Tag Archive for: John

This is Part Two of a three-part series on Offering Christ. Read Part 1 

As you begin to engage in the mission of offering Christ, take some time to reflect upon what offering Christ means to you. I ask that question because many people think that offering Christ is about personally witnessing by either going “door to door” to invite people to attend worship or by asking people carefully worded questions to engage in a conversation which leads to a faith conversion.

I am in full agreement that offering Christ is both personal and about giving a witness to God’s love, but if either of the above statements are true for you, I invite you to read this blog on Offering Christ. Although you have heard that both are necessary, this is neither a blog on “how to convert” nor on how to share your faith. This is a blog on how you, as a follower of Jesus, offer God’s love in everyday ordinary situations.  So, as a Christ-centered leader, before you engage in the mission of offering Christ, take time to reflect upon what offering Christ means to you.

Be Who God Created You to Be

With that in mind, to offer Christ is to be who God created you to be as a Christ-centered leader.  

It is more than sharing “spiritual facts” or biblical beliefs. For some, to offer Christ has been reduced to a list of beliefs. If you believe the beliefs on the list, you are saved. This is a form of mental assent to correct beliefs which leads to logical decisions. You and I don’t experience God’s love as a form of indoctrination. We experience God’s love through relationships with one another.

The offer of Christ is not, what I grew up hearing, “closing the deal” for Jesus.  You and I don’t experience God’s love by being manipulated into saying “yes” to carefully worded questions. We experience God’s love through relationships with one another.

Offering Christ – An Honest Interaction

The offer of Christ is a two-way process of honest interaction. Because you and I simply have the same need for love, particularly God’s love, 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 in and through our relationship that God’s love is experienced, and hope is developed, and transformation takes place.

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 offer God’s love to those who are discontented and dissatisfied in their search for God. It is an offer of God’s love to those who are disenfranchised and separated. It is an offer of God’s love to those who are up and out as well as those who are down and out. It is in and through relationships that we can share experiences of God searching for us in Jesus.  New possibilities are found in the love you offer. All of that is to say, offering Christ becomes who you are and is expressed in how you live in everyday ordinary situations and relationships.

Offering Christ – It Matters Where You Start

There is another important aspect of offering Christ that must be taken into consideration as you begin to engage in the mission. It matters where you start regarding your understanding of offering Christ.

The very origin, pattern, and basis for offering Christ is rooted in the nature of God’s mission. (Read: What Is Mission” Part One).

In the New Testament the word for evangelism, what I am calling offering Christ, comes from two words which mean a good message. We have shortened it to “good news” or “gospel.” As a verb, evangelism (offering Christ) means “bringing, spreading or announcing the good news.” So, evangelism, offering Christ, describes the spreading of the good news of God’s love in and through Jesus Christ.

Offer Christ – Love Others As God Loves You

Notice that the primary focus is on the living and sharing of God’s love and not on the recipient or target of the message. In other words, to offer Christ is to love others as God in Jesus has loved you and not to convert or save someone.

In recent years, it seems that we have confused the process of offering Christ with the goal of the process. We do not evangelize people or nations, or even structures. We evangelize the gospel, which is to introduce people to the love of God in life changing ways.

So, it matters where you start. 

Evangelize the Gospel – Four Perspectives

The words used for evangelism were common words when the New Testament was written. They were used to bring good news about a great event. The words were picked up by the followers of Jesus to describe the great event of Jesus coming into the world. 

Each of the gospel writers share the good news in different ways based on their context and their listeners. They evangelized Jesus so we, the hearers, can live the life of God’s love experienced in and through Jesus the Christ. 

As you begin to engage in the mission of offering Christ, it will be helpful to study and understand the gospel stories. For example: (Although these are brief and incomplete summaries of the good news presented by each gospel writer, they are examples of offering Christ). 

The Good News – Matthew

The good news according to Matthew is, “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live a holy or righteous life.” From Matthew’s perspective, “holy” and “righteous” are related to relationships.  When you read Matthew 28:20, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…,” you will find that 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. (Read the blog “What Is Mission? Part 2). To offer Christ from Matthew’s perspective is to build and maintain healthy relationships with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, and enemies. 

The Good News – Mark

The good news according to Mark is, “God sent Jesus to oppose the evil, suffering, pain, in the world.” Mark’s community was facing persecution.  The good news of Jesus is that he faced the pain and suffering of those being persecuted. Half of Mark’s gospel is about the suffering and death of Jesus. You get a clue to Mark’s good news when Jesus heals a man with leprosy (Mark 1:40-45). Leprosy was a sign of suffering and separation. When a person suffered with leprosy, they were separated from all that was important and meaningful to them. To be healed was to be restored to family, work, synagogue, and all that was meaningful. To offer Christ from Mark’s perspective is to work to oppose the structures and behaviors that separate people from God and from one another.   

The Good News – Luke 

The good news according to Luke is “Jesus not only possessed the Holy Spirit but promised the Holy Spirit to his followers.” The Holy Spirit, God’s presence and power, gave the followers of Jesus the power to witness beyond the barriers of race, gender, age, nationality, theology, religion, and influence The witness was both in word and deed. Take for example the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch or Simon Peter visiting Cornelious’ house. Both are examples of offering Christ to people, in word and action, who were considered unacceptable or were outsiders, or people of influence who were not Hebrews. To offer Christ from Luke’s perspective was to work to overcome the barriers that separated people from God’s acceptance and from accepting one another.    

The Good News – John 

The good news according to John is “if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” On several occasions Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” John knows people want to know God. Even Philip says to Jesus in John 14, “Show us God and we will be satisfied.” Throughout John’s good news there are stories of seeing Jesus. When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him, he says to his followers, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Even Jesus responds to two of John’s disciples with “come and you will see” (John 1:39). And when Philip goes to tell his brother, Nathanael, about seeing Jesus, he says to him, “Come and see” (John 1:46). When some Greeks came seeking Jesus, they came to Philip and made a request, “Sir, we want to see Jesus” John 12:20-22). Even at the tomb on the morning of the resurrection, Mary sees Jesus and she goes to tell the disciples the news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20: 18). If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. (Listen to Transforming Mission Podcast Episode 314). 

There is one other aspect of offering Christ in John’s gospel. To offer Christ is to love others as God has loved you. Loving others becomes who you are.

Preach What You Practice

N.T. Wright wrote it this way, “If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. If you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus. If you want to know what love is, look at Jesus.  If you want to know what grief is, look at Jesus.  And go on looking until you’re not just a spectator, but you’re actually part of the drama which has him as the central character.”

To offer Christ means you become part of the story. You shift from “practicing what you preach” to “preaching what you practice.” The more you tell the story, the more you live the story. 

Love Others as God Loves You

So, what does offering Christ mean to you? Before engaging in the mission of offering Christ, practice loving others as God in Christ has loved you. Learn of God’s mission and how you have been invited into it. Become an instrument of God’s love and then you can tell people what you are doing.

Next week, I look forward to sharing with you part 3 of Engaging in Mission: Offering Christ. 

Prayer

Here is a prayer for today:  

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me offer them Christ by the way I live out your love. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Reflect on Offering Christ

At the end of the day, reflect on the following regarding Offering Christ: 

As you reflect back upon your day, give God thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. Who did you meet who needed a kind, caring, encouraging word? In what ways did you offer Christ to the people you met? What did you learn about yourself? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to offer Christ. To whom do you need to respond with words of hope, words of encouragement, or words of forgiveness? What will you do differently tomorrow?

Engaging in any mission is challenging. Engaging in God’s mission is even more challenging. The challenge is not the mission, but how you engage in the mission. So, here it is. Mission is not an activity you do to or for others, it is a way of living with and relating to others. It is more about following Jesus than it is about who and where you are going to serve. 

The Mission of God’s Love

Your life changes when you engage in mission. Whether it is your life or the life of your church, engaging in mission means constantly challenging personal preferences, the fear of losing control of who to serve, and the anxiety of not having enough resources. Yet, engaging in mission means learning to relax in the experience of loving others as you have been loved. It is an experience of transformation and new life.

So, what better time to explore engaging the mission than the season of the resurrection? When I reflect upon the resurrection, I continually discover that the attention of the early church was focused on the mission of God’s love. Even though there were those who did not want Jesus around, God raised him up and put him back to preaching, teaching, healing and loving. His followers understood themselves to be the evidence of God’s power of resurrection and God’s love still alive in Jesus.    

On the morning of the Resurrection, God gave a transforming presence for engaging in mission. 

Engaging in mission reshapes your life to live the way Jesus lived and to think and act the way Jesus thought and acted. Engaging in mission is to change your way of living and loving. It means to live all of life in the presence, love, and power of Jesus.

For one example of engaging in mission, read John 21:1-17

Read John 21:1-17 

21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,[a] Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So, they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he had taken it off, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them, and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

Reflect: Engaging in Mission

In the story above, when Jesus says, “Feed my lambs” or “Tend my sheep,” he is sending his followers out on God’s mission of love. Just as Matthew had “The Great Commission,” John has a commission. “Feed my sheep” is John’s commission story of engaging in mission. 

He uses Simon Peter, who is known as the leader of those early followers, to tell his story. Simon Peter received the Holy Spirit and was commissioned for God’s mission directly from Jesus (John 20:19-23). So, John uses Simon Peter to model what it means to follow Jesus. 

After the resurrection, Simon Peter decides to go fishing. While fishing all night and not catching any fish, Jesus shows up and life changes. It is after Jesus has had a meal with them that Jesus asks Simon Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than these?” Simon Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus sends him out to love others as he has been loved.  

To Live with Jesus 

Here is where living with Jesus and engaging the mission comes in.  I know it feels arbitrary, but to live with Jesus is to feed his lambs. To feed his lambs is to live with his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner sisters and brothers as well. 

Just to be clear, Simon Peter was doing what he knew to do, yet Jesus engaged him in the mission of feeding his lambs.  As good as it is, there is more to loving Jesus than doing what you know to do. There is more to loving Jesus than discussing the scripture and deciding who needs care. It is more than raising questions for missional discussions, entertaining differing points of view, and being tolerant and open. 

Each of these things are extremely important, but loving Jesus is more than being friends with him or knowing about him. Engaging in mission is to live with Jesus in such a way that you are transformed by your relationship with him.  

What is Engaging in Mission About?

Engaging in mission is not about how you feel about Jesus or God’s mission. It is not about your opinion, your point of view, or your thoughts about particular scriptures. It is not about how much or how little education you have or what position you hold. It is about loving people as you have been loved. 

Engaging in mission is about living with Jesus and loving the people he loves. In fact, he says, “I want you to keep doing what I was doing. As the Father sent me so I send you.” In other words, “feed my lambs” means feeding people, caring for those who were pushed aside, healing those who were broken, restoring relationships for those who have become marginalized, serving in humility, and even dying on a cross. 

You engage in mission, not because it is a good thing to do, but because God’s love for you and your love for God is expressed in real acts of love for others. Regardless of who they are or what they have done, you love because God first loved you. 

Engaging in mission means living with Jesus so that when you hear him say, “As the Father sent me so I send you,” you go. 

Respond with Love

You have been commissioned to love others as you love Jesus. How will you engage in God’s mission today? Be aware of the people God sends your way. Be mindful of the opportunities you have to respond with love. How will you practice who you are as a follower of Jesus?  In what new way will you love others as Christ has loved you? 

Engaging in mission transforms you. Be aware of what helps turn your love for Jesus into an outward expression of love and care. 

Prayer

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

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you engage in God’s mission of love? When were your preferences challenged? When were you anxious about expressing your love? When were you aware that you were being sent to love others as God in Jesus loves you? When did you relax in loving others? What will you do differently tomorrow?

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?   

How often do you stop and reflect upon what you are learning about yourself, your ministry, and your leadership? What triggers your times of reflection? And what do you do with what you are reflecting upon? Heavy questions for summer reading, but I have a reason for asking.

I am in a period of reflection. I just entered my 50th year under appointment as a United Methodist minister. Yeah, you read it correctly. I have been at this work of loving, learning, and leading for a long time. As part of my reflection, I have decided to share some things I have learned over the last half-century. Wow, now I am making myself feel old.

So, will you give me a few minutes of your time over the next 5 weeks to share some of the things I have learned? (I wrote a blog several years ago “10 Things I’ve Learned in 4.5 Decades of Ministry.”

The focus over the next several weeks is to emphasize what is important for Christ-centered leaders to know and act on. It is my hope that you will find this helpful and fruitful in leading people to become who God has created them to be.

The Most Important Lesson: People are Important

So, here goes. The most important thing I have learned over 50 years of ministry is: People are important. Regardless of who a person is or what that person has done, regardless of whether a person agrees with me or even likes me, regardless of whether the person lives the life I want them to live, each and every person is loved by God.

Over the years, as I have experienced God’s love for me, I have learned to love others the way God has loved me. As I have grown deeper in my relationship with Jesus, I have learned that each and every person is a person God has given to me to love. A lot of words to say, People are important.

When I was 10 years old, the musical “Funny Girl,” was on Broadway. One of the famous songs from that musical has shaped my life for almost 60 years. I first heard it on the radio and television. I sang it in junior high and high school choruses. I have seen the movie several times. Even today, I am taken back to times of my childhood when I hear the song, “People.”

People,

People who need people,

Are the luckiest people in the world.

We’re children, needing other children.

And yet letting a grown-up pride

Hide all the need inside.

Acting more like children than children

A feeling deep in your soul

Says you were half now you’re whole.

No more hunger and thirst.

First be a person who needs people

People who need people

Are the luckiest people in the world. 

The musical is about a woman who has discovered that the luckiest people are not those who have enjoyed fame and fortune, but rather those who find special relationships with others. She is disconnected with almost everyone around her, then she sings, “people who need people are the luckiest people.” The song suggests that you only become one of the luckiest people “first” being “a person who needs people.” Another way of saying it is, people are important.

The Importance of Meaningful Connections

As part of my reflection one of the things I have learned over and over is, as followers of Jesus, you and I are in the people business. People thrive and find fulfillment when they have meaningful connections with others. People require companionship, support, and interaction with other people to lead fulfilling lives. Relationships play a significant role in the overall well-being, happiness, and fulfillment of all of us.

I have also learned that you and I are not only in the people business, we are also in the loving people business. As difficult and inconvenient as it can be at times, loving others as God has loved us is who we are. Remember, as a Christ-centered leader, who you are is how you lead.

The Scriptural Foundation: Love One Another

There are more than a few scriptures that undergird the importance of people. Scriptures like “…love your neighbor as yourself;” “welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed you…” and “faith, hope, and love remain…the greatest of these is love.” I am aware that I shortened my examples by leaving out references to loving God and to the glory of God. I have made an assumption, if you are a Jesus follower, God is in the first place of your loving and leading, which makes loving people extremely important as a response to God’s love for you.

The list goes on, but let us use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on the importance of people.

Read: John 13:34-35

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

Reflect

These words of Jesus are part of his farewell teaching to his followers. Before he leaves them, he gives them this commandment to love one another as he has loved them. Why does he give them this commandment? By loving one another they are showing others what it means to be one of his followers.

A New Perspective on Love

In the accounts of the good news according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment is to love God, your neighbor, and even your enemies. In John’s account of the good news, Jesus teaches a new perspective to love. Just as in the other accounts, love is inclusive. God’s love is directed to all people.

The difference for John is, the love of God is not an individualistic personal blessing, but a distinctive action of goodwill and care for others. Love received and shared reveals that the followers of Jesus are not merely “nice people” but are agents of God’s love for the world.

Love as a Deliberate Act of Goodwill

I hope it goes without saying that the love used in the above verses is “agape.” The love of God expressed by John is not an abstract quality, attitude, or feeling. It is a deliberate act of goodwill and care for others. God loves us, and we love others in response to God’s deliberate action on our behalf in and through Jesus.

Maybe the best way of saying it is, love acts before it feels. So, what does that mean for you as a Christ centered leader?

When you discover the authentic life of trusting God and living in love, your priorities shift from trying to nail down just the right doctrine to following the living Jesus every moment of every day. Your relationships shift from trying to control those in your life to discovering the potential of others and assisting them in developing and living into their full potential.

Loving Others: Relating Authentically and Caring Deeply

Said another way, when people are important, you learn how to relate to others in authentic and caring ways, you begin to understand the spiritual connection you have with others, and you learn to love those with whom you disagree or who put you off. When people are important, you will appreciate the bigger picture of God’s truth and begin to live your faith as a witness to God’s love for you and others. You will move from the settledness of mere belief and learn to live and lead with unimagined possibilities.

From John’s perspective, Jesus loved his followers selflessly. He was not concerned, as often you and I are, of what he might receive in return for his love. He did not think of what he might feel if his love failed or was not returned. His one desire was to give himself to those he loved. Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Sacrificial Love: No Limits, No Cross

Jesus loved his followers sacrificially. There was no limit to what his love would give, and to where his love would go. If love meant the Cross, he was prepared to go to that Cross. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that love is meant to bring us happiness. Ultimately it does, but love will first bring pain and sacrifice. Hear the words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Understanding Love: Knowing and Accepting

Jesus loved his followers understandingly. He knew his followers. He knew their strengths as well as their weaknesses. The people who really love you are the people who know you at your worst as well as your best. The great thing about love is, you are loved for who you are. The love of God, we know in and through Jesus, is real love and total love. It loves not just part of a person but loves the whole person, the better and the worse. The heart of Jesus is big enough to love you as you are. Hear the words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Leading with Love: The Call of a Christ-Centered Leader

People are important. As a Christ-centered leader, you are called to lead the way in loving and accepting others. By the way you love and care for the weak as well as the strong, the strugglers as well as the achievers, will show, not only who you are as a follower of Jesus but, will show the world what it means to be a Jesus follower.

Loving others as you have been loved reveals who you are, and who you are is how you lead.

Respond

For you, as a Christ-centered leader, people are important. So…

Take People Seriously

Take people seriously. Many people have no one to love them. Whether it is by their own behavior or belief, people have separated themselves from others. Regardless of their reasons for separation or disconnection, each person is a person who God loves. You, being a receiver of God’s love, are also a conduit and giver of God’s love. God wants to love people through you. Be who God has created you to be, take people seriously so that God can love them through you.

Listen to People

Listen, listen, listen to people. One of the most important ways to take people seriously is to listen to them. One thing I have learned is many people just want to know that they have been heard. As time-consuming as it might seem, give time to listening to others. Whether you are interested or not, whether it makes sense or not, whether it is part of your agenda, loving others as you have been loved is not about you. Be who God created you to be, listen to people so that God can love them through you.

Be Generous with People

Be generous with people. I have learned that most of us think the worst of people. Regardless of the situation or circumstance, think the best of others. Please give them the benefit of your doubt until you learn differently. Too often you react to people based on your assumptions or perceptions. Learn to respond out of the love you have experienced in and through Jesus. God did not create you to be the judge. God created you to be the witness. Be who God created you to be. Be generous with people so that God can love them through you.

Be Kind, Patient, and Honest

Be kind, patient, and honest with people. Encourage them, support them, and assist them in becoming who God has created them to be. Model God’s love in the way you interact with others and work for their well-being. By the way you love and care for them, you will be a witness to who you are as a follower of Jesus, and you will be a conduit of God’s love.

People are More Important Than Policies, Positions & Politics

Remember that people are more important than policies, positions, and politics. We all work within organizations and institutions that seek to love and serve people. But too often, we emphasize the things put in place to help us love and serve more than the people we are given to love and serve. To love others as you have been loved will mean you will learn to navigate the systems and policies that too often separate people, create anxiety, and cause harm. Keep in mind, what separates and causes harm often was created to bring people together and to work for their good. People are important. Learn to use the policies, positions, and politics as instruments of God’s love, to work for the ultimate good of others. Be who God created you to be, so God can love others through you.

People are Important

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

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

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

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

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

Wow! What a model of people are important. How many times have we sacrificed being “in a relationship” for the personal satisfaction of being “in the right?” How many times have we won an argument but lost a friend or damaged a heart?

Jesus Came to Redeem our Relationships

Did Jesus come to teach us “right” theology? Or did he come to redeem our relationships with God and with one another? He saved the world by teaching twelve individuals how to get along and to belong to one another. In other words, Jesus saved the world by teaching them that people are important. He taught them how to be in a relationship with one another.

Relationships are central to who we are as followers of Jesus. God is love, and love is impossible outside of relationships. One of the most important things I have learned over 50 years of ministry is that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.

Love one another as you have been loved. It is who you are as a follower of Jesus. And who you are is how you lead.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • How did you experience taking people seriously, listening, being generous, and placing people before policy, position, or politics?
  • In what other ways did you put people first?
  • In whom did you experience God’s love?
  • With whom did you share God’s love?
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.

You have just celebrated Easter, a time of hope and promise, yet there is a lingering feeling of despair. You hear and read about the news reports that suggest the new day you have just announced has not yet dawned. You are surrounded with people with different points of view on just about everything and you wonder if there is anyone who really cares about the truth of God’s love and the power of new life. 

Even with the hope of the resurrection and your faith rooted in God through Jesus, you know that lump-in-the-throat, knot-in-the-stomach feeling of anxiety. At your best, there are times you feel everyone wants something from you. And at your worst, even an act of kindness seems like a veiled attempt to manipulate you. How do you keep yourself healthy? How do you live with and lead through despair? 

Addressing Despair

Despair is not a word we associate with leadership. But you and I both know, all too well, that as a leader you face despair every day in some form. Ari Weinzweig, in his book Dealing With Despair in Day-to-Day Leadership, writes, “Despair comes quietly in our heads, hearts, and bodies, but if we don’t handle it well, it can have negative impacts…”  In other words, if you don’t name, face, and deal with your own despair, you will not be able to care for and lead others in and through despair. 

Everyone has dealt with despair at some time in their lives. It can be caused by deep loss, seemingly impossible financial circumstances, paths forward blocked by systemic unfairness or the unexpected departure of a partner. Sometimes it’s a combination of all of the above. When it hits, even with all the advantages you have going for you, despair is hard to handle. 

So, let’s take a look at one of the resurrection stories to name, face, and deal with despair so you can and will lead with courage and effectiveness. 

Again, let’s use the pattern of read, reflect, respond, and return as a way of examining this story of Mary visiting the tomb of Jesus.   

Read John 20:1-18

Focus on John 20: 11-18 in italics below

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So, she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed, for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. 

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her. 

Reflect

Mary stands weeping at the tomb. The body she was expecting to find is gone. But there are two angels there. Angels are messengers of life and good news. They ask Mary about her tears. In her hopelessness and despair she answers, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 

Then she mistakes Jesus for the gardener. As we have seen in past studies of John’s gospel, John writes on two levels. On one level Mary’s lack of perception might have been that she was overcome by grief or blinded by tears. But on another level, she was facing the wrong direction. She couldn’t take her eyes off the tomb. In her grief and despair, she literally had her back to Jesus. So, she experiences him as a stranger. 

Whom are you seeking?

Jesus asks, “Whom are you seeking?” He does not ask “What are you seeking” but “Whom are you seeking?” Mary, assuming that this stranger might have been involved in moving Jesus’ body, asks if she might have the body to care for it. She loved Jesus. This is her way of showing her love, even after he is gone. She is still acting in grief and despair. 

It is then that Jesus, the risen Christ, speaks her name, “Mary.” It is the shepherd calling one of his sheep, and Mary recognizes the voice of her shepherd. It is at this point that she turns to him. She changes direction. She turns from focused on despair to focusing on hope. And in adoration and wonder, she falls at his feet and utters, “Rabboni.” 

Holding On

She attempts to hold on to him, which for John is an association with holding onto the past. Without recognizing it or naming it, she wants things to go back to normal, the way they were before the crucifixion. But Jesus insists that she cannot continue to hold on to him in that way. 

Mary is the first to see Jesus. She is now a messenger of his resurrection and ascension. Rather than allowing her to cling to him, Jesus sends her on a mission to tell the others what she has seen and heard. 

Like Mary, we are sent forth to announce that the body is not in the tomb. We can face our despair and turn toward hope. The hope found in God’s love we see and experience in Jesus. God’s love has not come to end. 

Name the Despair

So, what can we learn from this story? First, Mary names her despair. It is real. “They have taken away my Lord, and I now know where they have laid him.” 

David Whyte writes: “Despair takes us in when we have nowhere else to go; when we feel the heart cannot break anymore, when our world or our loved ones disappear, when we feel we cannot be loved or do not deserve to be loved, when our God disappoints, or when our body is carrying profound pain in a way that does not seem to go away. We give up hope when certain particular wishes are no longer able to come true and despair is the time in which we both endure and heal, even when we have not yet found the new form of hope.” 

What we know is that denial, pretending to yourself and to others that you don’t feel despair makes your situation worse and your life miserable. Brené Brown reminds us, “Without understanding how our feelings, thoughts and behaviors work together, it’s almost impossible to find our way back to ourselves and each other.” So, Mary names her despair. 

Mary Faces Her Despair

Second, Mary faces her despair. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ Supposing he was the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).” 

Facing despair requires trust. Trust is fundamental to relationships. It requires vulnerability as well as authenticity and integrity. Look at Peter’s vision in Acts 10. To trust means you have to let go of your suspicious feelings and imagine that people around you have your best interest at heart. I know that is not always the reality, but without trust you will never face your despair. 

I also know that it is not easy to trust when your trust has been violated.  But distrust leads to isolation. So, take the risk and start trusting. By modeling trust with the people you are leading, you will actually build a movement of trust. People who encounter a trusting leader want to be trustworthy. Mary trusted the gardener. 

Mary Offers Hope

And third, Mary offers hope. “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and she told them that he had said these things to her.” Despair comes when hope goes dark. But when you decide to turn from the darkness and step into the light, despair begins to grow into hope. 

Although it’s difficult to remember when you are in the middle of it, despair when acknowledged and faced, can lead to positive and creative outcomes. Psychologist Mary Pipher says: “What despair often does is crack open your heart. When your heart cracks open, it begins to feel joy again. You wake up. You start feeling pain first. You feel the pain first, but then you feel the joy.” 

Trust Your Relationships

After you have acknowledged your despair and faced it, then trust the relationships you have developed. Mary went back to her community, the disciples, to tell them what she had experienced. 

Community emerges from those with whom you associate. It is built upon the relationships you develop at home, work, or play. Wherever it does, it is critical to find hope in the midst of despair. Just as isolation is a breeding ground for despair, healthy relationships are the protection against despair. When you have people close to you, you have a connection to something more important than yourself. You can be yourself as well as share yourself. It is in giving to and sharing with others that you will find the greatest joy. 

Mary’s despair was transformed when she began to share her hope with those closest to her. 

Respond

It is not easy to acknowledge and face your despair. But there is evidence that understanding hope and making it a daily practice makes a difference in overcoming despair. If you practice hope in good times, you are more able to see possible solutions and new ideas in challenging times. There are several ways to practice hope in leadership. 

Look for Hope

Focus on the positive and not the negative. Just as Mary in the story, when she focused on the tomb and what she did not have, she had her back to Jesus, the one whom she was seeking.  Practice looking for Jesus in everyday situations and relationships. You will experience him in unexpected places at unexpected times.

Make Hope Happen

Become familiar with the Hope Cycle and promote hope and a hopeful view.

  • Know your context. Where you are.
  • Know your goal. Where you are going.
  • Navigate the barriers. The path to get you to where you are going.
  • Claim the agency to move forward. Know what you can do. And ask for help along the way. 

Be Grateful. 

Pay attention to the positives when the problems feel overwhelming. Sam Keen writes, “Make a ritual of pausing to appreciate and be thankful. The more you become a connoisseur of gratitude, the less you are the victim of resentment, depression, and despair. Gratitude will gradually dissolve the hard shell of your need to possess and control and transform you into a generous being. The sense of gratitude produces true spiritual transformation. And for no particular reason, despair is replaced with an undefinable sense of hope, and enthusiasm returns.” 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Regardless of how small, what hope did you experience?

  • How did you offer hope to others? 
  • Who is helping you name, face, and transform despair?
  • Ask God to give you the power to love others as God has loved you. What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader? 
  • Ask God to give you the power to turn despair into hope.

As Jesus followers, we talk a lot about love. We talk about loving our neighbors, as well as our enemies. We talk about including strangers, as well as listening to people with whom we disagree. We do a lot of talking, but when do we put love into action?

Jesus says that the people in our neighborhoods and cities will know that we belong to him when we put love into action by loving one another the way he has loved us. Part of your responsibility as a Christ-centered leader is to help people love others as Jesus has loved them. To take your responsibility seriously, you have to model the love of Jesus by loving the way Jesus loved. You love the people who God has entrusted to your care.

Leading with Love 

Loving like Jesus is not easy. You are leading some people who put a lot of emphases on the social aspects of the gospel and at the same time you are leading others who put a lot of emphasis on the personal aspects of the gospel. How do you model for each group the love of Jesus? To add to the difficulty, you meet people with different experiences from your own. How do you love them?

Keep this in mind. In every human heart is the need to be loved and the need to be challenged to love. Everyone entrusted to your care is seeking to experience, understand, and express love in ways that make a difference in their lives and in the world in which they live. How will you model the love of Jesus for them? 

Again, this week,  use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to learn more of who you are as a Christ-centered leader.   

Read John 13:34-35 

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

Reflect

Some think the biggest challenge facing the church today is human sexuality. But there is a greater challenge. It is the challenge of loving others just as Jesus has loved us. Is it possible to love as Jesus loved in the world in which we live? 

Learning to love and modeling love is the challenge of every Christ-centered leader. But it is not only your challenge, learning to love is the challenge of the church, our nation, and the world. When our focus is on differences and disagreements, how do we walk together as sisters and brothers, united by the love of God? 

Love One Another

In the midst of cultural wars, we have made enemies out of the people who disagree with us. We have used the words of Jesus as instruments of pain and separation instead of instruments of agape and reconciliation. Jesus says that the mark of true discipleship is seen in how we love one another. 

Am I missing something when I think that Jesus meant for us to work on bringing people together instead of separating people? Instead of using words that vilify and demean aren’t we to use words of hope and encouragement? 

Only Love Can Do That

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his book, A Testament of Hope, wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that… I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.” 

In his sermon titled, “Love Your Enemies,” King gives several reasons why Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” One reason he gave was this: 

“Jesus says to love your enemies because love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love, they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So, love your enemies.” 

Learn to Love as Jesus Loved

The question is, how do we learn to love as Jesus has loved? Where do we find the desire and the courage to love one another as we have been loved? 

The answer to that question starts with focusing on Jesus. In our culture, you are pressured to declare your allegiance with one side or another. You are either evangelical or progressive, or you are either traditional or liberal. You could likely add others. You are challenged to place your focus on one side or the other. 

Where You Start Matters

Again, the answer to the question starts with focusing on Jesus. Where you start makes all the difference. If you start with the values of either side, you miss the value of loving like Jesus. If you start with Jesus, you begin to love like Jesus. 

T. M. Anderson provides an answer. He writes, “The goal of spending time with Christ in prayer is to have His character become our character.  For our life to be hidden in His life, his nature to become our nature, and His habits our habits.  It is possible to become so intimately acquainted with a practice, a way of doing something that you can do it without thinking.  It becomes second nature, natural.  When we find the secret place of abiding in Christ, our ordinary, daily interactions with people will become much more than mundane.  They will be majestic opportunities to fulfill God’s purpose.  We will become fruitful Christians.  All fruitfulness of this kind flows out of intimacy with Him.” 

To Love Like Jesus Is a Decision

To love like Jesus is not a feeling. It is a decision. You don’t love because you feel like it or because someone agrees with you or because it benefits you.  You love because you are a follower of Jesus and that is what followers of Jesus do. 

As a teenager, our youth group would sing “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus.” The words were this: 

I have decided to follow Jesus.  

I have decided to follow Jesus. 

I have decided to follow Jesus. 

No turning back. No turning back.

Following Jesus

When you are being wooed by God’s grace to follow Jesus and when you have been loved by God through Jesus, you make a conscious decision to follow Jesus. Your decision to follow seals the deal on who you love and how you love them. When you decide to follow Jesus, to love like Jesus, there is no turning back. No turning back. 

It is by loving one another that we show the world that we belong to Jesus. Our courage to love comes from our willingness to engage in a life-changing relationship with Jesus and with the people with whom we interact each day. It goes without saying that the love we are talking about is based upon God’s love for us.  Our love for those around us grows out of the love we experience and know through Jesus Christ.

The good news is Jesus gives us the ability to love each other. The world will know the depth of your relationship with Jesus by the way you love others, especially strangers and enemies. 

May your thoughts, words, and actions, your loving others, bear the mark of true discipleship. Because who you are is how you lead. 

Check out LeaderCast Episode 252 – Words that Matter – Love

Or explore  “Love Shaped Leadership” , “Leading With the Heart of Jesus”,

“Being A Leader Who Loves” or “Leadership and Love.”

Respond

The good news in John’s gospel is “if you have seen Jesus you have seen God.” When Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you” he is saying, “Love one another as God loves.” 

We don’t love one another because it is practical or because it works. We love because we are the sons and daughters of God. We love because it is who we are. It is not easy. People who love unconditionally usually wind up on a cross. Remember that crucifixions have a way of being followed by resurrections. The end of love is its beginning. Only those who are foolish enough to lose their lives will find them. It is the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies that lives. 

Jesus did not tell his followers to love because it would work. It never occurred to him whether it was practical or not. As followers of Jesus, we love because that is who we are. 

Of course, you don’t have to be a follower of Jesus. But if you are, one of the conditions is that you love outsiders, people who are different, whether they be your friends or not, and that you pray for people you consider to be enemies, those who hurt you and take advantage of you. Because it is God’s nature to love, you love who God loves. 

It is by the way you love others that the community and the world know you are a follower of Jesus. The single most important factor of a Christ-centered leader is love. Who you are is how you lead. 

Prayer

O God, show the world your love through me today.

Stir up within me the desire to serve you in trust and obedience;

the desire to not only do good but to be good;

the desire to live peaceably with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, enemies;

and the desire to surrender this day and every part of my life: family, friends; fears, failures; finances, fantasies; focus and future to your love in Jesus Christ.

Make me aware of the people around me today so that I might be a blessing to someone somewhere today. I offer myself to you in and through the love I know in Jesus. Amen 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. In what situations did you find yourself loving like Jesus? Upon what criteria did you base your decision to put love into action? In what situations did you help others put love into action? What difference did loving like Jesus make in your life and the lives of the people around you today? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Have you ever tried to go 24 hours without saying something negative about another person? If you are like most people, you shrug off little “white” lies, slander, and gossip as “only words.” Words that are not meant to hurt or belittle anyone, become hurtful and harmful when not taken seriously.

Your Words Matter

Your words matter. As a leader, people pay attention to what you say and how you say it. Your words can and do shape the reality of the people who hear them. The Bible clearly states the influence of words, teaching that God created the world with words.

In his book, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes, “Like God, human beings also create with words. We have all had the experience of reading a novel and being so moved by the fate of one of its characters that we felt love, hate, or anger. Sometimes we cried, even though the individual whose fate so moved us never existed. All that happened was that a writer took a blank piece of paper, and through words alone created a human being so real that he or she was capable of evoking our deepest emotions.”

Words are tangible and powerful 

I think that is one reason Paul wrote to the newly formed church in Ephesus while instructing them on how to live as followers of Jesus, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 The Good News Bible)

I am writing today to ask you to consider the impact of your words. Are you able to go one day without saying something negative about another person? Let’s try an experiment to discover if you can. Use the pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to discover how you do.

Keep in mind, just as who you are is how you lead, what you say and how you say it reflects who you are as a person and as a leader.

Read John 8:1-11 

And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he returned to the temple. All the people gathered around him, and he sat down and taught them. The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” They said this to test him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. 

They continued to question him, so he stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Bending down again, he wrote on the ground. Those who heard him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd. 

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”

She said, “No one, sir.” 

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.” 

Reflect

Most people when they read this story get stuck on the woman, adultery, the Law of Moses, or on Jesus’ action of writing in the dirt. Some get stuck on the “Neither do I condemn you,” as a sign of forgiveness. Others get stuck on, “Go, and…don’t sin anymore” as an example of grace and transformation. Regardless of what part of the story speaks to you, there is something to learn here.

Screaming at Trees

Robert Fulghum, in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, tells a story of the Solomon Islanders. Some of the villagers practice a unique form of logging. If a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, the natives cut it down by yelling at it.

Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree just at dawn and suddenly scream at it at the top of their lungs. They continue this for thirty days. The tree dies and falls over. The theory is that the hollering kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.

Those poor naïve people. Screaming at trees. Too bad they don’t have the advantages of modern technology and science. I don’t yell at trees. I may yell at televisions, cars, drivers of other cars, my wife, and my children.

What Good Does it Do to Yell?

I even shake my fist and yell at God sometimes. I have heard people, educated people yet at umpires, officials, coaches, and players and they are not even at the game. People yell at step ladders, televisions, computers, and machines. Especially machines. Machines and family get most of the yelling.

What good does it do? Machines and things just sit there. Even hitting and kicking them doesn’t help. As for people, the Solomon Islanders might have a point. Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. You remember the words, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words – they break my heart.”

Words that Cut to the Soul of People

You don’t even have to yell. All you have to do is speak. In her book, The Cracker Factory, Joyce Rebeta-Buritt, tells of a woman by the name of Cassie. She drinks too much and is hospitalized for emotional distress. She writes a letter to her brother, Bob. This is part of what she writes:

“It’s been one hell of a year. I’ve been running around half crazy, trying to remember whatever it is Alexander (her psychiatrist) said I learned in the hospital the last time. Bob, I don’t even know. I just know that I’m coming unraveled and can’t seem to stop it. It’s been a whole year of Charles’ (her husband) running off and slamming doors when I need him. I tell him I’m sick and he says, “You’re telling me? I’m sick of your sickness.” And…bam…out the door.

He looked at me one night and said, “Cassie, you’re a loser.” Bob, when I stand on Judgment Day to hear myself condemned to hell, it will be no more devastating and irrevocable than Charlie’s “You’re a loser.” Forever defective. Forever doomed. No hope at all.”

Your Words Can Shape the World

Your words matter. As a leader, you shape the world and the reality of the people who hear your words. Just reflect upon it for a moment, God, who has had every right to yell at us, has shaped our reality by sending us an encouraging Word. God, who could yell and say, “I’ll love you when you get your act together,” did not spare his only son, but gave him up for us all. God’s encouraging Word is Jesus.

In the scripture for today, Jesus said to the crowd ready to stone the woman, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” I think these words are the most overlooked and dismissed in the story.  It is easy to miss the point of God’s grace.  I mean, it is just words. “Sticks and stones…but words…do great harm. So, are you ready? Are you able to go one day without saying something negative about another person?

If you are without sin, say your harmful and hurtful words. But, if you know God’s Word made flesh in Jesus, use “helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.”

Respond

O God, thank you for your Word made human in Jesus. Forgive me when I forget how powerful your Word is in my life and I use words that hurt and harm. By your grace, give me clear thinking so that what I say will provide what is needed to help others become who you created them to be. Use my words as an instrument of your love and peace in the lives of the people you have given me to love and service. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Return

So, how did you do today? Were you able to go the whole day without saying something negative about another person? Give God thanks for the opportunities you have had today to love others as God has loved you. Where did you use encouraging words today? How were your words received? How were you aware of the words of others? What was said and how could it have been said differently? Think about this, your words reflect who you are and who you are is how you lead.

When do you do it?

John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, tells the story of the first time he attended worship in a Christian church. He said he didn’t know what to expect, but what he thought was going to happen did not happen. After attending worship for three Sundays, he became frustrated.

One Sunday, after worship, he approached a man who looked like someone with authority.

Wimber asked, “When do you do it?”
The man, who was an usher that morning, asked, “When do we do what?”
Wimber answered, “You know, the stuff,”
The usher replied, “And what stuff might that be?”
Wimber said, becoming more frustrated by the moment, “The stuff in the Bible.”
Now the usher is frustrated, “I still don’t understand. Help me. What do you mean?”
Wimber said, “You know, multiplying loaves and fish, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, giving sight to blind people. That stuff.”
The usher replied somewhat apologetically, “Oh, we don’t do that. We talk about it and pray about it, but we don’t actually do it. No one really does it, except maybe those crazy fundamentalists.”

What does the church value?

The values of the church in the above story are revealed through the actions and inactions of the congregation. Anyone of our congregations will reveal who we are to the community through our actions and inactions with the people we encounter.

Often our values are unnamed. When this is the case, it is only when a conflict of values occurs, that we become aware of what we value. As a congregation, when conflicts arise around core values, consider whether you have stated your core values.

But don’t stop there.

Name the behaviors that bring the values to life. When you do, you’ll be better able to encourage people as well as define expectations of within the church culture. people understand the expectations of following Jesus. Afterall The core values point to who we are as Jesus followers.

After all, if our core values are going to help reveal who we are as Jesus followers, they will propel us to action. If this seems like a challenge, remember, you’re not alone on this journey. Scripture reveals the conflict of values that can unfold as we encounter the love of Jesus.

As a leader, consider exploring the core values of your congregation. Then, identify the behaviors that accompany the values. You'll be better able to encourage your congregation to follow Jesus. Find out more on the blog. #values #church #jesus #faith #transformingmission Transforming MissionA Conflict of Values in Scripture

Look at the story in John, chapter 9. It was the Sabbath day. A blind man comes to Jesus for healing. With a little spit, dirt, and a loving touch, Jesus restores the man’s sight. You would think the church would rejoice and celebrate this miracle performed in their very midst. But they are working from a different set of values.

A theological debate breaks out. It goes like this:

Part 1

“Wait a minute, doesn’t this man know that it’s against the law to heal on the Sabbath? The man must be a sinner, or he wouldn’t break the law like that.”
“Yes, but if he’s a sinner, how did he heal the blind man?”
“Well maybe the guy was just pretending to be blind.”
“His whole life he’s been pretending to be blind? I just don’t think he could pull that off. He’s not that smart, you know. He’s never even been to school. What would have been the point? You can’t teach a blind man to read and write.”
“Well, let’s go ask his parents. They ought to know.”

Part 2

So off they go to question the man’s parents.

“Is this your son?”
“Well, yes, he looks like our son, except for the fact that he can see and our son has been blind all his life.”
“Well, how could it be that he’s been blind all his life, but now he can see?”
“I don’t know! You’ll have to ask him.”

So, they question the man again.

Part 3

I can imagine this conversation going like this: “Hey you. Yes, you, the one who was once blind. You! What is going on here? We better get some answers from you, or you’re going to be in serious trouble.”

And the man replies, “Look, I really don’t know how to answer you. All I know for sure is that I was blind until Jesus came along, and now I see. Can’t you just accept that and leave me alone?”
“Oh, we’ll leave you alone, all right. Get out of here, and don’t come back! Find someplace else to go to church!”
Now, why would they do that? The answer is, or at least my answer is, they are operating out of a different set of values. Even though they say they are God’s people, they are revealing a different identity.Your value comes not in what you do or accomplish. Your value comes in following Jesus. As a leader, consider exploring the core values of your congregation. #values #church #jesus #faith #transformingmission Transforming Misssion

Walk As Children of the Light

This story reveals a conflict of values. The one who was born blind learns to walk in the light, while those who were gifted with normal sight choose to remain in darkness.

When we consider our own calling to “walk as children of light,” it’s easy to recognize which character in the story we ought to imitate. Like the man born blind, we too have been restored by our encounter with Jesus. We too have been saved by God’s free grace, and our eyes have been opened to see the world in a new, counter-cultural way.

If God’s grace is a value we’re willing to claim, our response to God’s grace will also come from our values. The challenge is, when aspirational values lead the way, we leave people wondering, “Is this who we are?” “Is this what defines us?” Instead of questioning who we are, let’s help people celebrate who we are as followers of Jesus.

Our core values motivate and sustain our behavior over the long run. Our values guide our behavior as well as our relationships with one another and with the community. Let’s be intentional in developing, sharing, and teaching the core values that focus our ministry and mission. When we do, we’ll be better able to help others encounter Jesus – the One who feeds, heals, and gives us eyes to walk as children of the light.

So let it be.

What’s Your Next Step?

  1. Download the Congregational Core Values Companion Sheets. You’ll be guided through leading local church leadership in identifying the congregation’s core values and the accompanying behaviors the church seeks to encourage.
  2. Listen to LeaderCast Episode 062: Are You Walking Your Talk? A conversation about congregational core values and behaviors
  3. Participate in Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians, Gospel of Gracea daily Bible Study that invites you to read, reflect, and respond to Scripture every day. We’ll deliver an email to your inbox each morning to help you journey through the book of Galatians. Sign up today! We’re starting April 22.

Did you hear the story of the little boy who fell out of bed? When his mother asked him what happened, he answered, “I don’t know.  I guess I stayed too close to where I got in.”

It is easy to do the same with our faith.  It is tempting to stay close to where we got in and never move.

Growth is important to every Christian. When a Christian stops growing, help is needed.  If you are the same Christian you were a few months ago, be careful.  You might need a checkup.  Not on your body but on your heart. You don’t need a physical checkup, you need a spiritual checkup.

Growth is especially important in becoming a courageous leader.

Courageous, faithful leaders are growing leaders. Courageous leaders know when change is needed. Here's a four step check-in process for staying in touch with your growth & development. #tgif #grow #courage #faith #christian #transformingmission Transforming Mission

 

Becoming a Courageous Leader – Grow

A few weeks ago, Sara Thomas introduced us to a weekly checkup called TGIF: Trust, Gratitude, Inspiration, and Faith.  She wrote, “…if all leadership begins with self-leadership, there are things that need to improve.”  She continued, “I know the impact reflection has on transformation.  If you want growth, stop and reflect.”

She proposed taking time each week to reflect upon four TGIF questions to assist in growing in faith and in developing as courageous leaders:

  1. What am I TRUSTING?
  2. For whom or what am I GRATEFUL?
  3. What is INSPIRING me?
  4. How am I practicing FAITH?

T.G.I.F.

Today, I want to share my experience with this spiritual habit.  It has become a weekly checkup for me.

Trusting

What am I trusting?

I am trusting the habit of prayer. I have been reflecting upon Paul’s words to the Roman Christians, “Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer” (Romans 12:12 CEB). I have learned that the only way I can deepen my prayer life is to pray.  In fact, I am trusting a shift in my habit.  It is a shift from having a prayer life to living a life of prayer.

I have also learned that courageous leaders have a habit of prayer.  So, let me offer you some encouragement.  If you want to deepen your prayer life, then pray.  Trust your relationship with God and pray.  Don’t attend a prayer lecture, engage in prayer discussions, or read “how-to” pray books.  Each activity is important, but the best way to establish a habit of prayer is to pray.

Grateful

For whom or what am I grateful?

This week, I am grateful for trusted friends. I am grateful for those so close they not only love me just the way I am, but they give of themselves so I can become who God created me to be. I am grateful for the embodiment of unconditional and unselfish love. I am grateful for the habit of meeting with or connecting with those who can speak truth with such love that I want to be more like Jesus.

It has been my experience that courageous leaders are surrounded with trusted friends who love so deeply they can speak the truth that brings transformation. As leaders, we have the opportunity to model such love.  I have learned that without those trusted friends, it is easy to compete with one another, insist on our own way, and quarrel with one another.  Courageous leaders, surrounded in love, step into the world to live and lead in such a way that we model the love of Jesus.

Inspiration

What is inspiring me?

This week, the habit of worship is inspiring me. Consider the words from the letter to the Hebrews, “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing.  Instead, encourage each other especially as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25 CEB).  Because I worship in different churches, with different Christians, at different times, I have learned to celebrate God’s love in every act of worship.

Through my experience of worship, I have learned that courageous leaders are inspired in and through a habit of worship. So often, as leaders, you and I need support and encouragement.  We need to be with people who celebrate God’s love in Jesus and who share God’s love as natural as breathing. We need the fellowship of like-hearted people, focused upon Jesus, leading the mission of reaching out and receiving people in God’s love, introducing people to God’s love, practicing God’s love, and engaging the community in God’s love.

Faith

How am I practicing faith? I am practicing faith by fixing my eyes on Jesus. My Lenten journey has me engaged in reflecting and sharing the grace I have experienced in and through Jesus and my friends.

This week I have reflected upon Jesus looking at the broken and distorted parts of my life. Instead of judging and condemning me, Jesus knelt in front of me and, from the basin of grace, he scooped a palm full of mercy and washed away my sin.  This week I have reflected upon how he has taken up residence in my life and has given me the opportunity to offer the grace I have received.  Because he has a forgiving heart, I have a forgiving heart.  Because he has forgiven me, I can forgive others.

Are you growing in your faith? Courageous leaders know when change is needed. Here's a four step check-in process for staying in touch with your growth & development. #tgif #grow #courage #faith #christian #transformingmission Transforming Mission

Courageous Leadership

John, in his Gospel, writes, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet.  I did this as an example so that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:14-15).

As courageous leaders, you and I must look beyond the literal reading of that scripture and allow ourselves to be washed by God’s love.  Courageous leadership is rooted in the message of God’s mercy.  Jesus offers unconditional love so we can offer unconditional love.  God’s grace precedes our mistakes, so our grace precedes the mistakes of others.  Those of us in the circle of Christ have no doubt of his love.  We now have the responsibility of enlarging the circle to include others who should have no doubt of our love.

If you and I are going to be who God created us to be, we need to keep growing in our faith. So, how are you growing in faith? What are you trusting? For whom or what are you grateful? What is inspiring you? How are you practicing faith?

Courageous leaders don’t make the mistake of the little boy.  They have habits that help them grow beyond where they started, engage in God’s love, and grow to become who God created them to be. So, let it be!

 

As I prepare for the year ahead, I am going to look and listen for God in every situation I find myself. God is in everything. Paul wrote to the Romans, “In everything God works for good with those who love him … ” (Romans 8:28).

Tom Long tells of Robert McAfee Brown who likes to use in his writing the musical metaphor of themes and variations. There are many musical compositions, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony for example, which begin with a clear, identifiable musical pattern, or theme. What follows in the music is a series of variations on this theme, the theme being repeated in ever more complex combinations. Sometimes the texture of these combinations is so complex that the theme is hidden, seemingly obscured by the competing and interlocking notes. But those who have heard the theme clearly stated at the beginning of the work can still make it out, can feel the music being organized by the theme.

Listen for life theme transforming mission

In Jesus Christ “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth ….” That’s the theme of all of life heard clearly by the ears of faith. Those who hear that distinct theme can hear it wherever the music of life is being played – no matter how chaotic or confusing the false notes surrounding it.

Prayer for Today

O God, in Jesus you have set the theme for my life. Please give me ears to hear your theme in the midst of the chaos and confusion of the world. Please give me eyes to see you in all the people I meet, in all the places I greet them, and in all the situations and circumstances I share with them. No matter what the discord, keep me in tune with you in and through Jesus. Amen.

listen life theme - transforming mission