A Truly Good Life ~ John 3:1-21

Registered trademark for Life Is Good, Inc. Photo Credit: businesswire.com

Registered trademark for Life Is Good, Inc. Photo Credit: businesswire.com

“Life is good.” In the mid-1990’s an apparel line was launched by Life is Good, Inc. According to their website, the company’s mission is to spread the power of optimism as they remind us that life is not perfect, life is not easy, but life is good. Featuring their eye-catching logo (pictured here), the apparel line quickly grew in popularity; I had a few of their t-shirts myself. This is a good, relevant, and healthy message. I like it. But in the grand scheme of things it is not complete.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘you must be born again.’” John 3:5-7 ESV

Jesus and Nicodemus. Photo credit: catholicireland.net

Jesus and Nicodemus. Photo credit: catholicireland.net

Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It is rich with meaning and insight. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a leader in the Jewish synagogue. The Pharisees as a group had been badgering Jesus with trick questions and false accusations since He began His ministry. Here, at night, Nicodemus approached Jesus in private, as if something in his heart was leading him to believe that Jesus was something more than a carpenter who taught with authority (verse 2). Nicodemus seems genuinely curious about the Lord, but to approach Him in a manner offering credibility and respect in public would likely have resulted in great personal trial for Nicodemus.

These days, we tend to toss the phrase “born again” about rather casually. But this is a big deal, really. In this passage, Jesus describes a changed person; one who evolves from having been born of the flesh to one who is now born of the Spirit. This is a new life; a life with a focus beyond the things of this world. It is a life rooted in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

One of the overriding principles of Scripture is that the person who truly loves the Lord knows, first and foremost, that his salvation is solely rooted in the sacrifice that Jesus made in our behalf on the cross. There is nothing any of us can do to earn our salvation.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” ~ John 3:16-17 ESV

Photo credit: newjerusalemcoming.com

Photo credit: newjerusalemcoming.com

Through Christ, God’s work of salvation is perfectly completed. We believers are the humble recipients of His mercy (not receiving the condemnation we rightly deserve) and His grace (receiving salvation from Him, even as undeserving as we are). What does this have to do with being born again? Having received the gift of salvation through Christ, our lives ought to change in response. When we are born again, our priorities ought to reflect God’s priorities, not those of the flesh: the sinful world in which we live. Sadly, however, this is not the case. If each of us is truly honest, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that we still cling to the things of this world even as we live under God’s mercy and grace.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” ~ John 3:19-21 ESV

Friends, these words of Jesus ought to give each of us pause; they certainly do me. I have complete confidence in the redeeming work of my Savior, but I still catch myself living in the flesh every day. When I examine my life in the light, I realize there is still a lot of darkness that needs to be dealt with. And I want to deal with it. I want to change the things in my life that point to the flesh, and instead, point to my Lord – not because it is a requirement of salvation (it is not), but as a product of my love and gratitude for my Lord.

Such change is difficult, for we face significant headwind from our society, which appears to grow more in love with the darkness with each passing day. But even worse is the trend we are seeing in some Christian churches to embrace some sins of the flesh over God’s revelation in Holy Scripture. Don’t believe me? Consider, for example the casual approach to marriage and divorce in many churches or the trend towards legitimatizing LGBT relationships by practice and even by rite in some cases. The enemy wants us to reject a life under the Spirit and, instead, live by the flesh. Sadly, he has successfully influenced several major Christian denominations towards embracing such things. Indeed, living in the light under the Spirit is not easy, but it is what all Christians are called to do.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. ~ Philippians 2:12-13

Travel Bible study. Taken 9.15.2013, Chicago, IL

Travel Bible study. Taken 9.15.2013, Chicago, IL

As believers, we are not to stand quietly on the sidelines and wait for something to happen. We must arm ourselves, not with weapons, but with the knowledge that comes from reading and studying God’s Word. We must read our Bibles daily. We must be in prayer, asking God to reveal His eternal truth through His Word and arm us with the loving words of witness to people, even some within the Church, that so desperately need to hear the Truth. Living the Christian life is about humbly accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation, sharing the good news with others, and living a holy and God-pleasing lifestyle in response; even in the face of criticism and persecution from secular society and misguided brothers and sisters in the church.

Jesus revealed to Nicodemus the Pharisee the fact that He is God and Lord, that He came to save the world from the eternal consequences of it’s sin, and that a life reborn of His mercy and grace is a different life, indeed. All believers are called to live that life. It isn’t easy and living under the Spirit does not make us perfect. But if you think that life is good living under the flesh, try putting yourself under the love, grace, authority and power of Jesus Christ. It is then that you will discover how truly good life can be.

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to save me from my sins. Help me to respond by sharing the Gospel, even in the midst of deepening darkness, and by helping me live my life according to Your good and perfect will as revealed in Scripture. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.

Know Your Audience

“Did you know that workers’ compensation claims cost our company over $24 million last year!?” I asked incredulously. And, with that opening line, I lost my audience.

I had the best of intentions. I wanted to raise awareness. I wanted to achieve buy-in. I wanted my audience of operations vice presidents and warehouse managers to leave the meeting with a sense of purpose and a committed resolve to run their distribution centers in the safest manner possible. Unfortunately, I only achieved one of my three objectives, and that only in part: They all left the meeting.

This squandered opportunity underscores an often overlooked component of successful communication: the need to tailor the message to the audience. Truth is, we did have an opportunity to reduce workers’ compensation costs. Achieving the buy-in of the operations professionals who ran the warehouses and loaded the trucks was essential to our success. And, in this instance, I failed.

I joined Toastmasters to learn to organize my thoughts, tailor my presentation to the audience in the room, and deliver my message with confidence and authority.

Fast-forward one year. After the debacle of the year before I had to battle to get the risk management team a spot on the operations meeting agenda. Quite frankly, I understood management’s hesitance; my presentation the year before used an hour of valuable time and achieved nothing. I told them I had learned my lesson. I joined Toastmasters to learn to organize my thoughts, tailor my presentation to the audience in the room, and deliver my message with confidence and authority. I showed them a draft of my new presentation as I told them this year would be different. And it was.

“I want you all to close your eyes,” I said. “Picture in your mind the best order selector in your warehouse; you know, the one with the near-perfect pick rate and lowest error rating. I know that each of you already has that person pictured in your mind. Now, picture him at home because he hurt his back at work. He’s off for six months. Open your eyes.”

I had their attention. I asked, “How many of you have had this experience in your operation at least once during the past year?” Many raised their hands. I asked them, one by one, “How was your warehouse impacted by that employee’s prolonged absence from work?” All of a sudden, a discussion broke out! Operations VP’s and warehouse managers shared how overall pick rates deteriorated and overtime costs increased. Several even talked about reduced morale and reduced bonus payouts. “If I could show you three simple things you can implement now to help avoid this disruption going forward, would you consider them?” I now had their full attention. I had a room full of risk management deputies. Mission accomplished.

During that second presentation, I never talked about money. I didn’t preach the virtues of prevention as a means of reducing retained loss costs. Why? Because this audience couldn’t care less about those things. That is not the world in which they live and breathe every day.

I had the honor of addressing the attorneys and paralegals of Vernis & Bowling at their 2014 firm retreat in Orlando, FL.

I had the honor of addressing the attorneys and paralegals of Vernis & Bowling at their 2014 firm retreat in Orlando, FL.

That presentation, now some 20 years in the past, was the catalyst for some amazing results. And, for me personally, it launched a true appreciation for and enjoyment of public speaking.

I offer this glimpse into my career learning process in the hopes that you might consider (or reconsider) each slide in that PowerPoint deck you’re about to present. Persuading a Board, a C-Suite, mid-management colleagues, and operations professionals to support any given objective will typically require a different approach tailored to each of those groups. To whom are you presenting? I’m sure the content is important to you, but is the content important to them? How can you make your objective meaningful to your audience? Will your supporting facts resonate with them?

After several years of absence, I rejoined a local Toastmasters club two years ago. I believe strongly that well-honed communication and presentation skills are an essential component to any leader’s success. I know they have contributed hugely to mine.

Click here to learn more about Toastmasters and how it can help you hone your communication and presentation skills!

2015 Photo Some Days: “Perks” of the Trade

OK, I admit it. I’m turning into a bit of a coffee snob. My daughter works part time for Starbucks as a barista. I’m impressed – she knows all the Starbucks lingo, she knows all the recipes for the various coffee drinks they offer, and she has developed a real appreciation for quality coffee. One of the perks of her job (see what I did there? Too bad we don’t percolate coffee any more. The pastor of my church growing up could percolate a pot of coffee until you could stand a spoon in your cup – “Lutheran Coffee” he called it. But I digress…) is the discount she receives as an employee. Starbucks also has special days from time to time on which employees can purchase coffee and other items at an even steeper discount. As a result, we drink only the finest coffee in our house, and I love it. Starbucks treats their employees very well also. Having worked for a few large corporations throughout the course of my career, I know that many companies could take some lessons from Starbucks on how to treat their most important employees – the ones who serve the customer.

I’m proud of my daughter and the work ethic she is learning at Starbucks. And I’m very pleased that I get to share in the rewards!

“Starbucks has a role and a meaningful relationship with people that is not only about the coffee.” ~ Howard Schultz, Chairman & CEO of Starbucks via brainyquote.com

The best part of waking up? Helps make morning my favorite time of the day.

The best part of waking up? Helps make morning my favorite time of the day.

Listening for the Win

“Don’t puke on your prospect.”

OK, a bit crass perhaps, but it is some of the best advice on salesmanship I’ve ever been given. Any of us who have purchased B2B goods and services have experienced this. The sales rep reaches out and you grant that first meeting. Upon entering your office, the sales rep launches into a completely one-sided dialogue about how great he is, how great his company is, and why you should be doing business with him. He asks no questions, and although you try to turn this into a real conversation, he won’t allow you to participate. He simply has too much to say!

Case in point: When I was Director of Risk Management at a large restaurant chain, I was called by a representative with a local insurance brokerage firm. Upon entering my office, he asked me one question: “Do you purchase accounts receivable insurance?” he asked. “No,” said I, “our guests typically pay with credit cards…” and that was the end of the discussion. Oh, the meeting lasted another 15 minutes as the rep droned on and on about how uncollectable accounts receivable have practically sunk many businesses and how every business should have this coverage. I finally cut him off and showed him the door. As he walked out, he dropped some expensive looking accounts receivable insurance marketing materials on my desk as he said, “I’ll be in touch.” The marketing materials went straight into my trash can, and thankfully, he never did follow up. Indeed, “sales puke” is a sure-fire way to ensure that you never win that piece of business.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Stephen R. Covey

A former boss of mine was a Covey disciple. He had his entire team read Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and he recited this quote incessantly. He even found budget money for each of us to attend a live presentation by Dr. Covey himself a few years before he passed away. I agree with my former boss that 7 Habits is a must read for any business professional, regardless of your line of work. But it is this quote in particular that has stuck in my mind over all these years. I have applied it in my risk management roles and I apply it in my current role in commercial insurance sales.

People need, indeed they like, to be heard. I believe failure to listen is often to blame when negotiations end in stalemate or objectives fail to be met. Applying Covey’s principle generally yields one of two results in my experience:

 (1) The business associates (or sales prospects) with whom you are speaking are more apt to hear you out and more readily consider your viewpoint (or product) if you’ve heard them out first and asked meaningful questions;

(2) You begin to see enough value in your associate’s viewpoint that you begin to change your own mind. In a sales scenario, you may learn about a pain point your prospect is experiencing and alter your approach accordingly. In both scenarios, you learn something and the ultimate end result is best for all!

Do you see what is happening here? Both outcomes are wins!

As I look back over my career, I readily see that I have been most successful when I have worked hard to practice good listening skills. It’s a sign of interest. It’s a demonstration of respect. And no matter the line of work, sound listening skills will open doors. Go ahead, give it a shot. I dare you.

Photo credit: My iPhone 5s, Idaho Springs, CO. February 2015

Photo credit: My iPhone 5s, Idaho Springs, CO. February 2015

On My Mind: Cold-Calling and RSVP’s

I have a couple things nagging at my brain as I enjoy lunch at my desk this afternoon. Here goes!

Cold-Calling

I think telemarketers have one of the toughest jobs in existence today. Let’s face it: nobody really wants to talk with a telemarketer now, do they? Especially the ones that call in the evening, precisely at dinner time, seeking to sell that home security system or that spanking new life insurance policy. Years ago, around 1989 or thereabouts, I took a second job as a telemarketer for the Houston Ballet. Our job in the Ballet call center was to sell season tickets for the next ballet season to attendees of recent Ballet performances. They provided their contact details on information cards completed at the performance, which at least implied permission to contact them. I came close to closing one sale, with the call center supervisor looking over my shoulder and whispering his encouragement, but in the end the customer had dinner on the table and it was getting cold – no sale. That was one of the most grueling nights of my working career; I went home and did not return.

Surely you want to talk with this guy!

Surely you want to talk with this guy!

My role in commercial insurance sales today also involves telemarketing. I’m not working from a call center, but from my desk. The objective is to contact executives at prospective client companies and secure a meeting during which I can introduce my firm’s insurance and risk management capabilities in hopes of one day winning them as a client. Having recently converted from a buyer of these services to one who is now selling them, I remember what it was like to get those sales calls. Like many of the people I try to reach today, I would often let my voice mail system answer calls from numbers I did not recognize or from caller ID’s I simply didn’t want to talk to. Truth be told, my first client was won after a cold-call telephone conversation, so while I don’t necessarily enjoy the process, I do it because it’s necessary. I just wish more people would answer their phone; we are really quite good at what we do!

RSVP’s

Photo credit: www.seshrm.org

We’ve lost some elements of good etiquette in our modern society. I’ve noticed the last few times I’ve sent invitations to an event that a large percentage of the invitees don’t bother to RSVP even though one is requested. Why is that so difficult? Somebody thinks enough of you to invite you to an event and you don’t even have the courtesy to turn them down? Worse, when they follow up to see if you are coming you don’t reply? What’s up with that? Come on, people, show some respect. When you receive an invitation to a party, a dinner, a business function, a shower, a wedding, a child’s birthday party or whatever – please have the decency and respect to offer the host or hostess a prompt RSVP. End of rant.

With that, it’s time to get back to the phones. Enjoy your Tuesday!

RSVP Photo credit: seshrm.org

Wisdom or Folly?

“If I only knew then what I know now, I would have approached my life back then so differently.” I bet almost all of us have stated that lament at one time or another, either on looking back at high school, college, or maybe that first job. Ah, wisdom; that wonderful gift from God that opens our eyes to a grander plan than we could ever comprehend on our own. Wisdom helps us realize that life is a much larger picture than even the wisest among us can perceive at any given time, and although we cannot see the entirety of that big picture we know it exists. As we gain in wisdom we begin to look beyond our own well being and seek the well being of others. We begin to realize that the world wasn’t created solely for our benefit, but we were created to serve the world around us. If we seek wisdom we can find it.

“Then I saw that there was more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.” Ecclesiastes 2:13 

Why, then, do some seem to choose to wallow in folly? What is folly, anyway? Merriam-Webster defines folly, “the lack of good sense or judgment; a foolish act or idea; foolish behavior.” Truly, folly is all around us. Now, to be fair, I must confess that I have spent my share of time pursuing folly. I remember making decent grades in high school without having to put in a whole lot of effort. I remember making the Dean’s list my freshman year of college – not the list of students who excelled, but the list of students whose admission was in possible jeopardy because of a lower-than-acceptable GPA. It seems that my studies in “Texas Dance Hall” my freshman year did not support my major at Concordia Lutheran College. I remember the early days of my working career, in which my priorities included occupying my favorite bar stool at the local watering hole. “If I only knew then what I know now…”

Succinctly stated, folly gets us nowhere constructive. Pursuit of folly keeps us in darkness; it is a barrier to success both personally and professionally. Unfortunately, folly often presents itself as the path of least resistance, thus it is relatively easy to follow. But following folly’s path is like starting down that hiking trail that ventures into the woods. At first the path is wide and easy to follow. As we move deeper into the woods the path grows narrower, weeds begin to obstruct the way, and we soon find ourselves standing in the middle of the woods with no clear sense of direction as we wonder how to get out. Having followed folly’s path, we find ourselves worse off than we were upon beginning folly’s journey.

Our country seems to have embraced folly these days. Our national debt climbs at an alarming rate with no effort by our government nor demand by the people to reverse the trend. We seek after short-term pleasure without seeing the big picture of the long-term consequences of those choices. Have we killed the cure for cancer or the next great composer through abortion? As we continue to whittle away at our moral foundation, shouting slurs and insults at one another along the way, are we not sacrificing the long term health and well-being of our nation? As we, in our passivity, hand over increasing amounts of power to our unelected Supreme Court, are we not squandering the freedoms that thousands of men and women fought and died to win and preserve? Folly, indeed. It won’t be long before the path vanishes into the weeds and we find ourselves standing alone in the dark, cold woods wondering how in the heck we got there and where do we go now.

The United States is headed down a dark path, but it is not too late to change course. I choose wisdom. I choose Light. I choose to share the virtues of those things as I shun the foolishness of folly. I don’t want our nation to look back at today from fifty years hence and lament, “If I only knew then what I know now…”

What say you?

Ecc 213

Independence Day 2015

Much of historical significance has happened in our country over the past couple of weeks. As I peruse my Facebook and Twitter feeds and watch America’s news networks, a very disturbing picture begins to emerge; a picture of a nation on the brink of collapse.

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” Matthew 12:25

Social media presents an amazing opportunity to reconnect and renew old friendships. It is also a forum in which we can participate in our national conversation with people from all over the country. Unfortunately, we are squandering that opportunity. All too often, we throw barbs at one another, not seeking understanding or even fruitful discussion, but only seeking to advance our position over those with whom we disagree. It gets so bad, that I sometimes log off of social media for a day or two just to get relief from the insults flying back and forth.

I used to be a fan of Fox News until I got sick and tired of watching panels of so-called experts, presumably gathered together to discuss a topic of interest from their different points of view, reduce themselves to yelling over each other to be heard with the host not allowing those expressing opinions in dissent with his own to complete their thoughts. Other so-called “news” channels are guilty of the same useless banter. It is not at all helpful; instead, it serves to increase the divide that is growing ever larger by the day.

Our nation appears to have lost the ability, maybe even the desire, to have open and honest discussions with one another. I believe that, if this continues, this will be the demise of our great nation. We Americans must stand up, rise above the fray, demand quality reporting by our media, and resist the temptation to cast stones at one another.

The First Amendment to the Constitution preserves our right to speak freely, among other things. What does that mean? I’m no Constitutional lawyer (I’m not a lawyer at all, actually) but based on my understanding of American history and my understanding of the intentions of our founders, I believe there is intent here that we Americans have the freedom to speak our minds. Obviously, given the fact that we are all humans and none of us possess perfect knowledge or wisdom, we are going to disagree from time to time. Can we not, out of respect for our fellow citizens, allow such disagreements to take place without shunning the person with whom we disagree? Do any of us really want to live in a society in which we can lose our jobs for sharing an opinion with which some disagree? Can we not disagree with one another, even on important topics of national interest, without attacking each other personally in an attempt to reduce those on the other side of the issue to the ranks of the stupid and uninformed?

Today we celebrate Independence Day. On July 4, 1776, a nation was founded on the principle that people’s rights are inherently theirs by virtue of their Creator, not granted by government. We were founded on the principle that we are not subjects of our government; rather, our government serves at the will of the people. I’ll bet there were some heated discussions as the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution were developed. Whatever disputes arose were negotiated and worked out, and the American people won. Friends, let us not effectively shred those documents with trite and fruitless banter. Let us not allow those who seek to divide us (they’re out there, and they seek power only for themselves) to succeed. Let us unite as Americans, understanding that each of us has worth in the eyes of God, knowing that at times we will have to agree to disagree, but also understanding that a nation divided against itself will not survive.

I love my country, I feel blessed to be an American, and I know you do, too. Let’s start now to rise above the fray and come together to save this great nation.

Happy Independence Day and God bless America.

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