Thursday, January 13, 2011

United Together

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 (NIV Bible)

This design was actually done as part of my Christian greeting card series and the card is titled, “Wedding Wishes.” I have two friends getting married this month, Tony and Laura, and this article is dedicated to them and their life together. The design has wedding bells, the rings, and most importantly the cross. Marriage is between a man and a woman and Jesus is most importantly the defining partner in this union.

It is written in Luke 19:4-6, “Haven’t you read,” he (Jesus) replied, “that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to is wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” A marriage is a partnership. In my opinion the marriage, hence the family, is the very foundation of our society. As Christians we must do all we can to protect the sanctity of marriage and the family.

A friend once told me the secret to success in marriage was two words. “Yes Dear.” Now I know this is meant to be funny. However, marriage is all about working together, sharing plans and dreams. It is all about a partnership. People who start out a marriage with “his” money/bank account and “her” money/bank account are starting out on the wrong premise. It should be one bank account; one checkbook. And, I have always believed property should be held jointly. (However, I must admit my wife has been the sole owner of our houses since I worked in human resources...)

I acknowledge that events happen in life that impact marriages. I am not judging anyone. As Christians it is our responsibility to do our best to be a role model and when people close to us have problems, to help them as caring servants of the Lord. And many times the best way to help is to pray, for and with those close to you. And, as husband and wife in a marriage, read the Bible together; go to church together; go to small group together; pray together; and love and trust each other totally.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fall From Grace...Is It Really Possible?

(Not so Random Thoughts from Brent Long, Consultant, Long On Life.)

I’m not really sure I have the answers, of course, but I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately.

From the Bible, Galatians 5:4
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. (KJV)
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (ESV)

Culturally, it simply means to fall from a position of high esteem.

So here’s my dilemma… From a human perspective, I believe it is truly possible. There are those that we (humans) elevate to positions of high esteem based on any number of differing factors (that would take up way too much space to list here). However, at the root of this list is an overriding discovery that most of our human esteem is based on performance, appearance, etc. So when an athlete fails to live up to his or her billing, or when an entertainer commits a disastrous, career-ending gaffe, or when a husband and father fails and falters in his fidelity and leadership, we can agree that these might all be examples of a “fall from grace.” That’s not my question.

My question is this… Does Grace ever let go of us humans? Grace, in the human form of Jesus Christ came busting through the Creation He created to put on our sinful flesh, walk around amongst us, take on all of our sin, die for us, rise on the third day defeating the grave, and return to the Father having completed the most GRACEFUL act of GRACE the world has ever seen. He did all that to set us free from the sin that so easily entangles us. The Love of God is the Grace of God! Can anything separate us from the Love of God? According to His Word, nothing can… Nothing! (Romans 8:37-39)

So what does that mean for us?

No clue… but what I am realizing and learning is this: That for me to experience the true Grace of God, I might need to fall from the lofty, human pedestal that I placed myself on in my lifetime of striving to gain esteem from fellow humans, so that the Love of Christ (His Grace) can rescue me from the law (of legalism) that I have forced myself to live under… even after He set me free.

I have not been rescued by a weak god. Rather, I have been rescued by a loving warrior God Who was and is willing to go to the depths of hell to find me hiding there, completely helpless in my self-reliant, legalistic, law-abiding, performance-enhancing life. Whether or not there was any real intention to gain human esteem on my part (I am self-deceived like all humans), God’s Grace had already set me free from that life, but I had not embraced it or rested in it. And that life started to choke me to death. But God’s Grace showed up stronger than ever and rescued me all over again… even though I fell from grace, humanly speaking.

Thank You, Jesus. Thank You! You will never allow me to fall so far away that Your Grace can’t or won’t retrieve me. There’s no way that I can fall from Your Love and Grace. Thank You, Lord.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hope of the World!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3: 16-17 (NIV Bible)

It is written in Luke 2:10-11; But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” I did this design at the request of our church worship leader at Northwest Presbyterian Church in Dublin, Paul Vertucci. He wanted a Christmas design for the annual benefit dinner/concert and asked if I could produce a design with the theme, “Hope of the World.” I said I would pray about it and this design is the result of prayer.

The design has been done in the “traditional” Christmas colors. The Cross is at the center and is surrounded by wreaths and holly, and, if you will, Christmas ornaments. The colors are bright greens and reds which enhance the Cross in the center. Jesus, and the empty cross, are indeed, the Hope of the World! Continuing in the Gospel of Luke, 2: 13-14 it is written; “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” The hope of the world!

It never ceases to amaze me how we people get all wrapped up in the secular activities of the season and forget Jesus. Christmas becomes a time of making sure we have the right gift for the right person regardless of the cost. And, we have to check, and then check again, to make sure we don’t forget someone! And, don’t forget we have to make sure we are seen at just the right holiday party! We seem to forget that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” It would do us all well to remember Luke 2:20, “The shepherds returned, glorifying God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” During all of the holiday celebrations, let us keep Jesus foremost in our thoughts amongst all the glitter and confusion. Remember, after everything is put away in early January, our Lord remains with us in our hearts! Christmas comes not once a year, but everyday for believers! And when you are in the marketplace, say “Merry Christmas” to all!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Star In the East

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV Bible)

Now, before someone makes a comment, I know this does not look like a typical star. It is not meant to be a typical star. This star is bursting with colors, joy and excitement! As you gaze into it, different colors and shapes come toward you. It appears to be in motion. And after all, the star the wise men followed must have been unique. It was unique and very special and it guided them to the Christ child. It is written in Matthew 2:9-11, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.”

Let’s think about this for a minute. Let’s take our focus off of the star. Let’s take our focus off of the wise men. Let’s take our focus off of the treasures, the gifts. Instead, let us focus on “they bowed down and worshiped him.” Now, put this in present time. Let’s take our focus off of the bright lights. Let’s take our focus off of the parties. Let’s take our focus off of the gifts. How are we worshiping him now? What are you giving Jesus for Christmas?
Some people give gifts to get something in return. Some people give gifts to keep score and make sure they spend more than the other person did. And some people give gifts from their own hands - if you will, gifts of craft, filled with grace. One of my annual Christmas pet peeves is when people ask, “what did you get for Christmas?” This Christmas may we all focus on Jesus and give him our allegiance, our obedience, our worship, our praise, and our adoration! Remember this from Luke 2:11, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord.” Now when you get asked the big question, “what’d cha get?” you can tell them, “I got the greatest gift of all - I have received Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior.” Oh, I almost forgot - see you in church!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The 3 E's

Expectations, Empowerment & Excellence

How do you know when your business practices, your products and/or services, your relationships, and your life style are acceptable to the Lord? What do you think God expects from you?
Many times I have heard a businessperson say, “my business, or my company, or my employees.” Well the truth is they are not yours, they are God’s. In Deuteronomy 10:14 (NIV) it is written: Look around you: Everything you see is God’s – the heavens above and beyond, the Earth and everything on it.” No, it is not yours, but you are God’s steward. How is your stewardship lately? Are you fulfilling God’s expectations for you?
Let’s begin in the Book of Micah. In Micah 6:6-8 (The Message) it is written: “How can I stand up before God and show proper respect to the high God? Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would he be moved if I sacrificed my first born child? But, he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.”
In the NIV Bible, Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
As stated in The Message, “It’s quite simple.”
First, let’s take a look at three key topics for business people who want to serve the Lord. They are: Expectations, Empowerment, Excellence.
The Lord makes and keeps covenants. In doing this he has always been consistent and clear with his expectations. If I were to speak with your associates and ask them what your expectations are, what would they tell me? Have you made the effort and taken the time to clearly spell out your expectations for them? In Deuteronomy 7: 9-11, God made a covenant with Israel and it included expectations.
It is written in Deuteronomy 7: 9-1l (NIV): “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. But those who hate him will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him. Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws, I give you today.”
If I worked in your organization, would I know my expectations, including the rewards and punishments? Would I know what excellent performance looked like in the organization? Have you been consistent in application? Have you been faithful and followed through when necessary? When you have not, what have been the results? Tough questions. But, as God’s steward you must be in a position to answer these questions.
As a Christian business leader, you have available to you several models, such as the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Both of these are examples of clear expectations. In fact, within the Sermon on the Mount just might be the best business book every written. Or, read again in the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 10: 12-13 (The Message): “So now Israel, what do you think God expects from you? Just this. Live in his presence in holy reverence, follow the road he sets out for you, love him, serve God, your God, with everything you have in you, obey the commandments and regulations of God that I’m commanding you today – live a good life.” And in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NIV) it is written: Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
You and the members of your organization need to have clear expectations for everyone. What are your core values? Have you taken time to identify them? Did you involve your stakeholders? Are they written? Do people in the organization know them, accept them and live them? Do have basic operating principles in writing for your leadership team? Do other teams have clear and written operating principles? As a Christian business leader, how can you not have these? What does your savior expect from you?
The Lord requires you to act justly. I am not sure how you can do that if you do not have clear expectations. Your Lord is just and merciful. You too must balance your justice and mercy in dealing with others. But, you cannot do that if you do not have clear expectations.
I hesitate to use the word empowerment since I believe it has been abused and over-used. However, as Christian leaders it is your responsibility to empower others. In John 14: 12-13 (NIV) it is written: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”
Jesus left and put the disciples in charge. Unlike some business leaders I know, he did not abdicate, he practiced effective delegation through giving them the tools they needed and a direct link to the Father through him. For three years he coached, mentored, and taught them. That’s empowerment! Too many business leaders fear having associates with more talent or skill than they possess. They withhold information, do not coach and mentor. How small must be their minds. If you want to be a Christian leader, then lead like Jesus! You should be rejoicing in the growth and development of your associates.
I have a stack of books in my office all on the topics of quality and excellence in the work place. Most of the books address quality not only as a way to profitability, but also to just staying in business. As a Christian, I always wondered why it took books on quality for us to do what is expected of us. Just take a look at what is written in Proverbs 29: 22 (NIV): “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before Kings, he will not serve before obscure men.” Or as written in The Message; “Observe people who are good at their work – skilled workers are always in demand and admired, they don’t take a back seat to anyone.”
As a Christian you are compelled to do your best. Your behavior is observed by your associates. As a follower of Christ, you must always perform your tasks joyfully and fully. It is your responsibility to set an example for others.
It is written in Ephesians 6: 5-8 (The Message): “Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartedly, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving orders, you’re really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free.” As a Christian business person how can you read these words from scripture and not always be focused on excellence? And, if you read further, in verse 9 it is written: “Masters, it is the same with you. No abuse, please, and no threats. You and your servants are both under the same Master in heaven. He makes no distinction between you and them.” Read that again, and think about it. No distinction.
As a business leader you are expected by God to act justly, love mercy and walk in humility with your God. And as it is written in Colossians 4: 23-25 (The Message): “And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being Christian doesn’t cover up bad work.”
If you want to have excellence and empowered associates, you must give them clear expectations and you must set the example. You have to become a servant leader, not one who expects to be served by others.

Bob Spence