I’d like to end 2015 with a great reminder and another departure from my standard format. Let’s start this week with the verse that is very appropriate for both the Christmas holiday that just past and the start of a new year.
“God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” 2 Corinthians 5:19
This is why we had Christmas – so God could reconcile with the world. His people, born of sin, could not be with Him in eternal life unless we had a savior. This is great news. But think about what this verse means for you in 2016. God is NOT counting your sins against you! Sin is not measured by severity. It is all sin and we can’t stop ourselves from doing it. Just as we think we are living really good lives and following the commandments, we are still sinning. If you become so confident that your “godly life” is more pleasing to God – you’re sinning. The complaining that you do about your boss or that one family member – you’re sinning. We can’t help it!
There is an old saying, “what would you do if you knew that you couldn’t fail?” We can be so afraid of our selves or our lives that we stop trying. For some people, this fear can be paralyzing. They are afraid to try things or explore new ideas because they are afraid to fail. Others will get so down on themselves because of sin that they give up on getting to know God. They’ll say “God could never forgive me what I’ve done”. God has already forgiven them, you and me! Our sins have been erased through our faith in Jesus Christ; He took them all to hell and left them with the devil. Sin has no place in our lives. God does not and will not count them against us because He loves us as any Father would love His children.
Start 2016 confidently and don’t worry about sin being the anchor in your life. We are all special people in God’s eyes, so go strongly and confidently into 2016; like you can’t fail. Trust in God, rely on Him for guidance and strength and see what happens. Happy New Year!
What does serving others mean to you? To some people it means volunteer work and to others, it means helping when someone asks for help. I find myself thinking or writing a lot about restaurant servers when I think of serving others. This should shed a little light into my life with exactly how much time I send in restaurants but I digress. Watch a server run from table to table taking orders, dropping off food or drinks, picking up dirty dishes and making sure that you have every thing you need or that everything is just the way you want it. They do it all with a smile. Can you say that you serve others with such energy and a smile?
Serving others means doing so without expecting anything in exchange; being a cheerful servant. Service to others is hard to do today. We have been bombarded with the notion that when you help someone, they “owe” us something in return. We go to work, perform well and in exchange we expect a paycheck – sounds natural doesn’t it? We all know that people who work for free have a hard time keeping a roof over their heads and food in the kitchen. A mental battle occurs between serving cheerfully and not getting in return and the pressures of this life to get something for our effort. When we give and give yet get nothing in return, it’s hard to keep giving. Remind yourself that you are serving others not for a reward today but for the genuine satisfaction of helping someone in need. When you serve from the heart, you serve with love in mind.
Galatians 5:13 “You, my brothers, were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge in sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”
We all enjoy freedom and God has given us the ability to make free will choices. Free will means that we are not bound to anyone or anything, but we need to remember the first commandment – “You shall have no other God”. Do not be bound by your love for material things, possessions, positions, money, etc. You are free to choose to give your love to God and serve Him. Do not indulge in the sinful nature and avoid the traps of living today.
We should serve one another in love. Jesus gave us a great example of serving others in love. He knew what people were thinking, he performed miracles, he was presented gifts and he was free to roam the countryside. He served in love. He taught others while He traveled and in doing so, He showed us how to serve one another in love. More importantly, he gave Himself for us as the ultimate demonstration of His love and obedience to God. We aren’t being asked by God to be crucified, He just asking us to be good servants to each other.
Last week I was inaugurated into my second 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 final term due to term limits. 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 will benefit or how their supporters will benefit, things start going wrong immediately.
Our responsibility as leaders is to not only lead with the highest moral standards but to teach our 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. If we do fall and sin when choosing between right and wrong; God’s grace has freed us from the guilt and the sin when 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.
What do you have faith in? Often times we hear that people have faith in “the system”, the assembly of policies or procedures that govern us. The system seems broken these days, so maybe fewer people actually have faith in it. Where do we turn? The phrase, “if you want a job done right, do it yourself” sounds like we should put faith in ourselves. In fact, many people put their faith there – in themselves. Something in their lives has driven them to believe in only themselves. They’ve been let down somewhere along the way or have become so focused on what they’ve accomplished that they lose sight of those that helped or supported them along the way. I hate to say this but as a “politician” people must have faith in me in order to elect me. I’ve never been “political” but during a re-election campaign, I have to be. I take my job as a councilmember very seriously because of the faith that people have put in me as their representative. In any position you hold, people have to put their faith in you too. They have to trust that you will care and defend them as a leader or they have to believe that you perform your job well as part of a bigger plan. When people count on you, when they have faith in you, you have a huge obligation to live up to those expectations. At a candidate forum this week, I was prepared to answer specific questions about taxes and spending. I’ve been paying attention to what concerns people have expressed and I was prepared. Several people commented that they appreciated my preparation; my reply was that it was my job to know and understand what was important to them because I take my role as their representative seriously. I want them to have faith in me. Be sure that people know they can have faith in you too.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. Hebrews 11:1
Faith in the biblical context is filled with ambiguity; there are is a lot of things that we do not see. We can’t see eternal life and we can’t see God’s plan for our lives but we have faith in them. Some people focus so much on their personal success that they stop having faith in God to provide for them because they are so busy providing for themselves. The devil wants us to think that we are in control of our successes and that we don’t need prayer to be successful. These people have faith in just themselves. This verse in Hebrews reminds us that we can be confident in what God is doing in our lives and that our hopes are His hopes. Faith in God also means that we can be sure of His presence and work in our lives even though we don’t see it. Faith is knowing, without question, that God is present in all things. Our sinful nature makes us believe that we are in control and that God only intervenes when we ask; sin puts faith in ourselves and not in God. The devil will shower you with money and success so he can keep you focused on yourself as the most important thing. Sin wants success and the feelings that come with it. When your faith is in God and all that He does, you no longer worry about success because it’s there. You won’t worry about material possessions because He will provide for you. Faith is confidence and we can be assured by the promises that God made which we cannot see. Have faith in God to watch over you.
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!
The impending veto by Governor Brewer made it a little crazy in Arizona last week. There was confusion around what HB 1062 intended to accomplish. Perhaps it was clearer to some but as with all poorly written legislation, it was at best confusing and at worst it was discriminatory. The whole issue however was a great opportunity to discuss the love of God and sin with people who you might not ever have had the chance to. I missed my usual Monday morning posting again this week, which makes me feel like I missed a commitment. I had opportunities to write this last week but did other things instead; perhaps even wasted time. Some would argue that I sinned in both regards, but what else is new? I know that not a day goes by that I don’t sin and most of the time I’m completely unaware of it. Someone last week asked the question, are there degrees of sin? It was a great question because some people have a hard time accepting “big sins” but easily overlook the “small” ones; but sin is sin. I will argue that all of the discussions, arguments and debates were focused on the wrong part of the equation; we focused on the sin. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” was the big take away many people had. While it’s a good one, we kept the focus on the sin. I looked at a number of passages for this week that focused on God’s love, living in peace and some on sin but remembered to focus on why this whole dialog started – fear.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:28
The other side of the equation that no one discussed was forgiveness. There is not a day that goes by that we all don’t sin. We can’t avoid it no matter what we do, thanks to Adam and Eve. Sin came into this world to destroy it but God had other plans. God loves us despite our sins. 16“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. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18) We are forgiven, period. No amount of sin, no degrees of sin, no amount of guilt or fear can change that we are forgiven through faith in Jesus. Yes, we should love our neighbor as ourselves and yes, we should hate the sin, not the sinner but we should never be afraid because we are forgiven.
This weekend we saw some great NFL football games in the playoffs. Four games were played, four teams won and four teams lost. There were mistakes made, no doubt about that. I’m not talking about any game in particular but games are usually won because one team took advantage of someone else’s mistake. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Someone makes a mistake and the office jerk is not only quick to point it out but also then tries to take advantage of it. We all forget that post-it-notes were a result of someone’s mistake. How do you react when someone makes a mistake? I worked in an organization once that someone in HR got a little complacent and let a laptop get stolen with everyone’s personal data on it. The organization went crazy. People were calling for swift action and her head. I sent her an e-mail to tell her that it was just a mistake and tried to encourage her as best I could. I thought that she needed to know that not everyone was melting tar and gathering feathers. She remained employed and has always remembered my compassion. There was nothing that we could do about the data being stolen once it was gone. The organization took steps to help everyone and refocused attention on data security; it was the best we could hope for. People make mistakes all of the time. A baseball player who hits the ball 33% (.300 avg.) of the time is considered a great player. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of productivity goal? So next time someone around you makes a mistake or you do; give them a little smile and let them know that it’s okay. The office jerk will get theirs in all due time.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
We always seem to make one mistake after another; breaking commandments left and right. How can we call ourselves Christians if we can’t live a life without sin? St. Paul would certainly have a thing or two to say about that. His first direction in this one verse as part of a letter to the Ephesians was “Be kind and compassionate to one another”. This is a great place to start. How you handle yourself with others is a good indication if the messages have gone to your core. My guess is that you are compassionate and caring toward others. You do your best to help when you can and pray for help when there is more than you can handle. We forgive and forget a lot more often than we give ourselves credit for. If you held on to every wrong against you, the weight of those emotions would be crushing. We forgive strangers everyday yet we find it hard to forgive those we love. We expect our loved ones to behave better than a stranger and when they don’t, we hesitate to forgive. Jesus Christ taught us to be patient with everyone, even loved ones. His own disciples were less than helpful at times yet He forgave them. God, Our Father in heaven who loves us so deeply, is compassionate with us even when we disappoint Him. All of our sins have been forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection, no exceptions. God forgives you for the sins that you have committed and those that you have yet to commit; that’s why we can call ourselves Christians. Go out and demonstrate God’s love through your faith in Jesus Christ, the world needs our kindness, compassion and forgiveness.