This week we celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. God recognized that we couldn’t obey the law that He had given to us. God knew that we were simply too involved in ourselves to be faithful to Him. However, God also knew that He could not forsake us and that His love for us was greater than His disappointment. We learn throughout the bible that God foresaw this as He continued to tell of a savior in the Old Testament. His angels had been preparing the way. John the Baptist was busy in the Jordan River preparing for the coming of Jesus. Mary was spoken to by the Angel Gabriel in preparation for her role in saving the world. Elizabeth was given a child as a further sign by God of the miraculous things to come. All signs pointed to the new King and Jesus revealed himself as an adult when God was ready for Him to begin His work. The bible has been the most scrutinized “book” in history. It has been authenticated to within years of accuracy, closer than any other historical document. God so ordered the world to allow this “proof” to exist. The bible is God’s word, given to us as a testament of His love for us.
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13
We have all been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Now that’s something to celebrate! God gave His only Son to save the world; He gave us His Devine Word to read and understand; He gave us eternal life through Jesus Christ. Mankind has never done anything to be worthy of eternal life and never can. No amount of works or prayer or tithing can give us what Jesus Christ did. Only God’s promise and His love for all of His children is what allow us to be with Him forever in heaven. Jesus took all of our sins and all of our faults with Him on the cross and then left them in hell. When He ascended into heaven, he took us with Him there too, leaving us innocent in God’s eyes. We became marked with a seal only possible through our faith in Jesus Christ. We not only should celebrate the birth of our savior but we should celebrate God’s love for us.
The U.S. celebrates Veteran’s Day on November 11th each year. This is an ever increasingly important holiday for us as we attempt to give thanks to those that have served our nation to protect its freedom. When these Veteran’s Day ceremonies are held, we always remember our World War II veterans but they are decreasing in numbers each year. For some reason this year at a local event I started to think about the war this country had to achieve its freedom, the revolutionary war. Today, we talk about celebrating those that have protected our freedoms in the 20th and 21st centuries. How about the courage of the men and women who fought to establish our FREEDOM? The British Army was the largest and most feared in the entire world at the time; we did not back down. The ragged US Army fought to ensure that we were free. The war of 1812 was another assault on freedom. It is not discussed in detail however it was a proud victory from our past. Our Veteran’s deserve so much more than we give them. I’ve heard people argue, “They volunteered for it and knew what they were getting”. I hardly buy the volunteer argument, these heroes stepped up when many others did not to protect our freedoms. Many of the service members that I’ve worked with spent a career serving our country, which doesn’t sound like a volunteer. The person who volunteers at the food bank is not the same as the one who leaves behind a family to fight global terrorism or protect our freedom. We owe our Veteran’s much more than our thanks but I know, they’d appreciate hearing it.
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13
If nothing says Veteran’s Day like “be men of courage” I don’t know what does. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear a commanding officer speak these words before combat. St. Paul is not talking to Roman soldiers or our military today; he was talking to the people of Corinth. They were, as we are today, in a battle for eternal life. St. Paul was warning them and us today, to be on guard and to stand firm in our faith. Everyday, God’s will and His Christian people are under attack. The devil is trying to take back the souls won by Jesus’ death on Calvary by polluting the fabric of our society. False prophets and false teachings are everywhere. It isn’t often we hear about the saving grace of God and eternal life that can only be found in faith through Jesus Christ is our savior. St. Paul encourages us to be courageous despite these challenges. Confidently speak of God’s grace and mercy to all. Stay connected to God’s word and study the teachings of Jesus to remain strong in faith and to have the confidence to be strong.
My business partner and I just wrapped up a four-month strategic planning process for a community in Oklahoma. 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 organization. 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 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 focus on 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 area was saving the world and He based that focus area on the guiding principles established by God – the Ten Commandments. Because of His focus, we too can focus on 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.
There is no way that I can stick to my usual format this week, its Holy Week after all. I’m sure that my observations about workplace practices and leadership opportunities are not what draw you here. Despite what I’d like to think, I’m pretty confident that there is something about the spiritual context that keeps you reading. So, in true “inspiration” I’m devoting this week to a passage that I heard this morning in church. I usually stay away from the sermon messages as a point of inspiration; God has already done His work through the Pastor and doesn’t need me plagiarizing that. What I found interesting was how this passage, one that I’ve read several times before, was framed into Holy Week. In spring bible study, we examined Philippians but today, it seemed to mean so much more. Paul wrote: “5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11
There are a number of lessons to be taken away from these few verses but what really stuck out to me was how this describes the whole point of the New Testament – God sending His one and only Son to be our Savior. A simple and humble man, who had the power and wisdom of God but choose to be a servant. He lived an obedient life to God, suffered through a crucifixion as punishment for our sins, not His and died for us. All of this was done to, once and for all, free us from the chains of sin by believing that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This is what Holy Week is all about. This is why we must remember that the prophet’s had spoken of this week and that Jesus knew His fate but carried on in obedience. God kept His promise to Jesus by seating Him in a place of honor and he kept His promise to us by sending a Savior. Rejoice this week and celebrate Jesus’ strength in the face of great sacrifice. He did it all for us! Lets give thanks and rejoice. Happy Easter!
Thanksgiving was last week and I had another devotion on thankfulness in my heart to share. As leaders we are in the position to influence the lives of those that work for us, those we work with and occasionally, those who we work for, especially if you are in middle management. We are so busy trying to juggle all of our priorities that sometimes we forget to say “thank you”. We lead people only because they choose to follow us. If they are following us because they have to, well, we are just managing them. True leaders are influencing people’s lives each day by what they say and do. If the people who work for you are truly following, they will alter their perceptions, attitudes, knowledge and behaviors all because of you. Maybe you never realized it but you have a lot of power over your employees. For some people, that power goes right to their heads. Last week I suggested that you pick someone who makes your life just a little easier and say thank you to them. I’d like to suggest that you say thanks to the team that follows you. Tell them about the great work they do and how it impacts your business, then tell your coworkers how great it is to work with them and what they do to support you and then thank your boss for what he or she does for you personally and how you’ve grown from your experience working for them. Even if your boss is horrible, you are still learning something. Don’t let this Thanksgiving time slip away without thanking those that make your workdays a little more bearable. As a leader, it’s important for your people to know that you notice and that you care.
8Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 9Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.1 Chronicles 16:8-9
We are taught that when we pray, we should give thanks to God for all that he’s done for us. Even if you are struggling right now, God is with you making you stronger. We often pray when we are worried or if we need something but how often do we pray just to give thanks? We see people accepting awards or scoring points in a sporting event point to the heavens as if to say “thanks to you God”. We don’t have to wait until we win an award or score a touchdown; everyday is reason to celebrate. Today’s verse reminds us to tell others what God has done for us: “tell of all his wonderful acts.” The greatest thing that God has done for us is to send us a savior, someone to intercede on our behalf with God so that our sins are forgiven. Jesus Christ taught us how to live, how to treat each other and how to be saved from ourselves. He is a great leader and deserves our thanks. Today, tell God how thankful you are for everything in your life and ask for the courage to spread to the word.
I’m writing this while on my return flight from Seattle after attending the National League of Cities – Conference of Cities for the last four days. I am on the steering committee for the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee. We are charged with creating League policies and resolutions that move the issues of public safety on a national level and to congress. As we see too often, nothing is being done in Washington DC these days, so our work lately seems to for our own exercise. However, the rest of the conference was filled with information about emerging technologies to help cities progress, financial strategies designed to help cities emerge from the recession, transportation strategies and recreation program ideas. You could find something to learn about no matter what challenge your city faces or what your area of interest is in. Frustration aimed at the federal government was high; they are having an big impact on what happens at the local level. The final speaker however reminded us that it is local government where the work actually gets done. When people have a problem or need something, they don’t call their Senator, they call their Mayor and City Council. It took four days to get to that moment but it made the whole trip worth the time and expense. Of course, he said much more about our responsibility as local leaders and the impacts that we make on people’s lives; it was something that I needed to be reminded of. Every one of us has an impact on people in different ways, every day of our lives. I’m sure this was not the first time he made this presentation but today, he became my pearl; the one thing worth trading it all in for. You’ll never know when something you do or say will become someone else’s pearl. Take care of each other.
45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:45-46
I’ve been told that when searching for fine pearls, you will look through dozens before finding the one that is just right. People are like pearls, you can search dozens people but when you find one that is just right, you bring it into your life. One of those pearls you might marry and others will become your dearest friends. Think about what you traded in (sold) when you found that great one. In your life, you come across hundreds of people but you only have a few friends and even fewer close friends. God has looked at billions of people and still loves them all. The kingdom of heaven wants only the finest of the pearls. God gave us the laws to follow to become sin free. We remained blemished pearls because we are not able to follow the laws perfectly. God “sold everything” by sending His Son to pay for our sins so that we can have eternal life. We became God’s fine pearls that He bought from the slavery of sin. As John 3:16 said “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Today, I realized that we are precious pearls to God, we have sought the pearls in our lives and we can become pearls in other people’s lives. It’s amazing how God worked all of this in the final minutes of a four-day conference.
The faster we dig, farther behind we get. Have you heard that phrase before? How about: trying to let the water out of a boat by putting another hole in the bottom? These are some “old school” phrases used to describe being overwhelmed. This past week I encountered two aspects of being overwhelmed – too much work and too much emotion. I have a former co-worker who found out this week that he needs a substantial spinal fusion surgery as a result of an on-the-job injury he suffered about 6 years ago. He’s been suffering along but finally sought the help he needed. It will end his career; earlier than he expected or planned for. He was overwhelmed with questions about his financial future, his future from a physical ability perspective and his future to provide for his family. Knowing that I went through the same procedure and anguish just over five years ago, he called looking for advice and support. The other encounter I had this week was in my own life – too much work. I started a Masters Degree program in Public Administration this week. I never thought that I’d do it much less try to do it in an on-line format. The first day was a little rough trying to navigate the website, looking for the assignments, posting my comments in the forums and planning for the new due dates. I was a little overwhelmed. As usual, I worked through it and think I have a plan to get it all done while continuing to “work” the various projects that I’m involved in. I know that for my situation, I have been preparing, over a period of time, to handle these types of workloads. I will figure it out; I always seem to. My friend will figure it out too. He will get through the initial shock; he’ll look at what it all means for him and his family and will figure it out. 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.
“…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
The verse from John is a quote from Jesus 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 count on a third thing – 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. We may experience the trouble we have in our lives so that we can be a witness for others, maybe it’s to strengthen us for the future, maybe it’s 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 from the dead to take His place at God’s right hand. Sure, we’ll have trouble but we 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 this time, it’s with joy!