Being Thankful

I returned home on Friday from another week of travel; I was San Antonio doing a little work for the US Army. I used to average two weeks of work each month with the Civil Support Training Activity about four years ago. I traveled to every state west of the Mississippi in those years; I met a lot of great people and trained a lot of incredible soldiers and airmen defending our nation on the homeland. Budget cuts throughout the years have taken their toll on military contractors and now I find myself working with them about three or four times a year. I am very thankful for the opportunity that I had and the great people that I still “call friend” when I see them. It’s the only place outside of the fire station that you could develop those types of friendships. Thanksgiving is this week and if I tried to tell you everything or everyone that I was thankful for, you’d be reading this for hours. My wife and I spent ALL weekend together shopping for supplies or working on small projects; we haven’t done that in the last year or two, I’d guess. We started to talk about how grateful we were for the huge blessings in our lives and what we’ve been able to accomplish under difficult circumstances at times. We never let things set us back; we kept talking about the hard times building character for us. We, once again, sat amazed by the work of God in our lives – even when we didn’t know it. Take time this week to reflect on all that you have to be thankful for and look at how God has moved your life, even when you faced struggles, He was there. Thank Him for His work and then thank someone in your life that makes things just a little bit better. Happy Thanksgiving!

15 “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful… 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:15,17

In our house Thanksgiving Day is the start of the Christmas season. We start listening to classic Christmas music, decorating the house finds it way onto the calendar, preparation for baking begins, Christmas card lists are printed and the peace of the season is in the air. The year will end soon and we all start thinking about how thankful we were for so many things and we look forward to what the new year will bring. No matter what has happened in your life let God’s peace, given to us through His son Jesus Christ, be with you and comfort you. It’s hard to think about telling God “thanks” for sending us a savior who had to die before we’d figure it out. God knew what it would take to save us and all He asks is that “whatever we do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and to give thanks to God through Him.” A simple “thanks” is all He wants. Through all of the mess in our lives, the frantic pace that we live and the set backs we have, we still have a lot to be thankful for. Our faith in Jesus Christ and God’s grace has guaranteed us eternal life; free from all these worldly problems. Even when you struggle, be thankful. God has a place for you in heaven, which is something to be thankful for!

Looking for Pearls

I’m writing this while on my return flight from Seattle after attending the National League of Cities – Conference of Cities for the last four days. I am on the steering committee for the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee. We are charged with creating League policies and resolutions that move the issues of public safety on a national level and to congress. As we see too often, nothing is being done in Washington DC these days, so our work lately seems to for our own exercise. However, the rest of the conference was filled with information about emerging technologies to help cities progress, financial strategies designed to help cities emerge from the recession, transportation strategies and recreation program ideas. You could find something to learn about no matter what challenge your city faces or what your area of interest is in. Frustration aimed at the federal government was high; they are having an big impact on what happens at the local level. The final speaker however reminded us that it is local government where the work actually gets done. When people have a problem or need something, they don’t call their Senator, they call their Mayor and City Council. It took four days to get to that moment but it made the whole trip worth the time and expense. Of course, he said much more about our responsibility as local leaders and the impacts that we make on people’s lives; it was something that I needed to be reminded of. Every one of us has an impact on people in different ways, every day of our lives. I’m sure this was not the first time he made this presentation but today, he became my pearl; the one thing worth trading it all in for. You’ll never know when something you do or say will become someone else’s pearl. Take care of each other.

45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  Matthew 13:45-46

I’ve been told that when searching for fine pearls, you will look through dozens before finding the one that is just right. People are like pearls, you can search dozens people but when you find one that is just right, you bring it into your life. One of those pearls you might marry and others will become your dearest friends. Think about what you traded in (sold) when you found that great one. In your life, you come across hundreds of people but you only have a few friends and even fewer close friends. God has looked at billions of people and still loves them all. The kingdom of heaven wants only the finest of the pearls. God gave us the laws to follow to become sin free. We remained blemished pearls because we are not able to follow the laws perfectly. God “sold everything” by sending His Son to pay for our sins so that we can have eternal life. We became God’s fine pearls that He bought from the slavery of sin. As John 3:16 said “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Today, I realized that we are precious pearls to God, we have sought the pearls in our lives and we can become pearls in other people’s lives. It’s amazing how God worked all of this in the final minutes of a four-day conference.

Their Service, Our Debt

Today is Veteran’s Day. We have an “Active Adult” community in our city that hosts a parade and an awesome service for our Veterans. People from throughout the community come to watch us all wave, but it’s too bad that many don’t stay for service. Every branch of service is honored and an active or retired military member speaks about the meaning of camaraderie or service to country. It is a very well done ceremony in a time when we, as a society, find it easy to forget the sacrifices that have been made by those living and those past. It’s unfortunate, but the needs of our veterans still outweigh our ability to serve them in the same fashion in which they served us. Veteran unemployment is still high, housing issues are abound, their medical and psychological needs are not being met and many continue to struggle. Its great that we have a day set aside for America’s real heroes but everyday should be Veteran’s Day until we have taken care of them all. The wars over the past decade have been like none we have ever known. Service men and women deploying three and four times in a decade long fight will take a toll on an entire generation and the effects will not be realized for years to come. Regardless of how you feel about “entitlement programs”, I hope that we as a nation do not ever consider Veteran’s Programs an entitlement. These service members earned every benefit they have; I implore you to never forget that. After WWII and the Korean conflict (war) our nation created programs to assist with housing, job placement, educational services and preferred hiring allowances for our returning veterans. Today, these are considered “entitlements” and have become bargaining chips for the “entitled” who are making the rules in DC. Let’s keep the honor to Veteran’s Day – for the common good and never forget what they did.

5There are different kinds of service, but the same LORD. 6There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 7Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
1 Corinthians 12: 5-7

Like the military, there are different kinds of service. Some people work in homeless shelters, some in food pantries and others at their church. There are all kinds of service “but the same Lord.” If you read on in verses 8-11, you we see that our gifts are listed right there in the bible! God did not tell us that we had to do all of them but that we are gifted. We all work in different vocations “but the same God works all of them in all men.” God doesn’t pick and choose who gets to do important work and who doesn’t, He works in ALL of us because it is all important to Him. The great joy in all of our work – service or vocation, is through the Holy Spirit and guides us toward the common good. We’re working for God in all we do. Our Veteran’s worked for the common good, ridding the world of evil. No matter what you do, you are working for common good – God’s will. Like our Veteran’s, don’t forget that.

Trouble ahead

The faster we dig, farther behind we get. Have you heard that phrase before? How about: trying to let the water out of a boat by putting another hole in the bottom? These are some “old school” phrases used to describe being overwhelmed. This past week I encountered two aspects of being overwhelmed – too much work and too much emotion. I have a former co-worker who found out this week that he needs a substantial spinal fusion surgery as a result of an on-the-job injury he suffered about 6 years ago. He’s been suffering along but finally sought the help he needed. It will end his career; earlier than he expected or planned for. He was overwhelmed with questions about his financial future, his future from a physical ability perspective and his future to provide for his family. Knowing that I went through the same procedure and anguish just over five years ago, he called looking for advice and support. The other encounter I had this week was in my own life – too much work. I started a Masters Degree program in Public Administration this week. I never thought that I’d do it much less try to do it in an on-line format. The first day was a little rough trying to navigate the website, looking for the assignments, posting my comments in the forums and planning for the new due dates. I was a little overwhelmed. As usual, I worked through it and think I have a plan to get it all done while continuing to “work” the various projects that I’m involved in. I know that for my situation, I have been preparing, over a period of time, to handle these types of workloads. I will figure it out; I always seem to. My friend will figure it out too. He will get through the initial shock; he’ll look at what it all means for him and his family and will figure it out. We always seem to make it work and in the end we are stronger because we overcame the circumstances. When we seek the help of others and look at the situation from a step or two away, we see it with a little more clarity.

“…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

The verse from John is a quote from Jesus telling us that we WILL have trouble. There was no sugar coating it, no “technically correct” answer or avoidance; Jesus tells us straight – you will have trouble. God never promised us a trouble free life. Look at the Old Testament, the People of God had plenty of trouble. Even Jesus faced trouble in His life on earth. The old saying is that you can count on two things in life – death and taxes. I would argue that we count on a third thing – trouble. We know that God does not give us more than we can handle and we also know that God has a plan for us. We may experience the trouble we have in our lives so that we can be a witness for others, maybe it’s to strengthen us for the future, maybe it’s simply to prepare us to help others in need. Whatever the reason, and we will never know what it is; we can handle it. Jesus tells us to take heart! He overcame the troubles of the world by defeating Satan, and sin. Jesus took it all upon Himself in death but delivered us from the chains of sin when He rose from the dead to take His place at God’s right hand. Sure, we’ll have trouble but we know that through God’s grace and our faith in Jesus, we will not suffer but have eternal life. Just thinking about it makes me overwhelmed but this time, it’s with joy!