Holy Week

Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.35For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD. – Proverbs 8:34-35

Holy week is upon us! I will be focusing on the meaning of Holy week and the celebration we will have next Sunday – Easter Sunday. We will also mark the saddest day in our church year as well – Good Friday. No one really feels good about Jesus’ crucifixion but it marks the beginning of the end for Satan’s hold on our lives. Jesus fulfilled his mission to save the world that day but not without extreme torture; he was sacrificed so that we might live with our Father in heaven for all eternity. On that good day, God, through His Son Jesus, defeated the burden of sin for us all – forever. How quickly we can forget that we are free from the penalty of sin and can look forward to eternal life. All of that happened on one “good” day. However, the job was not complete. Jesus still needed to descend into hell, finish the job and rise to life once again on the third day.

Our forgiveness from sins was raised up to heaven along with Jesus and we now enjoy the freedom from the hold placed on us by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The Proverbs verses tell us the rest of the story. “Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” We are blessed because we have the word given to us by God Himself and listen to the messages of Jesus Christ about how to live our lives. We watch the doors of our lives to be sure that we remain strong and keep Satan in his place by knowing and believing that we have eternal life in Jesus Christ. We wait for the day that we will be raised from the dead, like Jesus, to live eternal lives in paradise.

We can only do this through our faith in God the Father and His Son, our savior Jesus Christ. “For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD.” God is always with us, which means that Jesus is too. We all struggle in our lives to live as Christ taught us to and we fall short. It’s Satan who puts guilt in our minds and on our hearts; he’s the one telling us it really doesn’t matter. His words are empty and his promises are lies. The one who told us “those who find me, find life and receive favor from the LORD” is the only thing we should be listening to. Know that your sins are forgiven if you have faith in Jesus Christ as our savior, no matter what. There are no degrees of forgiveness or no works that do it for you; God’s grace to all of us means a life free from the guilt of sin and forgiveness of those sins for all of eternity. If that isn’t something to celebrate, I don’t know what is.

The bible speaks

I’ve been holding these verses in my folder for months as I review the folder for weekly inspiration. I can’t stop looking at them as one whole verse and when I try to break them up, it just doesn’t feel right. With Easter being so late in the year, I keep getting distracted by other verses that are more general for my posts. My attention keeps turning back to these verses since they speak to the bigger “story” of the meaning of Easter and why our faith is so important. Please read these slowly and listen to what they are saying to you. The majesty of the bible is that you can read it over and over and come away with something new each time.

Romans 8:22-30

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

JOHN 14:23-29

 23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

There is a time for everything

So many things happen to us in our lives that we often seek the meaning behind them. The good things we accept with gladness and the bad things we accept with our heads down. Depending on the magnitude of each, our reaction in response to them is supposed to be comparable. Or so society says. In American football, a team is given a penalty for excessive celebration if they go overboard in their response to a “good thing” and we all have heard that we are “overreacting” when we are responding to something bad. I would imagine that at some point we all have wondered why something happened to us or what we did to deserve such good fortune

My wife and I retold “our story” a couple of times in the past few weeks and I could start to see the seasons of our lives. We were engaged and married at a very young age. We waited to have children for six years and then waited five years between them. We relocated a couple of times – okay, 7 times, we reunited with my extended family after living apart for a period and guided both of our kids into adulthood – successfully. Our youngest moved out a few weeks ago and now we are ready for the next season. Unlike many couples, we prepared for our “empty nest” by never forgetting about “us” in this journey. Lisa likes to say that you can’t forget to nurture your marriage. Every season, journey and experience that we’ve had we kept our reaction commensurate with the situation. We like to say – “it is what it is” but always find a path forward.

1There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. 4A time to weep and a time to laugh, A time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4

You have read me discuss God’s plan before. The wonderful, mysterious plan that God has for each of us. We never really understand why these things happen to us and I will say to the end that they are simply lessons for us to use later to share God’s love and His word. There is a time for everything – good and bad. We had to move my mother into an assisted living facility a couple of years ago. She started out being independent but soon she would need more attention and eventually she was moved into a memory care unit; where she is today at 94 years old. The experience was very hard on all of her kids, to say the least. We all have cried, laughed and questioned the meaning behind it all at some point.

Recently, my cousin who I haven’t really been in contact with much in my life, was faced with the same situation with my uncle. It has been hard for her. I have been able to share my experiences during this very painful time for her. We’ve emailed, had text message conversations and have spoken on the phone. So two year ago when I asked “why did this happen?”, I got the answer within the past 30 days. It is crucial for us to remember these words today because there is always a season and a time. It is more important to never forget the love of our Father in Heaven who gives us both the weeping and the laughing in our lives. Keep dancing!

Hospitality

I often wonder what would happen if everything that I did was recorded. The good and the bad being recorded – holy cow! On a related note, have you ever thought about why you do the things that you do? I watch our son open the car door for his girl friend and wonder where he learned that. We have been holding open doors for women since he was little and I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. We even extend that courtesy to our elders – no questions asked. For whatever reason, we never extended that to the car door but he picked it up. Its nice to see that in today’s world. No one really notices and often times we never hear a thank you when we hold the door but we do it anyway.

I also find myself never walking in front of a woman that is in “our group” or with me. I won’t let my wife walk behind me (if she isn’t next to me) so I often assume the caboose position in group settings. I know in some cultures that a man should be in that dominant position out front but I don’t believe that is the case – for me anyway. I have no reason for thinking or acting this way. No teaching or example from my childhood would instill this deep feeling within me. If I had to guess, it goes back to my leadership beliefs that the leader eats last, those lead before those leading or simply put – putting others before your self. I think it is the Rotary International organization who’s motto is “Service Before Self”. It has been my guiding leadership principle, which shapes me even as I walk through doors. What do people see when they watch you?

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

I pondered this verse for several weeks before I used it in a post. It was easy to write about “Service Before Self” in the opening but what biblical significance does this play? We all know the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you want them to do unto you. So I get the “show hospitality to strangers” concept but I struggled to find a relatable paragraph about some deep concept that God is trying to teach here. I’m not sure that I’ve found it because this verse really stands on its own.

Jesus said “what you do for the least of these you also do for me.” My take away is that this verse is reminding us of this. If we show hospitality to strangers we may be showing it to an angel and we all know where angels come from. I was reminded of the song by Joan Osborne – “One of Us” that asks the question; What if God was one of us? If the hospitality that we show is really to an angel, then isn’t that an extension of God? In the end, God may be one of us just not in the form we expected. So, does hospitality matter?

Multi-tasking

Multi-tasking has become an acceptable part of our society today. In fact, you are viewed negatively if you can’t multi-task. What we accept today as “normal” was once called being “scatter brained”. Multitasking and “smart phones” may have actually made us less productive. A number of studies have shown that the constant interruptions we have in our lives are actually slowing us down. Every time we rapidly shift from one task to an other our brains have to refocus or reset. We are truly losing our train of thought; the problem is that it is happening constantly.

Another study conducted with college students who claim to be “great multi-taskers” actually demonstrated that their motor skills and cognitive abilities mirrored those of someone legally intoxicated. Now that is sobering! Sorry I couldn’t resist. All of these studies show, what us “old-timers” already know, work on one thing at a time and you will actually get more done. We have all been behind the car that is just not keeping up with the flow of traffic, only to see them on the phone or worst yet, texting while driving. Remain focused on what you are doing (especially while driving) and your stress levels should decrease while your productivity increases.

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” 1 Peter 1:13

We are in the middle of lent, getting closer to Easter and there couldn’t be a more fitting verse. Reading the bible is a fascinating journey that explains how God tried to help focus His people on what is important. Imagine how many more distractions we have today than they did in those early years of B.C. Many of us who lived in a two-story house heard the phrase uttered by our parents “don’t make me come up there”, when we were misbehaving. God finally reached that point where He had to “come down here” because we just couldn’t focus on what He was trying to teach us.

God became man when He sent His son to show us the way. Peter reminds us to clear our minds, be alert and ready (sober). When we multi-task, we never really do one thing well, we do them all well enough. Peter is telling us to focus and set our hope in Jesus. Reduce the interference in your life by focusing on what is important. Send your fears and worry to God not so that you can do something else but so that you can focus on the grace that He is giving to you. Ensure that your devotional time is quiet and uninterrupted. Focus on what God is telling you through His word. Most importantly, have peace in knowing that your sins are forgiven by your faith in Jesus Christ.

Wisdom, what wisdom?

I’ve been searching for an answer to the question – “Where did all the wisdom go?” I can’t seem to find it anywhere and I’m afraid that it’s left our planet! Synonyms for wisdom include: understanding, insight, astuteness and prudence. Our country and our states used to be lead by people who seemed to have a great deal of wisdom. As an elected local government leader, I can see wisdom at work first hand. Local government is closest to the people and it deals with the problems and needs that people experience daily. Few people in our city are affected by decisions of the U.S. Dept. of Education but change the boundaries of where kids will go to school and you will see people cram into meeting rooms.

So back to wisdom, what happened? Our elected leaders seem to have forgotten who and what they are supposed to do. Look carefully at what they say or what they don’t and you will see decisions based more on ideology and party than on doing what is best for the people. Few are looking down the road at what the unintended consequences might be of making a decision. Even the average person has started to lose their wisdom. We hang on to the few sound bites we hear and believe them to be fact. Fake news is springing up all around us because we want to believe everything that we read. I’d suggest that wisdom has been lost by our desire for instant information no matter the source. In the old days, something became news when it corroborated by a second source. I guess the point of my first ever “rant” is that we all need to be protecting our own wisdom by expanding our sources and looking at the bigger picture.

“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; 4 through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.” Proverbs 24:3-4

What a great way to describe our journey with God. We start to build our relationship with God by having the wisdom to answer His call and establishing the structure to hear His word. We move into the next phase of our relationship by taking God’s word and applying it to our lives. We attend church services, listen to the bible verses being read and say the prayers and creeds to profess our faith. We begin to understand what He wants us to do; we follow His teachings and go about our daily lives.

We think this obedience is what God wants us to do and it is here at the intersection of obedience and understanding where most people coast though their journey. At this point the house is built and the relationship is been established, but God is telling us that something is still missing. Imagine your house – a structure (wisdom), it’s occupied (understanding) but without love (knowledge) its not really ever filled. Seek to fill your relationship with God with the knowledge of His word through regular devotional reading, bible study and the active application of that knowledge in your life. Fill your life with His rare and beautiful treasures.

Alternative Facts

We are hearing about “false news” and “alternative facts” a lot these days in the United States. I almost can’t take it anymore! I delayed posting this until the big stories died down but I’m sure that they really ever will. These discussions remind me of one that I had with my son who frequently said, “Technically Dad, this is correct”. Being a Baby Boomer, I quickly reminded him that if he has to start a sentence with “technically” that it wasn’t going to go over well with me. Granted, I’ve written before that “words have meaning” and choosing the right words are important but to hang on to the technical meaning is taking it too literally.

Words can convey power, sympathy, love and compassion. I’d suggest that verbal communication is the key to a functioning society. We could do everything in writing but we’d never hear the emotion of the speaker. Have you heard someone tell you that they sensed “tone” in your email? ALL CAPS now means screaming and text messages have replaced a phone call, which at one point replaced letter writing. We still handwrite thank you notes in our house – old school, I know. How we communicate says a lot about our care for others. Taking the time to stop and look someone in the eye to say thank you or taking the time to speak to someone in person so that you can share the moment together is becoming a thing of the past. We might not always be able to see one another but hearing a familiar voice is the next best thing. Words have meaning and I’d like to add so does how you convey them.

4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

St. Paul had little chance to see people in person. Persecuted and imprisoned, Paul found himself writing letters to churches all over the region. He didn’t write fancy letters or tell stories, he wrote about God’s plan and desires for His kingdom. Paul was determined to share the power of the Holy Spirit who was working through him as the messenger. Are you a messenger of the Holy Spirit? God uses us in many different ways to be a messenger of His word. Faith, words, actions, character, abilities, trials and triumphs all come from God. We don’t have to be wise or learned to share the power of the Holy Spirit.

We can’t see God’s work in our lives because we rest on human wisdom. We cannot comprehend the power of the Holy Spirit and its work in all that we do. Just as we cannot imagine the lengths that the devil will go to in an attempt to get us to turn away from God. Our disappointment at not getting that promotion or another health issue or the allure of a bigger chance if we just turn ever so slightly away from God might make it feel better. Paul is encouraging us to let our faith rest on God’s power and not our own. We are not strong enough but with God, everything is possible. You don’t need fancy words or wisdom, you just need to rely on God.

Shifting Shadows

We are funny creatures by nature. We thrive when we have our routines; doing the same things, the same way, everyday, while simultaneously complaining about the “rut” we’re in. As employees, we will complain about “not knowing where the boss is coming from” at any given time. The bosses inconsistency kills our work routine and our morale. Employees become disenfranchised when workplace discipline is handled differently depending on who is involved or what special circumstances are being considered. You know things are bad when employees begin complaining about there not being enough discipline or issues related to how it is being handled.

As much as employees want a flexible workplace, they also want consistency in how it is managed. Parenting is no different, our kids want to know the rules and then have them evenly applied. If it’s okay to leave dirty dishes yesterday and today, don’t be surprised that the same dirty dish will be there tomorrow. Consistency is the key to setting expectations and avoiding the “do as I say, not as I do” life. Friends, family, coworkers and subordinates will always appreciate knowing where you stand no matter what the circumstance.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

This verse tells us that God is at work in our lives everyday – all day. Our problem is that we don’t view all of God’s “gifts” as good and perfect. We have no trouble celebrating the $5 lottery win or when the police officer decides to give us a warning instead of the ticket we deserve. Do we view the “hardships” the same way?

We have a hard time seeing the good in a “new diagnosis” or yet another surgery. We don’t stop to think that these “gifts” may be for someone else that we are going to be an example for. Despite our desire to know everything and understand what God’s plan is, we simply do not contain the capacity to. The abilities of the “Father of the heavenly lights” and what He seeks to give us is beyond our comprehension. While we think we could love everyone on earth, we could never pull it off but our Father does. The greatest part about His love is that it is available for everyone; consistently and not changing “like shifting shadows.” God’s love and guidance is with us always, day and night; He simply asks for our faith in Him and His son, our savior, Jesus Christ. Our good and perfect gift who gives us eternal life and freedom from all of our sins.

Constant Star

We all have heard about the rising stars or a shining star in an organization but what about the constant stars? Those people, that every day, shine in all that they do. These are the people who jump in to help others at work, have a smile even if it’s snowing in Florida or bring you a Starbucks when you weren’t expecting it. These people are just great to be around! They don’t want the spotlight or ask for attention; in fact, they are the ones usually shining the spotlight onto others. We tend to overlook those who shine consistently, but like the sun, we know when they aren’t around. Now ask yourself, what do you do for these people? Do you find yourself going to them just because YOU need a pick me up?

It’s hard to imagine what keeps these people positive all of the time, but they do it. I had a peer once in my career who worked for another agency who was like this. We used to see each other for meetings once a month or sometimes more frequently but after every time I saw him, I always found myself saying what a great guy he is. I would try to be more like him and still try today. Despite my best efforts and intent, I’m just not the “smile when its snowing guy”. I do however; make sure that if I have people like this in my life, that I let them know how much I enjoy their company and focus time on them. We all need positive people our lives and should seek them out regularly, not to improve our own disposition, but to be a mutual benefit to each other.

Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. Ezekiel 1:28

For the first seven years of his ministry, Ezekiel faithfully relayed to his fellow Jews the stern, heart-rending, hope-crushing word of divine judgment: Because of all her sins, Jerusalem would fall. The only hope the prophet was authorized to extend to his listeners was that of living at peace with themselves and with God during their exile.

Once news was received that Jerusalem had fallen, Ezekiel’s message turned to the Lord’s consoling word of hope for his people—they would experience revival, restoration and a glorious future as the redeemed and perfected kingdom of God in the world. Ezekiel had become the constant star in people’s lives. He was there for everyone. Some may argue that it was easy; God was speaking to him directly. God speaks to us every day too. We just need to listen. It’s the phone call that comes in the middle of an argument to stop you from saying something hurtful or the unexpected check that comes in the mail when your bills are late. God is with us all day, every day; we just need to learn to listen for Him. Send your worries to God, pray daily, give thanks for what you have and be assured that your sins are forgiven. Then, stop and listen for God.

Trust in Him

I often write about God’s plan because I find people saying, “everything happens for a reason” all to often. I believe that we all take for granted the guiding hand at work in our lives. So many bad things seem to happen that we rarely stop to celebrate the good things. It is as if we expect the good things to happen so we concentrate on the bad things. I know that by nature, I am more of a pessimist than an optimist. Looking back, I find no obvious cause for this perspective except my training to prevent firefighter injuries and fatalities. As I moved up the ranks, I found that being in command of incidents in which people’s lives were at risk makes you look at things much more cautiously. I think that is what turned into my pessimistic outlook.

I am not a negative person (at least I think) but I also don’t seek to find the bright side of things either. In any case, I have seen first hand, God’s hand in my life. As a self-employed business owner who relies on larger consulting firms for work, the last quarter of 2016 was devoid of work. I’d been through times like this before but this was the longest period I’d ever experienced. I told myself to focus on letting God’s plan unfold and be patient (not an easy task). Work earlier in the year kept me so busy that true priorities started to slip. In late December, the phone started ringing again – it was the military contracting office. I’m writing this devotion on the airplane returning from Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio TX. I spent a week there at Army North HQ planning for a project in South Carolina in February. At the airport this morning, received another request for a trip to Washington State. “God cares for those who trust in Him.”

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him,” Nahum 1:7

It is ironic that this was written by someone in the Old Testament, which is filled with stories about people not trusting God. We all know that it was so bad that God had to take matters in His own hands and send His Son to bring salvation. I look at this single act of love as what allows us to turn to God as “a refuge in times of trouble”. No matter what I’ve done, God loves me! I saw an old friend who retired last year while I was in San Antonio. He had suddenly lost a close friend in the days preceding my arrival. A man of faith, my friend was down on his loss – he had forgotten where to turn in his time of trouble.

“What a loss!” he proclaimed. “We were going to enjoy so much time together now that we were both retired” my friend lamented. I reminded him that his loss was only temporary and that the great memories of his friend would return. We don’t know what God has planned for us or why the things happen as they do but we can be assured that they are part of God’s plan for our lives. Remember, sometimes we are the teacher and other times we are the student. You won’t know which role you are in until time has passed. The key is to trust in God and remember that, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.”