Say What?

When I read today’s verse, I immediately thought of the phrase “you are what you eat”. I realize that there is little connection between the verse and the phrase but I’ve been trying to make better food choices and well; I digress. Leaders of all kinds must choose their words carefully. One of the most powerful tools a leader can use is encouragement. There are so many stresses in people’s lives, in addition to their struggles to do the best work they can, they often feel overwhelmed or simply disconnected from others. We rarely hear “good job” from people we work with or those close to us. Sometimes, we are just too busy to say it or we simply don’t take the time to. For leaders, that can be a disaster. We have to acknowledge our people and the work that they do for us – even if it’s “their job”.

A simple “thanks” or “good work” can go along way in motivating someone. We don’t know what is happening in their lives and this simple gesture can be what keeps them going. I used to work for a woman who did this all the time. At first, I was surprised by it because this was the first time that I worked professionally outside of a military style organization and no one ever gives compliments there. It reminded me that I was doing good work and that someone appreciated it. The old saying is that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all”. If you never say anything nice or encouraging, are people walking around thinking that you have nothing nice to say? It’s what comes out of your mouth that means more than what you think or write about someone. Well said is better than well written. Spread a little good will and watch the smiles, then smile at yourself knowing that you were the cause.

“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” Matthew 15:11

This was Jesus speaking to the Pharisees when they saw the Disciples eating with dirty hands. But that isn’t where it stopped. In Matthew 15:17-20, Jesus went on to say: 17“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”

We have to ask ourselves here: what’s in our hearts? Do you go through your life with the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude? In the end, we are all “unclean”. Every one of us will say something hurtful, have thoughts about stealing or wishing harm on to someone, gossip and in some cases, we’ll act on them. We are all guilty at one point in time or another; but we are always unclean. The good news is that Jesus Christ wrapped us in pure white clothing whereby making us clean when he took our sins with Him to the cross. We are always clean with our faith in Christ. No tricks, no works, no negotiations, simple forgiveness from the grace of God. Now that should make you smile!

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Why Worry?

Worry can consume a great deal of time in someone’s life. As children if we did something bad, our mothers warned us to “wait until your father comes home” and then we spent hours worrying. Somehow we are comfortable worrying. I created phrase in our house a while back when I said, “let’s worry about worrying, when there is something to worry about”. We were falling into the trap of worry before we even had a problem. We learned after my surgery that there is a plan for our lives; we simply needed to let it reveal itself to us. We want to be in control of everything and when we can’t adjust the circumstances around us, we start to worry. We do it so often that worrying has become second nature to us. We worry about things at work, we worry about things at home, in the stock market, in pro sports, on our drive to work and we worry about ourselves. I would challenge you to stop worrying and start living your life.

I’m not suggesting that you become reckless but start to look around at all of the great things in your life and look at how they are connected. These are not random events that just happened because the timing was right; they are connected events that if you look hard enough, you’ll see the plan before your eyes. Let circumstances unfold without your intervention or delay your action just long enough to see the real “whole story”. If you are a supervisor or leader, you should be working to keep your staff from worrying. Keep them in the loop on issues and be honest. It’s hard for an employee to worry about something when they know the facts. Ask employees what they worry about, you might be surprised by the answers you get. Worry is wasted energy and emotions so don’t fall into the trap. You control your reaction – worry or action, the choice is yours.

25Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:25-26

Luke answers my question – worrying will not add to your life, so why do it? As believers, we know three things about our lives: 1) God has a plan for us 2) Our time here on earth has already been determined and 3) Our trust is in God. We are however, logical thinkers by design. God gave us free will to live our lives. I’ll argue then, that if you believe God has a plan for you and that you trust in Him, what do you have to worry about?

If we cannot add a single hour to our own lives, then what is the point? Is worry the creation of Satan to breakdown our trust in God? I don’t know the answer but I know that far too many people turn away from God because they get lost in worrying and find ways to satisfy that emotion which in turn reveals more worry, etc. There is only one that can weave that sort of confusion in our lives. Let God take that worry from you, He likes to hear what is troubling His children. God will be there for you no matter what you are worried about, give Him your troubles. Let God work in your life and you’ll be amazed at the great things that he will reveal. Put your trust in God and less on your own ability and He will be there for you.

Take one for the team

One of things that I do as a military contractor is to work with the Homeland Response Forces dedicated to protecting U.S. citizens from natural and man-made disasters. It is a natural fit after my 27 years in the fire service. The largest command is the Nation’s Joint Task Force-Civil Support Command, which is comprised of approximately 5500 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who take the idea of “service to others” to whole new level. When the nation has been attacked, some of these 5500 service members will be asked to “take one for the team”. When the Fugashima nuclear reactor failed in Japan several years ago as a result of a tsunami, some of their soldiers were asked to “take one for the team” and despite the danger, go into the radioactive area to obtain the data needed to make critical decisions. If we had a nuclear detonation in this country, we would be asking our military to do the same. It really made it clear to me that none of us really understand how to serve others when you compare it to acts of the Japanese Army.

Everyday we have public safety personnel risking themselves for our safety not to mention all of the “troops” dedicated to protecting us worldwide. Your local police officer and firefighter put themselves in harms way for us, oftentimes without concern for the consequences. What about the average person? What kind of service to others do we do? Sure, some of us “serve” others in our jobs while some “just work”. I’d suggest that there is no such thing as “just work”, every day we do/can serve others; its all in how we perceive it or our attitude toward it. Each one of us is important in our own way and we should never forget that. Reacting to the “Good Morning” sent your way by the always happy co-worker with a smile instead of a grunt turns your attitude toward serving others simply by returning the positive back to them. We spend a lot more of our day serving others and much of time we don’t realize it. I’d suggest we do it with a smile and without concern for the consequences.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

There have been books written on Jesus’ servant leadership – besides the Bible. Jesus came to us to: teach, lead, and provide an example of how to live but most of all, He came to serve us. He gave Himself for us so that we can all have eternal life with God our Father. His service is even greater than “taking one for the team”. On the last night before Supper, Jesus took the time to wash the feet of His disciples in what many believe to be the greatest show of being a servant. The night before He would be turned over to start the process of a long death, Jesus washed feet. Serving His fellow man was important and while the disciples didn’t know what was coming, Jesus did.

He knew that continuing His life of service was important to His mission and ironically, it’s a message that still continues to resonate 2000 years later. People remember the little things like washing feet before they talk about ALL of the other things He did. We aren’t much different. People will remember the little things you do for them before they remember the one or two big ones. Go out with the intent to serve others; pick up that piece of parking lot trash instead of stepping over it. When a co-worker looks stressed, help them with something small like a coffee refill or an offer to assist with something small. Sometimes it’s just the timing of a smile that can make all the difference in the world. Please pray for those who work everyday to safe guard us and be comforted by the knowledge that there are people who are willing to “take one for the team” for you.

Tempting, isn’t it?

They say, “temptation is everywhere”; I have to believe it. Every day we see so many things that it’s amazing we all aren’t financially and morally bankrupt. (I know that’s arguable but go with it.) There is an old leadership saying: “don’t ask your people to do things that you wouldn’t do yourself”. It doesn’t mean that if you can do it yourself, you should. It’s about having people do things that are dangerous, improper, illegal that you wouldn’t do yourself but you’d be willing to sacrifice them to do it. It sounds horrible (and it is) but it happens. It is usually in a very subtle way when a supervisor “suggests” an edge over the competition but isn’t really serious in providing specific direction on how to do it but does give specifics about the “reward” for such a victory. All of us at some point have been tempted to “get” someone at work to simply “show them” who we are. Most of the time we don’t act on it but when we do, we usually don’t feel good about ourselves when we do.

Temptation at home can be strong too. We are tempted to buy something we really can’t afford and when we do buy it, we get buyers remorse. We end up paying it off after a few months (or years) on the credit card and swear to never do it again. The consequences are minor so we don’t worry about doing it again when temptation comes knocking. We will keep answering those temptations until we have a significant event that changes our behavior but that can often be too late. The financial ruin, job loss or broken relationship that follows not only rocks our faith but the outlook we will carry for the rest of our lives. I’d like to say don’t act on them but as I started, “temptation is everywhere”. The key is recognizing the temptation and turning to truth about what is proper and what you can actually afford.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;” James 1:13

Wouldn’t it be nice to never be tempted by evil? It must be one of the “perks” of being God! Now that we’ve established that we are not God, we have to look at who is tempting us. Sometimes it’s just the “old Adam” in us; the human nature that “justifies” our actions to do something small or with minor consequences. There are times when it is the devil that is tempting us. The “original sin” we all have came from the devil and he is still working everyday to turn us away from God. He plants small doubts, jealousy, envy and want in our heads. We can easily “justify” doing anything – “I’m owed”, “no one will notice”, “everyone else is doing it”, or “I need this” are a few examples.

Every time we justify a temptation to ourselves, act on it and then feel remorseful, we’re simply allowing the devil to win another round. Sometimes, we blame God for not being “strong enough” to block these temptations or our actions and there are some that will blame God for constantly testing us and turn away. It is not God’s work; it is the devil at work! Stay strong in your faith, remain connected to God’s word, pray daily with thanksgiving and ask for God’s help. The “right answer” is within you; you simply must look beyond the devil’s rationale for the truth.

Forward Focused

“Forgive and forget”. It works great in theory but it’s hard to practice on a regular basis. We always seem to be quick to forgive but never quite get to the forget part. Men famously complain that their wives never forget “that one time when we were dating” – years ago. Men are just as bad, so I’m not celebrating here. Saying “I made a mistake” is one of the hardest things people can say to each other. It shows great humility and is a demonstration of respect that the person has for the relationship. There are several versions of “I made a mistake”: I was wrong; I shouldn’t have done/said that; I didn’t mean to or that’s no what I meant and the newest version – just kidding. I don’t quite get that one. Despite all of these versions, what we don’t often hear is a good old fashioned – “I’m sorry”.

Sometimes mistakes have consequences, one of which is it affects someone on a personal level. When it does, we should acknowledge the effort it took to admit the mistake by responding to them with affirmation that it’s “okay” or “I forgive you”. Our human nature makes forgetting about it hard; this mistake or hurt always seems to resurface when the same person is involved in a new but similar situation. Our brains are programmed to “recall” events and how we reacted to them is part of how we learn and is how we process rapid decision-making; so the mistakes comeback sub-consciously. We have to keep our emotions “in check” and dismiss it from our reaction (unless it’s a duplicate event). Ultimately, give everyone a little grace and your forgiveness.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14-15

St. Paul was telling the Philippians to leave the past behind them, forget their old ways, old habits, old beliefs and old understandings. His advice to us today is the same, look toward the future and to what you can do today to live a better life. No matter what you’ve done, leave it in the past. At the time Paul wrote these letters, the people of the world were leading pretty brutal lives. They raped, pillaged and murdered each other. It was an “every man for himself” world. They watched human slaughter for entertainment in places like the Coliseum in Rome. He was telling them to leave all of it the past and focus on the future prize promised by God – eternal life through Jesus Christ.

I have no idea how many people read this each week but I will bet that no one has lived a life today like those who lived in the First Century. No matter what you you’ve done, look toward the future you have through Christ. God wanted you saved, that’s why He sent Jesus to die for our sins – then and now. You are forgiven! As it is written in Acts 10:43 “…Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” There are no other versions or ways to say it; you are forgiven. Now start living and looking toward to the future with Jesus Christ.

Freedom

Tomorrow is July 4th and in the U.S. we celebrate our country’s independence as the Fourth of July Holiday. I travel to Washington DC often for work and there you can see signs of our founding fathers everywhere and the power of our government on what seems like every corner. I waited to visit the Jefferson Memorial until I’d seen just about everything else because I never wanted to “go all the way over there” so I’d just skip it. I remember very vividly seeing the monuments one night and the Jefferson Memorial didn’t look that far away after visiting the MLK Memorial. I was wrong but that’s another story. When you see the quotes from great leaders like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and MLK you are inspired as an American.

The interesting thing about all that history however is, we have no idea what they really went through to get us to the point of “One Nation Under God”. Not too far from the Lincoln Memorial are the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Korean War and the World War II Memorials. These four memorials all represent some of the “actions” that have kept our country free since July 4, 1776. Again, these memorials tell of men and women who sacrificed it all for us to be free in circumstances that are unimaginable to most of us. This Fourth of July is not just a celebration of our country’s birth but is a celebration of those that have fought, here and abroad, for us to remain free. Some did it with words and pens, others with swords and rifles, but they all did it for their love of their Country and in some cases, their actions meant millions of others would be free.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1John 3:18

When I first saw this verse I was ready to write about love and honesty but with the July 4th Holiday upon us, this seemed more appropriate. We “love” a lot of things in our lives – dessert, a TV show, a movie, our clothes/shoes, our cars, food and even our electronic devices. Some people “love” things so much that they post about them on Facebook, Twitter or Insta-Gram. None of these are what God had in mind when he inspired the writers of the bible. We can tell people we love them, we can write them poems or letters or in today’s case we can tweet it but how do we show it? People will say that they love their fellow man when they write a check to a charity and others by volunteering. It’s important to remember, sharing God’s love isn’t about works.

It’s not about how many checks you write or how many hours you volunteer at the homeless shelter or how many doors you knock on to share the word. We have God’s love because we believe and His love isn’t dependent upon anything we do. We are instructed with this verse to love with actions and in truth. The old phrase “actions speak louder than words” is best applied here. Don’t go around professing your love for God but cheating every chance you get. Don’t write or say: “You’ll be in my prayers” but then never pray. All of us as God’s children, have been given the gift of God’s love; not only was it written for us in the bible but it’s shown everyday by His actions in our lives. Let’s celebrate ALL of our freedoms this week: as a nation we enjoy certain freedoms and as a sinner, we are free from eternal punishment through our faith in Jesus Christ. We have these freedoms today because of courageous acts by many; we should never forget them.

Wisdom and Knowledge

What can I say about wisdom and knowledge when I can’t read a calendar! This post was supposed to go out today but was first published last Thursday June 22nd. For those that count on something on a Monday and didn’t read it last week – I reposted it.

“He doesn’t have enough common sense to change a nickel!” was a phrase I heard often from my first Captain. He would use that to describe just about anyone who couldn’t quite “get it”. I don’t know if he ever used it to describe me but I’m sure, at times, I lacked “a little change” myself. Merriam Webster’s defines wisdom as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.” The challenge we have in our roles as spouses, siblings, parents and leaders is that we don’t or can’t teach wisdom. In education, we refer to “teaching wisdom” as teaching critical thinking. It is difficult to teach someone how to “think”. We usually associate wisdom with experience and maturity. Critical thinking is skillful and responsible thinking in which you study the problem from all angles, and then exercise your best judgment to draw conclusions.

Teaching critical thinking consists of three basic concepts: 1) Reflecting on the issue or question; to stop and think, avoiding snap judgments, accepting the first idea that comes to mind or automatically accepting whatever is presented. 2) Gently asking questions such as “How do you know”, “What are the reasons?” and “Is that a good source of information?” which establishes the reasons for a point of view or seeks the reasons for others’ views. 3) Being aware of alternative possibilities, conclusions, explanations, sources of evidence, or points of view. Merriam Webster’s defines understanding as “the power of abstract thought; the capacity to apprehend general relations of particulars”. We must have wisdom before we have understanding. As leaders, we tend to deal with teaching people what to do (knowledge) and ask if they understand it. We should be focusing on their depth of understanding through critical thinking.

“And he said to man, ‘The fear of the LORD—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’ ” Job 28:28

A lot can be said of Job. When I hear his name, I immediately think – strength. He certainly stayed faithful to God and despite what happened to him, he knew that God was with him. If anyone can tell us about what God meant, I believe Job to be an excellent candidate. Having the fear of the Lord is something that is wise for an individual to do. It certainly stands today; we should all have fear of the Lord our God.

We shouldn’t fear God because of the “bad” that will happen but because He is our Father and we should live to His glory. Besides, not living to honor God will surely keep you from eternal life. God sent us His Son to take away all of our sins – a reconciliation with the Law if you will, that does not give us a “free pass” but gives us eternal life by our faith in Him. It is wise to fear God. Job also tells us that if we shun evil (follow in the way of the Lord) that we truly understand what God was trying to say all along. He is the way, the truth and the life. Fear the Lord and shun evil, can it be that simple?

Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day! I’ve been hearing that for the past 24 years but haven’t said it since 1986 when my own father passed away. I remember the day when I became a father for the first time and again 5 years later like it was just yesterday. It was a little overwhelming to become entirely responsible for another person and shape how they would turn out. How would my actions permanently impact their lives? There were things that I wanted for them like an annual family vacation and things that I didn’t want them to experience like loneliness. I’ve been blessed to achieve both of these and I am very proud of my kids; they are awesome people who care deeply for others and are good role models.

I’ve often said that good supervisors are like good parents; firm when needed, caring when appropriate, there to help and offer advice and but they know when to let the kids figure things out on their own. My kids used to hate that part; when they would hear from me “what do you think you should do” or “what are the options you’ve considered”. Above all, a good parent loves their children and makes them feel safe under all types of circumstances. The same can be said for a good supervisor, you should love your people but in a different way. They should not fear the workplace or the atmosphere there, they should not feel unappreciated or like they have no say in the current direction or their own future. They should feel safe under your direction while you are seeking to constantly strengthen them.

 

14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:14-15

 

We are all “sons” of God; male or female it doesn’t matter. I’d like to think that my kids feel lucky to have me as their father but nothing like the feeling of being children of God. We aren’t lucky to have God as our Father; we have God’s grace and mercy to be lead by the Spirit of God in our lives. Our free will allows us to accept it or deny it but the Spirit is always with us waiting for us to accept God and our Lord Jesus Christ. No matter what we do or say, the Spirit is always present. Just as a parent is always there for their children, our Father is always there for us.

We are no longer slaves to the fear of guilt or the wrath of God; we are free because of our love and belief in Jesus Christ and the triune God. No matter what we’ve done, God forgives all of us. Our Father in heaven sent Jesus to save us from the world we know and from ourselves. The devil wants us to believe that no matter what we do, there is no pleasing God so we might as well enjoy ourselves here on earth. Cry out to our Father and stay strong in your faith knowing that you are forgiven and safe in His care. Your Father in heaven loves you. Like a good parent, He is always there; just call on Him “Abba, Father!”

God is Always Present

How could God let this happen? Why are these things happening, is this the end of days? We often hear people asking these questions or when people begin to question the existence of God. It’s these thoughts and when tragedies strike that they become a great source of inspiration for the devil to create doubt in our minds: “Would a loving God allow such a thing to happen? How could a righteous God let innocent children suffer so?” We cannot explain it nor can we begin to comprehend God’s plan and what meaning this has in our lives yet alone the lives of those that suffered such great losses.

God is always present! I’ve written before that we don’t always know why things happen or what purpose God is trying to fulfill through these events. Sometimes we feel like we are suffering when things are going wrong at work or if we are having troubles at home. Other times our suffering is in the form of a medical diagnosis. How we deal with these challenges is what builds our character. No one can help us through our suffering, no matter how close they are to us. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks to us in our time of great suffering.

“…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5

I’m sure there is someone reading this that is experiencing a higher degree of suffering and cannot see the value of perseverance or character right now – but you will. You will see the hope as people come to your aid to help in ways you didn’t imagine. You will become stronger in your ability to survive and you will become an inspiration to someone else – maybe someone you know and maybe not. Someone will tell your story and you will hear the story of others.

You will be stronger because of what has happened to you, your character will be stronger and you will learn to persevere. We look upon our “suffering” as horrible but as the end-times actually approach, we all will need perseverance, character and hope to stand up to the devil and the destruction he will bring before Jesus descends to earth to bring us all home. This is not the time to doubt God’s plan or His love for you. It’s time to renew your hope in Him because these works of the devil must be defeated once and for all when Jesus returns to call us home.

Listening

It usually takes me a few weeks to recover from a three-week assignment with the Army – 13 hour days for 21 days can wreak havoc on your mental state. There are several great take a ways from each of these exercises that I do. As I write my last reference to it, I want to focus on the people and leadership styles that I’ve witnessed or observed. There is an old saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we might listen twice as much as we speak. This reminds me of people who interrupt others because they have the answer before someone even finishes asking the question. The use of the phrase “right, right” seems to have infiltrated our society today.

People don’t seem to want to let you finish what you are saying and this phrase apparently gives them permission to cut you off by agreeing with you – twice no less. Everything, and I mean everything, is available in short bursts or precisely when you want it. Twitter lets people share their thoughts in 140 or less characters. Virtual assistants on smart phones get you information which saves you the effort of having to “Google it”. We are loosing our ability to listen – really listen. We need to take the time to look people in the eye and listen to what they are saying. Don’t focus on what you’re going to say next or make assumptions about what they are trying to say or jump to the end because you think faster than they do. Listen, smile, pay attention and really hear what they are saying.

“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24

God’s people just didn’t get it when he was writing this. In fact, many today still don’t get it. God was saying, “I know what they will need before they ask and I will always listen.” This is one of His great promises – speak to me and I will listen. It’s important to note, He didn’t say “I will fix it” or “I will answer you right away” but He WILL listen.

It’s often hard for us to separate listening from answering. God’s time frame is different than ours. God wants to hear from His children, He knows what is on our hearts but He wants to hear what is on your mind. Tell Him what you are thinking in prayer. God will meet your basic needs; that’s Him answering before we call. He wants to hear ALL of our worries, concerns, appreciations, thanks and our needs. He will order things in our lives according to His will, not ours. If you think He isn’t answering, perhaps you are not being patient enough or you simply don’t see the answers/solutions present in your life. God hears it all, it’s usually us who fail recognize His work.