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

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

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

Strength in Trials

“Be strong and courageous.” God speaks these words to Joshua three times in the first nine verses of this book. Three times! Do you think strength and courage are important to God? I do.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

This passage is often quoted, and, indeed, it is a favorite of mine. For context, God spoke these words to Joshua as He commissioned him to lead Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Moses had just died, and Joshua was appointed by God to take his role. This was a daunting task, a huge project, if you will. This would require strong leadership, resilient will, incredible strength and unwavering courage. This was God’s mission, assigned to Joshua to execute. This was a big deal.

These were not just marching orders from God. Notice the incredible promise God offers Joshua: “…the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Do you think God expected Joshua to summon up strength and courage from somewhere deep within himself? I don’t. This verse, indeed God’s commissioning of Joshua to lead Israel across the Jordan, was God’s statement that this was going to happen. Joshua was not on his own; Joshua was God’s instrument, called, positioned and equipped to carry out His mission with God Himself alongside him, just as Moses had executed God’s mission to rescue Israel from bondage in Egypt.

“The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” I take great comfort in these words. You see, this is a foundational truth. No matter where I go, no matter what I am doing, God is there. In one sense that gives me pause, as he sees the good, the bad and the ugly of me. But even through the bad and the ugly, He does not abandon me. He is with me. Always.

Several jobs ago, I was directed by an executive of the company to do something that I knew was not entirely right. But, he was an executive, he supported his direction with (worldly) reason, so I carried out his orders. After all, he had a “C” title.

An internal investigation ensued and as a result, I was dismissed from my position with that company. Yes, I was fired. As all of this unfolded, I never worried. I remember feeling that I should be worried, but I had this incredible sense of peace. Indeed, God was there. God was with me. I wasn’t leading a nation across a mighty river. I wasn’t preaching a sermon to a crowd of unsaved. I was just doing my job as directed by a superior. Do you think the executive that directed my actions stood by me through the investigation? Of course not. He was nowhere to be seen. But God did.

Most of us work in the secular world. The secular world can be tough. Sometimes we see and hear things that make us cringe. Sometimes we get dragged into uncomfortable meetings. Sometimes we are faced with temptation. But at all times, we have an opportunity to be salt and light to a dark world that desperately needs to taste and to see. We live and work among people from various walks of life with a variety of world views. The workplace is a mission field. And God is there.

As the internal investigation was drawing to a close, everybody knew what was happening. At one point, a coworker walked into my office and closed the door. He was a declared non-believer. He asked me how I was able to remain so calm and positive knowing what was happening and what was likely to come. I told him that this was not of me. I could only ascribe my sense of peace to my faith in God. He got up, left my office, and we never spoke of it again. We’ve since lost touch but I think of him often.

Friends, as you go into your workplace today, be strong and courageous, no matter what. For the Lord your God goes with you.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019

Be Still…

3:05 AM and I’m wide awake. Any of us who work in corporate America experience times like this – times when the whirlwind is fierce, activity abounds and time is demanded, even more time than we seem to have. So, in the wee hours of the morning before the sun comes up, my mind is racing as I lay in bed. I’m thinking of two emails in particular that need to be addressed. I get up, make a pot of coffee and carry my work laptop up to my office. But, before I power it up I open my Bible for my morning reading and this is what God gave me:

“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, and I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

Talk about an injection of healthy perspective! God reminded me this morning that He is the One of utmost importance. And as I read my Bible I kept coming back to this verse. “Be still…”

People often quote the first part of this verse and forget the second. As I ponder those words I’m reminded that God is why I’m here. This creation is His, my life is His, my work is His… No matter what the whirlwind may bring my way, I will rest in calm knowing that God is right here with me.

So – that is what I have to offer this morning. I know this is short and (hopefully) sweet, but I couldn’t start my work without sharing this. No matter how busy I am, I must always take time to be still, go to God’s Word, ponder what He has to say and give the whirlwind up in prayer. Having done that, I am best equipped to take on all this day is going to bring. Christian business man/woman, if you’re not taking time each day to “be still and know that He is God” you’re missing out on a beautiful relationship.

Now – time to take on that whirlwind!

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019

Calm in the Whirlwind

I read this passage in a late February morning devotional. I was busy; hence, I was struggling to manage my time and maintain my priorities. I struggled with this throughout the month of March. I fell behind in my Bible reading plan, my prayer life lapsed, and I let weeks pass without posting a blog. As I read this passage, it brought me great comfort and I saved the image to share with you when I had ample time to offer my thoughts:

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple. For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.

Psalm 27:4-5

My work environment is fast-paced and I generally enjoy that. But there are times when the volume and the pace combine to reach an almost overwhelming crescendo – one in which my morning devotional time is diverted to early email cleanup and weekend R&R is replaced by quiet hours in the office catching up on work. When I allow this to happen, I become distracted from that which is truly most important: my relationship with God.

Why does David seek to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life, to behold His beauty and to meditate in His temple? Because it is grounding. You see, I yearn for His presence. Being in the presence of God resets my compass. When I am dialed in to my morning routine of Scripture reading, prayer and writing, my life takes on an element of calm, even as life’s whirlwind swirls around me. Do you see God’s action here?

“He will keep me safe…”

“He will shelter me…”

“He will set me high upon a rock.”

The peace and calm that come from spending time in worship, Bible study and prayer is God’s doing, not mine. And in that calm I am best equipped to handle everything that comes my way at home, at work, in life. Indeed, everybody wins.

On a recent lunchtime walk, I gave myself a rather stern lecture. I knew I was not managing my time according to my priorities. I reminded myself that my time is a gift from God. I own it, but He has first dibs. While I am dedicated to my work and other responsibilities, I cannot allow those to rob me of my time with my Lord. As I walked, I asked God to give me the strength, wisdom and means to realign my time with my priorities. And, as usual, God answered my prayer.

Thanks to two contractors having scheduled work at my house today (April Fools Day of all days) I took a day off – well, except for a conference call this morning and answering a few emails… Between offering instructions and answering questions, I used today to catch up on my Bible reading plan, update my prayer journal, and draft a few posts for my blog.

It’s been a good day.

Soli DEO Gloria!

Image credit: YouVersion Bible App

(c) workisministry.com 2019