No “I” in Team

I worked on an assignment for the Army recently, and I witnessed a variety of teamwork examples; both positive and negative. According to Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary, a group is defined as “a number of individuals assembled together or having some unifying relationship” and a team is defined as “a number of persons associated together in work or activity”. I’ve always been fascinated by the study of teamwork and leadership and I once found an interesting quote by teamwork author, Sharon Feltham: “Calling a collection of people a team and rallying them to the cause does not make them a team. A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to: a common purpose, a set of performance goals and a common approach, for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”. 

A group however, contains people with complementary skills and abilities who are committed to a leader’s goal. She goes on to state, “A group supports the leader’s goals and the leader-dominated approach to goal attainment. Leadership is predominantly held by one person rather than the shared, fluid leadership of a team.” What this tells us is that in a group, the dominant viewpoint is represented; in a team, multiple, diverse viewpoints are represented. Decisions in a group are made by voting or implied agreement; decisions on a team are typically made by consensus. I believe this illustrates that people tend to use these terms interchangeably. Next time you join a work “team” make sure you understand who’s goals you are working to achieve.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:4 

Remain in Jesus as He remains in you. Our faith in Jesus Christ gives us the strength to move through our lives here on earth. God loves us and has charted a course in our lives but we cannot do it alone! As the branch, we cannot bear fruit on our own; we must remain in the vine that is Jesus. 

It sounds simple enough but the fact is that we need help to remain in the Word of God and strengthen our faith and understanding of the salvation given to us through God’s grace. The vine – Jesus, instructed us to worship with each other and to grow in our faith. He suggested that we form groups focused on a dominant viewpoint and not a team and its multiple viewpoints. We gather in a group to worship God, hear His word and receive the forgiveness of our sins through Christ our Lord and Savior. At times, we will support another branch when they need it and that branch will support us when we need it. No matter the situation, we must remain in the vine.

Mother’s Day

I debated about doing a piece on Mother’s Day; the day that Hallmark made. Before anyone takes offense, I feel the same about Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. While my wife and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, we do recognize the other two days for each other. It always seems that the spouses take these days more seriously than the children do, until at least the time they are old enough to really know better and shop for themselves. Lisa and I were blessed with two awesome mothers of our own. They not only liked each other but they also liked their “in-law kids” too. Lisa’s mom likes to joke that she’s my favorite mother-in-law; she is. While my mother passed a few years ago, I know that she felt like she gained another daughter while Lisa’s mom gained another son. I don’t know that I could have dreamed of a better relationship. 

The quote from James reminded me of what a mother is, not only to her kids but to her spouse as well. As you read this, compare the actions of a good parent to those of a good leader and you will see, they are one in the same. A mother’s wisdom is pure and genuine, honest and full of love. No matter what happens, a child (regardless of age) will always seek a mother’s advice. A mother is peace-loving and considerate. She’s the one who always broke up the fights between brothers and sisters while seeking a solution that worked for everyone. Mothers taught us to share and taught us how to take care of someone who was hurt. A mother is submissive to the needs of the family, full of mercy and kind words (good fruit). 

Mothers showed us how to sacrifice and put others needs before our own. They deflected blame when we messed up and led the cheering crowd when we did well. Mothers never picked favorites (even though I know I was my mom’s favorite) and when they held your hand and looked into your eyes, you knew they meant everything they said. Great leaders, like all mothers, know how to do these things too. Mothers have earned a day just for themselves but they deserve it throughout the year, not just in May. 

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17

The irony of this message is that its about Mother’s Day but it is based on the gifts that we have received from our Father in Heaven. This verse is a great reminder of how we are to act toward everyone. The wisdom from heaven was given to us through the writings of the bible. As you read/study the bible, you will see in the New Testament that each lesson shows us God’s pure way in the life of His Son, Jesus. 

Jesus then showed us His peace-making ability, how he was considerate to others; even those that opposed Him, submissive to the law of the land, demonstrated His mercy, goodness, impartiality and above all, His sincerity. Use these principles to live your life in all situations, which will please God. And your mom too.

The Whole Story

I watched a TV documentary a couple of weeks ago about Thomas Jefferson’s bible, entitled – The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. He took the bible and physically cut it apart to assemble the New Testament in chronical order leaving out parts that show Jesus was true man and true God – the miracles and the resurrection for example. It was another glimpse into Jefferson’s world view which is not my point. For me, the idea of cutting up the bible into a shorter version is just one way that people are trying to make sense of, “what does it mean?”

Many non-denominational churches don’t want to talk about our sinful nature and our need for redemption. They’d rather focus on the help we can get from God if we are faithful in prayer and performing good works. We miss a big part of the teachings of God, through Jesus and His disciples, if we selectively pick and choose parts of the bible – we miss the whole story! My attention is drawn to the verses below since they speak to the bigger “story” of the meaning of our faith. Please read these slowly and listen to what they are saying to you. The majesty of the bible is that you can read it over and over and come away with something new each time. If you cut away pieces and parts, you will miss God speaking directly to you.

Romans 8:22-30

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

JOHN 14:23-29

 23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Scattering Seeds

I almost have to wonder if writing about leadership matters any more. Our world seems to be completely devoid of anyone showing leadership these days. I’ll keep sprinkling in some leadership references in hopes of bringing back some good “old fashion” traits. Having said all that, leading by example is sometimes easier said than done. “Do as I say not as I do” is far easier to proclaim than watch my every move and see how I do it. As I read about today’s workforce, especially during the past year, no one wants that either. I don’t know that any of us ever did but for those of us who learned from an autocratic leader, this was commonplace. Today, we’re seeing people getting promoted into leadership positions and then change everything about who they are in order to get the job done. 

All too often we’ve seen the guy who comes in late to meetings or is not always prepared get promoted and then suddenly they expect people to “tow the line” when they are in charge. How are you in your day-to-day actions? We all falter but are you more disruptive than you are helpful at work? Leaders have the responsibility to watch everything they do because they’ll never really know the impact of their actions for some time. This is where being significant is more important than being successful. Significance is what you are to others, successful is what you are to yourself. 

“He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” Mark 4:26-27. 

Spread the word! I’ve often heard that said but these verses from Mark really add new meaning. We scatter seed every day in our lives as Christians. We come into contact with people and can affect them simply through verbal and non-verbal communication. Do we say we care about those less fortunate but turn our backs when it comes time to make a difference? Our attitude tells a lot about what lies deep within us, but our actions tell the rest of the story. 

We can scatter seeds that flourish or we can scatter seeds that result in weeds but no mistake, we are always scattering seeds. No matter what we do or say, the seeds that we scatter will grow. Jesus told us to spread the word. God has given us the instruction manual through His word in the bible, to “go and make disciples of all men”. The message is clear, scatter the seeds and they will sprout and grow. While we won’t always know how they’ll grow but we can be assured that they will. Following Easter and the good news of salvation, we should have no trouble scattering the seeds of eternal life. 

Listen and Find Me

Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.35For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD. – Proverbs 8:34-35

I’m mixing it up again! I guess I do that so neither of us get bored with the rhythm of a weekly devotion. Let’s look back at Easter again and remember what it all means. We marked the saddest day in our church year, Good Friday. No one really feels good about Jesus’ crucifixion but it marks the beginning of the end for Satan’s hold on our lives. On that Friday, Jesus fulfilled his earthly mission to save the world but not without extreme torture. He was sacrificed so that we might live with our Father in heaven for all eternity. On that good day, God, through His Son Jesus, defeated the burden of sin for us all forever. How easily we can forget that we are free from the penalty of sin and can look forward to eternal life with our Father. All that happened on one “good” Friday. However, the job was not completed upon His death. Jesus still needed to descend into hell, finish the job and rise to life once again on the third day. 

Our forgiveness from sin was raised up to heaven along with Jesus and we now enjoy freedom from the bonds placed on us by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The Proverbs verses tell us the rest of the story. “Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” We are blessed because we have the word given to us by God Himself and we listen to the messages of Jesus Christ about how to live our lives. We watch the doors of our lives to be sure that we remain strong and keep Satan in his place by knowing and believing that we have eternal life in Jesus Christ. We wait for the day that we will be raised from the dead, like Jesus, to live eternal lives in paradise. 

We can only do this through our faith in God the Father and His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. “For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD.” God is always with us, which also means, so is Jesus. We struggle in our lives to live as Christ taught us to and we all fall short. It’s Satan who puts guilt in our minds and on our hearts; he’s the one telling us it really doesn’t matter. His words are empty and his promises are lies. The one who told us “those who find me, find life and receive favor from the LORD” is the only thing we should be listening to. Please know that your sins are forgiven if you have faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, no matter what. There are no degrees of forgiveness or no scale of the works that you can do to receive forgiveness. God’s grace to all of us means a life free from the guilt of sin and forgiveness of those sins for all of eternity. If that isn’t something to celebrate again, I don’t know what is.

Why is This Happening?

So many things happen to us in our lives that we often seek the meaning behind them. Good things we accept with gladness and bad things we accept with our heads down. Depending on the magnitude of each, our reaction in response is supposed to be comparable. Or so society says. In American football, a team is given a penalty for excessive celebration if they go overboard in their “response to a good thing”. Each of us have probably heard that we are “overreacting” when we are processing something bad that occurred. I would imagine that at some point we all have wondered why something happened to us or asked, what we did to deserve such good fortune?

My wife and I retold “our story” this weekend and I could start to see the seasons of lives. We engaged and married at very young age. We waited to have children for six years and then waited five years between them. We relocated a couple of times, we reunited with my extended family after living apart for a period and brought both of our kids into adulthood – successfully. Our youngest moved out of state a few weeks ago and now we are ready for the next season. Unlike many couples, we were prepared for our “empty nest” by never forgetting about “us” in this journey. Lisa likes to say that you can’t forget to nurture your marriage. Every season, journey and experience that we’ve had, we kept our reaction commensurate with the situation. We like to say – “it is what it is” but there always find a path forward. 

1There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. 4A time to weep and a time to laugh, A time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4

You have read me discuss God’s plan before. The wonderful, mysterious plan that God has for each of us. We never really understand why these things happen to us and I will say to the end that they are simply lessons for us to use later to share God’s love and His word. There is a time for everything – good and bad. When we moved my mother into an assisted living facility a few years ago, she started in the independent living apartments but soon she would need more attention and eventually she was moved into a memory care unit until she passed. The whole experience has a very different impact on all of her kids, to say the least. We all have cried, laughed and questioned the meaning behind it all.

Not long after we moved mom into memory care, my cousin who I haven’t really been in contact with much in my life, was faced with the same situation with my uncle. It has been hard for her. I was able to share my experiences during this very painful time for her. We emailed, had text message conversations and spoke on the phone about what she was going through. So, when I questioned, “why did we go through all of this with mom?” I was able to see the “reason” when it came time to help my cousin. It is crucial for us to remember these words today because there is always a season and a time. It is more important to never forget the love of our Father in Heaven who gives us both the weeping and the laughing in our lives.

Happy Easter!

Yesterday, we celebrated Easter and regardless of what is going on in this world, it is a wonderful time of the year! Spring has started (for most of us anyway), the year is rising from the dormant winter much like Christ rose on the third day. A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a Pastor friend of mine when he started to talk about religion and his faith in God and our savior Jesus Christ. We talked about the various denominations out there and how people are searching for the “right church to belong to” as if it mattered whether you were a Catholic or a Lutheran. 

We both agreed that it wasn’t the denomination that was important but that they all had an underlying belief in Jesus Christ as our savior. He then said something that really hit the nail on the head – “the importance of the bible can be summed up in two verses John 1:1 and John 3:16”.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

When you read these two verses, you realize how right he is. Take away the differences between all of the denominations, the doctrinal teachings and the “special rules” of each “church” and it all boils down to: “the Word was with God and the Word was God”. God gave us His divine Word through the writings of the bible. He ensured that the messages He wanted sent were done so through the pages of the bible. 

As sinners, we continue to follow our own hearts and minds doing what we believed to be right. Knowing that we were not capable of doing what is in our own best interest, God intervened again. He sent His one and only Son to us. Not just to help us but to save us. God’s word tells us “that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. An eternal life that we will share with God our Father, Jesus His Son and all of the other believers. As my friend said, “what else is more important?” Knowing that you will have eternal life because of your faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest gift. Go out today, this Easter Monday, and every day remembering that you are saved not by your doing or works but by the grace of God.

What is Love?

I was reading my devotional this week and the verses from 1 John 3 were a part of it. I’ve read this before, but it really stood out this week. Maybe it’s because I’m growing tired of all of the negativity in society today. People are arguing about everything – even when they agree! I’ve got a co-worker that calls that, “being in violent agreement with each other”. I think one aspect that really stands out is this, if you keep reading the bible (over and over) God will speak to you differently each time. As we enter Holy week, I believe there is no better way than to remind ourselves about love and God’s love for us. Let us be reminded of the peace that we find in Jesus.

1 John 3:11-24 11For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 4:7-21 7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 

17This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19We love because he first loved us. 20Whoever 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. 21And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Civility, What Civility?

I’ve asked before, “where has civility gone?” What ever happened to simply being nice to each other? The list goes on and I really start to get frustrated. Too many questions and not enough answers! I often wonder, when did we stop caring about each other? I see it in the simple things like holding the door open for the person behind you. I understand “Covid safe” but if you’ve already touched the door, why not at least keep it open so the person you can grab it with their foot just like you did? We’ve become so worried about staying apart from each other that we’ve become rude to one another. I heard someone this week talk about servant leadership and my heart started beating faster – what a joy!

I truly believe that if we all just looked out for each other, we might be in a slightly better place. My leadership belief is that the leader eats last, those led before those leading or simply put – putting others before yourself. I think it is the Rotary International organization whose motto is “Service Before Self”. It has been my guiding leadership principle, which shapes me even as I walk through doors. What do people see when they watch you? In the world today, most of us are being vigilant by trying to avoid close physical contact with people but that doesn’t mean that we have to keep our emotional distance too. I’m simply suggesting that we continue to think about others even when we maintain our physical distance. The pandemic is bad enough on its own, let not lose our sense of civility too. 

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

I pondered this verse for several weeks before I used it in a post. It was easy to write about “Service Before Self” in the opening but what biblical significance does this play? We all know the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you want them to do unto you. So, I get the “show hospitality to strangers” concept but I struggled to find a relatable subject matter in the middle of a world-wide pandemic. Is there really some deep concept that God is trying to teach here because this verse really stands on its own.

Jesus said, “what you do for the least of these you also do for me.” Does this really need an explanation? Let’s stop being focused on ourselves and start thinking of others. In the U.S. we see a lot of people embracing the “I’ve got mine” mentality and have stopped looking for ways to help those in need. If we show hospitality to strangers, we may be showing it to an angel and we all know where angels come from. This verse reminds me of the song by Joan Osborne – “One of Us” that asks the question; What if God was one of us? If the hospitality that we show is really to an angel, then isn’t that an extension of God? In the end, God may be one of us just not in the form we expected. So, does hospitality matter? 

Clear Minds

Let’s turn back to a little management focus for a change this week and talk about multi-tasking, a common and an acceptable part of our society today. In fact, you are viewed negatively if you can’t multi-task. What we accept today as “normal” was once called being “scatter brained”. Multi-tasking and “smart phones” may have actually made us less productive. A number of studies have shown that the constant interruptions we have in our lives are actually slowing us down. Every time we rapidly shift from one task to another our brains have to refocus or reset. We are truly losing our train of thought; the problem is that it is happening constantly. 

One study conducted with college students who claim to be “great multi-taskers” actually demonstrated that their motor skills and cognitive abilities mirrored those of someone legally intoxicated. Now that is sobering – sorry I couldn’t resist. All of these studies show, what us “old-timers” already know, work on one thing at a time and you will actually get more done. We have all been behind that one car that is just not keeping up with the flow of traffic, only to see them talking on the phone or worst yet, texting while driving. Remain focused on what you are doing, especially while driving, and your stress levels should decrease while your productivity increases.

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” 1 Peter 1:13

We are in the middle of lent, getting closer to Easter and there couldn’t be a more fitting verse. Reading the bible is a fascinating journey that explains how God tried to help focus His people on what is important. Imagine how many more distractions we have today than they did in those early years of B.C. Many of us heard the phrase uttered by our parents “don’t make me come up there”, when we were misbehaving. God finally reached that point where He had to “come down here” because we just couldn’t focus on what He was trying to teach us. 

God became man when He sent His son to show us the way. Peter reminds us to clear our minds, be alert and ready (sober). When we multi-task, we never really do one thing well, we do them all well enough. Peter is telling us to focus and set our hope in Jesus. Reduce the interference in your life by focusing on what is important. Send your fears and worry to God not so that you can do something else but so that you can focus on the grace that He is giving to you. Ensure that your devotional time is quiet and uninterrupted. Focus on what God is telling you through His word. Most importantly, have peace in knowing that your sins are forgiven by your faith in Jesus Christ.