Does it have to be so hard?

Lately, I’ve found myself saying, “why does this have to be so hard?” I read a great article two weeks ago titled “Why Simple Rules Produce Better Decisions” by Valeria Maltoni. In the article she explains the beliefs found in a book by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt “Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World”. The authors believe that we should use a small set of simple rules — “shortcut strategies that save time and effort by focusing our attention and simplifying the way we process information.” Simple rules work because they allow for flexibility, they produce better decisions because they make decision-making fast and easy and, they allow for activities to be synchronized on the fly; doing what is inherently right for the greater purpose.

I wasn’t trapped in my rules of overly complex situations; I was being challenged on matters that should have been quite simple. The other side of “this is hard” is when we get bad news. A couple of weeks ago, a young man who I used to work with passed away from work related cancer. This young man left behind two small children and an amazing family with fought with him to try and overcome a rare form of cancer. I’m not the only one who has had this happen to him; my guess is that everyone knows someone dealing with a hardship. We can’t over simplify these challenges and we can’t write new rules for how they are applied; we are not in control. Today’s verse reminds us that the road to the kingdom of God is not easy. We need to remember that the destination however, is paradise.

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

I wish I knew why we had to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus took our sins upon Himself and suffered for them so that we may be blameless in God’s eyes. We are assured of that in the bible. So why do we have to suffer in this life? I’d like to think, because no one really knows, that we need to appreciate all that God has done for us. If you look back over time, the human race hasn’t been very good at following the Commands of God. He gave us 10 simple rules to follow and the human race found ways around them or through them.

I often use the phrase made famous by Ronald Reagan, “Trust but Verify”. Is this what God is doing with us? Is God trusting us to do what He commands and have Jesus as our one and only savior but is He verifying our faith in Jesus? Where do we turn when things get bad, who do we rely on and how do we react in these times of hardships? There is only one simple answer; we must turn to God when we are faced with hardship. He will be with us all the way. He has never promised a smooth ride or a simple life, hardship builds character and demonstrates our faith in God. The road will be rough but it leads us to paradise – eternal life with God.

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Troubles

Every week seems to bring news about another good person being diagnosed with cancer or life-threatening illness. I’m sure many of them are thinking, “why me?” In these circumstances, I can’t help but think about all of the people that I saw on their last day here on earth during my career. Some of them were expecting to die, others we saved because it wasn’t their time and for many others, they had no idea it was the last day. The old saying, “if you knew today was your last day, what would you do?” comes to mind. Personally, I don’t want to think about it, so we will move on.

I’m left to wonder, like so many others, why do bad things happen to good people? The guy who kills an entire family, including children gets life in prison but the faithful Christian woman who has spent her life serving others has only weeks to live following a cancer diagnosis. It doesn’t seem fair. Daily, we see examples of where life’s circumstances don’t seem fair and rotten people appear to get off “scot-free”. I would offer that “fair” is in the eye of the beholder. The concept of “fair” is found in the human condition of “keeping up with the Jones”. Life should be about being content. You have what you have and that is okay. There will always be people who have more than you but there are also people who have less than you – in everything. Be content and in that moment, I bet you will find happiness. What if today was your last, do you want to be happy and content or miserable and jealous? You can choose.

“The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” Psalm 34:19

Nowhere in the bible can you find a promise from God of a trouble free life. I’ve written about this before and can go on about God’s plan for your life. This week I want to focus on the verse – “The righteous person may have many troubles”. If you believe that the bible is the word of God, given to us by Him, then you may also see how this is God telling us – “there will be troubles in your life”. According to this verse, some of us will have more troubles than others (many troubles). There is no avoiding it; we will have troubles. To what degree is left to God; remember Job. God does not punish us with troubles, He uses them to prepare us for future opportunities or He uses us to prepare those around us.

The second half of this verse is critical to our Christian faith; “the Lord delivers him from them all”. This is our assurance that God will not abandon us in our time of need (or any other time). No matter what we face, God will deliver us from our troubles. Our human nature however, does not understand God’s time frame. We are not assured that He will deliver us immediately or to our satisfaction but He will deliver us. If today is your last day, you can be assured that God will deliver you eternal life because of your belief in Jesus Christ as your savior. If today is just another worry filled day on earth, rejoice in the fact that you are still here and that God is going to deliver you from all your worries. Keep sharing and believing in God’s power and rest easy knowing that Jesus has prepared the way for you.

Favorites

There’s an old expression for someone who was the teacher’s favorite student, the “teacher’s pet”. Every kid in the class despised the teacher’s pet. They felt like the “pet” always received preferred treatment, got away with a little more social freedom than the other kids and seemed to get better grades. Children don’t realize the importance of following the rules, doing your work and getting along with others. These are the types of behaviors that these kids displayed to earn the title “teacher’s pet”. As we grow up, we often fall back into behaviors or feelings that we once had as children. I would bet that there is someone in your place of work or an organization you belong to that reminds you of a “teacher’s pet”. A co-worker or colleague who the boss seemingly treats better than anyone else or who has a little more leeway when it comes to using their discretion. Annoying isn’t it?

I wonder what our fourth grade selves might say to us when they see how we are reacting. Are we jealous because they are getting attention? What is it that they are doing that has put them in this “superior” position? What aren’t you doing? Supervisors have a responsibility to avoid these types of circumstances in their work places. It’s hard not to give high performers extra responsibility, more challenging assignments and a little more understanding when they make mistakes. Good supervisors however, will engage all of their employees to find out what they want to accomplish that will support the mission of the company. They will give employees the right challenge to match their skills and desires. They shouldn’t give them an accounting project if they don’t have any practical experience. Avoiding favoritism is hard for a supervisor but it critical for the overall team’s success.

“…God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34-35

Imagine if God actually had favorites. Now imagine being one of them! What kind of things could you do or what kind of things would you know? The truth is, we are all God’s favorites. If we think about the people or places in our life that are our favorites; we always give them special treatment. We’ll visit a favorite restaurant multiple times or the friend that we think of first when we want to go out for a night or have an extra ticket to an event. This describes the difference between God and us; He has no favorites. We are all equally loved, no matter what our place in life is.

John 3:16 says “God so loved the world…” It doesn’t say that God loved a special few or that He loved His favorites, He loved the WORLD. God showed His love for us by saving us through His son Jesus. He didn’t offer to save His special friends or those that serve Him or specifically anyone other than those that fear Him, do what is right and have faith in Jesus as their savior. God’s promises are clear and no amount of works or giving or special prayers will get us eternal life. We have it simply through God’s grace, which means, we are ALL His favorites.

 

Rest Comfortably

It’s so hard to determine what the truth is anymore. Our connection to current events is almost instantaneous and right away someone is telling us the “truth” behind the story. We’ve seen an avalanche of what is being deemed “fake news”, what is actually fake news in the form of “deep fakes” on social media and disinformation campaigns. What is really the truth anymore? When it comes to religion, we’re in trouble there too; young people are being driven away from organized religion in huge numbers. More than half of those surveyed do not consider themselves Christian anymore. We see moral decay all around us in the news these days and witness long time marriages breaking up.

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 on God’s word”. Keep in mind that saying nothing is just as bad spreading falsehoods.

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 do anything and everything that they wish. To others, it means having enough to be satisfied or content. And yet to others, it means having a life of blessings and little worry despite having little money. Many people focus on making money because as 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 put so much emphasis on their careers, in order to provide “financial stability”, will often miss out on the important things in life. We have all heard people say “I’m working 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 we 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 what should be 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 and 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.

Leadership Lessons

Leadership can be a number of different things to different people. Some seek leadership while others simply provide it. Leadership can be hard to define too. The United States Army defines leadership as “influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” I agree whole-heartedly with this definition, being a leader is about being able to influence people. Some will view the idea of “influence others” as a negative thing but in this definition, the goal is to get people to do things that they didn’t know that they could do.

Leaders need to work with every employee to help them achieve their highest potential. When employees feel supported at work, they tend to work harder and as a result, the organization becomes stronger. There are “leaders” who believe that they are leading because their people check with them on all decisions. They think that they are supporting their people because they answer their phone calls. In these cases, they are simply holding their employees back by not letting them make decisions, think critically and be independent. How are they supposed to learn if they never get a chance to make a decision?

If you are a leader, look out for your people and care for them. This doesn’t mean do their work or become protective over them. It means that you care about their future, their growth and work-related wellbeing. Leading is like teaching a child to ride a bike. You give them the lessons, you guide them by holding the seat and running along side them and then you let go. If they fall, you help them back up and reassure them before doing it again. When they ride on their own, you celebrate what they’ve done.

“For He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…” Psalm 91:11

This Psalm sounds like it is describing a great leader doesn’t it? God will guard you in everything: how great would that be? The interesting thing with this verse is that it doesn’t say “He will command His angels to do things for you” which is what most people want out of God. Most people want Him to provide for everything they desire and to protect them from everything bad. And when God doesn’t do all of that, they start to turn away.

C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Screwtape Letters”, describes what a letter between two demons might sound like and how simple it is to turn us against God. We are quick to turn on Him and begin relying on ourselves, which is really our sinful nature at work.

“He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways”. God is with you every day in everything you do. He is there to guard you and protect you, not from things on earth but to protect you for all eternity. God’s worry isn’t about this life; it’s about your eternal life. Re-read the Army definition of a leader and then apply it to what God does for you. His mission is to have us join Him in heaven and the organization is all of mankind. He wants to influence us so we can influence others. Be assured that God is there to guard you. He will not test or forsake you but has promised to love and care for you. Sounds like a great leader.

What to make of it?

My mother’s brother passed away this week after a courageous fight with dementia. My mom and her brother Jim were very close as kids and stayed that way as they both surpassed 90 years of age. As kids, they attended dance class and would tell stories about how they used to entertain at dinner parties that my grandparents would host. They were very fond of each other and despite losing many of their memories, neither one forgot about each other. It was truly touching. The irony of his passing was that he died on my grandma’s birthdate – December 12th. While I know that my cousins are experiencing the same sense of loss that we are, I also know that they are celebrating the same joys that we did as well.

The whole experience has allowed me to connect with my cousin, support her on the journey in care and once again in grief. While the circumstances are sad, I am appreciative of the opportunity. So when we ask why did it happen that way, I know with great confidence that God was at work here. This time of year can be very sad for some people; a look back over the year past and what did and did not get done. I am comforted by the faith I have in God’s promises and can see His hand in my life. I like to use this analogy: during our life, we cannot see the path that we are on but when we finish a segment of it, God sometimes gives us a satellite view of where we’ve been. We mourn the loss of another great family member but we celebrate that we had him in the first place.

6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7

My Uncle did a lot in his lifetime, raised great kids, had a large extended family but most importantly, he was a man of great faith. He was very content with his life and was at peace when he passed. This verse from Timothy reminds me about the story of the DASH whose premise is what have you done with the time represented by the dash between the year you born and the year you die. We bring nothing into this world and we take nothing out; its what we do with our time that counts. God has given us the tools to do great things, we just need to slow down and learn the keys to using them.

The directions are in the bible and sometimes we even have examples in our lives. Jesus lived as an example for us but God also gives us examples like my Uncle Jim in our lives today. Slow down to see them and be content with the things in your life; it ends suddenly. We will never know the impact we will have on others and we all have a DASH; fill it with contentment, love, kindness and worship to God who made it all possible.

Meeting Your Needs

These are uncertain times for sure. There is global unrest and the U.S. election isn’t making anyone feel great about the future. How have these past few years been for you? My guess is that they’ve been tough. If you think about it though, you have been provided for in some way. Paychecks have been flat for a few years, hours are still reduced 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 positively when the past few years have been 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 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. Leaders should be finding ways to open doors for their people. We should be seeking opportunities to expand our experiences by offering to help our bosses with their projects. If you feel “stuck” in your job with no hope, look outside of 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!

“…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 and this verse from Paul is another reminder. He 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 current situation in your life, send your cares to God through prayer. He didn’t finish His work when He raised up Jesus from death; He was just beginning His work. He continues to tell us where to focus our lives. Live to His glory and He will meet all of your needs.