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!

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(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!

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(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!

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(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!

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(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!

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(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!

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(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!

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(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!

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(c) workisministry.com 2019

Marvelous Indeed!

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

The pastor of my youth opened every Easter Sunday service with this ancient declaration and response. This Truth and its acknowledgement is a succinct statement of what makes me tick.

“But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings only; and he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.”

Luke 24:12

Luke tells us, early on the morning after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James gathered the spices they had prepared for the anointing of Jesus’ body. They headed to the tomb where He had been laid and discovered that the tomb was open and His body was gone. I cannot imagine what was going through their minds. Just as they stood there, “perplexed,” Luke tells us, two men appeared to them “in dazzling clothing” and declared the shocking news:

“Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:5-7)

The women, remembering Jesus’ words, went and told the disciples what they had seen and heard. The disciples didn’t believe them. But Peter had to go see for himself.

I have focused on Peter these past few days. Peter was one of three disciples, along with James and John, who seemed to have a particularly close relationship with Jesus. Jesus took only these three up the mountain to witness His transfiguration for example (Luke 9:28-36). Peter was the disciple who vowed to stand with Jesus on Maundy Thursday, but soon afterward deserted Him, denying Him three times. Luke wrote that Peter wept bitterly upon hearing the rooster crow, just as Jesus said. Here, we see Peter, gathered with the other ten disciples, receiving this incredible news from the women who had visited Jesus’ tomb. As the others expressed doubt, Peter went to see.

I love what Peter did upon looking into the the tomb, containing only the linens that once wrapped Jesus’ body, but otherwise empty just as the women had said. Luke doesn’t say he returned to the place where the disciples were gathered; maybe he did. But what Luke tells us Peter ultimately did really resonates with me:

“…he went away to his home, marveling at what had happened.”

This is a lot to take in. Sometimes we just need time alone to ponder, consider and pray. Peter “marveled” at what had happened. Have you ever marveled over the works of God? Have you ever watched the sun set over a vast ocean or mighty mountain range and marveled at the glory of God’s creation? Have you ever found yourself in need, really in need, and have God meet that need seemingly out of nowhere? Have you ever opened Scripture and heard God’s voice as you read it? Does the reality of what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean for those who believe hit home?

Today we Christians celebrate the most important event in all of history and the greatest miracle of all time – the resurrection of our Lord from the grasp of death. The victory lies not with those who killed Him. The victory is His, and through His victory, we have assurance of eternal life with Him in Heaven. This, my friends, is something to celebrate. This is something worth marveling. This is most certainly and eternally true.

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Happy Easter!

Soli DEO Gloria!

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(c) workisministry.com 2019

What Now?

I’ve never really known what to do with the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It seems that it should be different from other Saturdays, given the events of Good Friday and the coming celebration of Easter Sunday, like we’re sort of on “pause” as we await Jesus’ resurrection. Reading my Holy Week devotional this morning, God offered this:

“and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

1 Peter 2:24

While this is not a direct answer to my Easter Saturday dilemma, it made me think: what do I do with Good Friday? Do the events of Good Friday have any lasting influence on my life here on Earth? Or do I simply coast, awaiting the day when God calls me home to be with Him, thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross?

As I pondered this, it struck me that the man who wrote this letter is Peter, the disciple who swore vehemently that he would never abandon Jesus, to which Jesus replied, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:34) Through the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the disciples still did not understand what God was unfolding. I can only imagine the disciples on Saturday, sitting together, wondering what to do next. Their beloved teacher, Jesus, was gone. His enemies had won (or so it seemed). I’m sure they feared potential repercussions upon themselves. Scripture does not tell us how they spent Saturday – probably because that is not what God wants us to focus on.

In reading Peter’s letters, we see a different person than the man who cowered by the fire that Thursday night, denying Jesus as the young girl and others pointed him out to those who had gathered (Luke 22:54-61). Jesus was right. Peter would deny Him three times. When that reality hit, Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62). And then, after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the disciples finally got it, thanks to Jesus’ appearing to them and to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1-2). Peter and the rest were changed forever and God worked through them in incredible ways.

So here we sit in 2019 with the benefit of Scriptural insight, including eyewitness accounts of the events that first Easter weekend. And, Peter, the one who denied Jesus, offers this. Jesus, by His sacrifice, healed the wounds that our sins heap upon us. It was His action that saves us for all eternity. Our response: to reject sin (“die to sin”) and seek a righteous, God-pleasing lifestyle (“live to righteousness”). The fact that we are freed from sin’s bondage and eternal consequence offers the opportunity to open our arms wide, embrace life and approach it from an entirely different perspective – the perspective of one who is free, one who is loved, one who is saved. The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is, I believe, the ideal time to ponder this. What does this mean for my life? What changes will I make? What will I do to live a life that honors and pleases my Lord and my God?

Soli DEO Gloria!

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(c) workisministry.com 2019