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Michelle Tessendorf

In Lead more gently

Proximity To Power Can Lead To Ruin

I stood watching little children play in one of those indoor playgrounds with obstacle courses worthy of the military.  The kids squealed with delight at climbing over and under, swinging from ropes and jumping over barricades.  One little girl was lording it over them all.  She cut the lines with a smirk, going from play equipment to play equipment, never waiting her turn.  The fascinating thing is that she developed a small entourage.  A few children followed her lead, hanging out with her and thereby getting to cut in line too.  They recognized in her some power and they wanted in.

We do that as adults too.  We seek after power.  Initially we work to pay for shelter and food but once that is taken care of, we seek power.  Power helps us cut the line, get what we want, makes our life easier and others beholden to us.  We snub or we use those with less power than we have and we seek to be close to those who have more power than us, hoping that some of theirs may rub off on us.

Proximity to power is a goal that can lead to ruin.

It sets us on a path that is circular; offering just enough hope that each bend will lead us to the next level where we will find enough power to stay ahead of the pack. The reality is that the desire for power (its’ form takes many shapes) is a path on which we endlessly strive but never arrive.  Power is a false god, a torturous god whose goal is to lead us away from the truth.

Jesus, the very personification of Omnipotence, both shows and tells us the truth about power.

God with us, Immanuel, chose to be with us in the most humble of ways.  He could have been with us from a palace, from the home of a tech billionaire or from high office.  Instead, he avoided the privilege of the powerful and became Immanuel within a poor family from a nowhere village.  He did not seek the power this world has to offer. His coming, including the way he chose for his coming, compels us to reconsider the assumptions about how the world is organized.  The power of first, of most, of biggest is more suited to Herod in his palace than Jesus in his manger.

The mother of two sons wanted her boys to be at the center of power.  She asked Jesus to put them on each side of him, to rule with him when his kingdom comes.  His other disciples, when they heard of this, were outraged because they too wanted proximity to power.  We know how Jesus responded.

He gathered his disciples close to him and he spoke to them about the false god of power.  He spoke of the way power is used to lord it over others, how power is used to manipulate people – ensuring that others submit to the powerbroker’s way of doing things.  To this, Jesus spoke strong words.

Not so among you!

Instead, he said, use any power you have to serve others.  If you’re going to fight over the right to be great then find that greatness in serving others. If you have any power, use it to make their lives easier.   Relieve their burdens.

Any time we use what power we have accumulated or what power has been bestowed on us to manipulate others, we are following the false god of power.  Every time we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves either ahead or lacking, we are following the false god of power.  Let us beware of this all-consuming false god.

Any time we use what power we have to relieve someone of a burden, to make their task easier, to serve them in some way, we are following the True Power – the All Mighty who laid down his power in order to take up our burden.

As the New Year approaches, I ask that each one of us examine what power we have.  Truly examine it.  Quantify it.  Understand it.

Then, when you understand your power – however large or small – I have one request to ask of you.

Would you, this New Year, resolve to use your power to make one person’s burden lighter as the year begins?  Stop.  Think.  How and for whom can you do this?  Let the power of Love lead the way.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  Galatians 6:10

In Worship more fully

A Festival Of Lights. Reflections On The 4th Sunday Of Advent & Christmas Eve

Driving through our neighborhood at this time of the year is an exercise in amateur psychology for me.  The Christmas lights decorating each home tells me something of the people who live inside. There are the homes that sparkle with golden color carefully covering rooftops and trees and where wreathes of flawless circles adorn the doors.  Then there are homes splashed in combinations of red and green and gold that twinkle around window frames and porch pillars.  There are neighbors who took the easy way out and installed one of those lights at the end of the driveway that project colored sparkles all over their house walls.  And then, of course, there is the home where every square inch has been blinding us all with lights of many colors and blow up Disney characters since before Thanksgiving.

These then are my neighbors.  And yours.  For reasons as varied as there are people on this planet, we enter into the fun of the season and we string up lights.

Jesus spoke about lights.  He reminded us that we don’t go to all the effort of hanging a light, only to cover it up so that people cannot see it.  No, we hang our Christmas lights entirely because we want people to see it. When speaking of lights, Jesus made a profound statement.  He said that we are lights.  He did not say we should try and be lights or if we do certain things we will be like a light.  Nope.  He said we are lights.  Not only are we lights, we are the kind of lights that light up the whole world.  The problem Jesus was addressing was not whether or not we are lights, but whether or not we are covering up the light that we are.  He encouraged us to come out from under that basket where we are hiding and shine before each other.

How do we do this?  By our good works.

In each one of us are works just waiting to be done.  They are simply there.  Waiting.  Some of the works are seemingly small, like the help we offer a co-worker so they can finish the year strong.  Some are more difficult, like the kindness we show to a family member who does not do life the way we think they should. Some are really, really hard – and we all know what those are in our life.

You are a light.  Every human on this planet is one.  We are the Christmas lights that Jesus has hung.  Each one different.  Each one unique.  We are meant to light up this world of ours – to be a festival of lights giving glory to God in the highest.

Where there is darkness this Christmas season, will you show up and be the light?

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Mathew 5:14-16

In Worship more fully

Is Christmas About Family? Thoughts On The 3rd Sunday Of Advent

It’s the happiest time of the year – or so the song goes.  Christmas is actually a very difficult time of the year for many people because Christmas is hailed as a time for family and loved ones.  The problem is that for many of us – no, all of us – our family does not resemble the perfect family we see on social media, Christmas movies or the picture we have in our own head.  Instead, our family is made up of difficult spouses or hyperactive fighting children or sullen teenagers or stubborn aging parents or critical adult children. Not to mention that crazy Aunt/Uncle/Cousin we keep under wraps.  For some of us, we’d put up with all the difficulties just to be with absent loved ones.  Christmas being about family in perfect settings of green, red and gold can leave us feeling very lonely.

The thing is, Christmas is actually not about family and loved ones.  It is about us.  It is about our own soul drawing closer to the Christ who came to redeem us.

He came to redeem us from

  • our impatience (with our cousin’s poor choices, our mother’s eternal talking, our siblings showing off and so the list continues.)
  • our judgment (of our aunt’s drinking habits, our niece’s new boyfriend, our grandmother’s spending sprees, and so forth.)
  • our hurt (from our father’s aloofness, our boss’s reviews, our spouse’s criticism and other silent prisons.)
  • ourselves. 

Redemption means that Christ came to exchange all of that and in its’ place he gives us:

  • His righteousness (it’s got nothing to do with our own goodness or how we – or our family – behave.)
  • Peace – his peace works from the inside out, not the other way around.
  • Joy in the Holy Ghost – the comforter, the healer, the helper is among us always.  He is a breath, a prayer, a smile, a tear away.

This Advent season, as we celebrate Christ-mass, let us be kind to one another … and to ourselves.

“So then, we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Romans 14:19

In Worship more fully

Evening thoughts on the Second Sunday of Advent

As evening comes on the second Sunday of Advent, festive lights twinkle from rooftops and songs of magic snowmen fill the air.  I reflect on the meaning of Christ-mass (the celebration of Christ).  I know that this season can be commercialized and marketers do exploit our herd instincts – of this, we need to beware.  But, our Christian faith is filled with celebrations observed and it is good to enjoy these.

I came upon a portion of scripture the other morning and it gave me pause.  While hanging ornaments and stringing lights, I pondered it in my heart.

“When you harvest your grain and forget a sheaf back in the field, don’t go back and get it; leave it for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow so that God, your God, will bless you in all your work. When you shake the olives off your trees, don’t go back over the branches and strip them bare—what’s left is for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. And when you cut the grapes in your vineyard, don’t take every last grape—leave a few for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t ever forget that you were a slave in Egypt. I command you: Do what I’m telling you.” – Deuteronomy 24:19-22

I am not a farmer but for most of my life I have lived around farms.  We have had farmers in the church we pastored and I have had farmers for friends.  They are salt-of-the-earth hardworking people.   I have visited a few olive farms, which is fascinating. To this day they shake and rake the olives off the tree to harvest them – a practice that goes back thousands of years.   I have been told that it takes, on average, a full tree of olives to make about 4 bottles of olive oil.  So why waste some of those precious olives and leave them on the branches?

Our South African home is in the middle of one of the world’s most beautiful viticulture centers. Here, the study of grapes is a science as well as an art.  The farming of these grapes are livelihoods for many families in the area.  Each grape is precious.  Why leave some on the vine?

What is this telling us of God’s character?

That He cares immensely for us.  Yes, for us.  I know the scripture talks about the foreigner, the orphan and the widow – the vulnerable of our world.  God cares for this group of people and this scripture clearly speaks to us about caring for the vulnerable too.  It is a command. The God we serve does not command us merely because he can.  Commandments are always for our own good because the God of all creation cares immensely about the kind of people we are becoming.

There are two parts of this scripture passage that speaks directly to those of us who are not presently foreigners, widows or orphans.

The first part is the “so that” part.  We leave to the vulnerable a portion of the fruit of our work so that God will bless us in ourwork. This passage of scripture talks of God’s nature that is not greedy but generous and caring of others.  When we emulate God (which is what being a disciple is) then we are blessed in what we do.  Our actions practiced often enough becomes our character.When we give and share with those who cannot possibly repay us, our nature, our motivation, starts becoming like our Father’s. It is from this motivation of caring, truly caring for others, that our work is blessed.

The second part is the remembering.  “Don’t forget that you were a slave in Egypt.” We are to be humble in our giving, to remember our own vulnerabilities, our own redemption.  Never are we to lord it over those for whom a portion of our income is left.  We leave it because the God of creation decreed that it belongs to them.

This Christmas season as we purchase gifts, cook family meals and celebrate the season, may we, with intention, give some of our wheat in the field, some of our olives on the tree and some of our grapes on the vine.  Let us take these gifts and with a humble heart – give.  Give, not because it is tax year-end and our giving can be tax-deductible.  Rather, let us give because, at this time of the year when we celebrate the incarnation of our Christ, we intentionally want our actions to reflect his very nature – generously given to us in his coming.

As the sun sets over the second Sunday of Advent, I encourage you to give.  Give to a charity.  More than you planned.  Give more than you intended.  Give generously and humbly and full of joy!  Then, along with that check, send a note with a humble heart, thanking the non-profit for the work they do.  Thank them for making a way for you to live out God’s command.

If you don’t know where to give, here are three of the places where I give.  They do good work.

Midwest Food Bank
Chi Alpha
and of course Orchard: Africa

“The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.” – Proverbs 22:9

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

Does your job count in eternity?

It is the time of year when many of us reflect and introspect. As I prepare to hurtle my way through the last month of this year, I have a sense of accomplishment, a satisfaction of what has been, of a job done well. Simultaneously, there is a restlessness, a desire for what could be done differently. So, in the still of the night when my home is sleeping, my mind wanders and my heart wonders. I question everything. I embrace my calling and ministry gift, protecting and nurturing it, yet, in the quiet night with no daytime agenda to distract me, I lay it down countless times, knowing that, alone, I am inadequate to the task.

I recently heard a friend say he no longer wants to work with people who are “projects”. I recall nodding at him, understanding his dilemma.  At the same time I wondered, “Aren’t we all projects?” I was in his office for another purpose altogether and we both had little time so I let it pass. But that sentence of his has haunted me. I can’t imagine a world where the best leaders give up on “project people” for no reason other than that project people take up time or energy or talent great leaders don’t have to give. The truth is, in some area of our life we are all projects to someone else. We are all inadequate to the task before us. We are spouses, parents, employers or employees. We are siblings and children and friends to someone and we are not adequate to all these tasks. We sometimes succeed and we sometimes fail. We walk with clarity and we bumble our way through. We know and we don’t know. It is the human condition. We are created to depend on and draw strength from God and from each other.  If we decide we have no time for project people, we decide we have no time for people.

We are all called to minister to people. Regular, normal people who vacillate between confidence and hesitancy, people who aspire to great things but who simultaneously long for the simple life, people who are happy and content but are also sad and afraid. Normal, regular, project people.

My time, like everyone else’s, has demands placed on it. Time is finite – I have 24 hours in my day. It certainly is important that I spend it wisely. I am, however, reminded that time is also infinite. You and I are eternal beings, of immeasurable value to our creator. Organizations are not infinite. Every single business, school, church, non-profit, will come to an end some day. As a leader, as a person, as a minister of the grace of God, I am not called to any organization. Nobody is. We are called to people. To project people.

If you are in the building trade, you are called to house people. If you are in retail trade, you are called to feed or clothe people. If you are a teacher, a lawyer, a banker or in the hospitality industry, you are called to grow and to serve people.  Every disciple of Jesus is called to serve people, not to grow and to serve an organization. Yes, healthy organizations facilitate good service but if our main focus becomes the organization, we will without any doubt, sooner or later, miss the important aspect of the people that the organization exists to serve in the first place.

I sit in the stillness of the silent night and I wonder about these things. This has been a productive year. The organization for which I work has accomplished much. We have done good work. Yet, these thoughts have been planted in my heart for a reason and I wonder.  I wonder what should be done differently.

As the year draws to a close and I prepare for the year to come, I determine to simplify Organization and to maximize People.   If you too are contemplating and planning for next year, I encourage you to put, not your organization first, but rather, to prioritize its’ people. Seek out your project people and then plan to serve them with all your heart.

Time spent doing this is never lost.   Instead, it is at this very place that time is found. It is here that time turns into eternity and it is eternity that has been placed into the human soul.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart …” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

 

In Worship more fully

A young girl’s prayer for Zimbabwe

The year is 1978. It is 5:00am.  The tiny church building is full at this early hour. The bush war in Rhodesia is raging across and on the border of my country, South Africa. Along with my friends, I sit in a church building on a cold winter’s morning and I pray. For months this is my daily routine before I walk on to school. I am a teenager, not fully understanding all the issues, but I do know what bloody death and massacre is. I read about it daily in our newspapers and I sit quietly, along with the rest of the country, as the names of the men who died that day roll on the TV screen at the end of the nightly news bulletin. My parents eventually put a stop to the 5am prayer vigil, knowing that my final exams are ahead and I need to focus on these.

My boyfriend – who unknown to my teenage heart, will be my husband in years to come – is fulfilling his military conscription. He, along with the many who die daily, are fighting a border war. A war that is unpopular and where the issues are hazy and uncertain.

Rhodesia is under the rule of former white British subjects and the bush war – the Zimbabwe War of Liberation – has been raging for well over a decade. South Africa is under white rule too and the Nationalist government sends thousands of boy-men to fight at the country’s borders to keep the ‘enemy’ at bay. Every white South African male at the age of sixteen receives military “call up” papers. By eighteen, tens of thousand of boys are fighting a man’s war and dying for a cause not fully understood.

It is the 1970’s and Communism is a fierce force and our world is in the grip of the Cold War. The Soviet Union and Cuba give military support to the Zimbabwe freedom fighters on the border and further north in Angola. Is this then a war against communism in Africa? The United States has placed economic sanctions against South Africa because of its’ Apartheid laws. Is this war then a racial war in which boys on both sides of the conflict are needlessly dying before they become men?

In 1978 I am a young teenage girl, only just becoming politically aware. I see the unjust treatment of non-white race groups in my daily life and I am not fully persuaded that the war is merely a fight against Communism. However, in history classes at school we study Marx, Lenin and Stalin. My forming opinions cannot reconcile these ideologies with the prosperity of democracy and capitalism I see in my country.

I also see thousands of white boys, once school peers, now dead.  I think about the unknown black boys fighting for freedom, also now dead.

So, along with my neighbors and my friends, I go to pray each morning at 5am.

It is 1980 and Rhodesia becomes Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, a veteran of the Zimbabwe War of Liberation is inaugurated as President.

Thirty-seven years later Robert Mugabe, under military arrest, finally resigns as President. The country, once fertile and prosperous, is desecrated and deathly poor. Its’ citizens, both black and white, have left the country by the millions. Those who could not leave have suffered under the hands of a cruel and self-serving despot.

My teenage years are long gone. The unfurling of events in Zimbabwe over the past few weeks has made me recall that small church building on a cold winter’s morning in 1978. I can still feel the hard floor on my bended knees and the smell of the oil on the wooden pew as I leaned against it to pray. I can still clearly see the cold vapor around our words as we prayed for a beloved continent. I can still feel the hope for peace to come and the deep cry for the killing to stop.

It is now November 2017. In the United States where I am currently found, winter has come. The air is cold at 5am as I, once again, pray for Zimbabwe. I pray for her citizens. I pray for her once fertile land. I pray for her new President. I pray for peace to come to this broken country and I cry fervently for the killing to stop.

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior …” – 1 Timothy 2:1-3

In Lead more gently

Saving a Soul from Social Media

I am a reader. Every day I read multiple articles and at any given time I can be found in the process of reading two or three books. Social Media has given me so much to read – much of which is questionable. Many times I have considered canceling all my social media accounts. Instead, I have tried to regulate my feed by un-following some and intentionally finding people I want to hear from and following them.   It has helped somewhat. Despite this, all over social media I still see people destroying people.

C.S. Lewis wrote, There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit. … Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”   (The Weight of Glory)

People are immortal souls formed by God. We are created in God’s pure and glorious image. He adores us – each and every one of us, with no exception. He is utterly committed to us. Human souls are immeasurably precious to him.

Why then do we think it’s okay to use social media to publicly mock, shame, blame and find fault with human souls – souls we have never met, souls whose full story we don’t know? People are sacred – yes, even the ones who act debased – are of immense value to God.

I am overwhelmed by the courageous acts I have recently seen via social media from ordinary people in Texas who, to their own danger, have set out to rescue others who have been caught up in stormy waters. We all recognize the value of human life. In our societies we purposely set up institutions to protect human life – fire departments, police, emergency services.   When a life is in danger we expect, no, we demand, a response.

This protection, this care, this instinctive understanding of the value of human life can, and should, be carried through to the entire human soul. Let us bless. Let us use our words, on social media, in person, to one another, to bring a rescuing blessing to others. Every single day people around us are drowning, surrounded by floods so deep it hurts to breathe. Let us show courageous acts of kindness and bless them. What if our social media streams turned from vicious attacks on strangers to the kindness of strangers? What if we truly see fellow human beings as the holiest object presented to our senses?

What if the kind words you sow today saves a soul from a lifetime of destructive hurt and sets them on a path of seeing themselves as God does – infinitely precious. What if you wade out in the storm of destruction against a person and your kind words saves a soul from death?

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” 1 John 4:20

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

When We Choose To Live With Civility, We Reflect Our Creator

Freedom is important to us. Our freedom of thought. Our freedom of choice. Our freedom of expression. With summer that has come to the Northern hemisphere, I have noticed that our freedom to travel becomes particularly valuable as many of us choose to take a break from our regular routine.

One freedom that fascinates me is our freedom to exercise control over ourselves and choose to live with civility in our society.   When our choices are made within the boundaries of the golden rule, our family and our friends, our neighborhoods and our world benefit. When we treat others in the same way that we would want to be treated, gentleness becomes noticeable.   The sharp edges within which we move softens when we choose to see others through the lens of empathy. This is a choice we are free to make.

Freedom is important to us. Yet, we are never entirely free. Seasons come and go without our choice in the matter. Weather patterns are not ours to choose. This past week a terrible winter storm hit the Southern tip of Africa. There has been devastating wind and rain, flooding, out-of-control fires, snow and icy temperatures. This land that I love has been pummeled by forces of nature, none of which the people of the land chose.   But, within the circumstances, people get to choose how they will respond.

 

 

I have seen the best of choices.

People from within the country have stood together, neighbor helping neighbor, taking those left destitute into their homes. Those in the battle against the flames have been flooded with support. Communities from afar have sent supplies to those in need.   Humanity helping humanity.

Why do we choose this? Exactly because we are human.   We choose empathy. We know that very easily the storm could be at our own door. The fire could be on our roof. Easy devastation could come to our lives. When it passes us by and visits another, we do unto them as we would want it done unto us. If we were drowning or hungry or cold, we would want others to notice. If our children were threatened by fire and loss, we would want others to protect. Our empathy is what makes us human.

When we choose to live with civility, we reflect our Creator in whose image we are made.

To all those who have stood alongside us during this time of crisis, I thank you.  Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

The hurt is not yet over and many lives are still facing severe hardship. 

“Do to others as you would have them do to you … Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:31+36