Servant Leadership

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Servant Leadership

If it were always easy to be a leader, I suppose everyone would be a leader.

I was volunteering for Field Day at South Euless Elementary School, a school we have adopted as a church. We mentor kids, run a once-a-week after-school program, and many other things.

It has been a joy and blessing to connect with this school and to get to know students, teachers, and staff.

One of the staff is in the picture above.  Field Day was a wet, muddy affair. This has been the wettest May on record in Texas, and Field Day was just un-rainy enough to go on.

Go on, it did. Kids were running, jumping, laughing, playing in the mud; just as you would expect kids to do. Before they entered the school building, though, this staff person was hosing them down. It was hard to tell who was enjoying it more.

Now, I want you to know this particular staff member happens to be the Principal, Randy Belcher. Wearing a sport coat, khakis and dress shoes, he wasn’t dressed to be hosing down muddy kids.

But by every measure, Principal Belcher is a leader, and leaders do what needs to be done. Some leaders might delegate everything and keep themselves above the fray. In my experience, this kind of leader ends up with less people following him or her.

In other words, if I were a teacher, I would want to be a teacher serving under the leadership of a Principal who wasn’t afraid to get dirty hosing mud off of kids at Field Day.

This is the kind of leader I want to be.

This is also the kind of leader Jesus was. In fact, Jesus being the existence of God incarnate in human flesh is exactly this kind of leadership. I suppose there would have been a way for God to maintain the distance from us and lead us. But that’s not the way God chose to lead.

Thank you, Mr. Belcher, for this help in understanding leadership, and especially for help in understanding the kind of leadership God offers us in Jesus Christ.

Servant Leadership

Pentecost: When God’s Kingdom comes to you!

Here is the manuscript of my sermon for this past Sunday. It was Pentecost. The scripture readings were Acts 2:1-21 and John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 

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For seven weeks now we have been focusing on the presence of God’s Kingdom.

Many have been sold a bill of goods that eternal life is only about what happens after you die.

Just because someone is selling a bill of goods doesn’t mean you have to buy it.

Jesus never offered eternal life as something you pick up or receive after you die. He said that he came that we might live life to the fullest (John 10:10)  Jesus himself defined eternal life this way, in his prayer for his followers in John 17:  This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent. (verse 3)

And this “living life to the fullest” and this “knowing the obly true God and Jesus Christ whom God sent” become real – reachable, attainable, graspable – for us in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus being raised from the dead means that God’s victory over death starts now!

Or, more accurately, Jesus being raised from the dead means that God’s victory over death started almost 2,000 years ago.

And, just in case this isn’t clear, God’s victory over death isn’t just for God: it is for us!

It is for God because God created humans for fellowship – for partnership in caring for the beautiful world God has given us to live in! But it is also for us because God loves us and wants us to learn to live in the freedom and joy that comes from living as we were created to live in the first place!

This is why we are invited daily – maybe even more often than that – to come, enter the Kingdom! Because this is what God wants for us.

And we have all seen the Kingdom of God.  Many of us, if not all of us have spent some time there.  Many of us have had the great pleasure of opening the presence of God’s Kingdom to others and then received the indescribable joy of watching them, listening to them know the love of their Creator!

You’ve been there!

  • You volunteer in so many ways at South Euless Elementary.
  • You collect change to support the United Community Centers in Fort Worth.
  • You teach Sunday School
  • You help feed people at Arlington Life Shelter.
  • You travel up to 14 hours to spend a week sleeping on floors and taking cold showers to serve people you’ve never met.
  • You sing in the choir.
  • You work harder than your doctor probably wants you to to stock our Food Pantry and to serve food to those who, for WHATEVER reason humble themselves to come here looking for food.
  • You visit people in prison.
  • You smoke hams in December.
  • You serve in dozens of different ways in your church and community because you feel like following Jesus calls us beyond ourselves.

You’ve SEEN God’s Kingdom from here.  You’ve BEEN God’s Kingdom from here.

Ah, but today, today, we raise the bar.

Today we celebrate that God lives IN us.  With us ALWAYS and FOREVER.

Today, we welcome the Holy Spirit – our Companion, the Comforter, the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth!

Today we celebrate Pentecost, derived from the Jewish Festival of Weeks, which was held 7 weeks following Passover.

You probably know this story: it was read for us this morning from Acts 2.  It’s known sometimes as “the birthday of the Church.”

Church starts when the Holy Spirit shows up. We traditionally remember this every Sunday with the presence of the open flame – on candles – on the table.

When, the Holy Spirit showed up “ They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.” Then they heard them all speak in other languages.

There’s a lot to be made of speaking in tongues. There’s a lot of debate about speaking in tongues.  While I enjoy discussion over differences, and sometimes even debate, today isn’t about debate.  Today is about the Holy Spirit coming and empowering us to live in the Kingdom of God now.

So whatever you think of speaking in tongues, look what happened thereby: people gathered from the known world ALL heard the good news!

May you and I, by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, speak the Good News so that everyone may understand it!

May those who feel trampled on by all us religious folk be able to hear the good news through us!

May those who feel trampled by the world: economic, political, whatever, be able to hear the good news through us!

May those who do not have family or friends close enough to consider family be able to hear the good news through us!

May those estranged from their parents, or estranged from their children, be able to hear the good news through us!

May those dogged by addiction be able to hear the good news through us!

May those bearing the weight of depression be able to hear the good news through us!

May the hypocrite in each of us be able to hear the good news through us!

May the ones among us who feel they’ve been part of the church too long to actually open themselves to the kind of change and healing God and God alone can bring be able to hear the good news through us!

The Holy Spirit is here, among us! God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. (John 3:8)

The Spirit took Peter to the book of Joel (from the Old Testament):

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
and the moon will be changed into blood,
before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Two more points, then I’ll let you out of this thing.  First, let’s go back to the reason all these folks were in Jerusalem to begin with.  The Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. referenced in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy (Exodus 23 & 34, Leviticus 23, and Deuteronomy 16) came to mark both the celebration of thanksgiving for the grain harvest and  of Moses’ returning from Mt. Sinai with the law.

Here’s how Deuteronomy explains it:

Count out seven weeks, starting the count from the beginning of the grain harvest. At that point, perform the Festival of Weeks for the Lord your God. Offer a spontaneous gift in precise measure with the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Then celebrate in the presence of the Lord your God—you, your sons, your daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites who live in your cities, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows who are among you—in the location the Lord your God selects for his name to reside. Remember how each of you was a slave in Egypt, so follow these regulations most carefully. (Deuteronomy 16:9-12)

Offer a spontaneous gift in precise measure with the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Then celebrate in the presence of the Lord your God….

So, these people had come from all over the known world: Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs. They were here to offer a spontaneous gift “in precise measure with the blessing” God had given them.

What blessings has God given you?  What would offering a “spontaneous gift in precise measure” look like?

All these people had come to do their duty, their religious duty. Shavuot was one of three annual festivals jewish men were expected to come to Jerusalem to celebrate. They came as they had likely come many times before.

They came to give to God “in precise measure” according to how God had blessed them.

They came to give, and in return they received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

They couldn’t outgive God.  We cannot outgive God.

Today is Pentecost. We celebrate and remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, our Advocate, the Spirit of Truth.

The law expected God’s people to give back in precise measure as they had been blessed by God.

And then, God blesses them beyond their imagination with the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the very presence of God.

They all heard and they all understood in their own language, in a way that they each could accept and receive.

Ok.  I think that’s a lot to grasp.  Let’s take a moment before concluding.

Take a moment just to breathe.

In. Out. Slow breathe, deep breathe.  Repeat.

Did you know that the average human takes 26,000 breaths a day? While we ought to breath deeply and take 4-6 breaths per minute, most of us breath shallow quick breaths at a rate of 15 per minute.

No matter how fast or slow, how deep or shallow you breathe, if you stop breathing you stop living.

Here’s a funny thing about that – about breathing – that I want you to know today.  Breath and Spirit are closer than you think.

In fact, in both Hebrew and Greek, the words from which we get “breath” and “spirit” are related.

So much so, in fact, that in Psalm 51:11, which says, “Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy spirit away from me,” the word translated “spirit” is the same word as “breath.”

Here it is in context:

Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Could the Holy Spirit be God breathing into you?

Remember in Genesis 2, where God creates the first humans?  What does God do after they were formed out of the dust?  Breathed the breath of life into them.

No breath, no life.

And breath and spirit come from the same word.  Breath and spirit come from the same place.

Every time you breathe in, you welcome the gift of life that God has given you. Every time you breathe in, you can also welcome the Holy Spirit.

Please notice that life is more than just breathing in all the time.  If you breathe in, you must also breathe out.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t come into us, like breath, to be held, but to be let out, to be shared.

Take a moment just to breathe.

In. Out. Slow breathe, deep breathe.  Repeat.

Let us pray

Pentecost: When God’s Kingdom comes to you!

Leadership Meadership

I had a sadly disturbing conversationleadership recently.

I did much more listening than talking in this particular conversation, but that’s not what made it sad or disturbing.

I was visiting with someone considerably older than I and someone who is close to death. This person is aware that death is near, and is, for the most part, at peace with this knowledge.

So I listened to quite a few stories.  Like most of us, this person tells stories about success and accomplishment. This person has quite a history of leadership.

This person also has quite a history of brokenness.  Raised by parents, various counties, and extended family, this person fought through this adversity to, as the stories tell it, successfully raise 4 kids.

I really wanted to find a story of healthy relationship or hope, so I asked, “You’re obviously quite a leader.  Where did you learn your leadership abilities?”

It didn’t take 2 seconds before a rather sharp, strong, “Myself!” was blurted out as an answer.

Which really saddens me.

I don’t know exactly where I rank on any leadership scale, but I know the value of leadership. I’m pretty sure I’ve learned and grown a great deal in my leadership abilities since my first ministry job in 1984.

A lot of that learning and growth has been pushing and stretching and trying and failing.  Myself.

But almost everything I’ve tried and failed (or succeeded) and most everything that has pushed, pulled, or stretched me has some source outside myself.

I believe recognizing this makes me a better leader.

Whatever leadership I have gained, it has all come in knowing that I am, at the same time, following someone else.

So, while there is an “I” in leadership, there is no “me.”

I hope I find the grace to offer this the next time I have a conversation with this person.

Leadership Meadership

Seeking God in the face of uncertainty

Here is the text of yesterday’s message, complete with the opening video:

There may be more nones today than ever in American history. I don’t mean nuns, but nones.  “None of the Aboves;” people who respond to a question of their religious affiliation with “None of the above.”  Pew Research has a new study out, and the “nones” continue to rise.

We spent some time on this trend in the opening weeks of 2013, so I won’t spend too much time on it today. Let me just say this: my concern then was that we, as followers of Jesus, recognize the changes in the world around us and seek NOT to bully the increasing numbers of “nones.”

My concern has not changed.  Some of these nones have likely left behind the Christian faith of their parents or grandparents.  Or even the Christian faith they were raised in.  As unChristian showed us, many people – especially young people – see the Church today first and foremost as judgmental, hypocritical and overly political.

We will not win them back by becoming more judgmental.

We will not win them back by attempting to force them to agree with us, or see things the way we see them.

We may win them back by following Jesus. Who, you’ll note, forced NO ONE to agree with him and forced NO ONE to see things the way he saw them.

When I say “we may win them back by following Jesus,” I hope you get some idea that I don’t mean “continue doing church as usual.”  That’s what has got us here, and that’s not necessarily following Jesus.

Briefly, this is what I mean by “following Jesus:”

Jesus offered this incredibly compelling vision of the world – of human life lived fully in the presence of God.

If our lives do not show – do not radiate – that we are living more and more fully in the presence of God, we are not following Jesus as we should.

Jesus offered to make our joy complete (John 15:11); Jesus intends to give us abundant life (John 10:10). Jesus wants us “to share completely in his joy (John 17:13)

But how do we do this when the world we thought we knew, the world we thought was stable and heading in the right direction, seems to be sliding – or racing – towards disaster?

If our world has been turned upside down, what are we supposed to hang on to?

If our world has been turned upside down, we who follow Jesus have to find something to hold on to that we feel confident in kindly inviting others to hold on as well.

We hold on to Jesus.

But what about when even Jesus seems to be slipping away from us?

Well, of course the super spiritual answer is that Jesus doesn’t and can’t slip away from us.  Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:28)

Tell that to the disciples in Acts chapter 1.  Here they were. Here they waited.  Jesus told them to come here (to Jerusalem) and to wait.  So they waited.

Waiting isn’t easy or fun.  What do you do while you are waiting? Here’s an insight from Acts 1: you go on with doing what you know to do.

That’s what the disciples did in this morning’s reading.  They recognized that 1 of the 12 – Judas – was gone, and that they needed to replace him. So they did.  They cast lots and chose Matthias as the new 12th disciple.

Notice this, though, along the way:

This is the only time Matthias is mentioned in scripture.  This story is not about Matthias; it is about followers of Jesus continuing on, in the face of uncertainty. They recognize they need a 12th, and they seek God’s guidance.  They basically roll dice (cast lots) and choose Matthias, reading this as God’s choice.

What do we do in the face of uncertainty?  We continue on. We stay together. we recognize a need, we pursue God’s will, we ask God’s will, and we act.

The ministries of this Church have all started out of sincere effort to meet some need, to, basically, carry on.

But not every ministry was begun in the face of great uncertainty.

Does that make a difference? Only for this reason: uncertainty is likely closer than we sometimes think

Lesson in marrying quickly from Jack and LaVoe Smith, Shelly Grant’s parents.  They met Valentine’s Day 1942.  Well, I’m not sure they met that day.  That’s the day he had a box of chocolates delivered to her at the airport cafe where she worked.  She’d seen him, but he was just one of the pilots.  The card said “from Jack Smith.”  LaVoe had to ask a coworker “which one is Jack Smith?”

That was Valentine’s Day: Feb. 14, 1942.

They married on St. Patrick’s Day, 1942.  One month and three days later.

They remained married for 66 years.  They went to sleep each night holding hands.

I can imagine that during a war as dreadful as World War 2 you don’t drag your feet or prolong your engagement.  You act. You act now.

Do I need to point out here that even though we are not in the midst of the kind of war that fills our every minute with uncertainty about the future, we are still not promised a tomorrow.

As a Church, we are living in some uncertainty! We aren’t promised a tomorrow, and we don’t know what tomorrow will look like and feel like if it comes.

Like the Apostles in Acts chapter 1, we’ve got some waiting to do.

The Apostles were waiting, but waiting didn’t mean not acting.

Waiting for Jesus to lead us means acting now in ways we know Jesus would approve – in ways Jesus himself acted.

In the face of uncertainty, do what you know you should do. Go on with life.

In fact, this isn’t making the point strongly enough.  I want you to notice that the apostles took this action and prayed for God’s blessing and guidance, but they didn’t wait around for some huge “Spiritual experience” before they acted.

I wonder how much we miss out on the Kingdom of God showing up here and there and there because we’ve limited our expectations of God to some big, grand, deep, meaningful spiritual experience.

The Holy Spirit leads us, and God’s Kingdom shows up, in some decidedly un-spiritual ways.

I don’t know if you noticed this, but in this brief passage from Acts chapter 1 we get some other information that, frankly, caught me a little by surprise.  Luke wrote:

“Therefore, we must select one of those who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus lived among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when Jesus was taken from us. This person must become along with us a witness to his resurrection.” So they nominated two: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. (v 21-23)

The twelve weren’t the only ones who had followed Jesus!  We knew the names of the 12 – they are named in the Gospels. But there were many more!

This morning’s reading from Acts actually starts by telling us there were 120 believers “during this time.”

The Bible tells us a lot, but it doesn’t tell us everything.  We are given the names of 12 disciples – though each of the Gospels doesn’t have them exactly the same.  But here in Acts 1 we learn that others followed Jesus through his entire ministry!

So the rest of the 120 mentioned here?  Well, after Matthias is chosen to fill Judas’s open spot, that leaves 108 others.

And had I mentioned that Matthias is never mentioned again in the scriptures?

Matthias, as well as the other 108 among the “family of believers” at the time were all part of, as Paul Harvey liked to say, “the rest of the story.”

You and I are part of the rest of the story.

I don’t know if you remember that Paul Harvey show, “The Rest of the Story,” but it was a 3 or so minute bit of some little-known account of fact or character involved in a well-known story.

There is always more story behind the story, beyond the story.  This is why many film or television adaptations tell us they are “based on” or “drawn from” a true story.  There’s not enough time or film to tell the whole story – and mention everyone involved.  The actions of several characters are morphed into a single individual. This makes the way John’s Gospel ends make sense:

Jesus did many other things as well. If all of them were recorded, I imagine the world itself wouldn’t have enough room for the scrolls that would be written.

Because there is always more to the story! There is more to the story of what God is doing in the world; and you and I can be involved in it!

How do we seek God in the face of uncertainty?  We don’t wait for some big spiritual experience to fix everything, or to motivate us. We act.  We do what we know.  We are encouraged to know that we are part of the story – even if it’s the part that doesn’t get mentioned, or noticed. We are part of the story of what God is doing in the world. We are part of the Kingdom of God here and now!

This is easy to say, but not always easy to believe, to live.  So I offer this in conclusion.  The Gospel reading for today. You’ve heard it once already, but I want to share it with you again.  This is from Jesus’ prayer before he is taken away. Listen again, knowing that, for example, when Jesus says, “I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world,” Jesus is referring to you!  Here’s the morning’s reading in its entirety:

“I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. This is because I gave them the words that you gave me, and they received them. They truly understood that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

“I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours. Everything that is mine is yours and everything that is yours is mine; I have been glorified in them. I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one. When I was with them, I watched over them in your name, the name you gave to me, and I kept them safe. None of them were lost, except the one who was destined for destruction, so that scripture would be fulfilled. Now I’m coming to you and I say these things while I’m in the world so that they can share completely in my joy. I gave your word to them and the world hated them, because they don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one. They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth. (John 17:6-19)

Come, enter the Kingdom!  Jesus invites you to!

Seeking God in the face of uncertainty