Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day! This is that day that usually marks the end of summer for most of the United States, except in Arizona. We will continue to have summer weather for at least the next 45 days. The forecasted high for today is 103 and will be dropping to 101 by Friday. We are celebrating the holiday weekend never the less, which explains my late post. For us, this extra day is all about rest – the first time in years that we don’t have some extra work to do around the house. While it’s easy to complain about the extra work around the house, the holiday does represent a celebration of us, the workers of the world. We are given the opportunity to use our talents, skills and abilities to make a difference for someone. In exchange, we are paid for our work. Granted, some are paid more than others, but we are able to provide for ourselves.

Each of us has special talents that we can use to make a difference for someone. Restaurant staffs make a difference for their customers, accountants provide a service and piece of mind to their clients, the grocery clerk who bags our purchase and so on; everyone makes a difference. If you think your labor is a waste, stop and consider who you make a difference for. We all have our specific jobs at this time and for a reason that we simply don’t understand. So what, you ask? Enjoy your time and consider how you make a difference in everything you do. The word LABOR means that it is supposed to be hard but it doesn’t mean that it is without a purpose. Enjoy the holiday and look forward to the changing seasons that are coming.

“Moreover, when God gives a man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work- this is a gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 5:19

I’m reminded of the old expression “a gift from God” with this verse. Our human nature is to think that we’ve done all the things that we do. “It was me who…” is how we start our sentences when describing an accomplishment. We often think of ourselves when it’s something great, but we blame God when its something less desirable. Why did God give me this disease? Why did God let me get fired from my job? We forget that God gives us ALL things; the good and the bad. He put the right people in our lives so that we meet the manager who was looking for a new employee and we landed that awesome new job.

God gives us what we can handle – not too little and not too much. God also wants us to be happy with what He has given us. He doesn’t want us being envious of the new car that our neighbor just got or be angry when we are passed over for promotion. He wants us to accept what we have (be content) and be happy. Everything, good and bad, is a gift from God and that is something to be thankful for. We are supposed to learn from the bad and model God’s grace for others. We are supposed to share the good with others too, God loves a cheerful giver but it’s not always money we need to give. God has blessed each of with talents and those should be shared too. Work should be less about labor and more about celebrating the gift of opportunity from God.

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The Good of Suffering

Why are all the good people suffering? It seems that too often we hear about someone who has lived very honorably getting sick while someone who has been a rotten person lives on. It’s frustrating because life might actually appear to punish the good. We never hear about “that guy” getting cancer or the evil person at work being involved in a horrible accident. It’s always good people. We aren’t asking for it to happen to bad people but we notice that they seem to never have these problems. In response to this question of, Why?; I have two immediate thoughts: 1) God needs good people to spread His word through their actions and trials and 2), I don’t know any rotten people well enough to know if they are sick. I digress, so I started to dwell on my first thought. Good people who get sick always become a source of inspiration for others in some way.

This past weekend the State of Arizona and United States of America lost Senator John McCain to cancer. I’ve had the honor to meet with Senator McCain on a number of occasions and found that his courage to do what was right always exceeded his obligation to his party. I’ve known several people who have had serious illnesses and they were inspiring to me as they fought through the challenges; they did the inspiring. So the answer to the question is not why but what are we to learn from this? Are you supposed to be a stronger supporter? Are you supposed to learn about the strength of prayer or how to trust in God? We are all God’s children and He gives us only what we can handle, so what are we going to do with the opportunity that God has presented? Rotten people might not seem to have these problems but if they are truly rotten to the core, then they have eternal problems to deal with.

“All whom the Father gives me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.” John 6:37

God sent us all to Jesus – period. If Jesus won’t drive us way, what does? Many will answer that it’s sin but God took care of that on the cross at Calvary. Sin will not separate us from God’s love. I’ll suggest that the devil is the one who drives us away from our Savior Jesus Christ. He tempts us all of the time and disease is just one of his tools to turn us away from God. Many times people ask “why did God do this to her?” “Why does God let this happen?” It isn’t God. It’s the devil’s powerful way to make us doubt God’s love in our lives. The devil wants us to turn away from God and will stop at nothing to do it. Jesus will NOT drive us away!

God can use the pain of disease or injury to show us His love, strength and compassion. God inspires good people to do great things as a result of these bad events. The anniversary of the September 11thattacks is coming up and people often ask, Where was God that day? He was saving thousands of people to do great things and he was inspiring others to be strong in the face of tragedy. Have you ever spoken to someone who was there that day? They tell great stories about the people they lost or they tell of how they found strength in the following years to carry on. They became the inspiration for someone else. This week, make a conscious effort to be inspired by someone or to inspire someone; show the devil your love for God and that you belong to Him.

What will we be?

A couple of weeks ago our son moved into his new apartment – living without a roommate for the first time. An exciting time for anyone but especially a young man. We worried dearly about him a couple of years ago when he decided to work full time and go to school on-line. He is successful and confident and is gaining experience that will benefit him well into the future. He is also living the Millennial dream and will embarking on a 20-day road trip for his job – touring the Western United States promoting the DutchBros coffee brand. It’s an exciting and scary path that he’s choosing. People who have lost jobs or received a medical diagnosis face the same anxieties; just different questions. In order to help each other, sometimes we just need to recognize that others are in need.

Even when we are in need, simply helping others may bring clarity to our own problems. It is so easy to focus on ourselves that we start to fall into self-pity and then, depression starts to creep into our lives. Once we let it in, it’s very hard to get rid of it. The key is to keep it out. We don’t know what will happen with the problems in our lives or how long they will be with us. Instead of worrying about the problem, we should be searching for the message or lesson that is contained in them. We don’t know what will come of them, but we do know that everything happens for a reason and that it is all part of a bigger plan; we just don’t know what it is.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:2

God has a plan. We hear it over and over in the bible. We also hear people say it often and this verse reminds us of it – “what we will be has not been made known”. God is in control, ordering things in our lives to help us. He is not directing or creating single paths; we do have free will to choose. The key is recognizing what is part of the plan and what is the work of the devil. Our world is so complicated, and we are left with anxiety about the “right” path to choose – “what we will be has not yet been made known.”

We have little patience because this world moves at such a fast pace, but God does not. We become impatient and look for quick fixes (provided by the devil) and then the trouble starts. Slow down. “We are children of God”. Celebrate that! God has His stamp on your heart, mind and soul. Would He let you down? Stop searching for quick fixes and answers to questions that do not exist. Instead, look for God in all things and for the lesson he has presented to you. He loves His children and does not give us more than we can bear. Rejoice in the fact that God is giving you a path to walk through, He is preparing you for something better and wants you to be strong enough to enjoy it.

A Noble Task

It has been a while since I’ve written about leadership or being a leader. I have found myself “all over the board” by writing on various topics – for good or bad. Last week I had an encounter with someone who questioned my trustworthiness; I was accused of not being forthcoming with information. In my life’s various roles, I am entrusted with very confidential information that I cannot always disclose. Other times, I have to “play my cards close to the vest” until I know who I’m dealing with. I am often a very trusting individual and have had that trust taken advantage of, so I tend to be cautious. When you are in a leadership position, the stakes are often much higher when it comes to establishing and maintaining trust.

In this encounter, I chose to share a little extra information with this person and this individual became confused by my openness. “Why would you share that if you were concerned about confidentiality?” He asked. I explained that sometimes you have to show trust to earn trust. It was a leadership principle that I learned early in my career. Whether you are leading people or organizations, trust will never follow you if people believe you and they will not trust you unless you trust them. The subject of leadership has been written about for decades and there are a number of personal characteristics that impact a leader’s effectiveness; trustworthiness is just one characteristic. No matter what role you serve at work or at home, you are leading someone – formally or not. Keep in mind that you are either being a positive or negative example for others because someone is always watching what you do and say.

 “Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” 1 Timothy 3:1

It takes a lot of courage to step into a leadership role. The whole debate about “are leaders born or are they created” fails to recognize the courage component. If someone steps into a leadership position without a little fear, they are stepping on thin ice. I’ve said before that leading is a privilege and an honor that we should not take lightly. People are putting their faith in that person and in some professions, their lives. Leading is more than telling others what to do or having a rank/title. Leaders are accepting the faith that others are placing in them. It is a noble task.

Timothy is describing those who wish to lead the church and is reminding them that it isn’t about the power and prestige that comes with it but the honor and responsibility that does. Jesus knew His role as the leader of the disciples. He knew what God was asking of Him and gladly accepted His fate. He charged us to be “fishers of men” by teaching us how to live better lives, be examples for others to follow but most importantly, to rely on God for the wisdom and strength to carry out our daily lives. Leadership is a noble task and it is not to be taken lightly. People are putting faith in you. Rely on God for your wisdom and strength and you will always have their faith.

Believe

According to an on-line dictionary, the word “believe” is defined as: accept as true, feel sure of the truth of and, have faith. The thesaurus gives us: be convinced by, regard as true and, think. Given my role as an elected person, I’m often forced to follow politics even when I don’t want to, and I’m forced to be political; and I never WANT to do that. So, I walk a very narrow line in the middle of the road. I’m an independent voter for a reason. It’s campaign time here in Arizona; primary election season is ending on August 28th. So, the mailers continue to arrive with half-truths and twisted facts. I can’t wait for it to be over!

Alternative facts, fake news, all of media being deemed “the enemy of the people”; it’s hard to believe in anything these days. I know the truth is out there and we should all be trying to find it. I love the old -phrase “figures lie and liars figure”. To me, it represents the concept that you can make anything appear the way you want it to just by moving the numbers around. As a society and a humanity, we need to find a path into the future that is not polarizing our beliefs but benefiting from our differences. Perspective changes everything and oftentimes we simply lack perspective to understand the problems. Instead we rely on the sound bites and the “tweets” of others to shape our perspective. Do a little research on your own and spend a little time getting informed. I wish our State Candidates would do it! The devil is working hard enough to turn us away from the love and peace that Jesus left for us, let’s not allow him to succeed or we will all understand what wrath means.

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” John 3:36

God’s word is very clear throughout the bible; He can be made angry easily, He has a long memory and He gave His one and only Son to save the world. If the Son is rejected, He will send His wrath and not let them see eternal life. The promises of God have not been broken. Jesus told us of the wonders of eternal life and the glory that we have, don’t we want to share that with everyone?

I thought about the people that do not know Christ, which means they have rejected Him. What about the people that I know who don’t have a relationship with Christ or who have children that haven’t been baptized? After reading this verse, I became very sad when I thought about God’s wrath that remains for them. In reflection, this is why I keep writing these weekly devotions. Maybe, I can reach one person that is lost or sustain a relationship in someone else. The work I do with the military is all about safeguarding, and so is this verse. Please reach out to those that are lost and help them find Christ. We are all busy in this life but we need to take time to gather as many as we know s they too can enjoy an eternal life which is not possible without Christ.

One Human Family

“Like fingers on a hand… We are all different and unique. We are all of equal value. We are all created to work together. And although we appear separate, we are all linked to – and a part of – each other.” This is the phrase on the landing page of the website www.onehumanfamily.info. When we were in Key West, Florida earlier this year, I saw a FREE sticker that said: ONE HUMAN FAMILY. The concept really touched me so I took one and displayed it on the rear window of my car. I could not help but think about the concept, especially with the insanity taking place all around the world today.

I struggled to find a way to bring this into a weekly devotion until last Sunday in church, when we read Ephesians 2:11-22. I realized why this saying meant so much to me – I had heard the concept before. I encourage you to visit the website for one human family after you read the verses below. My prayer is that you will also see what St. Paul was saying is that we are all one through the strength of Jesus.

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:11-22

What is Enough?

By definition, greed is the intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power or food. When you Google the word “greed”, you will find 111 million results. Say what you want about Wikipedia, I love their definition – “Greed is an inordinate or insatiable longing for unneeded excess… greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs.” The phrase “more than one needs” really struck me on this subject. It makes me think about living a life of contentment. One of my brothers and one of my sisters were talking about him being a minimalist – he really doesn’t want a lot of things for his house. I’d say that he is content with what he has. As the wealth gap in the United States continues to grow, I know that it is hard not to want a little more than we have at this moment.

By definition, a minimalist is someone who’s lifestyle is centered on less. When you Google the word “minimalist”, you will find 299 million results. I was immediately overjoyed by that number but as I researched a little father, I found that minimalism is also a form of art or an Art Movement. So much for an advanced degree! In any case, my point is that contentment should always outweigh greed and minimalism should be greater than excess. There is no “one answer fits all” solution to this subject. Each of us are faced with circumstances that drive our ability to be content. Someone with no food is content with what someone else might leave behind. I’m simply suggesting that you examine your own situation and determine “what is enough”. The opposite of selfish is selfless and we could use a little more of that these days.

“Then He said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’ ” Luke 12:15

Jesus is reminding us that greed is not just about money. Think about the things that people want more of – better event tickets, a bigger TV, a better car, a bigger house, newer furniture, etc. It is very hard today to avoid being “greedy” about something. Times were different during Jesus’ ministry on Earth and people had very little and wanted more, so one could argue that greed was greater “back then”. Today, we have more and greed is just as great today, we just want more of the things that we do have. When we start to focus on gaining more we stop focusing on the things that are important, like our relationship with God.

This world is being overtaken by greed and care only for oneself and we seem to be losing sight of our ability to demonstrate God’s love to each other. When we start focusing on ourselves, we stop caring for others. We stop living our lives as Jesus taught us to and we start to please the devil as we turn away from God’s teachings. “Watch out!” was Jesus’ warning to us. He didn’t sugarcoat it. If we aren’t careful, we will fall away. Start sharing your abundance of blessings with others (spiritually and otherwise) and who knows, maybe the world will become a better place.

We All Want to be Served

I just finished a huge project of consolidating all of the reference materials that I’ve accumulated over the past 20 years or so. I carefully grouped subjects together and even packaged up some text books to enhance “my collection”. When I was going through the HUGE stack of leadership materials, I found a large section of materials on Servant Leadership, a leadership style developed by Robert Greenleaf in 1977. Since that time a number of researchers have tried to define the attributes of what a Servant Leader “looks like”. For me, the answer was simple – Jesus Christ. However, the business world needed more. Skip Prichard (2013) posted a unique summary of many of the scholarly attributes that he believes summarizes the leaders using Servant Leadership:

  • Values diverse opinions
  • Cultivates a culture of trust
  • Develops other leaders
  • Helps people with life issues
  • Encourages
  • Sells instead of tells
  • Thinks you, not me
  • Thinks long-term
  • Acts with humility

The attributes of the Servant Leadership model focus the leader on the needs of the employee. When the organization’s goals are aligned with the employee’s and each individual understands his/her role and the expectations placed on them, the organization is set-up for success. It made me think about how we treat each other and how leaders influence other people. Throughout my 30 plus years in government, I’ve seen and heard about some pretty wild working environments. Today’s workforce expects a Servant Leadership type of leader and no matter where you sit in your career – leader or follower, after seeing this list I hope you agree. As I filed away this little bit of research on the subject, I wanted to share how we all could apply the principles of servant leadership to our lives.

“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

When I’m asked about Jesus as a servant, my first thought always goes to the night of the last supper when He washed the feet of His disciples; nothing says servant like washing feet. We’ve all heard the story about Jesus feeding of the thousands at a wedding. What we often fail to remember about this “story” was that as that event ended, the people were asking Jesus to be their King. He wanted nothing to do with it and left immediately.

Jesus did not come into this world to be served. Everything we read about Jesus is how he served others – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, turning water to wine at the wedding and teaching everyone the true meaning of the words His Father had written in the scriptures. The most important part of this verse is this: He came to “give His life as ransom for many.” He understood that and continued to serve others until His work was done. No matter what our place in life is, we can be comforted in the fact that Jesus died for us – a final act of Servant Leadership. We are forgiven through him.

Delegation and Authority

When I was working regularly, I often had to appoint someone to fill my role when I was on vacation or off duty. When you delegate work to someone, you are typically delegating the decision-making authority, but you remain responsible for the decisions that are made; even in your absence. They had the authority, but I had the responsibility. We had the family video game “Shrek”, based on the popular movie. One of the characters in the movie frequently said – “choose wisely”; and I was bound by that advice too. There are a number of benefits to using delegation as a professional development tool – it allows the leader to do more and; it increases the morale, confidence and productivity of subordinates. Having been the recipient of delegated tasks, I can attest to the growth that I experienced because someone delegated to me.

It is important for the leader to pick people who are ready for the added work – set them up for success. Leaders need to give them the freedom to complete the job but enough follow-up to keep the task on target, have a clear set of goals while being consistent in your oversight and, never delegate projects that YOU are absolutely supposed to do. When a delegated task is completed, take the time to review the project with them to see how they felt it went, what they learned and what they might do differently but most importantly, praise them for their work; no matter what improvements need to made.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18

This verse makes me wonder what the disciples thought when they heard this. They knew that Jesus was special but to hear Him declare His authority must have been powerful. The difference between this declaration and delegation is that God did not delegate His decision-making (power) to Jesus – He was in Him. The Lutheran Church teaches “With the universal Christian Church, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod teaches and responds to the love of the Triune God: the Father, creator of all that exists; Jesus Christ, the Son, who became human to suffer and die for the sins of all human beings and to rise to life again in the ultimate victory over death and Satan; and the Holy Spirit, who creates faith through God’s Word and Sacraments. The three persons of the Trinity are coequal and coeternal, one God.” (lcms.org)

There is no delegation here. Jesus needed to tell the disciples that He had the authority. It wasn’t until after His death that they began to understand the meaning of what He was saying. This authority allowed Jesus to cast out demons, heal the sick and raise the dead. And despite all of this, people still mocked Him and eventually killed Him. I would suggest, looking back at my comment about what the disciples thought about this, in retrospect; with Jesus’ help, the disciples spent time understanding all that they had learned with Him in the days before His ascension. They surely had an increase in their morale, the confidence to go on and improved productivity in sharing the good news of Christ.

Our Present Sufferings

We all know someone who is suffering, even if just a little bit. People react differently to what they perceive to be suffering. A teenager is “suffering” when they go on vacation to a place without cell phone coverage. I’ve done work in an organization that had suffering employees. No one in management would listen to the workforce, suggestions were ignored, benefits were minimized, and employee terminations were inconsistent and frequent; they were working in a culture of fear. Look in your contact list; I’d imagine that you could identify a number of people who are suffering from a financial or medical condition. How many people in your contact list would you like to trade places with? We all have troubles. Some people thrive when they feel the pressure to push through difficult times and seem to come out stronger, while others crumble. How do you react?

Knowing before it happens may have a big affect on how you manage the situation. When my wife and I used to (notice – used to) golf together she was always finding something good about a bad shot. When I hit the ball into the water she’d say, “at least it isn’t in the sand” and when I hit it into the sand, she would say, “at least it isn’t in the water”. I suffered during that round. What about the real suffering that goes on? Why does it happen? Every patch of trouble or each time we suffer we are becoming stronger. If you look back in your life, I would guess that you could find a connection to another event that occurred later. You were stronger because of it or you learned something or you met someone. Something better generally comes out of our suffering, we just don’t have the patience to recognize it.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

God has told us that we aren’t promised a trouble free life so suffering should not be a surprise to any of us. None of us wants to hear our suffering or pain compared to another person’s worse case. How could a loving God let us suffer like this? People asked questions like this after the attacks on September 11th. Think about this: we heard story after story about people who got to work late that day or who made appointments when they normally would be at work and survived. Two buildings that normally house tens of thousands of people collapsed and less than 3000 died; God was there.

Again, think about St. Paul sitting in jail suffering and enduring punishment for his faith telling his Roman followers not to worry about the suffering. He knew that by sharing his faith, God’s Glory would be revealed and millions would be saved. Paul suffered so that millions would read his letters and come to faith in God through Jesus Christ. Would you react/respond differently to suffering if you knew that others could be saved? A few weeks ago I talked about being worthy, this is yet another way that says, “You are worthy!” When we suffer and still show our faith in Him, God uses us to be His messenger of what a life in Christ is like. No matter what you are suffering with, your reward is in the promise of eternal life.