Faith or Confidence?

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 is 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 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 will 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. I pride myself on being prepared to answer questions at any time for a resident. I pay attention to what concerns people express and I’m always looking for ways to keep them informed and educated. People often comment that they appreciated my explanations; my reply is always that I’m just doing my job and that 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 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.

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Trust

Two weeks ago I completed a military exercise that didn’t go quite as we had planned. The Team Chief was saying to everyone, “If it went as we had planned…” How often do you say that? We’re always thinking about how my plan did not turn out as desired and forget the fact that we are not in control. Sticking with the theme of a new year and new beginnings, I want to turn to the idea of, where do you turn for directions? My observation is that most people are either the advice seeker or the advice giver on a regular basis. Sure, the observation is obvious but if you are a regular seeker, then you should be asking yourself who are you getting direction from? If you are a regular giver, you should have someone that you can turn to when you need to seek. How reliable are these people, how good is their advice, what is it based on and what is their rate of success? We need to be careful about who we get direction or advice from.

Oftentimes, the people who are the first to give advice are the ones who really should be seeking advice from others. At work, a good place to get advice about work related issues is from a mentor or in most cases a trusted confidant. These people have the experience and education to offer sound advise on a number of issues. A mentor is a very formal role that is mutually agreed to by both people with the understanding that there are specific outcomes desired, these are not casual relationships, as we often believe them to be. A mentor has responsibility to their mentee. In the trusted confidant role, the relationship is very informal and this is where most of us seek advice or guidance at work. Sometimes, it’s our supervisor and other times it’s a senior or more experienced coworker. Regardless of the position, know who you are getting direction from. Sometimes, simply changing who is influencing your life can make all the difference.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5

I reference God’s plan for our lives quite often; for good reason. God is the only one who knows the plans for our lives. He knows our first and last days and He orders all circumstances in between. I often have to laugh at myself when I start to say, “If it went as I planned”; as if I had control over the outcomes. I have to stop and think that if God it wanted that way, He would have seen it through. This all brings me back to learning patience. I’m too busy anyway to worry about it; God knows what I need to do to slow down. He’s teaching me and, in a way, He’s mentoring me in what is best in my life.

I learned a long time ago to lean on God and to trust Him; I just keeping forgetting and He keeps gently reminding me. God will put special people in your life to teach, mentor or advise you but we must be on guard because the devil will too. So, how do we know the difference? Your understanding of God’s word will see through the devil’s work. If you are comfortable in the bible and your heart is filled with His goodness, grace and understanding, you will know. When you don’t know where to turn, open your “instruction manual” (bible) to get your directions from God. He loves His children and will provide the guidance necessary if we slow down and listen to Him.

A Noble Task

It has been a while since I’ve written about leadership or being a leader. I have found myself “all over the board” by writing on various topics – for good or bad. Last week I had an encounter with someone who questioned my trustworthiness; I was accused of not being forthcoming with information. In my life’s various roles, I am entrusted with very confidential information that I cannot always disclose. Other times, I have to “play my cards close to the vest” until I know who I’m dealing with. I am often a very trusting individual and have had that trust taken advantage of, so I tend to be cautious. When you are in a leadership position, the stakes are often much higher when it comes to establishing and maintaining trust.

In this encounter, I chose to share a little extra information with this person and this individual became confused by my openness. “Why would you share that if you were concerned about confidentiality?” He asked. I explained that sometimes you have to show trust to earn trust. It was a leadership principle that I learned early in my career. Whether you are leading people or organizations, trust will never follow you if people believe you and they will not trust you unless you trust them. The subject of leadership has been written about for decades and there are a number of personal characteristics that impact a leader’s effectiveness; trustworthiness is just one characteristic. No matter what role you serve at work or at home, you are leading someone – formally or not. Keep in mind that you are either being a positive or negative example for others because someone is always watching what you do and say.

 “Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” 1 Timothy 3:1

It takes a lot of courage to step into a leadership role. The whole debate about “are leaders born or are they created” fails to recognize the courage component. If someone steps into a leadership position without a little fear, they are stepping on thin ice. I’ve said before that leading is a privilege and an honor that we should not take lightly. People are putting their faith in that person and in some professions, their lives. Leading is more than telling others what to do or having a rank/title. Leaders are accepting the faith that others are placing in them. It is a noble task.

Timothy is describing those who wish to lead the church and is reminding them that it isn’t about the power and prestige that comes with it but the honor and responsibility that does. Jesus knew His role as the leader of the disciples. He knew what God was asking of Him and gladly accepted His fate. He charged us to be “fishers of men” by teaching us how to live better lives, be examples for others to follow but most importantly, to rely on God for the wisdom and strength to carry out our daily lives. Leadership is a noble task and it is not to be taken lightly. People are putting faith in you. Rely on God for your wisdom and strength and you will always have their faith.

Don’t Give Up

There is a book by Kent Keith titled “Anyway, The Paradoxical Commandments” which lays out 10 paradoxical commandments of life. My favorite is # 10 which states “Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway”. Throughout my life as a leader, I have learned that no good deed will go unpunished. I have gone out of my way for someone to only have them do something that has caused me more aggravation later. I can’t tell you how many nights I was up late working on a “group” research project because one of my classmates failed to complete their part of a project. This kind of thing happens all of the time to people. They do their best and give others the benefit of the doubt only to later regret it. Leaders must continue to give their best despite what might happen.

I’ve seen organizational leaders lose faith in their people because they’ve been “kicked in the teeth” and now think that everyone in the organization is just a bunch of “winey babies”. They have no trust in anyone, they no longer involve the employees in decision-making and they have created a hostile work environment for their employees and themselves. Leaders must stand tall and continue to do what is right, at the right time and for everyone they lead because it’s their responsibility. Sure, leaders will “get kicked in the teeth” but that’s why it’s lonely at the top. People don’t always understand our roles but we know that we will make a difference and that is why we “give the world our best anyway”.

9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:9-10

This verse had a couple of options for things to talk about – doing good and not giving up. While I focused the first part on doing good, I’d like to add the “not giving up” part here. It is tiring always doing good, our sinful nature says “when will someone do good for me?” We seem to be able to justify shortcuts and doing the minimum in our minds. We go around doing things for others, for little recognition I might add, and all we ask in return is a little good coming our way; that’s not too much to ask. The end of verse 8 gives us the answer “the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

The “good” coming to you will come from the Holy Spirit. We are encouraged to “do good to all people” but “especially those who belong to the family of believers”. There are no options to be good only to those that are good to us or who won’t make our lives harder. Whether you are a leader, a follower or a loner, do not become weary of always doing good. No one said it was easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ but the rewards are eternal. Go and do good – Anyway.

Move on

“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. We have all experienced that. 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 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 a 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 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 hear about family members forgiving a murderer or thief and most of us wonder, “How can they do that?” Our Father has forgiven us for the things that we do or when we steal time from 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 be reminded. Forgive and move on; life on earth is too short to carry around the weight of unforgiven issues.

Justification

Calling someone a Christian leader should naturally come with the assumption that they will lead ethically, unfortunately there is temptation everywhere. Each of us have the ability to justify any action we take, whether right or wrong; the devil is always at work to throw us off course. The Josephson Institute lists twelve rationalizations that people will use justify not making good ethical decisions: “1. It’s necessary, 2. if it’s legal, it’s okay, 3. it’s part of the job, 4. if it’s for a good cause, 5. doing it for someone else, 6. fighting fire with fire, 7. it won’t hurt anyone, 8. everyone’s doing it, 9. it’s okay if I don’t gain from it, 10. I’ve got it coming, 11. I can still be objective and 12. it’s creating necessity.”

No mater how we try justify our actions, when we violate the trust of the people in our lives, we have lost the one thing that is hard to get back; their respect. If we think about any of the latest “scandals” that have been reported and then compare the Josephson rationalizations listed, it is easy to see how things can get out of control. We must constantly guard against temptation at every turn and stay vigilant against the pressures of world around us.

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

The “deeds of darkness” can be those things that we consciously do and those things that we do or think unconsciously. As Christians, we are under attack by the devil everyday; he’s trying to win us over from God. Remember how he tempted Jesus by offering him the riches of the world and how did Jesus respond? He used scripture to rebuff those temptations. God has given us everything we need in His word through the bible.

If we have the word on our hearts and in our minds, we will know what to do when the urge to justify our actions starts to rise up. When we put on “the armor of light” we can hold our heads high and confidently look at ourselves in the mirror and smile knowing we did the right thing; even when it was hard to do. In the long run, people will respect you for acting ethically despite how they may initially respond. The struggle is daily but our armor will keep us protected.

“I’d better do it myself”

“If I want a job done right, I better just do it myself”, is an old phrase that you often hear today. People are impatient and less tolerant of change for some reason. The growth of the Internet is allowing people to work anywhere in the world. There are virtual workplaces and virtual jobs – I’m intentionally leaving the puns alone. So many things have changed that it isn’t too surprising people want to hang on to some control over a process or project. As humans, we learn best by trial and error. We make mistakes and learn a great deal from them. As parents we try to tell our kids what to do and how to do it so they avoid making the same mistakes, even small ones, we’ve made. Sooner or later they will rebel and do it anyway. I’ve taught firefighters and officers to avoid repeating my mistakes and I’ve watched them make their own mistakes (safely) so they too could learn. As leaders or parents, we have to let people do things the way that is best for them. We’ve added our extra step or we’ve done just one something a little different and we have to let others do the same; this is how great things are made. I’ve said it before, Velcro and Post-it notes were mistakes that turned out awesome. Today’s workforce is more innovative, more experimental, more adventurous and less risk adverse than we were. We need to embrace the change, support them and watch what happens. Your way is not the only way to get something done; it’s “a” way to do it. Imagine what you would have missed if someone you worked for said that there is only one way to do your job. The irony of the statement that started this is that the person who said it first was really saying, “If I want a job done my way, I’d better do it myself”. Unless you intend to do all of the work around you, give people a desired outcome or goal and let them work.

8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Can you imagine God saying “If I want a job done right, I better do it myself”. When I started to write that phrase I said to myself He’d never say that, however it’s exactly what He did. God tried to give us signs, miracles, prophets and even 10 Commandments as a guide for us to follow and we still failed. God did it Himself and sent His Son to save the world from itself. We couldn’t get it right, so God did it for us. In these verses, we are reminded that our thoughts and our ways are not God’s. He gave us the desired goal or outcome – Believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you will receive the eternal life. God tells us that we are not like Him and we could never be. His ways and thoughts are higher than the heavens. We focus on earthly things and earthly desires and He is telling us in the New Testament of the Good News found in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter what our deeds are or what our thoughts are or anything else; what matters is our faith in Jesus Christ. We need to stop worrying about doing things perfectly and focus on our faith in Jesus. We should be focused on growing our faith and understanding of God’s word not to become superior but to express our love to God for not treating us like we treat those don’t do it our way.

Orbits

I’ve said for a long time that most people function in orbits when it comes to their attitude, motivation, drive or simple ability to get along. If the peak of our performance where to be at the top, our attitude can be found somewhere in an oval shaped orbit. Sometimes we are very close, while other times we are far away. When we are far away from our peak, things get a little troubling. We are crabby or we don’t feel like doing anything. Our motivation and drive are really hard to find. When we love what we’re doing, we are in close orbit and when we loathe what we do, we are farther out. Sometimes our orbit even grows in size pushing us father away and sometimes it shrinks and we are always close. No matter what your position in life is: supervisor, employee, executive, line staff, mom, dad, brother or sister; you have to know what keeps you going or what makes you peak? Lisa finds her peak at the gym. It’s what gets her up at 4am, everyday. Some people find it in their work because it gives them satisfaction while others find it in their friends. The important thing, is to know what does it for you. It’s when people lose their focus or their drive that trouble begins. Find your focus and ask yourself where you are in your personal orbit, and then get close to the peak. Smiles and satisfaction await you.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24

Some people live near their focus point all of the time. These are the people that ALWAYS have a smile and kind word. They are the ones who can inspire. Do you have people in your life that inspire you and do you inspire others? It’s harder to know if you inspire others but I would guess that everyone does and they simply don’t realize it. Our human nature is to be social; we were not intended to be solitary creatures, God gave Eve to Adam to keep him company. This Old Testament verse asks us how can we help each other live Godly lives of love and goodness? It is meant to be a question whose answer lies in being social. If you accept the orbits concept, you will know when you are at your peak, which is when you should be helping those around you. When you are in deep orbit, you should seek those who will bring you back through positive encouragement, love and good deeds. When people are in deep orbit, they can become lost and that is when the devil steps in to lead them astray. If you are losing sight of your center point, surround yourself with those that can spur you on toward love. The bible is a place of inspiration and is filled with God’s love. If you are at your center point, share your joy with others and become a source of positive influence.

Suffering

We all know someone who is suffering, even if just a little bit. People react differently to what they perceive to be suffering. A teenager is “suffering” when they go on vacation to a place without cell phone coverage. I’ve done work in an organization that saw suffering. No one in management would listen to the workforce, suggestions were ignored, benefits were minimalized and employee terminations were inconsistent; they were working in a culture of fear. Look in your contact list; I’d imagine that you could identify a number of people who are suffering from a financial or medical condition. How many people in your contact list would you like to trade places with? We all have troubles. Some people thrive when they are under pressure to push through difficult times and come out stronger while others crumble. How do you react? Knowing before it happens may have a big affect on how you manage the situation. When my wife and I used to (notice – used to) golf together she was always finding something good about a bad shot. When I hit the ball into the water she’d say, “at least it isn’t in the sand” and when I hit it into the sand, she would say, “at least it isn’t in the water”. I suffered during that round. What about the real suffering that goes on? Why does it happen? Every patch of trouble or each time we suffer we are becoming stronger. If you look back in your life, I would guess that you could find a connection to another event that occurred later. You were stronger because of it or you learned something or you met someone. Something better comes out of our suffering.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

God has told us that we aren’t promised a trouble free life so suffering should not be a surprise. None of us wants to hear our suffering or pain compared to another person’s worse case. Why are we suffering? People asked after the attacks on September 11th how could God let this happen? However, we heard story after story about people who got to work late that day or who made appointments when they normally would be at work and survived. Two buildings that normally house tens of thousands people collapsed and less than 3000 died, God was there. Again, think about St. Paul sitting in jail suffering and enduring punishment for his faith telling his Roman followers not to worry about the suffering. He knew that by sharing his faith, God’s Glory would be revealed and millions would be saved. Paul suffered so that millions would read his letters and come to faith in God through Jesus Christ. Would you react/respond differently to suffering if you knew that others could be saved? A few weeks ago I talked about being worthy, this is yet another way that says, “You are worthy!” When we suffer and still show our faith in Him, God uses us to be His messenger of what a life in Christ is like. No matter what you are suffering with, your reward is in the promise of eternal life.

What difference does it make?

Once again, I find myself with another painful reminder of the lesson: “no good deed will go unpunished”. Two weeks ago I sat on a discussion panel at a state association meeting representing elected officials who were once or are still, fire service members. I have a completely different perspective than many of my counterparts because 1) I am retired and 2) I am more closely connected to city management than line functions at this point in my career. We were asked what we thought our department needed to improve on. A question like that cannot be answered because no one wants to speak poorly about their own agency. In an attempt to answer very generically and broadly about what the fire service needed to do as a whole (prefaced extensively), I gave an answer about how differing requests from labor and management send mixed messages to elected officials that call into question reliability of the messages. It was a statement intended to help future conversations. It wasn’t received that way, people thought I was referencing current events and I heard about it from both our fire chief and his union. In these circumstances, we often find ourselves exclaiming, “What difference does it make anymore! No matter what I say, it always gets twisted!” Shouldn’t we just stay focused on what matters today and not worry about the future? If I had done that, I would have been silent just like everyone else and we’d have moved on to the next question. I’m a believer that the future matters, so I spoke up. The point of the panel was to tell what it looks like from the elected perspective. I hoped to have an affect not on today but the future by signaling how a fire chief could prevent future issues. I paid a price for my willingness to help. I would do the same format again if I had the chance because I believe in the purpose just not this particular outcome.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” John 17:20

I once heard a story about a firefighter’s first day on the job back in the early 50’s. He was mopping the kitchen with an old fashioned “stringy” mop when one of the strands got caught under the table leg. He left behind the single strand but his Captain saw it and asked him why he left it. He replied that it was only one strand and it didn’t matter. His Captain calmly explained that if he left that one and another was left tomorrow and so on that, soon there would be a full mop under there. Picking it up, he realized that “tomorrow” is important. Jesus cared for tomorrow too. He is telling us that he was praying for those spreading the good news at that time and those who would grow in faith because of what they had heard. He was praying for us! Jesus knew that future believers were just as important as the present ones. His focus remained on being our Savior despite knowing what he had ahead of Him. This verse confirms that Jesus prayed for you and for me and, that the Bible is the inspired word of God (the message). Each of us will have doubt about our future and we all will, at times, have doubt about God’s love, thanks to sin and the devil’s work. We must stand strong over those doubts knowing that Jesus once prayed for us and continues to keep watch. The past holds nothing but the future is where we can find eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Let go of the past and look toward the future.