Values

Temptation is everywhere and we all know it. Sometimes it shows itself at Costco when we see a “deal that we can’t pass up” or it shows up at work when we don’t need to “tell the whole story” Or we agree to get “creative with the accounting” because our boss told us to. I’d like to talk about the type of temptations that shape us as people, not those that tempt our waistlines or willpower like a donut or one more glass of wine. The people in our lives, the experiences that we’ve had and what we’ve been taught all shape our morals and values. Values are the inner judgments that determine how we will behave and morals are about how we execute those judgments. While some people interchange those definitions, it is clear that they are different but both of them influence how we behave. 

When we don’t experience negative consequences from “deceiving or cheating” our brain stamps it, “okay for use again”. We will continue to deceive ourselves until there are consequences and we are forced to “re-learn” to do it right. The best way to continue to train our brains is for us to keep doing the right thing, even when no one is looking; being people of integrity. If we give in, we are only deceiving ourselves and that will have life-long implications.

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

An armor of light sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I envision a brilliant white, shining armor chest plate and a matching shield. What can’t you defend off with such protection? We know, of course, that the white armor is the protection given to us from our Savior, Jesus Christ. He has clothed us in white as we go through our lives “not guilty” of sin because of His sacrifice for us. We must guard that our light does not dim by remaining true to our Father in Heaven and to His Son, our Savior. 

Our light dims every time we submit to darkness. When we do not live, as God wants us to, we dim our light. The good news however is that our confession of those sins and our faith in Jesus Christ allows our light to shine brightly once more. We all know people who have fallen in to darkness. We have a responsibility to shine our light on their lives and show them the way. Reassure them that they too, can put on an armor of light by turning their lives back toward God and then “get fitted for their suit” through Jesus Christ. We do not ever have to live in darkness; Jesus is our light.

We are Free

Yesterday was July 4th and in the U.S. we celebrate our country’s independence as the Fourth of July Holiday. I have traveled to Washington DC many times for work, and you can see signs of our founding fathers everywhere along with the power of our government on what seems like every corner. It wasn’t until I’d seen just about everything else before I visited the Jefferson Memorial. Not for any other reason than, I was too lazy to “go all the way over there” on the other side of the pond. I remember very vividly seeing the monuments one night and the Jefferson Memorial didn’t look that far away after visiting the MLK Memorial. I was wrong but that’s another story. When you see the quotes from great leaders like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and MLK you are inspired as an American. 

The interesting thing about all that history however is, we have no idea what they really went through to get us to the point of “One Nation Under God”. Not too far from the Lincoln Memorial are the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Korean War and the World War II Memorials. These four memorials each represent some of the “actions” that have kept our country free since July 4, 1776. Again, these memorials tell of men and women who sacrificed it all for us to be free in circumstances that are unimaginable to most of us. This Fourth of July is not just a celebration of our country’s birth but is a celebration of those that have fought, here and abroad, for us to remain free. Some did it with words and pens, others with swords and rifles, but they all did it for their love of their Country; their actions meant millions of others would be free. 

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1John 3:18

When I first saw this verse I was ready to write about love and honesty but with the July 4th Holiday upon us, this seemed more appropriate. We “love” a lot of things in our lives – dessert, a TV show, a movie, our clothes/shoes, our cars, food and even our electronic devices. Some people “love” things so much that they post about them on Facebook, Twitter or Insta-Gram. None of these are what God had in mind when he inspired the writers of the bible. We can tell people we love them, we can write them poems or letters or in today’s case we can tweet it but how do we show it? People will say that they love their fellow man when they write a check to a charity and others by volunteering. It’s important to remember, sharing God’s love isn’t about works. 

It’s not about how many checks you write or how many hours you volunteer at the homeless shelter or how many doors you knock on to share the word. We have God’s love because we believe and His love isn’t dependent upon anything we do. We are instructed with this verse to love with actions and in truth. The old phrase “actions speak louder than words” is best applied here. Don’t go around professing your love for God but cheating every chance you get. Don’t write or say: “You’ll be in my prayers” but then never pray. All of us, as God’s children, have been given the gift of God’s love; not only was it written for us in the bible, but it’s shown everyday by His actions in our lives. Let’s celebrate ALL of our freedoms this week: as a nation we enjoy certain freedoms and as a sinner, we are free from eternal punishment through our faith in Jesus Christ. We have these freedoms today because of courageous acts by many; we should never forget them.

Forget What is Behind

“Forgive and forget”. It works great in theory but it’s hard to practice on a regular basis. We always seem to be quick to forgive but never quite get to the forget part. Men famously complain that their wives never forget “that one time when we were dating” – years ago. Men are just as bad, so I’m not celebrating here. Saying “I made a mistake” is one of the hardest things people can say to each other. It shows great humility and is a demonstration of the respect that the person has for the relationship. There are several versions of “I made a mistake”: I was wrong; I shouldn’t have done/said that; I didn’t mean to or that’s not what I meant and the newest version – just kidding. I don’t quite get that one. Despite all of these versions, what we don’t often hear is a good old fashioned – “I’m sorry”.

Sometimes mistakes have consequences; one of which is at a personal level for the one who admits it. When they do, we should acknowledge the effort it took to admit the mistake by responding to them with the affirmation that it’s “okay” or “I forgive you”. Our human nature makes forgetting about it hard; this mistake or hurt always seems to resurface when the same person is involved in a new but similar situation. Our brains are programmed to “recall” events and how we reacted to them is part of how we learn and is how we process rapid decision-making; so the mistakes comeback sub-consciously. We have to keep our emotions “in check” and dismiss them from our reaction (unless it’s a duplicate event). Ultimately, give everyone a little grace and your forgiveness.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:14-15

St. Paul was telling the Philippians to leave the past behind them, forget their old ways, old habits, old beliefs and old understandings. His advice to us today is the same, look toward the future and to what you can do today to live a better life. No matter what you’ve done, leave it in the past. At the time Paul wrote these letters, the people of the world were leading pretty brutal lives. They raped, pillaged and murdered each other. It was an “every man for himself” world. They watched human slaughter for entertainment in places like the Coliseum in Rome. St. Paul was telling them to leave all of it in the past and focus on the future prize promised by God – eternal life through Jesus Christ. 

I have no idea how many people read this each week but I will bet that no one has lived a life today like those who lived in the First Century. No matter what you you’ve done, look toward the future you have through Christ. God wanted you saved, that’s why He sent Jesus to die for our sins – then and now. You are forgiven! As it is written in Acts 10:43 “…Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” There are no other versions or ways to say it; you are forgiven. Now start living and looking toward to the future with Jesus Christ.

Happy Easter!

Yesterday, we celebrated Easter and regardless of what is going on in this world, it is a wonderful time of the year! Spring has started (for most of us anyway), the year is rising from the dormant winter much like Christ rose on the third day. A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a Pastor friend of mine when he started to talk about religion and his faith in God and our savior Jesus Christ. We talked about the various denominations out there and how people are searching for the “right church to belong to” as if it mattered whether you were a Catholic or a Lutheran. 

We both agreed that it wasn’t the denomination that was important but that they all had an underlying belief in Jesus Christ as our savior. He then said something that really hit the nail on the head – “the importance of the bible can be summed up in two verses John 1:1 and John 3:16”.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

When you read these two verses, you realize how right he is. Take away the differences between all of the denominations, the doctrinal teachings and the “special rules” of each “church” and it all boils down to: “the Word was with God and the Word was God”. God gave us His divine Word through the writings of the bible. He ensured that the messages He wanted sent were done so through the pages of the bible. 

As sinners, we continue to follow our own hearts and minds doing what we believed to be right. Knowing that we were not capable of doing what is in our own best interest, God intervened again. He sent His one and only Son to us. Not just to help us but to save us. God’s word tells us “that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. An eternal life that we will share with God our Father, Jesus His Son and all of the other believers. As my friend said, “what else is more important?” Knowing that you will have eternal life because of your faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest gift. Go out today, this Easter Monday, and every day remembering that you are saved not by your doing or works but by the grace of God.

Clear Minds

Let’s turn back to a little management focus for a change this week and talk about multi-tasking, a common and an acceptable part of our society today. In fact, you are viewed negatively if you can’t multi-task. What we accept today as “normal” was once called being “scatter brained”. Multi-tasking and “smart phones” may have actually made us less productive. A number of studies have shown that the constant interruptions we have in our lives are actually slowing us down. Every time we rapidly shift from one task to another our brains have to refocus or reset. We are truly losing our train of thought; the problem is that it is happening constantly. 

One study conducted with college students who claim to be “great multi-taskers” actually demonstrated that their motor skills and cognitive abilities mirrored those of someone legally intoxicated. Now that is sobering – sorry I couldn’t resist. All of these studies show, what us “old-timers” already know, work on one thing at a time and you will actually get more done. We have all been behind that one car that is just not keeping up with the flow of traffic, only to see them talking on the phone or worst yet, texting while driving. Remain focused on what you are doing, especially while driving, and your stress levels should decrease while your productivity increases.

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” 1 Peter 1:13

We are in the middle of lent, getting closer to Easter and there couldn’t be a more fitting verse. Reading the bible is a fascinating journey that explains how God tried to help focus His people on what is important. Imagine how many more distractions we have today than they did in those early years of B.C. Many of us heard the phrase uttered by our parents “don’t make me come up there”, when we were misbehaving. God finally reached that point where He had to “come down here” because we just couldn’t focus on what He was trying to teach us. 

God became man when He sent His son to show us the way. Peter reminds us to clear our minds, be alert and ready (sober). When we multi-task, we never really do one thing well, we do them all well enough. Peter is telling us to focus and set our hope in Jesus. Reduce the interference in your life by focusing on what is important. Send your fears and worry to God not so that you can do something else but so that you can focus on the grace that He is giving to you. Ensure that your devotional time is quiet and uninterrupted. Focus on what God is telling you through His word. Most importantly, have peace in knowing that your sins are forgiven by your faith in Jesus Christ. 

Reformation

I never really understood how the modern day churches came into existence until I became a Lutheran. There have been a lot of books, television shows and even a couple of movies written about the Reformation and a man named Martin Luther. The history behind the different “versions” of the Lutheran Church is also very interesting to read about. I don’t want to engage in a discussion about the differences between the various churches in existence today except to say that, the world of religion would not be the same if it were not for Martin Luther. Saturday October 31st is Reformation Day. It commemorates the posting of Martin Luther’s 95 theses’ on the doors of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg Germany in 1517. Martin Luther was a Catholic Priest who was translating the bible from Latin into German when he started to truly understand what the bible messages were. Martin Luther began sharing the Word of God with lay people for the first time in history. Until him, only the Priests of the Catholic Church were reading the bible and selecting the verses to be shared.

One of his strongest positions was on the practice that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be bought with money. He became an outlaw under Emperor Charles V and was eventually excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1520. Martin Luther gave the Bible to the people and began teaching that the Bible was the only source of God’s Word. His “freeing” of the Bible into everyone’s hands became the birth of all Christian religions we know today. Martin Luther was also very antagonistic toward those of Jewish faith and believed in a very strict interpretation of the teachings of the bible. No matter what denomination you worship in, if you are reading the Bible, you have Martin Luther to thank. Celebrate Reformation Day!

“ 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Romans 3:20-26, 28

These verses show us where Martin Luther’s mind was at in 1517. The practice until then was for people to pay the church to forgive their sins and that it was only the Priests that could forgive sins. As a former Catholic, I remember going to confessional, telling my sins to the Priest and being forgiven after I recited prayers to God or the Virgin Mary. Confession of sin is still a paramount tenet of Protestant religions and we should do so without hesitation. The key that Martin Luther wanted us to know is that we can speak directly to God about our sins and that they are forgiven because we have all been justified by God’s grace alone. No special payments, no works, no special prayers; just God’s grace and love is what has saved us.

Who’s Got Time?

The musical group Chicago, in their song 25 or 6 to 4 ask the question, “Does anyone really know what time it is?”. Jimmy Buffet has a song about a watch that doesn’t have numbers but “just says now”. Time is the one thing that we can’t make more of, we can often never have enough of and some times can feel like there is too much of – especially in campaign season. I’d say it’s a very strange element of our lives. A very close friend of mine unexpectedly lost his wife last weekend, she was a few days shy of her 50th birthday. They didn’t have enough time together! The time they did spend together was very special and people often commented on how visible their love was for each other.

What we do with our time or what we spend our time on is often a reflection of who we are. We can spend our time making a difference in other people’s lives or we can spend time complaining about things that really don’t affect us but make us feel like we we’re protecting something. Ask yourself, is it really worth it? Time is precious so we should spend it wisely on things that bring joy to others and to ourselves – one should not come at the expense of the other. Take a look in your life at the things consuming the most amount of your time and make sure that you’re spending that time correctly because you never know when the time will be gone.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

“This is taking an eternity to finish!” A phrase we all utter at some point. We have no concept of what “eternity” really is. God works on His own timeline and not one that we can understand. Stop for a moment and look back over your life, do you see how God has worked in His plan in your life? The seemingly unrelated events and circumstances appear now to be connected to form an experience or opportunity. God is at work in and through us every day; bringing us closer to Him for eternity.

People are often afraid of the things that they’ve done and become so discouraged that they give up pleasing God. He doesn’t keep a record of our time spent; there is no time clock in use. If God did keep a record of everything that we’ve done from our beginning, it would be a pretty scary list if you think about it. Fortunately, we are God’s children and as such, He sent us a Savior to wipe clean our sins. Faith in Jesus Christ, combined with God’s grace, cleanses us from all sin. We cannot fathom the extent of God’s love for us as He forgives ALL of our sins – from the beginning to the end. God works in His time. We can’t understand that so why do we think we can understand the depth of God’s love? So, spend a little more time with God so He knows how much you appreciate Him.

What is Right Anymore?

Famous business leader Peter Drucker once said, “The successful person places more attention on doing the right thing rather than doing things right.” We hear a lot these days from people who are quick to lecture about “doing what’s right” but they fail to define what “right” is. Honestly, “right” isn’t hard but we’re so determined that it be “our own version of right” that we’ve stopped considering that we might actually, be wrong. A large number of people have forgotten what “taking care of each” other means because they’re so focused on being right. There is a segment of the American public that wants to shut off welfare, suppress minimum wage and close up the borders to the “Land of the Free” who’s Statue of Liberty says, “give us your poor, your weak …” What is right anymore? Do we really understand the problems created by isolation and individualism? The discussions around the issue of wearing masks in public is a great example – required or voluntary, people have forgotten about the greater good.

I’ve written before about author Kent Keith, whose book “Anyway”, lists the ten paradoxical commandments of life. Paradoxical commandment number nine says “Give the world the best you have, and you’ll get kicked in the teeth; Give the world your best anyway”. You may have heard the phrase “No good dead will go unpunished”. We do good anyway because it is written on our hearts. It is certainly easier for us to do the things that: cause us less work, make us more money, won’t hurt anyone and won’t create a conflict or simply do something because everyone else is doing it. Being a member of a greater society isn’t easy. It is what separates us from the animal kingdom. All leaders have an obligation to do the right thing, all the time, and to continue to do it even if it isn’t popular or appreciated. Integrity can be described as doing the right thing even when no one is watching. We are however, never alone.

 “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it sins.” James 4:17

God is always with us, in thought, word and deed. He knows what is in our heart and see’s even the little things we say and do. So, when we know better and don’t do it or when we take the easy way out, we sin. There are a lot of things we do as a result of the old Adam in us; things that result in sin. There are no degrees of sin, they are all the same and we sin daily.

We are not perfect, and God knows that, which is why He gave us an example to follow – Jesus. Despite the examples of how to live a Holy life that Jesus gave us, we can’t help ourselves. Our gracious God knows this too and He sent Jesus to not only be our example but to reconcile us with Him. Jesus took upon himself, the punishment for all of ours sins so that we could have forgiveness and eternal life with our Father. Jesus demonstrated love and obtained the forgiveness for ALL of our sins. No matter what has happened, turn away from the sin in your life and turn toward God seeking forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

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.

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.