It’s the Little Things That Make a big Difference

Arkansas River

I am writing today from my beautiful hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Its funny the memories that stay lodged in my mind. The impromptu summer afternoon trip to the ice cream shop with grandma ranks right up there with Thanksgiving dinner. The meaningful 30 minute conversation with my friend on the west coast who accidentally pocket dialed me at 2 AM my time was more fun than the call I got on my birthday.  Sometimes its a simple compliment from the heart of a stranger who you never see again, but never forget just because of the way they made you feel that one time you met. I’ve heard it said, and I’m sure you have too, that what we remember most about people is how they made us feel. I believe this is especially true about our leaders.

As I studied this week’s Sabbath School lesson about leaders I found my self reminiscing not only about leaders in the church, but also leaders in the secular work place. And why not? After all, while we discuss the theory of the Gospel in Sabbath School class, the workplace is where we exercise the Gospel. While I have been a full time Bible Worker most of my career there have been times I also had to pick up a secular side job to support myself and my ministry. I believe my example in the workplace is so crucial that over the years, when I arrive at my secular job I pray the same prayer I pray before taking the pulpit to preach Sabbath morning. I would say its even more crucial because behind the pulpit I am just talking for maybe 30 minutes, but at work I am demonstrating the Gospel for several hours.

One the jobs I had several years ago when I was a Bible Worker and lay pastor in Texas was being a part time supervisor at UPS. And its there that I had three simple encounters with my own supervisors that years later I have never forgotten, and this week’s lesson brought them to mind once again.

I supervised the people loading the brown delivery trucks. When a worker could not show up and I could not find a replacement I sometimes had to load a few trucks myself. When this would happen I would always go to the break room to get my favorite cold drink and some chips, set them in the back of the truck so I could  enjoy them as I was going in and out of the trucks. Early one morning the packages were already stacking up in an area before I realized the worker was not there. I had no time to find someone or even alert my own supervisor as to what was going on, much less go to the break room for my ritual. I had to jump in there  right away and get to work. About thirty minutes later my own supervisor came by with my favorite drink and chips and placed them in the back of the truck for me. A very simple gesture but it meant a lot because it showed she knew me, and even though it was not necessary for my work she wanted me to be happy.

Drinks and chips are not the only things I had in the back of the trucks. I often placed my cell phone in the back of the trucks. One morning after the trucks had all left to run all over town, I realized my phone was still in the back of one of them. I told the day time supervisor who called the driver to see where I could meet him to retrieve my phone which I did. Later in the day my cell phone rang. It was the daytime supervisor making sure I got my phone okay. Wow! I thought. Those daytime supervisors are so busy how did he even remember me? And why would he remember? My phone wasn’t his problem or responsibility. It meant a lot to me that in such as busy time crunched place like UPS a full time supervisor for another shift, with plenty of responsibilities and problems of his own, took the time to make sure I found my phone.

Before I became a part time supervisor in the loading area I was a sorter. One morning while sorting away I turned to the belt behind me and my eye caught the zip code of a package right as it went by. I instantly realized that zip code did not go on that belt. Another sorter miss sorted it. I quickly grabbed it and placed it on the correct belt as I kept up sorting my own packages. My supervisor walked by and patted me on the back telling me he saw what I just did. He commended my eagle eye. A couple years later was when I became a part time supervisor in the loading area. At the end of one of my shifts I failed to realize that a next day air package was still left on the belt. The next day the manager over the entire building was very upset with me. I probably would have been in hot water had it not been for my former supervisor years ago when I was a sorter. He took it upon himself to go to the building manager and tell him how he thought I was one of the best workers he ever had. When the building manager later talked to me, he told me my old supervisor told him about the package I caught on the wrong belt and how I corrected it, even though in my position I was not expected to. The building manager told me I was not going to be in any trouble.

Again UPS is a hard nose job and it amazed me that a former supervisor took the time and effort to stand up for me even though he had nothing to gain one way or the other if anything happened to me or not.  In these stories I recall each leader showed true character even though they were outside of church and in a place where it is a struggle for even the best of church members to show good character. Each experience may have been small within itself, but I will never forget them. I also try to be what I admire in each of these leaders.

“If The President Does it, Then it is not Illegal.” Really?

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Sunday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson states, “In some cultures, there is a tendency to distrust and challenge leadership; in others, to blindly submit to it. How has your own culture’s attitude toward authority impacted the church in your area?”

In an interview with David Frost, Richard Nixon, a former United States President, forced to resign due to a scandal, defended himself by saying, “If the President does it, then it is not illegal.” This bold statement shocked David Frost, and every other competent thinker! I believe, in the United States, people really started to question their leaders after Nixon’s downfall.

I believe we keep a healthy balance of respect for leadership, without blind submission, when we ask for accountability and checks and balances. In the United States we have a constitution the President must hold to. The Constitution also declares who ultimately has the authority. It reads, “We the people.” Not “me the president” or “me Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison, or Ronald Regan or Barak Obama.” The power and authority of the constitution comes from ‘The People!” Therefore our president is not above the law.

In the church we have the Scriptures as our sole authority, and our leaders must be held accountable. Also the church as a body has authority,

”God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority.” –Last Day Events, page 56.

Just like in the United States, the President is not above the people, likewise church leaders are not above the church.

“The church is built upon Christ as its foundation; it is to obey Christ as its head. It is not to depend upon man, or be controlled by man. Many claim that a position of trust in the church gives them authority to dictate what other men shall believe and what they shall do. This claim God does not sanction. …. Upon no finite being can we depend for guidance. The Rock of faith is the living presence of Christ in the church. Upon this the weakest may depend, and those who think themselves the strongest will prove to be the weakest, unless they make Christ their efficiency. “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.” The Lord “is the Rock, His work is perfect.” “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.” Jeremiah 17:5; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 2:12.- Desire of Ages, Page 414.

Many years ago, I heard the testimony of a church leader, defending himself for some shady deals, saying his boss told him to do it, therefore he had no choice but to obey his boss who had “authority.” I am sure Joab was thinking the same thing when King David told him to put Uriah on the front lines of the war. Please read what God’s messenger has to say about Joab’s rationale.

“And Joab, whose allegiance had been given to the king rather than to God, transgressed God’s law because the king commanded it.  David’s power had been given him by God, but to be exercised only in harmony with the divine law. When he commanded that which was contrary to God’s law, it became sin to obey. “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1), but we are not to obey them contrary to God’s law. The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, sets forth the principle by which we should be governed. He says, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1.  –Patriarchs and Prophets, Page 719.

We need to be respectful of authority, but remember where authority ultimately comes from. And while respecting those in leadership, and even being in leadership, we must remember we are accountable to the Scriptures and God’s church, of which Christ is the Head.

I would also like to share a parting thought. In my years of Gospel Work around the country, I have met people who are afraid to speak up in board meetings or Church business meetings, because they feel they are too young or poor, and their influence would not be felt. I have also observed people abusing their age or money to hurt others. So this is what I say to all. No matter how young, old, rich or poor you are, you need to speak your mind in these meetings. And, no matter how young, old rich or poor you are, you need to be nice when you do. Everyone has a right to speak, and everyone has a responsibility to be nice when they do so.