Lately, I’ve found myself saying, “why does this have to be so hard?” I read a great article two weeks ago titled “Why Simple Rules Produce Better Decisions” by Valeria Maltoni. In the article she explains the beliefs found in a book by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt “Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World”. The authors believe that we should use a small set of simple rules — “shortcut strategies that save time and effort by focusing our attention and simplifying the way we process information.” Simple rules work because they allow for flexibility, they produce better decisions because they make decision-making fast and easy and, they allow for activities to be synchronized on the fly; doing what is inherently right for the greater purpose.
I wasn’t trapped in my rules of overly complex situations; I was being challenged on matters that should have been quite simple. The other side of “this is hard” is when we get bad news. A couple of weeks ago, a young man who I used to work with passed away from work related cancer. This young man left behind two small children and an amazing family with fought with him to try and overcome a rare form of cancer. I’m not the only one who has had this happen to him; my guess is that everyone knows someone dealing with a hardship. We can’t over simplify these challenges and we can’t write new rules for how they are applied; we are not in control. Today’s verse reminds us that the road to the kingdom of God is not easy. We need to remember that the destination however, is paradise.
“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
I wish I knew why we had to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus took our sins upon Himself and suffered for them so that we may be blameless in God’s eyes. We are assured of that in the bible. So why do we have to suffer in this life? I’d like to think, because no one really knows, that we need to appreciate all that God has done for us. If you look back over time, the human race hasn’t been very good at following the Commands of God. He gave us 10 simple rules to follow and the human race found ways around them or through them.
I often use the phrase made famous by Ronald Reagan, “Trust but Verify”. Is this what God is doing with us? Is God trusting us to do what He commands and have Jesus as our one and only savior but is He verifying our faith in Jesus? Where do we turn when things get bad, who do we rely on and how do we react in these times of hardships? There is only one simple answer; we must turn to God when we are faced with hardship. He will be with us all the way. He has never promised a smooth ride or a simple life, hardship builds character and demonstrates our faith in God. The road will be rough but it leads us to paradise – eternal life with God.
“Who’s responsible for this?” Most everyone shivers when they hear those words. Responsibility can often be a huge burden. We are given it through our job/position and sometimes we just take it upon ourselves. If you are the boss then you are always responsible for the things that happen in your area. If you are a parent, you too are responsible for everything that happens around your house. We all have responsibilities to something or someone and these responsibilities usually weigh us down. There are days when we don’t feel like being in charge or always being responsible, it’s natural. As a leader, you are always leading your people. You don’t get to say “I’m not feeling it today” or you can’t give away your responsibilities; we just can’t do it.
No matter what you do or what position you hold; people count on you. Think about the people that you count on every day, in every setting or circumstance. You are one of those people to someone else. We are responsible to each other; the key is also being accountable to them. There’s an old saying that one “oh no!” wipes out ten “atta boys”. Go out and make this a great week for yourself and those that you are responsible to and those that you are responsible for. See how contagious a little responsibility can be and demonstrate what accountability looks like. Own your actions, your promises and your words.
“For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver,
the LORD is our king; it is he who will save us.” Isaiah 33:22
Today’s verse is from the Old Testament, a time before Jesus Christ. Think about how the world was during that time period and all of the chaos that consumed everyone. I imagine it to be a very scary time to live in; between the wars, slavery, punishments, Kings and Rulers not to mention that God was not very happy with His people. No one was taking responsibility for themselves or their actions. Isaiah was trying to tell the people who was really in charge of their lives.
No one but the Lord was responsible for all of these things; not a single King was in control, the Lord was. Yet still, we didn’t listen and we continued to ignore our responsibilities. The Lord is our Judge, our lawgiver and our King and He saved us through His Son Jesus Christ. It was God who took responsibility for our salvation and sent His Son to us. It was Jesus who took the responsibility to live a perfect life, to teach us how to live and was even held accountable for our sins. God gave us the laws but Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection took away our failures to follow the laws (sin). It was God who held Jesus accountable for our sins and yet, He also granted each of us eternal life through faith in Him. We can count on Him to be with us in our journey here on earth; He’ll never say “I’m not felling it today”.
“What is that supposed to mean!” Have you ever said those words? Often times we rush through our conversations that we skip a few key words and change the meaning of everything that we are trying to say. Text messaging has made this problem even worse. We see young people who have a hard time expressing themselves. Their sentences are short and void of emotion, if it can’t be said in a text or e-mail, they just aren’t saying it. How are we to supposed to deal with them?
One idea is that when we speak to our younger friends or co-workers and the communication is critical, we can ask them to repeat back to us what they think we said. We can also ask them how they want to be communicated with. One thing is for sure; we must choose our words carefully knowing that each one has the possibility of meaning more than one thing to a new generation of young people who may have a slightly different dictionary version than we do. We must be flexible and patient, our role is to continue to lead them.
“because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5
The bible is such a great book but it too can be filled opportunities for misinterpretation. Look at the various churches that claim to offer insight into God’s word and then proceed to tell you how to live your life. The gospel did come to us with great power; we can impact people’s lives by following the words given to us. We are not the judges of other people’s lives, the bible tells us that. The Holy Spirit is present in our lives but so is the devil, they are constantly fighting for our attention.
It is the deep conviction that we have in our faith that keeps the devil in check. Our words mean something; they are the light into our heart. Do you openly profess your love and belief in Jesus Christ? When given the chance to gossip about someone, do you jump on it? These are all windows into your heart. The bible is more than just words; it is the WORD of God, given to us through the Holy Spirit who inspired its writers. The words and stories are told in such a way to bring meaning to each word. These words mean something. At the end of the day, we must watch our words and our actions because as they say, actions speak louder than words. The bible is our guide. No matter what we’ve done or said, we are forgiven by the grace of God and Jesus taking our sins onto Himself so we may have eternal life. Now that is plain and simple no matter how you say it.
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.
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.
I’ve written before about being a slave to my calendar but I still haven’t broken the chains. Reading today’s verse got me thinking about the other things in my life that pull me in multiple directions or control my time and energy. Using the term “slave” isn’t appropriate in most cases since it has such negative connotations but it really describes how something or someone can have complete control over you. As human beings, we like to be in control of the things in our lives and the path that we take. When we have little or no say, we feel enslaved.
I function, at high levels, in at least four different capacities in my life. As a local government consultant, an elected official, a military contractor and a husband/father. These are all awesome roles that I play and are hopefully meaningful to those that I serve. The challenge is that they are usually more in control of me than I am of them. What things are controlling your life? Often, they are things that we simply can’t do without – our job, our family or our parents. But sometimes we can actually effect change that will free us; like spending less time with a friend who taking an emotional toll on us or a hobby that has started to consume ALL of our free time. One of the keys to happiness is to spend time on things that are meaningful to you and bring joy into your life. Figure out what those things are and break the chains on everything else.
“34Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:34-36
We are a slave to sin. This is one of those things that we cannot control. We can’t control or manage it and no matter what we do, we will sin. Jesus said a number of times that we are “in Him and He is in us”. We also know that what has been given to Jesus has also been given to us. This verse reminds us that we are free from sin because Jesus took all of our sins with and upon Him on the cross. He set us free from sin! It’s amazing to me the number of people who feel that they are not worthy to even go into a church because of their sin. “I have to get right with God, first” they say.
We are all “right with God” because of Jesus! The Son has set us free from sin and nothing stands between us and God. We are no longer under the law and we have been made right with the law thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation. It is pretty clear in the Bible that God has granted our salvation and eternal life in heaven through our faith in Jesus Christ. I am in awe of that. Despite my daily sins, God continues to forgive me. When we hear about grace and mercy, this is the first thing that should come into our minds. We are free indeed! Consume your time with things that are pleasing to God like spending time in the Bible reading God’s word or giving your talents freely to those who need it. Let others know what freedom is all about.
Christmas is just a few days away so I feel that it’s appropriate to use the entire post this week for bible reference. The first Christmas day found the wise men looking for the brightest star – the North Star, to find the birthplace of a savior. God was sending us a savior, a leader, a servant and equally as important, a bright star to show us the way. Leading others to righteousness sounds like a big task, let alone lead many to righteousness as Daniel suggests. In typical human fashion, we can’t see ourselves doing that. God gave the world, in a single star shining in the darkness of the North, THE light of the world. Jesus spread the word of God with only 12 disciples. Out of a single man – a single star – came the salvation for all mankind.
The analogies are plentiful here – a single flashlight can lead to safety, a single decision, etc. God gave us freedom from sin and everlasting life through His son, one man, Jesus Christ. When you ask yourself – “what can I do?” you should think of yourself as that single light. This is the time of year people will be open to hearing about Christ. Take the opportunity to lead one person to righteousness. Like stars that fill the night sky, you’ll never know what you might be the start of.
“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” Daniel 12:3
Christmas is just a few days from now and all of our planning for the holiday will hopefully come together. God gave THE ultimate gift that day, His Son. This day was prophesied throughout the ages. Even John the Baptist talked about “someone who is greater than I”. God sent us a light for this world, a world filled with darkness. This light helps us see God’s will, through our faith in Jesus Christ as our savior. God wants us close to Him and He wants us all to join in Him in everlasting life.
Matthew encouraged us to keep our faith and remain strong in our belief by reminding us that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. If we can be strong in faith, nothing is impossible. What does your vision of the future looks like? What does it look like with the help of the brightest star? Keep your faith in Jesus Christ strong. A future without Christ is not a future; it’s the end. Enjoy the birthday party this week (Christmas); I hope you are spending it with your family or friends or both. Ask God for help finding the light for this life and let your imagination run wild for what eternal life will be like. Merry Christmas!
They say that the only thing that is consistent about our world today is that change will happen. Cell phone plans are changing, the world stock markets have been changing (hourly) and our access to information can change our point of view in an instant. I can’t take credit for creating it but I’ve been repeating a phrase for years about the fire service – we must be Semper Gumby; always flexible. It seems that things are changing so much that everyone must have a little Semper Gumby in them. How do you react to change? Are you a resister that has to be convinced that change is good or are you one of those people who jumps right on board with the change? There are a few people out there who are the objectors and will fight change right until the end. It’s important to know what role you play when change comes knocking.
The opposite of change is consistency. There is a lot to be said for being consistent; it can also lead to routine and ruts but lets stay positive. As a worker, a spouse, a family member or a supervisor, the people around us appreciate a little consistency. No one likes guessing which version of a person will show up from one day to the next. Consistent quality of your work is important too. When people can count on you to deliver consistent work products, you not only improve their lives but you raise your worth or value for to them. For as often as things can change, they can stay the same too. People say that history often repeats itself, which for me means, there is a little consistency out there. The specific names and places might be different but the circumstances are often the same. So, while things around us are changing at what appears to be a break-neck pace, know where you fall in the spectrum of change but also embrace the consistency of life to be that one person people can count on.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
This verse can become a great anchor point for our lives as we struggle with the constant changes around us. The world markets went on a wild ride this past week and people started worrying about the future. Thousands of people sold stock out of fear despite the warnings that the ride was temporary and was a needed adjustment. It was almost the example of quitting when things got bad. Do you cut and run when things get bad? The devil would like you to do that; turn from God and take matters into your own hands. If we turn away when things get bad and rely on our own ways and not God’s, we have taken the temptations of the devil.
We have consistency in God, through His Son Jesus, that we will be protected and have eternal life. There are no recounts in the bible of God’s love changing or of Jesus changing His ministry. Jesus remained consistent to the Prophet’s teachings right through His own death. God remained consistent with His desire to have His children close by Him and providing for their needs; even when His children disobeyed Him. God’s continued grace and mercy was given to us through His Son Jesus Christ, given to die for our sins, so that we may have consistency in an eternal life with Him. Sure, the world has changed over the thousands of years but God’s love has been consistent; we are free from sin and have eternal life through His son Jesus Christ.
This week we celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. God recognized that we couldn’t obey the law that He had given to us. God knew that we were simply too involved in ourselves to be faithful to Him. However, God also knew that He could not forsake us and that His love for us was greater than His disappointment. We learn throughout the bible that God foresaw this as He continued to tell of a savior in the Old Testament. His angels had been preparing the way. John the Baptist was busy in the Jordan River preparing for the coming of Jesus. Mary was spoken to by the Angel Gabriel in preparation for her role in saving the world. Elizabeth was given a child as a further sign by God of the miraculous things to come. All signs pointed to the new King and Jesus revealed himself as an adult when God was ready for Him to begin His work. The bible has been the most scrutinized “book” in history. It has been authenticated to within years of accuracy, closer than any other historical document. God so ordered the world to allow this “proof” to exist. The bible is God’s word, given to us as a testament of His love for us.
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13
We have all been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Now that’s something to celebrate! God gave His only Son to save the world; He gave us His Devine Word to read and understand; He gave us eternal life through Jesus Christ. Mankind has never done anything to be worthy of eternal life and never can. No amount of works or prayer or tithing can give us what Jesus Christ did. Only God’s promise and His love for all of His children is what allow us to be with Him forever in heaven. Jesus took all of our sins and all of our faults with Him on the cross and then left them in hell. When He ascended into heaven, he took us with Him there too, leaving us innocent in God’s eyes. We became marked with a seal only possible through our faith in Jesus Christ. We not only should celebrate the birth of our savior but we should celebrate God’s love for us.
“Times are tough all over” is the title of hit song from 1990. It was also the title of a Cheech and Chong movie but I digress. People have been saying this for years and since 2008, we all know someone who feels it. This phrase has become a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “its happening to everyone” but it doesn’t make anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve mentioned before that Lisa and I believed that our 3 hour round trip to see our premature daughter in the hospital was building character. Today, we all know someone who has received a cancer diagnosis or another type of life altering medical diagnosis. We hear them ask “why me, why did God do this to me?” I have a very dear friend who suffered a massive stroke back in February. He had a bleed deep in his brain that caused left-sided paralysis and a number of other physical issues. His family set up an on-line journal for them to post about his progress. His wife has been posting daily and sharing stories that remind us that he hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Not once has she said “why me” but instead she has remained dedicated to her husband and telling his story. He will spend months, if not longer, in a wheel chair and will require long hours of therapy every day to regain control over simple things in his life. He has a large family and a number of grandchildren, I’m sure he’s happy to see them on a regular basis. There is no regret and no “why me”, they continually thank God for the blessings that have received everyday so far. They have hope. On the flip-side, one of my daughter’s friends is struggling to maintain her job, care for her child and finish her college education; she’s thinking about quitting school. She is losing hope and her future is in jeopardy; so is her child’s for that matter. They are two people 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 forgiveness. God 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. Job suffered too and had God’s favor. 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 don’t lose hope but persevere because eternal life waits for us. To me, that’s a good reason to keep hope alive.