Like Fingers on a Hand

“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 website www.onehumanfamily.info. I came across this organization several years ago, but the concept means just as much to me today as it did when I first saw it. I can’t stop thinking about the concept, especially with the insanity taking place around the world.

I struggled to find a way to bring this into a weekly devotion I recently 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

Servant

Recently, I’ve been asked about my leadership style and I always answer that I subscribe to the principles of 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: 

  1. Values diverse opinions
  2. Cultivates a culture of trust
  3. Develops other leaders
  4. Helps people with life issues
  5. Encourages
  6. Sells instead of tells
  7. Thinks you, not me
  8. Thinks long-term
  9. 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 35 plus years in government, I’ve seen and heard about some pretty wild working environments. Today’s workforce expects this type of leadership 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.

Attitude

There are a number of things that make us who we are; attitude, education, experiences, families, goals, faith and the list goes on. Last week I talked about suffering and how that affects us too. I love to people watch whenever we go out; it’s a huge source of entertainment. I often say that people are strange creatures, and the human psyche never fails to amaze me. The way we react to things or the way that we think is always interesting. I started to wonder about myself and if I’m just as crazy as everyone else – the answer is yes. I find that I’m really flexible and diplomatic with a significant segment of the people that I encounter every day. Then, I become this stubborn, crabby old man on the flip side. I try to be consistent and predictable, so people don’t have to guess which “Bill” is showing up. There are so many things that affect my attitude or outlook on the issues in my life. 

All of us juggle multiple roles – spouse, boss, worker, leader, follower, friend, brother or sister, neighbor, etc. Knowing how to respond can be the difference between being the hero or the zero. I often try to be more humble than not and the peacekeeper rather the pot stirrer. I’m constantly searching for the middle of the road. “Fair” comes out of my mouth often. As I prepared to write this, I found myself doing a personal inventory of sorts. I wondered how all of these traits come across when someone watches me. I know I’m just as crazy as the next guy, filled with idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. I would encourage you to take some time to consider your attitude about life and how others perceive you. Do you like what you see? What can you do to change it? What should you keep doing? What do you want to achieve?

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 

Wow! No pressure here – your attitude should be same as Jesus’. We have often told our kids that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time and this tall order is no different. In His usual wisdom, God has given us the directions on how to that as well. He gave us a four-step process to keep our attitudes in check.1) Do not consider yourself equal to God or even pretend to understand why He does the things that He does. It is too big to grasp. We must accept that He is doing what is in our best interests and in His own time. 2) Be a servant. Jesus was the ultimate servant and led others through His willingness to serve. He was a lowly carpenter who made things for other people. You can’t underestimate the power of servitude, so serve others with pride.

3) Do not take yourself too seriously. Humility is a strong character trait that is often confused with being shy. Being humble means that you’d be willing to wash the feet of someone else, nothing is too small of a job. You are not better than anyone else. 4) Jesus is your savior. Your salvation is found in Him and not through anything that you can do. You don’t have to worry about never being good enough or never doing enough; God took care of that for you. Jesus was exalted to the highest place after cleansing us from all sin. You can live your life of faith confident in your salvation and life everlasting. If that doesn’t give you a positive attitude, I can’t imagine what will. 

Dr. Martin Luther King jr

In the United States, we are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day today. Since I’ve held elected office, I have attended presentations about his life which really opened my perspective about the struggles of minorities. I must admit that I knew little about him before attending these events but I have come to understand more than the civil rights fight that he undertook. He wouldn’t accept the status quo; he wouldn’t back down against great pressure nor would he compromise his beliefs. He spoke all around the world to millions of people with a simple message – we are all one people. Lately in the United States, we seem to have forgotten that. Racial discord still exists and now we are divided by our politics. Hatred, ignorance, intolerance and just plain evil are everywhere these days. People are turning to violence in an attempt to get their messages across. Frustration is ruling our behaviors. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought against violence and took a stand to resolve differences in a non-violent way, though not everyone supported that strategy. His speeches were moving and his understanding of the issues were extraordinary and yet, many agree his work remains unfinished. He used his talents to change the world. Most of us will never reach the stature of Dr. King but each of us can have a huge impact on the world around us. Each one of us has God given talents that we can use to impact those around us. Sometimes people are in our lives for a brief moment, like in line at the grocery store and others are people we’ve known for years but we have the opportunity to model the same beliefs that Dr. King did, good Christian values. 

“For in Him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge…” 1 Corinthians 1:5

I’ve told you before about a friend who shared with me a serious problem that would have lifelong implications for him. As he described his problem he said that he has done a lot things in his life and that he didn’t feel “right with God yet and as long as I’m not right with Him, I can’t be right with anyone”. This statement stopped me dead in my tracks; how could someone who professes to be a Christian say something like that? As I continue to dwell on his statement all these years later; I believe that many people feel this way. This is why so many non-denominational “churches” leave out all discussion about sin. People feel bad and unworthy because of sin so if we don’t talk about it, people will come to get revitalized.

As we talked, I seized the opportunity to share my knowledge about our savior, Christ Jesus. I reminded him that he was already “right with God” because of what Jesus did for us Easter weekend.  1 Corinthians 1:7-9 goes on to say 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gifts as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” We lack nothing; there is nothing we can do or must do to be “right with God”. He knew our weaknesses long before we did and sent us a Savior so we could enjoy eternal life with Him. God decided we were worth it long before we could do anything to prove it to Him. 

Compassion

As the NFL football regular schedule ended this weekend, some are celebrating, and some are lamenting their team’s season. Some teams really clicked this season and others couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag. In the end, some teams won or lost because mistakes made – no doubt about that. I’m not talking about any team or game, 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. How do you react when someone makes a mistake? I always make two promises to the teams that I’ve lead – 1) I will make mistakes and 2) I will never repeat them. They key is what we do with the experience of making a mistake. 

We all forget that post-it-notes were a result of someone’s mistake. The old saying of “its water under the bridge” is so true; you can’t get it back. My philosophy is that you have to acknowledge the error, learn from it and move forward. This is why, each week, football teams review films of the game they just played – win or lose. They don’t dwell on the outcome, they are always looking forward. People make mistakes all of the time. A baseball player who hits the ball only 33% of the time (.300 avg.) is 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 of the messages that 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 to be done than you can handle. 

As Christians, we forgive and forget a lot more often than we give ourselves credit for. If you held onto 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. Jesus Christ taught us to be patient with everyone. Even His own disciples were les than helpful in the end 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. 

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is this week in the U.S. and if I tried to tell you everything or everyone that I was thankful for, you’d be reading this for hours. I was reminded of a few key areas in my life that I am grateful for as I wrote a proposal this week for a community that we started working with five years ago. I say “we” because my partner in this project is a long-time friend who I began partnering with over 10 years ago. I am very thankful for the opportunity that I have to work with a great professional who is also a dear friend. The proposal reminded me of the community staff and leaders that we’ve come to know over the years and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to know them. I also work with a great team of city staff and fellow elected officials in my official duties as a Councilmember. It isn’t always easy, but it is the people who I work with that make it all worthwhile.

The project that I bid on is one that my wife can join us on and I’m thankful for our great partnership both at home and in the business. When my wife and I spend time traveling together or just hang out together in our empty nest, we appreciate how grateful we were for the huge blessings in our lives and what we’ve been able to accomplish under stressful circumstances at times. We never let things set us back; we keep talking about how the hard times build character in us. Once again, we sit amazed by the work of God in our lives – even when we didn’t know it. I encourage you to take time this week to reflect on all that you have to be thankful for and look at how God has moved your life even when you faced struggles, He was there. Thank Him for His work and then thank someone in your life that makes things just a little bit better. Happy Thanksgiving!

15 “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful… 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:15,17

In our house Thanksgiving Day is the start of the Christmas season. We start listening to classic Christmas music, decorating the house finds it way onto the calendar, preparation for baking begins, Christmas card lists are printed and the peace of the season is in the air. The year will end soon and we all start thinking about how thankful we were for so many things and we look forward to what the new year will bring. No matter what has happened in your life let God’s peace, given to us through His Son Jesus Christ, be with you and comfort you.

It’s hard to think about telling God “thanks” for sending us a savior who had to die before we’d figure it out. God knew what it would take to save us and all He asks is that “whatever we do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and to give thanks to God through Him.” A simple “thanks”. Sometimes through all of the mess in our lives, the frantic pace that we live and the set backs we have, we still have a lot to be thankful for. Our faith in Jesus Christ and God’s grace has guaranteed us eternal life; free from all these worldly problems. Even when you struggle, be thankful. God has a place for you in heaven, which is something to be thankful for!

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

It doesn’t matter where you live in the world anymore, you will witness some large tragedy while existing in a time in which our “politics” have created unprecedented division. The United States is no longer the sole proprietor of violence and division. Governments are being overthrown, racial and religious divisions are abound, “pro” verses “anti” vaxers are literally fighting in the streets; the world is going mad. Yesterday was the second to last Sunday of the Lutheran Church year and we talked the end times or Revelations. I can’t say that we aren’t entering the “end of time”, because the world has been here before – history has a way of repeating itself. While we think things are bad in our own homelands, they are often minor when compared to other parts of the world. I’d like to suggest that 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 others 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 we don’t see it or know someone there so it is easy not to think about it or take action. Each of us, no matter what part of the world we live in, is affected by all of these events which can alter how we feel about other people. Religion, race, sexual orientation, political party or its sub-party are just a few ways that someone else defines us. When we begin a sentence by labeling someone first, it shows that our mind is closed. I’m certainly not suggesting that we blend all of our thoughts and beliefs together into one, but we must guard against putting everyone in the same category because they share similarities. To quote from the movie Shrek, “people are like onions, they have layers”. 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 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 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 at life and circumstances through the eyes of Jesus, being cautious and vigilant, but 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.

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!

Civility, What Civility?

I’ve asked before, “where has civility gone?” What ever happened to simply being nice to each other? The list goes on and I really start to get frustrated. Too many questions and not enough answers! I often wonder, when did we stop caring about each other? I see it in the simple things like holding the door open for the person behind you. I understand “Covid safe” but if you’ve already touched the door, why not at least keep it open so the person you can grab it with their foot just like you did? We’ve become so worried about staying apart from each other that we’ve become rude to one another. I heard someone this week talk about servant leadership and my heart started beating faster – what a joy!

I truly believe that if we all just looked out for each other, we might be in a slightly better place. My leadership belief is that the leader eats last, those led before those leading or simply put – putting others before yourself. I think it is the Rotary International organization whose motto is “Service Before Self”. It has been my guiding leadership principle, which shapes me even as I walk through doors. What do people see when they watch you? In the world today, most of us are being vigilant by trying to avoid close physical contact with people but that doesn’t mean that we have to keep our emotional distance too. I’m simply suggesting that we continue to think about others even when we maintain our physical distance. The pandemic is bad enough on its own, let not lose our sense of civility too. 

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

I pondered this verse for several weeks before I used it in a post. It was easy to write about “Service Before Self” in the opening but what biblical significance does this play? We all know the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you want them to do unto you. So, I get the “show hospitality to strangers” concept but I struggled to find a relatable subject matter in the middle of a world-wide pandemic. Is there really some deep concept that God is trying to teach here because this verse really stands on its own.

Jesus said, “what you do for the least of these you also do for me.” Does this really need an explanation? Let’s stop being focused on ourselves and start thinking of others. In the U.S. we see a lot of people embracing the “I’ve got mine” mentality and have stopped looking for ways to help those in need. If we show hospitality to strangers, we may be showing it to an angel and we all know where angels come from. This verse reminds me of the song by Joan Osborne – “One of Us” that asks the question; What if God was one of us? If the hospitality that we show is really to an angel, then isn’t that an extension of God? In the end, God may be one of us just not in the form we expected. So, does hospitality matter? 

Hope and Compassion

I have to admit that I waited until yesterday afternoon to finish this week’s devotion. I was waiting for the election results. I had intended to right about hope and compassion this week regardless of the outcome, I just had two completely opposite openings to navigate. Then, while I sat down to write, I changed my perspective. For some people, Presidential Elections represent either hope or despair and no other options. Presidents come and go but it is the spirit of America that keeps us moving forward through this life. The outcome of local elections affects our lives far more than who the President is; we drive the streets and use the parks of our cities and towns every day. I can’t forget about the quality of our public safety services that are impacted by decisions made at the local level. If hope is on your mind today because of the election (either lack of or more of) then I challenge you to think deeper about the word hope.

Compassion on the other hand should always be on your mind. How can we care for each other or love thy neighbor without compassion? We care for our kids and our parents because we have compassion. I think that as a society, we are about to learn how important compassion is in the coming months. As the pandemic surges worldwide and the global economy remains bloody, thousands of people will begin the eviction process because they have not been working and have been unable to pay the rent. What will happen to them? Will they find hope and compassion? 

Love thy neighbor is a powerful challenge. I believe that most parents will always be there for their kids and that their compassion for their kids will never fail. Hope and compassion can be found in almost everything we do. Hope is found in the love of our Heavenly Father who also shows us that His compassions will never fail. Look around your life and you too will see God’s love all around you; and that should give you hope this week. 

21Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23

The United States elected its next President this past week – ALL WEEK long. The world has been watching our unique democratic system in action for more than a year. If you are reading this and live outside of the US, be thankful! For the rest of us, we’ve been suffering through one of the most painful election cycles in modern times. Many people are excited about the outcome and many are not. Some may not even stop after the votes have been counted. Please pray for us!

There are people in our lives who have struggles each day. A sick loved one, a family member who has passed, or other problems that can overwhelm us as individuals. It is easy to lose hope and get lost in despair. Take comfort in the verse today “therefore I have hope: 22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” God’s compassions never fail! As humans, we want our answers or our solutions right now. We tell ourselves that we don’t have time to wait and can’t understand why God doesn’t get that. We are being reminded that God’s compassions are “new every morning”. So, no matter what the outcome of the election is or what the test results say or what happens in our lives; we will not be consumed! God loves each and every one of us. Go forth this week in peace.