“Group work”

I’m currently working on an assignment for the Army and I’ve been witnessing 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. According to 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. “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 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.

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Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak

During these times of uncertainty and frequent change, we need to get as many perspectives on an issue that we can. It’s easy to forget that our employees often have a very keen perspective of what’s happening in the organization that the leaders may not. The old expression “you can’t see the forest through the trees” has a lot of validity the further up the ladder you go. As James reminds us, “be quick to listen”; you might be surprised by what you hear. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

The deeper down you dig, the less polish you’ll find on the things you hear or statements that are made. Leaders need to listen to what is being said, not how it is being said. Search for the facts, they may not be stated in a way that you’re used to hearing them. Be slow to speak, let the speaker get everything out before you begin say anything. These conversations are usually the time we simply justify why we are doing something or why we can’t change. Resist the urge to become angry in the face of criticism; remember there can be more than one right answer. If you want honest feedback and assessment of a situation from your employees, keep your emotions in check. The employees are giving you a gift, accept it with grace and they’ll do it again. If you don’t accept the gift well, you’ll never get a second chance.

 “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” James 1:19

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to heed these words as well. Listen to the words contained in the bible; be slow to speak about why that isn’t realistic or how it’s impossible to follow the example of Jesus Christ. How often do you actually hear the Word, is it only in worship? The Word is a guide for us to learn and apply but it’s hard to do when you only hear it once a week. As you listen to the Word, let the meaning sink in. Look for what is being said beyond the words. Jesus often used parables as examples and honestly, they can be confusing too. Be patient and meditate on the Word of God, it will come to you.

Be slow to become angry or frustrated when you read the bible as you compare your life to what you are reading. Remember, God gave us the Law in the Old Testament and salvation in the New Testament. Don’t feel guilty about how you lead your life, Christ died for all of our sins – past, present and future. No day will go by without sin in your life. Some people think that that acting in a Christ-like manner just won’t work because they have too many “problems” in their lives or have done too many “bad” things for God to forgive. Nonsense! God sent His son to save the world and not condemn it. If no day can pass without sin, we would all be condemned if it wasn’t for God’s grace in our lives. Those with faith in Jesus Christ are saved.

Live Your Life

I’m sure that I’ve referenced the book by the late Charles Colson titled “How Now Shall We live” before but in case I haven’t, here is a short recap. The author was convicted of political crimes in the late 1970’s and sentenced to prison for his role in the infamous Watergate break-in under U.S. President Nixon. While in prison, he founded Prison Ministries. His book details the values that shape our Christian worldviews and begins to explain how our worldview points us in the directions that our lives can take. It is a great study of life and helps explain many of the teachings that most Christians hold true today using real life examples. It is a big book but worth reading if you need a little perspective or a detailed reminder of how we should be looking at the world around us.

So, how shall we live? Living a life of faith engages our ears, our hands and our hearts. It doesn’t mean we don’t use our other abilities but it also doesn’t mean that we simply watch our faith (eyes) or talk about faith (mouth), we really need to live it out. We use our ears to listen to the word of God and listen to the world around us. We can listen for the right time to witness or show compassion by listening to others as they share their troubles. We can learn about the messages of God through a number of mediums and bring it to use in our lives. Our hands can produce good work as a model for Christian living or to help others in need. Our hearts tell the rest of the story. As Matthew 6:21 says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When you finish the book by Colson, you will have been exposed to examples of how to live a life today that demonstrates your Christian values without ever having to quote the bible “to sinners” or preach on the street corners. Christian living is about doing, not sitting around talking about what the world needs.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22

Have you ever sat in a church service and felt like you were just going through the motions? Sure, you try and listen to the order of worship and maybe even lip synch the songs but your heart is just not in it. In today’s fast-paced world of short attention spans, it is becoming easier to just be physically present without being mentally engaged. I once had a conversation with a co-worker about what church meant to him and he described the services as being routine and an obligation. He wasn’t getting anything out them. I’d suggest that he was just listening the word. It is like walking in the rain with a raincoat on, you get a little damp but most of the water is repelled away.

The bible verse from James is telling us to not only walk in the rain but to do so without the raincoat; let the word soak you. Just listening to the word (going to services) is a means of deceiving ourselves. The only way we can do what it says is to become soaked by it. Understand the bible and its role in your life. Live your life in such a way that while you may not know the exact verse you are following, you do know that your behavior is a result of God’s word. Knowing the verses is important and will come later but the first step is recognizing that your understanding of the bible has formed your behavior. The word of God is like a warm shower, let it soak you and then enjoy the warmth it provides.

Rising Waters

Are you there for the people in your life? Your friends and family should be able to count on you when they are struggling. An important part of being a friend or being part of a family is knowing that you can count on each other. This week we received a message from a couple who are good friends telling us it has been too long since we last saw each other and suggested a few dates on the calendar to get together. It’s great having friends that you can count on to keep you grounded; like standing next to you in rushing waters.

Leadership at work includes providing direction, vision and support for your organization’s mission. Your employees should be able to count on you to be there for them when they are struggling. Leaders should want to help their people navigate through their challenges (waters) and when things get worse, you can stand by them so that they are not swept away.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…” Isaiah 43:2.

You can feel confident that God will be with you through thick and thin. This is another promise that God has made; to be with us in all that we do and that nothing will sweep us away – we have eternal life through Him. It is a great relief to know that we are not alone; we will not be challenged beyond what God knows we can handle. While we might think that we can’t possibly take any more and we feel like the waters are rising quickly, we should also feel the comfort and peace in knowing that He will be with us.

If we develop trust and establish a relationship with our family, friends or the people we lead, they will have faith in us to believe that we will take care of them. We too then, need to develop our relationship with God and continue to learn about His promises. Don’t rely on God only when you pass through the river, get to know Him and see what happens when you are only passing through the waters.

Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is a funny thing. In one way it makes us stronger and more focused than someone without it but in another, it makes us so determined that we lose the ability to see the simple things around us. It also has the ability to force us to do things that we might just otherwise simply blow-off. I’ve been pretty self-disciplined my whole life, I had goals to reach and found ways to complete them. When one road was blocked, I found a path that would lead me to another road headed in the direction that I wanted to go. This type of drive can become all-consuming and before you know it, you aren’t paying attention to the things that are changing around you. My son made an observation tonight that really hit home; once it set in. Speaking to my wife, his sister, and myself he said, “You guys need to just relax and chill a little”. We were all talking about the homework and projects we still had to work on and the tension started to rise. Of course, my answer to him was that when he has more to worry about besides which movie to go see or what electronic gadget to buy, and then he can talk to us about chilling out. In retrospect, he is probably right; we need to chill out a little bit. Between my re-election campaign in full swing, my schoolwork, my special projects, work and daily demands, I could use a little less drive and a little more chill. Self-discipline won’t let us ignore the commitments that we’ve made, nor should we. However, it should also teach us to balance our lives and take time for our selves and each other. Look around the world at the top athletes and you will see very self-disciplined people. You will also see people so absorbed in them selves that they lose sight of the things that matter most. Stay balanced!

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

God never intended for us to be timid; He wants us to be bold and social. We are supposed to be sharing His word with a world that needs salvation and we can’t do that when we sit quietly by ourselves. God’s Spirit gives us power and love to be there for other people or to openly share God’s message. We should have the confidence to stand tall in the face of all adversity because God has given us the strength to do it. No matter what is before you, you have the power of God’s spirit by your side. When you are troubled, turn to God for strength to knock those troubles down. God’s love for you will protect you and He is always there for you. One part of self-discipline is that we remember to do what God has asked of us. We may be driven in this life, have great goals for our careers, and can even pave new roads to success but if we are not disciplined to be faithful to God by growing and sharing in His love, what is the use? God says to us “chill a little” on those earthly wants and needs and give me a little time. Learn what God has in mind for us, learn what love really is and learn what real self-discipline is by knowing how Jesus gave His life for us. He could have changed course when things got bad or quit when He found out that He was to die. Jesus had the self-discipline to stay the course that God had chosen for Him. God isn’t asking much of us, just a little time with Him and less in this world. Go chill with God.

Easter Monday

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter. It’s a great time of year! I was particularly moved today by the readings we had in church and decided to write a devotion that is mostly Bible verses. While this too, is a departure from my normal process, I felt it was appropriate to continue the discussion about our salvation. 34 “Then Peter began to speak: ”I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is LORD of all. 37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:34-43

The story of Jesus gathered up here in 9 verses, God truly works in mysterious ways. Accepting that God inspired the words written in the bible is accepting that these words are also from God. The real “story” of Jesus is the message in verse 43 in which we receive forgiveness of sins through Him. Pause and think about that for a minute, forgiveness of sins – all sins. Nowhere does it say that forgiveness is limited to a specific number of sins, the type of sins or whom we commit them against; we can receive forgiveness for all of our sins. Live your life free from the guilt and slavery of sin. We have the ability to do it and God gave us the directions how to through St. Paul who wrote: 15”Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the LORD Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:15-17

We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ today. We celebrate our salvation and life everlasting because of God’s grace in our lives. Jesus took the guilt and sin of the whole world with him on Good Friday as He suffered and descended into hell. All of that would have been for nothing if He hadn’t been raised on the third day. We celebrate our salvation because of what God did for us. St. Paul reminds us to live in peace and do everything in the name of Jesus. Have peace this week as you celebrate your salvation.

Don’t just listen, do it

“Do what I say, not what I do” is an old expression used to describe a hypocrite. We seem to be hearing a lot from people these days that go out in public and profess one thing but then are caught doing another. How about these examples: the politician who talks about decency and moral values while carrying on affair with a young staffer or the Hollywood star who supports animal rights and is then seen wearing a fur coat. What about us as parents or supervisors? Does hypocrisy exist by us? I once attended a national conference for leaders to find peers planning golf outings and casino trips instead of finding classes to attend, only to return home and deny anyone else the opportunity to attend because “those conferences are not really helpful to us here at in small town”. We are all preparing for tax season and it’s a great ethical discussion – is stealing wrong? If so, why is okay to cheat on your taxes? We all tell those in our lives that we love them but do we do anything that shows them we do? We can all go around and tell people to do things or tell them how to live their lives but we need to be ready to do the same things we tell others to do. We often hear people tell us what to do or what is expected of us and yet we fail to follow their direction because its silly or we don’t agree with it. Imagine how you would react if you found out that someone ignored what you asked them to do. It’s a matter of honesty, we should do as we say or do as we are asked. When does personal freedom end and anarchy begin?

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22

“I go to church on Sunday, why do I need to read the bible during the week?” “I’m a good Christian. I give money to charities and donate my time when I can”. How often have you heard these phrases or even said them? I started a bible study this week at my home church and we are talking about discipleship. One definition of disciple is learner or growing in faith and knowledge. We discussed the idea of being in God’s Word on a regular basis. It reminded me of a conversation that I had with someone struggling. I said that when you go to church, you are getting God on you and when you participate in the sacrament of communion that you are getting God in you. By studying the Word of God and putting it into practice you are also getting God in you. While this theory of mine is not based in sound theology, it makes sense. Becoming one with God is what He desires for us. The bible is full of instructions for us to live our lives but if we don’t know it we can’t do it. Take time to start studying the Word given to us by God and then put them to action. God has begun His good work in you; help Him by being a part of the work, you can’t lose.