Condemnation

Condemnation or condemning someone is a pretty serious matter. The dictionary defines condemn as “express complete disapproval of, typically in public; censure”. Have you unknowingly condemned anyone lately? I’m sure you didn’t utter the words specifically, but we often find ourselves saying something like “I’ll never work with them again” or “if she doesn’t get her act together, I’ll make sure she isn’t our team again”. These are statements of condemnation. Oftentimes, our condemnation is even a little more subtle “Oh him, he is always like [fill in the blank]. I refer to this as “pigeon-holing” someone; putting a person in a cage or box that they can never get turned around in. Some people are put there after one big mistake while others simply earn their position in the pigeon hole.

You might ask yourself “how many times do I need to get burned before I stop believing they will actually come through for me?” The better question is “have you told them how they’ve let you down and what effect it has had on your work?” We need to be honest with people and let them know how their actions effect how others perceive them. Right or wrong, perception is reality in the eye of the one who perceives the action. If you have found yourself pigeon-holing someone, give them a chance to get out and make amends. If you leave them in the hole, you are condemning them to that place for a career. Reach out and share how they make you feel; not how they make everyone feel but how they make you feel. It makes it about the two of you which is less threatening. They might have been clueless about how their behavior affected other people because no one ever took the time to talk with them.

“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned. But whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:18

We are not condemned! No matter what we’ve done, Christ took our weaknesses, our sins and our guilt with Him on the cross so we would share in God’s love and Grace. We are not condemned because we are forgiven! John tells us quite simply that those who do not believe already stand condemned. God’s inspired word, through John, sums up for us our salvation. We are not condemned! We are assured eternal life through our faith in Christ.

We may make the same mistakes over and over; we may commit the same sins again and again, but we have forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice for us. God’s grace and love, along with our confession and repentance is what keeps us out of the pigeonhole. God isn’t interested in keeping us locked up or put in the same place, He needs us to be free so that we can spread the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. If you feel trapped, seek God and you will find the door to the hole that has been open this whole time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. God has not put you in a pigeonhole, you have put yourself there. God wants to see you free and flying high, make Him proud!

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He is Risen!!

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter. It’s a great time of year! I am always moved by certain verses at this time of the year and decided to write a devotion that is mostly Bible verses. While this too, is a departure from my normal process, I felt it was appropriate to continue the discussion about our salvation. 34 “Then Peter began to speak: ”I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is LORD of all. 37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  Acts 10:34-43

The story of Jesus gathered up here in 9 verses, God truly works in mysterious ways. Accepting that God inspired the words written in the bible is accepting that these words are also from God. The real “story” of Jesus is the message in verse 43 in which we receive forgiveness of sins through Him. Pause and think about that for a minute, forgiveness of sins – all sins. Nowhere does it say that forgiveness is limited to a specific number of sins, the type of sins or whom we commit them against; we can receive forgiveness for all of our sins. Live your life free from the guilt and slavery of sin. We have the ability to do it and God gave us the directions how to through St. Paul who wrote: 15”Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the LORD Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:15-17

We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ yesterday. We celebrate our salvation and life everlasting because of God’s grace in our lives. Jesus took the guilt and sin of the whole world with him on Good Friday as He suffered and descended into hell. All of that would have been for nothing if He hadn’t been raised on the third day. We celebrate our salvation because of what God did for us. St. Paul reminds us to live in peace and do everything in the name of Jesus. Have peace this week as you celebrate your salvation.

God’s Light in the world

I just finished reading a couple of leadership articles from different sources. One was about Servant Leadership – leading others to greatness through service to them. I have been a long-time believer in Servant Leadership and believe that it is just as important a concept today as it was when I heard about it 30 years ago. When you serve others, you become a light to them. The old, autocratic leader is a life crushing way to be led.  The Autocrat believes that employees lacks motivation, don’t understand their job well and need to be constantly watched over. Its roots are in the military when orders were given and followed without question. The result today is a dark workplace filled with uninspired employees.

Servant Leadership switches the focus to the employee through empowerment, trust and faith in them. When an employee under performs, they are coached back to success. Leaders in this type of environment are not served by their employees; instead they serve the employees. Southwest Airlines has been operating under this philosophy for 40 years and they have been pretty successful. If you are not in a leadership position, you can still be a servant leader to your coworkers. Think about parenting for minute, you are serving your children constantly (driving to practice, helping with homework, teaching life skills, etc.) and providing a living example of being there for them. How do you relate to the other people in your life? Are you a giver or a taker? This world is exhausting and having someone take care of you may sound peaceful, but I believe that you will be more satisfied helping others achieve their goals than you will be if you are being catered to.

5 “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7

I urge you to let verse 5 sweep peace over your mind – “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” The world events over the past month are about all that a normal person can handle. Chemical attacks in Syria, nerve agents used in a public pub in England, school shootings, random and targeted attacks on innocent people are just a few of the stresses that we have faced. Most of us have personal issues to deal with at the same time as everything else. Perhaps it’s a medical diagnosis, a job loss, financial problems, relationship issues; the list can go on and on. From the sound of things, there is no light anywhere in this world. The world is a dark place and we need God to provide us light.

We know from these verses and many more that with God there is no darkness. Sure, there is a lot of shade but there is no darkness. When we are in the dark, we are often afraid, confused and uncertain. Our senses change as we adjust to the dark but we remain uncertain and afraid because we are not in control of our physical space. We never know when we will trip on something, bump into a wall or fall down. God is our light! We walk in it all the time. We have comfort and peace in God’s light that we have through our fellowship with each other and with Him. This “cleansing from all sin” comes through our faith in Jesus Christ, who’s blood was shed for us. Go boldly into the world with the light of God shining all around you.

Difficult?

People can be difficult! Unfortunately, I can be one of those people. I’d imagine that if you considered your own life, you might be too. Rick Warren in his book “Purpose Driven Life” refers to difficult people as those who are, EGR – extra grace required. I’d like to think that my own bouts of “difficultness” are event driven but they seem to pop up more frequently when the stress in my life is high. I hope that is more normal than not. I have been known to force issues instead of letting them go. Not a trait that I am proud of. When I was in position of daily leadership, I found that I had a lot more grace to give than I do now. I now have multiple positions in widely different fields; each requiring different approaches to the people that I interact with. Sometimes grace is plentiful and other times it is not. Enough with the confessional, I’m simply a poor miserable sinner – that is the basic truth of the matter.

Sin and grace can go hand and hand. Someone offends you (sin) and you react; oftentimes negatively (more sin). People “talk it out”, make up and return to a congenial relationship (grace). When you consider the conflicts you’ve had or the times when you were less than pleasant, you probably lacked grace. If we were graceful in the beginning, we would not have been labeled “difficult” in the first place. Grace does not always beget grace but it sure helps keep things running a little smoother. Think about those conflicts and the difficult people in your life and ask yourself, have I given grace to this person or situation? Without question, it is a two-way street but someone needs to make the first move.

13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:13-14

We are all instruments for righteousness for God. Let that sink in for a minute. We are not just sinners, we are not unrighteous and we are not unworthy. We were brought from death, because of sin, to life with God. We have eternal life with God through our Savior Jesus Christ. God knew us so well that he intervened on our behalf and sent His Son to earth to live the perfect life, under the law, because we could not. We are preparing during the Lenten Season for the end of Jesus’ life here on earth and the beginning of our eternal life with God who intends to use us as instruments for righteousness. We can’t help but sin but God solved that problem.

Verse 14 is critical, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” We are all benefiting from God’s grace. It is not our adherence to the law or our gifts or our good works that gives us eternal life. We are all poor miserable sinners and there is no denying it. I’ve said before, there are no “degrees” of sin. God sees them all and forgives them all. He does this through His grace to us, His children, and our faith in Jesus as our savior. There is nothing difficult about that.

Martin Luther King Jr

In the United States, we are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day today. I have written before about my attending presentations about his life which have really opened my mind about the struggles of minorities. I must admit that I knew little about him before attending these events but I have come to understand more than the civil rights fight that he undertook. He wouldn’t accept the status quo; he wouldn’t back down against great pressure nor would he compromise his beliefs. He spoke all around the world to what is reported as millions of people with a simple message – we are all one people. Lately in the United States, we seem to have forgotten that. Racial discord still exists and now we are divided by our politics. Hatred, ignorance, intolerance and just plain evil are everywhere these days. People are turning to violence in an attempt to get their messages across. Frustration is ruling our behaviors.

Martin Luther King Jr. fought against violence and took a stand to resolve differences in a non-violent way; though not everyone supported that strategy. His speeches were moving and his understanding of the issues were extraordinary and yet, many agree his work remains unfinished. He used his talents to change the world. Most of us will never reach the stature of Dr. King but we can have a huge impact on the world around us. Each of us has God given talents that we can use to impact those in our lives. Sometimes people are in our lives for a brief moment, like in line at the grocery store and others are people we’ve known for years but we have the opportunity to model the same beliefs that Dr. King did, good Christian values.

“For in Him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge…” 1 Corinthians 1:5

I once had a friend who shared with me a serious problem that would have lifelong implications for him. As he described his problem he said that he has done a lot things in his life and that he didn’t feel “right with God yet and as long as I’m not right with Him, I can’t be right with anyone”. This statement stopped me dead in my tracks; how could someone who professes to be a Christian say something like that? As I have dwelled on his statement, I believe that many people feel this way. This is why so many non-denominational “churches” leave out all discussion about sin. People feel bad and unworthy because of sin so if we don’t talk about it, people will come to get revitalized.

As we talked, I seized the opportunity to share my knowledge about our savior, Christ Jesus. I reminded him that he was already “right with God” because of what Jesus did for us Easter weekend.  1 Corinthians 1:7-9 goes on to say “7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gifts as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” We lack nothing; there is nothing we can do or must do to be “right with God”. He knew our weaknesses long before we did and sent us a Savior so we could enjoy eternal life with Him. God decided we were worth it long before we could do anything to prove it to Him.

Accept Responsibility

“Who’s responsible for this?” Most everyone shivers when they hear those words. Responsibility can often be a huge burden. We are given it through our job/position and sometimes we just take it upon ourselves. If you are the boss then you are always responsible for the things that happen in your area. If you are a parent, you too are responsible for everything that happens around your house. We all have responsibilities to something or someone and these responsibilities usually weigh us down. There are days when we don’t feel like being in charge or always being responsible, it’s natural. As a leader, you are always leading your people. You don’t get to say “I’m not feeling it today” or you can’t give away your responsibilities; we just can’t do it.

No matter what you do or what position you hold; people count on you. Think about the people that you count on every day, in every setting or circumstance. You are one of those people to someone else. We are responsible to each other; the key is also being accountable to them. There’s an old saying that one “oh no!” wipes out ten “atta boys”. Go out and make this a great week for yourself and those that you are responsible to and those that you are responsible for. See how contagious a little responsibility can be and demonstrate what accountability looks like. Own your actions, your promises and your words.

For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, 
the LORD is our king; it is he who will save us.” Isaiah 33:22

Today’s verse is from the Old Testament, a time before Jesus Christ. Think about how the world was during that time period and all of the chaos that consumed everyone. I imagine it to be a very scary time to live in; between the wars, slavery, punishments, Kings and Rulers not to mention that God was not very happy with His people. No one was taking responsibility for themselves or their actions. Isaiah was trying to tell the people who was really in charge of their lives.

No one but the Lord was responsible for all of these things; not a single King was in control, the Lord was. Yet still, we didn’t listen and we continued to ignore our responsibilities. The Lord is our Judge, our lawgiver and our King and He saved us through His Son Jesus Christ. It was God who took responsibility for our salvation and sent His Son to us. It was Jesus who took the responsibility to live a perfect life, to teach us how to live and was even held accountable for our sins. God gave us the laws but Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection took away our failures to follow the laws (sin). It was God who held Jesus accountable for our sins and yet, He also granted each of us eternal life through faith in Him. We can count on Him to be with us in our journey here on earth; He’ll never say “I’m not felling it today”.

Give Thanks

I returned home this weekend from another weeklong travel extravaganza. This year has given me periods of intensive travel followed by long periods of inactivity. My return home marks the 22nd week that I will have traveled this year, 9 out of the last 14 weeks. I’m thankful that for many of these trips I was able to travel with my wife, who works part-time for me. We have a great partnership both at home and in the business. My trip this week was with a longtime friend who I’ve partnered with to provide consulting services for the past five years. I am very thankful for the opportunity that I have, to work with a great professional who is also a dear friend.

Thanksgiving is this week in the U.S. and if I tried to tell you everything or everyone that I was thankful for, you’d be reading this for hours. When my wife and I spend time traveling together or just hanging out together in our empty nest, we appreciate how grateful we are for the huge blessings in our lives. We’re also grateful for what we’ve been able to accomplish under, at times, stressful circumstances. We never let things set us back; we keep talking about how the hard times have built character in us. Once again, we sit amazed by the work of God in our lives – even when we didn’t know it. Take time this week to reflect on all that you have to be thankful for and look at how God has moved your life even when you faced struggles, He was there. Thank Him for His work and then thank someone in your life that makes things just a little bit better. Happy Thanksgiving!

15 “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful… 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:15,17

In our house Thanksgiving Day is the start of the Christmas season. We start listening to classic Christmas music, decorating the house finds it way onto the calendar, preparation for baking begins, Christmas card lists are printed and the peace of the season is in the air. The year will end soon and we will all start thinking about how thankful we are for the many things in year past as we look forward to what the new year will bring. No matter what has happened in your life let God’s peace, given to us through His son Jesus Christ, be with you and comfort you.

It’s hard to think about telling God “thanks” for sending us a savior who had to die before we’d figure it out. God knew what it would take to save us and all He asks is that “whatever we do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and to give thanks to God through Him.” A simple “thanks”. Sometimes through all of the mess in our lives, the frantic pace that we live and the set backs we have, we still have a lot to be thankful for. Our faith in Jesus Christ and God’s grace has guaranteed us eternal life; free from all these worldly problems. Even when you struggle, be thankful. God has a place for you in heaven, which is something to be thankful for!

A Life of Service

The dictionary tells us that the word “service” means several different things: a ceremony like a church service, a set of things like a tea service, performing a job that doesn’t make anything in the end like the plumber who fixes a leaky faucet, work that is performed by someone that serves other people like a waiter and doing something that contributes to the welfare or life of others like those in the military service. Sometimes we hear the word “service” used by people: “that was great service we got at dinner last night”, “I need to get my car serviced at the dealer”, “we are number 1 in customer service”, and “my phone service is so spotty.” What version of service matters to you?

I often tell people that I’ve been serving others since my very first job in a full-service gas station back in the suburbs of Chicago. We’d wash the windshield and check the oil if requested, no matter the weather. I went on to a long career in the fire service to care for those in times of need. I could go on and on about the roles that I’ve filled in service to others but none means more than writing this blog each week. I’m reaching thousands of people with my thoughts and sharing the Word of God. How can you be of service? I’d suggest something as simple as a smile, a handshake, a “welcome aboard” greeting to a new co-worker are easy ways to start. Modeling the behaviors of Christ in this crazy world might just be the type of service that someone desperately needs. Witnessing to others is often the hardest part of being a Christian but you don’t need to write a blog to tell the Good News to others, just a little servant’s heart.

“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12:5

Paul was right; there are different kinds of service! He said this in his letter to the people of Corinth way before the dictionary was invented. However, none of these types of service are what God wants us to focus on. Jesus told us what to do in Matthew 28:18-20 when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So, what does this have to do with service?

If we think about some of things that Jesus commanded us to do – teaching the message of salvation, loving and caring for one another, and taking care of those in need are just a few examples. These are all an act of service! People are lost all around us and God is depending on us to show them the way back to Him. Being a faithful servant, caring for and loving each other are only the beginning. Why do we perform service for others? Do we do it so that we can go to heaven with eternal life? No! We perform service for others because we want to show them the love that we have been given by Jesus. We don’t have to do anything for eternal life; Jesus already did it for it for us by taking our sins with him onto the cross. All you need to believe is that Jesus is the Holy Spirit; that is all that we have to do. By being the “someone” in a person’s life, you will bring glory to God. There are different kinds of service but we are lucky to have the same Lord, a loving and caring God who gave His only son so that we can have eternal life through Him, now that’s what I call service!

Troubles

I love phrases about futility. “The faster we dig, the farther behind we get.” “Trying to get the water out of a boat by putting a hole in the bottom.” These “old school” phrases are also used to describe being overwhelmed. I work in local government and consult for them as well. I am easily frustrated by the futility of trying to get things done in local government and since I own my own business, I can also get overwhelmed. Having huge swings in workload or enduring the feast or famine cycles of when projects come in adds a lot of stress to my life. I go through this about every other year and with all of the experience that I have at it, you would think that I would have mastered my emotional roller coaster. I’m still learning.

We can all play the “at least it’s not…” game with ourselves to stay positive. Being positive is always the way through troubles in our lives but it is easier said than done. When life starts to get us down, we tend to shift toward asking the question, “why me?” There is never an answer to that question and I believe that the reason for that is because it isn’t about us! Troubles in our lives are not a punishment for something we did or didn’t do. We can have troubles in our lives because the devil is at work trying to break our spirit or because God is trying to prepare us for something else or simply because, life is full of troubles. No matter the case – futility or being overwhelmed, we always seem to make it work and in the end we are stronger because we overcame the circumstances. When we seek the help of others and look at the situation from a step or two away, we see it with a little more clarity. It is in this newfound clarity that we can make peace out of the trouble in our lives. We are not alone on this earth for a reason; we need to learn to lean on each other once in a while.

“…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

In this verse from John is quoting Jesus who is telling us that we WILL have trouble. There was no sugar coating it, no “technically correct” answer or avoidance; Jesus tells us straight – you will have trouble. God never promised us a trouble free life. Look at the Old Testament; the People of God had plenty of trouble. Even Jesus faced trouble in His life on earth. The old saying is that you can count on two things in life – death and taxes. I would argue that we should have three things to count on and add – trouble. We know that God does not give us more than we can handle and we also know that God has a plan for us.

The trouble that we find in our lives may be there so that we can be a witness for others, maybe it’s to strengthen us for the future, maybe its simply to prepare us to help others in need. Whatever the reason, and we will never know what it is; we can handle it. Jesus tells us to take heart! He overcame the troubles of the world by defeating Satan, and sin. Jesus took it all upon Himself in death but delivered us from the chains of sin when He rose to take His place at God’s right hand. Sure, we’ll have trouble but know that through God’s grace and our faith in Jesus, we will not suffer but have eternal life. Just thinking about it makes me overwhelmed but now it’s with joy!

Examples

Leading by example is sometimes easier said than done. Do as I say not as I do is far easier to proclaim than watch my every move and see how I do it. As I read about the millennial workforce, they don’t want that either. I don’t think any of us ever did but for those of us who learned from an autocratic leader, this was commonplace. Today, we see people get promoted into a leadership position and then have to change everything they are in order to get the job done. All too often we’ve seen the guy who comes in late to meetings or is not always prepared get promoted and then suddenly they expect people to “tow the line” when they are in charge.

How are you in your day-to-day actions? We all falter but are you more disruptive than you are helpful at work? Leaders have the responsibility to watch everything they do because they never really know the impact of their actions for some time. This is where being significant is more important than being successful. Significance is what you are to others, successful is what you are to yourself.

“He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” Mark 4:26-27.

Spread the word! I’ve often heard that said but these verses from Mark really add new meaning. We scatter seed every day in our lives as Christians. We come into contact with people and can affect them simply through verbal and non-verbal communication. Our attitude tells a lot about what lies deep within us but it is our actions that tell the rest of the story.

We can scatter seeds that flourish or we can scatter seeds that result in weeds but make no mistake, we are always scattering seeds. No matter what we do or say, the seeds that we scatter will grow. Jesus told us to spread the word. God has given us the instructions, through His word in the bible, to “go and make disciples of all men”. The message is clear, scatter the seeds and they will sprout and grow. We won’t know how but we can be assured that they will. Following Easter and the good news of salvation, we should have no trouble scattering the seeds of eternal life.