Love, a gift from above

In what will be a huge shock to my wife, today I’m going to write about something very personal. Yesterday, we celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary. What can you say to someone who you’ve spent over half your life with? There are no gifts or no greeting cards that could ever express the emotions that you feel when you slow down to think about the amazing people in your life. You don’t get to choose your family but your spouse… Some people have not been as blessed as we have been in finding a true match or a true partner for life. Sure, there are ups and downs but all in all, we’ve been blessed to have each other. What kind of a gift do you give to a person like that? You tell the world! Since these devotions reach around the world, that is exactly what I’m doing; tell the world how much I love my wife.

I’m not one to be serious for long, I keep finding ways to lighten the mood – so here you go: As I wrote the last sentence in the last paragraph, I thought that people are going to think that I did something horrible and this is how I’m being punished; a grand gesture because I was a complete jerk. It’s true that I can be a jerk at times, but this is written purely from the heart. We regularly celebrate what a great team we are, how we support each other (her supporting me more) but we constantly work hard at it. People ask, what is the secret? The answer is complicated to do but basically simple, keep your spouse in mind – always. This is the foundation of teamwork, putting the team ahead of your own desires or ambitions. We have always cared for each other, even when the kids were small. We knew we were stronger together than we were apart. Today, our nest is empty and when people ask how it’s going, I always reply, “We still like each other after all these years so it’s going great”.

17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. 19My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:17-20

What a verse to describe your spouse – “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” As a couple, our path to faith was a winding road. I believe that the good and perfect gift of my spouse is truly a gift from above. We didn’t have “a moment” that brought us close to God, but we did have constant reminders that faith in God and the understanding of the love shown to us by our Father and His Son was important to our lives. God’s love was consistent and reliable, just as James is reminding us here. While there is great marriage advice in verses 19 and 20, it is also great advice for living in these turbulent times.

Verse 19 really needs to be repeated, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”. In a world that we often cannot tell fact from fiction, we must take time to seek the calm in the world, God wants us to be righteous and love one another. President Kennedy, in a commencement address he gave at Yale in 1962 said: “For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” As I have been blessed with great love in my life for 34 years, I hope that you choose love, truth and peace over hate, myths and anger so you can “produce the righteousness that God desires.” You can do it because Jesus is beside you all of the way.

Momentary Trouble

I was going to write about mentoring, coaching, succession planning and employee development in an attempt to get back to the roots of what started this website in the first place. As I have evolved since starting this in 2011, so has this site. The world is crazy right now and it seems that no matter what direction you turn, trouble is around each corner. The concept of “trouble” has a wide range of implications; some personal, some national and some international. Lately, I’ve been describing this year as weird because it seems like there is no good news out there and that means trouble.

All of this reminds me of when our daughter was born prematurely and airlifted to a hospital 90 minutes from our house. My wife and I would drive up three or four times a week to see her because the daily updates weren’t cutting it for us. We would ask ourselves, “why is this happening to us?” Despite the small victories, we never felt like there was any good news out there. Does this sound familiar to you? Many of you are struggling right now with all of the uncertainty in this world but this verse reminds us that it is temporary. I’m reminded that these troubles will lead to a breakthrough of sorts and that we will be stronger on the other side these troubles. Remain strong and find the courage to push on.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17

As Disciples of Christ, more than the word of God is with us in our lives. The trials and tribulations of this life are making us stronger for what lies ahead in eternity. Our troubles are momentary, but they sometimes seem to pile up. It’s not what is happening to us that matters, it is how we react to it that counts. St. Paul is telling the Corinthians and us, that our troubles are light and momentary.

For those that believe in Christ, we know that no matter what is happening, we will have eternal life in Heaven. We all struggle with the concept of “momentary” because we are applying it to our understanding of time. A moment to God could be years for us. Open the bible and find peace for the troubles that are burdening you. Stop looking for the meaning in “why” and start looking at how you can react, with God at your side, to the troubles you are facing. Giving up your control and letting God work in your life is very hard. We have been promised eternal life through Jesus Christ; not an easy life here on earth. Celebrate the gift and live to His glory – the glass is half full.

Compassion and Discipline

Discipline comes in many forms. For some of us, it is the focus that drives us every day. For others, discipline means teachable moments and for a few, it means punishment. Supervisors “discipline” people as part of their duties. What do the people who you’ve disciplined take away from the experience? If the punishment was punitive, chances are that they took away a little bitterness. Our job as leaders is to be sure that the punishment fits the crime. If they didn’t know how to or were not equipped to do the job, perhaps seizing on the teachable moment will improve future performance over punitive discipline. The old saying that you shouldn’t kill an ant with an anvil is good advice about compassion.

People often think of compassion as being soft on others or caring about them. When we say, “I feel sorry for them”, we think we’re being compassionate. The word is derived from the Latin phrase: suffer with. The thesaurus lists: empathy, care, concern, warmth, love, leniency and kindness as a few alternatives. What version of compassion do you most often associate with in your life? Supervisors should exercise all of them. I would suggest that everyone should exercise a little compassion with each other rather than just suffering with a person in our minds.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him…” Psalm 103:13

Discipline takes on two roles – punishment and order. The order that discipline brings is getting out of bed every day at 5am to go to the gym for that dreaded spin class or the order that breeds commitment to seeing a job through to the end. Not wanting to repeat myself but the work we do is pleasing to God, we should have the discipline to do our best – always.

On the other side, fear and punishment are not often thought of when we think of our Father in Heaven. We all received punishment for the original sin of Adam and Eve. Child labor is now painful, we have to work the fields for our food and the price of our daily sin is death here on earth. We should fear God! The good news in this passage is that the Lord will have compassion on those of us who fear Him. God loves us and He has proven that by sending His son to die for our sins. We no longer have to fear the punishment of our sins; Jesus Christ did that for us on the cross at Calvary. God wanted His children close to him and while we will not stay in this life for eternity, we will share eternity with our Father in Heaven. A pretty fair punishment if you ask me.

Be happy in your work

Happy Labor Day! Okay, I’m trying to be positive in the grips of a pandemic on what should be a weekend filled with barbeques and gatherings. Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer but here in Arizona we’re under an Excessive Heat Warning with temperatures over 110 degrees for something like the 40th time this year. It looks like we’ve got another 60 days before we cool off into the 90’s. In our house we celebrated the holiday weekend with some extra work in the yard – trimming trees. While it’s easy to complain about work these days, this holiday does represent a celebration of us, the workers of the world. We use our talents, skills and abilities to make a difference for other people. In exchange, we are paid for our work. Granted, some are paid more than others, but we are able to provide for ourselves.

Our talents often feel like they go unrecognized and if you think your labor is a waste, stop and consider who you make a difference for. Restaurant staffs feed their customers, accountants provide a service and peace of mind to their clients, the grocery clerk who bags our purchase and so on; everyone makes a difference. We all have our jobs at this particular time for a reason that we simply don’t understand. So what, you ask? Enjoy your time and consider how you make a difference in everything you do. The word LABOR means that it is supposed to be hard but it doesn’t mean that it is without a purpose. Enjoy the holiday and look forward to the changing seasons that are coming.

“Moreover, when God gives a man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work- this is a gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 5:19

I’m reminded of the old expression “a gift from God” with this verse. Our human nature is to think that we’re responsible for all the things that we do. “It was me who…” is how we start our sentences when describing an accomplishment. We often think of ourselves when it’s something great, but we blame someone else or God when it’s something less desirable. Why did God give me this disease? Why did God let me get fired from my job? We forget that God gives us ALL things; the good and the bad. He put the right people in our lives so that we meet the manager who was looking for a new employee and we landed that awesome new job.

God gives us what we can handle – not too little and not too much. God also wants us to be happy with what He has given us. He doesn’t want us being envious of the new car that our neighbor just got or be angry when we are passed over for promotion. He wants us to accept what we have (be content) and be happy. Everything, good and bad, is a gift from God and that is something to be thankful for. We are supposed to learn from the bad and model God’s grace for others. We are supposed to share the good with others too, God loves a cheerful giver but it’s not always money we need to give. God has blessed each of with talents and those should be shared too. Work should be less about labor and more about celebrating the gift of opportunity from God.

Obedient to Authority

WOW! This verse has a very wide range of possible topics to cover. I almost want to write about it for a couple of weeks in a row. The easy way out would be to write about political party’s, but I have tried very hard to remain topical and not political. So let’s go to one of my favorite topics – followership.  Being a good follower is an important characteristic of being a good leader. We must learn to follow before we lead. The notion of us following someone often depends upon whom we are following. If we don’t respect our supervisor or the company owner, it is hard to follow them. Conversely, if we believe in the person then we have little trouble following them. However, following does not mean that we do it blindly. We have to obey the rules established by our employer, the city or town we live in and those of our federal government. While we don’t always agree, we are obedient for no other reason than to maintain order within our society.

Being a follower has responsibilities too. We shouldn’t accept someone because they are in a position of authority or because someone else has elevated them to a leadership position. The proof is often in their words and actions. Look carefully at whom you choose to follow. The bottom-line is that we are all followers at some point in our careers or lives but it is more of a role rather than a position we hold. Those who are better followers are generally tapped to become the next leader when the opportunity arises. Google the word “followership” and you will find thousands of resources; look for one that sings to your heart. Today, it is easy to fall blindly behind someone because they are popular or because they represent a group that you belong to. Ensure that you are following them because they represent the values and beliefs that you hold.

“Remind the people to be subject to rules and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good…” Titus 3:1

The verse today should sing to your heart as well. The Ten Commandments tell us to be obedient to our government leaders. Jesus even told the Pharisees to “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. He was teaching us to be obedient. Titus then reminds us to be subject to rules and authorities and then be ready to do what is good. God is reminding us to be good followers; be a living example of Christian living. Are you ready to do whatever is good?

I’m sure that if someone asks us for help, we’ll be there. Unfortunately, most of us rarely look for ways to help; it is easier to react to a call for help then it is to generate support for one. There are a lot of people who need our help, especially at this point in history. Whether you lead or follow, be ready to do good. When the true financial impacts of the pandemics begin to reveal themselves and after tens of thousands of people are permanently laid off from their jobs, consider becoming a leader, this might be your opportunity. Martin Luther was credited with saying, “God doesn’t need your good works but your neighbor does”. As the U.S. enters the final eight weeks of our Presidential Election season, we must remain focused on being ready to do whatever is good and focus less on blind obedience.

Who’s Got Time?

The musical group Chicago, in their song 25 or 6 to 4 ask the question, “Does anyone really know what time it is?”. Jimmy Buffet has a song about a watch that doesn’t have numbers but “just says now”. Time is the one thing that we can’t make more of, we can often never have enough of and some times can feel like there is too much of – especially in campaign season. I’d say it’s a very strange element of our lives. A very close friend of mine unexpectedly lost his wife last weekend, she was a few days shy of her 50th birthday. They didn’t have enough time together! The time they did spend together was very special and people often commented on how visible their love was for each other.

What we do with our time or what we spend our time on is often a reflection of who we are. We can spend our time making a difference in other people’s lives or we can spend time complaining about things that really don’t affect us but make us feel like we we’re protecting something. Ask yourself, is it really worth it? Time is precious so we should spend it wisely on things that bring joy to others and to ourselves – one should not come at the expense of the other. Take a look in your life at the things consuming the most amount of your time and make sure that you’re spending that time correctly because you never know when the time will be gone.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

“This is taking an eternity to finish!” A phrase we all utter at some point. We have no concept of what “eternity” really is. God works on His own timeline and not one that we can understand. Stop for a moment and look back over your life, do you see how God has worked in His plan in your life? The seemingly unrelated events and circumstances appear now to be connected to form an experience or opportunity. God is at work in and through us every day; bringing us closer to Him for eternity.

People are often afraid of the things that they’ve done and become so discouraged that they give up pleasing God. He doesn’t keep a record of our time spent; there is no time clock in use. If God did keep a record of everything that we’ve done from our beginning, it would be a pretty scary list if you think about it. Fortunately, we are God’s children and as such, He sent us a Savior to wipe clean our sins. Faith in Jesus Christ, combined with God’s grace, cleanses us from all sin. We cannot fathom the extent of God’s love for us as He forgives ALL of our sins – from the beginning to the end. God works in His time. We can’t understand that so why do we think we can understand the depth of God’s love? So, spend a little more time with God so He knows how much you appreciate Him.

Juicy Gossip

Today, we have to sort through a LOT of literal fake news, half-truths, whole-lies and rumors. Rumors come in many forms but are always the start of something bad, no matter how they were intended. So, what causes them in the first place? I’d like to suggest that if people don’t know what the facts are, they will tell the story that they believe to be true. This is especially true in the workplace. I may be naïve, but I do not believe that people start rumors for the sake of telling lies – unless they are a politician (myself excluded). One of the key responsibilities that leaders have is to keep the truth ahead of the story. Leaders need to be mindful of the “tidbits” of information that they share and of what information they don’t share. The most effective way to keep the truth ahead of the story is through regular transparent communications.

For many at work, communication looks like an email or a memo and for others, it’s communicating in person or by videoconference. The old saying is that the truth will set you free and, in this case, you will be free from rumor. If your organization is facing uncertain times, be truthful about what is happening and do not speculate. Leaving people with your speculation of what is to come will only set their minds free to build upon it and generate stories of their own. Rumors can have widespread effects on an organization. They can easily take on a life of their own as each person adds a little of their story to the one being spun; and a rumor mill is born. The rumor mill can only be defeated by facts and our job as leaders, is to fill them with facts.

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.“ Proverbs 18:8

Who doesn’t love a juicy bit of gossip? We love to fill in the blank when someone asks, “did you hear?” God gave us the Ten Commandments, in which He tells us about how we should treat our neighbors. Pretty soon the rumors we pass on become our truths and then these “truths” will start to fill our lives. Rumors are the devil’s work and he loves for us to spread them.

When we engage in gossip, we not only become more concerned about defending the “facts” we’re spreading but we are breaking God’s Commands; the real truths that God has placed before us. People also start to tell themselves “stories” about what God really says. Soon we begin to believe these as facts and we no longer feel the need to learn and live the truth He has provided us. God has communicated the truth to us through His inspired word of the bible. If the truth is what stops rumors, then we need to know the truth which we do by reading the word of God. Be filled with His truths and not those of the devil. Take in more than choice morsels and let it go down to the inmost parts so that you are satisfied and nourished by God’s word. The truth of God WILL set you free from the shackles of sin.

Being Present

Today, our church installed the new Associate Pastor. He has been an ordained Pastor for almost 15 years, so the ceremony was somewhat anti-climactic, from a personally significant standpoint. The one thing that became evident with the numerous Scripture readings and the message from the Circuit Pastor was that you could sense God’s presence in the service. They all defined what being a Called and Ordained Pastor is and they explained what the Biblical demands of being a Shepard to a flock really are. By the time it was over, the congregation had a clear understanding of God’s presence in the Call and in the act of being a Pastor.

What things have a presence in your life? There are so many things that compete for our attention these days that it may be hard to determine what is important. As parents, we need to be present in our kids lives – not a spectator but a presence in their lives. As a leader, we need to be present at work and as an employee, we need to be present at work. Distractions are everywhere so we must make conscious decisions to be present in the things we do. Think about the various roles you have in your life­ – spouse, parent, friend, employee, leader, coach, mentor, etc. Are you present in your roles? When we aren’t present because we’re distracted by our phone or we let something else take our attention, we might just be sending the message that we don’t care. Giving your full attention to those in your life is so very important, especially now in the times we live.

“I will put my dwelling place among you… I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.” Leviticus 26:11-12

Do you feel God’s presence in your life? It can be hard to feel it sometimes, especially when things aren’t going the way we want them to. It would easy to imagine God getting distracted by all of the problems in this world and that we might be ignored. This is NOT the case or even possible where God is concerned. The Leviticus verses are telling us that God intends to dwell with us, walk among us and be our God. It’s saying “God will lead you through it all, get used to Him because He’s not leaving, He’ll live with you, walk with you and never leave your side. God will be here for the good and the bad times; you can count on Him – He is your God.

We are His people today because we believe; we see His actions daily and feel His presence. You might wonder where God is when you feel overwhelmed but if you stop and concentrate, you can feel God’s presence. He is in each word of the bible just as He is in your thoughts and on your heart. You need to simply concentrate and let God be present. As I’ve mentioned before, we can be easily distracted or have our thoughts consumed by other things, but God is never distracted! He is with us all of time and it is us who need to let Him in. Close your eyes, clear your mind and open your heart; God will embrace you.

My cousin Eileen passed away this week at the age of 53 from a short fight with cancer. Her daughter survived a fight a number of years ago when she was in her late teens but her nephew, who also had cancer did not; he was just a boy. My Aunt and Uncle have buried a grandson, a daughter, his parents and all of his siblings. Eileen’s passing is a stark reminder that nothing is within our control and at times, nothing makes sense. For months, the world has been very tumultuous. We’ve got the pandemic, police shootings, protests and politic unrest. It makes you wonder about the end-times. And, while all of this is going on, most people will just go about their business as if it doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t happening to them or in their community.

In our lives, we are constantly fighting a war against ourselves. We are worried about our jobs, the economy, the bills that are piling up and the latest news from our doctor. Worry sets in and we slowly start to panic – war has been declared. Pastor Greg Brown wrote a great book titled “The Seven laws of Breakthrough” in which he describes a journey that we take moving through our lives. At each level, we achieve strength and confidence just before we breakthrough the ceiling to the next level. He points out that when we breakthrough, we are once again on the floor. It is a great relief to know that we are not alone; we will not be challenged beyond what God knows we can handle. While we might think that we can’t possibly take any more and we feel like the waters are rising quickly, we should also feel the comfort and peace in knowing that He will be with us. Its easy to write – don’t worry about things, but when you know that you are not alone, it should make it a little easier to.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:1b-2

We have all heard people say or we have said it ourselves “God has a plan for you”. Some believe that the circumstances in their lives are merely chance happenings and that God doesn’t get into those details of your life or worse yet, that there isn’t a God at all. God does have a plan but it’s being revealed on His timeline not ours. A day or a year in God’s eye is not the same as an earthly one. Many of you will agree that “this life” is complicated and filled with all kinds of problems and trials. Can this really be part of God’s plan? It sure can be! God will only give us what we can handle and He wants us to grow in our faith and in our lives.

We cannot grow if we are not challenged; this is when breakthroughs occur. We all learned to crawl before we walked and mastered that before we started to run. These too were challenges and like the events of today; they exist for specific reasons. God, our Father, wants us to grow and like any parent who helps their baby take those first steps, He is there with us holding our hands for balance. As things get harder and the waters turn into rivers, He will be there, so we are not swept away. God’s grace and love are with us every day, sometimes you need to simply stop and realize it. Don’t rely on God only when you pass through the river, get to know Him and see what happens when you are only passing through the waters. Thank Him for His care and presence in your life.

Where Did Humility Go?

When I read the verse for today, I immediately thought about how people treat those in the service industry. Our son always goes over the top when he encounters someone who is taking care of him. I’ve remarked before that it isn’t hard to be nice. Unfortunately, in today’s pandemic world fueled by politics, it seems that people hard a hard time simply being nice to each other. Before this year, we could ignore the politicians and go about our lives. We’d complain about how we missed the customer service of the past, but we’d still be civil to each other. It seems that a week can’t go by without another viral video of someone losing their mind about wearing a face mask.

Ask yourself, how have I been treating people lately? Do I treat people in the service industry like indentured servants or fellow human beings? We all encounter a variety of people each day and each one needs something a little different from us. Today more than ever, we need patience, humility and gentleness. It is important to remember that at work, there are four different generations in the workplace today and each needs its own approach whether we are leading them or working with them. One thing that doesn’t change with the generations is that patience, gentleness and humility will go a long way toward maintaining harmony both at work and in this crazy time we are living through.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2

This verse is one of God’s directions for us. He teaches us, through St. Paul, how we should treat and live with each other. I haven’t yet found a person who enjoys the company of someone who isn’t humble and treats people poorly. We tend to tolerate these people in our lives because we have to, not because we want to. We are taught to love all of God’s creatures but some people make that very hard! Remain patient and tolerant, God is teaching you something. How do you act toward others? Are you the person that people merely tolerate? Are you gentle and humble with those who serve you or work with you? Take time to examine yourself and apply the direction that God is giving us.

Jesus demonstrated these attributes in His life. When the Disciples couldn’t understand the lessons Jesus was teaching, He never gave up. When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with trick questions, He loved them anyway and was gentle with them. Even on the cross, Jesus asked for mercy on those that were crucifying Him. I often say that if people are going to quote from the Bible that they should be reading the whole book and not just a few selected verses that make their point. In order for us to live as St. Paul suggests, we need to be reminded of God’s patience with us and we can do that by reading God’s word.