Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 May 2017

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Hebrews 10, verse 24

I’m a project manager.  I manage a team of people working on a project to remove Social Security numbers from older peoples’ Medicare ID cards.  Because I work remotely, I’ve never physically met most of the people on my team (though I do know some from previous jobs).  It’s tough to get to know people you don’t see face to face, and that makes. even more sense because I’m the new kid on the block.  On a work team, you’re drawn together by the commonality of your tasks and the fact that you’re employed for the same reason by the same people.  Yet in a virtual work environment, you never see your co-workers or team members in person.  Unless you know your co-workers from previous interaction, you don’t have common ground.   That makes motivating a team difficult.

So Hebrews 10, verse 24 is perhaps some of the best project management advice ever written, especially for virtual teams.

“Let us consider” is a call to friendly action.   Notice that it doesn’t say “do this” or “you will.”   It isn’t directive in nature and yet it places the reader in a position as if they had been directed.   “Let us consider” are three words that are swung as a velvet hammer.   They don’t force you to do anything yet place the burden of inaction squarely on you and you alone.   They ask you to do something without commanding you to do something.   They appeal to your reason and your sense of belonging.  That shouldn’t be surprising because that’s usually how Jesus operates.

“Spur” (according to dictionary.com) means “anything that goads, impels, or urges, as to action, speed, or achievement.”  The King James version of Hebrews uses the word “provoke” but no matter what version is used to translate the word, the intention is clearly to convince others to move.   A manager spends most of his time doing just this.   A good manager will do it in such a way as to inspire you to act on your own to do your part in a larger mission.   As managers, we spend most of our time spurring people forward to support the tasks we oversee.   As followers of Jesus, we should be spending most of our time doing the same thing, and the task with which we’re charged is sharing the Gospel.

And we are to spur one another TOWARD love and good deeds.   Sure, we are to comport ourselves in love and righteousness.   Jesus gave us both of those things and we’re to use them in living our lives.   Yet when we manage and lead others, we are to inspire them in the direction of love and good deeds.   We aren’t supposed to do other peoples’ love and good deeds for them.  Helicopter parents beware:   you aren’t responsible for living your kids’ lives.   Your job is to inspire them by parenting them, teaching them, preparing them.

Helicopter managers beware as well:   you’re responsible for the efforts of your team, but it isn’t your job to do their work for them.   It’s your job to spur them toward doing it.   It’s our job to serve a greater good by helping those around us serve it as well.  May I suggest that, whether you have Jesus followers on your team or not, some practical advice on why, even how, to do that is found first and foremost in the Bible (and not in the PM Body of Knowledge?)?

Best of all, we get to do these things while relying on the foundation of faith in Jesus’ true good news.   Love and good deeds are both the reason and the by-product of living in Jesus’ presence where love and good deeds become standard operating procedure.  In working with them we find it’s the journey and not the destination that matters most.

I don’t know whether my team-members are believers or not.   In today’s super-sensitive work climate, it’s almost taboo to discuss matters of faith.   Yet whether they’re believers or not, more often than not I find myself asking “what should I do” of my Savior when I have even the slightest question about work.   I’m learning to entreat Him into my routines, involving my faith more and more as a practical tool for managing my work team.   There is no downside to that.

For further reading:  Titus 2:14.

Lord, be involved in my work.   Lead me and teach me so I may lead and inspire others.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 9 December 2015

Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13, verse 11.

I’m finishing up my project now.   Since this is the end of the year, and since we were blessed to have a spectacularly successful go live in October, the time has come to close down the project. It’s a melancholy time, satisfying to know that my team – a bunch of rock stars – did exemplary work while being the best group you could ever want to know, yet bittersweet knowing that this time together is ending.

What’s more, since the main project is winding down, I volunteered to take on a short-term project for my client. I led a small team to write requirements for a new transaction the client wants to use, and in just under a month we made great progress, finishing the draft requirements and putting project structure around some things that had languished for most of a year.   Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fit and the client rolled me off the project no-notice this week, assigning it to another project manager.   I’m a little bitter about it, mainly because of the way they did it and the fact that our small team progressed very far very fast.

I feel like I got fired even though I didn’t. I still have a job, working for my consulting company, and I will likely be moving on to a new client in January. This kind of thing happens regularly, and if your customer wants someone else to do the work, that’s their prerogative especially since I had only a few weeks left with them anyway. Still, as I said, it leaves me feeling upset, betrayed.

What do you say when things like this happen?

Here’s the blessedly tough and real thing God wants me to say:   “Lord, bless their decision.”   Like Job said, “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.   Blessed be the name of the Lord.”   In reality, the ONLY way to get through tough times, especially when they gob-smack you without notice, is to take them to God and pray for those involved.   When you get tough news, roll with it by rolling onto Jesus.

I’m a big fan of self-talk, of talking to myself and rehearsing what I’m going to say.   I used to do it a lot, practicing what I would say in briefings and presentations.   But I don’t do it much anymore.   Instead, I do indeed prepare as best I can, familiarizing myself with facts, data, and what’s needed.   Then I let the words come out righteously.   I let God’s Holy Spirit put the words in my mouth and follow where they lead.   I’ve never been led wrong by doing this.

That’s how I know that the right thing to do when you get bad news is to rely on God to speak to my heart, then speak through my voice instead of just me.

Especially when I want to respond in unkind ways to people to whom I had devoted much time and effort.   Yet the better way is to pray for them, to understand that it’s business and usually not personal, and that even in business people are often doing the best they can under bad circumstances.   In that light, it becomes even more important to rely on God.

Lord, I rely on You for my words, for my responses, for what I say and do with others.

Read Mark 13, verses 1-31.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 23 September 2015

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even 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, verses 42-45.

The disciples are pissed off, so Jesus throws down and reminds them of why He came and how they should now act because of Him. As you noodle that thought, don’t lose sight of the immensely profound thing that Jesus just said and did.

Along that thought path, let’s talk work. My project is exactly one week out from go-live.   If you don’t work in business IT projects, that means the new codes and changes we have worked four years to implement go into live business production one week from today. Tensions at the client are enormously high, and my team is struggling hard to get through last minute issues, side-bar white noise, and the sniping that comes with being this close to implementing large-scale changes.   Yesterday, most of us on the team put in a 17 hour work day.

Know what? Jesus could be speaking to my team instead of the Twelve Apostles.  He could be reminding those of us in Minnesota to remember that, in all ways and at all times and especially in times of stress and duress, to serve is to serve Him.   Every thought in our heads and every action of every minute should be spent serving others in ways large and small.

Tell me:   how’s that working out for you?   Does it go against your grain to have someone remind you that you should have the heart of a servant when, sometimes, you want the heart of Conan the Barbarian?   Even if the someone telling you is Jesus, God Immanuel, King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

You know the answer. We’re fatally, brutally flawed and sinful creatures.   Left to our own devices, we would make constant war on each other.   Thank God that He is playing a long-ball game called “life” and that He is endlessly merciful to creatures who don’t deserve it.

If you want to get past moments of stress, remember to serve.   If you want to have your demands heard and addressed, remember first to serve.   If you want to be served, serve others first.   If we truly want to change the world, let’s do it first by doing it for others just like Jesus. In doing so, we’ll find it’s deeply profound and worthwhile.

Jesus confronts the conventional and reminds us that He didn’t create us for conventionality.   He lived and created us to be unconventional, to address hate with love, to address demands with confidence, to address stress with calmness.   Jesus isn’t giving the Apostles (or us) some cheesy pep talk.   Instead, He is empowering humanity with the tools to address mankind’s deepest need for fulfillment and satisfaction. In doing so, He reminds us that love is more powerful than anything else, and that if we use that love as a willing servant does, then we can overcome anything.   Even a software go-live.

Lord Jesus, thank You for Your servant example and for Your patient mercy.   Teach me yet again to serve You by serving others in wherever I find myself this day.

Read Mark 10, verses 46-52.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 11 October 2013

 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.  James 2, verse 9.

Forgive me because I messed up.   I skipped a verse.  I moved ahead a verse, preferring it to this one.  Maybe I was committing a subtle sin of favoritism, of omission.   That’s not a trite line:  it’s where we’re going today.

You see, you and I show favoritism in everything we do.   James reminds us of that fact.   I like skim milk instead of 2%; I prefer green to red; “Lord of the Rings” over “Saw” movies.  Perhaps there’s no harm in those choices, but what about I prefer black people to white, or I love me some Christians but can’t stand those Muslims.  Go ahead:   it’s ok to pick the good ball players first; everyone always gets stuck with the lousy players when there aren’t many left to choose.  How does that favoritism sound now?

Personally, I think it sounds typical.  I’ve done it.   You have too.  In verse 8, James reminds us to love everyone, and then, in the verse after this one, he reminds us that one sin means we’re thick with sin and guilty of breaking all of God’s law.  It’s as if we are staring at a crystal bowl of perfectly still water, then we drop a single pin-point bit of dye into it that stains the whole thing.

God won’t be stained.   He’s holy.   He can’t be.   He won’t allow it because, without that holiness, life has no source, no meaning, and no love.

That’s not good enough for me, though.  I’m thick with the idea that I know better.   Just ask me:  I’ll tell you.   Give me long enough and I’ll plan out your day, equip you to do it, tell you how to get it done, and then send you on your way.   I’ll hammer you if you don’t do what I want, too.  It’s what I do for a living and, if you ask my wife, it’s what I do at home; terrible gift and flaw.   Just ask me:  I’ll tell  you that too.  I know better, and I know better than God, right?

Guilty.   Guilty, stained, and damned.  I chose me over God.  

That’s just not good enough for the Lord.   In the same chapter where Jesus uses James to tell us to love everyone, He also says we’re damned if we choose favorites that push Him out of the way.   James warns us about showing favoritism because it’s not just scorning people who Jesus loves:   it’s scorning Jesus.   It’s choosing something else over Him.   And He is righteously jealous, wanting to be our only choice.   He knows that everything else in life is second best and He only wants the best for us.   It isn’t cocky arrogance:   it’s unending love.

Lord, You are my favorite.  You are my only choice.  Show me the errors of my ways and humble me when I become proud.

 

When have you played favorites?

What good resulted from that?

How does it make you feel to walk in the shoes of the ‘un-favored?’

Daily Proverbial, from James, 12 September 2013

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  James 1, verses 19-20.

My project is experiencing delay.   We are one year out from implementation of changing codes and practices that have been in place for over forty years and we are experiencing yet more delay.   It’s true, there are valid business reasons for this; competing projects, unavailability of resources, limited funds, simple overwork, and corporate intransigence.  As a project manager, my client is paying me to advise them on how to avert crises, then make plans for how to still complete our tasks.   Some days that seems for naught because, when all’s said and done, we’re being delayed, and every delay increases risk, cost, and the likelihood of problems.

It makes me angry.

Now, it’s true that there are situations where it’s ok to become angry.  Dictionary.com defines anger as “a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire.”   Fair enough.  Jesus understood anger.   He became angry at the moneychangers in the temple.   He strongly but angrily defeated Satan in the desert when the devil tempted Him.   He rebuked His close friend Peter when Peter displayed ignorance and pride.  Anger can be ok.   Within us, it’s a hard-wired psychological response to a physiological condition.   God calls us to tap into that condition on matters that offend Him.   When we’re confronted with actions, words, etc that are contrary to Jesus, He tells us that it’s ok to be angered by them so that constructive action for the betterment of the Kingdom may result.   Righteous anger should lead only to righteous following.

Yet James, inspired by his Brother, reminded us of the fine line between human anger and the righteous anger of challenged faith.  He reminds us that, even when being righteously angered, we should temper it.  Temper the anger with patience and wisdom instead of fueling it with impetuousness.  Looking and listening serve to inform and may just open our eyes to things God may be doing in the moment.  If there is a need for our anger, that need will only be correctly focused if it is better informed by Him. 

Those are good lessons to remember today when I jump back into project meetings.   It’s not that the customer is always right, especially as regards delaying things that shouldn’t be delayed.   It’s their decision and their prerogative.  I serve my customer better by offering choices, outlining consequences, and planning for contingencies.  The way to do that is to listen, to keep my mind on first principles, and to pay attention to what God is doing in things that would otherwise have fueled my sinful anger.

Lord Jesus, teach me more to be angry only at the things that anger You.   Remind me, I ask, to listen, watch, and learn to better be led by You.

 

Is your anger on a tripwire?

What things anger you?

Is your anger a reaction or is it righteous?