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.

 

Open Door Policy

Its been a while since I’ve written a straight-up leadership post, so this week I thought I’d address the “open door policy”. As I’ve studied leadership over the years, it has been interesting to see how this phrase even emerged into leadership. The autocratic management style (do as I say) was very strong in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Workers didn’t ask questions, offer their opinions or make suggestions for process improvements and heaven forbid they sought advice from their leaders. I’m sure this was the period that created the phrase “the daily grind”, for good reason. As the workforce became more disgruntled, someone had the idea that asking the workers what they needed might make a difference. Tom Peters became an office name since everyone was reading his groundbreaking books about new age leadership and creating employee involvement.

Leaders started telling employees that their office doors were open and that they could come in anytime with ideas and complaints. Over time, leaders slid back into being managers as bottom line pressures increased and soon the open doors became metaphorically closed. No one dared to go into an office and when they did, managers were not interested in hearing what they had to say. Workforce satisfaction has since fallen and it wasn’t until the workplace disruption of a company called Google and all of their “crazy philosophies” that it changed. Unfortunately, managers claim to have “open door policies” and they still don’t see employees coming in. “I have an open door policy. I don’t know why we have all of these problems”, is commonly cried. I’d suggest that while the door is open, the mind is closed. If you manage or lead people, evaluate your effectiveness in regard to employee engagement. Old dogs can learn new tricks, its called evolution. Are you evolving or just existing?

“Through faith in Jesus we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12

The famous Catholic confessional starts with “Forgive me father for I have sinned…”. Depending on what Christian denomination you were raised in or taught in, the father in this confession is the Catholic Priest. I’m not going to engage in a theological discussion about the biblical origin of this belief, but I do want to discuss our ability to approach God at any time and for any reason. St. Paul writes in this letter to the Ephesians that our faith in Jesus allows us to approach God – freely and confidently. God has an open door policy – literally and metaphorically.

We do not need a mediator to speak for us to God. The punishment, death and resurrection of Jesus was all of the intervention that we needed with God. Jesus did for us what we could never do, live a life that keeps all of God’s commands. Quite simply, we sin constantly. We can go to God and confidently know that our sins are forgiven because of what Jesus did for us. We can’t pray sin away, we can’t perform works or pay for forgiveness; we are already forgiven. Go confidently and with freedom into your life knowing that you can turn to God for help and forgiveness at any time.

All is Forgiven

“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. I’d bet that we’ve all experienced that. Mistakes often fall in the same category. 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 us 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 some 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 in 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 recently saw the brother of a shooting victim hug and forgive the shooter and most of us wonder, “How can they do that?” Our Father has forgiven us for the long list of things that we do or when we ignore 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 remember to do it. Forgive and move on; life on earth is too short to carry around the weight of unforgiven issues.

 

Discerning Heart

Last week I was inaugurated into my third and last 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 first term after being appointed about a year ago. 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 personally will benefit or how their financial supporters will benefit, things start going wrong immediately.

Those in leadership roles should not only lead with the highest moral standards but take the time teach their 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 it. When choosing between right and wrong, if we do fall short and commit the sin; we are assured of God’s grace and will be free of guilt and the sin because 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.