Condemnation

Condemnation or condemning someone is a pretty serious matter. The dictionary defines condemn as “express complete disapproval of, typically in public; censure”. Have you unknowingly condemned anyone lately? I’m sure you didn’t utter the words specifically, but we often find ourselves saying something like “I’ll never work with them again” or “if she doesn’t get her act together, I’ll make sure she isn’t our team again”. These are statements of condemnation. Oftentimes, our condemnation is even a little more subtle “Oh him, he is always like [fill in the blank]. I refer to this as “pigeon-holing” someone; putting a person in a cage or box that they can never get turned around in. Some people are put there after one big mistake while others simply earn their position in the pigeon hole.

You might ask yourself “how many times do I need to get burned before I stop believing they will actually come through for me?” The better question is “have you told them how they’ve let you down and what effect it has had on your work?” We need to be honest with people and let them know how their actions effect how others perceive them. Right or wrong, perception is reality in the eye of the one who perceives the action. If you have found yourself pigeon-holing someone, give them a chance to get out and make amends. If you leave them in the hole, you are condemning them to that place for a career. Reach out and share how they make you feel; not how they make everyone feel but how they make you feel. It makes it about the two of you which is less threatening. They might have been clueless about how their behavior affected other people because no one ever took the time to talk with them.

“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned. But whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:18

We are not condemned! No matter what we’ve done, Christ took our weaknesses, our sins and our guilt with Him on the cross so we would share in God’s love and Grace. We are not condemned because we are forgiven! John tells us quite simply that those who do not believe already stand condemned. God’s inspired word, through John, sums up for us our salvation. We are not condemned! We are assured eternal life through our faith in Christ.

We may make the same mistakes over and over; we may commit the same sins again and again, but we have forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice for us. God’s grace and love, along with our confession and repentance is what keeps us out of the pigeonhole. God isn’t interested in keeping us locked up or put in the same place, He needs us to be free so that we can spread the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. If you feel trapped, seek God and you will find the door to the hole that has been open this whole time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. God has not put you in a pigeonhole, you have put yourself there. God wants to see you free and flying high, make Him proud!

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He is Risen!!

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter. It’s a great time of year! I am always moved by certain verses at this time of the year and decided to write a devotion that is mostly Bible verses. While this too, is a departure from my normal process, I felt it was appropriate to continue the discussion about our salvation. 34 “Then Peter began to speak: ”I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is LORD of all. 37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  Acts 10:34-43

The story of Jesus gathered up here in 9 verses, God truly works in mysterious ways. Accepting that God inspired the words written in the bible is accepting that these words are also from God. The real “story” of Jesus is the message in verse 43 in which we receive forgiveness of sins through Him. Pause and think about that for a minute, forgiveness of sins – all sins. Nowhere does it say that forgiveness is limited to a specific number of sins, the type of sins or whom we commit them against; we can receive forgiveness for all of our sins. Live your life free from the guilt and slavery of sin. We have the ability to do it and God gave us the directions how to through St. Paul who wrote: 15”Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 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

We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ yesterday. We celebrate our salvation and life everlasting because of God’s grace in our lives. Jesus took the guilt and sin of the whole world with him on Good Friday as He suffered and descended into hell. All of that would have been for nothing if He hadn’t been raised on the third day. We celebrate our salvation because of what God did for us. St. Paul reminds us to live in peace and do everything in the name of Jesus. Have peace this week as you celebrate your salvation.

Where’s the Love?

I have resisted writing about the mixed messages coming out of Washington DC. There was an old rule in the fire station – don’t talk about your wife, religion or politics. It’s not a bad rule but I’m becoming afraid that human beings are losing their moral compasses. If we stop taking care of each other then we are all in big trouble. The issues of “religious freedom” and what to “do” with undocumented residents is a great opportunity to discuss the love of God and our sin with people who you might not ever of had the chance to. I had opportunities to write this last week but did other things instead, perhaps even wasted time. Some would argue that I sinned because I wasted time; nothing new there. I know that not a day goes by that I don’t sin and most of the time I’m completely unaware of it. When did being born from an undocumented resident become a sin?

Someone I was talking with recently asked the question, are there degrees of sin? It was a great question because some people have a hard time accepting “big sins” but easily overlook the “small” ones; but in God’s eyes, sin is sin. I will argue that all of the discussions, arguments and debates about “religious freedom” and “dreamers” are focused on the wrong part of the equation; they are focused on the sin. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a common phrase many people use. While it’s a good one, it keeps the focus on the sin. I looked at a number of passages for this week that focused on God’s love, living in peace and sin but turned my focus back on why this whole dialog started in the first place – fear.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:28

No one ever talks about forgiveness. The conversation is focused on the sin during “freedom” debates or on being “illegal” on the DACA discussion. There is not a day that goes by that we all don’t sin. We can’t avoid it no matter what we do, thanks to Adam and Eve. Sin came into this world to destroy it but God had other plans. God loves us despite our sins.

16“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. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)

We are forgiven, period. No amount of sin, no degrees of sin, no amount of guilt or fear can change that we are forgiven through faith in Jesus. Yes, we should love our neighbor as ourselves and yes, we should hate the sin, not the sinner but we should never be afraid because we are forgiven. We should practice love and compassion as Jesus showed us. He never chose one ethnicity over another when he healed or shared God’s Word. He taught us to love everyone – brothers, sisters, Jews, Gentiles, sinners, saints and even tax collectors. It might be hard not to sin but it should be easy to love and show compassion toward another human being.

Mistakes

This weekend we saw a number of great NFL football games in the first round of the playoffs. Four games were played, four teams won and four teams lost. There were mistakes made, no doubt about that. I’m not talking about any game in particular 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. We all forget that post-it-notes were actually a result of someone’s mistake. How do you react when someone makes a mistake? I always make two promises to the teams that I 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. 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 football teams review films of the game they just played, each week; 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, the 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 single 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 or even ourselves. Jesus Christ taught us to be patient with everyone. Even His own disciples were less 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.

The Wonderful Acts

Thanksgiving was last week and I felt another devotion on thankfulness was fitting. Leaders are in the position to influence the lives of those that work for them, those they work with and occasionally, those who they work for, especially those in middle management. Regardless of our roles in life, we are often so busy trying to juggle all of our priorities that sometimes we forget to say thank you. If we are in a leadership position, it is only because people follow us. If they are following us because they have to, well, we are simply just managing them. If we are true leaders, we are influencing people’s lives each day by what we say and do. If the people who work for you are truly following you, they will alter their perceptions, attitudes, knowledge and behaviors all because of you.

Last week I suggested that you pick someone who makes your life just a little easier and say thank you to them. I’d like to suggest that you also say thanks to the team that follows you. Tell them about the great work they do and how it impacts your business, then tell your coworkers how great it is to work with them and what they do to support you and then thank your boss for what he or she does for you personally and how you’ve grown from your experience working for them. Even if your boss is horrible, you are still learning something. Don’t let this Thanksgiving time slip away without thanking those that make your workdays a little more bearable. As a leader, it’s important for your people to know that you notice and that you care.

8Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 9Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.            1 Chronicles 16:8-9

We are taught that when we pray, we should give thanks to God for all that he’s done for us. Even if you are struggling right now, God is with you making you stronger. We often pray when we need something or are worried but how often do we pray just to give thanks? We see people accepting awards or scoring points in a sporting event point to the heavens as if to say “thanks to you God”. We don’t have to wait until we win an award or score a touchdown; everyday is reason to celebrate.

Today’s verse reminds us to tell others what God has done for us: “tell of all his wonderful acts.” The greatest thing that God has done for us is to send us a savior, someone to intercede on our behalf with God so that our sins are forgiven. Jesus Christ taught us how to live, how to treat each other and how to be saved from ourselves. He is a great leader and deserves our thanks. Today, tell God how thankful you are for everything in your life and ask for the courage to spread to the word.

Love

If you live in the United States, you have been witness to mass shootings and a time in our politics of unprecedented division. I recently saw the city of Marawi in the Republic of the Philippines in a news broadcast; there is nothing left there but piles of rubble and shells of buildings in what used to be a thriving city. In June of this year, Isis took over the city and has held control over it for the past five months – until recently. Philippine Security Forces regained control of the destroyed city and now we are seeing the devastation for the first time. While we think things are bad here at home, they are often minor when compared to other parts of the world. 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 some 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 when we don’t see it or know someone there it is easy to not think about it or taking action. Each of us, no matter what part of the world we live in, is affected by events that can alter our feelings about other people. Religion, race, sexual orientation or political party are just a few ways that someone else defines us. When the phrase “I’ll only” begins a sentence to describe someone, it shows that the person speaking has their mind closed. I’m certainly not suggesting that we embrace hatred and those who hate but we must guard against putting everyone in the same category because they are similar to the haters. The 1970’s group, the Bee Gees, had a hit song titled “How Deep is your Love” and the Black Eyed Peas released “Where is the Love” in 2003. I think these questions are valid today. 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 to 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 pretty 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 through the eyes of Jesus, being cautious and vigilant, 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.

Tempting, isn’t it?

They say, “temptation is everywhere”; I have to believe it. Every day we see so many things that it’s amazing we all aren’t financially and morally bankrupt. (I know that’s arguable but go with it.) There is an old leadership saying: “don’t ask your people to do things that you wouldn’t do yourself”. It doesn’t mean that if you can do it yourself, you should. It’s about having people do things that are dangerous, improper, illegal that you wouldn’t do yourself but you’d be willing to sacrifice them to do it. It sounds horrible (and it is) but it happens. It is usually in a very subtle way when a supervisor “suggests” an edge over the competition but isn’t really serious in providing specific direction on how to do it but does give specifics about the “reward” for such a victory. All of us at some point have been tempted to “get” someone at work to simply “show them” who we are. Most of the time we don’t act on it but when we do, we usually don’t feel good about ourselves when we do.

Temptation at home can be strong too. We are tempted to buy something we really can’t afford and when we do buy it, we get buyers remorse. We end up paying it off after a few months (or years) on the credit card and swear to never do it again. The consequences are minor so we don’t worry about doing it again when temptation comes knocking. We will keep answering those temptations until we have a significant event that changes our behavior but that can often be too late. The financial ruin, job loss or broken relationship that follows not only rocks our faith but the outlook we will carry for the rest of our lives. I’d like to say don’t act on them but as I started, “temptation is everywhere”. The key is recognizing the temptation and turning to truth about what is proper and what you can actually afford.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;” James 1:13

Wouldn’t it be nice to never be tempted by evil? It must be one of the “perks” of being God! Now that we’ve established that we are not God, we have to look at who is tempting us. Sometimes it’s just the “old Adam” in us; the human nature that “justifies” our actions to do something small or with minor consequences. There are times when it is the devil that is tempting us. The “original sin” we all have came from the devil and he is still working everyday to turn us away from God. He plants small doubts, jealousy, envy and want in our heads. We can easily “justify” doing anything – “I’m owed”, “no one will notice”, “everyone else is doing it”, or “I need this” are a few examples.

Every time we justify a temptation to ourselves, act on it and then feel remorseful, we’re simply allowing the devil to win another round. Sometimes, we blame God for not being “strong enough” to block these temptations or our actions and there are some that will blame God for constantly testing us and turn away. It is not God’s work; it is the devil at work! Stay strong in your faith, remain connected to God’s word, pray daily with thanksgiving and ask for God’s help. The “right answer” is within you; you simply must look beyond the devil’s rationale for the truth.

Forward Focused

“Forgive and forget”. It works great in theory but it’s hard to practice on a regular basis. We always seem to be quick to forgive but never quite get to the forget part. Men famously complain that their wives never forget “that one time when we were dating” – years ago. Men are just as bad, so I’m not celebrating here. Saying “I made a mistake” is one of the hardest things people can say to each other. It shows great humility and is a demonstration of respect that the person has for the relationship. There are several versions of “I made a mistake”: I was wrong; I shouldn’t have done/said that; I didn’t mean to or that’s no what I meant and the newest version – just kidding. I don’t quite get that one. Despite all of these versions, what we don’t often hear is a good old fashioned – “I’m sorry”.

Sometimes mistakes have consequences, one of which is it affects someone on a personal level. When it does, we should acknowledge the effort it took to admit the mistake by responding to them with affirmation that it’s “okay” or “I forgive you”. Our human nature makes forgetting about it hard; this mistake or hurt always seems to resurface when the same person is involved in a new but similar situation. Our brains are programmed to “recall” events and how we reacted to them is part of how we learn and is how we process rapid decision-making; so the mistakes comeback sub-consciously. We have to keep our emotions “in check” and dismiss it from our reaction (unless it’s a duplicate event). Ultimately, give everyone a little grace and your forgiveness.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14-15

St. Paul was telling the Philippians to leave the past behind them, forget their old ways, old habits, old beliefs and old understandings. His advice to us today is the same, look toward the future and to what you can do today to live a better life. No matter what you’ve done, leave it in the past. At the time Paul wrote these letters, the people of the world were leading pretty brutal lives. They raped, pillaged and murdered each other. It was an “every man for himself” world. They watched human slaughter for entertainment in places like the Coliseum in Rome. He was telling them to leave all of it the past and focus on the future prize promised by God – eternal life through Jesus Christ.

I have no idea how many people read this each week but I will bet that no one has lived a life today like those who lived in the First Century. No matter what you you’ve done, look toward the future you have through Christ. God wanted you saved, that’s why He sent Jesus to die for our sins – then and now. You are forgiven! As it is written in Acts 10:43 “…Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” There are no other versions or ways to say it; you are forgiven. Now start living and looking toward to the future with Jesus Christ.

Holy Week

Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.35For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD. – Proverbs 8:34-35

Holy week is upon us! I will be focusing on the meaning of Holy week and the celebration we will have next Sunday – Easter Sunday. We will also mark the saddest day in our church year as well – Good Friday. No one really feels good about Jesus’ crucifixion but it marks the beginning of the end for Satan’s hold on our lives. Jesus fulfilled his mission to save the world that day but not without extreme torture; he was sacrificed so that we might live with our Father in heaven for all eternity. On that good day, God, through His Son Jesus, defeated the burden of sin for us all – forever. How quickly we can forget that we are free from the penalty of sin and can look forward to eternal life. All of that happened on one “good” day. However, the job was not complete. Jesus still needed to descend into hell, finish the job and rise to life once again on the third day.

Our forgiveness from sins was raised up to heaven along with Jesus and we now enjoy the freedom from the hold placed on us by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The Proverbs verses tell us the rest of the story. “Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” We are blessed because we have the word given to us by God Himself and listen to the messages of Jesus Christ about how to live our lives. We watch the doors of our lives to be sure that we remain strong and keep Satan in his place by knowing and believing that we have eternal life in Jesus Christ. We wait for the day that we will be raised from the dead, like Jesus, to live eternal lives in paradise.

We can only do this through our faith in God the Father and His Son, our savior Jesus Christ. “For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD.” God is always with us, which means that Jesus is too. We all struggle in our lives to live as Christ taught us to and we fall short. It’s Satan who puts guilt in our minds and on our hearts; he’s the one telling us it really doesn’t matter. His words are empty and his promises are lies. The one who told us “those who find me, find life and receive favor from the LORD” is the only thing we should be listening to. Know that your sins are forgiven if you have faith in Jesus Christ as our savior, no matter what. There are no degrees of forgiveness or no works that do it for you; God’s grace to all of us means a life free from the guilt of sin and forgiveness of those sins for all of eternity. If that isn’t something to celebrate, I don’t know what is.

The bible speaks

I’ve been holding these verses in my folder for months as I review the folder for weekly inspiration. I can’t stop looking at them as one whole verse and when I try to break them up, it just doesn’t feel right. With Easter being so late in the year, I keep getting distracted by other verses that are more general for my posts. My attention keeps turning back to these verses since they speak to the bigger “story” of the meaning of Easter and why our faith is so important. Please read these slowly and listen to what they are saying to you. The majesty of the bible is that you can read it over and over and come away with something new each time.

Romans 8:22-30

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

JOHN 14:23-29

 23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.