Tag Archive for: Paul

May I state the obvious? We are living in a time of great division in our country, our communities, and even our churches. Whether it be political divisions caused by particular agendas or a cancel culture perpetuated by social media, there is a tension that leads to fear and a lack of trust. 

There are no easy answers on how to lead through divisiveness. One of the first places I go to is to the scripture. But we have just come through a time in the church when scripture has been used to separate people. It has been painful to experience. Something like this has happened: If you and I don’t agree on the interpretation of certain scriptures then there must be something wrong with you or at least one of us. Because of how scripture has been used as a weapon, it is hard to trust the truth that leads us to God’s Word made flesh in Jesus. 

Don’t Confuse Your Understanding of Scripture

At other times people have confused their political views with their understanding of scripture. Because we have made scripture more about morality than we have reality, people use scripture to support their views more than allow scripture to transform their lives. There is a culture of fear growing around the understanding of scripture. I think of it this way. You start talking about God’s love for all people and an old snake will come crawling out from under a rock to scare you away. 

So, let me put it into context and then we will explore a scripture that can be helpful in meeting the challenge of divisiveness. 

The Word Made Flesh

As Christians, we believe in the Word made flesh, not in the Word made words. The scripture points us to Jesus, God’s love in human form. Following Jesus is more than a set of beliefs. It is a way of life. Following Jesus is about loving one another, especially those who are strangers or who are different from us.    

According to the scripture, the world will know that we are followers of Jesus, God’s love in human form, by the way we relate to, interact with, and love one another. When I start with that perspective, I am convinced that Scripture provides a way to lead through divisiveness. 

Read Acts 17:24-25 

For the total story, read Acts 17:16-34

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.  

Reflect

The apostle Paul found himself in a new world. His old world in which all questions had clear, precise answers had been shattered by his Damascus Road encounter with the Risen Christ. 

He had to sort out that experience and its impact on his perception of himself, his tradition, and what he believed. He needed direction to begin his mission of love and acceptance of the Gentiles. Before his experience with Jesus, he had considered the Gentiles beyond mercy. Now, he was an ambassador of love to the Gentiles. 

New World Required New Tools

He traveled to Athens, a center of Greek culture, where new ideas, competing values, and diverse philosophies were the norm of the city. Sharing the gospel of God’s love in that setting demanded that simplistic answers to difficult questions would not suffice. 

The new world required new tools. So, Paul had to learn new ways, understand his context, and earn respect to deal with the new world that was thrust upon him. He had to take what he knew and what he was learning to meet the demands of faith in the pluralist environment in which he found himself. 

How did he respond to the demands of the new environment? What tools did he use to meet the challenges of the new culture? 

Leading Through The Lens of Scripture

One of his tools was his grounding in the Hebrew scripture. In this story, he is surrounded by a different worldview. He was dealing with people who were more familiar with Zeus than with Yahweh. Their heroes were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle rather than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Paul saw the situation through the lenses of scripture. The Old Testament’s emphasis on belief in one God and its warning against graven images shaped Paul’s perception of and response to the Greek world. His grounding in scripture shaped him and provided a framework for approaching a different culture. The scripture provided a foundation upon which his new faith in Christ was built. 

The shifting sands of our world today, with its conflicting values and diverse relationships, call us to reexamine the primary tool for discerning God’s presence and purposes. The Bible has always been our primary witness to God’s revelation and loving activity.   

Use the Bible for Illumination

John Wesley dealt with the changing social currents of eighteenth-century England with his faith firmly rooted in scripture. He was so steeped in the biblical story that every personal and societal issue he faced was shaped by the bible. 

The Bible remains the primary tool we use to approach the issues of our time. The question is, how do you use the truth of the scripture to address the challenges of our day? William Sloan Coffin, former chaplain of Yale University and senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City, once wrote, “Too many Christians use the Bible as a drunk does a lamppost, more for support rather than for illumination.”   

Instead of scripture providing a light to help us navigate our way through conflicting values, it is being used to support our political and theological perspectives. Instead of scripture being a framework for approaching cultural change, it is being used to separate and divide people. 

How Do You Read Scripture?

As I have written before, it matters where you start. If you start from the perspective that scripture supports your point of view, you will use scripture as a weapon to get what you want. If you start from the perspective that scripture gives you direction on loving and relating to people, you will be transformed to love others as God in Jesus has loved you.   

Paul used his grounding in scripture to shape his understanding of people and the culture in which they lived. The scripture became his framework for approaching a different culture and a foundation upon which his new faith in Jesus was built. 

The Tool of Tradition

Another one of Paul’s tools was tradition. As a respected Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, Paul was accustomed to interpreting and applying Jewish tradition to new situations. He knew the Torah and rabbinic literature. He drew upon his tradition when confronting the alien gods and philosophies of the Greek world. It is obvious from Paul’s speech to the philosophers that passages from the Wisdom of Solomon, from Isaiah 42, and from Psalm 74 were in his mind and heart. 

He not only drew upon his own tradition, but he took the tradition of the Athenians seriously. He quoted from their philosophers and called attention to their heritage. He saw connecting points between his own tradition and those of the people whom he confronted in Athens. 

Responding to Cultural Change

When confronted by personal tragedies as well as new challenges in the form of cultural change you must not only stay in touch with your values and traditions. You must also learn about and understand the values and traditions of others. 

You need to be clear about who you are in order to stand firm when the ground starts moving. But if you are aware only of your own tradition you will not be able to develop the relationships needed to address the complex challenges when the ground is moving. 

Claiming Tradition and Relating to Others

Please continue to learn about and stand upon the tradition of historic creeds and liturgies, the great stories of faith, the bloodstained examples of the martyrs, and the heartwarming sermons and hymns of our ancestors. They are part of who you are as a follower of Jesus. 

But, at the same time, don’t forget that those to whom you are trying to relate have their own creeds and liturgies, great heroes of faith, and heartwarming stories and songs. Remember, it is God’s love for you in and through Jesus who is at the heart of your tradition. 

The Power of Experience

For Paul confronting the Athenians, scripture and tradition were not enough. He had to call upon another tool in order for the gospel to be relevant in a new setting. Paul met the Athenians at the point of their experience. 

He acknowledged their desire to know the Divine. Rather than put down their experience, he affirmed their genuine search for the ultimate. He accepted the validity of the insights of their traditions and heroes. Rather than introduce them to God, as if they had no experience of the Divine, Paul named that which they had experienced but had labeled unknown. 

The Validity of Experience

Here is a clue to courageous and faithful leadership in a world of conflicting voices and values. If there is validity in your experience, then you will allow others the validity of their own experience. As a follower of Jesus, you know that God is present in and with every person and in all of life. 

In other words, God is not present with some absent from others. All persons experience the reality of God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). But, not all persons, know that it is God whom they experience.  

In Jesus, God has claimed each and every one of us. You have been claimed as a member of a loving household and called to be a giver of God’s grace. The scriptural story is a story of God’s love for all persons, but not all people know they have been claimed by God. Your experience of God’s love is a tool to connect with the experience of others and to identify the intersections of God’s grace and their experience. 

Love as You Have Been Loved

Just as Paul with the Athenians, it is your task as a Christ-centered leader, to be open to God’s presence in others and to hold the common experience in the light of scripture and tradition. God often comes to us from the experiences of those whom we assume do not know God. 

So, keep in your heart and mind the command to love as you have been loved. It remains at the center of what it means to be faithful to God. In the world in which we live, many complex realities are before us. The fundamental question remains the same, “Where have you experienced the presence and reality of God? 

The Tool of Reason

Notice that Paul did not stop with the Athenians’ unnamed experience. He connected their experience to the Risen Christ, who is the shape and source of authentic love. Scripture, tradition, and experience were resources used by Paul as he stood in the Areopagus. But he had one more vital tool, reason. 

The Athenian philosophers worshiped at the altar of reason, so Paul met them there. Drawing upon the insights of their philosophers, Paul attempted to connect the Greek culture to the God made known in Jesus. Paul told the Athenians, “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26). He then quoted their own thinkers and poets: “In him we live and move and have our being…For we too are his offspring” (Acts 17:28). 

Reason, motivated by love, under the banner of faith, can be fertile ground for eternal truth to grow and mature. In 1768, John Wesley wrote a reply to a theologian at Cambridge University, “To renounce reason is to renounce religion…for all irrational religion is false religion.” 

Reason as a Path of God’s Presence

When I was in Peoria, there was a young man, a physicist, who had difficulty believing God’s love for him, especially in and through Jesus. He spent hours reading, researching, and asking questions. Eventually, he took a step toward God. 

He found the universe to be full of mystery and wonder. He made his way to worship. In the liturgy, he found a way to express his sense of praise and adoration toward a reality he called God. Through many conversations and reading the writings of theologians, he was challenged to read the scripture with a fresh openness and to recite the creeds with integrity. Reason was a path of God’s presence for him. 

Ask Your Questions

I know a pastor who tells the story of receiving a letter from an eleven-year-old member of his congregation. Here is part of the letter: 

In the Bible, it says that several days after making the earth God made Adam and Eve. But in science, it says that no one lived before the dinosaurs or while they were living. How could dinosaurs have lived for millions of years before people if God made Adam and Eve seven days after the earth was made? …I hope you won’t be mad at me, but sometimes I have trouble believing…but I still believe in God. 

The pastor encouraged him to ask his questions. Somewhere this bright and articulate eleven-year-old got the notion that to use his mind was outside of having faith. Because he asked questions it meant he did not or could not believe. On the contrary, through reason, he and many others have come to glorify the God who is the source of all truth. 

Scripture, Tradition, Experience & Reason

Paul used the tools of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason to relate to the Athenians and to introduce them to the God who they had labeled unknown. These same tools are instruments by which God comes to us from that world out there beyond our church walls. They are the means by which God transforms the world through us. 

Respond

As a Christ-centered leader, how will you lead through the divisiveness of our culture? Here is something to keep in your heart and mind as you navigate the separation and pain of our day. 

  • It is not scripture, tradition, experience, or reason that creates the hostility we experience today. It is fear. So, as you lead with courage keep this in your heart. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). 
  • It is love that banishes fear and prejudice, which allows us to grow in understanding, freedom, and compassion. It was love that made Jesus draw to himself those who the world abandoned. It is love that will assist us to do the same. 
  • In the midst of the divisiveness, be who you are supposed to be. Love as you have been loved. Learn from Paul’s response to the challenges he faced in Athens and lead as you were created to lead. Be who you are because who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you see God? What new thing was taking place? Who from the community did you meet? What did you learn about them? How can you best develop a relationship with them? Through whom did you receive love and care? What will you do differently tomorrow? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer

O God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in the lives of the people entrusted to my care. Create a pure heart in me, because I have learned that the pure in heart can see you. With my pure heart, and open eyes and ears, help me experience you in the people I meet tomorrow and every day. In the name of Jesus. Amen

This second week of Advent, Paul writes to the church in Rome, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:5-7)

Paul is encouraging the followers of Jesus to welcome Gentiles or to welcome the people who think, believe, and act differently than they do. So, what does Paul’s instruction mean for you and for your leadership? What difference does welcoming others just as Christ has welcomed you, make in your living and leading? 

We are exploring the distinguishing characteristics of Christ-centered leaders. Along with sharing good news, being mission-focused, developing koinonia, and relating people to their communities, I have added the characteristic of leading with the heart, mind, and work of Christ. 

This week let’s focus on leading with the mind of Jesus. 

Read Philippians 2:5-11 

 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he existed in the form of God,

           did not regard equality with God

           as something to be grasped,

but emptied himself,

           taking the form of a slave,

           assuming human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a human,

he humbled himself

                        and became obedient to the point of death—

                        even death on a cross.

Therefore, God exalted him even more highly

           and gave him the name

           that is above every other name,

so that at the name given to Jesus

           every knee should bend,

           in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

           that Jesus Christ is Lord,

           to the glory of God the Father.

Reflect

Paul is writing to the followers of Jesus in Philippi. He is instructing them on how to live in the midst of a hostile environment. He begins by focusing on Christian conduct in relation to a hostile, unbelieving community. Then he focuses on the Christian conduct within the believing community. It is this conduct that is important for the Christ-centered leader. 

He writes, “If then, there is any comfort in Christ, any consolation from love, any partnership in the Spirit, any tender affection and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. 

The joy of Paul and of the church is “in Christ Jesus,” nourished by their relationship with each other. For clarity he says he has four expressions: being of the same mind (which meant having a common attitude or mission), having the same love; being in full accord, and of one mind. He repeats the call for a common attitude or mission. 

In repeating “the same mind,” Paul is preparing the followers of Jesus for his instruction on what the Christian mindset, attitude, or mission is, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” 

Leading with the Mind of Christ

This attitude or mission is so important, those early Jesus followers made it into a hymn or a statement of faith to be repeated when they gathered. This is part of what it meant in The Acts of the Apostles, “They devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles.” By repeating the hymn or statement of faith, they were learning what it meant to be Christian in the world in which they lived. Liturgy was important in learning the faith. 

So, what does that mean for you as a Christ-centered leader? What does it mean to lead with the mind of Christ? To lead with the mind of Christ means: 

Christ-centered leadership focuses on others. 

It is a choice defined and focused on the life and health of the Christian community. Jesus “did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped but emptied himself.” Often leadership is viewed as a position, a title, or an office. But to lead with the mind of Christ is to choose to lead from who you are as a follower of Jesus. 

Leadership is not as much about authority as it is about vulnerability. Choosing to act on the behalf of others without personal gain is true leadership. Self-denying service for those entrusted to your care with no claim of return, no eye upon a reward is to lead with the mind of Christ. 

Being Right or Being in a Relationship?

Tom Wiles, while university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, purchased a new pickup truck. While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door. The scratches looked like deep white scars on the new truck’s exterior. A friend noticed the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?”  

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

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

Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me. After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right, or I can be in a relationship with my neighbor. Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than the truck, I decided to focus on our relationship. Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.” ¹ 

Leading with the mind of Christ is to choose to focus on others for the life and health of the Christian community.

Christ-centered leadership is incarnational. 

It is a choice to be present with and for the people entrusted to your care. Jesus “…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human…” Often leadership is viewed as being set apart from the people you are leading. But Jesus came to be with us. Leadership is most effective when you are related to and present with the people entrusted to your care. 

Max Dupree, in his book Leadership Jazz, tells the story of his granddaughter Zoe. She was born prematurely and weighed one pound and seven ounces. She was so tiny that his wedding ring fit over her arm. Additionally, Zoe’s biological father abandoned Max’s daughter the month before Zoe was born.  

The first time Max suited up in protective gear to visit Zoe in her isolate in the neonatal unit of the hospital she had two IVs in her arms, one in her navel, and a feeding tube plus a breathing tube in her mouth. A wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave Max his instructions.  

“For the next several months, you will be the surrogate father,” she told him. “I want you to come see me every day. While you are here, I would like you to rub her arms and her legs with the tip of your finger. While you are caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her because she needs to connect your voice with your touch.”  

“Ruth was doing exactly the right thing for Zoe and without realizing it, she was giving me the perfect description of the work of a leader. At the core of being a leader is the ability to always connect one’s voice with one’s touch.”  

Leading with the mind of Christ is to be present with and related to the people you are leading. It is to love them so much that you want to be with them and work for their good. You bring a human touch to the work of goals, objectives, and deadlines. 

Christ-centered leadership is about humility. 

Paul’s instruction to the Philippians was to look out for the interests of others. Your call, as a Christ-centered leader, is an ultimate concern for others which is greater than your self-concern. Your call is to have the mind of Christ who emptied himself and became a servant. 

In reality, not many of us see ourselves as humble servants. In fact, we find it offensive. But let’s be honest, there is a difference between the kind of serving most of us do and the willful decision to humbly serve. When you make the decision to lead in self-giving service, you give up the right to be in charge. The amazing thing about that decision is, you become vulnerable and authentic. The joy of leading energizes your life and leading. Rather than the pride of choosing to serve, you give yourself to be available to those God sends your way. 

Humility allows you to lead from the center of who you are as a follower of Jesus. 

There is a story of a man who asked a rabbi, “How come in the olden days God would show God’s self to people, but today nobody ever sees God”

The rabbi replied, “Because nowadays nobody can bow low enough.” 

Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus, who bowed low, emptied himself, and became a servant. Leading with the mind of Christ is a leadership choice that comes only after spending time with Jesus and the community in which you are leading. 

Respond

O God, help me lead with the mind of Jesus. By your grace, help me to let go of position and prestige and to grasp your love for me. Help me become obedient in my trust in you so all I say and do brings you glory and works for the good of the people you have given me to love and serve. Remind me again that who I am is how I lead. In Jesus name. Amen 

Return

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you experience giving yourself up for the good of another person? In whom did you see Jesus? What opportunities did you have to love as God in Jesus has loved you? Give God thanks for the opportunities to love others as you have been loved.

A person claimed to weave “biblical principles” into his business. When his business went bad and the stock market dropped, he left his investors to pay his debts and his customers to pick up the pieces. 

Another person talked about integrating biblical principles into her business. When her business fell on hard times and the stock market dropped, so did her livelihood. But she did not run away. She stayed and worked out a plan to pay back her investors and to care for her customers. 

No one respects a person who talks a good game but fails to play by the rules. You will have a greater impact by what you do as opposed to what you say. Most people will forget 90 percent of what you say, but they will never forget how you live.

Dishonesty and Lack of Integrity

In a day when “the end justifies the means” has become an acceptable mode of operation, do you justify acts of dishonesty for valid reasons? Consider these examples:

  • overpromise and under deliver
  • exaggerate in job interviews to secure a job
  • overstate budgets to get what you want
  • understate values to get a better deal
  • cover up mistakes so you don’t lose a customer
  • call in sick because you don’t have more paid time off

Each of the above examples is an act of dishonesty which in the end reveals a lack of integrity. 

Losing the Ability to be Trusted

It may seem like people can gain power quickly and easily if they are willing to cut corners and act without the constraints of integrity. Dishonesty may provide instant gratification for a moment, but it never lasts. What have you gained if you lose your ability to be trusted? 

Maybe that is why Paul wrote to Timothy: 

Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.1 Timothy 4:15-16 

Paul tells Timothy to watch himself and his teaching. In other words, watch your life and your doctrine. Better yet, give careful attention to your behavior and belief. Make sure they match. Constantly examine yourself to see that your walk matches your talk and that your practice in life matches your profession of faith. 

Integrity is Forever

James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, write, “If you step out into the unknown, the place to begin is with the exploration of the inner territory…”

If people are going to follow you whether into ministry, business, or the ballfield, they want to know if they can trust you. Do you keep your promises and follow through with your commitments? 

Brene Brown in Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead writes, “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” 

Success will come and go, but integrity is forever. Integrity means doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether anyone is watching. It takes having the courage to do the right thing, no matter what the consequences. It takes years to build a reputation of integrity, but it takes a second to lose it. 

Integrity points to a consistency between what is inside and what is outside, between belief and behavior, your words and your ways, your attitudes and your actions, your values and your practice. 

Does Your Behavior Match Your Belief?

So, the question is, does your behavior match your belief? 

If the answer is “Yes”, every person who trusts you will spread the word that you are trustworthy, and the truth of your character will spread. The value of the trust others have in you is far beyond anything that can be measured.

At work, you will be trusted by colleagues and customers with more responsibility. In the home, you will be trusted by a spouse to be faithful and by your children to be present. It means you will have people willing to go the extra mile to help you because they know that recommending you to others will never bring damage to their own reputations.

When your behavior matches your belief, you will experience limitless opportunities and endless possibilities.

Maintain Your Integrity

So, as a leader, what do you do to maintain your integrity? You choose to be vulnerable and you develop your character.

First, choose to be vulnerable.

  • Integrity is a choice. Choose courage over comfort. Choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. Choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.
  • Be accountable. If you slip up, apologize. Make amends and make it right. It might be uncomfortable but being accountable will build trust and credibility. Don’t let one integrity slip alienate everyone around you.
  • Be transparent. Say what you mean, mean what you say and, of course, don’t be mean when you say it. Trust develops when people feel like they don’t need to keep up their guard.

Second, develop your character. 

  • Be kind to yourself. Stop the inner voice that is verbally and emotionally beating you up. Speak to yourself as you would speak to someone you love: your spouse, your child, your friend.
  • Be the person you want others to be. Modeling integrity and good character are much more effective than telling your team what to do. Showing that you’re always willing to make the difficult, courageous decisions build connection and trust.
  • Character is built one choice at a time. Integrity is all about consistency. It’s doing the right thing, for the right reason, even when no one is watching, even when you don’t want to.
  • Integrity comes from the Latin word “integer,” meaning whole. In every moment, and at every decision, lead from a place of wholeness. 

Do what is right and let the consequences follow. No one respects a person who talks a good game but fails to play by the rules. Remember, success will come and go, but integrity is forever.

  

 

Does what you say you value align with your behavior? 

Consider these three scenarios:

  • You love your family and enjoy the time you share with them. Even though you work 60 to 70 hours a week, you enjoy your work. Because you want to spend more time with your spouse and your children, you attempt to balance family time with your work schedule, but neither are getting your total attention or your best life. You are feeling tense, guilty, and alone. 
  • You consider yourself to be a person of your word. Whether it is with family, friends, or colleagues, you feel a sense of satisfaction, peace, and fulfillment when you complete a project as promised on time. But, when you don’t complete the project, in the time frame you set for yourself, you feel uneasy and uncomfortable. Even when the people around you are not concerned about it, you still feel as if you have not kept your word. 
  • You are a person of faith, a Jesus follower, and you feel comfortable with talking about your religious beliefs. You attend a Sunday School class with people who are also persons of faith but who do not share your views on particular issues. You like sharing your opinions and beliefs, but every Sunday you feel the tension when the class discussion begins. You enjoy the people in the class, but you are losing your patience with being on guard and not offending anyone. 

When your decisions and behaviors do not align, you experience the tension of conflicting values. In the midst of such conflict, it is important to know and to understand who you are and why you think and feel the way you do. 

When your thinking and behaving match your values, life is good. You feel satisfied, content, and at peace. But when your thoughts and actions do not align with your values, you feel tentative, off-balance, and filled with inner turmoil.

Consider Romans 7

The Apostle Paul understood conflicting values. He wrote to the Roman church:

I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So, if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 7:14-25 The Message)

Psalm 15Paul’s Conflict

The conflict is between the will of God revealed in the Law, and the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The Law is “spiritual,” but Paul says he is not. So, he is struggling between living the life God wants him to live and the life he is living. His conflict is not between his “lower” nature and his “higher” nature but is upon being good enough on his own and upon relying upon God’s grace to live as a follower of Jesus.

Today, this conflict could be expressed between following the “words” of the scripture or following the “Word” to whom the scriptures point. 

David, in Psalm 15, reveals the values in his life.

GOD, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list? Walk straight, act right, tell the truth. Don’t hurt your friend, don’t blame your neighbor; despise the despicable. Keep your word even when it costs you, make an honest living, never take a bribe. You’ll never get blacklisted if you live like this. (Psalm 15, The Message)

Notice that David said the person who enjoys the presence of God, who gets invited to dinner, “walks straight, acts right, tells the truth.” Because this person values truth in her heart, her words express truth. Because she values kindness, she “doesn’t blame her neighbor.” Because she values honesty, she keeps her word even when it hurts. Because she makes an honest living, “she never takes a bribe.” 

Regardless of what might happen around him, David could live with confidence that the right principles shaped his values and guided his decisions. That confidence gave him emotional and spiritual stability. It enabled him to be the person God could use for God’s glory. 

As you examine your own life, what values do you see shaping your behavior? Maybe a better question is, what values do you want to shape your behavior?

As with Paul, many of you hold certain values, but you live differently from what you say is important to you. Unless you are intentional in discovering and understanding your values you will be shaped by the values of others.

You can’t have a set of values for work, another set for home, and still another set for your friends or for the church. Your goal should be to completely integrate your values into all areas of your life. 

What Informs Your Life?

When you know and honor your values, life is good. So, here is what I want you to do. Decide now, this moment, to give yourself 30 minutes to reflect upon the following (10 minutes for each):

  1. Identify the times when you were your happiest.

  • What were you doing?
  • Who were the people with you?
  • What were you thinking and feeling?
  • What really made you happy?
  1. Identify the times when you were most proud

  • Why were you proud?
  • Who were the people who shared your pride?
  • What did you think and feel at the moment?
  • What gave you your feelings of pride?
  1. Identify the times when you were most fulfilled and satisfied

  • What need or desire was fulfilled?
  • How and why did the experience give you meaning?
  • Were there other people who shared the moments with you? Who?
  • What else added to your feelings and fulfillment?

To reflect upon these questions will give you insight into what informs your life. You will discover and affirm what is important in the way you live, work, and make decisions. 

What is important to you?

Glenn Adsit was a minister in China. Toward the end of his tenure, he and his family were held captive in their house by the government. They could not leave their house to go to the fruit market without soldiers accompanying them. Then one day, while under house arrest, several soldiers came to them and said, “You can return to America.”

Glenn and his family were celebrating when the soldiers said, “You can take two hundred pounds with you. We will be back tomorrow to get you.”

They had been there for years. How were they going to get everything down to two hundred pounds? They got the scales out and began to weigh everything. That is when the family argument began. There were two children, a wife, and a husband. What about this vase? We just bought the typewriter. What about my books? They weighed everything. Finally, they had two hundred pounds down to the ounce. 

The next day, the soldiers came to get them. “Ready to go?” they asked.

“Yes.”

“Did you weigh everything?”

“Yes.”

Then the soldiers asked, “Did you weigh the kids?”

Glen replied, “No, we didn’t.”

They said, “Weigh the kids.”

It was at that moment, that the typewriter, vase, and everything else was not important.

So, what is important to you? When you know and honor your values, life is good. Are you living the way you want to live? Is life turning out the way you want it to turn out? 

Today, you have the opportunity to do something about it. What one thing are you going to do? 

What happened to our study on Galatians? Is it over already?

I must confess, I miss the daily readings and reflections. Over the past six weeks, I have reflected seriously on my life, my ministry as a leader in the church, and the legacy I am leaving behind. And when I say legacy, I am not talking only about my years of ministry within the United Methodist Church but what am I leaving behind for my granddaughters, for my friends, and for the world?

I have reached an age in my life where I ask myself a lot of questions. The Galatians study guided me in asking some of those questions. Questions I have been reluctant to face. Questions like: “For whom have I been living my life?” “What do I have to show for my life and ministry?” “What of significance am I leaving behind?”

Thy Will Be Done

As I reflected upon Paul’s contrast between freedom as self-indulgence with freedom as walking in the life of the Spirit, I realized that much of my life and ministry have been focused upon me and my success. As a leader, I have been focused more on my capacity to lead as it is related to my career and not as much upon my character as it is related to my capacity to lead. Would you believe that sobering thought leads me to conclude that the way I live and work shapes the destiny I receive and the legacy leave?

C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end; those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” You and I know what leaders look like when they chose to do things their own way, alone, relying upon their own capacity. That is not how I want to be remembered.

So, I have been thinking. What would it take to be a leader who first develops relationships of vulnerability and trust, who aligns with truth, and who pays the price of living a life of integrity? Will we accept only that which we can accomplish on our own? Or will we begin to focus more upon the character shaped by God in Christ, trusting God to lead us to a destiny far greater than we can imagine?

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “each of us must decide whether we will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” The latter comes naturally. The former comes supernaturally. We only live in service and care of others when we cease living solely for ourselves.

Helping Others Win

A few years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all with physical or mental disabilities, assembled at the starting line for the hundred-yard dash. At the sound of the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a desire to run the race to the finish. All, that is, except one little boy, who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The others slowed down and looked back. Then, they stopped, turned around, and went back. All eight of them. One little girl bent over, kissed the fallen boy, and said, “This will make it better.” A couple of runners helped the boy to his feet, then, all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood and applauded. The cheering went on for several minutes.

This story always stirs something deep inside of me. I think part of it is related to hearing about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But, another part hits the core of my being. Deep down in my heart, I know that helping others win matters far more than my hollow victories. Just like the children, changing my course requires me to pause and hear the cries of those around me. What I have learned is, I can only change my course when I am willing to pause and hear the cry within my own heart. Maybe that is the difficulty, being authentic, honest, and transparent.

What a Legacy Transforming Mission

Confirmation from Studying Galatians

So, the study on Galatians reaffirmed a couple of things for me. First, our character, who we are matters more than what we do. Second, for whom we care matters more than how we care.

As I look back upon my life and ministry, upon who I have become and upon whom I have served, I see that it has exposed the intent of my living. Career and character are not mutually exclusive, but which I choose will determine the destiny I receive and the legacy I leave.

There is a story of a woman who had a dream of wandering into a shop at the mall. She found Jesus behind the counter. He said to her, “You can have anything your heart desires.” Surprised but pleased, she asked Jesus for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, happiness, wisdom, and freedom from fear. Then she added, “Not just for me, but for the whole world.”

Jesus smiled and said, “I think you misunderstood me. We don’t sell fruit here, we only sell seeds.”

So, what seeds am I planting? What am I leaving behind?

How Do You Want to Be Remembered?

Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath, in their book The Ascent of a Leader, write, “The seed of destiny within each of us awaits the day when it will bear fruit in the lives of others. It awaits the fertile soil of community. It awaits an environment of grace…In the making of our own lives, some choices must inevitably be left to the Master. But God leaves many of the choices to us. We participate in the creation of our own lives and legacies.”

In and through the daily readings and reflections, I have become more focused upon the life and legacy I want to leave behind. In Christ, I have crucified my self-indulgence and I live in the Spirit. So, if I live in the Spirit, let me live the life of love.

Now, that is how I want to be remembered.

 

 

 

 

Psychologist Neil Clark Warren used to say when he did therapy with married couples, his primary goal was simply to see a 10% improvement in their relationships. He found it made a tremendous difference because, even a 10% improvement, gave the couples hope.

Warren believed in hope.

He found that if people had hope, they had a tremendous reservoir of energy. Hope kept them moving when they would have otherwise given up. He wrote, “Hope is the single most indispensable, non-negotiable, irreplaceable resource required for big challenges and noble battles.”¹

A Vision for A Better Day

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, wrote,

“We boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”

-Romans 5:1-5

Paul was talking about hope being a vision for better days that changes us in the present. For Paul, hope was not just an exercise in wishful thinking (“I hope it doesn’t rain.”). Hope was not just another word for disappointment. (“We had hoped that he would recover.”) Neither was hope the absence of hardship nor the denial of reality. For Paul, hope reached its greatest potential in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.

Because hope is a vision for better days that changes us in the present, we can face the future with hope.

Facing the Future with Hope

As the church, we are located at the intersection of people’s desperate need and God’s amazing offer. Because of what we have experienced in and through Jesus, we have a God-given hope which cannot be defeated and does not disappoint.

Because of Jesus Christ, you and I hold in our hands “the single most indispensable, non-negotiable, irreplaceable resource required for big challenges and noble battles.” With that in mind, your congregation is a beacon of hope. Can you imagine what you and the local church could do with a vision for better days that changes it in the present?

There is nothing that your community needs more than hope.

There is Hope

When someone wanders into your space, broken by the realities of life, having given up on trying to make it on their own, and looking for someone to save them, will you be there to whisper, “In the name of Jesus, there is hope.”

When someone who is lost in the depths of depression and drowning in a deep darkness, will you be there to let them know, “No matter how bad it feels now, there is hope in Jesus.” Or when someone is trapped in addiction and unable to escape on their own, will you come alongside him or her and whisper, “You are not alone. There is hope.”

When someone is a prisoner to bad choices and incarcerated behind the bars of our justice system, will you be around to send caring witnesses inside the walls of the prison to whisper, “In the name of Jesus, there is hope.”

When disaster strikes somewhere in our country or world, and you feel helpless to fix everything or to save everyone, will you be ready to gather people together to be hands, feet, and face of hope?

In the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of our church and our aimless wondering through structural changes, are you able to focus upon our mission and to face the future with hope?

At the Intersection of Desperate Need and God’s Amazing Offer

What do you think? Are you able to move your heart, mind, and money out to the intersection of people’s desperate need and God’s amazing offer? Faced with an uncertain future, a changing community, and shrinking resources, we can either choose fear and hunker down or we can face the future with a radical hope.

Because of Jesus, we have in our hearts and hold in our hands a hope that cannot be defeated and does not disappoint. We have a vision for better days that changes us in the present. You and I have a relationship with the author of hope. We hold “the single most indispensable, non-negotiable, irreplaceable resource required for big challenges and noble battles.” We have access to hope. In the midst of the chaos and confusion of the moment, what more do we need to face the future?

 

Notes

  1. You might know the name Neil Clark Warren as the founder of eHarmony.com.

The reports that came out of Orlando two weeks ago were unbelievable and unspeakable. An event where 49 persons are killed and over 50 people are wounded in a nightclub is unnecessary and unthinkable. Other news certainly continues to unfold with each passing day. But there is one thing that remains. What is our response to violence?

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“Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)

Paul’s teaching “Don’t fret or worry” seems unrealistic.  Who among us has gone even one day without worrying about something?  Some weeks it feels like we are bombarded with bad news.

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