Tag Archive for: prayer

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to invite people to learn of Jesus and to immerse them in God’s love in such a way they too will love others. 

The movement of God’s grace and the mission of God’s love is made real in and through your relationships as you interact with the people entrusted to your care.   

You offer Christ, God’s agape, by the way you receive and care for people. Your action of agape is a greater invitation than your words. You become so immersed in the love, the movement, the mission of God, that all you say and do invites others to love as they have been loved. 

The Invitation to Love

So, as a follower of Jesus, you have an opportunity to offer Christ to family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, and even enemies, by the way you receive and interact with them. The invitation to love is part of God’s mission. As a baptized follower of Jesus, you were been invited into God’s mission when you were claimed as a “beloved child of God” and called and commissioned for ministry at your baptism (Read Preparing for Mission: Being About God’s Business)  Offering Christ, God’s love, is who you as a follower of Jesus.  

As a Christ-centered leader, you have an opportunity to offer Christ as you model God’s love in your leading. In and through your relationships with people, you are inviting them into God’s movement of grace and God’s mission of love.

There are two examples of “offering Christ” found in John 1. The first is when John the Baptist points out Jesus to two of his disciples. “When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’  When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). The second is when Philip invites Nathanael to “Come and see,” when he tells Nathanael that he had found the one Moses wrote about in the Law (John 1:43-46).

But the example I want to use is found in Matthew’s good news.

Read Matthew 9:9-13 

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax-collection station, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with Jesus and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Reflect

Here is where the blog “Preparing for Mission: Answering God’s Call” can be helpful.

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. 

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.  

Just like Simon Peter, Levi is already at work. He is a tax collector. He has something useful and important to do and is not looking for a new life. In verse nine, the words “as he walked by” are taken from the same encounter as the call of the fishermen along the lake. Just as with the fishermen, Jesus does not fill an obvious vacuum or meet an obvious need in Levi’s life, But, like the call of prophets in the Old Testament, the call is intrusive and disruptive. Levi is being called to reorient his life and work.   

Reoriented to the Mission

When Jesus said, “Follow Me,” Levi got up and followed him. The mission of God became his priority and purpose. The mission permeated his living and reoriented his relationships.

When Levi followed Jesus, it impacted his personal passions, relationships, and decisions. He began to relate to others in a different way. His orientation was no longer upon himself but upon the people around him. Verse 10 tells us that Levi is having a dinner party with other tax collectors. Among them was Jesus and his disciples. Levi offers his friends and colleagues an opportunity to meet Jesus and to experience the love and acceptance he has experienced.

Levi offers Christ to his tax collector friends. He introduces them to Jesus and to the people whose priorities have been reoriented by following Jesus.

It is important to understand that the people invited to the party were tax collectors who were widely regarded as thieves, liars, and traitors.  The others were sinners, those who violated the biblical and traditional purity laws. They were ceremonially unclean. Matthew wants his readers to know the objections the religious leaders had of the early followers of Jesus. In other words, why does the church violate the biblical and traditional standards of God’s holiness by “eating with tax collectors and sinners.”

Offer Them Christ

Here is where “offer them Christ” comes in. When Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” he is adapting a proverb to express the mission of God. It is the healing power present that overcomes sickness. It is healing and not sickness that is contagious. So, the holy love of God present in Jesus is not contaminated by his association with sinners but overcomes the brokenness and sin. It is holiness as right living and right relationships that are contagious.  

Jesus came to break down barriers and restore relationships between separated groups of human beings, and between human beings and God.  

So, this story of Jesus calling Levi to follow is an example of who you are is how you lead. Being called and chosen by Jesus is to have your priorities of living and loving directed by Jesus. It is to offer Christ at all times and in all places with all people. The offer of Christ is not based upon another’s worth; it is based upon God’s love. You have the opportunity and responsibility to offer Christ where you are and with whomever you encounter. Why? Because God’s love is always at work in the lives of people you meet and whom you introduce to Jesus.

Sharing God’s Love

Let’s take a moment to reflect upon a similar story. Think about another tax collector who followed Jesus. Luke tells of a time when Jesus was traveling through Jericho. “A man was there named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector” (Luke 19:2). He wanted to see who Jesus was, but he couldn’t because of the crowd. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus (Luke 19:3-4).

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).

My question is, did Zacchaeus met Jesus at a dinner party at Levi’s house? And when he heard that Jesus was coming to Jericho, did he want to see Jesus for himself? Could it be that when Jesus saw Zaccheaus, he told him to come down out of the tree because Jesus was ready to call another tax collector and sinner to reorient his life and to follow?

As a follower of Jesus, you are a channel of God’s love to others. Who is Jesus inviting to follow because of your offer of God’s love? Offering Christ is who you are as a follower of Jesus. And who you are is how you lead.

Respond

Today be aware of the opportunities you have to offer Christ. Who might Jesus be calling to follow because of your offer? Take notice of each person and your response or reaction to offering Christ. Be mindful of the impact of introducing people to God’s love in the way you receive them and respond to them. Be aware of what you think and feel about each situation and circumstance. Begin to be intentional in offering Christ in the ways you live your life.  

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 upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you offer Christ? With whom did you share God’s love? How did you invite people into God’s movement of grace and mission of love? Where did you notice others offering Christ to strangers, outsiders, and to those considered unworthy? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? What will you do differently tomorrow?

There is an opportunity for hospitality every time your church gathers. A diversity of people gathers to worship together, learn, and grow together, as they become related to one another centered upon Jesus.  As a congregation, you have the opportunity to offer a home and family to people who, at that moment and for all practical purposes, are looking for a place to belong. Every gracious host or hostess offers “Make yourself at home.” 

Hospitality is God’s Business

As a follower of Jesus, you have an opportunity for hospitality with every person you encounter. Whether family, friend, colleague, neighbor, stranger, or enemy, you have the opportunity to be God’s loving presence in the way you receive them and interact with them. Hospitality is part of God’s mission, and you were invited into that mission when you were claimed as a “beloved child of God” and called and commissioned for ministry at your baptism (Read Preparing for Misison: Being About God’s Business). Hospitality is God’s business. 

With that in mind, think of the church as a community of Jesus followers who exist primarily for people who are not members. As a follower of Jesus, you are an instrument of God’s love for people who do not know or understand the love of God.  The apostle Paul instructed the church in Rome, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Hospitality is your response to God’s grace, God’s great hospitality offered to you in Jesus. 

Said another way, as a beloved child of God, you love others for the purpose of being who God created you to be. You become an instrument of God’s grace, extending a welcoming heart and hand in the name of Jesus. Hospitality becomes who you are. It becomes the way you live your life. God sends people your way every day. So, reach out and receive them for the glory of God. It is who you are. Love them the way you have been loved by God in and through Jesus. 

God sent strangers to Abraham in Genesis 18. 

Read Genesis 18:1-8 (The Message) 

18 1-2 God appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. It was the hottest part of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing. He ran from his tent to greet them and bowed before them. 3-5 He said, “Master, if it pleases you, stop for a while with your servant. I’ll get some water so you can wash your feet. Rest under this tree. I’ll get some food to refresh you on your way, since your travels have brought you across my path.” 

They said, “Certainly. Go ahead.” 

6 Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. He said, “Hurry. Get three cups of our best flour; knead it and make bread.” 7-8 Then Abraham ran to the cattle pen and picked out a nice plump calf and gave it to the servant who lost no time getting it ready. Then he got curds and milk, brought them with the calf that had been roasted, set the meal before the men, and stood there under the tree while they ate. 

Reflect

Abraham was going about his normal day when three strangers appeared.  It was not unusual to encounter traveling nomads who had no place to stay. Because he and his family were nomads, living in tents, he understood the need for shelter and food. So, he extended hospitality to the traveling strangers. 

In verses 3-5, Abraham says, “Master, if it pleases you, stop for a while with your servant. I’ll get some water so you can wash your feet. Rest under this tree. I’ll get some food to refresh you on your way, since your travels have brought you across my path” (The Message).

Hospitality as a Lifestyle

Abraham offered water, food, and shelter before he was asked. He offered to meet their needs before the need was apparent. For Abraham, it was an honor to serve, care for, and shelter strangers. Because he had been welcomed by God, he was ready to welcome the stranger in his midst. Hospitality was his lifestyle.

From this perspective, hospitality is an opportunity to welcome strangers and friends into your life. It gives you an opportunity to identify with outsiders and to treat them like insiders. Through hospitality you are offering outsiders a place to call home while extending privilege across differences.  

Welcomed into the Household

In the New Testament, we see Jesus bringing people into his family. Mary Magdalene became a friend and part of his household. But when he freed a man bound by his own demons, Jesus sent the man home to share what God had done for him. The man went to tell his community what God had done, inviting them into his household.

The word “household,” in the New Testament, includes neighbors, coworkers, friends, and anyone with whom you were connected or related. Welcoming people into your household was to share God’s love. By inviting people into your household was to witness to what God was doing in your life and how you were being transformed by God’s love.  Hospitality becomes your lifestyle.

A Place to Belong

Everyone you meet is on a journey, traveling as strangers.  Each person  is longing for community. When hospitality becomes a lifestyle, in response to God’s love, you are able to draw your circle of love wide enough to provide a place for them, working for their good regardless of who they are or what they have done.

The reality is this, hospitality is neither about you, your likes and dislikes, nor your convenience. Hospitality is about God’s offer of love to you in Jesus. And who you are as a child of God is your response to God’s love. Hospitality is a way of offering God’s love to everyone God sends your way. Hospitality is who you are, and who you are is how you lead.

Respond

Today be aware of how you offer hospitality to the people you meet. Take notice of each person and your response or reaction to offering God’s love. Be mindful of the opportunities to “welcome others as Christ has welcomed you.” Be aware of what you think and feel about each situation and circumstance. Begin to be intentional in making hospitality the way you live your life. 

Prayer

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. By your grace, help me extend hospitality to 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 upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways were you hospitable? With whom did you share God’s love? How did you invite people into your household? Where did you notice others offering hospitality to strangers and outsiders? With whom do you need to celebrate the love you experienced in and through them? What will you do differently tomorrow?

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

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

Your Priority is Jesus

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

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

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

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

Read Matthew 28:19-20 

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

Reflect on HOPE

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at the structure of HOPE. 

H – HOSPITALITY

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

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

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

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

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

O – OFFER CHRIST

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

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

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

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

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

P – PRACTICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E – ENGAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respond

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

Prayer

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

Return

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

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

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

Make Jesus Your Priority

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

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

Put God’s Love in Action

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

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

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

Read Philippians 3:5-14 

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

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

Reflect on Philippians 3:5-14 

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

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

First, Paul was a Jew.  

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

Second, Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin. 

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

Third, Paul was a Pharisee. 

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

Fourth, being a Pharisee meant the synagogue was important. 

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

Paul’s Heritage

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

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

Downward Mobility

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

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

Become More Like Jesus

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

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

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

Respond to Philippians 3:5-14

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Return

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

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

Your Call

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

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

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

Vocational Calling

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

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

Read: Matthew 4:18-22 

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

Reflect

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

Context of Matthew

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

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

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

The Call from Matthew’s Perspective 

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

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

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

Reorienting Our Lives

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

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

The Called Out Ones

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

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

Called to Follow

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

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

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

Follow Me

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

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

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

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

Respond

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

Prayer

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

Return

Give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. 

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

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

Listening to God   

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

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

What is God’s Business?

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

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

Get Involved in God’s Business

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

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

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

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

Read Matthew 3:13-17 

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

Reflect on Matthew 3:13-17

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

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

Baptism is a Commissioning to Ministry

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

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

You are a Beloved Child of God

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

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

God’s Call and Commission

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

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

Claimed by God 

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

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

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

Respond to God’s Call and Claim on Your Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you still say that?”  

He said, “Yes.”  

“Then what is the difference?”  

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Return

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

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

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

Mission: It Matters Where You Start

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

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

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

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

Read: Matthew 28:16-20 

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

Reflect 

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

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

Authority

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

Therefore

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

“Go and make disciples of all nations…” 

Go

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

Make Disciples

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

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

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

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

Nations

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

As you go

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Living

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

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

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

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

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

To obey

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

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

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

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

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

Respond 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

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

Return 

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

The beginning of a new year is an excellent time to refocus on the mission of the church and how you will lead others into focusing upon and living into the mission. As a Christ-centered leader, your primary purpose is to focus on that mission and to equip those whom you lead to do the same. The question is “What is the mission?” 

What is Mission?

Mission is the core purpose of an organization. It tells what an organization focuses upon and does for its customers. It is what sets you apart from other organizations. So, from the perspective of the church, what is the mission? 

To put it simply, the mission of the church is God’s mission. The idea of mission comes from the Latin term, missio Dei, which is a theological term translated “mission of God” or “sending God.” 

Using missio Dei, God’s mission, as a foundation, David Bosch believed that mission was an attribute of God more than an activity of the church. He said God was a sending God. Jurgen Moltmann believed the same. He stated that God’s mission included the church. He wrote, “It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.” 

The Old Testament on Mission

There are numerous scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments, that name and give support to God’s mission. In the Old Testament there are scriptures like Isaiah 6:8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” and Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” 

The New Testament on Mission

In the New Testament there are scriptures like Luke 10:1-11, “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two] others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go…” Mark 16:15, “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” and Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” These scripture references are focused upon God’s mission in the world that includes the church. 

With God’s mission for the church in mind, let’s look at a scripture that is accepted as a definition of God’s mission.    

Read Matthew 28:16-20 

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

Reflect 

Matthew’s mission was to let people know that God sent Jesus to teach us how to live a holy life. At times he called it “righteousness,” at other times, “holiness,” and once he called it “perfect,” as in “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). From Matthew’s perspective, God sent Jesus to teach us how to live the life God created us to live. 

Set-Apart Life

For Matthew, being a follower of Jesus means you are “set apart” in your living.  You live differently because you see the world (your families, enemies, communities, etc.) and the people of the world differently. You love differently, relate differently, and interact differently because your orientation is different. As a follower of Jesus, you have been created by God, set apart, to live and love differently. 

So, the scripture for today is Matthew’s way of telling his followers how to live this set-apart life. Jesus is sending his followers out to love others into being his followers.  Now, before looking at this particular scripture, let’s look at the other gospels for similar themes. 

Loving Others

Although the context is different, John talks about the set-apart life, as loving others as God in Jesus has loved. John writes, “God is love.”  Jesus says, “…love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). In other words, the holy life is to love as you have been loved by God. Holiness is to live and love as God has created you to live and love. 

Power to Witness

For Luke, the set-apart life is to receive power to witness beyond the barriers of race, gender, nationality, economic status, etc. In other words, God has provided what is needed to love and include all people in God’s love and community. You are sent out into the world, the community, to live and love as God has created you to live and love, empowered by God’s spirit.    

Love is the Center of a Set-Apart Life

At the very heart of the set-apart life is love, God’s love. The word used for God’s love is “agape.” This love grows out of the will to love. The will to love is not based upon feelings or emotion but upon the conscious and intentional decision to love as you have been loved by God. Love is an action rather than a feeling. So, the set-apart life is seen in your intentional actions of loving others as you have been loved. 

Wesley on Perfection

John Wesley understood this set apart life as Christian perfection. He wrote in his sermon “On Perfection,” “This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, love.” 

So, the mission of the church, according to Matthew, is that wherever you go, love others as you have been loved, invite them into God’s love, immerse them in God’s love, and model God’s love for them.  You make disciples the way Jesus did. You love people into being followers of Jesus. 

In “What is Mission Part 2” we will take a deeper dive into Matthew’s mission for the church. Until then, your mission is to love others, wherever you are and in whatever circumstances, the way you have been loved by God in Jesus. 

Respond 

Even though Matthew does not use the word love, love goes to the heart of God’s mission, which is the very nature and purpose of the church. So, a working definition of mission for the church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, its purpose of being an agent of God’s love in the world. 

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

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

Practice loving others as you have been loved. Keep in mind that you get to work for the well-being of those who might not think or act the way you do, those who are your neighbors as well as your enemies, and your family and friends.  

Practice receiving God’s love as you let others care for you in ways that allow them to be who God created them to be.

As you experience God’s love, you have the responsibility to share God’s love. Remember, love is not a soft, delicate, emotional gift, but the most healthy, transformative gift of all gifts. Love, agape love, is God’s mission for you, me, and all creation.

Prayer

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

Return

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

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

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

Preparing to Receive Jesus

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

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

Leading through Advent

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

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

Come, thou long expected Jesus.

Born to set thy people free.

From our fears and sins release us.

Let us find our rest in thee. 

How will you rethink preparing this Advent season?   

Read Mark 1:1-8 

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

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

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

Reflect 

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

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

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

The Good News in Mark

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

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

Baptism is an Act of Grace

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

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

Rethinking Preparation

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

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

Embracing Uncertainty

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

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

Make a Difference

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

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

Respond 

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

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

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

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

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

Come Clean

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

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

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

Preparing for the One Coming

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

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

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

New Life as a Christ-Centered Leader

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

Come Clean

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

Hold the Past and Future Together

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

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

Submit to Jesus

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

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

God’s Love and Joy

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

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

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

Return  

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

Prayer

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

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

Have you given thought to how you might practice and improve your leadership skills during the season of Advent? Think about it. Advent provides an excellent opportunity to focus on and improve certain aspects of your leadership that you might not otherwise choose to improve.

So, as you enter this Advent season, I challenge you to take advantage of the opportunity to grow and improve as a leader. Start by rethinking the coming of Jesus by answering these two questions, “What is Advent? and “What does Advent have to do with being a Christ-centered leader?”

What is Advent?

It is relatively simple to answer the question “What is Advent?” In the early church, Advent began with watching and waiting for Jesus to return. Remember, from the Acts of the Apostles, when Jesus ascended, the message to his followers was, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”

As the centuries passed and the church grew weary of waiting, Advent became preparing for the birth of Jesus. So, there were seemingly two advents, the celebration of his first coming, Jesus born in Bethlehem, and the preparation for his second coming, Jesus who will return someday.

Over the years, Advent has become more of a focus on the birth of Jesus, with one exception. The first Sunday in Advent focuses upon what is known as “the second coming” of Jesus.

Christ-Centered Leaders & Advent

It is a little more complicated to answer the question “What does Advent have to do with being a Christ-centered leader?” The answer depends on your understanding and focus on being a leader.

Advent provides an opportunity to practice key disciplines in your Christian living. Beyond the energy-draining activities of preparing for Christmas and trying to resist the pressure to sing Christmas carols before Christmas arrives, Advent provides you with the time and space to practice the discipline of waiting, particularly the discipline of waiting in hope. Advent gives you the opportunity to model waiting as a leader and to participate in waiting as a member of the community of faith.

Waiting is a Challenge

In our culture, waiting is a challenge. Most of us are not very good at it. We live in a time when we want what we want when we want it. And we want it on our own terms, exactly the way we perceive it. We have not had training in waiting. There are no seminary courses that teach waiting. There are no church programs to provide steps on learning to wait. Yet waiting is a necessary aspect of life and is a valued characteristic of Christ-centered leaders.

So, how do you lead others in something you are not very good at yourself? Well, because most of us learn waiting either by experience or by practicing it as a spiritual discipline, let’s take advantage of the opportunity to rethink the coming of Jesus and the practice of waiting.

To help you focus, take a few minutes to read this scripture, Mark 13:24-37,  reflect upon it from the context in which it was written, respond to it by thinking about the implications of its truth, and return at the end of the day to focus upon how the scripture came to life for you. This particular practice will help you rethink the coming of Jesus as well as assist you in becoming the Christ-centered leader needed at this time. 

Read Mark 13:24-37

24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels and gather the elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he[b] is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert,[c] for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Reflect

The good news according to Mark is, that God sent Jesus to oppose the evil, pain, and suffering of the world. He wrote his good news during a time when the followers of Jesus were known as insurrectionists, enemies of the government. So, the followers of Jesus were under great persecution. 

Mark wrote to give his people hope. Because there was a danger in writing the truth about the government and about the persecution, he used figurative language to get his message out. He used imagery to express the inexpressible. He wanted his people who were experiencing the evils of hate and persecution, that there was hope.  

Mark’s Message for Advent

It is difficult for us today to grasp the rich meaning of Mark’s message.  Too many people get caught up in a desperate attempt to know the future, so they focus more on the imagery and miss the point of the hope. They try to predict the future or confuse the imagery with reality. The truth of the scripture is, in the midst of pain, suffering, and evil, there is hope of deliverance.  

So, Mark’s story is not to be taken literally. It is not a travel guide into the future, but an assurance that despite all signs to the contrary, all the hurt, chaos, wars, separation, and uncertainty, there is hope. Hope in the living God we know in and through Jesus.

The Context of Hope

Let’s put Mark into context. The world as his people knew it was coming apart. It was like the sun was not shining. There was darkness. Even the darkness was darker than usual. The situation was so bad it was like the stars falling from heaven because even the powers of heaven were being shaken. The situations the people were facing were indescribable except for imagery and metaphors. 

The imagery he used helped put the situations and circumstances in which they were living in the context of hope. The shock of the coming of Jesus was not destruction. At the heart of Mark’s story is hope. Mark understood that God sent Jesus to oppose the suffering, pain, and evil in the world.

God’s offer of a New World

At the heart of Mark’s story is the shattering of the shapes of oppression, injustice, and evil that keep us from living the way God has intended for us to live. It is not a “business as usual” festival of things that make us feel warm and fuzzy. It is not an innocent baby who comes gently to fit into our preconceived world. Instead, it is both a welcomed prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and it is a dreaded experience because it disrupts our comfort and convenience. 

With the coming of Jesus, there is a growing awareness that this world is not the one God has in mind for us. God is offering us a new world shaped according to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God is working on a world precisely for those who are ready and able to relinquish the old world. Part of preparing for the coming of Jesus is to acknowledge our participation in the darkness and despair of the old world so we can be embraced by the light and hope of the new one. Part of our preparation is to wait for the coming of the One who brings the light and hope of new life. 

The Coming of Jesus

To experience and receive God’s Advent, we have to rethink the coming of Jesus. That means that the coming of Jesus shatters our preconceived notions, our preferences, and our participation in the hate, lust, greed that leads to racism, crime, war and a thousand other evils. By rethinking the coming of Jesus, we focus upon him who has come to oppose the evil, pain and suffering of this world. Jesus is our hope!

The coming of Jesus meets you precisely where your hurt and hope meet. The question is, are you bold enough to be honest with yourself and with the people around you? Are you ready and open for the new life he brings? Have you experienced hope in and through Jesus for whom you are waiting? Has God’s grace led you to trust Jesus enough to relinquish the old world and to receive the new one?   

A Promise from God

The new world is a promise from God. It is not a domesticated political agenda or some form of a doctrine of progress. God does not provide happy endings for the futures we are engineering. God provides a future beyond our knowledge and control, and not even the angels in heaven know the hour of its coming. 

But even with this caution against wanting to know too much, we are still left with too little. We still have the question of how to hope in the meantime when nothing ever happens. And that is why the writer of Mark remembered the other word which Jesus said. This word was a parable about a man who went on a trip and left his servants to manage the house while he was gone. That, of course, is a description of the situation of the church, left in charge of the house while the Master is absent. 

Be on the Lookout

What Jesus said about the servants is also true of the church: we need constantly to be on the lookout. The house can never be in disarray, because, as Jesus stated it, “You do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (Mark 13:35-36). 

Mark is pointing out something significant here. The master could come “in the evening,” and, in the very next chapter, he tells us that “when it was evening” Jesus ate his last meal with the disciples, and told them, “one of you will betray me.” 

The master could come “at midnight,” and Mark records that, later that night, the disciples went with Jesus to Gethsemane. While Jesus prayed his cry of anguish, the disciples, no doubt weary of waiting, slept. Jesus asked them, “Could you not watch one hour?” 

Maybe the master will come “at cockcrow,” and Peter turned to the accusing maid with a curse and a denial, “I do not know this man.” The rooster crowed. 

Maybe the coming of the master will be “in the morning,” and “as soon as it was morning,” Jesus was bound and led away to his trial and to his death. 

The Promise of God’s Future

Mark has woven into the fabric of his gospel the possibility that every moment of the day is already alive with the promise of God’s future. As we look toward the horizon for the coming of Jesus, we know that each passing moment is filled with the potential for faith or denial, decision or tragedy, hope or despair. 

Those who trust the promise are able to see signs of its coming all around them. Those who believe that, in God’s good time, something is about to happen, also know that, even now, something is happening. 

Wait

Waiting is so important that Mark wrote three times to wait. Using the word “watch” he is instructing his followers to “wait”: “Take heed, watch” (verse 33). “Watch therefore” (verse 35). And “watch” (verse 37). To watch is “to shake off sleep” which implies being awake, alert, and prepared. It suggests staying aware of your actions, thoughts, and surroundings, so you can recognize Jesus in your everyday relationships and interactions with people. 

The point is clear. Although Jesus will come at a time known only to God, he will surely come, and no amount of delay or suffering we experience while waiting should dissuade us from that fact. The expectation of the second coming should keep us alert, and faithful to being who God has created us to be.

The question is, “Where have you seen Jesus this week?” 

Respond 

Advent is when you become a leader in waiting. You have the opportunity to give yourself the space to grow in faith as you keep watch for Jesus. When you have waited for God in the darkest and most difficult moments of your life, you can effectively model for others the spiritual discipline of waiting. It is only when you have stood still waiting for God’s transforming love that you not only have the power to face and address evil, pain, and suffering, but you develop the inner authority to ask others to do the same.

It is as you wait, trusting God’s leading, that you experience the grace to step out in faith and to lead with courageous action. As you learn to wait on God, God provides clear direction. It is at that point that you have the courage to act when the time is right. Christ-centered leadership is about knowing when to wait and when to act.

So, let’s be clear regarding waiting. Waiting is more than:

Having patience. 

Although patience is a virtue and one of the fruits of the spirit, waiting is different than having patience. Waiting is a spiritual discipline and strength that grows out of a deep inner peace given by God’s presence to those who trust God. By learning to wait upon God’s direction, Christ-centered leaders will produce loving, forgiving, generous attitudes toward others, but the purpose of waiting is to act courageously in God’s time.

Being tolerant.

Although tolerance is the ability or willingness to accept feelings, habits, beliefs, or behaviors that are different from your own, waiting is different than being tolerant.  Waiting is a spiritual discipline and strength that grows out of your convictions of trust and obedience in response to God’s grace and is not a reaction to the beliefs and behaviors of others. By learning to wait, Christ-centered leaders learn to accept opinions and behaviors of different people, but the purpose of waiting is to respond courageously in God’s time.

The Meaning of Waiting

Maybe this will help put meaning and face to waiting. Sue Monk Kidd tells a story about her daughter being the Bethlehem star one year in a Christmas play. After her first rehearsal, her daughter burst through the door with her costume, a five-pointed star lined in shiny gold tinsel. It was designed to drape over her like a sandwich board.

Sue asked her daughter, “What exactly will you be doing in the play?” Her daughter answered, “I just stand there and shine.” 

Shine

Jesus’ disciples were concerned about the future and their part in it. Jesus wanted them to know that their role was to stay behind and shine. But they would not be alone. He would be with them. Christ-centered leaders learn to shine while waiting. So, you work while waiting. You live as God has created you to live while waiting. 

Once John Wesley was asked what he would do if he knew this was his last day on earth. He replied, “At 4:00, I would have some tea. At 6:00, I would visit Mrs. Brown in the hospital. Then at 7:30, I would conduct a mid-week prayer service. At 10:00, I would go to bed and would wake up in glory.”

When Martin Luther was asked what he would do on the day of Jesus’ return, he said he would go out and plant a tree. Mark tells us that Jesus expects each of us to be about our work so that when he comes, he will find us faithfully taking care of the world.

The Coming of Jesus

Some years ago, a tourist visited the Castle Villa Asconti along the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. The old gardener opened the gates and the visitor stepped into the garden, which was perfectly kept. The visitor asked when the owner was last there. The gardener replied, “Twelve years ago.”

“Does he ever write?” “No,” was the answer.

“Where do you get your instructions?” The gardener answered, “From his agent in Milan.”

“Does the master ever come?” “No,” was the reply.

“But you keep the grounds as though your master was coming back tomorrow.” The old gardener quickly replied, “Today, sir, today.” 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Take a few moments to reflect on the following questions. They are designed to lead you into the waiting room of your soul. This is where you wait for God to revive you, to restore you, and to make you new. This is the place where you wait for God to come to you in ways you can see and know.

Where are you longing for God to enter your life with love, hope, and peace? In the words of Mark, where do you long for God to “shake the heavens” and to do something that you do not expect? What relationships do you desire to be restored? In what parts of your life do you need a tender shepherd to lead you and to care for you?

Where is the place in your ministry where you need to be “strengthened to the end” by the presence of God revealed to you in some new way?

Give God thanks for the day and for the ways God has shown up in your life. With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced?