Leading with Love

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S (Scripture): Romans 13:8 Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. 9 The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself.10 Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.

O (Observation): Paul encourages all followers of Christ to do the best they can to cooperate with governmental authorities and with one another. Here, Paul shows them the way forward, which was taught by Jesus: Love your neighbor as yourself.

In this simple (yet somehow extremely complicated and difficult) command, we find a way forward. Love is what fulfills the Law. Leading with love can guide one’s relationship with authorities and with one’s neighbor.

A (Application): Leading with Love is the key to relationships with authorities, with family, with strangers.

Yet leading with love can be quite challenging. For our emotions and feelings and desire for retribution can get in the way. If we think someone has wronged us, do we forget that? No…but we can work though that. Love allows us the space to work through the wrongs done to us.

So sometimes leading with love is simply about extending the grace first shown to you in Christ Jesus, so that others can receive the same grace you’ve received. You are not digging up grace on your own…you are simply giving to others what you have already received.

Lead with love. At the coffee shop, the gas station, your office, your classroom, the lunchroom, the park. Lead with love, and see if it becomes contagious. And don’t be surprised when someone asks you where you became a person that leads with love. Be ready to share your response : )

(Seriously. Literally rehearse what you are going to say. Sometimes we have to verbalize or write down our faith story to put it in perspective. It’s a good practice.)

P (Prayer): Lord, we receive your grace, unworthy as we are. You find a way to love each of us, for we are your creation. Thank you. Amen.

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God Leads the Way

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S (Scripture): Exodus 13:17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God didn’t lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, even though that was the shorter route. God thought, “If the people have to fight and face war, they will run back to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people by the roundabout way of the Reed Sea desert. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt ready for battle. 19 Moses took with him Joseph’s bones just as Joseph had made Israel’s sons promise when he said to them, “When God takes care of you, you must carry my bones out of here with you.” 20 They set out from Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21 The Lord went in front of them during the day in a column of cloud to guide them and at night in a column of lightning to give them light. This way they could travel during the day and at night. 22 The column of cloud during the day and the column of lightning at night never left its place in front of the people.

O (Observation): A reminder by Joseph – “When God takes care of you” – has multiple applications here. First, God has rescued God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Second, as they are set free, so too are they protected with a pillar of cloud by day and lightning by night (though I’ve always read “fire” at night… interesting to ponder).

Joseph knew of God’s promise of old. Moses knows God’s promise for the future.

A (Application): So, what is your pillar of cloud by day and pillar of lighting by night? Have you sensed God’s comfort in any way? God’s protection?

What do these things look like for you?

For me, the protection comes in the form of a caring family, trusted colleagues, and the plethora of continuing education options available to me. I am protected…and that also includes ways that I cannot yet see.

P (Prayer): Lord, we seek your protection. Help us to see it all around us. Amen.

Please, Lord…Send Someone Else!

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S (Scripture): Exodus 4:10 Moses said to the Lord, “My Lord, I’ve never been able to speak well, not yesterday, not the day before, and certainly not now since you’ve been talking to your servant. I have a slow mouth and a thick tongue.”

11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives people the ability to speak? Who’s responsible for making them unable to speak or hard of hearing, sighted or blind? Isn’t it I, the Lord? 12 Now go! I’ll help you speak, and I’ll teach you what you should say.”

13 But Moses said, “Please, my Lord, just send someone else.”

14 Then the Lord got angry at Moses and said, “What about your brother Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak very well. He’s on his way out to meet you now, and he’s looking forward to seeing you. 15 Speak to him and tell him what he’s supposed to say. I’ll help both of you speak, and I’ll teach both of you what to do. 16 Aaron will speak for you to the people. He’ll be a spokesperson for you, and you will be like God for him. 17 Take this shepherd’s rod with you too so that you can do the signs.”

O (Observation): God was asking Moses to speak to the Pharaoh to tell the Pharaoh to let God’s people go. Moses was scared of this prospect. He was terrified to speak! Even with the signs God equipped him with. Moses still says: “Please, my Lord, just send someone else!”

The wise and mighty and great Moses…not starting his ministry off on a good note, is he?

But God promises Aaron, anyway. Aaron will speak. God still provides despite being disappointed in Moses.

A (Application): How many times have you quoted Moses? How many times have I?

Please, my Lord, send someone else!

[Sigh]

God doesn’t always release me, but sometimes I am released. When I am not released, God sends me my “helper” like God sent sent Aaron to Moses.

I’m in good company. If Moses began with “not it!” then maybe my ministry ain’t so bad after all. Maybe I’m doing all right. Maybe it’s okay to be scared and afraid and not sure of myself. Because God is sure. That’s all I need. That’s all anybody needs.

What are you struggling with today? Where is God calling you to be a voice for the oppressed and distressed?

P (Prayer): Lord, provide for me, yet again. Forgive me when I try to avoid my cross. Amen.

Shepherd? Sheep? Both?!?

S (Scripture): Acts 18:18 Paul, after staying many more days in Corinth, said farewell to the brothers and sailed away to Syria accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. He had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because he had made a vow. 19 When they reached Ephesus, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila behind there, but he himself went into the synagogue and addressed the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay longer, he would not consent, 21 but said farewell to them and added, “I will come back to you again if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus.

O (Observation):  Paul befriends Priscilla and Aquila and does some ministry with them.  They go with him to Ephesus, and they stay there and establish some more ministries.   What is it about their arrangement that gives them the desire and willingness to do that?!

A (Application): These actions of Priscilla and Aquila are almost unheard of in our country these days.  Who would they move with their pastor to a new place in order to establish a hub of ministry for God?   Well, actually, I know a few who have done that very thing : )

This form of disciple-making falls into the category of “pick up your cross and follow me,” which Christ encourages.   

As a pastor, I’ve known folks to move around to follow a call.   As I follow and have worked with 3DM – a discipleship-focused ministry – they do this very thing: disciples follow their leader…then the followers become the leaders.   Then those followers become leaders.  It’s a strange mix of shepherds and sheep.  In fact, one of their mantras is “look like a shepherd from the back, and sheep from the front”.   The idea is that you are following someone, but that also, others are following you.  (Technically, all following Christ, but through the leadership of disciple-makers.)

This is how the early church worked.  This is how I will be okay with pouring a lot of my heart and soul into a few key leaders, and also be okay with letting them lead.  

What works better for you?  To be a leader or follower? 

Can you recall times when you were called upon to be a shepherd or a sheep?  

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us strength to lead and to follow and the wisdom to know when to do each.  Amen.  

Faith and the Presidency


S (Scripture): Acts 14:8 In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he was speaking. When Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be healed, 10 he said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man leaped up and began walking. 11 So when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 They began to call Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of the temple of Zeus, located just outside the city, brought bulls and garlands to the city gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard about it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them.”

18 Even by saying these things, they scarcely persuaded the crowds not to offer sacrifice to them.

O (Observation):  Paul and Barnabas – keen on sharing the Gospel and healing and giving God the credit – try to convince the people of Lystra that God works through God’s people.   Paul and Barnabas are not themselves gods…but rather, with God’s doing, anyone can heal and share the Gospel.  

Even after they explained that God was responsible for this miracle, the people still were convinced of their prior convictions that these disciples – Paul and Barnabas – were gods…and the people still made sacrifices to them, anyway.  

Paul and Barnabas know that the sacrifices should be made to God, not to humans, regardless of the good works done. 

A (Application): Today is the day our President-Elect Donald Trump becomes President Donald Trump.   What a roller coaster it’s been.   Friendships shattered; neighbors fighting.   Some say this presidential election is revealing everyone’s true colors; others say the outcries are much ado about nothing.  Some say what President Trump stands for is horrendous; others say his actions are what we should focus on, not his character.  

We can divide this all sorts of ways.   But regardless of what is said, in the next few hours, Donald Trump will be our nation’s President.  

So, where do we go from here?

As I look to the Scripture text above, I see that people can be convinced of their own thoughts, regardless of what is in front of them.  Paul and Barnabas tried to convince those around them that God was in control of the situation…that Paul and Barnabas are just stewarding God’s gift of healing.   

Whether or not President Trump is liked or not, we must still be convinced that God still reigns, regardless of votes and political motivations.   God is still on the throne, not Former President Obama, nor President Trump.   We live within this system, and we trust the Lord to lead us through.   

Will we experience turbulence or peace?  Time will tell.  But we need only to look to the history of God’s people, in the Scriptures, to see that God’s fallible people are carried forward, through thick and thin.   

We need not fear, but we also need not lay down our convictions to live out the Gospel.   We speak out where we see injustices.  We stand up for justice throughout the earth.   These are faithful and faith-filled actions.  

Most of all, we rely on God to carry us through.  We need not fear, only believe that God is with us this day.  

Support President Trump, or peacefully protest his presidency.  Either way, listen to how God is calling you to act and act out in faith and mercy.   

Godspeed, America!

P (Prayer):  Almighty God, we lift before you all who govern this country. May those who hold power understand that it is a trust from you to be used, not for personal glory or profit, but for the service of the people. Drive from us cynicism, selfishness, and corruption; grant in your mercy just and honest government; and give us grace to live together in unity and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Prayer for the Nation, from the worship resource Evangelical Lutheran Worship.)

Adapting to Your Gifts


S (Scripture): 1 Samuel 17:38 Then Saul clothed David with his own fighting attire and put a bronze helmet on his head. He also put body armor on him. 39 David strapped on his sword over his fighting attire and tried to walk around, but he was not used to them. David said to Saul, “I can’t walk in these things, for I’m not used to them.” So David removed them. 40 He took his staff in his hand, picked out five smooth stones from the stream, placed them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag, took his sling in hand, and approached the Philistine.

O (Observation):  David is sent to check in on his brothers and to see how the Israelite army is handling themselves against the Philistines.  David shows up and sees Goliath mocking God and God’s army.  He is moved to take action.  He tells Saul God has called him into action.  Saul agrees.  The text above is Saul’s next action: to fit David into Saul’s gear.  It doesn’t work.  

David puts the helmet and protective gear on, but it doesn’t fit David – he’s too small.  And the helmet slides down and the sword is too cumbersome. 

Instead, David is protected by the Lord, and uses the gifts he’s been given: his shepherd’s staff, a sling and some smooth stones.  He is confident that the Lord is watching over him.  

And yes, David kills Goliath with one slingshotted stone to the head. 

A (Application):  Challenges in our lives cause us to second-guess ourselves.  We look to the ways that others solve mysteries, tackle a project, or handle tough situations, and we try to emulate that.  We use the tactics that others use.  That is a good start, but sometimes we find that those methods don’t fit us.  Those methods may make things awkward for us.   That is when we need to adapt and own the solution for ourselves.  That is when you move from imitation to innovation.  Innovate to adapt.  

As a pastor, I’ve tried to do things the way other pastors do them…but it doesn’t seem “me” sometimes.   I have been working on doing things the way God wants me to do them.  That can be a struggle, because that takes time to discern and pray about how God wants me to move forward.   But I take what others do (imitation) and adapt to my style (innovate). 

I hope you and I have the courage to trust in the Lord today to take action in the same way that David took action…that we might trust in the Lord and know we are equipped and gifted with tools for serving the Lord and our neighbor. We move from information to imitation to innovation. 

What have you learned from others and adapted over the years???

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that you don’t just call the equipped…you equip the called.  Help us to discern your call.  Amen.  

The Immature Leader


S (Scripture):Numbers 16:1 Now Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, who were Reubenites, took men 2 and rebelled against Moses, along with some of the Israelites, 250 leaders of the community, chosen from the assembly, famous men. 3 And they assembled against Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, seeing that the whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the community of the Lord?”

8 Moses said to Korah, “Listen now, you sons of Levi! 9 Does it seem too small a thing to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the community of Israel to bring you near to himself, to perform the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the community to minister to them? 10 He has brought you near and all your brothers, the sons of Levi, with you. Do you now seek the priesthood also? 11 Therefore you and all your company have assembled together against the Lord! And Aaron – what is he that you murmur against him?”

O (Observation):  Back when God’s people were set free from slavery in Egypt, God assigned the tribe of Levi to oversee the purification rituals and ceremonies related to the Tabernacle.  They made sure that God’s people were ceremonially clean and generally oversaw the functions of the tabernacle.  This was their function. 

Now, Korah (of the Levites) gets a little jealous and starts bickering with Moses.  He thinks it’s a bit unfair that Moses is the great priest.  (Here, a priest is the one who communicates with God directly.)

Moses reminds Korah that Korah’s position and function are already a great privilege.  What need would there be to challenge Moses and Moses’ position and privilege?  Perhaps if it wasn’t Korah, someone else would have challenged Moses, anyway?

A (Application):  Privilege begets privilege, huh?   

I’ve been to several church functions and conferences.  I’ve had positions of privilege, I’ve addressed crowds of hundreds, and I’ve given talks and led workshops.    And I often confuse celebrity status with success.  

I have confused those whose names are “on the program” with “those called above and beyond me.”  I get discouraged when my name is not in neon flashing lights, as if to say, “Hey!  Who made them all high and mighty?  Why do they deserve that?”   And instead of lifting them up, I just want to drag them down.   Kind of like what Korah was doing to Moses. 

I have matured a lot in these past few years…I think.  (I mean, I’ll always be immature enough to enjoy watching Dumb and Dumber…).  

I try to appreciate when others are asked to give talks and lead various parts of our church bodies.  I will try not to think other leaders are like the High Sparrow (if you don’t get that don’t worry… it’s a Game of Thrones reference).  I will do my best to look at others in the best light possible. 

But I know I will fail at times.  I will think poorly of others.  That is my sin.  I seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.  

And do you know the ironic thing?  I’m helping to lead a workshop this weekend at the the Assmebly of churches located in the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA.  So I do feel like Korah…in the sense that I have been asked to lead…I just hope that I am forgiven if I fall to the temptation of acting fully like Korah.  

What is your “Korah” moment?  What temptation is yours to bear?  Whatever your answer is, please know that God’s mercy is greater than your sin.   I rely on this important statement daily.  

P (Prayer): Lord, you are wiser than wise.  Your calling to individuals in our church is filled with wisdom and grace.  Help us sinners to recognize your grace and to accept it with open arms.  Amen.