Ten…?! (has it really been that long?) years ago words evaporated… they were ushered off tattered pages… where silence, like a vacuum filling that space As if the Lamb, foretold in Revelation breaking that seventh seal and words failed then too. Words broken dared not uttered too immense the scene, too deep the stain of the end of all things…
We do not dwell here much… for pain still resides. lives here full time dark residue tarnished the festive multi-colored lights as one of its brightest was extinguished, how long will the shadow be cast long and mournful?
The words caught in my throat, ten years ago… I choked on them I couldn’t breathe as, eyes stinging, wet with tears buried the sorrow deep as the fallen snow. Words will never quantify such grief…
words are never enough they will not fill that void that shadow that empty space that bright star now missing, extinguished way too soon.
And still this space is tender and sore. The hurt runs miles deep where no light can enter, no utterances can reach its depths. Ah, but memories, still vivid brilliant and terrifying imbues us with its sorrow here… where words still fail us.
In loving memory of Deb Fiorini…we will always miss you, but in our rememberings you are still here in this space between in our hearts.
8 In the same country there were shepherds in the fields. They were watching their flocks of sheep at night. 9 The angel of the Lord came to them. The shining-greatness of the Lord shone around them. They were very much afraid. 10 The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. See! I bring you good news of great joy which is for all people. 11 Today, One Who saves from the punishment of sin has been born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. 12 There will be something special for you to see. This is the way you will know Him. You will find the Baby with cloth around Him, lying in a place where cattle are fed.”
13 At once many angels from heaven were seen, along with the angel, giving thanks to God. They were saying, 14 “Greatness and honor to our God in the highest heaven and peace on earth among men who please Him.”
15 The angels went from the shepherds back to heaven. The shepherds said to each other, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see what has happened. The Lord has told us about this.” 16 They went fast and found Mary and Joseph. They found the Baby lying in a place where cattle are fed. – Luke 2:8-16 NLV
The second advent candle that we light this week symbolizes the Love of God and that of our love to Him…
A number of years ago, while ministering in a small rural community in Southern Minnesota, I had the privilege of being a part of a very encouraging and loving Ministerial Association. This was essentially a pastoral monthly “get together” to pray for one another and to fellowship. We all became good friends as we shared each other’s burdens and had the commonality of ministry. It was during one of these meetings that I was asked to fill in for a local pastor’s prison ministry while he was away. Initially I was really nervous, I had never participated in a prison ministry let alone lead it and I wasn’t sure I had anything helpful to contribute. But I planned a message and selected some songs and went that next Sunday afternoon to correctional facility with guitar in hand. After a brief security check I was led into a common room where I waited for the inmates to arrive. The room was sparse except for a black metal music stand in the front and an ominous looking cross hanging on the wall. Two small windows were located on an institutional white wall, both windows barred and they only allowed a small amount of day light in.
I could feel the sadness of this place and was given a very small glimpse into what it must be like to be a prisoner here. When the inmates arrived I thought perhaps a guard or an official would lead or say a few words of introduction, but they did not. The guard simply left and I was all alone standing there amidst a sea of orange jumpsuits and staring faces.
I would like to say that I preached a powerfully moving message and that there were tears shed and it was like a Billy Graham revival service, but it was not. The songs were sung…mostly as a solo…the sermon preached…without any emotional response. It seemed as if I had preached to statues. I felt like a complete failure, as if what I had shared wasn’t what they needed to hear. Perhaps I had missed the mark and at the end of my time there I was escorted out and I left feeling defeated and somewhat sorry for myself. I remember saying to God, “well at least I tried” as I conjured up images of Jonah preparing to speak to the Ninevites.
For a number of months I put this Sunday afternoon in prison behind me and didn’t think much about it…until one day while in my office at the corps, a young man popped his head into my door. He told me he had been an inmate at the local correctional facility and that he had attended that Sunday service I had led. He told me that the message I had spoken seemed to have been directed at him and that he had felt convicted and had given his life to Jesus.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What I thought to be a complete and utter failure of an afternoon turned out to be just what God had intended for this young man.
Isn’t it interesting what we believe to be rubbish and consider to be failures God can take and use for the amazing, even the miraculous? Isn’t that what faith is after all? Stepping out in faith, doing our very best and trusting God knows what He is doing with our feeble attempts? You see God hasn’t called us to be the most eloquent of speakers, or the most insanely talented musicians playing moving music for Him…no, what He asks of us is our best effort, our trust and faith.
Last week we discussed the fact that God invites us into His amazing story of Salvation for the whole wide world, but you see there’s more to this invitation. There is element of worship. Our love poured out for Him, and sometimes our love poured out seems like feeble attempts and failed sermons preached. Then God comes along and shows you and me that the work of the Holy Spirit is living and active even in our doubts of success while participating in ministry. When we worship God and declare Him Lord of our lives, the sweet aroma and workings of the Holy Spirit go far beyond our finite efforts. We are merely conduits for the Eternal. He invites us into this worship experience and our part is to faithfully go despite our lack of confidence in our own gifts and abilities.
Like the Angels long ago declaring Jesus’ arrival to common Shepherds in the fields, we too are invited into this worship of declaration and praise.
Advent Questions to Ponder: -When have you been asked by the Lord to step out in faith for Him? What happened? How did you respond? -Have you ever had moments of revelation in your life where you thought you had failed and yet God used your efforts and brought about an amazing, unexpected response? How can you worship the Lord this Advent season and declare Jesus’ birth to those who have yet to hear? What is stopping or preventing you from doing so?
Prayer: Lord, help me to understand that it is not about my gifts and abilities, but it is about my love and adoration for You. Humble my heart and help me to declare your majesty and glory to those around me this week. Help me to invited others into this worship setting with You. I want to be used by You for Your Holy purpose this week. Guide me dear Lord. -Amen.
Scripture Passage: “This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.” –Matthew 1:18-25 NLT
I have always loved Christmas, even in the busyness of it all. There is so much to do, so little time and often times we enter Sunday morning worn out, somewhat disheveled and seeking rest. One might argue that we shouldn’t work so hard and we are short-changing the worship aspect of Sunday. Perhaps there is some merit to this, but I look at the journey that Mary and Joseph took in order to be where God had appointed them to be. The journey would have been difficult, and yet because of a government census they went to Bethlehem. It was hard work, it took time and Mary was very pregnant.
The entire story of the birth of Jesus took work, it took sacrifice, and a leap of faith on Mary and Joseph. This was not just a Divine story in which God shows up and there isn’t human interaction. On the contrary, the human interaction took concerted preparation, time and effort.
What are we willing to give in order to experience a Divine encounter today? Perhaps our God encounter will not be as it was with Mary and Joseph, but God has always been an active participant in humanity. He shows up, there is no question about that…what is in question is our ability to see, hear or experience Him because of our very distracted lives. Are we able to take the time to experience God in our every day lives? Do we stop what we are doing on our cell phones or televisions long enough to just listen? Are we missing out on countless Godly experiences because we have become deaf by living distracted lives?
‘The Homework Assignment’:
Perhaps this Christmas season we could do our very best to try and pay attention. Perhaps it will take a great deal of effort for many of us. This doesn’t mean that we cease our work or our passions, it simply means that we allow God entry into all of these avenues of our hectic lives. This will mean that we invite Him into our work week. Whether that is running bell ringers back and forth and back again. Or it means that as we count money, or prepare Christmas gifts for many families in our communities…all of these areas we invite God’s presence to sit with us. And as we run from one event to another, or from one location to the next, we simply say to God, “Lord, what are you teaching me through this?” And, “Lord how can I be your hands and feet in this moment?”
You see, the amazing thing to consider within this Divine Christmas story is that God has invited all of humanity (that’s you and me) to participate in the greatest story of love ever written. We are invited in. We are not outsiders looking into this amazing salvation story. So once we accept our invitation into this Divine story of love, our job is to invite others into this story too. Don’t keep it to yourself, share it with others. Allow others access to Nativity. Seek out those who feel cast out, a pariah, an outsider – and bring them in.
This is what the Divine Invitation is all about. Grace, love and peace shared to a world so in desperate need of such things. Salvation comes to all, and we can be help others see that God’s love has come freely to all.
Questions: -Who needs to be invited into this Divine Encounter this Christmas that you know personally? -How can you ensure they feel accepted and loved? -When can you consciously stop your busyness and allow God’s invitation to enter your heart anew this week? -Identify the many distractions in your life right now and help to filter out the noise so that you may hear God’s still small voice today.
Something more to ponder today. Coming next week – Advent pondering #2 for the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Stay tuned and journey along with us!
This is a helpful article that I came across recently that holds a lot of truth for any organization big or small, nonprofit or for profit. This could be beneficial for the church and any Christian movement/organization for that matter. I share this not to point out faults or disparage anyone, but rather to help us be mindful of the warning signs and pitfalls in leadership. This can be a helpful tool and resource to us all! Give this a read: (Source, 2014 – http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2168986 )
Regardless of size, all human groups are subject to the same dynamics. Factors that hamper a small group can also cause a much larger structure to falter. In business, managers and employees alike suffer when an organization doesn’t function optimally. Pat Brans points out what dysfunctional organizations have in common and how to spot the five biggest problems. Learn what you can do to turn your organization around.
I think it’s safe to say that every one of us knows the frustration of belonging to a dysfunctional group. We put our all into a team project, only to see our efforts diluted by organizational inefficiencies. An organization might fall flat on its face, or just sputter along indefinitely. But there’s good news! By understanding a few common reasons that groups lose their way, leaders can take steps to keep the team together—and better still, keep the group performing at optimal levels.
No matter what size it is, when an organization falls apart, it’s usually from one or more of these five causes:
Lack of consensus on the nature of problems facing the team
Lack of team cohesion
Lack of resources
A good leader will watch out for all of these potential show-stoppers and work to prevent them—or remedy them quickly. Let’s look at some examples.
Dysfunction Cause 1: Misunderstood Mission
Every individual in an organization must know that organization’s raison d’être. When members know the values and principles of their group, they can make decisions on their own, simply by comparing any options with the group’s mission.
The leaders are responsible for making sure that everyone knows the group’s purpose. Consider these examples:
The organization is a social structure, helping individuals to meet other people with common views.
The organization works to save the lives of children in remote areas, by making crucial medicines available at reduced cost.
The organization designs the best computer games in the world.
If an organization doesn’t understand its mission, most of the time it’s because the leaders themselves don’t have a clear vision of the organization’s purpose. Leaders need to reevaluate the organization’s mission constantly, knowing that the mission can (and should) evolve over time, as new leaders are chosen or external pressures change.
Another common reason that an organization might fail its mission is that the mission isn’t adequately communicated. The leaders might agree on a purpose and try to explain it to the membership, but a poorly formulated message will give different people in the group different ideas. Purpose statements should be repeated often to help everybody know why the group exists and the values that hold it together.
The clearest mission can be expressed in a single-sentence mantra. Here are a few examples from well-known organizations:
Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Coca-Cola: “To refresh the world—in mind, body and spirit; to inspire moments of optimism—through our brands and actions; to create value and make a difference everywhere we engage.”
Peace Corps: “To promote world peace and friendship by providing qualified volunteers to interested countries in need of trained manpower, by fostering a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served, and by fostering a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.”
Dysfunction Cause 2: Lack of Consensus
Team members need to share a common view of the problems the group has to solve. For example, if products aren’t selling well, but only some of the team members recognize that situation, the team can’t move in a unified direction to solve the problem.
Sometimes team members agree on symptoms, but disagree on their underlying causes. Some people might think products don’t sell well because they’re poorly marketed; others might think lack of quality is the issue. Brainstorming sessions across the organization can help to uncover the real issues and their root causes. Are clients providing unclear requirements? Is upper management assigning unreasonable deadlines for the rank and file? Is group image suffering in the marketplace?
Not only should the group share a view of problems and root causes; they must also come to a consensus on priorities. Sometimes people agree on a set of issues, but disagree on the relative importance of each. Some team members might think competition is the biggest problem, others may think limited resources are more troublesome, while still others focus on lack of vision.
Leaders have to make sure that all team members share a common view of the group’s issues and their relative priorities. Without this consensus, the individuals making up the group can never work together to find solutions.
Dysfunction Cause 3: Misunderstood Strategy
Not only do team members need to know the group’s strategy; they also have to believe in it and integrate it into their work. When each member of the group knows how the group will go about fulfilling its mission, people can work in unison. Is the team strategy to build products faster than anybody else? Will the team overcome a sales shortfall by picking up market share in a specific segment? Can the team provide vaccinations in remote areas by pressuring large pharmaceutical companies to lower their prices?
Once the strategy is understood, team members must grasp the group’s tactics—that is, how the strategy will be implemented. If the strategy is to build products faster than anybody else, what approaches can they take to achieve that goal? Investing more money in tools? Training people to work better and faster?
Leaders must make sure all individuals understand the strategies that the group has targeted to meet its objectives. Once all the individuals understand and accept the group’s strategies and tactics, they can function as a group to meet those goals.
Dysfunction Cause 4: Lack of Team Cohesion
People need a sense of identity and of belonging; above all, they need to be able to trust their leaders and other team members. Through experience, I have observed the following axiom:
All human structures exist only so long as the majority of the individuals in the group believe that the structure will continue to exist.
Furthermore, group members need to count on other group members to do what they say they’ll do, and group members have to believe in team rules and procedures.
Building a cohesive team is also more difficult when the team is physically spread out. Some teams can meet no more than once a year. Effective leaders build team cohesion in such cases by using tools such as video conferencing. Establishing rules for interactions is also helpful; for example, some leaders insist that team members respond to all mail from teammates within 24 hours.
To build team cohesion, whether with co-located or remote teams, leaders have to set a good example. Good leaders promote trust within the group, and they ensure that each individual feels like part of the group. Above all, a leader first demonstrates that he or she is trustworthy.
Dysfunction Cause 5: Lack of Resources
Every organization needs resources in order to function—and those resources must be available on time. If the team can’t get the tools and materials it needs to do the job, the job won’t be done. Each team member will feel the frustration, and morale will suffer.
Does your group have everything you need? For example:
Do you have enough laptops to support your sales staff?
Do you have the right software to support your group’s business processes?
Will your travel funds cover sending individuals where they need to go to get the job done?
Leaders must go outside the group as needed to ensure that the group gets everything it needs to do its work.
The most successful leaders watch for these five common causes of organizational dysfunction. When one cause or another rears its ugly head, the proactive leader heads off trouble before it occurs, keeping the team on track.
Shortly after midnight soft footfalls shatter silent slumberings… shaking quickly awake, cobwebs of dread flow with every thundering heart beat. groggily I peer through sleep crusted eyes as her hair, tangled and spilling everywhere… She pads to the foot of our bed shadows casting long and ominous… bad dreams recounted, replacing sleep with assurances of sunrise and what was two in a bed becomes two and a half, with one tossing and turning checking the closets with continued studied gaze…
some day soon all of this will end and I will miss her footfalls and the sweet refrains of assurances late at night because the sunrise is coming soon.
There other day, while dropping off my children at school, I had an epiphany. It wasn’t some sort of vision from heaven like Isaiah did in chapter six of his book, but rather a visual lesson that I feel God shared with me. First of all, let me preface this with saying that I’m not the typical “God sent me a vision” sort of person…It’s not something that typically occurs, nor am I out there looking for signs from Heaven (although maybe I should start).
So I’m driving to my children’s school and out of the corner of my eye I see one of the many beautiful properties that surround the neighborhood where I live and it is currently under construction.
You might be saying to yourself, “okay, that doesn’t really seem like an epiphany or even anything remotely resembling a vision.” Bear with me…
As I view this sight in front of me, I have one of those “ah-ha moments”. The kind that occurs when something or everything just seems to fall into place and finally makes sense. Have you ever had one of those? This specific “ah-ha moment” happens in an instant but the scenario takes time marinate and unfold in my brain:
There were many workers all over that home and property. All of them doing their jobs, but out in front of the home there was this huge eye-sore. It was a very large mountain of rubble. It was all rubbish, old bricks, ruined mortar, dirt and anything else considered to be elements of the old, discarded pile that could not be salvaged or reused in the rebuild.
From an outsider’s perspective this pile of garbage was all that I could focus on. It was all that I could see. The old, yet beautiful home was in severe disrepair as the reconstruction was taking place. It did not look inviting nor habitable in that current state. From the untrained eye, such as I am, the entire structure and surrounding property looked to be now worthless and nonrecoverable. Was I right in thinking this? Well, in that specific moment – yes. It was not a place that was presently livable…and yet I was also completely and utterly wrong. I had a limited window of vision (pun intended). What limited understanding and concept of patience within this reconstruction was obvious. But the funny thing about reconstruction is, well, the RE… It is being REbuilt, REestablished, REmodeled, REnewed.
I imagine that is what Nehemiah’s vision for Jerusalem was all about. He saw the rubble, he wept over the condition of the exiles and their capital city and he determined to do something about it. He envisioned what the completed walls would once again look like. Then in chapter 6 verses 15 and 16 of Nehemiah he saw the fruition of the reconstruction process, “So on October 2nd the wall was finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun. 16 When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done with the help of our God.”
This is vision. This is what it takes to tear away the broken down, molded over, ruined pieces of what once was so that the present and the future might soon exist again.
Having vision is risky. Having vision involves living with the eye-sore in the temporary so that the permanent might have a firm foundation that will last. Having vision means that there will be opposition with limited to no imagination of what the future should or could look like contrary to what has been already known. Having vision means there will be tears shed, there will be heartache, sleepless nights, passions expressed and sometimes disagreements shared. It is often the road less traveled because an easier route is present. That easier road is all about preserving the crumbling foundation for as long as possible. Protecting what was instead of investing in what can be. The easier road is the band-aid for a life and career preserved instead a life and career freely given. It is the bowing out of responsibility over that of image, reputation and prominence. If we are not prepared for the fall out and rubble then we ought not tread on property soon to be under construction, and instead take the easier route.
Reconstruction disturbs present in order to survive and to thrive in the future. (Sorry Catherine Booth, I took some liberties there)…
So where is the art within this reconstruction? Let me just say that this metaphor of construction is being applied in principal to organizational structure and re-organizational structure…
3 Principals Within The Art of Reconstruction:
1) Innovation from the first floor... There is a tendency within organizations to only listen to the top tier leadership, while those on the ground, or first floor have just as much of a vested interest, if not more. After all, who will eventually replace the current leadership and cast the vision for a future generation? The answer? – those currently on the first floor.
In order to win at the reconstruction process (and by win I mean succeed) there needs to be an investment in innovation from the ground floors. Those companies that allow freedom of thought, creativity and innovation to be utilized see a far more harmonious and successful organization all around. When these characteristics are encouraged and cultivated there is a deepening of the foundations, a re fortification of the walls and a better chance at a lasting reconstruction to the organization.
The key is, though, not to placate or pretend to involve the first floor if their innovations and thoughts will not ultimately be considered or used. For if this is the case, then just stop the pretenses and plod on with your own self-designed vision. Chances are, you will already have lost members of your team and you will only discourage free-thinking innovators under the guise of first floor innovation. In other words, let your yes be yes and your no be no and stop pretending to include others if your organizational system doesn’t allow it…it is disingenuous and disparaging to pretend other voices matter.
2) Sharing the labor and vision The structures of successful companies and organizations stem from the group as a whole and not a messiah leader at the top. Let’s be frank, there was only one Jesus and we are not Him…although we ought to strive to live like Him. Therefore, perhaps this emulation of Jesus ought to also be present in the office, board room and beyond. Taking this one step further, what would it look like organizationally if we were to emulate the Acts 2 Church? Their purpose was to live in community with one another, help each other, share the good news and it says that many were added to their numbers daily. (Acts 2:47)
Today, we compete against each other, we compare our responsibilities and “privileges” with that of others and we vie for position of ever increasing responsibility and power. This is certainly a drab account of things, but it is fairly accurate by and large? So what is missing in the reconstruction and rebuilding? I believe it is the Cornerstone – Jesus and our pure Christ-like attitudes. If we are to experience a successful reconstruction and/or realignment of mission, we cannot move without this piece first being present. When we have a shared labor, and a committed unified vision, then and only then are we able to put that newly constructed wall up…because the footings and foundation is deeply rooted in the Cornerstone of Christ and Godly principals of observed and put into practice.
3) Include Opposing Views
Are we really looking intently at change or are we just looking for ideas that share our already decided conclusions? It can be challenging to include those with whom you do not always see eye to eye with, but this kind of tension and resistance is healthy to organizations. The mark of true leadership is the willingness to include and to listen to opposing thoughts, ideas and opinions.
To be fair, those views and opinions may not always be correct, and we may challenge notions that oppose our preconceived concepts and ideas…this friction and tension spurs on the creative juices of diversity and innovation in us all. We need this friction and we need to be challenged. This is a good thing to take place. If we are not willing to listen to opposing sides then our reconstruction could be in jeopardy, because dare I say, none of us are infallible.
4) Celebrate Within the “Pardon Our Dust” Moments… lastly, here’s a bonus principal in the art of reconstruction…it’s a freebie but very, very important nonetheless: Celebrate within the “pardon our dust” moments. What do I mean by that? First this acknowledges that we do not currently have all of the answers or building pieces in place yet. AND THAT IS OKAY!!! Let’s not pretend to have it all worked out all of the time, because we are not fooling anyone with that facade. When we can celebrate the “baby steps” while actively engaged in these “pardon our dust” moments within the reconstruction, we are saying, “we aren’t where we use to be, and we aren’t where we want to be…but we are making process and we are heading in the right direction!” As a team, this means we have a desired completed project aim and while taking those steps it is important to see how far we’ve come, and to celebrate those micro-victories! This winning attitude brings confidence in the team around you, inspires others to keep moving forward and when we celebrate make it a point to honor and acknowledge those individual efforts that made it possible. When we celebrate the team and individuals who have helped spur the forward momentum, we are ensuring that momentum continues.
Here’s another brick in the wall (sorry Pink Floyd)…something more for us to ponder together. Blessings on you!
O Lord, do not continue this silent treatment for one more moment for my heart can’t take it any longer. My soul is a dried up husk of what it used to be. I cannot sleep, and when I do my rest is filled with troubled dreams.
I have been looking, ever searching for you… why are you hiding?
I can not take this hurt of abandonment any more, O Lord hear my gasping, lung-rattling cries. I cannot shed anymore tears, for the well has dried up.
And my thoughts, they are running circles around my broken heart…
I keep second-guessing you, I keep pleading for this horror to end How long, O Lord, will you let it fester and consume me? I don’t think I can make it much longer.
But even after all of this…
even if You never answer my cry…
even if I am left alone on this hill to die on…
I will trust.
I will put all that I have of my wilting strength into your Eternal hands.
But Lord, wake me up, Help me see even the remotest chance of victory.
Help me see the Light at the end of all of this… even if it comes in the last moments in the final dying gasp of these feeble lungs.
My enemies are already starting to jeer And they are celebrating my demise …and yours as well. They cannot wait for me to fall flat on my face in disgrace and embarrassment.
But even if that happens… even if I walk this cold, dark alley alone, I will trust in your unfailing, immeasurable eternal love…
I know that You will come You have always kept your promises to me.
You have always been good to me… even in this dark place… O Lord, please come.
(As I read this Psalm of David, I could feel the anticipation and fear, perhaps even a little bit of frustration. We have all been to this place, perhaps the circumstances are different than that of David’s, but within these phrases there flows an emotion that we can all relate to. It is within this vein, that I have placed my needle and poked us all…perhaps in the bleeding we might see not only the very real presence of pain and fear, but more importantly – God’s holy and eternal presence…He will never leave us or forsake us.).