How shall we live?

I’m in the middle of my final re-election campaign for City Council; yes, this is my third term – time flies. I never would have imagined that I would have served three terms (12yrs). There are three incumbent candidates, all running unopposed. We have a very happy and content community of just under 85,000 people, with no significant community wide needs. All Council seats are “at-large”, which means we represent the whole city not specific districts or precincts. Without controversy, we remain a vibrant growing and upscale community. This campaign is quite different since there are no challengers. I have learned to ask for help and every campaign takes a team to be successful.

Our daughter is still my graphic designer and the key to my success. Signs went up a couple of weeks ago thanks to a number of volunteers and now they will be maintained by Lisa and I. We’ll fix those knocked over and reinforce the signs against the wind. We will sacrifice to do what was right for the campaign. These campaigns have always been a teamwork effort and this campaign is no exception. I’m not really into bragging but my family, friends and volunteers have reminded me why I am a truly blessed man. My lesson-learned in all this; don’t wait until it’s all over to thank those that help you along the way. Thanks to my great network!

“…the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does…” Ephesians 6:8

In this verse, St. Paul is in the middle of telling the church at Ephesus how masters and slaves should treat each other. What he is saying is that we as human beings, do not get to judge or reward what we think is right or righteous. St. Paul is telling us that since God is faithful and just, caring and compassionate and, the one true judge that we should be more like him. Somewhere in today’s world, we’ve lost sight of this. The devil has worked hard to divide us and we’ve fallen for it!

Practice forgiveness, compassion and work hard are the principles of St. Paul’s message, just as our Father in Heaven does. The Lord, our God will reward the hard work. There is no mention of building up “credits” to win God’s favor, no amount of works that need to be preformed, no amount of money to be tithed; simply living as God intended. God became man to show us the way, the truth and then gave us eternal life with him in heaven through His Son our Savior Jesus Christ. We have salvation in Him and need to encourage others to turn toward God’s intentions; we don’t need to judge the lives of others. We do however, need to thankful, to God, for the people in our lives who make things better.

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Trust

Two weeks ago I completed a military exercise that didn’t go quite as we had planned. The Team Chief was saying to everyone, “If it went as we had planned…” How often do you say that? We’re always thinking about how my plan did not turn out as desired and forget the fact that we are not in control. Sticking with the theme of a new year and new beginnings, I want to turn to the idea of, where do you turn for directions? My observation is that most people are either the advice seeker or the advice giver on a regular basis. Sure, the observation is obvious but if you are a regular seeker, then you should be asking yourself who are you getting direction from? If you are a regular giver, you should have someone that you can turn to when you need to seek. How reliable are these people, how good is their advice, what is it based on and what is their rate of success? We need to be careful about who we get direction or advice from.

Oftentimes, the people who are the first to give advice are the ones who really should be seeking advice from others. At work, a good place to get advice about work related issues is from a mentor or in most cases a trusted confidant. These people have the experience and education to offer sound advise on a number of issues. A mentor is a very formal role that is mutually agreed to by both people with the understanding that there are specific outcomes desired, these are not casual relationships, as we often believe them to be. A mentor has responsibility to their mentee. In the trusted confidant role, the relationship is very informal and this is where most of us seek advice or guidance at work. Sometimes, it’s our supervisor and other times it’s a senior or more experienced coworker. Regardless of the position, know who you are getting direction from. Sometimes, simply changing who is influencing your life can make all the difference.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5

I reference God’s plan for our lives quite often; for good reason. God is the only one who knows the plans for our lives. He knows our first and last days and He orders all circumstances in between. I often have to laugh at myself when I start to say, “If it went as I planned”; as if I had control over the outcomes. I have to stop and think that if God it wanted that way, He would have seen it through. This all brings me back to learning patience. I’m too busy anyway to worry about it; God knows what I need to do to slow down. He’s teaching me and, in a way, He’s mentoring me in what is best in my life.

I learned a long time ago to lean on God and to trust Him; I just keeping forgetting and He keeps gently reminding me. God will put special people in your life to teach, mentor or advise you but we must be on guard because the devil will too. So, how do we know the difference? Your understanding of God’s word will see through the devil’s work. If you are comfortable in the bible and your heart is filled with His goodness, grace and understanding, you will know. When you don’t know where to turn, open your “instruction manual” (bible) to get your directions from God. He loves His children and will provide the guidance necessary if we slow down and listen to Him.

Truth and unconditional love

Today, in the United States, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day. He wasn’t just a great American, he was a great man who spoke all over the world about love and hope. Hopefully, no matter what country you are reading this in, you know about Martin Luther King Jr. This quote came to my inbox last week and I thought that it should be shared today. He said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Every day that goes by I seem to find it harder to simply tolerate the nonsense that I see on TV or hear about on the radio. Being in politics, I struggle to “hold my tongue” when I hear about the crazy things that state and national elected people do. As the old saying goes, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then say nothing at all”. So, I remain silent. I’m one of these weird people who often look for the middle ground on issues and work to get things done. Peace among people is where we need to start. When individual people can’t agree or get along, peace is impossible. Dr. King is suggesting that we start with truth and love – something we are lacking in this day and age. Peace opens creativity, which allows people to feel free to exchange ideas and a willingness to collaborate with each other. Go out and make peace!

Romans 12:18 – “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

The bible teaches us to live in peace with one another and love your neighbor as yourself. Living this way allows us to reflect God’s love by loving each other and it makes all of our social interactions easier too. How better for Christians to show love than by living in peace? This is the message of the verse; “as far as it depends on you”. It all depends on you; how you react to a situation or how you create a situation.

We are taught to “stick up for ourselves” and not be bullied. We’re not taught to avoid conflict simply to live at peace. Conflict can be good and healthy for relationships. We should try to find common ground, work out the differences and keep our focus on the issue not the person. If you’re having a difficult conversation, start by making it safe for everyone, stay focused on the issue and how it makes you feel rather than what you think the other person is saying. This is not a time for assumptions. By living in harmony, we live by God’s word and show others that as God so loved the world, so can we.

New Beginning

We are already two weeks into the new year; how are those resolutions coming? I’m feeling pretty optimistic about this year and for no particular reason. I hope that everyone is feeling this way. The start of a new year generally is something like a renewal of sorts. We have no idea what lies before us – challenge, opportunity, pain and joy; who knows? I’ve written before about how far these devotions have spread – South America, Russia, Italy, United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil and the U.S. I’m not mentioning this to boast but my point is that we never know who we touch with what we do. I had no idea how many people from outside the U.S. would ever receive my writings. January 12, 2012, I decided to write devotions for leaders that would help them and connect them to the word of God.

I set out to do something that I’d never done before, write devotions. I had no idea what to expect or what I was capable of doing. Would anyone read them? I took a chance to trust God and what He was guiding me to do. When I’m faced with an unknown, I like to say that I closed my eyes and jumped into the deep end. None of us know what 2019 has in store for us. We can look at this new year afraid and unsure or we can view it as an exciting time filled with new adventures and opportunities. We exchange a day of our lives for the things that we will do that day. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever and in its place is something that we have left behind. Will you leave something good? Go out and have a great day, great week, great month and a great year!

“Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:24

What makes us new? What is a new self? There are shelves filled with advice in most bookstores to help people answer these questions. The scripture answers them for us. Righteousness is defined as decent; ethical, principled, moral, high-minded, law-abiding, honest, honorable, blameless, irreproachable, and noble. When we read that we should be “like God” it seems a little extreme or nearly impossible to compare ourselves to Him but we can be like Him in righteousness.

Every one of us can be decent, ethical, principled, law-abiding and honest; we can be righteous. This is what St. Paul is urging the people of Ephesus to be – righteous. We too can put on a new self, one found in our faith in Jesus Christ who teaches us what righteousness is. We have the perfect leader and teacher in Jesus as told to us through God’s inspired words in the Holy Bible. It’s an awesome combination to help us put on our new selves. What will you exchange the days in your life for and what are you leaving behind? The simple thank you to someone at work, recognizing a job well done, doing a little extra just because or going out of your way to assist someone in need maybe all that you need to jumpstart your new self.

A Renewed Focus

Now that 2019 is actively underway and we all have hope for what this year will bring, I thought that letting the bible speak for itself might help point you in a more focused direction. Maybe some of your resolutions have already been broken or maybe you are struggling with others or perhaps you are keeping all of them (keep going). Whatever the case, we all need to think about how we are living this life and where our focus is. In the New International Version, the third chapter of Colossians is titled “Living as Those Made Alive in Christ” – a good theme for the new year.

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 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 3:1-4, 12-17

It’s not about you

I hope this isn’t the way of the New Year – late posts. I can no longer brag about my record of posting. Good thing this ends 2018 and is not the start of 2019. For me, the week after Christmas is filled with mixed emotions – Christmas excitement let down and the excitement of starting a new year. Many of us will proclaim “Resolutions” for change in the coming year, while others look at the new year with dread. So many people are unsure of what is coming in the new year or are disappointed in what transpired in the past year, that they simply dread the reminder of a new calendar year. This holiday is a great time to be reminded that each day, month and year that passes, is part of God’s plan. Rick Warren in his book “Purpose Driven Life”, starts the book reminding the reader that it (life) is not about you.

We are so focused on ourselves that we lose focus on what is part of God’s plan or that God is in control. We should be asking God for clarity on what He wants us to know or do in the coming year. Setting resolutions is about doing things for yourself or staying focused on what you want to get done but we never seem to ask God what He wants us to accomplish. Resolutions and dread for a new year are a result of things of this world. Try focusing on a relationship with God and seeking to understand what He is doing in your life will make hanging up a new calendar much easier.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

I hope that this verse kick-starts your new year by helping you refocus on what is really important. If you create any resolutions, resolve to grow in your faith and understanding of God’s will in your life. God has laid the path, from the day you were born to your final day; He is in control. Do not let this world get to you. Everywhere we turn, we see signs of terrible patterns of this world.

Turn away from them and renew your mind. These words written more than 2000 years ago still have meaning today – as if St. Paul was present today. God keeps His promises, it is us who fail to see them or open our hearts and minds to them. We expect things given to us of this world and when God doesn’t deliver, we feel let down. I’d suggest that perhaps, God was at work teaching and not punishing us. I hope that you begin 2019 with an open mind, an open heart and the understanding that “it’s not about you”, it’s about God. Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas!

Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of savior, Jesus Christ. God recognized that we couldn’t obey the law that He had given to us. God knew that we were simply too involved in ourselves to be faithful to Him. However, God also knew that He could not forsake us and that His love for us was greater than His disappointment. We learn throughout the bible that God foresaw this as He continued to tell of a savior throughout the Old Testament. His angels had been preparing the way. John the Baptist was busy in the Jordan River preparing for the coming of Jesus. Mary was spoken to by the Angel Gabriel in preparation for her role in saving the world. Elizabeth was given a child as a further sign by God of the miraculous things to come.

All signs pointed to the new King and Jesus revealed himself as an adult when God was ready for Him to begin His work. The bible has been the most scrutinized “book” in history. It has been authenticated to within years of accuracy, closer than any other historical document. God so ordered the world to allow this “proof” to exist. The bible is God’s word, given to us as a testament to His love for us.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13

We have all been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit! Now that’s something to celebrate. God gave us His only Son to save the world; He gave us His Devine Word to read and understand; He gave us eternal life through Jesus Christ. Mankind has never done anything to be worthy of eternal life and never can. No amount of works or prayer or tithing can give us what Jesus Christ did.

It’s only God’s promise and His love for all of His children that allows us to be with Him forever in heaven. Jesus took all of our sins and all of our faults with Him on the cross and left them in hell. When He ascended into heaven, he took us with Him there too, leaving us innocent in God’s eyes. We became marked with a seal only possible through our faith in Jesus Christ. We not only should celebrate the birth of our savior but we should celebrate God’s love for us.

Merry Christmas!

 

Cling to what is good

This marks only the second time that I have been late with a post. As they say, “best laid plans”. I usually try to stick to one subject at a time but this week, these two seemed to go hand and hand – Love and Hate. Frank Sinatra sang a song made popular by the TV show “Married with Children” called Love and Marriage. The words tell us that “they go together like a horse and carriage” and often, so do the words Love and Hate. We throw them around as we generalize most things in our lives; “I love football” or “I hate spinach”. When we use these words towards people; things change. Love and Hate become very powerful words that can change a situation in the blink of an eye. For anyone dating, the first time you say “I love you” is pretty powerful. The phrase is either repeated back to you in affirmation or left unreturned like an envelop with no forwarding address. The word hate is just as powerful when its directed at a person; to be told you are hated goes right to the core of your soul. We don’t mind if people don’t like us, but no one wants to be hated.

I’m not going to pretend that we will go around our lives “loving” everything or everyone, but the act of love can be just as meaningful. I would submit that the “act of love” involves compassion, understanding, empathy, commitment and building a sense of community (being one). Today, we need more Love, less Hate. Use this time of the year, when people are more open to acts of kindness, to be more loving. Spread the joy of this season with the ones you know and then spread it with those you don’t. Say hi to someone at church for the first time, step in and help someone at work who isn’t expecting it, sit and listen to someone who needs a friend or be forgiving of past mistakes. This is the season of Love, so go out and spread the joy.

“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs” Proverbs 10:12 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9

I thought that I would share a closely related verse this week since they both talk about Love and Hate. This is the last week of Advent; the week before we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Advent reminds us of the Love that God has for us so, it seemed fitting. God had so many opportunities to demonstrate his contempt with us and turn toward hate. We continued to deny Him, we disobeyed His laws until He finally took things in His own hands and sent us a Savior.

He showed us the ultimate form of Love by sending His one and only Son to die for our sins. There was no hate, just love. God’s inspired word is found in the bible, which teaches us that hatred stirs dissension. We’ve often heard about “the company we keep” and if we are around those that hate, we too soon will. We are encouraged to stay by what is good and to remember that love covers all wrongs. The wrongs of this world were covered by God’s love for us through Jesus Christ. His love is sincere and we must cling to that because it is good and righteous. No matter what you have done or what you have thought, God loves you and wants an eternal life with all of His children who believe. Cling to God and nothing can separate you.

My ways are not your ways

“If I want a job done right, I better just do it myself”, is an old phrase that you still hear today. People are impatient and less tolerant of change these days. Perhaps it’s the instability in world. The Internet allows people to work anywhere in the world. There are virtual workplaces and virtual jobs – I’m intentionally leaving the puns alone. So many things change, year in and year out, so it isn’t too surprising that people want to hang on to some control over a process or project. As humans, we learn best by trial and error. We make mistakes and learn a great deal from them. As parents we try to tell our kids what to do and how to do it so they avoid making the same mistakes we did, even the small ones. Sooner or later they will rebel and do it anyway. I’ve taught firefighters and officers to avoid repeating my mistakes and I’ve watched them make their own mistakes (safely) so they too could learn.

As leaders or parents, we have to let people do things the way that is best for them. We’ve added our extra step or done something just a little different and we have to let others do the same; this is how great things are made. I’ve said it before, Velcro and post-it notes were mistakes that turned out awesome. Today’s workforce is more innovative, more experimental, more adventurous and less risk adverse than we were. We need to embrace the change, support them and watch what happens. Your way is not the only way to get something done; it’s a way to do it. Imagine what you would have missed if someone you worked for said that there is only one way to do your job. The irony of the statement that started this is that the person who said it first was really saying, “If I want a job done my way, I’d better do it myself”. Unless you intend to do all of the work around you, give people a desired outcome or goal and let them work.

8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Can you imagine God saying “If I want a job done right, I better do it myself.” As  I started to write that sentence, I said to myself He’d never say that, however it is exactly what He did. God tried to give signs, miracles, prophets and even 10 Commandments as a guide for us to follow and we still failed. God did it Himself and sent His Son to save the world from itself. We couldn’t get it right, so God did it for us.

In these verses, we are reminded that our thoughts and our ways are not God’s. He gave us the desired goal or outcome – Believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you will receive the eternal life. God tells us that we are not like Him and we could never be. His ways and thoughts are higher than the heavens. We focus on earthly things and earthly desires and He is telling us in the New Testament of the Good News found in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter what our deeds are or what our thoughts are or anything else; what matters is our faith in Jesus Christ. We need to stop worrying about doing things perfectly and focus on our faith in Jesus. We should be focused on growing our faith and understanding of God’s word not to become superior but to express our love to God for not treating us like we treat those don’t do it our way.

Praise and Thanks

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, no matter where you are; it always a good time to be thankful. After a week of prayer and thanksgiving for all that we have, I thought focusing on praise might be a good follow-up. There is so much negativity in the world these days. No one, it seems, can escape being criticized these days. Black Friday sales brought angry shoppers pushing for the few sale items or upset people that who missed the deals. Not to mention the scores of people of who complained about being with their families on Thanksgiving Day. A day set aside for thanks and there was undoubtedly an awful lot of complaining. Where was the praise? My sister usually has most of the family to her house for dinner. She cooks all day, makes more than enough food and even opens her house to friends without their family nearby. She does a great job and we all have a great time. When we leave, everyone says thanks as they walk out the door but that is not what I think of when I say praise.

Sure, we could heap on the accolades but to truly praise her would be to call a day or two later to thank her again or even send an old fashioned “thank you card”. What about the other people in your life, how well do you do praising them? Try praising people that you work with or serve you somewhere or help you out. Don’t just say “thanks” but give them some praise with a specific reference like: “You did a great job on that special project, it really did the job for us” or “That was the best service we have had anywhere in a long time, you did a great job”. A little love and praise can carry someone a long way in this world of negativity.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation…” Isaiah 52:7

God loves it when we thank him for all that he has done for us, but he also likes the praise that should precede it. He is the one who makes all things possible. God is the giver of life and in Him, all things are possible. He is controlling all things and we have a hard time understanding or comprehending that. God is in control. Without Him, we are simply left to die a lonely short existence here on earth.

We can do nothing that will earn us a place in heaven; no amount of good works or tithing or kindness can earn for us what God has already given to us through His grace and mercy. Our salvation is found in one thing – faith in Jesus Christ as our savior. God sent His son into the world to save us from our sinful nature and our selves. Without God’s grace, we would not have our salvation. For us this means giving praise for the awesome things that God has done by bringing the good news to others or simply demonstrating the love that God has shown us. We do good works and give our tithes not to win God’s favor but as a demonstration of His love for us. As we enter this season of joy and gladness, we should also remember to praise the one who made it possible.