Hard Pressed but Not Destroyed

When our son decided to get a tattoo, my only request was that it be something meaningful to him. He had designed his own symbol that represents – be positive and keep moving forward, period! Two bent lines and a dot in the center (the period). When he looked up similar symbols he found that it is almost identical to the Viking symbol for create your own destiny. It was very meaningful to him and he had the two lines and a dot placed on the underside of his left wrist. I often think about the emotion that created the symbol for him and thought back to drive that I had at his age – oh, to be young again!

The verse today describes how most of us feel on a regular basis – hard pressed. Since we just started not only a new year but new decade, I’d suggest that we all should focus on the opportunities of the new beginning and not dwell on the past. Our son had the right idea – be positive and look forward in all things. He’s obviously much smarter than I ever give him credit for. So ask yourself, are you looking forward to what is possible or are you looking behind at what could have been? As they say, “out of the mouths of babes”, come great advice from someone who is choosing to see the rest of his life with great optimism. Many of us may not be young but we can all look to the new year with a positive view.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” 2 Corinthians 4:8

My guess is that this verse describes most of our lives – hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. We are however, not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned and not destroyed and we have God to thank for that. Life can be hard and challenging but God is right next to us, helping navigate the troubles of our lives. I can’t imagine if I let all of the negative things that happen in my life gain the advantage, how miserable I would be. I’m not always the most positive person but I rarely let take it control of me. God is where my strength comes form.

God is in control of our lives and He has a plan for us. While we can’t create our own destiny, we do have the ability to influence the things that affect that plan. We can choose to ignore God’s plan or we can choose to follow it. Our son’s tattoo is really a symbol of what God’s wants for us – stay positive and keep moving forward. We will not be destroyed by this life or by the sin of our lives. God sent us a Savior to make sure that we would be close to Him; forgiven of all sin and innocent in His eyes. This is enough reason to keep moving forward and to stay positive.

Go Confidently into 2020

I’d like to end this decade with a reminder for us all and another departure from my usual format. Let’s start this week with the verse, very appropriate for both the Christmas holiday that just past and the start of a new year.

“God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” 2 Corinthians 5:19

This is why we had Christmas – so God could reconcile with the world. His people, born of sin, could not be with Him in eternal life unless we had a savior. This is great news! But think about what this verse means for you in 2020. God is NOT counting your sins against you! Sin is not measured by severity; every sin is the same and we can’t stop ourselves from doing it – no matter how hard we try. Just as we think we are living really good lives and following the commandments, we will sin again. If you become so confident that your godly life is more pleasing to God – you’re sinning. The complaining that you do about your boss or that one family member – you’re sinning. We can’t help it!

There is an old saying, “what would you do if you knew that you couldn’t fail?” We can be so afraid of ourselves or of our lives that we simply give up trying. For some people, this fear can be paralyzing. They are afraid to try things or to explore new ideas because they are afraid to fail. Others will get so down on themselves because of sin that they give up on getting to know God. They’ll say, “God could never forgive me for what I’ve done”. God has already forgiven them, you and me! Our sins have been erased through our faith in Jesus Christ. He took them all to hell and left them with the devil. Sin has no place in our lives. God does not and will not count them against us because He loves us as any Father would love His children.

Start 2020 confidently and don’t worry about sin being an anchor in your life. We are all special people in God’s eyes, so go strongly, boldly and confidently into the next decade – like you can’t fail. Trust in God, rely on Him for guidance and strength and see what happens. Happy New Year!

North Star

Christmas is just a couple of days away so I feel that it’s appropriate to use the entire post this week for Christian living. The first Christmas day found the wise men looking for the brightest star – the North Star, to find the birthplace. God was sending us a savior, a leader, a servant and equally important, a bright star to show us the way. Leading a few to righteousness sounds like a big task, let alone leading many to righteousness. In typical human fashion, we can’t see ourselves doing that. God gave the world, in a single star shining in the darkness of the North, THE light of the world. Jesus spread the word of God with only 12 followers.

Out of a single man – a single star – came the salvation for all of mankind.The analogies are plentiful here – a single flashlight can lead to safety, a single decision, etc. God gave us freedom from sin and everlasting life through His son, one man, Jesus Christ. When you ask yourself – “what can I do?” you should think of yourself as that single light. This is the time of year people will be open to hearing about Christ. Take the opportunity to lead someone to righteousness. Like stars that fill the night sky, you’ll never know what you might be the start of.

“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” Daniel 12:3

Christmas is just a couple of days from now and all of our planning for the holiday will finally come together. God gave THE ultimate gift that day, His Son. This day was prophesied throughout the ages. Even John the Baptist talked about “someone who is greater than I”. God sent us a light for this world, a world filled with darkness. This light helps us see God’s will, through our faith in Jesus Christ as our savior. God wants us close to Him and He wants all of us to join in Him in everlasting life.

Matthew encouraged us to keep our faith and remain strong in our belief by reminding us that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. If we can be strong in faith, nothing is impossible. Whatever your vision of the future is, use the help of the brightest star to keep your faith in Jesus Christ strong. A future without Christ is not a future; it’s the end. Enjoy the birthday party this week (Christmas); I hope you are spending it with your family or friends or both. Ask God for help finding the light for this life and let your imagination run wild for what eternal life will be like. Merry Christmas!

Mercy

The old classic management book: “Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers” contains a chapter on time management or as it is referred to – Sacred Time.  I’m reminded that when we work too fast or on too many things at once, that none of them are being done well or on time. The authors suggest three – “10 minute time outs” a day that are just for you. Most people will say that their best ideas come to them in the shower or in the bathroom. Do you know why? They are alone without interruptions – no phone, no e-mail, no people.

We all know about the game rooms at Google Inc. and the freedoms that come with working in Silicon Valley. Some companies are even letting their employees take off as much time as they feel they deserve or need, but they have to produce results. We have so many things vying for our attention today that we are becoming a society with zero attention span. If you complain that a movie is too long because it’s two hours, you are already on your way to joining the rank and file. Be merciful to yourself and build in some free time on your calendar. Look at your to do list and see what really needs to be done by you and what can be done by someone else. If you reduce your stress, you will extend not only your attention span but your life span as well.

“Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36

Mercy has a lot of definitions. If we look at our own sin and our inability to follow God’s commands, we deserve the punishment of death. Our Father however, showing mercy and love and tells us, “believe in Me and My Son and you will be set free”. If He can forgive us for all that we do, how can we not show mercy to those around us?

“I forgive you”, three powerful words that are the opening to mercy. Christ taught us about compassion and love but it was the Father that taught us about mercy. God wants to be close to us despite our failings, so He sent Jesus to take all of our sins with Him in death on the cross. He then bought eternal life for us all by rising to heaven to sit with the Father. “God so loved the world…” the ultimate show of mercy. No one asked for your son but Luke suggests we be merciful to each other like our Father is toward us.

Walking in Darkness

Communication is a true art. Books have been written about how to do it better. How many times have you had a fight with someone only to find out “that’s not what I meant”? We all need to keep communications open with the people that we interact on a regular basis. For men, we can go months without speaking to a good friend, pick up the phone and call, and then carry on like no time has past. Unfortunately for us, we try this same approach with many of our other relationships and we fail miserably. Leaders are best served when they engage in what some call “touching base” and others call “checking in”.

The world around us is changing constantly and people need to know what is going on around them. If they are worried about the latest rumor, they won’t focus on their job and then you’ll be forced into communicating with them under unpleasant circumstances. The old saying “you can’t treat people like mushrooms” is true; keeping them in the dark and feeding them crap just won’t work. People need light and encouragement from their leaders. When we engage people in sharing the facts, regardless of how the circumstances may “look”, they will appreciate knowing that they are truly part of the team.

“The people walking in the darkness have seen a great light: on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

Living in the shadow of death without hope of eternal life is unimaginable to me. The sad truth however, is that there are people living in those shadows. They walk in darkness and despair without hope because they don’t know about the light of Christ. The problems of their lives become overwhelming and they sink further into the darkness. This time of year is especially troubling for some; they need to know that people care.

Witnessing to people is one of the hardest things that we can do because we feel so exposed by the possibility of being rejected. Sometimes we’re not confident in our knowledge of bible verses or we simply don’t want to be pushy. It takes courage to overcome these fears. Ask God for help. Maybe this blog post is that help. You don’t need to go around quoting the bible or offering street corner sermons. Simply reminding people that there are options and that no matter what they’ve done, God loves them. If nothing else, share your story and talk about how your life is filled with the light of God. We have seen a great light! Now, go and share it!

Plan, what plan?

I 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 been guiding my life all a long, but I really 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 10 years and I never could have imagined the journey I’ve been on ever since. 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 10 years have been incredible. I’ve met incredible people from all walks of life. As a Councilmember, I’ve been part of a select 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’ve had conversations with people trying 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. 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

We recently 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. 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 free will that God gave 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 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’ve achieved 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.

Love Covers…

“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. 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 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 of 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.

 

Patience

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 things that I am very patient about. 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 some is really trying their best but 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 traveled quite a bit this year and I have witnessed A LOT of people who lose 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 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. Often times, 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 – albeit intentional. Granted, it was a big mistake but nonetheless, it was one mistake. As time went on, God decided to start over and flooded the earth saving one man 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 still loved us. God’s answer to our disobedience was His Son. God sent the world Jesus 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 because God is patient.

 

In the Storm

Where do you turn in times of trouble? For most people, it’s a good friend or 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. These are often the people who become our best friends. When you work in a field like the fire service, this is what forms “the brotherhood”. “Brothers” turn to each other for support and 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 need to 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 seems constant. 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 the 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 of 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.

 

Open Door Policy

Its been a while since I’ve written a straight-up leadership post, so this week I thought I’d address the “open door policy”. 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 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 of 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 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 keeps 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.