Friday, December 27, 2013

A Leader Serves

It was shocking really, when he washed their feet. The task was so low, so loathsome, that the twelve would've rather left it undone than do it themselves. Known for arguments about who among them was the greatest, this ragtag group of disciples cherished lofty ambitions.

Foot washing was not on their agenda.

Jesus gives us a model for leadership that is counter-intuitive for even his most sincere followers. He takes the worst of the work and does it with the height of passion. He is not angry. He is not exasperated. He is not shaming them; he is leading them. I imagine him smiling, delighted with his chosen duty; tender, but thorough with the cleaning. He surely did the work well.

Servant Leadership has almost become a catch-phrase in Christian circles--an honored concept, but one I rarely see in practice. I say rarely because when I do see it, I find myself feeling what I imagine the disciples felt when Jesus picked up the basin and the towel. I feel a moment of protest, a twinge of regret over my own neglect of the task, and a profound admiration for the one who stepped up to serve. I am completely convinced of the merits of servant leadership, but often remiss to employ them myself.

After all, there are many leadership concepts that seem to be at odds with the idea of servant leadership. Where does delegation fit in? And what about giving people opportunities to grow into bigger responsibilities by starting with the lesser? And if the leader is always washing feet, who is casting the vision and directing the programs? But I am beginning to learn how to reconcile these seemingly opposing approaches.

First of all, I'm learning that service is incorporated into all that I do, but it is not focus of what I do. Jesus didn't only wash feet. He was not above doing it--but he was also not against letting someone else do it. He didn't teach Foot Washing 101 to the masses nor proclaim it in the temple. He just did it when it needed to be done, and then gently reminded his disciples that they needed to serve others in the same way. So while I need to be ready, willing, and able to do the lowliest of jobs, I do not need build my vision around those jobs. I do them so that the vision can be accomplished. I don't have to walk around with a mop and dust rag in order to be a servant leader--but I certainly better know where to find them and how to use them.

One of the best ways I can incorporate service into my leadership style is by making sure that my schedule has margin. Leaders tend to be Type A personalities, and Type As are notorious for being driven. We fill every hour of every day with important meetings, projects, and activities. Then, when we are faced with an urgent need, we don't have the means to meet it. Our agendas handicap our capacity to serve. In order to be able to wash feet, we can't be captive to the clock. The harried don't have time to notice the needs of others, much less meet them. Most servant leading happens in the context of the unanticipated, the overlooked, and the eventuality. When I don't have margin I leave the messes to others and miss the opportunity to practice servant leadership.

In order to try to leave room for foot washing in my life, I have started scheduling only 30 hours of my work week. This does not mean that I am only working 30 hours a week, it just means that there are at least 10 easily interrupt-able hours in my week. Before I find ways to make myself busy during those "unscheduled" hours, I assess the needs of those around me. Does David need for me to run an errand? Could I help clean the church? Is someone in our community ill? Could I take them a meal? Often, the need is obvious. Sometimes, no need arises, and I give my time to other tasks. But I find that this margin makes me more sensitive to others and more attentive to the feet that need washing.

Second, I'm learning to serve without keeping score. When it comes to the menial work of life, its easy to resort to humanistic approaches like "taking turns." While I'm all about sharing the work, score-keeping kills generosity and love. It's all too easy to settle for trade offs rather than servant-hood. "Your turn to do this dishes." "My turn to choose a movie." "Your turn to make the bed." "My turn to pick a restaurant." Always trying to get one's fair share is completely at odds with the concept of servant leadership.

David and I learned this early in our marriage. As I was typing, David just folded a load of laundry--for the third time today. He is not less busy than I am, he just keeps beating me to it. And then he came to me and asked, "Is there any way I can bless you today?" This is our marriage M.O. Each of us does the things that we notice need to be done. And then just in case we've missed something we ask, "Is there anything I could do to bless you?" In other words, "How can I wash your feet today?" Obviously, David is better at this than I am--but I'm inspired by him. And as he serves me in this way I am eager to imitate him.

In order to be a servant leader, I need to not only do the menial things that just need to be done, I need to approach my day with a "How can I bless YOU?" agenda (again, without running a tab). I'm sadly self-absorbed, and so in order to lead with this sort of other-focus, I have to build new habits into my life. When I am serving on a team, I check in with the others before checking out for the day and ask, "Is there anything I can do before I go?" I sometimes ask people on my teams to lead me--that is, I might say, "I'm not sure what all needs to be done here, but I'm more than willing to help if you can give me some direction." For on-going projects, I make a habit of checking in regularly with members of my team. I not only ask how things are going, I end each call or email with an offer of service. "Is there anything I can do to help or encourage you?" This doesn't flow from me naturally just yet, but I'm leaning into the process with the hopeful expectation that my heart is being transformed into the heart of a servant leader.

Finally, attitude counts. Doing any act of service with a heavy sigh and a spirit of exasperation pretty much negates the positive leadership effect of the effort. Sure, the job gets done, but the method was one of shame and disgust, not heartfelt service. I am sure that Jesus washed feet happily. He did not feel more important when teaching in the tabernacle and less important when kneeling before his disciples. He knew that in each instance he was doing his God-given task. A servant might fuss about her tasks, but a servant leader does the same tasks with sincere determination, care, and joy.

I can embrace any task with delight because I do it for the Lord. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians slaves, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." Whatever...with ALL your heart. SO whether leading a charge or cleaning up after the horses; whether giving a speech or filling the water glasses of the listeners; whether directing the board or cleaning the board room--all is for the Lord.

For thought and discussion: How is your margin? Are you allowing time to serve the ones you lead? Are you ever tempted to keep score? What is your attitude when the menial tasks land on your plate? 

Monday, December 23, 2013

When did I see you hungry?

After our English Carol Service last weekend, people hung around for fellowship and yuletide yummies. I was enjoying a super satisfying slice of shortbread and stimulating conversation when our pastor pulled me aside and I asked if I had any food prepared at home. Apparently, while English speakers were basking in the afterglow of the candlelight service, a young French girl with a baby had shown up hungry at the back door of the church. The stores were all closed. Christmas cookies wouldn't suffice.

Soak in the poignancy of that moment...I had just preached on the incarnation--God with us--and now I had the opportunity to practice it.

I bundled up, told David where I was running off to, and clip-clopped towards home in my high heeled boots. The boys, who had left church fifteen minutes ahead of me, were already reheating the homemade Chicken Noodle Soup that I had made the day before. Leftovers.

"Is there enough for three?" I asked.

When I told them why I needed a bowl of soup, they were eager to share. We scooped up steaming broth, veggies, chicken and noddles into a Tupperware bowl, and gathered some slices of bread and a few clementine oranges. It was a meager feast, but it was all I had.

And so the young mama ate that night.

We haven't heard from her since. Unlike in Paul Harvey's touching tales, in ministry, we rarely get "the rest of the story." We see the pain, we minister to the need, and we're left wondering if we really helped at all.

While I may never know what happened to the other girl in my story, I know what happened to this girl. This girl (who has never known a hungry day in her life) fed Jesus. In the midst of the celebration of his birth, I got the privilege of welcoming him into my ordinary life.

I pray and pray all through the Advent season that I would have a heart ready to receive him. But how often do I miss him when he comes?

I look for him among the stars, in angel choruses, and in the wrinkled pages of my Bible; I found him in the vulnerability of a hungry young mother.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat...."

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you...?"

“...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Matthew 25: 34-40

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Leader Submits

The most important thing I can do as a leader is walk in submission. I know this is the truth, even when I struggle to abide by it. Leaders have a natural bend to, well, lead. Leading comes naturally. Submission--not so much. However, while I've never found a single verse in the Bible that commands believers to lead, there are over 30 that command us to submit. Leadership is optional. Submission is not.

We are to submit to governmental authorities:
For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. Romans 13: 4-5 
We are to submit to our co-laborers in the Gospel:
You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. I Corinthians 16:15-16
We are to submit to our spiritual authorities:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, 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 13:7 
We are to submit to our brothers and sisters in Christ:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21  
I am to submit to my own husband:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. Ephesians 5:22
And above all we are to submit to God:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7
Consider Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, the one who was in very nature God--he submitted to the will of the Father. He agonized in the garden, he begged for another option, and then he said, "not my will but yours." The equal of God yielded to God.

Jesus taught us that submission isn't about surrendering or following or giving in. Submission is about positioning yourself fully behind the will (and hopes and dreams and needs and desires) of another.

Submission isn't throwing up your hands and saying, "Fine, have it your way!" Submission is rolling up your sleeves and saying, "Tell me how I can help!"

Submission has nothing to do with being defeated or resigned. Submission has everything to do with choosing to serve the cause of another as enthusiastically as if it were your own.

And the truth is, if I am not submitted in all aspects of my life--to Jesus, to David, to my pastor, to my co-laborers, to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and even to my government--I have no business leading. Submission is the safety-net that God gives leaders, and when I neglect it I put myself and others in danger.

Let me give you an example. Whenever I preach I run my sermon by David and/or my pastor in advance. These two people have theological training that I don't have and I want them to review my sermon for accuracy and clarity. In voluntarily submitting to them as brothers in Christ and spiritual authorities, I protect myself and our congregation from heresy. As a leader, I want to teach truth and I want to serve our church family well. Submission helps me to accomplish those goals. Now neither David nor my pastor require me to submit my sermons for review. They aren't at all worried about my capacity to teach. I am the one who chooses to come under their authority. However, if someone ever takes issue with something that I have preached, I will have two defenders by my side. They would be eager and willing to explain my point because they would have already signed off on it. Submission is  a safeguard for me, for our fellowship, and for the integrity of the Gospel. Why on earth would I resist it?

I find it easy to submit where I question my own capacity. Like with preaching. But in areas where I feel competent (dare I say, "gifted"?), I can struggle to bow my will. When I really think I know best, then I am tempted to neglect my God-given authorities.

And there is a balance because often, as a leader, I have a vision and a strong sense of direction. If others say, "Let's do it this way!" or "I think we should go that way!" it takes a great deal of discernment to know when to submit to them and when submitting to them would take me out of submission to the Father. Which is why constant and continual submission to God is essential. But I believe it is possible to walk in God-given authority and total submission at the same time. That's what Jesus did. It wasn't either/or, it was yes/and.

And it seems that submission is not just a women's issue. It's a Christian issue. All believers are called to submit. So while wives may have wrestling matches with learning to submit, I don't think that men are off the hook. I can say with total confidence and great joy that I am called to submit to my husband, David. But David recognizes the power of mutual submission that Paul was talking about when he wrote "submit to one another." As the head of our family, he submits too--because, well, leaders submit. God gave us a metaphor for how this plays out in our lives:

Early in our marriage, David and I took a walk in the woods. We were following a trail, but it was overgrown, and tree limbs often jutted out across the path. Because the trail was narrow, we were walking single file with David leading the way. Eventually we came to a large tree branch and, being a gentleman, David held it out of my way and let me pass in front. Then I was leading for a while. But soon we came to another obstacle, and this time I held it back and allowed David to pass me and re-take the lead. Since we had agreed on the path and the overall direction, neither of us really cared who was in front. We just wanted to help and serve and enjoy each other along the way. I think most of life is like that. God gives a vision--that's the path. But we share leadership along the way.

Now if we had come upon a bear, I definitely would've wanted David in front because he's stronger and braver and he doesn't scream like a girl. So when the path God reveals has a bear warning sign--David stays in the lead and I happily follow. But if we had come upon a river, David would've asked me to dive in first to check out the water because I'm a good swimmer and he sinks like a rock. So when the path God reveals has a water feature--I stay in the lead. In either case, we stay submitted to God's leadership while honoring the strengths and shielding the weaknesses of the other.

And while it would be nice to be able to stand behind my husband in the case of a bear attack, the real reason I submit to him (and anyone else, for that matter) is out of reverence for Christ. I don't submit to someone out of reverence for the other person, because no matter how great the other person is, he or she is bound to make mistakes. I submit because I revere Christ, and Christ asks me to submit. Submission says, "I don't have to be in control because I trust Jesus." I can be comfortable following new leaders and struggling leaders and even clumsy leaders because my faith isn't in earthy authorities, it's in a holy God that calls me to submit to those authorities

The one thing submission can never be is forced. By definition, submission is willingly yielding to another. If coercion or manipulation or subjugation is present, then submission is absent. Therefore as a leader I can receive submission from followers, but I can't extract it from them. It is their gift to give. But I find that if I am walking in submission as a leader, others naturally follow suit.

As I learn to walk in submission I see the Lord do wonderful things. Teams flourish. Individuals excel. Collaborative efforts increase and results often exceed expectations. Above all, God is glorified. He is glorified because HOW we accomplish something is as important as WHAT we accomplish in God's economy.

Submission is good for the soul.

For thought and discussion: How to you react to the idea of submission? As a leader, to whom do you submit? How are you "holding back branches" for the ones you are called to lead?

Monday, December 16, 2013

English Carol Service

Last night our church had its 4th Annual Traditional English Carol Service. We were packed to standing room only for this event, which features not only Christmas carols but also scripture reading, candle-lighting, minced pies, and mulled wine. The majority of those who come are not members of our church, so it is a great way to reach out into the community.

As resident English speakers, our family usually has the privilege of participating in the production of this service. Last night David played guitar, Graham played bass, Chandler sang in the choir, I delivered the Gospel. Below you will find the story that I told as means of an introduction to my message. 

In the United States, where I grew up, school children always eat lunch at school. Some bring a sack lunch from home and others buy a hot lunch from the cafeteria, but all the students eat together in a giant lunch room. The only adults present during lunch are angry aids and administrators who had the misfortune of being assigned “lunch duty” and seemed to take their resentment out on the students. Needless to say, school lunches were not much fun for me.

One day, as I was walking with my classmates in a squirming line towards the lunch room, I noticed a stir. Looking up, I saw the source of the commotion.  It was my Dad. My Dad was an important business man who worked in a big office downtown. He wore tailored suits and wing-tipped shoes and he always carried a briefcase. He traveled all over the world and made mind-blowing presentations before brilliant scientists. I had known him to be in three countries in the course of a single week, but I had never seen him in the halls of my elementary school. I was so confused. What was my Dad doing at my school in the middle of the week? Why was he suddenly in my little world?

I broke all protocol, got out of line, and ran to him. He swooped me up in his strong arms, gave me a big kiss, and simply said, “I came to have lunch with you.” 

My Dad stood in the food line right by my side, he pushed his tray right behind mine, and then paid for both of our meals. He followed me to the table, and then somehow folded his enormous body into the tiny chair next to me. His knees were practically touching his ears, but he didn’t seem to care. And then all my friends and classmates gathered around, each one wanting a piece of Mr. Dennis. We regaled him with our tales, showed him all of our tricks, and told him all of secrets. My dad told us stories of his school days, asked us all sorts of questions, and smiled broadly. On the one hand, it was a bit bizarre to have him sitting at my grubby little lunch table, there in my childhood context. In his presence my world suddenly seemed smaller and dirtier. On the other hand, it was comforting to see that he was exactly the same person here as he was at home—gentle, funny, kind, charismatic, upright, respectable, and even in-charge.

That event was a long time ago. But it still moves me. My Dad could have dined at any restaurant in town. But he chose, that day, to come to my world. He chose substandard food, a sticky table, and a bunch of noisy kids. And he delighted to do it.

In a way, my Dad’s trip to my Elementary school is a picture of what God did for us at Christmas. We can easily overlook, as we imagine that helpless baby on the hay, that he, the swaddled one, was the Creator of the Universe. He was the great I Am, the one who parted the Red Sea, the Holy One of Israel. He left his heavenly downtown office for this messy lunchroom that we call earth. Imagine the Eternal God folding himself into the confines of human flesh so that he could dine at our lowly table. So that he could listen to our hearts, look us in the eyes, tell us of his love, and demonstrate his goodness.

That, in a nutshell, is what separates Christianity from every other religion known to man. Every other religion tells us what we need to do to reach God. But Christianity teaches that God reached down to us. The God of the Christian faith is simply the God who showed up.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Love Notes from Dad

My Dad, who always made my school lunches, would often tuck little notes of encouragement into my brown bag. I remember feeling such a boost when, in the midst of a hectic school day, I would sit down in a noisy lunchroom, open my sack, and find his tender words among my sandwich and carrot sticks.

This week, it seemed like my heavenly Father sent me a few such love notes. As I traveled to the town of Mâcon to help train mentors for emerging French leaders, as I was far from family and immersed in many unknowns, as I timidly stepped out into a new ministry opportunity, God whispered words of blessing through unexpected messengers.

The first whisper came on the train. I had already traveled from Tours to Paris and traversed Paris via the metro from Gare Montparnasse to Gare de Lyon. Then I boarded another train in order to get from Paris to Mâcon. I found my seat at the back of the car and settled in with my computer to work on a monthly report. I tapped away on the keyboard for about half an hour, and then paused to eat a sandwich. In that moment, my seatmate--a thirty-something French man--asked, "Are you Jennifer Williamson?" It turns out that my seatmate was a pastor who was headed to Mâcon to be trained and encouraged as a mentor, and he recognized me from a photo in an email where I had been introduced as one of the facilitators for the group. We had a lovely conversation the rest of the journey. In that moment it was as if God said to me, "I see you."

The second whisper came at the retreat center the next day. The man who was in charge of all the logistics for the event approached me just before a lunch break seeking a minute of my time. I thought he was going to tell me something about a reimbursement for my travel expenses, but he hesitated and said instead, "I had a dream or a vision or something last night, and I think I am supposed to tell you about it." He was almost apologetic, not wanting to freak me out, and insisting that it could have just been a strange dream, but he wanted to tell me about it nonetheless. In the dream, he saw me before the throne of God, praying for something that had been heavy on my heart for a long time--though he didn't know exactly what that "something" was. He then heard the Lord say, "Be patient." And that was it. I thanked him sincerely. In that moment it was as if God said to me, "I hear you."

The third whisper came on the last day of the conference. There was a man at the mentoring community in Mâcon who had also been at the church planting conference in Lyon two weeks prior, where I had been responsible for the times of meditation. He sought me out intentionally to tell me how the Lord had used the meditations that I had shared in Lyon to speak specifically to him. God touched him in an amazing and unexpected way--in a way that I could never have anticipated or orchestrated. I was blown away by his story, and I thanked him for telling it to me. In that moment it was as if God said to me, "I'm using you."

I could have opened my Bible to Genesis and the story of Hagar and realized through her experience that God sees me. I could have read Hannah's story in the book of 1 Samuel and deduced that God hears me. I could have scanned through Paul's many letters and come to the conclusion that God uses his children for his purposes. And yet....

And yet God, in his tender mercy, chose to speak these things directly to me, he chose to write them into the very pages of my life. He sends loving, personal expressions of his grace if I just open my heart to receive them. He's such a great Dad.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


“You have the type of leadership gift that has baffled the church for years!” Tom said to me, bemused.

“Yeah, I know,” I admitted sheepishly, feeling like I ought to apologize.

He wasn't the first person to make this observation. Most of my life I've felt like a walking contradiction. Christian-Woman-Leader: three characteristics that aren't ALL THREE supposed to be found in one person. Believe me, I've asked God to give me different gifts. No one is bothered by a woman with the gift of hospitality. Or mercy. Or service.
My friend Tom was right. Some Christian organizations don’t seem to know what to do with women leaders, and as a result, some women leaders don’t really know what to do with themselves in Christian organizations. Though many of us have owned and operated successful businesses, directed community projects, or held public offices, the minute we find ourselves among the body of believers, we’re like fish out of water.

Which is sad, really, because the God who saved us also gifted us and called us. He gifted us to lead. And contrary to popular belief, most Christian women who have strong leadership abilities have absolutely no desire to overstep their God-given boundaries. We submit to our husbands. We respect our pastors. We pray for our elders. We want to do the Lord’s will in the Lord’s way. But somehow this becomes crazily confusing at church or on the mission field! The rules of engagement are often unspoken and awkwardly enforced through sanctioned condescension or polite indifference.  I've never heard anyone try to argue that God does not gift women to lead; yet, I've seen many try to avoid the implications of the fact that he does.

Some have tried to resolve this tension by defining arenas within Christian organizations and churches where women are permitted to serve as leaders.  Women can lead children (what mother doesn't?); Women can lead other women; Women can serve as deacons; Women can chair event committees. I know some of the verses that seem to support such an approach; yet I know many others that contradict it. Priscilla would have been out of a ministry position—after all, she taught a man. Deborah could not have been a judge—she had authority over men.  And don’t even mention Junia (no one ever does!)—the woman that Paul refers to as an apostle.

On the other hand, some people have sought to resolve this tension by waging war in the church. Losing sight of grace, love, and humility, they have wrangled rights and recognition using means that no end could possibly justify. Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples that the way up is down, that the first shall be last. We (men and women) are to seek to serve not demand to lead.  While pitching self-righteous fits in the name of equality, many have forgotten that our ultimate call is to wash feet. We fight over titles and ignore the real work that needs to be done.

So what’s a girl to do? If she pushes too hard she might get stamped with an ugly label and create strife among the body of believers. If she suppresses the gift she might quench a fire that burns within her. What is God’s highest and best for both the body of believers and the women leaders in its midst?

Through the years, I have been blessed to work in churches that have helped me to grow and thrive as a leader. I have also been blessed to serve in Christian organizations that respect traditional views about women in leadership. In both experiences, I've made a lot of mistakes. But I am learning how to honor my brothers and sisters in Christ while doing the kingdom work to which I have been called. Over the next few months I’d like to explore some attitudes and activities that I’m trying to embrace as a leader.  Topics will include:  

·        Submitting willingly to every authority that God has placed in my life
·         Washing feet. Keep washing feet.
·         Honoring my brothers/sisters; speaking well of them and of their leadership
·         Staying teachable, welcoming input, responding favorably to feedback
·         Blessing my critics
·         Leading where I am in quiet confidence (without expecting applause)

None of these are new concepts and none of them originated with me. They are simply some things I am learning to apply to my life so that my leadership will honor Jesus. I’ll be dedicating one blog a week to the subject of leadership, a subject that both thrills and terrifies me.

If you regularly read my blog, then you know that I don’t instruct or teach—I don’t in any way consider myself an expert. I just share my experiences, I explore ideas, and I describe what the Lord is teaching ME. I will take that same approach to this subject. Please feel free to chime in! I welcome your input and I grow from your wisdom. May all be said and done for the glory of God.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A French Wedding

On Saturday, David and I were witnesses in a French wedding. It was a marriage between two church members, both of whom have been previously married and who each have five children.

A civil ceremony is required in France--in fact, it is the only ceremony that matters in the eyes of the law. Conducted by the mayor of the town in a very official manner, the civil ceremony takes place in City Hall.

Witnesses sit on either side of the bride and groom and sign official documents once the vows have been exchanged. Typically, only close family members and witnesses attend the civil ceremony, though other friends and family wait outside to cheer when the newlyweds leave the building.

The entire thing takes about 10 minutes from start to finish. Christian couples will typically have a church ceremony following the civil ceremony--both on the same day. This was the case for our friends.

The civil ceremony was at 10 a.m. and the church ceremony was at 3:30 p.m. As David and I were both participating in the church wedding, we don't have any photos from that yet!

It was the first time we were allowed in to witness a civil ceremony, so it was culturally enriching experience. We were honored to be asked to participate in our friends' special day. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

An Advent Observed

Life is moving a million miles per second. Ministry takes me away from home a lot these days, and as I rack up frequent-voyager miles on my railway card, I'm wondering when I'll ever get a Christmas photo taken, a tree trimmed, or gingerbread men frosted. Meanwhile my boots need to be repaired, my prescriptions need to be refilled, and my dog needs a trip to the groomer.

And into the swirling activity of everyday life comes the wonder-filled season of advent--the blessed anticipation of the dawn of our redemption. 

Laundry needs to be folded. Bills need to be paid. Garbage bins need to be emptied.

The world keeps spinning while angels sing. As I tend my metaphorical flock, will I pause to ponder their song?

The cat has fleas. The refrigerator is leaking. The Christmas letter must be written.

Meanwhile, the God of the universe has wrapped himself  in the envelope of human flesh and mailed himself to a cross. Will I receive this living word?

There are sermons to preach, weddings to witness, conferences to attend. How can it be that a minister does not still herself long enough to appropriately honor the very object of her worship?

Did the shepherds not leave their flocks to marvel at his glory? Shall I care more for mutton than His Majesty?

Perhaps advent can be celebrated in the midst of my everyday life. Lord, as I empty the garbage, remind me that your coming emptied the garbage in my heart. As I fold clothes, remind me that you have clothed me in righteousness. As I pay bills, remind me that when you died on the cross you paid a debt I could not pay.

He made his home on a bed of hay. Perhaps he can make the dirty of stable of my life holy by his presence. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

They Washed Feet

The room on the third floor of the retreat center had been the site of shocking realizations, shared information, healed relations, spiritual formation, tense confrontation, and innovative collaboration.

Leaders from seven different French denominations had come together to figure out how to tackle the task of church planting. Their goal is huge: 1 church for every 10,000 individuals in France. To attain this ratio, the existing 2600 churches must continue to thrive while planting an additional 4500 new churches. The need is great--the work is daunting--but the body of Christ is motivated, and they have come together under the mighty hand of God to work with HIM to get the job done.

I had the privilege of attending this event. I coordinated times of worship and reflection that were interspersed throughout the three days, I helped with translation (as one of the facilitators was an American), and I managed some logistics.

And I was moved to tears by the beauty of the body of Christ. The second night, after some tension and debate, we formed a circle, read scripture, and washed each other's feet.

The leaders of several different denominations, after facing hard facts and making great plans, humbled themselves before God and each other, got down on their hands and knees, and washed feet.

They washed feet.

The American consultant, who works with churches and Christian organizations around the globe, said that he had never seen anything like it. All over the world people are having the same conversations about discipleship and church planting, but never before had he seen such interdenominational cooperation.

They washed feet.

They demonstrated their intention to serve and bless one another. They set aside their differences and basked in the glory of the cross. They left behind everything that divided them, and they chose to embrace the unity that they have in Christ.

It was beautiful, and I was blessed to be among them. I'm inspired by them. I'm rejoicing with them. And I'm rolling up my sleeves to work along side of them. To wash their feet in any way I can. And to be grateful for the many ways that they wash mine.

A room full of leaders set aside their scepters and took up basins and towels. And they washed each other's feet. Just like Jesus.