Times are tough

“Times are tough all over” is the title of hit song from 1990. It was also the title of a Cheech and Chong movie but I digress. People have been saying this for years and since 2008, we all know someone who feels it. This phrase has become a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “its happening to everyone” but it doesn’t make anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve mentioned before that Lisa and I believed that our 3 hour round trip to see our premature daughter in the hospital was building character. Today, we all know someone who has received a cancer diagnosis or another type of life altering medical diagnosis. We hear them ask “why me, why did God do this to me?” I have a very dear friend who suffered a massive stroke back in February. He had a bleed deep in his brain that caused left-sided paralysis and a number of other physical issues. His family set up an on-line journal for them to post about his progress. His wife has been posting daily and sharing stories that remind us that he hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Not once has she said “why me” but instead she has remained dedicated to her husband and telling his story. He will spend months, if not longer, in a wheel chair and will require long hours of therapy every day to regain control over simple things in his life. He has a large family and a number of grandchildren, I’m sure he’s happy to see them on a regular basis. There is no regret and no “why me”, they continually thank God for the blessings that have received everyday so far. They have hope. On the flip-side, one of my daughter’s friends is struggling to maintain her job, care for her child and finish her college education; she’s thinking about quitting school. She is losing hope and her future is in jeopardy; so is her child’s for that matter. They are two people struggling in this world; living the “times are tough all over” kind of lives. What can we do help them – we can offer hope and support.

“Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12

Some people look at this verse as proof that God is testing them before they can have eternal life. Yet others view it as even though you are tested, do not give up hope because the promise is still yours. You do not have to buy, perform, sacrifice, say, write or do anything to receive forgiveness. God has given us that gift already; we are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The crown of life James tells us about is found in our belief that Jesus is our Savior. We don’t know why some people suffer more than others. We certainly don’t understand why some people deal with their trials better than others. It isn’t for us to understand. Think about the trials that St. Paul suffered and he was a persecutor at one point in his life. Job suffered too and had God’s favor. There are millions of people on this planet suffering simply because they believe in Jesus as their Savior. What hope do they have? They have faith in God’s word and in His promises. It might be all they have but they have it. God is not punishing them or testing them more than anyone else. The devil is still at work in this world and when hope is dimmed he is encouraged; it becomes his foothold in our lives. God is telling us through James don’t lose hope but persevere because eternal life waits for us. To me, that’s a good reason to keep hope alive.

Easter Monday

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter. It’s a great time of year! I was particularly moved today by the readings we had in church and decided to write a devotion that is mostly Bible verses. While this too, is a departure from my normal process, I felt it was appropriate to continue the discussion about our salvation. 34 “Then Peter began to speak: ”I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is LORD of all. 37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:34-43

The story of Jesus gathered up here in 9 verses, God truly works in mysterious ways. Accepting that God inspired the words written in the bible is accepting that these words are also from God. The real “story” of Jesus is the message in verse 43 in which we receive forgiveness of sins through Him. Pause and think about that for a minute, forgiveness of sins – all sins. Nowhere does it say that forgiveness is limited to a specific number of sins, the type of sins or whom we commit them against; we can receive forgiveness for all of our sins. Live your life free from the guilt and slavery of sin. We have the ability to do it and God gave us the directions how to through St. Paul who wrote: 15”Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And 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

We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ today. We celebrate our salvation and life everlasting because of God’s grace in our lives. Jesus took the guilt and sin of the whole world with him on Good Friday as He suffered and descended into hell. All of that would have been for nothing if He hadn’t been raised on the third day. We celebrate our salvation because of what God did for us. St. Paul reminds us to live in peace and do everything in the name of Jesus. Have peace this week as you celebrate your salvation.

Not Your Usual Post

There is no way that I can stick to my usual format this week, its Holy Week after all. I’m sure that my observations about workplace practices and leadership opportunities are not what draw you here. Despite what I’d like to think, I’m pretty confident that there is something about the spiritual context that keeps you reading. So, in true “inspiration” I’m devoting this week to a passage that I heard this morning in church. I usually stay away from the sermon messages as a point of inspiration; God has already done His work through the Pastor and doesn’t need me plagiarizing that. What I found interesting was how this passage, one that I’ve read several times before, was framed into Holy Week. In spring bible study, we examined Philippians but today, it seemed to mean so much more. Paul wrote: “5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11

There are a number of lessons to be taken away from these few verses but what really stuck out to me was how this describes the whole point of the New Testament – God sending His one and only Son to be our Savior. A simple and humble man, who had the power and wisdom of God but choose to be a servant. He lived an obedient life to God, suffered through a crucifixion as punishment for our sins, not His and died for us. All of this was done to, once and for all, free us from the chains of sin by believing that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This is what Holy Week is all about. This is why we must remember that the prophet’s had spoken of this week and that Jesus knew His fate but carried on in obedience. God kept His promise to Jesus by seating Him in a place of honor and he kept His promise to us by sending a Savior. Rejoice this week and celebrate Jesus’ strength in the face of great sacrifice. He did it all for us! Lets give thanks and rejoice. Happy Easter!

What difference does it make?

Once again, I find myself with another painful reminder of the lesson: “no good deed will go unpunished”. Two weeks ago I sat on a discussion panel at a state association meeting representing elected officials who were once or are still, fire service members. I have a completely different perspective than many of my counterparts because 1) I am retired and 2) I am more closely connected to city management than line functions at this point in my career. We were asked what we thought our department needed to improve on. A question like that cannot be answered because no one wants to speak poorly about their own agency. In an attempt to answer very generically and broadly about what the fire service needed to do as a whole (prefaced extensively), I gave an answer about how differing requests from labor and management send mixed messages to elected officials that call into question reliability of the messages. It was a statement intended to help future conversations. It wasn’t received that way, people thought I was referencing current events and I heard about it from both our fire chief and his union. In these circumstances, we often find ourselves exclaiming, “What difference does it make anymore! No matter what I say, it always gets twisted!” Shouldn’t we just stay focused on what matters today and not worry about the future? If I had done that, I would have been silent just like everyone else and we’d have moved on to the next question. I’m a believer that the future matters, so I spoke up. The point of the panel was to tell what it looks like from the elected perspective. I hoped to have an affect not on today but the future by signaling how a fire chief could prevent future issues. I paid a price for my willingness to help. I would do the same format again if I had the chance because I believe in the purpose just not this particular outcome.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” John 17:20

I once heard a story about a firefighter’s first day on the job back in the early 50’s. He was mopping the kitchen with an old fashioned “stringy” mop when one of the strands got caught under the table leg. He left behind the single strand but his Captain saw it and asked him why he left it. He replied that it was only one strand and it didn’t matter. His Captain calmly explained that if he left that one and another was left tomorrow and so on that, soon there would be a full mop under there. Picking it up, he realized that “tomorrow” is important. Jesus cared for tomorrow too. He is telling us that he was praying for those spreading the good news at that time and those who would grow in faith because of what they had heard. He was praying for us! Jesus knew that future believers were just as important as the present ones. His focus remained on being our Savior despite knowing what he had ahead of Him. This verse confirms that Jesus prayed for you and for me and, that the Bible is the inspired word of God (the message). Each of us will have doubt about our future and we all will, at times, have doubt about God’s love, thanks to sin and the devil’s work. We must stand strong over those doubts knowing that Jesus once prayed for us and continues to keep watch. The past holds nothing but the future is where we can find eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Let go of the past and look toward the future.