Tag Archive for: Matthew

This is Part 2 on Hospitality

Read Part 1 Here

My fourth grade Sunday school teacher, Mary, would greet me every Sunday at the classroom door with the words, “Timmy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” Then with a welcoming hug, she would send me into the classroom to meet other classmates who had gathered.  As I entered the room, I would hear her say, “Nancy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” When I would look back, she would be hugging Nancy and sending her into the room to meet the rest of us.  Mary greeted us as if she had been waiting all week for us and as if we were the most important people she knew.

Modeling Hospitality

She modeled hospitality.  She acted out what she taught us in class. I remember her lesson on Jesus touching a person with leprosy and the story of Jesus receiving a woman that was sick.  I will always remember her saying that we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us.

Several times a year, Mary would bring a meal to our Sunday School class. As we ate, she would tell us how Jesus invited people to eat at his table. Once when we did not have enough room around the table in our classroom, I remember her saying, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” With those words, she added an extension to include all of us.

For Mary, hospitality was more than a gesture of welcoming, it was who she was as a person. Her extension of hospitality was an offering of love.

Several stories in the bible tell us about hospitality, but as you begin to engage in mission, there is one characteristic that is necessary for reaching out, receiving, and welcoming others as God in Jesus has welcomed you and the people of your congregation.

Read Matthew 25:31-46 

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 

37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 

40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ 

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 

44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ 

45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”

Reflect on Matthew 25

I know that it seems strange to use a parable referring to judgment as a story of hospitality, but Matthew uses the parable as a tool to instruct what it means to be a follower of Jesus, a “daughter or son” of God. It is in his last formal teaching in Matthew’s good news, that Jesus gives us a clue to the righteousness and the works of mercy that grow out of that righteousness. According to Matthew, the sons and daughters of God live lives of righteousness especially toward the weak and marginalized.

Good News According to Matthew

With that in mind, there are several layers to the understanding of this parable. The first is the good news according to Matthew. “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God.” For Matthew, righteousness and holiness are characteristics of the children of God. At this point, keep in mind, hospitality grows out of righteousness and holiness.

Although Matthew says it differently from John, it is the same perspective of “being born from above.” Holiness and righteousness are seen in our relationships with God and with others.  So, for Matthew, you are a child of God and God sent Jesus to teach you how to live as a child of God. Hang on to that because this parable reveals the depth of holiness and righteousness of being God’s son and daughter. 

Understanding a Parable

The second layer is the understanding of a parable. Parables are reflections of reality as opposed to mirrors of morality. Said another way, this parable does not tell us what we should be doing. It reflects back to us what we are doing.

I have often heard this scripture quoted to leverage people to care for others, to raise money, or, at its worst, to shame people into acts of care and compassion. This parable is not a moral teaching. All the acts of care, compassion, and hospitality are good and needed, but the point of the parable is not “you should be doing these things.” The parable actually reflects reality. It reflects back what you are doing.  When you are doing acts of care, compassion, and hospitality for anyone, but especially for “the least of these” you are showing care, compassion, and hospitality to Jesus.

Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a follower of Jesus, a human being bearing the image of one of God’s children. Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a child of God. It is not a calculated action of doing what you should be doing.

Who You Are

The difference is subtle but significant. You are either caring for others because that is who you are, or you are caring for others out of calculated action to do good. Do you see the difference?

Maybe you can think of it this way, are you welcoming because that is who you are as a follower of Jesus or are you welcoming because it is what you are supposed to do to get more people into the church?

That brings us to the third layer of the parable, judgment. In light of becoming who God created you to be and in the light of the reality of your living as one of God’s children, your actions reveal who you are.  Judgment is experienced in the reflection of reality. It simply brings out what is already present.

Caring for People Around You

Notice the criterion of judgment is not a confession of faith in Jesus. Nothing is said of grace, justification, or forgiveness of sins. What counts is whether or not you have acted with loving care for people around you, especially those in great need.  

Your care, compassion, and hospitality are not acts of “extra credit” but are the basis of who you are as a follower of Jesus, a child of God, and a person of loving others as God in Jesus has loved you.

Responding to Jesus

Let’s look at this in another way. In the parable, when people respond, they are responding to Jesus. Yet both groups are surprised. Those who provide food, drink, clothing, shelter, and hospitality respond entirely based on who they are. It is no big deal. It is part of their living in relationship to God and to others. They are surprised to learn that there was a deeper dimension to their acts of human compassion. Without knowing it, they are responding to Jesus.

Those who plan their response to provide food, drink, clothing, shelter, and hospitality have worked intentionally to respond to human needs. They have done good work. But they are surprised to learn that their good work has not brought them the results they were planning to receive. Their acts of care, compassion, and hospitality are calculated. Even though they have worked to respond to human need, they have missed the point of God’s love thus missing the deeper dimensions of what it means to be a child of God. Because of their focus on themselves, they have missed Jesus.

Being Children of God

Both groups respond to human needs. Both respond out of who they are. The difference is, one group responds out of being children of God, living in holiness and righteousness in relationship to others. The other group responds to their need to care for others. Their need grows out of satisfying themselves as opposed to satisfying God. Because it feels good to help others it must be what God wants them to do.

Both groups are surprised. One group is living life as they have been created to live, in relationship with others whether they need help or not. The other group is living a life of self-satisfaction and does not understand that their hard work and care for others is a sign of their disconnectedness with others.

And there is the reflection of reality, the judgment of the parable. So, to be clear, it is not the doing of good things that brings holiness or righteousness to a person. It is the very nature of the person that reflects God’s holiness and righteousness. 

Who You Are is How You Lead

It is a tough parable.  But it reveals who you are and why you lead the way you do. It is a parable of character. That is why I can say that for my fourth-grade Sunday School teacher, hospitality was more than a gesture of welcoming, it was who she was as a person. Her hospitality was an offering of love. She greeted each 10-year-old in her class as if each one of us was Jesus.

Hospitality is rooted in the character of righteousness, God’s righteousness, which is revealed in the way you live in relationship with the people God sends your way every day.

Respond: Engage the Mission

How will you engage in mission today? The ultimate mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is not a creed, biblical knowledge, or adherence to the rules. The mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is seen and revealed in the nature of the person who responds out of love to human need. The practical demonstration of love is the ultimate proof.

So, be hospitable. Be aware of your responses. Do you feel normal and natural or are you calculated and self-seeking? The choice is not between the obviously bad and the obviously good. The choice is rooted in the love you have experienced in and through Jesus.

How Will You Engage in Mission?

How will you engage in mission today? The follower of Jesus does not have to present his or her case or argue his or her cause. Neither does the follower of Jesus request evidence of faith or goodness. He or she simply extends an invitation of hospitality.

So, be hospitable. As you respond to the emotional, physical, spiritual, and professional needs of the people around you, how will you find joy in being who God has created you to be? It does not have to be anything big or unusual, but it does have to be rooted in God’s love. Are you deep enough in God’s love that you can love others as you have been loved?

Your Character Revealed in Light of God’s Love

How will you engage in mission today? Be prepared to experience the reality of your character. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Your character will be revealed in how you respond to the people around you. Be mindful of the moments you are measuring your responses. Be aware of the moments you are responding normally.  

So, be hospitable. Your character will be revealed in the light of God’s love. The reality of who you are will come when you least expect it. It comes when you are unaware and catches you off guard. It is in those moments that you truly reveal yourself. The test will come, not in your remembered actions, but in your unconscious reactions, instinctive, and unplanned responses. 

Remember the words of Jesus, “When you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.” How will you reach out, receive, and welcome Jesus today? 

Prayer

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 welcome others as you have welcomed me. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you invite and welcome people into your life and into the life of your congregation? Did you think of your invitation as an invitation of Jesus? Why? Why not? When did you respond in love for no other reason than to love? When were you confronted and convicted of your behavior? What did you learn about yourself? Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. To whom do you need to respond with words of hope, words of encouragement, or words of forgiveness? What will you do differently tomorrow?

As a Christ-centered leader, in a rapidly changing world, you have the responsibility to lead forward in mission. By centering on God’s mission, engaging with the community, and embracing your local context, you can lead with purpose and authenticity. You have the opportunity to lead your church in reclaiming its role as a vibrant and relevant force in the lives of the people in your community and beyond. 

Engaging in Mission

You have been preparing for mission. The time has come to engage in the mission for which you have been preparing.  David Bosch wrote, “Mission is seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is the church because there is a mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people; since God is a fountain of sending love.” 

The time has come to move into the community with God’s love. But before you move too quickly, take a quick overview of the mission in which you are engaged.  (For a more in depth overview go to Preparing for Mission: Building on HOPE) .  

Our Mission

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).

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

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

You are sent out to “make disciples.” A disciple is a student or follower. You have been invited, called, and commissioned to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus. This is important. You have not chosen Jesus. Jesus has chosen you. You are a follower of Jesus for the purpose of loving others as you have been loved. 

Making Disciples

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

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

Making Disciples Begins with Love

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

With that review, you are not ready to move forward with the mission clearly in focus. 

Read Matthew 28:19 

“Go therefore and make disciples…” 

To help engage in mission, below are seven questions to answer: (Click here for a more in-depth look at the 7 Missional Questions

1.      Where have you witnessed God’s presence in your community? (God’s Presence)

To help lay a foundation for mission and assist in developing a clear focus, consider asking this question at the beginning of every meeting. Have every group that meets engage in answering this question. It is one of two foundational questions that contribute to congregational health. People who follow Jesus should be able to articulate God’s movement in their life. The question can be asked in different ways. For example, “Where did you experience the light of Christ today? (Matt 5:14-16) How did God’s love become real today? Take note of the responses as one way of preparing for mission.

2.      What is the mission of the church? (Mission)

This question is about the purpose of the church. It is not about mission projects, trips, or work. It is about why your church exists. What is the church’s mission (purpose)? Does everyone know the mission? Can they repeat it? Do they embody it? This is the partner question to naming God’s presence. Both are essential for healthy disciple-making movements. It’s one thing to have words on a website or framed on the wall. It’s another thing to use the mission to guide what you do and to measure the direction and activities of the church. Use the mission as a sorting mechanism to ask, “Does this help us further or fulfill our mission?” If not, why are we doing it? Don’t confuse activity for missional impact. Don’t try to justify all your activities as contributing to your mission. If you’re having a party and it’s simply for fun, name it as fun. Otherwise, the mission becomes fuzzy for people. Lack of focus leads people to inaction.

3.      What is our mission field? (Mission Field)

Your mission field can be described in multiple ways. Most often, it is a geographic region where people live. Using the location of your church building as the center of a radius, what is the geographic area of your missional outreach? Although most of your church members live in the suburbs, if your building location is in the urban core of the city, your mission field is a section of the urban core of the city. The question to answer is, “are you a suburban church that meets downtown or are you an urban church in ministry downtown?  Once you have defined and are clear regarding your geographic region, then identify who lives within the mission field. What are their habits and interests? Listen to their stories, identify activities and symbols that help you learn more about them. Although you live someplace other than where your building is located, identify the area around your building as your mission field and the people within your mission field as your mission partners.

4.      What are the assets of our community? (Assets)

This is an important “preparing for mission” activity. Your assets start with the people who live in your mission field. As you meet people and begin to develop relationships, take note of their skills and resources. As you walk your mission field, take note of the services, businesses, physical attributes (parks, attractions, poverty, trash, etc.) and financial assets. If you’re having trouble identifying assets, take a walk in your community and ask people to respond to the questions: “What do you love about our community (neighborhood, or city)?” and “What would you change if you could change it?”

5.      What are the needs in our community? (Needs)

 This is another important “preparing for mission” activity. The needs start with the needs of people in your community. In general, the basic needs are food, water, and shelter. These are followed by safety, love, belonging and self-esteem/respect. Recognizing and realizing our potential, learning, faith, and service round out the list. As you walk your mission field, ask the people you meet to respond to a couple of questions. The first question is, “What do you love about our community (neighborhood, city, etc.)” Make sure to start with what they love, or you will not get much feedback. People like to talk about what they love to anyone who will listen. Then ask the second question, “What needs does the community have?” As you engage people in conversation, follow-up with “Would you like to help address the needs?” Make sure to get contact information so that you might engage them in meeting their needs.

6.      What relationships exist with leaders in our community? (Relationships)

 How are you and other church leaders developing relationships with the following sectors of the community: business, government, education, first responders, faith/religion, arts and entertainment, non-profit, health (hospitals, doctors, nurses, clinics)? Who are the people you already know and what relationships do you have with them? What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, re-established? What community leaders are members of your church? One person with whom to start building a relationship beyond the walls of the church is the principal of your local elementary school.

 7.      What is one way we can collaborate with another church? (Collaborations)

Every local church, at their best, is focused on Jesus. Your practices and theology may differ, but you are in the same business of loving others as you have been loved. In other words, you are not in competition with other churches. We are all on the same team. Now is the time to model for others what collaboration can look like, even in the face of differences. Now is the time to have a conversation with another local church leader or pastor. Listen to their stories. Learn of their faith and God’s call upon their lives. Take note of how they express their mission and what disciple-making looks like to them and their faith community.  Reflect upon how you might partner with them in God’s movement of grace and mission of love in your mission field.

You have received much information regarding engaging in mission. As you read, reflect, and respond to this information, prepare your head and heart for the next part of Preparing for Mission: Engaging in Mission Part 2.

Respond

To engage in mission, prepare your heart and mind with prayer. Ask God to help you to be aware of and sensitive to the people you encounter in your mission field. 

Prepare your heart and mind with bible study. Read Luke 10:1-12 and ask God to send you out as a missionary to learn about the mission field you have defined and within which you serve. 

Engage the leaders of your church in participating in the seven questions above. Send your leaders out in teams of two or three to experience the mission, to encounter the people, to assess the assets and needs of the mission field. 

Assist your leaders in identifying and developing the relationships within your mission field. What relationships need to be nurtured, reconciled, or re-established? 

Continue to engage our team in prayer and study. Continue to ask God to help you be aware of and sensitive to the people you encounter. 

Now, how will you love the people God sends your way?  How will you reach and receive them in love? How will you introduce them to God’s love? How will you practice who you are as a follower of Jesus?  In what new way will you love them as Christ has loved you? 

Remember, practice makes perfect. It helps you become who you are created to be. And who you are is how you lead. 

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 in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what did you engage in God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love? How did you engage the seven missional questions?  Who did you invite to participate with you? How did you feel like a missionary?  

If you did not engage the seven questions today, how will you engage them in the near future? Who will you invite to participate with you? How will you use prayer and study to prepare?

This is part two of a two-part series on Practice your faith. Read Part 1 – Preparing for Mission: Practice Your Faith here

Practicing your faith comes in two ways. First, to practice means to perform an activity or exercise a skill repeatedly in order to improve or maintain your proficiency. In other words, you rehearse or practice. (Part 1) 

Second, practice means to put into action or to implement what you have learned and experienced. It is the actual doing or application of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to talking about it. In other words, you apply or practice what you have rehearsed. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to nurture people in their faith as well as equip them to live out their faith in everyday situations and circumstances. You have the opportunity to assist them in rehearsing their faith as well as applying their faith in everyday situations with every person they encounter. As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to put faith into action because that is who you are. You model faith by the way you live your life in relationship with everyone you encounter. 

Jesus gives clear direction in Matthew’s good news. He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). When you are preparing for mission, practice makes perfect. 

Read Matthew 28:19-20 

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

To get a firm foundation for Practice Your Faith, read 

PREPARING FOR MISSION: What is God’s Mission? Part 1 

PREPARING FOR MISSION: What is God’s Mission? Part 2 

PREPARING FOR MISSION: Building on Hope

Reflect on “Teaching”

The word “teaching” for Matthew refers to who you are to be as a follower of Jesus. For Matthew, you are to be holy. The word means to be “different” as God is different. And you are different in the way you live your life as a person of God’s love. It is who you are and how you live as a follower of Jesus. It is what God’s movement of grace and mission of love means. The different life, the life of holiness, is seen in your relationship with God and with the people around you.  

You practice holy living in your relationships with family, friends, strangers, and enemies.  You are proactive in how you treat others.  You act on behalf of others not because they have acted on your behalf but because you are loved by God. A love you see in Jesus. 

You practice by living with integrity. You practice what you preach. You are as good as your word. You walk your talk. You can be trusted. Your “yes” means “yes” and “no” means “no.” Integrity is who you are. Your values are rooted in God’s love. And even though there are conflicting voices, you are attuned to God’s Word, God’s voice of love, Jesus. 

You practice by keeping your focus on God’s love by working for the well-being of all people. So, you seek first the way of God’s movement of grace and mission of love. You don’t get tripped up on things. To say it another way, you focus more on people than on buildings, furniture, or investments. You focus more on people regardless of their economic, social, or political status. 

Loving others becomes so natural that you care for everyone the way you would care for Jesus. You care because that is who you are, a grace-filled Jesus follower who is putting your faith into action. 

You practice by taking the initiative in forgiveness.  It actually means to forgive as many times as it takes to restore the relationships that are being broken.  It is the relationship that is important. 

Put into Practice 

Here is the key to practicing your faith. The words “to obey” mean “to observe” or to “pay attention to,” or “to put into practice.  To obey “these things” means to put into practice God’s movement of grace and mission of love. To observe or to pay attention to means to be holy. 

It is easy to talk about being holy, but it is not so easy to be holy, to live in right relationship with God and your neighbor. So, practice makes perfect. You practice by living out what you have learned. As a Jesus follower, it means your regular everyday living is holy living. 

The Way You Love

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

You nurture the people around you in God’s love and lead them into practicing God’s love in everyday situations and circumstances. You put faith into practice because that is who you are. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

So, how will you practice holy living 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? 

Practicing your faith helps to turn your inner faith into an outward expression of love and care. How will you practice your faith today? 

Remember, practice makes perfect. It helps you become who you are created to be. 

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 in Jesus. Help me be faithful to your call upon my life so that I may be a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. Amen 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you practice your faith? With whom did you share God’s love? How did you invite people into God’s movement of grace and mission of love? How were you hospitable? How did you offer Christ to the people around you?

Think about the people you encountered today. With whom do you need to practice your faith so you will become more who God has created you to be. What will you do differently tomorrow?

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

Your Call

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

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

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

Vocational Calling

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

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

Read: Matthew 4:18-22 

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

Reflect

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

Context of Matthew

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

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

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

The Call from Matthew’s Perspective 

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

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

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

Reorienting Our Lives

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

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

The Called Out Ones

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

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

Called to Follow

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

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

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

Follow Me

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

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

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

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

Respond

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

Prayer

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

Return

Give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. 

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

Who you are is how you lead is a statement of character. Notice it says, “who you are,” not what you do is how you lead or what you know is how you lead, but who you are is how you lead.

As a Christ-centered leader, your behavior reflects your character. It is in direct response to God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus.  It is not a result of your working harder or learning more, although both values are good for leaders. It is a result of who you are as a human being in relationship to God and to the people around you, family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, strangers, and even enemies. Who you are is seen in the fruit you produce, which is your character as a person and as a leader.

Let us again use our practice of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” as a pattern for examining another aspect of character in the scripture.  This parable will be helpful in understanding “who you are is how you lead.”   

Read Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”

Reflect

This parable uses judgment as a tool to instruct what it means to be a follower of Jesus, a “daughter or son” of God. It is the last formal teaching that Jesus gives in Matthew’s gospel. It is based upon the need for righteousness and the works of mercy, especially toward the weak and marginalized, that grow out of that righteousness.

With that in mind, there are several layers to understanding this parable. The first is the good news according to Matthew. “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God.” For Matthew, righteousness and holiness are characteristics of children of God. 

Although Matthew says it differently from John, it is the same perspective of “being born from above.” Holiness and righteousness are seen in our relationships with God and with others.  So, for Matthew, you are a child of God and God sent Jesus to teach you how to live as a child of God. Hang on to that because this parable reveals the depth of holiness and righteousness of being God’s son and daughter.

Reflection of Reality

The second layer is a parable. Parables are reflections of reality as opposed to mirrors of morality. Said another way, this parable does not tell us what we should be doing. It reflects back to us what we are doing.

I have often heard this scripture quoted to leverage people to care for others, to raise money, or, at its worst, to shame people into acts of care and compassion. This parable is not a moral teaching. 

All the acts of care and compassion are good and needed, but the point of the parable is not “you should be doing these things.” The parable actually reflects back what you are doing. It reflects reality. When you are doing acts of care and compassion for anyone, but especially for “the least of these” you are showing care and compassion to Jesus.

Who You Are as a Jesus Follower

Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a follower of Jesus, a human being bearing the image of one of God’s children. Caring for “the least of these” is who you are as a child of God. It is not a calculated action of doing what you should be doing.

The difference is subtle but significant. You are caring for others because that is who you are, or you are caring for others out of calculated action to do good. Do you see the difference?

Judgment 

That brings us to the third layer of the parable, judgment. In light of becoming who God created you to be and in the light of the reality of your living as one of God’s children, your actions reveal who you are.  Judgment is experienced in the reflection of reality. It simply brings out what is already present.

Notice the criterion of judgment is not a confession of faith in Jesus. Nothing is said of grace, justification, or forgiveness of sins. What counts is whether or not you have acted with loving care for people around you, especially those in great need.  Your care and compassion are not acts of “extra credit” but are the basis of who you are as a follower of Jesus, a child of God, and a person of loving others as God in Christ has loved you.

Responding to Jesus 

Let’s look at this in another way. In the parable, when people respond, they are responding to Jesus. Yet both groups are surprised. Those who provided food, drink, clothing, shelter, and visited the sick and imprisoned respond entirely on who they are. It is no big deal. It is part of their living in relationship to God and to others. They are surprised to learn that there was a deeper dimension to their acts of human compassion. Without knowing it, they are responding to Jesus.

Those who plan and direct their response of providing food, drink, clothing, shelter, and visiting the sick and imprisoned have worked intentionally to respond to human needs. They have done good work. They are surprised to learn that their good work has not brought them the results they were planning to receive. Their acts of care and compassion are calculated. Even though they have worked to respond to human need, they have missed the point of God’s love thus missing the deeper dimensions of what it means to be a child of God. Because of their focus on themselves, they have missed Jesus.

What’s the Difference?

Both groups respond to human need. Both respond out of who they are. The difference is, one group responds out of being children of God, living in holiness and righteousness in relationship to others. The other group responds to their need to care for others. Their need grows out of satisfying themselves as opposed to satisfying God. Because it feels good to help others it must be what God wants them to do.

Both groups are surprised. One group is living life as they have been created to live, in relationship with others whether they need help or not. The other group is living a life of self-satisfaction and does not understand that their hard work and care for others is a sign of their disconnectedness with others.

And there is the judgment, the reflection of reality, of the parable. So, to be clear, it is not the doing of good things that brings holiness or righteousness to a person. It is the very nature of the person that reflects God’s holiness and righteousness.

It is a tough parable.  It reveals who you are and why you lead the way you do. It is a parable of character.

Respond

It is interesting to note that this is a parable of sheep and goats and not sheep and wolves. Jesus is not choosing between the obviously bad and the obviously good. There is no division here between the opponents of the gospel and the believers in it. The judgment is distinguishing among all who profess to be followers of Jesus and who claim to be members of the family of God. The painful part of this parable is the revelation of the true nature of those who profess to be followers of Jesus.

For Matthew, the ultimate mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is not a creed, biblical knowledge, or adherence to the rules. The mark of an authentic follower of Jesus is seen and revealed in the nature of the person who responds out of love to human need. The practical demonstration of love is the ultimate proof.

Jesus Surprises Us

Notice that Jesus does not ask anyone to present his or her case or to argue their cause. He does not ask any questions or request any evidence. He simply extends an invitation, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom…” Then he explains the basis of his choice. He simply says that when they had the opportunity to help, they did. Nothing more is required. Then surprise! Jesus identifies himself with those being helped. “If you help them, you are really helping me,” he says.

They have been responding to the needs of those around them. They keep no records; they expect no praise. They find joy in being children of God. They are unaware they are doing anything unusual.   

The Big Suprise

The major surprise comes when Jesus says to those who have missed the point, “if you ignore them, you are ignoring me.” These people know that God is interested in the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, and they are all ready for God. They have already made long mental lists of the times they have ministered to those in need. They can recall detailed descriptions of what has been done and the sums of money given. They have put in long hours doing the good work they have decided needs to be done. To these self-justifying persons Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 

They are even more surprised than the sheep. They are depending upon their good deeds for acceptance. Their response is so calculated that they ask, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?” They are honest when they ask in astonishment, “Lord, when did we see you…and not…?”

Your character is revealed in the light of God’s love. God’s judgment comes when you least expect it. It comes when you are unaware and off guard. It is then that you truly reveal yourself. The test comes, not in your remembered actions, but in your unconscious reactions, instinctive, and unplanned responses. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • In what situations did you feel you were making decisions based on character? 
  • What did you do that came naturally? 
  • What did you do that felt calculated and unnatural? 
  • How did you respond? 
  • How did you assist others in developing the character of their lives? 
  • Who is helping you grow in character? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader? 

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

Character is essential in leadership. It shapes how you engage the people around you, who and what you notice, what you reinforce, who you engage in conversation with, what you value, and what you choose to act upon, just to list a few responses and actions.

Even though there is no consensus on a definition of character, there are personality traits, values, and virtues that reflect the character of every leader. 

As we continue our exploration of Leadership and Character, let us again use our practice of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” as a pattern for examining another aspect of character in the scripture.  This scripture comes from the Sermon on the Mount.

Although it is beneficial to read the whole account, our focus will be on the italicized words of the text.

Read Matthew 5:21-48 

21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. 25 Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’[c] 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. 34 But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. 35 You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. 36 And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. 37 Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.

38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. 41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

Reflect

Matthew’s focus is upon Jesus teaching his followers how to live life before God.  He focuses on living a holy life, which for Matthew means, living in a healthy relationship with God and with your neighbor. From the Sermon on the Mount to the Great Commission, Jesus is teaching his followers to be holy and how to live with God and each other.

He essentially lays out the traits, values, and virtues that reflect the character of every leader. 

Christ-Centered Character Traits

Traits are patterns of thought, behavior, and emotion that are experienced as consistent actions in your life. They are learned responses that reflect your inner life, thus your inner life as a leader. There are hundreds of personality traits from A (ambition) to Z (zealousness) that have been described in and through research.  Some traits can be inherited. But most traits evolve through life experiences and intentional exercises and practice. 

Here are several traits from Matthew’s perspective. These are traits of Jesus followers, thus traits of Christ-centered leaders. This is an example and not meant to be exhaustive. 

Healthy Relationships

Living in a healthy relationship with family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues: “…if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift” (Verses 23-24).  

For Matthew, your relationship with the people you encounter each day is as important or more important than worship.

Living in a healthy relationship with your enemies: “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you” (Verses 43-44).

Relationships are so important that you intentionally work on healthy relationships with those individuals who are not your favorite people, with whom you disagree, or who you perceive want to hurt you in some way. Your response of love is not based upon how you are treated by others but by the love you have received through Jesus. You love because of who you are, a follower of Jesus, a Christ-centered leader.

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Living with Integrity

Living with Integrity: “Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord” (Verse 33).

In other words, let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” As a follower of Jesus, you are as good as your word. If you have to “swear on a stack of bibles” everyone knows you are about to lie to them. Maybe it is better said this way, “Walk your talk. Keep your comments. Be who God created you to be.”

Of course, there are other traits, but the main emphasis from Matthew is relationships. Whether it be the broken relationship of divorce or the misplaced relationship of lust, Matthew is teaching his readers that the main trait of the character of leadership is relationship.

Christ-Centered Leadership Values

Values are what you consider to be important or worthwhile. They influence behavior because you seek what you value.  They are guideposts for how you live, thus how you lead. 

Although Matthew does not use the word love like John does, love of God and love of neighbor is the value of Jesus’ followers and the guiding value of Christ-centered leaders. 

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven” (Verses 43-45). 

To love is to reflect the nature of God in and through your leadership. This love is agape. It means you are working for the good of all people. No matter what a person might do to you by way of insult, injury, or humiliation, you never seek anything other than his or her highest good.  It is a feeling of the mind as much as it is of the heart; it concerns the will just as much as it does the emotions.  It describes the effort of seeking the best for all people. It is unconquerable benevolence and generosity.  

Love is the underlying value of Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount.  This value of love is the foundation of all relationships.   

Christ-Centered Leadership Virtues

Virtues are behaviors seen as good or productive. They are like behavioral habits, something that is exhibited consistently. Aristotle wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” If that is true, then character in leadership is revealed in who you are, in the way you live your life and interact with the people entrusted to you. 

Paul gave a list of virtues exhibited in the behavior of spirit-filled Jesus followers, “The Fruit of the Spirit.” These virtues are necessary to live the life God has created you to live. 

Paul taught his virtues and Matthew taught his. Although his virtues were not “the fruit of the Spirit,” Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount provides the teaching of virtues of Jesus’ followers. Matthew concludes Jesus’ teaching in that sermon with these words, “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell, and great was it fall” (Matthew 7:26-27). 

It is not easy, at all times, to love your neighbor. How much more difficult is it to love your enemy? It is not always easy to be a person of your word. You want to be, but friendships, situations, decisions, and anger sometimes reveal your true character, what is truly deep inside. 

Think of it this way, traits such as openness to experience, self-confidence, and persistence contribute to your behavior of putting yourself on the line and acting courageously. Values such as integrity, treating people with respect, and loving people who no one else loves, reveal courageous behavior. When you lead with integrity you tend to act differently than the person who lacks integrity, even if both of you are in the same situation. 

As a Christ-centered leader, when your virtue is love, you will respond with care and respect to all persons in every situation and circumstance. “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete” (Verse 48). 

Your character is shaped by your values and is revealed in your traits. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

Often, in response to the study of the scripture, I form an image of what I have read or remember a story that illustrates the scripture for me. Below is one story that illustrates character. 

A Jewish couple was arguing over the name to give to their firstborn.  They finally asked the rabbi to come and intercede.

“What’s the problem?”  The rabbi asked.

The wife spoke first.  “My husband wants to name the boy after his father, and I want to name the boy after my father.”

“What is your father’s name?” the rabbi asked the man.

“Joseph,” was his reply.

“And what is your father’s name?” the rabbi asked the woman.

“Joseph,” was her reply.

The rabbi was stunned.  “So, what is the problem?”

It was the wife who spoke again.  “His father was a horse thief, and mine was a righteous man.  How can I know my son is named after my father and not his?”

The rabbi thought and then replied, “Call the boy ‘Joseph.’  Then see if he is a horse thief or a righteous man.  You will know which father’s name he wears by the way he lives his life.”

Are You a Christ-Centered Leader?

To call yourself a leader, a Christ-centered leader is one thing.  To be known as a Christ-centered leader by those who watch your life is another thing altogether.  You are known by your character or the fruit you produce.  Jesus said, “…everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

You are known as a Christ-centered leader by the way you relate to people and work for their good. You will be known as a courageous Christ-centered leader when your character reveals you first live by love and second share that love.

Your inner life will be revealed in and through your relationships, by the way you live with your spouse, children, and family members.  Your character will always show up in your interactions with your neighbors, friends, and colleagues. It is the presence of God’s love that will make a difference with the people who are entrusted to your care. You will be known by your fruit. It will show up in your character of leadership.

Who you are is how you lead.

Return

Prayer

Let this prayer by Howard Thurman guide you:

“Teach us, Our Father, that if we nourish within our minds and spirits those things that work against life, we shall spend our years stumbling in the darkness; that if we nourish within our minds, and spirits those things that make for life, for wholeness, for truth, for love, we shall become like Thee.  To become like Thee, O God, our Father, is the be-all and end-all of our desiring.”

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • In what situations did you feel you were making decisions based on character?
  • With whom was your character challenged?
  • How did you respond?
  • How did you assist others in developing the character of their lives?
  • Who is helping you grow in character?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader?
  • Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be. 

The task of courageous leadership is focus. Often when we think about being focused, we mean thinking about one specific thing while filtering out everything else. That is one aspect of being focused. But being focused as a leader means that at any given moment you might be thinking of a lot of different things, but you are able to keep your mission central to all other thoughts and actions.

To keep focus, you must be self-aware. You have to know who you are as opposed to trying to please people by being who you think they want you to be. To keep focus, you have to be empathetic and generous in your relationships, and you have to be present with the people you serve. Sounds simple enough, but the challenge is to be yourself and to lead in the way God has gifted you to lead.  

The temptation is to do it your way. After all, you know more than others and can do the work better than others. Although I am being a little snarky, you know what I am referring to. 

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is teaching his followers how to live the way God has created them to live. He is teaching and training his followers to do greater things than he has done. He begins with developing the inner life and moves to developing healthy relationships. When it comes to effective and courageous leadership, focus is necessary to be who God created you to be. 

Use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to assist you in developing healthy relationships as you become more of the leader God has created you to be. 

Read Matthew 4:1-11 

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. 

Reflect

This is a story of focus. Matthew uses the conflict between Jesus and Satan to teach us how Jesus kept his focus as the Son of God. Immediately after Jesus has been claimed by God as “this is my beloved Son,” he is challenged with what it means to be God’s Son. On the surface, it is a story of conflict between good and evil. Below the surface, it is a story of keeping focus. It is a story to assist you in keeping your focus on what is important to your leadership. The very heart of the story reveals who you are is how you lead. 

Keeping focus is not easy and cannot be ignored.  At a basic level, facing the temptation to be someone other than who you have been created to be is an ongoing challenge. Following his baptism, where he was claimed by God, Jesus was faced with the challenge, “If you are the son of God.” The conflict is not whether he was the Son of God, but rather what does it mean to be the Son of God.

Christ-Centered Leadership

Your challenge, as a Christ-centered leader, is to lead as a beloved child of God. You have been claimed by God, so what does it mean to lead as a child of God? What is the focus of a Christ-centered leader? 

The temptations are subtle. They each focus on something that can be good, but without focus on God’s love and grace can be devastating. 

The Challenge of Position

The first challenge is positional. Jesus is challenged to show that he qualifies as the Messiah, the Christ. As God’s son, the anointed one, Jesus is tempted to use his power and position to his own advantage, to alleviate his hunger. At the same time, he is challenged to provide food to meet an obvious human need. To care for himself and to address the human need is good. But to use his position and power to prove he is the anointed one is to deny his trust in and obedience to God and to deny why he is the Son of God. 

Your challenge, as a Christ-centered leader, is not to prove you are worthy of a position. It is to be focused on why you are doing what you are doing. When you are clear about who you are, then you can be clear on how to respond to human needs. It is good to feed hungry people, provide shelter to the homeless, and care for the forgotten.

The question is, why are you feeding, sheltering, and caring? Is that who you are as a beloved Child of God? Are you feeding people because they are hungry or are you responding to a need for relationship and wholeness? Are you doing something to and for people that makes you feel good about yourself? Or, are you loving people because they are the people Jesus loves regardless of the cost? These are some of the differences between a social agency and a church. Please understand that there is nothing wrong with directing a social agency. The question is, is that who God created you to be as a Christ-centered leader? What is your focus?   

The Challenge of Popularity

The second challenge is one of popularity. Jesus is challenged to popularize the good news by drawing attention to himself. The conflict of motivation is subtle. Why not make a sensational demonstration that he is the Son of God? It will bring in more people.  The story illustrates the conflict between the well-intentioned theologies and interpretations of Scripture and the diversions they create on the path of obedience. It deals with the conflict of values revealed in differing images of the Messiah. 

Are you drawing attention to yourself by siding with the majority who want power restored or are you directing attention to God by loving, serving, caring, including, and giving up your place as Jesus has done for you? Are you focused on the good things you can achieve or are you focused on being an instrument of God’s love and peace for the people entrusted to your care? What is your focus? 

The Challenge of Politics

The third challenge is political. Jesus is challenged to politicize the good news by assuming the role of government. The conflict of values is subtle. But Jesus does not deviate from his focus upon the one true God, even for the noble purpose of taking over all the kingdoms of the world.

What does it mean to be God’s beloved child? By whose authority does he make his decisions? The story reveals a conflict of authority.    

Matthew does an excellent job of setting up the conflict. Jesus is taken to a “very high mountain” and offered authority “over all the kingdoms of the world.” This image of the mountain not only ties his listeners to Moses but sets up Jesus being on another mountain at the end of Matthew’s story. It is the mountain where Jesus meets his disciples after the resurrection,  where Jesus announces that he has “received all authority on earth” (Matthew 28:18). His authority is from God and not from Satan. It comes after the cross and is not an alternative to the cross. 

Start with Jesus

Your challenge starts with God’s authority of love when all the people around you are calling you to take a position based on the authority of opinion and influence. Are you evangelical or are you progressive? Are you traditional or have you lost the foundation of your faith? Are you liberal or are you conservative? Are you with us or are you with them? You get the point.

Remember, it matters where you start. If you start on the left or on the right with your opinion, you will fight to influence others to see things the way you see them and to come to your side. If you start with Jesus, in whom all authority has been given and who resisted the temptation to give into the political powers of his day, then there is always a place for transformation and being who God needs you to be in times of conflicting values and challenging decisions. 

Scripture is For Focus

There is one more important fact of this story of focus. Jesus met every challenge with scripture. Here is another subtle temptation. Jesus is not just quoting scripture nor is he “proof-texting” scripture. He is quoting scripture that keeps him focused. In the story, he insists that the word of God must nourish a truly human life. It is that focus that leads him to provide food for hungry people (Matthew 6:11; 14:13-21; 15:32-39; 25:31-46). Jesus also quotes scripture within its context to illustrate that even the well-intentioned theologies and interpretations of Scripture in his own community can become the vehicle of a demonic alternative to the path of living into being the anointed one, the Christ. 

So, who you are is how you lead. As a Christ-centered leader, what is your focus? 

Respond

How you see Jesus shapes how you lead.  How do you see Jesus? Matthew presents Jesus as the Son of God, who will work many miracles during his ministry. Yet this story of focus not only rejects violence and miracles but considers them to be demonic temptations. What does it mean to be the anointed one, the Christed one? 

In Matthew, messiahship is defined not only in traditional pictures of divine power but in terms of Jesus’ own suffering and death. Instead of the power that the “kingdom” had previously meant, Jesus becomes an alternative vision of what the kingdom of God on earth might be. 

This is what was at stake in the temptations Jesus faced and it is what is at stake with your leadership. As a beloved Child of God and a Christ-centered leader, what is your focus? As a follower of Jesus, your focus is to have a trusting relationship with God and a loving relationship (agape) with people. As a Christ-centered leader, you model what God’s love looks like today. 

The temptations will be subtle, but with your eyes focused upon Jesus, God’s kingdom of love and grace comes here on earth as it is in heaven. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. What temptations or challenges did you face today? Did you make decisions based on popularity or humility? In what situations did you feel you were leading with a focus on love and grace? How did you assist others in moving forward in becoming more who God created them to be? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, I give you thanks for the assurance that you are shaping me more into the person you created me to be. Help me be more aware of my relationships and of the people you want me to love. By your grace, give me the courage and grace to lead others into and through the difficult moments of loving others as you have loved me. As one of your beloved children, help me be a leader of focus, relying upon your authority in Jesus. I offer who I am to you in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Effective leadership is in high demand. People want the strongest, most qualified, most effective people to lead their churches as well as their communities, schools, and country. They are looking for leaders they can trust, as well as leaders of compassion, stability, and hope. They are looking for leaders with a solid foundation of good character and integrity.

Failure of leadership today is not the absence of competence or skills, but simply sustaining credibility and integrity with people. There is a growing need for courageous leaders who can and will face and navigate the challenges of today. 

In the Sermon on Mount, Jesus teaches and trains his followers to do greater things than he has done. He begins with developing the inner life and moves to developing healthy relationships. When it comes to effective and courageous leadership, integrity is experienced in and through relationships. 

Use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to assist you in developing healthy relationships as you become more of the leader God has created you to be. 

Read Matthew 5:21-37

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So, when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister 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… 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart… 

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you: Do not swear at all…Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. (Selected verses Matthew 5:21-37).

Reflect

According to Matthew, God sent Jesus to teach us how to live a holy and righteous life. For him, a holy and righteous life had more to do with relationships than it did with the avoidance of impure thoughts or actions. It is more than being a nice person who says and does the right things. The holy life or righteous life is lived in relationship with God and with others.

To be holy or righteous is to love others as God in Jesus has loved you. You love with agape, not centered upon emotion or likes and dislikes, but centered in a conscious choice to love as you have been loved. So, being an effective leader means you lead with love. Leading with love is relational. Here is where leading with integrity comes in.  

Integrity

Too often we limit integrity to outward actions or decisions, like acting with integrity. We see it as one of the keys to positive and productive work. Integrity in leaders is usually referred to as being honest, trustworthy, and reliable. Leaders with integrity not only talk the talk but walk the walk. They practice what they preach. They own up to their mistakes, as opposed to hiding them, blaming others, or making excuses.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong or ineffective with acting with integrity. Believe me, I wish there were more of us who did live and act with integrity.  But too often we limit our understanding of integrity to outward actions.

Holiness & Righteousness

Jesus is teaching, in the Sermon on Mount, that holiness and righteousness are deeper than what you do or don’t do. He is teaching that holiness and righteousness are who you are. The holy life or righteous life is lived in relationship with God and with others at the deepest levels of your life.

So, he says (Bias translation), “just because you have not murdered someone does not make you righteous.” Holiness goes to the root of who you are, to your anger, to your name-calling. Your integrity is seen in your relationship, not in what you do or don’t do.

In fact, relationships are so important, “when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister 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…” And, even deeper than that, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Integrity is experienced in your relationships with others.

It is the same with adultery and divorce. You are not holy or righteous because you are sexually pure or not at fault in a broken relationship. I celebrate with you that you are not an adulterer and that you have not been divorced. But the point to Jesus’ teaching is the integrity of relationships. Being a beloved child of God, you are interacting with others as beloved daughters and sons of God. Your integrity is not seen in what you do or don’t do as much as in who you are in relation to others.

The Depth of Integrity

Integrity is so deep, who you are can be counted upon even in what you say. “Let your word be your truth.” Your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” Your righteousness is your integrity. It shows up in your verbal agreements, but it is who you are in what you say.

So, if you are a person of integrity, it is not in what you do or don’t do. It is in your love and care of the people around you. Leading with integrity means you lead with love and grace.  

Who you are is how you lead.

Respond

Continue to lead with trust, stability, compassion, and hope. The point of leading with integrity is that trust, stability, compassion, and hope is woven into the fabric of who you are more than the characteristics you try to emulate.  

So, continue to be vulnerable and genuine with the people with whom you work. Look for the potential in others and equip them to live into it. Be generous in your assessments, giving the benefit of the doubt. Be courageous in your decision-making, creating a space for trust and collaboration.

Cultivate trust and compassion. Take pride in the work of the people entrusted to you and focus on their well-being. Be grateful for the work of your colleagues and give credit to whomever credit is due.

Lead with Love

Remember, you are leading with agape. Who you are is how you lead, so lead with:  

  1. Vulnerability

Being vulnerable means you nurture a culture where people feel safe and where you, when struggling, find support and care. It takes courage to be vulnerable. Instead of hiding your failures and covering up your weaknesses, own them. Ask for feedback and learn from others. Your authenticity helps build trust and your capacity to care. Your experience of trust creates compassion for and acceptance of those around you. 

Leading with integrity is difficult at times, but it is who you are.   

2. Listening

Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Leading with integrity means you build trust by showing your capacity to care. It means you create a culture where people feel safe to speak up and where you are slow to shut people down. 

It takes courage to listen. You know where you are going. You know the path that needs to be taken. And you know what needs to be done to navigate the barriers. Leading with integrity gives people the opportunity to be heard because that is who you are.   

3. Generosity

Being generous means that you make a genuine effort to understand others. Being generous means that you assume that your colleagues have good intentions, and are doing the best they can under the circumstances.

So, listen to what is being said, ask questions for clarity, explore their perspectives. It is easy to judge and blame when things do not work the way you want them to work. So, stay open and curious in conversations. Create an environment where people feel heard, seen, and cared for. 

Leading with integrity means you are loving others as God in Christ has loved you. It is difficult to be generous when you are depending upon others to do quality work, but your practice of generosity will help you lead with integrity.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. In what situation did you act with holiness? Were your actions part of who you are or part of being nice? In what situations did you feel you were leading with integrity? How did you assist others in moving forward with integrity, of becoming more who God created them to be? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, I give you thanks for the assurance that you are shaping me more into the person you created me to be. Help me be more aware of my relationships and of the people you want me to love. By your grace, give the courage and grace to lead others into and through the difficult moments of loving others as you have loved me. As one of your beloved children, help me be a leader of integrity. I offer who I am to you in the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Is being a Christ-centered leader worth your life?  You are still feeling the effects of a Covid shutdown, the information, misinformation, and disinformation regarding your denomination, and the general care needed to keep people focused upon God’s love. With the unexpected challenges, chaos, and confusion being a Christ-centered leader, at this time, is taking a toll on many who are seeking to be faithful. 

Some of you have navigated the challenges with courage and grace. Others of you have met unexpected obstacles and are stuck. Still others of you are weary. I get it. On any given day I can experience all three. That is why I am asking the question. 

At your best, you have the opportunity to live within a community of grace-filled Jesus followers. In the midst of grace and care, you are leading and assisting people to become who God created them to be. You are leading by example by the way you live your life, even with all the distractions. But when your leadership is interrupted In the midst of the pressure and tension, there are moments when you ask yourself, “is what I am facing and trying to lead through worth my life?”    

Let me state the obvious, you have to be a follower of Jesus to be a Christ-centered leader.  In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching and training his followers to do greater things than he has done. He begins with the development of the inner life.  

Use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to assist you in developing your inner life and in becoming the leader God created you to be. 

Read Matthew 5:10-16 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Reflect

What is Jesus saying when he says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness? On the surface it sounds like Jesus is saying, “Go out and get yourselves persecuted because you won’t be real Christians until you do.” But nothing could be farther from the truth. That kind of thinking leads to a martyr complex that is based upon self-pity. It is self-centered and not Christ-centered. 

A totally committed follower of Jesus is difficult to ignore. It is even more difficult to ignore a whole body of totally committed followers of Jesus. They understand life is Jesus. They live life not by a denomination, not by a specific understanding of the scripture, and not by a particular structure, but through Jesus. I feel strange even writing it, but that is who you are. And as you’ve heard me say, “who you are is how you lead.” 

Working for Righteousness

Jesus followers focus on God’s righteousness. They work for righteousness, not just for individuals,  but for the human community, and for all creation. Jesus followers are so involved in God’s business of righteousness they bear God’s image. They begin to look like God-loving people in the community and the world. 

So, to be a Christ-centered leader means you are in a Parent-Child business with God. You have a common purpose, the salvation of the world. With Jesus, righteousness involved a change of heart and healthy human relationships.  Healthy relationships are more than being nice to one another, it is to create people of goodwill. As God’s children, we love one another and the world from the heart, from the inside out. 

Being a Christ-Centered Leader

When Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God on earth, he was not offering to make people more comfortable in their sins, missing the point of God’s love. He was calling them to a new life in love and to citizenship in his beloved community. 

This is where the persecution comes in. There is a cost to being a Christ-centered leader. You have made an all-out commitment to lead God’s people. You are charged to be faithful whatever the cost. So, Jesus says, “Rejoice that you have been counted worthy to do God’s work. You are in a great company of prophets whose glorious past stretches back to the beginning of time and whose future has no end. So go to it. I’m with you.” The question is, “Is being a Christ-centered leader worth your life?” 

Is Being a Christ-Centered Leader Worth Your Life?

In his book, The Sermon on the Mount, E. T. Thompson tells of Dr Turner, the pastor of the American Church in Berlin before World War II. He tells of Dr. Turner visiting Pastor Henrich Niemoeller, the father of Marin Niemoeller who defied Hitler and spent many months in a concentration camp. When the visit was over, Dr. Turner, Reverend Neimoeller, and Mrs. Niemoeller (Grandmother Niemoeller) stood at the door saying their goodbyes. Dr. Turner said, “Grandmother Niemoeller held my left hand in her two hands. The grandfather of Martin’s seven children patted my right hand and then put one hand on my shoulder. ‘When you go back to America, Do not let anyone pity the father and mother of Martin Niemoeller. Only pity any follower of Christ who does not know the joy that is set before those who endure the cross despising the shame.  Yes, it is a terrible thing to have a son in a concentration camp, but Paula (Grandmother Niemoeller) and I know that.  But there would be something more terrible for us, if God had needed a faithful martyr and our Martin had been unwilling.’” 

That is what Jesus is saying. Persecution is a terrible thing, but unfaithfulness is far worse. So, here is the question, Is being a Christ-centered leader worth your life? 

Your Witness

I should stop there, but since I am on a roll… The history of the Christian movement demonstrates that the intensity of persecution is geared, not to the moral level of the non-Christian, or persecutors, but to the intensity of the witness of the Christian community. The early followers of Jesus were not persecuted because the Romans were such bad people. In fact, the Romans were considered to be quite decent. The early followers were persecuted because they lived out their faith in Jesus in life-changing and world-changing ways. 

I sometimes wonder why Christians today get off so easily. Is it because non-Christian Americans are that much better than non-Christian Romans? Or is it that our light is so dim that the world cannot see it? What are the things we do that are worth persecuting? 

What Good is Your Witness?

It is not easy to follow Jesus. In fact, it is impossible to follow Jesus and be afraid to live and love like Jesus. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything… (Matthew 5:13). The Greek word for “lost its taste” means  “to be foolish” or “to act foolishly.” In other words, “You are the salt of the earth, but if you act foolishly, what good is your witness?” If you are afraid to live and love like Jesus, what good is your witness? 

It is hard to see how anyone could miss the meaning of such pointed words. Yet some people insist on putting a period after “you are the salt of the earth,” and act as if Jesus said nothing else. They turn a warning into a compliment. Jesus did not call us salt to describe us or to point to our saving and savoring abilities. Nonsense. He called us salt for one purpose, to warn us that we can lose our power to make a difference. When this happens, people will no longer bother to persecute you. They will do something even worse, they will ignore you and go on about their business. 

Tension with the World

Whenever tension ceases to exist between the church and the world one of two things has happened. Either the world has been completely converted to Jesus, or the church has watered down and compromised its purpose. In compromising the church loses its influence and is ignored. 

When God’s daughters and sons live in the midst of racial prejudice, poverty, national pride, militarism, gun violence, and exploitation, witnesses to God’s love, there is persecution. The faith of the followers of Jesus is so real and so present that the world, the city, the community, find it difficult to ignore. 

Christian Community is Christ’s Light

In fact, Jesus says it can’t be done. “It is impossible to hide a city that is situated on a hill.” When God created the Christian community, God never had any intention of locating it in the sheltered cave. It was placed on an open hilltop where it might be an eternal witness to the way people should live their lives. “People don’t light a lamp and put it under a bushel basket, but upon the lampstand, and it shines on all those that are in the house” (Matthew 5:15). 

The point here is not that you shouldn’t hide your light. It is deeper than that. The point is, no one ever lights a lamp and then hides it. Neither does God. The Christian community is God’s light which he lit up with the glory of his own Son, and he has no intention of hiding it. When you come into the fellowship of the church, you become part of that light. While you can determine the intensity of the light, you cannot escape the fact that you are part of the witness, for better or for worse.  It is not a matter of whether or not you will shine, but how brightly you will shine.  Jesus says to let your “light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). 

You are the Light of the World…

You are the light of the world. For what purpose? Are you the light so people experience your wonderful worship, hear your great sermons, be a part of your Sunday School class, see your beautiful sanctuary, hear your choir, see your financial report, or read your mission statement? No. You are the light of the world so people might see your good works and give glory to God. Jesus placed us, as the church, under the eternal obligation to live God’s message, whatever the cost. 

Of course, you must preach the good news of Jesus, but at the same time, you must realize that the power of the spoken word lies in the demonstration of it. It is an expression of an experience in which the whole church participates. The preacher alone cannot bear witness to the message on behalf of the congregation. That would be vicarious spirituality. The whole congregation bears the testimony. Jesus is the light of the world; the church reflects that light as a city located on a hill. By the way in which you live your life, God’s love, the good news of Jesus, is made known to the world. That means every member of the body is a part of the witness, either strengthening it or weakening it. 

Since you can’t escape shining and you cannot be hidden, your leadership should be credited to Jesus. Your leadership does not depend upon persecution or praise. Your leadership depends upon your trust in Jesus. Are people able to see the image of God clearly in you? The world has no way of seeing God except through the image of Jesus formed in your heart. So, what is following Jesus worth your leadership?   

Respond

Is being a Christ-centered leader worth your life? To be centered upon Jesus is to live your life like Jesus. To live your life like Jesus means you will face adversity and persecution. But remember this, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. When during the day did you ask yourself “is this worth my life?” When during the day did you recognize you were the light shining in the situation or circumstance? How did you assist others in moving forward with their commitment to Jesus? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

Blessed are you, O God, creator of the universe and giver of good gifts to your children. I am grateful for the assurance that you are with me when I face opposition and persecution. By your grace, give the courage and grace to lead others into and through the difficult moments of loving others as you have loved me. As one of your beloved children, help me become more the leader you need at this point and time in history. I offer who I am to you in the name of Jesus. Amen.

How will you lead this year? As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity and responsibility to recognize potential in people and then assist them in developing that potential for the good of others. Who or what will make the difference in your leadership?   

Too often, we think we can lead through our own power or skill. We have convinced ourselves that if we know just a little more, read the right books, or attend the right seminars we will be equipped to lead. How has that been working for you? 

On the other hand, without thinking about it, we assume we will know what to do when we need to do it.  After all we trust God to give us what we need but being passive and not responding to God’s gifts of time and relationships have not served us well as leaders. 

Think about it for a moment. What one essential relationship or partnership do you have that equips you and empowers you as a leader? 

Use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to assist you in rediscovering the partnership you most need in being the leader God created you to be. 

Read Matthew 17:14-20 

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has epilepsy and suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” 

Reflect

This story follows the glory of Christ on the mountain (story of the transfiguration). The struggle and failure of the followers of Jesus are in direct contrast to the mountaintop experience. 

On the mountain, Jesus’ commission is reconfirmed as he begins to instruct his followers on the meaning and cost of following him. Although they have been given power and authority, they are frustrated by their failure to heal the boy or cast out the demon. The work in the mundane world in the valley is not as glorious as the experience on the mountain. 

Being and Doing

The primary focus of this story is the relationship between the power of Jesus and the experience of his followers. It is seen in their question in verse nineteen, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” In this story, there is a difference between spiritual exhilaration and the experience of everyday service, but it does not have to be that way. 

The mountaintop experience can and should be seen in every act of love and kindness extended in every situation and circumstance. In other words, there is a partnership between being and doing, between the power of God and our response to God’s grace.

Why Can’t We Stop It?

One of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr’s sermons is, “The Answer to a Perplexing Question” based on Matthew 17:19, “Why couldn’t we cast him out?” In the sermon, King points out that the problem that has always troubled us as human beings is our inability to conquer evil by our own power.  He points out we ask in pathetic amazement “Why can’t we get rid of evil or remove evil from our lives and the world in which we live?” 

We can ask that question regarding the violence we continue to experience. “Why can’t we stop it?”

We try, in our own ways, to stop it. Why can’t we stop the violence? We can ask that question regarding the injustice and inequality in which we participate. We try, through sermons and studies, to stop it. “Why can’t we stop it?” 

Why Can’t I…?

You know you can ask that question regarding your desire to lead courageously and effectively. “Why can’t I lead the way I want to lead? On your own, often in isolation, you try. Why can’t you lead with courage? 

King says we have usually pursued two paths to eliminate evil and to save the world.  We can say the same for violence, injustice, inequality, and for courageous leadership. 

The first path is to try to do everything on our own power and resourcefulness. It is a strange conviction that by thinking, inventing, and governing, we will conquer the “nagging forces of evil” or become effective Christ-centered leaders. 

The second path is to submissively wait for God to act on our behalf. We trust God to give us what we need, so we wait passively (and irresponsibly) for God to do something. It is another strange conviction to just “let go and let God” when God has equipped us to respond in faith trusting the gifts and talents we have been given.   

Living the Answer

King asks, “What then is the answer to life’s perplexing question? If the world is not to be purified by God alone nor by us alone, who will do it?” If we want to move beyond the rhetoric of simply asking the perplexing question to live the answer perhaps, we need to pursue a third way. 

King answers the question. He says the answer is found in an idea that is distinctly different from the two paths above. Neither God nor humanity will individually bring about the world’s salvation. He says it will take a partnership between God and humanity. 

Leading Through Partnership

Here is the key to leading through partnership. When we and God are one in unity of purpose there is a power to lead with courage. When the overflowing love of God and the perfect trust and obedience of each of us as human beings, there can be and will be a transformation of the old into the new. It is in and through this partnership we can “drive out the deadly cancer of sin.” 

Faith in Jesus opens the door for God to work through us. The followers of Jesus lacked faith when they desperately tried to remove evil from the body of the sick child (Matthew 17:14-23). Jesus points out what might seem obvious: they had been attempting to do by themselves what could only be done with God. 

When your life is an open receptacle for God’s love and grace to enter, you become the person, the leader, and the change agent you were created to be. It is God’s gift of faith that leads you into a life-changing and leader-empowering partnership with God. The one partnership that is needed for you to become the leader God has created you to be. 

Respond

Think about it for a moment.  How is your relationship, your partnership, with Jesus? You can be the leader God created you to be, but you cannot do it alone. You cannot become the leader needed today by mere resolution or by waiting on God to do it for you. To enter a partnership with Jesus, surrender yourself and become an instrument of God’s love, grace, and peace. 

Think of it this way, your family and friends, your church, and all of creation are waiting on you to open the door and to enter the partnership God is offering through Jesus. Even today, your church and your community are waiting on you to answer the invitation:                                                                                               

“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come into you and eat with you, and you with me.” Revelation 3:20 

Reflect

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How were you in partnership with Jesus? How were you in partnership with others who connected you to Jesus? Who did you invite to be in partnership with Jesus? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer 

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness. Joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

-Francis of Assisi