Category Archives: Christian Life

Truth and Grace: How to Share?

The C12 Group focused on the issue of trust in this month’s business segment. Trust is a foundational element of our relationships in the workplace, family, friends, churches, schools, government, military and pretty much anywhere two or more people interact. One of the first building blocks of trust is engaging with truth. In addition to engaging with truth is engaging with grace. We in America are certainly being challenged today to engage each other with truth and grace. The double edged sword of technology allows us to share our thoughts and opinions very easily, but also in a way that can be harsh and demeaning. How do we engage with each other, pointing out when the truth is being misunderstood, but doing it in a way that doesn’t damage or even sever the relationships that are important for us to keep?

Let’s start with man’s definition of each of these terms. As is common in the English language, there are nuances to the definition of a single word. From Merriam-Webster, the definition of truth: the real facts about something; the things that are true; sincerity in action, character, and utterance; the body of real things, events, and facts; a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality. Again, from Merriam-Webster, the definition of grace (relevant to what I am sharing): unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification; disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency; the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful.

For me, all truth starts with the foundational truths that God exists, that He created the universe, including us, that He has a plan for the human race and that we are active participants in that plan. The foundational source of these truths that God revealed to us is the Bible. Abraham Lincoln said, “In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.” Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible on September 7, 1864 (Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 7:542). The apostle Paul writes in 2nd Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT).

When we engage in any relationship one of our tendencies is to assume wrong motives for the other person’s words or actions. This is especially true when engaging in social media, texting or emailing interactions because the amount of communication is very limited compared to an in person engagement with conversation and body language. There is a lot of personal history that we may know nothing about which has shaped this person’s view of the world and what truth they have been exposed to. This is one of the reasons I try to start new relationships, especially important ones, with sharing our respective life stories from birth to present day.

The foundational truth of grace is that God loves us so much that He gives us something we don’t deserve, eternity with Him, otherwise known as Heaven. That gift is only available through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, which does require submission. Another aspect of that truth is that if we reject the gift, reject God and reject Jesus Christ as lord and savior, then we reject the outcome and will not spend eternity with Him, otherwise known as Hell. These are eternal decisions, not taken lightly. “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12 NLT).

If we are Christians who have accepted these truths, then how do we conduct ourselves in these personal engagements, sharing truth and grace? The Bible gives us instructions to do that. “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25 NLT).

Returning to the point about understanding motives, let me give you a practical example. I intensely dislike cigarette smoking (note I prefer these terms instead of “hate” which is a strong word, often wrongly applied). What is my history with this issue that is affecting my view of smokers? I did not like cigarettes the first time I tried them as a teenager. The odor is quite intense in a bad way for me. And most importantly, it is a fact that cigarettes cause cancer. My grandmother and father both died of cancer (not from cigarettes) and my wife is a cancer survivor. I have been and am in relationships with people who smoke. I know that quitting is very difficult and I empathize with that difficulty. But, the outcome of not quitting could literally be death. When I have a crucial conversation with someone about their smoking habit, I try to engage them by sharing what has shaped by view and try to help them see the truth of what they are doing and the truth of the potential consequences to themselves and their families. I don’t like their actions, but I do in fact love them as people and I am trying to engage them in a way that demonstrates that.

The same methods can be applied to any relationship and any discussion of differing views. Let’s civilly and respectfully share our stories forming our views and in the process share the truths that God has and continues to reveal to us each day. There are many opportunities today to have these discussions around marriage and family; the role of government in our lives; the freedom to live out our faith every day in every place, not just one day in one place; interacting with the world; and abortion to name a few. I have previously written about a great book with practical advice on how to have these crucial conversations: https://marcjmartin.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/get-better-at-having-difficult-conversations/.

If you are a disciple of Christ, then fill yourself each day with God’s truths from the Bible so you can continue to grow in sharing the truth with grace. Gather with fellow disciples in groups of three or four regularly and challenge each other to grow in these areas. Pray for wisdom and discernment each day. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5 NLT).

If you are not a disciple of Christ, investigate these truths with an open heart and open mind. Thanks to technology (another gift from God) we can easily access many places to do that. The best source again is the Bible and you can start in the book of John: https://www.bible.com/bible/116/jhn.1.nlt. Talk to someone you know who is following Christ and you see that person living it out in a God honoring way. Feel free to contact me as well.

Here are some other resources:

http://www.timothykeller.com/books/the-reason-for-god

http://www.josh.org/resources/free-book-downloads/

http://godlife.com/

 

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The Best Business Book

What’s your business library look like? How many books on leadership, business development, culture, strategic planning or other topics do you have on your shelves or on your electronic devices? I’m an avid reader and have over 100, mostly on bookshelves. There is one book that everyone, especially business owners, should be reading on a daily basis and that’s the Bible. When I had the opportunity in 2001 to become a business owner for the first time I bought a copy of Larry Burkett’s “Business by the Book”. Burkett wrote twenty one chapters on how to apply Biblical principles to running a business. It had a significant impact on how I ran my business and I continue to recommend it to business owners as a must read.

In addition to reading Burkett’s book though, you should go to his source material, the Bible. Why should business owners read the Bible? God uses the words of Paul to tell us one reason in 2nd Timothy, chapter 3, verses 16 and 17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” It is filled with leadership examples, both good and bad versions. Did you know that the first example of delegation was described in Exodus chapter 18 when Jethro gave Moses instructions on how to select capable leaders from among the Israelites to assist Moses in resolving common disputes?  The book of Proverbs of course is commonly known to contain much wisdom, being written primarily by Solomon. Here are a few verses from chapter one, speaking to its purpose (verse 2 through 4):

“Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young.”

Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.  Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new.” How much of the material in current business books is truly new information? The book of Psalms can be inspiring, both when you are at a high and when you are at a low.

In the Gospels Jesus teaches us how to interact with people and how to be a servant leader. Everyone knows the Golden Rule right? “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12). Isn’t that the basis of all excellent customer service?

The best approach is to read the Bible start to finish at least once and continue to read Bible passages on a daily basis. You will gain a lot of wisdom and understanding, applicable in business and life. The Old Testament tells the story of God’s creation and relationship with mankind and contains the creation of the universe, the history of the patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt, the formation of Israel as a nation, the subsequent decline and fall of the nation, the Prophets (who spoke for God), and the Wisdom Books. The New Testament (the name refers to the new covenant between God and humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) chronicles the life and ministry of Jesus, the growth and impact of the early church, and instructive letters to Christ followers and finishes with the end of the story, that all who have not turned away will live with God and Jesus in a new heaven on a new earth.

R.C. Sproul provides a good reading plan for those who want an overview but aren’t quite ready to read the whole Bible. Here is his list and you can read his article here: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/get-basic-overview-bible/. I would add the book of Revelation to his list.

The Old Testament overview:

  • Genesis (the history of Creation, the fall, and God’s covenantal dealings with the patriarchs)
  • Exodus (the history of Israel’s liberation and formation as a nation)
  • Joshua (the history of the military conquest of the Promised Land)
  • Judges (Israel’s transition from a tribal federation to a monarchy)
  • 1 Samuel (Israel’s emerging monarchy under Saul and David)
  • 2 Samuel (David’s reign)
  • 1 Kings (Solomon and the divided kingdom)
  • 2 Kings (the fall of Israel)
  • Ezra (the Israelites’ return from exile)
  • Nehemiah (the restoration of Jerusalem)
  • Amos and Hosea (examples of minor prophets)
  • Jeremiah (an example of a major prophet)
  • Ecclesiastes (Wisdom Literature)
  • Psalms and Proverbs (Hebrew poetry)

The New Testament overview:

  • The Gospel of Luke (the life of Jesus)
  • Acts (the early church)
  • Ephesians (an introduction to the teaching of Paul)
  • 1 Corinthians (life in the church)
  • 1 Peter (an introduction to Peter)
  • 1 Timothy (an introduction to the Pastoral Epistles)
  • Hebrews (Christology)
  • Romans (Paul’s theology)

The New Zealand Bible Society has a great 13 minute video that provides a big picture overview of the Bible: http://www.biblesociety.org.nz/get-resources/for-churches/for-youth-leaders/the-big-pic-for-churches.

Twenty years ago as a new Christ follower I bought an NIV Study Bible and did my reading using it. In the last few years I have come to use the Bible app from YouVersion (www.bible.com) on my phone and iPad for my daily reading. There are numerous reading plans available on that platform, including topical, devotional, partial and whole Bible plans. If you prefer audio to reading, you can also listen to the Bible using the YouVersion apps.

Grow yourself as a leader, invest some time every day, morning or evening, in reading the best business book available and see the benefits lived out in your life, relationships and business.

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Intelligence, Knowledge and Wisdom

Intelligence, knowledge and wisdom are all things we possess to a certain degree. Many would like to see growth in each of these areas throughout our lives. Is there a difference between them? Can we personally contribute to an increased level of each? Let’s start with definitions of each. First, intelligence: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

Synonyms:          intellectual capacity, mental capacity, intellect, mind, brain(s), IQ, brainpower, judgment, reasoning, understanding, comprehension

Those who study intelligence (they must be intelligent to do so, right?) further break down the definition into either two or even as many as nine types versions of intelligence. The two primary types are crystallized (the ability to use all the learned knowledge and experience stored in our heads) and fluid (general ability to think abstractly, reason, identify patterns, solve problems, and discern relationships). Here’s the list of the nine types:

  1. Linguistic Intelligence — ability to use words
  2. Spatial Intelligence — ability to imagine pictures in your mind
  3. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence — ability to use your body in various situations
  4. Musical Intelligence —ability to use and understand music
  5. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence — ability to apply logic to systems and numbers
  6. Intrapersonal Intelligence — ability to understand your own inner thoughts
  7. Interpersonal Intelligence — ability to understand other people, and relate well to them
  8. Naturalist Intelligence — ability to connect with other living beings, including plants and animals
  9. Existential Intelligence — ability to explore issues of existence such as the meaning of life

Next, knowledge: facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

Synonyms:          understanding, comprehension, grasp, command, mastery; expertise, skill, proficiency, expertness, accomplishment, adeptness, capacity, capability

Knowledge is what we gain from school and other places of education, as well as what we read, hear and experience in life.

Finally, wisdom: the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

Synonyms:          sagacity, intelligence, sense, common sense, shrewdness, astuteness, smartness, judiciousness, judgment, prudence, circumspection

Wisdom is usually demonstrated by the results of decisions and choices. People who are known as wise typically have a lot of experiences and knowledge, along with intelligence (and often grey hair).

So, with some basic definitions to start with, how can we grow our intelligence, knowledge and wisdom?

We tend to think of intelligence as something we are born with and can’t really change ourselves. A number of studies show that we can in fact grow our intelligence by exercising our brains, challenging it with problem solving and seeking new things. Read more things, meet new people, try new activities, play different games and puzzles.

Growing knowledge is a bit clearer, but not necessarily any easier. Doing the work of growing your knowledge will also exercise your brain, increasing your intelligence along the way. Reading, listening to audio books or podcasts, taking classes and attending seminars are all methods of adding to your accumulated pool of knowledge.

My view of wisdom has a biblical foundation. A search of the word “wisdom” in the New Living Translation version of the Bible came up with 214 hits. The first reference is in Genesis when Eve tasted the forbidden fruit because she wanted the wisdom it would give her. A number of times throughout the Old Testament it is reported that God granted wisdom to certain leaders. The most famous of these wise leaders of course is Solomon, who asked for wisdom. Here’s the relevant passage from 1 Kings 3:7-12:

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!

Solomon was given wisdom by God and applied it to his 40 year reign as king of Israel. Unfortunately, he also wasted it and made poor decisions, especially after he experienced success and prosperity. Solomon forgot where his wisdom came from and instead of retaining his humility became prideful and arrogant, turning away from God and his commandments and in effect, losing the gift God had given him. Fortunately, God chose to inspire Solomon to share his wisdom and life lessons learned with us through the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

The beginning of Proverbs makes it clear:

These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles. Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. – Proverbs 1:1-7.

So there is an answer for those who want to grow in wisdom. First, ask God for it (I do so almost daily) and second, read the Bible (I also do that almost daily). Third, get advice from others who have demonstrated wisdom (Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14). Finally, be humble, not prideful and arrogant, remembering that wisdom is a gift from God, give Him the credit when you demonstrate wisdom.

 

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Is Your Organization Healthy?

Have you ever heard the term “organizational health”? In 2012 Patrick Lencioni wrote “The Advantage” addressing this topic. He wrote “Organizational health will one day surpass all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage.” What is organizational health? It’s how cohesive the leadership team in the organization is and how well they are communicating with each other and the rest of the organization. Lencioni uses a four discipline model to describe his concept of organizational health. The first discipline is to build that cohesive leadership team, which is difficult and takes time. You are after a high level of mutual trust, the ability to have crucial conversations, commitment to the team and peer to peer accountability.

Where do you start if you think your team isn’t that cohesive? An exercise I use to get people to a higher level of trust quickly is the life story exercise. Each person takes 15 minutes and shares their life story, chronologically covering these questions along the way:

  • Where and when were you born and grew up?
  • What did your parents do for a living?
  • College or work?
  • When and where did you meet your spouse?
  • Children? Grandchildren?
  • How did you end up in the area if you are from somewhere else?

I have yet to see this not result in improved communication among the team members. They often find points of commonality or something difficult or even tragic that someone overcame. Even people who have been working together for years usually don’t know their co-workers life story. Building relationships is crucial to building trust and that takes spending time together.

The other three disciplines Lencioni describes are all related to clarity. The first is clarity among the leadership team. This can be somewhat measured by bringing them all together in a room and discussing the answer to six critical questions, checking for alignment. If the leadership team is aligned on these six critical questions, then the team can lead the organization more effectively. Here are the six questions:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. How do we behave?
  3. What do we do?
  4. How will we succeed?
  5. What is most important, right now?
  6. Who must do what?

Once the leadership team is clear and aligned on these questions, they can effectively lead the rest of the organization. This is done by executing the other two disciplines, over communicate clarity and reinforce clarity. Note that the word “clarity” is part of three out of the four disciplines Lencioni describes as elements of a healthy organization. Communicating clarity is something I see many organizations struggling with. It was something I struggled with myself in running an IT company prior to becoming a C12 Group chair. Keeping the message simple and communicating it often, repetitively is key to successfully bringing clarity and health to your organization.

Lencioni provides some tools to help you evaluate your organization’s health at his website www.tablegroup.com. There is a survey you can take to get an idea of where you are and the resulting report will give you some suggestions on beginning the process to improve your organizational health. Reading the book is a good idea, of course. Another book that you should read and use as resource for the first discipline of building your cohesive team is “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. It will help you immensely with the inevitable conflict that will arise as you work through the six critical questions. Their techniques will help in any conversation that is difficult, in any situation or setting.

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Don’t Forget to Consider the Consequences

Recently our church looked at the story of the Israelites rejecting the scouting report of Canaan, the land they were promised by God. This is recounted in the book of Numbers, chapter 13. A focus in the sermon was on God being faithful to His people, both then and today. As with any wisdom from scripture, there are some other lessons we can apply to our lives as well. One lesson that came to mind for me is to consider the consequences of our decisions in all aspects of life; faith, family and work. Work includes business decisions, especially important for a business owner to consider, since consequences can affect multiple families, not just yourself.

Here’s a summary of the story of the scouting report and the Israelite’s response. God told Moses to send out twelve men, one leader from each tribe, to explore Canaan. Moses gave them specific instructions to see what the land was like and what the people were like, as well as the type of towns they lived in. They did an effective job exploring and brought back a detailed report, as well as some samples of the crops growing there. They reported a bountiful land, but populated by strong people. Two of the leaders, Joshua and Caleb, focused on the land and God’s promises and were ready to go and take it. The other ten, focused on the challenges and forgetting or ignoring God’s promises, disagreed and counseled to not go in. In addition, they not only gave this counsel to Moses, who had sent them, they spread the negative news among the rest of the people (one of the first instances of using the “grapevine” to spread rumors).

What were these guys thinking when they decided to go against Moses, Joshua, Caleb and most of all God? Did they have a plan B? Did they forget everything that God had done for them since they walked away from slavery in Egypt? Did they forget about the past consequences when people among them rebelled, making poor choices? Where did they think they were going to go instead of Canaan? Weren’t they worried about the response from Moses, Joshua and Caleb or more importantly the response from God?

When we make a choice in life do we consider the possible consequences of our choice? Are we making a wise choice? Did we get counsel from reliable, trustworthy sources and then go against that advice? Did we spend time in prayer and reading what the Bible has to say about our choices, so we have some idea of what God wants us to do? Sometimes, I am as guilty as these guys were, focusing on the challenges and the possible bad outcomes of failure instead of success. I give in to worry and fear instead of spending more time on the potential good outcome. I also forget to consider the consequences of making the wrong decision. Those consequences could be as bad as or worse than if I had the faith and confidence to go where God and trustworthy counsel tells me to go.

What consequences did these guys suffer? You have to continue the story in Numbers chapter 14. God’s first response is to tell Moses He’s going to wipe out everyone and start over. Moses intercedes and God relents, although He does kill the 10 leaders who rebelled. Instead, He makes the Israelites wander around in the desert for 40 years, one year for each of the 40 days they were in Canaan scouting. The only two leaders who make it into the Promised Land are the two obedient, faithful, optimistic ones, Joshua and Caleb.

How do we avoid consequences in our lives? First is to be obedient to God, so that we are in His will for our lives. Remember to apply this to all areas of our lives; family and work, including business decisions. How do we know if we are being obedient? Prayer and Bible reading are the primary tools. Next, you need to have a circle of wise advisors who are trustworthy, evident by their use of those same primary tools and by the lack of consequences in their lives from poor choices. When you are seeking advice from those counselors, talk about the potential consequences of making a poor decision. We tend to have blind spots in those areas. Learn from the mistakes and suffered consequences of those who have gone before you on this path.

Not every trial or tribulation we face in life can be attributed to consequences of poor decision making. Enough can be though that we need to seriously consider them every time we make a decision that is either going against a leader’s instructions to us, advice and counsel we’ve sought out, or God’s evident will. Consider the consequences and make the right choice!

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Do You Have a Council of Counselors?

It is the time of year that we typically look back over the last twelve months and take stock of what went well and what didn’t quite measure up to our ideas of success. We hopefully spend some time using the lessons of the past and planning for future accomplishments in the coming year. This is an exercise successful business owners definitely engage in. The most fruitful ones have some form of a council to help them, not only during this annual evaluation and planning time, but on a regular basis.

Why should you have some kind of council of counselors? God tells us through His instructions to us in the Bible that we should have trustworthy people giving us advice. Proverbs 12:15 states it this way in the New Living Translation: “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” There are many other such statements in Proverbs. As imperfect people, we tend to have weaknesses and blind spots that prevent us from making the right decision or doing the right thing 100% of the time. If we have some wise people around us as we go through life making these decisions and doing these things, they can hopefully help us avoid the wrong ones or at least make a proper course correction in the wake of mistakes.

Here are some suggestions from a C12 Group segment on how a Christian business owner can put together that helpful council of counselors:

■ Formal Board of Directors – common for large or public companies

■ Christian Peer Advisory Board – A group such as C12 provides a readymade format for asking and receiving counsel, being challenged by best practice ideas, and submitting issues and plans to other committed Christians for feedback. C12 also provides a degree of accountability, prayer, planning, and one-on-one counsel.

■ Council of Advisors – Another resource that can complement either of the prior two alternatives is meeting with a smaller group of trustworthy colleagues (often two to four local C12 members and/or church members). Real benefit can be generated by meeting together regularly for counsel, accountability, and prayer. Due to their informality and small size, a COA can provide an opportunity for deeper intimacy which many C12 members have found to be extremely helpful.

■ Mentor – More than teachers, mentors are generally role models with more experience or authority in areas where we desire to grow. Teachers impart knowledge; mentors impart life. Long-term mentors are difficult to come by, but they can be hugely beneficial.

If you aren’t a business owner you can still benefit from having a council of counselors. I’ve found that having a group of three additional people of the same sex that meet together at least twice a month for at least 90 minutes each time provide a good format for sharing life and getting advice on the challenges we all face. Having a small number of all men or all women in the group fosters a higher degree of transparency and trust that is difficult to achieve in a larger group of men and women.

As you gather together with your council, here are six common characteristics of finishing well that you could pose to them, asking if there is evidence of these characteristics in your life.

 The Six Common Characteristics of Finishing Well

Develop and fight to:

  1. Hold an Eternal Perspective. Don’t get caught up in the short term thinking of the culture. Eternity is considerably longer than even the longest life we could possibly have.
  2. Build Intimacy with Jesus Christ. In Philippians 4:13 we are told “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” A relationship requires time conversing. To converse with Jesus Christ you need to read His words in the Bible and spend time talking to Him through prayer.
  3. Maintain Self-Discipline. The self-discipline being raised here is avoiding “many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” Timothy warns us about.
  4. Maintain Open and Accountable Relationships. This is a key part of having a council you can trust and be transparent with. They also need to be able to challenge you when you have a blind spot.
  5. Maintain a Teachable Spirit and a Lifetime of Learning. Proverbs 11:2 is one of a number of verses that tell us “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” I can trace nearly all my worst mistakes back to pride and arrogance. I can trace nearly all of my successes to wisdom that came from someone else that I acted on.
  6. Maintain a Heart to Help Others Finish Well. Since others need a council of counselors, invest time, energy and prayer in being a wise counselor for someone else, sharing the benefits that you are receiving from your council.

Best wishes for a fruitful and blessed year, one that is focused on relationships, both earthly and eternal!

 

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Planning with an Eternal Perspective

This time of year many of us are starting to think about making plans for 2015. Business owners and executives are evaluating how 2014 has gone and will work on business plans for 2015. There are of course the New Year’s resolutions that many of us are beginning to think about. God encourages us to plan; He tells us that in many Bible verses including Proverbs 21:5 (NLT) Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty. Many of our plans are focused on bigger and better results than last year.

Something we need to keep in mind however is that God’s plans come before ours. He tells us again in Proverbs 19:21 (NLT), You can make many plans, but the lord’s purpose will prevail. Jesus’ brother James makes a point by warning us against being overly self-confident: Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15 (NLT)

Life Disrupted

Many times our plans and our lives are disrupted by things beyond our control, like lack of sales in our business, key employees suddenly leaving, children making poor decisions, or an overwhelming illness or death of a family member. These are situations that we should be thinking about when we are doing our planning. What if things don’t go as we planned? What are our contingencies? What if our days in this life are fewer than we planned? What about those left behind? I’ve seen this in my own family a number of times in recent years.

The first plan everyone needs is the one that addresses where they are going to spend eternity when they die. Every person will spend eternity somewhere and there are only two options. The first and best is spending it in God’s presence, otherwise known as Heaven. The second and worst is spending it away from God’s presence, otherwise known as Hell. If you don’t have a definitive answer to this question, that answer must become a priority for you because you don’t know the number of days you have. The only plan that works for getting into Heaven is the one where you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord of this life and personal savior out of Hell into Heaven. God has given us free will to make our own choice in this matter, so it is up to you. Here are a few places you can hear this explained in greater detail: Whiteboard Salvation, Peace with God, Know God, Life Questions

Evaluate Where You Are

Assuming you’ve made that choice already in your life, do your plans submit to Jesus’ lordship and God’s plans for you and those you influence? Every December in each of our C12 groups we take a Christ-centered retrospective look at the results of our past year’s activities, focusing on the eternal perspective. We do this in the form of a personal audit of ten soul searching questions, scoring ourselves from 1 to 10. Using the scores from this audit our members can adjust their business and personal plans for 2015, spending time and resources on reordered priorities. Here’s the list of the ten questions without the expanded background:

  1. You spent more time with The Lord.
  2. Your family relationships strengthened.
  3. You spent more time listening and relating to your team members on a one–to–one basis.
  4. You saw the people that you deal with more as objects of your personal ministry than as objects to be exploited for your personal gain.
  5. You are even slightly less acquisitive than you were a year ago.
  6. You are truly more thankful for what you have and content with all aspects of your life.
  7. You have more peace in your heart.
  8. You learned more about your profession and are able to apply greater technical expertise in your field.
  9. You took measurably better care of your body.
  10. More eternal fruit has been produced through and around you, due to your effort and influence while abiding in Christ.

 

The How To

So, how do we go about planning with an eternal perspective? It starts with reading God’s instructions to us, which are given in the form of His Word through the Bible. If you aren’t reading it on a daily basis then you are missing part of the instructions of how you are supposed to be within God’s will (unless you’ve memorized the more than 30,000 verses). Second, you need to pray regularly and ask for wisdom and guidance from God. This helps you to see as clearly as possible, given that we are trying to be obedient to a God who is invisible and doesn’t speak audibly to us. Third, get advice from others; “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” Proverbs 15:22 (NLT) This advice can come from a board if you are a business owner or a small group of others who are trustworthy resources if you are not. This is one of the primary benefits that the C12 Group provides to its members. You want your advisers to be like minded and caring enough to confront you when you are making poor choices.

What kind of plan has an eternal perspective? If you have a business, you should be incorporating ministry plans into your business plan; how will you share Christ with your employees and their families, with customers, vendors, suppliers? What ministries will you support and what will that support look like? If you don’t own a business, you can incorporate the same concepts into your personal plans, focusing on family, co-workers, friends and neighbors. A common requirement that you will find in these plans is that of time. It takes time to serve others and it takes time to build relationships, two of the most practical ways you can have an eternal impact. You will need to build time into your plans so you don’t spend all of it on short term, temporal things. C12 Group founder Buck Jacobs’ book A Light Shines Bright in Babylon does an excellent job of describing practical ways a business leader can live out these principles.

It really takes wisdom to balance the plans of a good steward, using the talents and resources God has given you to serve Him in the short term and with an eternal perspective. Don’t delay the planning and don’t do it alone.

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Do You Know Your Purpose?

“Christian CEO’s and business owners building great businesses for a greater purpose” is the C12 Group motto. That purpose that every C12 Group member and area chair shares is honoring God in the way we conduct our businesses and serving Him according to our talents and abilities. That purpose has an eternal perspective, which helps us when we are faced with challenges in this life, whether those challenges are in our businesses, our families, our churches or our communities. A greater purpose helps you overcome and it helps you deal with circumstances that prompt the question “Why?”

Do you have a purpose for your life? Is it to accumulate wealth or stuff? Is it to have the most pleasant life experience you can? Is it to be recognized as a leader in your community? These are all things our American culture promotes on a daily basis. If you hear it often enough, you can start to believe those are purposeful things, especially if you don’t have any other source of truth. So, where do you discover your purpose, where do you discover the truth? My answer is that it all starts with the Bible.

The Bible is what God has given us to begin to know Him and understand His plan for all of humanity, as well as our individual role in that plan. That plan applies to both here in the present on this Earth and in the future eternity. If you don’t believe in God I challenge you to read the Bible and see if your opinion changes. You don’t even need to read it all at first (everyone can gain wisdom from reading the entire Bible at some point in their life, preferably multiple times). Just read a few books in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. If you aren’t willing to take that step consider reading a book or two like “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel or “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller. If you aren’t much of a reader you could start with Josh McDowell’s web site providing answers to skeptic’s questions, http://www.josh.org/resources/study-research/answers-to-skeptics-questions/. If you truly want answers, seek out a Bible reading evangelical Christian in your community and invite them to coffee or lunch and begin a dialogue.

Do you believe God exists but you don’t see Him active in your life or you’ve experienced loss and can’t understand why God is letting that happen to you? Again, you need to invest some time and effort in searching for answers. God doesn’t turn His back on us, but He also doesn’t always grab us by the shoulders and turn us around when we turn our back on Him (that free will thing, He can’t force us to love Him). A book written by a pastor who lost his adult son in an accident may be helpful, it is “Hope For Hurting Hearts” by Greg Laurie. Another is Tim Keller’s “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”. Keller and his wife both have experienced life changing diseases. The previously mentioned books and web site are still relevant for you as well. That coffee with a Christian idea is a good one for you too.

What about you who are Christ followers but don’t have your purpose figured out? The first question I would ask you is how much time do you spend with God on a daily basis? What kind of relationship do you expect to have with someone if you never talk to Him or listen to Him? I realize it’s a little harder because He is invisible and very rarely audibly speaks to anyone, but it’s worth the effort. Don’t just show up for an hour or two on Sunday and expect the relationship to be the same as when you spend time every day reading His Word (the Bible) and talking to Him about the things in your life (prayer). There are plenty of Bible reading plans available to help you develop a new habit. Bible.com offers apps for multiple platforms. One of the best books on prayer that I have recently read is Philip Yancey’s “Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference?” Instead of the coffee with a Christian idea, you need to make a bit more of a commitment, get together with two or three other Christ followers (men with men and women with women for transparency reasons) who all want to live out their purpose and help each other discover how to do that (it’s called discipleship).

Here are some other ways I stay plugged into what God wants me to know about His will for my life (in addition to the daily Bible reading and prayer):

  • Going to a Sunday service where I worship Him and give thanks for His provision, listen to some Bible teaching from someone who studies the Bible for a living and spend time in community with other Christ followers.
  • Listening to Christian music that is uplifting as well as sometimes challenging.
  • Listening to other Bible teachers in addition to the one I listen to on Sunday (Greg Laurie is one of my favorites, http://www.harvest.org/radio/ways-to-listen.html)
  • Reading books like the ones I’ve shared.
  • Spending time with other men on a regular basis encouraging and challenging each other.

I hope you find your purpose and more importantly I hope you find God through the person of Jesus Christ, not just for this brief time on Earth, but for all of eternity. Eternity without being in God’s presence will be horrific and I don’t wish that on anyone.

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Do You Need Business Advice? Where Do You Get Yours?

If you are a business owner do you find it challenging to run that business successfully? Do things always go just as planned? Do you have week after week of your employees doing everything with excellence and exceeding expectations? Do your customers never complain and pay you early? Do your suppliers and vendors always deliver the products and services you need on time and on budget?

If these things are happening in your business every day, then please contact me so I can come to work for you! I don’t know any business owner who consistently experiences this kind of success. I didn’t experience it when I ran my IT company of twenty plus employees and I don’t consistently experience it now, even as a sole proprietor without any employees. The reality is that because the world is broken by sin, our businesses will always be broken too.

That doesn’t mean we should just give up and go home. We still have to provide for ourselves and our families. As business owners we also have an obligation to provide for our employees and their families. It will be a struggle at times, sometimes easier than others, but still a struggle.

So, given we will struggle at times, where do we get help and advice for those times? If you are a learning leader you probably spend time reading the latest business books and articles. That is one method that I agree with and encourage all leaders to do. But, as a Christian business owner the first source should be the Bible. The Bible itself tells us through the writing of Paul that it is the first place we should turn. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 he tells us:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

So, how do we apply that exhortation in our business? First, you need to be familiar with what’s in the Bible so you can apply the wisdom as you need it facing the challenges of the day. That means reading it regularly, ideally daily. The typical Bible is about 2,000 pages and some of it is not real easy to understand, so it requires a life-long study approach. A reading of the Old Testament will help you to understand how stubborn and thick-headed we can be.

The most valuable Bible book for a business owner is the book of Proverbs. Last year I read all 31 chapters in Proverbs each month and benefited greatly from reading it twelve times in a row. The first seven verses of the first chapter tell us why this is a good idea:

“These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles. Fear of the lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

The next source of advice and counsel is trustworthy, like minded advisers as Proverbs 15:22 tells us:

“Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.”

The C12 Group is one great place to find these advisers. The members of the groups are there to give and get good advice and to hold and be held accountable. They want to do the right things in order to be successful and more importantly, to do them in a God honoring way. They know the people around the table have the same values and will be transparent when sharing problems and honest when giving advice. The C12 Group also provides a structured framework at the monthly meeting to help the members share their issues and get that valuable advice. We have the added benefit of a morning full of biblical and business content to read and discuss, increasing our knowledge every month.

If you don’t have access to a C12 Group in your geography then try to find some other Christian business owners, six to twelve would be a good number, and commit to meeting once a month and share your issues. I recommend starting that meeting with a devotional. If you don’t have any other business content, then half a day should be enough time for the issues sharing.

Read your Bible every day, pray without ceasing and regularly get wise counsel from other Christian business owners and you will be better equipped to meet the challenges you will face today and tomorrow!

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Chief Technician, Chief Manager or Chief Executive Officer?

In “The E-Myth Revisited” Michael Gerber writes about three common stages many small business owners either transition through or get stuck in. He uses the terms Entrepreneur, Technician, and Manager. The Entrepreneur starts the business, the Technician wears all the hats and does his best to keep the customers happy and the Manager organizes everything and tells everyone what to do (hopefully close to the same level as the Technician can do it). If the Entrepreneur gets stuck in the Technician stage he will most likely burn himself out and damage his family relationships in the process. If the Entrepreneur gets stuck in the Manager phase he will have a lot of employees who can’t make any decisions on their own because the Manager is controlling everything. He’s probably not liked very much by his staff.

Many owners are the Chief Technician in their business because nobody else is as skilled as they are at what they do, nobody else can do it as well. Others are the Chief Manager, micro-managing everyone and everything, often in a way that alienates the employees. Neither of these are effective leaders.

The C12 Group recently spent our business segment time looking at this topic, focusing on the difference between leaders and managers. Here’s a table from that segment that describes elements of the different roles:

Gerber’s book focuses on creating systems so the owner can move beyond these three phases and be the Chief Executive Officer, a leadership role. The advice he gives is solid and has been followed by many successful business owners. The challenge for many is that it’s not easy to do what Gerber describes on your own, especially if you’ve never done it before.

A business owner who recognizes that he is stuck in the Chief Technician or Chief Manager phase could read Gerber’s book and other good business books and work on implementing their suggestions. He could hire a consultant or consulting firm to help him transform his business. Or, he could join an executive peer group like the C12 Group.

The C12 Group is going to provide the time tested business content he would find in reading the best business books on the market, but in a summarized, targeted fashion. The C12 Group is going to provide the wisdom of experience from others who have successfully made the transition to Chief Executive Officer. The C12 Group is going to provide education, counsel, goals, plans and accountability so the owner doesn’t have to figure it out on his own or pay a lot of money to someone who may or may not be able to help. In addition, the C12 Group is going to help the business owner develop all areas of his life outside of his business.

As a business owner, I found myself in these phases at various times in the life of the business. I bought an existing technology business where I was on the management team. Early on I probably occupied the Chief Technician and the Chief Manager roles at the same time. Fortunately, I became involved in two different executive peer groups to help me move out of those roles over time and be the leader of the business I was supposed to be. Unfortunately, the C12 Group wasn’t an option for me at the time. I would have been a much better leader if it had been, due to the better content and the 360° emphasis of group membership as well as the prayer support of the members.

The members of my groups in Wisconsin are at various points in these phases, some just becoming aware of them and where they are, others recognizing where they are and working on their leadership transitions and others are solid leaders of their organizations, continually improving themselves and those around them. If you own a business and especially if you are a business owner who is a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ, which level of owner are you? Are you happy at that level? If not, investigate a C12 Group in your geography. Qualified guests can visit a group meeting without cost or obligation.

www.C12Group.com

www.C12CentralWI.com

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