In the Storm

Where do you turn in times of trouble? For most people, it’s a good friend or relative. Someone who’s shared your tears and joys over the years. These are usually the same people who you turn to when you have exciting news or something great to share. These are often the people who become our best friends. When you work in a field like the fire service, this is what forms “the brotherhood”. “Brothers” turn to each other for support and become almost closer with each other than they do with their families. Highly threatening team activities or in-extremist teams (FF, police, military, bomb squads, etc) rely on their team mates to keep them alive. For those not in life/death situations, we need to find these people in our lives.

At work, these special people become either mentors or confidants. A mentor is someone who helps you excel and grow in your career by providing advice, opportunities and guidance. A confidant is someone who you can share things with but they don’t provide a direct source of career growth. If you are lucky, you will find someone who can be both. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us the bold truth and other times we need someone to be sympathetic to our emotions; rational or not. My daughter will call and ask for “reality check” dad when she needs to know what mom will never tell her. I’m lucky that I get to be both a confidant and a mentor to her; I can read her pretty well and know when to hold the bold truth until she’s ready. We all need these people in our lives. My wife has a huge cheering section of friends and a few close friends that she can talk to about everything else. I guess my point is to make sure that you have these types of people in your life and don’t forget that they are there. Life is so busy that we often forget that we don’t have to carry all of the burdens alone.

“You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.” Isaiah 25:4

I’ve often said “now that I say this out loud …” We need to say things to others to make sure that we really feel that way. We also have a need to get our feelings out in the open. The challenge is getting them filtered before we say something hurtful. We all know people who are in various stages of suffrage. Cancer seems to strike every family we know, financial stress is still present and family pressures will always be present. If you are raising kids, have siblings or are dealing with aging parents, suffrage seems constant. We all find different ways of dealing with it – some healthy and some not so healthy. Last week we talked about our ability to go to God freely and with confidence. This week we see why.

God is all of the things in this verse – a refuge for the poor and the needy, a shelter in the storm and a shade in the heat. When things go bad in our lives, God is there for us. It is human nature to ask “why me?” but the truth is that God is there with us in these times of trouble. He’s there when things are good too! God will not abandon any of us, no matter what you’ve done. We are given the promise of God to have eternal life with Him through our faith in Jesus Christ. There is no “reality check” dad with our Father in heaven. He knows what is on our hearts and in our minds and Jesus is sitting right next to Him saying, “all is forgiven”. I’d like to think that God inspires the advice that we get from our mentors and confidants. If we feel alone, this verse reminds us that God is always there; while St. Paul reminded us to go freely and with confidence.

 

Open Door Policy

Its been a while since I’ve written a straight-up leadership post, so this week I thought I’d address the “open door policy”. As I’ve studied leadership over the years, it has been interesting to see how this phrase even emerged into leadership. The autocratic management style (do as I say) was very strong in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Workers didn’t ask questions, offer their opinions or make suggestions for process improvements and heaven forbid they sought advice from their leaders. I’m sure this was the period that created the phrase “the daily grind”, for good reason. As the workforce became more disgruntled, someone had the idea that asking the workers what they needed might make a difference. Tom Peters became an office name since everyone was reading his groundbreaking books about new age leadership and creating employee involvement.

Leaders started telling employees that their office doors were open and that they could come in anytime with ideas and complaints. Over time, leaders slid back into being managers as bottom line pressures increased and soon the open doors became metaphorically closed. No one dared to go into an office and when they did, managers were not interested in hearing what they had to say. Workforce satisfaction has since fallen and it wasn’t until the workplace disruption of a company called Google and all of their “crazy philosophies” that it changed. Unfortunately, managers claim to have “open door policies” and they still don’t see employees coming in. “I have an open door policy. I don’t know why we have all of these problems”, is commonly cried. I’d suggest that while the door is open, the mind is closed. If you manage or lead people, evaluate your effectiveness in regard to employee engagement. Old dogs can learn new tricks, its called evolution. Are you evolving or just existing?

“Through faith in Jesus we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12

The famous Catholic confessional starts with “Forgive me father for I have sinned…”. Depending on what Christian denomination you were raised in or taught in, the father in this confession is the Catholic Priest. I’m not going to engage in a theological discussion about the biblical origin of this belief, but I do want to discuss our ability to approach God at any time and for any reason. St. Paul writes in this letter to the Ephesians that our faith in Jesus allows us to approach God – freely and confidently. God has an open door policy – literally and metaphorically.

We do not need a mediator to speak for us to God. The punishment, death and resurrection of Jesus was all of the intervention that we needed with God. Jesus did for us what we could never do, live a life that keeps all of God’s commands. Quite simply, we sin constantly. We can go to God and confidently know that our sins are forgiven because of what Jesus did for us. We can’t pray sin away, we can’t perform works or pay for forgiveness; we are already forgiven. Go confidently and with freedom into your life knowing that you can turn to God for help and forgiveness at any time.

Sharpening Iron

“We are only as strong as our weakest link” goes the old saying. As a team, you cannot be strong if one of the team members is weak. When I started in the fire service, my first training officer established a great foundation for me to always learn – never stop. I’ve spent the past 37 years living by that advice. I’ve studied learning organizations, failure tolerant organizations, employee development, training and education, building up others but most importantly; I’ve learned to be adaptive. A person whom I have great respect for told me that he appreciated my “modern and progressive thinking”. I found this funny because I have always believed that I was more of an “old dog” or pretty traditional in my thinking. For those of you that now me, I bet I’m not far off.

I’ve worked with people in my consulting career that put me face to face with some true “old dogs”. People who haven’t adapted to the changing work force nor the advancements being made in managing municipal government. It’s easy to see how this happened to them given their self-imposed isolation. I’ve always believed that if we’ve trained and educated our people to take over for us, that we’ve done the right thing. There are leadership teams who feel that if the workforce is smarter than they are, chaos will breakout. They live the mantra “knowledge is power”. Individually, this might work in the short-term but organizationally; it is the direct path to failure. I challenge every reader to reflect on how you treat co-workers, subordinates and industry peers in terms of knowledge sharing. Are you sharpening your iron using the backs of others as your grinding stone or are you sharpening your iron in conjunction with others?

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Stated in a more simpler fashion – when you share your learning of the Word with another; both of you increase in wisdom. Bible verses speak to each of us differently or they invoke different emotional responses from each person reading it. I guess that is what I hope to share with these weekly devotions. Maybe you read these and can relate to something in your own life or maybe I actually write something that opens a new point of view for you. I grow every time I write and I hope you grow in reading it.

God never wanted His word kept private or used by “only a few chosen ones”. Jesus didn’t seek disciples from the Elders, he chose simple “every day” men to follow Him and learn God’s teachings. God used Saul, a persecutor, to teach the Word. Saul was spoken to by God, given wisdom and then shared it with everyone. We read his letters today as St. Paul. He sharpened generations of believers by sharing his learning of the Word. What ripple can you start by simply sharing your learning of the Word? Knowledge is power, when it comes to learning and understanding the Word of God is not power at all. The Pharisees believed this and Jesus called them hypocrites. In the end, they really knew little about God’s grace and our place with Him in eternity through Jesus Christ as our Savior.

All is Forgiven

“I’ll never forgive them for what they did to me!” Have you ever uttered these words? They say trust is hard to build and easy to lose. I’d bet that we’ve all experienced that. Mistakes often fall in the same category. How easily all of our good work, extra hours and overtime are erased when we make one mistake. Years of trust are wiped out – in both directions. We no longer trust those that lead us and they have weakened trust in us. When does the erosion stop? We must have some faith and hope that our leaders will return to a sensible state and we move forward. We followed them for some reason, or we wouldn’t care what they thought of us.

If we are simply following them because they sign our paycheck, then our relationship is not affected when we disappoint them. However, being thankful for our job and working at our best is something we do for our families, or ourselves not for the leaderless boss. Take your “oops” and turn it into a learning experience. Find your mentor, confidant or peer who will help you learn. Sometimes these experiences are gifts from others, wrapped in ugly paper – yes, but a gift nonetheless. In all situations that go bad, we share in the blame; so make the make the most of it.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you for your sins.” Mark 11:25

Forgiving someone is one of the hardest things we will do in our lives. It’s easy to do when the circumstances are minor, like not being able to go the movies. It is a little harder when someone we care about humiliates us, talks badly of us or commits a “wrong” in some way that affects us.

We recently saw the brother of a shooting victim hug and forgive the shooter and most of us wonder, “How can they do that?” Our Father has forgiven us for the long list of things that we do or when we ignore Him. He knew we needed help in learning about forgiveness, so he sent His Son to us not only as a Savior for our sins but to give us an example to follow. Jesus showed us how to forgive; we just need to remember to do it. Forgive and move on; life on earth is too short to carry around the weight of unforgiven issues.

 

God’s Blessings

God blesses us every day and I would bet that we often don’t realize it. We live in an amazing time from a technological standpoint. Everything you want to know is at your fingertips. Have you ever considered your job a gift from God? Many people are dissatisfied at work. There is a shift occurring between careers and jobs. The new saying of the Millennial generation is “work to live” compared to the Baby Boomers who “lived to work”. The younger generations are still working hard, doing great things and solving problems, much like generations of the past. They are just doing it in a completely different way and with a different motivation.

Regardless of your profession or vocation, you serve a purpose. We all are needed no matter where we work. We also want to feel that our work matters. Generations can collide in the workforce and the results are often low morale. When morale is low, employees feel less like their work matters and more like they serve no real purpose. Leaders must keep up with the changing needs of their employees and constantly adapt their styles. It’s not up to the employees to adapt to the leadership. It is a difficult challenge but one we all have been equipped to deal with, whether we are a co-worker or a supervisor.

Deuteronomy 2:7 “The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands… The Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.”

How has the Lord your God blessed you in the all the work of your hands? Maybe He put people in your life to show you the glory of His name. People to teach and mentor you in your vocation so that you feel purposeful. Your talents were developed and used in just the right way so that you and your company benefited from the experience. Have you ever wondered why these people just seemed to be around at just the right time?

Many times, people will say “it was a stroke of luck that I was assigned to that project, without it I would never had gained enough experience to be considered for the promotion.” We should really be thanking God for that experience; it was His way of ensuring that we didn’t lack anything. Have you thanked God for what He has done for you lately? Our Father would like to hear it from you; this is not the time to think “He knows”. God should not feel “lonely at the top” because we stop recognizing Him for all that He has done. The people, who have influenced our lives and the leaders we follow, rarely hear from us how much we appreciate what they have done. Don’t leave God off that list. God has surely blessed us with this work of our hands, be sure to thank Him for those blessings.

What Does Living Really Mean?

What does living really mean? Our lives are filled with violence in the news (or maybe nearby) and we all know someone who’s lost a family member too young. I was talking to a friend the other day about retirement and we both know of people who’ve retired and then got very sick. My friend said that no where but in America do people save their whole lives, work until they are too old to enjoy their savings and end up skipping the best parts of life while they are capable of enjoying it. There was a TV commercial a number of years ago that started out with the phrase “when did leaving work on time become a bad thing?”

Despite all of our desires, we can’t chart our own course through life. My life was planned out through age 59 – a secure career, a strong financial plan, a pension when I retired and good health. At age 44 my career was over, and my financial future was uncertain. I was injured in freak accident at work that required major spinal surgery and I needed to find employment with a disability to put two kids through college. I was NOT in control of anything. Once I put my faith in God, people started entering my life and new connections were being formed. Soon, I working a new field and expanding my view of “work”. Like a tree growing and spreading its roots, soon my life was filled with great opportunities, great people and options. I was not directing my steps and I’ve stopped planning everything. This brings me back to the opening of paragraph; we can’t plan for everything so perhaps we should be taking advantage of the things that are right in front of us.

Jeremiah 10:23 “I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own, it is not for a man to direct his steps.”

I biggest thing that I learned from my life being turned upside down was that I was not in control. I often write about God’s plan and I have personally experienced it. This life is God’s will, the beginning and end decided by Him – “It is not for man to direct his steps”. In today’s verse, God reminds us that He is ordering the events of our lives and not us. When we start thinking that we are in control, is when we start to get lost. Our mind becomes the devil’ playground.

Our lives are not our own because we are here to serve each other and to give all of the glory to God for His work in and through us. We should focus on serving the Lord and doing His will by letting Him direct our steps. As leaders, we can lead through our example of how to care for each other. Be the “middleman” and care for everyone around you. Some have said that this is a test of your faith, I disagree. It is a statement of your faith and one that can be made over and over again.

Strength

Parents have the responsibility to give their children strength – strength to get through difficult times, strength to accomplish more than they thought was possible and the strength to carry on everyday. Not only as parents but also as adults, we should inspire all of those around us. We should be a source of encouragement, a resource for guidance and a cheerleader for our kids and for everyone in our lives as they reach beyond their limits and try new things as they go through their own personal growth. Our son turned 22 this past week, he’s quite an adult – just ask him! (just kidding but seriously, he is quite sure of himself) My hope at this point in his life is that he will say that his parents “Were always encouraging me, helping me figure things out and giving me opportunities to grow”.

So many people influenced me when I was his age. I turned 18 in February and by October, that year, I was in recruit firefighter school. The ‘men” I was working with saw things in me that I never did. They encouraged me, they taught me, they gave me advice and they put me in my place when I needed it. I’m sure they didn’t have any idea how they would impact me for the rest of my life and now I’ve taken those lessons and given them to my own son. He has the strength to be confident as he readies himself for what life has in store. I just hope that he can learn to “take orders” until he is the one at the top. Most everyone struggles with that and he will be no different.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

So, where do you get your strength? This passage reminds us to find our strength in God – “Him who gives me strength”. In our fast paced lives sometimes we can forget that. We can do everything through Him because God is our strength; he is with us all day – everyday. Our privilege to be a parent is a gift from God; He has put us in this place at this time. We have had a great mentor – Jesus Christ. He taught us to have compassion, patience and to be encouraging to those around us.

You can be the source of strength for your kids and those you work with by being a positive role model. When people ask you “Where do you get the strength from?” You can answer quite easily: God gives me the strength. In order to maintain your strength, like in any good workout routine, you need to work at it daily. We’ve all experienced a few days off from the gym; it gets harder to go back the longer you are away. Staying in God’s word or keeping up with bible study and devotions can be hard in our hectic lives, remain strong and stay committed. Much like the men who were there for me and had no idea that they would effect how I raised my son, you may be doing the same for someone else. Don’t worry; your strength is from God.

Does it have to be so hard?

Lately, I’ve found myself saying, “why does this have to be so hard?” I read a great article two weeks ago titled “Why Simple Rules Produce Better Decisions” by Valeria Maltoni. In the article she explains the beliefs found in a book by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt “Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World”. The authors believe that we should use a small set of simple rules — “shortcut strategies that save time and effort by focusing our attention and simplifying the way we process information.” Simple rules work because they allow for flexibility, they produce better decisions because they make decision-making fast and easy and, they allow for activities to be synchronized on the fly; doing what is inherently right for the greater purpose.

I wasn’t trapped in my rules of overly complex situations; I was being challenged on matters that should have been quite simple. The other side of “this is hard” is when we get bad news. A couple of weeks ago, a young man who I used to work with passed away from work related cancer. This young man left behind two small children and an amazing family with fought with him to try and overcome a rare form of cancer. I’m not the only one who has had this happen to him; my guess is that everyone knows someone dealing with a hardship. We can’t over simplify these challenges and we can’t write new rules for how they are applied; we are not in control. Today’s verse reminds us that the road to the kingdom of God is not easy. We need to remember that the destination however, is paradise.

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

I wish I knew why we had to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus took our sins upon Himself and suffered for them so that we may be blameless in God’s eyes. We are assured of that in the bible. So why do we have to suffer in this life? I’d like to think, because no one really knows, that we need to appreciate all that God has done for us. If you look back over time, the human race hasn’t been very good at following the Commands of God. He gave us 10 simple rules to follow and the human race found ways around them or through them.

I often use the phrase made famous by Ronald Reagan, “Trust but Verify”. Is this what God is doing with us? Is God trusting us to do what He commands and have Jesus as our one and only savior but is He verifying our faith in Jesus? Where do we turn when things get bad, who do we rely on and how do we react in these times of hardships? There is only one simple answer; we must turn to God when we are faced with hardship. He will be with us all the way. He has never promised a smooth ride or a simple life, hardship builds character and demonstrates our faith in God. The road will be rough but it leads us to paradise – eternal life with God.

Watch your mouth

We seem to have an epidemic of people just blurting out everything that is on their mind – usually via twitter. I’m not suggesting that we stop being honest with each other, but do we really need to be sharing every unfiltered thought? Some share their “filtered” thoughts that really should be filtered! On the bright side, what know what these people really think and believe. Most of us do not go around and speak everything that is on our mind – thank goodness. We hold some things back to spare someone else’s feelings or we continue to support a friend instead of telling them the direct truth because the truth is too painful. Good or should I say smart husbands never answer their wives honestly when they are asked, “do these jeans make my butt look big?”

I would suggest that sooner or later we start forgetting what is true anymore or how to be truthful. We seem to be answering things “technically true” rather than simply true. Take a minute and think about how you communicate, when do spare someone’s feelings and when are you just not being truthful. I’m not suggesting that we go around being brutally honest; there is a line between civility and cruelty. What is on your heart is revealed in your words. The devil is trying to change your heart by changing your words and thoughts; stay vigilant!

“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:10

God put His stamp on each of us and it was Him that sent a savior into the world. No matter what God did to steer us in the right direction; we still failed to obey His commands. But God did not give up on human beings; His love for us was still stronger than His anger or disappointment. In our heart of hearts, we believe in God. Some people want to see signs (Thomas), some believe because of their upbringing, some are confident and others yet do not believe at all.

Our hearts and our beliefs have justified us with God; we are free from punishment of the Law. It is our profession of faith that makes the bigger statement; it is what is on our hearts. People can walk around believing but without outward profession of faith they fall short. Profess your faith and you will be saved is the straightforward message of this verse. Give thanks before meals, even in public. Tell co-workers and neighbors about your confidence in the love of God our Father when the answer fits. We often hear about people who would “go to the top of a mountain to profess their love for a spouse” but would they climb that mountain to profess their faith in God and salvation through Jesus? Would you?

Always Present

They say that the only thing that is consistent about our world today is that change will happen. Streaming plans are changing, the world stock markets have been changing (hourly) and our access to information can change our point of view in an instant. I can’t take credit for creating it but I’ve been repeating a phrase for years – Semper Gumby; always flexible. It seems that things are changing so much that everyone must have a little Semper Gumby in them. How do you react to change? Are you a resister that has to be convinced that change is good or are you one of those people who jumps right on board with the change? There are a few people out there who are the objectors and will fight change right until the end. It’s important to know what role you play when change comes knocking.

The opposite of change is consistency. There is a lot to be said for being consistent; it can also lead to routine and ruts but let’s stay positive. As a worker, a spouse, a family member or a supervisor, the people around us appreciate a little consistency. No one likes guessing which version of a person will show up from one day to the next. Consistent quality of your work is important too. When people can count on you to deliver consistent work products, not only do you improve their lives but you raise your worth or value to them. For as often as things can change, they can stay the same. They say that history often repeats itself, which for me means, there is a little consistency out there. The specific names and places might be different but the circumstances are often the same. So, while things around us seem to changing at what appears to be a break-neck pace, know where you fall in the spectrum of change but also embrace the consistency of life to be that one person people can count on.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

This verse can become a great anchor point for our lives as we struggle with the constant changes in our lives. The world markets went on another wild ride these past few weeks and people started worrying about the future. Thousands of people sold stock out of fear despite the warnings that the ride was temporary and a needed adjustment. It is almost the example of quitting when things got bad. Do you cut and run when things get bad? The devil would like you to do that, turn from God and take matters into your own hands. If we turn away when things get bad and rely on our own ways and not God’s, we have taken the temptations of the devil.

We have consistency in God, through His Son Jesus, that we will be protected and have eternal life. There were no recounts in the bible of God’s love changing or of Jesus changing His ministry. Jesus remained consistent to the Prophet’s teachings right through His own death. God remained consistent with His desire to have His children close by Him and providing for their needs; even when His children disobeyed Him. God’s continued grace and mercy was given to us through His Son Jesus Christ, given to die for our sins, so that we may have consistency in an eternal life with Him. Sure, the world has changed over the thousands of years but God’s love has been consistent.