Love

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Discipline and Compassion

Discipline comes in many forms. For some of us, it is the focus that drives us every day. For others, discipline means teachable moments and for a few, it means punishment. Supervisors “discipline” people as part of their duties. What do the people who you discipline take away from the experience? If the punishment was punitive, chances are they just took away a little bitterness. Our job as leaders is to be sure that the punishment fits the crime. If they didn’t know how to or were not equipped to do the job, how hard should you be on them? A friend once told me that we shouldn’t kill an ant with an anvil. It was good advice about compassion.

People often think of compassion as being soft on others or caring about them. When we say, “I feel sorry for them”, we think we’re being compassionate. The word is derived from the Latin phrase: suffer with. The thesaurus lists: empathy, care, concern, warmth, love, leniency and kindness as a few alternatives. What version of compassion do you most often associate with? Supervisors should exercise all of them. I would argue that we all should exercise a little compassion with each other rather than just suffering with a person in our minds.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him…” Psalm 103:13

Discipline takes on two roles – punishment and order. The order that discipline brings is getting out of bed every day at 5am to go to the gym for that dreaded spin class or the order that breeds commitment to seeing a job through to the end. Not wanting to repeat myself but the work we do is pleasing to God, we should have the discipline to do our best – always.

On the other side, fear and punishment are not often thought of when we think of our Father in Heaven. We all received punishment for the original sin of Adam and Eve. Child labor is now painful, we have to work the fields for our food and the price of our daily sin is death here on earth. We should fear God! The good news in this passage is that the Lord will have compassion on those of us who fear Him. God loves us and He has proven that by sending His son to die for our sins. We no longer have to fear the punishment of our sins; Jesus Christ did that for us on the cross at Calvary. God wanted His children close to him and while we will not stay in this life for eternity, we will share eternity with our Father in Heaven. A pretty fair punishment if you ask me.

Taking Ourselves Too Seriously

A few weeks ago I worked with the U.S. Army conducting training for our Homeland Response Forces and had the opportunity to discuss the temperament of General Officers with a couple of junior officers. We started talking about people who were genuine and approachable. One of these officers told a story about a retired 3 star General who lives in the same area that he does. This retired General drives his old pick up truck around town, wears blue jeans and spends his time working his farmland. This Captain also spoke about a General that he once worked for who would take off his rank insignia after his “official duties” and visit with the soldiers, play cards and eat with them when he was in Afghanistan and Iraq; rank was not important to him.

Humility is defined as a modest or low view of one’s own importance and is a very unusual trait to find in people these days. An entire generation of people has been raised in an era in which “everyone gets a trophy” and they never learned about being humbled by a loss because everyone was equal. Being humble is something that we all can use a little more of and put into practice a little more often. We should strive to care more about others than we do ourselves.

“Therefore, whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 18:4

Being humble isn’t limited to those in leadership positions; it applies to all of us. When we start thinking that we are better than our neighbors or our co-workers, we have veered off track. Matthew is, of course, quoting Jesus here who is speaking to His disciples and follows this verse with “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.” Jesus is telling us not to take ourselves too seriously and to be humble. Small children have do not developed the “skill” of being boastful or full of themselves until later in their development. Children are compassionate, listen to their parents, don’t think or speak poorly of others and usually don’t knowingly sin. We can learn a lot from them.

Jesus is telling us that we are not the most important thing in this world – to stop being so full of ourselves that we think we are the center of attention. We should humble ourselves, set our focus on God and accept more people rather than judging them. When we receive the most humble among, we receive Jesus. It isn’t a competition for things and accomplishments; it’s about being good children of God. Humility doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of what you’ve done but it does mean that what you’ve done doesn’t define you. No one will care what you do here on earth if all you do is serve your own needs. God wants us to serve each other and in order to do that, we must humble ourselves.

What’s on your heart?

There is a saying “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” What is in your heart will reflect on your leadership style. If you are caring for your people, deflecting stress from all angles, sincerely working with them so they can: achieve more, learn more and, reach their goals then your heart is in the right place. Do you say, “I want to develop my team so that they can take my place” but are too busy to spend time with them in one on one career coaching?

I’ve read several articles in the past week about doing away with annual performance reviews and replacing them with regularly scheduled coaching sessions so that employees know how they are doing on a more regular basis. As the workforce changes, supervisors and leaders need to change. The challenge this puts on leaders is that they are required to interact with their people more frequently and that might expose what is really on their heart. If a leader really only cares about his numbers, his department’s goals or his promotion, it will all be revealed in regular interactions. So if you really want people to be successful, you must ensure that your words and actions match. It takes far more time to recruit, train and develop new employees than it does to coach them and help them be successful. The results will reflect on everyone.

Proverbs 27:19 – “As water reflects our face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”

This verse is about our hearts as Christians. What is on your heart? Do you attend church weekly and sing the songs but go out on Monday and terrorize your workplace by showing no compassion for others or “steal time” by putting in less than a full day so that you can get what is coming to you? God knows what is your heart! Putting God in His rightful place on your heart may take time and it won’t be easy, but God is understanding and has compassion as you work toward it.

For many of us, putting God first is a hard transition. As humans, tend to be so self-centered that we often consider God’s word as an afterthought. Try to introduce God into your conversations at home, it may feel uncomfortable at first but it quickly goes away. Remember the love that God has shown to all of us and be extra forgiving when someone really disappoints you. Daily devotional reading will help you understand the depth of God’s grace and love for you. As God comes into your heart, He will be reflected outward in how you treat others. You’ll be more understanding, have compassion and show forgiveness. Think about what your reflection looks like today and ask, is this what I really want to show to others?

Imperfect

“If everyone was perfect like you and I, we’d have a lot fewer problems” was something my mother would jokingly say. We all have imperfections and weakness that we expect others to overlook but often we have trouble overlooking them in others. If you reverse my mother’s saying – “If everyone was just as cracked and broken as we are, we’d have a lot more problems”. Imagine the personality imperfections that you have (I know it’s hard too) and then add them to the people you deal with on a regular basis. By the way, they get to keep the imperfections that they already have too. How does that picture look? Rick Warren in his now famous book “The Purpose Driven Life” talks about giving people a little more grace.

He calls them “EGR – Extra Grace Required” people. These are the people who really test you and your ability to overlook their imperfections. I would imagine that we all have them in our lives but what if you are an EGR person? Have you taken personal stock of yourself to see how you treat others or what demands you put on those around you? Are you tolerant of others? As a society, we can better coexist if we become more tolerant of each other and our differences. Unfortunately, we have people in this world guided by the opportunity to take advantage of the weaknesses in others. I would suggest that we all give the same grace to others that we receive and if you still feel under appreciated, give more.

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense” Proverbs 17:9

We are often reminded of Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek. I suspect that this is the way we heard about being tolerant of others. Sure they will strike you, but give them the other cheek too. As I wrote last week, what if God wasn’t tolerant with us? On some level, we offend Him every day and yet He still loves us. As in all cases, God does as He says; fostering love to cover over an offense.

I make the connection with this verse to fostering grudges, seeking revenge or retaliating against others. None of those things foster love. They feel good because they are the work of the devil and he wants us to go against what God wants in our life so he gives it a little extra. No, I’m not saying that all things that feel good are a product of the devil. The fight of good verse evil in our lives is constant and when God is winning, the devil will make evil feel just a little better. Love, patience and compassion are just a few of the actions that we can take toward each other. God has filled the bible with behaviors that if everyone followed them, we’d have a lot fewer problems.

My Strength is found in Him

Parents have the responsibility to give their children strength – strength to get through difficult times, strength to accomplish more than they thought was possible and the strength to carry on everyday. Not only as parents but also as adults, we should inspire those around us. We should  be a source of encouragement, a resource for guidance and a cheerleader for our kids and other young people as they reach beyond their limits and try new things toward personal growth.

Our son turned 18 this weekend, he’s an adult – just ask him! My hope at this point in his life is that he will say that his parents “Were always encouraging me, helping me figure things out and giving me opportunities to grow”. So many people influenced me when I was his age. I turned 18 in February and by October of that same year, I was in recruit firefighter school. The ‘men” I was working with saw things in me that I never did. They encouraged me, they taught me, they gave me advice and they put me in my place when I needed it. I’m sure they didn’t have any idea how they would impact me for the rest of my life and now I’ve taken those lessons and given them to my own son. He has the strength to be confident as he readies himself for what life has in store.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

So, where do you get your strength? This passage reminds us to find our strength in God – “Him who gives me strength”. In our fast paced lives we can sometimes forget that. We can do everything through Him because God is our strength; he is with us all day – everyday. Our privilege to be a parent is a gift from God; He has put us in this place at this time. We also have had a great mentor – Jesus Christ. He taught us to have compassion, patience and to be encouraging to those around us.

You can be the source of strength for your kids and those you work with by being a positive role model. When people ask you “Where do you get the strength from?” You can answer quite easily: God gives me the strength. In order to maintain your strength, like in any good workout routine, you need to work at it daily. We’ve all experienced a few days off from the gym; it gets harder to go back the longer you are away. Staying in God’s word or keeping up with bible study and devotions can be hard in our hectic lives; remain strong and stay committed. Much like the men who were there for me and had no idea that they would effect how I raised my son, you may be doing the same for someone else. Don’t worry; your strength is from God.

 

Who Cares?

What does compassion mean to you? People often believe that it is the ability to feel sorry for others and some believe that it is showing care for others. I’ve talked about showing grace towards others as means of sharing the teachings of Jesus, which to some is being compassionate. I’d suggest that the answer is really all of the above and may include several other aspects that I haven’t touched on. Personally, I find that compassion is best served with part humility and a big component of being genuine about the subject. I’ve had a few people in my life that, after I speak with or see them, who leave me feeling great. They have such a demeanor about them that you can’t help but be warmed by your interaction with them. They are kind, giving and rarely have anything negative to say.

The speaker at commencement last week offered several suggestions about having a successful career and life. One of the tips was to eliminate negative people from your life because they drain the energy out of your life. Compassionate people bring calm, understanding and positive emotions into our lives. They teach us how to look for the good in all things and how to accept the things that we cannot change. Most of us are compassionate about homelessness, poverty, children and the sick. What about the all of the other things in our lives that you can or should care about? There is a great line in the movie “Back to School” starring Rodney Dangerfield when he’s describing a teacher he has; “He seems to care, about what I don’t know”.

What do you care about and are there things that you should be more compassionate about? Our lives go so fast that we can miss opportunities to be more compassionate about more things. Commit to being more positive and strive to be the type of person that when you leave someone, they have a warm feeling inside because you were there.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.” Psalm 103:13

God cares about and has compassion on us in our weaknesses. How many of us would stick with friends or family that constantly failed to meet our needs or respect what we’ve asked of them? We are all weak from the original sin in our lives, yet God is compassionate towards us. Would you be that compassionate with people in your life? As a parent, I am compassionate with mistakes that my kids make, or the challenges that they present or the needs that they have. I’ve often said that the best supervisory training is parenting. God, as our Father, has compassion on us too. We see His compassion most brightly in the form of a Savior sent to redeem us for all eternity.

I do not fear God as the Psalmist did because of God’s compassion towards me and the grace that He gives me through His son Jesus Christ. Jesus intervened on our behalf with God and now we all can live in peace through Him. Just thinking about it gives me that warm feeling inside.

Good Work

I’m in the middle of a re-election campaign for City Council. There are three incumbent candidates and two challengers. We have a pretty benign political landscape in our city of just under 75,000 people. We all run “at-large”, which means we represent the whole city not just districts or precincts. There is nothing of controversy happening and we remain a vibrant, growing,and upscale community. I have no idea why we have challengers, most of the time they just want to run to see how it is. I was given some great advice when I decided to run the first time, “always run like you are ten points behind”. I’m never so self-confident that I would believe that I’m that well liked; besides medium speed is not a pace that you will find me at very often. These campaigns are very hard for me because I hate asking for help, I’m usually the one helping others. This weekend, the ENTIRE family pitched in to get the last details completed before we make the final push into the election. Today, my wife, son and I spent almost five hours driving around town in two cars  maintaining the campaign signs spread throughout the 120 square miles of our city. We relocated signs, fixed those knocked over and reinforced the signs against the wind. We all gave up our Sunday afternoon to do what was right for the campaign. On Saturday, our college senior spent most of the afternoon and several hours of her Saturday night putting the final touches on the graphic designs for the door hangers and a banner. As I write this tonight, ALL of the preparation is done thanks to the teamwork of my family and their support of me. I’m not really into bragging but they reminded me why I am a truly blessed man (not that I needed it). My lesson-learned in all this, don’t wait until it’s all over to thank those that help you along the way. Thanks to my great family!

“…the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does…” Ephesians 6:8

In this verse, St. Paul is in the middle of telling the church at Ephesus how masters and slaves should treat each other. What he is saying is that we as human beings, do not get to judge or reward what we think is right or righteous. St. Paul is telling us that since God is faithful and just, caring and compassionate and, the one true judge that we should be more like him. Practice forgiveness, compassion and working hard, just as our Father in Heaven does, are the principles of St. Paul’s message. The Lord, our God will take care of the rewards for hard work. There is no mention of building up “credits” to win God’s favor, no amount of works that needs to be preformed, no amount of money to be tithed; simply living as God would. God became man to show us the way, the truth and then gave us eternal life with him in heaven through His Son our Savior, Jesus Christ. He will reward the good that people do; we don’t need to judge the lives of others. We do however, need to thankful, to God, for the people in our lives who make things better.

Mistakes and Reactions

This weekend we saw some great NFL football games in the playoffs. Four games were played, four teams won and four teams lost. There were mistakes made, no doubt about that. I’m not talking about any game in particular but games are usually won because one team took advantage of someone else’s mistake. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Someone makes a mistake and the office jerk is not only quick to point it out but also then tries to take advantage of it. We all forget that post-it-notes were a result of someone’s mistake. How do you react when someone makes a mistake? I worked in an organization once that someone in HR got a little complacent and let a laptop get stolen with everyone’s personal data on it. The organization went crazy. People were calling for swift action and her head. I sent her an e-mail to tell her that it was just a mistake and tried to encourage her as best I could. I thought that she needed to know that not everyone was melting tar and gathering feathers. She remained employed and has always remembered my compassion. There was nothing that we could do about the data being stolen once it was gone. The organization took steps to help everyone and refocused attention on data security; it was the best we could hope for. People make mistakes all of the time. A baseball player who hits the ball 33% (.300 avg.) of the time is considered a great player. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of productivity goal? So next time someone around you makes a mistake or you do; give them a little smile and let them know that it’s okay. The office jerk will get theirs in all due time.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

We always seem to make one mistake after another; breaking commandments left and right. How can we call ourselves Christians if we can’t live a life without sin? St. Paul would certainly have a thing or two to say about that. His first direction in this one verse as part of a letter to the Ephesians was “Be kind and compassionate to one another”. This is a great place to start. How you handle yourself with others is a good indication if the messages have gone to your core. My guess is that you are compassionate and caring toward others. You do your best to help when you can and pray for help when there is more than you can handle. We forgive and forget a lot more often than we give ourselves credit for. If you held on to every wrong against you, the weight of those emotions would be crushing. We forgive strangers everyday yet we find it hard to forgive those we love. We expect our loved ones to behave better than a stranger and when they don’t, we hesitate to forgive. Jesus Christ taught us to be patient with everyone, even loved ones. His own disciples were less than helpful at times yet He forgave them. God, Our Father in heaven who loves us so deeply, is compassionate with us even when we disappoint Him. All of our sins have been forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection, no exceptions. God forgives you for the sins that you have committed and those that you have yet to commit; that’s why we can call ourselves Christians. Go out and demonstrate God’s love through your faith in Jesus Christ, the world needs our kindness, compassion and forgiveness.