leadership

Making the Choice to Follow

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By Linda Rex

PROPER 8—I did not write a blog last week as I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, attending the GCI Southeast Regional Conference. I attended this event with fellow pastors Jan Taylor and Mike Gass, as well as our outreach ministry leader, Pat Brazier. We joined with fellow pastors in learning about what it means to be a healthy leader and a healthy church, and how GCI (Grace Communion International) is obeying Christ’s call to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and to follow wherever he leads.

In the gospel passage for this Sunday, the narrator Luke tells how Jesus responded to different people who sought to be his disciples. When one person said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus told him that unlike the foxes and birds, the Messiah did not have a place to rest his head. The price of discipleship often includes the loss of physical places we count on for comfort and personal safety.

Jesus said to another person, “Follow me.” Jesus had given this same command to Matthew as he was sitting at his desk collecting taxes and Matthew had left behind all his financial abundance and job security to follow Christ. When Jesus told the fishermen to follow him, they left their boats and families behind and simply followed Jesus. They left behind all that was comfortable and known in order to follow him.

But here, this man asked if he could first bury his father. In that day according to social expectations, it was the duty of a man to bury his father and give him an honorable burial a year after his death. This man, if he was the firstborn, may have been expecting a double inheritance, so he may have wanted to protect his future expectations. Either way, he wanted to wait till these personal and financial responsibilities were resolved before following Jesus. But neither of these reasons were sufficient to disobey Jesus’ simple command, “Follow me.”

Jesus replied by telling him to “allow the dead to bury their own dead.” He was being invited to truly live—to be in intimate relationship with Jesus. By dying to his past life and following Christ, he would begin a new life—a new path of discipleship. And Jesus’ instructions to him were, “Go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” The king of the kingdom was present in Jesus and this man’s calling was to let everyone know right away that this was so, not to wait until he had all his personal affairs in order before he did so. (Luke 9:51–62)

His calling is not any different than God’s calling to us today as believers. And it is God’s calling to the members of GCI. We are called to radical discipleship—to leaving behind what was before and embracing what God through Christ in the Spirit is leading us toward. We are to proclaim the kingdom of God, no matter the cost, even if it means leaving behind those places and practices we count on for comfort and personal safety. In following Christ, we cease our dependence upon our physical abilities and future expectations, and trust in the provision and future God has for us and is leading us into by his Holy Spirit.

To often we are like the man who told Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” We find a lot of reasons not to simply do what Jesus by the Spirit tells us to do. It is easy to allow the things of this life, our comfortable relationships, our social obligations, to distract us from simply following Jesus and proclaiming the good news of his kingdom.

Family relationships are important and should not be neglected. We are to love God wholeheartedly and to love one another. But the kingdom life Jesus inaugurated in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension is a radical shift from self-centered living into a Christ-centered existence in which our choice is moment-by-moment to follow Jesus wherever he goes, no matter the cost. Radical discipleship includes changing the way we think, talk, and live.

And radical discipleship also includes sometimes changing the way we do church and the way we act as spiritual leaders within the church. The way we do church can become so comfortable that we cease to grow and change or allow new people the opportunity to grow and change with us. Members of our churches and denominations may begin to so resemble the culture in which we live they lose their distinction as followers of Christ. Leadership can become about prestige, financial abundance, power, and authority rather than about Jesus’ simple path of humble service and self-sacrifice. Churches can become social clubs, exclusive and untouchable, or they can become so gracious and free-spirited that no one ever hears the truth about Jesus and his costly path of discipleship.

As GCI follows the lead of the Holy Spirit and continues in its growth of Christ-likeness, we will continue to be called down the road of discipleship where we must make the choice to follow Jesus in new and challenging ways. We may need to leave behind those comfortable, easy ways of doing church and embrace new, transformational ways of embracing our church communities and the people we encounter there. We will be called to quit hiding and stop running away from our responsibilities to share the good news of the kingdom of God everywhere we go.

This is the call to discipleship—a discipleship in which we were meant to call others into the same radical discipleship we were called into as Jesus said to us, “Follow me.” What that calling is for us individually and as a church is unique—we listen to and obey the Spirit as he moves in our midst and within our communities. We join Jesus in his daily work to let all people know the good news of God’s amazing love expressed to us in him. And we enjoy the journey, for we are caught within the love and life of Abba, Jesus, and the Spirit.

Thank you, Jesus, for calling us to follow you. Give us the courage and faith to do so, no matter the cost and no matter what the future may bring. Enable us by your Spirit to embrace all the new you are doing while holding fast to what you have taught us in your life, death, resurrection and ascension. Grow us up into all that you are. By your Spirit and for Abba’s glory, make your body, your churches, specifically our GCI churches, into places of life, healing, and renewal. Make us all a clear reflection of your glory and grace. In your Name we pray, amen.

“And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’” Luke 9:59-60 NASB

Alert to the Spirit’s Work

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By Linda Rex

Lately I’ve been reading a book my regional pastor gave me called “Deep Mentoring”. This is a great book about engaging others in deep meaningful relationships in which both people are able to grow and develop. Wherever we are in life, there are areas in which we are given the task or responsibility to lead others, and we need to grow in our ability not only to lead ourselves, but also to help others grow as leaders.

An important part of this mentoring process is learning to pay attention—to see where people are on their journey, where they are headed, and what God is doing in their lives to bring them to that place. When you prayerfully pay attention, then you begin to join with them in those places and bring God’s grace and truth with you there.

So now I’ve been more and more conscious of the need to pay attention—especially with regards to what God is doing in a particular person’s life during a certain circumstance. I’ve never realized before how little I pay attention to what the Spirit is doing. I’m too busy either trying to work it out myself, or I’m distracted by other things which are going on at the same time.

On that night so long ago, Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NASB) Jesus pointed out the reality, we cannot see what the Spirit of God is doing, but we can see and experience the results of it. The problem is not with our ability to see the Spirit. It’s more we aren’t paying attention to what he is doing and has done, and what he is wanting to do in a person’s life, because we’re paying attention to the wrong things.

It would be like seeing someone standing in a field staring up at the clear blue sky. Around both of you, the leafy branches of the trees are waving back and forth, and the green and brown grasses are bending and straightening as the wind plays with them. But the other person remarks about how still and quiet the day is: “This is so boring. Nothing’s happening.”

We can share their blindness and agree with them, or we can notice what the wind is doing, and point out all the things which are happening because the breeze is blowing over the meadow. It all depends on what we are paying attention to, what we choose to notice, and how we respond to what we see.

It’s easy to be blind to what the Spirit is doing with and in our children since we are so close to them and see them most every day. We may forget to pay attention to their efforts to be kind and to serve others because what we tend to pay attention to may be their annoying habits and disobedient behavior.

We may never have considered their unique learning style or creative nature which drives the way they think, act and interact with others, is part of the way they image the God who made them. It is so easy to go through our days never recognizing and affirming the ways in which our children reflect God and are growing in Christlikeness, though we may give them plenty of kudos for getting good grades, cleaning their room, and practicing piano.

Sometimes because of the everydayness of our life with our spouse, we lose sight of those things which make them unique and special people. We stop seeing what God is doing in their lives, and what he has done through them in our lives. It’s possible to over time allow the hurts between two people to bring them to the place the hurts are the only things which can be seen, rather than seeing how the couple is bound together in the oneness of Jesus Christ through the Spirit.

It’s easy with the people we are closest to, to come to the place we stop noticing. We stop paying attention to what is God is doing in their lives and how he wants us to be a part of that. We can fail to realize one of our purposes in being in their life is to be the image of God to them—to reflect God’s grace and truth, his love to them, and to notice all the things Spirit is doing in their life and to point them out.

We may think we are supposed to be the leader in a relationship, but sometimes the reality is we need to be following rather than leading. We all have times in which we are blind to what’s really going on. We need that person who we think is a follower, or who we think should be the “submissive one”, to step up and speak the truth in love to us. But can we receive the truth of God’s image in Jesus Christ being reflected back to us when the Spirit moves this person to speak?

More and more I am realizing God’s whole purpose in “condemnation” and “judgment’ is not to punish and destroy evildoers, but to eliminate all of the evil which they embrace and are beset by so they are able to be fully who God created and redeemed them to be as his beloved children. God means all this for our good—he’s not out to get revenge for all the badness—he’s just wanting to remove the blindness and badness so the true reality of the goodness and love of Christ in each of us can shine unhindered.

As we grow in our relationship with God and our relationships with others, we participate in God’s work of transformation of ourselves and those others. We go through struggles and difficulties, and God uses them to grow us up in Christlikeness when we turn to Christ in faith and respond to the Spirit’s work. We walk alongside others, and go deeper with them, sharing with them the positive and negative parts of our walk of faith. And we create space for the Spirit to go to work in them and in us, to grow us up into greater Christlikeness, so we can more accurately reflect the image of the God who made us and redeemed us.

One of the best things we can do then, is to obey Jesus’ command to be alert. God is coming and is present at every moment by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is at work in us and in each person we encounter throughout the day. Ask God to make you aware of what Jesus is doing by his Spirit. He wants us to notice, and to participate in what he is doing through prayer, speaking the truth in love, and ministering the love of God in Christ to each person in whatever way the Spirit directs us to. When we learn to pay attention, we may be surprised by all the things we discover Jesus is up to!

Thank you, Abba, you are always at work doing things in this world we never even notice. Make us aware more and more of what you are doing through Jesus and by your Spirit, and enable us by your grace to respond appropriately. Help us to notice more and more what you are doing in the lives of those around us, and enable us to share in healthy and loving ways the truth of what you are doing and wish to do by your Spirit. May you complete your perfect work in each and every one of us through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34–36 NASB

Caught in the Political Crossfire

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cross

by Linda Rex

It seems like everywhere I turn recently, there is some new report about one of the candidates for the presidency doing or saying something which has gotten a whole lot of people upset. I realize a person who has chosen to live in the public eye is faced with this all the time. But, from where I am sitting, there seems to be a lot of mudslinging in this election.

Mudslinging is a human response to our broken humanity. When we are experiencing fear, shame or guilt for our failings as human beings, it is a whole lot easier to sling some mud at someone else than it is to admit we are imperfect and flawed and are in need of redemption. Pointing the finger at another’s flaws enables us to be free for a moment from the unpleasant experience of being exposed for who we are at our core.

But being open and transparent is what we as human beings are created for. We are designed by God to live in a fellowship of love in which each is known and accepted completely for who they are as God’s beloved child. Instead of slinging mud at one another, we are meant by God to be slinging love and grace at one another. But this doesn’t come easy for us.

Think about it. What if each candidate, instead of finding fault with his/her opponent, spent every moment they could promoting the other’s best interests, and seeking to point out their strengths and valuable experiences, and all their qualifications for the position? What if they sought to promote the success of the other person instead of seeking their own success at the expense of the other?

It’s hard to get one’s mind around, isn’t it? This isn’t how we function as Americans in the political sphere. We don’t even work this way in the business world or at home. It seems a ridiculous concept to even consider. And yet, this is the perichoretic life we were created in and for.

But there is so much more involved in what is going on today than just candidates slinging mud at one another. There is also a lot of mudslinging going on between people on all sides of this equation, the most appalling being that of between Christians.

Christians of all people ought to understand and live out the reality the Trinity teaches us that since we are beings made in the image of God to reflect his likeness, we can and should live out our uniqueness in an atmosphere of love and grace which affirms both our equality and our oneness with one another in Christ. We are the ones who should be creating an atmosphere within our society and within the political arena in which each person is appreciated and respected for their unique calling, abilities, training, education and experience, while being included in the community as an accepted and beloved equal.

Bonhoeffer was quite clear in his book “Ethics” and I have to agree with him, that the [Christian] church was not meant to dictate to society, but to influence it. It is in how we live out the truth of our inclusion in God’s life and love, our personhood as God’s beloved children, which influences society and affects politics.

As a Christian pastor, I don’t tell people who to vote for, but I do speak pointedly about the difference between the life God created for us in his Son Jesus Christ and the life our broken humanity drives us to live. We need to pay attention to this difference and live out the truth of who we are in Christ, thereby influencing transformation in our community and in our society as a whole.

Some people are called into leadership roles in our communities, cities, states, and nation. How they fulfill their roles largely depends on how well they are immersed in and living out of their connection with the Triune God of love. If they are living out of a center which is located within their broken humanity, it will be reflected in everything they say and do, promote and accomplish. And the results of leading in this way speak for themselves.

I have to say, though, every human being finds themselves in that place where he or she wants to live in the truth of who they really are, but in this broken, sinful world, it can be almost impossible to really do it day in and day out. We can only live each day and each moment in the grace God gives us in Christ. We each respond feebly and ineffectively to the Spirit’s lead, and most of the time, I would say, we don’t even realize he is leading us.

So, this leaves us all at the same place—the place Christ bought for us in his personhood as God in human flesh—the place of grace. We live as best as we can in that life of love given to us in Christ by the Holy Spirit and then we need to trust—trust that God will work all this out for the betterment of all humankind, redeeming, renewing and restoring whatever we break along the way.

The best place we can be along this journey of faith is in the everlasting arms, resting in God’s grace and love, and doing our best to participate in those things God is at work doing in this world. We can come to see what it is God has called us and gifted us to do in this world, and be busy participating in God’s mission of redemption and renewal. We can actively be building community, helping to heal the hurting, and bringing about justice for the needy, poverty-stricken, enslaved and abused.

And yes, in this next election, we can vote. We can begin the process of voting by informing ourselves, studying each candidate objectively, and learning about the issues at stake in our world today. We can pray and ask God for wisdom and insight, and for the ability to look beyond our prejudices into what it is God would like to see done in this situation.

We will each come up with a different person, a different point of view, but this does not mean we cannot come together to make a mutual decision about who to elect. We want to all bring our opinions and choices to the table, and to have a just and fair election. But then we want to place the outcome into the hands of God. For indeed, he could allow us to elect a very scary leader. It happens. But it does not change God’s ability and desire to sovereignly work out what is best in the long run for all of us collectively and individually.

God is the One who puts people in power and removes them from power. Nothing can prevent him from removing a candidate, or a president, out of the way, should he choose to do so. (Ps. 75) Nothing stands in his way, either, from using this elected individual to accomplish his purposes in the world—there are plenty of examples of this in the biblical historical record.

This is why we ultimately rest in the everlasting arms. We trust in God’s love and grace. And we go vote our conscience while leaving the results up to him.

Abba, you are a good, good Father, and you want what is best for us. Thank you for taking our broken efforts to lead and care for ourselves and turning them to accomplish your purposes in this world. Give us wisdom, insight and courage to make the best decisions possible in this election so we may choose leaders who are people of godly character, who are wise and intelligent men and women with good hearts who will lead us into paths of peace, love and grace. May you provide us with leaders who will govern us with justice and mercy and humility. Through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit, may it be so. Amen.

“It is God alone who judges; he decides who will rise and who will fall.” Psalm 75:7 NLT

Leading with Love

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Tree covered in ice silhouetted against the sky.
Tree covered in ice silhouetted against the sky.

by Linda Rex

One of the difficulties of life as a single parent is the need to do things for your children which are normally done by both parents. It’s really difficult to play the role of father and mother for a child. There are some things only a mother does well, and some things only a father is really good at. We do the best we can as single parents, but there are some things we just can’t do.

It was easy for me to see early on as a single mom, I could never provide for my son or daughter the feeling which comes when a dad recognizes, values and affirms his children. I could recognize the hunger for this affirmation and attachment, but I still could not fill those needs.

A father has the capacity to destroy his children’s self-worth and crush their belief in themselves and in their ability to succeed simply with a glare or condemning word or by indifferent neglect. But he also has the ability to teach a child to take on challenges and to believe he or she can do the impossible. He can teach them what it means to be loved and valued as a human being. It’s all in how a parent leads.

I was raised in a family which valued authority because of what they believed about who God was. In the early years, dad was in charge and nothing happened without his approval and direction. We feared him and did our best to be good kids so as not to upset him.

As an older adult, I realize now my dad repented of this way of leading the family, and began to mellow over the years and eventually learned and used the power of love and understanding to bring about change in his children in place of authoritarian control. As a teen, I experienced his grace and understanding in many ways. He understood in his later years that leading in love is much more effective than leading by control and coercion.

Control and coercion are external motivators. Motivators like shame, guilt, fear and anger are also external motivators. Dictators, controlling and dominating people, and terrorists like to use motivators such as these to force people to agree to their expectations and terms in an effort to create a society in which everyone does the same thing. These external motivators may create a form of unity, but it is a unity that is merely in form, not necessarily in content. In other words—you may have a person’s compliance, but you don’t necessarily have their wholehearted obedience.

The most powerful thing a parent, and especially a dad, can do, is to love, truly love, their children. This is the kind of love which sets healthy boundaries for a child and enforces them, not punitively, but with grace. This is the kind of love which values each child as a unique person, and so finds their bent and helps grow them to be that person God created them to be.

When a parent has a strong, healthy relationship with a child in which they really see that child for who he or she is, and value their child as a gift from God, and are deeply involved in their child’s life, this creates a bond of love between the child and the parent. This bond can be highly motivating for the child, causing them to make healthy choices when they are being influenced to make unhealthy ones.

Granted, life happens, and every person is different. Some children just go the wrong way, no matter how well loved they are. But this does not negate the reality, that when our family participates in and reflects the divine perichoresis, and is filled with love and grace, there is a strong bond of love which binds everyone together in love. There is a tolerance and respect which would not otherwise be there. Children find themselves motivated, for the most part, to do the right thing from a place inside. Love is an internal motivator which supersedes any other external motivator in its ability to create genuine unity.

I believe this is why the apostle Paul stressed the need for a husband to love his wife, and for parents to love their children. Paul’s culture taught men to rule their wives and to insist that women and children submit to their leadership. Authoritarian rulership and coercion in a family may create external obedience temporarily, but they often crush the hearts of children, foment rebellion in teens, and can eventually destroy people. I have seen and experienced the tragedy that results in such leadership. The broken hearts and minds it creates are a testimony to its ineffectiveness and destructiveness in the long run.

Love, however, creates a familial bond of unity, which motivates those involved to treat one another with respect and concern. Discipline—and here I mean training, not punishment—given in love and tempered with grace, enables children to learn to live within healthy boundaries, while giving them room to grow. In this type of environment there is freedom—freedom to be the people God created us to be, and freedom to treat each other with love and respect. Freedom goes both ways because it is bound up within God’s love.

I was speaking with Doug Johannsen yesterday, and he reminded me that a father, and a husband, is meant by God to be the source (read “head” in most translations) of this love within a family. He is to be the one who pours this love so abundantly over his wife and children they cannot help but love him back and love one another. He is to be the source of this love which binds the family together in unity. Why is this true?

Because this is how our heavenly Father so loves his Son in the Spirit. He loved him so much he gave him all of this which he made. And the Son, and the Father, so loved us, they created us and gave us everlasting life through Jesus in the Spirit, so we can live in the midst of this superabundant love both now and forever.

It is this love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which is to be the basis on which our families are built. This love which he receives from the Holy Spirit enables a father and husband to love his wife and family with the same love which caused Jesus to lay down his life for humanity. And this love creates an environment in the home in which a family can live together in real unity.

This is the same love which we as single parents must draw upon to enable us to love our children and care for them when we are unable to fill the role of the missing parent. This love of God shed abroad in our hearts is the source of unity, love and grace in our family. And we can trust God to do in and through us what we cannot do on our own to care for, love and minister grace to our loved ones.

Loving Father, thank you for the great love you shower upon your Son in the Spirit, and that we participate in this, your superabundant love, through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, and in the gift of your Spirit. Grant us the grace to live in loving communion with one another in our families, churches, and communities, in the same way in which you live in loving fellowship with your Son, and with us through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Eph 4:1–6 NASB

“Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity (lit. the uniting bond of perfection).” Col 3:14 NASB