“Do what it says”

“Do what I say, not what I do” is an old expression used to describe a hypocrite. We seem to be hearing a lot from people these days that go out in public and profess one thing but then are caught doing another. How about these examples: the politician who talks about decency and moral values while carrying on affair with a young staffer or the Hollywood star who supports equality but is being accused of harassing women. What about us as parents or supervisors? Does hypocrisy exist in your life? Do you text and drive but tell your kids to leave their phones in their pockets? We see supervisors telling their staff to be productive but watch them take two hour lunches and then spend the afternoon reading about their fantasy football team.

As we enter tax preparation season, let’s consider this – is stealing wrong? If so, why is it okay to cheat on your taxes? All of us will tell those in our lives that we love them but do we do anything that shows them that we do? We can all go around and tell people to do things or tell them how to live their lives but we need to be ready to do the same things we tell others to do. We often hear people tell us what to do or what is expected of us and yet we fail to follow their direction because its silly or we don’t agree with it. Imagine how you would react if you found out that someone ignored what you asked them to do. It’s a matter of honesty, we should do as we say or do as we are asked. When does personal freedom end and anarchy begin?

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22

“I go to church on Sunday, why do I need to read the bible during the week?” “I’m a good Christian. I give money to charities and donate my time when I can”. How often have you heard these phrases or even said them? Many bible studies examine the concept of discipleship. One definition of disciple is a learner or growing in faith and knowledge. I often discuss the idea of being in God’s Word on a regular basis. “Do not merely listen to the Word”.

I am frequently reminded of a conversation that I had with someone who was struggling. I said that when you go to church, you are getting God on you and when you participate in the sacrament of communion that you are getting God in you. By studying the Word of God and putting it into practice you are also getting God in you. While this theory of mine is not based in sound theology, to me it makes sense. Becoming one with God is what He desires most for us. The bible is full of instructions for us about how to live our lives but if we don’t know what the bible says, then we can’t do it. Take time to start studying the Word given to us by God and then put those words into action. God has begun His good work in you; help Him by being a part of the work, you can’t lose.

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Mistakes

This weekend we saw a number of great NFL football games in the first round of the playoffs. Four games were played, four teams won and four teams lost. There were mistakes made, no doubt about that. I’m not talking about any game in particular but games are usually won because one team took advantage of someone else’s mistake. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Someone makes a mistake and the office jerk is not only quick to point it out but also then tries to take advantage of it. We all forget that post-it-notes were actually a result of someone’s mistake. How do you react when someone makes a mistake? I always make two promises to the teams that I lead – 1) I will make mistakes and 2) I will never repeat them.

They key is what we do with the experience of making a mistake. The old saying of “its water under the bridge” is so true; you can’t get it back. My philosophy is that you have to acknowledge the error, learn from it and move forward. This is why football teams review films of the game they just played, each week; win or lose. They don’t dwell on the outcome, they are always looking forward. People make mistakes all of the time. A baseball player who hits the ball only 33% of the time (.300 avg.) is a great player. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of productivity goal? So, the next time someone around you makes a mistake or you do; give them a little smile and let them know that it’s okay. The office jerk will get theirs in all due time.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

We always seem to make one mistake after another; breaking commandments left and right. How can we call ourselves Christians if we can’t live a life without sin? St. Paul would certainly have a thing or two to say about that. His first direction in this single verse as part of a letter to the Ephesians was: “Be kind and compassionate to one another”. This is a great place to start. How you handle yourself with others is a good indication of the messages that have gone to your core. My guess is that you are compassionate and caring toward others. You do your best to help when you can and pray for help when there is more to be done than you can handle.

As Christians, we forgive and forget a lot more often than we give ourselves credit for. If you held onto every wrong against you, the weight of those emotions would be crushing. We forgive strangers everyday yet we find it hard to forgive those we love or even ourselves. Jesus Christ taught us to be patient with everyone. Even His own disciples were less than helpful in the end yet He forgave them. God, Our Father in Heaven who loves us so deeply, is compassionate with us even when we disappoint Him. All of our sins have been forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection, no exceptions. God forgives you for the sins that you have committed and those that you have yet to commit; that’s why we can call ourselves Christians. Go out and demonstrate God’s love through your faith in Jesus Christ, the world needs our kindness, compassion and forgiveness.

The Wonderful Acts

Thanksgiving was last week and I felt another devotion on thankfulness was fitting. Leaders are in the position to influence the lives of those that work for them, those they work with and occasionally, those who they work for, especially those in middle management. Regardless of our roles in life, we are often so busy trying to juggle all of our priorities that sometimes we forget to say thank you. If we are in a leadership position, it is only because people follow us. If they are following us because they have to, well, we are simply just managing them. If we are true leaders, we are influencing people’s lives each day by what we say and do. If the people who work for you are truly following you, they will alter their perceptions, attitudes, knowledge and behaviors all because of you.

Last week I suggested that you pick someone who makes your life just a little easier and say thank you to them. I’d like to suggest that you also say thanks to the team that follows you. Tell them about the great work they do and how it impacts your business, then tell your coworkers how great it is to work with them and what they do to support you and then thank your boss for what he or she does for you personally and how you’ve grown from your experience working for them. Even if your boss is horrible, you are still learning something. Don’t let this Thanksgiving time slip away without thanking those that make your workdays a little more bearable. As a leader, it’s important for your people to know that you notice and that you care.

8Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 9Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.            1 Chronicles 16:8-9

We are taught that when we pray, we should give thanks to God for all that he’s done for us. Even if you are struggling right now, God is with you making you stronger. We often pray when we need something or are worried but how often do we pray just to give thanks? We see people accepting awards or scoring points in a sporting event point to the heavens as if to say “thanks to you God”. We don’t have to wait until we win an award or score a touchdown; everyday is reason to celebrate.

Today’s verse reminds us to tell others what God has done for us: “tell of all his wonderful acts.” The greatest thing that God has done for us is to send us a savior, someone to intercede on our behalf with God so that our sins are forgiven. Jesus Christ taught us how to live, how to treat each other and how to be saved from ourselves. He is a great leader and deserves our thanks. Today, tell God how thankful you are for everything in your life and ask for the courage to spread to the word.

Managing vs Leading

Recently, I seem to be faced with having to deal with people who either managers or leaders but never both. There have been plenty of books written that describe a leader, so I’m not going to do it in a short blog post. The verse for today talks about: “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training”; all good signs of a leader. Taking the time to ensure that your people are trained to do their job is a management function. Taking the time to build their skills and knowledge so that they can grow/advance is leadership. Rebuking, which is the expression of disapproval or criticism is the management skill of correcting unwanted behavior. Leaders that have courage, will not only help others correct mistakes, they take the time to coach their staff toward improvement and will allow mistakes to serve as learning points and not disciplinary moments. Managers will spend time correcting every little thing that people do, sometimes we use the phrase “micro-manager” with these people.

We have all worked for someone who wants things done a certain way within a certain time period. A real micro-manager takes their “certain way” and makes changes to everything we’ve done. A leader will correct someone by teaching more effective processes, they will teach by explaining what and why certain things are important but most of all, they will acknowledge when they are wrong. Training employees is critical for an organization’s overall success. Teaching is about learning new skills and training is about taking what you know and making it better. Leaders view training as an opportunity to let people experiment and get comfortable with concepts and processes. The signs of a good leader can be found in these traits, modeled by the greatest leader there will ever be.

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

This is one of those verses that help summarize the bible – “All Scripture is God-breathed”. It’s amazing to think that these are the words of God given to us through His writers. If you look back through the scriptures, you will see Jesus use teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in all that He did. Whether he was addressing large crowds, small groups, His disciples, His mother or the Pharisees; He was working toward righteousness.

The “man” referred to in these verses is all of us. We should use these traits to become equipped for every good work. No one will manage us, there is no one to “make” us do it; Jesus (our leader) has given us examples to follow. As sinners, it is easy to fall away from the teachings; no one really knows when we fall and there is no one to discipline us. Our coach and our leader, who is there all of time, is God. He is the one who inspired the scripture and sent His Son to be our savior. We shouldn’t fear that God is a micro-manager, we need to embrace the One whom we call “teacher”; He is the one that makes it all right in our Father’s eyes.

Don’t Give Up

There is a book by Kent Keith titled “Anyway, The Paradoxical Commandments” which lays out 10 paradoxical commandments of life. My favorite is # 10 which states “Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway”. Throughout my life as a leader, I have learned that no good deed will go unpunished. I have gone out of my way for someone to only have them do something that has caused me more aggravation later. I can’t tell you how many nights I was up late working on a “group” research project because one of my classmates failed to complete their part of a project. This kind of thing happens all of the time to people. They do their best and give others the benefit of the doubt only to later regret it. Leaders must continue to give their best despite what might happen.

I’ve seen organizational leaders lose faith in their people because they’ve been “kicked in the teeth” and now think that everyone in the organization is just a bunch of “winey babies”. They have no trust in anyone, they no longer involve the employees in decision-making and they have created a hostile work environment for their employees and themselves. Leaders must stand tall and continue to do what is right, at the right time and for everyone they lead because it’s their responsibility. Sure, leaders will “get kicked in the teeth” but that’s why it’s lonely at the top. People don’t always understand our roles but we know that we will make a difference and that is why we “give the world our best anyway”.

9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:9-10

This verse had a couple of options for things to talk about – doing good and not giving up. While I focused the first part on doing good, I’d like to add the “not giving up” part here. It is tiring always doing good, our sinful nature says “when will someone do good for me?” We seem to be able to justify shortcuts and doing the minimum in our minds. We go around doing things for others, for little recognition I might add, and all we ask in return is a little good coming our way; that’s not too much to ask. The end of verse 8 gives us the answer “the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

The “good” coming to you will come from the Holy Spirit. We are encouraged to “do good to all people” but “especially those who belong to the family of believers”. There are no options to be good only to those that are good to us or who won’t make our lives harder. Whether you are a leader, a follower or a loner, do not become weary of always doing good. No one said it was easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ but the rewards are eternal. Go and do good – Anyway.

Why Worry?

Worry can consume a great deal of time in someone’s life. As children if we did something bad, our mothers warned us to “wait until your father comes home” and then we spent hours worrying. Somehow we are comfortable worrying. I created phrase in our house a while back when I said, “let’s worry about worrying, when there is something to worry about”. We were falling into the trap of worry before we even had a problem. We learned after my surgery that there is a plan for our lives; we simply needed to let it reveal itself to us. We want to be in control of everything and when we can’t adjust the circumstances around us, we start to worry. We do it so often that worrying has become second nature to us. We worry about things at work, we worry about things at home, in the stock market, in pro sports, on our drive to work and we worry about ourselves. I would challenge you to stop worrying and start living your life.

I’m not suggesting that you become reckless but start to look around at all of the great things in your life and look at how they are connected. These are not random events that just happened because the timing was right; they are connected events that if you look hard enough, you’ll see the plan before your eyes. Let circumstances unfold without your intervention or delay your action just long enough to see the real “whole story”. If you are a supervisor or leader, you should be working to keep your staff from worrying. Keep them in the loop on issues and be honest. It’s hard for an employee to worry about something when they know the facts. Ask employees what they worry about, you might be surprised by the answers you get. Worry is wasted energy and emotions so don’t fall into the trap. You control your reaction – worry or action, the choice is yours.

25Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:25-26

Luke answers my question – worrying will not add to your life, so why do it? As believers, we know three things about our lives: 1) God has a plan for us 2) Our time here on earth has already been determined and 3) Our trust is in God. We are however, logical thinkers by design. God gave us free will to live our lives. I’ll argue then, that if you believe God has a plan for you and that you trust in Him, what do you have to worry about?

If we cannot add a single hour to our own lives, then what is the point? Is worry the creation of Satan to breakdown our trust in God? I don’t know the answer but I know that far too many people turn away from God because they get lost in worrying and find ways to satisfy that emotion which in turn reveals more worry, etc. There is only one that can weave that sort of confusion in our lives. Let God take that worry from you, He likes to hear what is troubling His children. God will be there for you no matter what you are worried about, give Him your troubles. Let God work in your life and you’ll be amazed at the great things that he will reveal. Put your trust in God and less on your own ability and He will be there for you.

Take one for the team

One of things that I do as a military contractor is to work with the Homeland Response Forces dedicated to protecting U.S. citizens from natural and man-made disasters. It is a natural fit after my 27 years in the fire service. The largest command is the Nation’s Joint Task Force-Civil Support Command, which is comprised of approximately 5500 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who take the idea of “service to others” to whole new level. When the nation has been attacked, some of these 5500 service members will be asked to “take one for the team”. When the Fugashima nuclear reactor failed in Japan several years ago as a result of a tsunami, some of their soldiers were asked to “take one for the team” and despite the danger, go into the radioactive area to obtain the data needed to make critical decisions. If we had a nuclear detonation in this country, we would be asking our military to do the same. It really made it clear to me that none of us really understand how to serve others when you compare it to acts of the Japanese Army.

Everyday we have public safety personnel risking themselves for our safety not to mention all of the “troops” dedicated to protecting us worldwide. Your local police officer and firefighter put themselves in harms way for us, oftentimes without concern for the consequences. What about the average person? What kind of service to others do we do? Sure, some of us “serve” others in our jobs while some “just work”. I’d suggest that there is no such thing as “just work”, every day we do/can serve others; its all in how we perceive it or our attitude toward it. Each one of us is important in our own way and we should never forget that. Reacting to the “Good Morning” sent your way by the always happy co-worker with a smile instead of a grunt turns your attitude toward serving others simply by returning the positive back to them. We spend a lot more of our day serving others and much of time we don’t realize it. I’d suggest we do it with a smile and without concern for the consequences.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

There have been books written on Jesus’ servant leadership – besides the Bible. Jesus came to us to: teach, lead, and provide an example of how to live but most of all, He came to serve us. He gave Himself for us so that we can all have eternal life with God our Father. His service is even greater than “taking one for the team”. On the last night before Supper, Jesus took the time to wash the feet of His disciples in what many believe to be the greatest show of being a servant. The night before He would be turned over to start the process of a long death, Jesus washed feet. Serving His fellow man was important and while the disciples didn’t know what was coming, Jesus did.

He knew that continuing His life of service was important to His mission and ironically, it’s a message that still continues to resonate 2000 years later. People remember the little things like washing feet before they talk about ALL of the other things He did. We aren’t much different. People will remember the little things you do for them before they remember the one or two big ones. Go out with the intent to serve others; pick up that piece of parking lot trash instead of stepping over it. When a co-worker looks stressed, help them with something small like a coffee refill or an offer to assist with something small. Sometimes it’s just the timing of a smile that can make all the difference in the world. Please pray for those who work everyday to safe guard us and be comforted by the knowledge that there are people who are willing to “take one for the team” for you.

Listening

It usually takes me a few weeks to recover from a three-week assignment with the Army – 13 hour days for 21 days can wreak havoc on your mental state. There are several great take a ways from each of these exercises that I do. As I write my last reference to it, I want to focus on the people and leadership styles that I’ve witnessed or observed. There is an old saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we might listen twice as much as we speak. This reminds me of people who interrupt others because they have the answer before someone even finishes asking the question. The use of the phrase “right, right” seems to have infiltrated our society today.

People don’t seem to want to let you finish what you are saying and this phrase apparently gives them permission to cut you off by agreeing with you – twice no less. Everything, and I mean everything, is available in short bursts or precisely when you want it. Twitter lets people share their thoughts in 140 or less characters. Virtual assistants on smart phones get you information which saves you the effort of having to “Google it”. We are loosing our ability to listen – really listen. We need to take the time to look people in the eye and listen to what they are saying. Don’t focus on what you’re going to say next or make assumptions about what they are trying to say or jump to the end because you think faster than they do. Listen, smile, pay attention and really hear what they are saying.

“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24

God’s people just didn’t get it when he was writing this. In fact, many today still don’t get it. God was saying, “I know what they will need before they ask and I will always listen.” This is one of His great promises – speak to me and I will listen. It’s important to note, He didn’t say “I will fix it” or “I will answer you right away” but He WILL listen.

It’s often hard for us to separate listening from answering. God’s time frame is different than ours. God wants to hear from His children, He knows what is on our hearts but He wants to hear what is on your mind. Tell Him what you are thinking in prayer. God will meet your basic needs; that’s Him answering before we call. He wants to hear ALL of our worries, concerns, appreciations, thanks and our needs. He will order things in our lives according to His will, not ours. If you think He isn’t answering, perhaps you are not being patient enough or you simply don’t see the answers/solutions present in your life. God hears it all, it’s usually us who fail recognize His work.

 

Mother’s Day

I debated about doing a piece on Mother’s Day; the day that Hallmark made. Before anyone takes offense, I feel the same about Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. While my wife and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, we do recognize the other two days for each other. It always seems that the spouses take these days more seriously than the children do, until at least the time they are old enough to really know better and to shop for themselves. Lisa and I have been blessed with two awesome mothers of our own. They not only like each other but they like their in-law kids too. I’m certain that I speak for both of us when I say; they treat us like their own kids. My mom gained another daughter and Lisa’s mom gained another son – it is better than I ever could have dreamed of. The quote from James reminded me of what a mother is, not only to her kids but also to her spouse as well. I originally planned to use this quote to talk about leaders in an organization and how, if they used these traits, they can truly lead and encourage others to follow. As you read this, compare the actions of a good parent to those of a good leader and you will see that they are one in the same.

A mother’s wisdom is pure and genuine, honest and full of love. No matter what happens, a child (regardless of age) will always seek a mother’s comfort. A mother is peace-loving and considerate. She’s the one who always broke up the fights between brothers and sisters while seeking a solution that worked for everyone. Mothers taught us to share and taught us how to take care of someone who was hurt. A mother is submissive to the needs of the family, full of mercy and kind words (good fruit). Mothers showed us how to sacrifice and put others needs before our own. They deflected blame when we messed up and led the cheering crowd when we did well. Mothers never picked favorites (even though I know I am my mom’s favorite) and when they held your hand and looked into your eyes, you knew they meant everything they said. Great leaders, like all mothers, know how to do these things too. Mothers have earned a day just for themselves but they deserve it throughout the year, not just in May.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17

The irony of this message is that its about Mother’s Day but it is based on the gifts that we have received from our Father in Heaven. This verse is a great reminder of how we are to act toward everyone. The wisdom from heaven was given to us through the writings of the bible. As you read/study the bible, you will see in the New Testament that each lesson shows us God’s pure way in the life of His Son, Jesus.

Jesus then showed us His peace-making ability, how he was considerate to others; even those that opposed Him, submissive to the law of the land, demonstrated His mercy, goodness, impartiality and above all, His sincerity. Use these principles to live your life in all situations, which will please God. And, your Mom too.

“Group work”

I’m currently working on an assignment for the Army and I’ve been witnessing a variety of teamwork examples; both positive and negative. According to Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary, a group is defined as “a number of individuals assembled together or having some unifying relationship” and a team is defined as “a number of persons associated together in work or activity”. I’ve always been fascinated by the study of teamwork and leadership and I once found an interesting quote. According to Sharon Feltham, “Calling a collection of people a team and rallying them to the cause does not make them a team. A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to: a common purpose, a set of performance goals and a common approach, for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”.

A group however, contains people with complementary skills and abilities who are committed to a leader’s goal. “A group supports the leader’s goals and the leader-dominated approach to goal attainment. Leadership is predominantly held by one person rather than the shared, fluid leadership of a team.” What this tells us is that in a group, the dominant viewpoint is represented; in a team, multiple, diverse viewpoints are represented. Decisions in a group are made by voting or implied agreement; decisions on a team are typically made by consensus. I believe this illustrates that people tend to use these terms interchangeably. Next time you join a work “team” make sure you understand who’s goals you are working to achieve.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:4

Remain in Jesus as He remains in you. Our faith in Jesus Christ gives us the strength to move through our lives here on earth. God loves us and has charted a course in our lives but we cannot do it alone! As the branch, we cannot bear fruit on our own; we must remain in the vine that is Jesus.

It sounds simple but the fact is that we need help to remain in the Word of God and strengthen our faith and understanding of the salvation given to us through God’s grace. The vine – Jesus, instructed us to worship with each other and to grow in our faith. He suggested that we form groups focused on a dominant viewpoint and not a team and its multiple viewpoints. We gather in a group to worship God, hear His word and receive the forgiveness of our sins through Christ our Lord and Savior. At times, we will support another branch when they need it and that branch will support us when we need it. No matter the situation, we must remain in the vine.