What’s Shaping You?

Have you ever stopped to think about all of the people that have helped you in your life? There are teachers who helped mold your mind or shaped your learning, the people that have shaped your worldview and there are strangers that have helped in ways that you don’t even know about. If we were to list them all, it would be too long to comprehend. We all have had people that played a significant role in shaping a part of our lives. Some of them have given us great advice or simply were there to listen and others created a pathway for us to follow behind them. The latter did what is referred to as “the heavy lifting”. Both the advisor and the trailblazer are significant to us in our development.

I’ve taught ethics classes at the community college and in the past and I’m reminded about how our lives, values and morals are shaped. It is a constant process, for most of us anyway. People are shaping and teaching us constantly; some are reinforcing our beliefs while others are changing our worldview. This verse got me thinking about whom I’ve relied on in my life to help make me who I am today. Lisa and I realized last weekend that we met 34 years ago in January, which by the way, neither one of us can remember the specific date. Besides being unable to comprehend being together that long, we both know how much we have influenced each other. I also know that there are about a dozen people who were there for me as I traversed my career; some reminding me to slow down and others pushing me on because they saw something that I hadn’t. I realized that I’ve had little to do with who I am and that others had done the heavy lifting. Some took chances on me, others pulled me up into opportunities while people like Lisa were there adjusting to be everything else I needed. Give thanks for those people in your lives and then let them know how much you appreciate all that they’ve done.

37Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”  John 4:37-38

This verse is Jesus speaking to his disciples after he met the Samaritan woman at the water well. Jesus is the sower, He did the hard work for us and we will reap the reward; eternal life through Him. Jesus also is speaking of those before Him, the prophets and those doing the work that God commanded, allowing us to all reap the benefits of their labor. So, is the sowing all done now that we have God’s word and salvation through Jesus? I don’t believe so.

“One sows and another reaps’ is true”. As disciples we still have a harvest to tend to as is said in John 4:35 “…look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” We are the ones that have reaped the goodness of the harvest but we also have some sowing to do. Let’s get out there and sow the good news of Jesus Christ. I bet some of you are saying, “Are you kidding? You want me to go and preach to others?” I’m suggesting that you be a witness of God’s love and grace. He has blessed each of us with specific talents or gifts to sow the fields. Some can sing, some can write, some have strong arms and backs but all have love and the belief that we can make a difference. God is with you and He has already given you what you need to be the person that changes lives. Look around your life and see what He has done for you and then look for ways to pass it on to others. The fields are ripe!

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Discerning Heart

Last week I was inaugurated into my second term as a City Council Member. It was a nice event where three incumbents were all sworn in for another term. One of us is serving her final term due to term limits. A lot can be said today about politicians but the people I meet at the local level are much less about politics and more about serving their community. When local leaders start making decisions based on how they will benefit or how their supporters will benefit, things start going wrong immediately.

Our responsibility as leaders is to not only lead with the highest moral standards but to teach our people how to make ethical choices. There was never a time more important to lead by example then when demonstrating how to make high ethical decisions. As leaders, we are put in a position to make decisions; sometimes they involve personnel and other times they involve the business. Regardless, we need to make decisions that maintain the highest standards and provide for the best possible outcomes. People appreciate it when their leaders are consistent and have their best interest in mind and our customers expect the same thing. As leaders, we are in a place to govern God’s people – providing them with direction and making decisions that affect them.

1 Kings 3:9 – “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and distinguish between right and wrong.”

The verse today can be used as a prayer to God from his faithful servant. We are bombarded with threats everyday and the urge to sin is ever present. We sin daily, the pressure to succeed is always upon us and it would be so easy to cut a few corners, change a few numbers, leave out a couple of details or simply lie. Who will know or even find out? Even if they do, it could be late enough that it won’t really matter anyway.

But God knows, he knows before we do. If we do fall and sin when choosing between right and wrong; God’s grace has freed us from the guilt and the sin when He gave us His only son, Jesus Christ, to bear our punishment. We can be free from guilt and filled with forgiveness by God’s love for us. We have been given the grace of God and a great example of how to live our lives in Jesus. If you have fallen to sin, ask for forgiveness, receive it and do what is right – always. By asking God for a discerning heart to do what is right you’ll always be able to look at yourself in the mirror.

Justification

Calling someone a Christian leader should naturally come with the assumption that they will lead ethically, unfortunately there is temptation everywhere. Each of us have the ability to justify any action we take, whether right or wrong; the devil is always at work to throw us off course. The Josephson Institute lists twelve rationalizations that people will use justify not making good ethical decisions: “1. It’s necessary, 2. if it’s legal, it’s okay, 3. it’s part of the job, 4. if it’s for a good cause, 5. doing it for someone else, 6. fighting fire with fire, 7. it won’t hurt anyone, 8. everyone’s doing it, 9. it’s okay if I don’t gain from it, 10. I’ve got it coming, 11. I can still be objective and 12. it’s creating necessity.”

No mater how we try justify our actions, when we violate the trust of the people in our lives, we have lost the one thing that is hard to get back; their respect. If we think about any of the latest “scandals” that have been reported and then compare the Josephson rationalizations listed, it is easy to see how things can get out of control. We must constantly guard against temptation at every turn and stay vigilant against the pressures of world around us.

“…let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Romans 13:12.

The “deeds of darkness” can be those things that we consciously do and those things that we do or think unconsciously. As Christians, we are under attack by the devil everyday; he’s trying to win us over from God. Remember how he tempted Jesus by offering him the riches of the world and how did Jesus respond? He used scripture to rebuff those temptations. God has given us everything we need in His word through the bible.

If we have the word on our hearts and in our minds, we will know what to do when the urge to justify our actions starts to rise up. When we put on “the armor of light” we can hold our heads high and confidently look at ourselves in the mirror and smile knowing we did the right thing; even when it was hard to do. In the long run, people will respect you for acting ethically despite how they may initially respond. The struggle is daily but our armor will keep us protected.

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.

Don’t just listen, do it

“Do what I say, not what I do” is an old expression used to describe a hypocrite. We seem to be hearing a lot from people these days that go out in public and profess one thing but then are caught doing another. How about these examples: the politician who talks about decency and moral values while carrying on affair with a young staffer or the Hollywood star who supports animal rights and is then seen wearing a fur coat. What about us as parents or supervisors? Does hypocrisy exist by us? I once attended a national conference for leaders to find peers planning golf outings and casino trips instead of finding classes to attend, only to return home and deny anyone else the opportunity to attend because “those conferences are not really helpful to us here at in small town”. We are all preparing for tax season and it’s a great ethical discussion – is stealing wrong? If so, why is okay to cheat on your taxes? We all tell those in our lives that we love them but do we do anything that shows them we do? We can all go around and tell people to do things or tell them how to live their lives but we need to be ready to do the same things we tell others to do. We often hear people tell us what to do or what is expected of us and yet we fail to follow their direction because its silly or we don’t agree with it. Imagine how you would react if you found out that someone ignored what you asked them to do. It’s a matter of honesty, we should do as we say or do as we are asked. When does personal freedom end and anarchy begin?

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22

“I go to church on Sunday, why do I need to read the bible during the week?” “I’m a good Christian. I give money to charities and donate my time when I can”. How often have you heard these phrases or even said them? I started a bible study this week at my home church and we are talking about discipleship. One definition of disciple is learner or growing in faith and knowledge. We discussed the idea of being in God’s Word on a regular basis. It reminded me of a conversation that I had with someone struggling. I said that when you go to church, you are getting God on you and when you participate in the sacrament of communion that you are getting God in you. By studying the Word of God and putting it into practice you are also getting God in you. While this theory of mine is not based in sound theology, it makes sense. Becoming one with God is what He desires for us. The bible is full of instructions for us to live our lives but if we don’t know it we can’t do it. Take time to start studying the Word given to us by God and then put them to action. God has begun His good work in you; help Him by being a part of the work, you can’t lose.

Temptation

They say, “temptation is everywhere”; I have to believe it. We see so many things everyday that it’s amazing we all aren’t financially and morally bankrupt. (I know that’s arguable but go with it.) There is an old leadership saying: “don’t ask your people to do things that you wouldn’t do you yourself”.  It doesn’t mean that if you can do it yourself, you should. It’s about having people do things that are dangerous, improper, illegal that you wouldn’t do yourself but you’d be willing to sacrifice them to do it. It sounds horrible (and it is) but it happens. It is usually in a very subtle way when a supervisor “suggests” an edge over the competition but isn’t really serious in providing specific direction on how to do it but does give specifics about the “reward” for such a victory. All of us at some point have been tempted to “get” someone at work to simply “show them” who we are. Most of the time we don’t act on it but when we do, we usually don’t feel good about ourselves when we do. Temptation at home can be strong too. We are tempted to buy something we really can’t afford and when we do buy it, we get buyers remorse. We end up paying it off after a few months (or years) on the credit card and swear to never do it again. The consequences are minor so we don’t worry about doing it again when temptation comes knocking. We will keep answering those temptations until we have a significant event that changes our behavior but that can be too late. The financial ruin, job loss or broken relationship that follows not only rocks our faith but the outlook we will carry for the rest of our lives. I’d like to say don’t act on them but as I started, “temptation is everywhere”. The key is recognizing the temptation and turning to truth about what is proper and what you actually afford.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;” James 1:13

Wouldn’t it be nice to never be tempted by evil? It must be one of the “perks” of being God! Now that we’ve established that we are not God, we have to look at who is tempting us. Sometimes it’s just the “old Adam” in us; the human nature that “justifies” our actions to do something small or with minor consequences. There are times when it is the devil that is tempting us. The “original sin” we all have came from the devil and he is still working everyday to turn us away from God. He plants small doubts, jealousy, envy and want in our heads. We can easily “justify” doing anything – “I’m owed”, “no one will notice”, “everyone else is doing it”, or “I need this” are a few examples. Every time we justify a temptation to ourselves, act on it and then feel remorseful, we’re simply allowing the devil to win another round. Sometimes, we blame God for not being “strong enough” to block these temptations or our actions and others will blame God for constantly testing us. It is not God’s work; it is the devil at work! Stay strong in your faith, remain connected to God’s word, pray daily with thanksgiving and ask for God’s help. The “right answer” is within you; you simply must look beyond the devil’s rationale for the truth.