The Timelessness of God

God Exists Outside of Time.

God is eternal in the truest sense: meaning he has no beginning or end. Time and space are part of creation; God is not part of creation. God is above the created flow of time, therefore, God is timeless. Wayne Grudem puts it more precisely by stating: God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.[1]

“In the beginning, God…” Genesis 1:1

We see in the very beginning of scripture, that all of time, space, and matter begin with someone already in existence. Something has to be eternal, timeless, and immaterial; otherwise, we run into the problem of infinite causes. This proof and concept has been around for a long time (since the beginning) but we even see it in thoughts outside of Christianity. Aristotle promoted what he termed the prime mover, this is something outside of creation setting it in motion. Without something being eternal, we have no source and we are left with an infinite chicken or the egg conundrum.

 Since God created time which is implied in Genesis 1:1 (“in the beginning”) it is a logical assumption to say he is above it and outside of it. We also see this in Jude 25 where it says, “to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever.”In Psalm 90:2 it says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” This verse speaks of eternity past as well as eternity future. There was no time before creation. If you were to ask the question, “When did God create?” the answer is unsearchable. “the number of his years is unsearchable” (Job 35:26).

There was no “when” until God created. That is why it says, “In the beginning, God…”  We see God being and existing before matter and time in other places of scripture as well. “In the beginning was the Word… All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). This concept of God creating all things is also found in 1 Corinthians 6:8; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2. God, being other than creation, points towards his independence. His timelessness also leads us towards his immutability, because God does not grow or develop. For the sake of staying on task, I will try not to delve into these topics, but continue speaking about his timelessness. Grudem sums up our first point this way:

But before there was a universe, and before there was time, God always existed, without beginning, and without being influenced by time. And time, therefore, does not have an existence in itself, but like the rest of creation, it depends upon God’s eternal being and power to keep existing. (Grudem 169)

God Interacts and Moves Within Time.

The use of expressions such as “the first and the last” and the “Alpha and Omega” convey the same concept.[2] God is there from the beginning and he will be the ends or goal of everything.[3] We find this all over scripture in both the Old and New Testament.

“I am the first and the last; besides me there is no God.”

–Isaiah 44:6

“I am the Alpha and Omega,” says the Lord God, “who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

–Revelation 1:8

“It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”

 –Revelation 21:6

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

–Revelation 22:13

All of these verses are direct quotations from God, showing God working within time (a succession of moments). The very act of speaking requires one thing to be said and then another. I believe God does this not because he is limited to time but rather we are limited and he is interacting with us on our level. We live in a succession of moments. I think this topic is impossible for us to fully grasp because all of our human experience and language is built upon a succession of moments. Even as you read this post, you move from line to line, and from thought to thought. We grow, change and have a progression, but God does not. Because of this, our limited human experience, it is mind-blowing and truly impossible for us to understand a being that is always “present” in all-time at once. God is always in existence. The biblical language tries to help us with phrases like, “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4).

We must still affirm that these verses speak of God’s relationship to time in a way we do not and cannot experience: God’s experience of time is not just a patient endurance through eons of endless duration, but he has a qualitatively different experience of time than we do (Grudem 170).

Our language tries to give us inklings throughout scripture, but we cannot comprehend it. We still have to use tenses and words like before. But God doesn’t just know the future he is existing and moving in it. God is just as present in the past as he is now or will be in the future at the same time. For some reason, this concept is somewhat more palatable when considering his omnipresence in relationship to space. God is everywhere. Erikson shows that this points to the tension between his transcendence and his immanence: the immanence of God (he is everywhere), the transcendence of God (he is not anywhere).[4] This is also true of time. God is not at any one point in time (he is not anywhere), but rather at all points in time (he is everywhere). And he is working his will always.

For I am God, and there is no other;

I am God and there is none like me,

Declaring the end from the beginning

And from the ancient times things not yet done,

Saying, “My counsel shall stand,

And I will accomplish my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

Erikson says this, “From all eternity he has determined what he is now doing.”[5] Dr. Grudem wraps this point up like this: Thus God somehow stands above all time and is able to see it all as present in his consciousness.[6]

I think a lot of unsolved paradoxes may exist within the theological realm because of our inability to truly grasp God’s timelessness. Where does God’s will end and ours begin? When were we elected or predestined? How long has God known me? Somewhere outside of time I believe. I know that God is completely sovereign and he is in control of all things, and yet I know I make choices and he is not responsible for the choices I make. I know that God knows the future and is in the future, I know that he doesn’t change, and yet I know that prayer changes things and I should lay my request before him. I don’t know how any of this works out, but I see it in scripture and experience it in life.

Two different analogies were given by Erikson and Grudem to try to make comprehension of how God sees time more accessible. Grudem talks about someone holding a book they had just finished and knowing all of its contents. For a brief time, before the book is put back on the shelf, all of it seems to be present in the reader’s mind. Erikson, although I don’t think he came up with it, talks about a man sitting on a steeple watching a parade. He can see its entirety in one glance without having to watch it in succession. Although these help and may be the best we have, both of these still place God as an outside observer. God is not just watching the parade from a distance. He is next to the drummer at the front, on the floats in the middle, and helping direct the baton twirlers in the back. He is intimately connected to and experiencing it all at once. He is steering the whole procession to his ends and glory. God doesn’t just remember all of history in a brief moment like a good novel. He is in every letter, word, punctuation, and page. He is writing and experiencing it all simultaneously and pointing the whole story to reveal his glory.

Personal Application.

What is amazing about God’s timelessness is that his transcendence and immanence is always present not just historically, but personally. God exists presently not only the historic timeline of creation on the macro level but on the individually personal level as well.

 

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down

And are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

Behold, O Lord, you know it all together.

You hem me in, behind and before,

And you lay your hand upon me. (Psalm 139)

God’s knowledge of us and working within our lives also applies to the redemption that he gives us. Romans 5:6 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” I believe this applies not only to history but to us individually. Christ died for not only the sins I have committed but the ones I am committing and am going to commit. His sacrifice is effective for sins before the cross, during the time of the cross, and after the cross.  “But when Christ had offered for all times a single sacrifice for sins” Hebrews 10:12.

Because of God’s timelessness, his existing outside of time and existing in all time equally vividly, we have a God whose transcendence and immanence impacts our lives. God is near us. God is with us. He is in our past, in our present, and in our future. We put our faith and hope in him who holds all things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Zondevan, 1994.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Baker Books, 1998.

ESV Text Edition. Crossway, 2011

[1] Grudem 168

[2] Erikson 300

[3] Grudem footnotes on 169

[4] Erikson 299

[5] Erikson 301

[6] Grudem 171

Where I am…

Preface

I hesitate to make this public because it can drastically change the way people interact with me. I write this not to get any pity or to even make others understand. I write this for those who have felt the same. I write this because it has weighed on my heart to share. So before you read the following, please know that this is how I feel sometimes (not always). Please know that God is good and righteous and I am grateful for the work he has done. Please know that this is raw and somewhat unfiltered.

“How are you doing?”

When asked how I am doing, sometimes I say that I am alright. “Alright” is the shortest distance between two points: the point of truth and the end of the conversation. It is the quickest way I can sum up my location.

Where I am…

I am in between the words of God;
Clinging to the last and awaiting the next,
Fighting for solace in the onslaught of silence,
Having conversations with ghosts about a benevolent God,
And hopelessly hopeful.

I stand as one with the melancholy sentiment of waving goodbye to friends as they sail out of view.
I am completely aware of the location of my lost-ness,
Alone in crowds,
Alone in thought,
And alone in the returning gaze of the mirror.
My face looks hauntingly familiar, but I can’t place it.

I am in a soundproof room.
I scream to get out a whimper,
I wrestle thoughts into submission for fear they will run amok,
And I am tired.
I am stuck in the shallow end of conversation for fear of drowning;
Talking about the weather outside,
Avoiding words that convey the storms in my heart,
Adrift at speeds, I cannot judge:
There is endless sea across the horizon.

I am on the verge of a madman’s fit;
Desperate and convinced that anger will stave off depression and fear.
I am starving for joy as though it were air, indeed to me, it is air and my lungs thirst for it.
I’m angry that I have nothing to be angry about,
A defused bomb with the clock still ticking down,
Fighting shadows and phantoms,
And my shoulders hurt from swinging at what isn’t there.

I am in the land of ruthless trust,
gripping tightly the only hand I can feel,
Repeating to myself with desperation what is real.
Trusting what I know and fighting to ignore the whispers that read into every word and every silence,
Every action, reaction, and expression.
I am wrestling a formless being in the dark;
Clinging, I won’t let go, and I will not tap out without a blessing.
Trusting the blessing is mine.
I know the blessing is mine.

I am in the promised land even though it’s dark outside,
I can smell the faint scent of milk and honey,
And I did not get here on my own, the land is littered with memorials and landmarks,
I cannot deny the words I have heard,
Good words haunt me and linger around me.
I am in between the words of God;
Clinging to the last and desperate for the next.

I am right where He wants me.
Hopelessly hopeful,
Inadequately enough,
Sufficiently insufficient.
I am right where He wants me.
His rules are righteous.
Where He has me is all right.
I am alright.

Shine

You shine: we shine: Your radiant Son shines.

May we reflect Your glorious light.
May You always be our delight.
May Your wondrous face shine upon us.
May Your merciful grace dwell daily within us.
May we remember your story when darkness surrounds.
May You be our strength where our weakness abounds.
Remind us that your Son always rises,
When night seems endless and fear surprises.

A Prayer for Protection

May I cut through the darkness with your word, and block flaming arrows with hope and resolve.

May passion for obedience guard my chest; that my heart might beat for you; that my lungs might breathe for you.

May your gospel bring clarity and soundness of mind, defending my thoughts from attacks from inside; that my thoughts may be grounded in your goodness.

May your peace guard and guide my steps; that I might stand fast and my footing be sure.

Be my Defender and Hope. Be my courage as I stand and fight.

Amen.

Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace

My favorite song of all time is Come Thou Fount. This ranking is affirmed and reaffirmed every time I sing it or take it in; it ministers to my soul. The depth that is interwoven into its lyrics always astounds me and I find deeper spiritual truths each time I encounter it. For me, it is the song of my faith and my walk with God. It speaks to who God is, what he has done, and who I am in light of it all. The song contains some really honest lyrics concerning the Christian life such as, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love” or “Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God.” The song has been my prayer to stay rooted and connected to God’s goodness no matter what. It is a request to remember the necessity of abiding in God’s grace daily in order that I might live a life of worship. If I was a better writer, I could write a book on what God has revealed to me about himself, my faith, and the nature of my own heart. Perhaps I will write a series of posts on the song line by line. For now, I will settle to try and convey what I most recently discovered.

As I was leading through this treasure trove of a song this weekend, a few lines of it struck me in a profound way.

Come Thou fount’ of every blessing

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace

Streams of mercy never ceasing

Call for songs of loudest praise

Really, it was the “tune my heart to sing thy grace” that caught my attention last weekend. What an interesting request. This is an important request and prayer, but a difficult one if you know what it might require. It sounds nice and flowery, but tuning can hurt; a lot. The tuning of our hearts requires constant adjustment and change. As a musician, I know the importance of constantly making sure I am in tune. If my instrument is out of tune, it does not make a beautiful sound. It causes dissonance, confusion, and possibly pain to those listening. It also doesn’t take much to make something out of tune. The temperature/environment can change the pitch. Just merely using your instrument affects the tuning as well (too much bending the strings for a guitar player). And if those things don’t affect the tuning, time will. Just the passing of time makes the strings go flat. So tuning is not a one-time event; it requires intentionality and constant adjustment.

In order for God to tune my stubborn heart to sing of his grace, he must orchestrate moments in my life that remind me of my dependence upon him. God’s grace, his unrequited gift of love and forgiveness that is necessary for life, cannot be properly understood from any other position than a lowly one. My heart cannot sing of his grace from a spirit of self-reliance and independence. Sometimes he must let circumstance or the consequence of my own sin bring me to ruin so that I see the reality of my desperate state and my need for him. Our hearts need tuning. This is not a one-time event; it is regular maintenance that must be attended to. Our hearts get out of tune by the temperature and environments of what is going on around us, or by use and doing as much as we can, or perhaps with just the mere passing of time. Our hearts need tuning, and only God’s hands and ears are capable. Only he knows the exact frequency that we must be tuned to in order to sing his song.

This tuning can often be a painful process. It can feel unloving. It can lead us to dark, scary, and often lonely places. This is a hard thing to ask God to do: tune my heart to sing Thy grace. But, if we truly believe and trust the first line, then the second makes sense. If God really is the fountain and source of blessing, then we can trust as scripture tells us that his way is best and he has all things working together for good (Romans 8:28). God’s “good” is not always what we want, but it is always good and it is always what we need. It is for our good that God brings us low. I have to believe that. I have found in this difficult year (for me personally) that my faith and theology makes the difficult even more difficult sometimes. To believe that God is in control is to believe that this chaos and pain has been permitted, or dare I say, planned. (Please forgive me if this offends you as you are reading a man’s thoughts still in process). Sometimes I feel as C.S. Lewis once said, “Sometimes it is hard not to say, ‘God forgive God.’ (A Grief Observed pg. 28)” Sometimes I wish I could wrestle with God physically as Jacob did. I know I won’t land a single blow, but I’d like to throw them anyways. I must also remember that Jacob got a name change and walked with a limp for the rest of his life. This was for his good and there is no denying that in the over-arching plot. But I am still in the thick of the plot, so I must trust that this is for the good in the overall story as well. From my current vantage point, I can already see that I too will have a limp for the rest of my life after this bout with God. It is true what I said about how my theology makes the difficult more difficult, but it also makes the difficult palatable, and dare I say, hopeful. Without trust in God, his goodness, and the resurrection, all is meaningless and quite grim. Apart from God and the resurrection, our only hope is some empty distraction from the inevitable.

I have already written far more than I planned, so let me get to it. Here is the good news: God is good, and he is faithful and just to forgive. The next line is, “Streams of mercy never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise.” God has an unending supply of mercy for those in pain and in need. Once he has brought us low, once we are humbled by the truth of our dependency, we encounter his insatiable supply of mercy.  His mercy and grace are so overwhelming that they call for the loudest praise you can muster! The only appropriate response to his mercy is a tuned heart singing as loud as it can the song of his grace upon grace. This is how we can move from gloom to joy. If you truly understand the grace of God, and you are rooted in it, your life will be a song of loudest praise. Let me qualify the level of praise a bit more. The line is, “songs of loudest praise” not merely loud praise; therefore, it is the highest decibel you are able to scream at. When was the last time you sang that loud? When was the last time you sang your heart out praising and thanking God for mercy he has shown you? If it’s been a while, maybe you need to pray for a re-tuning of the heart. Maybe life-circumstance has knocked you out of tune, maybe you feel used up and your pitch is off, or maybe the routine of life and passing of time has let the wonder of God go flat in your heart. Request a tuning of the heart from the only outside force that can do so. No instrument has ever been tuned magically or by itself. But be warned: the tuning of your heart may not bring about what you want, but it will bring about what you need.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Romans 12:1

The Wolves of Grief

I couldn’t outrun the wolves for long. How long can I stave them off?

They are howling at the base of the tree. my grip; slipping. Their noses snarled. Their teeth gnashing. The question may be: which will devour me first?

Anger looks viscous, and if consumed by it who know how I may devastate those whom I care about. What will set me off? It circles the tree jumping and snapping at my heels.

Sadness prowls slowly with fangs flashing and a low growl. If it bites down, I fear that nothing will get it to release.

Perhaps the most dangerous is the one I can hardly see. Apathy stalks from the thickets waiting for me to fall into its strike so that it can pick my life apart bit by bit.

Keep it together. Keep my head in the game. Too much is at stake.

…What will I feed the wolves?

Conversations with Grief

I was up late last night having a conversation with Grief, Reality, Empathy, and Hope in the dark. Grief tended to dominate the conversation and Hope fought to get a word in. Grief sat like a giant in the room. His words fell out of his mouth like lead weights crushing the floor beneath him. Grief told me over and over again that life will never be the same, and all present agreed. Grief became desperate to be heard and exclaimed that I am lost, and most agreed. Grief got louder still and said that the pain is too much, that I will surely drown in it. Reality pointed out all the spinning plates that had fallen and crashed to the ground; my heart sank. Grief said that this weight is too much and I cannot carry it; all agreed.

After we sat in the dark for some time, Empathy spoke up. She said that she is with me and that others are too. Reality reminded me of names and faces. Hope started in with a soft and sweet voice. Her words floated in the air, some like bubbles that popped or dissipated, and some like balloons that lingered and clung to the ceiling. She said that these names and faces will remain with me and that there will be others. She said that even though the weight is too much for me, that others will carry it with me. Grief asked Hope if Certainty could confirm her suspicions. The room grew silent; the silence became deafeningly loud.

Hope admitted that she had never met Certainty. They had never been in the same room. But then Hope began to fire questions at Reality, not out of desperation, for she was not shaken. Her voice grew more confident and louder with each question as if she knew the answers before Reality could utter them. She asked Reality about what we have seen and about when Empathy has been there for me before. She said that she and Certainty had never been in the same room, but asked Reality if Certainty had been in rooms after she had left them. Reality thought, and then agreed that this seemed to always be the case. She then stated that where Empathy has been she has pointed to a greater empathy. She said that Love has called us all here. Love has known our pain and can see us through… Hope said that I am not lost.

We sat in the dark for some time. Reality sat calculating and recounting. He broke the silence and said that both Grief and Hope have evidence… And then he said that Hope has been right in the past… Why cling to anything else?

And as we sat in the dark, I smiled.

The Cure for Apathy Part I

We have sex, but no love
There’s a pulse, but no heart
We are searching in the dark

We have songs, but no soul
We long to be whole
But the end seems so far

We have the cure for apathy, but nobody cares

Wandering in the dark
Afraid of the smallest spark
We complain about this endless night

Preferring our dismal bliss
Our aperture closed to this:
His revealing Holy Light

We have the cure for apathy, but nobody cares

Once the light has shone;
The perpetrator exposed
We cannot deny the blood on our hands

Doing away with what is wrong
We sing the sickness song
Denying the claims of the witness stand

We have the cure for apathy, but nobody cares

One of the most important characteristics of any team, is unity. Without unity there is no team,  just a group of individuals that happen to be going in the same vague direction. Unity is something that is grown over time. Unity has to be nurtured and developed between a group as they depend on each other and meet their needs. It is developed through trust over time and through experience. And trust can only exist where vulnerability, honesty, humility and acceptance exists (but I will save diving into this topic for another time). One aspect of unity that is often overlooked is that part of nurturing process is protecting it and defending it. Anything that is developing must be defended.

Over time a team’s unity should be growing stronger. From my experience, teams are always growing. Time never stops; therefore, nothing remains static. Your team is either growing closer and developing more unity, or it is growing apart as unity is being systematically dismantled. If you want your team to grow closer together over time, you have to cultivate the actions and words that develop unity, and defend against actions and words that threaten it. We often think of unity as strong in and of itself. Indeed a unified team is strong, but unity itself is very fragile and must be intentionally and aggressively defended. It doesn’t take much to errode away our unity because in our hearts we long to be important and significant, in our eyes we can only see what we see, and in our minds we tend to tell stories to fill in the gaps of what we don’t know about others.

Three Ways to Defend Unity

#1. Cling to The Vision

Every team has a goal, purpose and vision. It is a leader’s job to clarify, to proclaim, to remind, and to keep the team accountable to the vision. Remember that it was the goal and vision that brought the team together in the first place; without a unifying vision the team never would have existed. When each member of team has a strong resolve and commitment to the vision, unity grows and flourishes. In seasons where measurable outcomes are not favorable, or growth feels static, it is the team’s commitment to the vision despite their feelings that will keep them unified. If you are on a team, and the vision is still where you desire to go, cling to the vision and encourage others to do the same. If the team doesn’t cling to the vision when (not if) things look bleak, the team will start resenting each other and eating each other alive.

If you are the leader (or are part of the leadership) of a team, know the vision and drive it into your team always. Sit down and make sure you know how to express it, and do so at every turn. When you head into action, remind them of how what you are about to do is inline with the vision. After you’ve finished a task, or have taken a hill, evaluate and point out how what you did was inline with the vision. The vision should be a specific destination. You should be able to describe what it looks like and what it feels like. If this is unclear, it will be hard for your team to stay unified. The vision should always be clear to the whole team at all times: this is your job.

If you are on a team as a member, know the vision and make sure you believe in the vision. If you don’t know the vision, ask for it. Your leader will help clarify it. They should be able to articulate where the team is going and what it will look like. If you know the vision and don’t believe in it, get off the team. You can only do damage to the unity of the team, what they are trying to accomplish, and where they are trying to go. Remember that strategies are a means and can change, but the vision is a destination. Strategies do change, but the vision most likely (especially if it’s well thought out) should not. If you like the vision but aren’t sure of the strategy, you may still serve some value on the team. Always remember though, that it is your leader’s job to lead. Help with the evaluation of strategies, but don’t think that you necessarily know best. In virtually every team situation I have ever been in, the leader has always put more time into his choices then the rest of team. This is naturally the case because they are more accountable. This doesn’t mean they are always right, but it does mean that even their wrongness is rooted in more experience and thought. Tread with much respect and loyalty. Never speak about them in a critical way, but rather speak to them in order help bring perspective and clarity. It is more than alright to ask honest questions.

Remember the vision and cling to it. It’s why you are there. As you do, and encourage others to do so, your team will be able to stand up to that which seeks to break you apart.

#2. Avoid the “Us and Them”

One deceptive agent of “unity” is the common enemy. It is easy to unify out of dislike, or dare I say, hatred of something/someone. We have seen this method of unity historically and personally. If you want to see an example of this type of unity in action, just go to any place where there is a long line (I.E. the post office, or MVD). As you observe for a while, eventually someone, after moments of stewing in silence, will reach a point where they must vocalize their frustration with the lack of competence the establishment has and how inefficient their procedures are. Soon others will join in with words of affirmation (in the negative sense), by talking about the long duration they too have been waiting. They will add to the intial vocalization with an observation of how they could be more efficient: “They should open another window…” Eventually, they will start lighting their torches and sharpening their pitch forks. They will be unified, even if no real action takes place. But what happens once they have gone through the line? The common enemy is gone; therefore, unity is no longer required. They will all go their separate ways, and most likely never see each other again. Why does this happen? This type of “unity” doesn’t require any real vision or mutual purpose beyond the common enemy. This type of “unity” has a short life-span and doesn’t align people strategically because its only goal is to eliminate or endure the negative. Yes, it is easy to unify this way, but it is shallow, near-sighted, and always temporary. Your team must stay laser focused on vision rather than peripheral common enemies. A good vision will bring lasting unity, whereas a common enemy will only afford unity for a time.

As much as this is true in the macro sense of the team (finding enemies outside of  your team), it is also true in the micro sense within your team (finding enemies within your team). Your team must not band together in smaller cell groups “uniting” against itself.  The use of the word “they” should raise a flag in the your team’s ears. The moment fingers are pointed at the “them” you now have two factions and unity is threatened: us versus them.

One way to avoid this is to make sure that you are always uniting over vision and not a common enemy. It is easy to unite over a common enemy that’s why we fall into all the time. It is much harder to unite over mutual purpose and vision. The former needs only to take advantage of an emotional reaction to circumstances, while the latter requires dedication to a vision, despite feelings or circumstance. Uniting over enemies aims for destruction. Uniting for a cause and vision takes courage and creativity. Would you rather be a part of something life-taking or life-giving?

Another way to avoid the “us and them” is to take extreme ownership of all that happens. If all that’s wrong in the world is “them” or “they” or “that” than you can’t do anything, and let’s stop talking. But if you instead take ownership of everything, even if it wasn’t really you that was accountable, then maybe there is something you can change or do. Ask, what can we do, change, communicate or stop doing? This is a lens that puts you into position to do something of benefit. Let’s put it this way: if it is us or them, than it is us for them. How can you sacrifice? This is the leadership style that Jesus proclaimed and exemplified. Jesus said that to lead is to serve and that we are to love one another (John 13:3-16). Jesus described love as one willing to lay down their life for another (John 15:12-13). Instead of pointing at them, ask: how can I give myself and take ownship for the things that aren’t even my problem in order to bring the change that is needed?

#3. Avoid Telling Stories Where Possible

We can only see what we can see. This sounds very obvious, but we often forget it. We judge motives (which are unseen) instead of evaluating actions and trying to discover motives. When we don’t know why someone is doing what they are doing, we tell stories. Or worse, we vocally tell stories to others, and we can be very elaborate story tellers. Motives are complex. Even our own motives are more complex than we ourselves realize and we know what’s going on in our heads. Why do we think we know what’s going on in others’?

One way to avoid story telling is to always push things into the light. If you are unsure of something, ask. Rather than making up an elaborate story, go to the main character of your soon to be latest fictional work and ask about what you don’t know. This takes some humility, vulnerablity and tact (don’t forget the tact). Don’t let your thoughts hide in the dark and grow into elaborate dragons that need ot be slain, but rather shed light on them so that they can be seen for what they are. When you speak to them, remember your relentless cling to the vision and extreme ownership. Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.

“Turn away from evil and do good: seek peace and pursue it.” -Psalm 34:13-14

If you have to tell yourself a story, make it a good one. Sometimes you have to fill in the gaps because you just don’t have the information, and you cannot sit around until you do. If you can’t see the motives of another team member, assume they are good ones. Tell a story that puts them in the a kind and compassionate light. All the while, you need to be praying for this fellow team member. I have learned that when I pray for someone that I am unclear about, it changes my heart and helps me to see them as an individual rather than a “them” to be judged and blamed. When you pray for someone, I mean really pray for them, you have to think about their needs, and you have to try and see them how God sees them. God loves them and has given his life for them.

Conclusion

Unity is threatened by unclear vision, creating enemies, and assumptions concerning others. We hedge against these threats by clinging to a clear vision, avoiding a “us vs. them” mentality, and by refusing to make up bad stories about the motives of others. Unity is fragile and must be intentionally and aggressively defended. Like a watchman, you need to be alert to cues of danger. You must make your ears sensitive to language that shifts blame, creates uncertainty, or promotes gossip.  Out of mutual purpose and love, always look to be nurturer and defender of the unity in your teams.

Notes

  1. Cling to the Vision
    1. Have Desperate Unflinching Faith in the Vision (faith despite feelings)
    2. Leaders Clarify Vision
    3. Members Know and Believe the Vision
  2. Avoid Us and Them (If it is “us” or “them” it is us for them)
    1. Extreme Ownership (ask what you can do and take ownership of problems)
    2. Sacrifice and serve
    3. Don’t fall into the trap of the common enemy
  3. Avoid Telling Stories Where possible
    1. Push things into the light
    2. If you have to tell a story, tell a good one

For further study: Crucial Conversations  (Kerry Patterson), Next Generation Leader (Andy Stanley), Podcast #206 Extreme Ownership (artofmanliness.com), Read John 13-15. It is kind of funny that I am telling you to read a passage on unity where shortly after the disciples scatter in the biggest example of disunity with a vision. Be these are the words, commands and vision later unites them to the point of death. It is here where Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples (followers of his vision), if you have love for one another.” Wrapped up in their love for one another is their unity.

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