No Fear

I always struggle writing about “current events” which have turned into the mixed messages coming out of Washington DC on just about any social issue. 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 more concerned each week that as human beings, we are losing our moral compasses. If we stop taking care of each other then we are all in big trouble. The issues of “religious freedom”, healthcare, “illegals at the border” and public assistance programs are great opportunities to discuss the love of God and our sinful nature with people who you might not ever of had the chance to. 

I had opportunities to be more productive than I was this past week, some might say that I even wasted time. Those same people will say I sinned because I wasted time; what else is new? I know that not a day goes by that I don’t sin and most of the time I’m completely unaware of it. 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; we need to remember that sin is sin. I will argue that all the discussions, arguments, and debates about the “current event” issues that I suggested earlier are focused on the wrong part of the equation, the sin. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a common phrase many people use. It’s a good one because it keeps the focus on the sin. I looked at several passages for this week that focused on God’s love, living in peace and sin but turned my focus back on why these discussions and debates 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 anymore. The conversation is always focused on the sin these current event debates – not working hard enough, being lazy, being “illegal”, unconventional life choices, the list goes on. 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. 

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. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

I’ve posted this before and find myself returning to it every year at Christmas time. We just celebrated the birth of our Savior, and it is reminder of the real “new beginning” in our lives. There are two times during the year that I really focus back on God’s word; now and at Easter. We can get so wrapped up (no pun intended) in the hustle and bustle on “holiday season” that we can easily forget about our celebration. We forget about Love and Forgiveness as God promised to all of us. We rush from event to event that we miss the best present of all time. So again, I thought that I would let the word of God stand alone and reach everyone in its own way. Please have a safe New Year’s Eve and may God bless your 2022.

God’s Love and Ours 

7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” 1John 4:7-16

Values

Temptation is everywhere and we all know it. Sometimes it shows itself at Costco when we see a “deal that we can’t pass up” or it shows up at work when we don’t need to “tell the whole story” Or we agree to get “creative with the accounting” because our boss told us to. I’d like to talk about the type of temptations that shape us as people, not those that tempt our waistlines or willpower like a donut or one more glass of wine. The people in our lives, the experiences that we’ve had and what we’ve been taught all shape our morals and values. Values are the inner judgments that determine how we will behave and morals are about how we execute those judgments. While some people interchange those definitions, it is clear that they are different but both of them influence how we behave. 

When we don’t experience negative consequences from “deceiving or cheating” our brain stamps it, “okay for use again”. We will continue to deceive ourselves until there are consequences and we are forced to “re-learn” to do it right. The best way to continue to train our brains is for us to keep doing the right thing, even when no one is looking; being people of integrity. If we give in, we are only deceiving ourselves and that will have life-long implications.

Romans 13:12 – “…let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

An armor of light sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I envision a brilliant white, shining armor chest plate and a matching shield. What can’t you defend off with such protection? We know, of course, that the white armor is the protection given to us from our Savior, Jesus Christ. He has clothed us in white as we go through our lives “not guilty” of sin because of His sacrifice for us. We must guard that our light does not dim by remaining true to our Father in Heaven and to His Son, our Savior. 

Our light dims every time we submit to darkness. When we do not live, as God wants us to, we dim our light. The good news however is that our confession of those sins and our faith in Jesus Christ allows our light to shine brightly once more. We all know people who have fallen in to darkness. We have a responsibility to shine our light on their lives and show them the way. Reassure them that they too, can put on an armor of light by turning their lives back toward God and then “get fitted for their suit” through Jesus Christ. We do not ever have to live in darkness; Jesus is our light.

We are Free

Yesterday was July 4th and in the U.S. we celebrate our country’s independence as the Fourth of July Holiday. I have traveled to Washington DC many times for work, and you can see signs of our founding fathers everywhere along with the power of our government on what seems like every corner. It wasn’t until I’d seen just about everything else before I visited the Jefferson Memorial. Not for any other reason than, I was too lazy to “go all the way over there” on the other side of the pond. I remember very vividly seeing the monuments one night and the Jefferson Memorial didn’t look that far away after visiting the MLK Memorial. I was wrong but that’s another story. When you see the quotes from great leaders like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and MLK you are inspired as an American. 

The interesting thing about all that history however is, we have no idea what they really went through to get us to the point of “One Nation Under God”. Not too far from the Lincoln Memorial are the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Korean War and the World War II Memorials. These four memorials each represent some of the “actions” that have kept our country free since July 4, 1776. Again, these memorials tell of men and women who sacrificed it all for us to be free in circumstances that are unimaginable to most of us. This Fourth of July is not just a celebration of our country’s birth but is a celebration of those that have fought, here and abroad, for us to remain free. Some did it with words and pens, others with swords and rifles, but they all did it for their love of their Country; their actions meant millions of others would be free. 

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1John 3:18

When I first saw this verse I was ready to write about love and honesty but with the July 4th Holiday upon us, this seemed more appropriate. We “love” a lot of things in our lives – dessert, a TV show, a movie, our clothes/shoes, our cars, food and even our electronic devices. Some people “love” things so much that they post about them on Facebook, Twitter or Insta-Gram. None of these are what God had in mind when he inspired the writers of the bible. We can tell people we love them, we can write them poems or letters or in today’s case we can tweet it but how do we show it? People will say that they love their fellow man when they write a check to a charity and others by volunteering. It’s important to remember, sharing God’s love isn’t about works. 

It’s not about how many checks you write or how many hours you volunteer at the homeless shelter or how many doors you knock on to share the word. We have God’s love because we believe and His love isn’t dependent upon anything we do. We are instructed with this verse to love with actions and in truth. The old phrase “actions speak louder than words” is best applied here. Don’t go around professing your love for God but cheating every chance you get. Don’t write or say: “You’ll be in my prayers” but then never pray. All of us, as God’s children, have been given the gift of God’s love; not only was it written for us in the bible, but it’s shown everyday by His actions in our lives. Let’s celebrate ALL of our freedoms this week: as a nation we enjoy certain freedoms and as a sinner, we are free from eternal punishment through our faith in Jesus Christ. We have these freedoms today because of courageous acts by many; we should never forget them.

Forget What is Behind

“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 the 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 not 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 at a personal level for the one who admits it. When they do, we should acknowledge the effort it took to admit the mistake by responding to them with the 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 them 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. St. Paul was telling them to leave all of it in 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.

Happy Easter!

Yesterday, we celebrated Easter and regardless of what is going on in this world, 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 lunch with a Pastor 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 an 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 how right he is. Take away the differences between all of the 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 continue to follow our own hearts and minds doing what we believed to be right. Knowing that we were not capable of doing what is in our own best interest, God intervened again. He sent His one and only Son to us. Not just to 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 doing or works but by the grace of God.

Clear Minds

Let’s turn back to a little management focus for a change this week and talk about multi-tasking, a common and an acceptable part of our society today. In fact, you are viewed negatively if you can’t multi-task. What we accept today as “normal” was once called being “scatter brained”. Multi-tasking and “smart phones” may have actually made us less productive. A number of studies have shown that the constant interruptions we have in our lives are actually slowing us down. Every time we rapidly shift from one task to another our brains have to refocus or reset. We are truly losing our train of thought; the problem is that it is happening constantly. 

One study conducted with college students who claim to be “great multi-taskers” actually demonstrated that their motor skills and cognitive abilities mirrored those of someone legally intoxicated. Now that is sobering – sorry I couldn’t resist. All of these studies show, what us “old-timers” already know, work on one thing at a time and you will actually get more done. We have all been behind that one car that is just not keeping up with the flow of traffic, only to see them talking on the phone or worst yet, texting while driving. Remain focused on what you are doing, especially while driving, and your stress levels should decrease while your productivity increases.

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” 1 Peter 1:13

We are in the middle of lent, getting closer to Easter and there couldn’t be a more fitting verse. Reading the bible is a fascinating journey that explains how God tried to help focus His people on what is important. Imagine how many more distractions we have today than they did in those early years of B.C. Many of us heard the phrase uttered by our parents “don’t make me come up there”, when we were misbehaving. God finally reached that point where He had to “come down here” because we just couldn’t focus on what He was trying to teach us. 

God became man when He sent His son to show us the way. Peter reminds us to clear our minds, be alert and ready (sober). When we multi-task, we never really do one thing well, we do them all well enough. Peter is telling us to focus and set our hope in Jesus. Reduce the interference in your life by focusing on what is important. Send your fears and worry to God not so that you can do something else but so that you can focus on the grace that He is giving to you. Ensure that your devotional time is quiet and uninterrupted. Focus on what God is telling you through His word. Most importantly, have peace in knowing that your sins are forgiven by your faith in Jesus Christ. 

Reformation

I never really understood how the modern day churches came into existence until I became a Lutheran. There have been a lot of books, television shows and even a couple of movies written about the Reformation and a man named Martin Luther. The history behind the different “versions” of the Lutheran Church is also very interesting to read about. I don’t want to engage in a discussion about the differences between the various churches in existence today except to say that, the world of religion would not be the same if it were not for Martin Luther. Saturday October 31st is Reformation Day. It commemorates the posting of Martin Luther’s 95 theses’ on the doors of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg Germany in 1517. Martin Luther was a Catholic Priest who was translating the bible from Latin into German when he started to truly understand what the bible messages were. Martin Luther began sharing the Word of God with lay people for the first time in history. Until him, only the Priests of the Catholic Church were reading the bible and selecting the verses to be shared.

One of his strongest positions was on the practice that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be bought with money. He became an outlaw under Emperor Charles V and was eventually excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1520. Martin Luther gave the Bible to the people and began teaching that the Bible was the only source of God’s Word. His “freeing” of the Bible into everyone’s hands became the birth of all Christian religions we know today. Martin Luther was also very antagonistic toward those of Jewish faith and believed in a very strict interpretation of the teachings of the bible. No matter what denomination you worship in, if you are reading the Bible, you have Martin Luther to thank. Celebrate Reformation Day!

“ 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Romans 3:20-26, 28

These verses show us where Martin Luther’s mind was at in 1517. The practice until then was for people to pay the church to forgive their sins and that it was only the Priests that could forgive sins. As a former Catholic, I remember going to confessional, telling my sins to the Priest and being forgiven after I recited prayers to God or the Virgin Mary. Confession of sin is still a paramount tenet of Protestant religions and we should do so without hesitation. The key that Martin Luther wanted us to know is that we can speak directly to God about our sins and that they are forgiven because we have all been justified by God’s grace alone. No special payments, no works, no special prayers; just God’s grace and love is what has saved us.