Traveling Encouragers

Acts 11

April 29

Acts 11:23 – When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

The second half of Acts chapter 11 emphasizes the importance of fellowship; and not just with other believers who are in our local communities, but with those who are separated by a significant distance. 

Living in Arizona, our state hosts thousands of retirees who migrate south for the winter. Being a member of Lakeshore Bible Church of God, I often see a small fraction of that migration as other members of the General Conference travel south during this season as they spend a few weeks or perhaps months escaping the brutal cold. It is always an encouragement to see them, talk with them, and of course exchange a hug or two. 

Our Conference offers multiple opportunities to gather with fellow COGgers throughout the year; Christian Workers Seminar (happening next week), to the Young Adult Getaway, Family Camp, other state and conference camps (happening in June), FUEL (in July) and the annual General Conference (in August). And I can’t forget to mention the reFUEL and Refuge events that take place in the fall and winter. 

At any one of these events, we have the opportunity to be like Barnabas and Saul, visiting out of state with one another, catching up with friends, meeting new acquaintances, studying God’s Word together, worshiping side by side, praying for and with each other, and of course…sharing meals! 😉

It is so important to invest in your local church. But just as valuable is investing your time and energy gathering with other like-minded believers who live a significant distance away. We are family and family needs one another. 

Because I live in the southwest, I do not have the opportunities to visit with you all on a regular basis, so maybe this devotional message is more for me than it is for you. But I LOVE seeing you all whenever I get the chance. YOU inspire me. YOU challenge me. YOU teach me. YOU accept me. And that is what family is all about. 

I hope that you have the chance to take advantage of one or more of our summer events this year. You WILL find yourself encouraged in the presence of fellow believers. And more than likely, you will be the smiling face that your brothers and sisters in Christ long to see.

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. How have you benefited from the encouragement of a brother or sister in Christ?
  2. How do you encourage others in your local church body? What connections have you made to believers beyond your local community – and how do you find ways to encourage and be the body of Christ to them?
  3. After reading Acts 11, how would you describe Barnabas? What qualities or actions of his would you like to grow in your own life? How will you work on that?

Not Alone

Acts 6

April 24

Helen Keller is quoted as saying, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

As I read through Act 6 today, I am reminded that we were never meant to do ministry, serving others, all on our own might. We have been designed to be ministerial alongside others. 

The number of followers of The Way was increasing daily. In fact, the size had reached a critical juncture. 

In ecological terms, it’s referred to as “carrying capacity”. A habitat can only support a certain number of any kind of species depending on the natural resources available. 

Likewise, we read in Acts, that the number of believers was becoming so great, and including a wonderful mixture of cultural backgrounds, that peoples’ needs, specifically widows, were not being met. 

The leadership knew that people had basic physical needs as well as spiritual needs that needed to be provided for. They had to ask themselves, “What’s the best use of our time”? They realized that they could not forsake one for the other.

Once they determined the best course of action, even more people were ministered to, both physically and spiritually.

As we go about the Lord’s business serving others, we need to first ask ourselves, am I attempting to go it alone, or am I willing to work alongside others? The next question to consider is are you serving in a way that not only meets the needs of others, but that will have the greatest impact?

What I am NOT saying is that if a task isn’t one of your spiritual gifts that you can excuse yourself…however, we are informed in multiple passages within the New Testament that we all have a part to play and some individuals are better suited for some areas of ministry over others. 

When everyone is working collaboratively, and doing it in such a way that suits how God has uniquely designed us, we can have an exponential impact on the growth of God’s kingdom. 

How can you serve others, with others, for the Kingdom?

-Bethany Ligon

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Consider who you do ministry with? Thank them for this partnership.
  2. Do you too often try to go it alone? What is the dangers of working alone? What is the blessing in working with a partner or team?
  3. Are there jobs caring for the physical or spiritual needs in your church or community that aren’t getting done? How can you, with a partner or team, help meet those needs?

Living for Christ and Each Other

Acts 4

April 22

After the events of the day of Pentecost, the healing of the lame man, and the great response of multitudes in Jerusalem, the church faced life in the world of that day. A world of darkness, and difficulty. And yet met it with a flowing out of the life of Jesus Christ. This is ideal Christianity, true, genuine Christianity. Unfortunately, there is also a counterfeit Christianity. It came in shortly after this in the early church, and evidence of it will be seen throughout the book of Acts. Wherever the true church has gone throughout the world, counterfeit Christianity has gone right along with it. How can you tell true Christianity from counterfeit?

Counterfeit Christianity can be recognized externally as a kind of religious club where people, largely of the same social status or class, and bound together by a mutual interest in some religious project or program, meet to advance that particular cause. That is part of Christianity and let’s face it every group that gets together. But that is a far cry from all that true Christianity is. True fellowship consists of individuals who share the same divine life, who are made up of all ages, backgrounds, classes, and status-levels of society, and who, when meeting together, regard themselves as what they really are, brothers and sisters in one family. With that mutual background of love and fellowship they manifest the life of Jesus Christ.

That is what we have here. The key idea is community, commonness, everything in common. They were of one heart and mind. Here were people who, by the Holy Spirit, had been united into one life. They were of one heart. At the very deepest level of their lives they belonged to each other, and that is only possible by means of the Holy Spirit. They did not need to have met someone before to recognize that if he or she is a believer they belong to each other, they are of the same family and they always have the most important thing in common. This was true of these people.

Not only did they have it, but it also manifested itself in the fact that everyone had a new attitude toward the material life. This is not a forced distribution of goods. It is not an attempt to make everyone give up their material things and redistribute them to others. No, it is a change of attitude, saying, nothing that I possess is mine, but everything that I possess is God’s, and therefore it is available to anyone who needs it. So here were these early Christians, one in heart and mind and body, united together. That is the church as it ought to be.

-Andy Cisneros

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Don’t point the finger at others – but look at yourself. How authentic, true and genuine is your Christianity? Are there any areas where you slip into a counterfeit Christianity? What would the fix be?
  2. How will you practice unity of the church body this week? And next week?
  3. What do you “possess” that is God’s? (Hint: it should be a pretty long list – but go for it – no one word answers here.). How can you show that these belong to God and make them available to anyone in need?

Devote Yourselves

Acts 2

April 20

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42

One of the things the very first churches did was devote themselves to fellowship. Fellowship means holding all things in common. They would share everything. They began to know and to love one another. Here are 3,000 people suddenly added to a little band of twenty. Most of them probably were strangers before this time. Many of them had come from other parts of the world into Jerusalem for that occasion. They did not know each other. But now they are one in Christ, and they begin to love each other and start to talk to each other, to find out what each other has been thinking and how each has been reacting, and to share their problems and burdens and needs, to talk about these together and pray together about them. There was a wonderful sense of community, of commonality, of belonging to each other. That is the fellowship which is the intended life for the body of Christ.

If the body is not operating, then the life is not manifest. That means there is no power because the life of God is always power. The reason the church has been so powerless lately is that it has been so fragmented and broken. We have estranged ourselves from each other. In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul says, and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God… (Ephesians 4:30). Then he lists the things that grieve the Holy Spirit: Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

If that is not happening, then the Spirit of God is grieved. When the Holy Spirit is grieved, it does not act. There is no life. The church becomes dull and dead and sterile and mediocre. All this is manifest in an empty ritual, with no vitality in it. God intends that Christians should have fellowship, should share one another’s lives and thoughts and problems — bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. It is not an option; it is an essential. Therefore, when the Holy Spirit of God begins to move in any congregation, or in any assembly of believers, he starts at this point. He begins to heal the brokenness of their lives and their relationships one with another, to get them to admit to each other their malice and their anger and their frustration and their grudges, and to forgive one another. This is when life begins to flow once again through the body of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What can you do to have more fellowship with fellow believers?

-Andy Cisneros

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Look again at the list of things that grieve the Holy Spirit, as well as the positives we are to do instead. Slow down and prayerfully consider each one, searching your own heart, words, attitudes and actions. What do you need to ask forgiveness for? Who do you need to forgive?
  2. How can you use fellowship to then bear one another’s burdens?
  3. How devoted are you to fellowship with the body of believers? What can you do to have more? With whom? When? Where? How? And, of course, remind yourself why?

Together in Love

John 14

April 11

Still gathered around the table in the upper room—the same table where the last Passover meal was shared—Jesus gives his disciples a series of encouraging remarks. One such remark has left many Biblical Unitarians scratching their heads:  

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11a). 

What does he mean… in? Jesus in the Father? And the Father in Jesus? 

I teach English to sixth graders for a living, so I’m well aware of how tricky prepositions can be. In, the supposedly simple, two-letter word, has 18 different usages according to the Oxford dictionary. Now consider we’re reading the translation from the original Aramaic words Jesus spoke to Greek to English, which has muddled the meaning even further. 

Fortunately for us, Jesus uses similar language just a couple pages later, in John 17: 

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). 

I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26). 

In these passages, in refers to a tight bond. The intimate relationship between God and Jesus is available to you, too. You can have close communion with the church body, with Jesus, and with God himself. 

Now, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t pointing to a trinity, but a… billionity. Okay, I made that word up (I have an English degree, so I get to do stuff like that). Through Jesus we have unity with God and unity with each other—with all the believers on earth. We’re perfectly bound together with love.

In love. 

Jesus is the glue that holds us all together. He takes a billion broken people and makes us Church. 

From him (Jesus) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16). 

-Mackenzie McClain

Discussion & Reflection Questions: 

  1. Why did Jesus place such high importance on Church? What can we accomplish together that we cannot do on our own?
  2. Are you doing more than just sitting in the same row with people at Church? How are you, personally, contributing to the mission of the Church? 
  3. Thank God for your Church family. Pick a few fellow members and send them a card or a text, telling them of the impact they’ve made on your life. 

Giving Life to Your Faith

James 2

As we consider the second chapter of James today, the writer gives us another easily understood illustration, as he warns about an attitude of personal favoritism.

“My brothers and sisters, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and is dressed in bright clothes, and a poor man in dirty clothes also comes in, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the bright clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?  Do they not blaspheme the good name by which you have been called?” (verses 1-7)

We must note that James is not saying we should ignore the rich in our Christian outreach.  But he is saying rich people should not be elevated above others because of their bank accounts. 

The result of the sin of favoritism is found in verse 9. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violators.”

So what is the solution?  Verse 8– “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”

This is why I love the book of James.  Simple and direct—easily understood. 

A modern-day story I have heard several times fits right in here. 

A Pastor transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church where he was to be introduced as the head pastor that morning.

He walked around his soon-to-be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service– only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food — no one in the church gave him change.

He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people only to be greeted back with stares, dirty looks, and people looking down on him. As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements.

When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up to the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,

“Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all that he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.

I hope this story moves you as it moved me.  And James reiterates these thoughts in verses 14-17. 

“What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”

Faith without works is dead.  They go hand in hand, like salt and pepper, bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly.  James’ impassioned words teach us that our faith should totally transform our lives and daily actions.  Our faith should be reflected in the life we live.  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” II Corinthians 5:17

James sums up his thoughts with two examples from the Old Testament, Abraham and Rahab.  “Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God.” (verses 21-23)

We cannot imagine the agony Abraham faced on that mountain, preparing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac.  But he had ultimate trust, FAITH, in God and followed through with WORKS, laying Isaac on the altar before the ram was revealed for the burnt offering.  “And as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”

Such an unfathomable example of faith and works, Abraham was called the friend of God, an honor bestowed on no one else in Scripture.

“In the same way, was Rahab the prostitute not justified by works also when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”  (verse 25) The account of Rahab is found in Joshua 2.  Rahab hid the two spies Joshua sent into Jericho.  This daring deed brought a rewarding outcome for Rahab and her family, as they were saved when Jericho was defeated by the Israelites.  Rahab’s faith and actions blessed her descendants as she is found in the genealogy of Jesus.

James concludes his thoughts with verse 26.  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

Without the breath of life, we are dead.  Without a life of daily ACTIVE Christian living and service to others–our works— our faith is dead.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 47-48 and James 2

Wise Final Instructions for the Best Outcome

Hebrews 13

When children finish high school, and they go off to college or to live on their own for the first time, those frenzied final weeks before leaving are usually a flurry of activities.  To-do lists are checked off and then added to, last minute shopping trips become a daily occurrence, and packing everything needed seems an impossible task.  Finally, the day arrives, and the slightly panicked parents are often confronted with this stark realization:  did I prepare them sufficiently for the challenges they will face in life?  And so ensues final reminders, gentle warnings, and many sentences starting with “Don’t forget,” or “Remember.”  The parents want the best experience for their children at college and in life.

The writer of Hebrews also desires the best outcome for his dear readers, his spiritual children, as he finishes his letter.  Of course, that best outcome is eternal life in the Kingdom of God.  Thus, Hebrews 13 concludes with straightforward instruction to reach this prize.

Consider the direct instructions found in verses 1-7, and the reasons WHY these instructions are important.  

  • “Keep on loving each other as brothers”
  • “Do not neglect hospitality to strangers—(WHY?)—”for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
  • “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are badly treated—(WHY?) – since you yourselves also are in the body.”
  •  “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; – (WHY?) – for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers.”
  • Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; – (WHY?) – for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever abandon you.”
  • “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; – (WHY?) – considering the result of their way of life, imitate their faith.”

Verse 17 goes hand in hand with verse 7.  “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, – (WHY?) – because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

Hebrews 13:8 can be a stand-alone statement and beloved promise, easy to memorize (and it should be) and underlined in your Bible.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

What an assurance to us that Jesus has not changed and will not change—he is our Savior and coming King.  Perhaps the writer felt a plain statement of our basic hope was warranted after his beginning list of directives. 

Building on that simple reassurance, verse 9 warns the early Christians and us today, not to “be carried away by varied and strange teachings,” just as parents might advise their departing children—stay true to your foundation, the principles of your upbringing.  It is firm, it is solid, it will keep you grounded. 

Now, remember our reading from Hebrews 10 a few days ago. 

“But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God,waiting from that time onward until His enemies are made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Heb. 10:12-14)

Continuing in Hebrews 13, verses 15-16 should be OUR response for this sacrifice. 

 “Through Him then, let’s continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips praising His name.  And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Our Salvation Gift from God:

Jesus—ONE SACRIFICE for all time

Our Response:

CONTINUAL SACRIFICE of

  • Praise
  • Doing good
  • Sharing

As the end of verse 16 says, “for with such SACRIFICES God is pleased.”

The writer concludes with a benediction or ending prayer in verses 20 and 21 that sums up his thoughts in this chapter. 

“Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, that is, Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

This prayer serves as the perfect final reminder for young adults off to college, and for each one of us. 

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 43-44 and Hebrews 13

Forgetfulness that Leads to Death

Psalm 106 and Jeremiah 17 & 18

Forgetfulness is a common ailment. We all forget. We forget where we put the keys. We forget to send the birthday card, forget to get milk at the store and forget to pay the bill or finish the homework or return the library books. We climb in bed after a long day of remembering lots of things and realize we forgot to exercise and read our Bible and call mom. I have done it all. I am pretty much an expert forgetter.

Much of the time our forgetfulness is just inconvenient or unfortunate. It means we have to make an extra stop at the store tomorrow, pay the late fee on our bill, or receive a lower grade. Maybe one day we will learn there are consequences to our forgetfulness and it will help us remember to do what we had planned to do all along – until we forgot.

But sometimes a poor memory will actually lead to death. Tragic cases can occasionally be read in the news. Forgetting to take children out of their car seats and into safety. Forgetting to latch and lock the pool gate. Forgetting the once familiar route home. There can be dreadful, heartbreaking consequences for yourself or others which can lead to death when one simply forgets.

You can also read about the devastating effects of forgetfulness in the Bible. In fact, in both of today’s passages we find instances of forgetful people, with various results. In our Psalm for the day (106), we continue the history lesson of God’s people. In today’s lesson the Israelites are exiting Egypt and traveling through the dessert. Maybe the heat is getting to them because they seem to be having a hard time remembering some pretty big and important events that happened not so long ago.

Psalm 106:7 — When our ancestors were in Egypt,
    they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
    and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

Psalm 106:13 — But they soon forgot what he had done
    and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

Psalm 106:19-21 — At Horeb they made a calf
    and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
They exchanged their glorious God
    for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
They forgot the God who saved them,
    who had done great things in Egypt

Sometimes the forgetful people are met with God’s mercy and yet another miracle they will also forget further down the road. Sometimes it’s more serious, and even fatal. Poisonous snakes, deadly disease, and the ground swallowing up those who forgot to remember God. What else could God do to help them remember?

Many generations later we see the same tragic forgetfulness recorded in the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 18:15 — Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths. 

They had forgotten the MOST important thing of all – the One who gave them life, the One who provided for all their needs, the One who had laid out blessings for those who follow, the One who had laid out curses for those who went their own stubborn way. They forgot God. And because of their repeated forgetfulness God was preparing the curses promised in his covenant: destruction, invasion, death.

It is easy to get so caught up in living our own busy lives, going our own stubborn ways, before we know it, we have forgotten our Life-Giving Teacher and all the lessons He was trying to teach us. And, instead, we face death and destruction.

Thankfully, there are ways to remember. With effort we can fight off this deadly tendency to forget. Here’s some ideas to build your memory.

How to Remember

Keep a thankful journal. Write down at least 3 things each day to thank God for. The act of writing helps you remember, and you will have the written journal to return to when your brain gets fuzzy on the details of how God has provided and cared for you – every day.

Clear an overly busy schedule. Trying to do too many other things that really don’t matter doesn’t leave time and space in your overbooked brain and calendar to remember God and do what is most important. You may even find some of those “extras” in your life that were getting too much of your time and memories were approaching, or at, idol status. Clear ’em out.

Get to church, Sunday school, Bible study, youth group, the church mens or ladies group, church camp, etc… Surround yourself regularly with those who are helpful for jogging your spiritual memory. When left alone brain connections can diminish leading to difficulty recalling. Instead, get to church. It’s a great place to overcome your own memory deficiencies – and it’s a great place where you can even help someone else remember God, His greatness and all He has done.

Add visual or auditory cues. What “tricks” will help you remember to keep God first. The Israelites were told to write it on their doorposts – maybe you need some Bible verses on your wall, mirror and refrigerator. Satan uses many schemes to erase God from people’s memory. Jesus found great power against Satan’s schemes by using God’s scriptures which he had committed to memory. Take out that Bible, the Sword of the Spirit, and use it daily to slash away cobwebs forming in your brain. Time and study and a love for God’s eternal word is the best cure I know for forgetfulness that leads to death.

Remember God and what He has done, is doing and will do!

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Psalm 106 and Jeremiah 17-18

How Will You Lead?

Isaiah 65-66, Philemon 1

                What is the best way to lead people?  You may be a leader in some area of your life, at school, at work, at Church, among your friends, on a sports team, in your marriage, with your children etc…  Most of us have had some experience being a leader and I’m going to guess that everyone has had the experience of having a leader, probably many, in your life.

                There are a number of leadership styles.  Authoritarian leaders impose expectations and define outcomes.  It’s a very top down approach.  It’s efficient and sometimes required, but doesn’t always create a great experience for those being led.  If you’re the parent of a 2 year old, it’s pretty much the only leadership style.  But what works with a 2 year old doesn’t work as well with a 16 year old, or with your spouse.  It might work okay if you’re the manager of a fast food restaurant with a bunch of first time teen-age employees, but probably not so well if you are managing a medical practice with a group of physicians.

                Participative leadership is more democratic and helps people feel more engaged, but it can be more time-consuming and lead to poor decisions if the employees participating lack necessary information or skills.

                Delegative leaders step back and let the members of the team set their own agendas, which in the right environment can produce a lot of creativity, but can also lead to disunity.

                Transactional leaders use a lot of carrot and stick, reward and punishment.  They give clear expectations and offer clear feedback and immediate rewards and punishments.  It works well getting a 7 year old to clean her room or finish her vegetables, but doesn’t inspire a lot of creativity in capable adults.

                Transformational leaders inspire with a vision and then encourage and empower followers to achieve that vision.  They act as a role model.  This type of leadership is not coercive and leads to high morale.  To learn more check out: https://www.imd.org/imd-reflections/reflection-page/leadership-styles/

                Great leaders adjust their leadership style to the appropriate context and situation.  The little book of Philemon is a wonderful case study on Christian leadership.  The Apostle Paul writes to his disciple, Philemon, about their mutual acquaintance, Onesimus.  Paul and Philemon were brothers in Jesus Christ.  Paul was responsible for Philemon coming to faith in Christ.  Now, Philemon was a leader in the Church and actually had a congregation that met in his home.  When he wrote the letter to Philemon Paul was in jail, probably in Rome awaiting his trial.  While in prison he met Onesimus.  Onesimus was a runaway slave who had been the property of Philemon.  It seems that Onesimus became a follower of Jesus Christ through Paul while they were in prison.  Onesimus had become a supportive helper to Paul.  Paul has a dilemma.  He has two Christian brothers, Philemon, a slave owner and Onesimus, a runaway slave.  Paul wants Philemon to release Onesimus from his enslavement and either welcome him back not as a slave but as a fellow Christian, or allow him to return to Paul and support him while he’s awaiting trial.

                So what leadership style does Paul use?  He could have played the authoritarian card and said “Philemon, I’m an Apostle, I met Jesus personally, I brought you to faith, and now I order you to release Onesimus.”  Under Roman law Philemon had the right to demand Onesimus’ return.  He was not legally obligated to release him.  Legally, under Roman law Paul had no authority to force Philemon to let Onesimus go.  Paul practiced transformational leadership.  He inspired Philemon and gave him a vision of how being a follower of Jesus Christ can transform a person and their values and relationships.  He gave him a vision of Onesimus as more than property or an asset, but as a person, a child of God, as a fellow heir of the kingdom of God bought from slavery to sin and death through the blood of Jesus Christ.

                In using this leadership style Paul creates space for the spirit of God to transform Philemon’s heart, and have a much wider impact on the Church (for nearly 2000 years).  Hopefully, other Christian slave owners saw Philemon’s example and also chose to release their slaves and welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

                Paul uses his personal relationship with Philemon to persuade and inspire him to recognize what Paul had done for him and what Paul was inviting him to do for Onesimus.  This is a great example of persuasive transformational leadership.  In times when God calls you to be a leader either at school, at work, in your family, at Church, in community, or wherever you might be called to lead, remember Paul’s great example of how to be a transformational leader.

                The passage in Isaiah also gives a glimpse of leadership.  In this instance. God is leading his disobedient and rebellious children, Israel.  God’s leadership style here might be interpreted as transactional.  God has punished Israel for their idolatrous and rebellious ways.  God also promises better days ahead for those who faithfully listen to God and walk in the ways of obedience.  Ultimately, God is a transformational leader calling people to look to the vision of a new heaven and a new earth to inspire them to faithfulness now.  God doesn’t enjoy punishing the disobedient.  It’s true that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”(Provers 9:10), but ultimately God wants us to respond to Him out of love- to love him with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5).  God always leads in exactly the way we need, because He is the perfect leader.  Let us follow Him and learn from Him just as Paul (and hopefully Philemon) did.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 65-66 and Philemon

Reminders

Isaiah 63-64, Titus 3

Life is so busy and complicated that I have to create lots of reminders for myself.  Fortunately, my phone and computer and watch all have features where I can set reminders for myself.  “Doctors appointment Tuesday at 3:00.  Take the garbage to the dump on the way to work in the morning.  Stop by the store after work and pick up some milk and bread.” I can even set reminders months or years in advance.  I can set alarms to remind me that in 2 hours I have a meeting.  In 1 hour I have a meeting.  In 15 minutes I have a meeting.  The Meeting is now starting.  Maybe I’m too busy or maybe I’m getting old, but I find myself more and more needing reminders.

Do you ever need reminders?  Little kids need to be reminded to brush their teeth, make their bed, do their homework.  What do you need reminders for?

The Apostle Paul thought reminders were important for Christians.  I guess he understood how easy it can be to forget what’s important when we are busy living life and doing  what’s necessary or urgent.  Do Christians ever forget important things about God, about Jesus, about how we are supposed to live?  Yep, we sure do.

In Titus 3 Paul tells Titus to remind the believers of some important things.

“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” -Titus 3:1-2

Those reminders were important in the first century when Christianity was brand new and people were still learning the basics, but it’s been 2000 years.  We’ve certainly got being a Christian all figured out by now, don’t we?  Do we really need to be reminded to obey people in authority?  Do we need to be reminded to always be ready to do good?  Don’t all Christians always do what is good?   Certainly we never  slander or falsely accuse someone of wrong doing.  I’m always peaceable and considerate and gentle toward everyone, aren’t you? (My tongue is in my cheek- that means I’m kidding).

To tell the truth, I still need to be reminded all of those things.  Just because I’ve been reading the Bible for over 50 years doesn’t mean I always remember to do good.  I still need to be reminded to be considerate and gentle, and so do you.  That’s why Christianity was never designed to be lived in isolation, but in community.  We need each other.  There’s a passage in Hebrews (a different book from today’s reading,  but important) Hebrews 10:24-25 says that Christians shouldn’t get out of the habit of meeting together, because we need to encourage (I think Hebrews says “spur one another on”, like a rider spurs on a horse) each other.  

Following Jesus is hard some times.  Being obedient to God is hard some times.  Remembering to do good and be gentle is hard sometimes.  I need help, I need encouragement to keep on doing what is right.  I need you, and you need me, we need each other.

I’ve read the Bible many times in my life and I need to keep on reading it to help me remember all the important things I need to remember.  Today’s readings in Isaiah 63-64 and Titus 3 remind us both about God’s wrath and about God’s mercy.  God has both.  God hates sin, he hates it when his children are brutal to each other.  He hates it when his children fight and argue.  He hates sin because he loves us and he knows that sin hurts us.  We hurt each other when we sin.  No parent likes to see their children hurt each other.  We learned that from our Father, God.

So keep reading your Bible and keep coming to Church and meeting with other believers so that you can remind them and they can remind you to keep on following Jesus.

“Hey Siri  set a reminder for 7 a.m. tomorrow:  be considerate and gentle to everyone.”

“Alexa, remind me to get up for Church Sunday at 8:00.”

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading plan passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 63-64 and Titus 3

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