God is Always Present

How could God let this happen? Why are these things happening, is this the end of days? We often hear people asking these questions or when people begin to question the existence of God. It’s these thoughts and when tragedies strike that they become a great source of inspiration for the devil to create doubt in our minds: “Would a loving God allow such a thing to happen? How could a righteous God let innocent children suffer so?” We cannot explain it nor can we begin to comprehend God’s plan and what meaning this has in our lives yet alone the lives of those that suffered such great losses.

God is always present! I’ve written before that we don’t always know why things happen or what purpose God is trying to fulfill through these events. Sometimes we feel like we are suffering when things are going wrong at work or if we are having troubles at home. Other times our suffering is in the form of a medical diagnosis. How we deal with these challenges is what builds our character. No one can help us through our suffering, no matter how close they are to us. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks to us in our time of great suffering.

“…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5

I’m sure there is someone reading this that is experiencing a higher degree of suffering and cannot see the value of perseverance or character right now – but you will. You will see the hope as people come to your aid to help in ways you didn’t imagine. You will become stronger in your ability to survive and you will become an inspiration to someone else – maybe someone you know and maybe not. Someone will tell your story and you will hear the story of others.

You will be stronger because of what has happened to you, your character will be stronger and you will learn to persevere. We look upon our “suffering” as horrible but as the end-times actually approach, we all will need perseverance, character and hope to stand up to the devil and the destruction he will bring before Jesus descends to earth to bring us all home. This is not the time to doubt God’s plan or His love for you. It’s time to renew your hope in Him because these works of the devil must be defeated once and for all when Jesus returns to call us home.

Listening

It usually takes me a few weeks to recover from a three-week assignment with the Army – 13 hour days for 21 days can wreak havoc on your mental state. There are several great take a ways from each of these exercises that I do. As I write my last reference to it, I want to focus on the people and leadership styles that I’ve witnessed or observed. There is an old saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we might listen twice as much as we speak. This reminds me of people who interrupt others because they have the answer before someone even finishes asking the question. The use of the phrase “right, right” seems to have infiltrated our society today.

People don’t seem to want to let you finish what you are saying and this phrase apparently gives them permission to cut you off by agreeing with you – twice no less. Everything, and I mean everything, is available in short bursts or precisely when you want it. Twitter lets people share their thoughts in 140 or less characters. Virtual assistants on smart phones get you information which saves you the effort of having to “Google it”. We are loosing our ability to listen – really listen. We need to take the time to look people in the eye and listen to what they are saying. Don’t focus on what you’re going to say next or make assumptions about what they are trying to say or jump to the end because you think faster than they do. Listen, smile, pay attention and really hear what they are saying.

“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24

God’s people just didn’t get it when he was writing this. In fact, many today still don’t get it. God was saying, “I know what they will need before they ask and I will always listen.” This is one of His great promises – speak to me and I will listen. It’s important to note, He didn’t say “I will fix it” or “I will answer you right away” but He WILL listen.

It’s often hard for us to separate listening from answering. God’s time frame is different than ours. God wants to hear from His children, He knows what is on our hearts but He wants to hear what is on your mind. Tell Him what you are thinking in prayer. God will meet your basic needs; that’s Him answering before we call. He wants to hear ALL of our worries, concerns, appreciations, thanks and our needs. He will order things in our lives according to His will, not ours. If you think He isn’t answering, perhaps you are not being patient enough or you simply don’t see the answers/solutions present in your life. God hears it all, it’s usually us who fail recognize His work.

 

Passion

While I was at the Army exercise at the beginning of the month, I worked with the same group of people that I have been working with for almost 10 years. We have an intense desire to make sure that the training audience receives the most realistic experience that we can provide. I heard a new phrase this year after a “lively” exchange with an old friend. He said, “We are in violent agreement with each other”. Take a moment and re-read what I wrote – yes we were in agreement. Our discussion brought out our passion for doing a good job. It makes me wonder how many other times I get into violent agreements with people.

As human beings, we need to remain in control of our emotions and maintain awareness of how we react to things. I’m not one who usually “flies off the handle” but when I get to that point, I turn into a freight train. Passion is a good thing to have in life – in love, in commitment or to help others, etc. We must guard that passion when we get emotionally involved in issues; there is a difference between a passionate and an emotional response. Self-control starts with peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness as a result of faithfulness. Peace and patience allow you to remain calm in the face of the issue. Kindness and goodness remind us that someone will be on the receiving end of our self-control (or lack of it) and those interactions should be gentle. People will respect you, you’ll respect yourself and you’ll glorify God with the gifts He has given you.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-23, 25

There is nothing like starting a week with a little self-reflection. How do you react to issues,  with passion or emotion? It is good to be reminded that the fruit of the Spirit or the essence of what the Holy Spirit has given us; lives within us. We don’t have to seek these things or learn them; God has given them to us. Jesus lived His life demonstrating them, God inspired the words written in the bible; all we need to do is study and practice them.

It’s okay to be happy (joy) and to get along with others (peace). Be patient and kind with everyone, even those who require a little extra effort. Your demonstration of goodness and gentleness are God pleasing and witness to your faith in the Word of God, above all. These fruits lead to more self-control and less frustration that will circle back to finding love, joy and peace in your life. God is amazing in how He ordered all of these “fruits” to work in support of one another in our lives. “Since we live in the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” is great advice to us for how to live our lives.

Mother’s Day

I debated about doing a piece on Mother’s Day; the day that Hallmark made. Before anyone takes offense, I feel the same about Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. While my wife and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, we do recognize the other two days for each other. It always seems that the spouses take these days more seriously than the children do, until at least the time they are old enough to really know better and to shop for themselves. Lisa and I have been blessed with two awesome mothers of our own. They not only like each other but they like their in-law kids too. I’m certain that I speak for both of us when I say; they treat us like their own kids. My mom gained another daughter and Lisa’s mom gained another son – it is better than I ever could have dreamed of. The quote from James reminded me of what a mother is, not only to her kids but also to her spouse as well. I originally planned to use this quote to talk about leaders in an organization and how, if they used these traits, they can truly lead and encourage others to follow. As you read this, compare the actions of a good parent to those of a good leader and you will see that they are one in the same.

A mother’s wisdom is pure and genuine, honest and full of love. No matter what happens, a child (regardless of age) will always seek a mother’s comfort. A mother is peace-loving and considerate. She’s the one who always broke up the fights between brothers and sisters while seeking a solution that worked for everyone. Mothers taught us to share and taught us how to take care of someone who was hurt. A mother is submissive to the needs of the family, full of mercy and kind words (good fruit). Mothers showed us how to sacrifice and put others needs before our own. They deflected blame when we messed up and led the cheering crowd when we did well. Mothers never picked favorites (even though I know I am my mom’s favorite) and when they held your hand and looked into your eyes, you knew they meant everything they said. Great leaders, like all mothers, know how to do these things too. Mothers have earned a day just for themselves but they deserve it throughout the year, not just in May.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17

The irony of this message is that its about Mother’s Day but it is based on the gifts that we have received from our Father in Heaven. This verse is a great reminder of how we are to act toward everyone. The wisdom from heaven was given to us through the writings of the bible. As you read/study the bible, you will see in the New Testament that each lesson shows us God’s pure way in the life of His Son, Jesus.

Jesus then showed us His peace-making ability, how he was considerate to others; even those that opposed Him, submissive to the law of the land, demonstrated His mercy, goodness, impartiality and above all, His sincerity. Use these principles to live your life in all situations, which will please God. And, your Mom too.

The Mouth Speaks…

Words matter. I made this statement a few weeks ago during a city budget discussion and have repeated it during my latest assignment. I’m finding that I need to listen more carefully and speak less frequently but more specifically. I don’t ever want to find myself excusing something I said because of a “Clinton technicality”. He based his whole answer about the Monica Lewinski affair on the word – relations. I won’t go any further except to say that he wasn’t lying when he described his affair by saying “he didn’t have relations with her”. It certainly split hairs though. Words matter when you are dealing with people. Each one of us has a different interpretation of various words and each word can elicit a different emotion for different people. Knowing your audience or the receiver is important before you start to speak.

Who are you speaking to and on what subject is very important in helping you make good word choices. If you are speaking with someone as a supervisor or need to give direction or take corrective action, your word choice is critical to express the seriousness of your intent. The tone and inflection of your voice are also important to the delivery of your intended message. “You sounded mad when you said that” is a common complaint of teens with their parents. Take the time necessary to gather your thoughts and choose the words that convey your message before you speak. If you find that you are frequently having misunderstandings with people or that you are explaining yourself in greater detail more often, re-think your word choice and how you deliver your message. The people receiving your message don’t know what you are “trying” to say, they only know what you’ve said.

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45

People that you see on a regular basis always seem to know when you are having a bad day or are just not at the top of your game. They also know when you are playing to the crowd, which is not a completely honest way of dealing with people. The good stored in your heart is a gift from God. Truthfulness, compassion and caring are things that we learned from the actions and teachings of Jesus.

Some people can “play to the crowd” very well and say one thing in public but say another behind closed doors. God is always watching and knows what is on your heart. Sooner or later the truth or the “real person” is revealed. Keep your heart stored up with good by being surrounded with the good of this world. Maintain fellowship with other Christians; regularly attend worship so you are reminded of the forgiveness won by Jesus; devote time to regular bible reading and most importantly, pray. God wants to hear from you and by building your relationship with Him, you will know all of the good that you have to offer.

“Group work”

I’m currently working on an assignment for the Army and I’ve been witnessing a variety of teamwork examples; both positive and negative. According to Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary, a group is defined as “a number of individuals assembled together or having some unifying relationship” and a team is defined as “a number of persons associated together in work or activity”. I’ve always been fascinated by the study of teamwork and leadership and I once found an interesting quote. According to Sharon Feltham, “Calling a collection of people a team and rallying them to the cause does not make them a team. A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to: a common purpose, a set of performance goals and a common approach, for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”.

A group however, contains people with complementary skills and abilities who are committed to a leader’s goal. “A group supports the leader’s goals and the leader-dominated approach to goal attainment. Leadership is predominantly held by one person rather than the shared, fluid leadership of a team.” What this tells us is that in a group, the dominant viewpoint is represented; in a team, multiple, diverse viewpoints are represented. Decisions in a group are made by voting or implied agreement; decisions on a team are typically made by consensus. I believe this illustrates that people tend to use these terms interchangeably. Next time you join a work “team” make sure you understand who’s goals you are working to achieve.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:4

Remain in Jesus as He remains in you. Our faith in Jesus Christ gives us the strength to move through our lives here on earth. God loves us and has charted a course in our lives but we cannot do it alone! As the branch, we cannot bear fruit on our own; we must remain in the vine that is Jesus.

It sounds simple but the fact is that we need help to remain in the Word of God and strengthen our faith and understanding of the salvation given to us through God’s grace. The vine – Jesus, instructed us to worship with each other and to grow in our faith. He suggested that we form groups focused on a dominant viewpoint and not a team and its multiple viewpoints. We gather in a group to worship God, hear His word and receive the forgiveness of our sins through Christ our Lord and Savior. At times, we will support another branch when they need it and that branch will support us when we need it. No matter the situation, we must remain in the vine.

Examples

Leading by example is sometimes easier said than done. Do as I say not as I do is far easier to proclaim than watch my every move and see how I do it. As I read about the millennial workforce, they don’t want that either. I don’t think any of us ever did but for those of us who learned from an autocratic leader, this was commonplace. Today, we see people get promoted into a leadership position and then have to change everything they are in order to get the job done. All too often we’ve seen the guy who comes in late to meetings or is not always prepared get promoted and then suddenly they expect people to “tow the line” when they are in charge.

How are you in your day-to-day actions? We all falter but are you more disruptive than you are helpful at work? Leaders have the responsibility to watch everything they do because they never really know the impact of their actions for some time. This is where being significant is more important than being successful. Significance is what you are to others, successful is what you are to yourself.

“He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” Mark 4:26-27.

Spread the word! I’ve often heard that said but these verses from Mark really add new meaning. We scatter seed every day in our lives as Christians. We come into contact with people and can affect them simply through verbal and non-verbal communication. Our attitude tells a lot about what lies deep within us but it is our actions that tell the rest of the story.

We can scatter seeds that flourish or we can scatter seeds that result in weeds but make no mistake, we are always scattering seeds. No matter what we do or say, the seeds that we scatter will grow. Jesus told us to spread the word. God has given us the instructions, through His word in the bible, to “go and make disciples of all men”. The message is clear, scatter the seeds and they will sprout and grow. We won’t know how but we can be assured that they will. Following Easter and the good news of salvation, we should have no trouble scattering the seeds of eternal life.

Easter Monday

Yesterday, we celebrated Easter with Easter baskets, Easter egg hunts and Sunrise services. It is a wonderful time of the year! Spring has started (for most of us anyway), the year is rising from the dormant winter much like Christ rose on the third day. A few weeks ago I was having coffee with a friend of mine when he started to talk about religion and his faith in God and our savior Jesus Christ. We talked about the various denominations out there and how people are searching for the “right church to belong to” as if it mattered whether you were a Catholic or a Lutheran.

We both agreed that it wasn’t the denomination that was important but that they all had underlying belief in Jesus Christ as our savior. He then said something that really hit the nail on the head – “the importance of the bible can be summed up in two verses John 1:1 and John 3:16”.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

When you read these two verses, you realize that he was right. Take away the differences between denominations, the doctrinal teachings and the “special rules” of each church and it all boils down to “the Word was with God and the Word was God.” God gave us His divine Word through the writings of the bible. He ensured that the messages He wanted sent were done so through the pages of the bible.

As sinners, we continued to follow our own hearts and minds doing what we believed to be right. Knowing that we were not capable of doing what was in our own best interest, God intervened again. He sent His one and only Son to us. Not to just help us but to save us. God’s word tells us “that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. An eternal life that we will share with God our Father, Jesus His Son and all of the other believers. As my friend said, “what else is more important?” Knowing that you will have eternal life because of your faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest gift. Go out today, this Easter Monday, and every day remembering that you are saved not by your own doing or works but by the grace of God.

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.