#200: For unto Us a Child Is Born

I love that the Christmas season kicks off right after Thanksgiving because it gives me an excuse to listen to Christmas music for a whole month. Right at the top of my preferred Christmas music list are hymns with lyrics taken from portions of scripture.

Child Jesus

One of the hymns that I learned as a young lad was “For unto Us a Child Is Born.” I didn’t know it at the time, but the music was written by George Frederick Handel in 1741, and the lyrics were taken from Isaiah 9:6:

For unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given
And the government
Shall be upon His shoulder
And his name shall be called
Wonderful
Counselor
The Mighty God
The Everlasting Father
The Prince of Peace.

Digging into Isaiah 9:6 we see it is rich with meaning as it refers to the Second Advent; the second coming of Jesus Christ:

“For unto us a child is born” speaks to the humanity of the Messiah.

“Unto us a Son is given” speaks to the deity of the Messiah given to the nation of Israel.

“And the government will be upon His shoulder” refers to the Second Advent; the second coming of Jesus Christ when he will reign as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

“And his name shall be called” begins a list of four attributes of Messiah’s character.

“Wonderful Counselor” The word “Wonderful” is a noun, not an adjective. “Wonderful” is His name. “Counselor,” Messiah will exhibit wisdom in His government and is the ultimate counselor to mankind.

“The Mighty God” This speaks to Messiah’s omnipotence as the supreme Ruler of the universe.

“The Everlasting Father” He is the creator, eternal, and a loving Father, He confers everlasting life on those who believe in Him.

“The Prince of Peace” The Messiah will bring peace into the world.

When we understand and appreciate the depth of meaning in this one verse, it is easy to see why Handel selected it to be part of the Messiah oratorio.

Watch the video below if you would like to listen to an incredible performance of Handel’s Messiah, “For unto As a Child Is Born” conducted by Sir Colin Davis, with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. What is your favorite Christmas hymn? What does it mean to you?

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Category: Personal Development | Character

#195: Do You See Yourself in the Life of Zacchaeus?

Lessons from the Lesser Known

Have you ever read a Bible story and imagined yourself in the place of the main character? You think, “that could be me!”

Zacchaeus

Some people may see themselves as a leader like Moses, courageous like Joshua, wise like Solomon, or brave and determined like Paul. Others may see themselves more like Peter; bold and outspoken.

I wonder how many of us see ourselves like Jonah, who ran from God’s call on his life? Or like Jacob who deceived his father and brother all in an effort to get ahead?

One person most of us probably don’t identify with is a man Luke tells us about; Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector (Luke 19:1-10).

Zacchaeus is described as the chief tax collector in the city of Jericho. He was a Jew who had become rich by extorting more money in taxes from his fellow Jews than required by Rome.

He was small in stature, an outcast despised by his own people.

Despite his wealth and influence with Rome, there was something missing in his life. When he heard that Jesus was passing through town he wanted to see him. He was too short amidst the crowd following Jesus to see him, so Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a tree to get a better look at this man, Jesus, that he had heard so much about.

As Jesus approached the tree where Zacchaeus was, Jesus called him by name and told him to come down because he was going to stay at Zacchaeus’ house. So Zacchaeus scampered down and received Jesus joyfully.

While the crowd muttered against Jesus for staying with a sinner like Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus jumped down and immediately announced he would give half of everything he owned to the poor and pay back four times the amount of anything he had cheated out of others.

Jesus said salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus that day. The Son of Man had come to seek and save that which was lost.

5 Lessons from the story of Zacchaeus

1) He was searching. Money and influence were not enough. Zacchaeus knew there was something missing in his life.

2) He was determined. Something in Zacchaeus drove him to set aside his pride, rush ahead of the crowd, and climb a tree just so he would have a chance to see Jesus.

3) Jesus came to him. Despite being surrounded by a crowd, Jesus came to Zacchaeus and dealt with him as an individual.

4) Jesus knew him. Jesus not only called Zacchaeus by name, but He knew the condition of his heart.

5) He responded to Jesus immediately. When Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, he jumped down immediately and responded to Jesus with rejoicing. He publicly repented of his sins against his people. He promised to give away half of his fortune and to make restitution to those he had cheated.

Zacchaeus was desperate to see Jesus, but at the same time, Jesus was on his way to meet Zacchaeus. The Lord knew Zacchaeus’ heart and he responded just as the Lord knew he would. The world may have despised or even hated Zacchaeus. But the Lord saw him through a different lens; one that saw his repentant heart and his desire to know the Lord.

Many of us are searching for the something that is missing in our lives. We work hard to accumulate wealth, power, and influence only to find that they are not enough. Then we go searching for what will fill that God-shaped hole in our lives.

Hopefully, when Jesus comes to us we will put away our pride, greet Him with rejoicing, repent of our sins, and follow him as the Great Shepherd!

The Lord knows His sheep and they recognize His voice (John 10:14).

 Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. Have you ever imagined yourself in the place of a Bible character? If so, who and what about that character did you identify with?

I’d love your help. This blog is read primarily because people like you share it with friends. Would you share it by pressing one of the share buttons below?

 

Category: Personal Development | Character

 

 

 

#194: Do You Know the 3 E’s of Expanded Leadership?

I had the great pleasure of attending the Global Leadership Summit hosted by Willow Creek Church again this year.

Expanded Leadership

Among the incredible speakers was Jossy Chacko, founder and president of Empart, Inc, a global church planting ministry.

Jossy’s talk entitled, “Unquestionable Ways to Expand Your Leadership Reach” was based on the Parable of the Talents recorded in Matthew 25:14-30.

As He teaches the disciples this parable, Jesus described the master who is going on a journey and called his three servants together to entrust his property to them. To one servant he gave five talents of money, to the second servant he gave two talents, and to the third servant he gave one talent.

The man who received five talents and the man who received two talents both put the money to work and doubled it. The man who received one talent was afraid of his master, so he just took the talent and buried it in the ground.

When the master returned, he held his servants accountable for their results. The man with five talents and the man with two talents who had doubled what they were given were commended by the master and invited to share his happiness.

The man with one talent who was afraid and hid the talent in the ground was reprimanded for not at least investing the talent, so what he had was taken from him since he was a worthless servant.

In God’s economy, the two men who multiplied what they were given were rewarded, while the man who just returned what he was given was not rewarded.

What talent has God entrusted to you? If God has entrusted you with leadership responsibility, how you are multiplying and expanding your leadership?

The 3E’s of Expanded Leadership

1) Enlarge Your Vision

  • One man with a small vision played it safe by burying his talent in the ground. If your vision is only to keep what you have, you’ll never see the opportunities all around you.
  • Your vision is directly related to your view of God. If you have a small vision, you have a small view of God. If you have a large vision, you have a large view of God.

2) Empower Your People

  • The master gave the money to the three servants and left! He went on his journey without giving specific instructions of what each person was to do—he left that decision to them individually.
  • People’s character is built through being held accountable for their actions. People often fail for lack of character.

3) Embrace Risk

  • See risk as a friend. The third servant said, “I was afraid,” but Paul, writing to Timothy said, “God has not given us a spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7).
  • Don’t let the fear of losing what you have, keep you from getting what God has for you.

Perfection is Not Required or Expected

When Jesus selected the apostles, He knew they would all be weak and abandon Him in His darkest hour. He knew Peter would deny Him three times. He knew Judas would betray Him.

Jesus didn’t expect the apostles to be perfect. In fact, knew they weren’t! He selected them anyway. What He expected was they would come back to Him in faith to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

Jesus doesn’t expect us to be perfect either. In fact, He knows we’re not but He has called us anyway. The question is, will you be a servant who answers the call and multiplies the talents you have received?

Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. Has God entrusted you with the responsibility of being a leader? If so, how are you multiplying and expanding that talent to others for the benefit of the Kingdom?

I’d love your help. This blog is read primarily because people like you share it with friends. Would you share it by pressing one of the share buttons below?

 

Category: Personal Development | Character

 

#181: Pressure, Pleasure, Power, Pride, and Priorities Lead to Failure

Did you know that companies who succeed in hiring ethical employees and are themselves ethical are more successful than those who do not?

Priorities

According to the Executive Leadership Foundation, $30,000 invested in the Dow Jones Industrial Average 30 years ago would be worth $134,000. Not bad, but if you invested the same $30,000 in the top 15 ethically responsible companies in their study, that $30,000 investment would be worth over $1,000,000. That’s a pretty big advantage for the socially responsible company over the long haul!

Based on the growth potential alone it is not surprising most companies say they want to hire employees who exhibit strong ethical behavior.

Sadly, when push comes to shove, many employees fall off the ethical wagon.

In his book, There’s No Such Thing as Business Ethics, author John Maxwell relates five factors that most often cause someone to cross ethical boundaries:

1) Pressure

How many companies have imploded like Enron because of pressure to meet Wall Street expectations? Sales managers pressure sales reps to meet a quota so the rep cuts corners or makes unsubstantiated claims to make a sale. Contractors pressure suppliers for lower prices to win bids and end up with inferior materials. Pressure to make a number or do a deal exists in all kinds of companies from the largest of the Fortune 500 to the neighborhood entrepreneur.

James admonished believers to stand firmly against pressure and not give in, Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

2) Pleasure

The desire to attain a certain lifestyle; a bigger house, nicer cars, and more toys is a common cause of ethical breaches. I’ve personally had to deal with sales reps that mishandled company funds hoping to increase sales, earn a promotion and the bigger salary, for the sole purpose of having “more.”

Paul warned that those who love pleasure do not love God, “treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4).

3) Power

Lord Acton was right when he said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Power is addictive. A good person achieves a position of responsibility and the power that goes with the position. Pretty soon they exercise their power to maintain their position rather than to serve others. Eventually, they will use their power to abuse and even crush those who stand against them. Power is a seductive mistress that ends in destruction.

Solomon noted, “The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength” (Proverbs 24:5).

4) Pride

There is nothing wrong with working hard to achieve a goal and being proud when the goal is accomplished. But when pride leads to an exaggerated sense of self-worth it becomes destructive. Pride causes you to put someone else down to build yourself up. Pride causes people to refuse to admit their mistakes and instead, blame others for their shortfalls.

Solomon, writing in Proverbs said, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).

5) Priorities

Do you have a moral compass that guides your path? Those that do not have a predetermined set of moral guidelines or established principles are especially susceptible to ethical lapses. Establishing priorities for your life informed by moral principles provides a protective hedge from ethical lapses.

Paul, writing to the Romans, admonished them to keep their focus on God, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Pressure, pleasure, power, and pride are not bad in and of themselves. It is when there is too much pressure, too great a focus on pleasure, a reliance on power, or a prideful attitude that ethical lapses occur in otherwise ethical people. That’s precisely why having solid priorities based on Godly values are so important.

Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. Have you worked with someone who crossed ethical lines? If so, was it because of too much pressure, pleasure, power, pride, or bad priorities?

I’d love your help. This blog is read primarily because people like you share it with friends. Would you share it by pressing one of the share buttons below?

 

 

Category: Personal Development | Character

 

#176: Can We Finally All Be One in Christ Jesus?

On July 4, 1776, 240 years ago, the United States Second Continental Congress declared independence from Great Britain. Independence. Freedom. The right to govern oneself; to be free from the tyranny of the king.

United Christ Independence

In their Declaration of Independence, Congress expressed belief in the equality of all men as deriving from their Creator:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Recently, a legislator from the state of Louisiana labeled the Declaration of Independence racist because when it was written only Caucasians were free (not true, but she’s a politician). What she may not have remembered from her civics class was slavery was brought to America by the British and French.

It was the framers of our Declaration who originally hoped to outlaw it.

Benjamin Franklin wrote in the original draft of the Declaration a very specific indictment against the King of England regarding slavery. It was the last of 27 complaints listed in the Declaration and was the longest and harshest by far:

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.  This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.  Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce.  And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

Strong words indeed!

Sadly, this condemnation of slavery was removed from the final version of the Declaration and replaced with a simpler and more ambiguous complaint that the king had “incited domestic insurrections among us.”

Slavery prevailed in much of the country for another 100 years until the groundswell against it reached a boiling point and the civil war was fought to end slavery in the United States once and for all. In the north, 1.5 million soldiers fought to maintain the Union and end slavery. My paternal great-great-grandfather was one of them.

Unfortunately, ending the legality of slavery did not automatically change people’s beliefs. We are 150 years beyond the civil war and we still have a very long way to go to live up to the promise of our Declaration that all men are created equal.

We have an even further road to travel to realize God’s ideal as expressed by Paul:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Honestly, it depresses me when I think about how divided we are in America as a people of God. I get even more depressed when I consider society at large. It seems there is more distrust, angst, and vitriol than ever. Instead of moving toward God’s ideal we seem to be moving away.

It’s not hard to imagine that if we, as Americans, were closer to God we would have less division and strife.

As much as I am saddened by the state of affairs in America, I was downright disgusted when I saw a report released just recently that 46 million men, women, and children are living in slavery somewhere in the world (Global Slavery Index Report 2016).

Over 60% of those living in slavery around the world are in just six countries: India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, and North Korea.

It’s also not hard to imagine that if the people in countries where human misery and abuse is commonplace were to experience Christ in a meaningful way, hearts would change. Lives would change.

Jesus said, “If you abide in my word…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

The truth of God’s Word will set all mankind free. It will unite all mankind as one in Christ.

As Christians, we are all called to ministry, to serve the Lord. As leaders, we have a responsibility to use our gifts and talents in service to the Kingdom.

My challenge to you as we celebrate our Independence Day here in America is to consider, “What can I do to help unite the world in the family of God such that we will all be one in Christ Jesus?”

Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. Do you think Christians should be engaged in global political issues? Why, or why not?

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Category: Personal Development | Character

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#169: Ambition, Avarice and Lot’s Lost Life in the World

Lessons from the Lesser Known

Benjamin Franklin, speaking in 1787 before the Continental Congress said there were two passions which had the most powerful influence over men; ambition and avarice.

Ambition Avarice Lot

“[T]here are two passions which have a powerful influence in the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice—the love of power and the love of money. Separately, each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but, when united in view of the same object, they have, in many minds, the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall, at the same time, be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it.”

Franklin was speaking from experience with the British government in which men spent their lives in pursuit of power and money.

Mankind has been struggling with the twin demons of the love of power and the love of money throughout our history. Beginning in Genesis 13 we see what happened to Abraham’s nephew, Lot who spent much of his life in the pursuit of power and money and in the end, lost it all. Lot’s story provides lessons for all of us today.

The Seeds of Ambition and Avarice

Abraham was a man of God. Lot was his nephew. Abraham had become a wealthy, powerful man because he obeyed God and was blessed by God. Lot, who travelled with his uncle, had also become wealthy.

I’m guessing here, but I suspect Lot envied his uncle’s position of power and his relationship with God.

When they arrived in the land of Canaan, Lot’s people argued with Abraham’s people over the care of their herds. To avoid quarreling between the families, Abraham suggested they separate and gave his nephew first choice over the land. Rather than deferring to his uncle, Lot looked at the land and selfishly selected the best portion of the Jordan Valley for himself.

Lot moved his herds and settled in the city of Sodom, despite the fact that Sodom was well known for their sins against God.

Sodom was attacked by neighboring kings and Lot and all his possessions were carried off. When Abraham heard about it, he rallied his men and rescued Lot and all of his possessions. Rather than moving, Lot settled right back where he had been in Sodom.

The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were so evil the Lord decided to bring judgement upon them. God sent two angels to Sodom who met Lot sitting in a place of honor at the city gates. Lot invited the angels to stay with him and the angels warned Lot of God’s plan to destroy the city the next day.

Lot went through the city to warn his sons-in-law and daughters of the impending judgement of God, but the sons-in-law did not believe him. The next day the angels escorted Lot, his wife, and his two daughters out of the city. When they were away from the city, God reigned down judgement upon Sodom and Gomorrah destroying them both.

Lot escaped the city with the clothes on his back and lost everything else. His wife was dead. His daughter’s husbands died in the city. All the wealth and all the power were gone in the span of a single day. He lived out his days hiding in a cave in the mountains.

Lessons for Us

Lot’s slide into a worldly life driven by ambition and avarice apart from God occurred over time:

  1. Lot separated himself from God. Lot allowed strife to separate him from his godly uncle, Abraham. Rather than seeking God’s wisdom or deferring to his uncle, Lot separated himself from the one godly influence in his life.
  2. Lot allowed selfish desires to control his choices. Lot looked around and selfishly chose the best land for himself. He wanted more wealth for himself and he needed the best land to obtain it.
  3. Lot rejected his second chance. Even after Lot was taken captive and nearly lost everything, only to be rescued by his uncle, he stubbornly resumed his quest for power and wealth by settling back in Sodom.
  4. Lot chose to live surrounded by sin. Lot knowingly chose to live in a sinful city because it allowed him a place of honor at the city gates. He allowed his daughters to marry men who did not know or believe in God.
  5. Lot never turned to God. Despite the warnings of the judgement of God from the angels, Lot never turned to God to repent of his actions.

On the plus side,

  1. Lot believed the angels. He tried to convince his son-in-law of the impending judgement, but they didn’t believe him.
  2. Lot obeyed the angels. When the angels said it was time to go or face God’s wrath, Lot hesitated but followed the angels out of the city.

Mr. Franklin was right wasn’t he? Ambition and avarice, the love of power and money, cause us to make some really bad decisions.

It is so easy to allow the quest for power and money to separate us from God. We make selfish decisions. We even ignore warnings from God and reject our second chances thinking we are on the path to power and money we so richly deserve. We even put ourselves in sinful situations and justify what we are doing. Sadly, and all too often, we fail to see the signs of God’s impending judgement until it is too late. We lose it all. All the worldly wealth and power is gone in the blink of an eye.

Don’t miss this one point. When Lot hesitated in leaving Sodom, God held back the destruction of Sodom because he cared for Lot. Despite all of Lot’s poor decisions over a period of years, God still cared so much for him that he waited for Lot to get away safely.

Yes, Lot suffered the loss of all the worldly possessions, his power, and prestige, but he never stopped being a child of God. Neither do we!

Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. Do you know men or women like Lot, whose love of power and money caused them to make poor decisions? What happened in their lives as a result?

 

Category: Personal Development | Character

 

#165: Do You Respond to God Like Lydia?

Lessons from the Lessor Known

I believe there is something important we can and should learn from every person God presents to us in His Word.

Lydia

We meet one such person in the book of Acts. She is referred to as Lydia though we don’t know for sure if this is her real name or the name of her native city. We don’t know anything about her background other than she was from Thyatira and Paul met her in Philippi which was a Roman colony.

Luke writes that he and Paul, along with Timothy and Silas arrived in Philippi and stayed there for several days. On the Sabbath, they went outside the city gate by the river where the Jews of the city gathered to pray. They sat down and spoke to the women gathered there.

“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us” (Acts 16:14-15).

It is only two verses but in them we learn four important things about Lydia.

A Business Woman

Lydia was from Thyatira where some of the best purple cloth in the world was made. Living in Philippi, Lydia had become a prominent business woman who sold purple cloth which was much sought after throughout the Roman empire.

Her acumen as a businesswoman provided a large house and servants to care for her and her family. Her house itself must have been large enough to accommodate her family, their servants, and eventually, Paul and his three travelling companions as guests.

Her success as a businesswoman is especially noteworthy given the paternal dominance of Roman society.

A Spiritual Woman

The Jewish population in Philippi must have been small because there was no synagogue there (10 Jewish men were required to start a synagogue). Lydia, a proselyte to Judaism, joined with other women daily by the river outside the city to worship God.

As Paul spoke that Sabbath day, Lydia listened attentively and the Lord opened her heart to receive the message spoken by Paul.

A Christian Woman

Lydia responded immediately to Paul’s preaching and was baptized as a believer in Christ. She evidently carried the news back to her household. Because of her faith and witness, her entire household became believers and were baptized.

A Hospitable Woman

Immediately after her baptism, Lydia insisted Paul and his three travelling companions come and stay at her house as her guests. Later, when Paul and Silas were released from prison Lydia welcomed them back into her home (Acts 16:38-40).

Lessons from Lydia for Us

I see two especially important lessons from Lydia for us today:

  • Lydia responded to God. Most important, Lydia was a devout, spiritually open, and discerning woman who worshipped God. She went to the river and met with other believers daily to pray and worship God. She responded immediately to Paul’s message about Christ. Her enthusiasm for her new faith allowed her to evangelize the rest of her household.
  • Lydia used her talents and gifts for the kingdom. First, she was a successful businesswoman. She continued her business in a Gentile-dominated world after accepting Christ. She did not leave her business to enter “ministry” but continued to run her business as a ministry. Second, Lydia cared for the saints. Lydia was a woman with the gift of hospitality who opened her home to Paul and his friends even after they bore the stigma of having been thrown into prison.

I can think of nothing more important to us a Christians today than to be diligent in our worship of God and to be open to His leading in our lives. And then, to respond to the Lord’s leading by using our gifts and talents to further the Kingdom of God.

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you worked with or do you know a “Lydia?” Have you responded to God’s call on your life? Are you using the gifts and talents He gave you to further the Kingdom?

 

I’d love your help. This blog is read primarily because people like you share it with friends. Would you share it by pressing one of the share buttons below?

 

 

Category: Personal Development | Character

 

 

 

#164: Are you a fig tree leader or a thornbush leader?

When I was only 7 or 8 years old I learned two important lessons from my grandparents though I didn’t fully understand them at the time.

Fig tree leader

In eastern Washington where I grew up, there were a lot of fruit trees, especially apples, cherries, and peaches. When the fruit was in season we would go to the you-pick farms and get bushel loads of fresh fruit that grandma would can and put in the cellar to enjoy all year long.

Lesson #1: A Tree is Known by  Its Fruit

The first lesson is if you want apples, you need an apple tree. If you want peaches, you need a peach tree. I know, pretty deep, huh? A tree is known by its fruit!

It turns out, and this is what I learned later in life, the same principle applies to people!

Jesus, teaching the disciples said, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers” (Luke 6:43-44).

A fig tree produces delicious figs. A thornbush produces, well, nothing but thorns.

Jesus is telling the disciples they need to be good trees who bear good fruit. They need to be like fig trees who produce delicious fruit.

But Jesus is also teaching the disciples the way to tell if someone is good or bad is to examine their fruit. In the long run, good people bear good fruit and bad people bear bad fruit.

Throughout my career, I found Jesus’ teaching to be true. Good people produce good fruit, and bad people produce bad fruit. You can tell whether a person is good or bad by the fruit they produce.

Jesus went on to say that a good man brings good things out of the good stored in his heart while an evil man brings out the evil stored in his heart (Luke 6:45).

The distinction Jesus is making is the good that a good man produces comes from deep inside. Their goodness comes from the good that is in their hearts. A person’s goodness or badness is a reflection of the condition of their heart.

If our hearts are pure and focused on the things of God, then we will produce good fruit. If, however, our hearts are focused on selfish things, things of the world, then we will produce bad fruit.

Lesson #2: Sometimes a Good Tree Produces Bad Fruit

A second lesson I learned picking fruit as a young lad was every once in a while I would reach up to pick an apple and find it was bad. Occasionally that good looking peach was all mush on the inside.

The tree was good, but once in a while, it produced a piece of bad fruit.

It turns out, people are like that as well. We may be good trees, but even the best of us will produce a piece of bad fruit. We are, after all, living in a fallen world and last time I looked, none of us is perfect.

So when you look at a tree, you judge the whole tree, not a single piece of fruit. A good person will produce good fruit. Sure we mess up once in a while, but the test of our character, of our hearts, is the good fruit we produce over time.

As leaders, we are known by our fruit. Our employees, our co-workers, and our customers will judge us by the fruit we produce. We will either be known, like Jesus said, as fig trees producing good fruit, or as thornbushes, producing bad fruit.

Are you a fig tree leader, or a thornbush leader?

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you worked for fig tree leaders? Have you worked for thornbush leaders? What impact did each have on you? On the organization?

 

I’d love your help. This blog is read primarily because people like you share it with friends. Would you share it by pressing one of the share buttons below?

 

Category: Personal Development | Character

 

 

#163: Is Integrity the Most Important Building Block of Personal Development?

One only needs to flip through the business section of the newspaper to see that integrity in business is lacking. It seems that on a daily basis there are stories about Wall Street, real estate and precious metals swindles, bankruptcies caused by corrupt management, and worst of all, religious leaders who abandon biblical principles in the quest for power and fame.

Integrity walks securely

This kind of behavior is an insidious growth like cancer; by the time you discover it, it is very difficult to cut out of an organization. An organization with integrity is nothing more than the sum of the individuals who have integrity. Like yeast that leavens the whole lump, one individual without integrity has the power to destroy an otherwise sound organization.

Reviewing the state of society one can only conclude that there is a definite lack of moral principle, that the principles that do exist are not sound, or both.

The first biblical breach of integrity comes in Genesis 3:6 when Eve took the first bite of the apple, despite the fact that she knew God’s commandment not to eat from the tree. Ever since that fateful day, sinful man has lived with lapses of integrity. Only Jesus lived a life of complete integrity.  Every one of the rest of us has to struggle with it every day. One would hope that since we have the Bible, which provides many accounts of the results of man’s lapses with integrity, that we would have learned something.

A 1987 Gallup poll reported that 42% of Americans doubt the honesty of some, if not most, appeals for religious donations. In another Gallup poll, 43% of those who don’t attend religious services say they have taken home supplies from work. Sadly, so do 37% of churchgoers. Thirty-four percent of the unchurched report calling in to work sick when they weren’t, as opposed to 27% of the churched. Gallup goes on in situation after situation concluding that “These findings…show little difference in the ethical behavior of the churched and the unchurched.”

If the churched are only marginally more ethical in daily life than the unchurched, then we need to put on the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14) and start living the life of integrity for which we have been set apart! According to Webster’s dictionary, integrity is “soundness of and adherence to moral principle and character; uprightness, honesty.” The message is clear. Not only must there be adherence to moral principles, but the principles themselves must be sound.

Of the sixteen times that the word integrity is used in the Old Testament, we find a number of references to the heart, judgment that comes with a lack of integrity, uprightness, our walk with God, and the blessing that comes with a life of integrity.

Integral Integrity

The Old Testament refers to “the integrity of heart” three times (Gen 20:5, Gen 20:6, and 1 Kings 9:4). The principle in each of these references is that integrity is something that lives in our hearts, it is not something to be put on and taken off at will. Integrity of heart is something you either have or do not have.

A man with integrity holds it deep within his heart and as God said to Satan regarding Job “…he still holds fast his integrity” (Job 2:3). The implication from the Hebrew is that Job’s integrity is fastened to him and that it strengthens him. If a man has integrity, you can see it in his very nature. It is a part of the man that cannot be separated from him because he “holds fast his integrity.”

The Benefits of Integrity

In his book Disciplines of a Godly Man, Richard Hughes notes five benefits of integrity: character, conscience, intimacy, elevation, and evangelism.

Character. Integrity builds character. Paul writing to the Philippians said, “Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is anything of excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these” (4:8 NAS). By focusing on thinking and doing what is right you will build character.

Conscience. “He who walks with integrity walks securely, But he who perverts his ways will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9). There is enough stress in life without adding the stress that comes from wondering whether we will ever get “caught.” A man with integrity will boldly hold to his principles despite the deceitful actions of those around him.

Intimacy. Integrity creates an opportunity for a growing, intimate relationship with God: “Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being” (Psalm 51:6 NAS). Having the desire to have a clean heart is a big step toward building an intimate relationship with God.

Elevation. A lack of integrity is like yeast that leavens the lump; it will eventually effect the entire organization. Likewise, a leader who is an outspoken proponent of integrity tends to build up those around him by developing their honesty and character. Psalm 78:72 speaks of Jacob as Israel’s shepherd, “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands.”

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 20:7, “A righteous man walks in his integrity. How blessed are his sons after him.” Your example of integrity will not only elevate your peers but will provide an example for those who will follow after you!

Evangelism. We are examples to the world. It is a sad commentary indeed that churchgoers are only slightly more honest than the unchurched. We have little hope of convincing others that there is something special about an intimate relationship with God if it doesn’t show in the way we lead our lives!

One Final Thought

Ask yourself the question, “Where can I find people who are examples of a life of integrity?” Take a look at politicians, sports figures, musicians, entertainers, and business leaders. It’s hard isn’t it?

While there are many exceptional people in all of these fields that live their lives with integrity, it is easier for us to recall the politicians sleeping in the wrong beds or taking payoffs, sports figures convicted of illegal gambling or going through drug rehab programs, talented musicians who lost their lives to drugs, entertainers who tell big lies to gain publicity, and business leaders who manufacture products that they know are unsafe in plants that they know are hazardous to the health of workers.

Think for a moment about why these people compromised their integrity.

Was it for money, for power, for fame? If you want your organization to have integrity, then you must demonstrate integrity in your actions first. The organization will follow.

Every day is an opportunity to succeed or fail in your goal to live with integrity. Perhaps it will be of some encouragement to consider Job, who after losing his family, his possessions, his great wealth, and being stricken with painful disease said to his accusers “…till I die I shall not put my integrity away from me” (Job 27:5).

Bonus WhitePaper

If you would like a broader discussion on this topic, download the free 5-page whitepaper, “Is Integrity the Most Important Building Block of Personal Development?” It includes a bonus discussion of  eight powerful ideas will help you build integrity in yourself and your organization:

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As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you had to deal with coworkers or bosses who struggled to maintain their integrity? If so, what effect did that have on you? On the organization?

 

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Category: Personal Development | Character

 

#156: Presidents, Leadership, and God

Here in the United States, we celebrate President’s Day the third Monday of February. The origins of the holiday trace back to 1879 when congress enacted a federal holiday in honor of our first president, George Washington.

Presidents, Leadership, and God

The holiday honoring Washington remained for nearly 100 years until 1968 when the idea of President’s Day was established in an attempt to honor all our presidents.

I thought it would be informative to take a look back in history to see what some of our early presidents had to say about leadership and God.

George Washington—1st President

Washington said the virtue he most desired was to be known as an honest man,

“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

Regarding the importance of religious principle, Washington said,

“Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Washington said the standard of a leader should be that he is as wise and honest as possible and the rest is in God’s hands,

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.”

John Adams—2nd President

Adams believed independence of the nation derived from the principles of Christianity. He said,

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

Adams was especially concerned that moral men of character assume positions of importance in society. He said,

“Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.”

Adams believed our form of government would only be sufficient to govern a moral and religious people. He said,

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Thomas Jefferson—3rd President

Jefferson recognized God’s justice falls on all nations when he said,

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

Jefferson recognized the difference between success and failure was often a matter of the leader’s attitude. He said,

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

Jefferson believed a leader is someone who is ready to take action and that those actions define the leader. He said,

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”

John Quincy Adams—6th President

Adams understood the power of a leader to inspire the people to be all they can be. He said,

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Standing on principle, even if you stand alone, is important. Adams said,

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

According to Adams, principles of Christianity cannot be separated from the principles of civil government. He said,

“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”

Andrew Jackson—7th President

Jackson believed a man who shirks is duty has little value to his country. He said,

“The brave man inattentive to his duty, is worth little more to his country than the coward who deserts in the hour of danger.”

Jackson was a man who would think about an issue, and then act. He said,

“Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.”

Jackson’s faith grew later in his life. He believed the Bible was an important foundation of the new republic. He said,

“The Bible is the rock on which this Republic rests.”

Close to his death, Jackson made clear his faith in our Lord and savior. He said,

“Sir, I am in the hands of a merciful God. I have full confidence in his goodness and mercy…. The Bible is true… Upon that sacred volume, I rest my hope for eternal salvation, through the merits and blood of our blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Abraham Lincoln—22nd President

Lincoln was a man used to confronting trials and taking responsibility as the leader. He said,

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

Lincoln quoted scripture often in his speeches. In this speech, he expressed his trust in God and asked the people to continue to pray for him. He said,

“Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me.”

Lincoln believed God had favored this land and that continued reliance on God would deliver the country from the civil war.

“Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.”

 

Reviewing these few quotes I am struck by the depth of their thought. These presidents, as many that followed them, established themselves as leaders through the adversity and trials of war.

While their theology differed, it is plain to see that belief in God shaped their lives and their leadership of this country.

They did not separate their Christian values from their lives as leaders. In fact, they often proudly and publically proclaimed their faith as they led.

It is, to me, a shame that many of today’s leaders, perhaps even a majority, do not speak proudly and consistently of their faith and reliance on God.

As Christians who wear the mantle of leadership, it is incumbent upon us to let our light shine before men so that others will see it and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Do you think Christian men and women should aspire to leadership in society?

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Category: Personal Development | Character