Happy Birthday America: Now Read This Letter From Your Founding Father

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founding-fathers7July 4th, 1776.  More than a date on a calendar.  It celebrates the boldness of an idea.  It celebrates the boldness of a movement.  It celebrates the boldness of free and independent men.

Quite often during this time of year, we reflect on our Nation’s Founding Fathers and ponder their service and sacrifice….well maybe we used to. We might mention names like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Henry, Hamilton and many others in the American History Hall of Fame.

Have you ever wished you could ask them what they think of us now? Have you ever wondered what advice they would give us in our present circumstances?

What’s exciting, yet humbling, is that we have a glimpse of their advice to us. You see in the spring of 1777, almost a year after the formal signing of the Declaration of Independence and still over six years away from the Treaty of Paris that would end the Revolutionary War and recognize the sovereignty of our nation, John Adams penned a simple letter to his wife Abigail. In this letter, our future 2nd President sends us a message.  Although short it is quite powerful.  Here is his message to us.

Posterity! (That’s us – future generations that he can never imagine – future Americans!) You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.

Read it again, it’s worth it.

So what are we supposed to do with this Freedom? What does he mean by “make good use of it?” I believe we can do a few of things  (among many) to make good use of this freedom.

I believe we can strive to do what’s just, not what we can simply justify.

I believe we can strive to do what’s responsible, not what’s permissible.

And lastly, I think as we examine ourselves and the actions of those we elect, we can remember that these individual rights we enjoy assume an individual accountability…..to our fellow man and to our God.

Happy Birthday America!



Pursuing Your Calling

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“For every man has a mission to perform in this world which his talents precisely fit him; and having found this mission, he must throw in to it all the energies of his being, seeking its accomplishment, not his own glory.”

Fourteen years ago today, on April 22, 2004, Pat Tillman was killed by gunfire while on patrol in a rugged area of eastern Afghanistan. The unfortunate death of this young man occurred in Southeastern Afghanistan in Operation Mountain Storm—a subset effort of the larger Operation Enduring Freedom designed to weaken al-Qaeda forces and the Taliban government. If you don’t know who Pat is let me quickly introduce you to this soldier.

Patrick Daniel Tillman was born the oldest of three brothers in San Jose, California. He played linebacker for Arizona State University, where during his senior year he was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. In 1998, Tillman was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. He became the team’s starting safety as well as one of its most popular players. In 2000, he broke the team record for tackles with 224. In May 2002, Tillman turned down a three-year, multi-million-dollar deal with the Cardinals and instead, prompted by the events of 9/11, joined the Army along with his brother Kevin, a minor-league baseball player. The Tillman brothers were assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington, and did tours in Iraq in 2003, followed by Afghanistan the next year.

In today’s world of instant gratification and selfishness, it might not make sense for a man to leave a profession that pays him about $1.2 million a year for a new career that pays about $20,000 a year. However, it makes complete sense when you understand who Tillman was.

Here is a man that was defined by words like loyalty, honor, passion, courage, strength and nobility. He was a low-key guy.  By the time Tillman enlisted in the Army in 2002, after four years in the NFL, he understood how the media worked. Still, he decided not to talk to any of them about his decision to enlist. When Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis asked Tillman how he was going to announce leaving the NFL for the service. Tillman’s reply was: “I’m not. You are.”

What is interesting with the Pat Tillman story is the two narratives that typically accompany it.

The first and probably the most popular theme presented assumes that fame and money is the highest mark of success and happiness; therefore we then refer to Pat’s detachment from it as the “ultimate sacrifice.”

The other narratives assumes Pat was naïve for trading the riches of a professional football career to chase Osama bin Laden.

Both are wrong….

I think the narrative that should follow Pat Tillman should simply communicate the story of a man following his calling…his purpose. The money, the fame, even the military service are all secondary to this point!  As his former head coach said, “Pat Tillman represented all that was good in sports. He knew his purpose in life and proudly walked away from a career in football to follow his calling.”

To most of America, Tillman is symbol of patriotism.

To others, he is a hero for choosing service over wealth.

To me he is a man who followed his heart….and it led him from the football fields of Arizona to the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.

Pat Tillman discovered his calling, his purpose, his mission and he was willing to risk and sacrifice everything for it. Do you pursue your calling with the same energy?

Top 10 Tips For Raising Boys

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Dear Parents of Boys:  This is a picture of my family.  A Dad, a Mom, and two pretty cool boys.  We have been doing this “raising boys” thing for almost 12 years.  familyAlthough I could probably list you a hundred lessons I have learned on this journey so far, here are my “Top 10 Tips for Raising Young Men”….. for today….I’m sure these two creatures will do something this weekend to cause me to update this list Monday morning but – hey – that’s part of the excitement!

1. Give solid boundaries. We are a house of grace, in fact it is one of our family core values, but know this – boys need structure. They need someone to tell them when they’ve gone too far in how they talk to mom or each other. They need someone who will counsel them and hold them accountable.  Don’t let the phrase “Boys will be boys” be an easy excuse for not setting boundaries.

2.  If you want to discuss something serious, don’t just sit there, do something. A counselor friend of mine shared that in her years of counseling boys and girls in a school setting, a frustrating thing kept happening: while the girls easily opened up and would talk face-to-face in her office, the boys often clammed up and shut down. But as soon as they began doing something, for example, shooting baskets outside on the basketball court, or playing a card game in the office, the same boys miraculously opened up about anything and everything. I have certainly noticed this with my boys. I recently had “the talk” with my oldest son (by the way – it is not a talk – if done right it is a conversation that continues for months and years, but that is for a future blog post) and noticed that he opened up and asked the most questions when we were fishing or playing basketball.  If something serious needs to be discussed with your young man, try broaching the subject during a walk or a game he likes to play. You may be amazed at the ease of his words in between turns of a game of Horse.

3. Offer wisdom more than solutions.  Liz and I try to help our boys form a paradigm for finding an answer, rather than give them the answer. Being an independent, critical thinker is going to benefit them for life. We want our boys to be able to find their own way while still understanding the wisdom that comes from experience.

4.  Love their friends. Liz has took the lead on this one before we even had kids! We want our boys to know their friends are always welcome in our house. We want our house to be a safe place where other kids can feel loved. From the fridge to the pantry to the toys in the playroom, our boys know they are free to share them all.

Back yard pull5 . Let them explore. One of the scariest aspects of raising boys is their tendency to risk life and limb for no good reason. Boys are risk-takers. They wrestle and bounce balls that break lamps and pee places you never thought someone would pee. They’ll jump off something and you’ll likely end up in the emergency room a time or two. This is part of exploring and discovering. A good friend of mine has 3 boys…his family built a mini rock climbing wall in one of the bedrooms. He and his wife are supporting their boys’ needs to explore and test their courage in the safety of their own home. Exploring helps our young men grow in courage and in faith and in the ability to be a man. Of course there’s a line they should not go beyond, and guess what, as the parent, you get to draw that line (see tip #1).

6. Avoid impossible demands. Be absolutely sure that your son is capable of delivering what you require. Impossible demands result in unresolvable conflict. Adjust their responsibilities and your delegation to them as they grow.  Asking something of them that they cannot do brings inevitable damage to your relationship.

7. Boys adore their moms….celebrate this! Liz would probably agree that both my boys are “Daddy’s Boys.” I think just based on the fact we are the only 3 dudes in the house – we have a strong and consistent connection. However I love and celebrate how they adore their mom. From helping her cook to snuggling on the couch, when I see these moments I celebrate them.  She will always be their first love….and for that I am grateful!

Drew football pic8. Find ways for them to compete. On a certain part of our church campus we have a long hall way . Every week I smile as I see young boys racing their dad or friend down the corridor. They can’t help it!  Find ways to help your boy compete.  Teach him to win and lose with character. The key with this one is to make sure they know your love for them is in no way tied to their performance!

9.  Make God part of your family rhythm. We have some special china dishes we received on our wedding day. They sit beautifully in a china cabinet and are used during special, rare moments. However this set of dishes have missed a lot over the life of our family.  It has missed laughter, stories, jokes, and even a few tears.  If you asked my two boys if they want the china as an inheritance they would probably both say no.  They realize the china dishes are important but they don’t hold much meaning.  Don’t allow your boys to say God was important but He just didn’t come out much in the daily rhythm of life.

10. Know your role! Your role is not to impress your son with your ability to parent. Your role is to impress your boy with the love and nature of God. The fact is – you have more potential to impact your son than anyone else.  Reflecting the image of God in your home is the best way to impact your child!

Don’t worry parents – I know that boy’s antics and sheer physicality are bound to try our patience and sometimes even bring us to the brink of exhaustion. But thus far, I have found that having boys has been one of the greatest joys in life.


15 Leadership Reminders

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leadership reminder

“Do the simple things well.” These were the words my first Battalion Commander, Colonel George Dallas, used to always say.

Sometimes in the midst of reading books on leadership, listening to podcasts, studying Scripture, and actually leading a family and a ministry, I can overlook some simple leadership lessons.

So here are a 15 leadership reminders for me today….maybe you too! (in no particular order):

  1. Be responsible. If you say you are going to take care of it, then take care of it.
  2. Be professional. Arrive on time. Actually be early. And be organized.
  3. Be the best. Get better every day at what you do.
  4. Be humble. Talk less. Listen more. Make others the hero of the story.
  5. Be proactive. Not reactive. Respond and initiate before being told to or asked to by your boss or peers.
  6. Be focused. When it’s time to make it happen, discipline yourself to take it across the finish line.
  7. Be authentic. Lead from the real you.
  8. Be trustworthy. Your word is your bond….and your reputation. Honesty always trumps.
  9. Be optimistic. See the best in people and opportunities. Choose trust over suspicion.
  10. Be curious. Learn constantly. Read everything you can. Ask questions. Have a posture of constant curiosity and creativity.
  11. Be passionate. Love what you do. Do what you love.  Seek a calling not a career.
  12. Be hopeful. Create a vision that tomorrow can (and will) be better than today.
  13. Be courageous. Step out and take risks.
  14. Be generous. Give more than expected, including time, talent, treasure and encouragement.
  15. Pray. The first and foremost of all my strengths is the conviction that God has called me to this place and time. He can do more than I can ever do alone. My time in prayer reminds me of my place in His world!

What reminders would you add?


Leadership 101: Building the Perfect Team

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Did you know, according to data from The Harvard Business Review, the time spent by leaders and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more over the last twenty years, and almost three-fourths of an employee’s day at most companies is spent communicating with colleagues?

That is a lot of time working with others!

There are numerous reasons for this rise in teamwork and collaboration but I think it is common understanding that for many tasks, working in teams encourages faster innovation and better problem solving.

Just this week, a team I am a part of read and discussed an article on Google’s Quest to Build the Perfect Team. In 2012, the tech behemoth launched a venture called Project Aristotle, which gathered data by analyzing many studies and actually observing the way people interacted in a group.

For years Google had believed that by putting the best subject matter experts in a room would result in the best team. What their in-depth study and all the data revealed did not support that theory.'On paper we have the perfect team.'

Turns out, the key to successful groups isn’t in the personalities or skills of the individual team’s members at all, but comes from the team’s “group norms.”

So what are “group norms?”

Group norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather. Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound.

Based upon the study, here are a few examples of group norms categorized by healthy or dysfunctional teams:

Common group norms for dysfunctional teams were:

– You must prove yourself. One is not necessarily a part of the team to accomplish a task or complete a project but to further their standing within the organization.

– Competition among peers. Because I must prove myself, my success and recognition is more important than the goal of the group.

– Zero tolerance for mistakes. Very few risks are taken therefore the new or good ideas can only come from the top.

– No outside social interaction. Simply put, team members do not enjoy each other’s company.

teamwork rowGroup norms of the successful groups were:

– Vision focused. The accomplishment of the mission and vision trump individual performance.  If one succeeds we all succeed.

– No competition or judging. An atmosphere of “safety” is present…where ideas can be shared and discussed without the fear of intimidation.  Everyone has a voice in the discussion regardless of title or role.

– They have fun!

– They cared for each other.

So what does all this mean for the leader? Easy answer:  If group norms are the key to successful team building, guess who can directly influence, change, and set those group norms?  You!

As a leader, ask yourself (better yet – your team members) the following questions:

– What are the group norms of our current team?

– Do my actions and example support or hinder a healthy team?

Who knows, maybe you’ll build the perfect team!

What Can a Greek Messenger Teach Us About Suffering?

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MUDDERWhat is the longest distance you have ever run? For some it may not be far at all.  For others, you may enjoy the solitude of long runs.  I think the longest consecutive running I have ever done was about 16 miles.  A few Marine buddies and I ran a Tough Mudder a couple of years ago.  It was a blast!

There are some people though who really like running!  My friend Sean likes to run marathons.  Recently, because the average marathon of only 26.2 miles was not sufficient, Sean ran an ultra-marathon.  That’s right…an ultra-marathon.  It’s not that bad.  Only 50 miles.  He’s one tough dude!

Did you know the term “marathon” has its origin in military history? The name “Marathon” is loosely based upon the fabled run by Pheidppides, a Greek messenger. Legend states that he was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens, a distance of over 150 miles, to announce that the Persians had been defeated. Many historians and philosophers consider the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. one of the most significant battles in human history; but the battle is perhaps now more famous as the inspiration for the modern marathon race.

What I find most interesting and compelling about the Marathon story is the sequence of the event.

First – something happened. In this case, an invasion by the Persian Empire which resulted in a fierce battle.   For us, we will all undoubtedly have certain events in our life that trigger a long road of suffering.  This event or events may be self-inflicted or the result of others.

Second – a long road of suffering requiring intense endurance. Remember he had to run over 150 miles – after fighting in a battle!  Our road of suffering will come.  It may be long or it may be short, but it will come.

Statue of Pheidippides along the Marathon Road
Statue of Pheidippides along the Marathon Road

Lastly – he shared his message…three simple words, “We were victorious.” When we consider the story of Pheidppides it is important for us to remember this step: he shared his message; he shared his testimony.  If Pheidppides would have given up along the way and never delivered his message, history would not remember his name.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we know a few things: We know we will face suffering.  We know this suffering requires lengthy periods of endurance. But we also know that we are not alone.  We know that our suffering is not wasted.  We know that just like Pheidppides, when our suffering ends, because of the grace freely given by God, we can simply say, “We were victorious.”

If you are in the midst of trails and sufferings, I ask you to take a few minutes and watch this video.  You won’t regret it.


Leadership 101: 4 Keys to Team Building

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team-building-conceptThere’s no way to overestimate the importance of learning from the people around us. When we’re open to learning from others, we benefit from their experience as well as our own and we can inherit their wisdom and knowledge.

I learn a lot from my friends and teammates. Recently one of them, Ryan Cook, wrote an article for LEAD 222, an international coaching and mentoring ministry. In this article he shared his 4 keys to team building.   Here is an excerpt from his piece:

*Wherever you are and whatever capacity you serve in I’m going to bet you became very aware, very quickly that leadership is kind-of a big deal. Either because you experienced good leadership or you experienced bad leadership. The health of any organization, ministry, or team will rise or fall on leadership.

Early on I saw the huge impact of leadership and began wrestling with questions like:

What does a good leader do?

Am I a good leader?

Can I effectively lead others?

Can I build a winning team?

So here are a couple things I have tried to do to lead my team:

  1. PRAY – I serve with a great team right now.  It has taken four years to build and lots and lots of prayer. I asked God to bring leaders of leaders. Then I waited patiently and didn’t move until He said to.
  2. VISION – You have to lead with vision rather than tasks. Leaders follow vision and workers accomplish tasks. Invest the time to pray and seek God for His vision for your ministry. Learn how to cast vision effectively – too big and the team can get demoralized, too small and the team is uninspired. Find ways to celebrate little wins along the way and always keep the vision in front of your team. Vision leaks so YOU have to fill it up again!
  3. EMPOWER – Surrounding yourself with the right people allows you to manage lightly. I sit down with my team members each month and ask 4 questions – How are you doing personally/spiritually? What have you been working on the last month? What are looking ahead to the next month? What do you need from me? We always end with prayer. Checking in more often feels like micromanaging and checking in less often feels like neglect.
  4. STAFF FUNZIE’S – Ministry is a grind. Set aside one time a month for your team to do something fun. It could be a simple lunch, a day trip, a conference, an overnight get away or dinner at your house. Make memories and build community. Right now we have the “Year of the Burger” – so we are going to lunch once a month at a new burger spot in town. Simple but fun.

There are so many other things, but this is a good start. Leadership is a life-long pursuit. Grow as a leader and you will build a winning team. Lead with wisdom and humility and God will honor that and ministry can be a lot of fun. *

Ryan is spot on…whether in the workplace, ministry, or your local community, team building requires a keen understanding of people, their strengths and what gets them excited to work with others.   Team building is both an art and a science and the leader who can consistently build high performance teams will accomplish more than he could ever do alone.

My challenge for you today – take a few of Ryan’s keys to team building and give it a try.  I think you’ll find it worthwhile!