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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Positively Negative

Zig Ziglar once said, “You can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good.” A lot can be said about having a positive attitude. I’ve also written before about my wife’s unbelievably positive spirit. I only wish that it would rub off on me – she does too. We have season tickets to our local “professional” hockey team. I use quotes because they really don’t play like professionals. It has been a rough few seasons for hockey here in the desert. The couple that sits next to us also has season tickets. A week or so ago, Rick was getting on the team about various playmaking efforts. He can be a relentless critic when they don’t play well. I found that I too was becoming very critical that night. His poor wife was sandwiched between us; listening to our criticism the first 20 minutes of the game. I heard her turn to him and tell him to stop the negative comments. I didn’t realize until that second that I was doing it too.

The team ended up losing anyway but it was a big lesson for me; negativity can spread. We were just picking on the team but our comments fueled each other. I’ve admitted that I’m not the most optimistic person so it hard for me to imagine what it would be like if our comments were positive. I know what happens in the workplace when people are positive and how that energy fuels a team to excellence. I guess I took for granted what happens when the opposite takes place in a social setting. Usually people just walk away from a “Debbie Downer” but my seatmate was trapped. Having a positive attitude can certainly make a big difference in how it affects your day to day personality. Face each day with the right mindset and you’ll enjoy the best life has to offer. I know I need to try harder.

“And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” – Romans 10:15

The difficulty with understanding this verse is knowing whether or not you were sent to preach. We are commanded to “go and make disciples of all men and nations”. I’d suggest that this single verse tells us that we are sent. Bringing good news can come in many forms: passing out water to the homeless on hot days, distributing flyers about upcoming church events, witnessing to the lost and having a positive outlook on life are just a few. The good news of being positive can simply lie in the act of having a positive attitude.

People can look to you as the example of positive thinking and modeling the way of the Lord. When they finally come to realize where you get your strength from, you will have the courage to profess your faith openly. When people ask about your positive outlook and attitude, you can tell them you have no fears or worries because of our savior Jesus Christ. I speak from experience when I tell you that this is easier said than done. I have so many blessings that I have no reason to be negative but I find myself there more often than I’d like. For me, it is just another reminder that I need God’s help and guidance to keep pressing onward. Where do your feet stand?

Finding Strength

“Why do I even bother?” It seems that I’m asking myself this question alot these days. Why vote? Why speak up? Why do I care? Does my opinion really matter? We all ask ourselves these questions from time to time. I wish I had an answer to why we ask them. It seems to me that we are programmed to care about many of things in this world, even the things that have no direct impact on us. I suppose this is where compassion lives – we care. When we care, it matters to us. Our ability to influence the outcome is another story altogether.But we still care and can get frustrated when we try to help and get no response. We’ll vote in the November elections and if our candidate isn’t elected, we’ll get frustrated and say, “Why bother?”

Imagine for a moment though, no one cared. If it didn’t immediately affect them, they ignored it. People being directly affected by discrimination started civil rights movements but it was people who cared enough to help that made a difference. You can see where change has taken place across the planet and there were always people willing to do something to make that change possible. This door swings both ways – good and evil are accomplished by people willing to take action. The good news is that the good has far out numbered the evil. So what motivates you? Perhaps it’s music or reading or maybe even a special person. Know what helps to motivate you and keep that close so you can use it when doubt creeps in. Staying positive is often easier said than done but you never know when or if you will be someone else’s inspiration.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

I can’t even begin to imagine if God had given up on us. We were terrible children who won’t or couldn’t obey His simple commands and requests. We grew impatient waiting, we ignored Him and when He did send us a savior, we turned away and then killed Him. But God was patient and knew us better than we knew ourselves. He let His plan unfold and now there are millions of Christians in this world and millions more now have eternal life because of Jesus. We are encouraged because we have faith in the Word of God.

We often hear that we should be looking for the silver lining in everything. Honestly, it is hard to find good in so much of the bad that is going on in this world. God tells us to encourage our hearts and be strengthened in good deed and word. The best place to find these is in the bible. We will never know the real purpose of evil but we know the real promises of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. The devil does bad things to get us to turn away from God and our best defense against him is turning toward God. Seek Him in everything and you will find encouragement and strength.

The Light Has Shined

Communication is a true art. Books have been written about how to do it better. How many times have you had a fight with someone only to find out “that’s not what I meant”? We all need to keep communications open with the people that we interact with on a regular basis. For men, we can go months without speaking to a good friend, pick up the phone and call, and then carry on like no time has past. Unfortunately for us, we try this same approach with many of our other relationships and we fail miserably. For leaders, this cab be a problem and we are best served when we engage in what some call “touching base” or “checking in”.

The world around us is changing constantly and people need to know what is going on around them. If they are worried about the latest rumor, they won’t focus on their job and then you’ll be forced into communicating with them under unpleasant circumstances. The old saying “you can’t treat people like mushrooms” is true. Keeping them in the dark and feeding them crap all day just won’t work. People need light and encouragement from their leaders. When we engage people by sharing the facts, regardless of how they “look”, our people will appreciate knowing that they are truly part of the team.

“The people walking in the darkness have seen a great light: on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

Living in the shadow of death without hope of eternal life is unimaginable to me. The sad truth however, is that there are people living in those shadows. They walk in darkness and despair without hope because they don’t know about the light of Christ. The problems of their lives become overwhelming and they sink further into the darkness.

This time of year is especially troubling for some; they need to know that people care. Witnessing to people is one of the hardest things that we can do because we feel so exposed by the possibility of being rejected. Sometimes we’re not confident in our knowledge of bible verses or we simply are bashful and don’t want to be pushy. It takes courage to overcome these fears. Ask God for help; perhaps this blog post is that help. You don’t need to go around quoting the bible or offering street corner sermons. Simply reminding people that there are options and that no matter what they’ve done, God loves them. If nothing else, share your story and talk about how your life is filled with the light of God. We have seen a great light! Now, go and share it!

Kindness

I recently watched a TV comedy show in which one of the main characters, the husband, was asked by his wife to say five things that he liked about her. For men, we can instantly see the comedy potential in this premise. I’m sure the women are thinking that this is a brilliant bonding concept, but I digress. Predictably he struggles to come up with five things on his own but eventually, unconsciously, he does during the argument that follows. When we are forced to identify these types of things, we often freeze and draw blanks no matter who the subject is – a spouse, business partner, friend or family member. We never really understand how our words and actions affect those around us. What if your kind words were the only kind words that people hear in their lives? Would you go out of your way to speak them then?

There is a story called “The Blue Ribbon” that tells of a father who was given a blue ribbon by someone at work because they identified him as being important to them. He was the challenged to give the ribbon to someone else who was important to him. He struggled to find that one person, particularly at work and put the ribbon in his briefcase before heading home. Once he arrived home, he found his son sitting in his room as he walked by. He returned with the ribbon and gave it to his son, explaining what had happened that day. He explained that while their relationship hadn’t always been the greatest, he wanted him to know that he was special and important to him. The son started to break down uncontrollably. When he was able, he explained that he had been sitting there contemplating suicide because he thought that no one cared. Go out of your way today to speak a kind word to someone, you never know what your impact will be.

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25

There is a lot to be anxious about these days. I seem to be writing a lot about worry and anxiety but they are everywhere and can take over a person’s life. However, those strong in faith know to send those worries and fears to God in prayer. What about the other people in our lives who do not have the confidence or assurance to do that, what can we do to help them? Well placed kind words can mean a great deal to everyone we encounter. Last week we discussed compassion and leaving people feeling good after we see them. Consider this the warm up act for compassion. When we are simply nice, generous with ourselves and offer kind words to others, we will make a difference in people’s lives.

Jesus never spoke poorly about anyone, not even those trying to persecute and kill Him. He teaches us the real meaning of compassion. Jesus was always uplifting even in the face of terrible times. If we compare our lives to His, we have it pretty easy. Share your grace and peace with others as it has been shared with you. A kind word will cheer up an anxious heart.

Every Step of the Way

No matter how strong or independent we might think that we are, we all need encouragement. When we have kids, we encourage them all of the time; whether they are walking for the first time or going through potty training. We all started our lives with so much encouragement only to feel it fade away into cynicism. After encouraging comes guiding and directing, which is followed by a little criticism before we simply stop doing anything for our kids. “They’re adults, they will have to figure it out” is how we justify doing nothing. Sure, as young adults we keep trying and they keep resisting and we eventually just stop trying to “help”. It’s not this way for all kids, but most. This attitude also takes over at work with us. We rarely encourage co-workers or hear encouragement from others. I would suggest that our human soul needs it, otherwise we become so cynical that we can seem negative. Sports teams are full of encouraging moments on the bench. Watch a team score a touchdown or a player hit a homerun and you will see encouragement at its peak. Supervisors have a responsibility to encourage their people along the way. Not every hit is a homerun but sometimes the only thing driving people to try harder is a little encouragement. For me, I’d been working about 12 years before I heard someone say, “great job”. Perhaps it was the first time I actually did something right. Seriously, I was on a pretty successful career path at the time but I don’t know what motivated me. Supervisors in my life simply didn’t acknowledge good work. We need to change that. I often use restaurant servers as examples because I watch them as they work and these people work hard! Tell them what a nice job they did for you. An extra tip says one thing but taking the time to tell them how they did will mean the world. Then, take that concept and start spreading it to multiple aspects of your life, watch people’s reaction and sit back and smile.

“The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

Have you ever had one of those crazy experiences or maybe even a horrible string of days at work and when it was over wonder how you made it through it all? Where do you find your strength and inspiration? Some of us can be motivated or inspired by other people and others by greed and winning. If you are reading this blog, my guess is that the latter doesn’t do much for you. Sure, people can be motivating and we can be inspired by the strength or wisdom of someone but behind it all is the Lord Himself. He goes before you to light paths and order things so that those people are in your life. They may be put there years before He needs to use them, but He knows what is best for you. Stop and think about all of the really horrible things that have happened in your life and then think about the places, people and circumstances that kept you going or helped you know how to manage it. At the time they seemed random but if you carefully look back, you will see God at work. He promised to never leave you so do not be afraid or discouraged; God is right there with you – every step of the way.

Give it your all

I had a conversation with my 16 year old son this weekend about his grades in school. He is a really good kid and we are very proud of him. He excels at anything he puts his mind to and there in lies our problem. What 16 year old likes school? We discussed that our high expectations about his grades are simply because we know he is smart. When pressed, he admitted to not really caring this year. The worst grade he is getting is a “C” so we’re lucky there but I like to make my point. He knows that this lasi-faire attitude won’t fly next school year. Ironically, I also heard this weekend from someone whom I had helped prepare for an upcoming promotional process. When he initially asked, he told me that a number of people encouraged him to test because he’d been on the job long enough so he figured “sure, why not”. Based on the sound of his voice, I could tell that he wasn’t really committed to it. When I spent a few hours with him, I knew he hadn’t mentally committed to the promotion and he seemed barely prepared for the rigors of the process. I offered a few tips to get ready, discussed confidence and competence and, wished him well. When he contacted me via e-mail, I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t score high enough to make the list. This grown man and this young man (boy) had in one thing in common – a failure to commit. Neither of them committed to doing the work needed to be successful. They both figured that if they put in some time that they would be okay. Doing something only half way gets you exactly that, half the reward.

“Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

The moment I read this verse, I knew that I had to write about giving it your all, not doing things half way, especially worshiping God. I had no good idea how to tell the story of giving 100% until these two things happened this weekend. I started to think about what does giving less that 100% to God look like and then I realized the example was me! Sin keeps me from giving God all my heart, all my soul and all my mind. I didn’t mean to be, but I was lucky to be a “C” student. No matter how hard I try, work or school demands get in the way. Sometimes, I’m too tired or simply lazy to break out the bible and start reading my daily devotion. I’m too busy to stop and pray or give thanks, besides God knows. These are the same reasons why my son’s grades are weak or why my friend didn’t pass the test. God knew our struggles would be greater than we could handle so he put a plan in motion to save us from ourselves – He sent us Jesus. He is the one who told us to give our all to God. He knew that He would have to intervene on our behalf and take sin away from us. Jesus left us so many great examples and stories but He took all of the sin out of our lives. God knows that we will not be perfect and he doesn’t expect it, but we can show Him our love by diving in a little deeper, spending a little more time and showing what the love of Jesus means in our lives. Give it your all!

Sowing and Reaping

Have you ever stopped to think about all of the people that have helped you in your life? There are teachers who helped mold your mind or shaped your learning, there people that you’ve met who have shaped your worldview and there are strangers that have helped in ways that you don’t even know about. If we were to list them all, it would be too long to comprehend. We all have had people put in our lives that played a significant role in shaping a part of our lives. Some of them have given us great advice or simply been there to listen and others created a pathway for us to follow behind them. The latter did what is referred to as “the heavy lifting”. Both the advisor and the trailblazer are significant to us in our development. I taught an ethics class for the fire academy this past week and I was reminded about how our lives, values and morals are shaped. It is a constant process, for most of us anyway. People are shaping and teaching us constantly; some are reinforcing our beliefs while others are changing our worldview. The whole dialog got me thinking about whom I’ve relied on in my life to help make me who I am today. Lisa and I realized this weekend that we met 30 years ago in January, which by the way, neither one of us can remember the specific date. Besides being unable to comprehend being together that long, we both know how much we have influenced each other. I’m not getting mushy here. I also know that there are about a dozen people who were there for me as I traversed my career; some reminding me to slow down and others pushing me on because they saw something that I hadn’t. I know that I have had little to do with who I am and that others had done the heavy lifting. Some took chances on me, others pulled me up into opportunities while people like Lisa were there adjusting to be everything else I needed. Give thanks for those people in your lives and then let them know how much you appreciate all that they’ve done.

37Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”  John 4:37-38

This verse is Jesus speaking to his disciples after he met the Samaritan woman at the water well. Jesus is the sower, He did the hard work for us but we will reap the reward; eternal life through Him. Jesus also is speaking of those before Him, the prophets and those doing the work that God commanded, allowing us to all reap the benefits of their labor. So, is the sowing all done now that we have God’s word and salvation through Jesus? I don’t believe so. “One sows and another reaps’ is true”. As disciples we still have a harvest to tend to as is said in John 4:35 “…look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” We are the ones that have reaped the goodness of the harvest but we also have some sowing to do. Let’s get out there and sow the good news of Jesus Christ. I bet some of you are saying, “Are you kidding? You want me to go and preach to others?” I’m suggesting that you be a witness of God’s love and grace. He has blessed each of us with specific talents or gifts to sow the fields. Some can sing, some can write, some have strong arms and backs but all have love and the belief that we can make a difference. God is with you and He has already given you what you need to be the person that changes lives. Look around your life and see what He has done for you and then look for ways to pass it on to others. The fields are ripe!

Keep Clean

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 today’s verse and the phrase but lateIy I’ve been working hard to eat better and well; I digress. Leaders of all kinds must choose their words carefully. One of the most powerful tools a leader has is encouragement. There are so many stresses in people’s lives, in addition to their struggles to do the best work they can, that they often feel overwhelmed or simply disconnected from others. We rarely hear “good job” from the people we work with or those close to us. Sometimes, we are just too busy to say it or we 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 “nice work” can go a long 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 to hear it because no one in military style organizations ever gives a compliment. 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, then 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 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 the story stopped. I usually don’t add more bible verses to the weekly devotion but it seems to fit here. 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 immoral thoughts about stealing or wishing harm on to someone, gossiping and in some cases, we’ll act on them. We are all guilty at one point in time or another; we are unclean. The good news is that Jesus Christ wrapped us in pure white clothing when he took our sins with Him to the cross. He made us clean for all of eternity through our faith in Christ. God knows what is in our hearts and hears what comes out of our mouths, yet He has cleansed us and given us eternal life. No tricks, no works, no negotiations, simply forgiveness given to us from the grace of God. Now that should make you smile!

Outlook for 2013

We are starting a new year with the fiscal cliff being pushed a little farther up the hill. For some of us, this is a sign to be optimistic. Others will simply delay their dreams until something more certain happens. How have these past few years been for you? Tough is my guess. If you think about it, you have been provided for in some way. Sure, your hours at work have been cut or there’s been no overtime to supply the extra buffer of cash you counted on but you have still been provided for. It’s hard to think positively about 2013 when the past few years have been such a struggle. Think about what makes you happy at home and at work and focus on those things. Many people have “re-invented” themselves these past few years when a job loss or change forced it. What do you want  to do? Is there something that you’ve always dreamed of doing? Now may be the time to do it. The world that we knew has changed and doors are being opened for people in a lot of unusual ways, they just don’t see it. If you are in a position of leadership, you should be finding ways to open doors for your people. As a subordinate, you should seek opportunities to expand your experiences by offering to help your boss with their projects. If you feel “stuck” in your job with no hope, look outside of your current position for a new future. They say it’s always easier to find a job when you have one. If you are without one or are “underemployed”, follow your passion! One small opportunity can turn into a bigger one if you are enjoying your life in the sunshine instead of under the dark clouds.

“…God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19

So many people think that they are in control of their destiny and that if THEY don’t do things it won’t happen. As Jesus would say “Those Fools!” God has said throughout the bible that He has the plans and that they are not for us to know. He also promises to meet all of our needs as He does here. Paul reminds the Philippians that God will meet their needs. What God doesn’t promise is that he’ll meet the needs that WE desire. We have to remember that what we need to sustain us here in this life is NOT the same as what we need to sustain ourselves for eternity. Paul reminds the Philippians (and us) that we need the riches of Christ Jesus, our savior. God wants us to be happy in this life and he wants us to keep our focus on Him, not our happiness. If you are down about the upcoming year, send your cares to God through prayer. He didn’t finish His work when He raised Jesus from death; He was just sending us a message about where to focus our lives. Live to His glory and He will meet all of your needs.