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Monday, August 3, 2020

Followership - Part 2

Rick Ezell is a chaplain serving with Employee Care of America. This group partners with businesses to improve productivity and profitability by providing care, coaching, and crisis management for employees. Rick previously served as a pastor in Naperville. Contact information is found below. He has allowed me to share from his recent web posting a two-part series on “Followership” as I enjoy a brief summer break. Today, Rick asks, “So what makes a good follower?”

1. They complement the leader. 
Followers don’t compete with the leader but complete the leader. It’s like a marriage. The husband and wife experience mutual submission; they don’t compete, but rather complement one another. Leadership is participatory. Leaders and followers exist in a mutually beneficial relationship where each adds to the effectiveness of the other. Good followers complement their leaders by using their gifts, speaking affirmation, displaying loyalty, and extending support. Without the help of followers, leaders are doomed to failure.

2. Good followers stand in the gap. 
Often leaders have the vision, but lack the management and execution tools to see the idea become a reality. Leaders have needs, weaknesses, shortcomings, imperfections, that are often glaring. So, leaders need loyal and dedicated followers to fill the gaps in their efforts.

3. Good followers take the initiative. 
Being a follower doesn’t mean that you just stand around and do nothing until the leader tells you what to do. Leaders provide the overall plan—the vision—but followers execute. Good followers know what to do without being told. Good followers don’t just do something; they do the right things.

4. Good followers make great leaders.
A study of 218 male Australian Royal Marines was conducted. The Marines differentiated themselves as natural leaders (with the skills and abilities to lead) or followers (who were more concerned with getting things done than getting their way). The researchers tracked the recruits’ self-identification as leaders and followers across the course of a physically arduous 32-week infantry training that prepared them for warfare in a range of extreme environments. The study culminated in the recruits and commanders who oversaw their training casting votes for the Commando Medal award to the recruit who showed most leadership ability. Who got the votes? Researchers discovered that those recruits who saw themselves (and were seen by commanders) as followers ultimately emerged as leaders. It seems that those who want to lead are well served by first endeavoring to follow.

5. Being a good follower teaches one how to value someone else’s opinion, consider others’ inputs, and develop emotional intelligence. 
They care about their followers and will demonstrate it. They understand and appreciate the limits of their leadership and how their followers make or break them. No matter the number of subordinates, they see themselves as still human and share the same vulnerabilities, shortcomings, and struggles. They view the people they lead as their equals. They don’t punish employees who question and challenge them—knowing that being held accountable is an essential part of becoming a better leader.

6. The mission takes precedence.
Donald Phillips’ insightful book,
Lincoln on Leadership, examines the character, behavior, attributes, and attitudes that made Abraham Lincoln our most honored and revered president. When Lincoln took office in 1861, he found that the United States was unprepared for war. The union had an insufficient, poorly trained, and poorly equipped army under the command of General Winfield Scott. As the war waged on, Lincoln went through general after general for three years before he finally found a responsible risk-taker man, and, most importantly, one who made things happen—Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln could not have won the war without Grant. Lincoln was the leader; Grant, the chief subordinate.

It wasn’t until Grant was added to the mix that Lincoln and the Union Army found victory. In Grant, Lincoln found a strategic, aggressive, creative follower who took the initiative to accomplish the mission.

Donald Phillips comments: “All leaders should realize that they can’t do everything on their own. They simply must have people below them who will do what is necessary to ensure success. Subordinates who will take risks, act without waiting for direction, and ask for responsibility rather than reject it, should be treated as your most prized possessions. Such individuals are exceedingly rare and worth their weight in gold.”

Businesses, teams, governments, and churches can have leaders who possess exceptional vision and provide direction, just as Lincoln did. Still, they can’t succeed without people like U. S. Grant to carry out the mission.

Leaders need followers to execute the mission.

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Monday, July 27, 2020


Rick Ezell is a chaplain serving with Employee Care of America. This group partners with businesses to improve productivity and profitability by providing care, coaching, and crisis management for employees. Rick previously served as a pastor in Naperville. Contact information is found below. He has agreed to allow me to share from his recent web posting a two-part series on “Followership” as I enjoy a brief summer break.

Rick: Curious. Did you take a college course on how to be a good follower? Ever been to a seminar on how to follow well? What about reading a book on followership? If I’d asked if you had read a book or attended a workshop on leadership, more than likely, you have.

Leadership without followers, well, is nothing but empty and fruitless. Leadership requires followers who will execute the mission, strategy, and plans of the organization. And followers need leaders who will provide the mission, strategy, and plans for the organization.

A Ted Talk entitled “The First Follower” pictures a lone guy dancing at a festival. Soon another guy joins the first guy in the crazy dance. Soon others join until there is a crowd all dancing together. It provides an example of a movement that began with a leader, but would not have happened without the first follower and the subsequent others who join in. The video states: “Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire.”

The video concludes with this lesson: “Leadership is over-glorified. Yes, it started with the shirtless guy, and he’ll get all the credit, but you saw what really happened: It was the first follower that transformed a lone nut into a leader. There is no movement without the first follower. We’re told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective. The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.”

Leaders need followers, and followers need leaders. Working together, they can accomplish many worthwhile projects and plans. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way about followers and leaders.

1. Leaders need to be easy to follow.

Leaders need the big three: Character, Competence, and a Cause. They need to have the message, integrity, and focus that others are willing to follow. When they do, people follow. I read of a woman who said to her pastor, “Pastor, I would follow you on an assault on hell with water pistols.” That woman found a leader easy to follow. Army Colonel Tom Cordingly explained it this way: “When I served at Fort Knox, the executive officer I worked under would plan the strategy and then turn to me and say, ‘Make it so, Tom.’ I was his right-hand man, the ‘make-it-so’ guy. I found more satisfaction in the right-hand-man role than in leading. I’ve come to the conclusion: Give me a good man to work for, a man I love and respect, and I’ll be happy.'” It begins with the kind of leader that others want to follow. Interestingly, most great leaders are not charismatic. They simply have the qualities that make it easy for others to want to follow.

2. Leaders need followers.

Warren Bennis observed that leaders are only ever as effective as their ability to engage followers. Without followership, leadership is nothing. The key to success in leadership lies in the collective “we,” not the individual “I.”

In other words, leadership is a process that emerges from a relationship between leaders and followers who are bound together by their understanding that they are members of the same social group. Leaders are more effective when their behaviors indicate that they are “one of us,” because they share our values, concerns, and experiences, and are “doing it for us” by looking to advance the interests of the group rather than own personal interests.

3. Good followers have character, too.

Our culture places limited value on following. We celebrate the great leaders but dismiss the many loyal followers. But, to succeed, leaders must teach their followers not only how to lead, but more importantly, how to be a good follower. That requires integrity.

So…What makes for good followers? Rick Ezell answers that next week!

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Monday, July 20, 2020

“Yes, but…"

Several readings have crossed my path in recent days from voices trying to help sort out whether the many social issues upon which we disagree are founded on Scripture, or on our own political leanings.

One in particular is actually titled, “3 Thoughts on the Differences Between ‘Being Biblical’ and ‘Being Political’” (link below) Its author is Eric Geiger, a pastor in Southern California and former senior vice-president for LifeWay Christian. He has authored or co-authored several books. One, a bestseller, is titled Simple Church.

Geiger’s three main points are…
  1. There is a difference between being biblically passionate and politically passionate.
  2. If passions fall squarely into partisan lines, passion is rooted in a political viewpoint more than a Christ-centered one.
  3. Our Christian unity must be built around King Jesus.

I do not take issue with any of those points. But on the second one, I would change the language to say “passion may be rooted in a political viewpoint more than a Christ-centered one.” Motives are almost impossible to know.

Here are some of Geiger’s thoughts I would prefer to see Christ-followers discuss in more depth.

“Jesus does not fit neatly into the political parties of our day. If we are biblically passionate, we will care about what Jesus cares about. If we are merely politically passionate, we will let 'our political side' determine what we care about.”

As one who desires to know Jesus the Messiah and follow Him, my lens for political alignment seeks to see a platform of convictions that has biblical alignment. Jesus was on mission to show us what the Kingdom of God looks like. His hard-nosed challenges in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, would leave no one comfortable.

Jesus doesn’t tell us the best economic system. He certainly wants us to ward off greed. He advocates for us to choose our financial decisions wisely as a steward and not an owner. There is no indication He would push for “equal distribution” of resources.

It was clear He changed nothing in supporting the teaching that marriage was between a man and a woman. We find no Scriptural words of Jesus that would embrace a transgender position. Jesus stood against divorce. And lust.

Jesus loved children and showed his personal care—along with a condemning message for those who would lead children astray. Jesus was neither a sexist nor a racist. He did not choose His disciples based on class status. He ate and gave counsel to “sinners” and refused to cast out those whose lives were not perfect.

A second point that needs more discussion from the article is…
“If we are following Jesus, we will likely be considered too conservative for our progressive friends and too progressive for our conservative friends.”

I assure you that a strong sampling of people both inside and outside the church could not clearly define what is truly “conservative” or “progressive.” But I’ve seen what the term progressive usually means. And it isn’t progress. It’s often casting the idea of a moral authority aside. And questioning the basis for truth.

Are there individuals holding government positions at all levels who hold deep, spiritual, and moral convictions? Of course. That does not make the political landscape balanced in terms of its alignment with the values of the Kingdom of God. And this usually gets fleshed out in what the party platform is all about.

So when I hear the casually clever and well-intended statement that “Jesus is neither a Republican nor a Democrat,” I’m often tempted to continue the discussion by saying, "Yes, BUT….”

Check out the earlier referenced Sermon on the Mount. Several times Jesus says, “You’ve heard it said….BUT—I say…”

Put the words that Jesus DOES say into practice. Back that platform.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

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Monday, July 13, 2020

When It All Came Crashing Down

My wife and I watched the Disney “hit” of the summer a week ago: Hamilton. It’s seems like the only thing that company has to cheer about these days. The theme parks have had a disastrous spring. The movie roll outs—aren’t rolling. Theaters are fading to black.

It’s amazing how fast the world can change. The Washington Post highlighted the miseries of the Mouse in their recent article, “How Disney could be facing a lot more than a lost summer.” It may be one of the biggest understatements of the year.

WaPo bases their headline on the stunning reversal of Disney revenue in a single quarter of 2020. A year ago, the magic was still happening at the Kingdom to the tune of $20.3 billion. Not this year. Numbers are not even in the same theme park!

What makes the analysts particularly uneasy is the future. As WaPo states it, “…a growing number of voices are starting to ask whether a more fundamental change is brewing, a change that will affect them beyond one bad quarter. They’re wondering whether a company built heavily on a foundation of in-person gatherings, and on the peddling of an inoffensive utopia that largely exists outside racial identity, can be effective in a prolonged period of isolation and fulmination.”

The words Disney and imagination go hand-in-hand. The new Disney is now heading toward re-imagination. And that vision will likely lack the big dollars they are used to hauling in at the “happiest place on earth.”

Speaking of imagination, a good friend and fellow Christ follower and I enjoyed lunch together recently. Our conversation included this question: Where is the heart and mind of Jesus in all of this—the pandemic, the protests, the economic turmoil?

We both tried to imagine Jesus visiting an American church on a Sunday morning. At the end of the service, we imagined Jesus taking questions. Here was the big one: "When will we get back to normal, Jesus?” (*I shared this example with our church recently.)

As was often the case when people asked the Lord difficult questions, His answer was surprising. Challenging. Even painful.

The imagined reply went something like, "Returning your lives to 'normal' is not my plan. The crises you've been experiencing I've allowed to help you sort out your idols and put your relationship with Me in perspective. Some of you are getting it."

He could have continued, "Sports and entertainment have become your money-draining loves. You've idolized the people in both of these fields. You've become addicted to wealth. Your work and your play are major distractions to your willingness to follow Me. Often with your children, you choose Sunday sports games over worship. Your schedules are demanding and full, with no time for rest and quiet study of the Scriptures."

He wasn't finished.

"No, returning to normal is not the plan. Reviving your spirit and your heart is the plan. Changing your priorities is the plan. Calling the church to love and serve one another is the plan. Let Me know if and when you are ready to 'drop your nets' and follow My plan."

Does that scenario make you feel uncomfortable? It did me. For many, I think God has our attention.

Whether the wealthiest to the weakest among us are getting the message that normal may not ever return remains to be seen. Empty sports arenas and entertainment complexes are forcing us to choose other options. Likely, better ones.

Will all that we think mattered before the virus struck get a complete facelift? Will America post-protests and revolution be better? Or will it drive people deeper into hopelessness?

When it all comes crashing down, it’s time for some re-imagination. Not the Disney kind. The confidence that Disney’s earthly kingdom known as the “happiest place on earth” was misplaced.

Time for the Kingdom of Heaven to take over.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

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Monday, July 6, 2020

Robinhood and a Not-So-Merry Man

It was somewhere around noon when my wife and daughter recalled hearing the train whistle blow about a mile from our home. That’s unusual since restrictions are in place to keep noise down as the trains pass through heavily populated neighborhoods. A short while later, my daughter was en route home but had to alter her course because a stopped train blocked the crossing.

Our local police department let us know it was another train/pedestrian “incident.” This was the second within the last eight months on tracks within two miles of each other. One last November was a 17-year old who died. Apparently he was quite bright and well liked. I never did see a final report on what really happened.

The more recent death was a 20-year-old. It was definitely a suicide. The young man was Alexander E. Kearns. He lived in the area nearby but was home from the University of Nebraska. Again, another bright young mind.

Before explaining his seemingly dire situation, I must confess that I am always intrigued by suicides. Particularly among the young. That’s because throughout my years as a boy and as a teen, I cannot recall ever hearing of a suicide among classmates or friends. At least one or two happened a bit later in the lives of former classmates.

But the world is different today. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds.

Accidents and homicide take first and second place. Chicago ranks high in youth dying well before their time.

While girls are more likely to try to commit suicide than boys, the boys succeed more often. They are 4 times more likely to die from suicide than girls. Guns are used in more than half of all youth suicides.

The experts at Stanford Children’s Health attribute a number of factors that push some kids over the edge. They list body changes, struggles with thoughts and feelings including stress, confusion, fear, and doubt. A pressure to succeed is listed. And other changes such as divorce, friendships, moving, or problems in school.

Alexander Kearns' story was quite different. This young man took up stock investing during the pandemic. He signed up with a millennial-focused brokerage firm known as Robinhood. In the first quarter of this year, the firm increased by 3 million new accounts—a record!

Mr. Kearns began experimenting in trading options. Several firms have begun offering commission-free trading and zero-minimum balances to attract the younger set. The opportunity was too good to pass up for Alexander.

Apparently, the bookkeeping practices of this kind of trading is more complex than it should be. As Forbes Magazine explained, Mr. Kearns fell into despair after checking his account with $16,000—BUT—also showing a cash balance of negative $730,165!! Kearns was shocked, as he never authorized the kind of trading that would yield those kinds of losses.

Alexander Kearns felt he had ruined his life—and others. But his losses were not real. His negative cash balance was only temporary and would soon be corrected—but not soon enough. Kearns prepared a suicide note. And then acted on it.

I’ve included a link below so that you can read the complete story. It’s more than sad. It’s tragic.

As King Solomon advised, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” Proverbs 13:11 (ESV)

Robinhood, based in Silicon Valley, has pledged major changes to their platform of options trading. They feel terrible about this young man losing his life. As they should.

My soul grieves when our youngest citizens lose their lives—be it by car mishaps, medical issues, or freak accidents of any kind. Suicide, however, is in a another category. It is so preventable.

The blast of a train horn was the last warning to Alexander Kearns to change his mind. Nearly three quarters of a million reasons told him otherwise.

I wish this Robinhood tale was another work of fiction.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

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Monday, June 29, 2020

Time to Take a Knee

We’re almost half way through 2020. The suspense might already be building for who Time Magazine will select as the “Person of the Year.” Will it be Dr. Anthony Fauci—the now legendary face of government on COVID-19? Will it be Joe Biden—if he upsets the Trumpster, much to the delight of all media who hates him with a passion? Or will it be…George Floyd?

It’s inescapable to not think that had it not been for the tragic way by which he lost his life, the world at large would never have known or thought of this man. His death at the hands of four police officers has solidified his place in history. His persona has risen to hero status.

Unless a miracle cure shows up, or a vaccine to fight off the coronavirus, my money is on George Floyd. But I’m not a betting man. The cause of civil rights and the evils of racism are themes that win the day for journalists.

Some might even suggest that Colin Kaepernick be nominated. After all, the former NFL quarterback was the victim célèbre of kneeling during our national anthem. Now he has a host of voices apologizing for not recognizing his contribution to our public awareness. Even the commissioner of the NFL has re-thought kneeling.

Hopefully, we’re now all on board with the idea that black lives matter. Or we should be. That message, in some form, has been around a long time.

But who determines it is true? Without a source of moral truth—an idea mocked in the very minds of many who advocate social justice and racial fairness—we are left to the poor secular mind to create our values. That is, for the most part, worthless. 

It is many of these social issue righteous ones who yield up their souls for the right to kill babies by abortion. Black babies, too. Millions of them. What happened to black lives matter here?

It is the same secular minds within Hollywood that value talent only as far as it makes them rich or gives them pleasure. How about all the actors and actresses pitching us on their ideas of how to get along while dumping spouse after spouse? Do those broken lives left behind matter?

Then there are the famously rich. Some are seemingly quite generous and now are offering large sums to be seen as caring about the disadvantaged black or brown population in our nation. For some reason, do these groups matter more now?

The church cannot escape this either. Millions who participate in weekly worship services being told to “love your neighbor as yourself” somehow have a new idea of what “neighbor” means. Really?? You’re just learning this?

Many of the protestors believe that a big step forward is to tear down statues of historic American leaders who failed the test of being shining cultural examples. But this is hypocrisy as well. What god-like idols are being held onto by these protestors—some who loot and destroy property?

To answer the question as to who decides whether black lives matter, or whether any lives matter, requires an ultimate judge of righteousness and justice. And there is only One. He is the immortal, invisible, God only wise!

It is He who has determined that all human life is made in His image. It was His Divine Son who on His cross of crucifixion would say, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:24 (NASB) And then He died. To forgive all of us who will accept His gift for our foolish and sinful lives.

Put in the most glorious way, your life matters. Red, yellow, black, brown…even white. All are precious…in His sight.

Let’s not kid ourselves. None of our “Person of the Year” candidates hold a candle to the Righteous One.

And one day…to Him…we shall all take a knee. (Romans 14:11)

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Monday, June 22, 2020

A Crying Shame

And another one’s gone. At least for now. Another faith dropout who leaves most in the faith community of Christ followers shaking their heads.

Like me, they’re not dissing the soul of the doubter. It’s more the deep wondering of how the richness of an abundant life and an eternity with a loving God loses its appeal after one spends years in the trenches of faith. And when the doubter has served as a frontman for a Gospel preaching popular Christian music group, it punches the gut a bit harder.

Jon Steingard has been the lead vocalist for a Christian rock band known as Hawk Nelson. I saw them perform in my area a few years ago. They’ve had their share of popularity.

Jon “came clean” recently in saying, “After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life—I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.”

Adding to his public confessional, he wrote that his “belief in God truly began to unravel” when viewing various versions of Bible stories. Said Jon, “Once I found that I didn’t believe the Bible was the Perfect Word of God—it didn’t take long to realize that I was no longer sure he was there at all.”

Steingard is not a single strand in the doubter category. Adam Tucker from Southern Evangelical Seminary listed several notable faith departures in recent years, including Rhett and Link (popular YouTube comedians and former Cru staffers), Marty Sampson (Hillsong worship artist), Michael Gungor (lead singer for the Christian duo Gungor), and Joshua Harris (a man in his former life an extremely popular Christian author and pastor.)

Some have renounced Christianity outright. Others are the doubters. Add to that list several well known Christian leaders, authors, and musical artists “who are drifting, or have drifted, from biblical Christianity to a more liberal/progressive version of ‘Christianity.’”

It would be no surprise to any who know me to hear that I have a generalized disgust for the liberalization of the Christian church. I’ve interviewed many hundred faith leaders over the years. Quite a few have compelling stories of coming from “lives of quiet desperation,” as Thoreau put it, and then discovering beauty in the redemptive life of Jesus.

The public doubters do a disservice to the works of great men like Chuck Colson and Ravi Zacharias and former atheists Lee Stroebel and Josh McDowell—all of whom invested their lives to clearly show that faith is a thinking man’s (and woman’s) endeavor. There are countless others in their camp.

And let’s not forget the martyrs. I’m not talking about the kind that blow up other people because of some bizarre religious belief. I’m speaking of those who are so convinced (as were Jesus’ disciples) of the reality of their faith that they yielded up their lives at the hands of murderous haters. As many of them still do today.

How should we who hold to the faith respond to these departures? Fellow Hawk Nelson band members told People magazine that, “God is still for Jon and he still matters,” and “that truth doesn’t change just because we question it.”

And they haven’t given up on their friend. The three men who remain in the group said in a statement, “We are called to love one another unconditionally, as God loves us…Ever thankful and grateful for how God has used this band, the music and the relationships, and how he continues to do so.”

I put forth two takeaways from the faith departures. First, Jesus' early disciples followed Him at His request. Did they choose Him? In John 15:16 we read these words of Jesus, “You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last.” It is God who initiates the call to us.

Second. “saving faith” is one that endures. Hebrews 1:23 states, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

God has given us all we need to truly believe. To walk away from His great salvation is a crying shame.

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