Tag Archive for: love

Who you are is how you lead. As Jesus followers, Holy Week, and especially Good Friday, offer you an opportunity to Read, Reflect upon, and Respond to the events that give meaning and focus to your leadership. At this time in history, the courage you need for leading is found in Jesus and his response to the accusations and abuse he faced. 

Courage is not the absence of fear but is grace under pressure. Take a few minutes to read this scripture, reflect upon its truth and meaning, and respond to the grace being offered to you. You will become more the person and more the leader, God has created you to be. 

Read Luke 23:22-24 

“They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his lift. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  

Reflect

Jesus Prays

Luke has Jesus praying at particularly important points in his ministry. His pattern has been to go to a solitary or deserted place to pray. Jesus did this to keep his focus on what God had called and commissioned him to do. 

He prays seeking direction when he is tempted to follow the crowd, “Do I go with the crowd, or do I go to the cross?” He prays when Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. And he prays when his identity and purpose as suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and followed him. 

Now, in Luke 24, while he is on the cross, Jesus prays. The Roman government considered him an insurrectionist. The Jewish leaders considered him a blasphemer. Both wanted him out of the way. So, they conspired to have him crucified. The religious leaders, using their influence with the government leaders, helped to find him disloyal to Rome, so he was sentenced to be crucified. 

Crucifixion

Crucifixion was a public execution. There is evidence that as many as 800 crosses would line the road like power poles. Persons, mostly men, who attempted to overthrow Rome, were impaled on stakes, or nailed to crosses. It created fear in the people who passed by. It was a scene like this that Jesus was crucified publicly between two criminals. 

Nailed to one of those stakes, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This prayer was in keeping with the character and life of Jesus. He was praying for forgiveness for those who were violating him. In this story, the primary problem is ignorance. “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” They killed Jesus in ignorance. 

Forgiven for Ignorance

I know it seems strange that anyone would have to be forgiven for ignorance. We usually don’t put forgiveness and ignorance together. But when you think of the various kinds of ignorance that move and motivate people, the ignorance that closes eyes when there is an opportunity to see the truth, our only hope is forgiveness. The forgiveness rooted in the love of God is greater than our self-protection, fear, and anxiety. 

When I think about it, evil could be called intentional ignorance. When we refuse to listen or to understand, when we remain silent and do nothing, and when we turn our backs and say, “Well, it is terrible, but it is not my problem,” we are participating in intentional ignorance. 

As he hung on the cross, crowds of people walked by Jesus, hurling insults, “He saved others; let him save himself.” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” And Jesus responded, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” 

It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance. 

Intentional Ignorance

Think about it. Can you and I be forgiven for our ignorance to the sin and evil of the world? Can you and I be forgiven for intentionally turning our backs and remaining silent when we have the power and authority to know the truth and do nothing about it? 

I confess that this has bothered me for years. Below is not an exhaustive list, but it is part of my intentional ignorance list. I offer it to you for your reflection. 

Father, Forgive Us…

When we are filled with prejudice and let innocent people be targeted and killed because of the color of their skin, when we consider people of color less capable to achieve, and when we dismiss people of other cultures because they are different…Don’t we have the power to vote, legislate, and, more importantly, love? “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.” 

When we don’t use our position and power to work for equality for all people, especially when you know that women are paid less for the same work, not promoted with the same skills, and overlooked for being less than men…Don’t we have the power to initiate change in the places we work and more importantly, love? “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant. 

When children and adults are not important enough to protect. When guns are used in schools, in parks, in clubs, in churches to murder innocent people yet we demand our rights…Don’t we have the power to initiate change in the places we live by our right to work for the rights of all people regardless of age or power. “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.” 

When medications are used make more of a profit than to care for the health of others. Whatever happened to loving others as we have been loved? Don’t we have the responsibility to work for the good of others? “Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.” 

Oh, there is more. Keep in mind if you can think of more situations and circumstances, it might indicate you are not as ignorant as your actions reveal. Can you and I be forgiven for our ignorance? 

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” 

These words of forgiveness were spoken by a person whose only weapon was the love of God, whose only crime was being different, and who raised suspicion because he challenged the systems of hatred, prejudice, and bigotry. 

Yet, in the midst of being put to death for extending love, even to his enemies, Jesus called upon God to forgive the ignorance of his abusers and accusers. 

One of the meanings of the Cross is that God will not take our ignorance, intentional or not, as an excuse. God is not waiting for you to stop, recognize your ignorance, turn around, and do something about it. God has already acted. Listen to the prayer of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”  

Can you and I be forgiven for our ignorance? The truth is, we have already been forgiven. 

Respond

Where will you see Jesus today? How will you hear his words of forgiveness for you and for the people around you? In what situations or circumstances will you have the opportunity to work on behalf of another person? Who needs your help because you have the position and authority to help them? 

Return

Where did you experience God’s love today? How did you experience forgiveness? Where did you offer forgiveness? What could you have done differently regarding your interactions with people? Give God thanks for the day and for the people who are helping you become more who God created you to be. 

O Jesus, forgive us, our only hope is you. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

We begin another Lenten journey this week. Recently, I have had the opportunity to listen to several of you talk of your preparation for this journey, about Ash Wednesday Worship, the imposition of ashes, and Lenten studies as well as sermon series. In each conversation, whether directly discussed or implied, you have talked about a spiritual preparation to reflect upon God’s redemptive work in the world.

Your Relationship with Jesus

As I have thought about those conversations, I have been reminded of a fundamental aspect of the Lenten experience, the focus upon who we are in relationship to Jesus, the church, and the community. It is a focus upon the inner reality and depth of God’s love in our lives and upon how God’s love is lived out in and through us in real everyday and ordinary relationships. As I have reflected upon this, I have begun to ask myself the question, “For whom am I living my life?” 

Matthew 6

Our fundamental focus, our journey, begins with these words of Jesus, “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure, ‘play actors’ I call them, treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. 

When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. 

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for fifteen minutes of fame! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace” Matthew 6:1-6 (The Message). 

Holiness and Righteousness

I like Jesus’ direction in Matthew’s story. In the bigger picture, Matthew is concerned about holiness and righteousness. Our Lenten journey begins with being holy or righteous before God. Now, if I understand Matthew’s point of view, holiness means “set aside” or “different.” You live your life as “set aside” and as “different” from others. In fact, if you look at his writings closely, being set aside or different means being recognized as daughters and sons of God. You will find that in the beatitudes. 

Right Relationship

Being righteous means being in right relationship with God and with your neighbor, the people around you. Again, if you look closely at Matthew’s writings, he focuses upon relationships more than anything else. For example, “when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember your sister or brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” In other words, relationships are as important if not more important than your piety.

Loving Neighbors and Enemies

And it not just your primary relationships, Matthew records Jesus as saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your father in heaven…” Being righteous means living as daughters and sons of God, reflecting God’s image of love, even for your enemies. In fact, Jesus says, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Said another way, “You are God’s children, so live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” 

This Lenten experience can be interesting when taken seriously, especially when it comes to loving one another as God in Christ has loved you. If you take Jesus seriously from Matthew’s perspective, the total substance of your faith, your relationship to God, is lived out in loving your neighbor. 

For Whom am I Living my Life?

I like Kierkegaard’s understanding of neighbor. He wrote that neighbor was a category that included everyone, from one’s enemy to one’s spouse. It was the whole spectrum of human relationships from the least love-worthy to the most love-worthy. So, as you begin your Lenten reflections, focusing upon God’s love for you and your love for others, ask yourself the question, “For whom am I living my life?” 

Your Lenten Reflection

May I ask you to include this in your Lenten reflections this year? As you reflect upon for whom you are living your life, include the thought and actions of loving the persons who might not ever return your love as well as the persons who love you. It is easy to love those who return your love, but to love those who do not love you or are not worthy of your love takes God’s grace deep within your being. Practice the means of grace so that you can and will reflect more on the God who loves you and sends people to you to love.

Conflicting Values

Why do I ask you to include this? We are living in a time of conflicting values. There is a conflict between individual responsibility of loving friends and family and social responsibility of loving the neighborhood, the stranger, and even our enemy. 

It seems that most of us believe that we have done our part, as Jesus followers, when we smile, are nice, and are kind to one another. We love our neighbors, especially those who are friends, who agree with who we are, what we believe, and how we respond to the needs of the world. It also seems that most of us reduce our social responsibility to the level of humanitarian care. It is good that you care, but too often our efforts are reduced to caring for those who are worthy of our care. What happens if your neighbor ceases to be worthy of your love? 

When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor,” there are no conditions. There is nothing that terminates it. We are bound to our neighbor, whether friend or foe, through the love of God. We love because that is who we are as children of God.

Respond as a Follower of Jesus

There is a story of St. Francis of Assisi being attacked by a thief who had leprosy. Francis was beaten, stripped of his clothes, and robbed of his money. Before the thief could get away, St. Francis embraced his feet and kissed them. Now, I am not recommending that exact response, but I am trying to explain the behavior of St. Francis. Here it is. He responded out of who he was as a follower of Christ. St. Francis loved his neighbor because he had been told to love his neighbor. He loved for no other reason than being who God had created him to be. This kind of love is not easy. It is not based upon what you think or how it feels. It is based on who you are in relationship to God. Who you are is how you love your neighbor. 

Love is Who You Are

Fred Rogers, in his book The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember, wrote “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” 

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, described it this way, “Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 

In other words, love is not something you do but is who you are as followers of Jesus, as daughters and sons of God. 

Your Next Step

So, this brings us back to our Lenten journey. It seems to me there are three actions you can take regarding your experience this Lenten season.

  1.  You can ignore the development of your inner life of love and do what “playactors” do. That is another word for hypocrites. You can treat personal piety as a private matter and use prayer and study like a stage, saying the right things and acting compassionately as long as someone is watching. Does loving your neighbor mean loving only when it benefits you?
  2.  You can go overboard with your spirituality and try to prove that you are worthy of God’s love by becoming a martyr. There is a need for people to go down in defense of high ideals. There is a need for advocacy, for someone to stand up for those you cannot stand up for themselves. Is being a martyr for your cause what God created you to do? Take time this Lenten season to reflect upon who you are and why God has gifted you. You can only be a martyr once.
  3.  You can love your neighbor and your neighborhood. This could include advocacy with a different focus. You can focus upon God’s love for you as a beloved child of God and upon God’s love for the people around as beloved children of God, and upon God’s love for the people who are not worthy of your love as beloved children who God loves as much as God loves you. 

Works of Love

What could happen if you began to express your faith in works of love in your neighborhood? That you not only loved the people entrusted to your care, but you loved the strangers around you as well. That you would love all people with the same love that God in Jesus has loved you? Here is what Jesus says, “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”

Alone with God

It will be in those moments, alone with God, that you will begin again to experience why you are a follower of Jesus and why God has gifted you to be a hope-filled leader.  With God and God alone as your audience, begin your Lenten journey focused upon the life and love God has given you. It is my prayer that you will become the love you have experienced in and through Jesus. The hope you offer will grow out of the love you have received and offered in Jesus’ name. 

Seeing Me Play

Lou Little was the head football coach at Columbia University for 26 years. One of those years he had a boy who loved to play football but was not a very good player. The coach liked him not only because he played hard but because he had a strong character. He would see the boy occasionally walking arm in arm with his father across campus.

One day the boy’s mother called the coach and said that the boy’s father had died. She asked, “Would you tell him? You are close to him, and he respects you.” So, the coach found the boy, told him of his father’s death, and stayed with him until his mother arrived to pick him up and take him home.

After the funeral, there was a big game. The boy came to the locker room, suited up, sought out the coach, and asked, “Coach, may I start today?” 

The coach, feeling especially caring for the boy under the circumstances, said, “Yes, you may start, but remember, this is a big and important game. You might only play a few minutes. I’ll have to take you out. But you can start today.” 

The boy started and played the entire game. After the game, the coach came into the locker room, sought out the boy and asked, “Great game, son. Tell me, why did you have to play today?”

The boy answered, “Well coach, it is like this. Today was the first chance my father ever had to see me play. He was blind you know.”

Love One Another

You and I will only begin to love each other, our neighbors, and our neighborhoods, when we develop a more acute sense of the unseen eyes upon us, the eyes of God.

So, for whom are you living your life? May your Lenten experience bring you into the presence of God so real that you live only and wholly for God.

Remember, who you are is how you lead…and how you love.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

I hope your celebration with family and friends has been a good one. I’ve been thinking of you and giving God thanks for your ministry. I pray that the joy of Jesus will be with you throughout this next year. This brings me to something I have been thinking about. 

One of the songs I like at Christmas is titled, “The Best Gift of All.” The words are as follows:

The Best Gift of All

Candles glow from frosted windows

    Rooms are filled with twinkling lights,

There’s a manger scene, boughs of evergreen,

     Someone is singing ‘Silent Night’.

And every gift my heart remembers, 

     of easy laugher, dear old friends,

Precious faces and smiles, 

     the dancing eyes of a child,

All remind me once again: The best gift of all is Jesus,

     His love knows no season or place.

You can see Him in the firelight

     Reflected on each face.

And though we cherish the blessings of Christmas, 

     When his love seems especially near.

The Best Gift of All is Jesus – 

     All through the year. 

In a world of hidden motives and questionable agendas, there is still hope in what God offers. In the midst of our brokenness and the world’s chaos, Jesus is the message of God’s goodness. In Jesus there is something pure, something right, something true, someone good. The best gift of all is Jesus. He is with us all through the year.

Read  Luke 2:1-7

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. – Luke 2:1-7

Reflect

This Christmas I was reminded of a family that celebrates Christmas all through the year. Through a small white envelope stuck among the branches of a Christmas tree, there is no name, no identification, no inscription. The envelope just peeks through the branches of the tree. 

The tradition began years ago when Nancy’s husband Mike stated, “I hate Christmas. Not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it. I can’t stand the overspending, the frantic running, the gifts given in desperation because you can’t think of anything else.” 

Knowing how her husband felt, Nancy decided one year to bypass the usual gifts of “shirts and ties.” She decided to do something special for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Christmas Inspiration

Their son Kevin, who was 12 years old at the time, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, he participated in a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. The team was made up of kids who did not have the same advantages of Kevin. 

They dressed in faded tattered uniforms and shoes so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together. It was a sharp contrast to Kevin’s team in their new blue and gold uniforms and new wrestling shoes. As the match began, Nancy was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without protective headgear. It was a luxury the inner-city team obviously could not afford. Kevin’s team won easily. After the match, Mike shook his head sadly and said, “I wish just one of them could have won.” 

An Idea

It was at that moment that Nancy had the idea for Mike’s Christmas present. That afternoon, Nancy went to a local sporting goods store, bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. 

On Christmas Eve, Nancy placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what she had done. It was his gift from her. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year as well as the Christmases that followed. 

A Simple Envelope

Each Christmas, Nancy followed the tradition. One year she sent a group of Special Olympics youngsters to a hockey game. Another year she sent a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground a week before Christmas. Each year it was an act of kindness that offered hope to the recipients.

The envelope became the highlight of Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning. The children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As they grew older, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.

A Tradition Continues

Several years ago, Nancy lost Mike to cancer. When the next Christmas came around, Nancy was still wrapped in grief. She barely had enough desire to put up a tree. But Christmas Eve found Nancy placing an envelope on the tree. An amazing thing happened. The next morning it was joined by three more envelopes. Each of Mike’s children had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown for that family. Mike’s grandchildren now stand wide-eyed around the tree as their fathers take down the envelope. 

Hope-Filled Love

Now, what happened in that family? They experienced God’s incredible love. That love is our hope, and it is rooted in God’s gift in and through Jesus. 

So, as you put away your decorations, or think that Christmas is over, be sure to look in the tree one last time. There is one more gift. It is the best gift of all.

May the joy of Jesus be yours all through the year.

Respond

Be mindful of the people around you today. How is God inviting you to give the gift of Jesus? What might you do to give the gift of God’s love throughout the coming year? 

Pray

O God, I know the best gift I have ever received is your love. Because of Jesus, I have experienced your love and hope in and through the people around me. This next year, help me become an instrument of your love so that the people I encounter will experience the hope you have given me this Christmas. Just as I have received the best gift of all in Jesus, use me as a gift of love and hope this coming year. Amen   

Return

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. With whom did you interact? What new life were you offered? Give God thanks for the people you met today. With whom did you share the gift of God’s love? How did you share it? What do you celebrate about your sharing? What would you do differently? 

Remember

The best gift of all is Jesus. Let’s celebrate Hope Throughout The Year! 

Advent is a time of preparation. We are invited to prepare the way for something new and unknown. When Kim and I were expecting our first child, we did not know exactly who or what we were expecting. We did not know what the child would look like, be like, or how it would change our lives. All we knew for sure was that nothing would ever be the same. Even with all we did not know, we still cleared space, a nursery, a place for this unknown child to become a part of our lives. 

Advent is a time to prepare the way by becoming vulnerable and letting go of the things that take up too much room in our lives. We may not understand all we are preparing to receive, but we know the One who is coming brings us hope. 

Yearning for What We Cannot Name

That is what makes the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist so interesting. They both yearn for something they cannot name. For Isaiah, it is the revealed glory of the Lord. For John, it is the one who will come after him, who is mightier than he. Neither of them knows any details.

John cannot even give his hearers a name to listen for. All that either one of them can proclaim is that the old ways of life are passing away and that new life is on its way. Without the luxury of details and with no concession to our need to know who or what is coming, they call us to prepare the way for that new life, to clear away anything that might get in its way, and to wait without knowing when it will come, or what it will look like, or how it will change our lives. 

With that said, there is hope in making room for Jesus. 

Read: Isaiah 40:3-8 and Mark 1:1-7

A voice is crying out: “Clear the LORD’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God! Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain a valley plain. The LORD’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together; the LORD’s mouth has commanded it.”

A voice was saying: “Call out!” And another said, “What should I call out?” All flesh is grass; all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field. The grass dries up and the flower withers when the LORD’s breath blows on it. Surely the people are grass. The grass dries up; the flower withers, but our God’s word will exist forever. – Isaiah 40:3-8

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah: “Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.’”

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals.” – Mark 1:1-7

Reflect

A couple was expecting their second child. They looked in vain for a place in the house to create a nursery. After several lengthy discussions, they decided that the husband’s study would have to go. His library was divided up and moved into smaller bookshelves throughout the house. Even though he loved his library dearly, there was new life on the way, and the way had to be prepared. 

Making Room

Here is where we are in Advent. Whether we are expecting our own baby, the baby Jesus, or a grown-up Lord coming in great power and glory, we are called to prepare the way for new life. We are called to make room by letting go of our old ways, even our old loves, as painful as that might be. It is either we prepare the way for this new life or prepare ourselves for the news that we have been passed over because there is no room in us. 

At the heart of the messages of Isaiah and John is the challenge to wait without clinging to our preferences and to receive what new life God has for us. Both tell us that what we are hanging onto fades, withers, and passes away. It is only when we stop clinging to what has become gods for us and stop looking to those things to save us, that we can receive who the living God brings to us. It is only when we are able to empty our hearts and wait without our preferences that there is room for God to bring himself to us.

Deceptive Preferences

What is surprising is how deceptive some of our preferences are. My guess is that any one of us can turn and walk away from a golden calf. We could toss our savings out the window if we believed our souls depended on it. 

Those preferences are obvious, but what about our desire for independence? The belief that everything will be alright if we can just take care of ourselves and not have to ask anyone to help us. Or the romantic idea of friendship? The belief is that we can face anything in life if we just have one other person to love us the way we are, and to love in return. Or a variation on that one, the obsession with family. The idea of family is good, but the belief that our happiness and success is based upon surrounding ourselves with close and committed people who are just like us is not real. 

The most deceptive preference of all is the belief we can worship the way we want, when we want, and who we want if we live good lives. Being good and doing good is what is needed to get into heaven.

What preferences can you name?

The list is long, health, friendship, patriotism, power, money. I know you want to say to me that these are good things. And I will say, of course, they are. How else would they get in the way of what God has for us? 

The first criterion of an idol is that it makes us feel good in our hearts. That is why we grab ahold and hang on. We cling so tightly that eventually what we like and want becomes the only source of life for us. The only problem is that if our hearts and souls are full of what we want and prefer, we have lost our ability to receive what God has for us. We are full up; there is no room at the inn. While God is looking for a nursery, we are in our offices with the door closed.

Advent Hope

During Advent, we are invited to come out, to let go, and become vulnerable, not to forsake the things we love and want, but to put them in proper perspective and priority. We are invited to learn to hold our likes and dislikes lightly and to give them up when it becomes clear that they are taking up too much room. 

Our hope is in making room for Jesus. But to have room for Jesus, we must prepare for something new. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t even have to understand how it all is to happen. But we do have to wait with nothing but faith in the promise that the advent of God himself comes to those who saved him room. 

Respond

Be mindful of the people around you today. How is God inviting you to receive them into your life? What new life is being offered? How will you make room for who and what God is sending to you? 

Pray

O God, shape my life with divine humility. By your grace, help me make room for you by giving up my place and by letting go of my preferences. Help me become a dwelling place for your love and peace. I offer my life to be your residence in my everyday and ordinary life. Amen

Return 

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. With whom did you interact? What new life were you offered? Give God thanks for the people you met today. What room do you need to prepare for whom God is sending you? 

This Advent Season, we are again asking ourselves, “How do we as the people of God live out God’s mission for the world? We are in the midst of profound shifts in our church, in our country, and in the world. Whether the shifts are religious, cultural, racial, generational, or political, we are ready to hear the prophecies of the Advent message. And we are not only ready to hear the message, but we are anointed to live out the message as God comes to be with us in Jesus. 

New Life is Born

Even though we have been through a number of Advents, we know that when we, as Jesus followers, take seriously our mission in this world and when we truly believe and live out God’s love, there is hope for our broken and hurting world. New life is born, and hope emerges. 

“O Holy Night”

This hope has been offered in many ways over the years. When we gather to worship this Christmas, many of us will hear the song, “O Holy Night.” It was written as a Christmas poem in France in the mid-1800s. When the words were put to music, their message began to change the world. In fact, “O Holy Night” was banned in several churches in France. Later, the third verse of the song was left out because of its message. The reasons were always based on theology, but the message of hope and justice was clearly proclaimed. The third verse is as follows:

“Truly He taught us to love one another.

His law is Love and His gospel is Peace. 

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,

and in his name all oppression shall cease.”

Advent is a time of preparing for God’s justice to bring hope to those who are broken and lost in this changing world. May the hope of the coming of Jesus fill you with world-changing justice. 

READ: Isaiah 61:1-2, 8 and Matthew 5:3-6

The LORD God’s Spirit is upon me because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and a day of vindication for our God…I, the LORD, love justice… – Isaiah 61:1-2, 8

Happy are people who are hopeless because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.  – Matthew 5:3-6

Reflect

A Raging River

Imagine a raging river full of rapids that surge over a waterfall. You see people struggling in the current of the river. As they are trying their best to swim to shore or grab a hold of rocks, they are being swept downstream toward the falls.

You also see people along the shore trying to help those struggling in the rushing currents. Some are reaching out at the edge of the falls to snatch victims at the last moment. Others are upstream, stepping out on the rocks to grab whomever they can reach. A bit further upstream there are some throwing out lifelines and pulling the struggling people to shore. Even further upstream there are some people teaching people how to swim. You even notice that there are some trying to install fences along the river to prevent people from falling in. At the same time, you see others, gathered at the bottom of the falls, trying to recover and save the few who survived going over the edge.

Not one of the helpers along the riverbank can catch everyone in need, but together they each do their part along the way. The one thing they all have in common is a love for helping others. 

An Example of Love

One example of that love can be found in a man named Trevor Ferrell. When Trevor was eleven years old, he saw a television news report on Philadelphia’s inner-city homeless. He couldn’t believe people were homeless and lived on the streets. He began questioning his parents why people didn’t have a place to live. It took a while, but his parents, Frank and Janet, reluctantly agreed to broaden their sheltered horizons. 

One evening, they left their home in an exclusive suburb and drove downtown. One block past city hall, they spotted an emaciated figure crumpled on a side-walk grate. Frank stopped the car and eleven-year-old Trevor got out and approached the man. 

With a blanket in hand, he said, “Sir, here’s a blanket for you.” The man stared up at Trevor at first. Then, he said softly, “Thank you. God bless you.”

Jesus Inside Me

That encounter altered the Ferrell’s life forever. Night after night they would drive downtown, trying in small ways to help the street people. They emptied their home of extra blankets, clothing, and dozens of peanut-butter sandwiches. When people learned what they were doing, someone donated a van and others charted nightly food distribution routes. To the Ferrell’s surprise, “Trevor’s Campaign” had begun.

At a young age, Trevor found himself explaining what he and his family were doing to local media. Eventually, he was explaining his campaign to major news outlets, late-night television, daily talk shows, the President of the United States, and Mother Teresa. They all wanted to meet the small boy with the big mission. When asked why he was caring for the homeless, he simply replied, “It is Jesus inside of me that makes me want to do this.”

Trevor’s Campaign

In an interview regarding “Trevor’s Campaign,” his father stated, “Our social life has changed a lot since the campaign began. Our church is behind us one hundred percent, but some of our old friends don’t understand why we’re messing with the homeless. They just tolerate our ‘idiosyncrasies.’”

For twenty years, a van traveled each night to the downtown streets of Philadelphia. It stopped first to deliver food to the residents of Trevor’s Place, a ramshackle rooming house where some of the former homeless lived. Then it proceeded to feed the hungry people gathered on sidewalk grates and street corners. 

Short Term Need & Long Term Changes 

When asked how the handouts have made a difference in the complex business of helping the homeless, Frank Ferrell sighed deeply and said, “We’re trying to meet short-term needs and figure out ways to bring long-term changes to people’s lives. Sometimes it seems like just a band-aid. But this is how we build relationships. These people become our friends, and they trust us to help them in bigger ways.”  Then Frank paused for a moment, looked at the landscape of broken bottles and bodies, and said, “There are plenty of struggles, But I know one thing: giving has made all the difference in my life. I used to just read the Scriptures. Now I feel like I am living them.”

Meeting a Need

Trevor’s Campaign has evolved over the past 32 years. His objective is to meet human needs, alleviate suffering, and restore hope by developing comprehensive programs for vulnerable children and adults in the Greater Philadelphia area. 

Trevor is one of those people along the riverbank seeking to save those who are drowning in the changing world in which we live.

Respond

Where will you see a human need today? How might God’s love become human in you? Begin to imagine how you might respond to the needs around you. 

Pray

O God, you have taught me to love you and the people around me. You have put within me a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Use me as an instrument of your peace, so that the people I meet each day will experience your love in and through my words and actions. Help me be a person who offers hope in the name and love of Jesus. Amen.

Return

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. Where did you see human need? How did you respond? What do you need to become more the person God needs you to be for this time of change?

How are you doing today? To say the least, you have been through a lot this year. I don’t need to rehash all the events that have changed your ways of living over the past several months, I know that each of us has struggled in our own ways. Whether it has been with the changes in worship, gathering in groups, learning new technology, caring for family while balancing work, illness, anxiety, depression, or any number of other changes, we have each had our challenges.  

Today, I want us to shift our perspective.  

Because we use so much of our brain space worrying about what is coming next, grieving over what once was, and struggling with anxiety in the present, we often forget how much we have accomplished. Whether family, friends, neighbors, church members, you have had a tremendous impact upon the people entrusted to you. Even when it didn’t feel like you were making a difference, you were successfully navigating some huge obstacles.

So, give me a few minutes of your time today. If you are willing, I want you to stop and focus upon yourself.  You have given much of yourself, as well as time, looking after and caring for others. Now it is time for a little self-care.    

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

Think about something you have accomplished over the past seven months? Take a deep breath and be honest with yourself. 

Feels good doesn’t it? What challenges did you have to overcome? What have you learned that can be used in the future or is helpful now?  

It is okay to feel good about it. You have made some substantial accomplishments, but it doesn’t have to be anything big. Just think about what you have done. Did you learn to cook something you haven’t cooked before, start a new exercise routine, or take up water coloring? Maybe it was keeping your children fed and clothed as you navigated the chaos of becoming an at-home teacher. When you set boundaries, either with work or in your personal life, you accomplished something significant.   

So be kind to yourself and take notice of some of the small things you have accomplished, because when you build on those things, you can put your life and leadership into perspective. Some days it is easy to forget just how strong and impactful you have been.  

What Does Love Look Like?

Are you willing to give me a few more minutes? If you are, consider these things: 

Reflect upon times when you experienced love over the past seven months. When were you vulnerable and empathetic? Where did you take people seriously, even when you felt it was difficult to do? When did you listen to and make a place for people with whom you disagree? Whether it was with family, friends, church members, or strangers, where did you provide a caring and safe place for people to become who God had created them to be? 

Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, “O God, thank you for loving people through me and thank you for loving me through those same people. Amen” 

Reflect on Joy

Reflect upon times when you experienced joy. 

Over the past seven months, what has made you stop to remember God’s goodness and to give God thanks? What was taking place when you realized your interaction with people was a response of gratitude for God’s grace? When did you feel at one with God and the people around you? 

Think about a time when you laughed so hard you cried, a time you were amazed by God’s presence, and a moment you wanted to capture and to hold. Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. 

Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, “O God, thank you for the deep joy you have planted in my heart. Help me be so joyful that the people around me experience your joy in and through me. Amen.” 

You’re Generous

Reflect upon the moments you experienced generosity.

When did you give someone the benefit of your doubt? When did you show God’s kindness and goodness to people entrusted to your care whether they deserved it or not? When did you say to yourself, “I know he is doing the best he can.” Or “How can I help her take the next step?” 

Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, “O God, thank you caring for people in and through me. Help me to be open to receive your kindness and goodness through them.  Amen”

Courageous Action

 Reflect upon the situations where you experienced courage. 

What risks did you take? When did you have to be vulnerable? What empowered you to make decisions and lead through difficult situations? Who were the people that came alongside you to encourage you? 

Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, “O God, thank you for giving me the strengths and skills to lead with courage. By your grace, give me the courage to assist others to live and lead courageously. Amen.” 

Look at What You’ve Done!

As a leader, you have accomplished more than you have given yourself credit for accomplishing. You have been gifted to lead at this time in history. People are looking to you to be the leader they can trust, a leader of compassion, a leader who is stable, and a leader who offers genuine hope.

You can and will lead through this present crisis. At the moment, we are in the middle of a mess. But because you have taken the time to reflect upon what God has done in and through you, you are able to step and out to lead with courage and grace.

Take Action

Are you still with me? Here is the last thing I’m asking you to do.

Call, text, email a trusted friend or colleague and tell them what you have accomplished. Give them the opportunity to celebrate with you. At your best, you cannot be who God created you to be alone.  Remember, it is okay to feel good, so celebrate.

If you don’t have someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing, then call, text, or email me.  It would be my pleasure to celebrate your accomplishments with you.

Grateful for You

I am grateful for you and your leadership. You have accomplished much. Now is the time to stop and catch your breath before stepping back into the mess. 

Just remember, you will get through this by staying focused upon the God who has gifted you. Keep focused on how God has already used you to make a significant difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care.

Don’t forget, when Sara Thomas or I can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. Sara and I are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community.

O God, thank you for my friends and colleagues. Thank you for the ways you have enriched my life in and through them.  By your grace, embrace them through me so we can be the leaders you need us to be at this time in history. I offer them to you in the name of Jesus. Amen

When you think about leadership, what comes to mind? Trust? Compassion? Stability? Hope? Honestly, when I think of leadership, I think of you.

Over the past several months, you have discovered new ways of leading. Through the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, you have led people through protocols, live streaming, and Zoom meetings. You have learned to depend more and more upon the strengths and gifts of the people entrusted to your care. Whether you have liked it or not, you have done your best to respond with grace and compassion. 

Through the causes of the racial pandemic, you have learned more about the situations and circumstances of racist ideas and policies. You have discovered how these ideas and policies are intertwined with the systems and actions of everyday living. As painful as it is to confront the truth of racism, you have found your voice. You now yearn to speak up in the places you have been silent.   

Even in the midst of a political climate that is divisive, you have listened to opposing ideas, helped to keep people informed, and assisted in bringing people together. As time-consuming as it has been, you have worked to put your prayers into action, bringing hope and stability in the midst of complex and passionate conversations. You are to be commended. Thanks! 

The Most Important Characteristic of Leaders

As a leader, you have been a compassionate presence of stability as you have developed trust and offered hope. Trust, compassion, stability, and hope are the characteristics people look for in their leaders. 

These characteristics are, without a doubt, fundamental to good leadership. But there is one characteristic that is sometimes missing. I believe that the most important characteristic of leadership, especially in the times we are now living, is love. 

Yes, love. 

Love in Leadership

Now, I’m not talking about warm and fuzzy feelings centered on romance or friendship. Both romance and friendship are extremely important, but the kind of love I’m referring to is not centered on feelings. 

It is centered in action. It takes others seriously. It makes a place for relationships with people with whom we disagree. It is vulnerable and empathetic.  It listens without agendas and it works for the good of others even in the midst of misunderstanding. It provides a caring and safe place for people to become who God has created them to be. 

Love in Scripture

Paul described this love in his letter to the Corinthians: 

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

-1 Corinthians 13 

Who is the Focus of Love?

These words are rooted in God’s action on our behalf.  The problem is, we have made love more about ourselves than about God’s action and more about our preferences than the people given to us to love. 

We have limited the use of love by making it more about sentimentality, pushing it in the direction of weddings, babies, family, and friends. Each is important, but this is not the love referred to by Paul.  When he wrote those words, he wasn’t at a wedding. Although his advice would be good for a couple of young lovers, he was not writing a romantic road map. He was upset. 

Paul’s Reminder on Love

He wrote those words in a letter to the Christians in a little Greek seaport in the middle of the first century. He had started the congregation there around the teachings of Jesus, and now he was hearing stories of bickering, broken relationships, and bad behavior. The members of the church had forgotten the values that he had brought to them. 

They were fighting, splitting into factions according to who baptized them. They were suing each other. Sleeping with each other’s spouses. Some of them were demanding special treatment regarding Holy Communion, while others were just getting drunk at fellowship dinners. Paul wrote this letter and sent it into the midst of their dysfunction. He wrote emphasizing the characteristics and actions of love. 

Echoes of Paul’s Frustrations

When you listen closely, you hear some of the same sounds in our world today. The sounds are coming from political leaders, as well as some people in our congregations. Sometimes it even sounds like the conversations around the Thanksgiving dinner table. The very situation that moved Paul to write to the church in Corinth sounds a lot like many of the situations and circumstances in which you have been leading. 

Paul wrote because the Christians in Corinth had forgotten that at the center of being a follower of Jesus is love. Paul offered them the only way he knew to redeem the mess they had gotten into. They had stopped loving one another, so he wrote about leading with love. 

To Lead with Love is to…

1. Know the love Paul is describing. 

Most languages have several words that capture the different dimensions of love. In the language of the New Testament, there are three frequently used words to describe love: Eros, philia, and agape. Eros is romantic or sexual love. Our English word erotic comes from Eros. This was not the word used by Paul in his letter. Philia is fraternal, brotherly, or family love. The city of Philadelphia is called the City of Brotherly Love. As good as it is, this is not the word used by Paul in his letter. Finally, there is agape, which is love for others beyond ourselves. It is a sacrificial love that seeks the good and well-being of others, whether family, friend, stranger or enemy. This is the word used by Paul. 

2. Live with a firm commitment to act for the well-being of others.

It can be personal or political, individual or communal, intimate, or public. But it will never be segregated or shaped by personal preference. Because agape is rooted in God’s dream for each of us and for all creation, it is experienced and expressed in acts of care and compassion. Because its source is Jesus, it is the love that holds us together in the midst of disagreements, conflicts, and turmoil as well as the love that transforms us into the people God has created us to be.   

3. Model a life of humility.

You are patient and kind; not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. You are not concerned about getting your way but are working to make a way for everyone. You are not irritable or resentful. You rejoice in the truth. You are authentic and transparent. You are focused upon people, listening for the purpose of developing relationships, without pushing agendas.

4. Help others stay grounded in the midst of the chaos that has invaded lives today. 

It is to stay decent in indecent times. When selfishness excludes, love makes room and includes.  When selfishness puts down, love lifts up. When selfishness hurts and harms, love helps and heals.  When selfishness enslaves, love sets free and liberates. 

Lead with Love

You might lead through a pandemic, keeping people safe and healthy, but if you don’t lead with love, you do nothing more than irritate the people entrusted to your care. 

You might find your voice to speak up in advocacy of others, but if you don’t lead with love, you create more racism and participate unknowingly in the ideas and policies that perpetuate discrimination.   

You might know the qualities of trust, compassion, stability, and hope, but if you don’t lead with love, you have missed the point of becoming who you were created to be. 

Lead with love. It will not be easy but you will get stronger with practice. 

When Sara Thomas or I can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. Sara and I are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call upon us as we seek to assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community

The Covid-19 pandemic has shut down much of what we hold dear and essential. We are no longer gathering in our church buildings to worship. We have put on hold meeting with family and friends, exchanging greetings with handshakes and hugs and sharing coffee and donuts as hospitality. I have not mentioned singing hymns and songs of praise, baptism and holy communion, and other activities that assist us in feeling connected to Christ and one another.

Our everyday and ordinary lives have been disrupted.

I don’t need to remind you that you have moved out of your office to work at home, are giving up prom and graduation, spring sports, shopping, and eating out at our favorite restaurants. Much of our everyday living, which we have taken for granted, has shut down until further notice.

A New Normal

Many of you have done wonderfully well in adapting to these abrupt changes. You have discovered new ways of communicating and connecting. You have been faithful to perfect the use of technology and to step into what is being called “a new normal.”

Over the past two months, there has been very little talk about any subject other than the Covid-19 pandemic and the effects on our lives and on the economy. No other time in my life has there been daily press conferences announcing new deaths, new cases, or new discoveries. Each day bringing another discussion regarding what has been shut down and what we have given up.

As I have reflected upon our current reality as a church, I have discovered there are at least three things the Covid-19 pandemic has not shut down:

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Love

When everything seems to be taken away, there is one thing that cannot be taken away: love. Whether it is family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, or enemies, the pandemic cannot shut down our love for one another.

You and I are created to love. As I have written before, it will be in our relationships that we will find hope and healing.

I am convinced that our human connections, God’s love in and through each of us as the church, can and will drive real change, even in the midst of a pandemic. When we see, experience, and love one another truly as human beings, we can no longer see each other as anything else.

To love God and to love neighbor is our mission. When what we hold dear and essential has been shut down and put on hold, love will find a way.

Please don’t lose sight of that fact, because it is God’s love in and through each of us as the church that will help us face the other two things that have not been shut down by this pandemic.

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Poverty

There are more children living in poverty today, one in every five children, than any other time in the history of our nation. Even in Ohio, there are approximately 513,000 or one in five children living in poverty. The poverty rate in Columbus is 20.8%, which means that one out of every 4.8 residents of Columbus lives in poverty.

The effects of poverty contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. It contributes to poor health both physically and mentally. The risks are greater for children who experience deep and persistent poverty when they are young.

Although the pandemic did not cause this poverty, it didn’t shut it down either. Covid-19 has brought this fact to our immediate attention.

Your church, the churches of the Capitol Area South District, and the churches of the West Ohio Conference have an opportunity to love God and to love neighbor has never before. The God who loves each of us has brought our mission clearly before us. The pandemic cannot shut down our love for one another. In the midst of poverty, in and through the church, love can find a way.

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Racism

On a warm Sunday afternoon in February 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging through his Brunswick neighborhood. He was an athlete. He had a job. He worked out and jogged regularly.

Ahmaud’s death is similar to the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin. Although Trayvon was not jogging, he was shot and killed while walking home from the store where he had purchased candy.

What do the two have in common? According to the men who shoot Ahmaud and to the man who shot Trayvon, “they looked suspicious.” I’m sure there is much more to both stories and maybe I should be more aware before moving forward with what I’m going to say, but I know this for sure, the Covid-19 pandemic has not shut down racism.

I have not personally experienced racism like our African American neighbors experience on a daily basis. Until recent years, I seldom thought of being white. But I have learned that my black brothers and sisters think of it and are reminded of it every day.

The murder of Ahmaud Arbery is another example of the distance we still must travel for this land to be a land of “justice for all.”

Similarities between Covid-19 and Racism

Tim Taylor, in his new documentary “Reach, The Documentary” has highlighted the parallels between Covid-19 and racism. Here a few:

  • Covid-19 is invisible to the eye but known by its effects. Racism is invisible to the eye, but easily seen by its effects.
  • Covid-19 can thrive with no outward symptoms. Racial prejudice can endure with no outward indicators.
  • Covid-19 can be carried and spread by unsuspecting carriers. Racism can be carried and spread by people unaware of their subconscious attitudes and beliefs.
  • Covid-19 has been spread by intentional disregard (witness the spring break revelers, and the churches that insist on gathering on Sundays). Racism has been spread by institutional disregard.
  • Covid-19 hits hardest those with limited means. Racism always has.
  • Covid-19 spreads without regard for state lines or boundaries. Racism endures without regard for state edicts or legislation.

Differences between Covid-19 and Racism

Even considering these similarities, there is one major difference between Covid-19 and racism: The virus will pass, but the cancer of racism within our culture and the church, if left unaddressed, will remain.

Tim Taylor writes, “When it comes to racism, however, we don’t seek to “flatten the curve.” We seek to raise up what author Jamar Tisby calls the “ARC” of racial reconciliation: Awareness. Relationship. Commitment.”

Over the past several months much has changed. We have made significant sacrifices in our churches and in our communities. This Covid-19 pandemic has put a temporary stop to much we have held important, but it is undeniable that the greatest challenge facing our nation, our communities, and our churches has not been shut down or gone away. We must acknowledge it directly. We must isolate and attack it. We must pursue a cure, always aware that, even if we defeat this foe in one place, it will seek to regenerate and strike in another.

Your church, the churches of the Capitol Area South District, and the churches of the West Ohio Conference have an opportunity to love God and to love neighbor has never before. The God who loves each of us has brought our mission clearly before us. In the midst of racism, in and through the church, love can find a way.

You and I have given up a lot in regard to Covid-19. What if we embraced this pandemic as a gift that has revealed the truth of what surrounds us? That is what we must do if we are to take advantage of the unexpected opportunity before us. That is what we must do if we are ever going to bridge the growing divide of poverty and the deepening gulf of racism that the church for too long has accepted, allowed, and perpetuated.

Your Next Step

Please know that I am not trying to put more on you as a pastor or congregational leader, but I am writing to remind you that no pandemic has the power to take away the love that can and will address the sins of poverty and racism.

Take advantage of this time to get acquainted with your community. Make contact with community leaders. Get to know school teachers and administrators. Develop relationships with police officers and firefighters. Introduce yourselves to your neighbors. Get to know your neighborhood and community.

Ask yourselves the question, “What do we need to do that no one else is doing?” If you decide to provide meals, develop relationships with the people you serve. Come alongside them. Become vulnerable and risk loving others as God in Christ has loved you.

Pray this prayer, “God, send us the people no one else wants and help us love and accept the people you send to us.” Accept each person as a gift from God who will enrich your life and will help you become more who God has created you to be.

This pandemic has not shut down everything. Take advantage of loving God and loving neighbor, so when this pandemic is over, you know that God’s love has made the difference in changing your world.

On Friday, May 1 Tim and Sara hosted a Facebook Live question and answer period to respond to questions submitted. You can find the list of questions and approximate time stamps below.

You can also find the original Facebook post here.

Approximate Time Stamps, Notes, and Questions Covered 

[00:00:00] Welcome and greeting one another
[00:02:45] Defining the purpose/boundaries of this video
[00:04:39] How do we best love one another in a way that shows a witness to the rest of the world?
[00:06:17] You are loved.
[00:07:07] Timeframe of Phase 1-3: The Virus Doesn’t Know a Calendar
[00:11:30] What will stage one, stage two, stage three, what is going to look like, and what is expected of us come May 24
[00:14:23] How long will Phase 1 -3 last? What does the calendar look like?
[00:18:19] Story of one Freshman in High School – Expectation Setting
[00:19:42] What about VBS, summer activities, and outside groups using the church building?
[00:21:05] Are there recommendations somewhere for proper cleaning?
Here are two documents from the CDC:
[00:22:50] Explain what 10 people in the building means? Per space or total?
[00:24:17] Are the phases set by each individual church or do we follow the guidelines given by government officials?
[00:25:24] What is, what’s the age for, what is the age at which we’re talking about folks being at risk? What about at-risk groups?
[00:29:50] What is the significance of May 24?
[00:33:19] Why can we not use bulletins? What’s the thinking on that? And if we just put the bulletins out for people to pick up on their own, could we do it that way?
[00:36:26] Are there additional guidelines that can be offered? Can we continue to celebrate communion if you already have the authority to do so?
NOTE: As we concluded the live stream it occurred to us that during phases 1 and 2, face masks will be worn. It is impossible to partake of the elements with a facemask on. When you take a face mask off, you should wash your hands. As you can see, the logistics of celebrating Holy Communion in person are challenging, if not impossible.
[00:44:16] What about hallways and aisles?
[00:45:45] What about the length of service?
[00:48:30] Why no responsive readings?
[00:50:35] Why wear masks?
[00:52:30] Wrap-up and reminders
[00:54:24] Closing Prayer

How are you doing this week? I know it was another challenging week. You got word that your congregation could gather for worship on May 24, and then you received guidelines for worship that seemed to make it impossible to gather.

As you look for direction in the midst of conflicting voices, you continue to face a time of uncertainty. It is a time of disappointment, lack of security, and fear of the unknown.

How Are You Responding?

You can respond in one of several ways.

You can spend time focused on what has gone wrong.

It is easy to get lost in grieving the things that have been put on hold. You miss gathering with family and friends, singing hymns and songs of praise, celebrating holy communion, exchanging greetings with handshakes and hugs, serving coffee as hospitality, and gathering as a worshipping community.

Personally, I have come through several times of uncertainty. Times of not knowing what the future might hold and being paralyzed regarding what decisions to make. Being uncertain about the future, I felt confused, disappointed, and alone. I confess, I spent a lot of time thinking about could have, would have, and should have been.

You can spend time focused on what is going right.

I’m not denying the situation you and I find ourselves, but there is another way to respond. Instead of grieving the loss of activities, celebrate the relationships each activity provided.

In the midst of my anxiety, a colleague and friend stepped in to help me face my uncertainty. I didn’t get a lot of sympathy, shallow agreements, or unrealistic platitudes. Who I got was a person of faith who did two things: allowed me to be me and helped me discover a new perspective.

Love Remains

What I learned then and what to reaffirm now is, when everything seems to be taken away, there is one thing that cannot be taken away: love.

So, first, let me remind you to recognize, understand, and name your feelings. It is okay to grieve. Your feelings are your feelings. For you to become who God created you to be, you will need to be vulnerable and courageous. You will need to be kind to yourself and generous with the people around you. As I have written in the past, the payoff is worth it: better health, better decision making, better relationships, and a better you.

Then, second, love your neighbor. It is okay to need people.  You are created to love others. It will be in your relationships that you will find hope and healing, as well as a way to face the uncertainty of this pandemic.  It will be in and through your relationships that you will discover the power to face your grief and develop a new perspective for stepping into the future.

Together

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, in his book Together writes about healthy relationships being as essential as vaccines and ventilators for our global recovery. He says we have the opportunity to fortify and strengthen our connections and communities during this crisis.

He writes,

“There is a need for medications such as antibiotics, for blood pressure, and antidepressants.  Medicines can help, but there is nothing more powerful than love in its ability to heal.”

He goes on to say that the clearest way we feel and experience love, is through relationships; authentic, open relationships.” Building community, developing relationships, is essential for healing. We are born to be relational. Our connection to one another is necessary.

Who would guess, something so simple, something we take for granted, has the power to heal in such extraordinary ways? So, how do we move the world toward love?

Tip the World Toward Love

This pandemic is giving you the opportunity to do just that, one person at a time. It begins with the decisions you make every day. So here is one place to begin:

  1. Wear your mask in public.

Wearing your mask is not so much for you as it is for others.  By wearing your mask, you are saying, “I care about you.  I take you seriously.”

2. Observe physical distance.

We are calling it social distance, but you want to maintain your social connections.  By observing the physical distance of 6 ft or more, you are saying, “I am thinking of you and I want you to be healthy.”

Those are just two ways you can begin to tip the world toward love.  It seems simple, but it is the sacrifice that will be noticed.

Intentionally Develop Relationships

If you are wearing your mask and observe the appropriate distance, then practice developing relationships outside the activities that are on hold.  Start with someone you know.  Here is what you can do:

  1. Identify a friend or colleague to be your conversation partner.
  2. Call, text, email, zoom, your partner. Make arrangements for a 15-minute conversation.
  3. Before the conversation, give yourself permission to be vulnerable and to be your true self.
  4. Then, explain to your partner you are seeking to tip the world toward love. Give your partner permission to love you by allowing you to be yourself and by helping you discover a new perspective.

This will seem silly and unnecessary at first.  Then as you seek to develop relationships with others, this exercise will become more difficult. It will require the courage to be vulnerable.  But you will begin to take a chance on others as you begin to believe more in yourself. As you build relationships in your life, you will make it possible to build a more relational world.

So, let’s try it.  Love your neighbor. Whether you are a pastor, teacher, congregational or community leader, you can tip the world toward love.

The clearest way to feel and experience love is in and through relationships.  This is our hope. To love your neighbor as yourself.

Let’s take advantage of this pandemic and tip the world toward love.