Love

If you live in the United States, you have been witness to mass shootings and a time in our politics of unprecedented division. I recently saw the city of Marawi in the Republic of the Philippines in a news broadcast; there is nothing left there but piles of rubble and shells of buildings in what used to be a thriving city. In June of this year, Isis took over the city and has held control over it for the past five months – until recently. Philippine Security Forces regained control of the destroyed city and now we are seeing the devastation for the first time. While we think things are bad here at home, they are often minor when compared to other parts of the world. The degree of these events affects our perception of what “bad” means to us. For some it means having to fly commercial instead of by private plane and to some it means not knowing where their next meal will come from.

There are so many parts of the world that truly have it “bad” but when we don’t see it or know someone there it is easy to not think about it or taking action. Each of us, no matter what part of the world we live in, is affected by events that can alter our feelings about other people. Religion, race, sexual orientation or political party are just a few ways that someone else defines us. When the phrase “I’ll only” begins a sentence to describe someone, it shows that the person speaking has their mind closed. I’m certainly not suggesting that we embrace hatred and those who hate but we must guard against putting everyone in the same category because they are similar to the haters. The 1970’s group, the Bee Gees, had a hit song titled “How Deep is your Love” and the Black Eyed Peas released “Where is the Love” in 2003. I think these questions are valid today. As we get ready for Thanksgiving in the United States, I encourage everyone to think about being truly thankful for the blessings in your life and to ask yourself “have I been a blessing to others?”

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:14

The two verses that precede today’s verse from Colossians 3 are: “12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The title of this section in the chapter is “Living as Those Made Alive in Christ” – a set of directions if you will. There isn’t really a lot of room for interpretation in verses 12-14, they seem pretty straight forward to me. Love is the most important virtue. We’ve all heard the expression that “love makes the world go around” but somewhere over the years we seem to have forgotten that.

We are all afraid of what “they” might do to us. We stereotype people and sensationalize events to make a point. We confuse one act of demonstration for another act of violence or insult. We need to start looking through the eyes of Jesus, being cautious and vigilant, with love and compassion. Political issues strain our relationships and cause more distress while religious, racial and sexual orientation stereotypes cloud our understanding and judgment. We are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved”. We need to start acting like it. Despite all of our disobedience and selfish ways, God found a way to bring us closer to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. It was Jesus’ act of love that paid the ultimate price for our sins; let it not be in vain.

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A Life of Service

The dictionary tells us that the word “service” means several different things: a ceremony like a church service, a set of things like a tea service, performing a job that doesn’t make anything in the end like the plumber who fixes a leaky faucet, work that is performed by someone that serves other people like a waiter and doing something that contributes to the welfare or life of others like those in the military service. Sometimes we hear the word “service” used by people: “that was great service we got at dinner last night”, “I need to get my car serviced at the dealer”, “we are number 1 in customer service”, and “my phone service is so spotty.” What version of service matters to you?

I often tell people that I’ve been serving others since my very first job in a full-service gas station back in the suburbs of Chicago. We’d wash the windshield and check the oil if requested, no matter the weather. I went on to a long career in the fire service to care for those in times of need. I could go on and on about the roles that I’ve filled in service to others but none means more than writing this blog each week. I’m reaching thousands of people with my thoughts and sharing the Word of God. How can you be of service? I’d suggest something as simple as a smile, a handshake, a “welcome aboard” greeting to a new co-worker are easy ways to start. Modeling the behaviors of Christ in this crazy world might just be the type of service that someone desperately needs. Witnessing to others is often the hardest part of being a Christian but you don’t need to write a blog to tell the Good News to others, just a little servant’s heart.

“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12:5

Paul was right; there are different kinds of service! He said this in his letter to the people of Corinth way before the dictionary was invented. However, none of these types of service are what God wants us to focus on. Jesus told us what to do in Matthew 28:18-20 when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So, what does this have to do with service?

If we think about some of things that Jesus commanded us to do – teaching the message of salvation, loving and caring for one another, and taking care of those in need are just a few examples. These are all an act of service! People are lost all around us and God is depending on us to show them the way back to Him. Being a faithful servant, caring for and loving each other are only the beginning. Why do we perform service for others? Do we do it so that we can go to heaven with eternal life? No! We perform service for others because we want to show them the love that we have been given by Jesus. We don’t have to do anything for eternal life; Jesus already did it for it for us by taking our sins with him onto the cross. All you need to believe is that Jesus is the Holy Spirit; that is all that we have to do. By being the “someone” in a person’s life, you will bring glory to God. There are different kinds of service but we are lucky to have the same Lord, a loving and caring God who gave His only son so that we can have eternal life through Him, now that’s what I call service!

Callous or Pearl

I was watching the movie “Hidden Figures” the other night and as an engagement gift, the character of Katherine Johnson was given a set of pearls. It seemed to be inferred that pearls were something that, “only white people had in those days”. The film takes place when many areas of the United States were still segregated by race. I’ve seen the movie twice and still have a hard time understanding how anyone could treat another human being like they did in “back then”. That however, is a post for another time. Looking back at the pearls, something that my wife does not have, this verse comes to mind.

Oysters (mollusks) make pearls which are formed by the soft tissue of the oyster. I immediately thought of a callous that is formed on the surface of the skin – something hard that comes from something soft. Not really the same but you’ll see in minute my comparison. The term pearl is also used as a metaphor for something rare or admirable. When I think about how people live their lives, they can either be a pearl or a callous. One is rare and admirable while the other is hard and often painful. Ironically, we use the term callous to describe someone who lacks pity or mercy. I’d suggest that our lives, simply as human beings, is that we care for one another and show compassion and mercy on those around us. We should all strive to be the pearls in someone else’s life. You’ll never know when something you do or say will become someone else’s pearl.

45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:45-46

I’ve been told that when searching for fine pearls, you will look through hundreds of them before finding the one that is just right. People are like pearls, you can search a hundred people but when you find one that is just right, you bring it into your life. Some of those pearls you marry and others become your dearest friends. Think about what you traded in (sold) when you found that great one. When you marry your pearl, you trade your biological family to start a new one. In your life, you come across hundreds of people but you have only have a few friends and even fewer close friends. We have sought the pearls in our lives and we can become pearls in other people’s lives.

God has looked at billions of people and still loves them all. He only wants the finest pearls to join Him in the Kingdom of Heaven. God gave us the laws to follow and wanted us to become sin free. Yet, we remain blemished pearls because we are not able to follow the laws perfectly. God then “sold everything” by sending His Son to pay for our sins so that we can have eternal life. We became God’s finest pearls that He bought from the slavery of sin. As John 3:16 said “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Today, know that you are a precious pearl to God.

Troubles

I love phrases about futility. “The faster we dig, the farther behind we get.” “Trying to get the water out of a boat by putting a hole in the bottom.” These “old school” phrases are also used to describe being overwhelmed. I work in local government and consult for them as well. I am easily frustrated by the futility of trying to get things done in local government and since I own my own business, I can also get overwhelmed. Having huge swings in workload or enduring the feast or famine cycles of when projects come in adds a lot of stress to my life. I go through this about every other year and with all of the experience that I have at it, you would think that I would have mastered my emotional roller coaster. I’m still learning.

We can all play the “at least it’s not…” game with ourselves to stay positive. Being positive is always the way through troubles in our lives but it is easier said than done. When life starts to get us down, we tend to shift toward asking the question, “why me?” There is never an answer to that question and I believe that the reason for that is because it isn’t about us! Troubles in our lives are not a punishment for something we did or didn’t do. We can have troubles in our lives because the devil is at work trying to break our spirit or because God is trying to prepare us for something else or simply because, life is full of troubles. No matter the case – futility or being overwhelmed, we always seem to make it work and in the end we are stronger because we overcame the circumstances. When we seek the help of others and look at the situation from a step or two away, we see it with a little more clarity. It is in this newfound clarity that we can make peace out of the trouble in our lives. We are not alone on this earth for a reason; we need to learn to lean on each other once in a while.

“…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

In this verse from John is quoting Jesus who is telling us that we WILL have trouble. There was no sugar coating it, no “technically correct” answer or avoidance; Jesus tells us straight – you will have trouble. God never promised us a trouble free life. Look at the Old Testament; the People of God had plenty of trouble. Even Jesus faced trouble in His life on earth. The old saying is that you can count on two things in life – death and taxes. I would argue that we should have three things to count on and add – trouble. We know that God does not give us more than we can handle and we also know that God has a plan for us.

The trouble that we find in our lives may be there so that we can be a witness for others, maybe it’s to strengthen us for the future, maybe its simply to prepare us to help others in need. Whatever the reason, and we will never know what it is; we can handle it. Jesus tells us to take heart! He overcame the troubles of the world by defeating Satan, and sin. Jesus took it all upon Himself in death but delivered us from the chains of sin when He rose to take His place at God’s right hand. Sure, we’ll have trouble but know that through God’s grace and our faith in Jesus, we will not suffer but have eternal life. Just thinking about it makes me overwhelmed but now it’s with joy!

Make A Difference

Make a Difference Day is officially October 28th this year. Each year, our city has about one hundred people volunteer to perform projects all around our city. We’ve had Boy Scout troops, church groups, a group from a local college, several high school groups, and various community minded residents all volunteer to make a difference. So what is this day all about? According to Makeadifferenceday.com; “For more than 25 years, USA WEEKEND Magazine and Points of Light have joined together to sponsor Make A Difference Day, the largest national day of community service. Millions of volunteers around the world unite in a common mission to improve the lives of others.” As an annual event in our city, it always seems to get me thinking about why should we make a difference just one day a year?

We all make a difference to someone, each and every day. Sometimes we know when we do and other times we don’t. We all do our jobs faithfully, day in and day out. We don’t really expect people to notice what we’re doing. Many times you will hear a public safety professional say, “We were just doing our jobs”. In reality, they were making a difference. Today, as you read this, I challenge you to make a difference for someone. Go out of your way to help someone. A few years ago this was often referred to as, “random acts of kindness”. I’m not saying hold open a door; I’m challenging you to put someone else’s needs before your own. You’ll never know what impact you might have on someone’s life.

“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” Ecclesiastes 4:10

Make a difference, today and everyday, had to be what Jesus was trying to teach His disciples. However, Ecclesiastes was written in the Old Testament. On the surface it sounds like we are being told to make sure that we have friends so they can help you up when you fall. If it was that simple, we wouldn’t have half the troubles we have today. What about the man who has no one to help him up? Who will help him? God’s commandments teach us to love one another (among other things) and to care for each other.

This means everyone, not just our friends. God took His love for us and sent us a “friend” that will never leave our side; Jesus Christ. No matter what is happening in your life, you are never alone. God is with you. When you feel distant, God is with you, just hold out your hand and open your heart. When you feel cold and alone, close your eyes and feel God’s warmth surround you. You are forgiven for everything you’ve done. Jesus, your friend, has helped you up after you’ve fallen. He sacrificed everything so that we could have eternal life. Now that is someone who made a difference!

Managing vs Leading

Recently, I seem to be faced with having to deal with people who either managers or leaders but never both. There have been plenty of books written that describe a leader, so I’m not going to do it in a short blog post. The verse for today talks about: “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training”; all good signs of a leader. Taking the time to ensure that your people are trained to do their job is a management function. Taking the time to build their skills and knowledge so that they can grow/advance is leadership. Rebuking, which is the expression of disapproval or criticism is the management skill of correcting unwanted behavior. Leaders that have courage, will not only help others correct mistakes, they take the time to coach their staff toward improvement and will allow mistakes to serve as learning points and not disciplinary moments. Managers will spend time correcting every little thing that people do, sometimes we use the phrase “micro-manager” with these people.

We have all worked for someone who wants things done a certain way within a certain time period. A real micro-manager takes their “certain way” and makes changes to everything we’ve done. A leader will correct someone by teaching more effective processes, they will teach by explaining what and why certain things are important but most of all, they will acknowledge when they are wrong. Training employees is critical for an organization’s overall success. Teaching is about learning new skills and training is about taking what you know and making it better. Leaders view training as an opportunity to let people experiment and get comfortable with concepts and processes. The signs of a good leader can be found in these traits, modeled by the greatest leader there will ever be.

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

This is one of those verses that help summarize the bible – “All Scripture is God-breathed”. It’s amazing to think that these are the words of God given to us through His writers. If you look back through the scriptures, you will see Jesus use teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in all that He did. Whether he was addressing large crowds, small groups, His disciples, His mother or the Pharisees; He was working toward righteousness.

The “man” referred to in these verses is all of us. We should use these traits to become equipped for every good work. No one will manage us, there is no one to “make” us do it; Jesus (our leader) has given us examples to follow. As sinners, it is easy to fall away from the teachings; no one really knows when we fall and there is no one to discipline us. Our coach and our leader, who is there all of time, is God. He is the one who inspired the scripture and sent His Son to be our savior. We shouldn’t fear that God is a micro-manager, we need to embrace the One whom we call “teacher”; He is the one that makes it all right in our Father’s eyes.

Its Off to Work We Go

I’ve been working with the U.S Army quite a bit this past month assisting with training for our Homeland Response forces. These soldiers could be providing assistance to a community or region affected by a terrorist event or a natural disaster. They could be working for a Mayor, County Commission or a Governor. Their mission is designed so that it doesn’t matter who they report to, but that they consistently execute their missions. I wrote a post in February of 2012 called “Who are you working for?”. We often hear the phrase in response, “working for the man” when people describe their jobs. Do you know who you are working for?

I’d like to suggest that you consider yourself working as though you are working for God or Jesus Christ and that God shows through in everything that you do. If you had to go to work for God everyday, I bet you would approach your work much differently than you do today. Change your outlook, do your best at all times and at the end of each day pause, close your eyes, tilt your head towards heaven and imagine God’s smile and a wink. You’ve done a good job today!

Colossians 3:23-24 “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.”

 Do your friends and family ever wonder why you work so hard or have the patience that you do for your work? The “man” doesn’t care how hard you work, just that you keep showing up, keep your mouth shut and do your job. Working for the “man” is what many people feel destined to do. But the “man” in Paul’s letter is the Lord! Feels different now doesn’t it? We are a reflection of the goodness of God and all that Jesus Christ taught us about living our lives. He didn’t say, “go and work just for yourselves and leave the others to suffer”.

Jesus taught us to care for each for other and give willingly. While many of us do just that, we know how hard it can be at times. We do a good job and are thankful for the opportunity to serve others. God’s plan for us includes using us as examples for others to see His goodness. When you smile at or encourage someone at work, you are reflecting God’s goodness. When you continue to work hard when everyone else is taking advantage of the workplace, you are reflecting God’s goodness. When you un-jam the copier after someone else walked away from it, you are reflecting God’s goodness. We can see God’s goodness if we just look for it – its everywhere. It is the Lord you are serving, do it with all of your heart!

 

Is there another way?

No one likes to be corrected, especially when it’s done in front of other people. A very good friend of mine told me not too long ago that his adult son asked my friend and his wife to “stop parenting me”. In other words, you don’t have to correct me or offer advice. Have you thought about how you correct or advise others? The old guiding principle that most good supervisors follow is, “praise in public and punish in private”. However, correcting someone is not the same as punishing them. Granted, there are some people who view being corrected as punishment. When we correct someone, we are engaged in using the situation as a “teachable moment”. If others are around and correction is warranted, we should take the opportunity to “teach” everyone or to improve their understanding when someone mis-speaks. As with all communication, the key is in the delivery.

When correcting someone, you can start by asking an open-ended question about the subject and then asking if there are any other options. Ask them to describe what they intended or meant and then describe your “other way to look at the situation”. The point here is to make it more of a discussion and less about them needing to be corrected. When dealing with misinformation, start by asking where they obtained their information. This will prevent you for needing to be corrected if you are the one not up to speed on the topic. If they do not have the current information, start your sentence with your source of the information. Be mindful of everyone’s feelings and the current situation. If you do not correct misinformation immediately, it will become fact and as a leader, you cannot afford to have bad information in your workplace.

“Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” Job 5:17

I can think of thousands of ways that God “corrects” me. It is hard to argue with Job about being corrected by God and what we should do in response to it. In the beginning, God was constantly trying to “correct” His people. He sent signs, angels, prophets and the Holy Spirit even appeared to a selected few to provide corrective action. It was all to no avail, we still wouldn’t listen or follow God’s laws. Job tells us not to “despise the discipline of the Almighty.” God, like all good fathers, was disciplining us for our own good. We didn’t pay attention though and yet he still tried to help us.

He could have turned His back on us but He loves us too much. So, despite our behavior and continued disregard for His law, He still offered us a chance to be saved and share eternal life with Him. He did this through His son Jesus Christ. As John 3:16-17 tells us 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” We are saved! So despite what you think that you’re being punished for, God loves you and is making you stronger with each challenge. You might not need the strength today or even 10 years from now, but He is working through you for something great.

 

Protection

Temptation is everywhere and we all know it! Sometimes it shows itself at Costco when we see a “deal that we can’t pass up” or it shows up at work when we don’t need to “tell the whole story” or we agree to get “creative with the accounting” because our boss told us to. I’d like to talk about the type of temptations that shape us as people, not those that tempt our waistlines or will power like a donut or one more glass of wine. The people in our lives, the experiences that we’ve had and what we’ve been taught all shape our morals and values. Values are the inner judgments that determine how we will behave and morals are about how we execute those judgments. While some people interchange those definitions, it is clear that they both influence how we behave.

When we don’t experience negative consequences from “deceiving or cheating” our brain stamps it, “okay for use again”. We will continue to deceive ourselves until there are consequences and we are forced to “re-learn” to do it right. The best way to continue to train our brains is to keep doing the right thing, even when no one is looking; be should be people of integrity. If we give in, we are only deceiving ourselves and that will have life-long implications.

Romans 13:12 – “…let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

An armor of light sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I envision a brilliant white, shining armor chest plate and a matching shield. What can’t you defend off with such protection? We know, of course, that the white armor is the protection given to us from our savior, Jesus Christ. He has clothed us in white as we go through our lives “not guilty” of sin because of His sacrifice for us. We must guard that our light does not dim and remain true to our Father, God in Heaven and to His Son, our savior.

Our light dims every time we submit to darkness. When we do not live, as God wants us to, we dim our light. The good news however is that our confession of those sins and our faith in Jesus Christ allows our light to shine brightly once more. We all know people who have fallen in to darkness. We have a responsibility to shine our light on their lives and show them the way. Reassure them that they too, can put on an armor of light by turning their lives back toward God and then “get fitted for their suit” through Jesus Christ. We do not ever have to live in darkness; Jesus is our light.

Don’t Give Up

There is a book by Kent Keith titled “Anyway, The Paradoxical Commandments” which lays out 10 paradoxical commandments of life. My favorite is # 10 which states “Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway”. Throughout my life as a leader, I have learned that no good deed will go unpunished. I have gone out of my way for someone to only have them do something that has caused me more aggravation later. I can’t tell you how many nights I was up late working on a “group” research project because one of my classmates failed to complete their part of a project. This kind of thing happens all of the time to people. They do their best and give others the benefit of the doubt only to later regret it. Leaders must continue to give their best despite what might happen.

I’ve seen organizational leaders lose faith in their people because they’ve been “kicked in the teeth” and now think that everyone in the organization is just a bunch of “winey babies”. They have no trust in anyone, they no longer involve the employees in decision-making and they have created a hostile work environment for their employees and themselves. Leaders must stand tall and continue to do what is right, at the right time and for everyone they lead because it’s their responsibility. Sure, leaders will “get kicked in the teeth” but that’s why it’s lonely at the top. People don’t always understand our roles but we know that we will make a difference and that is why we “give the world our best anyway”.

9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:9-10

This verse had a couple of options for things to talk about – doing good and not giving up. While I focused the first part on doing good, I’d like to add the “not giving up” part here. It is tiring always doing good, our sinful nature says “when will someone do good for me?” We seem to be able to justify shortcuts and doing the minimum in our minds. We go around doing things for others, for little recognition I might add, and all we ask in return is a little good coming our way; that’s not too much to ask. The end of verse 8 gives us the answer “the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

The “good” coming to you will come from the Holy Spirit. We are encouraged to “do good to all people” but “especially those who belong to the family of believers”. There are no options to be good only to those that are good to us or who won’t make our lives harder. Whether you are a leader, a follower or a loner, do not become weary of always doing good. No one said it was easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ but the rewards are eternal. Go and do good – Anyway.