Hope for a New Year

Now that 2023 is underway and we all have hope for what this year will bring, I thought that letting the bible speak for itself might help point you in a more focused direction. Maybe some of your resolutions have already been broken or maybe you are struggling to decide what to make of the new year. Whatever the case, we all need to think about how we are living this life and where our focus is. In the New International Version, the third chapter of Colossians is titled “Living as Those Made Alive in Christ” – a good theme for the new year.

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 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 3:1-4, 12-17

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What Spurs You?

I’ve written before that I believe most people function in “orbits” when it comes to their attitude, motivation, drive or simple ability to get along. If the peak of our performance were to be the center, our attitude can be found somewhere in an oval shaped orbit. Sometimes we are very close, while other times we are far away. When we are far away from our peak, things get a little troubling. We are crabby or we don’t feel like doing anything. Our motivation and drive are really hard to find. When we love what we’re doing, we are in close orbit and when we loathe what we do, we are farther out. Sometimes our orbit even grows in size, and we are pushed even farther away.

No matter what your position in life is: supervisor, employee, executive, line staff, mom. dad, brother or sister; you have to know what keeps you going, what makes you peak? Lisa finds her center point every day at the gym. It’s what gets her up at 4am, everyday. Some people find it in their work because it gives them satisfaction while others find it in their friends. The important thing is to know what “does it” for you. It’s when people lose their focus or their drive that trouble begins. Once you determine your focal point, ask yourself where you are in your personal orbit, and then get close to the peak. Smiles and satisfaction await you.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24

Some people live near their focus point all the time. These are the people that ALWAYS have a smile and kind word. They are the ones who can inspire. Do you have people in your life that inspire you and do you inspire others? It’s harder to know if you inspire others but I would guess that everyone does and they simply don’t realize it. Our human nature is to be social; we were not intended to be solitary creatures, God gave Eve to Adam to keep him company.

This verse asks us how we can help each other live Godly lives of love and goodness. It is meant to be a question whose answer lies in being social. If you accept the orbits concept, you will know when you are at your peak, which is when you should be helping those around you. When you are in deep orbit, you should seek those who will bring you back through positive encouragement, love and good deeds. When people are in deep orbit, they can become lost and that is when the devil steps in to lead them astray. If you are losing sight of your center point, surround yourself with those that can spur you on toward love. The bible should be a place of inspiration and is filled with examples of God’s love. If you are at your center point, share your joy with others and become a source of positive influence.

Do Not be Afraid

Courage is a pretty powerful word. Not everyone has it to the same degree; some people don’t even have it. I think it takes courage to jump out of an airplane or ride a looping roller coaster – I won’t do either. Some people say that firefighters have courage to go into burning building or enter hazardous conditions – I would do both. I suppose that all of this means that we are each held back by different things. We are held back by fear, in most cases, a fear of the unknown. A new job, a new city and a new friend, a new challenge or facing those things that we already know we fear; they are all scary. Many of us would like to quit our jobs and live a life much different than we do today. So why don’t we?

Fear. Sometimes fear can stop us from taking chances at work. For example, we don’t speak up when we have an idea that could change things or that might be innovative. We’re afraid to look foolish. I would suggest that fear of the unknown is probably the top reason why people don’t take chances. They simply don’t know how things will turn out so they keep it safe and do what is comfortable. When you stop and think about all of the chances that some pretty famous people took, our lives would be much different without people like Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. They faced fears and took chances. A few weeks ago I asked, “what would you do if you knew that you couldn’t fail?” Would your life be different? I challenge everyone this week to do or try one thing that pushes your comfort level, just a little. Nothing drastic, just push out a little and see what happens.

“…Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. Exodus 14:13

Moses made this comment to the Israelites as he was trying to reassure them when they were afraid and pushing forward. This advice, even from the Old Testament, works today. Do not be afraid and put your trust in God. This world is so very different today when compared to 10 or 20 years ago let alone thousands of years ago. Today, we have so many things to be afraid of: disease, the war in Ukraine, inflation, trade wars, global uncertainty, identity theft, computer hacking and Washington Politicians.

There are days when I wonder how we even function on a daily basis. Stand firm in your faith! God will bring you deliverance and peace when you share your fears with Him. Stay in His word to learn all of the promises that He has made to you. God tells us over and over how He will protect us. Do not be afraid. Reach out your hands and feel God’s presence in your life and go forward knowing that He is with you. Our fears are made up in our minds, and we should be confident that we aren’t alone. God is with you today and everyday so stand tall and take a chance on Him to bring you the deliverance you need from your fears.

Do Not Be Discouraged

No matter how strong or independent we might think that we are, we all need encouragement. When we have kids, we encourage them all of the time; whether they are walking for the first time or going through potty training. We start our lives with so much encouragement only to watch it fade away into cynicism. After encouraging comes guiding and directing, which is followed by a little criticism before we simply stop doing anything. “They’re adults, they will have to figure it out” is how we justify doing nothing. Sure, as adult children, our kids may push back and resist and we will eventually just stop trying. This attitude also takes over at work with us. We rarely encourage co-workers or hear encouragement from others. I would suggest that our human soul needs it, otherwise we become so cynical that we can seem negative.

Sports teams are full of encouraging moments on the bench. Watch a team score a touchdown or a player hit a homerun and you will see encouragement at its peak. Supervisors have a responsibility to encourage their people along the way. Not every hit is a homerun but sometimes the only thing driving people to try harder is a little encouragement from others. For me, I’d been working about 12 years before I heard someone say, “great job”. Perhaps it was the first time I actually did something right but I was on a pretty successful career path at that time. Supervisors simply didn’t acknowledge good work. We need to change that. I often use restaurant servers as examples because I watch them as they work and they work hard! Tell them what a nice job they did for you. An extra tip says one thing but taking the time to tell them how they did will mean the world. Then, take that concept and start spreading to multiple aspects of your life, watch people’s reaction and sit back and smile.

“The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

Have you ever had one of those crazy experiences or maybe even a horrible string of days at work and then, when it was over, wonder how you made it through it all? Where do you find your strength and inspiration? Some of us can be motivated or inspired by other people while others are motivated by greed and winning.

If you are reading this blog, my guess is that the latter doesn’t do much for you. Sure, people can be motivating, and we can be inspired by the strength or wisdom of someone but, behind it all is the Lord Himself. He goes before you to light paths and order things so that those people are in your life. They may be put there years before He needs to use them, but He knows that you’ll need them. Stop and think about all of the really horrible things that have happened in your life and then think about the places, people and circumstances that kept you going. At the time they seemed random but if you carefully look back, you will see God at work. He promised to never leave you so do not be afraid or discouraged; God right there with you – every step of the way.

Where is God?

Why are all the good people suffering? It seems that too often we hear about someone who has lived very honorably getting sick while someone who has been a rotten person lives on. It’s frustrating because life might actually appear that way. We never hear about “that guy” getting cancer or the evil person at work being involved in a horrible accident. It’s always good people. We aren’t asking for it to happen to bad people but we do notice that they seem to never have these problems. In response to this question of why, I have two immediate thoughts: God needs good people to spread His word through their actions and trials and I don’t know any rotten people well enough to know if they are sick. After that, I started to dwell on my first thought. Good people who get sick always become a source of inspiration for others in some way. 

I’ve known several people who have had serious illnesses and they were inspiring to me as they fought through the challenges; they did the inspiring. So the answer to the question is not why but what are we to learn from this? Are you supposed to be a stronger supporter? Are you supposed to learn about the strength of prayer or how to trust in God? We are all God’s children and He gives us only what we can handle, so what are we going to do with the opportunity that God has presented? Rotten people might not seem to have these problems but if they are truly rotten to the core, then they have eternal problems to deal with. 

“All whom the Father gives me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.” John 6:37

God sent us all to Jesus – period. If Jesus won’t drive us way, what does? Many will answer that it’s sin but God took care of that on the cross at Calvary. Sin will not separate us from God’s love. I’ll suggest that the devil is the one who drives us away from our Savior Jesus Christ. He tempts us all of the time and disease is just one of his tools to turn us away from God. Many times people ask “why did God do this to her?” “Why does God let this happen?” It isn’t God. It’s the devil’s powerful way to make us doubt God’s love in our lives. The devil wants us to turn away from God and will stop at nothing to do it. Jesus will NOT drive us away! 

God can use the pain of disease or injury to show us His love, strength and compassion. God inspires good people to do great things as a result of these bad events. The anniversary of the September 11th attacks is coming up and people often ask, Where was God that day? He was saving thousands of people to do great things and he was inspiring others to be strong in the face of tragedy. Have you ever spoken to someone who was there that day? They tell great stories about the people they lost or they tell of how they found strength in the following years to carry on. They became the inspiration for someone else. This week, make a conscious effort to be inspired by someone or to inspire someone; show the devil your love for God and that you belong to Him. 

Something to Believe In

According to an on-line dictionary, the word “believe” is defined as: accept as true, feel sure of the truth of and, have faith. The thesaurus gives us: be convinced by, regard as true and, think. Given my role as an elected person, I’m often forced to follow politics even when I don’t want to, and I’m forced to be political; and I never WANT to do that. So, I walk a very narrow line in the middle of the road. I’m an independent voter for a reason. We just finished primary election season here in Arizona so, the mailers came as did the endless TV commercials, all filled with half-truths and twisted facts. I hate election season now! 

Alternative facts, fake news, all of media being deemed “the enemy of the people”; it’s hard to believe in anything these days. I know the truth is out there and we should all be trying to find it. I love the old -phrase “figures lie and liars figure”. To me, it represents the concept that you can make anything appear the way you want it just by moving the numbers around. As a society and a humanity, we need to find a path into the future that is not polarizing our beliefs but benefiting from our differences. Perspective changes everything and oftentimes we simply lack perspective to understand the problems. The devil is working hard enough to turn us away from the love and peace that Jesus left for us, let’s not allow him to succeed or we will all understand what wrath means. 

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” John 3:36 

God’s word is very clear throughout the Bible; He can be made angry easily, He has a long memory, and He gave His one and only Son to save the world. If the Son is rejected, He will send His wrath and not let them see eternal life. The promises of God have not been broken. Jesus told us of the wonders of eternal life and the glory that we have, don’t we want to share that with everyone? 

I thought about the people that do not know Christ, which means they have rejected Him. What about the people that I know who don’t have a relationship with Christ or who have children that haven’t been baptized? After reading this verse, I became very sad when I thought about God’s wrath that remains on them. In reflection, this is why I keep writing these weekly devotions. Maybe, I can reach one person that is lost or sustain a relationship in someone else. The work I do with the military is all about safeguarding, and so is this verse. Please reach out to those that are lost and help them find Christ. We are all busy in this life but an eternal life is not possible without Christ. 

Focus

My business partner and I provide strategic planning consulting services for local governments. We use a slightly different approach to the traditional planning process where, instead of focusing on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, we talk about strategic focus areas and the principles that guide them. Every community or organization has them. Sometimes they are found in mission or value statements but often they are representative of the things important to the community. For example, every city, no matter its size, will focus on fiscal sustainability and transparency. In the past, strategic planning often focused on dreaming big – “what would we do if nothing stood in our way” thinking. In today’s reality, there are plenty of things to get in the way, so we ask our clients what is it that they are focused on and what principles are they based in. 

People, for the most part, can be the same – what are you focused on and what principles are those focused areas based in. Ask yourself, what am I focused on? How do you spend your time and what do you get from it? I’m not suggesting that if you spend your time watching TV for a couple hours at night and you’re not getting anything out of it and that you should stop; I am suggesting that if ALL you do is watch TV when you aren’t at work, perhaps you can focus some time elsewhere. Once you determine what you are focused on, you can start to drill in to why you do it and how you will do it. Bringing these things into perspective can help guide the choices that you make.

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured on the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

Talk about focus, Jesus had to keep His eye on where He was heading. Satan tried to blur Jesus’ focus when he tempted Him for 40 days. When God’s plan for His death was revealed to Him, Jesus remained focused on His goal of saving the lost. Even as He carried His own cross, Jesus remained focused on the goal of joining His Father in Heaven and defeating the devil once and for all. There were plenty of things to distract Him – fame, power, faithful disciples and the broken moral structure of the society that He lived in; yet Jesus remained focused. 

His strategic focus was saving the world and He based that focus on the guiding principles established by God – the Ten Commandments. Because of His focus, we can drill in to being good and faithful servants. Jesus took with Him, in His death, our sin and the guilt of breaking these principles. This freedom from sin allows us to focus on the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God. We can find our daily principles spelled out in the bible and maintain our focus on God. Spend some time reinforcing those principles and make time with God a strategic focus area.

Half-Heartedly?

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

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

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

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

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

Persevere

“Times are tough all over” was the title of a hit song in 1990. People have been saying this for years and since the start of the pandemic, we all still know someone who feels like times are tough. It became a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “it’s happening to everyone” but it never really makes anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that Lisa, and I believed that our 3 hour round trip to see our premature daughter in the hospital was building character. Today, everyone one of us knows someone who has received a cancer diagnosis or had another type of life altering event. We hear them ask “why me, why did God do this to me?” 

One of the greatest effects that homelessness has on people who lose their home or place to call home is that they lose hope. These men and women, who have faithfully persevered these past two years, are used to making positive contributions. Once they start to disconnect, the trip downward is fast and takes hope with it. Recent studies have shown that once hope is restored, recently evicted people often return to a productive life. No matter the situation, we all see people who are struggling in this world; living the “times are tough all over” kind of lives. What can we do help them? We can offer hope and support with less judgement and distain. 

“Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12

Some people look at this verse as proof that God is testing them before they can have eternal life. Yet others view it as even though you are tested, do not give up hope because the promise is still yours. You do not have to buy, perform, sacrifice, say, write or do anything to receive God’s forgiveness! He has given us that gift already; we are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The “crown of life” James tells us about, is found in our belief that Jesus is our Savior. We don’t know why some people suffer more than others. 

We certainly don’t understand why some people deal with their trials better than others. It isn’t for us to understand. Think about the trials that St. Paul suffered and he was a persecutor at one point in his life. There are millions of people on this planet suffering simply because they believe in Jesus as their Savior. What hope do they have? They have faith in God’s word and in His promises. It might be all they have but they have it. God is not punishing them or testing them more than anyone else. The devil is still at work in this world and when hope is dimmed he is encouraged; it becomes his foothold in our lives. God is telling us, through James, to not lose hope but persevere because eternal life waits for us. To me, that’s all the reason to keep hope alive. 

Worry About It Tomorrow

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

I’m a believer that the future matters because what we do today doesn’t just have an impact on today alone but will also impact our future and the futures of those around us. Why do we speak up and teach or mentor someone who makes a mistake? I’d suggest that we say something not to show off our own knowledge but to make those around us just a little better. If you don’t care about today, what will tomorrow look like? The key to the verse in Matthew is worry. It says nothing about taking decisive action or helping others to achieve more. The old acronym T.E.A.M – together everyone achieves more holds true. Let’s not worry about tomorrow but let’s all work together for a better tomorrow.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” John 17:20

I once heard a story about a firefighter’s first day on the job back in the early 50’s. He was mopping the kitchen with an old fashioned “stringy” mop when one of the strands got caught under the table leg. He left behind the single strand but his Captain saw it and asked why he left it. He replied that it was only one strand and it wouldn’t matter. His Captain calmly explained that if he left that one and another was left tomorrow and so on that, soon there would be a full mop under there. Picking it up, he realized that “tomorrow” is important. 

Jesus cared for tomorrow too. He is telling us that he was praying for those currently spreading the good news and for those who would grow in faith because of what they had heard. He was praying for us too! Jesus knew that future believers were just as important as the present ones. His focus remained on being our Savior despite knowing he had ahead of Him. This verse confirms that Jesus prayed for you and for me and, that the Bible is the inspired word of God (the message). Each of us will have doubt about our future and we all will, at times, have doubt about God’s love, thanks to sin and the devil’s work. We must stand strong over those doubts knowing that Jesus once prayed for us and continues to keep watch. The past holds nothing but the future is where we can find eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.