Plan, What Plan?

God’s intervention in my life seems more apparent to me almost daily. You know the old expression, “when one door closes another one opens” is really the best summary of God at work in our lives. I’ve written a lot about God’s plan because I have seen it unfold in my life quite often. I recently read a great phrase that caught my attention – “When your heart is right with God, your ways will follow”. I started thinking about the other verses that describe how we will act when we have God in our heart and for me, that always comes back to who’s plan are you executing? I work with someone who doesn’t seem to understand how his actions create problems for others. The really sad part is that he doesn’t care how he affects others. He is very knowledgeable and well respected in our field, but he simply doesn’t care or doesn’t possess the emotional capacity to understand that he hurts people when all he does is think and act in his own best interests. If it’s not his way, then it’s no way. No matter who speaks to him or who no longer wants to work with again, he still goes his own way.

We all know the people we can joke with and those that are all business. We know who can take constructive criticism and who can’t, so we all take these things into consideration and carefully maneuver throughout our day. We’re executing your plan. But what happens when your plan doesn’t match with anyone else’s? Usually chaos or frustration. People are upset, deadlines are missed, quality suffers and relationships are damaged. This is why; working to combine plans by finding common elements is when great things happen. It takes looking beyond yourself and trusting in someone else to achieve great things.

“A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.” Proverbs 21:2

Have you ever thought what influences you and your decisions? I remind myself every so often, of the order of life priorities that we used to say to our kids when they were small – God, family and everyone else. Tell a teenager that he or she doesn’t come first and wait for the emotions. For us, this worked well when their friends were becoming a problem, but it also helped keep things in perspective. We don’t consciously stop and ask ourselves what God would like us to do; although He wouldn’t mind. Our brain would never consider it as we process decisions unless we put it there.

A person thinks that they are right; it’s their plan after all so why consider what God thinks. If He wants it changed, He can just change it – right? Hopefully by now you know that isn’t how God works. However, if you have let Him into your heart and into your mind, He will weigh your heart with His words and the examples given to us by our Savior Jesus. We have free will but if we’re in a relationship with God, He will influence our decisions and keep a little calm in our lives. Sure bad things will still happen but we will react to them with much less anxiety so that it won’t seem that bad. God has already weighed your heart with great wisdom; simply follow His lead.

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The new is here!

I’ve mentioned before that my inspiration for these weekly devotions come from a number of places. Often it comes from a sermon that I heard and then after pondering it, I apply it to some life message. Honestly, most often it comes from bible verses that I’ve read in the past and taken note of. Today’s devotion was partly inspired by the completely different work places that I have – City Council and the U.S. Army. The idea is that it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s just not okay to repeat them. Often times we want to focus on the cause of a problem or what should have been done or could have been done, which all end with our finger pointing at someone. This happens a lot in our places of work or in our homes, someone has to be blamed for the setback or the missed opportunity. Some refer to this as accountability but in reality, it’s just proof that old saying: “one oh no wipes out 10 atta boys” is true.

Instead of learning, moving on and excepting that mistakes happens, people won’t let it go. They keep punishing the person over and over ignoring that people change and learn. We all know that the best way to learn is through mistakes. In science it’s called trial and error and is part of the “scientific method” of study. Researchers can go on for years coming up with ideas to test and then when they fail, they test a new one. The difference between learning and tolerance is that in science, they tolerate the concept of trial and error and in business they don’t. We should all be a little more tolerant of each other and work together to make things better. People can become better when they are supported and encouraged despite a mistake. We wouldn’t treat a child with the same contempt for a mistake caused by not knowing, why do we do it to adults?

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; the old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

We all go through various transformations in our lives. In the fire service a rookie is transformed throughout their career. Lazy teenagers become successful adults and single, wild guys have become awesome parents. We are almost constantly under a transformation of one sort or another. St. Paul is reminding us of the transformation that we have through Jesus Christ. We are not the same people we were before Christ came into our lives. Our baptism washed away our sins; God washes away the original sin that we cannot ever escape, through His word and the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

We become one with Him and are new again; we are transformed! As the TV commercial says – “but wait, there’s more! No matter when in our lives we are baptized, we remain in sin throughout the rest of our lives and yet, God still forgives us through His grace and mercy. He only asks that we confess our sins, repent and trust in Jesus as our savior. The old Adam in us is washed away and sin will never have power in our lives with Jesus as our one and only savior. We are a new creation, one in which God is happy to call us His Children. Despite our mistakes and failures; Jesus takes all of our “oh no’s” and makes everything an “atta boy” – “the new is here!”

Chill a little

Self-discipline is a funny thing. In one way it makes us stronger and more focused than someone without it but in another, it makes us so determined that we lose the ability to see the simple things around us. It also has the ability to force us to do things that we might otherwise, simply blow-off. I’ve been pretty self-disciplined my whole life; I had goals to reach and found ways to complete them. When one road was blocked, I found a path that would lead me to another road headed in the direction that I wanted to go. This type of drive can become consuming and before you know it, you aren’t paying attention to the things that are changing around you. My son is often reminding me to “just relax and chill a little”.

He is often right but I still have trouble getting my head around his happy-go-lucky life; I do need to chill out a little bit. Between my re-election campaign being in full swing, my travel schedule, my special projects and, work demands I could use a little less drive and a little more chill. Self-discipline won’t let us ignore the commitments that we’ve made, nor should we. However, it should also teach us to balance ourselves and take time for ourselves and each other. Look around the world at the top athletes and you will see very self-disciplined people. You will also see people so absorbed in themselves that they lose sight of the things that matter most. Stay balanced!

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

God never intended for us to be timid; He wants us to be bold and social. We are supposed to be sharing God’s word with a world that needs salvation and we can’t do that when we sit quietly by ourselves. God’s Spirit gives us power and love to be there for other people or to openly share God’s message. We should have the confidence to stand tall in the face of all adversity because God has given us the strength to do it. No matter what is before you, you have the power of God’s spirit by your side. When you are troubled, turn to God for strength to knock those troubles down.

God’s love for you will protect you and He is always there for you. One part of self-discipline is that we remember to do what God has asked of us too. We may be driven in this life, have great goals for our careers, and can even pave new roads to success but if we are not disciplined to be faithful to God by growing and sharing in His love, what is the use? God says to us “chill a little” on those earthly wants and needs and give Me a little time. Learn what God has in mind for us, learn what love really is and learn what real self-discipline is by knowing how Jesus gave His life for us. He could have changed course when things got bad or quit when He found out that He was to die. Jesus had the self-discipline to stay the course that God had chosen for Him. God isn’t asking much of us, just a little time with Him and less in this world. Go chill with God.

Faith or Confidence?

What do you have faith in? Often times we hear that people have faith in “the system”, the assembly of policies or procedures that govern us. The system is broken these days, so maybe fewer people actually have faith in it. Where do we turn? The phrase, “if you want a job done right, do it yourself” sounds like we put faith in ourselves. In fact, many people put their faith there – in themselves. Something in their lives has driven them to believe in only themselves. They’ve been let down somewhere along the way or have become so focused on what they’ve accomplished that they lose sight of those that helped or supported them along the way. I hate to say this but as a “politician” people must have faith in me in order to elect me. I’ve never been “political” but during a re-election campaign, I have to be.

I take my job as a councilmember very seriously because of the faith that people have put in me as their representative. In any position you hold, people have to put their faith in you too. They have to trust that you will care and defend them as a leader or they have to believe that you will perform your job well as part of a bigger plan. When people count on you, when they have faith in you, you have a huge obligation to live up to those expectations. I pride myself on being prepared to answer questions at any time for a resident. I pay attention to what concerns people express and I’m always looking for ways to keep them informed and educated. People often comment that they appreciated my explanations; my reply is always that I’m just doing my job and that I take my role as their representative seriously. I want them to have faith in me. Be sure that people know they can have faith in you too.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. Hebrews 11:1

Faith in the biblical context is filled with ambiguity; there are a lot of things that we do not see. We can’t see eternal life and we can’t see God’s plan for our lives but we have faith in them. Some people focus so much on their personal success that they stop having faith in God to provide for them because they are so busy providing for themselves. The devil wants us to think that we are in control of our successes and that we don’t need prayer to be successful. These people have faith in just themselves. This verse in Hebrews reminds us that we can be confident in what God is doing in our lives and that our hopes are His hopes.

Faith in God also means that we can be sure of His presence and work in our lives even though we don’t see it. Faith is knowing, without question, that God is present in all things. Our sinful nature makes us believe that we are in control and that God only intervenes when we ask; sin puts faith in ourselves and not in God. The devil will shower you with money and success so he can keep you focused on yourself as the most important thing. Sin wants success and the feelings that come with it. When your faith is in God and all that He does, you no longer worry about success because it’s there. You won’t worry about material possessions because He will provide for you. Faith is confidence and we can be assured by the promises that God made which we cannot see. Have faith in God to watch over you.

Start with Why

I seem to frequently ask the question “Why did you do that? Or “Why would you do that?” I have no idea how or where these phrases entered my choice of speech. Sometimes, it lessens the “are you crazy?” thought in my mind but I guess that in the end, people who hear my question are probably hearing the crazy one anyway. I started wondering though, why do I do the things that I do? Personally, I’m not into the glory or recognition of things. I won’t lie, I like to know when people appreciate my work for them but I usually don’t hear about it; so I’ve grown accustomed to not hearing it. Public service is usually a thankless job. However, working for the public is not a thankless job, it is just the opposite – its fulfilling. What drives the work that you do? What drives your work ethic either at home or “in the office”?

Simon Sinek wrote a book called, “Start With Why” that I just finished reading. It is a long read but the core message is about why you do the things you or your businesses do. He uses a number of business examples to illustrate the companies that have succeeded and those that haven’t. One example that I’ve often used is an story about a world class drill bit maker that was internationally successful. Over time, business declined, and they were near the end. A consultant came in and reminded them that they were in the business of making holes, not drill bits. Laser technology had almost bankrupted them. Think about what drives you: the money, the fear of getting fired or the satisfaction of the work. I would suggest that what drives you, defines you and people can see that a mile away. Find your inner strength, know why you do what you do and then do it to the best of your ability. Know your why.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

“Do it all for the glory of God” I could almost end this devotion right here. What else is there to say? Every step you take, every decision you make, every move you make should be to the glory of God. Your boss may not see or appreciate what you do at work but work hard anyway because it brings glory to God. Your spouse or kids may not know what you go through, but do your best because it brings glory to God.

What would happen if God were to stop by and evaluate your work, would He be pleased? Did you cut corners or take longer to get it done because “you weren’t feeling like it today”. Your work or vocation is a gift from God. He may be training you for something greater or perhaps is putting you in the just the right place to make a difference in someone else’s life. God’s plan is greater than our understanding and we should be ready to serve Him with gladness. Now when someone asks you, “why did you do that?”, you can confidently answer that you were doing it the glory of God.

How shall we live?

I’m in the middle of my final re-election campaign for City Council; yes, this is my third term – time flies. I never would have imagined that I would have served three terms (12yrs). There are three incumbent candidates, all running unopposed. We have a very happy and content community of just under 85,000 people, with no significant community wide needs. All Council seats are “at-large”, which means we represent the whole city not specific districts or precincts. Without controversy, we remain a vibrant growing and upscale community. This campaign is quite different since there are no challengers. I have learned to ask for help and every campaign takes a team to be successful.

Our daughter is still my graphic designer and the key to my success. Signs went up a couple of weeks ago thanks to a number of volunteers and now they will be maintained by Lisa and I. We’ll fix those knocked over and reinforce the signs against the wind. We will sacrifice to do what was right for the campaign. These campaigns have always been a teamwork effort and this campaign is no exception. I’m not really into bragging but my family, friends and volunteers have reminded me why I am a truly blessed man. My lesson-learned in all this; don’t wait until it’s all over to thank those that help you along the way. Thanks to my great network!

“…the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does…” Ephesians 6:8

In this verse, St. Paul is in the middle of telling the church at Ephesus how masters and slaves should treat each other. What he is saying is that we as human beings, do not get to judge or reward what we think is right or righteous. St. Paul is telling us that since God is faithful and just, caring and compassionate and, the one true judge that we should be more like him. Somewhere in today’s world, we’ve lost sight of this. The devil has worked hard to divide us and we’ve fallen for it!

Practice forgiveness, compassion and work hard are the principles of St. Paul’s message, just as our Father in Heaven does. The Lord, our God will reward the hard work. There is no mention of building up “credits” to win God’s favor, no amount of works that need to be preformed, no amount of money to be tithed; simply living as God intended. God became man to show us the way, the truth and then gave us eternal life with him in heaven through His Son our Savior Jesus Christ. We have salvation in Him and need to encourage others to turn toward God’s intentions; we don’t need to judge the lives of others. We do however, need to thankful, to God, for the people in our lives who make things better.

Trust

Two weeks ago I completed a military exercise that didn’t go quite as we had planned. The Team Chief was saying to everyone, “If it went as we had planned…” How often do you say that? We’re always thinking about how my plan did not turn out as desired and forget the fact that we are not in control. Sticking with the theme of a new year and new beginnings, I want to turn to the idea of, where do you turn for directions? My observation is that most people are either the advice seeker or the advice giver on a regular basis. Sure, the observation is obvious but if you are a regular seeker, then you should be asking yourself who are you getting direction from? If you are a regular giver, you should have someone that you can turn to when you need to seek. How reliable are these people, how good is their advice, what is it based on and what is their rate of success? We need to be careful about who we get direction or advice from.

Oftentimes, the people who are the first to give advice are the ones who really should be seeking advice from others. At work, a good place to get advice about work related issues is from a mentor or in most cases a trusted confidant. These people have the experience and education to offer sound advise on a number of issues. A mentor is a very formal role that is mutually agreed to by both people with the understanding that there are specific outcomes desired, these are not casual relationships, as we often believe them to be. A mentor has responsibility to their mentee. In the trusted confidant role, the relationship is very informal and this is where most of us seek advice or guidance at work. Sometimes, it’s our supervisor and other times it’s a senior or more experienced coworker. Regardless of the position, know who you are getting direction from. Sometimes, simply changing who is influencing your life can make all the difference.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5

I reference God’s plan for our lives quite often; for good reason. God is the only one who knows the plans for our lives. He knows our first and last days and He orders all circumstances in between. I often have to laugh at myself when I start to say, “If it went as I planned”; as if I had control over the outcomes. I have to stop and think that if God it wanted that way, He would have seen it through. This all brings me back to learning patience. I’m too busy anyway to worry about it; God knows what I need to do to slow down. He’s teaching me and, in a way, He’s mentoring me in what is best in my life.

I learned a long time ago to lean on God and to trust Him; I just keeping forgetting and He keeps gently reminding me. God will put special people in your life to teach, mentor or advise you but we must be on guard because the devil will too. So, how do we know the difference? Your understanding of God’s word will see through the devil’s work. If you are comfortable in the bible and your heart is filled with His goodness, grace and understanding, you will know. When you don’t know where to turn, open your “instruction manual” (bible) to get your directions from God. He loves His children and will provide the guidance necessary if we slow down and listen to Him.

Truth and unconditional love

Today, in the United States, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day. He wasn’t just a great American, he was a great man who spoke all over the world about love and hope. Hopefully, no matter what country you are reading this in, you know about Martin Luther King Jr. This quote came to my inbox last week and I thought that it should be shared today. He said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Every day that goes by I seem to find it harder to simply tolerate the nonsense that I see on TV or hear about on the radio. Being in politics, I struggle to “hold my tongue” when I hear about the crazy things that state and national elected people do. As the old saying goes, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then say nothing at all”. So, I remain silent. I’m one of these weird people who often look for the middle ground on issues and work to get things done. Peace among people is where we need to start. When individual people can’t agree or get along, peace is impossible. Dr. King is suggesting that we start with truth and love – something we are lacking in this day and age. Peace opens creativity, which allows people to feel free to exchange ideas and a willingness to collaborate with each other. Go out and make peace!

Romans 12:18 – “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

The bible teaches us to live in peace with one another and love your neighbor as yourself. Living this way allows us to reflect God’s love by loving each other and it makes all of our social interactions easier too. How better for Christians to show love than by living in peace? This is the message of the verse; “as far as it depends on you”. It all depends on you; how you react to a situation or how you create a situation.

We are taught to “stick up for ourselves” and not be bullied. We’re not taught to avoid conflict simply to live at peace. Conflict can be good and healthy for relationships. We should try to find common ground, work out the differences and keep our focus on the issue not the person. If you’re having a difficult conversation, start by making it safe for everyone, stay focused on the issue and how it makes you feel rather than what you think the other person is saying. This is not a time for assumptions. By living in harmony, we live by God’s word and show others that as God so loved the world, so can we.

New Beginning

We are already two weeks into the new year; how are those resolutions coming? I’m feeling pretty optimistic about this year and for no particular reason. I hope that everyone is feeling this way. The start of a new year generally is something like a renewal of sorts. We have no idea what lies before us – challenge, opportunity, pain and joy; who knows? I’ve written before about how far these devotions have spread – South America, Russia, Italy, United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil and the U.S. I’m not mentioning this to boast but my point is that we never know who we touch with what we do. I had no idea how many people from outside the U.S. would ever receive my writings. January 12, 2012, I decided to write devotions for leaders that would help them and connect them to the word of God.

I set out to do something that I’d never done before, write devotions. I had no idea what to expect or what I was capable of doing. Would anyone read them? I took a chance to trust God and what He was guiding me to do. When I’m faced with an unknown, I like to say that I closed my eyes and jumped into the deep end. None of us know what 2019 has in store for us. We can look at this new year afraid and unsure or we can view it as an exciting time filled with new adventures and opportunities. We exchange a day of our lives for the things that we will do that day. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever and in its place is something that we have left behind. Will you leave something good? Go out and have a great day, great week, great month and a great year!

“Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:24

What makes us new? What is a new self? There are shelves filled with advice in most bookstores to help people answer these questions. The scripture answers them for us. Righteousness is defined as decent; ethical, principled, moral, high-minded, law-abiding, honest, honorable, blameless, irreproachable, and noble. When we read that we should be “like God” it seems a little extreme or nearly impossible to compare ourselves to Him but we can be like Him in righteousness.

Every one of us can be decent, ethical, principled, law-abiding and honest; we can be righteous. This is what St. Paul is urging the people of Ephesus to be – righteous. We too can put on a new self, one found in our faith in Jesus Christ who teaches us what righteousness is. We have the perfect leader and teacher in Jesus as told to us through God’s inspired words in the Holy Bible. It’s an awesome combination to help us put on our new selves. What will you exchange the days in your life for and what are you leaving behind? The simple thank you to someone at work, recognizing a job well done, doing a little extra just because or going out of your way to assist someone in need maybe all that you need to jumpstart your new self.

A Renewed Focus

Now that 2019 is actively underway and we all have hope for what this year will bring, I thought that letting the bible speak for itself might help point you in a more focused direction. Maybe some of your resolutions have already been broken or maybe you are struggling with others or perhaps you are keeping all of them (keep going). Whatever the case, we all need to think about how we are living this life and where our focus is. In the New International Version, the third chapter of Colossians is titled “Living as Those Made Alive in Christ” – a good theme for the new year.

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:1-4, 12-17