There’s a Plan

An injury forced me into “retirement” 13 years ago. I had no idea what I would do with my life or how I would support my family and put my kids through college. It was a scary time for us. Each year that passes in about September or October, I start to panic about the upcoming year and what it will bring in the way of income. No matter what successes I have been blessed with, I still find myself getting anxious. I guess this means that after 13 years, I still haven’t learned to simply trust God. I have been blessed in so many ways that I should just be calm, but I continue to witness people lose their jobs or receive negative medical news and calm is not in my wheelhouse. They face similar anxieties about the future but just have different questions. To help each other, sometimes we just need to recognize that others are in need as a starting point.  

Simply helping others may bring clarity to our own problems. It is so easy to focus on ourselves that we start to fall into self-pity and then, depression starts to creep into our lives. Once we let it in, it’s very hard to get rid of it. The key is to keep it out. We don’t know what will happen with the problems in our lives or how long they will be with us. Instead of worrying about the problem, we should be searching for the message or lesson that is contained in them. We don’t know what will come of them, but we do know that everything happens for a reason and that it is all part of a bigger plan; we just don’t know what it is.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:2

God has a plan. We hear it over and over in the Bible. We also hear people say it often and this verse reminds us of it – “what we will be has not been made known”. God is in control, ordering things in our lives to help us. He is not directing or creating single paths; we do have free will to choose. The key is recognizing what is part of the plan and what is the work of the devil. Our world is so complicated, and we are left with anxiety about the “right” path to choose – “what we will be has not yet been made known.” 

We have little patience because this world moves at such a fast pace, but God does not. We become impatient and look for quick fixes (provided by the devil) and then the trouble starts. Slow down. “We are children of God”. Celebrate that! God has His stamp on your heart, mind and soul. Would He let you down? Stop searching for quick fixes and answers to questions that do not exist. Instead, look for God in all things and for the lesson he has presented to you. He loves His children and does not give us more than we can bear. Rejoice in the fact that God is giving you a path to walk through, He is preparing you for something better and wants you to be strong enough to enjoy it. 

Focus

My business partner and I provide strategic planning consulting services for local governments. We use a slightly different approach to the traditional planning process where, instead of focusing on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, we talk about strategic focus areas and the principles that guide them. Every community or organization has them. Sometimes they are found in mission or value statements but often they are representative of the things important to the community. For example, every city, no matter its size, will focus on fiscal sustainability and transparency. In the past, strategic planning often focused on dreaming big – “what would we do if nothing stood in our way” thinking. In today’s reality, there are plenty of things to get in the way, so we ask our clients what is it that they are focused on and what principles are they based in. 

People, for the most part, can be the same – what are you focused on and what principles are those focused areas based in. Ask yourself, what am I focused on? How do you spend your time and what do you get from it? I’m not suggesting that if you spend your time watching TV for a couple hours at night and you’re not getting anything out of it and that you should stop; I am suggesting that if ALL you do is watch TV when you aren’t at work, perhaps you can focus some time elsewhere. Once you determine what you are focused on, you can start to drill in to why you do it and how you will do it. Bringing these things into perspective can help guide the choices that you make.

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured on the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

Talk about focus, Jesus had to keep His eye on where He was heading. Satan tried to blur Jesus’ focus when he tempted Him for 40 days. When God’s plan for His death was revealed to Him, Jesus remained focused on His goal of saving the lost. Even as He carried His own cross, Jesus remained focused on the goal of joining His Father in Heaven and defeating the devil once and for all. There were plenty of things to distract Him – fame, power, faithful disciples and the broken moral structure of the society that He lived in; yet Jesus remained focused. 

His strategic focus was saving the world and He based that focus on the guiding principles established by God – the Ten Commandments. Because of His focus, we can drill in to being good and faithful servants. Jesus took with Him, in His death, our sin and the guilt of breaking these principles. This freedom from sin allows us to focus on the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God. We can find our daily principles spelled out in the bible and maintain our focus on God. Spend some time reinforcing those principles and make time with God a strategic focus area.

Confidence

Father’s Day was yesterday; I hope that every one of the “dads” enjoyed it. Men have a funny way of expressing this day to each other, especially if you compare it to how women express Mother’s Day to each other. Men will simply nod and smile to each other if it comes up and if we don’t mention it, well, that’s okay too. When it comes to celebrating the day, we’re okay with simplicity. No brunches or special events. A good, or should I say smart, man will treat Mother’s Day much differently. Men are providers, we are “fixers”, we will just do our thing and keep moving. A father’s role is different and so is his reaction to any celebration. Few men seek accolades and often don’t know how to respond to someone who offers them. I notice that women love the attention of a restaurant staff lead birthday song but watch a man and he’ll slowly slide under the table. We’re just funny that way I guess. 

I’m not writing about the differences between men and women; this is more about how we react to things. The “fixer” in us wants to perfectly plan a course for our lives and then follow it to the letter. When things don’t go according to plan, we lose hope and get frustrated. As men, we view our role as being there for everyone else but when we are the ones that need fixing, we throw our arms up and scream: “why do I bother!” The simple answer is that we bother because we are, by nature, fixers. Next time you feel like things aren’t going as planned or when you don’t have control over the direction (whether you are male or female), just remember, it always eventually works out. 

“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

Being confident in all things is often known as being arrogant or cocky. No one likes someone who is arrogant; they are often hard to be around. Having confidence on the other hand, is being sure of your self. The words, being and having, change the value of the word confidence. “Confidence” is more valuable to others when you have it rather than being it. Overall, I have confidence in my decisions and understanding of municipal government, which allows me to speak with authority. What is giving St. Paul the confidence as he wrote this verse? Why is he “being” confident? 

Verse 5 says “because of your [Philippians] partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now”. St. Paul is being confident that they have found favor in God’s eyes.  He is expressing his confidence (having confidence) that God will not abandon them and will carry them forward until the coming of Christ Jesus. St. Paul isn’t “being” confident, he is “having” confidence in the Word of God. How do we obtain that level of confidence? Being in God’s Word and accepting that salvation is found in Jesus Christ. Reading the bible gives us an understanding of the plan that men try so hard to control. God is THE “fixer”. He not only orders things in this life, He fixed our relationship with Him for all eternity. He sent us a savior to fix our inability not to sin. Do you have the confidence to go through life knowing that God is at work in it? I do. 

Why I Write

Each time someone new starts to follow this blog, I receive a notification from WordPress that someone new has started “following you”. Early on, this happened about once a month or maybe a few times a year. Lately, I’ve been averaging about three a week for the past 6 months or so. I don’t check the analytics on how many people are viewing “this little treasure” so I really don’t know how many “views” I get. This week, I wanted to take a minute to say THANK YOU to everyone who is getting the word out on my writing and WELCOME to those who have joined us (me) over the past few months. I often wonder why I keep writing but then God sends me some sort of “sign” that says, keep going! And so, I write…

We read the following verse in my devotional last week and it struck me as another one of those “summary verses” – the ones that sum up our faith. 1 John 5:9-20 tells us: We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 

18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

This is the Good News. We all sin but those of us who believe in our salvation through Jesus Christ are saved! Verse 16 talks about the sin that leads to death, the only sin that leads to eternal death is not believing in Jesus; all others have a cure! Celebrate your salvation through Christ this week and let the world know – pass this along.

Persevere

“Times are tough all over” was the title of a hit song in 1990. People have been saying this for years and since the start of the pandemic, we all still know someone who feels like times are tough. It became a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “it’s happening to everyone” but it never really makes anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that Lisa, and I believed that our 3 hour round trip to see our premature daughter in the hospital was building character. Today, everyone one of us knows someone who has received a cancer diagnosis or had another type of life altering event. We hear them ask “why me, why did God do this to me?” 

One of the greatest effects that homelessness has on people who lose their home or place to call home is that they lose hope. These men and women, who have faithfully persevered these past two years, are used to making positive contributions. Once they start to disconnect, the trip downward is fast and takes hope with it. Recent studies have shown that once hope is restored, recently evicted people often return to a productive life. No matter the situation, we all see people who are struggling in this world; living the “times are tough all over” kind of lives. What can we do help them? We can offer hope and support with less judgement and distain. 

“Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12

Some people look at this verse as proof that God is testing them before they can have eternal life. Yet others view it as even though you are tested, do not give up hope because the promise is still yours. You do not have to buy, perform, sacrifice, say, write or do anything to receive God’s forgiveness! He has given us that gift already; we are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The “crown of life” James tells us about, is found in our belief that Jesus is our Savior. We don’t know why some people suffer more than others. 

We certainly don’t understand why some people deal with their trials better than others. It isn’t for us to understand. Think about the trials that St. Paul suffered and he was a persecutor at one point in his life. There are millions of people on this planet suffering simply because they believe in Jesus as their Savior. What hope do they have? They have faith in God’s word and in His promises. It might be all they have but they have it. God is not punishing them or testing them more than anyone else. The devil is still at work in this world and when hope is dimmed he is encouraged; it becomes his foothold in our lives. God is telling us, through James, to not lose hope but persevere because eternal life waits for us. To me, that’s all the reason to keep hope alive. 

Be United

For as long as I can remember, each week, I have new followers join this blog; many from countries outside of the United States. I truly appreciate everyone who receives this and passes it along to others. When I started this weekly devotional more than 10 years ago, it was to support the book that I’m still writing – Where there is Smoke. However, this “little” devotional has grown into something that I never imagined possible. Spreading the joy and peace of God’s Word around the world has been incredibly fulfilling. This is one of the spiritual gifts that God has blessed me with; despite what my high school English teachers said about my writing skills. We all have them; do you know what yours are?

The last verse in the Scripture this week talks about divisions among us. As we move through our days of war, uncertainty, strife, fear, hopefulness, peace, enlightenment and hopefully a little joy; we are constantly being bombarded with people trying to divide us. Liberal, conservative, socialist, capitalist, patriot, immigrant, “one of them” or “one of us” are all labels that are being tossed around without consequence. These divisions are creating chaos and it is in chaos that terror lives. I urge everyone to carefully consider using labels or engaging in divisive dialog. Know your facts before repeating what you hear on your favorite news channel or read on the internet. Please look for context and understanding of the subjects you are about to debate; avoid extremes. United we stand, divided we fall! No matter what the subject is, division and chaos are never the best outcome. 

6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you– 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”  1 Corinthians 1:6-10

St. Paul is reminding the people of Corinth that God is with all of us until the end and that we shall be guiltless on the day that Jesus calls us home. This verse should give us all so much peace. God has given each one us spiritual gifts to use while we are here on earth. Some of you have musical talents, some have creative talents, some math skills while others are blessed with athletic talents. EVERYONE has spiritual gifts. God is using each of us, directly or indirectly, to spread the good word; witness our faith; or demonstrate Christian living. Do you see how you are fitting into God’s plan? If you don’t see it, take time to reflect on how God has worked in your life and how you are working in the lives of those around you.

St. Paul is also urging the people of Corinth (and us) to remain united in faith. While there are many denominations of Christianity, we all remain Christians. I mentioned earlier that it is in chaos where terror lives and the devil loves chaos and terror. When we start to doubt God’s presence, the devil is ready to exploit our doubt. When we no longer see God in our lives, the devil starts to “help us see” our own way of understanding and not God’s. And, when our faith in God or mankind or each other is fading, the devil is standing ready to give us false hope. These are trying times and we all must be strong to resist the chaos and embrace the peace and hope that we HAVE in God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

God’s 4 Whispers

Given the dramatic world events this past week, I thought that I’d send out some advice from Pastor Zach Zehnder’s book, Being Challenge. I’m careful about copying someone else’s work but his reminder is worth giving to you word for word. He describes these as the basic truths that God whispers to us daily and that the evil one tries to deceive us into forgetting. God is with ALL of this in these trying times, I pray that you will remember that.

God says, “I love you.” While this is the most basic of all whispers, many of us forget this because we hear the devil saying – “God could never love a person like you”. Pastor Zach writes, “God’s love is everlasting and unconditional… His love reaches you wherever you go” Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God says, “I forgive you.” Pastor Zach writes, “For many of us, our lives are filled with guilt and shame. We feel defective, and we tear ourselves apart. As we condemn ourselves, the devil is there to kick us even further down.” Remember that Jesus has taken away your sins and guilt and that you are justified in God’s eyes. Psalm 103:12 tells us, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Trust God to give you the wisdom and strength to live a life in glory to God. 

God says, “I choose you.” Pastor Zach reminds us that, “while we are forgiven by God, many of us still believe our past disqualifies us from being a valuable instrument in the present and the future. The enemy loves to remind us that we’re not qualified. Our past doesn’t have to define our future in God’s kingdom.” Jesus tells us the truth in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I choose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit.” 

God says, “I’m coming back for you.” I’ve written before that it is easy to lose hope in this world, especially this week, we wonder where is God? Pastor Zach tells us, “I trust that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours, even if I can’t fully see the picture right now” Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Pastor Zach continues, “Even where you don’t feel his presence, you can be sure that He’s working in you and for you. Perhaps you don’t hear these whispers often enough because you don’t see it happening in your lifetime.” Remember, God has a plan.

God reminds us, through St. Paul, with these words – 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:22-25

Be in God’s Peace this week!

Created to do Good Works

“Service Before Self”, is one of the core values of the US Air Force. I would see this posted in just about every military installation that I worked on regardless of the branch. We haven’t been seeing much of this these days, but the world has changed the past two years. All of us serve someone at some point in our day and usually throughout our lives. As parents, we serve our kids, as spouses we serve our mate and as employees we serve customers – either internal or external to the company. Even leaders have people that they serve. A leader should be someone who is serving those that follow them; the concept known as servant leadership. By making their followers stronger, servant leaders build up their staff and work to make them successful. There are people in leadership positions who wrongfully believe that since they are in this place of “power” that people should be serving them. A true leader is more concerned about how they can support and help those that follow them.

Ken Blanchard has written extensively about servant leadership. Unfortunately, we see people every day who are simply serving themselves. The millennium generation grew up watching the greed of Wall Street and “leaders” serving their own interests. If anyone else benefited, well, that was just extra. So, who are you serving? I would suggest putting your focus on others and see what comes of it. I have benefited from a number of mentors in my life and I have also played that role for others. It is immensely satisfying and rewarding to help others when there is nothing to be gained.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

St. Paul wrote a lot about serving others in his letters, focusing much of his attention on humility. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds them to be humble proclaiming, “I came to you in weakness and fear”. He was asking them to serve others with humility too. Using Jesus as our example, ask yourself, how did He show humility for us? The first thing that comes to my mind is the washing of His disciple’s feet at the last supper. The leader of the group, the leader of the heavens washed feet. Jesus was serving us!

The Son of God and God Himself was serving us so that we would see his example of a “good life”. God has prepared the good works for us. He has set the course, put people in our lives and us in the lives of others so that we could execute the plan He has for us. God has prepared these good works for us in advance; they aren’t chance but these opportunities are given to us to do God’s work. We are not put here to do our works or to be boastful. My apologies to the Air Force but “Service Before Self” really came from God. It was demonstrated to us by Jesus and now we must humble ourselves to serve others, just as God planned. 

A Great Loss

Last Sunday, the Mayor of our city passed away after a short fall injury and illness. As a city, we have mourned the loss of Georgia Lord but certainly not to the degree that her family is. I heard from several people who expressed their grief at her sudden passing, and we held a short public event in which each Council Member was able to speak about how Georgia had impacted each of us. It was truly touching. I said that she treated all of us like extended family and that her and I would often disagree, much like a son and mother would, but in the end, we cared and respected each other deeply. I looked at her daughters on Monday and saw the same sadness that I observed in my sibling’s eyes just four years ago. While we are sad for what we lost, I know that we should be celebrating the joys that she brought to us as well.

Our mayor, my friend, had expressed such peace in her final days that it was hard to be sad for her. I am sad for your family, her friends, and supporters, we lost a real special person last Sunday and our grief will be present for some time. Georgia’s assurance of peace and trust in God’s promises were truly inspiring. This time of year can be very sad for some people; a look back over the year that’s past and see what did and did not get done on top of the losses we experienced in the second year of a pandemic. I like to use this analogy: during our life, we cannot see the path that we are on but when we finish a segment of it, God sometimes gives us a satellite view of where we’ve been. We mourn the loss of another great friend, but we should celebrate that we had Georgia Lord in our lives at all in the first place.

6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  1 Timothy 6:6-7

I am comforted by the faith I have in God’s promises and can see His hand in my life; sometimes by the people He put there and sometimes by the experiences He gives me. Georgia did a lot in her lifetime, raised great kids, had a large extended family but most importantly, she was a woman of great faith. She was very content with her life and was at peace when she passed. This verse from Timothy reminds me about the story of the DASH whose premise is what have you done with the time represented by the dash between the year you were born and the year you die. We bring nothing into this world, and we take nothing out; its what we do with our time that counts. 

God has given us the tools to do great things, we just need to slow down and read the instructions found in the bible. Sometimes we even have examples placed in our lives. Jesus lived as the ultimate example for us but God also gives us examples like Georgia Lord in our lives today. Slow down to see them and be content with the things in your life; it ends suddenly. We will never know the impact we will have on others. We all have a life that contains a DASH; fill it with contentment, love, kindness, and worship to God who made it all possible. 

Rest in Peace Georgia Lord, you earned it!

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!