What To Do Before You Do Anything

You Need To Do This Well To Excel

Imagine walking through the mall this month and someone walks up to you and kisses you and tells you that they love you? Today we’re going to talk about why that might not be so weird in the day and age that we live in.


If it was a complete stranger, you’d probably be shocked! If however, it was your spouse you’d think it was totally natural. Why? It all has to do with context. Given the context of marriage and your relationship at that time, your spouse has the right to kiss you and express their love for you. A stranger does not have that right.

Context may not sound like such a big deal at first glance, but it’s implications are far reaching. If you err in evaluating context as a leader, it can cost you greatly. In fact, with the advent of social media and the world we live in, it may be one of the greatest skills a leader should concentrate on.

For example, how easy is it to take a text the wrong way?  Even if the person sending it uses emoticons, their message can still be cloudy or misinterpreted, right?

As a leader, understanding your context is very important. Ask any pastor who has gone to a conference, came home, and tried to implement everything they learned. They assumed that just because something was working for another leader in California, the same would work for them in New York. Usually that’s not the case, because each context is different.

So how do you discover your context. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. You need to do your research. A great example of a group who attempted to do that is found in Numbers 13 and 14. In these chapters, Moses sent 12 spies into the land of Canaan to discover the quality of the land and its resources. He also wanted to see what kind of opposition they were going to face if they decided to overtake it. They were “doing their homework”.

Again, the importance of context can’t be overstated. This is especially true when interpreting the scriptures. As you study them, you need to ask important questions. What is the historical context? What is the literary context? What is the cultural context? Any preacher will tell you that until you’ve done that, you’re not ready to preach a sermon.

Taking this a step further, context is everything in relationships and leadership, world events, politics, etc.

When we lift words or conversations out of context, they lose their meaning. For example, a conversation with your spouse might be perfectly acceptable in private, but having that same conversation in public might not be.

Again, you might totally misunderstand a statement someone makes on social media and decide to disagree. Having a conversation with that person over coffee or on the phone is probably a lot more appropriate than berating them in public.

When interpreting context, it’s so important to examine the source. It’s a little different when your four year old gets mad and says they hate you than it is when a four year employee says the same words.

As a leader, it’s so important to determine context. Your ability to do so, can make the difference between a long and fulfilling career and a short one.

I wonder how many arguments with our loved ones might be eliminated if we took the time to step back and look at the context in the given situation.

I wonder how much more peace we’d have if we walked away from conversations with our peers and interpreted their words based on the context of our friendship with them.

I wonder how much easier parenting would be if we looked at the actions and words of our children through the grid work of context.

What happens is that as we go through life, the words of those we love and their actions have the potential to derail our happiness if we fail to understand context. If we’re not careful, a one time event can be interpreted as a final straw. If we’re not careful, we can decide to burn all bridges based on a single event when someone we love was simply angry or immature. Lets face it, none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes.

The better you understand your context, the more you’ll be able to help those you love and serve.

Moses sent out spies to get the information he needed. That might be o.k. if you’re looking to start a new business or a church. But if you’re looking to better understand someone, having a conversation with them might be a better place to start.

Spending time with people is also a great way to better understand your context. When you do, be sure to occasionally ask questions to get the information you need.

If your a leader, you might even consider sending out a survey through a company like surveymonkey.com.

What are the local customs of the people you serve? There’s a difference between the customs of people in Las Vegas, Nevada and people who live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Cultures also vary from place to place. While this may seem like commonsense, it’s an important consideration when determining your context.

One last thing to remember is that the experts aren’t always right. Remember the 12 spies we talked about? Only 2 out of 12 of them came back with an accurate report about the Promised Land! Here we see that the majority is not always correct. While having a team is a great way to build a consensus, as a leader, you’ll have to make the best decision possible regardless of the consensus.

Again, it wouldn’t be odd if you were in the Mall and your spouse came up to you and kissed you and told you they love you. That would be perfectly natural in that setting. However, if a stranger did the exact same thing, it would be more than just plain weird, it would be unnatural. Great leaders know this and act accordingly. They do their thinking and decision making based on the context they are operating within and lead people accordingly. Call it discernment, call it heart, call it what you want, contextual thinking is powerful!

The Secret Of The People Who Influenced You Most

Two Invaluable Sentences

Who was one of the most influential people in your life? I’d be willing to bet that person used the following two phrases often.


One of the most influential people in my life was a construction foreman. His name isn’t important, what is important is the fact that he knew the importance of these two phrases. He might not have always verbalized them, but his actions and attitude showed he was familiar with them. He was always willing to serve and if I didn’t need his help at the time, I knew I could depend on him to help in the future if necessary.

I’m going to guess that the most influential people in your life have been people who were willing to help you. Perhaps they never vocalized their offer, but you knew they’d assist you in any way possible if necessary.

Inexperienced leaders, on the other hand, are more concerned with what their followers can do for them. In their eyes, those under their leadership should do everything in their power to help them.

Jesus knew that and turned that whole way of thinking upside down. He emphasized serving others, not being served. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. (Mark 10:45) NIV.

Let me illustrate. In the movie Glory, Matthew Broderick plays the role of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the first all-African-American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry, during the Civil War. Without spoiling the plot, Shaw was not a great leader to begin with. He was more concerned about himself and his legacy rather than the welfare of his men. A transformation begins to take place during the movie when he realizes his mens feet are raw due to poor footwear. You’ll have to watch the movie, to find out what happens….but here’s a take away.

The most influential people in our lives are the ones who know our needs.  Not only do they know our needs, they meet them.

The way they discover our needs is by watching and listening.

One particular way they listen is by asking questions, which leads us to the two transformational phrases. Before we look at them, there’s one more type of leadership we need to look at.

First there are reciprocal relationships. These are easy to monitor and you can easily predict when they are ‘headed south’. The kind we’re talking about are based on performance. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. I jump through the hoop, you give me a prize. I obey, you give me a treat.

This type of relationship is quite prevalent, especially in the working world today. How do you know when they’re beginning to sour? Somebody stops keeping their end of the bargain.

If you’re leadership is reciprocal, your influence begins to wane the minute you stop keeping your end of the bargain and/or others do the same.  With reciprocal leadership, you see, people get really good at keeping score.

Second, there is redemptive leadership. Redemptive leaders serve their people despite their performance.  Their aim is to redeem the people and organizations they are part of.  They understand that transformation takes time and they realize the importance of serving their people over the long haul. Rather than commanding people to obey them because of their title, they earn the loyalty of their people through continued service.

Here are the two questions they ask.

1. Is there anything you need? Quite often after we ask people to perform tasks, a long period of time passes during which their is little or no follow-up. During that time, you assume the person is having no difficulty whatsoever because they are achieving the intended results. In the meantime, that person may feel that although they are getting the results, you could care less about them. They may begin to believe you are more concerned with the results than you are with them as a person. Asking them if there is anything they need reminds them that you care and provides an opportunity to help them if necessary.

2. Please keep me informed. Surprisingly, most people do not need your help. When you volunteer your services, they will tell you things are going well. However, while they may not need your help at the time, it’s comforting for them to know that you are willing to help them in the future if they need it.

Again, maybe the people who were most influential in your life never asked you these two questions (verbally). However, you knew they were willing to help you if necessary.

So, are you a reciprocal type or redemptive? Don’t beat yourself up if you’re part of a system where every relationship is reciprocal. Being reciprocal is a necessary part of every relationship. If you don’t believe me, stop providing your family with food and a warm place to live.  Or go to the super market and try buying a banana with pocket lint.  Reciprocity is king in the consumer world.  However, reciprocal leadership, while vitally important, is not the whole deal.

It’s not surprising, but when people know that you care, their performance soars. Of course, that’s not the reason you care for them, however it’s not a bad bonus.

You know the saying ‘when the cat’s away, the mice will play”. Not always true. The people you serve will perform at their highest potential when you are absent because they know that you love them. To do otherwise is unloving on their part.

Maybe, just maybe you are serving others and looking for ways to serve them better. Great! In the meantime, just because you serve others it doesn’t necessarily mean they will serve you. People can be plain selfish, especially bosses.

Rather than embracing their reciprocal leadership, continue to serve them. Jesus said no matter what, don’t look for other people to serve you, you serve them!

When we stoop to the level of others, everyone loses. Despite how you are received, continue to serve.

The most influential people in your life were people who you knew were concerned with your well being and willing to help you whenever necessary.

Are you meeting the needs of others? Do others feel like you have their best future in mind?

The Best Advice My Doctor Ever Gave

The Cure for a Critical Spirit

Have you ever felt like there’s a lack of justice in the world? I bet you have. In fact, you may be feeling like that this week.


Many of us feel like things should be different in the world. Things should be more fair, easier. Often, we feel like we’re the only ones who are right and everyone else is wrong. Eventually we decide something must be done.

In fact, we can get to the point where we begin finding fault with everyone. This includes our spouses, our children, co-workers, the people at church, including the pastor. Before we know it we’re the only ones in the world who are right and everyone else is wrong.

I’ve got some news for you. It’s harsh.  Before you hit the unsubscribe button, please understand that although it’s painful, it actually turns out to be good medicine.

When you’ve got a problem with everyone, chances are you’re the problem.

I’m even going to go out on a limb and expound a bit more. I’d be willing to bet that you’re feeling it right now. Maybe you’re feeling it in the form of a strained marriage. Perhaps your child isn’t talking to you or things are a bit strained at work.

What happens is God uses other people as mirrors to help us see our own faults. He wants the faults of others to remind us of our own need for Him. That’s not to say we should get out our faultfinders and start waving them around others like the people at the airport security. The reverse is true. When we find ourselves finding faults with others, especially our loved ones, He wants us to be reminded how much we need him.

When we start seeing ourselves and our own need for grace and stop focusing on how others need to improve, an amazing shift takes place.  All of the ice around us begins to melt and we’re able to get back in the game.  Frozen relationships thaw.  Icebergs in our own hearts begin to melt.

You can’t go through life looking through a magnifying glass and see the big picture at the same time.

Imagine if you held up a newspaper article about an inch from your face and tried to read it. For that matter, try holding anything one inch away from your face and reading it. Unless you have really unusual eyesight, it’s impossible.

Focusing on details, especially faults, is not a bad thing. But if you want to see the big picture, you have to step back and take it in.

We know we shouldn’t go through life focusing on everyone else’s mistakes and sins, but if we’re not careful, it’s an easy trap to fall into, especially if we’re creative. Maybe you’ve been doing this for so long you don’t even realize it. Relax, it’s human nature.

Maybe you’ve even been praying for those people and asking God to change them. Wonderful!  Or you’ve been wondering “Will they ever get it?” Or “Don’t they realize how this is effecting our relationship?” In your most desperate moments you may even be wondering if they’re going to heaven.

To make things even more uncomfortable, God doesn’t seem to answer your prayers for the other person. In fact, sometimes it seems like things are getting worse. That very well could be.

Remember, at the end of the day, you can’t change anyone but yourself.

Let’s illustrate. Say you’re praying for the person in the cubicle next to you at work. You don’t just pray for them once, but quite often, especially when you are upset with them. This has been going on for months, but nothing has changed.

Maybe God isn’t looking to change someone else, maybe he’s trying to change you. Maybe when God allowed that person to criticize you last week it was so that you would change. Maybe the reason God gave you the kids or the spouse He did is because He doesn’t want you to change them, He wants you use them to change you.

Maybe God isn’t trying to change someone else, He’s trying to change you!

That may sound really harsh, but the truth is its good news! When all of the finger pointing stops and we focus on changing ourselves, wonderful changes begin.

Your constant criticism of others isn’t a reflection of them it’s a reflection of what is going on in your own heart. In the sarcastic but true words of a pastor/friend, “Prayer doesn’t change anything, it changes you!”

Of course we all know prayer can change lots of things. However, my friend may be onto something. Our prayers are meant to remind us that God wants to change us.

Whenever I find myself condemning others I ask myself this question. Who am I to exact a price for a penalty that has already been paid for in full?

God may never change the people around you, but if he does He may just begin with you. The great news is you don’t have to wait! You can start right now where ever you are.

You can’t change the way others act, think or speak but you can change the way you respond.

The teenaged child who’s rocking your world right now and pushing the boundaries is a gift! Rather than wishing away the next five years, what if you simply start responding differently? What if you continue to tell her that you love her, despite her bad behavior.  Better yet, while she’s misbehaving.

God loves you enough to not leave you the way He found you! He is not only in the process of changing you, he wants the transformation to be as extreme as the difference between night and day. If you’ve been critical of others it’s not because you’re a fiend, it’s because you are growing and learning what it feels like to be effected by other people’s bad behavior.

The sooner you accept the diagnosis that you’re the one with the problem, the sooner you’ll become a Dr. who’s able to help others.

“I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” Luke 5:32 NLT

The Clear And Simple Solution To Every Problem

Wrestle the Bear

During a morning walk with my friend, he shared a bit of wisdom, “There’s a clear and simple solution to every problem….and it’s usually wrong!”


A little over two years ago, my wife took our minivan to the dealership and they told her it was going to cost about six hundred dollars just to pull apart the dash to see what was wrong and restore the heat.  We were stymied.  After all, the “experts” had spoken on the issue and that was that.

Fast forward two years and my wife threw down the gauntlet and said it was time to replace the vehicle.  No problem, but I’m the worse salesman in the world and told everyone interested in the van what was wrong with it.  I sleep really good at night though :-).  However, despite my honesty, we were having a hard time selling the van.  Not too many people want a vehicle without heat in the Northeast.  Go figure!

Long story short, after many hours of trouble shooting and repeated attempts, I discovered what was wrong and fixed it!  The motor that works the mixer door under the dash had died, leaving the flap closed so that no heat could enter the ductwork.  The van now has luxurious heat….it’s like sitting in front of a fireplace and it cost me zero dollars to repair.  Want to buy it?

I don’t know what challenge or problem you’re facing right now, but I do know one thing.   There’s a clear and simple solution to your problem and it’s usually wrong.  That’s not to say that some things aren’t easy to figure out.  However, long, ongoing issues are evidence that the solution you’re in need of may take some time and wisdom, not to mention repeated attempts.  But one thing is for sure, if you do nothing, nothing will change.

Most of us, however, do SOMETHING.  The problem is we don’t do enough of something.

We go to the gym….for a week.  We date our spouse once a week….for a month.  We go back to school….for a semester.  The problem is we’re starting and stopping so much that we never follow through with anything.  Then a pattern of giving up begins.  And it gets easier and easier to keep giving up.  Eventually, the least little bit of resistance is enough to ground our dreams and plans.  Unfortunately, our kids watch us and catch the disease

Here are just a few thoughts on problem solving.

Walk away from the problem.  Not permanently, but temporarily.  Take a break.  Take a walk.  Unplug  until you are able to come back to the problem with fresh eyes and a refreshed spirit.  My grandfather, a wise old farmer, taught me this trick years ago and trust me, there are plenty of conundrums when you own a farm.  So stop doing the same thing over and over and getting worn out.  Take a break.  Maybe you need to research your problem a bit more.  Maybe this challenge is a valuable education in disguise.  The knowledge it has to teach you may be helpful for years to come.

Pray.  This one ought to come before walking away from the problem.  However, if you’re like me, it’s fitting.  I can’t count the times I’ve attempted something then prayed.  In the words of Jesus’ half-brother James, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).  Pound for pound, there’s a lot of wisdom packed in that verse.  Ask God specifically to provide you with a clear and simple solution to your problem.

Wait.  Not to work on the problem, but for the solution.  Sometimes it’s only a matter of time.  I know an innocent guy who spent years in prison before he was finally freed.  In the meantime, he used his gifts as best as he could and further developed his character.  In the meantime, his patience muscle grew.  His name was Joseph and you can read about him in Genesis chapters 37-50.  As a pastor, I constantly tell people, “It took you years to get in the mess you’re in and it may take just as long to get things straightened out”.  Attending church one Sunday isn’t going to solve all of your problems, stick around for the long haul.

Remember, there’s a clear and simple solution to every problem, and it’s usually wrong.

Simple solutions take the form of flight.  It’s much easier to run from the bears in our lives than to attack them….or so it seems.  Eventually the bears catch up with us and we still have to face them.  It takes a lot less energy to face your problems than to run from them.

You know the story.  A man was missing from home for six months!  That’s a long time.  Finally, his wife heard a knock at the door and she opened it to find her husband standing there in filthy rags.  One shoe was missing.  “What happened?”, she asked.  “Well,” he replied, “I got chased by a bear for two weeks.”  “Chased by a bear for two weeks?  You’ve been gone for six months!  Where were you the rest of the time?” she asked.  “Well, I’ve been walking back!”, he answered.

We can run from our problems and to be quite honest, it feels pretty good sometimes.  However, most of the time we’re better off committing to solving our problems rather than running from them.  In the words of my good friend, “There’s a clear and simple solution to every problem, and it’s usually wrong.”

Are You In Need Of A Relationship Makeover?

Something That Was Never Designed To Be A Substitute For Listening

22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.

One of the highlights of my childhood was spending time with my grandfather. It didn’t matter where we went, in fact, I don’t remember what we talked about half the time. The sheer joy was just being in his presence.


How about you?  As we navigate the river of life, it’s so easy to forget how important it is just to spend time with people. The conversation doesn’t have to be deep every time and it doesn’t matter if you never solve all of the problems in the world. What matters is the company….the connection….or, in the words of one of my favorite English professors “experiencing the human condition together.”

I admit I’m just as guilty as anyone. As a pastor, I often feel like words are my greatest commodity and I have to fill all the empty spaces of a visit with pearls of wisdom. What I’m learning, is words are important but what really matters is presence. Jesus spent time with his disciples. He pitched his tent among them.  He even hung out on the cross for them.  However, as a leader it’s so easy to feel like time with others is wasted unless we solve some kind of problem or relieve a pressure point. Not true. Often, a touch of the hand or a kind smile or furrowed brow has the power to accomplish what words never can.  Sometimes just knowing you’re there is enough.  If you don’t believe me, go and read Psalm 23.  In it David is greatly comforted by Jesus his shepherd, yet there is no mention of words as one of those comforts!  Presence is often greater than words.

However, many times, in my relationships with others, I often revert to lecture mode. If something’s going to get fixed, I infer, I must say something. I must put forth a rational solution. Define the facts. Come up with a solution. When in reality, our families don’t need another coach, or specialist. All they want is us. Crazy, I know! But when’s the last time your kids or your wife asked you for clear, sound, practical advice? Bet you can’t remember. But skip a game, or a meal, or a Saturday with them and watch what happens. It’s not our advice they want, they just want us.  “Where were you”, they’ll ask, not “tell me again what you said before”.

These days, in my opinion, there is a lot of doing and not a lot of hearing.  Because if there was more listening going on, it would show up in our actions.   James says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” Again, there is no shortage of doing. In fact, people can’t stop doing. Every waking moment has to be filled with activity. It’s an epidemic. Productivity, however, means being busy at the right things. In my own experience it’s so easy to get busy without first taking the time to listen. If you’re too busy to listen, you’re too busy to lead….for God, in your home, at work, and in the community and world around you. It’s time to start getting busy with our ears, especially before God, and then start getting busy doing.

Just yesterday a good pastor/friend reminded me that as disciples, one of the key things we do is spend time with Jesus. Not just talking to him, but listening. Every time in my life that I have, the ice has melted and there was a Springtime thaw. It’s amazing what just a short, but intentional period of time, will do for your home life, personal circles, and spheres of influence. Yes, we must DO, but first we must make time to HEAR.

And if Jesus spent time with his disciples, therefore we must spend time with our loved ones. They’re not going to get what they need from a video on Youtube, T.V or their friends. What they need is us. In tune. On point. Present. Available.

So what are you trying to do? Whatever it is, God is with you. In tune. On point. Present. Available. When you go to bed, he’s with you. When you wake up, he’s with you. When you go to the dog groomer, he’s with you. When you hurt, he’s with you. When you laugh, he’s with you. Just as you wanted to spend time with your Grandfather when you were young, God wants to spend time with you. Maybe you’re feeling the pain of separation right now and you’d give a million dollars to be able to spend one more minute with a lost loved one. Guess what? God knows.  He’s listening.  He never wastes a hurt and you shouldn’t put a period where he’s put a question mark.

Imagine if we decided to stop what we’re doing, right now, and spend some time just listening to God. Again, here’s a good verse to start with “Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” Think about what God is saying. As thoughts come to mind, write them down on a piece of paper. If thoughts don’t immediately come, wait until they do. You may even come back later this week and write down some more.

Imagine if we focused on being present, the next time we’re with someone else. Rather than just thinking about what we’re going to say about ourselves next, imagine if we got seriously interested in finding out what that other person is going through. Just listening. Maybe nodding our head from time to time or giving just a brief vocal response to let them know we’re still listening. Maybe that’s why God wants us to develop the discipline of intently listening to him so that we can patiently listen to others.

Finally, do. We are human beings, and not human doings, but part of being human means taking action. In fact, be the kind of person you expect those you lead to be. Yesterday, pastor Johhny Hunt said, “If you want your people to be generous, you be generous. And you don’t have to be rich to be generous. You only have to be generous to be generous.” Eventually you will have to use words but when you do, you’ll be ready because you will have spent time with the wisest person who ever walked the planet. You’ll also have to lead, but that too will be no problem because you will have taken the time to be led.  Leaders listen and then act on what they’ve heard.

If you reread the words of James, there is a catch. The catch is this. There are people who take the time to listen, but they don’t take the time to act accordingly. We like to think it is because fear or feelings of insecurity creep in. James, however, says if something walks like a sheep and talks like a sheep they’re probably a sheep. However, if someone says they’re a sheep yet walks like a goat and talks like a goat, they’re probably a goat.

What are your thoughts? Do you think there is more doing than listening these days, or is the reverse true? Where once there was great listening and very little doing, there now seems to be great doing and very little listening.  Doing was never designed to be a substitute for listening. 

“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” Psalm 16:11 (NLT)