Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S., so I thought that I’d provide a little history lesson. Three years after the U.S. Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate, with flowers, the graves of the war dead. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery. Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” he urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time; testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

Several states in the south refused to acknowledge Memorial Day and held their own ceremonies to observe the passing of confederate veterans. There are several U.S. cities that claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, and the debate continued to fester for almost 100 years. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it was often called Decoration Day. It was then placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays. May we never forget the sacrifices that many made to keep us free people.

14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the LORD. Hebrews 12:14

If it were not for the civil war, we would not have Memorial Day. The day was expanded to honor all those that made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free. It is a holiday that I wish we didn’t need but I am thankful for everyone that made it possible for me to post on this blog and live an unencumbered life. We must make every effort to live in peace with all men. This verse is very specific about who we should be at peace with – ALL MEN. This doesn’t apply only to the countries that the U.S. is friendly with; it applies to everyone.

Live in peace and be holy. Sounds simple enough but we know it can be hard. There is no exclusion to whom we must be holy with – I have to be holy with the guy who has the annoying dogs behind me! This verse is a great reminder that living in peace and holiness is hard and will require sacrifice. Some sacrificed everything for us to live in peace, we owe them our best to live holy lives; without it no one will see the Lord. We should live our lives as Jesus showed us – gracefully with humility, with love, faithfulness and forgiveness. Enjoy your holiday weekend but remember why we have it. Put a little “memorial” into Memorial Day and give thanks for those that made it possible and then go out and be holy.

Advertisements

He is Risen!!

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter. It’s a great time of year! I am always moved by certain verses at this time of the year and decided to write a devotion that is mostly Bible verses. While this too, is a departure from my normal process, I felt it was appropriate to continue the discussion about our salvation. 34 “Then Peter began to speak: ”I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is LORD of all. 37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  Acts 10:34-43

The story of Jesus gathered up here in 9 verses, God truly works in mysterious ways. Accepting that God inspired the words written in the bible is accepting that these words are also from God. The real “story” of Jesus is the message in verse 43 in which we receive forgiveness of sins through Him. Pause and think about that for a minute, forgiveness of sins – all sins. Nowhere does it say that forgiveness is limited to a specific number of sins, the type of sins or whom we commit them against; we can receive forgiveness for all of our sins. Live your life free from the guilt and slavery of sin. We have the ability to do it and God gave us the directions how to through St. Paul who wrote: 15”Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the LORD Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:15-17

We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ yesterday. We celebrate our salvation and life everlasting because of God’s grace in our lives. Jesus took the guilt and sin of the whole world with him on Good Friday as He suffered and descended into hell. All of that would have been for nothing if He hadn’t been raised on the third day. We celebrate our salvation because of what God did for us. St. Paul reminds us to live in peace and do everything in the name of Jesus. Have peace this week as you celebrate your salvation.

Difficult?

People can be difficult! Unfortunately, I can be one of those people. I’d imagine that if you considered your own life, you might be too. Rick Warren in his book “Purpose Driven Life” refers to difficult people as those who are, EGR – extra grace required. I’d like to think that my own bouts of “difficultness” are event driven but they seem to pop up more frequently when the stress in my life is high. I hope that is more normal than not. I have been known to force issues instead of letting them go. Not a trait that I am proud of. When I was in position of daily leadership, I found that I had a lot more grace to give than I do now. I now have multiple positions in widely different fields; each requiring different approaches to the people that I interact with. Sometimes grace is plentiful and other times it is not. Enough with the confessional, I’m simply a poor miserable sinner – that is the basic truth of the matter.

Sin and grace can go hand and hand. Someone offends you (sin) and you react; oftentimes negatively (more sin). People “talk it out”, make up and return to a congenial relationship (grace). When you consider the conflicts you’ve had or the times when you were less than pleasant, you probably lacked grace. If we were graceful in the beginning, we would not have been labeled “difficult” in the first place. Grace does not always beget grace but it sure helps keep things running a little smoother. Think about those conflicts and the difficult people in your life and ask yourself, have I given grace to this person or situation? Without question, it is a two-way street but someone needs to make the first move.

13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:13-14

We are all instruments for righteousness for God. Let that sink in for a minute. We are not just sinners, we are not unrighteous and we are not unworthy. We were brought from death, because of sin, to life with God. We have eternal life with God through our Savior Jesus Christ. God knew us so well that he intervened on our behalf and sent His Son to earth to live the perfect life, under the law, because we could not. We are preparing during the Lenten Season for the end of Jesus’ life here on earth and the beginning of our eternal life with God who intends to use us as instruments for righteousness. We can’t help but sin but God solved that problem.

Verse 14 is critical, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” We are all benefiting from God’s grace. It is not our adherence to the law or our gifts or our good works that gives us eternal life. We are all poor miserable sinners and there is no denying it. I’ve said before, there are no “degrees” of sin. God sees them all and forgives them all. He does this through His grace to us, His children, and our faith in Jesus as our savior. There is nothing difficult about that.

Forward Focused

“Forgive and forget”. It works great in theory but it’s hard to practice on a regular basis. We always seem to be quick to forgive but never quite get to the forget part. Men famously complain that their wives never forget “that one time when we were dating” – years ago. Men are just as bad, so I’m not celebrating here. Saying “I made a mistake” is one of the hardest things people can say to each other. It shows great humility and is a demonstration of respect that the person has for the relationship. There are several versions of “I made a mistake”: I was wrong; I shouldn’t have done/said that; I didn’t mean to or that’s no what I meant and the newest version – just kidding. I don’t quite get that one. Despite all of these versions, what we don’t often hear is a good old fashioned – “I’m sorry”.

Sometimes mistakes have consequences, one of which is it affects someone on a personal level. When it does, we should acknowledge the effort it took to admit the mistake by responding to them with affirmation that it’s “okay” or “I forgive you”. Our human nature makes forgetting about it hard; this mistake or hurt always seems to resurface when the same person is involved in a new but similar situation. Our brains are programmed to “recall” events and how we reacted to them is part of how we learn and is how we process rapid decision-making; so the mistakes comeback sub-consciously. We have to keep our emotions “in check” and dismiss it from our reaction (unless it’s a duplicate event). Ultimately, give everyone a little grace and your forgiveness.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14-15

St. Paul was telling the Philippians to leave the past behind them, forget their old ways, old habits, old beliefs and old understandings. His advice to us today is the same, look toward the future and to what you can do today to live a better life. No matter what you’ve done, leave it in the past. At the time Paul wrote these letters, the people of the world were leading pretty brutal lives. They raped, pillaged and murdered each other. It was an “every man for himself” world. They watched human slaughter for entertainment in places like the Coliseum in Rome. He was telling them to leave all of it the past and focus on the future prize promised by God – eternal life through Jesus Christ.

I have no idea how many people read this each week but I will bet that no one has lived a life today like those who lived in the First Century. No matter what you you’ve done, look toward the future you have through Christ. God wanted you saved, that’s why He sent Jesus to die for our sins – then and now. You are forgiven! As it is written in Acts 10:43 “…Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” There are no other versions or ways to say it; you are forgiven. Now start living and looking toward to the future with Jesus Christ.

Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day! I’ve been hearing that for the past 24 years but haven’t said it since 1986 when my own father passed away. I remember the day when I became a father for the first time and again 5 years later like it was just yesterday. It was a little overwhelming to become entirely responsible for another person and shape how they would turn out. How would my actions permanently impact their lives? There were things that I wanted for them like an annual family vacation and things that I didn’t want them to experience like loneliness. I’ve been blessed to achieve both of these and I am very proud of my kids; they are awesome people who care deeply for others and are good role models.

I’ve often said that good supervisors are like good parents; firm when needed, caring when appropriate, there to help and offer advice and but they know when to let the kids figure things out on their own. My kids used to hate that part; when they would hear from me “what do you think you should do” or “what are the options you’ve considered”. Above all, a good parent loves their children and makes them feel safe under all types of circumstances. The same can be said for a good supervisor, you should love your people but in a different way. They should not fear the workplace or the atmosphere there, they should not feel unappreciated or like they have no say in the current direction or their own future. They should feel safe under your direction while you are seeking to constantly strengthen them.

 

14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:14-15

 

We are all “sons” of God; male or female it doesn’t matter. I’d like to think that my kids feel lucky to have me as their father but nothing like the feeling of being children of God. We aren’t lucky to have God as our Father; we have God’s grace and mercy to be lead by the Spirit of God in our lives. Our free will allows us to accept it or deny it but the Spirit is always with us waiting for us to accept God and our Lord Jesus Christ. No matter what we do or say, the Spirit is always present. Just as a parent is always there for their children, our Father is always there for us.

We are no longer slaves to the fear of guilt or the wrath of God; we are free because of our love and belief in Jesus Christ and the triune God. No matter what we’ve done, God forgives all of us. Our Father in heaven sent Jesus to save us from the world we know and from ourselves. The devil wants us to believe that no matter what we do, there is no pleasing God so we might as well enjoy ourselves here on earth. Cry out to our Father and stay strong in your faith knowing that you are forgiven and safe in His care. Your Father in heaven loves you. Like a good parent, He is always there; just call on Him “Abba, Father!”

Mother’s Day

I debated about doing a piece on Mother’s Day; the day that Hallmark made. Before anyone takes offense, I feel the same about Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. While my wife and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, we do recognize the other two days for each other. It always seems that the spouses take these days more seriously than the children do, until at least the time they are old enough to really know better and to shop for themselves. Lisa and I have been blessed with two awesome mothers of our own. They not only like each other but they like their in-law kids too. I’m certain that I speak for both of us when I say; they treat us like their own kids. My mom gained another daughter and Lisa’s mom gained another son – it is better than I ever could have dreamed of. The quote from James reminded me of what a mother is, not only to her kids but also to her spouse as well. I originally planned to use this quote to talk about leaders in an organization and how, if they used these traits, they can truly lead and encourage others to follow. As you read this, compare the actions of a good parent to those of a good leader and you will see that they are one in the same.

A mother’s wisdom is pure and genuine, honest and full of love. No matter what happens, a child (regardless of age) will always seek a mother’s comfort. A mother is peace-loving and considerate. She’s the one who always broke up the fights between brothers and sisters while seeking a solution that worked for everyone. Mothers taught us to share and taught us how to take care of someone who was hurt. A mother is submissive to the needs of the family, full of mercy and kind words (good fruit). Mothers showed us how to sacrifice and put others needs before our own. They deflected blame when we messed up and led the cheering crowd when we did well. Mothers never picked favorites (even though I know I am my mom’s favorite) and when they held your hand and looked into your eyes, you knew they meant everything they said. Great leaders, like all mothers, know how to do these things too. Mothers have earned a day just for themselves but they deserve it throughout the year, not just in May.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17

The irony of this message is that its about Mother’s Day but it is based on the gifts that we have received from our Father in Heaven. This verse is a great reminder of how we are to act toward everyone. The wisdom from heaven was given to us through the writings of the bible. As you read/study the bible, you will see in the New Testament that each lesson shows us God’s pure way in the life of His Son, Jesus.

Jesus then showed us His peace-making ability, how he was considerate to others; even those that opposed Him, submissive to the law of the land, demonstrated His mercy, goodness, impartiality and above all, His sincerity. Use these principles to live your life in all situations, which will please God. And, your Mom too.

Break the Chains

I’ve written before about being a slave to my calendar but I still haven’t broken the chains. Reading today’s verse got me thinking about the other things in my life that pull me in multiple directions or control my time and energy. Using the term “slave” isn’t appropriate in most cases since it has such negative connotations but it really describes how something or someone can have complete control over you. As human beings, we like to be in control of the things in our lives and the path that we take. When we have little or no say, we feel enslaved.

I function, at high levels, in at least four different capacities in my life. As a local government consultant, an elected official, a military contractor and a husband/father. These are all awesome roles that I play and are hopefully meaningful to those that I serve. The challenge is that they are usually more in control of me than I am of them. What things are controlling your life? Often, they are things that we simply can’t do without – our job, our family or our parents. But sometimes we can actually effect change that will free us; like spending less time with a friend who taking an emotional toll on us or a hobby that has started to consume ALL of our free time. One of the keys to happiness is to spend time on things that are meaningful to you and bring joy into your life. Figure out what those things are and break the chains on everything else.

34Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:34-36

We are a slave to sin. This is one of those things that we cannot control. We can’t control or manage it and no matter what we do, we will sin. Jesus said a number of times that we are “in Him and He is in us”. We also know that what has been given to Jesus has also been given to us. This verse reminds us that we are free from sin because Jesus took all of our sins with and upon Him on the cross. He set us free from sin! It’s amazing to me the number of people who feel that they are not worthy to even go into a church because of their sin. “I have to get right with God, first” they say.

We are all “right with God” because of Jesus! The Son has set us free from sin and nothing stands between us and God. We are no longer under the law and we have been made right with the law thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation. It is pretty clear in the Bible that God has granted our salvation and eternal life in heaven through our faith in Jesus Christ. I am in awe of that. Despite my daily sins, God continues to forgive me. When we hear about grace and mercy, this is the first thing that should come into our minds. We are free indeed! Consume your time with things that are pleasing to God like spending time in the Bible reading God’s word or giving your talents freely to those who need it. Let others know what freedom is all about.

Mercy

The old classic management book: “Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers” contains a chapter on time management or as it is referred to – Sacred Time. I’m reminded that when we work too fast or on too many things at once, that none of them are being done well or on time. The authors suggest three – “10 minute time outs” a day that are just for you. Most people will say that their best ideas come to them in the shower or in the bathroom. Do you know why? They are alone without interruptions – no phone, no e-mail, no people.

By now we all know about the game rooms at Google Inc. and the freedoms that come with working in Silicon Valley. Some companies are even letting their employees take off as much time as they feel they deserve or need, but they have to produce results. We have so many things vying for our attention today that we are becoming a society with zero attention span. If you complain that a movie is too long because it’s two hours, you are already on your way to joining the rank and file. Be merciful to yourself and build in some free time on your calendar. Look at your to do list and see what really needs to be done by you and what can be done by someone else. If you reduce your stress, you will extend not only your attention span but your life span as well.

“Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36

Mercy has a lot of definitions. If we look at our own sin and our inability to follow God’s commands, we deserve the punishment of death. Our Father however, showing mercy and love and tells us, “believe in Me and My Son and you will be set free”. If He can forgive us for all that we do, how can we not show mercy to those around us?

“I forgive you”, three powerful words that are the opening to mercy. Christ taught us about compassion and love but it was the Father that taught us about mercy. God wants to be close to us despite our failings, so He sent Jesus to take all of our sins with Him in death on the cross. He then bought eternal life for us all by rising to heaven to sit with the Father. “God so loved the world…” the ultimate show of mercy. No one asked for your son but Luke suggests we be merciful to each other like our Father is toward us.

Imperfect

“If everyone was perfect like you and I, we’d have a lot fewer problems” was something my mother would jokingly say. We all have imperfections and weakness that we expect others to overlook but often we have trouble overlooking them in others. If you reverse my mother’s saying – “If everyone was just as cracked and broken as we are, we’d have a lot more problems”. Imagine the personality imperfections that you have (I know it’s hard too) and then add them to the people you deal with on a regular basis. By the way, they get to keep the imperfections that they already have too. How does that picture look? Rick Warren in his now famous book “The Purpose Driven Life” talks about giving people a little more grace.

He calls them “EGR – Extra Grace Required” people. These are the people who really test you and your ability to overlook their imperfections. I would imagine that we all have them in our lives but what if you are an EGR person? Have you taken personal stock of yourself to see how you treat others or what demands you put on those around you? Are you tolerant of others? As a society, we can better coexist if we become more tolerant of each other and our differences. Unfortunately, we have people in this world guided by the opportunity to take advantage of the weaknesses in others. I would suggest that we all give the same grace to others that we receive and if you still feel under appreciated, give more.

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense” Proverbs 17:9

We are often reminded of Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek. I suspect that this is the way we heard about being tolerant of others. Sure they will strike you, but give them the other cheek too. As I wrote last week, what if God wasn’t tolerant with us? On some level, we offend Him every day and yet He still loves us. As in all cases, God does as He says; fostering love to cover over an offense.

I make the connection with this verse to fostering grudges, seeking revenge or retaliating against others. None of those things foster love. They feel good because they are the work of the devil and he wants us to go against what God wants in our life so he gives it a little extra. No, I’m not saying that all things that feel good are a product of the devil. The fight of good verse evil in our lives is constant and when God is winning, the devil will make evil feel just a little better. Love, patience and compassion are just a few of the actions that we can take toward each other. God has filled the bible with behaviors that if everyone followed them, we’d have a lot fewer problems.

“Work’n for a Living”

The work you do, no matter what it is, can bring glory to God. The actions that you take (or don’t take) can bring glory to God. Some people have had opportunities open that put them in the right place at the right time – in our house we call that a “God thing”. God can guide your path by offering you choices that can lead to your calling. Some people will search their whole lives for a calling, while others know they are in it. The choices that we make can influence how quickly we find our calling. Moving into any role takes just the right combination of education and experience, planned by God of course. It can be a calling that allows you to glorify God; if you want to see it that way.

Today is Labor Day in the United States; a day that we celebrate the American Worker. People often times find themselves simply working a job but God wants us to be in a calling. There are times when our work can be frustrating and we’d like to “just do our job and be done”. That isn’t what God called you to do. Your life at work and at home will influence what type of person you are. Take notice of what you do, read, view and spend time doing and you’ll see that it’s reflected in your work and your personal behaviors. Your work influences your life, be sure that it means something more that collecting a paycheck. If it doesn’t, change your point of view or your position. You will labor less at work and your life will improve.

Ephesians 4:1 “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

“Live a Godly Life” is great advice and probably one of the hardest things that we, as sinners, can follow completely. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. By being nurturing, forgiving, understanding, slow to anger, patient, honest, trustworthy and caring is how we start. These characteristics will help us at work and honor God by living our lives that please Him.

You have received two callings in your life, both from God, one to love others and the other is to do it as a disciple of God. Live your life in a way worthy of God’s grace through His son Jesus, who taught us how to live a life of calling. You can be assured that every action you take will be pleasing to God if you are following the examples set by Jesus. No amount of good deeds or works will get closer to God or secure you a more righteous place in Heaven. We often ask ourselves as we toil in our jobs, what are we working for? If we are working in a calling, the answer is Eternal Life and Salvation found through Jesus Christ alone. He did the hard work for us by taking our sin upon Himself. The least we can do is live a life worthy of our calling.