Dr. Martin Luther King jr

In the United States, we are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day today. Since I’ve held elected office, I have attended presentations about his life which really opened my perspective about the struggles of minorities. I must admit that I knew little about him before attending these events but I have come to understand more than the civil rights fight that he undertook. He wouldn’t accept the status quo; he wouldn’t back down against great pressure nor would he compromise his beliefs. He spoke all around the world to millions of people with a simple message – we are all one people. Lately in the United States, we seem to have forgotten that. Racial discord still exists and now we are divided by our politics. Hatred, ignorance, intolerance and just plain evil are everywhere these days. People are turning to violence in an attempt to get their messages across. Frustration is ruling our behaviors. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought against violence and took a stand to resolve differences in a non-violent way, though not everyone supported that strategy. His speeches were moving and his understanding of the issues were extraordinary and yet, many agree his work remains unfinished. He used his talents to change the world. Most of us will never reach the stature of Dr. King but each of us can have a huge impact on the world around us. Each one of us has God given talents that we can use to impact those around us. Sometimes people are in our lives for a brief moment, like in line at the grocery store and others are people we’ve known for years but we have the opportunity to model the same beliefs that Dr. King did, good Christian values. 

“For in Him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge…” 1 Corinthians 1:5

I’ve told you before about a friend who shared with me a serious problem that would have lifelong implications for him. As he described his problem he said that he has done a lot things in his life and that he didn’t feel “right with God yet and as long as I’m not right with Him, I can’t be right with anyone”. This statement stopped me dead in my tracks; how could someone who professes to be a Christian say something like that? As I continue to dwell on his statement all these years later; I believe that many people feel this way. This is why so many non-denominational “churches” leave out all discussion about sin. People feel bad and unworthy because of sin so if we don’t talk about it, people will come to get revitalized.

As we talked, I seized the opportunity to share my knowledge about our savior, Christ Jesus. I reminded him that he was already “right with God” because of what Jesus did for us Easter weekend.  1 Corinthians 1:7-9 goes on to say 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gifts as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” We lack nothing; there is nothing we can do or must do to be “right with God”. He knew our weaknesses long before we did and sent us a Savior so we could enjoy eternal life with Him. God decided we were worth it long before we could do anything to prove it to Him. 

Compassion

As the NFL football regular schedule ended this weekend, some are celebrating, and some are lamenting their team’s season. Some teams really clicked this season and others couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag. In the end, some teams won or lost because mistakes made – no doubt about that. I’m not talking about any team or game, but games are usually won because one team took advantage of someone else’s mistake. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Someone makes a mistake and the office jerk is not only quick to point it out but also then tries to take advantage of it. How do you react when someone makes a mistake? I always make two promises to the teams that I’ve lead – 1) I will make mistakes and 2) I will never repeat them. They key is what we do with the experience of making a mistake. 

We all forget that post-it-notes were a result of someone’s mistake. The old saying of “its water under the bridge” is so true; you can’t get it back. My philosophy is that you have to acknowledge the error, learn from it and move forward. This is why, each week, football teams review films of the game they just played – win or lose. They don’t dwell on the outcome, they are always looking forward. People make mistakes all of the time. A baseball player who hits the ball only 33% of the time (.300 avg.) is a great player. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of productivity goal? So next time someone around you makes a mistake or you do; give them a little smile and let them know that it’s okay. The office jerk will get theirs in all due time.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

We always seem to make one mistake after another; breaking commandments left and right. How can we call ourselves Christians if we can’t live a life without sin? St. Paul would certainly have a thing or two to say about that. His first direction in this one verse as part of a letter to the Ephesians was “Be kind and compassionate to one another”. This is a great place to start. How you handle yourself with others is a good indication of the messages that have gone to your core. My guess is that you are compassionate and caring toward others. You do your best to help when you can and pray for help when there is more to be done than you can handle. 

As Christians, we forgive and forget a lot more often than we give ourselves credit for. If you held onto every wrong against you, the weight of those emotions would be crushing. We forgive strangers everyday yet we find it hard to forgive those we love. Jesus Christ taught us to be patient with everyone. Even His own disciples were les than helpful in the end yet He forgave them. God, Our Father in Heaven who loves us so deeply, is compassionate with us even when we disappoint Him. All of our sins have been forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection, no exceptions. God forgives you for the sins that you have committed and those that you have yet to commit; that’s why we can call ourselves Christians. Go out and demonstrate God’s love through your faith in Jesus Christ, the world needs our kindness, compassion and forgiveness. 

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is this week in the U.S. and if I tried to tell you everything or everyone that I was thankful for, you’d be reading this for hours. I was reminded of a few key areas in my life that I am grateful for as I wrote a proposal this week for a community that we started working with five years ago. I say “we” because my partner in this project is a long-time friend who I began partnering with over 10 years ago. I am very thankful for the opportunity that I have to work with a great professional who is also a dear friend. The proposal reminded me of the community staff and leaders that we’ve come to know over the years and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to know them. I also work with a great team of city staff and fellow elected officials in my official duties as a Councilmember. It isn’t always easy, but it is the people who I work with that make it all worthwhile.

The project that I bid on is one that my wife can join us on and I’m thankful for our great partnership both at home and in the business. When my wife and I spend time traveling together or just hang out together in our empty nest, we appreciate how grateful we were for the huge blessings in our lives and what we’ve been able to accomplish under stressful circumstances at times. We never let things set us back; we keep talking about how the hard times build character in us. Once again, we sit amazed by the work of God in our lives – even when we didn’t know it. I encourage you to take time this week to reflect on all that you have to be thankful for and look at how God has moved your life even when you faced struggles, He was there. Thank Him for His work and then thank someone in your life that makes things just a little bit better. Happy Thanksgiving!

15 “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful… 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

In our house Thanksgiving Day is the start of the Christmas season. We start listening to classic Christmas music, decorating the house finds it way onto the calendar, preparation for baking begins, Christmas card lists are printed and the peace of the season is in the air. The year will end soon and we all start thinking about how thankful we were for so many things and we look forward to what the new year will bring. No matter what has happened in your life let God’s peace, given to us through His Son Jesus Christ, be with you and comfort you.

It’s hard to think about telling God “thanks” for sending us a savior who had to die before we’d figure it out. God knew what it would take to save us and all He asks is that “whatever we do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and to give thanks to God through Him.” A simple “thanks”. Sometimes through all of the mess in our lives, the frantic pace that we live and the set backs we have, we still have a lot to be thankful for. Our faith in Jesus Christ and God’s grace has guaranteed us eternal life; free from all these worldly problems. Even when you struggle, be thankful. God has a place for you in heaven, which is something to be thankful for!

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

It doesn’t matter where you live in the world anymore, you will witness some large tragedy while existing in a time in which our “politics” have created unprecedented division. The United States is no longer the sole proprietor of violence and division. Governments are being overthrown, racial and religious divisions are abound, “pro” verses “anti” vaxers are literally fighting in the streets; the world is going mad. Yesterday was the second to last Sunday of the Lutheran Church year and we talked the end times or Revelations. I can’t say that we aren’t entering the “end of time”, because the world has been here before – history has a way of repeating itself. While we think things are bad in our own homelands, they are often minor when compared to other parts of the world. I’d like to suggest that the degree of these events affects our perception of what “bad” means to us. For some, it means having to fly commercial instead of by private plane and to others it means not knowing where their next meal will come from.

There are so many parts of the world that truly have it “bad” but we don’t see it or know someone there so it is easy not to think about it or take action. Each of us, no matter what part of the world we live in, is affected by all of these events which can alter how we feel about other people. Religion, race, sexual orientation, political party or its sub-party are just a few ways that someone else defines us. When we begin a sentence by labeling someone first, it shows that our mind is closed. I’m certainly not suggesting that we blend all of our thoughts and beliefs together into one, but we must guard against putting everyone in the same category because they share similarities. To quote from the movie Shrek, “people are like onions, they have layers”. As we get ready for Thanksgiving in the United States, I encourage everyone to think about being truly thankful for the blessings in your life and ask yourself “have I been a blessing to others?”

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:14

The two verses that precede today’s verse from Colossians 3 are: “12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The title of this section in the chapter is “Living as Those Made Alive in Christ” – a set of directions if you will. There isn’t really a lot of room for interpretation in verses 12-14, they seem straight forward to me. Love is the most important virtue. We’ve all heard the expression that “love makes the world go around” but somewhere over the years we seem to have forgotten that. 

We are all afraid of what “they” might do to us. We stereotype people and sensationalize events to make a point. We confuse one act of demonstration for another act of violence or insult. We need to start looking at life and circumstances through the eyes of Jesus, being cautious and vigilant, but with love and compassion. Political issues strain our relationships and cause more distress while religious, racial and sexual orientation stereotypes cloud our understanding and judgment. We are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved”. We need to start acting like it. Despite all of our disobedience and selfish ways, God found a way to bring us closer to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. It was Jesus’ act of love that paid the ultimate price for our sins; let it not be in vain.

Work, the worst four letter word!

We just spent a long weekend with our son and his girlfriend in California to celebrate his birthday, his new job and our 35th wedding anniversary. We jammed everything we could into 3 days. Our son is working in the television industry as an audio engineer – a post all by itself just to explain that end of a production. He loves his new profession and learning new techniques each week as he mixes sound for a popular TV show. He says that he is working to make the music, the dialog and the sounds be as crisp as possible. He works for the production company, but he is also working for his own pride in workmanship – we’re very proud! 

Who are you working for? We often hear the phrase in response – “working for the man” when people describe their jobs. Do you know why you are working like you do? I’d like to suggest that you might consider yourself working as though you are working for God and that His influence shows through in everything that you do. If you had to go to work for God everyday, I bet you would approach your daily work much differently than you do today. Change your outlook, always do your best and at the end of each day pause, close your eyes, tilt your head towards heaven and imagine God’s smile, a wink and Him telling you, “You’ve done a good job today!”

Colossians 3:23-24 “What ever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men… It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Do your friends and family ever wonder why you work so hard or have the patience that you do for your work? The “man” doesn’t care how hard you work, just that you keep showing up, keep your mouth shut and do your job. Working for the “man” is what many people feel destined to do. But the “man” in Paul’s letter is the Lord! Feels different now doesn’t it? We are a reflection of the goodness of God and all that Jesus Christ taught us about living our lives. He didn’t say, “go and work just for yourselves and leave the others to suffer”. 

Jesus taught us to care for each for other and give willingly. While many of us do just that and it can be hard at times. We do a good job and are thankful for the opportunity to serve others. God’s plan for us includes using us as examples for others to see His goodness. When you smile at or encourage someone at work, you are reflecting God’s goodness. When you continue to work hard when everyone else is taking advantage of the workplace, you are reflecting God’s goodness. When you un-jam the copier after someone else walked away from it, you are reflecting God’s goodness. We can see God’s goodness if we just look for it – its everywhere. It is the Lord you are serving, do it with all of your heart!

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? 

Hope and Compassion

I have to admit that I waited until yesterday afternoon to finish this week’s devotion. I was waiting for the election results. I had intended to right about hope and compassion this week regardless of the outcome, I just had two completely opposite openings to navigate. Then, while I sat down to write, I changed my perspective. For some people, Presidential Elections represent either hope or despair and no other options. Presidents come and go but it is the spirit of America that keeps us moving forward through this life. The outcome of local elections affects our lives far more than who the President is; we drive the streets and use the parks of our cities and towns every day. I can’t forget about the quality of our public safety services that are impacted by decisions made at the local level. If hope is on your mind today because of the election (either lack of or more of) then I challenge you to think deeper about the word hope.

Compassion on the other hand should always be on your mind. How can we care for each other or love thy neighbor without compassion? We care for our kids and our parents because we have compassion. I think that as a society, we are about to learn how important compassion is in the coming months. As the pandemic surges worldwide and the global economy remains bloody, thousands of people will begin the eviction process because they have not been working and have been unable to pay the rent. What will happen to them? Will they find hope and compassion? 

Love thy neighbor is a powerful challenge. I believe that most parents will always be there for their kids and that their compassion for their kids will never fail. Hope and compassion can be found in almost everything we do. Hope is found in the love of our Heavenly Father who also shows us that His compassions will never fail. Look around your life and you too will see God’s love all around you; and that should give you hope this week. 

21Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23

The United States elected its next President this past week – ALL WEEK long. The world has been watching our unique democratic system in action for more than a year. If you are reading this and live outside of the US, be thankful! For the rest of us, we’ve been suffering through one of the most painful election cycles in modern times. Many people are excited about the outcome and many are not. Some may not even stop after the votes have been counted. Please pray for us!

There are people in our lives who have struggles each day. A sick loved one, a family member who has passed, or other problems that can overwhelm us as individuals. It is easy to lose hope and get lost in despair. Take comfort in the verse today “therefore I have hope: 22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” God’s compassions never fail! As humans, we want our answers or our solutions right now. We tell ourselves that we don’t have time to wait and can’t understand why God doesn’t get that. We are being reminded that God’s compassions are “new every morning”. So, no matter what the outcome of the election is or what the test results say or what happens in our lives; we will not be consumed! God loves each and every one of us. Go forth this week in peace.

Compassion and Discipline

Discipline comes in many forms. For some of us, it is the focus that drives us every day. For others, discipline means teachable moments and for a few, it means punishment. Supervisors “discipline” people as part of their duties. What do the people who you’ve disciplined take away from the experience? If the punishment was punitive, chances are that they took away a little bitterness. Our job as leaders is to be sure that the punishment fits the crime. If they didn’t know how to or were not equipped to do the job, perhaps seizing on the teachable moment will improve future performance over punitive discipline. The old saying that you shouldn’t kill an ant with an anvil is good advice about compassion.

People often think of compassion as being soft on others or caring about them. When we say, “I feel sorry for them”, we think we’re being compassionate. The word is derived from the Latin phrase: suffer with. The thesaurus lists: empathy, care, concern, warmth, love, leniency and kindness as a few alternatives. What version of compassion do you most often associate with in your life? Supervisors should exercise all of them. I would suggest that everyone should exercise a little compassion with each other rather than just suffering with a person in our minds.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him…” Psalm 103:13

Discipline takes on two roles – punishment and order. The order that discipline brings is getting out of bed every day at 5am to go to the gym for that dreaded spin class or the order that breeds commitment to seeing a job through to the end. Not wanting to repeat myself but the work we do is pleasing to God, we should have the discipline to do our best – always.

On the other side, fear and punishment are not often thought of when we think of our Father in Heaven. We all received punishment for the original sin of Adam and Eve. Child labor is now painful, we have to work the fields for our food and the price of our daily sin is death here on earth. We should fear God! The good news in this passage is that the Lord will have compassion on those of us who fear Him. God loves us and He has proven that by sending His son to die for our sins. We no longer have to fear the punishment of our sins; Jesus Christ did that for us on the cross at Calvary. God wanted His children close to him and while we will not stay in this life for eternity, we will share eternity with our Father in Heaven. A pretty fair punishment if you ask me.

A Good Name

A good reputation or a good name is hard to come by but can be lost very easily. Your success at work and I’d argue, in life, is directly linked to your reputation. Spend a moment and think of a leader or person in your life that you’d like to emulate or is someone that you really enjoy speaking with. Maybe it’s someone that has helped you in your career or trained you in something new. Now ask yourself, have I done any of these things for others? It’s difficult for us to know what our own reputation is; at least what people really think of us. Taking time to reflect on your own reputation and to answer these questions may help you measure how good your name really is.

Society has placed a lot of emphasis on being successful (riches) and we are often judged by the things we have. The good news for today is that we can see that changing. People are becoming more concerned with making a difference or experiencing what life has to offer than they are with amassing wealth. The “tiny house” movement is a great example. I had a friend once asked, are you being significant or successful? He suggests that being significant to someone or to others is far more important than any material success you may achieve. I couldn’t agree more.

Proverbs 22:1 “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

Every day, we all have the opportunity to demonstrate our faith by being an example of living a Christian life. To create a good name, you can show others your compassion, caring, understanding and patience. Being aggressive in business has been rewarded with bonuses and perks but these things may all be at the cost of your good name.

We learn from the message in Proverbs that it is better to be esteemed rather than rich. Today, we are faced with a mountain of challenges but in the end, we should be striving to make a difference. God will provide great riches beyond this life and He will give you the most important of all good names – Saved One. Leadership is not about getting something; it is about giving yourself to others, to share what you know so that others can become significant. We are all leaders to someone in our lives – whether we know it or not. Jesus led the disciples and showed the way of Christian living. St. Paul lead the churches of the region through his letters and moral support. If God can use St. Paul, while in jail, to provide leadership that has lasted for more than 2000 years, how hard can it be for us to be significant?

Imitate God’s Love

I’d imagine that this year’s Easter celebrations were different; some might say weird. While gathering in fellowship and worship are the usual ways we celebrate the most important day of the year, we all found that it isn’t the only way. Easter is the day we are shown God’s love and the love of Jesus Christ who suffered for us but rose in celebration of the victory over sin so that we might have eternal life with Him and God our Father. We all need a little more love these days!

I’d like to suggest that we bring Christ’s example of love into our lives even more today. We know Jesus as compassionate, caring, understanding, patient and overflowing with love. We all need to show compassion for each other, those we know and those we don’t know. During these tough times and bombardment of information we are under, one thing that is missing from it all is common sense and an acknowledgement of human behavior. People are going to make mistakes, or they’ll act in ways that we don’t understand. We need to show understanding and patience to each other; every “gathering” of two or three people is not an afront to social distancing guidelines. Be patient with those around you, be slow to anger and disappointment, it shows that you care. All of these things combined show your love towards others, just as Christ loves us.

 Ephesians 5:1,2 – “Be imitators of God… as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…”

We are so blessed that God loves us. When God handed down the Law contained in the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were afraid because they had seen God’s wrath firsthand. As they continued to live according to their own ways, God spoke to them through the prophets giving the promise of a Savior. God wanted to be close to His children, but sin was preventing that. God sent His only Son into this world to take upon the cross all of our sins on that Good Friday.

Jesus suffered for us because of our sin, but He knew that it would bring reconciliation with God. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” The ultimate sign of love just for us – even if we didn’t deserve it. God knows what we need. We cannot live without sin as Christ did, but we can live a life of love as Christ showed us to. Be an imitator, show others your love and when they ask you why or how you can do it, don’t hesitate to tell them where your strength comes from.