Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Review - God's Little Princess Devotional Bible

"Every girl is a princess, the daughter of a King... the greatest King who created and rules over everything!" That is great news for a young princess, and is the message conveyed by a new book from Thomas Nelson Publishers, "God's Little Princess Devotional Bible" by Sheila Walsh.

Having a young princess of my own, I jumped at the chance to review this book via the Thomas Nelson Blogger Review Program. Before even opening the book I was impressed by the beautiful front cover and durable construction. It is a 337-pg devotional Bible aimed at young girls of ages 4-8. It contains about 80 segments with a short Bible story followed by application or devotional thoughts. These include Beauty Secrets (inner beauty), Princesses of the Bible, Royal Truths, My Hero (scripture promises) and others. Scripture quotations are from the highly readable International Children's Bible.

It took me longer than I expected to review this because, frankly, I haven't been able to pry it out of my daughters hands! She's been reading it frequently, trying to memorize some verses, and sharing some of the things she finds interesting with her mom and brothers (wow!) While it contains Bible stories, and while youngest readers will enjoy having it read to them, what really sets this book apart and makes it unique is that it is designed to be read by the young princess herself. This is clear from the first page, which begins "Dear Princess, you hold in your hands stories from the most wonderful book in the world. Within these pages you will discover amazing things you need to know about your Father God and how much he loves you." The girl isn't treated like she is a princess from a fairy tale; she learns that she IS a princess because her Father is the King. Sheila shares how sometimes she didn't feel like a princess growing up, didn't feel pretty, didn't always feel loved, and wants you to know how much God loves you. When my daughter read this intro for herself, she couldn't wait to dive in. Reading comes a bit slowly for her and she is a couple of years older than the target age for the book, but as a girl wanting to live out her faith and know God better, it's just perfect!

"God's Little Princess Devotional Bible" is available at Amazon and other retailers. I highly recommend it for young princesses.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Building a Balance in Emotional Bank Accounts

Stephen Covey in his popular book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" discusses the process of making "emotional bank account" with those we love. These are not only important with friends and families, but for building trust within teams.

Over at Philosophers' Notes there is an excellent summary (post and audio) of these "six major types of deposits that build the Emotional Bank Account", repeated below:
  • Understanding the Individual. Few people actually take the time to listen to and understand someone. Be one of those people. Slow down. Seek to understand.
  • Attending to Little Things. Do you consistently do the little things to show your love? Little forms of disrespect are large withdrawals. Make little deposits of kindness all the time.
  • Keeping Commitments. Keep your Account high by honoring your commitments. One of the easiest ways to make huge withdrawals is to not keep your word.
  • Clarifying Expectations. A cause of most relationship challenges is rooted in conflicting or ambiguous expectations around roles and goals. Take the time to clarify.
  • Showing Personal Integrity. Integrity includes but goes beyond honesty. Do your actions truly line up with your words? Be integrated. Make big deposits.
  • Apologizing Sincerely When You Make a Withdrawal. Learn how to say “I was wrong. I’m deeply sorry.” It takes a huge amount of character to apologize sincerely and quickly. Do it.
 As you think about your closest relationships and about the teams you are a part of, how are you doing at building up the emotional bank accounts of those you love and serve with?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Compassion (literally "to feel with") is a deep awareness of, and sympathy for, another's suffering. But more than that, more than empathy, there is an active desire to do something about it, to alleviate another's suffering. In what ways is compassion a natural response, and in what way is it a discipline?

As a human, as one created in the image of a compassionate God, compassion should be a natural response to seeing the pain of others. Some of us are naturally less inclined to feel compassion towards others, but that's no excuse for having a cold heart and not caring for others, or not wanting to do anything about it. One antidote to a heart that is feeling a lack of compassion is to go ahead and be compassionate. Sometimes our feelings guide our actions, but often our behavior can drive our feelings and thoughts in a positive way, reinforcing the behavior and ultimately changing the heart.

The spiritual discipline of compassion then is about breaking the habit of indifference. It's about extending practical help towards someone who is hurting, become the healing presence of Christ to them. Scripture frequently talks about Jesus' compassion (e.g. Mk 1:41, Mt 15:32) and commands us to do the same (I Pe 3:8-9).

What are some practical ways we might practice this kind of compassion? Adele Calhoun lists several in her "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook"
  • Find opportunities to comfort and support those who suffer or are oppressed
  • Rather than react to your own wounds by lashing out, seek to heal relationships
  • Rather than passing judgment on someone hurting due to a poor choice, show mercy
  • Read the newspaper with a prayerful attitude and a compassionate heart
  • Volunteer in some kind of community-based service like a soup kitchen
  • Visit someone who is sick, hospitalized, shut-in, and attend to their needs in love  

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Control is Your Albatross

I read an excellent post by Tom Asacker on how we can over-complicate things and how the need for control can hurt us. (He's also trying to make the case that we read too much, but I'm not buying that!!)
"Control is your albatross. Control destroys relationships. Control blinds you to opportunities. Control shuts down your inner voice. Control is driven by your ego's need to serve itself. Control is an illusion you cling to primarily to alleviate your fears. Great leaders give up the need to control, come to terms with their own egos, and dedicate themselves to helping others. They inspire. They embrace change. They accept the uncertainty of the future. They trust people and help them live their dreams."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Alignment in Teams

Pat MacMillan in "The Performance Factor: Unlocking the Secrets of Teamwork" calls the creation of alignment one of the most important roles in leadership. Alignment is not something that comes from a mandate or a passionate plea. It is the degree to which an individual's goal and direction matches that of their team or organization. Each member of the team must work through these issues if alignment is going to occur, although each may have different motivations. MacMillan presents five elements of a team purpose that promote alignment.
1. Clear (I see it) - benefits of team effort clear and understandable to all
2. Relevant (I want it) - team goals must matter to the needs/goals of the members
3. Significant (It's worth it) - objectives must be important enough to be worth effort
4. Achievable (I believe it) - individual team members must believe mission is possible 
5. Urgent (I want it, ... now!) - goal must be urgent enough to do something... now

Alignment presupposes that the purpose of a team is clear. If you're a leader, how clear is the mission of your team? How well is each team member aligned with that purpose? If "not very", which element do you need to address to help your team members find alignment, so you can actually make a difference?

Friday, June 5, 2009

I'm getting Less Clutter

Not only Less Clutter. But Less Noise too! Are the kids heading to the grandparents for the summer?

Nope, even better, I won a book!?  (Don't laugh at the even better part, I kinda like to read!)
Kem Meyer, Communications Director at Granger Community Church, just had a 'blog tour' to get the word out about her new book "Less Clutter. Less Noise." This book is about using simple strategies to get your word out, reducing the clutter and noise. With lots of stories and tips, it's a great book for those wanting to improve their communication skills. 27 blogs participated, each asking a question for Kem to answer, and giving away a free copy of the book. I went to make a comment or two, but found the answers too interesting and I kept following the tour. In the end, I found several new blogs to follow, and made connections with some neat people.

I won a free copy of the book on Adam Mashni's blog. Adam is the Associate High School Director at NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, Michigan. He loves helping teenagers find truth in a world where they’re surrounded by uncertainty. Thanks Adam!!

I also won a free copy from Kim Bontrager's blog. Kim is the worship leader at First Mennonite Brethren Church in Wichita, Kansas. She's also a mom, a wife, and a creative person with a great heart to love and serve God in a number of ways. I knew of another creative leader/mom/communicator who would benefit from Kem's book, and Kim graciously offered to pass on that giveaway copy to her. Thanks Kim!!

Then something else cool happened. On Faye Bryant's blog the winner was Chris Hill. Chris is the iCampus pastor for The Ridge Community Church. Chris has a passion to help people connect with Jesus Christ, build real community in a virtual world, and help other people to grow and make a difference. Well, he practices what he preaches, and shot me an email offering to send me the book when he was finished reading it! I told him that was no longer necessary, but that his gesture (along with the whole blog tour) has really shown me that 'online community' is not an oxymoron. Bloggers are not just people who vent their opinions and tear down other people, they can really have a heart to work together, share thoughts and resources, and grow together as we serve the same Lord.

I followed along the blog tour looking for information, and instead found some great people, and some wisdom. So thanks to all who participated, bloggers and commenters alike, and to Kem for pushing hard to get all that writing done in a single day!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Nancy Ortberg on the Benefit of Collaborative Teams

We've been studying how to build effective ministry teams and the advantage of a strong team-based approach. I got some unexpected insights on this yesterday on "The Show" by Leadnet, from their guest Nancy Ortberg. She shared on the topic "Provocative Leaders for a Dangerous Church," and made a number of insightful comments on leadership and teams.

"Leadership is much more about managing tensions than solving problems."
"Innovation happens best in teams...  You are absolutely underestimating what God wants to do in your church and you're holding back your innovation if you are not predominatnly using teams not as a slogan, not as a buzzword, but as a leadership strategy."
"One of the signs something is a core value is that it causes pain"
"Risk and failure are kissing cousins, they go together."
"Insist on collaboration. That goes beyond just having a team. Insisting that everyone shows up to the table with their ideas and opinions instead of dividing people into silos."

At the Leadnet archives you can watch a video of Nancy's talk and listen to the audio of the follow-up call-in Q&A session. I was fortunate to be able to ask Nancy a question. (It's between 7:22-10:16 on the call-in mp3.)

"What's the advantage of a collaborative culture (a team-based approach) vs people doing their own things in silos?" 

Nancy Ortberg's answer:
"All of us have been through the education system, so let me give you an illustation out of that context that I think will make sense and you can extrapololate it to any kind of company or organization. It's the difference between one great third-grade teacher and a great school and a great district. If everybody is only caring about their own area, you might have pockets of greatness in your church, but if people are only working their silos they're going to start competing for resources. They're going to start getting competitive and comparative in ways that don't build team and pit each other against each other; that's going to create a lot of little fire areas in your church of pockets of places that are doing well but there's no forward momentum, you're not moving the tipping point where you then begin to change the tide and shift the whole culture and cause an exponential growth because everybody is faced in the same direction. We're not building our own little kingdoms which is a lot of ego - 'My junior high department is doing really well. I know the worship department is struggling, and I know that the pastoral department is struggling, and that's ok with me because my area is going well.' That's a lot of self-absorption, that's not ministry, that's not healthy. So I think to get everybody on the same page you have to have shared vision and shared goals that define your agenda for every time you meet together and we ask people to take off their silo hats and stop thinking of themselves as part of the worship department or part of the junior high department, and in this meeting we're looking at the church as a whole organization, and they're the leaders of that organization we're going to set goals together that supersede any one department. They're still running their own departments as best they can, but in addition to that it's seeing the whole big picture and how we're going to get our church to flourish."
Thanks so much, Nancy for sharing your insight with us, and Todd Rhodes of Leadnet for hosting The Show on Leadnet! (Check it out Tuesdays at 4:00 Eastern)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Four Defense Mechanisms We Use

I'm currently taking a class on building effective ministry teams at Rockbridge Seminary, and this week we're looking at building collaboration and trust. Handling disagreement well is a crucial factor for effective teams, both at work and in ministry settings.

Herrington, Bonem and Furr have written an excellent book called "Leading Congregational Change" In the chapter on Enabling Team Learning they discuss 'defensive routines' which "keep the team from fully and openly exploring an issue." They give four of the most common as:
  1. The logical put-down - a strongly analytical person may imply that everyone would see if their way if only they could just think clearly and logically.
  2. Passionate discourse - when a persuader uses force of personality and persistence to convince the group to accept his point.
  3. Peace-keeping - a conflict avoider tries to keep the group from expressing honest (and sometimes passionate) differences of opinion.
  4. Hurt-feelings - a silent person refuses to acknowledge hurt feelings, and shuts down, disengaging from the dialogue.
These defensive routines undermine the team's ability to work together effectively and to learn. Effective leaders work with the team to identify these routines, and help people modify counter-productive behavior. They also model more effective behavior and keep the dialogue alive when others try to curtail it, or derail it.

As I thought about this lesson, the Bible verse on not letting the sun go down on your anger came to mind (Eph 4:26). Looking at the context of this verse, the whole chapter 4 is so applicable to these defensive routines, and team effectiveness. The theme of the chapter is unity in the body of Christ. The same unity we sometimes confuse with artificial harmony, a mere absence of visible conflict. We're called to be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love (4:2), making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. BUT (vs 7) each one of us is different, with different gifts, for different purposes. Different service in service of the same One, for the purpose of building up the body until that day when we all reach unity in the faith and in knowledge of the Son. As we do this, speaking the truth in love (vs 15) we grow up. Therefore (vs 25) each of us must put off falsehood, speak truthfully, and in our anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. How often do we let conflicts fester sometimes? Days, months, years?

The passage continues, Ephesians 4:29 - "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it might benefit those who listen." If that verse were applied consistently we would not see much of these defensive routines. Steamrolling by persuasion isn't according to the needs of others. A logical put-down may be speaking the truth but not in love. Shutting down in anger ignores verse 26 to address hurt and anger without delay. Peacekeeping is strong on love but weak on truth, and weak on allowing the body to be built up.

It's fairly easy to spot defensive routines when other people use them? Sad to say, I know I use all four from time to time. How about you, what defensive routine do you use?

Monday, June 1, 2009


Abba. Father - Daddy, really. Today I'm feeling very blessed to be both a dad and a child. Last night we went to a hymn sing at church, and this morning my oldest son came in our room and asked if we could sing some of those 'old songs' together. Sure! When he was done, he ran down the stairs to play with his toys, singing 'Go Tell It On the Mountain' as he went. That woke up his two brothers, who came into our room, and wanted to sing some "hymnals" too! Thanks, Greg and Pat, for leading that hymn-sing!

I had another great blessing last night. Christian was trying to remember the nine fruits of the Spirit which he learned about Sunday morning (thanks Jeff!) For my devotional time last night, I thought I would spend some time in Galatians 5 (where the fruit are discussed). Still exploring the spiritual disciplines, I wanted to do some  lectio divina (aka 'Sacred Reading'). To quiet my heart I began with a breath prayer. "Abba, Father, be glorified." After a few minutes repeating this, I opened my NKJV Chronological Bible and turned to Galatians 5:22. On that very page guess what there was sidebar about? Was I in for a shock.

In big bold print I see... "Abba Father" (!!!)  There I found a discussion about the word 'Abba', which is the Aramaic word for Father. But it's the personal intimate word used by children. In English the closest equivalent is "Daddy". So in the process of a dad looking up some Scripture to bless his son, the Father blesses this dad His son with a moment that rocks my world, as I shift my attention out of Galatians 5 and back into chapter 4. For you see there, I am reminded of an absolutely mind-blowing truth - I am literally an heir of God the Father, creator of heaven and earth. He no longer calls me a slave, and not just a friend (awesome though that is), he calls me His heir. Here's the passage that led to the sidebar on Abba, on why knowing God is such a personal and awesome thing...
"What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."  (Galatians 4:1-7, NIV).
We all belong to God; He made us and that is a condition common to all. Under sin, we are all separated from Him, but He longs for us to be in right relationship with Him. Because this is something we cannot do on our own, he made a way, through Jesus Christ His Son. Jesus, born of a woman, born under the law, was able to redeem (pay the price to get someone out of slavery) those of us born of woman, under the law. Not only that, as our sins are paid for by Him, the Spirit of God in Christ now lives in our hearts, and as He is in our hearts we are adopted and are now sons and daughters of God - no longer slaves but now heirs. My sons are adopted, and this is a special blessing on my life like no other, but to know that I am adopted, and loved that much more by my heavenly Father... words can't describe the joy found in this. Abba, I love you!!

God longs for you to know how much He loves you. He longs to call you friend - to call you son / to call you daughter. All that it takes to do this has already been done by Christ. Will you call on Him?