Stay Focused

My business partner and I provide strategic planning consulting services for local governments. 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 community. 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 and 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 drill in to 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 was saving the world and He based that focus on the guiding principles established by God – the Ten Commandments. Because of His focus, we can drill in to 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.

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Good People Doing Bad Things

When I taught supervisory development classes, I always included a section on ethics. It is quite predictable that the topic of good people doing bad things comes up when you discuss supervising people. 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? Sometimes we justify our actions if we believe that no one is being hurt by our action or if “everyone is doing it”. 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. We often ask how or why they could do it 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 as 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.

Mistakes

This weekend we saw a number of great NFL football games in the first round of the playoffs. Four games were played, four teams won and four teams lost. There were mistakes made, no doubt about that. I’m not talking about any game in particular but games are usually won because one team took advantage of someone else’s mistake. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Someone makes a mistake and the office jerk is not only quick to point it out but also then tries to take advantage of it. We all forget that post-it-notes were actually a result of someone’s mistake. How do you react when someone makes a mistake? I always make two promises to the teams that I lead – 1) I will make mistakes and 2) I will never repeat them.

They key is what we do with the experience of making a mistake. The old saying of “its water under the bridge” is so true; you can’t get it back. My philosophy is that you have to acknowledge the error, learn from it and move forward. This is why football teams review films of the game they just played, each week; win or lose. They don’t dwell on the outcome, they are always looking forward. People make mistakes all of the time. A baseball player who hits the ball only 33% of the time (.300 avg.) is a great player. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of productivity goal? So, the next time someone around you makes a mistake or you do; give them a little smile and let them know that it’s okay. The office jerk will get theirs in all due time.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

We always seem to make one mistake after another; breaking commandments left and right. How can we call ourselves Christians if we can’t live a life without sin? St. Paul would certainly have a thing or two to say about that. His first direction in this single verse as part of a letter to the Ephesians was: “Be kind and compassionate to one another”. This is a great place to start. How you handle yourself with others is a good indication of the messages that have gone to your core. My guess is that you are compassionate and caring toward others. You do your best to help when you can and pray for help when there is more to be done than you can handle.

As Christians, we forgive and forget a lot more often than we give ourselves credit for. If you held onto every wrong against you, the weight of those emotions would be crushing. We forgive strangers everyday yet we find it hard to forgive those we love or even ourselves. Jesus Christ taught us to be patient with everyone. Even His own disciples were less than helpful in the end yet He forgave them. God, Our Father in Heaven who loves us so deeply, is compassionate with us even when we disappoint Him. All of our sins have been forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection, no exceptions. God forgives you for the sins that you have committed and those that you have yet to commit; that’s why we can call ourselves Christians. Go out and demonstrate God’s love through your faith in Jesus Christ, the world needs our kindness, compassion and forgiveness.

Don’t Give Up

There is a book by Kent Keith titled “Anyway, The Paradoxical Commandments” which lays out 10 paradoxical commandments of life. My favorite is # 10 which states “Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway”. Throughout my life as a leader, I have learned that no good deed will go unpunished. I have gone out of my way for someone to only have them do something that has caused me more aggravation later. I can’t tell you how many nights I was up late working on a “group” research project because one of my classmates failed to complete their part of a project. This kind of thing happens all of the time to people. They do their best and give others the benefit of the doubt only to later regret it. Leaders must continue to give their best despite what might happen.

I’ve seen organizational leaders lose faith in their people because they’ve been “kicked in the teeth” and now think that everyone in the organization is just a bunch of “winey babies”. They have no trust in anyone, they no longer involve the employees in decision-making and they have created a hostile work environment for their employees and themselves. Leaders must stand tall and continue to do what is right, at the right time and for everyone they lead because it’s their responsibility. Sure, leaders will “get kicked in the teeth” but that’s why it’s lonely at the top. People don’t always understand our roles but we know that we will make a difference and that is why we “give the world our best anyway”.

9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:9-10

This verse had a couple of options for things to talk about – doing good and not giving up. While I focused the first part on doing good, I’d like to add the “not giving up” part here. It is tiring always doing good, our sinful nature says “when will someone do good for me?” We seem to be able to justify shortcuts and doing the minimum in our minds. We go around doing things for others, for little recognition I might add, and all we ask in return is a little good coming our way; that’s not too much to ask. The end of verse 8 gives us the answer “the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

The “good” coming to you will come from the Holy Spirit. We are encouraged to “do good to all people” but “especially those who belong to the family of believers”. There are no options to be good only to those that are good to us or who won’t make our lives harder. Whether you are a leader, a follower or a loner, do not become weary of always doing good. No one said it was easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ but the rewards are eternal. Go and do good – Anyway.

Communication

“What is that supposed to mean!” Have you ever said those words? Often times we rush through our conversations that we skip a few key words and change the meaning of everything that we are trying to say. Text messaging has made this problem even worse. We see young people who have a hard time expressing themselves. Their sentences are short and void of emotion, if it can’t be said in a text or e-mail, they just aren’t saying it. How are we to supposed to deal with them?

One idea is that when we speak to our younger friends or co-workers and the communication is critical, we can ask them to repeat back to us what they think we said. We can also ask them how they want to be communicated with. One thing is for sure; we must choose our words carefully knowing that each one has the possibility of meaning more than one thing to a new generation of young people who may have a slightly different dictionary version than we do. We must be flexible and patient, our role is to continue to lead them.

“because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5

The bible is such a great book but it too can be filled opportunities for misinterpretation. Look at the various churches that claim to offer insight into God’s word and then proceed to tell you how to live your life. The gospel did come to us with great power; we can impact people’s lives by following the words given to us. We are not the judges of other people’s lives, the bible tells us that. The Holy Spirit is present in our lives but so is the devil, they are constantly fighting for our attention.

It is the deep conviction that we have in our faith that keeps the devil in check. Our words mean something; they are the light into our heart. Do you openly profess your love and belief in Jesus Christ? When given the chance to gossip about someone, do you jump on it? These are all windows into your heart. The bible is more than just words; it is the WORD of God, given to us through the Holy Spirit who inspired its writers. The words and stories are told in such a way to bring meaning to each word. These words mean something. At the end of the day, we must watch our words and our actions because as they say, actions speak louder than words. The bible is our guide. No matter what we’ve done or said, we are forgiven by the grace of God and Jesus taking our sins onto Himself so we may have eternal life. Now that is plain and simple no matter how you say it.

Where Do I find Help?

Mentoring and coaching are often used interchangeably. There have been plenty of articles written recently about companies choosing not to perform annual employee performance appraisals and replacing them with regular “check-in sessions” – basically coaching. The workforce can view “mentoring” as special grooming for those fortunate enough to have been chosen to move up the career ladder. Mentoring is a relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professionally. The key feature here is that the mentee wants to be guided – they ask for this type of personal attention.

Most employees expect help from their leadership in the form of guidance, inspiration, encouragement, advancement, discipline and approval for a job well done. If they don’t get these, frustration sets in and for the Millennials, this means finding a new job. Employees can be coached even without a formal system. If supervisors don’t do it themselves, the employee can ask questions of their supervisor to extract help. “What do I need to do to improve in [fill in the blank]? I’d like to start working on more complex projects; do you have anything coming up that might allow me to do that? I have been blessed to have great coaches and confidants throughout my career(s). Don’t wait for it to happen, go out and make it happen. Find a mentor, a coach or a confidant in your life and you will see that there is strength in numbers.

“I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.” Proverbs 4:11-12

Can you even imagine what it would be like to physically speak to Jesus everyday and ask for His advice? You can! Your prayers are heard by the Triune God, which means Jesus hears them too. While you don’t hear Him respond back, you will get an answer. God sent us His Son to bring us closer to Him. Now that’s what I call a mentor! God provided His word to us through the scriptures and Jesus gave us examples of how to live our lives; someone to guide us both personally and professionally.

This verse tells us He will lead us along straight paths, not stumbling and without impede. Another example of God’s promise to be with us. We stumble in sin, we forget to nurture our relationship with God and yet He keeps His promises. Our faith in Jesus is all that He needs to keep us along the straight paths. We don’t deserve that kind of dedication but God’s love is so great that we can’t imagine how He can forgive us. Sin is always present but more importantly, so is God’s love. Let Him guide you.

Challenges

I have used this verse before to describe friendship and to define leadership. This verse speaks to me on so many levels that when I read it again a couple of weeks ago, I was compelled to write about it again. For months, the world has been very tumultuous. We’ve seen terrorist attacks, police shootings, police being ambushed, and horrific violence across the globe. It makes you wonder about the end-times. And, while all of this is going on, most people just go about their business as if it doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t happening in their community. There are others however, that become frightened by what is happening on a global perspective.

In our lives, we are constantly fighting a war against ourselves. We are worried about our jobs, the economy, the bills that are piling up and the latest news from our doctor. Worry sets in and we slowly start to panic – war has been declared. Pastor Greg Brown wrote a great book titled “The Seven laws of Breakthrough” in which he describes a journey that we take moving through our lives. At each level, we achieve strength and confidence just before we breakthrough the ceiling to the next level. He points out that when we breakthrough, we are once again on the floor. It is a great relief to know that we are not alone; we will not be challenged beyond what God knows we can handle. While we might think that we can’t possibly take any more and we feel like the waters are rising quickly, we should also feel the comfort and peace in knowing that He will be with us. Its easy to write – don’t worry about things, but when you know that you are not alone, it should make it a little easier to.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:1b-2

We have all heard people say or we have said it ourselves “God has a plan for you”. Some believe that the circumstances in their lives are merely chance happenings and that God doesn’t get into those details of your life or worse yet, that there isn’t a God at all. God does have a plan but it’s being revealed on His timeline not ours. A day or a year in God’s eye is not the same as an earthly one. Many of you will agree that “this life” is complicated and filled with all kinds of problems and trials. Can this really be part of God’s plan? It sure can be! God will only give us what we can handle and He wants us to grow in our faith and in our lives.

We cannot grow if we are not challenged; this is when breakthroughs occur. We all learned to crawl before we walked and mastered that before we started to run. These too were challenges and like the events of today; they exist for specific reasons. God, our Father, wants us to grow and like any parent who helps their baby take those first steps, He is there with us holding our hands for balance. As things get harder and the waters turn into rivers, He will be there so you are not swept away. God’s grace and love are with you everyday, sometimes you need to simply stop and realize it. Don’t rely on God only when you pass through the river, get to know Him and see what happens when you are only passing through the waters. Thank Him for His care and presence in your life.

The Butterfly Effect

When I prepare to write these devotionals, I often seek a number of resources to provide inspiration for this part of it. The second half that follows the scripture verse, usually just flows as if I’m being guided to write. I’m not bold enough to suggest that I have some sort of connection with the Holy Spirit but I believe that God is guiding me in this journey of writing and that He is using me to share the good news. I also believe that God uses each one us to share His news and to teach about salvation. We all just do it differently. When just one of us believes in everlasting life and we share that faith or belief with just one other person, we are starting to spread the word; all it takes is one person.

In 1963 Dr. Edward Lorenz proposed a theory called the Butterfly Effect. He suggested that a butterfly on one side of the world flapping its wings would move molecules of air that moved other molecules and the ripple of moving air molecules could create a hurricane on the other side of the planet. For almost thirty years this theory hung around the scientific community until it was proven in the mid-1990’s to be accurate. The Law of Sensitive Dependence Upon Initial Conditions is the official scientific law of the Butterfly Effect. One person can have an effect on others, who have an effect on others yet and so on. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a great example of the Butterfly Effect as he continues to inspire today and his beliefs about racial equality are still being developed. One person can make a difference. We just need to start flapping our wings.

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

We have no way of knowing when it will strike us or when the opportunity is right, but we can be sure that God will give us the opportunity to tell His story. We will have strength that we never knew we had or we will have the time to do something for someone else when we seem to hardly ever have time for ourselves. God does work in mysterious ways. The Holy Spirit is with us, God is working His plan and Jesus is our guide and salvation; yet they are one. It is a true test of faith to simply believe that three are one.

We don’t know where the wind will blow, how hard it will be or where it will go. We simply have to believe that it is present and moving. Imagine if every time the wind blew, it was God surrounding you with His warmth and strength. We are born of the Spirit, baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and free from sin through Jesus Christ who said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We can reach millions of people by just telling one person about our faith in God and how we are saved through Jesus Christ. We can put the Butterfly Effect to work every day in our lives by demonstrating good Christian characteristics and taking a chance when the time is right to tell about our faith. All it takes is one person telling one other person and we begin moving mountains.

Move on

“I’ll never forgive them for what they did to me!” Have you ever uttered these words? They say trust is hard to build and easy to lose. We have all experienced that. How easily all of our good work, extra hours and overtime are erased when we make one mistake. Years of trust are wiped out – in both directions. We no longer trust those that lead and they have weakened trust in us. When does the erosion stop? We must have some faith and hope that our leaders will return to a sensible state and we move forward. We followed them for a reason or we wouldn’t care what they thought of us. If we are simply following them because they sign our paycheck, then our relationship is not affected when we disappoint them. However, being thankful for our job and working at our best is something we do for our families, or ourselves not for the leaderless boss. Take your “oops” and turn it into a learning experience. Find your mentor, confidant or peer who will help you learn. Sometimes these experiences are gifts from others, wrapped in ugly paper – yes, but a gift nonetheless. In all situations that go bad, we share the blame; so make the make the most of it.

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you for your sins.” Mark 11:25

Forgiving someone is one of the hardest things we will do in our lives. It’s easy to do when the circumstances are minor, like not being able to go the movies. It is a little harder when someone we care about humiliates us, talks badly of us or commits a “wrong” in some way that affects us. We hear about family members forgiving a murderer or thief and most of us wonder, “How can they do that?” Our Father has forgiven us for the things that we do or when we steal time from Him. He knew we needed help in learning about forgiveness, so he sent His Son to us not only as a Savior for our sins but to give us an example to follow. Jesus showed us how to forgive; we just need to be reminded. Forgive and move on; life on earth is too short to carry around the weight of unforgiven issues.

The right path

I’ve spent the past few weeks talking to friends about, “what does living really mean?” It seems that everywhere we turn, there is someone dying young or getting very sick just after retiring. I good friend said that no where but in America do people save their whole lives, work until they are too old to enjoy their savings and skip the best parts of life while they are capable of enjoying it. There is a TV commercial that starts with the phrase “when did leaving work on time become a bad thing?”

Despite all of our desires, we can’t chart our own course through life. My life was planned out through age 59 – a secure career, a strong financial plan, a pension when I retired and good health. At age 44 my career was over and my financial future was uncertain. Injured in freak accident at work, I would have major surgery and have to find employment with a mild disability and put two kids through college. I was NOT in control of anything. Once I put my faith in God, people started entering my life and new connections were being formed. Soon, I was working in a new field and expanding my view of “work”. Like a tree growing and spreading its roots, soon my life was filled with great opportunities, great people and options. I was not directing my steps and I’ve stopped planning everything. This brings me back to the opening of paragraph; we can’t plan for everything so perhaps we should be taking advantage of the things that are right in front of us.

Jeremiah 10:23 “I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own, it is not for a man to direct his steps.”

I biggest thing that I learned from my life being turned upside down was that I was not in control. I often write about God’s plan and I have personally experienced it. This life is God’s will; the beginning and the end are decided by Him. “It is not for man to direct his steps” is today’s verse that God reminds us that He is ordering the events of our lives and not us.

The moment when we start thinking that we are in control, is when we start to get lost. Our lives are not our own because we are here to serve each other and give all of the glory to God for His work in and through us. Focus on serving the Lord and do His will by letting Him direct your steps. Lead others by providing a good example of how to care for each other. Be the “middle man” and care for everyone around you; it’s a test of your faith and I assure you that it isn’t hard to do.