Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is this week in the U.S. and if I tried to tell you everything or everyone that I was thankful for, you’d be reading this for hours. I was reminded of a few key areas in my life that I am grateful for as I wrote a proposal this week for a community that we started working with five years ago. I say “we” because my partner in this project is a long-time friend who I began partnering with over 10 years ago. I am very thankful for the opportunity that I have to work with a great professional who is also a dear friend. The proposal reminded me of the community staff and leaders that we’ve come to know over the years and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to know them. I also work with a great team of city staff and fellow elected officials in my official duties as a Councilmember. It isn’t always easy, but it is the people who I work with that make it all worthwhile.

The project that I bid on is one that my wife can join us on and I’m thankful for our great partnership both at home and in the business. When my wife and I spend time traveling together or just hang out together in our empty nest, we appreciate how grateful we were for the huge blessings in our lives and what we’ve been able to accomplish under stressful circumstances at times. We never let things set us back; we keep talking about how the hard times build character in us. Once again, we sit amazed by the work of God in our lives – even when we didn’t know it. I encourage you to 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… 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

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”. Sometimes 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!

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

It doesn’t matter where you live in the world anymore, you will witness some large tragedy while existing in a time in which our “politics” have created unprecedented division. The United States is no longer the sole proprietor of violence and division. Governments are being overthrown, racial and religious divisions are abound, “pro” verses “anti” vaxers are literally fighting in the streets; the world is going mad. Yesterday was the second to last Sunday of the Lutheran Church year and we talked the end times or Revelations. I can’t say that we aren’t entering the “end of time”, because the world has been here before – history has a way of repeating itself. While we think things are bad in our own homelands, they are often minor when compared to other parts of the world. I’d like to suggest that the degree of these events affects our perception of what “bad” means to us. For some, it means having to fly commercial instead of by private plane and to others it means not knowing where their next meal will come from.

There are so many parts of the world that truly have it “bad” but we don’t see it or know someone there so it is easy not to think about it or take action. Each of us, no matter what part of the world we live in, is affected by all of these events which can alter how we feel about other people. Religion, race, sexual orientation, political party or its sub-party are just a few ways that someone else defines us. When we begin a sentence by labeling someone first, it shows that our mind is closed. I’m certainly not suggesting that we blend all of our thoughts and beliefs together into one, but we must guard against putting everyone in the same category because they share similarities. To quote from the movie Shrek, “people are like onions, they have layers”. As we get ready for Thanksgiving in the United States, I encourage everyone to think about being truly thankful for the blessings in your life and ask yourself “have I been a blessing to others?”

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:14

The two verses that precede today’s verse from Colossians 3 are: “12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The title of this section in the chapter is “Living as Those Made Alive in Christ” – a set of directions if you will. There isn’t really a lot of room for interpretation in verses 12-14, they seem straight forward to me. Love is the most important virtue. We’ve all heard the expression that “love makes the world go around” but somewhere over the years we seem to have forgotten that. 

We are all afraid of what “they” might do to us. We stereotype people and sensationalize events to make a point. We confuse one act of demonstration for another act of violence or insult. We need to start looking at life and circumstances through the eyes of Jesus, being cautious and vigilant, but with love and compassion. Political issues strain our relationships and cause more distress while religious, racial and sexual orientation stereotypes cloud our understanding and judgment. We are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved”. We need to start acting like it. Despite all of our disobedience and selfish ways, God found a way to bring us closer to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. It was Jesus’ act of love that paid the ultimate price for our sins; let it not be in vain.

Many Kinds of Service

The dictionary tells us that the word “service” means several different things: a ceremony like a church service, a set of things like a tea service, performing a job that doesn’t make anything in the end like the plumber who fixes a leaky faucet, work that is performed by someone that serves other people like a waiter and doing something that contributes to the welfare or life of others like those in military service. Sometimes we hear the word “service” used by people: “that was great service we got at dinner last night”, “I need to get my car serviced at the dealer”, “we are number 1 in customer service”, and “my phone service is so spotty.” What version of the word service matters to you?

I often talk about my “service career” that dates back to my very first job in a full-service gas station back in the suburbs of Chicago. We’d wash the windshield and check the oil if requested, no matter the weather. I went on to serve others for more than 25 years in the fire service and now I’ve been serving the public in new ways as a consultant, military contractor, and public official for more than 10 years. I could go on about each of the roles that I’ve filled but none means more than writing this blog each week. I’m reaching thousands of people with my thoughts and sharing the Word of God. How can you be of service? I’d suggest something as simple as a smile, a handshake, a “welcome aboard” greeting to a new co-worker are easy ways to start. Modeling the behaviors of Christ in this crazy world might just be the type of service that someone desperately needs. Witnessing to others is often the hardest part of being a Christian but you don’t need to write a blog to tell the Good News to others, just a little servant’s heart.

“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12:5

Paul was right; there are different kinds of service! He said this in his letter to the people of Corinth way before the dictionary was invented. However, none of the dictionary defined types of service are what God wants us to focus on. Jesus told us what to do in Matthew 28:18-20 when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So, what does this have to do with service?

If we think about some of things that Jesus commanded us to do – teaching the message of salvation, loving and caring for one another, and taking care of those in need are just a few examples. These are all an act of service! People are lost all around us and God is depending on us to show them the way back to Him. Being a faithful servant, caring for and loving each other are only the beginning. Why do we perform service for others? Do we do it so that we can go to heaven with eternal life? No! We perform service for others because we want to show them the love that we have been given by Jesus. We don’t have to do anything for eternal life; Jesus already did it for it for us by taking our sins with him onto the cross. All you need to believe is that Jesus is the Holy Spirit; that is all that we must do. By being the “someone” in a person’s life, you will bring glory to God. There are different kinds of service, but we are lucky to have the same Lord, a loving and caring God who gave His only son so that we can have eternal life through Him, now that’s what I call service!

Righteousness Through Faith

Today, we said goodbye (happy retirement) to our Pastor at church. He has been in our congregation for 16 years and is retiring from ministry after 25 years as a Pastor. It was a bittersweet moment because he has earned this day and we are happy for him to enjoy the days ahead; those days that he’s dreamed of his whole life. Yet selfishly, we didn’t want him to leave because we enjoy his voice and words of encouragement each week. One of the scripture readings we heard today were the verses below. 

Occasionally, the verses just say it so well that I really don’t need to comment – these are those types of verses. I want to leave you with these comments as you read about faith and the law. Whether you have spent your life as a Pastor or spent it doing things that you aren’t proud to admit, the one thing that unifies us a brothers and sisters in Christ is our faith that Jesus is our redeemer and His death is what justifies us before God, our Father. A Pastor and a sinner will see each other in Heaven because of God’s Grace and our faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:19-30

19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Righteousness Through Faith

21But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.