Blessed

It doesn’t matter when you see my wife, if you ask her how she’s doing, her answer is always – “blessed”. Even at 4:30 in the morning when she is arriving at the gym for her daily work out, she is always cheerful. She is the only morning person in our family. The rest of us are night owls. She is filled with joy and peace and everyone knows it. What do people see when they speak to you or watch you at work? I certainly wouldn’t suggest that you be “on” at the wee hours of the morning but it is important to know what time you function best at. There have been a number of studies that show that early risers are more productive. Again, I’m not suggesting that you change your peak performance time; just know when it is. My peak usually hits around 1pm and lasts until 4pm but I can also have a second peak about 9:30pm until after midnight.

Knowing your optimum time is important so that you don’t tie it up in meetings or traveling between locations. This should be your time to focus on high-level work or your strategic/creative thinking time. Your peak time is when you should turn off your email and cell phone so that you can concentrate. This will allow you to achieve more at work while expending less mental energy since you are working when your mind and body are most ready. Back to the question of what do people see when they speak to you? If you are in peak time, they should see the best you have to offer and when you are in off-peak times, they should see a person of joy and hope who knows the best is yet to come.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

A number of years ago there was a story out of war-torn Sudan about a pregnant woman who was sentenced to death, by stoning, for becoming a Christian and failing to renounce her new faith. I can’t help thinking about how strong she was. Here is a new Christian, someone who believed so strongly in what she was taught that she was willing to be persecuted. It’s a modern day story of St. Paul or John the Baptist. She was not only filled with joy but had enough peace to trust in Him that the power of the Holy Spirit would be with her. I cannot imagine what she must have gone through. It was rumored that one of the Columbine shooters asked a girl if she believed in Jesus as he held a gun to her head. When she answered yes, he moved on sparing her life.

When my daughter was younger she was asking questions about faith when this came up. I reminded her that it would be better to die knowing that you kept your faith to the end than it would be to deny it and spend eternity without Him. There is no doubt that there are others suffering for their faith today. Please join me in praying for everyone who is being persecuted for their faith; asking that their faith remains strong and that they be filled with joy and peace to trust in God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Also take this time to pray for yourself; that you will be filled with joy and peace so that you too can overflow with the hope and power of the Holy Spirit so everyone will see that you are blessed.

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Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S., so I thought that I’d provide a little history lesson. Three years after the U.S. Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate, with flowers, the graves of the war dead. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery. Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” he urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time; testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

Several states in the south refused to acknowledge Memorial Day and held their own ceremonies to observe the passing of confederate veterans. There are several U.S. cities that claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, and the debate continued to fester for almost 100 years. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it was often called Decoration Day. It was then placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays. May we never forget the sacrifices that many made to keep us free people.

14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the LORD. Hebrews 12:14

If it were not for the civil war, we would not have Memorial Day. The day was expanded to honor all those that made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free. It is a holiday that I wish we didn’t need but I am thankful for everyone that made it possible for me to post on this blog and live an unencumbered life. We must make every effort to live in peace with all men. This verse is very specific about who we should be at peace with – ALL MEN. This doesn’t apply only to the countries that the U.S. is friendly with; it applies to everyone.

Live in peace and be holy. Sounds simple enough but we know it can be hard. There is no exclusion to whom we must be holy with – I have to be holy with the guy who has the annoying dogs behind me! This verse is a great reminder that living in peace and holiness is hard and will require sacrifice. Some sacrificed everything for us to live in peace, we owe them our best to live holy lives; without it no one will see the Lord. We should live our lives as Jesus showed us – gracefully with humility, with love, faithfulness and forgiveness. Enjoy your holiday weekend but remember why we have it. Put a little “memorial” into Memorial Day and give thanks for those that made it possible and then go out and be holy.

Welcome

Each time someone new starts to follow this blog, I receive a notification from WordPress that someone new has started “following you”. Early on, this happened about once a month or maybe a few times a year. Lately, I’ve been averaging about three a week for the past 6 months or so. I don’t check the analytics on how many people are viewing “this little treasure” so I really don’t know how many “views” I get. This week, I wanted to take a minute to say THANK YOU to everyone who is getting the word out on my writing and WELCOME to those who have joined us (me) over the past few months. I often wonder why I keep writing but then God sends me some sort of “sign” that says keep going! And so, I write…

We read the following verse in church last week and it struck me as another one of those “summary verses” – the ones that sum up our faith. 1 John 5:9-20 tells us: We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

This is the Good News. We all sin but those of us who believe that our salvation is through Jesus Christ are saved! Verse 16 talks about the sin that leads to death, the only sin that leads to eternal death is not believing in Jesus; all others have a cure! Celebrate your salvation through Christ this week and let the world know – pass this along.

Check Yourself

There are a number of things that make us who we are; attitude, education, experiences, families, goals, faith and the list goes on. Last week I talked about suffering and how that affects us too. I love to people watch whenever we go out; it’s a huge source of entertainment. I keep saying that people are strange creatures and the human psyche never fails to amaze me. The way we react to things or the way that we think is always interesting. I started to wonder about myself and if I’m just as crazy as everyone else – the answer is yes. I find that I’m really flexible and diplomatic with a significant segment of the people that I encounter everyday. Then, I become this stubborn, crabby old man on the flip side. I try to be consistent and predictable so people don’t have to guess which “Bill” is showing up. There are so many things that affect my attitude or outlook on the issues in my life.

We all juggle a number of roles – spouse, boss, worker, leader, follower, friend, brother or sister, neighbor, etc. Knowing how to respond can be the difference between being the hero or the zero. I often try to be more humble than not and the peacekeeper rather the pot stirrer. I’m constantly searching for the middle of the road. “Fair” comes out of my mouth often. As I prepared to write this, I found myself doing a personal inventory of sorts. I wondered how all of these traits come across when someone watches me. I know I’m just as crazy as the next guy, filled with idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. I would encourage you to take some time to consider your attitude about life and how others perceive you. Do you like what you see? What can you do to change it? What should you keep doing? What do you want to achieve?

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

Wow! No pressure here – your attitude should be same as Jesus’. We have often told our kids that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time and this tall order is no different. In His usual wisdom, God has given us the directions on how to that as well. He gave us a four-step process to keep our attitudes in check.1) Do not consider yourself equal to God or even pretend to understand why He does the things that He does. It is too big to grasp. We must accept that He is doing what is in our best interests and in His own time. 2) Be a servant. Jesus was the ultimate servant and led others through His willingness to serve. He was a lowly carpenter who made things for other people. You can’t underestimate the power of servitude, so serve others with pride.

3) Do not take yourself too seriously. Humility is a strong character trait that is often confused with being shy. Being humble means that you’d be willing to wash the feet of someone else, nothing is too small of a job. You are not better than anyone else. 4) Jesus is your savior. Your salvation is found in Him and not through anything that you can do. You don’t have to worry about never being good enough or never doing enough; God took care of that for you. Jesus was exalted to the highest place after cleansing us from all sin. You can live your life of faith confident in your salvation and life everlasting. If that doesn’t give you a positive attitude, I can’t imagine what will.

Suffering

Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that challenges and obstacles build character; at least that’s been my experience. We all know people who have medical conditions or job issues and we see their suffering. Our church produces a list each week of those who need to be prayed for. The number of people on that list is always amazing to me. I witnessed suffering first hand throughout my career in the fire service. People will often ask how do firefighters deal with it and I always respond that we box up each event and move on. We rarely discuss it and we depend on each other for stability. I would imagine that is what builds the camaraderie that firefighters are famous for. So back to my original question, why do we suffer? I’m certainly not smart enough to actually know the answer but I have a theory.

Suffering, in a way, does build character and makes us stronger. How we react to the event is based on our character and the more opportunities we have to shape that character, the stronger we become. Hence the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I also believe that there is a difference between suffering and disappointment. President Lincoln had a very long list of disappointments before becoming President, but he suffered a great deal as well. He lost his son at a very young age and his wife was tormented by severe depression. Despite all of that, he was a man of great character. The next time you think that you are suffering, ask yourself two questions – is this really disappointment instead and how can I change my reaction? and, if it is suffering, what am I or others supposed to learn from it?

19For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:19-21

I’ll ask again, why do we suffer? It all started in the Garden of Eden. The third chapter of Genesis is pretty specific about all of the suffering that we are to endure as a result of Adam eating the fruit that Eve gave to him. Being deceived by the serpent, Eve broke the one rule that existed. Our lives are now filled with sin, there is no escaping it and that’s why we suffer. People don’t suffer more or less than anyone else because of what they did or what they do. I have to believe that we suffer in varying degrees because it’s what God needs to happen. If we lived in a world completely independent of one another, God would have to teach us the lessons we needed but that isn’t the case.

We teach each other, we are a symbol for others who don’t know us. God will use us to deliver His messages as He deems necessary. People get medical conditions, so others can learn from them. My friend who had a stroke is surely suffering; his life is not the same. I am hearing from his wife how blessed they are by all of the people and prayers in their lives. She rightly believes, that he is alive today because of those prayers. The message of prayer is getting to their whole family, kids and grandkids. God is using this suffering to spread His message. Peter tells us that suffering is good and that as Christ suffered for us, we need to endure it as well. Jesus did not ask “why me?” He knew it was God’s will and then carried the burden. Jesus showed us how to suffer and where to keep our focus – on God. Why do we suffer? It is God calling us to deliver His message.

Give it your all

I often wonder when opportunity will stop knocking. The idea that one door opens when another one closes has proven itself in my life, time and again. I tell myself that as I get older, it is natural to wonder when it those doors won’t open. I’ve been presented with three opportunities in the past three weeks; who knows if any of them will become a reality. It just reminds me that my work is still being recognized even if I didn’t think so. I’ve never done anything halfway in my life and now as a consultant, it is hard to tell if anyone notices since I work so infrequently. They say that hard work pays off and I have no reason to start doubting the phrase now.

I spent the better part of the past three weeks working with an old friend who I haven’t worked with in years. Our days were long, and the routine dragged on as each day passed. He took notes, payed attention to the details that I had stopped looking at a few years ago, he listened, he engaged in conversation and asked questions. He was preparing himself to understand and work in an environment that was foreign to him; he knew the importance of being committed to the project. In contrast, all of us have worked with someone who only wanted to learn half the job or just enough to get by. These people are always interested in the next promotion without putting in the effort to truly understand the position they are in. Where has commitment gone? As a whole, the world seems to be suffering from a “failure to commit”. Doing something only half way gets you exactly that, half the reward.

“Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

The moment I read this verse, I knew that I had to write about giving it your all, not doing things half way, and especially when worshiping God. I had no good idea how to tell the story of giving 100% until these two things happened these past weeks. I started to think about what does giving less that 100% to God look like and then I realized the example was me! Sin keeps me from giving God all my heart, all my soul and all my mind. No matter how hard I try, something always gets in the way.

Sometimes, I’m too tired or simply lazy to break out the bible and start reading my daily devotion. I’m too busy to stop and pray or give thanks, besides God knows – right? God knew our struggles would be greater than we could handle so he put a plan in motion to save us from ourselves – He sent us Jesus. He is the one who told us to give our all to God. He knew that He would have to intervene on our behalf and take sin away from us. Jesus left us so many great examples and stories while taking all of the sin out of our lives. God knew that we would not be perfect and he doesn’t expect it, but we can show Him our love by diving in a little deeper, spending a little more time and showing what the love of Jesus means in our lives. Give it your all!

Loss of Hope

“Times are tough all over” was the title of a hit song in 1990. People have been saying this for years and since the recession, we all still know someone who feels like times are tough. It became a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “its happening to everyone” but it never makes anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that Lisa and I believed that our three hour round trip drive to see our premature daughter in the hospital was building character. Today, everyone one of us knows someone who has received a cancer diagnosis or had another type of life altering event. We hear them ask “why me, why did God do this to me?”

One of the greatest effects that homelessness has on our veterans is that they loss hope. These men and women, who have faithfully served our country and have been in life threatening circumstances for long periods, were accustomed to making positive contributions. Once they return home and exit active duty, our veterans can become lost in a world that they no longer understand or see in the same way that they used to. Once they start to disconnect, the trip downward is fast and it takes hope with it. Recent studies have shown that once hope is restored that these veterans often return to a productive life. No matter the situation, we all see people who are 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 God’s forgiveness. He 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. 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, to not lose hope but persevere because eternal life waits for us. To me, that’s all the reason to keep hope alive.

Care for Tomorrow

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own”. Matthew 6:34. Worry can easily consume us if we let it. We can spend energy worrying about money, careers, health, family or anything that you can imagine. These are all “real world” problems that should not be ignored or diminished but they cannot be allowed to consume us either. Tomorrow is important from a planning perspective, a helping others perspective and a spiritual perspective. According to this verse, you might ask, “shouldn’t we just stay focused on what matters today and not worry about the future?”

I’m a believer that the future matters because what we do today doesn’t just have an impact on today alone but will also impact our future and the futures of those around us. Why do we speak up and teach or mentor someone who makes a mistake? I’d suggest that we say something not to show off our own knowledge but to make those around us just a little better. If you don’t care about today, what will tomorrow look like? I learned a very scary statistic today – the U.S. will have trouble filling its incoming military ranks in one generations time because the future youth won’t be able to qualify for service because of diminished physical abilities, poor cognitive test scores, previous drug use or the over use of behavioral medications. The key to the verse is worry. It says nothing about taking decisive action or helping others to achieve more. The old acronym T.E.A.M – together everyone achieves more holds true. Let’s not worry about tomorrow but let’s all work together for a better tomorrow.

“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 why he left it. He replied that it was only one strand and it wouldn’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 currently spreading the good news and for those who would grow in faith because of what they had heard. He was praying for us too! Jesus knew that future believers were just as important as the present ones. His focus remained on being our Savior despite knowing 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.

Condemnation

Condemnation or condemning someone is a pretty serious matter. The dictionary defines condemn as “express complete disapproval of, typically in public; censure”. Have you unknowingly condemned anyone lately? I’m sure you didn’t utter the words specifically, but we often find ourselves saying something like “I’ll never work with them again” or “if she doesn’t get her act together, I’ll make sure she isn’t our team again”. These are statements of condemnation. Oftentimes, our condemnation is even a little more subtle “Oh him, he is always like [fill in the blank]. I refer to this as “pigeon-holing” someone; putting a person in a cage or box that they can never get turned around in. Some people are put there after one big mistake while others simply earn their position in the pigeon hole.

You might ask yourself “how many times do I need to get burned before I stop believing they will actually come through for me?” The better question is “have you told them how they’ve let you down and what effect it has had on your work?” We need to be honest with people and let them know how their actions effect how others perceive them. Right or wrong, perception is reality in the eye of the one who perceives the action. If you have found yourself pigeon-holing someone, give them a chance to get out and make amends. If you leave them in the hole, you are condemning them to that place for a career. Reach out and share how they make you feel; not how they make everyone feel but how they make you feel. It makes it about the two of you which is less threatening. They might have been clueless about how their behavior affected other people because no one ever took the time to talk with them.

“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned. But whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:18

We are not condemned! No matter what we’ve done, Christ took our weaknesses, our sins and our guilt with Him on the cross so we would share in God’s love and Grace. We are not condemned because we are forgiven! John tells us quite simply that those who do not believe already stand condemned. God’s inspired word, through John, sums up for us our salvation. We are not condemned! We are assured eternal life through our faith in Christ.

We may make the same mistakes over and over; we may commit the same sins again and again, but we have forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice for us. God’s grace and love, along with our confession and repentance is what keeps us out of the pigeonhole. God isn’t interested in keeping us locked up or put in the same place, He needs us to be free so that we can spread the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. If you feel trapped, seek God and you will find the door to the hole that has been open this whole time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. God has not put you in a pigeonhole, you have put yourself there. God wants to see you free and flying high, make Him proud!

He is Risen!!

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter. It’s a great time of year! I am always moved by certain verses at this time of the year 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 yesterday. 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.