience and to practice God’s love and to live a holy life. 

Remember, you are sent out by Jesus. “Go” literally means “as you go.”  Wherever you are, you are set apart to live the life of love as experienced in and through Jesus.   

Verse 19: “make disciples.” A disciple” is a student or follower. You have been invited, called, and commissioned as a follower of Jesus. This is important. You have not chosen Jesus. Jesus has chosen you. You are a follower of Jesus. 

Now, some people misread the word “make” as coercion, but that is not what Matthew means by “make” disciples. Matthew is concerned about the “holy living” as developing healthy relationships. So, how do you make disciples? You make disciples, followers, and students of Jesus, the same way Jesus did. You love people. You bless them, help them, and care for them. Just as with Jesus, (agape) the well-being of people becomes your priority.  

You practice the love of Jesus so you might become like Jesus. When you read the Gospel of John, you discover that the followers of Jesus are known by the way they love one another. So, to “make disciples” means to love people as you have been loved.  It is to engage in the love of God in the places you live, work, play, and associate with people. 

Verse 20: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  The greatest part of this “holy living” is that you are not left alone to do these things. The Risen Christ is with you.  God does not leave you to fend for yourself. The very birth of Jesus is announced as “and they shall name him Emmanuel which means, ‘God is with us.’” The mission of making disciples is God’s mission. You have been invited to participate in God’s mission.  If God calls you, God will equip you. When God calls and equips, God will be with you, even to the end. 

So, you have been given a structure of HOPE to help facilitate God’s mission in and through the church. The structure of HOPE equips followers of Jesus to live out God’s mission in the world. HOPE assists you to become who God created you to be, and who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

Today be aware of how you model HOPE for the people you lead. Be alert to opportunities to welcome others as Christ has welcomed you.” Take notice of the occasions you have to offer Christ by what you say and do. Be mindful of your “holy living” in your interactions with the people you meet. Begin to build a structure of HOPE by the way you model hope in everyday situations and circumstances. 

Prayer

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

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways were you hospitable? Who did you invite into God’s movement of grace and into God’s mission of agape? How did you practice your faith? With whom did you practice? How did you engage your community in God’s mission, God’s love? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? What will you do differently tomorrow?

When preparing for mission, begin by learning about “missio Dei,” the mission of God. As you listen and learn, set your focus on the love of God you have experienced in and through Jesus. 

Part of your preparation is helping individuals know that they are “beloved children of God,” and that God has something special for them to do as God’s children. Improve the acoustics so that people can hear God’s call amid the many callings in their lives.    

Make Jesus Your Priority

As you prepare, help people be about God’s business. Make Jesus your priority for living and loving. With the competing voices vying for your attention, it is easy to give into the loudest voices. The default is to depend upon your own goodness and effectiveness. But, when you make Jesus your priority, you focus on God’s goodness and upon becoming who God has created and gifted you to be.   

As a Christ-centered leader, it is your responsibility to model God’s call. It is your responsibility to lead people into God’s mission. As you model what it means to follow Jesus, you begin to reorient your perspectives and thinking, and you gain a clearer focus on what is most important.   

Put God’s Love in Action

So, what is most important? Putting God’s love, agape, into action. When Jesus is your priority, God’s love permeates every aspect of your life. Jesus becomes your reason for living and loving. 

The goal is for every person and every congregation to be a conduit of God’s love. When Jesus is the priority, people begin to love one another as they have been loved. When Jesus is the priority, the church begins to love the people in the community. So, as you prepare for mission, make Jesus your priority.    

Look at how Paul talks about making Jesus the priority in his letter to the Philippians. 

Read Philippians 3:5-14 

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 

12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal, but I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have laid hold of it, but one thing I have laid hold of: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal, toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 

Reflect on Philippians 3:5-14 

Paul wrote to the church in Philippi in response to teachers who were trying to influence the church by focusing more on themselves and their credentials than on Jesus and what it meant to follow him. 

Essentially Paul is saying, “If I were to enter a bragging contest, I would win. Not for what I have but for who I am.  With my identity, my genealogy, my family tree, my connections, my standing in the community, I win any bragging contest.”  

First, Paul was a Jew.  

With a little study of the scripture, you will find that Paul was proud to be a member of the house of Israel. The Jews had hung onto their faith in God. They had kept the light on when darkness was everywhere. They had given the world the basis for moral and ethical standards like the Ten Commandments, and they contributed the writings that shaped three great religions in the world, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Paul was born a Jew and was proud to be a Jew.   

Second, Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin. 

His family, Benjamin, was the smallest tribe, but was a productive tribe in Judaism. The first King of Israel, King Saul, was from his tribe. Paul was proud to have been named after King Saul. He was Saul of Tarsus. 

Third, Paul was a Pharisee. 

Different Jews had different views, but Paul was proud to be a Pharisee. It simply meant that he believed in the Bible. The scripture was central to all of life. It was important to know the Scripture, to listen to the Scripture being read, and to obey the Scripture in everyday living. Paul was known to be at the top of his class in learning and knowing Scripture. In fact, he had such passion for the scripture and was so conscientious that he could not stand anyone who distorted it or weakened it in any way. He was blameless under the Law, so he was proud to be a Pharisee. His character, his family, and his genealogy were unsurpassed. 

Fourth, being a Pharisee meant the synagogue was important. 

When the Temple was destroyed, the Pharisees built a substitute called the synagogue. They built synagogues everywhere they went. It was for worshiping God, listening to the Scripture, and keeping the covenant. Paul was proud of his heritage, proud of his faith, and proud of the witness and work of the Pharisees. 

Paul’s Heritage

With all the reasons he had to brag, he essentially says, “I count all this a garbage. My character and my heritage are no longer my ultimate priorities.”  Paul was not a man who lived with regret. He was not ashamed of his past and he was not torn up inside and burdened with guilt. All of his zeal and achievements, all his past and background were good. He did not have bad habits to be given up or guilty actions to be lived down. So why would he say all that good stuff was garbage? 

Look at chapter two of his letter. Paul believed Jesus was with God but did not count being with God or being equal to God something to hold on to. Instead, Jesus emptied himself, became a human being, and was obedient by putting his life on the line, dying on a cross. That is who Jesus is. That is what the anointed one is like. 

Downward Mobility

For Paul, being a follower of Jesus was not about upward mobility but downward mobility. Jesus had come from the presence of God, from all that was good. 

He came from, as the old Gospel song said, “the ivory palaces,” from the throne of glory, from the angels, from God. He possessed all that was good, but he tossed it and became a human being like you and me, obedient even to death. 

Become More Like Jesus

What would happen if, by the grace of God, you reoriented your perspectives and thinking, set these things aside and became more like Jesus? What would happen if you began to love, to care, to give, to serve, to suffer, and to sacrifice like Jesus?” 

Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal, but I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of me. I do not consider that I have laid hold of it, but one thing I have laid hold of: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal, toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

What could happen if you became more like Jesus? Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Respond to Philippians 3:5-14

Paul thought that if you are going to be a follower of Jesus then you should be like Jesus. Here are the questions to reflect upon today and everyday as you set your goal on being like Jesus. 

  • How can I claim to be a follower of Jesus and seek upward mobility?
  • What do I do with my pride?
  • What do I do with my agenda?
  • What do I do with my selfishness?
  • What do I do with my independence?
  • What do I do with my calendar to which I may or may not add a little church?
  • How can I tack on my Christianity around the edges and keep my life intact when this new life is in the name of Jesus, who gave it all up, took it to the heavenly dump, and came down here and became a servant? 

Today, be aware of the moments you insist on your own way. Take note of the times you let people know who you are as a way of getting ahead or as a way of getting what you want. Keep in mind what it means to have Jesus as your priority in all you say, think, and do. 

Be mindful of what you need to set aside or take “to the dump” to become who God has created you to be. 

Prayer

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

Return

Give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways were you aware of following Jesus? Of giving up your pride? Your agenda? Your selfishness? Your independence? Your desire to put Jesus second to what you wanted or desired? What did you take to “the dump” today? Who were the people you encountered? How did you experience God’s love? In what ways did you model and share God’s love? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? What will you do differently tomorrow?

How do you describe your call to ministry? Usually, a call to ministry involves a deep sense of the presence of God. It is related to an event or experience of deep spiritual conviction. Sometimes a call to ministry is related to a particular vocation. It is articulated as a “calling.” We have made professional ministry a “calling,” as well as teaching, being a nurse, doctor, or lawyer to name a few vocations. 

Your Call

But when focused upon God’s mission, “missio Dei,” how do you describe your call? If the mission is God’s mission, isn’t your call rooted in God’s purpose? Isn’t your call to be about God’s business? 

Please understand, I am not speaking against a particular calling, but I am trying to articulate a primary call. There are no biblical examples of someone being called to employment. Work is not your primary calling. Your primary calling is not to something but to Someone. 

Your primary call is to follow Jesus. God values you for who you are and who are created to be, not for what you can produce or achieve with your work. 

Vocational Calling

Your work, or vocational calling, is a secondary calling. Your primary call is to be who God created you to be. You are a “beloved child of God” gifted for loving and serving the people you encounter every day in everyday situations. Your secondary calling is shaped by your primary call, whether it be within paid employment, your home, or volunteer activities. Secondary callings matter, but only because your primary call matters most. 

As a Christ-centered leader, preparing people for God’s mission, it is important to assist individuals and the church to respond to God’s call to follow. The bible has stories of people who have responded to God’s call. They respond to the invitation to follow God every day and many times in ordinary ways. Let’s look at Matthew 4:18-22 as one example of a story of answering God’s call.   

Read: Matthew 4:18-22 

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishers. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Reflect

The call of the first disciples is the beginning of the church. Matthew uses Hebrew history as the background for his story of the formation of a new community. When he tells the story of Jesus’ baptism and temptation, he is summarizing the history of Israel in the Red Sea and testing in the wilderness. Matthew wants us to know that the new community, the church, is being formed in response to God’s action in and through Jesus. 

Context of Matthew

To better understand the call of the disciples, let’s put the story into context. Immediately preceding this story, Matthew sets the context of the call in the Old Testament when he quotes Isaiah, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Isaiah 11:2). For Matthew, Jesus is the great light. A new day is dawning. So, Matthew writes, “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” 

From Matthew’s perspective, there is a great reversal of power and authority. The spiritual darkness of people will be overcome by the dawn of the new age when the ideal king, the Messiah appears. The Messiah, the new authority, is Jesus.   

The word “repent” literally means a “change of mind” or “change of perspective.” For Matthew, this is a reorientation of your life based on God’s acts of grace and redemption, already seen and experienced in the ministry of Jesus. Repentance is not about sorrow or remorse, but a change in the direction of your life. In other words, the call is to a new orientation for living, loving, and acting.   

The Call from Matthew’s Perspective 

Matthew has placed the call of the disciples in a context in which his hearers can understand and respond. So, look at the story from Matthew’s perspective.  

Simon, who is called Peter, is the first disciple. From Matthew’s perspective, that is important. Peter is the foundation rock on which Jesus builds the new community. Matthew uses a play on words, “You are ‘Rock,’ and on this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18).  

The fishermen represent people who work with their hands to make a living. They are not wealthy, but they own boats, have houses, and employees. They are comparable to middle-class businesspeople of today.   

Reorienting Our Lives

They are already at work. They have something useful and important to do and are not looking for a new life. They do not seek Jesus; he seeks and finds them. The words “As he walked by” are taken from Moses’ encounter with God in Exodus 33:18-25. It refers to the call of the prophets in the Old Testament. 

In other words, Jesus does not fill an obvious vacuum or meet an obvious need in the lives of those being called. But, like the call of prophets in the Old Testament, the call is intrusive and disruptive, calling those who hear to reorient their perspectives of life and work. 

The Called Out Ones

This is what God does to make followers. Here is where “repent” comes in. It is a change of perspective because this is different from what people would have understood a disciple to be. In Judaism, you become a disciple by seeking out a teacher to follow. But for the new community, you are called and invited to become a follower of Jesus. 

The words, “those who are called” refers to the act of God in calling them, not to their own freedom and responsibility of choosing. The word for church in the New Testament literally means “the called-out ones.”  As difficult as it is to accept, you are not choosing Jesus, Jesus is choosing you. You are called out to live and love differently. 

Called to Follow

The words “follow me” are significant. Matthew is telling the story to relate to his hearers. Fishing for some was a metaphor for teaching. For others, it meant the work of restoring the people of Israel. The bottom line is, that the image does not mean, in the modern sense, that you are being called to learn how to use the proper bait to win souls for Jesus. You are called to follow, to become who God had created you to be. 

With the words, “they left their nets…” and “they left their father… and followed” show that the call of Jesus has higher priority than the sacred obligations of family and work. Matthew is not just reporting what happened once in history but is presenting a scene of becoming a disciple and the forming of the new community.   

The followers of Jesus are not a volunteer society for promoting good but are those who have been drafted into service. Being called and chosen by Jesus is to reorient your living and loving. Your priorities of living and loving are directed by Jesus, not by work or family.    

Follow Me

Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Immediately the mission of God became their priority purpose in their everyday living. It reoriented their relationships and permeated their lives.   

As a Christ-centered leader, you work with people who are gifted in administration, finance, maintenance, education, etc. Each person has a passion for some form of work, but the primary call is to follow Jesus. 

In relation to God’s mission, you have the responsibility to assist people to first hear God’s call to follow Jesus and second, to live out that call in relationship with the people they encounter each day. Whether family, friends, colleagues, strangers, or enemies, God’s call is to love one another, as you have been loved. 

When you become a follower of Jesus, God’s mission becomes your priority. It not only impacts your personal passions, relationships, and decisions but reorients how you live with and love others. Living and loving are no longer based upon what you think and feel but upon God’s love in every situation and circumstance you find yourself. To answer God’s call is to be about God’s business. In other words, answering God’s call is who you are, and who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

Throughout the day, be mindful of your call to follow Jesus. Be aware of how your call impacts your interactions with people, your relationships, and your decisions. Keep in mind that God is placing people in your life to be loved and cared for. Who are those people? How will you respond as a follower of Jesus?

Prayer

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

Return

Give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. 

  • In what ways were you aware of following Jesus? 
  • Who were the people you encountered? 
  • How did you experience God’s love? 
  • In what ways did you model and share God’s love? 
  • With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

How do you prepare for mission? What information do you need? Whose direction do you follow? When it comes to mission, information and direction are important, but who you listen to, and who you follow is crucial. When it comes to mission, it matters where you start.

Listening to God   

When preparing for mission, start with listening to God and learning about God’s mission, the “missio Dei.” In other words, get involved in God’s business. It is your responsibility, as a Christ-centered leader, to focus upon, learn about, and live into God’s mission. 

It is your responsibility to be about God’s business, not only for yourself but for the people entrusted to your care. As you learn about God’s mission, you equip people to be about God’s business. You prepare for mission by introducing people to God’s business and equipping them to be about God’s business. 

What is God’s Business?

Being about God’s business begs the question, “What is God’s business?” The one true and authentic business of the church is God’s love, agape. Agape is to work for the well-being of people. Because you have been loved by God, you now love as God has loved you. With that in mind, God’s love flows directly through every person and every congregation who follows Jesus.

When people love one another as they have been loved, they are about God’s business. When the church is loving the people in the community it is about God’s business. So, what is God’s business? It is loving God and loving others. It is loving others as you have been loved in and through Jesus. 

Get Involved in God’s Business

“How do we get involved in God’s business?” The truth is we are invited to participate in God’s business through baptism.  At every baptism you are reminding people of who they are, “a beloved child of God.” 

You are reminding them of their “call” to ministry. As much as you might want to make baptism a personal and individualistic event, it is more of a claim upon your life and a call to be about God’s business in the community and the world. 

Baptism is an invitation into God’s business and “to remember your baptism” is to be reminded of your invitation.  

Let’s look at Matthew 3:13-17 as one story of being invited into God’s business. 

Read Matthew 3:13-17 

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him, and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  

Reflect on Matthew 3:13-17

At his baptism, Jesus was claimed by God. The words, “This is my son” come from Psalm 2. The words were spoken on the occasion of the crowning of the king of Israel. Jesus was claimed by God to be king or to have authority. As you know, his kingdom is not a geographic location but, in the hearts, minds, and actions of people. Baptism is the acknowledgment of trust and obedience to the “authority” of Jesus in your life.  

So, at your baptism, you were claimed by God and given authority to be about God’s business. 

Baptism is a Commissioning to Ministry

Then the words, “My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” comes from Isaiah 42. It is part of the description of the suffering servant of God, the one who gives his life. It means giving your life in loving, serving, and caring for people. In other words, here is my son, the servant, the one through whom I love others. Baptism is a commissioning to ministry. It is a commissioning to be about God’s business in the community and the world. 

So, at your baptism, you were commissioned to be about God’s business in the places you live, work, and play. You were commissioned to let God love others through you. 

You are a Beloved Child of God

When Jesus left the Jordan River, he went about God’s business of feeding, healing, caring for, and serving people. In each of the four gospels, there are stories of Jesus being about God’s business. John even tells us that Jesus knelt and washed the feet of his disciples as part of God’s business. 

As a leader, you are reminding people that they are God’s children, and as God’s children, they are about doing God’s business of feeding, healing, caring, serving others in the love in which they are loved. When you say the words, “Remember your baptism,” you are reminding followers of Jesus to remember they are beloved children of God, and they are to be about God’s business of loving and serving other people.  

God’s Call and Commission

In the church, at every baptism, we are challenged to remember that God has claimed us as God’s children and has commissioned us to be about God’s business. As personal as people might want baptism to be, it is a communal event. 

The community of faith takes a vow to help you and all the baptized community to “Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”   

Claimed by God 

You have been claimed by God for something bigger than yourself, bigger than a denomination, bigger than your congregation. You are claimed by God to be about God’s business in your family, with the people with whom you work, and with every person you encounter.  

To remember your baptism is to remember to be about God’s business of love, care, and acceptance in response to God’s love and acceptance of you. You are a beloved child of God who has been commissioned to love others as you have been loved. It is a reminder to be about God’s business. 

Being about God’s business is who you are, and who you are is how you lead.  

Respond to God’s Call and Claim on Your Life

Throughout the day, be mindful of how you are living out your baptism. Be aware of how you are a part of God’s business in the lives of the people you encounter today.

Reflect upon this story told by Fred Craddock. He tells of being a pastor of a church in Custer City, Oklahoma.  The population was about 450. There were four churches in town: a Methodist church, a Baptist church, a Nazarene church, and a Christian church. Each church had its share of the population and the attendance rose and fell according to harvest time and the weather.

He said that the most consistent attendance in town was at the little café where all the men gathered while their wives and children attended one of the four churches. The attendance at the churches would fluctuate, but the attendance at the café was consistent. The men were always there discussing the weather, cattle, wheat bugs, and crops. 

The patron saint of the group was a man named Frank. He was a good, strong, rancher, farmer, and cattleman about seventy-seven years old. He was born into poverty but prospered over the years. He had his credentials, and all the men there at the café considered him to be their leader.  They would laugh and say, “Old Frank will never go to church.”  

Craddock said that he first met Frank on the street. After some small talk, Frank spoke up and said, “I work hard, and I take care of my family, and I mind my own business.” He said that as far as he was concerned, everything else is fluff. Craddock said he interpreted the words to mean, “Leave me alone; I’m not a prospect.”  

He said that is why he was surprised, the whole town was surprised, and the men at the café were bumfuzzled when Frank, at seventy-seven years old, presented himself one Sunday morning for baptism.  Some in the community said that Frank must be sick, They said he must be scared to meet his maker. Some said “He’s got heart trouble, going up to be baptized. I never thought old Frank would do that, but I guess when you get scared…”  

There were all kinds of stories. But Craddock asked him, “Frank, do you remember that little saying you used to give me so much? ‘I work hard, I take care of my family, and I mind my own business’?” 

Frank said, “Yeah, I remember. I said that a lot.”  

“Do you still say that?”  

He said, “Yes.”  

“Then what is the difference?”  

Frank said, “Before I was baptized, I didn’t know what my business was.”  

Frank discovered what his business was. It was to love, care for, and serve people. Craddock baptized Frank. He said, “I raised my hand and said in the presence of those who gathered,” ‘Upon your confession of faith in Jesus Christ and in obedience to the command, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.’”  

So, remember your baptism. You are a beloved Child of God who is about the business of God. And what is that business? To love, care for, and serve the people you encounter each day.  

As you go about God’s business, be aware of the people God sends you to love.  

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Help me be about your business as you make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen

Return

Give God thanks for inviting you to God’s business. In what ways are you aware of God’s business today? Who were the people you encountered? How did you experience God’s love? In what ways did you model and share God’s love? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? What will you do differently tomorrow?

This is Part 2 of a two-part blog on Preparing for Mission: What is Mission? 

As a Christ-centered leader, your primary purpose is to focus on the mission and to equip those you lead to do the same. In part one of PREPARING FOR MISSION: What is mission? We explored “mission Dei,” and what God’s mission means for you and for the church. 

Mission: It Matters Where You Start

Fundamentally, when it comes to mission, it matters where you start. The mission is God’s mission. Although we do a lot of talking about it, the mission is not the church’s mission. And even though you are the leader focused on the mission, it is not your mission. To start with anyone other than God is to misunderstand “missio Dei” and is to lead people away from a “loving and sending God” to “how can we get people to do what we want them to do” God. 

It is God’s mission, and we are invited to participate in it. As we explored in Part 1, God’s love is the one true and authentic principle of the church. When the church is loving the people in the community it is fulfilling God’s mission, God’s purpose. The church itself is not only a product of God’s love but is compelled and destined to share God’s love. The mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith who follows Jesus. 

So, a working definition of mission for the church is a community of God’s people who define themselves by God’s love, organize themselves around God’s love, and who become agents of God’s love in the world. 

With God’s mission for the church in mind, let’s look at Matthew’s call to God’s mission.     

Read: Matthew 28:16-20 

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Reflect 

So, this scripture is Matthew’s way of telling his followers how to live the “holy” set-apart life, the life of love. Jesus is sending his followers out to love others into being his followers.    

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” 

Authority

The biblical definition of the word authority is understood and used to describe the power or responsibility given by God. In this case, it is the power or responsibility given to Jesus. From Matthew’s perspective, that authority was to teach and instruct the way to live before God a “holy” life, a life set apart by loving one another.   

Therefore

Therefore refers back to something earlier.  In this scripture, it refers back to Jesus having authority. In other words, Jesus is our authority regarding “holy living” or the set-apart life. Jesus gives us instructions on how to live as his followers. The instructions are as follows: 

“Go and make disciples of all nations…” 

Go

 The word “go” literally means “as you go.”  It carries with it both presence and movement. The idea here is that wherever you are at any particular time or place is the time and place. For example, as you go (wherever you are) to the office, to school, to the grocery store, on vacation, etc. These are the times and places you are set apart to live a life of love. 

Make Disciples

The word “disciple” means “student.” The word occurs over 250 times in The Acts of the Apostles. Every reference is connected to a person, and overwhelmingly that person is Jesus. So, to make disciples is to make students or followers of Jesus. 

Now, some people misread the word “make” as coercion, but that is not what Matthew means by “make” disciples. Matthew is concerned about the “holy living” as developing healthy relationships. 

So, how do you make disciples? You make disciples, followers, and students of Jesus, the same way Jesus did. You love people. You bless them, help them, and care for them. Just as with Jesus, (agape) the well-being of people becomes your priority.   

You might think of a disciple as a “grace-filled follower of Jesus who puts faith into action.”  You practice the love of Jesus so you might become like Jesus. When you read the Gospel of John, you discover that the followers of Jesus are known by the way they love one another. So, to “make disciples” means to love people as you have been loved.  It is to engage in the love of God in the places you live, work, play, and associate with people. 

Nations

The word “nations” literally means “ethnic groups” or “people.”  It is an all-inclusive word.  It includes everyone. So, wherever you go, you work for the well-being of everyone you encounter. 

As you go

As you go, wherever you are, you love people, you work for their good, so that they will love as they have been loved and grow into becoming “grace-filled” Jesus followers who put their faith and love into action. 

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” … 

Baptizing – The words “to baptize” carry with them something more than water baptism.  “To baptize” means to dip or to immerse. As you encounter people, you love them. You dip them, you immerse them in the love of God. 

Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – The words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit refer to the movement of God. We are instructed to immerse those becoming Jesus followers in the movement of God.  We are instructed to saturate them in God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus Christ.  So, wherever you are or whatever you are doing you have the opportunity to love the people you encounter. You have the opportunity to invite people to learn of Jesus and to immerse them in God’s love in such a way they too will love everyone. The movement of God is the agape of God. God’s love made real in and through your relationships. 

“Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” 

Teaching – The word “teaching” in this place refers to what Matthew wants us to know about “holiness.”  It is what we learn as followers of Jesus. It is what the movement of God is all about.  At the very heart of “holiness” or “righteousness” is relationship, relationship with God and with one another. 

Holy Living

This “holy living” or different living means a right relationship with family, friends, strangers, and enemies.  It includes being proactive in how you treat others.  You act on behalf of others not because they have acted on your behalf but because you have been loved by God in and through Jesus. 

This “holy living” means having integrity. It means being as good as your word. It means you can be trusted when you let your “yes” mean “yes” and “no” mean “no.”  It means that you are not conflicted but integrated in your living.  How you act and relate to others grows out of who you are, from the convictions of your heart. 

This “holy living” does not get tripped up on things but seeks first the kingdom of God. The “holiness” of God is not focused on buildings or furniture, but upon people whether they have money or not. 

This “holy living” means your caring for others becomes so natural that you care for everyone the way you would care for Jesus. You care because that is who you are, a grace-filled Jesus follower who is putting your faith into action. 

This “holy living” means being proactive in forgiveness.  It actually means to forgive as many times as it takes to restore the relationships that are being broken.  It is the relationship that is important. 

To obey

The words “to obey” mean “to observe” or to “pay attention to.”  To obey “these things” refers to the teaching on “holy living.”  To obey these things means to observe or pay attention to this holy living.  It is easy to talk about this “holy living,” but it is not so easy to live it.  To “obey” or “pay attention” means to do or to live these things.  It means to make these “holy living” a part of our daily living. 

“Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” 

The greatest part of this “holy living” is that you are not left alone to do these things. The Risen Christ is with you.  God does not leave you to fend for yourself. The very birth of Jesus is announced as “and they shall name him Emmanuel which means, ‘God is with us.’” The mission of making disciples is God’s mission. You have been invited to participate in God’s mission.  If God calls you, God will equip you. When God calls and equips, God will be with you, even to the end. 

So, the mission of the church, according to Matthew, is that wherever you go, love others with God’s love, invite them into God’s love, immerse them in God’s love, and model God’s love for them.  You make disciples the way Jesus did. You love people. You work for their good. As others experience God’s love through you, they will begin to love as they have been loved. This is “holy” or “righteous” living. It is working for the well-being of all people. It is God’s mission of love.  

This is Matthew’s description of “missio Dei” God’s mission. 

Respond 

Today, wherever you go, be aware of God’s mission in every situation and circumstance. Look for opportunities to model God’s love for those whom you lead. 

Reflect upon this story, told by Spring Bowlin, as an example of a simple act of love. She said, “My heart was warmed at Wal-Mart during lunch. The gentleman, in front of me in the checkout line, had his items scanned and the cashier had given him the cost of his purchase. 

“He took a handful of change out of his pocket and laid it on the counter. As he attempted to count out the coins, he became frustrated when he miscounted. Then, aware of me and others waiting behind him, he became embarrassed. He looked back at me apologetically and with hands and voice shaking he said, ‘I’m so sorry.’   

“The cashier patiently helped him separate his change on the counter, looked up at him and said, ‘No need to apologize, Honey. This is not a problem. Let’s count out the money together.’  

“Although he continued to apologize, both the cashier and I assured him it was okay. With the cashier’s help, he completed his transaction and shuffled away. 

Bowlin said, “I looked at this wonderful woman and said, ‘Thank you for being so caring and patient with him.’ 

“She shook her head and replied, ‘You shouldn’t have to thank me for helping someone who needs a little care and compassion. What’s wrong with our world is, we’ve forgotten how to love one another.’ 

Bowlin said to herself, ‘I want to be more like her.’” 

So, today, watch for opportunities to be an instrument of God’s love. Become aware of the people around you and how you might model God’s love in difficult situations and circumstances.

In other words, the church’s true and authentic organizing principle is love. When the church is loving the people in the community, it is fulfilling God’s mission. The church itself is not only a product of that love but is obligated and destined to extend that love. The mission of God flows directly through every believer and every community of faith that follows Jesus.

So, wherever you go, as you experience God’s love, remember to share God’s love so that others will want to be like you. Love, agape love, is God’s mission for you, me, and all creation.

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me yield a little more of myself so that I may love others as you have loved me in Jesus. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. With whom did you experience God’s love? In what situations were you able to model God’s love? How did you express God’s love? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? 

We have been exploring how the themes of Advent are opportunities for improving and enhancing your leadership. This fourth week let’s look at the theme of the birth of Jesus as another way of helping you become the leader needed at this time in history. 

How does rethinking the birth of Jesus help you be a Christ-centered leader? 

In a way, it is strange to “rethink the birth of Jesus” but slogans like “Let’s put Christ back into Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season” invite us and challenge us to look closely at the meaning and purpose of the birth of Jesus.    

The Birth of Jesus

When we read the biblical stories, we find that the birth of Jesus, in a stable to humble parents, 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. It is a story of incarnation. 

When you read Matthew’s story you find 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 presence is with us.  

John points out that Jesus was present at the beginning with God because Jesus is God. Then God becomes flesh and lives among us. The words “became flesh and dwelt with us” literally mean “to pitch his tent.” 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 teaches 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 and “hugging” us, each of us, holding us close in love. Paul tells us that God came to be with us to bring us back to him and to his purpose. 

Read Luke 2:1-20

So, let’s look at Luke’s story to discover how rethinking the birth of Jesus can help you lead through Advent. 

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room. 

8 Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”  

16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them, 19 and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them. 

Reflect 

The birth of Jesus is a story of an encounter with the divine in the midst of the ordinary. Luke uses ordinary people to introduce his good news. Within the historical context of political struggle, taxation, and the governmental and religious claims of Rome, Luke tells of God coming to be with us in the person of Jesus. In the midst of the ordinary, we have an encounter with God. 

Sometimes it seems that we have heard the story of the birth of Jesus so often that we miss Luke’s purpose in telling the story. As much as I like to think of Christmas as family gatherings, special decorations, lights, trees, candles, singing carols, and a winter wonderland, Luke’s first-century Christmas was different. 

God with Us

The birth of Jesus is about God coming to be with us. It is about light coming into our darkness.  Luke tells the story of Mary, a young woman from Nazareth, whose life is turned upside down by God’s call upon her life. In his first chapter, Luke tells of the angel Gabriel arriving with a greeting that is unsettling: “Favored woman! The Lord is with you.” As much as you and I might want to be favored by God, to be in God’s favor means God has some extraordinary work to be done. 

When you read Mary’s call to the ministry, she is “confused and disturbed.” There is always a mix of surprise, fear, and faith when you encounter God’s call. But like other stories in the scripture, we tend to focus only upon a portion of the story, like “the virgin birth,” and miss the purpose of the story.   

Luke’s good news is that Jesus not only possessed the Holy Spirit but promised the Holy Spirit to his followers. For Luke, the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to communicate the good news of God beyond the barriers that separate people from God and one another. 

God’s Promise Fulfilled

In chapter one, the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary (1:35) in the same way Luke understood the Holy Spirit to come upon the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 1:8). The fulfillment of God’s promise, to be with us, is part of the intention of this story. Mary becomes God’s agent, God’s instrument, fulfilling God’s promise. This is Luke’s way of emphasizing the true humanity of the One who shared our life by being born, growing up and dying 

God comes to be with us, through the faithful response of Mary, to give us what we need to navigate the barriers that separate us from one another. When you read the good news according to Luke and the stories recorded in The Acts of the Apostles, you will discover that the Holy Spirit that came to Mary and the disciples is the same Holy Spirit that has been given to you. 

Holy Spirit Power

So, here is a clue for your leadership. When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, O favored one, you will be given the power to witness beyond the barriers of theology, race, nationality, gender, economics, politics, social standing, etc. God’s purpose is being worked out in and through you. 

When Luke writes that there is “no place” for the newborn Messiah, he is saying that Jesus is a displaced person for whom the world will not make a place. “No room” is not simply a matter of space but a matter of choice. Jesus born in a stable will find “no vacancy” signs throughout his ministry and will finally be buried in a borrowed tomb. 

Empowered for Love

Jesus being born in a stable and placed in a manger represents solidarity with people of poverty. Luke brings this into dramatic contrast with Caesar who has a place in the empire. As a Christ-centered leader, you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a place for God’s love in the lives of the people who have been pushed aside and forgotten. 

The story of the shepherds and angels emphasizes God’s affirmation of the poor and despised. Although the image of shepherds is more positive in the Old Testament, in the first century, shepherds belonged to the lower class, irresponsible thieves who grazed their sheep on the land of other people. They were nomadic people taking advantage of others while using the care of their sheep as excuses for their behavior. 

Yet, it is to the shepherds that the angels bring the good news. Using the words and images meant for the emperor, Luke has the angels announce the birth of Jesus as the One who fulfills the aspirations and yearnings of all people. The message begins among the outsiders of Galilee and Judea and extends to Samaritans, Romans, and then to all people. 

Reimagine

The word “savior” was a word of honor often applied to the emperor and the word “lord” was a designation for the emperor and for pagan gods, as well as for the God of the Old Testament. The word “Christ” is the one anointed by God to fulfill God’s promises. The announcement was meant to reimage the empire. He was bringing good news to all people, Jews and Gentiles. As a Christ-centered leader, you are now a part of “the hopes and fears of all the years” are met in Jesus, God with us. 

The announcement of “peace” or “shalom” refers to the birth of Jesus as an act of the grace of God. Jesus is bringing wholeness and completeness to all people and every aspect of life. It carries with it the image of becoming who God created you to be. 

A Message of Peace

So, here is what is so awesome about the birth of Jesus. God gave the message of peace to amateurs. It is like the message was too important to be left to the diplomats and those in positions of power.  

Think about it. The great diplomats and ambassadors of the past 2000 years, the councils that have met, and the peace treaties that have been signed have mostly been forgotten. But we still remember and are shaped by the peacemaking messages of a host of angels, a group of unimportant shepherds, and Christ-centered leaders like you.   

After the shepherds had seen such wondrous things, they went back to their ordinary lives. And that is the rethinking of the birth of Jesus. How has the birth of Jesus changed your life and the way you relate to people? What difference has the birth of Jesus made in your leadership? 

Respond 

What does it mean to “rethink the birth of Jesus”? Slogans like “Let’s put Christ back into Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season” are good slogans, but what do they mean? 

To rethink the birth of Jesus, you will have to ask yourself, “What will I do with the baby?” God has chosen to come to us in a way that we can understand. Now, how will you live and lead so others will know and understand God with us?    

After a busy morning of activity, a family decided to stop for lunch at a restaurant. The mother places her 12-month-old son, Erik, in his highchair. As soon as he was placed, he squealed with glee. He was giggling as he looked across the restaurant. 

His mother followed the direction of his eyes to see who or what had amused her son. Her eyes met a homeless-looking, unkempt old man just across from their table. With his hands waving at Erik, the man said “Hello baby. You are such a big boy.” 

Erik’s parents were startled. They were unsure how to respond to the situation. The baby didn’t seem to care that others in the restaurant were now staring at him and the old man. But his parents were uneasy. As soon as their meal arrived, they hurried and ate, not enjoying their food or one another. 

The old man was still making faces and playing with Erik. “Peek-a-boo . . . I see you.” The man was anything but cute and obviously intoxicated, but Erik didn’t care. 

As soon as they finished their meal, Erik’s dad told his wife to meet him in the parking lot and he hurried to pay the check. While Erik’s mother was gathering their belongings, she noticed that the old man sat between her and the door. “Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik,” she prayed. 

As she drew closer to the man, she turned her back trying to sidestep the man and avoid any air he might be breathing. As she did, Erik leaned over her arm, reaching with both arms in a baby’s “pick-me-up” motion. Before his mom could stop him, Erik propelled himself from her arms to the old man’s arms. Suddenly the ragged, unkempt old man and the baby were face to face in a full embrace. Erik was giggling and squealing the whole time. 

The baby, in an act of total trust and love, laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and tears filled his eyes. His old hands, full of grime and pain, cradled the baby and stroked his back. Erik’s mother stood stunned. She felt helpless and scared of the unknown. As the old man rocked and cradled Erik, he looked at the mother and said, “You take care of this baby.” 

Somehow, she managed to say, “I will.” 

He handed Erik back to her and said, “God bless you, ma’am; you’ve given me my Christmas gift.” 

She could say nothing more than mutter, “Thanks. With Erik in her arms, she walked to the car weeping, “Oh God, forgive me.” 

Rethink the Birth of Jesus

As you rethink the birth of Jesus, what are you doing with the baby? Maybe you can think of it this way, how is the birth of Jesus helping you love others as God in Jesus has loved you? 

Ann Douglas Vaughan tells the story of when she was ten, she found a wallet. There wasn’t any money in it, but even at ten years of age she knew how those things worked. She couldn’t wait to return the wallet and get her reward. All day long she called the phone number which she found in the brown leather wallet, but no one answered. 

She finally convinced her dad to drive her to the owner’s address. Once there, they found a modest military housing unit with a torn screen door. It was at that moment she noticed her dad doing something unexpected. As he rang the bell, he took three $20 bills and tucked them into the empty wallet. 

Ann Douglas Vaughan wrote, “Turns out my reward, for returning the wallet, was getting to see true love in action.” She witnessed, through the actions of her father, grace through generosity to a stranger. 

Rethink the Birth of Jesus

As you rethink the birth of Jesus, how do others experience love in action through you? How will you extend grace through generosity?   

To rethink the birth of Jesus, you will have to ask yourself, “Will I follow Jesus where he leads me?” Mary replied to the angel, “May it be to me as you have said.” You might not entirely understand what is going on. You might not anticipate what will happen. You only know that to put Christ back into Christmas, you have to allow yourself to be loved and to love others as you are loved. It means becoming vulnerable and available.    

When the Bible Grasps You

There once was a seminary student who approached the theologian Paul Tillich after a lecture on the authority of Scripture. The student was clutching a large, black, leather-bound Bible in his hand. As he approached Tillich, waving his Bible above his head, he shouted, “Do you believe this is the Word of God?” 

Tillich looked at the student’s fingers tightly gripping the Bible and responded, “Not if you think you can grasp it.” There was a moment of silence, then Tillich continued, “When the Bible grasps you, I believe it is the Word of God” 

God is Calling You to Participate in the Good News

The heartfelt music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and sweet words are all good, but they have numbed us to the intrusion of God’s love. Christmas is saying, “Yes” to something beyond all your emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying, “Yes” to a hope based on God’s initiative which has nothing to do with what you think and feel. It is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work, and that God is calling you to not only announce the good news but to participate in it.  

So, when Jesus comes knocking on the door of your church building, be ready for his invitation. Because when you open the door to invite him in, he is going to invite you to follow him into your neighborhood. Get ready because he will introduce you to his friends. His poor, forgotten, disabled, overlooked friends. And if, by faith, you have the courage to follow him, you will take your first step in becoming the incarnational leader needed to meet the needs of people today.  

Join Mary in responding,  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” It will be at that moment that you will join the heavenly host singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 

Put Christ back into Christmas by loving others as God in Christ has loved you. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return  

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. What did you decide to do with the baby Jesus? How did you experience God’s love for you? How did you express God’s love for others? To whom is Jesus leading you? How will your experience of the birth of Jesus help you love as you have been loved? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced in and through them? 

Merry Christmas! May the joy of Jesus be yours as you rethink the meaning and purpose of his birth in your life and in the lives of the people entrusted to your care.

As you continue to lead through Advent, how are you practicing and improving your leadership skills? This season we have looked at how rethinking waiting and preparing are growth opportunities. With waiting and preparation in mind, have you considered how Advent provides you with the opportunity to rethink your focus on life and leadership?   

Life is not found by focusing on yourself but is found in giving yourself for the sake of others. It is not self-protection but self-giving that opens you to your best self. Effective leadership is not found by focusing on likes and dislikes, but by listening and responding to the hopes, dreams, and desires of those entrusted to you.   

Rethinking with John the Baptist

It is easy to get caught up in our own stories. When you think about the highs and the lows of daily life and add the chaos of disease and distress in the world, it is easy to lose focus on who is life-giving and what is important.   

In an age where the focus on self is promoted as the path to happiness, Advent provides the opportunity to rethink your focus. Today, John the Baptist teaches us to refocus by shifting our attention from ourselves to God and God’s mission. In a culture of weariness, John calls us to discover a different path to life. He invites us to focus on the light in the darkness.    

To help refocus, take a few minutes to read this scripture, John 1:6-8, 19-28. 

Read John 1:6-8, 19-28. 

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but he confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 

23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why, then, are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. 

Reflect 

John the Baptist points us toward a greater vision than ourselves. He, himself, embodies a self-giving life. Despite the attention given to him, he keeps his focus on the One who is to come after him. In other words, he refused to claim an identity that would overshadow his mission or that would take the focus off of the light, off of the Messiah, off of Jesus, the One who is coming. 

So, John, the gospel writer tells us, John the Baptist was a witness to the light. He was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. Why? So, all might believe. His focus was on his mission and not himself. 

A Voice in the Wilderness

Even when the Jews sent priests to question him, John responded, “I am not the Messiah.” “I am not Elijah.” “I am not a prophet.” He could have elevated himself to a level of importance, but he kept his focus. They asked, “Who are you?  What do you say about yourself?” 

And he answered, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” He knew who he was and his place in God’s mission. Even though some wanted to make him the center of attention, John kept his focus on his mission and not on himself. 

The Power of Self-Giving

The scripture is clear, John the Baptist’s life is a witness to the power of self-giving. His witness was a light for others, but his light was only a reflection of the One to come, the one true light. John’s life is a model of humility. 

His insistence that he is the voice in the wilderness highlights a profound humility. He is not even worthy to untie the strap of the sandal of the One who is coming. John is directing everyone to the Messiah, the Christ, the One to come, Jesus. Why? So, all might believe. 

The scripture is clear. John’s humility models for us what it means to follow Jesus. 

Respond 

This Advent season, John challenges us to rethink our focus. John invites us to turn our eyes upon Jesus and to place our attention on the mission. He came to point people to Jesus. John is calling us to do the same. 

So, as you listen to John, how are you leading through Advent? Are you focused on the baby in the manger or on the commercial aspects of Christmas? Let me be clear, it is very difficult if not impossible to give your full attention to both and hold Jesus, God with us, clearly in focus. 

Leading Through Advent

So, how are you leading through Advent? Are helping people prepare for the birth of Jesus, and the coming of Christ, or are you lost in the timing of activities and the proper trimmings of the season? Advent candles are good and necessary. They provide a way of telling the story. 

But when you get upset because someone lights the pink candle on the wrong Sunday, where is your focus? When you are more concerned about the poinsettias being delivered and properly placed than you are about the people who only attend worship once a year, with family, at Christmas, where is your focus?   

The Why of Christmas

Advent provides a wonderful opportunity to rethink your focus on why you participate in some activities. How is baking cookies, wrapping gifts, decorating, going to parties, and assisting you in keeping your focus upon “God with us” the savior of the world? They are good activities that bring joy and pleasure, the question is, how do they keep you focused on the “why” of Christmas? 

In today’s culture, we often celebrate ourselves more than we celebrate the One whom God sends to set us free. Because of God’s love for us, God sent John the Baptist to challenge us to rethink our focus. His mission was not about gaining recognition. Instead, he was committed to pointing to the One greater than himself. John the Baptist didn’t seek personal glory. His life was a message, urging people to look beyond their desires to the Messiah. 

Rethink Your Focus

So, as a Christ-centered leader, Advent provides the opportunity to rethink your focus. It is easy to lose focus of the One who calls us and equips us for leading and loving. When we are out of focus, we misunderstand the connection between serving others and the life we are called to live. It is in focusing on others and loving others, that we become more who God created us to be. 

As followers of Jesus, as good as it is, you are not invited to a life of serving others as a way to be and do good. You are invited to love and serve as a way of expressing God’s goodness you have experienced in and through Jesus. You love your neighbors as you love yourself and you love others as God has loved you. As good as it is, it is not about your service, it is about God’s love.   

Undefeated

Maybe this story will help. It is from the Academy Award-winning documentary film, “Undefeated.” 

In 2004, Bill Cortney left his position as a schoolteacher to open his own lumber business. While participating in a small group from his church, he was challenged to volunteer to go into the North Memphis neighborhoods and be a friend to some kids. Through that experience, Bill Cortney learned that the Manassas High School football team needed a coach. Through the encouragement of his friends, he volunteered to be the coach for one year.  

The Manassas High School football team had never won a playoff game. In fact, in 2004, they had only won four games in ten years. Bill Courtney offered to help the Manassas Tigers turn the football team around. 

Are you a Turkey Person?

That first year, there were 17 players on the team. About midway through the season, the coach was concerned about his relationship with his players. He felt he had a good relationship with half of them, but he wanted something more than being the coach, something of greater depth than football. So, he had a conversation with one of the seniors, Jamie, about his relationship with the team. 

The coach asked Jamie, “What is the deal? I am here every day. I’m giving all I have to give. What do I have to do?” 

Jamie responded almost dismissively, “Just keep doing what you are doing, Coach. We appreciate it.” 

Coach Courtney: “Tell me what is going on.” 

Jamie: “Real talk? I don’t want to hurt your feelings. 

Coach: “Straight talk, Jamie.” 

Jamie: “Straight up. They are trying to figure out if you are a turkey person. 

Coach: “I have no idea what you are talking about. What is a turkey person?” 

Jamie: “You know coach, every Thanksgiving and Christmas some white folks roll up into our neighborhoods in their vans and SUVs. They have turkeys, hams, and gifts. They unload them. We take the gifts and the food because we need them. But then, they all get back into their cars, vans, and SUVs and they go back out to the suburbs, and we don’t see them ever again.   

“Now, Coach, are they delivering those turkeys and gifts because they really care about us or are they going back out to the suburbs to tell people how they helped some poor black folks. Are they doing what they are doing because they care about us or just so they can feel good about themselves? 

“Coach, what are you doing? Everyone is trying to figure it out. What are you doing?” 

Loving and Nurturing

For Bill Courtney that was the beginning of six years as the Coach of the Manasses High School Tigers. Through his loving and nurturing of the players and helping them develop their physical and emotional strengths, Courtney coached the team to a winning season in 2009 and their first playoff win in the history of the football program. 

What made the difference? I think it was focus. Bill Courtney kept his focus on why he was doing what he was doing and on the people he was serving. His focus was not on himself but on the character and integrity of the players on his team. 

What is Your Focus as a Leader?

This Advent season provides you the opportunity to rethink your focus as a leader. 

Too often we are absorbed in our own worlds. We do what we do because it makes us feel good about ourselves. Even when it has implications of helping others, we too often are more concerned about how it affects us than we are about how we truly reflect the light of love and care for others.  Our actions are more self-serving than they are of humility and love. 

When you’re focused on yourself, your preferences, and your conveniences, your vision narrows, and your focus becomes blurry. When you keep your focus on Jesus, it is clear who God sends your way to love and serve. 

John the Baptist is challenging you to focus upon the light of the One who is to come. That is who you are as a Christ-centered leader. This Advent season, rethink your focus and become the leader needed for this time and season. And remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Return  

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. With whom did you rethink your focus? What brought you to the moment of refocusing? How do you clear a path for others to rethink their focus? In the future, how will you respond differently? How did you express God’s love today? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced in and through them?   

Have you ever felt that there is more to life than meets the eye? That there is more in your past than history can tell? That there is more going on in the present moment than you really know? And that there is more to your relationships with others than you are aware? 

It seems that the more we explore the mystery of our lives, the more we learn about ourselves, and the more mysterious we become. We are seldom content with what appears to be on the surface. We are not at ease because we sense that no matter how full our lives, there is more. 

Preparing to Receive Jesus

Advent is about preparing to receive what is missing. It is about preparing to receive Jesus as the Son of God who delivers us from all the threats that rob people of authentic life. It is about preparing to receive the One who stands with us against the enemies of meaninglessness; of the storms and evils of nature; of loneliness, alienation from ourselves, others, and God; of sin and guilt; hunger; sickness; and the ultimate enemy, death. It is about preparing to receive Jesus who can do only what God can do. 

Advent is about preparing to receive Jesus, who in his weakness and vulnerability, stands with us in the midst of our misunderstandings, misconceptions, and broken relationships. 

Leading through Advent

The question is, how do you lead through Advent? How do you rethink preparing in such a way that people find themselves face to face with the God who has come to be with them in the places they are hurting, suffering, broken, and need healing and hope? 

Maybe it will be helpful to start with an Advent prayer, written and put to music by Charles Wesley. 

Come, thou long expected Jesus.

Born to set thy people free.

From our fears and sins release us.

Let us find our rest in thee. 

How will you rethink preparing this Advent season?   

Read Mark 1:1-8 

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight,’”

4 so John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And the whole Judean region and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him and were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

Reflect 

Mark’s story does not begin with Jesus, and not even with John. This story is part of a larger story of God’s unfolding plan that began at creation, continued through the Old Testament prophets, comes to its climax in Jesus, and continues after the resurrection in the followers of Jesus, including you and me. 

The good news according to Mark is “God sent Jesus to oppose the evil, pain, and suffering in the world.” To announce the good news, Mark starts with John the Baptist, who is seen as connecting the message of the prophets with Jesus and the preaching of the church.    

John ushers in the new age, a new order. For Mark, what is important is not John’s bizarre appearance, nor his ethics, nor his message, but the fact that the story of Jesus begins with him. John is a figure of hope. His appearance marks “the beginning of the gospel” as a continuation of the message of the prophets. He continues the story of the in-breaking of God’s new order. 

The Good News in Mark

The people who received Mark’s good news were in the midst of persecution. The followers of Jesus were tortured, crucified, and killed as insurrectionists. They were seen as people in opposition to the Roman government. So, for Mark John came announcing the coming of Jesus, God’s way of opposing the evil, pain, and suffering in the world. 

In verses 2 and 3, Mark sets the context for the new order by calling upon the memory of his readers. He has them remember the exile and homecoming of the Hebrew people. Then, he focuses upon the work, the person, and the words of John. 

Baptism is an Act of Grace

The work of John is to baptize (verses 4-5). Baptism is an act of grace giving access to the new order, God’s new day. It is an invitation to and an act of transformation. It leads into public ministry, which is seen in the work of the followers of Jesus opposing evil, pain, and suffering in our communities and neighborhoods. Baptized followers of Jesus are related to their communities and working the good of all the people living there. 

For John, baptism is identified in two ways. The first is through repentance, the turning away from the old age and all its loyalties and values and turning toward God’s new order. The second is through forgiveness, which brings with it the release of indebtedness that keeps people from freely participating in God’s new order. 

Rethinking Preparation

With this in mind, Advent is a time of rethinking preparation. One example of rethinking preparation might be John’s message of repentance which brings with it the challenge to give up our participation in the cultural consumerism that enslaves us. Another example of rethinking preparation might be John’s message of forgiveness of sins which brings with it the release from systems that dehumanize people and effect the way we relate to one another, especially the people we identify as different from us. 

The person of John is characterized as an outsider, as one who comes from the wilderness. Not only is he geographically an outsider but he has kept his distance from the seductive good things of his culture. He comes speaking of a new order which calls for an end to conventional loyalties and attitudes. He comes speaking of a new freedom that brings a different perspective regarding relationships. 

Embracing Uncertainty

With this in mind, Advent is a time of rethinking preparation. It is an occasion for embracing uncertainty, understanding ourselves and others differently, and making decisions that facilitate hope and the future. Keep in mind, as you rethink preparation, that the culture will resist any changes you make. It will want you to be well-fed, well-dressed, and well-housed so that you do not depart from old loyalties. John is reminding us that there is a greater way of living in this world.   

The words of John point beyond himself and beyond the dangerous moment in which people are living. He is like Moses pointing across to the new land. He anticipates the One who is to come, but he does not name him. Christmas is the time for naming Jesus. Advent is a time for waiting and hoping. John might not know the name of the One to come, but he knows that the work of the Spirit will bring a newness that transforms. 

Make a Difference

With this in mind, Advent is a time of rethinking preparation. It is not only a time of spiritual reconstruction but a time to make a difference in the community and the neighborhood in which you live. It is a time to stand with people as they face adversity, pain, and suffering. 

Leading through Advent means you will offer hope amid people being dehumanized and misplaced, amid cynicism about trusting God’s way in Jesus, and amid people sensing there is more but not knowing what it is. The time is right for rethinking preparation. It is right for you to announce, “God with us. There is hope for all who are changing the way they have been thinking and living and are ready to receive and to follow. Prepare the way of the Lord.”  

Respond 

John’s message is clear regarding preparation. There can be no pretense or deception. You come as you are, vulnerable and unencumbered 

The novel, The High and the Mighty, was made into a movie several years ago. It was about the passengers on an airplane that are flying over the Pacific Ocean into California. The plane began to have engine trouble which caused it to run low on fuel. As the flight continued, the news got worse and worse for all the passengers. 

One passenger, a woman, was well-dressed. Her makeup was impeccable. Her jewelry included a diamond necklace, bracelet, ring, and earrings. She sat and listened to the captain as he gave updates regarding the plane’s location and situation. Then she heard the captain say, “It looks less and less likely that we will arrive at our destination. It looks like we are going to be meeting our Maker before this is over.” 

As she listened, she began to remove her jewelry. She took off her rings, her necklace, and her earrings. She removed her eyelashes and mascara. When she removed most of the cosmetics that covered her skin, she revealed a scar on her cheek. She had decided to be who she was. She was coming clean. She was going to meet her end real and true, without deception, without pretense.  

Well, eventually, the plane landed safely. And through the ordeal, she had learned something about herself. 

Come Clean

The plot of the movie reflects the story of John and the response of the people who heard his message. John offered people the opportunity to come clean. He used some wonderful images that caused people to see clearly what he was talking about.  He said, “This moment in history is like an ax being laid at the root of a tree. If the tree has not borne good fruit, it comes down.” 

He said, “This moment in history and in your life is like the moment when a person has harvested the grain, but it is still full of chaff. And he takes a large fan and while the grain is being poured from one container to another, the fan is used to blow away the chaff. This is repeated several times until all the chaff is blown away. The grain is saved but the chaff is burned.” 

“In other words, there is one coming after me, I’m not even worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandal. He is so much stranger than I; he is so much greater than I. He is coming. And one thing that he will do is cause the truth to come clean and clear. No more deception, no more pretending.” 

Preparing for the One Coming

After hearing John, people began to prepare for the One coming. They confessed to their life deceptions, distorted values, loss of priorities, and irresponsibility. They came clean and were baptized for the forgiveness of their pretentiousness and they began a new way of living. 

John the Baptist is presenting the message of the scripture. It comes in several figures of speech. Sometimes it is called a New Creation where everything is new. Sometimes it is spoken of as a New Birth. John the gospel writer refers to it as being born from above or born again. 

Sometimes it is presented as a New Life or a New Page of a notebook. And at other times the Bible uses the image of a new beginning. That is what John preached.  

New Life as a Christ-Centered Leader

What does this new life, this new beginning, look like for you as a Christ-centered leader? What does rethinking preparation mean as you lead through Advent? 

Come Clean

First, it means to come clean. It means to scrape off all the pretense and fear of what others might think and come as you are, a beloved child of God. It means that you lead with courage anchored in God’s love and grace. 

Hold the Past and Future Together

Second, look at John. He understood his present role as keeping continuity with the prophets, with Jesus, and with the church. Even though he has all the qualifications for being first, he did not give into the temptation of assuming that his contribution was better than anyone before him or greater than anyone who came behind him. 

So, as a leader, take your place as one who holds the past and future together. As you prepare for the future, do so within the context of who and what has brought you to this moment. Then ask the question, “Who will help lead us in taking the next step on our journey?” Walk with them. Be who God has created you to be for them. 

Submit to Jesus

Third, John submits himself to the greatness of Jesus. Imagine being born and prepared for a singular moment when you stand on the banks of the River Jordan and shout, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” One sentence summed up his life and ministry. 

John found his joy in Jesus and by giving up his self-serving right to happiness. Sooner or later, you learn that happiness is neither a right nor an end in itself. For the followers of Jesus, the word is not happiness but is joy. It is used in the context of submitting to the greatness and the glory of God. 

God’s Love and Joy

So, as a leader, give yourself to God’s love and receive the joy given to those who serve in love. Receive God’s love for yourself and then share God’s love with others. It means putting others first as you work for their best and well-being. It means being generous with others, allowing them to be who they are, and space to grow into who God created them to be. 

It means that you lead with grace, modeling the new order. John baptized people showing the new order was not based on ancestry, religious affiliation, or national citizenship. It was a conscious choice to turn away from the old and turn toward the new. It is coming clean so you can enter into the new life, the new order. 

So, Advent is preparing to receive what is missing in your life. So, rethinking preparation will help you become more who God created you to be by receiving the One who can and will make your life complete. Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Return  

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Where did you come clean today? What brought you to the moment of coming clean? How did you respond? How did you express God’s love today? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope or the love or the new life you have experienced in and through them?    

Prayer

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart. 

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

What motivates and empowers you to lead in the midst of the cultural changes you are facing today? How do you move forward when friends, family, colleagues, and others seem to be losing heart, giving up, and walking away?  

There have been volumes written on what you need to do to be an effective and successful leader. There are lists of characteristics, research, and more advice than any one of us could follow in a lifetime. For the most part, it is all good and all needed. But what motivates and empowers you as a Christ-centered leader is something that cannot be reproduced or measured. As a follower of Jesus, you have been given something, someone, who assists you in imagining a better future and who provides you with the faith to move forward into that future. 

The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

You have been given hope. Hope, not as wishful thinking, but hope as the agency to navigate the barriers and obstacles that stand in the way of God’s plan of love and peace. What is unusual about this hope is it is not something that you or any other leader can obtain. This hope is only in being found by the One who gives it.   

Read Matthew 14:22-33 

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So, Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Reflect

Matthew tells a story of an experience that the disciples had with Jesus. The disciples are in the boat trying to make their way across the sea, but they were not getting anyway. They were rowing but the wind was blowing against them. Just before dawn, Jesus comes to them walking on the sea.

In ancient times, the sea was the place of evil. The enemy to all that was good was in the water. In this story, the water is a symbol of all the forces that are against us.

Jesus comes to the disciples on the sea. In other words, in the midst of all that is against us, God is with us. There is no power, no storm, no wind, no force in the world that God cannot conquer, no evil over which God is not superior. The message here is, there is nothing that can destroy your life because God loves and cares for you.

I am

Now, this story is not a miracle story. It is deeper than that. Jesus comes in the storm on the sea and says, “Take heart, I am.” These words are translated, “It is I” or “I am he.” What Jesus actually says is, “I am.” The name for God. God came to them in the storm in the person of Jesus.

They cannot believe it. At first, they say, “It is a ghost.”

But as Jesus gets closer, Simon Peter says to him, “Lord, if it is you” …or “if you are, tell me to come to you on the water.” These are the same words used in the wilderness by the devil, “If you are the son of God…” The words of Simon Peter are the words of the tempter. In other words, Simon Peter is putting Jesus to the test.

So, Matthew is telling us that in his attempt to put Jesus to the test, Simon Peter ends up testing himself. It is Simon Peter who does not believe. In other words, you don’t test God. Jesus got in the boat, and everything was all right. The storm was quieted, and the disciples fell to their knees and worshiped Jesus.

You are Never Alone

Matthew was telling the story to the church. It was for all the followers of Jesus, in all their little boats, in all of the storms, trying to make it alone. The disciples were never alone, but they were trying to make it alone, and they couldn’t.

The lesson in this story is, you are never alone. The church is never alone. God is with us. But we are never exempt from the temptation to try to go it alone.

So, we are all in the boat. We can give pep talks to one another. Some of us can bail while others of us will sing. But the truth is that without trust in God, we are not going to make it to shore. But, if we trust God, “we are more than conquerors through him who loves us… and neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So, what does that story have to do with being found or with leading with hope?

Respond 

In the church, it is not uncommon for us to urge each other to give a witness to our faith. Sometimes we assume that sharing stories of faith is easy. I must confess that I have found it incredibly difficult. Although I do regularly as a preacher, it is tough to talk about things so deeply meaningful and profoundly intimate. 

Several years ago, a young father called me about his church membership. He and his family were actively involved in programs and activities of the church. In our conversation he said he was tired of searching for God and that he and his family were leaving the church. He said he was tired of searching for answers and needed to be in a church that could provide some answers. As I listened to him, I tried to understand his dissatisfaction. We talked about his work, his family relationships, and his contentment with his life. During our conversation, he said, “I feel like I’m running the bases, but I never reach home.” Then he said, “I am not sure I really believe in God.” 

God Believes in You

My next words to him were words I had used before.  I had heard them as a teenager in a Sunday school class.  It was there they had taken root in my life and began to shape my understanding of God’s love. Because they were meaningful to me, I had offered them to others through sermons, bible studies, and conversations along my faith journey. 

So, I offered the same words to him, “At this moment, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in God or not.  God believes in you.” I said, “I know you are searching for God.  But have you ever thought that God is also searching for you?  Can you imagine that God believes in you so much that God is searching for you?” 

I remembered words that had profoundly shaped my understanding of God’s love.  They were words of one of my instructors in seminary.  At that moment, I offered them to this young father.

I will come for you

“When our parents, Adam and Eve, left the garden of Eden, God whispered in their ear, ‘I will come for you.’  Adam and Eve didn’t understand God’s word as a promise.  They interpreted the word as a threat.  So, they ran and hid. 

As human beings, we have been running and hiding ever since.  But God has come searching for us.  God has come as a fragile, vulnerable baby, growing up with the comforts and restraints of home, family, community, and culture. 

As he grew up and matured, he worked hard. He experienced both joy and exhaustion. He learned what it was to love and be loved. He experienced what it was like to have people betray him. He had a dream of making the world a better place. His dream was rejected. He experienced the pain of having his friends turn against him. He suffered and died for his dream.  That is how God has come searching for you and for me.” 

Being Found By God

I wish I could say that my words made a difference. I did not hear him say to me, “I never thought of it that way before,” Or, “Now, I know that God loves me and my family,” Or, “Thanks Pastor.” The reality is, all I could do was to tell him a story of Jesus, “I AM” walking toward him on the water, in the midst of his search for answers. 

What would happen if you and I began to tell our stories of “being found” by God? What would happen if we took John Wesley seriously and began to “Offer them Christ” as we developed relationships and talked about what was deeply meaningful to us? 

Offer of Hope

What I know is this, to offer Christ is an offer of hope. The offer is more than sharing “spiritual facts” which lead to a mental assent to correct understanding and logical decisions.  You don’t experience hope as a form of indoctrination. 

The offer of Christ is not, what I grew up hearing, “closing the deal” for Jesus.  You and I don’t experience hope by being manipulated into saying “yes” to carefully worded questions.

The offer of Christ is a two-way process of honest interaction. Because you and I simply do not see everything the same way, we develop a friend-to-friend relationship.  So, the offer of Christ is not a single encounter.  It is an extended relationship of mutual respect and care.  It is within the relationship that hope is developed, experienced, and lived out. 

As important as it is, the offer of Christ is more than inviting people to worship or to participate in the programs of the church.  To offer Christ is to create a space where people can talk about their discontent and dissatisfaction in their search for God, and then embody the hope they need to experience the love of God that will never let them go. It is in and through our relationships that we can share our experiences of God searching for us. It is in and through our relationships that we share being found by God’s love in Jesus. Hope becomes a sign of who you are, and who you are is how you lead.

T. S. Elliot wrote, “the life we seek is not in knowing but in being known, not in seeking but in being sought, not in finding but in being found.” It is in being found by God that you are empowered to lead with hope. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Where do you experience hope? What happened? With whom did you share hope?  How did you express being found by God’s love in Jesus? With whom do you need to confess your struggle with hope? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced in and through them?   

Prayer

O God, be my guiding light that I may have clear vision for the days in which I am living. You are my wisdom, strength and guide. In you I find my joy and peace. You are my true goal. Only you can satisfy my soul. Help me be your love in human form. As people are quietly quitting your church, help me develop true relationships of love that bind your people together, so that the people I encounter today and tomorrow will experience your love and grace through me. I am grateful, O God, for your love and hope in Jesus. Amen. 

There is a phenomenon that is permeating our culture. It is called “quiet quitting.” In the workplace, it is experienced when employees put in the minimum amount of effort to keep their jobs. There is little meaning or joy in their work, so they quietly do as little as possible before walking away. 

In the church, it is seen when members are unhappy with some aspect of their role in the church and participate marginally before silently walking away. They too find little meaning or joy in their faith, which has been reduced to participating in pseudo-religious activities and programs. 

Uncommitted Church Members or Ineffective Leadership?

Some have raised the question, “Is quiet quitting about uncommitted church members or about ineffective leadership? The research shows that poor leadership leads to more quiet quitters than effective leadership. Although I believe the problem is deeper than leadership, I am trying to help you be the leader God has created you to be in the midst of the cultural changes we are facing today. 

You are leading in a complex time. People have been leaving the church for many years and for many reasons. It is an issue influenced by societal changes, personal beliefs, and experiences. I don’t want to focus on the negative, but let’s look at some common reasons why people leave church. You might have experienced several of these for yourself. 

Why People Leave the Church

People leave church because of: 

Busy Lifestyles 

The demands of life, such as work, family, and other commitments, have made it challenging for some people to maintain active involvement in a church community. Youth and children’s activities which are held on Sunday mornings have been a big reason for the decline in participation. 

Generational Differences

People of all ages, but younger generations in particular, have been less motivated to attend worship or participate in church programs. People have begun to look for more flexible and non-traditional forms of spirituality. The reality is the church has not adapted to some cultural changes and has for years had difficulties in relating to younger generations. 

Negative Church Experiences

Unpleasant experiences within a church, such as conflicts, scandals, or mistreatment, have led people to lose faith in the institution and its leadership. Because the church has become more of a religious club, people are opting out of club conflicts. 

Changing Beliefs

Some people have undergone personal spiritual or religious transformations, leading them to question or abandon the beliefs they learned as a child or were taught in their churches. 

Doctrinal Disagreements

Sometimes differences in interpreting doctrine or differences in understanding the teachings of Jesus have led people to look for alternative denominations or spiritual paths. These differences are usually based upon personal preferences and preconceived unchecked ideas. 

Societal and Cultural Shifts

Changing societal norms and values, particularly in more secular or diverse communities, has led some people to question the role of faith in their lives. They have found the teachings and practices of the church no longer relevant to their lives, so they disconnect from the church as an institution. 

Leading the Church in the Midst of Change

Every reason listed above is true and valid when the church is viewed as one institution among others in competition for the interest and participation of its members. When you start from the perspective that the church exists to serve its members and their preferences then you, as the leader and the church as a whole, are continually jumping from the “pinnacle of the temple” to entertain and keep the interest of the people you want to reach. 

In other words, when the church does not meet the perceived needs of individuals those people seek to have those needs met elsewhere. 

As a Christ-centered leader, how do you lead in the midst of cultural changes? What is your focus during this time of quiet quitting? 

Let’s look at the scripture to bring clarity to your focus. 

Read: John 1:1-14 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being  in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 

Reflect 

As we reflect upon this scripture, let’s start with incarnation. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” The word translated “lived among us” is literally “he pitched his tent among us.” When John wrote his gospel, the people were wandering nomads. They didn’t just take their tents on vacation; they lived in their tents. So, John’s good news is, “God became one of us and lived among us. He pitched his tent in our midst.” Today we might translate it “And the Word became flesh and parked his RV next to ours.” Or “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” The point is, God has decided to become a member of the human race. This is called incarnation. 

Incarnation is God’s method of evangelizing love. The method is to become a human being, to live with us, and to love us in our everyday situations. When we search the scriptures, we find that God made other attempts to evangelize his love. 

For example, one method found in the Old Testament was the revelation from Sinai. There God came down to earth in the thunder, the lightning, and the smoke on the mountain. God spoke and Moses presented God’s message on tablets of stone. We know that message to be the covenant of the Ten Commandments. 

The New Testament

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says that God was a little disappointed in that method. The purpose of the covenant was to provide love, life, and vitality to God’s people, but the purpose was lost in the “keeping” of the covenant. So, God discarded the old covenant and wrote a new one. God did not discard the commandments. God used a different method to have the commandments come to life.    

The New Testament method is God revealing his nature of love in the human person of Jesus. This was God’s new approach to evangelism, to model his love in a human being. It is in Jesus that God confronts the world with his visible Word. It is in Jesus that God models his love for us. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love. 

So, as a Christ-centered leader, your focus is upon the incarnation as the evidence that God has come to be with us. And that we cannot be related to God without being related to the people around us. 

God’s Dwelling Place

That is part of the good news according to Matthew. Jesus said, “… I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40). 

Jesus was affirming his place in the human family. God has become one of us. The dwelling place of God is with us. In fact, we call him “God is with us.” With God’s new covenant, we can no longer deal with God without dealing with one another. 

Your Focus is Incarnational

So, part of your focus as a Christ-centered leader is incarnational. You become the love of God in human form. One way of being God’s love in human form is to love others as God in Jesus has loved you. 

The Word became flesh leads directly to the body of Christ. The church is the living, breathing body of Christ in the world. We are an extension of his life and ministry, actively participating in his ongoing work. This is the fundamental expression of our faith. This is who we are as grace-filled Jesus followers. 

Love of God in Human Form

Just as you, as a Jesus follower, are the love of God in human form, the body of Christ is the incarnation of God’s love in the world. We are the body of Christ because of the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is simply God’s way of saying to us, “You might reject my covenant and presence, but I’m going to have the last word. I’m going to put my son right down there in the midst of you and he is going to dwell among you.”  God raised Jesus from the dead and we are the evidence of the resurrection. We are his body, living and breathing in the world today. 

The early followers of Jesus did not say that Jesus is risen because the grave is empty. They said, “He is risen because we are alive with his spirit, and we are doing the same things that he has taught us to do. We are the evidence that he is alive; healing, feeding, caring, serving in the world today.” 

Reshaping Lives

In The Acts of the Apostles, Simon Peter essentially says that the resurrection of Jesus is the reshaping of the lives of the believers to conform to his life, the reshaping of their minds to conform to his mind, the reshaping of their style of life to conform to the love of God. 

As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is on the resurrection and upon the followers of Jesus being the evidence of the resurrection in every situation and circumstance they might find themselves. 

Your work is to equip people to be who they have been created to be. They are part of the body of Christ, the evidence of the resurrection. As the body of Christ, living and breathing in the world, we already know that God has refused to take the world’s no for an answer to his love. So, with courage and boldness, we love one another as we have been loved by God. 

Model God’s Love

The Word became flesh, and the body of Christ leads directly to establishing loving and caring relationships with people. As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is on modeling God’s love so that through healthy relationships people can and will love others as they have been loved. 

Relationships within the body of Christ are fundamental to the spiritual, emotional, and social well-being of all people. It is within the body of Christ where people connect and learn from one another. It is where they build friendships, discuss faith, grow as followers of Jesus, and develop supportive and caring people who then love and care for the community at large.  Relationships within the body of Christ focus upon God’s love which leads to the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Relationships are Primary

Our reflection upon the incarnation, the body of Christ, and healthy relationships are primary to the life and impact of the church in the world today. I am sure you have noticed we did not focus on the next best program or how to attract people back to the church. We did focus on developing relationships with God, who has taken the initiative to come be with us in Jesus, and who has empowered us to be the evidence of God’s love and care in everyday situations and circumstances. 

As a Christ-centered leader, your focus is not on what next program is available to attract people into your building. Your focus is on modeling God’s love in your life, developing relationships with the people you encounter, and inviting and equipping them to model God’s love in their lives. Your focus is on being the incarnation of God’s love in the midst of the cultural changes of today.   

Respond 

So, as you reflect upon your focus as a leader, you might discover several ways to respond to being the incarnation of God’s love, being the body of Christ, and to developing relationships with the people God sends your way each day. 

Here is a story to assist you in bringing clarity to your focus.  

Two brothers lived on adjacent plots of farmland they had inherited from their father. For years, they had farmed together, played together, shared meals together, and supported each other in good times and bad. 

Then, one day there was a disagreement and they stopped speaking to one another. In fact, there was not a word spoken between them for years. 

One day, the elder brother was at his house when there was a knock at the door. When he answered the knock, he met a carpenter who was looking for work. The carpenter said, “I would like to do some work for you. Do you have any work that I can do?” The older brother thought for a moment and then replied, “Yes. I need you to build a fence on the edge of my property.” He pointed toward the stream that separated the land. “I want you to build it down near the stream that separates my farm from my brother’s farm. 

Puzzled, the carpenter asked him to explain the purpose of the fence. The older brother told him about his brother’s use of the stream. He told the carpenter that neither he nor his brother owned the water and that for years they shared it unselfishly. But then there had been a disagreement about the use of the water and that he and his brother had not spoken in years. ­He concluded by telling the carpenter that he wanted the fence built so he didn’t have to see his brother. 

Once he and the carpenter agreed upon the work to be done, the older brother said, “I’m going into town to run some errands. I’ll settle up with you when I return.”   

When he returned that evening, he was shocked to see that the carpenter had not followed his instructions. Instead of building a fence so he could not see his brother, he had built a bridge over the stream. The older brother walked down to take a look at the bridge. While he was there his younger brother walked toward him from the other side. 

The younger brother said, “After all the terrible things I’ve done to you over the years, I can’t believe that you would build a bridge and welcome me back.” He reached out to his brother and gave him a hug. 

Confused, but pleased, the older brother received the hug with gratitude. Then he walked back up to his farmhouse to settle up with the carpenter. The carpenter was packing his tools in the back of his pickup truck. The older brother said, “I just talked with my brother. He thanked me for building the bridge.” 

Then the older brother said to the carpenter, “Even though you did not build the fence, I am grateful that you built the bridge. Your gift has already helped to heal the wounds of our disagreements. I have more work that needs to be done. Will you stay and work for me?” 

The carpenter replied, “I like your invitation, but I have to go. I have other bridges to build. Besides, you and your brother can work together to finish the work that needs to be done.” 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. What happened to help you gain clarity in your focus?  With whom did you incarnate God’s love? How did you invite others into the body of Christ? How did you equip them to incarnate God’s love? With whom do you need to confess your desire to build fences? With whom do you need to celebrate building bridges of God’s love?  

Prayer

O God, be my guiding light that I may have clear vision for the days in which I am living. You are my wisdom, strength and guide. In you, I find my joy and peace. You are my true goal. Only you can satisfy my soul. Help me be your love in human form. As people are quietly quitting your church, help me develop true relationships of love that bind your people together, so that the people I encounter today and tomorrow will experience your love and grace through me. I am grateful, O God, for your love and presence in Jesus. Amen.