Walking in Darkness

Communication is a true art. Books have been written about how to do it better. How many times have you had a fight with someone only to find out “that’s not what I meant”? We all need to keep communications open with the people that we interact on a regular basis. For men, we can go months without speaking to a good friend, pick up the phone and call, and then carry on like no time has past. Unfortunately for us, we try this same approach with many of our other relationships and we fail miserably. Leaders are best served when they engage in what some call “touching base” and others call “checking in”.

The world around us is changing constantly and people need to know what is going on around them. If they are worried about the latest rumor, they won’t focus on their job and then you’ll be forced into communicating with them under unpleasant circumstances. The old saying “you can’t treat people like mushrooms” is true; keeping them in the dark and feeding them crap just won’t work. People need light and encouragement from their leaders. When we engage people in sharing the facts, regardless of how the circumstances may “look”, they will appreciate knowing that they are truly part of the team.

“The people walking in the darkness have seen a great light: on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

Living in the shadow of death without hope of eternal life is unimaginable to me. The sad truth however, is that there are people living in those shadows. They walk in darkness and despair without hope because they don’t know about the light of Christ. The problems of their lives become overwhelming and they sink further into the darkness. This time of year is especially troubling for some; they need to know that people care.

Witnessing to people is one of the hardest things that we can do because we feel so exposed by the possibility of being rejected. Sometimes we’re not confident in our knowledge of bible verses or we simply don’t want to be pushy. It takes courage to overcome these fears. Ask God for help. Maybe this blog post is that help. You don’t need to go around quoting the bible or offering street corner sermons. Simply reminding people that there are options and that no matter what they’ve done, God loves them. If nothing else, share your story and talk about how your life is filled with the light of God. We have seen a great light! Now, go and share it!

Plan, what plan?

I smile every time that I think I’m in control of my own life. Just when I start to worry about when my next work project will come in, it does. When I think that I’ve got my latest life strategy planned out, a situation arises that changes it. I believe that God has been guiding my life all a long, but I really failed to see it until my career ended suddenly. When I started looking back over my life and began writing my yet unfinished book, I could see the patterns emerge. I’ve been “retired” from my dream of being in the fire service for 10 years and I never could have imagined the journey I’ve been on ever since. I certainly did not plan any of it and every time I try to plan or worry about a plan, God reminds me that He is charting the course.

My experiences in these past 10 years have been incredible. I’ve met incredible people from all walks of life. As a Councilmember, I’ve been part of a select group that meets monthly to discuss development, investing and economic conditions in the metropolitan Phoenix area. This group really influences what happens in our region; the connections are amazing. I’ve had conversations with people trying to connect an outside property owner who “only needed $5 million” with an investor; it was unreal. I continue to work with the US Army on Homeland Defense initiatives and have become friends with very special people. Not to mention the conversations that I’ve had with General Officers and their staffs. I never planned any of this. My work as a local government consultant continues to take me across the country and into the lives of people who want to do the best they can for their residents. All of these things came to be because I stopped worrying about being in control of my plan and let God show me the way.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9

We recently celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States and that got me thinking about what I’m thankful for. More importantly, it also reaffirmed how I got to where I am. We all desire to know what lies ahead and to influence those circumstances. Completely letting go is hard. We are human and being in control is one of the things that separates us from the animal kingdom.

We can still make our plans, have our dreams and establish targets for achievements; this is the free will that God gave us. The verse for this week reminds us that God will establish the steps of getting there. I am planning for a long life that ends with my being thankful for a great family and satisfying life. The truth is that if my life ended today because it was in God’s plan, my life would end with my plan being fulfilled. Sure, it may not have been very long, but I’ve achieved what I hoped I would. I am thankful for that and mindful that it is also human nature to never be satisfied with our lives. God knows just what we need and will direct your steps if you let Him.

Love Covers…

“If everyone was perfect like you and I, we’d have a lot fewer problems” was something my mother would jokingly say. We all have imperfections and weakness that we expect others to overlook but often we have trouble overlooking them in others. If you reverse my mother’s saying – “If everyone was just as cracked and broken as we are, we’d have a lot more problems”. Imagine the personality imperfections that you have (I know it’s hard too) and then add them to the people you deal with on a regular basis. By the way, they get to keep the imperfections that they already have. How does that picture look? Rick Warren in his now famous book “The Purpose Driven Life” talks about giving people a little more grace. He calls them “EGR – Extra Grace Required” people. These are the people who really test you and your ability to overlook their imperfections.

I would imagine that we all have them in our lives but if you are an EGR person? Have you taken personal stock of yourself to see how you treat others or what demands you put on those around you? Are you tolerant of others? As a society we can better coexist if we become more tolerant of each other and our differences. Unfortunately, we have people in this world guided by the opportunity to take advantage of the weaknesses of others. I would suggest that we all give the same grace to others that we receive and if you still feel under appreciated, give more.

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense” Proverbs 17:9

We are often reminded of Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek. I suspect that this is the way we heard about being tolerant of others. Sure they will strike you, but give them the other cheek too. As I wrote last week, what if God wasn’t tolerant with us? On some level, we offend Him every day and yet He still loves us. As in all cases, God does as He says; fostering love to cover over an offense.

I make the connection with this verse to fostering grudges, seeking revenge or retaliating against others. None of those things foster love. They feel good because they are the work of the devil and he wants us to go against what God wants in our life so he gives it a little extra. No, I’m not saying that all things that feel good are a product of the devil. The fight of good verse evil in our lives is constant and when God is winning, the devil will make evil feel just a little better. Love, patience and compassion are just a few of the actions that we can take toward each other. God has filled the bible with behaviors that if everyone followed them, we’d have a lot fewer problems.

 

Patience

I find that as I get older, I am becoming less patient with more things than I ever have in the past. I was never a terribly patient person but there are things that I am very patient about. I have a huge tolerance for people making genuine mistakes. I believe that its one thing to make a mistake because of inexperience or lack of understanding but it is another thing to make a mistake because of carelessness or the simple lack of caring. If some is really trying their best but just not being successful, I have great compassion and empathy for them. A well timed smile and a reassuring “it’s really not a problem, take your time” goes a long way to help the person work through their moment. I’ve traveled quite a bit this year and I have witnessed A LOT of people who lose their patience.

For me, my impatience seems to be with people trying to “snow” their way through circumstances. I’ve seen reports, presentations and reactions that have lacked balance in their information and been slanted to persuade the audience. I’ve witnessed people reacting to reports with their “full bias armor” on with no regard for the truth or what was actually being said. This is where I have no patience. In my mind this is when people are trying to mislead the facts or are simply choosing not to have an open mind. Often times, a blunt example or statement works to break down the bias – at times it doesn’t. How is your patience these days? Are you growing frustrated with things or people in your life but haven’t stopped to ask why? I would suggest knowing your own triggers and then look for them to come up so you can temper your response. Regardless of your place in the situation, we all must make every attempt to remain collected. As it was said – patience is a virtue.

The Lord is…. patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

All I can think of when I read this verse is THANK YOU! If God became impatient at the things that make me impatient; I would have been cast aside years ago. God was impatient in the beginning, sending Adam and Eve out of the Garden because of one mistake – albeit intentional. Granted, it was a big mistake but nonetheless, it was one mistake. As time went on, God decided to start over and flooded the earth saving one man and his family. Still, mankind couldn’t follow a few simple rules and God grew impatient again.

I must point out that God’s actions took hundreds of years; if this timeframe doesn’t speak to His perspective of time, I don’t know what does. God didn’t give up on us after all of this. While He may have been impatient, He still loved us. God’s answer to our disobedience was His Son. God sent the world Jesus to do what we couldn’t; keep His commandments. Jesus’ ability to live a perfect life serves as an example for us in our lives – 2000 years later. Jesus took all of our failings, all of our mistakes and all of our sins with Him on the cross. He took them to hell and left them where they belonged. When He rose, He took us with Him to heaven so that we would have eternal life and not perish. God IS patient with you and me. He wants us close Him and we will not perish through our faith in Jesus Christ. Stop worrying about your life and start being thankful for all that God has done for you because God is patient.

 

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.