Freedom!

This week I’ll be combining the message with the theme, which I hope is apparent at the end. I thought that I’d mix it up and this was a perfect way to do that.

This week the United States is celebrating “Independence Day” on July 4th. This is the day we celebrate our separation from England in 1776. Americans proudly talk about freedom and strength on the 4th of July. It is a great time of year because it happens at the start of summer. People are embracing the summer weather (unless you live in Arizona, its been “summer” since April) while most kids are planning a long summer away from schoolwork. People will celebrate the day with a barbeque, friends, and a few cold drinks and simply relaxing. The night is usually capped with a fireworks display to commemorate the rockets of the battle we fought. This year the holiday falls on a Friday so it is a three-day weekend for most everyone.

There is another independence day that happened on a Friday but we celebrate it in the spring – Good Friday. Independence, you ask? Yes, a separation from the power of the devil in our lives. 21But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” Romans 3:21-28

Paul’s letter describes our freedom from the guilt and power of sin. We are free from the law and yet remain redeemed. We are “justified freely” by God’s grace because of what Jesus did for us. American freedom comes with constraints just as God’s justice (punishment) was handed down through Christ; our freedom was also won through Him. We are free from sin not through our own work but through our faith in Christ and the righteousness of God. U.S. freedom today was won by the heroic acts of brave people fighting our enemy in 1776. We did nothing to earn it today. Jesus took the heroic fight against the power of sin and the devil and won our freedom too. This Friday is another Good Friday for us to celebrate our freedom (whether you are in the US or not). We are truly free “and justified freely by His grace through Christ Jesus.” Remain strong in faith and stay safe!

Strategic Focus

My business partner and I just wrapped up a four-month strategic planning process for a community in Oklahoma. We use a slightly different approach to the traditional planning process where, instead of focusing on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, we talk about strategic focus areas and the principles that guide them. Every community or organization has them. Sometimes they are found in mission or value statements but often they are representative of the things important to the organization. For example, every city, no matter its size, will focus on fiscal sustainability and transparency. In the past, strategic planning often focused on dreaming big – “what would we do if nothing stood in our way” thinking. In today’s reality, there are plenty of things to get in the way, so we ask our clients what is it that they are focused on and what principles are they based in. People, for the most part, can be the same – what are you focused on and what principles are those focused areas based in. Ask yourself, what am I focused on? How do you spend your time and what do you get from it? I’m not suggesting that if you spend your time watching TV for a couple hours at night and you’re not getting anything out of it that you should stop; I am suggesting that if ALL you do is watch TV when you aren’t at work, perhaps you can focus some time elsewhere. Once you determine what you are focused on, you can start to focus on why you do it and how you will do it. Bringing these things into perspective can help guide the choices that you make.

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured on the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

Talk about focus, Jesus had to keep His eye on where He was heading. Satan tried to blur Jesus’ focus when he tempted Him for 40 days. When God’s plan for His death was revealed to Him, Jesus remained focused on His goal of saving the lost. Even as He carried His own cross, Jesus remained focused on the goal of joining His Father in Heaven and defeating the devil once and for all. There were plenty of things to distract Him – fame, power, faithful disciples and the broken moral structure of the society that He lived in; yet Jesus remained focused. His strategic focus area was saving the world and He based that focus area on the guiding principles established by God – the Ten Commandments. Because of His focus, we too can focus on being good and faithful servants. Jesus took with Him, in His death, our sin and the guilt of breaking these principles. This freedom from sin allows us to focus on the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God. We can find our daily principles spelled out in the bible and maintain our focus on God. Spend some time reinforcing those principles and make time with God a strategic focus area.

Having Confidence

Father’s Day was yesterday; I hope that every one of the “dads” enjoyed it. Men have a funny way of expressing this day to each other, especially if you compare it to how women express Mother’s Day to each other. Men will simply nod and smile to each other if it comes up and if we don’t mention it, well, that’s okay too. When it comes to celebrating the day, we’re okay with simplicity. No brunches or special events. A good, or should I say smart, man will treat Mother’s Day much differently. Men are providers, we are “fixers”, we will just do our thing and keep moving. A father’s role is different and so is his reaction to any celebration. Few men seek accolades and often don’t know how to respond to someone who offers them. I notice that women love the attention of a restaurant staff lead birthday song but watch a man and he’ll slowly slide under the table. We’re just funny that way I guess. This isn’t about the differences between men and women; it’s more about how we react to things. The “fixer” in us wants to perfectly plan a course for our lives and then follow it to the letter. When things don’t go according to plan, we lose hope and get frustrated. As men, we view our role as being there for everyone else but when we are the ones that need fixing, we throw our arms up and scream: “why do I bother!” The simple answer is that we bother because we are, by nature, fixers. Next time you feel like things aren’t going as planned or when you don’t have control over the direction (whether you are male or female), just remember, it always eventually works out.

“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

Being confident in all things is often known as being arrogant or cocky. No one likes someone who is arrogant; they are hard to be around. Having confidence on the other hand, is being sure of your self. The words, being and having, change the value of the word confidence. “Confidence” is more valuable to others when you have it rather than being it. Overall, I have confidence in my decisions and understanding of municipal government, which allows me to speak with authority. What is giving St. Paul this confidence? Why is he “being” confident? Verse 5 says “because of your [Philippians] partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,” St. Paul is being confident that they have found favor in God’s eyes. He is expressing his confidence (having confidence) that God will not abandon them and will carry them forward until the coming of Christ Jesus. St. Paul isn’t “being”, he is “having” confidence in the Word of God. How do we obtain that level of confidence? Being in God’s Word and accepting that salvation is found in Jesus Christ. Reading the bible gives us an understanding of the plan that men try so hard to control. God is THE “fixer”, He not only orders things in this life, He fixed our relationship with Him for all eternity. He sent us a savior to fix our inability not to sin. Do you have the confidence to go through life knowing that God is at work in it? I do.

Good people doing bad things

I’ve been teaching supervisory development classes for more than 10 years and every program that I teach contains a section on ethics. It is quite predictable that the topic of good people doing bad things comes up. The situation always starts out with something innocent, like deciding who will do the dishes in a fire station but ends up on the front page. I know it seems like a big leap but imagine that the determining factor in doing dishes was bouncing a ball at a hanging plant; last one to hit it, did them. Soon enough, that was no longer challenging, so the loser had to hold the ball between their knees. This gradual progression eventually ended with the loser holding the ball between their cheeks (yes, those cheeks) with their pants down. Grown men, life saving professionals had degraded themselves into that – good people doing bad things. As a result, one person lost their job, one was demoted and two were suspended. Temptation is all around us in this life whether at work, at play, on-line or simply hanging out with friends. We don’t realize it is happening until it’s too late. So ask yourself, what am I being tempted to do? Am I involved in something that is progressing slowly that appears innocent but could lead to something more serious? There is an expression in NASCAR “if you’re not cheat’n you’re not try’n”. Stop yourself from getting so comfortable that you end up with your proverbial pants down.

8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will
himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
1Peter 5:8-10

Good people doing bad things can be found all around us. Why did they do it? We seem to ask often but Peter knew the answer long ago – your enemy prowls around looking for someone to devour. We don’t just wake up in the morning and decide to do something bad; we’ve been lulled into it over time. People all around the world are suffering the same internal turmoil. Fortunately, we are better off as a society because the number of people resisting is greater than the number falling. God told us that we would be tempted but He also promised to be with us which, Peter reminds us of in verse 10. Whether you have been tempted and successfully resisted or you failed; God’s glory will restore you. Jesus died for our sins and stands with us before God to be declared “not guilty” no matter what bad thing we’ve done. It is our faith in Jesus Christ and God’s grace that we are saved. Through the writings of Peter, God tells us that He will make us strong again. He also tells us that the best way to resist it is to stand firm in our faith. This is more than firmly believing and attending church; it is also regular devotional reading and study of God’s word. Putting God first in your life will prepare you for the fight with the devil and will help you be on alert for the temptations while having the strength to be self-controlled.

Peace, Joy and Hope

A couple of weeks ago, someone I haven’t seen in a while told me that they saw my wife at the gym one morning (4:30am). Whenever anyone asks her “how you are you today?” her immediate response is “blessed”. He told me that when he heard her say it, he thought it was an awesome response and it made him think about it that morning. She is such a cheerful person – even at 4:30 in the morning. The rest of us in the family are absolutely not morning people. She wants to tell us about all the things that she’s gotten done and read about while we are still wiping the sleep from our eyes. She is filled with joy and peace and everyone knows it. What do people see when they speak to you or watch you work? I certainly wouldn’t suggest that you be “on” at the wee hours of the morning but it is important to know what time you function best at. There have been a number of studies that show that early risers are more productive. Again, I’m not suggesting that you change your peak performance time. My peak usually hits around 2pm and lasts until 5pm but I can also have a second peak about 9:30pm until after midnight. Knowing your optimum time can be important so that you don’t tie it up in meetings or traveling between locations. This should be your time to focus on high-level work or your strategic/creative thinking time. Your peak time is when you turn off your email and phone so you can concentrate. This will allow you to achieve more at work while expending less mental energy since you are working when your mind and body are most ready. Back to the question of what do people see when they speak to you? If you are in peak time, they should see the best you have to offer and when you are in off-peak times, they should see a person of joy and hope who knows the best is yet to come.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

If you’ve been following the news lately, you have seen a story out of Sudan about a woman who is pregnant but has been sentenced to death, by stoning, for becoming a Christian and failing to renounce her new faith. I can’t help thinking about her and how strong she is. This is a new Christian, someone who believes so strongly in what she was taught that she is willing to be persecuted. It’s a modern day story of St. Paul or John the Baptist. She is not only filled with joy but has peace to trust in Him that the power of the Holy Spirit will be with her. It is unimaginable to me what she must be going through. It was rumored that one of the Columbine shooters asked a girl if she believed in Jesus as he held a gun to her head. When she answered yes, he moved on sparing her life. When my daughter was younger she was asking questions about faith when this came up. I reminded her that it would be better to die knowing that you kept your faith to the end than it would be to deny it and spend eternity without Him. Please join me in praying for this unknown woman; asking that her faith remains strong and that she be filled with joy and peace to trust in God and the power of the Holy Spirit. You can also take this time to pray for yourself; that you will be filled with joy and peace so that you too can overflow with the hope and power of the Holy Spirit so everyone will see that you are blessed.