Happy New Year???

My mind was all over the place in preparation for writing the first post of the new year. I went back and looked at old posts to see what I’ve written about – optimism, goal setting, new beginnings and the like. It just didn’t feel right for 2021. We all agree that this year HAS to be better than 2020 but if anything taught us to be pessimistic, it was 2020. No matter what corner we turned, another twist came. I normally would have said “another shoe would drop” but it seemed to be raining shoes last year.  There is no reason to believe that we shouldn’t be filled with hope as we start this new year but 2020 was like an anchor.

So, let’s start 2021 with a reminder that we are free! We celebrated the birth of a Savior in the last 10 days and right now is the time to celebrate the birth of our freedom through faith. We should toss the shackles of 2020, break the chains of pessimism and celebrate the things we have right in front of us; we are no longer bound by our sins. While many of us will make (and break) New Year’s resolutions to improve something in our lives; start this new year knowing that you are free from sin. What do you mean, you ask? This is all best explained in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The verses prior to these explain the meaning of and importance of God’s Laws.

23 “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:23-29

Knowing this, you can be confident in yourself as you boldly go into 2021 and all that it will offer. Be sure to celebrate all the small victories, accomplishments and the good days. You are not being punished for your sins, you are being protected by God’s love, grace and mercy; your sins are forgiven! Have a Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays?

I hope that you enjoyed a safe and very Merry Christmas holiday weekend. Some enjoyed the extended weekend while others returned to work on Saturday and continued their labors. If you are like me, you NEEDED the joy that Christmas brings at this time of the year. In a few days we will close the book on the year 2020 and not a minute too soon! Unfortunately, the first day of 2021 will not feel any different than today – we are still in the midst of a pandemic after all.

Let’s celebrate anyway and remember the good news of our lifetime – the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. This particular reading of the bible at Christmas time always moves me and I enjoy sharing it. I have no analogy to add and no wisdom to share; 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 2021.

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

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

Something to Celebrate

As we come into this week, we are only a couple of weeks away from celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I thought a little deviation from the normal format would be okay. This time of year can be stressful and overwhelming. Presents to buy, parties and dinners to attend and, family gatherings to celebrate the holiday. We put up our decorations this week and my wife and I were reminiscing about our traditions of the past, many of which are slowly fading. We no longer have piles of presents for each kid under the tree and we don’t have to set up the video camera to tape Christmas morning reactions. We enjoy our life as empty nesters with adult children. But in the end, we all need to be reminded of the “reason for the season” and who better to tell the story than God Himself. St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, inspired by God, reminds us of the true celebration. 

Ephesians 1:3-14: “3 Praise 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. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

So, why celebrate at this time of year? We celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior and we celebrate this gift from God. Sure, this time of year can be overwhelming and stressful, but God never said it was going to be easy – this year particularly! Take that stress out of your life and imagine the presents are for Jesus and that the parties and family gatherings are to celebrate Jesus’ birthday because – they are. 

Hope and Compassion

I have to admit that I waited until yesterday afternoon to finish this week’s devotion. I was waiting for the election results. I had intended to right about hope and compassion this week regardless of the outcome, I just had two completely opposite openings to navigate. Then, while I sat down to write, I changed my perspective. For some people, Presidential Elections represent either hope or despair and no other options. Presidents come and go but it is the spirit of America that keeps us moving forward through this life. The outcome of local elections affects our lives far more than who the President is; we drive the streets and use the parks of our cities and towns every day. I can’t forget about the quality of our public safety services that are impacted by decisions made at the local level. If hope is on your mind today because of the election (either lack of or more of) then I challenge you to think deeper about the word hope.

Compassion on the other hand should always be on your mind. How can we care for each other or love thy neighbor without compassion? We care for our kids and our parents because we have compassion. I think that as a society, we are about to learn how important compassion is in the coming months. As the pandemic surges worldwide and the global economy remains bloody, thousands of people will begin the eviction process because they have not been working and have been unable to pay the rent. What will happen to them? Will they find hope and compassion? 

Love thy neighbor is a powerful challenge. I believe that most parents will always be there for their kids and that their compassion for their kids will never fail. Hope and compassion can be found in almost everything we do. Hope is found in the love of our Heavenly Father who also shows us that His compassions will never fail. Look around your life and you too will see God’s love all around you; and that should give you hope this week. 

21Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23

The United States elected its next President this past week – ALL WEEK long. The world has been watching our unique democratic system in action for more than a year. If you are reading this and live outside of the US, be thankful! For the rest of us, we’ve been suffering through one of the most painful election cycles in modern times. Many people are excited about the outcome and many are not. Some may not even stop after the votes have been counted. Please pray for us!

There are people in our lives who have struggles each day. A sick loved one, a family member who has passed, or other problems that can overwhelm us as individuals. It is easy to lose hope and get lost in despair. Take comfort in the verse today “therefore I have hope: 22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” God’s compassions never fail! As humans, we want our answers or our solutions right now. We tell ourselves that we don’t have time to wait and can’t understand why God doesn’t get that. We are being reminded that God’s compassions are “new every morning”. So, no matter what the outcome of the election is or what the test results say or what happens in our lives; we will not be consumed! God loves each and every one of us. Go forth this week in peace.

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.

Celebrate the Trials

It seems that everywhere I look these days; someone I know is living through some hardship. There always seems to be a new cancer diagnosis or new medical condition afflicting someone I know. Much of it is related to me getting older but more of it is simply becoming common place. People faced with these types of challenges or even a serious personal medical diagnosis; often begin to question God and the purpose of these trials. It is an easy path to go towards. How could God let this happen? It is a question we always seem to hear after a horrific tragedy, like the Las Vegas shooting event in 2017. What we rarely hear about are all of the people who were saved that day. 

No one asked the question, why were they spared? Over time, these circumstances may reveal why it happened but they may not. I knew a woman who had been diagnosed with cancer at least four different times in her life. She fought each time and won. She became an inspiration to a number of people; they could use her example to boost themselves or people they knew when cancer struck another home. 

Our attitude and outlook are based on our reaction to the circumstances presented not on the circumstances themselves. We are in control of our attitude and focusing on that, instead of the meaning or reason, is what allows us to inspire others.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:6-8

I have written on a number of occasions that we WILL have trials. We see this repeated in the bible. This verse in First Peter is very revealing. I first saw verse 8 and thought about writing about faith as expressed in our not seeing Jesus Christ or God. However, the verses before and after are more inspiring. We will have trials, our faith is to be strengthened by them and as a result, we will have salvation. These trials are a result of our sin, started in the very beginning, and continuing throughout our lives. 

We sin daily; its our nature. God sent His Son to live the perfect life – free from Sin, so that we may have eternal life through Him. Lets not let the trials of this life get in the way of our eternal life. God’s trials will test our faith but we should not let that diminish our belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Anger is a human reaction to negative circumstances but it doesn’t produce a single positive outcome. Turn to God for understanding, comfort and most of all, LOVE. God loves you and while it isn’t how we would show love; we aren’t Him. “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. Our Father loves us; never forget that.

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.