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!

Start with the End in Mind

Do you start your workweek with a plan? How about the workday? Planning is easy for some people and then there are those who struggle to get out the front door on time each day. The concept of “planning” can be used for short-term things like the best way to drive to work or for long-term projects like building a house or starting a business. Whichever you are doing, a plan always starts with the end in mind. What is it you want to do or accomplish? Some authors call that the vision but “the end” is as simple as knowing what you are planning for. The best analogy is taking a car trip. We start by knowing where we want to go and then we look for routes to get us there. Along the way we look for cities or towns where we can stop for fuel or grab something to eat. Longer trips require us to look for a place to spend the night. 

Whether you are doing long or short range planning, the process is virtually the same. Write down your goal or the end and work out a route to get there. Whether you are seeking personal growth planning or directing the work of a team, route the course to get to the end. Write down your goal and the steps (course) to get there. Share it with the members of your work team or for those personal goals; share them with close friends to make it more meaningful and to get support from those who might help along the way. Consider them your “reservations” for points along the way. You will need support to achieve your goals and a good plan will make the path that you take a little more direct.

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” – Proverbs 16:3

I have written before about God’s plan for us. If we let God direct our lives, we cannot fail and we’ll bring glory to Him. Letting God direct our lives sounds like He’d be our personal Google Maps and He chooses the path for us. Like Maps, we can choose to ignore the directions but it is always easier to just let the App tell us where to go.  While this might be easier, its not what God wants for us. He wants us to enjoy our lives, love our neighbors and most of all, He wants us to be faithful to Him – Commit to the Lord. 

If we work with the goal of being faithful to God, doing what He commands, sharing the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ, how can we go off course? God loves us and sent His Son to die for our sins so that we may live with Him in Glory for all of eternity. The irony of eternal life is that there is no end. Our lives here on earth will end, so we must make plans to Glorify God in whatever we do. At work, be honest, work hard, be obedient and support those around you. In your life you can bring Glory to God through regular worship, bible study, Christian fellowship and supporting your fellow man. When your walk in life is in step with God’s, your plans will succeed because your goals are the same – sharing eternity with each other.

You are cared for

These are uncertain times for sure. There is a global pandemic, people of losing their jobs and the U.S. election isn’t making anyone feel great about the future. How are you feeling right now? My guess is that you’re anxious, nervous, both or maybe just weird. I’ve been hearing describe this period of our lives as just weird. they’ve been tough. If you’ve weathered the storm thus far, someone has continued to provide for you. Even though paychecks have been flat, or hours are reduced, or there’s been no overtime to supply the extra buffer of cash you counted on; you have still been provided for. It’s hard to think positively when the past few months have been a struggle.
Think about what makes you happy at home and at work and focus on those things. Many people “re-invented” themselves in the early 2010’s when a job loss forced it. What do you want to do? Is there something that you’ve always dreamed of doing? Now may be the time to do it. The world that we knew has changed and doors will open for people in a lot of unusual ways, they just don’t see it. We can seek opportunities to expand our experiences by offering to help our bosses with their projects. If you feel “stuck” in your job with no hope, look outside of your current position or field for a new future. They say it’s always easier to find a job when you have one. If you are without one or are “underemployed”, follow your passion!
“…God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19
So many people think that they are in control of their destiny and that if THEY don’t do things it won’t happen. As Jesus would say “Those Fools!” God has said throughout the bible that He has the plans and that they are not for us to know. He also promises to meet all of our needs and this verse from Paul is another reminder. He reminds the Philippians that God will meet their needs. What God doesn’t promise is that he’ll meet the needs that WE desire.
We have to remember that what we need to sustain us here in this life is NOT the same as what we need to sustain ourselves for eternity. Paul reminds the Philippians (and us) that we need the riches of Christ Jesus, our savior. God wants us to be content in this life and he wants us to keep our focus on Him, not our happiness. If you are down about the current situation in your life, send your cares to God through prayer. He didn’t finish His work when He raised up Jesus from death; He was just beginning His work. He continues to tell us where to focus our lives. Live to His glory and He will meet all of your needs.

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

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

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

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

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

Interruptions

Compared to last year, I’ve had it pretty easy this year from a traveling perspective. Unfortunately, I’m getting on a plane tomorrow for another work assignment. My brother once warned me that I should never complain about being too busy. Despite less traveling, my calendar seems full of meetings, activities and appointments. I’ve said in the past that my calendar is an alligator that I’m constantly wrestling it. An alligator’s strength is in its tail and its ability to fling itself around to avoid a predator. I still haven’t figured out where the tail of my calendar actual is but I’m pretty busy until May 8th. The things that are designed to make us more productive – cell phones, emails, text messages and calendars are actually slowing us down. We are too busy worrying about today that we seldom worry about tomorrow.

Time management techniques are vitally important for everyone, no matter your position, to be successful. A number of studies show that it takes the average worker 25 minutes to recover from an interruption caused by e-mail or text message. Think of the number of e-mails and texts that you received during the workday which interrupted you – how much time does that add up to? If you save just 10 minutes every hour of your day, you will add 80 minutes of productivity back to your workday; that kind of productivity gets noticed. Invest in learning good techniques to manage your time like preparing for the next workday and limiting interruptions; you’ll be surprised how good you’ll feel about your work.

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself…” Matthew 6:34

Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…” God is at work in your life. He is executing a plan right now – without interruption! We are being bombarded with self-help information and pressure to maintain a work-life balance that we don’t let God in to do His work in our lives. We have to remember that it’s God’s plan and His timeline.

We shouldn’t be so worried about tomorrow that we forget what is important. Right now, is a good time to focus on today and the gifts you possess to have a great day. So, don’t worry about tomorrow; let God do that, he can handle it. Give praise to God for each day and be patient – His plan for you will be revealed on His timeline. In the meantime, take care of today because tomorrow is taking care of itself.

Plan, what plan?

I smile every time that I think I’m in control of my own life. Just when I start to worry about when my next work project will come in, it does. When I think that I’ve got my latest life strategy planned out, a situation arises that changes it. I believe that God has been guiding my life all a long, but I really failed to see it until my career ended suddenly. When I started looking back over my life and began writing my yet unfinished book, I could see the patterns emerge. I’ve been “retired” from my dream of being in the fire service for 10 years and I never could have imagined the journey I’ve been on ever since. I certainly did not plan any of it and every time I try to plan or worry about a plan, God reminds me that He is charting the course.

My experiences in these past 10 years have been incredible. I’ve met incredible people from all walks of life. As a Councilmember, I’ve been part of a select group that meets monthly to discuss development, investing and economic conditions in the metropolitan Phoenix area. This group really influences what happens in our region; the connections are amazing. I’ve had conversations with people trying to connect an outside property owner who “only needed $5 million” with an investor; it was unreal. I continue to work with the US Army on Homeland Defense initiatives and have become friends with very special people. Not to mention the conversations that I’ve had with General Officers and their staffs. I never planned any of this. My work as a local government consultant continues to take me across the country and into the lives of people who want to do the best they can for their residents. All of these things came to be because I stopped worrying about being in control of my plan and let God show me the way.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9

We recently celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States and that got me thinking about what I’m thankful for. More importantly, it also reaffirmed how I got to where I am. We all desire to know what lies ahead and to influence those circumstances. Completely letting go is hard. We are human and being in control is one of the things that separates us from the animal kingdom.

We can still make our plans, have our dreams and establish targets for achievements; this is the free will that God gave us. The verse for this week reminds us that God will establish the steps of getting there. I am planning for a long life that ends with my being thankful for a great family and satisfying life. The truth is that if my life ended today because it was in God’s plan, my life would end with my plan being fulfilled. Sure, it may not have been very long, but I’ve achieved what I hoped I would. I am thankful for that and mindful that it is also human nature to never be satisfied with our lives. God knows just what we need and will direct your steps if you let Him.

What Does Living Really Mean?

What does living really mean? Our lives are filled with violence in the news (or maybe nearby) and we all know someone who’s lost a family member too young. I was talking to a friend the other day about retirement and we both know of people who’ve retired and then got very sick. My friend said that no where but in America do people save their whole lives, work until they are too old to enjoy their savings and end up skipping the best parts of life while they are capable of enjoying it. There was a TV commercial a number of years ago that started out with the phrase “when did leaving work on time become a bad thing?”

Despite all of our desires, we can’t chart our own course through life. My life was planned out through age 59 – a secure career, a strong financial plan, a pension when I retired and good health. At age 44 my career was over, and my financial future was uncertain. I was injured in freak accident at work that required major spinal surgery and I needed to find employment with a disability to put two kids through college. I was NOT in control of anything. Once I put my faith in God, people started entering my life and new connections were being formed. Soon, I working a new field and expanding my view of “work”. Like a tree growing and spreading its roots, soon my life was filled with great opportunities, great people and options. I was not directing my steps and I’ve stopped planning everything. This brings me back to the opening of paragraph; we can’t plan for everything so perhaps we should be taking advantage of the things that are right in front of us.

Jeremiah 10:23 “I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own, it is not for a man to direct his steps.”

I biggest thing that I learned from my life being turned upside down was that I was not in control. I often write about God’s plan and I have personally experienced it. This life is God’s will, the beginning and end decided by Him – “It is not for man to direct his steps”. In today’s verse, God reminds us that He is ordering the events of our lives and not us. When we start thinking that we are in control, is when we start to get lost. Our mind becomes the devil’ playground.

Our lives are not our own because we are here to serve each other and to give all of the glory to God for His work in and through us. We should focus on serving the Lord and doing His will by letting Him direct our steps. As leaders, we can lead through our example of how to care for each other. Be the “middleman” and care for everyone around you. Some have said that this is a test of your faith, I disagree. It is a statement of your faith and one that can be made over and over again.