Photo above: The Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England. Used by Permission. © Tom Ley 01302 782837

Monday, July 2, 2012

Enjoy the Ride!

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

Nehemiah 8:10 “This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”

There are foundational moments in life in which the Lord requests us to complete a task that is clearly beyond your strength, natural gifts and comfort zone. When that time comes, whom will you serve? Will I act in faith, get out of the boat, and walk on the water, or will I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction? Irrespective of our decision, we will experience a range of emotions, from excitement, joy, and anticipation, to fear, anxiety, and dread. The key element is how we respond. The analogy the Lord gave me recently is that of a roller coaster. Life is a mandatory roller coaster that we all must ride, and we can either enjoy the trip, or go “kicking and screaming.” We choose how we respond to the situation, either with faith and confidence, with what psychologists term eustress (positive emotions), or with stress (negative or damaging emotions). When Dr. Campo graciously offered me the Interim Dean position, it was like a giant scary roller coaster, with sheer mountain steep climbs and deep canyon chasm dips. It had those warning signs that all with heart and back conditions should get out of line now! The emotions are boiling, and the enemy is screaming in your head you will die or throw up!

However, the truth is that those who love roller coasters and those that fear them are experiencing the same physiological responses, but with radically different emotional interpretations. To the person who loves roller coasters, it is an adventure and an ecstasy producing a wonderful adrenaline rush. To those who would choose to fear, it is a form of torment and torture. We make the choice. God will complete the good work in us one way or another. Stress or eustress, death or life. We make these little choices every day. The Devil uses fear to steal the joy of eustress, or turn eustress into stress. It is another act of deception, designed to steal, kill, and destroy. We need to pray for the Lord’s help to change our stress to eustress for the Glory of God!

Satan uses our “fear of fear” to deceive us into labeling and transforming natural eustress (childlike wonder, excitement) into stress by not trusting God for Romans 8:28 protection (all things produce good). Conversely, when we trust the Lord, we can change our stress into eustress. When we face our fears (Psalm 56:3 When I am afraid I will trust in thee), you are “working out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)” and pleasing God. When faith and fear are equal, you are still in faith when you stand your ground and move forward. The Devil is liar. You will complete the roller coaster ride and eventually learn to enjoy it! In addition, even if you do run away, the Lord is patient, forgiving, and grace filled.

Remember Elijah bolted into the desert after his great victory on Mount Carmel when Jezebel threatened him and the disciples fled in their moment of testing at the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Did God condemn them for acting on fear? No, God restored and strengthened them all after their abject failures. The Devil is a liar, and even when our fears do come true, God’s grace and protection is greater and He completes the good work began in us (Philippians 1:6).

This was illustrated by my own roller coaster rides with the fear of public speaking (a fear worse than death for many). About 15 years ago, I had a major presentation to the Provost with a colleague. It was an important meeting, but my anxiety over the speaking situation increased significantly given that I had a petty rivalry with my colleague. I had prepared well, but for some reason in the middle of my presentation, I looked into the eyes of the Provost and lost my place. I could not regain my composure What stress! My worst fear as a public speaker came true, the deer in the headlights! What shame and suffering! The Provost had the other colleague do the follow-up presentation the next day to the Board. I felt humiliated with permanent damage, or so I thought.

However, I gradually recovered with God’s gentle grace and teaching. The reality was that even though I “vomited on the roller coaster,” life went on and God taught me valuable lessons. My colleague was supportive, and we reconciled. I repented for my jealousy. My boss still had confidence in me, my promotion and tenure went through, and students still took my classes. God used this situation to humble me. The enemy still uses the memory of this event to instill stress in public speaking situations, but I have learned to respond with God’s word and transform my stress into eustress. Below are seven principles in your battle against stress:

1. Face your fears with the Word: Courage is not the absence of fear, but persisting in its presence (Psalm 56:3, When I am afraid, I will trust in you).
2. Embrace trust and humility and reject pride and perfectionism: We are not responsible for the outcome (God gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:7) and allow yourself to fail with grace (God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, 2 Corinthians 12:9). Our role is to obey by getting on the roller coaster!
3. Reject emotional reasoning or decision making by feelings. Even when our conscious condemns us, God is greater than our feelings and will lead us through the trial (1 John 3:20).
4. In personal conflict situations with others, respond in love, and don’t personalize the situation. Learn to love your enemies and serve just and unjust masters. Use the example of David. When Saul threw spears, David ducked (1 Samuel 18:11)!
5. Our Spiritual job description is the most important element: We need to serve with Love until God relieves us (Don’t get out of line!). Resist the temptation to flee challenging situations. Stand still, and as the Lord opened the Red Sea, God will enable us to walk through our fears and God destroys the Egyptians (our fears) behind us (Exodus 14:11-13).
6. Practice Grace: When others or institutions fail us, reject bitterness. We are all works in progress and prodigal sons requiring forgiveness (Luke 15). Let others get on their roller coaster again.
7. Reject complacency: Learn from Elijah (1 Kings 19). In your battles, you are not alone. The enemy will try and steal the victory and say that you lack the strength to re-board the roller coaster. That is a lie!

I pray for that you will win the battle against stress in your life and experience the joy of the Lord in every life event. May the Lord provide the courage to get on your own personal roller coaster! To Him be the glory!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Reflections on Life Margin

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

John 15:1-5 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

As John 15 so eloquently portrays, “connection to the vine” is a foundational requirement for good fruit. Life margin is the intentional cultivation of a God honoring lifestyle that embraces harmony and balance among the key life domains, (God, family, work, church, community, rest, and recreation) under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We cannot reduce margin to a legalistic formula given the complexity of life and God’s intricate plans. There are seasons of intense work followed by rest and family emphasis. What are some of the key principles for remaining “connected to the vine?”

We are frequently our own worst enemy when it comes to life margin. Regent professors and students are very achievement oriented, and we do not like to lose. Satan inflates the importance of the ends to encourage the use of illegitimate means, or to deceive us regarding the moral integrity of the ends. Our drive to succeed can enslave us as we attempt to achieve goals that we falsely believe equate with enduring success. We use the wrong standards and measuring stick to assess success. Godly success occurs through the ongoing work of sanctification and Christian character development as we learn to live, work and play like Christ. It is a pernicious lie that success and peace comes from things, not the creator. Our challenge is to recalibrate our standards of excellence and the goals/ends pursued according to God's metrics. As author, Richard Swenson states in his book Margin, the most important criterion of success is the cultivation of obedience through loving relationships.

Satan adroitly uses the temptation of accomplishments and recognition to distract each of us from our true mission and purpose. In effect, our spiritual job description is always the most important element. The pride of performance, recognition, and wealth is a powerful drug that manifests diminishing returns thereby increasing our craving for more attention and recognition. Many Christians are enslaving their lives to the God of mammon blinded by the allure of power, wealth, and material comforts over relationships. No one on their deathbed regrets not making more money; it is the deep pain of lost time and relationships that trouble the soul. Let us commit to place our hearts and minds on the things of God. Only the blood of Jesus provides the solution.

We must make time for the simple, but profoundly important elements that are the heartbeat of God, which is time spent in loving God and others. Modern life presents the continual temptation to substitute activity over being, by the need to prove our spiritual mettle by works. Busyness disconnects us from the vine and the life giving presence and voice of the Holy Spirit. A hectic level of activity promotes legalism, a spirit of works, and a spirit of pride as we are unable to discern the best from the good. Our frenetic activity level leaves us vulnerable to compassion fatigue, discouragement and an absence of joy. We become vulnerable to all forms of temptation given that we are not walking closely with our first love. Is the root cause of our malady the amount of time, or is it something else?

The key factor is to ask the Lord to identify our root motive for what we do. We must rest in the spirit of grace if our motives are to flow from God's perfect will. The challenge is to separate the “best from the good.” Clearly, the answer is resting in the grace of God and receiving his instructions that define the true “best” elements.

God frequently brings us to the end of our personal resources to snap our lethargy and spirit of self-sufficiency. The absence of Godly vision distorts our lenses. When we operate under our own power and authority, we alternate between pride and fear, impatience and procrastination. I understand how frustrating and painful such a time of overload represents (both in a physical and emotional setting), but this weapon that the enemy formed against you will not prosper. I pray for the liberating presence of the Holy Spirit to guide your steps as you "right-size."

Working mothers have great challenges in this area, and the key is to avoid labeling family member “wants” and luxuries as necessities forcing women to become "super moms." Our journey in life takes many circuitous paths, and one of the burdens we add is assuming an inordinate degree of responsibility for our family success and safety, especially for single parent families. Being from a broken home myself, I understand the pain and the fear. We must focus on the essentials as directed by God. Given the inherent stresses and spiritual warfare burdens that single parenting create, the single parent's level of margin is narrower than a fully intact family. This requires an even more enhanced prioritization process. The absence of margin can assume the role of a spiritual stronghold and a generational curse. God provides the means to deliver us from generational sins if we confess, repent and renounce our sins and seek first the Kingdom of God. Breaking the yokes of oppression includes remedying the absence of margin and simplicity. We must be available for our children. The family is ground zero of the spiritual warfare battle. The wounds inflicted on children are designed to imprison and yoke them with lifetime burdens and to promote sinful and dysfunctional means to meeting needs.

Margin entails the ongoing practice of spiritual disciplines. To pray continually means that we are mindful and God communicates to us in our everyday activities. When we dedicate our everyday activities to the Lord, they become a sacred prayer and hymn of worship. To meditate on the word is important, as quantity is not nearly as important as heart-based reflection. The challenge for each one of us is to build Godly margin so we can engage in a vital two-way relationship. We must set God-honoring boundaries to cultivate margin and the energy to love others deeply. One key element is to keep the Sabbath a time of God, rest and family. This entails limiting our work hours, taking time for exercise, sleep and rest, and eating correctly.

We must separate the best from the good through ongoing communion with the Lord. One of the great temptations that we must face is simply adding unessential tasks and duties. If we sweep our house clean, and do not keep it filled with the Holy Spirit, we will continue to add more clutter. Our role is to obey God and perform to the best of our abilities. An honest day's work and be content with our wages. God is responsible for the outcome and the fruit. If we take responsibility for success and failure, we are implicitly assuming control over the outcome promoting a prideful attitude. May the Lord provide His ongoing blessings guidance as He provides greater levels of margin based grace.

Swenson, R. (2004). Margin: Restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives. Colorado Springs, CO: Navigation Press.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rising Above Circumstances, Part 1

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

2 Corinthians 5:7 For we walk by faith, not by sight

Most non-believers and many Christians are circumstance focused, evaluating their situation in the workplace based upon the naturalistic evidence provided by the senses. This walking by sight isolates us from God’s power. As we approach Memorial Day weekend, one of the “signature” elements of servant leadership as demonstrated by our military men and women throughout history is the ability to rise above the storm of circumstances. By its nature, life presents many painful external situations that we cannot change, but we do possess the ability to transform our reactions with God’s help. This is a fertile area for Christian growth through the implementation of applied consecration principles that contribute to character development (dying to the self).

Many Christians mistakenly say to God, “First change my circumstances and how I feel, and then I will believe or obey.” A clear spiritual law is that we must have faith in God, in spite of our circumstances and the evidence of the senses. In essence we choose to follow and believe God in spite of how the intellect directs us. Once we act on faith, God will either change our circumstances or he will transform us and provide the ability to cope and transcend. In certain cases, we learn to cope within the pain and suffering, preparing us for future trials and Kingdom service. God will fulfill our true needs (not our wants) at just the right time (not on our time schedule). The reason for this is to perfect patience and endurance in our character.

A related point is the importance of maintaining our commitment to excellence in helping others in the midst of the storm of trial. When we willingly and unselfishly share our time, talents, resources and encouragement when we are suffering, it is a powerful act of faith and trust in God that will not go unnoticed by unbelievers. The light of God will shine brightly in the darkness. As evangelist Joel Osteen notes, God recognizes our efforts and stores up blessings to be dispensed later in our lives when we are in great need. Most people follow the selfish and self-defeating principle of how they can be blessed, rather than on how they can become a blessing to others. Agree with the word of God rather than our senses, and watch His power released in your life!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Powerful Weapon of Grace

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

Romans 5:21 "So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." NLT

Have you ever felt under condemnation because you believed you lacked the courage or strength to face a trial? Are you ever concerned that you will fail and let God “down”? I frequently question and doubt myself by fearing that I will not “measure up” in the time of crisis. In most cases, this catastrophic “what-if” thinking is a lie from the pit of hell designed to discourage us from following God’s will. I was recently lost in the wilderness of self-defeat when the Lord revealed a powerful manifestation of grace, a pre-emptive “lightening strike” against the attacks of the enemy through scripture. The life and ministry of Jesus demonstrated that in spite of His omniscient knowledge of the disciples failures and sins, their serious lapses and deficiencies in judgment, character and courage, Jesus always loved and forgave, disciplined, encouraged, showered grace, and said “peace be unto you”! The amazing fact is that God knows our actions, feelings, emotions, thoughts, desires, sins, temptations, and failures before we feel and act on them. David Seamonds, in his book “Healing Grace,” states that because God is pure love, our failings do not influence or change His love towards us. God loves unconditionally, and the ministry of Jesus consistently demonstrates unconditional love, patience, and loving discipline towards the disciples, who doubted, denied, betrayed, and abandoned Him. God earnestly desires fellowship with us, to walk with us, to love and serve, even with full advanced knowledge of our weaknesses. What amazing grace! The best way to defang condemnation is to recognize that the only failure is to bury our talents and quit trying, but even then, God still loves and provides opportunities for redemption. If you desire to achieve a higher degree of inner peace, become more Christ like and emulate Jesus and die to the prideful self and embrace the same spirit of pro-active grace, love, and forgiveness and Godly discipline with your own failures, sins and weaknesses as well as the weaknesses and sins of others. To God be the Glory!

Seamands, D. (1999). Healing grace: Finding a freedom from the performance trap. Indianapolis, IN: Light and Life Communications. ISBN: 0-89367238-6.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Affirmation Anxiety/Addiction

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

Proverbs 29:25
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

John 12:43, For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

1 Peter 5:6 , Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

Our collective journey into the realm of servant leadership carries us to many uncomfortable places. Self-awareness regarding our weaknesses and sins increases greatly with the removal of our conventional defenses that provide a false sense of comfort and security. For those of us who experience what is termed “affirmation anxiety,” the performance evaluation process is clearly a “step on the water” experience. Affirmation anxiety is the term used for the apprehension associated with the need to receive positive feedback and recognition. We all experience this condition at one time or another given the inherent human need for affirmation, support, and direct evidence regarding the fruit of our labors.

Christian servant leadership management requires us to recognize, support, and encourage employees to cultivate hope and confidence. Concurrently, we must provide accountability (tough love) entailing setting standards and providing corrective feedback. As scriptures states, those whom God loves he disciplines (Proverbs 3:12). It is important to seek out and be responsive to external feedback, but resist control by emotional responses. When we place more weight on the praise and feedback of men more than the word of God, we are vulnerable to a whole range of dysfunctions. Only God can love us and forgive us unconditionally, and if we assign more importance to human feedback, it becomes an idol and a source of fear and insecurity.

Our inherent worth derives from our priceless and unique creation in the image of God. Natural affirmation anxiety frequently morphs into affirmation addiction absent a complete reliance on God. The root lie is that in order for us to achieve meaning, self-purpose, and success, we must “earn” the approval of others and achieve worldly definitions of success. In essence, we defer to human standards and judgment the primal definition of our self worth and the meaning and degree of our success discounting God’s success standards of obedience, Christ-like character, and love. We thereby lose control of our emotional and spiritual peace. In effect, we delegate our sense of self worth and well-being to the frequently fickle, unreliable, and invalid assessment of human wisdom and judgment.

God calls us to work to the best of our ability and to seek excellence while maintaining a sense of Godly perspective and priority. When we recognize the primacy of the eternal performance standards, we understand implicitly that the temporal assessments of the workplace will not stand the test of eternity unless founded upon Godly love. As the Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13, we can possess all knowledge, wisdom (and we can infer worldly success and the praise of men as well), but without love it profits us nothing. When we place workplace performance feedback in its proper perspective, we are better able to learn from our mistakes and improve performance, be more emotionally stable, and pursue excellence rather than perfectionism. Perfectionism inhibits growth through linking our worth and identity to performance outcomes instilling a fear of failure by yoking us with impossible achievement standards robbing us for our joy.

I am growing in this area as well as I am learning not to obsess over less than perfect teaching ratings. The perfectionist in me gets discouraged when one or a small group of students provides a low rating (the lost sheep phenomena). The Godly perspective is to recognize that Jesus did not please, nor did He attempt to please, everyone, and so it is foolish for me to attempt a feat that is both impossible and contrary to the example set by Jesus and scriptural teachings. I do not have to be perfect to be a good instructor. My goal is to be open to feedback and make improvements (the teacher must be teachable!). I am improving in this area, but it is an ongoing challenge given our inherent tendency to focus on the exception. Let us all commit to place Christ at the center of every area of our life and adopt the liberating standards of Godly achievement.