What is Love?

I was reading my devotional this week and the verses from 1 John 3 were a part of it. I’ve read this before, but it really stood out this week. Maybe it’s because I’m growing tired of all of the negativity in society today. People are arguing about everything – even when they agree! I’ve got a co-worker that calls that, “being in violent agreement with each other”. I think one aspect that really stands out is this, if you keep reading the bible (over and over) God will speak to you differently each time. As we enter Holy week, I believe there is no better way than to remind ourselves about love and God’s love for us. Let us be reminded of the peace that we find in Jesus.

1 John 3:11-24 11For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 4:7-21 7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 

17This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19We love because he first loved us. 20Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Civility, What Civility?

I’ve asked before, “where has civility gone?” What ever happened to simply being nice to each other? The list goes on and I really start to get frustrated. Too many questions and not enough answers! I often wonder, when did we stop caring about each other? I see it in the simple things like holding the door open for the person behind you. I understand “Covid safe” but if you’ve already touched the door, why not at least keep it open so the person you can grab it with their foot just like you did? We’ve become so worried about staying apart from each other that we’ve become rude to one another. I heard someone this week talk about servant leadership and my heart started beating faster – what a joy!

I truly believe that if we all just looked out for each other, we might be in a slightly better place. My leadership belief is that the leader eats last, those led before those leading or simply put – putting others before yourself. I think it is the Rotary International organization whose 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? In the world today, most of us are being vigilant by trying to avoid close physical contact with people but that doesn’t mean that we have to keep our emotional distance too. I’m simply suggesting that we continue to think about others even when we maintain our physical distance. The pandemic is bad enough on its own, let not lose our sense of civility too. 

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 subject matter in the middle of a world-wide pandemic. Is there really some deep concept that God is trying to teach here because this verse really stands on its own.

Jesus said, “what you do for the least of these you also do for me.” Does this really need an explanation? Let’s stop being focused on ourselves and start thinking of others. In the U.S. we see a lot of people embracing the “I’ve got mine” mentality and have stopped looking for ways to help those in need. If we show hospitality to strangers, we may be showing it to an angel and we all know where angels come from. This verse reminds me 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? 

Clear Minds

Let’s turn back to a little management focus for a change this week and talk about multi-tasking, a common and 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”. Multi-tasking 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 another our brains have to refocus or reset. We are truly losing our train of thought; the problem is that it is happening constantly. 

One 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 that one car that is just not keeping up with the flow of traffic, only to see them talking 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 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. 

What is Happening!

I’m running really short of patience these days. Political hypocrisy, “you’re either with us or against us” mentalities, complete failure to believe anything that science or medicine tells us and the utter lack of compassion for fellow human beings is making me absolutely lose my mind! What ever happened to wisdom? 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 led by people who seemed to have a great deal of wisdom. As an elected local government leader, I can see wisdom at work firsthand. Local government 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 say, and you will see decisions based more on ideology and party than on doing what is best for the people. Even the average citizen has lost their wisdom. We hang on to the few sound bites we hear and believe them to be fact. Our worldviews are changing based on where we get our “news”. 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 was corroborated by a second source. I guess my point here 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 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 “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.

Written or Spoken Words

I don’t know about you but yearn for the days when “news outlets” reported the actual facts and left the opinion pieces to the editors. I spend hours a day looking at multiple sources to simply understand what the issue really is and what the facts are. It is certainly frustrating. I reminds me of a conversation that I had with our son who often said, “Technically Dad, this is correct”. I never operated in a world of “technicality” so I was quick to reminded him that if he has to start a sentence that way, it probably 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 also suggest that verbal communication is the key to a properly 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. The pandemic has certainly created distance between us as humans. 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. 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.

Perfect Gifts

Humans 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 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 are complaining about not 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 was okay to leave dirty dishes yesterday and again today, don’t be surprised that the same dirty dishes will be there on the third day. 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. Who is our good and perfect gift, the one who gives us eternal life and freedom from all of our sins. 

Constant Stars

We have all heard about rising stars and shining stars in organizations, but have you heard about the constant stars? Those are the 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 they bring you a Starbucks when you’re not 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 are. I work with other military contractors that are like this. While we are an intense bunch, there are a couple of guys that every time I see them, 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-rendering, hope-crushing word of divine judgment: Because of all her sins, Jerusalem would fall. The only hope that 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 directly, 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.

A Refuge in Times of Trouble

I frequently write about God’s plan because people are constantly saying, “everything happens for a reason”. 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 pessimism.

I am generally not a negative person, but I 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 calendar year of 2020 was completely devoid of work. I’d been through times before, but this was the longest period I’d experienced without any work. I told myself to focus on letting God’s plan unfold and be patient (not an easy task). The quiet allowed me to focus on slowing down and taking stock of what is truly important. I’m writing this devotion at the end of ten days working for Army North during a training exercise. Enough to keep me going at the start of 2021. “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 verse 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 during this exercise who shared the sudden passing of a mutual acquaintance. My friend, a man of faith, was down about this loss – he had forgotten where to turn in his time of trouble.

“What a loss!” he proclaimed. “We were talking about getting together since we are both retired” my friend lamented. I reminded him that his loss was only temporary and that the great memories of our 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 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.”

Mentor vs Coach

Mentoring and coaching are often used interchangeably. There have been a number of articles written about companies choosing not to perform annual performance appraisals and replacing them with regular “check-in sessions” – basically coaching. Mentoring programs are often viewed by the workforce as special grooming for those fortunate enough to have been chosen to move up the career ladder; an unfortunate take a way. By definition, mentoring is a relationship in which a person with greater experience and wisdom guides another person to develop both personally and professionally. The key feature here is that the mentee wants to be guided – they ask for this type of personal attention. 

Most employees expect help from their leadership in the form of guidance, inspiration, encouragement, advancement, discipline and approval for a job well done. If they don’t get these, frustration sets in and for the Millennials and Gen Z, this means finding a new job. Employees can be coached even without a formal system. If supervisors aren’t proactively providing guidance, the employee can ask questions of their supervisor to extract some help. “What do I need to do to improve in [fill in the blank]? I’d like to start working on more complex projects; do you have anything coming up that might allow me to do that? Personally, I’ve been blessed to have great coaches and confidants throughout my career(s). Don’t wait for it to happen, go out and make it happen. Find a mentor, a coach or a confidant in your life and you will see that there is strength in numbers.

“I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.” Proverbs 4:11-12

Can you even imagine what it would be like to physically speak to Jesus everyday and ask for His advice? You don’t need to imagine because, you can! Your prayers are heard by the Triune God, which means Jesus hears them too. While you don’t hear Him respond back, you will get an answer. God sent us His Son to bring us closer to Him. Now that’s what I call a mentor! He provided His word to us through the scriptures and Jesus gave us examples of how to live our lives; someone to guide us both personally and professionally. 

This verse tells us that God will lead us along straight paths, not stumbling and without impede. Another example of God’s promise to be with us. We stumble in sin; we forget to nurture our relationship with God and yet He keeps His promises. Our faith in Jesus is all that He needs to keep us along the straight paths. We don’t deserve that kind of dedication, but God’s love is so great that we can’t imagine how He can forgive us. Sin is always present but more importantly, so is God’s love. Let Him guide you.

The Knock You Hear…

The knock you hear may just be opportunity at the door. Opportunity comes in many forms and at all times, sometimes we recognize it and sometimes we don’t. We often say in our house that it isn’t always what you know but who you know; the people you meet in your life’s journey. I have experienced this on more than one occasion. For example, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the work I perform with the military is a result of my meeting Todd within months of my retirement. “Military contractor” was not something that I even knew was available for me as I faced an uncertain future following my injury. 

My life as an elected official (another unforeseen opportunity) has opened my life to meeting people from all over our Valley. I’ve learned about development, land investment, real estate “deal making”, water resources and public transit because people believed in and mentored me. This has always been the case in my life, and I learned long ago to always be “that someone” for others. I am in the unique position of being able to help people across a wide spectrum of industries now – politically, real estate development, local government management, military command, and assisting those in need. I have always given more than I asked for (at least I think that was the case) and I still have great joy doing so. Sometimes, we are the one knocking to help others and sometimes we are the one who needs to open the door. Are you ready for either circumstance? 

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” – Revelation 3:20

Whose plan is leading your life. Is it God’s or one that you have been working on? Christians often talk about “opportunity knocking” as being God’s hand at work in their lives. When a Christian waits for the knock and believes that it never comes, they start to doubt their faith. Why won’t God answer my prayer? God does answer; we just sometimes don’t realize it. We doubt ourselves and don’t take advantage of the opportunity or we don’t trust God to bring us through the challenge we face. 

Today’s verse tells us that God is here, standing at the door knocking. Do you hear His voice and answer the door? God promises that He will come in; all you have to do is open the door to Him. What does that mean? Open your heart, your mind and your soul to God. Believe His word, His promises and most importantly, believe in His Son Jesus Christ. Letting God take over “your” life is hard and scary – you think that you’ll have no control. This is not what God wants for you. He gave us mental reasoning and a road map in the bible for our lives; He wants fellowship with all of us. Open the door to let Him in and He will eat with you. Open yourself to Him, read His word, follow His commands, but most importantly; rest in knowing your sins are forgiven because you are with Him through Jesus Christ.