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.

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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.

What’s True Anymore?

It’s so hard to determine what the truth is anymore. Our connection to current events is almost instantaneous and right away someone is analyzing the what really happened and then telling us the “facts” behind the story. A recent study shows that young people are being driven away from organized religion in huge numbers. More than half of those surveyed do not consider them selves Christian anymore. We see moral decay all around us in the news these days from public officials under investigation to, and as friends pointed out this weekend, long time marriages breaking up. Our friend pointed out that technology has made it too easy and tempting to look for greener grass. It seems as though people are having a hard time telling truth from fiction anymore.

Leaders have a responsibility to be truthful at all times. People deserve the truth and when leaders are truthful, their followers can begin to understand what is at stake. Trustworthiness is the number one personality trait that people look for in a leader. People have to trust you as their leader; your word is your truth. No one wants to hear the latest spin you’ve got or the “company line” when they ask questions or see you in action; they want the truth, plain and simple.

John 17:17 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is the truth.”

Fortunately, the bible is filled with God’s truths. We have been given examples of God’s promises and his fulfillment of them. There is no spin on anything in the bible and the only “company line” is “Love the Lord Your God”. The devil would love for you to begin creating your own version of the truth or even your own “take of God’s word”. Life can create doubts all around us; sometimes we are not sure who or what to believe anymore.

Despite all of this confusion and our own lack of understanding, God keeps His word and provides for all of our needs. He gives us eternal life in exchange for one simple act: Love the Lord Your God through your faith in Jesus Christ. This truth gives us a life better than we can imagine here on earth. So, despite all of the uncertainty around us, we can all rest comfortably knowing that we can find our truths in the bible and in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Riches

What does being rich mean to you? For some, it means having money to anything and everything that they wish. To others, it means having enough to be satisfied or content. And to yet others, it means having a life of blessings and little worry despite having little money. Many people focus on making money because the old adage says “money can’t buy everything but it sure makes everything better”. When we focus on getting rich or making money we often forget the other things of importance in our lives. People who focus on their careers so much in order to provide “financial stability” often miss out on the important things. Have you heard people say “I’m working so hard to provide a future for my family”?

These people rarely have time for the present day family that they are working so hard for. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I’m glad my parents weren’t around when I was a kid so I could have this great inheritance check now that they’re dead”. Everything in our lives is about balance. The right amount of money, the right amount of time and the right attitude generally always pay off. The right amount of exercise and the right amount of rest keep us healthy in the long run. What do riches really do for us? Sure, not having to worry about paying bills would be great but what kind of life do they have working or worrying about work constantly. Monetarily “rich people” often don’t seem happy. Watch a young family with few “riches” and you will see hugs, laughter, smiles and they will find fun in the little things. You don’t need money to be rich; you need the right perspective on life and a little faith in your future.

4Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. 5Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone…” Proverbs 23:4-5

These are the words of wisdom that turn our attention to the most important thing in our lives – God. He warns us often throughout the bible not to be misled by the things of this world. St. Paul writes in his letters about how this world will lead us toward destruction. Jesus taught us to focus on the words and promises of God and showed us how the men of this world were leading us astray.

If we focus on riches only, they can be gone in a glance; leaving us with nothing. If we focus on God and His word, we are never alone and always content. The same Proverb in verse 12 tells us,” Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.” Jesus often said to keep focused on God and place our faith in Him alone. God is on our side and He will provide us with what we need and will never give us more than we can bear. His plan is in motion for our lives, we need to have the wisdom to allow it to unfold and keep our attention where it belongs, on God.

We all need to just ask

My wife has saying “You don’t get if you don’t ask”. We have several stories in our lives when she’s used this philosophy while we were faced with dilemmas. one example is when our daughter was little, we took her to see a live character performance. She had gotten sick about half way through it and we had to leave. My wife called the theater to see if there was anything they could do. They had us come down the next weekend and report to a special area. We were then escorted into the venue and right into the front row. The whole thing was crazy but you can’t get something if you don’t ask for it. Many people don’t like asking for help or asking for things in general; oftentimes we feel like we’re taking advantage of things. In the corporate world, they say that employees should be asking for raises and not waiting for them to be given out. What is it that you want that you are not asking for? Our families don’t know what we want if we don’t tell them. Most of us were encouraged to write Santa Claus with our Christmas list and some of us were taken to the store or mall to see the “big guy” and tell him ourselves. As we got older, we stopped doing that with everything in our lives. As employees, we have needs or desires for our careers or professional development. If we don’t share what they are with our supervisors, we will never fulfill our dreams or reach what Abraham Maslow described as “self actualization”. Don’t let anything get in your way of at least asking for the things you want, you never know what might come of it.

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:6

It’s one thing to ask a venue manager for tickets to a show but it’s entirely different to ask God for help. Do not doubt God’s power and love for you; believe in Him and that He will do what is best for you. It’s sometimes hard to understand that what God believes to be best for you is not always what you believe is best for you. Ask God in confidence, He answers prayers; remember – on His time. God also likes to hear praise and thanks for the things in your life. In this verse we are reminded that when we doubt God’s power, our lives will be churned like the sea. I say this often, God has a plan for each one of us and He puts people and circumstances in our lives to help facilitate that plan. He simply asks for our faith and trust in Him through Jesus. The bible is filled with verses that demonstrate God’s love, that tell us how to live our lives and that tell us to have faith. If you doubt what God’s plan is, ask Him. Many times people turn to God when they are in trouble or in need. God tells us to always turn to Him in prayer. The stronger that your faith in Him is, the easier it will be for you to see Him at work in your life. You will never doubt again.

Merry Christmas!

This week we celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. God recognized that we couldn’t obey the law that He had given to us. God knew that we were simply too involved in ourselves to be faithful to Him. However, God also knew that He could not forsake us and that His love for us was greater than His disappointment. We learn throughout the bible that God foresaw this as He continued to tell of a savior in the Old Testament. His angels had been preparing the way. John the Baptist was busy in the Jordan River preparing for the coming of Jesus. Mary was spoken to by the Angel Gabriel in preparation for her role in saving the world. Elizabeth was given a child as a further sign by God of the miraculous things to come. All signs pointed to the new King and Jesus revealed himself as an adult when God was ready for Him to begin His work. The bible has been the most scrutinized “book” in history. It has been authenticated to within years of accuracy, closer than any other historical document. God so ordered the world to allow this “proof” to exist. The bible is God’s word, given to us as a testament of His love for us.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13

We have all been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Now that’s something to celebrate!  God gave His only Son to save the world; He gave us His Devine Word to read and understand; He gave us eternal life through Jesus Christ. Mankind has never done anything to be worthy of eternal life and never can. No amount of works or prayer or tithing can give us what Jesus Christ did. Only God’s promise and His love for all of His children is what allow us to be with Him forever in heaven. Jesus took all of our sins and all of our faults with Him on the cross and then left them in hell. When He ascended into heaven, he took us with Him there too, leaving us innocent in God’s eyes. We became marked with a seal only possible through our faith in Jesus Christ. We not only should celebrate the birth of our savior but we should celebrate God’s love for us.

Merry Christmas!

Love and Hate

I usually try to stick to one subject at a time but this week, these two seemed to go hand and hand – Love and Hate. Frank Sinatra sang a song made popular by the TV show “Married with Children” called Love and Marriage. The words tell us that “they go together like a horse and carriage” and often, so do the words Love and Hate. We throw them around as we generalize most things in our lives; “I love football” or “I hate spinach”. It’s when we use these words towards people that things change. Love and Hate become very powerful words that can change a situation in the blink of an eye. For anyone dating, the first time you say “I love you” is pretty powerful. The phrase is either repeated back to you in affirmation or left unreturned like an envelop with no forwarding address. The word hate is just as powerful when it’s directed at a person; to be told you are hated goes right to the core of your soul. We don’t mind if people don’t like us but no one wants to be hated. I’m not going to pretend that we will go around our lives “loving” everything or everyone but the act of love can be just as meaningful. I would submit that the “act of love” involves compassion, understanding, empathy, commitment and building a sense of community (being one). Today, we need more Love, less Hate. Use this time of the year when people are more open to acts of kindness to be more loving. Spread the joy of this season with the ones you know and then spread it with those you don’t. Say hi to someone at church for the first time, step in and help someone at work who isn’t expecting it, sit and listen to someone who needs a friend or be forgiving of past mistakes. This is the season of Love, so go out and spread the joy.

“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs” Proverbs 10:12 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9

I thought that I would share closely related verses this week since they both talk about Love and Hate. This is the last week of Advent; the week before we celebrate the birth of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ and these verses remind us of the Love that God has for us. God had so many opportunities to demonstrate his contempt with us and turn toward hate. We continued to deny Him and we disobeyed His laws until He finally took things in His own hands and sent us a Savior. He showed us the ultimate form of Love by sending His one and only Son to die for our sins. It was all Love. God’s inspired word is found in the bible, which teaches us that hatred stirs dissension. We’ve often heard about “the company we keep” and if we are around those that hate, we too soon will. We are encouraged to stay by what is good and to remember that love covers all. The wrongs of this world were covered by God’s love for us through Jesus Christ, His Son and our savior. His love is sincere and we must cling to that because it is good and righteous. No matter what you have done or what you have thought, God loves you and wants eternal life with all of His children who believe. Cling to God and nothing can separate you.