Servitude

We’ve been doing a little remodeling the past few weeks and I found myself going through some old paperwork. In it, I found my baptismal and confirmation certificates along with a card from my confirmation. I never knew who my “God Parents” were but I finally do now. Unfortunately, they have both passed away. As I read the note that came with my confirmation papers, I was drawn to the idea of servitude – serving others and being served. I have no idea why I kept the note but it’s meaning is far more impactful today than it was when I received it. Even after all of the classes that I attended for confirmation, there are no better lessons than what life teaches you and how God reveals Himself throughout your life. Here is what the note said:

The best and most meaningful things in life are those which cannot be seen, or touched, but which are felt. On this special day, the meaning of your faith is very real to you. Life has its deepest meaning in Christ. May the sacredness of this time be a rich reminder of your Christian faith, not only in this day but throughout all of your life. May God fill you with His love as you follow the living Christ. May the Holy Spirit give you guidance that your life may be full, and that you may receive the abundance of God’s grace forever. May joy be in your heart today in the knowledge that Christ is your Savior, your friend and your guide.

“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” John 12:26

When I work with the military, I am witness to multiple examples of servant leadership and it always reminds me of Jesus Christ. Jesus was THE servant leader. He knew what was in store for himself but He served us anyway. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, performed miracle after miracle and always did it with our best interests in mind. He was often called Teacher and He served in that role as well. Jesus was determined to reach as many lost souls as He could before His Father would call Him home. Servant leadership means that we give up control of the effort so that others can learn and grow.

In our lives, we can serve those that we are trying to lead so that they may become stronger; we are the ones making sacrifices for the betterment of others. Jesus’ sacrifice was beyond compare but we are all better off because of it. We are free from sin because the servant leader put us before Himself. We all make sacrifices in our lives but some do it in hopes of getting something in return. Jesus made a sacrifice not to get something in return but to share something with all of us – eternal life. The bonus for Him is that He gets to share that with us. Go out and serve others not because you need something but because you have something wonderful to share, a message of hope and salvation.

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We’re Free to Start 2017

With the start of 2017 just a little more than 24 hours old, I wanted to remind everyone that we are free! We celebrated the birth of a Savior last week and this week we can celebrate the birth of our freedom through faith. Many of us will make, and break, New Year’s resolutions to improve something in our lives. Regardless of where you stand on resolutions, start the New Year knowing that you are free from sin. Knowing this, you can be confident in yourself as you boldly go into 2017 and all that it will offer. Happy New Year! What do you mean, you ask? This is all best explained in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians in the verses found in Galatians 3:23-29. The verses prior to these explain the meaning of and importance of God’s Laws.

23 “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

God’s Love

We attended a candlelight service on Christmas Eve. We’ve been doing so for a few years now and it never gets old. This particular reading of the bible at Christmas time always moves me and I enjoy sharing it. I have no analogy to add and no wisdom to share; I thought that I would let the word of God stand alone and reach everyone in its own way. Please have a safe New Year’s Eve and may God bless your 2017.

God’s Love and Ours

7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” 1John 4:7-16

That time of the year

They say that this is the time of year that people are open to a suggestion to attend church. People are often searching for the meaning in their lives at this time of year. I’d imagine that it has something to do with another year going by or people talking about family but maybe, just maybe people are realizing that this time of year is about Jesus. For those that don’t know God, this can be a confusing time. For those that are questioning God’s role in this crazy world, this can be a time of turmoil in their hearts. For those that are lost, this can be a time of opportunity. So what time is it for you?

We should consider our own place in life as it relates to our faith in Jesus Christ and to God our Father. We are often reminded in the bible that Jesus knew what people were thinking and He often responded to them without a question ever being spoken. God knows what we are thinking too. We need to have a conversation with Him about our fears and our joys. God will bring peace. This is the time of year when we really need to remember that Jesus was, by God’s grace, a gift of peace to the world. We now have the opportunity to share in eternal life with our faith in Jesus Christ. That is something to start celebrating.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.” Isaiah 40:28

They also say that this is the time of year that results in more stress related illnesses than any other time. Can you imagine hearing complaints and requests from 100 people? If that isn’t a recipe for stress I don’t know what is. Take these 100 people and multiply them by millions or billions and that is the workload of God our Father. The amazing thing is that He isn’t fazed by it in the least.

“The Creator of the ends of the earth” has more power than we can imagine, even in our wildest dreams. God is pleased when we call out to Him for help, seek His guidance or simply to say thank you. He has the patience to work with us because He loves us and wants to be close to us. “He will not grow tired or weary”. We were made in His image and He wants us to be just like Him – not tired or weary but strong and full of love. Send your cares, fears, worries, concerns, anger and thanks to Him because “His understanding no one can fathom”. We have no ability to understand how He can do it and why He wants it but we can be assured that His love for us is greater than we can imagine too. Take care of yourself with good food, good love, good sleep, good times, good prayer and the greatness of God.

I Have Hope!

I saw two unrelated things this weekend that made today’s verse come alive for me. First was the cover of a magazine that revealed Olympic Gold Metal Figure Skater Scott Hamilton’s third brain tumor. His outlook is inspiring and he is quoted as saying something to the effect of, “No day is guaranteed by God. So I live them one at a time and nothing will change that”. At some point after the second tumor, I would start asking myself questions about continuing treatment. I tend to be naturally pessimistic about these kinds of things. Not Scott Hamilton! He really demonstrates how important staying positive is. I pray that he recovers from this medical event and keeps telling his story.

The other was from the movie “Bad Moms” that was released this past summer. I’m not a perfect person and I must admit that I like movies that truly add nothing to my life but a few laughs; movies like Blazing Saddles and Caddy Shack are classic to me. I’m not a movie critic but from my point of view, “Bad Moms” was a waste of time. I could go on but to get to my point, there was a scene in the film when three moms were telling each other how they would do anything for their children. No matter what, these moms would always be there for their kids. I believe most parents feel that way and their compassions will never fail. I use these two examples to show that hope and compassion can be found in almost everything we do. Scott Hamilton shows us hope because of the Lord’s great love and that parents (God, our Father) have compassions that never fail. Look in your life and you too will see them 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 will be electing its next President tomorrow. 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 the most painful election cycle in modern times. Many people have given up, some aren’t voting and others will not stop the rhetoric even after the votes are counted. Please pray for us!

Seriously though, there are also people in our lives who have struggles each day. A sick loved one, a family member who has passed, or problems that can overwhelm us as individuals. It is easy to 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 start to feel consumed by doubt. We are being reminded here 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, knowing that you have God’s love with you.

Why Me?

It seems that everywhere I look these days; someone I know is living through some hardship. There always seems to be a new cancer diagnosis or new medical condition afflicting a parent. I’ve been saying for over a year now, when I find myself talking to a friend about caring for our parents, this never happened when we were kids. We were supposed to be talking about grandkids or celebrating our children’s college graduation but instead, we talk about long-term care facilities. People faced with these types of challenges or even a serious personal medical diagnosis; often begin to question God and the purpose of these trials.

It is an easy path to go towards. How could God let this happen? It was a question heard often after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. What we didn’t hear about were all of the people who were saved that day. The bus that ran late, the missed cab or train, and even the screaming fight between spouses where terrible things were said in anger; all resulted in saved lives. No one asked the question, why were they spared? Over time, these circumstances may reveal why they happened but they may not. I knew a woman who had been diagnosed with cancer at least four different times in her life. She fought each time and won. She became an inspiration to a number of people; they could use her example to boost themselves or people they knew when cancer struck another home.Our attitude and outlook are based on our reaction to the circumstances presented not on the circumstances themselves. We are in control of our attitude and focusing on that, instead of the meaning or reason, is what allows us to inspire others.

6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:6-8

I have written before that we WILL have trials. We see this repeated in the bible. This verse in First Peter is very revealing. I first saw verse 8 and thought about writing about faith as expressed in our not seeing Jesus Christ or God. However, the verses before and after are more inspiring. We will have trials, our faith is to be strengthened by them and as a result, we will have salvation. These trials are a result of our sin, started in the very beginning, and continuing throughout our lives.

We sin daily; its our nature. God sent His Son to live the perfect life – free from Sin, so that we may have eternal life through Him. Lets not let the trials of this life get in the way of our eternal life. God’s trials will test our faith but we should not let that diminish our belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Anger is a human reaction to negative circumstances but it doesn’t produce a single positive outcome. Turn to God for understanding, comfort and most of all, LOVE. God loves you and while it isn’t how we would show love; we aren’t Him. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. Our Father loves us; never forget that.

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.

The Beginning to the End

I have been reading a lot lately about companies who are eliminating their annual performance appraisal processes. This is making employees and supervisors happy as both dread this annual event. But it leaves us with the question, how do we track what our people do from the beginning of the year through the end of it? Many organizations use some form of performance tracking or performance appraisal tool to do it and if it goes away, what will replace it? There are a number of strategies to accomplish the goal of measuring performance against an employee’s job description, their core competencies or their assigned goals. Whichever one you choose to use, there are a couple of common threads to consider.

Performance assessments should be continuous throughout the rating period. A common pitfall is when a supervisor only rates the employee on what recently happened or what they recently remember. We all (leaders too) ebb and flow in our work intensity, which is why all aspects of our performance should be measured and not just the highs or lows. In order to make these appraisals valuable to an employee, supervisors need to create a tool to assist them with documenting their employee’s work all year long. Whether you are a supervisor or an employee, don’t rely on your memory; it will let you down in almost every case. A reliable system will provide you with good documentation and not take up too much of your time to do. While generally referred to as an annual performance review, you can easily fall into the trap of it becoming the “most recent memory” review. Good documentation is the key.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

“This is taking an eternity to finish!” A phrase we all utter at some point. We have no concept of what “eternity” really is. God works on His own timeline and not one that we can understand. Stop for a moment and look back over your life, do you see how God has worked in His plan of your life? The seemingly unrelated events and circumstances may now appear to be connected to form an experience or opportunity. God is at work in and through us every day; bringing us closer to Him for eternity.

People are often afraid of the things that they’ve done and become so discouraged that they give up pleasing God. He doesn’t use a system to document our “job performance”. If He did, none of us would pass an annual review. God has a record of everything that we’ve done from our beginning. It must be a pretty scary list if you think about it. Fortunately, God also has us “documented” as His children and as such, He sent us a Savior to wipe clean our sins. Faith in Jesus Christ, combined with God’s grace, cleanses us from all sin. We cannot fathom the extent of God’s love for us as He forgives ALL of our sins – from the beginning to the end. We are free from all of them. God works in His time. We can’t understand that so why do we think we can understand the depth of God’s love?

Where did the customer service go?

Whether we are in customer service, accounting, marketing or leadership positions, we are always serving a customer of some sort. Sometimes they are internal customers and sometimes they are the paying customers; either way, they can be demanding. Where has the good customer service gone? St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a great reminder of how we should act toward each other – customers or not. The old adage of the “customer is always right” seems to have gone away with the full-service gas station. People in the customer service business these days seem to be bothered with us “customers” and our needs.

On the flip side, have you started treating those serving you differently? If you are in a leadership position, do you think that your employees are there to serve you? How do you react when they need something or some help? Leaders must learn to deal with all types of people who have all types of needs. The management practice of situational leadership applies today more than at any other time. The principle is that every situation (or person) requires a different approach than you used the last time or perhaps will use the next time. It requires patience, humility and gentleness. We have four different generations in the workplace today and each needs its own approach. One thing that doesn’t change, patience and humility will go along way toward delivering great service.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2

This verse is one of God’s directions for us. He teaches us, through St. Paul, how we should treat and live with each other. I haven’t found a person who enjoys the company of someone who isn’t humble and treats people poorly. We tend to tolerate these people in our lives because we have to, not because we want to. We are taught to love all of God’s creatures but some people make that very hard! Remain patient and tolerant, God is teaching you something. How do you act toward others? Are you the person that people merely tolerate? Are you gentle and humble with those who serve you? Take time to examine yourself and apply the direction that God is giving us.

Jesus demonstrated these attributes in His life. When the Disciples couldn’t understand the lessons Jesus was teaching, He never gave up. When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with trick questions, He loved them anyway and was gentle with them. Even on the cross, Jesus asked for mercy on those that were crucifying Him. I often say that if people are going to quote from the bible that they should be reading the whole thing and not just a few selected verses that make their point. In order for us to live as St. Paul suggests, we need to be reminded of God’s patience with us and we can do that by reading God’s word.

Consistency over Change

They say that the only thing that is consistent about our world today is that change will happen. Cell phone plans are changing, the world stock markets have been changing (hourly) and our access to information can change our point of view in an instant. I can’t take credit for creating it but I’ve been repeating a phrase for years about the fire service – we must be Semper Gumby; always flexible. It seems that things are changing so much that everyone must have a little Semper Gumby in them. How do you react to change? Are you a resister that has to be convinced that change is good or are you one of those people who jumps right on board with the change? There are a few people out there who are the objectors and will fight change right until the end. It’s important to know what role you play when change comes knocking.

The opposite of change is consistency. There is a lot to be said for being consistent; it can also lead to routine and ruts but lets stay positive. As a worker, a spouse, a family member or a supervisor, the people around us appreciate a little consistency. No one likes guessing which version of a person will show up from one day to the next. Consistent quality of your work is important too. When people can count on you to deliver consistent work products, you not only improve their lives but you raise your worth or value for to them. For as often as things can change, they can stay the same too. People say that history often repeats itself, which for me means, there is a little consistency out there. The specific names and places might be different but the circumstances are often the same. So, while things around us are changing at what appears to be a break-neck pace, know where you fall in the spectrum of change but also embrace the consistency of life to be that one person people can count on.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

This verse can become a great anchor point for our lives as we struggle with the constant changes around us. The world markets went on a wild ride this past week and people started worrying about the future. Thousands of people sold stock out of fear despite the warnings that the ride was temporary and was a needed adjustment. It was almost the example of quitting when things got bad. Do you cut and run when things get bad? The devil would like you to do that; turn from God and take matters into your own hands. If we turn away when things get bad and rely on our own ways and not God’s, we have taken the temptations of the devil.

We have consistency in God, through His Son Jesus, that we will be protected and have eternal life. There are no recounts in the bible of God’s love changing or of Jesus changing His ministry. Jesus remained consistent to the Prophet’s teachings right through His own death. God remained consistent with His desire to have His children close by Him and providing for their needs; even when His children disobeyed Him. God’s continued grace and mercy was given to us through His Son Jesus Christ, given to die for our sins, so that we may have consistency in an eternal life with Him. Sure, the world has changed over the thousands of years but God’s love has been consistent; we are free from sin and have eternal life through His son Jesus Christ.