Tag Archive for: Tim Bias

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.

Words are Powerful

Are you familiar with the cartoon B.C.?

There are two characters I want to point out: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. In one cartoon, the woman is beating the snake with her stick.

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 in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “Oh the power of the spoken word.”

Yes, words are powerful.

Words Create Worlds

You can use words to create images and assumptions. Those words shape the way we view one another and the world. You can use words to encourage and build up as well as discourage and tear down. Words feed our prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making.

Over the past several weeks, in the United Methodist Church, there has been a plethora of words that have given birth to disillusionment and disappointment. I have felt the distress, anxiety, and pain that have come with words like anger, fear, and defeat.

A word from the Word

As I have reflected upon our situation, I have wondered if we are anything like the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul wrote, “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.”

Because Paul wrote those words to a church, does it mean that there were problems with the way people spoke to one another?

The church in Ephesus was a diverse church. Because of its diversity, there was a conflict of values. The Jews, who had a deep ethical background, were people who lived with religious values. The Gentiles, who did not have the same background or heritage, had a different set of values.

I can image there were times when the two sets of values clashed and created tension. So, Paul is teaching about the new life in Christ. He was teaching what would become some of the values of the Christian faith.

Ephesians 4:25 – 4:29

Let’s look at this passage closely.

Ephesians 4:25

“…putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors.”

In other words, stop making up what you don’t know and tell the truth. You don’t have to exaggerate your importance or project a more desirable image. You belong to one another. Your life and talk are dedicated to the truth rather than to yourself. So, give up falsehood and speak the truth.

Ephesians 4:26

“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the devil.”

Anger is not necessarily evil or sinful, but nursing a grudge or unforgiveness is. It poisons your life and the life of the church or community. It is in the unforgiveness that gives root to evil. So, care for your anger. Understand your emotions and respond appropriately.

Ephesians 4:28

“Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” Paul gives a warning against stealing. The assumption is that those who have the world’s goods will share with others.

Ephesians 4:29

“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)

In a time of conflict, Paul is instructing the church to say kind, supportive, encouraging words. When you open your mouth, do not let evil talk come out of your mouth. Don’t diss one another. Say only what is useful for building up as there is 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…”

What are the courageous words you're speaking today? How are your words building people up, encouraging them, and helping them? Explore what Ephesians has to say to us in this blog post and hear the wisdom of a modern truth teller along the way. #courage #ephesians #bible #leadership #leaders #transformingmission Transforming MissionWhat Is Paul Teaching Us?

May we learn something from Paul here? In times of stress and conflict, use kind, caring words of truth. Be a courageous leader. Step up and name the current reality while speaking the truth with care and encouragement. 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.”¹

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.”²

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?

A Final Reminder

In times like these, we don’t need to be right. But we do need to be righteous. Not self-righteous but holy as God is holy. If you are unsure about God holiness, look at Jesus. In Jesus, 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 who 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).

Ready to put your words and actions together? Download the Rumble Starter Kit and Listen to Episode 059 of LeaderCast: How to Rumble

 

  1. Brene Brown, Dare to Lead, p. 104
  2. Ibid., p. 105

Lindsay had been unconscious for hours. She had felt horrible all weekend, but when she didn’t answer her door, her friends became concerned and broke into her dorm room. Neither her friends, the EMTs, nor the emergency room doctors could get a response. Her parents were called to the hospital. They tried to get all the information they could, but the only detail that mattered was that their oldest child, away from home for her freshman year, was in unexplored territory for all of them.

Lindsay was life-flighted to a hospital better equipped to address her condition. It was during this time of crisis that the church, the community of faith, surrounded Lindsey and her family.

A woman by the name of Becky, a mother of two girls, decided to visit Lindsay with a gift. She took her gift with a disciple’s faith and a mother’s heart.

A Disciple’s Faith and A Mother’s Heart

When Becky arrived, Lindsay was in the Critical Care Unit. As she entered the room, the doctor and the nurse in the room at the time said, “We’ll leave so you can be alone with her.” While Lindsay lay unconscious, this woman, with a disciple’s faith and a mother’s heart, began to pray.

Becky said, “I stood at the edge of her bed, and I touched her leg. And I prayed for her. I can’t tell you for how long. But as I prayed, I was filled with this overwhelming assurance that this young woman was going to be all right.” Then she said, “I finished praying. I wiped the tears from my eyes. I turned to leave. That’s when I realized that the nurses from the unit were gathered outside the room. They had been watching while I was praying.”

So, what kind of gift can a disciple’s faith and a mother’s heart possibly give an unconscious teenager? What gift is worthy for a group of caregivers in a critical situation? How about the gift of hope?

The Power of Hope

Hope is the most powerful force in the universe. More powerful than death and despair, hope is lifegiving.  The power of hope brings God’s promises to bear on the here and now. There is absolutely nothing else like it in the world. Doctors will step out of the way to let hope in. Nurses will stand outside the room in awe to watch hope at work. There is nothing more life-giving and death-defeating than the power of hope.

Friends, colleagues, whoever will listen, I write today to tell you that the power of hope has been given to the church. That’s the real surprise, isn’t it? That the opportunity and honor of giving hope is given to you and me.

Whenever God wants to bring God’s promises to bear on the here and now, God looks for one of us. God looks wherever God can find a disciple’s faith and a willing heart. God looks for the church to be the people of hope. God has placed in our hands, “the single most indispensable, non-negotiable, irreplaceable resource required for big challenges and noble battles,” the power of hope.

We cannot live without hope. Hope is the backbone that holds us up and holds us together. Transforming MissionWhat Can People Live Without?

Victor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, tells about his life as a prisoner in a Nazi death camp. He recalls a fellow prisoner who was in good health, considering the conditions of the camp. Each day on the way out to the work site this man would talk about what he and his wife were going to do together at the end of the war when they were released.

Then one day the man received the news of the death of his wife. Two days later, he died. Frankl concluded from this experience that people can live longer without bread than they can without hope.

Hope is More Powerful Than…

We live in a time of great turmoil. People are killed not only in the streets but in their places of prayer. We are experiencing the deliberate strategy of fear and hate that has turned into violence. But if I had to choose one diagnosis for what wounds people the most today, I would not say it’s greed, or selfishness, or apathy. I would say that the root of the fear and hatred we are experiencing is found in uncertainty.

People lack certainty in their jobs, in the economy, in their children’s future. They are asking the questions, “Will my pension be enough?” “Will my job last?” “What if the election doesn’t go the way I want it to go?” I know that some of you are uncertain about the future of our United Methodist Church. We are trying to hang on to what we know. We are wondering what is going to happen if it turns out differently than what we expect.

What I know is this, there are only a few things more powerful than life and death put together, hope is one them. As human beings, we can live for forty days without food, four days without water, and four minutes without air. But we cannot live without hope. Hope is the backbone that holds us up and holds us together. Anchored in God’s promises, hope gives us life. It is hope, given to us in and through Jesus, that is same today and tomorrow.

Agents of Hope

I believe that God is ready for the congregations of the Capitol Area South District to be agents of hope. We are the people to bring the great promises of God to bear on this time and place in history. God has placed in our hands “the single most indispensable, non-negotiable, irreplaceable resource required for big challenges and noble battles.”

So, God is looking for one of us to have a disciple’s faith and willing heart. God is looking for one of us to bring the promises of God to bear on the here and now? God is looking for one of us to be an agent of hope in the neighborhood, the community, and the city? God is looking for one of us to pray, “Where do you need me to be hope today?”

Friends, colleagues, fellow human beings, God is looking for you!

 

 

 

 

 

Then he (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hand, he blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them… (Luke 24:50-51)

Luke presents Jesus as a person of prayer.

Whether it is at his baptism, dealing with popularity, choosing leaders, or feeding 5000 people on the hillside, Jesus is praying. Throughout his gospel, Luke shows us that Jesus maintains his relationship with God through prayer. Now, at the end of his gospel, he has Jesus praying as he blesses his followers.

Luke also presents Jesus as being empowered and energized by the Holy Spirit. Jesus begins his public ministry with the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me (or Christed me) to bring good news to the poor.”

Holy Spirit Power

This Holy Spirit power in Jesus is also the Holy Spirit power in the church. It is the power to move beyond the cowardice and hesitation to witness across the barriers that keep people separated from God’s love and one another. So, at the end of his gospel, Luke has Jesus preparing his followers to receive power to be his witnesses.

This connection between prayer and the Holy Spirit is unique in Luke. In John, Jesus is divine by nature. He does not need prayer. He comes from God and is going back to God.

He is aware of everything. There is no agony, no struggle, no Gethsemane.

Matthew has Jesus as the authoritative teacher of the Word of God. Jesus is the final authority in his teaching.  Mark presents Jesus like an exorcist, constantly in contact with forces of evil.

But Luke has Jesus as a person of prayer. He is filled with the Spirit of God. The Spirit in Jesus is the same Spirit available to the church. The qualities of Jesus are the qualities of church.

In the gospels, there are no photos of Jesus, but four portraits of Jesus. It is in Luke’s portrait that we begin to understand why we are in the presence of God.  We get an up close view of the Holy Spirit in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  We begin to see that Jesus is available to us as the church.

And, we begin to understand that Holy Spirit power comes through prayer.

The Blessing

So, here we are at the end, or is it the beginning? “Then he (Jesus) led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hand, he blessed them.”  Is this a prayer of benediction or is it a blessing to send the disciples into a new mission?  Whether end or beginning, it is a good word.  Jesus is calling down the blessing of God.  He has prepared them and is saying, “Farewell.”

The Benediction is the final word, the final blessing. But the blessing is also the assurance of God’s favor and protection. It is also the promise of God’s grace and peace.  Just as God instructed Moses to equip Aaron and his family to bless the Israelites, Jesus now blesses his followers.

Moses said, “Bless the people saying, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’”

And Jesus blessed his followers saying, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…”

With his blessing our witness begins!

For Luke, the Scriptures and Holy Communion are at the heart of the church. To read and understand the scriptures is a divine gift in and through the risen Christ. When the Lord’s Supper takes place, there is an invitation to the outsider and hospitality to the stranger. It is in the “breaking of bread” that the stranger is recognized as a friend.

When the people are feeling weary and hopeless, Jesus prays. He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it. Through these acts of Holy Communion, Jesus is known and a new hope is born.

What does prayer have to do with it?

The story of the road to Emmaus gives us insight into Luke’s understanding of Jesus and the church.

Here is part of that story.

When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” – Luke 24:28-32

For me, this story clearly reveals Luke’s understanding of the meaning of resurrection faith. It is a story of two Jesus followers, walking to Emmaus, having a conversation about Jesus’ death and his missing body.

A Divine Gift

In the middle of their conversation, Jesus joins them on their journey. He is received as a stranger. Luke writes, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

This is Luke’s way of saying that being with the earthly Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles and knowing the example of his life are not enough apart from an experience of the risen Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. To recognize God’s act in Jesus is not a matter of our human insight but is a divine gift.

Jesus, the stranger in their midst, asks, “What are you talking about?” The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place over the last few days?” And Jesus asks, “What things?”

The two Jesus followers began to give a summary of what had happened. Their summary was not wrong but, because of his death, they did not perceive that Jesus was the promised Messiah. They recited the correct events but did not perceive what had happened.

One of them said, “We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.” I think it is important to understand that Jesus’ followers believed that God was present in what Jesus said and what he did. They believed that God’s kingdom of justice was about to dawn.

Was Hope Gone?

Then came the crucifixion and the shattering of their hopes. Their human wisdom said, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The death of Jesus was the death of their hope. Even though they had his message, his example, and his ministry, the crucifixion meant that Jesus was another failed idealist. They had no reason to think differently.

Their hope was that God would send the Messiah to restore Israel and set Israel free from oppression. These two on the road with Jesus perceived God’s redeeming work in nationalistic terms. For them, it was over. Hope was gone.

In a New Light

Jesus then says, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

After the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples began to understand the scriptures in light of their Christian faith. They discovered many passages that illustrated their new faith. Luke is clear.

He believed that the risen Christ, through the Holy Spirit, was guiding the church into the true meaning of the Scriptures. In his story of the road to Emmaus, Luke introduced the process of reinterpreting the Scripture under the guidance of the risen Christ.

Prayer and Hospitality

While on the road with the two travelers, Jesus is not recognized as the Christ but only as a weary fellow traveler. The two extend an invitation to food and fellowship. As they offer hospitality, Jesus is revealed to them. It is here we get a clue to prayer and hospitality.

“So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him…” Luke 24:29-31

Jesus did not force himself on them, but when invited, the guest became the host. The meal was an ordinary meal, but the words were the familiar words of Holy Communion. The words, “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it…” reflect the language of the liturgy of the Lord’s Table.

Jesus took and blessed the bread. Blessing in the Greek is the word “eulogy.” Blessing is to eulogize God. The prayer was, “Blessed are you Lord God creator of the universe. For you sustain all your creation and satisfy our hearts with good things.” God is eulogized as creator, sustainer, and keeper of life. So, the prayer was praising God and not the food.

prayer and hospitality are essential to the Christian life. What do we encounter in Luke's gospel that illuminates how we can unite prayer and hospitality? Read the blog post at transforming mission.Word and Deed

For Luke, God’s saving work in Jesus was a matter of both word and deed. He spoke the word of God and reflected God’s justice and mercy that represented the kingdom of God. Jesus’ followers did the same thing in the church. They not only proclaimed the gospel but they embodied the gospel in their lives. They became the evidence of the Jesus alive on earth.

Word and deed were integrated into both Jesus’ life and the life of the early Church. Words without deeds are hypocritical and hollow. Deeds without the word of the gospel miss the point of God’s act in Jesus as the source of normal loving living.

I find it interesting that the church in the past has been guilty of speaking without acting, but the church of today might be guilty of acting without speaking the Word.

Being Known

With that in mind, there are two things important to Luke and to his church.

  1. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Jesus provides the lens through which we are to look at the scripture. He is the key to our understanding the scripture.

Luke wants us to know that knowing about earthly Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles, and knowing the example of his life are not enough apart from experiencing the risen Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  1. Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of bread. (Luke 24:35)

Three times in Luke’s gospel, we get a story of eating with others: feeding of the 5000, last supper in the Upper Room, and with the travelers on the road to Emmaus. In each story, we have the liturgical formula used in Holy Communion.

The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, is central to the life of the Church. In the house at Emmaus Jesus is a stranger, yet a guest. Even though he is the guest he becomes the host.

It is in the breaking of the bread, the stranger, the outsider, becomes known to them as Jesus himself.

Word and Table

Prayer and hospitality come together at the Table. There is enough room for you. Read more on the blog.

For Luke, this is the church. The services of Word and Table are at the heart of the church. To read andunderstand the scriptures is not solely a matter of our human intellect and insight but is a gift in and through Jesus, the risen Christ.

When the Lord’s Supper takes place, there is an invitation to the outsider and hospitality to the stranger. It is in the breaking of bread that the risen Christ is made known to the community.

When the people are feeling weary and hopeless, Jesus prays. He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it. Through these acts of Holy Communion, Jesus is known and a new hope is born.

Even though there were only three at the table that day, the table was large enough for the stranger.

I think it is important to understand that Jesus put prayer and action together. When you are at the Table with friends and strangers, and when you are giving thanks and praising God, look and listen closely.

You are in the presence of Jesus.