Make a Difference Day

Make a Difference Day is officially October 23rd 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 “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. 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? God’s commandments teach us to love one another (among other things) and 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. 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 your fall. He sacrificed everything so that we could have eternal life. Now that is someone who made a difference!

Take Heart!

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’ve worked in local government for almost 40 years, and I continue to consult for them more each year. 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 – in non-pandemic years. 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 in the famine years, 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 to 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 you! 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, 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 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 

This verse from John is a quote from Jesus 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 a third thing to count on – 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 or, maybe it’s 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!

Leading or Managing but Never Both

Often, we come face to face with people who are either a manager or a leader but rarely are they 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, but they also take the time to coach their staff toward improvement while allowing the staff space to make mistakes. These “mistakes” should serve as learning points and not disciplinary moments. 

A “manager” will spend time correcting every little thing that people do; we call these types of people. “micro-managers”. Every one of us has 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 too 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. 

Work, the worst four letter word!

We just spent a long weekend with our son and his girlfriend in California to celebrate his birthday, his new job and our 35th wedding anniversary. We jammed everything we could into 3 days. Our son is working in the television industry as an audio engineer – a post all by itself just to explain that end of a production. He loves his new profession and learning new techniques each week as he mixes sound for a popular TV show. He says that he is working to make the music, the dialog and the sounds be as crisp as possible. He works for the production company, but he is also working for his own pride in workmanship – we’re very proud! 

Who are you working for? We often hear the phrase in response – “working for the man” when people describe their jobs. Do you know why you are working like you do? I’d like to suggest that you might consider yourself working as though you are working for God and that His influence shows through in everything that you do. If you had to go to work for God everyday, I bet you would approach your daily work much differently than you do today. Change your outlook, always do your best and at the end of each day pause, close your eyes, tilt your head towards heaven and imagine God’s smile, a wink and Him telling you, “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 and it can be hard 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!

Do Not Despise the Discipline

No one likes to be corrected, especially when it’s done in front of other people. What about our adult children, when do we stop parenting them and let them learn from their mistakes? When should parents stop correcting and forcing advice upon their kids? I’m not sure that I have the answers for these questions, and I’m sure my kids are disappointed to hear that I don’t know when to stop. 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, I’d argue that 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. 

God 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.  

Values

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 willpower 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 are different but both of them 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 for us to keep doing the right thing, even when no one is looking; being 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 by remaining true to our Father 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.

Give the World Your Best

I’ve written before about one of my favorite books titled “Anyway, The Paradoxical Commandments” by Kent Keith. He lays out 10 paradoxical commandments of life and 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 caused me more aggravation later. As I look back this Labor Day, I am reminded of the “kicked in the teeth” moments throughout my working life and realized that this type of thing happens in life too. We do our best work, give others the benefit of the doubt and then later regret it. These days, we all must continue to give our 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; all of which creates 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 the role of the leader 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. In today’s world, there is enough going poorly or plain wrong. I urge you to look beyond today or even tomorrow and see how much more we all gain by 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.

What Did You Say?

“What is that supposed to mean!” Have you ever said those words? Often times we rush through our conversations that we skip a few key words and change the meaning of everything that we are trying to say. Text messaging has made this problem even worse. We see young people who have a hard time expressing themselves. Their sentences are short and void of emotion, if it can’t be said in a text or e-mail, they just aren’t saying it. How are we to supposed to deal with them? I had a conversation yesterday with someone who works in a school, and they told me that young kids today have no ability to converse with each other or with adults; and when they do, it’s usually quite rude.

One idea is that when we speak to our younger friends or co-workers (not elementary school kids) and the communication is critical, we can ask them to repeat back to us what they think we said. Another way to improve communication is simply asking them how they want to be communicated with. One thing is for sure; we must choose our words carefully knowing that each one has the possibility of meaning more than one thing to a new generation of young people who may have a slightly different dictionary version than we do. We must be flexible and patient, our role is to continue to lead them with our actions.

“because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”  1 Thessalonians 1:5

The Bible is such a great book, but it too can be filled opportunities for misinterpretation. Look at the various churches that claim to offer insight into God’s word and then proceed to tell you how to live your life. The Gospel did come to us with great power; we can impact people’s lives by following the words given to us. We are not the judges of other people’s lives; the Bible tells us that. The Holy Spirit is present in our lives but so is the devil, each are constantly fighting for our attention. 

It is the deep conviction that we have in our faith that keeps the devil in check. Our words mean something; they are the light into our heart. Do you openly profess your love and belief in Jesus Christ? When given the chance to gossip about someone, do you jump on it? These are all windows into your heart. The Bible is more than just words; it is the WORD of God, given to us through the Holy Spirit who inspired its writers. The words and stories are told in such a way to bring meaning to each word. At the end of the day, we must watch our words and our actions because as they say, actions speak louder than words. The Bible is our guide. No matter what we’ve done or said, we are forgiven by the grace of God and by Jesus taking our sins onto Himself so we may have eternal life. Now that is plain and simple no matter how you say it. 

Servants

I’ve been doing a little purging of old papers, reference articles and plain old junk that I’ve been holding onto for years. Among the old papers, I found my baptismal and confirmation certificates along with a card from my confirmation. As I read the note that came with my confirmation papers, I was drawn to the idea of servitude – serving others and being served. I have no idea why I kept the note but it’s meaning is far more impactful today than it was when I received it. Even after all of the classes that I attended for confirmation, there are no better lessons than what life teaches you and how God reveals Himself throughout your life. Here is what the note said:

“The best and most meaningful things in life are those which cannot be seen, or touched, but which are felt. On this special day, the meaning of your faith is very real to you. Life has its deepest meaning in Christ. May the sacredness of this time be a rich reminder of your Christian faith, not only in this day but throughout all your life. May God fill you with His love as you follow the living Christ. May the Holy Spirit give you guidance that your life may be full, and that you may receive the abundance of God’s grace forever. May joy be in your heart today in the knowledge that Christ is your Savior, your friend, and your guide.” 

 “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”  John 12:26

When I work with the military, I am witness to multiple examples of servant leadership and it always reminds me of Jesus Christ. Jesus was THE servant leader. He knew what was in store for himself but He served us anyway. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, performed miracle after miracle and always did it with our best interests in mind. He was often called Teacher and He served in that role as well. Jesus was determined to reach as many lost souls as He could before His Father would call Him home. Servant leadership means that we give up control of the effort so that others can learn and grow. 

In our lives, we can serve those that we are trying to lead so that they may become stronger; we are the ones making sacrifices for the betterment of others. Jesus’ sacrifice was beyond compare but we are all better off because of it. We are free from sin because the servant leader put us before Himself. We all make sacrifices in our lives but some do it in hopes of getting something in return. Jesus made a sacrifice not to get something in return but to share something with all of us – eternal life. The bonus for Him is that He gets to share that with us. Go out and serve others not because you need something but because you have something wonderful to share, a message of hope and salvation. 

Reliable

Reliability. I’ll bet that when you hear the word, the first thing that will pop into your mind is a product of some sort. It’s either a car or an appliance that we generally associate with the word reliability. What about people, do we consider them reliable? We might use dependable, but would you use reliable? People will let us down and are flawed from conception; I’ve even heard the quip that “you can depend on people to let you down.” The difference is very subtle; being reliable means that you will be able to get the same result over and over and dependable means worthy of reliance or trust. How reliable are you? Do people seek you out for help or advice? If you are in a leadership position, you need to be both reliable and dependable. Being reliable takes a toll on your time management. You will find that when people seek you out for help, you spend a lot of time with them and your own “work” takes second place yet it still needs to get done. 

When people seek you out, you are actually functioning as a coach for them. Good coaching can turn into mentorship, which is a great professional development tool for both parties not mention a huge source of personal satisfaction. Whom do you rely on? Do you have someone reliable in your work life? We are sometimes too proud to ask for someone to help us or give us advice. Finding someone who is reliable enough to be a coach is rare; be sure that they are willing to help at this level. If you are fortunate enough to be someone whom people consider reliable, consider sharing your gifts with them at this higher level. 

“And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” Acts 2:21

It’s ironic that when I hear the words reliable and dependable, I don’t immediately think of the Triune God. As I reflect on it, I have to assume that it’s because I never have to think twice about God’s reliability and just writing that, makes me smile. There are millions of people in this world that don’t see it that way. They will base their assessment of God’s reliability on the number of answered prayers they receive, the quality of their life or the types of works they perform – trying to gain God’s favor, so that He’ll be more reliable and dependable. Our LORD and Savior is Jesus Christ, He intervened on our behalf to gain God’s favor. 

“Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be Saved” (Acts 2:21) means eternal life for everyone calling, no strings attached. God is reliable and dependable. He keeps His promises to His people; we just have a hard time seeing them because His timelines and our timelines are not the same. God always listens and comforts us; we simply don’t always recognize it. It’s the unexpected coffee that a co-worker brings to you when you need it or the refund check that arrives the week that your rent is due. Turning your life over to God and trusting in Him means that you never have to think twice about whether He’s reliable or not. After all, He did send His one and only Son to suffer for us so that we can share eternal life Him. It certainly sounds like He’s in it for the long haul, how about you?