The world around you

Today marks the start of Holy Week with the solemnness of Jesus’ crucifixion and His glorious resurrection three days later. This week should be about Jesus. There are a number of verses in the Bible that discuss what Jesus was saying and doing in His last week on earth. It is amazing to read that His disciples did not know what He was saying until it was too late. It makes me think about how I read the bible and what I might be missing. As I considered what to write for this important week, I wondered about the people who know Jesus but like the disciples, do not understand what is happening around them.

I’ve heard people say, “Sure I believe in God and that Jesus was His Son but I don’t get into the rest of the bible”. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “I go to church and that’s enough for God to know that I believe in Him”. I’m not warmed by either of these phrases but it is not for me to judge; that’s God’s call not mine. Do you really know what Jesus did for us and continues to do on our behalf? St Paul in a letter to the Philippians said, 12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”(Philippians 2:12-13). He suggests that we act the same no matter who is around. I can also hear Jesus saying this to me right now. Re-read it but think of Jesus saying it instead. This verse means much more now doesn’t it?

We owe our salvation to Jesus, who intervened on our behalf, but we owe our eternal lives to God who through His grace and mercy sent His Son to be punished for our sins. We can do nothing more at this point but believe in the word of God that we are saved through Jesus. Mark verse 9:24 says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus taught us how to live our lives, what is important in this world and what we can do to enjoy eternal life with Him. If you have ever doubted, simply read the verses about Holy Week and give thanks for ALL that God has done for you. You will overcome any “unbelief” in no time.

Advertisements

Value Others

It seems as though I’ve been surrounded by people or circumstances that have revealed people genuine selfishness. Today’s world is filled with “I’ve got mine, too bad for you!” thinking. I have stayed away from political statements and hope to do that today but the American debate about healthcare and wealth is right at the heart of this. “I’ve got mine, too bad you didn’t work hard enough for yours” or “why should I pay for that?” I’m not suggesting socialism but I’m wondering if there isn’t a better way than “so sad, too bad”? Several months ago, I wrote about One Human Family and this is right back to that concept.

We are nearing Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from dead and the forgiveness of all of our sins through the sacrifice of God’s Son. He lived a perfect life but understood that his sacrifice was necessary to save us all from eternal damnation. Jesus certainly had His but He shared it so everyone could live an eternal life with God, our Father. I know that there are many who will say that it isn’t the same but is it really different? The beginning of the second chapter of Philippians is titled “Imitating Christ’s Humility”. St. Paul saw this in the people of the Church in Phillipe and it still stands today. Perhaps instead of labeling each other and picking sides we should be looking for solutions to the problems that exist today. Isn’t this what God wanted for us anyway?

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4

Through Paul, God is telling us to care for each other. It seems pretty clear to me. How can we run around with an “I’ve got mine” mentality when so many people need help? Obviously, there are limits but what are they? I don’t have answers to any of these, just more questions. If we build systems and processes that help people help themselves then haven’t, we done what God was commanding?

Later on his letter, St. Paul writes: 12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”(Philippians 2:12-13). I think God wants us to figure this out. I do know that name-calling, labeling and picking sides isn’t getting us any closer to a solution and neither is doing nothing. We will revisit this verse again next week as we get ready for Easter. I promise there will be no political commentary, but I do ask for us all to consider what these things all mean as celebrate our risen Savior, Jesus.

Have no Doubt

My wife has saying “You don’t get if you don’t ask”. We have several stories in our lives when she’s used this philosophy when we were faced with dilemmas. When our daughter was little, we took her to see a live character performance. She had gotten sick about half way through it so my wife called the theater to see if there was anything they could do. They had us come down the next weekend and report to a special area. We were then escorted into the venue and right into the front row. The whole thing was crazy but you can’t get something if you don’t ask for it. Many people don’t like asking for help or asking for things in general; oftentimes we feel like we’re taking advantage of people.

In the corporate world, they say that employees should be asking for raises and not waiting for them to be given out. What is it that you want that you are not asking for? Our families don’t know what we want if we don’t tell them. As children we were encouraged to write to Santa with our Christmas list and some of us were taken to the store or mall to see the big guy and tell him ourselves. As we got older, we stopped doing that. As employees, we have needs or desires for our careers or our professional development. If we don’t share them with our supervisors, we will never fulfill our dreams or reach what Maslow described as “self actualization”. Don’t let anything get in your way of at least asking for the things you want, you never know what might come of it.

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:6

Asking a venue manager for tickets to a show is not the same as asking God for help. Do not doubt God’s power and love for you! Believe in Him and that He will do what is best for you. It’s hard to understand that what God believes to best for you is not always what you believe is best for you. Ask God in confidence; He answers prayers. God also likes to hear praise and thanks for the things in your life. While He might know what you’re thinking, it doesn’t hurt to actually acknowledge God’s role in your life.

In this verse we are reminded that when we doubt God’s power, our lives will be churned like the sea. Again, I’ll say, God has a plan for each one of us and He puts people and circumstances in our lives to help facilitate that plan. He simply asks for our faith and trust in Him through Jesus. The bible is filled with verses that demonstrate God’s love, that tell us how to live our lives and that we should have faith in Him. If you doubt what God’s plan is, ask Him. Many times people turn to God when they are in trouble or in need. God also tells us to turn to Him always in prayer. The stronger that your faith in Him is, the easier it is for you to see Him at work in your life. You will never doubt again.

Extra Grace Required

Everyone needs a break once in a while. When we work with the same people all of the time, we can get on each other’s nerves. Often times we can simply brush off the issue and move on but every once in a while, we just can’t shake it. My mother used to jokingly say: “if everyone were perfect like us, we wouldn’t have these problems”. How true is that? In my case, I don’t think I could handle another person like me. What do we do with these people who annoy us or create problems? We can’t ignore them or stop being engaged at work or socially; so most of us just give them a little grace and move on. We will display our grace in justifying the behavior of the person by saying, “oh, that’s just Bill”. We are giving grace.

Rick Warren in his book Purpose Driven Life, describes difficult people as being EGR or extra grace required people. This really sticks with me every time I encounter someone challenging. As he points out, the key is not to be one of these people. To give someone a little extra grace is to not hold the annoyance against them, listen to the intended message instead of the actual message, and don’t take what they say personally. Southern ladies would say, “Bless her/his heart” when they give a little extra grace. No matter how you do it, the important part is to give the grace; not because they deserve it but because you can.

7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – “ Ephesians 2:7-8

God has shown us such grace in our lives. He gave His only Son for us so that we might have eternal life with Him. He has forgiven our sins, not because we deserved it but because He loves us. God’s grace is larger than we can imagine. We sin every day, yet He forgives us. We doubt His love and question His work in our lives and yet, He still loves us. We take Him for granted, live our lives to satisfy ourselves, worry only about what we need and yet, He still loves us.

For me, little else is needed to define what God’s grace really means. God send a Savior to bring us close to Him, so that we might have eternal life through Jesus. It is through God’s grace that we have been saved but not grace alone. We also need to have faith in Jesus as our Savior. Jesus is the one who took all of our sins to hell and when He rose on the third day, He took His seat at the right hand of God to intervene on our behalf. He turns to God and says, “They are worthy, just like me”. Rejoice in God’s grace knowing that He gives it to us as gift through our faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Reap what you sow

I was in Washington DC this past week to learn about solutions to problems facing our cities and town. We also spent time on Capital Hill with our Congressional Delegation discussing issues that connect Washington DC with our city. I wasn’t 100% behind attending due to the simple lack of cooperation that both parties seem to have. I’ve been saying for years that we have 535 Congressmen and thousands of staff people working here and nothing gets done. It’s funny, only because it’s true. I walk around this town and think of all of the wasted effort that has gone on for the past decade. There is no part of local governance that would survive the ineffective approach to leading found in DC.

The whole concept of politics is disgusting and yet, I’ve been re-elected to another term on City Council. I’ve been saying for years that if you want to insult me, call me a politician. It’s true. Why do we do the things that we do? Why are you doing the things that you are right now and who are you serving when you do them? I serve as an elected council member to serve my community and hopefully make a difference. I see others who serve in these capacities simply to feed their own egos. My work on this blog is about serving God and bringing the Word to the world. SO, back to my questions – why are you doing what you do and who do you do it for? It’s okay to work to support yourself and to have fun. Some fundamentalists don’t want you to know that – it’s okay to have fun! You will reap what you sow; let it be good.

8Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction: whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Galatians 6:8

As I looked around Washington DC, I felt the sense of people pleasing the flesh. In other bible versions “the flesh” is replaced with “sinful spirit” and right now, that’s a better fit for politics in Washington DC. What part of your sinful nature is driving your decision-making? We are all guilty of sin and will pay the price with death. This verse reminds us that if we are pleasing ourselves, we will reap destruction (earthly death).

However, if what we are reaping is pleasing to God, we will be rewarded with eternal life; an eternal life found through the sacrifice of Jesus. Verse 10 tells us exactly how to live our lives – “10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Serve God and His people but also serve others (do good to ALL people). There’s nothing political in that statement, there is no spin and there are no favors, its simple – do good! Our reward for working hard, getting shot down and working hard again is our eternal life with God the Father. God did not give us a pass or any vacation days from being His children nor does He deduct from us our salvation, which is through Jesus Christ.

 

Plan, What Plan?

God’s intervention in my life seems more apparent to me almost daily. You know the old expression, “when one door closes another one opens” is really the best summary of God at work in our lives. I’ve written a lot about God’s plan because I have seen it unfold in my life quite often. I recently read a great phrase that caught my attention – “When your heart is right with God, your ways will follow”. I started thinking about the other verses that describe how we will act when we have God in our heart and for me, that always comes back to who’s plan are you executing? I work with someone who doesn’t seem to understand how his actions create problems for others. The really sad part is that he doesn’t care how he affects others. He is very knowledgeable and well respected in our field, but he simply doesn’t care or doesn’t possess the emotional capacity to understand that he hurts people when all he does is think and act in his own best interests. If it’s not his way, then it’s no way. No matter who speaks to him or who no longer wants to work with again, he still goes his own way.

We all know the people we can joke with and those that are all business. We know who can take constructive criticism and who can’t, so we all take these things into consideration and carefully maneuver throughout our day. We’re executing your plan. But what happens when your plan doesn’t match with anyone else’s? Usually chaos or frustration. People are upset, deadlines are missed, quality suffers and relationships are damaged. This is why; working to combine plans by finding common elements is when great things happen. It takes looking beyond yourself and trusting in someone else to achieve great things.

“A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.” Proverbs 21:2

Have you ever thought what influences you and your decisions? I remind myself every so often, of the order of life priorities that we used to say to our kids when they were small – God, family and everyone else. Tell a teenager that he or she doesn’t come first and wait for the emotions. For us, this worked well when their friends were becoming a problem, but it also helped keep things in perspective. We don’t consciously stop and ask ourselves what God would like us to do; although He wouldn’t mind. Our brain would never consider it as we process decisions unless we put it there.

A person thinks that they are right; it’s their plan after all so why consider what God thinks. If He wants it changed, He can just change it – right? Hopefully by now you know that isn’t how God works. However, if you have let Him into your heart and into your mind, He will weigh your heart with His words and the examples given to us by our Savior Jesus. We have free will but if we’re in a relationship with God, He will influence our decisions and keep a little calm in our lives. Sure bad things will still happen but we will react to them with much less anxiety so that it won’t seem that bad. God has already weighed your heart with great wisdom; simply follow His lead.

The new is here!

I’ve mentioned before that my inspiration for these weekly devotions come from a number of places. Often it comes from a sermon that I heard and then after pondering it, I apply it to some life message. Honestly, most often it comes from bible verses that I’ve read in the past and taken note of. Today’s devotion was partly inspired by the completely different work places that I have – City Council and the U.S. Army. The idea is that it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s just not okay to repeat them. Often times we want to focus on the cause of a problem or what should have been done or could have been done, which all end with our finger pointing at someone. This happens a lot in our places of work or in our homes, someone has to be blamed for the setback or the missed opportunity. Some refer to this as accountability but in reality, it’s just proof that old saying: “one oh no wipes out 10 atta boys” is true.

Instead of learning, moving on and excepting that mistakes happens, people won’t let it go. They keep punishing the person over and over ignoring that people change and learn. We all know that the best way to learn is through mistakes. In science it’s called trial and error and is part of the “scientific method” of study. Researchers can go on for years coming up with ideas to test and then when they fail, they test a new one. The difference between learning and tolerance is that in science, they tolerate the concept of trial and error and in business they don’t. We should all be a little more tolerant of each other and work together to make things better. People can become better when they are supported and encouraged despite a mistake. We wouldn’t treat a child with the same contempt for a mistake caused by not knowing, why do we do it to adults?

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; the old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

We all go through various transformations in our lives. In the fire service a rookie is transformed throughout their career. Lazy teenagers become successful adults and single, wild guys have become awesome parents. We are almost constantly under a transformation of one sort or another. St. Paul is reminding us of the transformation that we have through Jesus Christ. We are not the same people we were before Christ came into our lives. Our baptism washed away our sins; God washes away the original sin that we cannot ever escape, through His word and the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

We become one with Him and are new again; we are transformed! As the TV commercial says – “but wait, there’s more! No matter when in our lives we are baptized, we remain in sin throughout the rest of our lives and yet, God still forgives us through His grace and mercy. He only asks that we confess our sins, repent and trust in Jesus as our savior. The old Adam in us is washed away and sin will never have power in our lives with Jesus as our one and only savior. We are a new creation, one in which God is happy to call us His Children. Despite our mistakes and failures; Jesus takes all of our “oh no’s” and makes everything an “atta boy” – “the new is here!”

Chill a little

Self-discipline is a funny thing. In one way it makes us stronger and more focused than someone without it but in another, it makes us so determined that we lose the ability to see the simple things around us. It also has the ability to force us to do things that we might otherwise, simply blow-off. I’ve been pretty self-disciplined my whole life; I had goals to reach and found ways to complete them. When one road was blocked, I found a path that would lead me to another road headed in the direction that I wanted to go. This type of drive can become consuming and before you know it, you aren’t paying attention to the things that are changing around you. My son is often reminding me to “just relax and chill a little”.

He is often right but I still have trouble getting my head around his happy-go-lucky life; I do need to chill out a little bit. Between my re-election campaign being in full swing, my travel schedule, my special projects and, work demands I could use a little less drive and a little more chill. Self-discipline won’t let us ignore the commitments that we’ve made, nor should we. However, it should also teach us to balance ourselves and take time for ourselves and each other. Look around the world at the top athletes and you will see very self-disciplined people. You will also see people so absorbed in themselves that they lose sight of the things that matter most. Stay balanced!

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

God never intended for us to be timid; He wants us to be bold and social. We are supposed to be sharing God’s word with a world that needs salvation and we can’t do that when we sit quietly by ourselves. God’s Spirit gives us power and love to be there for other people or to openly share God’s message. We should have the confidence to stand tall in the face of all adversity because God has given us the strength to do it. No matter what is before you, you have the power of God’s spirit by your side. When you are troubled, turn to God for strength to knock those troubles down.

God’s love for you will protect you and He is always there for you. One part of self-discipline is that we remember to do what God has asked of us too. We may be driven in this life, have great goals for our careers, and can even pave new roads to success but if we are not disciplined to be faithful to God by growing and sharing in His love, what is the use? God says to us “chill a little” on those earthly wants and needs and give Me a little time. Learn what God has in mind for us, learn what love really is and learn what real self-discipline is by knowing how Jesus gave His life for us. He could have changed course when things got bad or quit when He found out that He was to die. Jesus had the self-discipline to stay the course that God had chosen for Him. God isn’t asking much of us, just a little time with Him and less in this world. Go chill with God.

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.

Start with Why

I seem to frequently ask the question “Why did you do that? Or “Why would you do that?” I have no idea how or where these phrases entered my choice of speech. Sometimes, it lessens the “are you crazy?” thought in my mind but I guess that in the end, people who hear my question are probably hearing the crazy one anyway. I started wondering though, why do I do the things that I do? Personally, I’m not into the glory or recognition of things. I won’t lie, I like to know when people appreciate my work for them but I usually don’t hear about it; so I’ve grown accustomed to not hearing it. Public service is usually a thankless job. However, working for the public is not a thankless job, it is just the opposite – its fulfilling. What drives the work that you do? What drives your work ethic either at home or “in the office”?

Simon Sinek wrote a book called, “Start With Why” that I just finished reading. It is a long read but the core message is about why you do the things you or your businesses do. He uses a number of business examples to illustrate the companies that have succeeded and those that haven’t. One example that I’ve often used is an story about a world class drill bit maker that was internationally successful. Over time, business declined, and they were near the end. A consultant came in and reminded them that they were in the business of making holes, not drill bits. Laser technology had almost bankrupted them. Think about what drives you: the money, the fear of getting fired or the satisfaction of the work. I would suggest that what drives you, defines you and people can see that a mile away. Find your inner strength, know why you do what you do and then do it to the best of your ability. Know your why.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

“Do it all for the glory of God” I could almost end this devotion right here. What else is there to say? Every step you take, every decision you make, every move you make should be to the glory of God. Your boss may not see or appreciate what you do at work but work hard anyway because it brings glory to God. Your spouse or kids may not know what you go through, but do your best because it brings glory to God.

What would happen if God were to stop by and evaluate your work, would He be pleased? Did you cut corners or take longer to get it done because “you weren’t feeling like it today”. Your work or vocation is a gift from God. He may be training you for something greater or perhaps is putting you in the just the right place to make a difference in someone else’s life. God’s plan is greater than our understanding and we should be ready to serve Him with gladness. Now when someone asks you, “why did you do that?”, you can confidently answer that you were doing it the glory of God.