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!

Do Not Despise the Discipline

No one likes to be corrected, especially when it’s done in front of other people. What about our adult children, when do we stop parenting them and let them learn from their mistakes? When should parents stop correcting and forcing advice upon their kids? I’m not sure that I have the answers for these questions, and I’m sure my kids are disappointed to hear that I don’t know when to stop. Have you thought about how you correct or advise others? The old guiding principle that most good supervisors follow is, “praise in public and punish in private”. However, I’d argue that correcting someone is not the same as punishing them. Granted, there are some people who view being corrected as punishment. When we correct someone, we are engaged in using the situation as a “teachable moment”. If others are around and correction is warranted, we should take the opportunity to “teach” everyone or to improve their understanding when someone mis-speaks. As with all communication, the key is in the delivery.

When correcting someone, you can start by asking an open-ended question about the subject and then asking if there are any other options. Ask them to describe what they intended or meant and then describe your “other way to look at the situation”. The point here is to make it more of a discussion and less about them needing to be corrected. When dealing with misinformation, start by asking where they obtained their information. This will prevent you for needing to be corrected if you are the one not up to speed on the topic. If they do not have the current information, start your sentence with your source of the information. Be mindful of everyone’s feelings and the current situation. If you do not correct misinformation immediately, it will become fact and as a leader, you cannot afford to have bad information in your workplace.

“Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” Job 5:17

 I can think of thousands of ways that God “corrects” me. It is hard to argue with Job about being corrected by God and what we should do in response to it. In the beginning, God was constantly trying to “correct” His people. He sent signs, angels, prophets, and the Holy Spirit even appeared to a selected few to provide corrective action. It was all to no avail, we still wouldn’t listen or follow God’s laws. Job tells us not to “despise the discipline of the Almighty.” God, like all good fathers, was disciplining us for our own good. We didn’t pay attention though and yet he still tried to help us. 

God could have turned His back on us but He loves us too much. So, despite our behavior and continued disregard for His law, He still offered us a chance to be saved and share eternal life with Him. He did this through His son Jesus Christ. As John 3:16-17 tells us 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” We are saved! So despite what you think that you’re being punished for, God loves you and is making you stronger with each challenge. You might not need the strength today or even 10 years from now, but He is working through you for something great.  

Servants

I’ve been doing a little purging of old papers, reference articles and plain old junk that I’ve been holding onto for years. Among the old papers, I found my baptismal and confirmation certificates along with a card from my confirmation. As I read the note that came with my confirmation papers, I was drawn to the idea of servitude – serving others and being served. I have no idea why I kept the note but it’s meaning is far more impactful today than it was when I received it. Even after all of the classes that I attended for confirmation, there are no better lessons than what life teaches you and how God reveals Himself throughout your life. Here is what the note said:

“The best and most meaningful things in life are those which cannot be seen, or touched, but which are felt. On this special day, the meaning of your faith is very real to you. Life has its deepest meaning in Christ. May the sacredness of this time be a rich reminder of your Christian faith, not only in this day but throughout all your life. May God fill you with His love as you follow the living Christ. May the Holy Spirit give you guidance that your life may be full, and that you may receive the abundance of God’s grace forever. May joy be in your heart today in the knowledge that Christ is your Savior, your friend, and your guide.” 

 “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”  John 12:26

When I work with the military, I am witness to multiple examples of servant leadership and it always reminds me of Jesus Christ. Jesus was THE servant leader. He knew what was in store for himself but He served us anyway. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, performed miracle after miracle and always did it with our best interests in mind. He was often called Teacher and He served in that role as well. Jesus was determined to reach as many lost souls as He could before His Father would call Him home. Servant leadership means that we give up control of the effort so that others can learn and grow. 

In our lives, we can serve those that we are trying to lead so that they may become stronger; we are the ones making sacrifices for the betterment of others. Jesus’ sacrifice was beyond compare but we are all better off because of it. We are free from sin because the servant leader put us before Himself. We all make sacrifices in our lives but some do it in hopes of getting something in return. Jesus made a sacrifice not to get something in return but to share something with all of us – eternal life. The bonus for Him is that He gets to share that with us. Go out and serve others not because you need something but because you have something wonderful to share, a message of hope and salvation. 

Worry won’t add to your life

Worry can consume a great deal of time in someone’s life. As children, some of our mothers warned us to, “wait until your father comes home” and then we’d spend hours worrying. Yet as adults somehow, we are comfortable worrying. I created phrase in our house a long time ago when I said, “let’s worry about worrying, when there is something to worry about”. We had fallen into the trap of “worry” before we even had a problem. As a family, we learned after my surgery that there is a plan for our lives; we simply needed to let it reveal itself to us. Humans want to be in control of everything and when we can’t adjust the circumstances around us, we start to worry. We do it so often that worrying has become second nature to us. We worry about things at work, we worry about things at home, in the stock market, in pro sports, on our drive to work and we worry about ourselves. I would challenge you to stop worrying and start living your life. 

I’m not suggesting that you become reckless but start to look around at all of the great things in your life and look at how they are connected. These are not random events that just happened because the timing was right; they are connected events that if you look hard enough, you’ll see the plan before your eyes. Let circumstances unfold without your intervention or delay your action just long enough to see the real “whole story”. If you are a supervisor or leader, you should be working to keep your staff from worrying. Keep them in the loop on issues and be honest. It’s hard for an employee to worry about something when they know the facts. Ask employees what they worry about, you might be surprised by the answers you get. Worry is wasted energy and emotions so don’t fall into the trap. You control your reaction – worry or action, the choice is yours. 

25Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”  Luke 12:25-26

Luke answers my question – worrying will not add to your life, so why do it? As believers, we know three things about our lives: 1) God has a plan for us 2) Our time here on earth has already been determined and 3) Our trust is in God. We are, however, logical thinkers by design. God gave us free will to live our lives. I’ll argue then, that if you believe God has a plan for you and that you trust in Him, what do you have to worry about? 

If we cannot add a single hour to our own lives, then what is the point? Is worry the creation of Satan to break down our trust in God? I don’t know the answer but I know that far too many people turn away from God because they get lost in worrying and find ways to satisfy that emotion which in turn reveals more worry, etc. There is only one that can weave that sort of confusion in our lives. Let God take that worry from you, He likes to hear what is troubling His children. God will be there for you no matter what you are worried about, give Him your troubles. Let God work in your life and you’ll be amazed at the great things that he will reveal. Put your trust in God and less on your own ability and He will be there for you.

Suffering

How could God let this happen? Why are these things happening, is this the end of days? We often hear people asking these types of questions or when people begin to question the existence of God. It’s these thoughts and when tragedies strike, that they become a great source of inspiration for the devil to create doubt in our minds: “Would a loving God allow such a thing to happen? How could a righteous God let innocent children suffer so?” We cannot explain it, nor can we begin to comprehend God’s plan and what meaning all this chaos has in our lives yet alone the lives of those that suffered such great losses. We aren’t supposed too either.

God is always present! I’ve written several times before that we don’t always know why things happen or what purpose God is trying to fulfill. Sometimes we feel like we are suffering when things are going wrong at work or if we are having troubles at home. Other times our suffering is the form of a medical diagnosis. For others yet, personal suffering is constant no matter if its good or bad. How we deal with these challenges is what builds our character. No one can help us through our suffering, no matter how close they are to us. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks to us in our time of great suffering. 

“…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5 

I’m sure that there is one of you reading this right now that is suffering to some degree, and you cannot see the value of perseverance or character right now – but you will. You will see the hope as people come to your aid to help in ways you didn’t imagine. You will become stronger in your ability to survive, and you will become an inspiration to someone else – maybe to someone you know or perhaps, someone you haven’t met yet. Someone will tell your story and you will hear the story of others.

You will be stronger because of what has happened to you, your character will be strong, and you will learn to persevere. We look upon our “suffering” as horrible but as the end-times actually approach, we all will need perseverance, character and hope to stand up to the devil and the destruction he will bring before Jesus descends to earth to bring us all home.  This is not the time to doubt God’s plan or His love for you. It’s time to renew your hope in Him because the work of the devil that surrounds us must be defeated once and for all when Jesus returns to call us home.

Are you listening?

There is an old saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we might listen twice as much as we speak. This reminds me of people who interrupt others because they have the answer before someone even finishes asking the question. Even if the first speaker was 100% correct in their statement, there are some that simply want to disagree because, so it would seem, that is what we do these days – disagree with each other simply for the sake of disagreeing. We appear to have lost all objectivity. 

Smart phones and digital/virtual assistants are dumbing us down. We are losing our ability to listen – really listen. We need to take the time to look people in the eye and listen to what they are saying. Don’t focus on what you’re going to say next or make assumptions about what they are trying to say or jump to the end because you think faster than they do. Listen, smile, pay attention and really hear what they are saying. I just read an article about Emotional Intelligence, which Oxford Dictionary defines as: “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” The title of the article is, “Emotional Intelligence begins with Self-Awareness”. The key to handling interpersonal relationships is listening. A relationship cannot exist without a sender (speaker) and a receiver (listener) otherwise any conversation is just a lecture. Try to listen more than you speak this week and see if you gain any new perspectives.

“Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24

God’s people just didn’t get it when Isaiah was writing this. In fact, many today still don’t get it. God was saying, “I know what they will need before they ask and I will always listen.” This is one of His great promises – speak to me and I will listen. It’s important to note, He didn’t say “I will fix it” or “I will answer you right away” but He say, I WILL listen. 

It’s often hard for us to separate listening from answering. God’s time frame is different than ours. God wants to hear from His children, He knows what is on our hearts but He wants to hear what is on your mind. Tell Him what you are thinking in prayer. God will meet your basic needs; that’s Him answering before we call. He wants to hear ALL of our worries, concerns, appreciations, thanks and our needs. He will order things in our lives according to His will, not ours. If you think He isn’t answering, perhaps you are not being patient enough or you simply don’t see the answers/solutions present in your life. God hears it all, it’s usually us who fail recognize His work.

Why is This Happening?

So many things happen to us in our lives that we often seek the meaning behind them. Good things we accept with gladness and bad things we accept with our heads down. Depending on the magnitude of each, our reaction in response is supposed to be comparable. Or so society says. In American football, a team is given a penalty for excessive celebration if they go overboard in their “response to a good thing”. Each of us have probably heard that we are “overreacting” when we are processing something bad that occurred. I would imagine that at some point we all have wondered why something happened to us or asked, what we did to deserve such good fortune?

My wife and I retold “our story” this weekend and I could start to see the seasons of lives. We engaged and married at very young age. We waited to have children for six years and then waited five years between them. We relocated a couple of times, we reunited with my extended family after living apart for a period and brought both of our kids into adulthood – successfully. Our youngest moved out of state a few weeks ago and now we are ready for the next season. Unlike many couples, we were prepared for our “empty nest” by never forgetting about “us” in this journey. Lisa likes to say that you can’t forget to nurture your marriage. Every season, journey and experience that we’ve had, we kept our reaction commensurate with the situation. We like to say – “it is what it is” but there always find a path forward. 

1There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. 4A time to weep and a time to laugh, A time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4

You have read me discuss God’s plan before. The wonderful, mysterious plan that God has for each of us. We never really understand why these things happen to us and I will say to the end that they are simply lessons for us to use later to share God’s love and His word. There is a time for everything – good and bad. When we moved my mother into an assisted living facility a few years ago, she started in the independent living apartments but soon she would need more attention and eventually she was moved into a memory care unit until she passed. The whole experience has a very different impact on all of her kids, to say the least. We all have cried, laughed and questioned the meaning behind it all.

Not long after we moved mom into memory care, my cousin who I haven’t really been in contact with much in my life, was faced with the same situation with my uncle. It has been hard for her. I was able to share my experiences during this very painful time for her. We emailed, had text message conversations and spoke on the phone about what she was going through. So, when I questioned, “why did we go through all of this with mom?” I was able to see the “reason” when it came time to help my cousin. It is crucial for us to remember these words today because there is always a season and a time. It is more important to never forget the love of our Father in Heaven who gives us both the weeping and the laughing in our lives.

Written or Spoken Words

I don’t know about you but yearn for the days when “news outlets” reported the actual facts and left the opinion pieces to the editors. I spend hours a day looking at multiple sources to simply understand what the issue really is and what the facts are. It is certainly frustrating. I reminds me of a conversation that I had with our son who often said, “Technically Dad, this is correct”. I never operated in a world of “technicality” so I was quick to reminded him that if he has to start a sentence that way, it probably wasn’t going to go over well with me. Granted, I’ve written before that “words have meaning” and choosing the right words are important but to hang on to the technical meaning is taking it too literally. 

Words can convey power, sympathy, love and compassion. I’d also suggest that verbal communication is the key to a properly functioning society. We could do everything in writing but we’d never hear the emotion of the speaker. Have you heard someone tell you that they sensed “tone” in your email? ALL CAPS now means screaming and text messages have replaced a phone call, which at one point replaced letter writing. We still handwrite thank you notes in our house – old school, I know. How we communicate says a lot about our care for others. Taking the time to stop and look someone in the eye to say thank you or taking the time to speak to someone in person so that you can share the moment together is becoming a thing of the past. The pandemic has certainly created distance between us as humans. We might not always be able to see one another but hearing a familiar voice is the next best thing. Words have meaning and I’d like to add so does how you convey them.

4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

St. Paul had little chance to see people in person. Persecuted and imprisoned, Paul found himself writing letters to churches all over the region. He didn’t write fancy letters or tell stories, he wrote about God’s plan and desires for His kingdom. Paul was determined to share the power of the Holy Spirit who was working through him as the messenger. Are you a messenger of the Holy Spirit? God uses us in many different ways to be a messenger of His word. Faith, words, actions, character, abilities, trials and triumphs all come from God. We don’t have to be wise or learned to share the power of the Holy Spirit.

We can’t see God’s work in our lives because we rest on human wisdom. We cannot comprehend the power of the Holy Spirit and its work in all that we do. Just as we cannot imagine the lengths that the devil will go to in an attempt to get us to turn away from God. Our disappointment at not getting that promotion or another health issue or the allure of a bigger chance if we just turn ever so slightly away from God. Paul is encouraging us to let our faith rest on God’s power and not our own. We are not strong enough but with God, everything is possible.

A Refuge in Times of Trouble

I frequently write about God’s plan because people are constantly saying, “everything happens for a reason”. I believe that we all take for granted the guiding hand at work in our lives. So many bad things seem to happen that we rarely stop to celebrate the good things. It is as if we expect the good things to happen so we concentrate on the bad things. I know that by nature, I am more of a pessimist than an optimist. Looking back, I find no obvious cause for this perspective except my training to prevent firefighter injuries and fatalities. As I moved up the ranks, I found that being in command of incidents in which people’s lives were at risk makes you look at things much more cautiously. I think that is what turned into pessimism.

I am generally not a negative person, but I don’t seek to find the bright side of things either. In any case, I have seen first hand, God’s hand in my life. As a self-employed business owner who relies on larger consulting firms for work, the calendar year of 2020 was completely devoid of work. I’d been through times before, but this was the longest period I’d experienced without any work. I told myself to focus on letting God’s plan unfold and be patient (not an easy task). The quiet allowed me to focus on slowing down and taking stock of what is truly important. I’m writing this devotion at the end of ten days working for Army North during a training exercise. Enough to keep me going at the start of 2021. “God cares for those who trust in Him.”

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him,” Nahum 1:7

It is ironic that this verse was written by someone in the Old Testament, which is filled with stories about people not trusting God. We all know that it was so bad that God had to take matters in His own hands and send His Son to bring salvation. I look at this single act of love as what allows us to turn to God as “a refuge in times of trouble”. No matter what I’ve done, God loves me! I saw an old friend during this exercise who shared the sudden passing of a mutual acquaintance. My friend, a man of faith, was down about this loss – he had forgotten where to turn in his time of trouble.

“What a loss!” he proclaimed. “We were talking about getting together since we are both retired” my friend lamented. I reminded him that his loss was only temporary and that the great memories of our friend would return. We don’t know what God has planned for us or why the things happen as they do but we can be assured that they are part of God’s plan for our lives. Remember, sometimes we are the teacher and other times we are the student. You won’t know which role you are in until time has passed. The key to trust in God and remember that, “The Lord is Good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.”

Nowhere to Turn

What a week! There are hundreds of adjectives that could follow in describing a week like this in America. There are also several emotions that emerge from the events we saw this week. People have said, “I feel lost and have nowhere to turn!” Many times they are just frustrated by what is happening at that moment and things aren’t as bad as they think. There are times however, when things are truly bad. Is this one of those times? Honestly, I don’t know. I was introduced to the military contracting world by a man named Todd who helped me make connections with people that would change the course of my life. I’ll never forget the Saturday phone call we had when he described the turmoil in his life. His ex-wife had burned down his house, his older sons were doubtful of their mother’s involvement which was creating conflict and his truck was broken into and some of his belongings were stolen. As we talked, he kept referring to the strength of Job and all of his troubles. Neither Job nor my friend lost faith. 

During my career in the fire service, I saw people’s lives changed in the blink of an eye. This week, our faith in political leaders changed, our confidence in “freedom” was shaken and our future became that much more uncertain. However, it’s not just this week that causes people to fear the future; daily struggles still exist for many people – medical conditions, financial issues, workplace stresses and relationships. It is how we deal with these problems that is key to our happiness. Unfortunately, some people turn to substance abuse to escape, while others turn to friends or family for help. Healthy choices have long-term effects. The others only ease the pain temporarily and then pile on more problems for later. If you are struggling or know someone who is, seek long-term answers because your problems are, in the grand scheme of things, short-term. 

20 “Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:20-21

When I first started planning this devotional, I was looking only at verse 21. It is easy to write about listening to the voice that says, “This is the way”. However, it is important to remember that God also brings adversity and affliction. It sounds crazy to think that God brings these bad things to us but we must remember, “Everything happens for a reason”. Sometimes they build strength for what is yet to come, other times they provide you wisdom to advise someone else later in life. In some cases, God is using you as an example of faith for others to see – a living witness. 

We are reminded that no matter what ‘bad thing” is happening to us, “your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Much like you must open the door when opportunity knocks, you must be ready to hear God’s voice. He won’t necessarily speak directly to you or send an Angel in your dreams, but wouldn’t that be awesome! God uses all of us in different ways to send His messages. It was my new friend, who was experiencing far worse things than I was, that was sending me the message that my future was going to be okay. The day we spoke was transformational for me. Looking back, I know that it was God telling me that, “This was the way”. Keep listening!