Praise after Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, no matter where you are; it always a good time to be thankful. After a week of prayer and thanksgiving for all that we have, I thought focusing on praise might be a good follow-up. There is so much negativity in the world these days. No one, it seems, can escape being criticized these days. Black Friday sales brought angry shoppers pushing for the few sale items or upset people that who missed the deals. Not to mention the scores of people of who complained about being with their families on Thanksgiving Day. A day set aside for thanks and there was undoubtedly an awful lot of complaining. Where was the praise? My sister usually has most of the family to her house for dinner. She cooks all day, makes more than enough food and even opens her house to friends without their family nearby. She does a great job and we all have a great time. When we leave, everyone says thanks as they walk out the door but that is not what I think of when I say praise.

Sure, we could heap on the accolades but to truly praise her would be to call a day or two later to thank her again or even send an old fashioned “thank you card”. What about the other people in your life, how well do you do praising them? Try praising people that you work with or who have served somewhere or even helped you out. Don’t just say “thanks” but give them some praise with a specific reference like: “You did a great job on that special project, it really did the job for us” or “That was the best service we have had anywhere in a long time, you did a great job”. A little love and praise can carry someone a long way in this world of negativity. Allow me to thank you for reading this weekly and praise you for maintaining a connection to God through an unusual place and writer.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation…” Isaiah 52:7

God loves it when we thank him for all that he has done for us, but he also likes the praise that should precede it. He is the one who makes all things possible. God is the giver of life and in Him, all things are possible. He is controlling all things and we have a hard time understanding or comprehending that. God is in control. Without Him, we are simply left to die a lonely short existence here on earth.

We can do nothing that will earn us a place in heaven; no amount of good works or tithing or kindness can earn for us what God has already given to us through His grace and mercy. Our salvation is found in one thing – faith in Jesus Christ as our savior. God sent His son into the world to save us from our sinful nature and our selves. Without God’s grace, we would not have our salvation. For us this means giving praise for the awesome things that God has done by bringing the good news to others or simply demonstrating the love that God has shown us. We do good works and give our tithes not to win God’s favor but as a demonstration of His love for us. As we enter this season of joy and gladness, we should also remember to praise the one who made it possible.

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Veteran’s Day

The U.S. celebrates Veteran’s Day on November 11th each year. This is an ever increasingly important holiday for us as we attempt to give thanks to those that have served our nation to protect our freedom. When these ceremonies are held, we always remember our World War II veterans but they are decreasing in numbers each year. For some reason this year at a local event I started to think about the wars this country had for our early freedom and, the revolutionary war. Today, we talk about celebrating those that have protected our freedoms in the 20th and 21st centuries. How about the courage of the men and women who fought to establish FREEDOM?

The British Army was the largest and most feared in the entire world at the time; we did not back down. We fought to ensure that we were free. The war of 1812 was another assault on freedom. It is not discussed in detail however it was a proud victory from our past. Our Veteran’s deserve so much more than we give them. I’ve heard people argue, “They volunteered for it and knew what they were getting”. I hardly buy the volunteer argument, many of these heroes stepped up when many others did not to protect our freedoms. Many of the service members that I’ve worked with spent a career serving our country, which doesn’t sound like a volunteer. The person who volunteers at the food bank is not the same as the one who leaves behind a family to fight global terrorism. We owe our Veteran’s our freedoms and our thanks.

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13

If nothing says Veteran’s Day like “be men of courage” I don’t know what does. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear a commanding officer speak these words before combat. St. Paul is not talking to Roman soldiers or our military today; he was talking to the people of Corinth. They were, as we are today, in a battle for eternal life. St. Paul was warning them and us today, to be on guard and to stand firm in our faith. Everyday, God’s will and His Christian people are under attack.

The devil is trying to take back the souls won by Jesus’ death on Calvary by polluting the fabric of our society. False prophets and false teachings are everywhere. It isn’t often we hear about the saving grace of God and eternal life that can only be found in faith through Jesus Christ is our savior. St. Paul encourages us to be courageous despite these challenges. Confidently speak of God’s grace and mercy to all. Stay connected to God’s word and study the teachings of Jesus to remain strong in faith and to have the confidence to be strong.

Difficult People

People can be difficult! Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that I can be one of those people. Our daughter likes to say that people are the worst. I’m confident that I’m not that bad. If you are honest with yourself and consider your own life, you might be difficult at times too. Rick Warren in his book “Purpose Driven Life” refers to difficult people as those who are, EGR – extra grace required. I’d like to think that my own bouts of “difficultness” are driven by specific events, but these bouts seem to pop up more frequently when the stress in my life is high. My hope is that it is not the new normal and that I’m only difficult on occasion – check with my wife, she knows the truth. In my professional life, I have been known to force issues instead of letting them go; it’s a trait that I am not proud of. When I was in position of daily leadership, I found that I had a lot more grace to give than I do now. I now have multiple positions in widely different fields; each requiring different approaches to the people that I interact with. 

So, these are my “management confessions”. But honestly, there isn’t a day that goes by that none of us sin. We are all simply poor miserable sinners – that is the basic truth of the matter. Sin and grace go hand and hand. Someone offends you (sin) and you react; oftentimes negatively (more sin). People “talk it out”, make up and return to a congenial relationship (grace). If you think about the conflicts you’ve had or the times when you were less than pleasant, you probably lacked grace. If we were graceful in the beginning, we would not have been labeled “difficult” in the first place. Grace does not always beget grace, but it sure helps keep things running a little smoother. Think about the conflicts and difficult people in your life and ask yourself, have I given grace to this person or situation? Without question, grace giving is a two-way street, but someone needs to make the first move.

13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:13-14

We are all instruments for righteousness for God. Let that sink in for a minute. We are not sinners, we are not unrighteous and we are not unworthy. We were brought from death, because of sin, to life with God. We have eternal life with God through our Savior Jesus Christ. God knew us so well that he intervened on our behalf and sent His son to earth to live the perfect life, under the law, because we could not. During the Lenten Season we are preparing for the end of Jesus’ life on earth and the beginning of our His eternal life with God; who intends to use us as instruments for righteousness. We can’t help but sin but God solved that problem too.

Verse 14 is critical, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” We are all benefiting from God’s grace. It is not our adherence to the law or our gifts or our good works that gives us eternal life. We are all poor miserable sinners and there is no denying it. I’ve written before, there are no “degrees” of sin. God sees them all and forgives them all. He does this through His grace to us, His children, and our faith in Jesus as our savior. There is nothing difficult about that.

Take Heart!

I love phrases about futility. “The faster we dig, the farther behind we get.” “Trying to get the water out of a boat by putting a hole in the bottom.” These “old school” phrases are also used to describe being overwhelmed. I’ve worked in local government for almost 40 years, and I continue to consult for them more each year. I am easily frustrated by the futility of trying to get things done in local government and since I own my own business, I can also get overwhelmed – in non-pandemic years. Having huge swings in workload or enduring the feast or famine cycles of when projects come in adds a lot of stress to my life. I go through this about every other year and with all of the experience that I have in the famine years, you would think that I would have mastered my emotional roller coaster. I’m still learning.

We can all play the “at least it’s not…” game with ourselves to stay positive. Being positive is always the way through troubles in our lives but it is easier said than done. When life starts to get us down, we tend to shift to asking the question, “why me?” There is never an answer to that question and I believe that the reason for that is because it isn’t about you! Troubles in our lives are not a punishment for something we did or didn’t do. We can have troubles in our lives because the devil is at work trying to break our spirit or because God is trying to prepare us for something else or simply, life is full of troubles. No matter the case – futility or being overwhelmed, we always seem to make it work and in the end we are stronger because we overcame the circumstances. When we seek the help of others and look at the situation from a step or two away, we see it with a little more clarity. It is this newfound clarity that we can make peace out of the trouble in our lives. We are not alone on this earth for a reason; we need to learn to lean on each other once in a while.

“…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 

This verse from John is a quote from Jesus telling us that we WILL have trouble. There was no sugar coating it, no “technically correct” answer or avoidance; Jesus tells us straight – you will have trouble. God never promised us a trouble free life. Look at the Old Testament; the People of God had plenty of trouble. Even Jesus faced trouble in His life on earth. The old saying is that you can count on two things in life – death and taxes. I would argue that we should a third thing to count on – trouble. We know that God does not give us more than we can handle, and we also know that God has a plan for us. 

The trouble that we find in our lives may be there so that we can be a witness for others, maybe it’s to strengthen us for the future or, maybe it’s simply to prepare us to help others in need. Whatever the reason, and we will never know what it is; we can handle it. Jesus tells us to take heart! He overcame the troubles of the world by defeating Satan, and sin. Jesus took it all upon Himself in death but delivered us from the chains of sin when He rose to take His place at God’s right hand. Sure, we’ll have trouble but know that through God’s grace and our faith in Jesus, we will not suffer but have eternal life. Just thinking about it makes me overwhelmed but now it’s with joy!

Reliable

Reliability. I’ll bet that when you hear the word, the first thing that will pop into your mind is a product of some sort. It’s either a car or an appliance that we generally associate with the word reliability. What about people, do we consider them reliable? We might use dependable, but would you use reliable? People will let us down and are flawed from conception; I’ve even heard the quip that “you can depend on people to let you down.” The difference is very subtle; being reliable means that you will be able to get the same result over and over and dependable means worthy of reliance or trust. How reliable are you? Do people seek you out for help or advice? If you are in a leadership position, you need to be both reliable and dependable. Being reliable takes a toll on your time management. You will find that when people seek you out for help, you spend a lot of time with them and your own “work” takes second place yet it still needs to get done. 

When people seek you out, you are actually functioning as a coach for them. Good coaching can turn into mentorship, which is a great professional development tool for both parties not mention a huge source of personal satisfaction. Whom do you rely on? Do you have someone reliable in your work life? We are sometimes too proud to ask for someone to help us or give us advice. Finding someone who is reliable enough to be a coach is rare; be sure that they are willing to help at this level. If you are fortunate enough to be someone whom people consider reliable, consider sharing your gifts with them at this higher level. 

“And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” Acts 2:21

It’s ironic that when I hear the words reliable and dependable, I don’t immediately think of the Triune God. As I reflect on it, I have to assume that it’s because I never have to think twice about God’s reliability and just writing that, makes me smile. There are millions of people in this world that don’t see it that way. They will base their assessment of God’s reliability on the number of answered prayers they receive, the quality of their life or the types of works they perform – trying to gain God’s favor, so that He’ll be more reliable and dependable. Our LORD and Savior is Jesus Christ, He intervened on our behalf to gain God’s favor. 

“Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be Saved” (Acts 2:21) means eternal life for everyone calling, no strings attached. God is reliable and dependable. He keeps His promises to His people; we just have a hard time seeing them because His timelines and our timelines are not the same. God always listens and comforts us; we simply don’t always recognize it. It’s the unexpected coffee that a co-worker brings to you when you need it or the refund check that arrives the week that your rent is due. Turning your life over to God and trusting in Him means that you never have to think twice about whether He’s reliable or not. After all, He did send His one and only Son to suffer for us so that we can share eternal life Him. It certainly sounds like He’s in it for the long haul, how about you?

Watch Your Mouth

When I read today’s verse, I immediately thought of the phrase “you are what you eat”. I realize that there is little connection between the verse and the phrase, but I’ve been trying to make better food choices and well; I digress. Leaders of all kinds must choose their words carefully. One of the most powerful tools a leader can use is encouragement. There are so many stresses in people’s lives, coupled with their desire to do the best work that they can, they’re left to feel overwhelmed or simply disconnected from others around them. We rarely hear “good job” from the people we work with or those close to us. Sometimes, we are just too busy to say it or we simply don’t take the time to. For leaders, that can be a disaster. People in leadership positions must acknowledge their people and the work that they do for them – even if it’s “their job”. 

A simple “thanks” or “good work” can go along way in motivating someone. We don’t know what is happening in their lives and this simple gesture can be what keeps them going. I used to work for a woman who said “good job” all the time. At first, I was surprised because it was the first time that I worked professionally outside of a paramilitary style organization, and no one ever gives compliments there. It reminded me that I was doing good work and that someone appreciated it. There’s an old saying that goes, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all”. If you never say anything nice or encouraging, are people walking around thinking that you have nothing nice to say? It’s what comes out of your mouth that means more than what you think or write about someone. Spread a little good will and watch the smiles, then smile at yourself knowing that you were the cause.

“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’”  Matthew 15:11

This was Jesus speaking to the Pharisees when they saw the Disciples eating with dirty hands. But that isn’t where it stopped. In Matthew 15:17-20, Jesus went on to say: 17“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”  

We have to ask ourselves here: what’s in our hearts? Do you go through your life with the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude? In the end, we are all “unclean”. Every one of us will say something hurtful, have thoughts about stealing or wishing harm upon someone, gossip and in some cases, we’ll act on them. We are all guilty at one point in time or another; we are unclean. The good news is that Jesus Christ wrapped us in pure white clothing whereby making us clean when he took our sins with Him to the cross. We are always clean with our faith in Christ. No tricks, no works, no negotiations, simple forgiveness from the grace of God. Now that should make you smile!

Listen and Find Me

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

I’m mixing it up again! I guess I do that so neither of us get bored with the rhythm of a weekly devotion. Let’s look back at Easter again and remember what it all means. We marked the saddest day in our church year, 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. On that Friday, Jesus fulfilled his earthly mission to save the world 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 easily we can forget that we are free from the penalty of sin and can look forward to eternal life with our Father. All that happened on one “good” Friday. However, the job was not completed upon His death. Jesus still needed to descend into hell, finish the job and rise to life once again on the third day. 

Our forgiveness from sin was raised up to heaven along with Jesus and we now enjoy freedom from the bonds 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 we 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 also means, so is Jesus. We struggle in our lives to live as Christ taught us to and we all 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. Please 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 scale of the works that you can do to receive forgiveness. 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 again, I don’t know what is.

Merry Christmas!

This week we celebrate Christmas, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Much has been written about the circumstances leading to His birth, so I wanted to point out the significance of this particular birthday celebration. This year has challenged us like no other in a century. Each one of us has struggled at one point or another or constantly struggled in some cases, but God’s love has never dulled. 

I find great inspiration in the writings of St. Paul. His letters from 2000 years ago apply to our lives today. I hope you will find inspiration in this letter to the Ephesians that reminds us about the gifts that we received for the birth of Jesus. Merry Christmas!

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” 

15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Ephesians 1:3-10, 15-23

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.

Know How and Why you are Following?

Why do people follow those in Leadership positions? Is it because they HAVE to or is it because they are inspired to? We have many people whom we choose to follow and for a number of other reasons besides being inspired or being forced to because of their position. Some we follow because they are fighting the cause that we believe in (shared ideology) or some because they represent the same group that we associate with. What happens when our ideology or group association no longer line up with “norms” of the leader(s)? How do we lead others in our own lives; through coercion or inspiration? How/what are we following?

In our lives, we are all leaders or followers depending on the situation. At home, you may be the leader and other times, you are the follower – just ask a long-married man what role he has most often. Good followers, however, do not follow the leader blindly; they first understand the mission of the leader and follow them to make things better. What kind of a follower are you? Generally speaking, followers inspire others and in turn become leaders.

Even designated leaders must learn to be good followers. Unfortunately, we often see people in leadership positions who demand allegiance from their followers but they fail to act in the same way to those they follow. What kind of follower are you? Do you demand from those you lead something you won’t give as a follower yourself or do you leave your followers in the dark about where you are headed? Leadership is advanced ten-fold when we lead by setting a good example. The bottom line is that we all need to work toward common goals for the betterment of the greater good. Effective leadership and followership foster an atmosphere that inspires innovation, allows people time to explore ideas and be creative which will pay dividends in morale and may produce better results and make the changes that are needed.

“Come, follow me,“Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19

Jesus provided us with great examples of leadership. He was a great follower too – he fulfilled the prophets, flawlessly obeyed the Ten Commandments and never wavered in His ideology through and with His Father’s will. We will never be perfect, but we can use Jesus’ examples in our lives. When Jesus said “I will make you fishers of men” we know it was his way of saying: I will give you the tools, the strength, the time, the understanding, the guidance and an example to follow so that you, my disciples, will lead people to me.

Despite His followers set backs, Jesus was always there to pick them up, help them understand and lead another day. He gave them opportunities to serve and circumstances to teach the Word of God. Are you a fisher of men? The Lord has blessed you by putting you in a unique position as both a leader and a follower. Remember what Jesus did, how he led, and put that to good work. The work of a follower is important to. Understand the mission and do your best. Reading the bible, daily devotions and deliberate Christian living are keys to being a good follower and you will attract those that need a leader. In the end, you are already a fisher of men.