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

What we can (must?) learn from the Bloods and Crips.

On this day, April 28, in 1992, the Bloods and the Crips, rival gangs in Los Angeles, declared a truce.

This was the day before the riots started in response to the not guilty verdict in the trial of police accused of beating Rodney King.

This is not written about what is happening now in Baltimore, or these days around the country. This post is not about police violence or the violence in communities that leads to police violence.

This post is about peace. Or at least truce.  The Bloods and the Crips can lay down their arms, their hatred, their distrust, their contradictory narratives of who is a fault or who is right and who is wrong.

They could stop fighting each other. They could, and did, stop killing each other.

It makes me wonder. Ooh, it makes me wonder.

Can Tea Partiers and Progressives stop fighting each other?

Can Republicans and Democrats stop fighting each other?

Can Sunni and Shia stop fighting each other?

Can evangelical Christians and progressive Christians stop fighting each other?

Can opposing factions in The United Methodist Church stop fighting each other?

Let’s see if we can learn this simple lesson from history: that on April 28, 1992, the Bloods and the Crips stopped fighting.

What we can (must?) learn from the Bloods and Crips.

With the Father close at hand

20150418_094814 This picture is me and Liam. Liam is my 3 year old son.
Liam is holding 2 things in this picture:

  1.      My hand, and
  2.      his sword.

As you might imagine, the sword is one of his favorite toys.   I cannot tell you how many times he has, using his sword, saved his sister, his mother, and I from certain doom.  I imagine he has probably saved the world several times, too.

I’ll tell him you said thank you.

On this particular morning, he really wanted to hold the sword and play with the sword.

He also really, really wanted to hold my hand.

Which made me wonder:

how could a boy feel any safer than to have his sword in one hand and his father’s hand in the other.

I know Liam won’t always want to hold my hand. But I hope he will always feel that my love for him protects him, looks out for him.

Especially when he feels like he needs his sword to face the world.

I can imagine that God would like our relationship with our creator to be very much this same way.  I believe this offers us a helpful perspective on what Jesus meant when he called God “Father.”

We may all get to a point in our lives when we are past the hand-holding.  But I pray the strength and courage that flows through that hand-holding may stay with us.

Especially when we feel like we need  a sword to face the world.

With the Father close at hand