Praise and Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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Mistakes

I need to be careful about how I frame the two thoughts for this week, so I’m going to state them separately so that they are not combined. Thought #1 – we all make mistakes and Thought #2 – I celebrated my 32nd wedding anniversary this past week. DO NOT combine those thoughts. It was not a mistake to be married or married for this long! Lisa and I are very proud of the fact that we still like each other after all these years. What’s the secret? Is the first thing younger couples ask or those who never made it this far. (This is where the mistakes part comes in) We all make mistakes, but it is how we deal with them that makes the difference. We’ve made mistakes along the way but we learned from them and we moved on. We don’t keep bringing them up over and over.

Marriage is hard and it isn’t perfect, that’s why learning to deal with mistakes is important. One key to “dealing” with a mistake is to acknowledge it – “yeah, I really screwed that up”. Once you accept that you actually made the mistake, the rest is easy. I’ve been promising people that I work with two things – 1) I will make mistakes and 2) I will NOT repeat them. The not repeating part, that’s the learning. We all need to stop and look at our mistakes, figure out why it happened, what can be done to prevent it again and get over it through an apology. How do you keep a marriage together for 32 years? The answer is simple: love, faith, understanding, respect, a lot of mistakes and a wife who will forgive them.

“If the Lord delights in a man’s way, He makes his steps firm: though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand.” Psalm 37:23-24

The old question, “what would you do if you knew that you couldn’t fail?” seems appropriate here. If you would never fail, is there anything that you wouldn’t try? A post on mistakes can be filled with stories about people and their huge mistakes. Here are a few famous “mistakes”: post-it notes, Velcro, microwave ovens, potato chips, x-rays, penicillin, silly putty and the slinky. These were all the result of someone making a mistake.

God has taught us to be truthful and repentant – admit the mistake and don’t repeat it. God knows what is in our hearts and He will not let us fall. The Psalm tells us that even though we may stumble, God will be by our side and not let us fall. Stumbling can surely be embarrassing but it doesn’t hurt like falling does. God is with us all day, every day holding out His hand to keep us from falling. God’s plan is revealed very slowly to us but we can be assured that He is with us. Our job is to be with Him. Daily devotion, prayer and thanksgiving keeps God close. We were never intended to navigate this life without God’s presence and help. Don’t hesitate to reach for His hand.

What will we be?

A couple of weeks ago our son moved into his new apartment – living without a roommate for the first time. An exciting time for anyone but especially a young man. We worried dearly about him a couple of years ago when he decided to work full time and go to school on-line. He is successful and confident and is gaining experience that will benefit him well into the future. He is also living the Millennial dream and will embarking on a 20-day road trip for his job – touring the Western United States promoting the DutchBros coffee brand. It’s an exciting and scary path that he’s choosing. People who have lost jobs or received a medical diagnosis face the same anxieties; just different questions. In order to help each other, sometimes we just need to recognize that others are in need.

Even when we are in need, 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.

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 in the family 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 who lead a 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” inside of a man wants to perfectly plan a course for their 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. Don’t kid yourselves, mom’s are the ultimate fixer – just ask any man who gets sick or hurt. 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.

Suffering

Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that challenges and obstacles build character; at least that’s been my experience. We all know people who have medical conditions or job issues and we see their suffering. Our church produces a list each week of those who need to be prayed for. The number of people on that list is always amazing to me. I witnessed suffering first hand throughout my career in the fire service. People will often ask how do firefighters deal with it and I always respond that we box up each event and move on. We rarely discuss it and we depend on each other for stability. I would imagine that is what builds the camaraderie that firefighters are famous for. So back to my original question, why do we suffer? I’m certainly not smart enough to actually know the answer but I have a theory.

Suffering, in a way, does build character and makes us stronger. How we react to the event is based on our character and the more opportunities we have to shape that character, the stronger we become. Hence the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I also believe that there is a difference between suffering and disappointment. President Lincoln had a very long list of disappointments before becoming President, but he suffered a great deal as well. He lost his son at a very young age and his wife was tormented by severe depression. Despite all of that, he was a man of great character. The next time you think that you are suffering, ask yourself two questions – is this really disappointment instead and how can I change my reaction? and, if it is suffering, what am I or others supposed to learn from it?

19For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:19-21

I’ll ask again, why do we suffer? It all started in the Garden of Eden. The third chapter of Genesis is pretty specific about all of the suffering that we are to endure as a result of Adam eating the fruit that Eve gave to him. Being deceived by the serpent, Eve broke the one rule that existed. Our lives are now filled with sin, there is no escaping it and that’s why we suffer. People don’t suffer more or less than anyone else because of what they did or what they do. I have to believe that we suffer in varying degrees because it’s what God needs to happen. If we lived in a world completely independent of one another, God would have to teach us the lessons we needed but that isn’t the case.

We teach each other, we are a symbol for others who don’t know us. God will use us to deliver His messages as He deems necessary. People get medical conditions, so others can learn from them. My friend who had a stroke is surely suffering; his life is not the same. I am hearing from his wife how blessed they are by all of the people and prayers in their lives. She rightly believes, that he is alive today because of those prayers. The message of prayer is getting to their whole family, kids and grandkids. God is using this suffering to spread His message. Peter tells us that suffering is good and that as Christ suffered for us, we need to endure it as well. Jesus did not ask “why me?” He knew it was God’s will and then carried the burden. Jesus showed us how to suffer and where to keep our focus – on God. Why do we suffer? It is God calling us to deliver His message.

What to make of it?

My mother’s brother passed away this week after a courageous fight with dementia. My mom and her brother Jim were very close as kids and stayed that way as they both surpassed 90 years of age. As kids, they attended dance class and would tell stories about how they used to entertain at dinner parties that my grandparents would host. They were very fond of each other and despite losing many of their memories, neither one forgot about each other. It was truly touching. The irony of his passing was that he died on my grandma’s birthdate – December 12th. While I know that my cousins are experiencing the same sense of loss that we are, I also know that they are celebrating the same joys that we did as well.

The whole experience has allowed me to connect with my cousin, support her on the journey in care and once again in grief. While the circumstances are sad, I am appreciative of the opportunity. So when we ask why did it happen that way, I know with great confidence that God was at work here. This time of year can be very sad for some people; a look back over the year past and what did and did not get done. I am comforted by the faith I have in God’s promises and can see His hand in my life. 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 family member but we celebrate that we had him 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

My Uncle did a lot in his lifetime, raised great kids, had a large extended family but most importantly, he was a man of great faith. He was very content with his life and was at peace when he 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 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 learn the keys to using them.

The directions are in the bible and sometimes we even have examples in our lives. Jesus lived as an example for us but God also gives us examples like my Uncle Jim 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 and we all have a DASH; fill it with contentment, love, kindness and worship to God who made it all possible.

Why Worry?

Worry can consume a great deal of time in someone’s life. As children if we did something bad, our mothers warned us to “wait until your father comes home” and then we spent hours worrying. Somehow we are comfortable worrying. I created phrase in our house a while back when I said, “let’s worry about worrying, when there is something to worry about”. We were falling into the trap of worry before we even had a problem. We learned after my surgery that there is a plan for our lives; we simply needed to let it reveal itself to us. We 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 breakdown 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.

There is a time for everything

So many things happen to us in our lives that we often seek the meaning behind them. The good things we accept with gladness and the bad things we accept with our heads down. Depending on the magnitude of each, our reaction in response to them 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” and we all have heard that we are “overreacting” when we are responding to something bad. I would imagine that at some point we all have wondered why something happened to us or what we did to deserve such good fortune

My wife and I retold “our story” a couple of times in the past few weeks and I could start to see the seasons of our lives. We were engaged and married at a very young age. We waited to have children for six years and then waited five years between them. We relocated a couple of times – okay, 7 times, we reunited with my extended family after living apart for a period and guided both of our kids into adulthood – successfully. Our youngest moved out a few weeks ago and now we are ready for the next season. Unlike many couples, we 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 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. We had to move my mother into an assisted living facility a couple of years ago. She started out being independent but soon she would need more attention and eventually she was moved into a memory care unit; where she is today at 94 years old. The experience was very hard on all of her kids, to say the least. We all have cried, laughed and questioned the meaning behind it all at some point.

Recently, 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 have been able to share my experiences during this very painful time for her. We’ve emailed, had text message conversations and have spoken on the phone. So two year ago when I asked “why did this happen?”, I got the answer within the past 30 days. 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. Keep dancing!

Trust in Him

I often write about God’s plan because I find people saying, “everything happens for a reason” all to often. 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 my pessimistic outlook.

I am not a negative person (at least I think) but I also 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 last quarter of 2016 was devoid of work. I’d been through times like this before but this was the longest period I’d ever experienced. I told myself to focus on letting God’s plan unfold and be patient (not an easy task). Work earlier in the year kept me so busy that true priorities started to slip. In late December, the phone started ringing again – it was the military contracting office. I’m writing this devotion on the airplane returning from Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio TX. I spent a week there at Army North HQ planning for a project in South Carolina in February. At the airport this morning, received another request for a trip to Washington State. “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 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 who retired last year while I was in San Antonio. He had suddenly lost a close friend in the days preceding my arrival. A man of faith, my friend was down on his loss – he had forgotten where to turn in his time of trouble.

“What a loss!” he proclaimed. “We were going to enjoy so much time together now that we were both retired” my friend lamented. I reminded him that his loss was only temporary and that the great memories of his 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 is 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.”

Here I am!

The knock you hear may just be opportunity at the door. Opportunity comes in many forms and at all times, sometimes we recognize it and sometimes we don’t. We often say in our house that it isn’t always what you know but who you know; the people you meet in your life’s journey. I have experienced this on more than one occasion. For example, the work I perform with the military is a result of my meeting a very generous civilian from the US Army within months of my retirement. “Military contractor” was not something that I even knew was available for me as I faced an uncertain future.

My kids are experiencing the same thing as they enter the workforce or explore what life has to offer. Someone very generous in their lives is thinking of them and will reach out to offer advice or an opportunity. Now that I have learned how to be something other than a fire service leader, I am also finding great satisfaction in being “that someone” for others. I am in the unique position of being able to help people across a wide spectrum of industries. I have always given more than I asked for (at least I think that was the case) and I have great joy in doing so still. Sometimes, we are the one knocking to help others and sometimes we are the one who needs to open the door. Are you ready for either circumstance?

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” – Revelation 3:20

Whose plan is leading your life? Is it God’s or one that you have been working on? Christians often talk about “opportunity knocking” as being God’s hand at work in their lives. When a Christian waits for the knock and believes that it never comes, they start to doubt their faith. Why won’t God answer my prayer? God does answer; we just sometimes don’t realize it. We doubt ourselves and don’t take advantage of the opportunity or we don’t trust God to bring us through the challenge we face.

Today’s verse tells us that God is here, standing at the door knocking. Do you hear His voice and answer the door? God promises that He will come in; all you have to do is open the door to Him. What does that mean? Open your heart, your mind and your soul to God. Believe His word, His promises and most importantly, believe in His Son Jesus Christ. Letting God take over “your” life is hard and scary – you think that you’ll have no control. This is not what God wants for you. He gave us mental reasoning and a road map in the bible for our lives; He wants fellowship with all of us. Open the door to let Him in and He will eat with you. Open yourself to Him, read His word, follow His commands, but most importantly; rest in knowing your sins are forgiven because you are with Him.