Tag Archive for: Tim Bias

Are you aware of the words you use in your everyday relationships? In your leadership? In our world today, we do not give much thought or attention to the words we speak, whether in public speaking, in personal relationships, or on social media. Words are powerful. It is important to understand why you use the words you use. 

Words are so important that Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote about the use of words while teaching about new life in Christ. 

Read Ephesians 4:29

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear (NRSV)

Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift (The Message).

Reflect

This scripture is part of Paul’s letter to the newly formed Ephesian church. He is writing to a diverse church where there is a clashing of values. There were Jews who had a deep ethical background. They were people who lived with deep religious and traditional values. There were Gentiles who had a different worldview and a different set of values. 

Paul is teaching about the new life in Christ, a life where Jews and Gentiles can live together in mutual respect and relationship. His teaching is grounded in love which goes beyond emotion. It is “agape,” the love that works for the good and well-being of all persons, friends, family, strangers, and even enemies. His teaching will become part of the values of the Christian faith. 

Old Life and New Life

I can imagine when the two sets of values clashed and created tension within the church. So, Paul, using the imagery of old life and new life, is teaching both the Jews and Gentiles what it means to be followers of Jesus. 

After writing in verse 25: “…putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,” Paul writes, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (NRSV). The Good News Bible translates it this way, “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (TEV) 

No matter how it is written, Paul is instructing followers of Jesus, in a time of conflict, how to speak to one another. When you open your mouth, do not be nasty or malicious. Don’t belittle or be disrespectful. Don’t vilify those with whom you disagree. Say only what is useful for building up as there is a need so that your words may give grace to those who hear. The teaching is similar to Jesus saying, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” 

In other words, your words reflect your relationship with Jesus as well as express who you are as a person and as a leader. Who you are is how you lead. 

The Power of the Spoken Word

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.? There are two characters: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. In one cartoon, no matter what the situation, the woman uses the stick to beat the snake. 

One day, as she is walking up one side of a hill, the snake is coming up the other side of the hill. They meet at the top. At that moment, the woman realizes that she does not have her stick. So, she looks at the snake and says, “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!” 

In the next frame, the snake is lying on the ground in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “Oh the power of the spoken word.” 

Words are Powerful

Words are powerful. They create images and assumptions. They shape the way you and I view one another and the world. You can use your words to encourage, build up, discourage, and tear down. Words feed prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making. 

At this very moment, in the United Methodist Church, there are a plethora of words that have given birth to disillusionment and disappointment. Most of them shape viewpoints, creating fear, anger, and defeat. But there are other words being spoken and written that are offering encouragement and hope. 

Your Words Make a Difference

So, as a leader, your words make a difference. “…no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. (The Message) 

When you stand to preach or to address a group of people, use words that encourage and support, words that do good to the people who hear them. Put away general characterizations, innuendo, and inference. 

Check your references before you speak. Also, check your motive for speaking. If it is anything other than to bring God glory or to introduce people to Jesus, put it away. Your agenda is to be the leader that models the love and care of the living God for all persons. There is no place for anything other than the good news of God’s love experienced in and through Jesus. Your words reveal your agenda. 

Speaking to Others

When you are speaking of others, use words that encourage and support, words that do good to the people who hear them. Put away gossip. Share only information you have checked out personally, and don’t share harmful or hurtful words. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Speak out of your integrity. Your words reflect who you are. 

When you are speaking to others, be generous. Being aware of your own thoughts and feeling will help you speak the words that give care and encouragement to others. Keep in mind that when you are hurting you hurt others. So, care for yourself and be aware of when you are projecting your pain upon others. 

Speak to others the way you want them to speak to you. Offer support and praise even in difficult situations. Keep in mind that people are doing the best they can. Give them the benefit of the doubt and offer words of support, praise, and encouragement. Put your words of care and support into action. 

Words in Social Space

When it comes to social media, keep in mind what has been said above. Your self-awareness is even more critical regarding your words on social media. Treat others with the same respect you want for yourself. Keep in mind that it is easier to put words on a screen than it is to speak them face to face.

Because people do not see your face or hear the inflection of your voice, your words can be misunderstood. So, take advantage of the opportunity to develop and maintain relationships with your words, whether spoken or written. Your social media presence reveals more about you than you might want to reveal. Remember, even on social media, who you are is how you lead. 

Kind, Caring, Encouraging Words

Paul, writing to a church under stress and in the midst of conflict, says to use kind, caring, encouraging words of truth. So, be a courageous leader. Step up and speak words of truth with care and understanding. Be the leader who uses helpful words to build up those who hear them. 

Although she is writing about more than words, Brene Brown writes, “In times of uncertainty, it is common for leaders to leverage fear and weaponize it to their advantage…If you can keep people afraid and give them an enemy who is responsible for their fear, you can get people to do just about anything.”

Consider for a moment: How have your words created fear? How are you creating time and space for safe conversations? 

Brown also says, “…when we are managing during times of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty…We need to be available to fact-check the stories that team members may be making up, because in scarcity we invent worse case scenarios.” Consider for a moment: Are you making up what you don’t know? How are you helping lower the levels of anxiety with your words? 

Right or Righteous?

In times like these, you do not have to be right, but you do need to be righteous. Not self-righteous but holy as God is holy. If you are unsure about God’s holiness, look at Jesus. In Jesus, you will find God’s encouraging Word made flesh. You will find the embodiment of God’s holiness and love. 

Remember, it is Jesus who said, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” As a leader, take the time to allow God’s Word, Jesus, to take up residence in your life. When you do, it will be Jesus, God’s love, and care, that comes out. 

“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (Ephesians 4:29 TEV) 

Respond

O God, I am grateful for your Word, both written in the scripture and made flesh in Jesus. Put your Word so deep in my heart that I am shaped into the person and leader you created and need me to be. May Jesus be so real in my life that all I say and do brings you glory and encourages and supports the people around me. May the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be pleasing to you. I offer myself to you in the name of Your Word, Jesus. Amen 

Return

At the end of the day, give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Then, turn to these questions:

  • In and through whom did you encounter God? 
  • In what situations did you find yourself using hurtful or harmful words? 
  • In what situations did you find yourself using helpful words of encouragement and care? 

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to learn more about yourself and the words you use. Now ask God to empower you to love others through the words you speak in every situation and circumstance of your life. And be reminded that your leadership is only as good as your word. 

As a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, how do you make decisions? Upon what do you base your decision-making? In today’s world, when you are constantly bombarded by messages designed to persuade you, are you able to think for yourself, stay true to your values, and reach your own conclusions?

What is Your Decision Making Process?

Whether it be materials used by colleagues to gain your support for their proposals, leaders who want to influence your thinking, arguments to shape your beliefs, or advertisements to buy certain products, you are constantly put in the position of making decisions that affect you and the people entrusted to your care. Often, without realizing it, you are at risk of being manipulated, deceived, and mindlessly led to conclusions that others want you to have. What is your process for decision-making?

Critical Thinking

Courageous and effective leaders, in their decision-making, have developed the skill of critical thinking. They can see the big picture, draw reasonable conclusions from the appropriate data provided, and make reasonable judgments to solve problems and make decisions.

For example, theories must be backed up with truth and knowledge. For a society to function effectively, its citizens need to establish opinions about what is right and wrong and be consistent in living out those opinions. It is the process of critical thinking that assists in maintaining consistency and order.

Another example is, to have a thriving congregation, developing Jesus followers who impact the world, you need critical thinking in the church. Theology must be backed up in practice. For a church to function effectively, Jesus followers need to establish what it means to live like Jesus in the community and the world. Critical thinking is needed to help develop relationships, assess assets, and respond to needs.

The leaders who can see the big picture, use relevant information to understand the situation, and make reasonable judgments are the leaders needed to navigate the changing landscape in today’s world.

Complex Problem Solving

A survey of human resource professionals, The Future of Jobs, revealed that critical thinking is the second most important skill in the workforce. Complex problem solving is the number one skill. Courageous and effective leaders possess and develop both skills.

So, what does that mean for you as a leader? Take a moment to look over some of the characteristics of critical thinkers. Judge for yourself what characteristics shape your leadership.

Critical thinkers are:

Objective

Critical thinkers can recognize and challenge their own assumptions and look at the immediate situation from a neutral perspective. They understand that leaving their assumptions unchecked can lead to poor thinking and bad decision-making. So, they know how to test and validate their own thoughts and feelings. When critical thinkers are emotionally attached to a thought or decision, they can articulate their feelings while holding their objectivity.

Discerning

Critical thinkers can separate fact from inference. Once information is collected, it is important to understand the difference between facts and inferences. Too often leaders assume what is true based upon hearsay and treat it as a fact. This creates a shaky foundation for any future thinking and decision-making.

A fact is objectively observable by other people. An inference is something that includes an assumption or an opinion that may or may not be true. I can drive from my house to my office in 28 minutes. I do it almost on a daily basis. That is a fact. If I use my GPS to calculate the distance and average speed to get to 28 minutes, that is an inference.

The same is true about information shared regarding decisions made by congregational leaders as well as business leaders. Critical thinkers don’t infer truth, they search out the factual truth.

Collaborative

Critical thinkers can listen and receive input from multiple sources. Critical thinkers are not only willing to consider but incorporate other people’s ideas. In their collaboration, they help separate fact from fiction. They listen for what is not said as well as what is said. Because they are good collaborators, they model collaboration for the people around them.

Open-minded

Critical thinkers know they need to think through situations and draw on past experiences. But they do not let past experiences be the sole viewpoint from which decisions are made. Courageous leaders know that the past is the past for a reason. They look at data and observations from the past and discover why something worked or did not work. In other words, they are open to discovering new ways and are not stuck in nostalgia.

Curious

Critical thinkers ask questions. They know where things are working and who is bringing new ideas, and diverse experiences, as well as who has what strengths, talents, skills, and abilities. They gather information and test their ideas and decisions on the people around them. 

Strategic

Critical thinkers know the current reality of their context. They set their sights on what is to be accomplished. Then starting where they are, critical thinkers use the facts of their situation and the human resources available to navigate the barriers and obstacles to get to their goal. They are able to put together a plan, set boundaries, develop assessments, and a step-by-step approach to living into their mission.

Relational

Many people think that thinking critically causes problems in relationships. The truth is, being a critical thinker allows the leader to better understand the perspective of others and helps the leader become more open-minded toward different views.

No Shortage of Information

There is no shortage of information coming at you today. That is why you need to use your critical thinking skills to decide for yourself what you believe and upon what you are making your decisions. Critical thinking helps you sort through all the extra voices and allows you the opportunity to develop your thoughts and opinions based on the facts.

So, over the next several weeks, try one of the following to improve your critical thinking skills: 

Keep your mission in mind

When it comes to critical thinking, it’s important to always keep your goal in mind. Know what you are trying to achieve, and then figure out how you best get there. 

Gather reliable information

Make sure that you are using trusted resources. Test your assumptions and the statements of others. Look for the facts and have the courage to follow the factual and reliable information. 

Ask questions

When something is not clear or does not make sense, ask questions. Remember, critical thinkers are curious.

Think long term as you live into the short term.

When coming up with solutions, keep in mind where you are going as you are navigating your next step. What are the consequences of not caring for the immediate? What are the consequences of forgetting your goal? Both are significant in the equation.

Explore all sides

There is not just one simple answer. It is not as easy as what is right and what is wrong. To make your decision, explore all options and think outside of the box before you come to any conclusions.

The Truth Will Make You Free

I am convinced you are the leader needed for this time. To be effective you will need to think critically. When Jesus said, “The truth will make you free,” he was referring to the truth found in himself. 

There is a truth about medicine that sets people free from superstitious understandings of disease and makes health possible. In meteorology, there is a truth that sets people free from the fear of storms. There is a truth about doctrine and theology that sets people free to think for themselves and make decisions for themselves. Along with general truth, Jesus is talking about a personal truth embodied in him – a truth of love and relationship.

Sometimes leaders misplace the ultimate truth of love and relationship with personal, political, and institutional truth. All three have their place, but the truth that will ultimately set you free is the truth of God’s love embodied in Jesus.

The question is, upon what truth do you make your decisions? In today’s world, it is easy to get sidetracked by the messages designed to persuade you. Are you able to think for yourself and reach your own conclusions? Are you able to let the truth of God’s love guide you in your critical thinking?

At the risk of being one of those many voices trying to persuade you, I pray that the truth of God’s love guides you today and every day in your relationships and decision-making. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

As Jesus followers, we talk a lot about love. We talk about loving our neighbors, as well as our enemies. We talk about including strangers, as well as people with whom we disagree. We do a lot of talking, but when do we put love into action?

As a leader, you meet people with different experiences from your own. Who has helped you put your love into action? Who has taught and modeled for you the love that makes a difference in you, your family, your community and the world?

I hope this short devotion will assist you in becoming more the person and leader God has created you to be. Always keep in mind, who you are is how you lead.

Read Matthew 7:43-44

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Reflect

In 1960, I started first grade in an elementary school in a small town in West Virginia. Every day, I walked up the sidewalk to the school with other children. I talked and laughed with friends as I made my way into the building. I was welcomed, by a smiling teacher, into a classroom full of children. I was just a kid starting my educational journey with no care or concern of what was going on in the world.

That very same year, a little girl by the name of Ruby started first grade in an elementary school in New Orleans. Every day, as she walked up the sidewalk to the school, she was escorted by federal marshals. She was not welcomed by smiles. The sidewalk was lined with adults shouting threats at her, calling her names, and screaming for her to go home. Enraged parents pulled their children from the school. Due to the chaos, Ruby spent her first day of school in the principal’s office, not because she had done anything wrong, but for her protection. She was just a kid starting her educational journey which would change her city, her state, her country, and the world.

My teacher was my neighbor. I could stand in my backyard and see her house. Ruby’s teacher came to New Orleans from Boston. She was the only teacher willing to accept Ruby. I was in a classroom full of children just like me, Ruby spent her first year in a classroom by herself. Every day, I played on the playground at recess, and I ate lunch in the cafeteria with my friends. Every day, at recess, Ruby played in her classroom and ate lunch in the same classroom with her teacher. Neither Ruby nor I missed a day in our first-grade year of school. But as you can see, our experiences were worlds apart.

Ruby Bridges and I were six-years old. But Ruby at 6 years old learned and lived something that has taken many years for me to learn and all my 68 years to live.

Robert Coles, a noted author, and Harvard psychiatrist volunteered his time to work with Ruby that first year. Every day he would talk with her and offer her assistance to cope with the crisis. One morning, on the news, he noticed Ruby walking up the sidewalk while people screamed at her and threw things at her. In the midst of the turmoil, Ruby suddenly stopped and said something before walking on up the sidewalk. Then the marshals picked her up and took her into the building.

When they met later that evening, Cole asked her what she said to the marshals. She said, “I was not talking to the marshals.”

He said, “Yes, you were. I saw you on the news. I saw your lips moving. You were talking to the marshals.”

She said, “I was not talking to the marshals.”

He said, “Well, what were you doing?”

She said, “I was praying for those people who were hollering at me. I had forgotten to pray, and I was trying to go back and pray for them as I walked to the school building.”

Coles shook his head and said, “You were praying for the people who were screaming at you?”

She said, “Yes, my mama taught me that when people speak mean of you, you pray for them just like Jesus prayed for the people who spoke mean of him.” Then she said, “You see, when Jesus lives in your heart, you just can’t hate anybody.”

Through her mother, Ruby learned to love and pray for the people who were mean to her. She had learned that when Jesus lives in your heart, you just can’t hate anybody.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Respond

O God, come and live in my heart so I can love the people who have hurt me, who disagree with me, and who wish to do me harm. Fill me with your love so that my heart is big enough to include each person you send my way. Help me to be aware of your presence that everyone I encounter will meet you in me. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen

Return

Who did you love and pray for today? Who taught you to love your enemies and to pray for the people who hurt you? Give God thanks for the people who have helped shape your life into the person you are today?

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Being a leader is a great and honorable responsibility. It demands a certain character and behavior which requires your full attention. Although there is personal and professional satisfaction, being a leader is never easy. 

Even when things are going well, you still need to keep yourself, and the people entrusted to your care, focused on the mission and moving toward the goal. In the midst of political and social divisions, economic insecurity, inflation, and growing theological and religious bickering, leading people to focus on the mission is as difficult as it has ever been in recent history. 

So, how are you coping as a leader? 

What Do They Think?

Do you think that you have to act a certain way around the people with whom you work? Do you feel you have to say certain things to your colleagues, so you will be accepted? Instead of being yourself, are you playing a role to fit in, or to impress others?

Most of us have gone through times like this. Instead of behaving in a genuine way, we tell people what we think they want to hear and act in ways that go against our true nature. Living and working this way is confining, tiring, and depressing. It holds you back from reaching your true potential. 

Lead Realistically

On the other hand, to be a courageous and effective leader is to live and work realistically. Knowing and understanding your context, developing healthy relationships, and giving yourself permission to be yourself, provide you the freedom to choose your path for living and leading. 

Three Shifts for Leaders

Below are three shifts in becoming the leader needed for the time in which we are living. 

1. From Charisma to Character

The first shift is from charisma (personality) to character. 

Leaders want people to like them. Often, leaders think if they are liked they are trusted. With that perception, they depend heavily on their personalities. It is a fact that people are drawn to charismatic personalities, but likable personalities do not translate to trust. 

Leaders with charisma have a charming and magnetic quality about them. Whether it’s personality or appearance, they have powerful communication and persuasiveness skills. In other words, charismatic leaders have the ability to charm or influence people. 

Charisma is a great quality to have as a leader. People are drawn to charismatic personalities, but people and systems thrive where they are led by character and integrity.

The word character comes from the Greek word “charassein,” which means to “to sharpen, cut in furrows, or engrave.” The literal sense of the word is to engrave or to imprint a mark. 

Followers look for trust, compassion, stability, and hope from their leaders. I’m not saying that leaders with charismatic personalities cannot be trusted. But I am saying that if trust is not engraved or imprinted on the heart of the leader, personality does not carry the leadership needed.

To be the leader needed today, have the image of Christ imprinted on your heart so that your personality reflects the depth of character needed to navigate the complexities of the day. 

Who you are is how you lead.

2. From Aspiration to Authenticity

The second shift is from aspiration to authenticity. 

Good leaders aspire to be good leaders. They have ambition and dreams for the future as well as a strong desire to achieve something high and great. Good leaders find fulfillment in making their aspirations reality. They know how to cast a vision for the future and how to engage the people around them to live into that future. Because they are so focused on their aspirations, they sometimes depend more upon wishful thinking than upon the strengths and skills needed to lead effectively. 

Aspiration is a great quality to have as a leader. People are drawn to leaders who can cast a vision. But people and systems thrive when the leader is a person of authenticity. 

To be a person of authenticity means you are true to yourself. You might hold a position of authority, but your identity is not rooted in the power of authority. Regardless of the pressure that you are under to please others, comply with expectations, and to conform to social norms, you know who you are and hold to your values. When you are honest with yourself you can be and will be generous with others. When you are vulnerable in your relationships, you come across as being a leader people can trust. 

To be the leader needed today takes courage and demands mental, emotional, and spiritual energy. It requires stepping away from being who you think people want you to be and being who God created you to be. Your authenticity will inspire others to make the hope of the future a reality. 

Who you are is how you lead. 

3. From Arbitrary to Adaptable

The third shift is from being arbitrary to being adaptable. 

Every leader has to make decisions that affect not only themselves but the people entrusted to their care. Leaders who are trusted have developed relationships that give them the responsibility to make the decisions that work for the good of others. With the image of Christ imprinted on your heart and being the person God has gifted you to be, you are engaging the people around you to live into their potential as leaders. 

Often, leaders think that they make decisions based on what they believe or upon what they have always known. They become arbitrary in their decision-making because they feel they know what is best. Without identifying the current reality or contexts, and without checking out why they make the decisions they make, they insist on their way of moving forward. When leaders are not aware of who they are or why they think and feel the way they do, they begin to micromanage others and manipulate people and situations to get the result they want. They might know what to do, but they alienate people by demanding their own way. 

Decision-making is an important work of leaders. People are drawn to leaders who are decisive. But people and systems thrive when leaders can adapt to changing situations and cultures. 

Adaptive Leaders

Even though they might know a way to achieve a certain goal, adaptive leaders are flexible and have the ability to adjust to different situations and circumstances. They are curious. Adaptive leaders are not afraid to ask questions and are eager to explore solutions. They see every obstacle as an opportunity of hope. 

Being team players, adaptive leaders do not insist on their own way, but find ways to engage the gifts and strengths of others. And being proactive, they are creative, imaginative, and find alternative ways to make things happen. They have a capacity to care, and a tenacity for tolerance. They are encouraging, empathic, and respectful. Adaptive leaders are mission-focused, are generous with the people who think and feel differently than they think and feel. They are grateful for the opportunity to lead. 

To be the leader needed today, you must learn to adapt to changing situations and cultures. And in every situation and circumstance, you will have the opportunity to reflect upon the depth of character needed to navigate the changes, and at the same time, inspire others to make the hope of the future a reality. 

Being a leader is a great and honorable responsibility. It demands a certain character and behavior which requires your full attention. This week, take a moment to reflect upon these questions:

What am I doing to develop the character of Christ in my life?

How am I becoming more the person and leader God created me to be?

How am I working to adapt to the changes in my life, my church, and my community? 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

The single most important factor that distinguishes a good leader from a great leader is love. I am not talking about warm and fuzzy feelings that lead to being nice and not wanting to offend others. I am talking about the kind of love that comes from a conscious decision to work for the good of others. It is the kind of love that allows people to be imperfectly human and at the same time inspires them and empowers them to become who God created them to be. 

Who You Are

Sometimes leaders seek out “what feels good” or “what feels right.” I don’t want to discount feelings. There is a place for feelings. But as a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you lead by who you are and not by the way others make you feel. 

Other times leaders fall back upon what they think they know. Without asking why they think or feel the way they do; leaders often default to what they have always done in their decision-making and how they relate to people. Again, I don’t want to discount the experience. There is a place to honor and build upon experience. But as a leader, who is a follower of Jesus, you lead by who you are and not by what you think you know or what has worked in the past. 

When Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ he was helping people to look beyond their feelings, and what they had experienced, to a new way (which was the old way) to relating to people.

What does that mean for you as a leader?

Read Matthew 5:38-39, 5:43-44

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, (Matthew 5:38-39)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44)

Reflect

Jesus’ understanding of the love of God was the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. Just as the fruit of a tree fulfills the blossom, his teaching brought the Law to its highest conclusion. In his sermon on the mount, he points out the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s love. 

It is important to understand what is meant by the love of God and how that love is lived out in your leadership. Based upon the context of the scripture, there is a distinct progression. Let us take a little journey to understand the progression. 

Unlimited Retaliation

The first way of relating to people was the way of Unlimited Retaliation. According to this principle, if someone knocked out one of your eyes, you were justified in knocking out both of their eyes. If someone knocked out one of your teeth, you could knock out their complete set of teeth. There was no limit placed on revenge. It was the law of every person for him or herself. 

A recent example of unlimited retaliation can be seen when a patient did not like the outcome of his surgery. In the midst of his pain, he bought a handgun and an AK-15, went back to the hospital, and killed the doctor as well as several people who got in his way. His actions are an example of unlimited retaliation. 

Limited Retaliation

A second way of relating to people was Limited Retaliation. It became evident that the result of unlimited retaliation would be mutual self-destruction. A better way was sought, so the law of limited retaliation arose. This principle declared that if anyone harmed you, “then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” (Exodus 21:23-25). 

It is the law of getting even. Someone knocks out one of your eyes, you must not knock out both of his, just one. Or if someone knocks out one of your teeth, you must not retaliate by knocking out all his teeth, just one. In other words, limit your retaliation to the exact amount of the injury. Get even. But no more. It is a twist on the “golden rule.” Do unto others as they do unto you. The books must balance. 

It is easy to see that limited retaliation is a little better than unlimited retaliation. But Jesus taught us we should go further. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer,” or never respond with evil.

An example of limited retaliation is capital punishment. Some people have limited retaliation in mind when they speak of “justice,” citing that it is biblical. True, it is found in the bible. But it is only biblical in the sense that it is found within the pages of the bible. Out of context, limited retaliation is not biblical. 

Limited Love

A third way of relating to people was Limited Love. This method is found in Leviticus. It is the law Jesus referred to when he said, “All of you have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” (Leviticus 19:18). Some deeply religious people, devout people, agreed with loving your neighbor if their neighbor was a person of their ethnicity. If your neighbor, one of your people, knocked out your eye or your tooth, you might forgive them, but if the person was not part of your group, then you could get your revenge. 

Limited love is certainly better than limited retaliation. But it is interesting that there had to be some limit to love and goodwill. So, the proper place to draw the line was with your own race or nationality. In this way, a person could have two standards of righteousness: one in dealing with relatives and another in dealing with strangers. 

I know my examples might be offensive. My intent is to provide context. An example of limited love is nationalism. It is a form of prejudice and is heard in slogans like “American is for Americans,” which, of course, does not refer to true original Americans. Another example is the backlash to “Black Lives Matter.”  It is another form of prejudice and is heard in slogans like “Make America Great Again” which has come to mean, not a presidential campaign slogan but, a slogan for “white supremacy.” Even though loving your neighbor is in the bible, taken out of context, limited love is not biblical. 

Unlimited Love

A fourth way of relating to people was Unlimited Love. Love, even when limited to one’s own group, was far superior to retaliation, whether it be limited or unlimited. But Jesus didn’t feel that even this brought the law to its final goal or fulfillment. God’s love is not complete until it becomes unlimited love. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

I have always asked “why” at this point. Why love outsiders, strangers, people who are different, people from Central America, people from Africa, Asia, or even Russia? Especially Russia. Aren’t the Russians our enemies? Aren’t they trying to overtake us and defeat us? Why love people who don’t like me or try to hurt me? Why? 

Jesus’ Answer to Why

In his sermon on the mount, Jesus answered my question “why?” He said so you and I could become daughters and sons of God. To love unconditionally is to be who God created us to be. Now, what I understand that to mean is what I understand Jesus saying when he says that God lets the sun rise and the rain fall on both good and bad people, both saints and sinners. Which I understand as God does not give anyone an advantage based upon our goodness. 

I understand that my life does not change if I only interact with my friends or love only the people who love me. As I think about it, I would be no different than non-Christians, even if they do that. Then I understand Jesus telling me to grow up. He doesn’t say it that way. He says, “Be mature…be holy.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

Unlimited Love is  Lived Out In Relationship

If I take what I understand to be the way of unlimited love, Jesus followers apply God’s love to all relationships. Whether it be to my race and to the United States of America or to another race or people from another country. In God’s way of loving, there is no double-dealing, no two-facedness, no partiality. Unlimited love, God’s love, does not stop at artificial borders and is not affected by differences. 

Reasons Unlimited Love is Practical and Impractical

Allow me to continue to provide context for reasons we do not engage in unlimited love. Some people say that unlimited love is not practical. The idea of turning the other check is good, but it just won’t work in the real world. Sometimes they go on to say, force is the only language some people can understand so we have to be realistic. 

There are other people who say that unlimited love is very practical and will work if given a chance. They believe that even the cruelest person has a tender spot that will respond to a continuous barrage of love and goodwill. They can cite examples from history and present a strong case for the effectiveness of non-retaliation and active love. Many of them are willing to back up their belief in this idea with their lives, which within itself is a compelling argument. 

We Love Because We are Loved

Then there are still others who say, we don’t love one another or strangers or enemies because it is practical or because it works. We love because we are the sons and daughters of God. We love because it is who we are. It is not easy. People who love unconditionally usually wind up on a cross. Remember that crucifixions have a way of being followed by resurrections. The end of love is its beginning. Only those who are foolish enough to lose their lives will find them. It is the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies that lives. 

Jesus did not tell his followers to love because it would work. It never occurred to him whether it was practical or not. As followers, we love because that is who we are. 

God does not limit God’s love to those who love him or obey him. As daughters and sons of God, the same love flows naturally from us. Being who God is, God cannot help but love all people. Being children of God, you and I have the same nature. Our nature is not determined by the action or reaction of the people around us, whether friends or foes. Our nature is determined by our relationship to God in and through Jesus. 

Of course, you don’t have to be a follower of Jesus. But if you are, one of the conditions is that you love outsiders, people who are different, whether they be your friends or not, and that you pray for people you consider to be enemies, those who hurt you and take advantage of you. Because it is God’s nature to love, you love who God loves. There are no limits to God’s love. 

The single most important factor that distinguishes a good leader from a great leader is love. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

God, I confess that I find it difficult to love others as you have loved me. I know that it is only by your grace that I will ever be able to love. So, I ask, by your grace, fill me with your love so that I may become more who you have created me to be by loving the people you have given me to love. By your grace, help me see you in the people I meet today. I offer myself to you in Jesus’ name. Amen 

Return

At the end of the day, return to these questions: In whom did I experience God’s love today? To whom did I extend God’s love today? With whom did I need God’s grace to love? Give God thanks for the people you experienced today. 

Loss is built into the fabric of our culture. Every one of us knows what it is like to lose something precious to us. Whether it be the loss of opportunities, loss of possibilities, or feelings we can never get back again, it is part of what it means to be alive.

Over the past several weeks, months, and years, people have been suffering from some form of loss. Whether it be the loss of a loved one, a job, or the simple pleasure of dining out with family and friends. Add to the individual loss the deep grief of war, mass shootings, and violence, it is almost overwhelming. 

Leading Through Grief and Loss

It is unbelievable how quickly and suddenly grief and loss affect people through television, social media, and internet outlets. Even though it might be tempting to ignore grief and keep a semblance of normalcy, it is up to you to set the stage for how grief is accepted, managed, and transformed.  As a leader, you play a critical role in modeling care and compassion for the people entrusted to you and for your community. As you listen to the needs and seek to understand the emotions, you identify and develop a way forward into and through the grief. 

Keep in mind that grief, while painful, ultimately leads to a deeper appreciation for life and relationships. This strengthens you as a leader. We only grieve the people or things we deeply love. Whether it be a beloved family member, a significant relationship, or a special and meaningful time in our lives, deep grief comes from the experience of deep love. 

3 Reminders for Leading Through Grief

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you enter into and lead through periods of grief and loss. 

1. Be yourself and lead with authenticity. 

Courageous leaders lead with compassion. Vulnerability is at the core of their leadership. Too often we feel we need to hide our grief, pain, or sadness. The reality is grief, and the feelings of grief are opportunities to be authentic and vulnerable as you respond with compassion.  

Being a vulnerable leader means asking for help with your own grief. It means showing up and saying, “I’m going to do my best, but I need to lean on you for support.” 

When you are less than authentic, you risk detachment. At that point, you take away your ability to experience love and happiness. Be yourself, experience love, acknowledge the loss, and lead with compassion. 

2. Mourn and create a culture of hope. 

Courageous leaders model hope. This is more than wishful thinking. This is living into the grief and coming through it with a new love and appreciation of life. Too often grief becomes indulgent. Even though it is painful, we want to stay in it because it requires nothing of us. But remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn…” He did not say, “…those who grieve.” Grief is passive. Those who mourn are those who are moved to the point of action. 

3. Transform Grief Into Action

A hope-filled leader not only acknowledges the grief but discovers ways to transform the grief into meaningful action. Grief sometimes is like a specific location, a place on a map of time. When you are there, you can’t imagine getting to a better place. But when someone assures you that they have stood in that same place and have moved one, it brings hope for the future. Draw upon the loss and develop a pathway for moving forward. Your action creates and models the hope needed to get through the difficult times and into a new day of love and appreciation. 

Saying Goodbye

Charles Dickens, in his classic novel Great Expectations, used the kind and simple blacksmith, Joe, to deliver his message regarding loss. As he parts ways with Pip, Joe remarks that it is merely the nature of life to have to say goodbye to the people, places, and experiences we have loved. It is never easy. But we find comfort knowing that in the end of each parting is a brand-new beginning. 

When you, as the leader, acknowledge your grief, you create a sense of vulnerability for others. You create a space for people to support and care for others who are grieving. You model community and begin to develop and deepen relationships. You are a catalyst to a new beginning. 

While the loss is painful, you use it for good. You share your story to inspire others to not give up, to connect with one another and the community, and you move forward with the hope of loving and appreciating the people you encounter each day. 

Outlets

Over the years I have heard a sermon illustration comparing the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake, full of fish, and a source of food. The Dead Sea is a salty lake in which nothing can live. The usual point is that the Jordan River flows into and through the Sea of Galilee, but it only flows into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has no outlet. 

But I heard a different observation by Dr. George Buttrick regarding the Dead Sea. He said the Dead Sea has an outlet. An upward outlet. An outlet toward the sky. Across the centuries as it has surrendered itself to the sun, a residue of potash has built up and remains along its shores. Potash, a different form of life than water. It is a main ingredient of fertilizer. Engineers have estimated that if the potash around the Dead Sea could be mixed and distributed, there would be enough fertilizer for the whole surface of the earth for at least five years. 

Surrender to the Son

Life never comes to a complete dead end. Even when the only outlet is to surrender to the sky in helplessness, there is positive residue. 

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote, “You will heal, and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” 

Out of the helplessness of grief and loss comes the miracle of new love and appreciation for life. So, let’s try it. Let us surrender ourselves, as leaders, to the Son. As sure as you are reading this blog, there will be something good to show for it. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Before You Go…

Take a simple (and dare we say, fun) five question quiz to help you identify your season of following Jesus and what steps to take next.

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

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

Read Luke 23:22-24 

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

Reflect

Jesus Prays

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

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

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

Crucifixion

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

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

Forgiven for Ignorance

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

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

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

It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance. 

Intentional Ignorance

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

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

Father, Forgive Us…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respond

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

Return

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

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

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

How are you dealing with stress these days? Stress can take a toll on the best of us. No matter how strategically or effectively you lead there is always a level of stress. As you juggle multiple demands to meet the needs that keep your church or business running smoothly, the stress gradually builds. Before you recognize it, your body and mind give way to sleepless nights and high doses of caffeine. Without your attention, the stress finally takes its toll, and you are left in a mess. 

Busy or Stressed?

Many of us are reluctant to admit it when we are stressed. We usually choose to answer that we are “busy” rather than admit that we are overwhelmed or do not want to deal with the workload. Our reluctance to talk about how pressure is impacting us has reached the point that some of us are ineffective in our ministry, and we don’t admit it or recognize it…at least publicly. 

High levels of stress can have a negative influence and ruin your effectiveness as a leader. It is easy to slip into the stress trap as you work to resolve day-to-day issues while dealing with difficult and disgruntled church members and not to mention doing your best to reach new people. Add to the list family dynamics and lack of personal care, too much stress causes unnecessary and often unnoticed anxiety and worry. 

I don’t need to continue down that negative path. You already know that stress keeps you up at night and irritable during the day. You already know the symptoms of being tired, sad, and disinterested, as well as poor eating habits and the general dislike of certain people. 

Not all Stress is Bad

But with all of that, not all stress is bad. 

There is healthy stress. When you are healthy as a leader, you search for answers to problems, connect with others, effectively use resources, and creatively use your strengths, talents, and skills. Keep that in mind, because when stress is not healthy, it overwhelms, isolates, and paralyzes. 

As a leader, you will feel pressure from all sides. Whether it is to meet certain expectations from supervisors or to address the needs and wants of the people entrusted to your care, there is pressure. The question is, how do you transform the pressure or stress into effective and courageous leadership? 

There are respected physicians and consultants who can and do provide effective plans for dealing with stress. I’m not attempting to take anyone’s place. I simply want you to consider how you can name your stress, face it, and transform it as a healthy leader. Below are four things to consider:   

Be True To Yourself

The greatest internal cause of stress is trying to be someone you aren’t. Knowing yourself frees you from living inconsistently and enables you to live within your values. It strengthens your ability to withstand pressure from others. 

It is not unusual to give up personal time and to work as many hours as needed to get the job done. But to be an effective leader, you must know your limits, set your boundaries, and care for your emotional, mental, and physical health. 

Take time to exercise, to pursue a hobby, to be with the people you love. You know what energizes you and what brings you joy. You can and will transform the stress you experience into effective and courageous leadership when you are healthy and in sync with yourself. 

Focus On Your Purpose

Another cause of stress is saying yes when you should say no. One of the causes of stress is that you do not keep your purpose clearly in focus. You are out of focus when you fear saying “no” will cause people not to like you. As an effective and courageous leader, you learn to prioritize both people and work. You don’t have to say “yes” to have people like you. 

A common mistake leaders make is trying to do it all. When you lose focus, you invite more stress, and when you are more stressed, you are counterproductive. Learn the strengths and abilities of the people with whom you work. Delegate tasks. Set people free to be who God has created them to be. Trust that they can do their jobs well and avoid being a micromanager. 

Keeping your focus allows you to get more done in less time. It transforms your stress into effective and courageous leadership. 

Adapt To Changing Contexts

Another cause of stress is trying to control things you can’t control. You can control what you do. You can influence what others do. But you can’t control the situations or the circumstances in which you and others interact.

Being true to yourself and focusing on your purpose is essential in keeping what you cannot control in check. So, keep yourself focused on what you can control. When you need help, ask for it. Effective and courageous leaders know what they need to get the job done. Working collaboratively is what makes a good leader a great leader. It is shortsighted to think that you can do it all without support. Knowing what you can and can’t control takes the pressure off you and helps develop the strengths and skills of the people with whom you work.

This might come across as stating the obvious, but you cannot control what is happening in Ukraine. You might not be able to influence the Ohio State legislature regarding concealed weapons or voter redistricting. You might feel helpless in what is happening in the United Methodist Church. But you do have control over how you will lead in the midst of what you cannot control, and you have influence over how the church responds.

Adapting to what you can control leads to effective and courageous leadership. You can transform stress into effective leadership by being true to yourself, keeping your purpose in focus, and leading through the chaos and confusion of what can be controlled and what cannot be controlled.

Surround Yourself With Trusted Leaders 

Another cause of stress is a lack of trust in the people with whom you work. You can and will relieve yourself of stress when you develop and trust the strengths, talents, and skills of the people entrusted to your care.

Effective leadership is not a matter of authority or position, it is a matter of emulation. The people with whom you work want a leader they can trust. When you cultivate an atmosphere of trust, you find yourself in the midst of highly productive and hope-filled leaders.

Effective and courageous leaders are content to see the honors and rewards of hard work go to their followers. When people know that you trust and respect them, they trust and respect you.

Effective and courageous leaders are loyal to those entrusted to them. When people know that you have their backs, they are free to live into their full potential as leaders.

Effective and courageous leaders live by the words of Jesus, “The greatest among you shall be the servant of all.” This is a truth that followers respect the most. 

There is so much more that can be said, but you get the point. Stress is a real and important issue in relation to effective and courageous leadership. As the leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that your stress levels do not impact the people with whom you work, as well ensure that their stress levels are kept in check. 

Stress and Christ-Centered Leadership

Allow me to conclude by reminding you of a familiar passage from Scripture and the pattern of read, reflect, respond and return. 

Read Matthew 11:28 

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” 

Reflect 

Jesus is speaking to all who are stressed. The words are spoken to people who are burdened with obligations that keep them from being in communion with God. In the case of stress, people who are burdened with situations that keep them from being who God created them to be. 

The invitation to rest is not an invitation to a selfish life of ease, but of deliverance from the artificial burdens that cause stress. 

Jesus is offering true Sabbath rest or the invitation to be true to yourself and to God’s love and care. 

Respond 

Where will I experience stress today? How will I address it? With whom will I share my stress? 

Return 

Where was I weary today? How did I respond to my weariness? What would I do differently? For whom am I grateful? 

O God, I give you thanks for what I have learned today and for the people who have helped me through my stress. Thank you for the rest you have provided.  Amen 

So, how are you dealing with your stress these days? Remember, who you are is how you lead.

You have been leading through difficult times. I don’t have to tell you how difficult it has been or what you have had to navigate. But I imagine that about the time you are ready to take a breath and to get some traction, there is a war breaking out and denominational turmoil unfolding. So, how are you doing today? 

If you are wondering if there is any hope in the midst of all the difficulties, chaos, and confusion, I can tell you there is hope.  Hope centered in Jesus. Hope for our future. I’m sure of it. 

It has been my experience that in the midst of change, whether I want it or not and whether I like it or not, God has something new and exciting on the other side of the difficulties and confusion. 

Remembering Hope

Take a journey with me today that will lead to remembering the hope that God has offered to us in and through Jesus. As we start this journey, there are several things you can do.  

You can remember the past. 

You can think about how things used to be and yearn for something that is never coming back. You might be thinking of your congregation during its “glory days” and are convinced that with the right leadership, (young pastor with a family), your church could get those glory days back…just as you remember them.   

You can remember the present. 

You can think about how things are now and enter survival mode. You are realistic about the uncertainty of the future, not only of the denomination but of your own congregation. People are getting older, there are fewer and fewer young people, so let’s go into a holding pattern and “wait and see” what happens. 

You can remember the future. 

With the mission as your guide, you can think about what is possible at the moment with the resources you have been given. 

Revelation

The writer of The Revelation of John remembers the future.  He “pulls back the curtain” of the future and presents a vision of hope. 

So, this is what I want you to do. Take a day this week, or better yet, take the days of this week, and READ the scripture, REFLECT upon one aspect of it, RESPOND by focusing upon that aspect during the day, and RETURN at the end of the day to reflect upon and assess what you have experienced and learned. 

Participating in the practice of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return, can and will lead you into remembering the future with hope. 

READ: Revelation 21:1-7 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  

I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  

I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end. To the thirsty, I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters. 

REFLECT 

The world in which John and the people entrusted to his care have been living is in turmoil. Their lives have been interrupted and what they have known as normal has been changed. John is writing to give them a vision of the future. The image that comes to mind is, “he pulls back the curtain to the future” and he tells what he sees.  

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth…”  This is a way of saying that he saw a new day, a new order, a new life. He sees healing and hope. 

“The former heaven and the former earth had passed away…” He is saying that what has been known as normal is gone. There is good news in that statement because what has been normal was separation and chaos.  His next statement, “and the sea was no more” is a hope-filled statement. The “sea” was a symbol of separation. When he says, “the sea was not more” he is saying that there will be no more separation or that in the new day there will be reconciliation, a bringing together of the people who have been separated from one another.  

“I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…” He is saying that in the new day there will be a shift from being good enough to get into heaven to God getting heaven into us. And it will be as “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Those words are words of intimacy and relationship. God has come to be intimately related to us. It will be God’s relationship with us that gets heaven into us.

“I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” John is saying what he just said in another way. He is telling his followers and us that God is with us. We are his people. We can trust God for this new day. 

Then he quotes scripture to tell us what is going away, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” It is a new day in relationship to God. What has been normal, including the terror of death, is behind us. There is a new day, new life, a new order. 

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring. Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters.” John is trying to get his point across to the people he loves, the people entrusted to his care. He repeats what he has been saying, again, in a different way. 

God is making all things new. We are God’s children. God will provide for us. 

By pointing out the future, John is offering hope to his people. 

RESPOND 

Take one of those themes and live it out each day this week. 

  • Day One: Where will you experience new life or a new order? Where will you experience healing and hope? 
  • Day Two: Where will you experience change or transformation? Where will you experience reconciliation?  With whom will you experience reconciliation? 
  • Day Three: Where will you experience God’s presence today? Where will you see Jesus? 
  • Day Four: Where will you experience being so close to God that you will stop and give God thanks for God’s presence and love? 
  • Day Five: Where will you experience God’s healing and wholeness today? With whom will you experience love and peace today?  
  • Day Six: Where will you experience new life today? Where will you be renewed by God’s grace? 

RETURN

At the end of each day, take time to look back over the day and reflect upon the experiences you have had, the encounters you have had with individuals, and the places you saw Jesus, God’s love, at work. Give thanks for the new life God is giving you. Give thanks for the people God placed in your life today. With whom did you experience forgiveness? Who might you need to forgive? 

As you come to the end of this part of our journey, remember God is doing a new thing in our midst. John pulls back the curtain of the future to let us see the hope that God provides as we step into the days, weeks, and months ahead. It will be different.  But with God with us, it will be just what we need to be who God created us to be. 

You are a beloved child of God and a hope-filled leader with Jesus at the center of your life. Pull back the curtain and catch a glimpse of what God has in store for you. You were created to lead at this time in history. Be the hope-filled leader God created you to be. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Looking for Hope

Hope is a powerful thing. “It is the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so,” found Dr. Shane Lope. Martin Luther said, “Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.” 

When you have hope, you have a purpose in your life and a plan to live out that purpose. 

People are looking for hope-filled leaders. They want leaders who help them face the future with courage and confidence; leaders who can guide them in making the future better for themselves, their families, and the people for whom they care. 

Hope Around the World

With that said, Gallup International found that 57% of people around the world believe 2022 will be less hopeful or happy than 2021. You and I can name several reasons for the growing hopelessness we face. Our lives have been disrupted. Our routines are no longer routine. 

Too many of us feel that we have no control over our lives, that we are not taken seriously, and basically, we do not matter to the people with whom we interact. Life has become transactional. 

Whether it is as simple as customer service regarding an appliance repair or being represented by our political leaders, we no longer have the relationships that bring contentment and peace to our lives. So how do you as a leader help people see a way forward when they feel uncertain and powerless? 

Hope Filled Leaders & Relationships

Healthy Relationships

First, hope-filled leaders are people-focused and engage in healthy relationships. So, consider how you experience hope in and through the people around you. Think especially of relationships with family, relatives, acquaintances (co-workers and causal associations), neighbors, and, yes, Jesus. Who are the people you enjoy? Who brings you a sense of peace and contentment? Who offers you a reason to move forward with courage and confidence? 

This sounds silly, but relationships with people are key to hope. People, as well as relationships, come in all shapes and sizes. Some people enter our lives for a season, add value, and leave us better than human beings. Other people enter our lives for a lifetime, and we grow together, learning to live and love as God created us to live and love. Some people are work friends who add value to our daily lives, while other people are life friends, who become so much a part of us that we feel we are not complete without them. 

The people with whom you interact each day help you become more who God created you to be. So, focus on people and develop healthy relationships. Who you are is how you lead.

Characteristics of Hope-Filled Leaders

Second, hope-filled leaders share at least four characteristics in their relationships:  presence, commitment, anticipation, and celebration.

Presence

Hope-filled leaders show up, care, and notice others. They share God’s love as they have received God’s love. It is an affirmation when people say they can see and experience Jesus in you.  

Commitment

Hope-filled leaders are committed to people and have a purpose. Your purpose is to love and care for people as you help them become the people they are created to be. Your commitment to helping people live into their God-given purpose takes commitment. It also takes being focused. 

Anticipation

Hope-filled leaders offer stability. You see far enough ahead to identify needs and equip people to meet the needs. You navigate the barriers for the purpose of reaching your goals. While sometimes anticipation can be associated with being nervous. Here, anticipation is all about keeping an eye on the future. Again, with the goal of helping people become who God created them to be.

Celebrate

Hope-filled leaders celebrate the gifts and strengths of the people entrusted to your care. You honor your call by equipping and empowering people to become who God created them to be. 

You offer hope to the people with whom you interact each day. So, focus on people and develop healthy relationships. 

What Happened Here?

One of my favorite stories illustrates hope in relationships. It is about a man by the name of Tom Wiles. While he was a university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, he purchased a new pickup truck. While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door. The scratches looked like deep white scars on the new truck’s exterior.  

A friend happened to notice the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?”  

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

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

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

Stay Focused on Relationships

The story illustrates “who you are is how you lead.”  In the story, Tom Wiles focused upon his neighbor. He sought to redeem the relationship rather than insist on his rights. He had the presence to take his neighbor seriously by responding to his neighbor with the love he had received in and through Jesus.

His purpose was to stay in a relationship with his neighbor. He decided that his neighbor was more important than his truck and that his neighbor was more important than his personal satisfaction of being right. He offered stability to the relationship by looking ahead, identifying the needs, and navigating the situation. 

He celebrated by understanding that his neighbor was more than a transaction. His response was a witness to who God had created him to be and a model to his neighbor who God had created him to be. 

Being a Hope-Filled Leader

It is tough to be a hope-filled leader when you are not feeling hopeful yourself. So, here is what I want you to do. I want you to do it now.

Take a deep breath in and let it out slowly. Say to yourself, “I am a cherished and treasured child of God.” Say it again, “I am a cherished and treasured child of God.”  Take a breath in and let it out slowly. Now, say to yourself, “God has uniquely gifted me with strengths and abilities for this time.” Say it again, “God has uniquely gifted me with strengths and abilities for this time.”

When you are true to who you are, people feel cared for and feel a sense of stability. When people sense the compassion you have for them, your leadership will instill trust. Be authentic, vulnerable, and courageous. Become a model for people to follow. Your hope-filled living shapes your hope-filled leadership. 

The People Entrusted to Your Care

Now, focus upon the people entrusted to your care. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Say to yourself, “God has entrusted to my care people who are uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities.” Say it again, “God has entrusted to my care people who are uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities.”

The people entrusted to your care are important. As a leader, you have the opportunity to discover and develop their potential. Remember, people need to feel a sense of stability. They want to be able to say, “I fit into that hopeful future.” Because you are helping them live into who they are created to be, they will trust your leadership and will sense the compassion you have for them. They will step up and out to move toward the hope you are holding before them. 

I am grateful for you and your leadership. Remember, hope is powerful. When you have hope, you have a purpose in your life and a plan to live out that purpose. May this next week bring a new sense of hope to you and your leadership.

Who you are is how you lead.