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.

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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!