Veteran’s Day

The U.S. celebrates Veteran’s Day on November 11th each year. This is an ever increasingly important holiday for us as we attempt to give thanks to those that have served our nation to protect our freedom. When these ceremonies are held, we always remember our World War II veterans but they are decreasing in numbers each year. For some reason this year, at a local event, I started to think about the war this country had for our early freedom, the revolutionary war. Today, we talk about celebrating those that have protected our freedoms in the 20th and 21stcenturies. How about the courage of the men and women who fought to establish FREEDOM?

The British Army was the largest and most feared in the entire world at the time; we did not back down. We fought to ensure that we were free. The war of 1812 was another assault on our freedom. It is not discussed in detail however it was a proud victory from our past. Our Veteran’s deserve so much more than we give them. I’ve heard people argue, “They volunteered for it and knew what they were getting”. I hardly buy the volunteer argument, these heroes stepped up when many others did not, to protect our freedoms. Many of the service members that I’ve worked with have spent a career serving our country, which doesn’t sound like a volunteer. The person who volunteers at the food bank is not the same as the one who leaves behind a family to fight global terrorism. We owe our Veteran’s our freedoms and our thanks.

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13

If nothing says Veteran’s Day like “be men of courage” I don’t know what does. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear a commanding officer speak these words before combat. St. Paul is not talking to Roman soldiers or our military today; he was talking to the people of Corinth. They were, as we are today, in a battle for eternal life. St. Paul was warning them and us today, to be on guard and to stand firm in our faith. Everyday, God’s will and His Christian people are under attack.

The devil is trying to take back the souls won by Jesus’ death on Calvary by polluting the fabric of our society. False prophets and false teachings are everywhere. It isn’t often we hear about the saving grace of God and eternal life that can only be found in faith through Jesus Christ is our savior. St. Paul encourages us to be courageous despite these challenges. Confidently speak of God’s grace and mercy to all. Stay connected to God’s word and study the teachings of Jesus to remain strong in faith and to have the confidence to be strong.

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Encouragement

No matter how strong or independent we might think that we are, we all need encouragement. When we have kids, we encourage them all of the time; whether they are walking for the first time or going through potty training. We start our lives with so much encouragement only to watch it fade away into cynicism. After encouraging comes guiding and directing, which is followed by a little criticism before we simply stop doing anything. “They’re adults, they will have to figure it out” is how we justify doing nothing. Sure, as adult children they may push back and resist and we (as parents) will eventually just stop. This attitude also takes over at work with us. We rarely encourage co-workers or hear encouragement from others. I would suggest that our human soul needs it, otherwise we become so cynical that we can seem negative.

Sports teams are full of encouraging moments on the bench. Watch a team score a touchdown or a player hit a homerun and you will see encouragement at its peak. Supervisors have a responsibility to encourage their people along the way. Not every hit is a homerun but sometimes the only thing driving people to try harder is just a little encouragement. For me, I’d been working about 12 years before I heard someone say, “great job”. Perhaps it was the first time I actually did something right 😉 but I was on a pretty successful career path. Supervisors at that time simply didn’t acknowledge good work. We need to change that. I often use restaurant servers as examples because I watch them as they work and they work hard! Tell them what a nice job they did for you. An extra tip says one thing but taking the time to tell them how they did will mean the world. Then, take that concept and start spreading to multiple aspects of your life, watch people’s reaction and sit back and smile.

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

Have you ever had one of those crazy experiences or maybe even a horrible string of days at work and then, when it was over, wonder how you made it through it all? Where do you find your strength and inspiration? Some of us can be motivated or inspired by other people while others are motivated by greed and winning.

If you are reading this blog, my guess is that the latter doesn’t do much for you. Sure, people can be motivating and we can be inspired by the strength or wisdom of someone but, behind it all is the Lord Himself. He goes before you to light paths and order things so that those people are in your life. They may be put there years before He needs to use them, but He knows that you’ll need them. Stop and think about all of the really horrible things that have happened in your life and then think about the places, people and circumstances that kept you going. At the time they seemed random but if you carefully look back, you will see God at work. He promised to never leave you so do not be afraid or discouraged; God right there with you – every step of the way.

Courage

Courage is a pretty powerful word. Not everyone has it to the same degree; some people don’t even have it. I think it takes courage to jump out of an airplane or ride a looping roller coaster – I won’t do either. Some people say that firefighters have courage to go into burning building or enter hazardous conditions – I would do both. I suppose that all of this means that we are each held back by different things. We are held back by fear, in most cases, a fear of the unknown. A new job, a new city and a new friend, a new challenge or facing those things that we already know we fear; they are scary. Many of us would like to quit our jobs and live a life much different than we do today. So why don’t we?

Fear. Sometimes fear can stop us from taking chances at work. For example, we don’t speak up when we have an idea that could change things or that might be innovative. We’re afraid to look foolish. I would suggest that fear of the unknown is probably the top reason why people don’t take chances. They simply don’t know how things will turn out so they keep it safe and do what is comfortable. When you stop and think about all of the chances that some pretty famous people took, our lives would be much different without people like Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. They faced fears and took chances. Two weeks ago I asked, “what would you do if you knew that you couldn’t fail?” Would your life be different? I challenge everyone this week to do or try one thing that pushes your comfort level, just a little. Nothing drastic, just push out a little and see what happens.

“…Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. Exodus 14:13

Moses made this comment to the Israelites as he was trying to reassure them when they were afraid and pushing forward. This advice, even from the Old Testament, works today. Do not be afraid and put your trust in God. This world is so very different today when compared to 10 or 20 years ago let alone thousands of years ago. Today, we have so many things to be afraid of: ISIS, disease, Brexit, trade wars, global uncertainty, identity theft, computer hacking and Washington Politicians.

There are days when I wonder how we even function on a daily basis. Stand firm in your faith! God will bring you deliverance and peace when you share your fears with Him. Stay in His word to learn all of the promises that He has made to you. God tells us over and over how He will protect us. Do not be afraid. Reach out your hands and feel God’s presence in your life and go forward knowing that He is with you. Our fears are made up in our minds, and we should be confident that we aren’t alone. God is with you today and everyday so stand tall and take a chance on Him to bring you the deliverance you need from your fears.

Suffering

Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that challenges and obstacles build character; at least that’s been my experience. We all know people who have medical conditions or job issues and we see their suffering. Our church produces a list each week of those who need to be prayed for. The number of people on that list is always amazing to me. I witnessed suffering first hand throughout my career in the fire service. People will often ask how do firefighters deal with it and I always respond that we box up each event and move on. We rarely discuss it and we depend on each other for stability. I would imagine that is what builds the camaraderie that firefighters are famous for. So back to my original question, why do we suffer? I’m certainly not smart enough to actually know the answer but I have a theory.

Suffering, in a way, does build character and makes us stronger. How we react to the event is based on our character and the more opportunities we have to shape that character, the stronger we become. Hence the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I also believe that there is a difference between suffering and disappointment. President Lincoln had a very long list of disappointments before becoming President, but he suffered a great deal as well. He lost his son at a very young age and his wife was tormented by severe depression. Despite all of that, he was a man of great character. The next time you think that you are suffering, ask yourself two questions – is this really disappointment instead and how can I change my reaction? and, if it is suffering, what am I or others supposed to learn from it?

19For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:19-21

I’ll ask again, why do we suffer? It all started in the Garden of Eden. The third chapter of Genesis is pretty specific about all of the suffering that we are to endure as a result of Adam eating the fruit that Eve gave to him. Being deceived by the serpent, Eve broke the one rule that existed. Our lives are now filled with sin, there is no escaping it and that’s why we suffer. People don’t suffer more or less than anyone else because of what they did or what they do. I have to believe that we suffer in varying degrees because it’s what God needs to happen. If we lived in a world completely independent of one another, God would have to teach us the lessons we needed but that isn’t the case.

We teach each other, we are a symbol for others who don’t know us. God will use us to deliver His messages as He deems necessary. People get medical conditions, so others can learn from them. My friend who had a stroke is surely suffering; his life is not the same. I am hearing from his wife how blessed they are by all of the people and prayers in their lives. She rightly believes, that he is alive today because of those prayers. The message of prayer is getting to their whole family, kids and grandkids. God is using this suffering to spread His message. Peter tells us that suffering is good and that as Christ suffered for us, we need to endure it as well. Jesus did not ask “why me?” He knew it was God’s will and then carried the burden. Jesus showed us how to suffer and where to keep our focus – on God. Why do we suffer? It is God calling us to deliver His message.

Is there another way?

No one likes to be corrected, especially when it’s done in front of other people. A very good friend of mine told me not too long ago that his adult son asked my friend and his wife to “stop parenting me”. In other words, you don’t have to correct me or offer advice. Have you thought about how you correct or advise others? The old guiding principle that most good supervisors follow is, “praise in public and punish in private”. However, correcting someone is not the same as punishing them. Granted, there are some people who view being corrected as punishment. When we correct someone, we are engaged in using the situation as a “teachable moment”. If others are around and correction is warranted, we should take the opportunity to “teach” everyone or to improve their understanding when someone mis-speaks. As with all communication, the key is in the delivery.

When correcting someone, you can start by asking an open-ended question about the subject and then asking if there are any other options. Ask them to describe what they intended or meant and then describe your “other way to look at the situation”. The point here is to make it more of a discussion and less about them needing to be corrected. When dealing with misinformation, start by asking where they obtained their information. This will prevent you for needing to be corrected if you are the one not up to speed on the topic. If they do not have the current information, start your sentence with your source of the information. Be mindful of everyone’s feelings and the current situation. If you do not correct misinformation immediately, it will become fact and as a leader, you cannot afford to have bad information in your workplace.

“Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” Job 5:17

I can think of thousands of ways that God “corrects” me. It is hard to argue with Job about being corrected by God and what we should do in response to it. In the beginning, God was constantly trying to “correct” His people. He sent signs, angels, prophets and the Holy Spirit even appeared to a selected few to provide corrective action. It was all to no avail, we still wouldn’t listen or follow God’s laws. Job tells us not to “despise the discipline of the Almighty.” God, like all good fathers, was disciplining us for our own good. We didn’t pay attention though and yet he still tried to help us.

He could have turned His back on us but He loves us too much. So, despite our behavior and continued disregard for His law, He still offered us a chance to be saved and share eternal life with Him. He did this through His son Jesus Christ. As John 3:16-17 tells us 16“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. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” We are saved! So despite what you think that you’re being punished for, God loves you and is making you stronger with each challenge. You might not need the strength today or even 10 years from now, but He is working through you for something great.

 

Wisdom and Knowledge

What can I say about wisdom and knowledge when I can’t read a calendar! This post was supposed to go out today but was first published last Thursday June 22nd. For those that count on something on a Monday and didn’t read it last week – I reposted it.

“He doesn’t have enough common sense to change a nickel!” was a phrase I heard often from my first Captain. He would use that to describe just about anyone who couldn’t quite “get it”. I don’t know if he ever used it to describe me but I’m sure, at times, I lacked “a little change” myself. Merriam Webster’s defines wisdom as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.” The challenge we have in our roles as spouses, siblings, parents and leaders is that we don’t or can’t teach wisdom. In education, we refer to “teaching wisdom” as teaching critical thinking. It is difficult to teach someone how to “think”. We usually associate wisdom with experience and maturity. Critical thinking is skillful and responsible thinking in which you study the problem from all angles, and then exercise your best judgment to draw conclusions.

Teaching critical thinking consists of three basic concepts: 1) Reflecting on the issue or question; to stop and think, avoiding snap judgments, accepting the first idea that comes to mind or automatically accepting whatever is presented. 2) Gently asking questions such as “How do you know”, “What are the reasons?” and “Is that a good source of information?” which establishes the reasons for a point of view or seeks the reasons for others’ views. 3) Being aware of alternative possibilities, conclusions, explanations, sources of evidence, or points of view. Merriam Webster’s defines understanding as “the power of abstract thought; the capacity to apprehend general relations of particulars”. We must have wisdom before we have understanding. As leaders, we tend to deal with teaching people what to do (knowledge) and ask if they understand it. We should be focusing on their depth of understanding through critical thinking.

“And he said to man, ‘The fear of the LORD—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’ ” Job 28:28

A lot can be said of Job. When I hear his name, I immediately think – strength. He certainly stayed faithful to God and despite what happened to him, he knew that God was with him. If anyone can tell us about what God meant, I believe Job to be an excellent candidate. Having the fear of the Lord is something that is wise for an individual to do. It certainly stands today; we should all have fear of the Lord our God.

We shouldn’t fear God because of the “bad” that will happen but because He is our Father and we should live to His glory. Besides, not living to honor God will surely keep you from eternal life. God sent us His Son to take away all of our sins – a reconciliation with the Law if you will, that does not give us a “free pass” but gives us eternal life by our faith in Him. It is wise to fear God. Job also tells us that if we shun evil (follow in the way of the Lord) that we truly understand what God was trying to say all along. He is the way, the truth and the life. Fear the Lord and shun evil, can it be that simple?

Finding Strength

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges

I have used this verse before to describe friendship and to define leadership. This verse speaks to me on so many levels that when I read it again a couple of weeks ago, I was compelled to write about it again. For months, the world has been very tumultuous. We’ve seen terrorist attacks, police shootings, police being ambushed, and horrific violence across the globe. It makes you wonder about the end-times. And, while all of this is going on, most people just go about their business as if it doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t happening in their community. There are others however, that become frightened by what is happening on a global perspective.

In our lives, we are constantly fighting a war against ourselves. We are worried about our jobs, the economy, the bills that are piling up and the latest news from our doctor. Worry sets in and we slowly start to panic – war has been declared. Pastor Greg Brown wrote a great book titled “The Seven laws of Breakthrough” in which he describes a journey that we take moving through our lives. At each level, we achieve strength and confidence just before we breakthrough the ceiling to the next level. He points out that when we breakthrough, we are once again on the floor. It is a great relief to know that we are not alone; we will not be challenged beyond what God knows we can handle. While we might think that we can’t possibly take any more and we feel like the waters are rising quickly, we should also feel the comfort and peace in knowing that He will be with us. Its easy to write – don’t worry about things, but when you know that you are not alone, it should make it a little easier to.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:1b-2

We have all heard people say or we have said it ourselves “God has a plan for you”. Some believe that the circumstances in their lives are merely chance happenings and that God doesn’t get into those details of your life or worse yet, that there isn’t a God at all. God does have a plan but it’s being revealed on His timeline not ours. A day or a year in God’s eye is not the same as an earthly one. Many of you will agree that “this life” is complicated and filled with all kinds of problems and trials. Can this really be part of God’s plan? It sure can be! God will only give us what we can handle and He wants us to grow in our faith and in our lives.

We cannot grow if we are not challenged; this is when breakthroughs occur. We all learned to crawl before we walked and mastered that before we started to run. These too were challenges and like the events of today; they exist for specific reasons. God, our Father, wants us to grow and like any parent who helps their baby take those first steps, He is there with us holding our hands for balance. As things get harder and the waters turn into rivers, He will be there so you are not swept away. God’s grace and love are with you everyday, sometimes you need to simply stop and realize it. Don’t rely on God only when you pass through the river, get to know Him and see what happens when you are only passing through the waters. Thank Him for His care and presence in your life.

My Strength is found in Him

Parents have the responsibility to give their children strength – strength to get through difficult times, strength to accomplish more than they thought was possible and the strength to carry on everyday. Not only as parents but also as adults, we should inspire those around us. We should  be a source of encouragement, a resource for guidance and a cheerleader for our kids and other young people as they reach beyond their limits and try new things toward personal growth.

Our son turned 18 this weekend, he’s an adult – just ask him! My hope at this point in his life is that he will say that his parents “Were always encouraging me, helping me figure things out and giving me opportunities to grow”. So many people influenced me when I was his age. I turned 18 in February and by October of that same year, I was in recruit firefighter school. The ‘men” I was working with saw things in me that I never did. They encouraged me, they taught me, they gave me advice and they put me in my place when I needed it. I’m sure they didn’t have any idea how they would impact me for the rest of my life and now I’ve taken those lessons and given them to my own son. He has the strength to be confident as he readies himself for what life has in store.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

So, where do you get your strength? This passage reminds us to find our strength in God – “Him who gives me strength”. In our fast paced lives we can sometimes forget that. We can do everything through Him because God is our strength; he is with us all day – everyday. Our privilege to be a parent is a gift from God; He has put us in this place at this time. We also have had a great mentor – Jesus Christ. He taught us to have compassion, patience and to be encouraging to those around us.

You can be the source of strength for your kids and those you work with by being a positive role model. When people ask you “Where do you get the strength from?” You can answer quite easily: God gives me the strength. In order to maintain your strength, like in any good workout routine, you need to work at it daily. We’ve all experienced a few days off from the gym; it gets harder to go back the longer you are away. Staying in God’s word or keeping up with bible study and devotions can be hard in our hectic lives; remain strong and stay committed. Much like the men who were there for me and had no idea that they would effect how I raised my son, you may be doing the same for someone else. Don’t worry; your strength is from God.

 

Rising Waters

Are you there for the people in your life? Your friends and family should be able to count on you when they are struggling. An important part of being a friend or being part of a family is knowing that you can count on each other. This week we received a message from a couple who are good friends telling us it has been too long since we last saw each other and suggested a few dates on the calendar to get together. It’s great having friends that you can count on to keep you grounded; like standing next to you in rushing waters.

Leadership at work includes providing direction, vision and support for your organization’s mission. Your employees should be able to count on you to be there for them when they are struggling. Leaders should want to help their people navigate through their challenges (waters) and when things get worse, you can stand by them so that they are not swept away.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…” Isaiah 43:2.

You can feel confident that God will be with you through thick and thin. This is another promise that God has made; to be with us in all that we do and that nothing will sweep us away – we have eternal life through Him. It is a great relief to know that we are not alone; we will not be challenged beyond what God knows we can handle. While we might think that we can’t possibly take any more and we feel like the waters are rising quickly, we should also feel the comfort and peace in knowing that He will be with us.

If we develop trust and establish a relationship with our family, friends or the people we lead, they will have faith in us to believe that we will take care of them. We too then, need to develop our relationship with God and continue to learn about His promises. Don’t rely on God only when you pass through the river, get to know Him and see what happens when you are only passing through the waters.