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.

Advertisements

Plan, What Plan?

God’s intervention in my life seems more apparent to me almost daily. You know the old expression, “when one door closes another one opens” is really the best summary of God at work in our lives. I’ve written a lot about God’s plan because I have seen it unfold in my life quite often. I recently read a great phrase that caught my attention – “When your heart is right with God, your ways will follow”. I started thinking about the other verses that describe how we will act when we have God in our heart and for me, that always comes back to who’s plan are you executing? I work with someone who doesn’t seem to understand how his actions create problems for others. The really sad part is that he doesn’t care how he affects others. He is very knowledgeable and well respected in our field, but he simply doesn’t care or doesn’t possess the emotional capacity to understand that he hurts people when all he does is think and act in his own best interests. If it’s not his way, then it’s no way. No matter who speaks to him or who no longer wants to work with again, he still goes his own way.

We all know the people we can joke with and those that are all business. We know who can take constructive criticism and who can’t, so we all take these things into consideration and carefully maneuver throughout our day. We’re executing your plan. But what happens when your plan doesn’t match with anyone else’s? Usually chaos or frustration. People are upset, deadlines are missed, quality suffers and relationships are damaged. This is why; working to combine plans by finding common elements is when great things happen. It takes looking beyond yourself and trusting in someone else to achieve great things.

“A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.” Proverbs 21:2

Have you ever thought what influences you and your decisions? I remind myself every so often, of the order of life priorities that we used to say to our kids when they were small – God, family and everyone else. Tell a teenager that he or she doesn’t come first and wait for the emotions. For us, this worked well when their friends were becoming a problem, but it also helped keep things in perspective. We don’t consciously stop and ask ourselves what God would like us to do; although He wouldn’t mind. Our brain would never consider it as we process decisions unless we put it there.

A person thinks that they are right; it’s their plan after all so why consider what God thinks. If He wants it changed, He can just change it – right? Hopefully by now you know that isn’t how God works. However, if you have let Him into your heart and into your mind, He will weigh your heart with His words and the examples given to us by our Savior Jesus. We have free will but if we’re in a relationship with God, He will influence our decisions and keep a little calm in our lives. Sure bad things will still happen but we will react to them with much less anxiety so that it won’t seem that bad. God has already weighed your heart with great wisdom; simply follow His lead.

Trust

Two weeks ago I completed a military exercise that didn’t go quite as we had planned. The Team Chief was saying to everyone, “If it went as we had planned…” How often do you say that? We’re always thinking about how my plan did not turn out as desired and forget the fact that we are not in control. Sticking with the theme of a new year and new beginnings, I want to turn to the idea of, where do you turn for directions? My observation is that most people are either the advice seeker or the advice giver on a regular basis. Sure, the observation is obvious but if you are a regular seeker, then you should be asking yourself who are you getting direction from? If you are a regular giver, you should have someone that you can turn to when you need to seek. How reliable are these people, how good is their advice, what is it based on and what is their rate of success? We need to be careful about who we get direction or advice from.

Oftentimes, the people who are the first to give advice are the ones who really should be seeking advice from others. At work, a good place to get advice about work related issues is from a mentor or in most cases a trusted confidant. These people have the experience and education to offer sound advise on a number of issues. A mentor is a very formal role that is mutually agreed to by both people with the understanding that there are specific outcomes desired, these are not casual relationships, as we often believe them to be. A mentor has responsibility to their mentee. In the trusted confidant role, the relationship is very informal and this is where most of us seek advice or guidance at work. Sometimes, it’s our supervisor and other times it’s a senior or more experienced coworker. Regardless of the position, know who you are getting direction from. Sometimes, simply changing who is influencing your life can make all the difference.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5

I reference God’s plan for our lives quite often; for good reason. God is the only one who knows the plans for our lives. He knows our first and last days and He orders all circumstances in between. I often have to laugh at myself when I start to say, “If it went as I planned”; as if I had control over the outcomes. I have to stop and think that if God it wanted that way, He would have seen it through. This all brings me back to learning patience. I’m too busy anyway to worry about it; God knows what I need to do to slow down. He’s teaching me and, in a way, He’s mentoring me in what is best in my life.

I learned a long time ago to lean on God and to trust Him; I just keeping forgetting and He keeps gently reminding me. God will put special people in your life to teach, mentor or advise you but we must be on guard because the devil will too. So, how do we know the difference? Your understanding of God’s word will see through the devil’s work. If you are comfortable in the bible and your heart is filled with His goodness, grace and understanding, you will know. When you don’t know where to turn, open your “instruction manual” (bible) to get your directions from God. He loves His children and will provide the guidance necessary if we slow down and listen to Him.

It’s not about you

I hope this isn’t the way of the New Year – late posts. I can no longer brag about my record of posting. Good thing this ends 2018 and is not the start of 2019. For me, the week after Christmas is filled with mixed emotions – Christmas excitement let down and the excitement of starting a new year. Many of us will proclaim “Resolutions” for change in the coming year, while others look at the new year with dread. So many people are unsure of what is coming in the new year or are disappointed in what transpired in the past year, that they simply dread the reminder of a new calendar year. This holiday is a great time to be reminded that each day, month and year that passes, is part of God’s plan. Rick Warren in his book “Purpose Driven Life”, starts the book reminding the reader that it (life) is not about you.

We are so focused on ourselves that we lose focus on what is part of God’s plan or that God is in control. We should be asking God for clarity on what He wants us to know or do in the coming year. Setting resolutions is about doing things for yourself or staying focused on what you want to get done but we never seem to ask God what He wants us to accomplish. Resolutions and dread for a new year are a result of things of this world. Try focusing on a relationship with God and seeking to understand what He is doing in your life will make hanging up a new calendar much easier.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

I hope that this verse kick-starts your new year by helping you refocus on what is really important. If you create any resolutions, resolve to grow in your faith and understanding of God’s will in your life. God has laid the path, from the day you were born to your final day; He is in control. Do not let this world get to you. Everywhere we turn, we see signs of terrible patterns of this world.

Turn away from them and renew your mind. These words written more than 2000 years ago still have meaning today – as if St. Paul was present today. God keeps His promises, it is us who fail to see them or open our hearts and minds to them. We expect things given to us of this world and when God doesn’t deliver, we feel let down. I’d suggest that perhaps, God was at work teaching and not punishing us. I hope that you begin 2019 with an open mind, an open heart and the understanding that “it’s not about you”, it’s about God. Happy New Year!

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.

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.