Love, a gift from above

In what will be a huge shock to my wife, today I’m going to write about something very personal. Yesterday, we celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary. What can you say to someone who you’ve spent over half your life with? There are no gifts or no greeting cards that could ever express the emotions that you feel when you slow down to think about the amazing people in your life. You don’t get to choose your family but your spouse… Some people have not been as blessed as we have been in finding a true match or a true partner for life. Sure, there are ups and downs but all in all, we’ve been blessed to have each other. What kind of a gift do you give to a person like that? You tell the world! Since these devotions reach around the world, that is exactly what I’m doing; tell the world how much I love my wife.

I’m not one to be serious for long, I keep finding ways to lighten the mood – so here you go: As I wrote the last sentence in the last paragraph, I thought that people are going to think that I did something horrible and this is how I’m being punished; a grand gesture because I was a complete jerk. It’s true that I can be a jerk at times, but this is written purely from the heart. We regularly celebrate what a great team we are, how we support each other (her supporting me more) but we constantly work hard at it. People ask, what is the secret? The answer is complicated to do but basically simple, keep your spouse in mind – always. This is the foundation of teamwork, putting the team ahead of your own desires or ambitions. We have always cared for each other, even when the kids were small. We knew we were stronger together than we were apart. Today, our nest is empty and when people ask how it’s going, I always reply, “We still like each other after all these years so it’s going great”.

17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. 19My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:17-20

What a verse to describe your spouse – “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” As a couple, our path to faith was a winding road. I believe that the good and perfect gift of my spouse is truly a gift from above. We didn’t have “a moment” that brought us close to God, but we did have constant reminders that faith in God and the understanding of the love shown to us by our Father and His Son was important to our lives. God’s love was consistent and reliable, just as James is reminding us here. While there is great marriage advice in verses 19 and 20, it is also great advice for living in these turbulent times.

Verse 19 really needs to be repeated, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”. In a world that we often cannot tell fact from fiction, we must take time to seek the calm in the world, God wants us to be righteous and love one another. President Kennedy, in a commencement address he gave at Yale in 1962 said: “For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” As I have been blessed with great love in my life for 34 years, I hope that you choose love, truth and peace over hate, myths and anger so you can “produce the righteousness that God desires.” You can do it because Jesus is beside you all of the way.

Compassion and Discipline

Discipline comes in many forms. For some of us, it is the focus that drives us every day. For others, discipline means teachable moments and for a few, it means punishment. Supervisors “discipline” people as part of their duties. What do the people who you’ve disciplined take away from the experience? If the punishment was punitive, chances are that they took away a little bitterness. Our job as leaders is to be sure that the punishment fits the crime. If they didn’t know how to or were not equipped to do the job, perhaps seizing on the teachable moment will improve future performance over punitive discipline. The old saying that you shouldn’t kill an ant with an anvil is good advice about compassion.

People often think of compassion as being soft on others or caring about them. When we say, “I feel sorry for them”, we think we’re being compassionate. The word is derived from the Latin phrase: suffer with. The thesaurus lists: empathy, care, concern, warmth, love, leniency and kindness as a few alternatives. What version of compassion do you most often associate with in your life? Supervisors should exercise all of them. I would suggest that everyone should exercise a little compassion with each other rather than just suffering with a person in our minds.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him…” Psalm 103:13

Discipline takes on two roles – punishment and order. The order that discipline brings is getting out of bed every day at 5am to go to the gym for that dreaded spin class or the order that breeds commitment to seeing a job through to the end. Not wanting to repeat myself but the work we do is pleasing to God, we should have the discipline to do our best – always.

On the other side, fear and punishment are not often thought of when we think of our Father in Heaven. We all received punishment for the original sin of Adam and Eve. Child labor is now painful, we have to work the fields for our food and the price of our daily sin is death here on earth. We should fear God! The good news in this passage is that the Lord will have compassion on those of us who fear Him. God loves us and He has proven that by sending His son to die for our sins. We no longer have to fear the punishment of our sins; Jesus Christ did that for us on the cross at Calvary. God wanted His children close to him and while we will not stay in this life for eternity, we will share eternity with our Father in Heaven. A pretty fair punishment if you ask me.

Who’s Got Time?

The musical group Chicago, in their song 25 or 6 to 4 ask the question, “Does anyone really know what time it is?”. Jimmy Buffet has a song about a watch that doesn’t have numbers but “just says now”. Time is the one thing that we can’t make more of, we can often never have enough of and some times can feel like there is too much of – especially in campaign season. I’d say it’s a very strange element of our lives. A very close friend of mine unexpectedly lost his wife last weekend, she was a few days shy of her 50th birthday. They didn’t have enough time together! The time they did spend together was very special and people often commented on how visible their love was for each other.

What we do with our time or what we spend our time on is often a reflection of who we are. We can spend our time making a difference in other people’s lives or we can spend time complaining about things that really don’t affect us but make us feel like we we’re protecting something. Ask yourself, is it really worth it? Time is precious so we should spend it wisely on things that bring joy to others and to ourselves – one should not come at the expense of the other. Take a look in your life at the things consuming the most amount of your time and make sure that you’re spending that time correctly because you never know when the time will be gone.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

“This is taking an eternity to finish!” A phrase we all utter at some point. We have no concept of what “eternity” really is. God works on His own timeline and not one that we can understand. Stop for a moment and look back over your life, do you see how God has worked in His plan in your life? The seemingly unrelated events and circumstances appear now to be connected to form an experience or opportunity. God is at work in and through us every day; bringing us closer to Him for eternity.

People are often afraid of the things that they’ve done and become so discouraged that they give up pleasing God. He doesn’t keep a record of our time spent; there is no time clock in use. If God did keep a record of everything that we’ve done from our beginning, it would be a pretty scary list if you think about it. Fortunately, we are God’s children and as such, He sent us a Savior to wipe clean our sins. Faith in Jesus Christ, combined with God’s grace, cleanses us from all sin. We cannot fathom the extent of God’s love for us as He forgives ALL of our sins – from the beginning to the end. God works in His time. We can’t understand that so why do we think we can understand the depth of God’s love? So, spend a little more time with God so He knows how much you appreciate Him.

My cousin Eileen passed away this week at the age of 53 from a short fight with cancer. Her daughter survived a fight a number of years ago when she was in her late teens but her nephew, who also had cancer did not; he was just a boy. My Aunt and Uncle have buried a grandson, a daughter, his parents and all of his siblings. Eileen’s passing is a stark reminder that nothing is within our control and at times, nothing makes sense. For months, the world has been very tumultuous. We’ve got the pandemic, police shootings, protests and politic unrest. It makes you wonder about the end-times. And, while all of this is going on, most people will just go about their business as if it doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t happening to them or in their community.

In our lives, we are constantly fighting a war against ourselves. We are worried about our jobs, the economy, the bills that are piling up and the latest news from our doctor. Worry sets in and we slowly start to panic – war has been declared. Pastor Greg Brown wrote a great book titled “The Seven laws of Breakthrough” in which he describes a journey that we take moving through our lives. At each level, we achieve strength and confidence just before we breakthrough the ceiling to the next level. He points out that when we breakthrough, we are once again on the floor. It is a great relief to know that we are not alone; we will not be challenged beyond what God knows we can handle. While we might think that we can’t possibly take any more and we feel like the waters are rising quickly, we should also feel the comfort and peace in knowing that He will be with us. Its easy to write – don’t worry about things, but when you know that you are not alone, it should make it a little easier to.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:1b-2

We have all heard people say or we have said it ourselves “God has a plan for you”. Some believe that the circumstances in their lives are merely chance happenings and that God doesn’t get into those details of your life or worse yet, that there isn’t a God at all. God does have a plan but it’s being revealed on His timeline not ours. A day or a year in God’s eye is not the same as an earthly one. Many of you will agree that “this life” is complicated and filled with all kinds of problems and trials. Can this really be part of God’s plan? It sure can be! God will only give us what we can handle and He wants us to grow in our faith and in our lives.

We cannot grow if we are not challenged; this is when breakthroughs occur. We all learned to crawl before we walked and mastered that before we started to run. These too were challenges and like the events of today; they exist for specific reasons. God, our Father, wants us to grow and like any parent who helps their baby take those first steps, He is there with us holding our hands for balance. As things get harder and the waters turn into rivers, He will be there, so we are not swept away. God’s grace and love are with us every day, sometimes you need to simply stop and realize it. Don’t rely on God only when you pass through the river, get to know Him and see what happens when you are only passing through the waters. Thank Him for His care and presence in your life.

What is Right Anymore?

Famous business leader Peter Drucker once said, “The successful person places more attention on doing the right thing rather than doing things right.” We hear a lot these days from people who are quick to lecture about “doing what’s right” but they fail to define what “right” is. Honestly, “right” isn’t hard but we’re so determined that it be “our own version of right” that we’ve stopped considering that we might actually, be wrong. A large number of people have forgotten what “taking care of each” other means because they’re so focused on being right. There is a segment of the American public that wants to shut off welfare, suppress minimum wage and close up the borders to the “Land of the Free” who’s Statue of Liberty says, “give us your poor, your weak …” What is right anymore? Do we really understand the problems created by isolation and individualism? The discussions around the issue of wearing masks in public is a great example – required or voluntary, people have forgotten about the greater good.

I’ve written before about author Kent Keith, whose book “Anyway”, lists the ten paradoxical commandments of life. Paradoxical commandment number nine says “Give the world the best you have, and you’ll get kicked in the teeth; Give the world your best anyway”. You may have heard the phrase “No good dead will go unpunished”. We do good anyway because it is written on our hearts. It is certainly easier for us to do the things that: cause us less work, make us more money, won’t hurt anyone and won’t create a conflict or simply do something because everyone else is doing it. Being a member of a greater society isn’t easy. It is what separates us from the animal kingdom. All leaders have an obligation to do the right thing, all the time, and to continue to do it even if it isn’t popular or appreciated. Integrity can be described as doing the right thing even when no one is watching. We are however, never alone.

 “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it sins.” James 4:17

God is always with us, in thought, word and deed. He knows what is in our heart and see’s even the little things we say and do. So, when we know better and don’t do it or when we take the easy way out, we sin. There are a lot of things we do as a result of the old Adam in us; things that result in sin. There are no degrees of sin, they are all the same and we sin daily.

We are not perfect, and God knows that, which is why He gave us an example to follow – Jesus. Despite the examples of how to live a Holy life that Jesus gave us, we can’t help ourselves. Our gracious God knows this too and He sent Jesus to not only be our example but to reconcile us with Him. Jesus took upon himself, the punishment for all of ours sins so that we could have forgiveness and eternal life with our Father. Jesus demonstrated love and obtained the forgiveness for ALL of our sins. No matter what has happened, turn away from the sin in your life and turn toward God seeking forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Listen Carefully

During these times of uncertainty, it is easy to jump to conclusions about things that we really don’t understand. The unrest that has seized the United States is multi-faceted and we need to understand as many perspectives on these issues that we can. It’s easy to make conclusions based on the soundbites of our favorite news outlet or twitter account holder. We forget that many “ordinary” people have a very keen perspective of what’s happening that we may not. The old expression “you can’t see the forest through the trees” has a lot of validity the further removed you are from the problem. Personally, I have led a life of privilege, so it is important that I work harder to understand the issues. As James reminds us, “be quick to listen”; you might be surprised by what you hear. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

The deeper down you dig, the less polish you’ll find on the things you hear or the statements that are made. All leaders need to listen to what is being said, not how it is being said and what side actions are taking place. Don’t focus on the actions but focus on the root issue. We’ve all been locked up for weeks (emotionally and physically) and what we’ve seen the past four days is not surprising to those of us that work in the Homeland Response field. These are desperate actions to what are perceived or actually desperate circumstances. Unless you are a person of color, you cannot begin to understand why this is happening unless you start listening – carefully.

Search for the facts, they may not be stated in a way that you’re used to hearing them. Be slow to speak, let the speaker get everything out before you begin to say anything. These conversations are usually the time when we simply justify why something is happening or why we can’t change. Resist the urge to become angry in the face of criticism; remember there can be more than one right answer to many problems, keep your emotions in check. When people exchange their thoughts, they are exchanging gifts, accept it with grace and they’ll do it again – the dialog now begins. If you don’t accept the gift well, you’ll never get a second chance. Many people today haven’t had their “gift” accepted very well and are lashing out.

James 1:19 “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to heed these words as well. Listen to the words contained in the bible; be slow to speak about why that isn’t realistic or how it’s impossible to follow the example of Jesus Christ. How often do you actually hear the Word, is it only in worship? The Word is a guide for us to learn and apply but it’s hard to do when you only hear it once a week. As you listen to the Word, let the meaning sink in. Look for what is being said beyond the words. Jesus often used parables as examples and honestly, they can be confusing too. Be patient and meditate on the Word of God, it will come to you.

Be slow to become angry or frustrated when you read the bible as you compare your life to what you are reading. Remember, God gave us the Law in the Old Testament and salvation in the New Testament. Don’t feel guilty about how you lead your life, Christ died for all of our sins – past, present and future. No day will go by without sin in your life. Some people think that that acting in a Christ-like manner just won’t work because they have too many “problems” in their lives or have done too many “bad” things for God to forgive. Nonsense! God sent His son to save the world and not condemn it. If no day can pass without sin, we would all be condemned if it wasn’t for God’s grace in our lives. Those with faith in Jesus Christ are saved.

We are Free!

Reading today’s verse got me thinking about all of the things in my life that pull me in multiple directions or control my time and energy. When you stop and think your daily activities – well, maybe not these days but in general. I know that using the term “slave” isn’t the most appropriate term since it is a reflection of a period when humanity was it worst but, it does describe how something, or someone can have complete control over you. As human beings we like to be in control of the things in our lives and the path that we take. When we have little or no say, we feel enslaved. Right now, is a good example of having no control in your life.

At my peak, I function in at least four different capacities in my life. As a local government consultant, an elected official, a military contractor and a husband/father. These are all awesome roles that I play and are hopefully meaningful to those that I serve. The challenge is that they are usually more in control of me than I am of them. What things are controlling your life? Often, they are things that we simply can’t do without – our job, our family or our parents. Sometimes we can actually effect change that will free us; like spending less time with a friend who taking an emotional toll on us or a hobby that has started to consume ALL of our free time. One of the keys to happiness is to spend time on things that are meaningful to you and that bring joy into your life. Figure out what those things are and break the chains on everything else.

34Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:34-36

We are a slave to sin. This is one of those things that we cannot control. We can’t control or manage it and no matter what we do; we will sin. Jesus said a number of times that we are in Him and He is in us. We also know that what was given to Jesus has also been given to us. This verse reminds us that we are free from sin because Jesus took all of our sins with Him on the cross. He set us free from sin! It’s amazing to me the number of people who feel that they are not worthy to even go into a church because of their sin. “I have to get right with God, first” they say.

We are all “right with God” because of Jesus! The Son has set us free from sin. We are no longer under the law but we have been made right with the law thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation. It is pretty clear in the Bible that God has granted our salvation and eternal life in heaven through our faith in Jesus Christ. I am in awe of that! Despite my daily sins, God continues to forgive me. When we hear about grace and mercy, this is the first thing that should come to our minds. We are free indeed! Consume your time with things that are pleasing to God, spend time in the Bible reading God’s word and give your talents freely to those who need it. Let others know what freedom is all about.

I’ve Got Mine!

Win at all costs! An expression that we heard often in the 1990’s and it seems to be making a comeback as we start to struggle with recovering from the effects of the pandemic. “I’ve got mine, sorry you don’t.” I wrote last week about people wanting more from corporations and that the workforce is starting to look at the bigger picture – corporate responsibility that is socially conscious. Today, more than ever, we need to understand that together we conquer, divided we fall. What happens when we give up everything to “win”?

How aggressive do you play to win? Do nice guys really finish last? If we all look into our pasts, chances are good that we will see times when it appears that or perhaps, we actually did; forfeit our souls to get ahead. What is worth trading your soul for? The riches of the world are very appealing: new cars, bigger houses, a boat, jewelry and the like. These are the material things of this world that we are reminded about throughout the bible, not to pay attention to but to keep our focus on God. Be careful of the circumstances that don’t feel right, but you can’t understand why. They are from your soul telling you not to give part of it away.

Matthew 16:26 “What good will it be for a man if he gains the world yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

As the days and months ahead drag on, we need to be living according to God’s word more than ever before. What can a man give in exchange for his soul? We may gain much in this life but if we do little with it, we will be very disappointed with our results. We are assured by John in the second part of verse 3:16 “for whoever believes in him will have eternal life”. We can rest assured that God will keep his promises to us.

What obligation do you have to God? We should be willing to be faithful servants to Him and we can do that by putting our beliefs into action. Leading by example in your everyday life, like a good Christian, with truth, ethics, nobility, compassion and with God as your guiding force is a good place to start. Oftentimes, it is always “just one more time” for us – one more time to bend the numbers and I’ll have the next promotion or one more time to gossip about a co-worker and I’ll get the best assignment or one more time to take care of myself before I care about others or simply, I’ve got mine and no one else deserves it because I worked hard for it. There are now and there will certainly be people who will need our help – homeless, unemployed, uninsured and the hungry. What can you offer? Today, if you’re still focused on the gains of this world, turn away from what you’re doing, turn away from what you’ve done and live your life as if your soul depends on it, it just might!

Temptation

I want to take a break from the real issues of today and get back to why I started writing these in the first place; let’s talk about leadership. We see changing profiles in leadership that guide those “in charge”. In the early 20th Century it was the autocrat and today we’re seeing a workforce drawn to those with “personality and charisma”. Some today even believe that businesses should have a bigger impact on society. We are witnessing that in many of the commercials we see in this time of social distancing. The workforce today values employee growth, making a positive contribution to society and their own well being.

One thing that has not changed: Leaders have a responsibility to challenge their people to grow. Employee growth, personally and professionally, help improve their creativity and morale. It is possible to push people too far or into a direction that they are not interested in or prepared to perform. A good leader will determine their people’s limits and their personal desires through employee coaching. Good coaches will listen to an employee more than they talk, paraphrasing the employee’s desires to ensure that they understand what the employee wants and will set goals with (not for) the employee. This ensures that they are part of their own destiny. Once an employee knows what they want to achieve, a leader can help them reach and achieve more.

 “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear…”        1 Corinthians 10:13

God also is concerned about our personal growth and as a good coach, He will be faithful to us; God keeps His promises to be faithful. The struggle between God and Satan remains strong and the old Adam in us can be tempted quite easily. We know God loves us and that despite our free will to choose, He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. Our sin and our inability to follow the Ten Commandments is why God had to send His only Son to be our savior; with Jesus Christ we are free from the bondage of our sin.

God is active in our lives, providing options for us to choose from in how we live. He is working His plan in our lives despite our free will choices. God wants us close to Him and, through the bible, has given us the best plan to live this life. Our faith in Jesus and in God’s grace, is what allows us to be tempted and fail at times but to still have forgiveness of our sins. God is faithful! He kept His promise of salvation for us all by sending His Son to die for our sins. We all sin and may at times feel unworthy; God’s grace and the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross makes us all worthy regardless of our own actions.

Imitate God’s Love

I’d imagine that this year’s Easter celebrations were different; some might say weird. While gathering in fellowship and worship are the usual ways we celebrate the most important day of the year, we all found that it isn’t the only way. Easter is the day we are shown God’s love and the love of Jesus Christ who suffered for us but rose in celebration of the victory over sin so that we might have eternal life with Him and God our Father. We all need a little more love these days!

I’d like to suggest that we bring Christ’s example of love into our lives even more today. We know Jesus as compassionate, caring, understanding, patient and overflowing with love. We all need to show compassion for each other, those we know and those we don’t know. During these tough times and bombardment of information we are under, one thing that is missing from it all is common sense and an acknowledgement of human behavior. People are going to make mistakes, or they’ll act in ways that we don’t understand. We need to show understanding and patience to each other; every “gathering” of two or three people is not an afront to social distancing guidelines. Be patient with those around you, be slow to anger and disappointment, it shows that you care. All of these things combined show your love towards others, just as Christ loves us.

 Ephesians 5:1,2 – “Be imitators of God… as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…”

We are so blessed that God loves us. When God handed down the Law contained in the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were afraid because they had seen God’s wrath firsthand. As they continued to live according to their own ways, God spoke to them through the prophets giving the promise of a Savior. God wanted to be close to His children, but sin was preventing that. God sent His only Son into this world to take upon the cross all of our sins on that Good Friday.

Jesus suffered for us because of our sin, but He knew that it would bring reconciliation with God. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” The ultimate sign of love just for us – even if we didn’t deserve it. God knows what we need. We cannot live without sin as Christ did, but we can live a life of love as Christ showed us to. Be an imitator, show others your love and when they ask you why or how you can do it, don’t hesitate to tell them where your strength comes from.