Shepherds

This verse is generally perfect when discussing accountability at work or as a bridge to a “take care of your people” writing. Given today’s emotional climate, I’d like to simply focus on shepherding. Looking after the flock is an essential function of leadership, no matter what position we’re talking about. The real issue is how you do it; as a herder you can walk behind them as they walk along the path and keep the strays in line or you can walk in front leading the way knowing that you’ll still have them when you turn around as a Shepherd does. We’re seeing various forms of the shepherd concept of leadership in these trying times, crisis leadership is crucial in getting people to follow. Sheep herders use dogs to chase around the edges to keep the herd moving forward; if you see someone using others to “chase around the edges”, check the leadership style of the one you’re following.

We need leaders who are looking after us and our needs and who aren’t sending others or themselves out to chase the edges. In a time of crisis, we are ALL leaders and can shepherd people toward calm by being reassuring, direct, honest and accountable. As a greater society, we owe each other a little bit of personal accountability – stay home if you are sick and commit to helping those in need. When we return to a state of equilibrium, the world around us will look much different. Everyone will need to work together so that we can all rise up from the new normal. You could be the next shepherd; will you lead from the back or boldly from the front?

Ezekiel 34:12 “As a Shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all places where they were scattered…”

We are God’s sheep and it is great to have a Shepherd that cares about us as much as He does. He gave up His son for our salvation and ever lasting life. God is always present in our lives and will come to our rescue, even when we’ve put distance between us. God’s “rescue” does not mean that we will get what we want, it may mean that we get just enough because the real rescue happened on Easter Sunday. We need to do our best and prevent the need for a rescue in the first place. We should be spending time with God, praying, reading the word and spreading the good news.

Today, more than ever, we need a strong leader. God gave us the perfect one, Jesus. He is patient with us as we make mistakes, He’d hold us accountable as He did with the disciples but, in the end, no matter how many mistakes we make, Jesus will rescue us (usually from ourselves) as the Shepherd does with His flock. On Easter, we were given the grace of God in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. While you are focusing on being a good Shepherd in your daily life or in your vocation, focus also on being a good sheep (follower). Rejoice that your Father cares so deeply that He will risk a lot to rescue you from all of the places that you can scatter to or from all the trials that this world can throw at you.

With all your heart

Why does work have to be so hard? The hint in this question is the word “work” and, another word for work is labor. The dictionary defines labor as hard physical work. I can’t speak to it with any level of experience but I’m sure that if you ask any mother whether labor was hard work, she can give you a unique perspective on “labor”. Sometimes what we do, day in and day out, isn’t what we’d like to be doing. It’s not that it’s too hard; it simply isn’t satisfying. When we lose our job satisfaction, we loose sight of our purpose and whom we’re serving.

At times, we struggle to remain positive, to work hard and meet the mission or vision that is before us; complacency takes over and the “I don’t care’s” start to fly. Leaders, no matter what they’re faced with, must keep their focus on the mission or the work before them. Are you are a front line leader whose actions will have a direct impact on your customers or are you a support team leader that works to serve those impacting the customers? Complacency is where customer service starts to break down and in some professions; it can become deadly. Think of the nurse who is treating you in the emergency room for a heart attack, do you want the one who doesn’t care? We all have a responsibility to keep complacency out of our workplace.

“What ever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men… It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24

In the times when we’re locked in a battle against complacency, we can be comforted in knowing that when we do our best work, with all of our heart, it is pleasing to God. God is with us all of the time, even when we don’t feel like he’s there. When times get harder you should be focusing more on your relationship with God, not less.

Our human instinct is to focus everything on the work before us and let the rest of our life take the back seat for a while. Nothing can do more harm than putting God in the back seat! Bring God closer; he will help you through the struggles of work or overcoming complacency. You are serving Him, doing his work as a faithful disciple. God cares about the work that you do and how well you do it. When you are feeling down about work, imagine God smiling at you because He knows what is in your heart. Look to him to get you through, He’ll light the way.

 

Trust in the Lord – COVID-19

COVID-19 is griping the world and it seems as if no one has comfort in anything that is being said or done. All over the world, countries are dealing with the pandemic in very different ways – closing borders, implementing curfews, closing schools, closing restaurants and bars and, cancelling sporting events. It feels like we are all being isolated. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Our Pastor wrote these words to the congregation this week:

“Many people are full of fear because they feel helpless.  Many are full of fear because of the unknown.  This is a particularly frightening time for us all. Now, more than ever, we need to trust in the Lord with our whole hearts.  God has promised to be with us in such times.  We can count on Him to see us through this present situation.  His Word creates and strengthens faith so keep your Bibles close.  Rely on His strength and let the Lord comfort you.  Pray for those who are already infected, asking the Lord to bring healing and help to those in need.”

I’m not going to give my perspective on the various bible verses this week or try to make an analogy either. It is best to let the God inspired words of St. Paul speak for themselves. Please stay safe and healthy; measure your actions and response to the circumstances near you, not those of other countries or states. Trust in God to see you and our world through the outbreak.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

Directions

Providing direction to our team members is one of the most difficult aspects of being a leader. We’d like to believe that people would see a need, understand what has to be done to meet that need and then execute it without us ever having to say anything to them about it; that would be utopia! We have to provide clear direction to our team so that they can function within set boundaries and then provide them enough freedom to make decisions within those boundaries without the need to “check in” with us on a constant basis.

Weekly team meetings can help bring everyone together and are a great place to review the boundaries that have been set. Each team member should share what they are working on and what they need help with so that other team members can assist them if necessary. Knowing that your team members need help can also provide you with insight as you look to distribute new workloads or it can inform you of team members who may be struggling. If you have several team members struggling, the problem may be in the way you distribute work or in how you give direction. Take a few minutes to find out the answers before you start pushing your team harder, the trouble spot could be you.

Psalm 19:8 – “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

The direction and commands we have received from the Lord our God are pretty clear, yet we try to interpret them to meet our own needs. Many people argue that the Bible can be vague and has room for interpretation. This, of course, is the work of the devil in our minds. We were conceived in sin and carry that burden with us from birth. We are assured that salvation is found in the life of Christ through the grace of God our Father.

There is an old expression that we are born twice but only die once. We are physically born on earth and then again born into the life of Christ through baptism but we will only die once from life on earth to enjoy eternal life with Christ and God our Father. The bible has provided us with these truths, over and over, in radiant words and images – giving light to our eyes. We are able to see eternal life through that light. Following the commands may be difficult and we will fail at keeping them – original sin is to blame for that. Despite those failings, God has given us His grace and we can be assured of eternal life through Christ – that is crystal clear!

Leap Year

Today, I am taking a little privilege with the “devotion” and turning it into a history lesson. We all experienced the “extra day” this weekend, February 29th. It only comes around every four years and since it’s my birthday, I thought that I’d share these facts about my special day. I’ve posted this history lesson before, four years ago exactly, but I thought it was worth doing again since many more people are reading this today than there were four years ago. The chances of having a birthday on February 29th are 1:1500. The leap year’s extra day is necessary because of our Solar System. One earth year does not take an exact number of whole days; it takes 365.2422 days, plus or minus. It wasn’t until Julius Caesar came to power that changes were made. People before Julius Caesar observed a 355-day calendar – with an extra 22-day month every two years.

This was not a solution to the celestial problem since feast days began sliding into different seasons; so, Caesar ordered his astronomer, Sosigenes, to simplify things. Sosigenes opted for the 365-day year with an extra day every four years to scoop up the extra hours. This is how the 29th day in February was born. It was then fine-tuned by Pope Gregory XIII. Check this out:

Every fourth year is a leap year, as a rule of thumb. But that’s not the end of the story. A year that is divisible by 100, but not by 400, is not. So, the year 2000 was a leap year, as was 1600. But 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years. “It seems a bit arbitrary,” says Ian Stewart, emeritus professor of mathematics at Warwick University. But there’s a good reason behind it. “The year is 365 days and a quarter long – but not exactly. If it was exactly, then you could say it was every four years. But it is very slightly less.”

The answer arrived at by Pope Gregory XIII and his astronomers when they introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582, was to lose three leap days every 400 years. The math has hung together ever since. It will need to be rethought in about 10,000 years’ time, Stewart warns. But by then mankind might have come up with a new system.

Why is February 29, not February 31, a leap year day? All the other months have 30 or 31 days, but February suffered because of the ego of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. Under Julius Caesar, February had 30 days, but when Caesar Augustus was emperor, he was upset that his month – August – had only 29 days.  Compare this to the month named after his predecessor Julius (July) which had 31. “He pinched a couple of days for August to make it the same as July. And it was poor old February that lost out,” says Prof Stewart.

For those than know me personally, the fact that I’m fourteen tells the rest of the story thus, explaining my sense of humor. Every once in a while, I deviate from the norm but hey, my birthday is only every four years so why not now?

Interruptions

Compared to last year, I’ve had it pretty easy this year from a traveling perspective. Unfortunately, I’m getting on a plane tomorrow for another work assignment. My brother once warned me that I should never complain about being too busy. Despite less traveling, my calendar seems full of meetings, activities and appointments. I’ve said in the past that my calendar is an alligator that I’m constantly wrestling it. An alligator’s strength is in its tail and its ability to fling itself around to avoid a predator. I still haven’t figured out where the tail of my calendar actual is but I’m pretty busy until May 8th. The things that are designed to make us more productive – cell phones, emails, text messages and calendars are actually slowing us down. We are too busy worrying about today that we seldom worry about tomorrow.

Time management techniques are vitally important for everyone, no matter your position, to be successful. A number of studies show that it takes the average worker 25 minutes to recover from an interruption caused by e-mail or text message. Think of the number of e-mails and texts that you received during the workday which interrupted you – how much time does that add up to? If you save just 10 minutes every hour of your day, you will add 80 minutes of productivity back to your workday; that kind of productivity gets noticed. Invest in learning good techniques to manage your time like preparing for the next workday and limiting interruptions; you’ll be surprised how good you’ll feel about your work.

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself…” Matthew 6:34

Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…” God is at work in your life. He is executing a plan right now – without interruption! We are being bombarded with self-help information and pressure to maintain a work-life balance that we don’t let God in to do His work in our lives. We have to remember that it’s God’s plan and His timeline.

We shouldn’t be so worried about tomorrow that we forget what is important. Right now, is a good time to focus on today and the gifts you possess to have a great day. So, don’t worry about tomorrow; let God do that, he can handle it. Give praise to God for each day and be patient – His plan for you will be revealed on His timeline. In the meantime, take care of today because tomorrow is taking care of itself.

His Love Endures Forever

I’m finding it harder these days to be positive about many things. Everywhere I look there is turmoil and chaos; some people are stoking it and others are embracing it. Everyone seems at odds with each other and if you have a different point of view or opinion, you are attacked or outcast. Television shows seem to base their stories around conflict between the characters, even the comedies aren’t funny anymore. In today’s world, no one wants to take responsibility for their actions, so they blame the observer. We’ve lost the “common” part of common sense and now we appear to be on the brink of losing our senses altogether.

Originally, I set out to write about being positive in the workplace as leaders but I found it hard to be positive. The moral of this negative post on positivity is that no matter your leadership position, people look to you for reassurance – always. No one wants to be “gaslighted”, as my mom used to say, but they also don’t want to hear from someone who never has a positive thing to say – a Debbie Downer (SNL) if you will. Leaders have to speak the harsh truths, but they also need to find the sunshine in those cloudy moments to maintain hope. Once we lose hope, we have lost it all. I was in need of few rays of sunshine and where did I find it? The bible of course! In a rare (for me) bible quote from the Old Testament.

30 Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. 31 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’ 32 Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! 33 Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. 34 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. 35 Cry out, ‘Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.’ 36 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Then all the people said ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise the LORD.’” 1 Chronicles 16:30-36

Comedian Tom Papa has a new Netflix special out called, “You’re Doing Great” and he talks about the good old days – bathing once a month and wearing a lot of leather goods. The times of the Old Testament are really the old days! Even my worst day is better than their best day. We are being encouraged here to rejoice in everything because, the “Lord reigns”. Seas, fields, and forests are encouraged to rejoice, why not us? “God’s love endures forever”.

If you break apart all of the troubles of this world, they are nothing that God’s love cannot overcome. In all things, let love abound. We only have each other and we only have today so let’s make the most of them both. There is nothing negative in love, only in the things that keep us from loving one another. Remove the obstacles to love and just as God’s love endures forever, keep love out in front and live your life loving each other.

Says Who?

One of the readings (1 Corinthians 2:1-16) in church this weekend really spoke to me; in a way that I haven’t felt in quite some time. I immediately knew that I needed to share it today as one of those Bible verses that needs little explanation. What struck me was how the Apostle Paul’s message for the people 1900 plus years ago was still relevant today – for me particularly. Why do I keep writing these devotions and by what “authority” do I find the gall to write about God meant in any of the verses found in the Bible?

1And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

 “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”- the things God has prepared for those who love him – 10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.’ The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 

11For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”

We ALL have the spirit of God within us, giving us strength to go on, giving us strength to overcome adversity, giving us the strength to fulfill God’s plan in our lives if we simply allow God’s words and Christ’s example to fill our lives. It was end of verse six that opened my mind to let the rest of these verses work with me. I pray that they do the same for you.

 

Seek and Find

Unfortunately, there are times in our work lives that we will be supervised by someone who doesn’t do a good job of showing how much they care about us or worse, they literally just don’t care. The first type of person is far easier to work for that the later and honestly, the ones who don’t know how to show it are more prevalent in the workplace today. As the Baby Boomers are leaving the workplace, Gen Xer’s are now supervising people making today’s workplace a little frustrating. This type of working environment puts the responsibility back on us if we want to make “work” a little more enjoyable.

The higher up the “ladder” a supervisor goes, the less they pay attention to the things that their people need, and we need to remind them what we’d like to accomplish. Author John Maxwell describes 360º Leadership in his book with the same title; we can use this as a tool to help us achieve goals that we have set for ourselves. Being forward with our own supervisor is not something that feels natural but when we are dealing with our own future and needs, sometimes we need to push a little. If you are a leader, don’t forget to take care of your own needs but don’t do it at the expense of your people. God put you in this place and at this time for a reason, ask questions and seek opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Luke 11:9 – “So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

We are taught here to ask the Lord for what we need. We need to learn to put our trust in God so that He can deliver us what we need. The real truth of the matter is that what God delivers is not always what we want or plan for but it is what we need. Sometimes God gives us pain or suffering for our growth, other times he gives us joy and peace. Despite our belief in our own greatness, God knows what we need.

Another thing that frustrates us is that God will not do it on our timeline but on His. Today, with the microwave we cook faster, with streaming services, we get tv shows when we want them, and the Internet gives us information in an instant. This verse reminds us to ask, seek and knock on the doors that God provides. Behind some doors are scary opportunities in which we feel alone in our thoughts and in our decision. God has promised not to leave you. He gave us His only Son in order to keep us close and we should never forget that. Pray and have patience, He will open the door for you.

It isn’t hard to be nice

“It isn’t hard to be nice”. A phrase first used by our son and one that we spoke regularly on the vacation we took a couple of months ago. Somewhere, somehow, our society has lost the ability to treat each other like human beings and simply be nice to each other. Everyone now has a label and it seems that no matter where you find yourself, someone is classifying you into a group. At its worst, “you’re either one of us or you’re one of them”. Usually that type of statement is followed up by a “at its best” statement but in this case, there is no best. Generally, we seem to have lost our compassion for each other, we lost our empathy for those in need and we’ve become focused on “I’ve got mine” or “me first!” in societies all around the world.

To our son’s point, it isn’t hard to be nice. A smile when we greet, picking up something that a stranger dropped or not treating people in the service industry like our enslaved servants, is a great place to begin. I’m pretty rebellious by nature and the last thing I want to do is to simply give way when someone is trying to push ahead in a line or a crowd – “how will they learn if people just cave-in” is what I find myself thinking. There is a difference between being nice and being a pushover. I would love to have everyone live in harmony and follow general precepts of being a member of a civilized society. Since that isn’t the case, I pray instead. The bottom line here is to ask yourself, “how do I behave?”. Examine your behaviors, attitudes, beliefs and actions; how hard is it to be nice?

16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” Romans 12:16-19

St. Paul is remining us to be nice to each other; pretty straightforward – “Live in harmony with one another”. Nowhere in the bible does it tell us take care of ourselves first and then worry about others. St. Paul also reminds us not to take revenge but to leave that to God, it simply isn’t our place. These words of Paul to the Romans are very instructive for our lives today. They aren’t the words or parables of Jesus that someone has interpreted to mean something, they are the God inspired words spoken through an ordinary man to ordinary people – no spin here!

We are reminded to stand up for ourselves, “If it is possible…”, live at peace. We aren’t being told to cave in or let people push us around, but we are being reminded not to take revenge against those who treat us that way. “Live in harmony, do not be conceited, do what is right, live in peace, do not take revenge”; all pretty simple ways that, in my mind, summarize how to be nice. It isn’t hard if you practice being in the moment and focus your attention outward and away from yourself. After all that I’ve read and experienced, this life is way more about others than it is ourselves.