I’ve Got This Plan…

I have to smile every time that I think I’m in control of my own life. Just when I start to worry about when my next work project will come in, it does. When I think that I’ve got my latest life strategy planned out, a situation arises that changes it. I believe that God has guided my life all along but I failed to see it until my career ended suddenly. When I started looking back over my life and began writing my yet unfinished book, I could see the patterns emerge. I’ve been “retired” from my dream of being in the fire service for just over 6 years and I never could have imagined the journey I’ve been on. I certainly did not plan any of it and every time I try to plan or worry about a plan, God reminds me that He is charting the course.

My experiences in these past six years have been unimaginable. I’ve met incredible people from all walks of life. As a Councilmember, I’ve been invited to be part of a special group that meets monthly to discuss development, investing and economic conditions in the metropolitan Phoenix area. This group really influences what happens in our region; the connections are amazing. I had a conversation with a few people looking to connect an outside property owner who “only needed $5 million” with an investor; it was unreal. I continue to work with the US Army on Homeland Defense initiatives and have become friends with very special people. We will fly to Texas in a couple of months to celebrate one of my “new” friend’s retirement. Not to mention the conversations that I’ve had with General Officers and their staffs. I never planned any of this. My work as a local government consultant continues to take me across the country and into the lives of people who want to do the best they can for their residents. All of these things came to be because I stopped worrying about being in control of my plan and let God show me the way.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States and that got me thinking about what I’m thankful for. More importantly, it also reaffirmed how I got to where I am. A friend (Andy) who I only work with a few weeks of the year on military assignments sent me a text message that he was thankful for our friendship and being able to work together. I never would have met Andy if I was in control of the planning in my life. We all desire to know what lies ahead and to influence those circumstances. Completely letting go is hard. We are human and being in control is one of the things that separates us from the animal kingdom.

We can still make our plans, have our dreams and establish targets for achievements; this is the freewill that God gave to us. The verse for this week reminds us that God will establish the steps of getting there. I am planning for a long life that ends with my being thankful for a great family and a satisfying life. The truth is that if my life ended today because it was in God’s plan, my life would end with my plan being fulfilled. Sure, it may not have been very long but I achieve what I hoped I would. I am thankful for that and mindful that it is also human nature to never be satisfied with our lives. God knows just what we need and will direct your steps if you let Him.

Imperfect

“If everyone was perfect like you and I, we’d have a lot fewer problems” was something my mother would jokingly say. We all have imperfections and weakness that we expect others to overlook but often we have trouble overlooking them in others. If you reverse my mother’s saying – “If everyone was just as cracked and broken as we are, we’d have a lot more problems”. Imagine the personality imperfections that you have (I know it’s hard too) and then add them to the people you deal with on a regular basis. By the way, they get to keep the imperfections that they already have too. How does that picture look? Rick Warren in his now famous book “The Purpose Driven Life” talks about giving people a little more grace.

He calls them “EGR – Extra Grace Required” people. These are the people who really test you and your ability to overlook their imperfections. I would imagine that we all have them in our lives but what if you are an EGR person? Have you taken personal stock of yourself to see how you treat others or what demands you put on those around you? Are you tolerant of others? As a society, we can better coexist if we become more tolerant of each other and our differences. Unfortunately, we have people in this world guided by the opportunity to take advantage of the weaknesses in others. I would suggest that we all give the same grace to others that we receive and if you still feel under appreciated, give more.

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense” Proverbs 17:9

We are often reminded of Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek. I suspect that this is the way we heard about being tolerant of others. Sure they will strike you, but give them the other cheek too. As I wrote last week, what if God wasn’t tolerant with us? On some level, we offend Him every day and yet He still loves us. As in all cases, God does as He says; fostering love to cover over an offense.

I make the connection with this verse to fostering grudges, seeking revenge or retaliating against others. None of those things foster love. They feel good because they are the work of the devil and he wants us to go against what God wants in our life so he gives it a little extra. No, I’m not saying that all things that feel good are a product of the devil. The fight of good verse evil in our lives is constant and when God is winning, the devil will make evil feel just a little better. Love, patience and compassion are just a few of the actions that we can take toward each other. God has filled the bible with behaviors that if everyone followed them, we’d have a lot fewer problems.

Be Patient

I find that as I get older, I am becoming less patient with more things than I ever have in the past. I was never a terribly patient person but there are some things that I am very patient with. I have a huge tolerance for people making genuine mistakes. I believe that its one thing to make a mistake because of inexperience or lack of understanding but it is another thing to make a mistake because of carelessness or the simple lack of caring. If someone is really trying their best but is just not being successful, I have great compassion and empathy for them. A well timed smile and a reassuring “it’s really not a problem, take your time” goes a long way to help the person work through their moment. I’ve been traveling about 10 out of the past 15 weeks (off and on) and I have witnessed A LOT of people who lost their patience.

For me, my impatience seems to be with people trying to “snow” their way through circumstances. I’ve seen reports, presentations and reactions that have lacked balance in their information and been slanted to persuade the listening or reading audience. I’ve witnessed people reacting to reports with their “full bias armor” on with no regard for the truth or what was actually being said. This is where I have no patience. In my mind this is when people are trying to mislead the facts or are simply choosing not to have an open mind. Oftentimes, a blunt example or statement works to break down the bias – at times it doesn’t. How is your patience these days? Are you growing frustrated with things or people in your life but haven’t stopped to ask why? I would suggest knowing your own triggers and then look for them to come up so you can temper your response. Regardless of your place in the situation, we all must make every attempt to remain collected. As it was said – patience is a virtue.

The Lord is…. patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

All I can think of when I read this verse is THANK YOU! If God became impatient at the things that make me impatient; I would have been cast aside years ago. God was impatient in the beginning, sending Adam and Eve out of the Garden because of one mistake. Granted, it was a big one but nonetheless, it was one mistake. As time went on, God decided to start over and flooded the earth saving Noah and his family. Still, mankind couldn’t follow a few simple rules and God grew impatient again. I must point out that God’s actions took hundreds of years; if this timeframe doesn’t speak to His perspective of time, I don’t know what does. God didn’t give up on us after all of this. While He may have been impatient, He continued to love us.

God’s answer to our disobedience was His Son. God sent the world Jesus Christ to do what we couldn’t; keep His commandments. Jesus’ ability to live a perfect life serves as an example for us in our lives – 2000 years later. Jesus took all of our failings, all of our mistakes and all of our sins with Him on the cross. He took them to hell and left them where they belonged. When He rose, He took us with Him to heaven so that we would have eternal life and not perish. God IS patient with you and me. He wants us close Him and we will not perish through our faith in Jesus Christ. Stop worrying about your life and start being thankful for all that God has done for you and remind yourself that God is patient.

Where do you turn?

Where do you turn in times of trouble? For most people, it’s a good friend or a relative. Someone who’s shared your tears and joys over the years. These are usually the same people who you turn to when you have exciting news or something great to share. For many of us, these people become our best friends. When you work in a field like the fire service, this is what forms “the brotherhood”. People turn to each other for support and they become almost closer with each other than they do with their families. Highly threatening team activities or in-extremist teams (FF, police, military, bomb squads, etc) rely on their team mates to keep them alive. For those not in life/death situations, we find these people in our lives.

At work, these special people become either mentors or confidants. A mentor is someone who helps you excel and grow in your career by providing advice, opportunities and guidance. A confidant is someone who you can share things with but they don’t provide a direct source of career growth. If you are lucky, you will find someone who can be both. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us the bold truth and other times we need someone to be sympathetic to our emotions; rational or not. My daughter will call and ask for “reality check dad” when she needs to know what mom will never tell her. I’m lucky that I get to be both a confidant and a mentor to her; I can read her pretty well and know when to hold the bold truth until she’s ready. We all need these people in our lives. My wife has a huge cheering section of friends and a few close friends that she can talk to about everything else. I guess my point is to make sure that you have these types of people in your life and don’t forget that they are there. Life is so busy that we often forget that we don’t have to carry all of the burdens alone.

“You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.” Isaiah 25:4

I’ve often said “now that I say this out loud …” We need to say things to others to make sure that we really feel that way. We also have a need to get our feelings out in the open. The challenge is getting them filtered before we say something hurtful. We all know people who are in various stages of suffrage. Cancer seems to strike every family we know, financial stress is still present and family pressures will always be present. If you are raising kids, have siblings or are dealing with aging parents, suffrage is always going. We all find different ways of dealing with it – some healthy and some not so healthy. Last week we talked about our ability to go to God freely and with confidence. This week we see why.

God is all of things in this verse – a refuge for the poor and the needy, a shelter in the storm and a shade in the heat. When things go bad in our lives, God is there for us. It is human nature to ask “why me?” but the truth is that God is there with us in these times of trouble. He’s there when things are good too! God will not abandon any of us, no matter what you’ve done. We are given the promise from God to have eternal life with Him through our faith in Jesus Christ. There is no “reality check dad” with our Father in heaven. He knows what is on our hearts and in our minds and Jesus is sitting right next to Him saying, “all is forgiven”. I’d like to think that God inspires the advice that we get from our mentors and confidants. If we feel alone, this verse reminds us that God is always there; while St. Paul reminded us to go freely and with confidence to seek God for help.

Confidence and Freedom

It’s been a while since I’ve written a true leadership post, so this week I thought I’d address the “open door policy” concept. As I’ve studied leadership over the years, it has been interesting to see how this phrase even emerged into leadership. The autocratic management style (do as I say) was very strong in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Workers didn’t ask questions, offer their opinions or make suggestions for process improvements and heaven forbid they sought advice from their leaders. I’m sure this was the period that created the phrase “the daily grind”; for good reason. As the workforce became more disgruntled, someone had the idea that asking the workers what they needed might make a difference. Tom Peters became an iconic office name since everyone was reading his groundbreaking books about new age leadership and creating employee involvement.

Leaders started telling employees that their office doors were open and that they could come in anytime with ideas and complaints. Over time, leaders slid back into being managers as bottom line pressures increased and soon the open doors became metaphorically closed. No one dared to go into an office and when they did, managers were not interested in hearing what they had to say. Workforce satisfaction has since fallen and it wasn’t until the workplace disruption by a company called Google and all of their crazy philosophies that it changed. Unfortunately, managers claim to have “open door policies” and they still don’t see employees coming in. “I have an open door policy. I don’t know why we have all of these problems”, is commonly cried. I’d suggest that while the door is open, the mind is closed. If you manage or lead people, evaluate your effectiveness in regard to employee engagement. Old dogs can learn new tricks, its called evolution. Are you evolving or just existing?

“Through faith in Jesus we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12

The famous Catholic confessional starts with “Forgive me father for I have sinned…”. Depending on what Christian denomination you were raised in or taught in, the father in this confession is the Catholic Priest. I’m not going to engage in a theological discussion about the biblical origin of this belief, but I do want to discuss our ability to directly approach God at any time and for any reason. St. Paul writes in this letter to the Ephesians that our faith in Jesus allows us to approach God – freely and confidently. God has an open door policy – literally and metaphorically.

We do not need a mediator to speak for us to God. The punishment, death and resurrection of Jesus was all of the intervention that we needed with God. Jesus did for us what we could never do; live a life that kept all of God’s commands. Quite simply, we sin constantly. We can go to God and confidently know that our sins are forgiven because of what Jesus did for us. We can’t pray sin away, we can’t perform works or pay for forgiveness; we are already forgiven. Go confidently and with freedom into your life knowing that you can turn to God for help and forgiveness at any time. He wants to hear from us in times of celebration and in times of need.