The Importance of Listening

I call it, “the bull elephant trumpeting the herd.” Know what I mean? I’m thinking about the person who comes into a meeting at work, or worse yet, at church who has all the answers and is bound and determined to make sure everybody in the room knows it. He is not there to listen or seek to understand; he is there simply to stir the pot and leave others to clean up his mess as he makes his grand exit.

“Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.”

Proverbs 13:10

Merriam-Webster defines strife, “(1) bitter sometimes violent conflict or dissension; (2) exertion or contention for superiority.” Why does one behave this way, especially in professional and church settings? This is where pride rears its ugly head. Pride tells a person he must always be right. Pride tells a person she must always be the smartest in the room. Pride tells a person that the people in the meeting with him are of small importance and have little to offer. Pride says, “I will speak, you will listen.” In the church and in business, such behavior not only impedes progress, but it needlessly builds dissention and disunity – both of which can destroy a church and a business if allowed to take root. “Don’t be that guy,” I remind myself constantly.

In his book and seminar entitled 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey famously said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This, my friends, is wisdom. Wisdom casts personal pride aside and puts to interests of the group first. Wisdom looks around the room, sees value in everybody present, and earnestly seeks to hear what they have to say. Wisdom says, “I know I don’t have all the answers, but these people can help me discern the right path.” Wisdom seeks truth and understanding before forming opinions about what to say or what strategy to deploy. Wisdom listens first, asks meaningful questions, and thanks the team for their contributions. “Be that guy,” I remind myself constantly.

Which Jeff will I bring to work today? The prideful, arrogant Jeff (he’s there, trust me)? Or the wise, discerning Jeff (he’s there too, thank God). I seek wisdom for my life through God’s Word and the counsel of Christian friends whom I trust. Through this, I am equipped to leave the prideful, arrogant me in the background as I seek to lead my team with kindness, love, and – yes – wisdom. Time to go to work.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019

Love One Another

Jesus on Earth was the epitome of Love. He showed Love to the unlovable. He viewed every person with whom He came into contact as having value, no matter who it was or what they had done. Love. What does that mean for us in 2019?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35

Jesus gave this command to His disciples as they celebrated Passover in what Christians have come to call the “Last Supper”. It was here that He washed His disciples’ feet. It was here that He instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It was here that He began to explain to His disciples what was about to happen. Jesus is about to return to the Father, leaving his disciples to a call of ministry.

As I read the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Jesus’ love for humanity was unflappable. It was consistent. It was patient. Jesus approached people differently than we humans approach them. And, because of that, Jesus stood out; He was different.

Think about it. We tend to prejudge what a person might be like based on skin color, the clothes they wear, the neighborhood they live in, the car they drive, the career they chose… You get the point. Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus offered His love to everyone, even those who rejected Him.

Jesus stood out from the world. By commanding (note: this was not a suggestion or a recommendation – it was a command) His disciples to love one another, Jesus knew that they would look different from the world. They would stand out. They would be Jesus’ representatives to the lost and fallen world that so desperately needs to know Him. This kind of Love is contagious!

What was Jesus’ purpose in giving this command? “By this everyone will know you are My disciples…” Boom. Friends, I am guilty as charged. Thank God that He forgives me through Jesus Christ. In response, I am committed to doing my best to obey this commandment, not just in my church but in my home, my office, behind the wheel – everywhere, all the time. “By this everyone will know you are My disciple…” What doors might this open for me to share the Good News of Jesus Christ? What doors might this open for you?

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019

The Way of a Fool

Have you ever seen a person headed down the wrong path, making decisions in a vacuum, and knowing that this will lead nowhere good? I have, and it can be painful to watch.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.”

Proverbs 12:15

Merriam-Webster offers this definition of a fool: “A person lacking in judgment or prudence.” I call it, “flying blind.”

I have learned over the years, sometimes the hard way, that my idea of how to solve a problem or approach a difficult situation is not necessarily the best idea. I used to be somewhat bull-headed, not always the best listener, and at some point down the course I charted for myself found that I was not where I had intended to be. It is sometimes the School of Hard Knocks at which we learn some of our most valuable life lessons.

Strong leaders are not bull-headed. They do not “fly blind.” They do not chart a course without first gathering all the facts and examining possible options. Strong leaders do not abuse their titles. Do you know people who do this? Have you ever been in a meeting at which the most senior person in the room belligerently states his unfounded opinion as the subject matter experts try to help him see the light? But, through self-importance, pride, or something else, he just will not listen? I have, and sometimes it can almost be comical watching a person make a fool of himself even when I have been the target of another’s belligerence. “Big title, small mind,” I’m tempted to think.

That is exactly the behavior addressed in this Proverb. I am blessed to work with an incredible team of very smart people. Sometimes, difficult situations arise. I am a fool if I address those situations on my own without seeking their counsel and advice. I have experienced countless situations in which the brightest and best idea comes from a surprising source. Strong leaders tap into the talent that surrounds him or her. Setting pride aside, the leader listens to subject matter experts, weights the options, and reaches an informed decision on how to proceed. The strong leader then gives credit where credit is due.

For me, this is a constant life lesson. I am thankful for this reminder from God’s Word on this Monday morning. Now it’s time to take on the week!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019

Eyewitness

There is nothing more powerful in supporting a position than the eyewitness. Throughout history, eyewitness testimony has carried great weight in courts of law all around the world. Jurors and spectators hang on every word the eyewitness speaks as he describes what he saw and heard at the crime scene, or as she describes the violence of the collision she witnessed on the highway. Through the lens of the eyewitness, the facts emerge.

“I have seen and I testify that this is God’s chosen One.”

John 1:34

The Bible offers eyewitness testimony regarding Jesus. After Jesus’ Ascension, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2), and with that they were equipped to carry out Jesus’ instructions to go into the world and share the Gospel. All of their questions, their doubts and their fears were eradicated. They were fully equipped to do God’s work.

People ask me from time to time, if they were to begin reading the Bible for the very first time, what should they read first? I refer them to John’s Gospel, the writings of one of many eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, His ministry, His miracles, His death, His resurrection, His post-resurrection appearances & interactions, and finally His Ascension. John saw it all, and writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, beautifully offers his eyewitness testimony of just who Jesus is, starting with Jesus as Creator in the beginning (John 1:1) all the way through to His promise of eternal life to all who would believe in Him.

Has it been awhile since you opened your Bible? I know, we’re all busy. But therein resides all we need to know about who God is, what He is about, and how we are to live in response. Therein resides the bad news of our eternal situation without Jesus and the good news of God’s promise of eternal life through faith in Jesus. Isn’t this worth an investment of time?

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019

Who is this Jesus?

Who is this Jesus? Even today, this is a hotly debated topic. Some say He was good man, a powerful teacher and a strong leader. Others claim He is a hoax, foisted upon the world by a band of disciples who somehow got their false claims about Him to stick. Some, including me, know He is God.

” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”

John 1:1

This succinct statement, along with the 13 verses immediately following, describe Someone who is completely unique from any other understanding about who God is. I love the progression here. Jesus was present at the start, He was with GodHe was God. Boom! There you have it. Jesus is eternal. No person who has ever walked this earth other than Jesus has this status. Nobody. This is a foundational Truth of the Christian faith as it is a foundational Truth on which I build my life.

Why is Jesus called “the Word” in this passage? According to Lutheran Cyclopedia,

“Word of God covers the whole field of God’s revelation of Himself. His Word is the essential mode whereby God intervenes in the world; Through it, He creates the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1); through it He reveals Himself to men (John 1:1-14); and by its proclamation the history of the church develops and is fulfilled (Acts 4:29, 31).” (1)

Every time I ponder this foundational truth, my heart races as I realize just Who it is I serve. And, with that realization, everything I do in life is repositioned. My life becomes an act of service to Him, even as imperfect as I am. Throughout Scripture, God works through imperfect people. From Abraham to Moses to Rahab to David to Peter to John and all the rest… All had their flaws. All were human. Yet all were called to serve. In fact, the only perfect (without sin) Person that has ever walked the earth is Jesus. The only One.

This is big stuff. It is real. And, whether you believe it or not, it is completely and eternally true. And because of that, Jesus is a game-changer. Without Him, there is no hope for eternity. By His grace (willingly taking on the punishment we deserve) and mercy (not giving us the punishment we deserve) we who believe in Him have the hope, indeed the reality, of eternal life.

I don’t know about you, but this fires me up! As I sit here in the wee hours of the morning, about to get ready to take on another work day, I am refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to go into the world and serve my God in the place where He has me.

How about you? These are bold claims, but they are the claims of God’s Word, the Bible. On this foundational Truth I take my stand. On this foundational Truth I build my life. Although I am not perfect, I am loved by The Word. And so are you!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(1) “Word of God.” Lutheran Cyclopedia: a Concise in-Home Reference for the Christian Family, by Erwin Louis. Lueker, Concordia Publ. House, 1984, pp. 825–825.

When Arrows are Flying…

Have you ever felt that you were under attack? That the arrows are coming straight for you from all sides, and as you duck and jive to avoid being struck, you can’t help but think that at some point an arrow will find its mark? I have, and it can be overwhelming – until I’m reminded that, even as the arrows fly, I am not fighting this battle alone.

“Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”

Psalm 55:22

David wrote this Psalm as he was under attack by Saul, a close acquaintance and trusted friend. David was in fear for his life even as he was disappointed in the betrayal he felt. In the first fifteen verses of this psalm, David writes of the attack and his disappointment in who it was leading the charge:

“But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend…” (Psalm 55:13)

One of my favorite movies is “My Cousin Vinny”. Joe Pesci plays a New York lawyer seeking to win his first case. His girlfriend, played by Marisa Tomei, anxiously awaits that day, for Vinny has promised to marry her after that first win. Vinny’s cousin and his cousin’s best friend have been wrongfully charged with murder in Alabama. Vinny is defending them, and as the pressures of discovery and trial preparations mount, his girlfriend confronts him with the reality of her ticking biological clock. This is about all Vinny can take, and he asks in total frustration, “How much more can we pile on??”

I can relate to Vinny at times, can you?

Of course, David and Vinny are completely different people – one is real and the other fictional. They are under totally different forms of attack. And while it may be difficult to relate to the attack on David, I’m betting that pretty much all of us have experienced pressure similar to that which was piled onto Vinny Gambini’s shoulders.

Sometimes in my work role I am a deliverer of bad news. One-off bad news events are typically easy to manage through. But when “the hits just keep on coming” as I’m prone to say in times such as these, I am tempted to worry about tarnished credibility. I am tempted to worry about discussions taking place in which I am not a participant. Sometimes the arrows come from unexpected places – “out of left field” – and the pain of the news is coupled with disappointment in its source. I sometimes feel alone as the arrows come my way; my mood and demeanor are impacted and people see that. This is where my faith comes in. This is when I feel the reality of God’s sustenance.

Here is what Vinny doesn’t know, but David knew, as do I: I know that I have an Advocate; I know I have a Sustainer. I know that God is right here with me. Even as I work through some challenging issues right now, I can see past the tough times at hand and be reassured that God is in this with me. I am not in this alone. He is here, protecting my flanks from the incoming arrows and equipping me to do what I need to do as I honor my chief objective to always glorify Him. Indeed, I trust Him completely.

What battles are you facing right now? Do you know that God cares? I assure you, He does. Cast your burdens upon Him and He will sustain you, just as He has sustained me time and time again. If you have questions, please reach out. I am available and willing.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019

RIMS 2019 In The Books!

It is good to be home! The national Risk & Insurance Management Society (RIMS) conference is an event to which I look forward every year. It is a very busy week packed with meetings, networking events, good friends and good times. With hardening insurance markets, underwriter meetings at RIMS were somewhat more substantive than in most years, and the timing of RIMS for me was fortuitous as many key insurance partners were in Boston and available for discussion. Indeed, it was a productive week and I am thankful to have attended.

Demonstrating the comaraderie that characterizes our great industry is best done through pictures, so I offer a few here.

Sneak peek at the exhibit hall Sunday afternoon.
Dinner with CorVel Sunday evening at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle. Steak!!
How she got up & down from there I have no clue. Lady on very tall stilts, AIG dessert reception Sunday evening.
Sysco colleague and I outside AIG meeting space Monday. Insurer and broker meeting spaces in the convention center make transitioning between meetings very easy.
Quick meet & greet with ReEmployAbility friends in the exhibit hall.
Since my property renewal wraps up just before RIMS, we started a Tuesday afternoon tradition three RIMS ago of gathering with Houston & London brokers and underwriters to celebrate partnership. Here are Houston & London brokers with our lead Lloyds underwriter.

Chubb offers a nice client appreciation dinner Wednesday evening. Combining casual attire, fine food and an amazing venue (JFK Library) it is the perfect event at which to conclude RIMS. Above I am pictured with two long-time friends (I won’t say how long…) with Chubb and CorVel.

I had some time alone late Wednesday afternoon to enjoy a nice Cakebread Chardonnay and reflect on the events of the week. Only about 30 minutes, I take this time every year to catch my breath and count my blessings. Legal Harborside, Wednesday afternoon.

RIMS is an action-packed, full-calendar event. My rule for survival this year included this mantra:

“Head on the pillow by 11:00”

I achieved that objective each night, which helped me stay on my game during the busy agendas of meetings and events. My color-coded agenda helped keep me on time and (mostly) in the right place!

RIMS 2019 is in the books. Each morning I took time to read Scripture and ask God to help me be a witness in the fast and furious pace that is RIMS. I pray that I mostly achieved that. Now it is time to strap on the Fitbit and get some steps as I seek to shed the 3 pounds I gained over the course of the week!

Soli DEO Gloria!

(c) workisministry.com 2019

The Treasure of God’s Word

I often refer to Scripture as “the treasure of God’s Word.” From Genesis through Revelation, God reveals Himself to us through different authors, writing styles and over a large span of time. It’s truly amazing. But the most important thing to remember about Scripture is it’s all about Jesus – every bit of it.

“Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”

Luke 24:27

I would love to have been walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus with these two followers of Jesus. I can only imagine what they were feeling and saying as they recounted the events of the past few days – Jesus’ trial, conviction, crucifixion, disappeared body and reports of a resurrection. I’m sure their minds were racing with confusion as they tried to sort this out. As they walk a stranger appears and asks them what they are talking about. Unbeknownst to them, the stranger is Jesus Himself. Perplexed, they ask Him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” (24:18). Jesus asks, “what things?” to which they reply by describing Jesus – His powerful teachings, His death and reports of His resurrection. Jesus responds by chastising their lack of faith and proceeds to “…explain to the them things concerning Himself in the Scriptures.”

I am dismayed that many Christian churches rarely, if ever, include Old Testament Scripture in worship and teaching. I’ve heard many Christians say that the Old Testament is no longer relevant in these New Testament days. Oh, how wrong they are!

Let me ask you a question:

Would you buy tickets to a great play and skip Act 1, going straight to Act 2?

Of course you wouldn’t. That would make no sense at all! Without seeing Act 1, you will not understand what is happening in Act 2.

“Why is she doing that?”

“Why did he say that?”

“How did they get there?”

Have you ever sat next to this person at a play or a movie? I have, and, man, can they be annoying!?

The Old Testament is God’s Act 1. In it, He reveals His creative nature and His sovereignty over His creation. He gives us the Law and exposes us to our sinful nature. He tells us of the separation from Him that comes through sin. He reveals His plan to remedy that by sending the perfect Sacrifice, His Son, to take the punishment we deserve. The Old Testament shares the bad news we need to hear while assuring us that the Remedy is coming!

To fully understand God’s Act 2, the New Testament, it needs to be set up by Act 1. Read, studied and preached with the context of the Old Testament, the Gospel rings out loud and clear. To ignore the Old Testament is short-sighted at best, foolhardy at worst. I am convinced that the tendency towards ignoring the Old Testament in many churches today is a major reason we see an increase in lukewarm, watered-down Christianity.

All of Scripture – the entire book – is God’s redemptive story and worthy of our time and attention. This really began to resonate with me the first year I worked through a reading plan through the complete Bible. And, as I make my way through my third, God continues to expand my understanding. If you have never embarked on such a plan, I strongly encourage you to do so. You don’t have to wait until January 1 to start; today is as good a day as any. The YouVersion Bible App is free, and offers a plethora of reading plans from which to choose, including topical, seasonal, and full Bible plans. Give it a try – I double-dog dare you.

Final note: One of my favorite preachers, Alistair Begg, offered the analogy of a great play to explain why the entire Bible is worthy of study. To not credit him would be disingenuous on my part. If you’re into podcasts and good, solid Bible teaching, I encourage you to give Truth for Life a listen.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image Credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019

Off to RIMS!

After many years of business travel, I still very much enjoy it. As I type this, I am several miles above the earth winging my way to Boston for the annual Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) national conference. RIMS offers risk management professionals a golden opportunity to learn, network, and meet with colleagues and business partners as we eat well and drink well in some of America’s finest cities. As I fly today, I’m looking forward to all of this, but I am also keenly aware that I have a ministry. As I enjoy the comaraderie and festivities that is RIMS I pray that my actions and my words honor my God.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Psalm 51:10

David wrote these words after confessing his sins around his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband. Trusting God to forgive him, he asked God to cleanse his heart and renew his spirit, seeking to start fresh serving his God and his Lord. Growing up in the Lutheran church, we sang this as part of our response to receiving words of absolution after publicly confessing our sins. It is a statement of faith that allows us to stop looking back and look ahead to better and brighter days to come, thanks to the forgiveness we know through the grace and mercy of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I hear the question now, “What in the world does this have to do with RIMS?” Well, to be fully transparent I must admit that I tend to get caught up in the festivities. I enjoy them. I hate to miss a good time. The fine food and good wine flow, sometimes to excess, and I like to be right in the middle of it all. It’s fun! But, as I grow older and more mature in my faith, my desire to honor and please God with my words and actions grows stronger. In the past I know I’ve said and done things that dishonor and displease Him. When that happens my witness is tarnished. I don’t want to offer a tarnished witness.

So, with this verse on my mind, off I go. The past is the past and I know I am forgiven for prior sins. As I look ahead to Boston, I am excited to arrive. I fully intend to make the most of RIMS 2019 as I enjoy the meetings, fellowship, relationships, food and, yes, the wine that goes along with it. My prayer is that God gives me the self-awareness and the presence to know when to say when, always remembering that I serve Him, first and foremost.

To my risk management and insurance friends & colleagues, I wish you safe travels to Boston and I look forward to catching up. Have a great conference!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019

When in Trouble…

The Psalms offer so much, from cries of despair and repentance to promises of comfort and deliverance. I recently wrote about God’s provision of strength and courage during trying times. Today, God offers rescue:

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.”

Psalm 50:15

Our home was one of many flooded by the federal government in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. We evacuated by boat as the flood waters rose. Kind volunteers with bass boats along with the US Coast Guard helped us and our neighbors safely escape the rising flood. We were dropped off at the entrance to our neighborhood on Memorial Drive. The transportation we were told would be waiting to take us to shelter was nowhere to be seen. Upon asking a police officer sitting in his parked cruiser about that, he replied, “you are on your own.”

I was angry and frustrated. There we stood, rain falling, my wife, my son and I with four wet dogs and a crated cat. We had nowhere to go and no way to get there. I honestly didn’t know what to do. At that moment, a black Cadillac Escalade pulled alongside us. The driver got out of the vehicle and said, “you look like you need a ride. Where can I take you?” I protested, hesitant to load our wet animals into his beautiful SUV. He told me trucks can be cleaned, “get in and we’ll sort this out together.” After about three hours, a change in vehicle (more kind strangers with a jacked-up Dodge pickup truck) and a few phone calls, we were safe and warm at the home of a coworker. Now we could assess our situation and make our plan.

God rescued us that afternoon. He sent that man and his daughter in the black Cadillac to pluck us off the street and escort us to safety. It’s that simple. As sure as my heart beats and my fingers tap this keyboard, I know without a doubt that the events of that Monday afternoon were the work of our loving and rescuing God.

But it doesn’t end with His rescue. There is a tradeoff here. “I shall rescue you and you will honor Me.” My gosh, how will I do that? As I ponder this, I think back to the words of the kind volunteer in the black Cadillac Escalade:

“Get in and we’ll sort this out together.”

Of course, that’s not Scripture, but his words remind me that God is walking with me through this life. He doesn’t leave me to sort this out on my own. God is interested, He has a plan for my life, and when I seek His will through Scripture and prayer, He guides my footsteps. He shows me my strengths and my weaknesses. He helps me sort this out. I started this blog, workisministry.com, as one way of honoring Him. This was His idea, conveyed to me in a moment of prayerful contemplation (See About workiministry.com). I can honor Him by seeking opportunities to serve others. I can honor Him with my words, my attitude, and my conduct. I can honor Him by striving to be salt and light to the world around me. There are plethora of ways I can honor my Lord.

You know, we all need to be rescued. Our greatest need for rescue comes from the condemnation we deserve as the consequence for our sins. Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). Here is the good news: God has already executed our rescue from sin. Just this past weekend, we celebrated the greatest Sacrifice in history as Jesus gave His life on the cross on Good Friday. Then, Sunday morning, we celebrated the greatest Victory in history as He rose from the dead on the third day, just as He said He would. Indeed, our greatest need for rescue has already been met. All we have to do is believe.

God cares about what happens in your daily life. He cares about what’s happening at work, at home, wherever you might be and whatever situation you may encounter. Sometimes it may seem that He is nowhere to be found, but He is there. Sometimes it may seem that He doesn’t hear our prayers for rescue, but He does. What He promises here, in this succinct little verse, is to hear us when we call and to rescue us from our trouble. Seek Him. Call upon Him. Know that He is God. His ways are not our ways. The rescue may take longer than you’d like and it may come in a way that you did not envision – perhaps in the form of a kind stranger in a black Cadillac – but it will come. It will come.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019