The Gift of a Song

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There’s nothing like a Christmas song on the radio to get me in the mood for the holidays. As soon as the season kicks in, I begin listening to a playlist of my favorite Christmas songs. I love all styles of Christmas music from Charlie Brown’s Christmas to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and all the Christmas hymns we sing at church. I wait with anticipation each year for our very own LifeWay Christmas program. Mike Harland never disappoints! Christmas and music simply go together.

There was music during that first Christmas, too. The angels sang a praise chorus: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors” (Luke 2:14). And Mary had a praise song of her own: “My soul proclaims the greatness of The Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–55).

In the middle of the amazing story of Christ’s miraculous birth, God provides a special gift to Mary. This young virgin girl is visited by the angel Gabriel, who tells her not to be afraid for she has found favor with God and will give birth to a son—Jesus, the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:30–38). Immediately after the encounter with Gabriel, Scripture tells us Mary hurried to Elizabeth’s house. I imagine it was a quick rush. Who would believe this? What does this mean? Who do I tell? Scripture doesn’t tell us all the questions Mary had but I’m sure she had a few.

Elizabeth, an older woman of deep faith, was pregnant with a miracle baby, too. Scripture says Mary stayed with her about three months before returning home. Three months to talk about God, babies, pregnancy, and I’m sure they talked about Joseph and Zechariah! A young girl needed an older woman of strong faith to support and guide her.

We don’t know all that happened in those three months together, but Scripture does give us insight into how the first day started that I believe set the tone for the months ahead. Elizabeth met Mary with a “loud cry,” saying, “You are the most blessed of women, and your child will be blessed!” (Luke 1:42). Elizabeth gave a powerful blessing to Mary and this blessing caused Mary to give praise. Mary’s song of praise rang out that first Christmas and prepared her heart for the birth of Christ.

This Christmas, be ready to give the gift of a song. The pain of loss seems a little harder during the holidays. Loneliness is magnified. Depression is greater. Ask God to open your eyes to see and be ready to give a blessing wrapped in strong faith that makes the heart sing.

“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6)

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Merry Christmas,
Selma

*This article originally appeared in the Life Lines magazine.

Voices of Wisdom: December 2, 2014

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5 Steps for Leading Change
Jenni Catron
Helpful thoughts from Jenni Catron about how leaders can affect true change in their business, church, or organization.

Would We Have Tozer, Wesley, or Luther if Twitter Were Around?Eric Geiger
Social media is great. It’s vital to business and is a great way to connect with friends and business partners. However, social media isn’t always helpful. My friend and colleague Eric Geiger reflects on the potential negatives of social media.

The Gift of MemoryBeth Moore
Beth is a great writer, isn’t she? I really enjoyed this post from my friend Beth about the gift and power of memory.

7 Suggestions to Have the Best Christmas EverRon Edmondson
The Christmas season has arrived! I love this time of year because it’s full of fun, family, and friends. Ron Edmondson shares seven ways to make it the best Christmas ever.

Evangelism: It’s Too ComplicatedTrillia Newbell
A couple of weeks ago, Trillia Newbell wrote a guest post for Ed Stetzer. This is a great post on the complications of evangelism and how we can simplify it.

The Power of Being Thankful

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The speed of life and work keeps us moving forward to the next thing: a child graduating, a new grandchild, a new budget year, a new business disruption, a new initiative to launch, or new problem to solve. A future focused view is required for a healthy life, family, and organization.

BUT it is good in life and work to stop and remember. The pause is good to give us perspective on where we are going and to remind us of the blessings of God. The past four years, our team has seen some amazing results with continued year over year growth. Our fiscal year ends September 30, and four years ago we made the decision to use our November division meeting to stop and remember. The stories of God’s hand of blessing, favor, intervention, redemption, and rescue cause us to be thankful. It has been an essential reminder of God’s work in and through us.

When my daughters were young and they would argue with each other, I made them go to their rooms and not come out until they could name ten reasons why they were thankful for their sister. They didn’t like the punishment but it always turned them back into best friends (which they still are today!).

I challenge you to stop and make a list of the things you are thankful for. Stop and remember the hand of God in your life and work this past year. Lead your team and your family to do the same. Getting a fresh perspective can make all the difference.

A few things I am thankful for this year:

  • The honor of leading the B&H Publishing team—an amazing team of gifted and committed employees that are the best in the industry
  • The blessing of serving on the Executive Leadership Team of LifeWay
  • My church and my pastor
  • Two new grandchildren, Abby and Caleb
  • A summer day spent with my eighty-nine-year-old Dad
  • The joy of seeing my daughters as Moms
  • Riding bikes with Rodney
  • Doing a marriage event with our church in Brussels, Belgium
  • A new love for the people of India, and the pastor and people of Baptist Hyderabad, India.
  • Skyping with my grandson, Josiah, in Bangkok, Thailand—reading books together, singing songs, and just sharing life together

“Indeed, everything is for your benefit, so that grace, extended through more and more people, may cause thanksgiving to increase to God’s glory.” (2 Cor. 4:15 HCSB)

What are you thankful for this year?

Blessings,

Selma

Voices of Wisdom: November 18, 2014

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7 Scriptures to Remember About GracePerry Noble
When times are tough, work is busy, and patience is thin, it’s helpful to remember the grace of God. Thankful for Perry providing these for us.

Why Everything Is Awesome When You’re Leading a TeamMichael Hyatt
Teamwork is not without its occasional challenges, but having a great team really can make everything awesome. Michael Hyatt explains.

The Art of ListeningMary Kassian
When it comes to communication, it’s easy to talk and share our feelings. But what if we took a minute and listened for a change?

4 Principles for Building a High-Performing TeamEric Geiger
I am thankful to serve alongside Eric here at LifeWay; he is a great team builder and leader. Read his thoughts on building a high-performing team.

The Power of Prayer in GroupsRick Howerton
Prayer is vital to the life of the Christian. We cannot forsake the gift of going before God in prayer. Rick shares about the power of praying in groups.

Voices of Wisdom: November 11, 2014

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4 Expectations that Can Injure a MarriageRon Edmondson
Marriage can be tough some times. Much of the time, marriage is a joy, but going into marriage with certain expectations can make things difficult.

Enough to Be DangerousJenni Catron
Are you in the “know enough to be dangerous” stage of leadership? Jenni explains what that means.

Just 40 FeetPriscilla Shirer
Priscilla Shirer shares some thoughts and a short story about marriage in a recent blog for Going Beyond.

The First 11 Minutes at Your ChurchEric Geiger
The beginning of a Sunday morning at church is important, especially when it comes to new people and guests. Eric shares some about these 11 minutes.

The Power of Agreeing Together in PrayerSam O’Neal
Prayer is an important part of small group, but it can be sticky sometimes. Sam shares some ideas on praying in small group effectively.

People Strategy, It Is Your Future


people-strategyOrganizations spend a great deal of time getting their mission statement down. Some leaders even do the “elevator” test with their team to see if people can say the mission statement anytime and anywhere with clarity. It is critical that your team personally owns the mission of your organization.

But I think we forget that our mission is lived out through people. Our strategy is ultimately a people strategy. To be a great leader, the majority of your time should be invested in developing people. Who are the future leaders of your organization? Can you identify them and do you have an intentional plan for their growth and development? Are you creating a development culture where team members learn from each other? Are you providing the resources (budget) for your key leaders to learn from others outside your organization?

What percentage of your time are you spending focused on your people strategy?

1. Walk around and see people in their work environment.
Get out of your office and walk around. I am amazed at the insight you gain by visiting leaders in their offices. I compare it to visiting in someone’s home. There is a deeper level of knowing someone when you are in their space. Notice the pictures and what they hang on the walls. Ask them how their work is going, how you can help them, and if they need anything from you. Before you leave, ask how you can pray for them. Be sure and thank them for their contribution to the mission of the team.

2. Identify the top three to five people on your team.
Who are the most critical leaders on your team for the future? Make sure you have time with them. Take them to lunch, take them on external trips with you, and ask their opinion on key decisions. Make sure they know how much you value their contribution to the future of your organization.

3. Succession planning.
Lead your organization to have an intentional succession plan for every key role. Spend time with your top leaders reviewing these plans and speaking into them. If you place a high value on developing others, your leaders will lead with development in mind.

4. Hire for the next position.
It is a great goal to hire someone that you see growing into other roles. It isn’t always possible but if you set this as a goal, your organization will be much stronger in a short time.

5. Team as a growth strategy.
Teams are a valuable method for developing others to be more broad-based leaders. Working with others that have different gifts, competencies, and experience, allows others to gain new knowledge and insight into problems or opportunities. It also creates an opportunity for people who are different to learn and value each other. People skills are essential for overall success and teams create a great opportunity to learn the give and take of working together.

6. Personal touch.
Make sure you are aware of the personal joys and challenges of key leaders. The size of your organization may make it impossible to know everyone, but you can know many. We all bring our personal lives to work and it matters that a leader really cares. A phone call about a sick child or aging parent issues will be remembered for years. Stopping to pray with someone makes such a difference.

7. Help someone on your team succeed.
Serve your organization. Make yourself available to help others on your team win. Sometimes that means you pack boxes, take the time to meet someone that matters to the team, or make a trip for a leader because being there matters. When you come alongside someone to serve, you are developing him or her to be servant leaders.

Scripture calls it making disciples. Jesus modeled it well as He poured into twelve men. Ultimately, our people strategy and people development is about making people more like Christ. However your organization defines success, the ultimate success is Jesus.

I would love to hear your story of how someone poured into you or how you are intentionally developing someone else.

In Christ,

Selma

7 Critical Questions to Assess Your Team’s Energy

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Maybe because I am getting older, I am more aware of my own energy level. In recent years, I have become more guarded in what I give my energy to. It has been easier for me to say “no” to certain things because the energy required is more than I am willing to give.

Are you aware of your own energy level? Of the energy level of your team? Are you wasting energy that isn’t moving your organization forward? Energy is one of the great resources of the team you lead. Do you regularly check the energy level of your team?

It might be time for you to pause, look, and take an energy check-up:

1. Are people on your team eager to communicate with you about their work? A new customer, a new client, a new product, a new sales opportunity? Do you regularly get “interrupted”” with good news?

2. Are your leaders eager for meetings with you or do they dread your meetings? Are they walking into the meetings eager to share news about their people and their work?

3. When you walk around, are people glad to see you coming or do they wonder what they have done wrong?

4. Is there optimism about the future? Is your team talking more about the future or the past? Do they eagerly share ideas about future opportunities and the potential for future growth?

5. Is your team working together formally and informally? There is always more energy when people are working with others. You should hear a “buzz” of conversations as you listen to your team as ideas are generated and problems are solved.

6. Overall, does your team look rested or exhausted? One of the real dangers of the pace of change today is that we are overextending ourselves. More time does not mean more energy. Rest, exercise, and a break from execution can give way to amazing creative energy and new ideas.

7. As a leader of faith, one of the best energy sources is prayer. Is prayer a normal and natural part of the work of your team? Do they individually and collectively pray, asking God to give them insight, wisdom, direction, and favor in the work they do? Do they naturally pray for others on the team?

If your organization’s energy is low, you have some work to do as a leader to refuel your team. A good place to start is in prayer.

“I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit, and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love.” (Eph. 3:16–18 hcsb)

I would value hearing your insights on the energy level of your organization.

Blessings,
Selma

Video Interview with Natalie Grant

Recently Natalie Grant visited us at LifeWay for a chapel service, and she brought the house down during worship! I got the pleasure of interviewing her about her newest album Hurricane, which is about finding hope in our times of storms.

In this video hear from Natalie about her new album, motherhood, postpartum depression, faith, and the storms of life. I so enjoyed our chat, and hope it blesses you too!

“We learn more about the character of the God we serve when we’re in the storm than when we’re on the mountain top.” -Natalie Grant

Buy Natalie’s newest album Hurricane HERE.

Connect with Natalie Grant: twitterfacebook • instagramwebsite

Monday Morning Leadership: 7 Truths to Jump Start Your Work Week

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are wired by our Creator for work—real work. Work that is hard and where real labor is involved. Like sweat and toil (sounds like a preschool mom!). For some it is mental labor, others relationship labor, and others physical labor. Maybe for your work is all three. Whether you are a doctor, a mother, or you pick up garbage—your work matters.

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You see most of life is about perspective.
Rodney and I teach couples to work on perspective in their marriages. Eighty percent of what your spouse does is great (faithful, hardworking, good parent, responsible, and caring) but 20 percent will drive you crazy (doesn’t put their plate in the sink, uses your razor, drops the towel on the floor, and leaves the car on empty). Work on the 20 percent for sure, but don’t lose perspective on the 80 percent that is great in the process.

People are always asking me how I am doing. I like to say I am great. I’m not living in ______________ and name several war torn countries where women are being abused and have no freedom. It is all about perspective. I have always liked what Dave Ramsey says when asked how he is doing. He always answers, “Better than I deserve.”

So this Monday morning, work on looking at the 80 percent that is great about your work. Maybe take a moment and write down what you love most about your work. Here are some things to remember that might help get you energized when the alarm goes off on Monday morning:

1. I have a job that pays me a fair wage plus benefits.

2. I have health insurance.

3. I work in a place where I can learn and grow.

4. I work with amazing people who challenge and inspire me.

5. I don’t have to walk to work. I have good transportation that keeps me cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

6. I get to use my gifts, talents, experience, and abilities to make a difference.

7. I can help someone on my team succeed.

8. I have the freedom to share Christ in the workplace or to model Christ in how I work and in how I treat others.

9. I can pray for those I work with as they share needs. I can pray for those in authority over me. I can pray for God to use me.

How do you keep energized in your work? I would love to hear from you.

Blessings,

Selma

Voices of Wisdom: September 23, 2014

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6 WAys to Build A Better Team and Become a Better Leader – by Todd Adkins
Everyone wants to have a loyal staff, but getting to that point doesn’t happen overnight. In this great post by Todd Adkins, he describes excellent principles to be a better leader and in turn create a more loyal staff.

Thank God for a Messy Church by Tim Challies

If God is in the business of saving sinners, we need to expect that church will be full of sinners—those who are still wandering and those who have only just been found. If our churches reflect God’s heart for the lost, they will be full of people with problems, full of people showing the consequences of a lifetime of wandering. And this means that church may not be a safe and easy place. It may not be a place full of people who have it all together. It may be messy. It should be messy. Thank God if it is messy.

Group Leader Skills: Conversations Between Meetings by Rick Howerton
Fall means it’s a season of new Bible Studies starting up again. If you’re a Bible Study or small group leader, you’ll definitely want to read this post about how important conversations between meetings are. He suggests using email, texting and other face-to-face non-Bible Study gatherings to create community within your small group.

Two Fruits of True Forgiveness by J.D. Greear
Pastor J.D. looks at Psalm 32 as the litmus test to true forgiveness and shares how once we’re truly forgiven, our love for God and our compassion for others begins to grow. He shares the gospel message in this powerful article about how He is drawing us to Himself.

How Grace and Truth Unleash the Contagious Nature of the Gospel – by Eric Mason
Pastor Mason shares a bit of what he learned from his new book Beat God to the Punch: “When you experience Jesus for who He is, you cannot help but run to your circle of influence and engage them with the one who changes everything.”