Tag Archive for: Presence

You are a disciple of Jesus who leads. Sounds simple enough, but sometimes you lose your connection to the source of your leadership. It is easily done. Have you ever prepared a sermon without reading the scripture text? Have you ever experienced prayer as a practice that could be cut if you were running short of time? And what about holy communion? Has the celebration of the Lord’s Supper become so routine that you are glad when the service is over?

Tend to Your Soul 

Hey, it happens to the best of us. Sometimes in the busyness of ministry, you can forget the most important thing you can do as a leader, tend to your soul.

I remember reading a confession by Mother Teresa. She wrote, “Pray for me that I do not loosen my grip on the hands of Jesus even under the guise of ministering to the poor.”  

That says it, doesn’t it? Isn’t that our primary calling as Jesus followers? Isn’t that the only way we become who God created us to be? We grip the hand of Jesus with such firmness that we cannot help but follow his lead.

Leading with Grace

Following Jesus in this way requires discipline. It is not easy. But to be the leader needed for today, you must learn to receive and to give God’s gift of grace freely given to all. I know this will sound narrow-minded but being a follower of Jesus is impossible without God’s grace extended to you.

The good news is, God has already given you the grace needed to be who God created you to be. Take a moment to think of an experience of grace in your life. As you think of your experience, I will tell you mine.

Noticing God

Over the years, to help people recognize God’s grace, I have challenged groups, whether a church council, finance committee, personnel, or trustee committee, to recognize God in their midst. I would ask questions like, “Where have you seen God this past week?” or “Where have you experienced God recently?” 

I was convinced that if individuals could recognize and experience God in their everyday lives their lives would change and the people around them would experience God’s love through them.

Everyday Faith

Please understand, I was not taught by the church or my parents to look for God in my everyday living. As a child, I learned to put my best foot forward when it came to the church. I was on my best behavior on Sunday mornings. I dressed differently, I did not run in the sanctuary, and I was in awe of people who were leaders. At age 14 I felt a definite call to be a preacher. That urge never left me, but I did not understand it until ten years later.

Everyday Grace

I was a student in seminary, serving my first congregation when God’s grace broke through to me. l was 24 years old, in my fourth year as the pastor of two small churches, preaching, teaching, providing care and instruction, when I learned that my father, who I wanted to love me and who I had worked to prove to him I was worthy of his love, had adopted me. 

At that point, the reality of God’s grace came rushing into my life. My father had chosen me to be his child, given me his name and loved me from the beginning. I realized that day that what God had done for me, God had done for all you reading these words. You have been chosen by God, given a name, and loved from the beginning, and the reality is, there is nothing you can do about it except accept it. That is the gift of God’s grace. 

The Means of Grace

It was a few years later, after graduating from seminary and serving as a pastor that I felt like I had little to offer to the people around me. I felt empty, like a well that was going dry. Although I had studied the means of grace, I confess I did not use them to nourish my soul. 

I had preached sermons, taught Bible studies, led work teams, helped build a hospital, and started schools. Not only did I do good things, but I was also a good human being. But something was missing. At that moment I realized that what I needed was to be connected to God’s grace.

The Means of Grace in Daily Life

I realized that I was not strong enough or good enough on my own to become who God created me to be. That is when I began to utilize the means of grace. 

I had experienced God’s grace, but it was the practice of the means of grace that kept me connected and mindful of God and that allowed me to experience the joy and fruit of following Jesus. 

Practice the Means of Grace

This is what I have learned:

  • The means of grace give access to God’s presence in the world.
    • Ask yourself the question, “Where have I seen God at work today?
  • The means of grace keep you on the path to becoming who God created you to be.
    • Ask yourself the question: “How have I been growing in my faith?
  • The means of grace keep you close to God. Ask yourself these questions:
    • Do I want a more vital relationship with God?
    • Do I want to grow as a follower of Jesus?
    • Am I paralyzed by fear?
    • Do I feel isolated and alone?
    • Do I want to become who God has created you to be?

Following Jesus is not easy, but God has the means of grace available for you to stay connected with the One for whom all things are possible. 

Leading with Grace

There are times the means of grace work like this. A large prosperous downtown church in London had three mission churches under its care. On the first Sunday of the New Year, all the members of the mission churches came to the city church for a combined communion service.

In those mission churches, which were located in lower-income areas of the city, were some people who had experienced God’s grace in life-changing ways. Some of the people had been arrested for drugs, some were recovering alcoholics, and some were convicts who had served their time in jail. Yet, they all came to the same table, kneeling side by side at the same communion rail.

Kneeling Next to Grace

On one occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England. This judge had sent the burglar to jail where he had served for seven years. After his release, this burglar had been converted and became a strong Christian witness in one of the mission churches. As they knelt beside each other, the judge, and the former convict, neither one was aware of the other.

A Grace-filled Conversation

After the service, the judge was walking home with the pastor. He said to the pastor, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the communion rail this morning?”

The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.”

The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.”

The pastor nodded in agreement, “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace.”

And then the judge turned and asked: “But to whom do you refer?”

And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.”

The judge said, “But I wasn’t referring to him. I was thinking of myself.”

The pastor was surprised and replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.”

Receiving Grace

The judge explained. “It did not cost that burglar much to get converted when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him and when he saw Jesus as his Savior, he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help.

But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take communion, and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar, and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for all my pride and self-deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict that I had sent to prison.”

Then after a moment of silence, the judge said, “Pastor, thank you for being a means of grace for me this morning.”

Offer Hope

Following Jesus is not easy, but you have the opportunity to offer hope as you become a person of grace for the people entrusted to you care.

What one step will you take toward caring for your soul this week? Perhaps this week you’ll take toward practicing the means of grace? What one step will you take toward becoming more who God created you to be? Just imagine what could happen if you, simply a person of grace, shared grace.

I will be praying that you don’t loosen your grip on Jesus. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Learn more about Hope Throughout the Year

The last 22 months have added a whole new level of challenge to your leadership. To state the obvious, it has been difficult at times. In 2020 you had to pivot without warning. You poured your heart and soul into leading others. You gave God your best, waiting for things to return to normal. Then 2021 came and nothing changed. In fact, you faced even more discouragement and frustration. Now, as you enter 2022, you might be asking yourself, “will this year be any different than the previous two years?” 

The Hope of New Possibilities

Although much of what you have experienced has been beyond your control, it is possible to go through life with your own repeated and frustrated attempts at effectiveness. It is possible to find yourself exhausted and miserable, and at the end of each day with little or nothing to show for your efforts. It is also possible to be hanging on to “how you wish things were” so tightly that you are unable to see the hope of new possibilities. 

Christian hope is not fleeting wishful thinking. It’s also not pie in the sky dreaming. Christian hope is grounded in the love of God we know in Jesus and our belief that the worst thing is never the last thing. We are resurrection people and as followers of the living God, we are people of hope. 

Take a minute to read this story and reflect upon how God is working in your life with new possibilities of hope for this year. Notice where Samuel finds the presence and power of God

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-13

     The LORD said to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found[a] my next king among his sons.”

     “How can I do that?” Samuel asked. “When Saul hears of it, he’ll kill me!”

    “Take a heifer with you,” the LORD replied, “and say, ‘I have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will make clear to you what you should do. You will anoint for me the person I point out to you.”

     Samuel did what the LORD instructed. When he came to Bethlehem, the city elders came to meet him. They were shaking with fear. “Do you come in peace?” they asked.

     “Yes,” Samuel answered. “I’ve come to make a sacrifice to the LORD. Now make yourselves holy, then come with me to the sacrifice.” 

     Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well. When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, that must be the LORD’s anointed right in front. ” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart.”

     Next Jesse called for Aminadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The LORD hasn’t chosen this one either.” 9 So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the LORD hasn’t chosen this one.” 10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD hasn’t picked any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”

     “There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”

     “Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”

     So, Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The LORD said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” 

     So, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The LORD’s spirit came over David from that point forward.

Reflect

The Main Character

The Lord sends Samuel on a mission to anoint the next king of Israel. Samuel reluctantly responds to God’s call but proceeds with his own preconceived ideas about the new king. 

Notice, even though there will be a new king, the main character in this story is God. The critical decisions are made by God. The mission directions are given by God. Samuel, Jessie, and his sons and especially David, are actors in a story where God produces, directs, and plays the lead role. David is not asked his opinion, asked to produce a resume, or asked if he wants to be king. He simply shows up. This is God’s mission and Samuel has been invited into it.

God’s Presence and Power

The story reveals that God’s presence and power are easily overlooked by Samuel. His ideas and perceptions get in the way. 

It is interesting that Samuel, being from northern Israel, was more familiar and comfortable with the northern context. He expresses his fear of going to Bethlehem, a city in southern Israel. 

God’s presence and power are in the new and unfamiliar places, as well in encounters with people we do not know or even care to interact with.

God Sees Into the Heart

Samuel uses a common act of worship to bring Jesse and his sons together. Samuel, remembering his mission, looks at each of Jesse’s sons, noticing their physical stature, strength, and appearance. 

In Samuel’s mind, one of those good-looking persons would be the next king of Israel. But God did not choose any of the persons Samuel would have chosen. God says to Samuel, “God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

In other words, the situations, and circumstances in which you are living are not the last word on your life or upon your living. Just because you have not perceived it does not mean it is not true or good or hope-filled. 

Where is the Presence and Power of God?

So, where is the presence and power of God? Just as God had a mission for Samuel and provided guidance for Samuel, God has a mission for you and sends you on your own life journey. In whatever situation or circumstance, God is with you and is providing for you. You can trust God’s action on your behalf. 

Remember, God’s presence and power can and will be found in new, risky, and scary places. 

Samuel went through the unfamiliar and encountered strangers to complete what God had called him to do. God was with him all the way helping him carry out what God had planned for Israel’s future. 

Inside Your Heart

God’s presence and power are deep inside your heart. It is God’s presence within you that prepares you to enter the new and challenging encounters that lie ahead. 

So, what do you do to get the Lord’s presence and power? Well, you do not have to do anything to “get it.” God gives it. David did not say anything at all. In fact, he did not even do anything except show up, “and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13).

Receive the Gift

God has given you God’s presence and power in and through Jesus. Your response is to receive God’s gift. Just like Samuel, God is with you, providing for you, and guiding you in the mission you have been given. In whatever situation or circumstance, you find yourself, your hope is in the presence and power of God. When God calls, God provides what is needed to live into the call. 

Respond

Become aware of God’s presence in the situations and circumstances you find yourself in today. Look for God’s presence in the lives of the people you meet today. Take note of how God surprises you. Remember, God has called you into mission, God is with you, and God is providing what you need to be the person and the leader needed for this time.

Pray

O God, help me be aware of the people around me today. Help me not only be a blessing to someone but help me experience your love in and through the people I encounter. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in every situation and circumstance of the day. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus, who is your presence and power with me each and every day. Amen. 

Return

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. How did you experience God’s presence and power today? Who helped you experience God’s love? Where did God surprise you with God’s presence and power? Together, what do your thoughts, feelings, and actions tell you about God’s call upon your life? 

So, let me remind you that God is with you in whatever situation or circumstance you find yourself. In fact, God will surprise you in the lives of the people you encounter along the way. It is through God’s presence and power that you find hope for new possibilities. 

I am grateful to be with you on this journey of Hope Throughout the Year. May you experience God’s presence and power this week in life-changing ways. And remember, who you are is how you lead.

Learn more about Hope Throughout the Year

Last week I called my pharmacy to have a couple of prescriptions refilled. The pharmacist took my name, date of birth, and said, “You will have to check with your doctor before I can refill your medications.”

So, I called the doctor’s office. I explained to the nurse what I needed to refill my prescriptions. She put me on hold. When she came back to the phone, she said, “To refill your prescriptions, the doctor wants to check your heart, blood, and cholesterol. He wants to assess any changes so he can make necessary adjustments to your medications. You know he wants you to be as healthy as you can be.”

Later that day, after I had complained about the inconvenience and unnecessary cost of a doctor’s appointment, I began to reflect upon the ministry of the churches in the Capitol Area South District.

Read more

A Lenten Journey of Naming God’s Presence

The reality of God’s presence should give us reason to pause. We know our pastors have the theological training to understand God’s presence. We also know many of our laity can teach about God’s presence.

But we see evidence that the distance between our heads and hearts continues to widen.

So, it’s time to get real. “Get Real” is an opportunity for you and your local church to name in plain, every day, ordinary ways where God is showing up. If you’ve only been thinking about how God could show up and not named how God is showing up, it’s time to Get Real.

The Process:

  1. Read a Scripture.
  2. Reflect on a focus word.
  3. Respond to one question.

We told you, it’s simple. But don’t let the simplicity fool you. It’s also what leads to individual and community transformation.

What You’ll Do:

We’ll  post a Scripture, word, and question on the Facebook Page every morning at 6:30 a.m.  Look for it to be “pinned” to the top of the page before 8 a.m.  Each day stands on its own. While this series starts on 2/14/18, you can jump in at any time. Here’s what we’ll do together.

  1. READ the Scripture.
  2. REFLECT on a focus word throughout the day.
  3. RESPOND to a question after 7:30 p.m.

Again, the process is simple. The outcome is transformational.

Who is the For?

Get Real is for the one who is struggling to wonder if God is real. This process can create space to talk about Jesus. For the one looking to engage a Lenten discipline, this process can provide structure and guidance. For anyone seeking to be faithful today, tomorrow, and the next day, this is a practice of faithfulness.

Can you imagine what might happen in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods if we spent time this lent and simply got real about God’s presence in our life? What might happen if we then joined God in ministry where we live, work, worship, and play? I believe our lives and our communities will change.

So, where did you see God today? Let us know in the comments below. Better yet, sign-up below to Get Real. And remember, you can join at any time. The dates below simply serve as a guide.

Through the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, we have focused on becoming aware of God’s presence in our everyday living. We are continuing that focus during the Season of Lent. Ash Wednesday is February 14.

Lent provides an excellent opportunity to become more aware of God’s presence in our lives. Through self-examination and reflection, Lent is a time of discipline, which leads to self-denial and acts of service. I am writing today to invite you to join me on a Lenten journey. Read more

In the early ’60s, at the height of the civil rights movement, a group of white ministers issued a public statement urging Dr. Martin Luther King, in the name of the Christian faith, to be more patient in his quest for justice and to relax the relentless struggle for civil rights.

King’s response came in the form of the famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In the letter, King indicated that he had received similar requests for delay, indeed, that he had just gotten a letter from a “white brother in Texas” who wrote, “… It is possible you are in too great a religious hurry … The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.”

Dr. King replied that such an attitude stemmed from a sad misunderstanding of time, the notion that time itself cures all ills. Time, King argued, could be used for good or for evil. Human progress, he said, is not inevitable, but rather … it comes through the tireless efforts of men (and women) willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

King knew that complete justice must await the coming of God.

So did Luke. Watch and read Luke 2:28-35:

 

As we continue to become more in tune with God’s presence in our daily lives, let’s respond in ways that reflect the love of Jesus. As we respond to God’s claim on our lives, we too, are invited to be people who seek justice.

May it be so.

Prayer for today: O God, in Jesus, you have told us that the time is ripe to do right. In the name of Jesus empower us to live as righteous doers of your way, truth, and life. When it’s all been said and done, There is just one thing that matters, Did I do my best to live for truth? Did I live my life for You? O God, by your grace, help me live my life for you in relationship with all the people you love. Amen

An epiphany is “a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you.”

Several years ago I had an epiphany. I was sent, by my doctor, to the hospital emergency room with an abnormal heartbeat, an arrhythmia. It was serious enough I had to stay several days. During my hospital stay, I had a procedure to “shock” my heart back into rhythm. Read more

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

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

Listen for life theme transforming mission

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

Prayer for Today

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

listen life theme - transforming mission

 

 

One of the songs I like at this time year is “The Best Gift of All.

Candles glow from frosted windows
Rooms are filled with twinkling lights,
There’s a manger scene, boughs of evergreen,
Someone is singing ‘Silent Night’…
And every gift my heart remembers, of easy laughter, dear old friends
Precious faces and smiles, the dancing eyes of a child,
All remind me once again:
The Best Gift of All is JESUS
His love knows no season or place
You can see Him in the firelight
Reflected on each face…
And though we cherish the blessings of Christmas, When his love seems especially near…
The Best Gift of All is Jesus – ALL THROUGH THE YEAR!

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

All Through the Year

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

The tradition began 17 years ago when Nancy’s husband Mike stated, “I hate Christmas. Not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it. I can’t stand the overspending, the frantic running, the gifts given in desperation because you can’t think of anything else.”

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

Their 12-year-old son, Kevin, was a junior wrestler at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, Kevin had a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. Most of the wrestlers on the team were boys of little financial means. They were dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together. There was a sharp contrast between Kevin’s team in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and new wrestling shoes. As the match began, Nancy was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without protective headgear. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Kevin’s team won easily. Although Mike was happy for Kevin, he was sad in his heart. He said, “I wish just one of them could have won. And I wish something could be done with their uniforms.”

A White Envelope

That’s when Nancy had the idea for Mike’s gift. That afternoon, she went to a local sporting goods store, bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, Nancy placed a simple white envelope on the tree. Inside was a note telling Mike what she had done and that this was his gift from her.

His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. The next year Nancy sent a group of Special Olympics children to a hockey game, and another year she sent a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned the week before Christmas.

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

The story doesn’t end there. You see, Nancy lost Mike six years ago to cancer. When that first Christmas after his death came, she was still so wrapped in grief that she barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found Nancy placing an envelope on the tree. And an amazing thing happened. On Christmas morning, there were four white envelopes. Each of Mike’s children had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown for that family, and now Mike’s grandchildren stand wide-eyed around the tree as their fathers take down the envelope.

One Last Gift

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

So before you pick the paper off the floor, or serve your Christmas meal, or start the thank you notes, be sure to look in the tree one final time. There’s one last gift there. It’s a message waiting just for you.  It won’t be in an envelope.

It will be wrapped in swaddling clothes…

God so loved…God gave…The best gift of all is Jesus…all through the year!

I pray that you do not miss the joy of Jesus this Christmas!

 

-updated 11.13.2019-

Emmanuel, God with us, is the message of Advent. Every day through Advent we invite you to practice noticing and naming God’s presence.

It is a simple, yet transformational practice we trust will multiply the hope you experience this season.

Here’s how it works:

Each day, read the Scripture and reflect on the word provided. In the evening, return to the question and respond to where you experienced God’s presence.

The pattern of read, reflect, respond is easy to remember. Remember, the greatest transformation happens inside us when we pause to reflect. Return to the question in the evening to yield the greatest transformation from this experience.

When you sign up, you’ll receive the complete list of readings, focus words, and questions for each day.

Advent Bible Reading Guide

 

Suggestions for Sharing

Throughout Advent, we hope the simple prompts will help you talk with others about how Jesus is showing up in your life. Better yet, use the prompts with your family over a meal or before bed.

  • Read the daily Scripture.
  • Share the focus word.
  • Ask each person gathered to respond to the daily question.
  • Give God thanks in prayer for the way you are experiencing “God With Us” this Advent.

We’d love to hear how you or your family are experiencing God’s presence this Advent. Share your reflections with us here.