Loss of Hope

“Times are tough all over” was the title of a hit song in 1990. People have been saying this for years and since the recession, we all still know someone who feels like times are tough. It became a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “its happening to everyone” but it never makes anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that Lisa and I believed that our three hour round trip drive to see our premature daughter in the hospital was building character. Today, everyone one of us knows someone who has received a cancer diagnosis or had another type of life altering event. We hear them ask “why me, why did God do this to me?”

One of the greatest effects that homelessness has on our veterans is that they loss hope. These men and women, who have faithfully served our country and have been in life threatening circumstances for long periods, were accustomed to making positive contributions. Once they return home and exit active duty, our veterans can become lost in a world that they no longer understand or see in the same way that they used to. Once they start to disconnect, the trip downward is fast and it takes hope with it. Recent studies have shown that once hope is restored that these veterans often return to a productive life. No matter the situation, we all see people who are struggling in this world; living the “times are tough all over” kind of lives. What can we do help them – we can offer hope and support.

“Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12

Some people look at this verse as proof that God is testing them before they can have eternal life. Yet others view it as even though you are tested, do not give up hope because the promise is still yours. You do not have to buy, perform, sacrifice, say, write or do anything to receive God’s forgiveness. He has given us that gift already; we are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The “crown of life” James tells us about, is found in our belief that Jesus is our Savior. We don’t know why some people suffer more than others.

We certainly don’t understand why some people deal with their trials better than others. It isn’t for us to understand. Think about the trials that St. Paul suffered and he was a persecutor at one point in his life. There are millions of people on this planet suffering simply because they believe in Jesus as their Savior. What hope do they have? They have faith in God’s word and in His promises. It might be all they have but they have it. God is not punishing them or testing them more than anyone else. The devil is still at work in this world and when hope is dimmed he is encouraged; it becomes his foothold in our lives. God is telling us, through James, to not lose hope but persevere because eternal life waits for us. To me, that’s all the reason to keep hope alive.

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Rejection and Lost Hope

Rejection happens all of the time. People don’t like our ideas, we hang up on telemarketers, our company loses a big proposal or worse yet, a relationship falls apart. String a few of these together and life becomes miserable. People begin to fall into despair and then nothing can go right. This is when hopelessness takes over and all is lost; someone without hope becomes lost. The US is right in the middle of a hopeless situation when it comes to school violence. We are struggling to balance our right to bear arms with maintaining safety in our schools. We are struggling to provide the mental health care necessary for those who desperately need it; before they turn to violence. We are struggling to seek solutions because no one wants to “lose” and compromise has been deemed a weakness.

People are losing hope in their government and its leaders. When we lose hope, we lose all sense of belonging and self-worth. We feel rejected by everything and everyone. The Florida high school kids expressed their outrage this weekend and spoke of feeling rejected by their government and the elected officials who are supposed to keep them safe; are they losing hope?  There are a number of people in this world who are rejected on a regular basis; many of them young people or our military veterans. There isn’t a month that goes by that we don’t read about a young teen that takes their life because their peers who resorted to bullying them have rejected them. Or the veteran who returned from military service only to find that the world they once knew has rejected their new world view. Do you know when you feel like you are losing hope? Can you recognize it in someone else?

“He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”  Luke 10:16

We all have exclaimed at some point in our lives “This is hopeless!” We usually rebound and find a solution to the problem or God puts someone in our life to help us through. What about being rejected? We experience rejection a lot in our youth but we learn from it and adapt. As adults, we typically experience it less and my guess is because we don’t put ourselves in situations to be rejected – we learned from our youth. We must be aware in our own lives when we are losing hope or know someone who is.

For some, this turns into clinical depression but for most of us, we just get down. Much like the frog in the pot on the stove that doesn’t feel the water getting hotter, we don’t know when it’s turning from being down to becoming depressed. Find your hope in God; through Him nothing is hopeless. Jesus is warning in this verse that He will not be rejected without consequences. If we reject Jesus, we reject the Father. There is no wiggle room in that! So, if our hope is in God we should have nothing to fear, right? God wants us to come to him and to come often in prayer. Know the word of God by reading the bible and you will be filled with hope regularly. Armed with this knowledge, you can be that person God puts into someone else’s life to bring them hope and acceptance rather than despair and rejection.

Martin Luther King Jr

In the United States, we are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day today. I have written before about my attending presentations about his life which have really opened my mind about the struggles of minorities. I must admit that I knew little about him before attending these events but I have come to understand more than the civil rights fight that he undertook. He wouldn’t accept the status quo; he wouldn’t back down against great pressure nor would he compromise his beliefs. He spoke all around the world to what is reported as millions of people with a simple message – we are all one people. Lately in the United States, we seem to have forgotten that. Racial discord still exists and now we are divided by our politics. Hatred, ignorance, intolerance and just plain evil are everywhere these days. People are turning to violence in an attempt to get their messages across. Frustration is ruling our behaviors.

Martin Luther King Jr. fought against violence and took a stand to resolve differences in a non-violent way; though not everyone supported that strategy. His speeches were moving and his understanding of the issues were extraordinary and yet, many agree his work remains unfinished. He used his talents to change the world. Most of us will never reach the stature of Dr. King but we can have a huge impact on the world around us. Each of us has God given talents that we can use to impact those in our lives. Sometimes people are in our lives for a brief moment, like in line at the grocery store and others are people we’ve known for years but we have the opportunity to model the same beliefs that Dr. King did, good Christian values.

“For in Him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge…” 1 Corinthians 1:5

I once had a friend who shared with me a serious problem that would have lifelong implications for him. As he described his problem he said that he has done a lot things in his life and that he didn’t feel “right with God yet and as long as I’m not right with Him, I can’t be right with anyone”. This statement stopped me dead in my tracks; how could someone who professes to be a Christian say something like that? As I have dwelled on his statement, I believe that many people feel this way. This is why so many non-denominational “churches” leave out all discussion about sin. People feel bad and unworthy because of sin so if we don’t talk about it, people will come to get revitalized.

As we talked, I seized the opportunity to share my knowledge about our savior, Christ Jesus. I reminded him that he was already “right with God” because of what Jesus did for us Easter weekend.  1 Corinthians 1:7-9 goes on to say “7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gifts as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” We lack nothing; there is nothing we can do or must do to be “right with God”. He knew our weaknesses long before we did and sent us a Savior so we could enjoy eternal life with Him. God decided we were worth it long before we could do anything to prove it to Him.

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2018, Happy New Year! It seems like just a short time ago I put up the Christmas decorations and now they are all down and put away. Each new year comes with all kinds of hope and unknowns. Many people will say “I hope this year brings…” fill in your own response. For many their hope is for better health, a new job or a little stability in their lives. How many people will take the time to write down their goals? A lot of research has been done on goal setting and one thing that is commonly found is that goals that are written down are more likely to be achieved.

Leaders who work with their people to identify goals for the new year are really helping them get the most out of their work. Goals should be set following the SMART principle – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely (time specific). What about each of us? We too need to set goals that meet the same criteria. What is it that you want to achieve in 2018? Create a timeline to get things moving. What will you have done by the end of March? What about the end of June? Be specific with yourself but make sure that you can achieve it. Don’t set a goal to get your degree by June 30, 2018 if you have two years of classes to take. Setting goals is like making a shopping list; you are sure to get everything if you know what you are shopping for.

“…Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

This is great advice to start the year – forget about what is behind. There is nothing we can do to change what we’ve done (or not done) but we can focus on what is ahead. Don’t dwell on the past. This time of year can be so hard on people; sometimes filling us with regret for what we’ve done or great remorse for the things that we didn’t do. Put all of that behind you and give those worries to God in prayer.

Get it off your chest and out of your system so you can focus on what God has planned for you. The prize that Paul talks about in this verse is a life of worship in Christ that will lead to eternal life with the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God wants us to be happy and will guide our lives toward the final goal but we have to let Him. Keep your eye on the prize of eternal life by keeping His word close to you, spending time with Him in prayer and keeping your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior. You can have goals for this life and God wants you to achieve them when they align with His plan. God will not lead you astray so leave the past behind and strain toward what is ahead. Have a great 2018!

 

God is Always Present

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Constant Star

We all have heard about the rising stars or a shining star in an organization but what about the constant stars? Those people, that every day, shine in all that they do. These are the people who jump in to help others at work, have a smile even if it’s snowing in Florida or bring you a Starbucks when you weren’t expecting it. These people are just great to be around! They don’t want the spotlight or ask for attention; in fact, they are the ones usually shining the spotlight onto others. We tend to overlook those who shine consistently, but like the sun, we know when they aren’t around. Now ask yourself, what do you do for these people? Do you find yourself going to them just because YOU need a pick me up?

It’s hard to imagine what keeps these people positive all of the time, but they do it. I had a peer once in my career who worked for another agency who was like this. We used to see each other for meetings once a month or sometimes more frequently but after every time I saw him, I always found myself saying what a great guy he is. I would try to be more like him and still try today. Despite my best efforts and intent, I’m just not the “smile when its snowing guy”. I do however; make sure that if I have people like this in my life, that I let them know how much I enjoy their company and focus time on them. We all need positive people our lives and should seek them out regularly, not to improve our own disposition, but to be a mutual benefit to each other.

Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. Ezekiel 1:28

For the first seven years of his ministry, Ezekiel faithfully relayed to his fellow Jews the stern, heart-rending, hope-crushing word of divine judgment: Because of all her sins, Jerusalem would fall. The only hope the prophet was authorized to extend to his listeners was that of living at peace with themselves and with God during their exile.

Once news was received that Jerusalem had fallen, Ezekiel’s message turned to the Lord’s consoling word of hope for his people—they would experience revival, restoration and a glorious future as the redeemed and perfected kingdom of God in the world. Ezekiel had become the constant star in people’s lives. He was there for everyone. Some may argue that it was easy; God was speaking to him directly. God speaks to us every day too. We just need to listen. It’s the phone call that comes in the middle of an argument to stop you from saying something hurtful or the unexpected check that comes in the mail when your bills are late. God is with us all day, every day; we just need to learn to listen for Him. Send your worries to God, pray daily, give thanks for what you have and be assured that your sins are forgiven. Then, stop and listen for God.

Why are We Doing All of This?

As we come into this week, the week before we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I thought a little deviation from the normal format would be okay. This time of year can be stressful and overwhelming. Presents to buy, parties and dinners to attend and, family gatherings to celebrate the holiday. As our nest becomes empty, my wife and I are realizing that the traditions of the past are slowly fading. We no longer have piles of presents for each kid under the tree and we don’t have to set up the video camera to tape Christmas morning reactions. We are a home in transition – adulthood we call it. But in the end, we all need to be reminded of the “reason for the season” and who better to tell the story than God Himself. St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, inspired by God, reminds us of the true celebration.

Ephesians 1:3-14: “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

So, why celebrate at this time of year? We celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior and we celebrate this gift from God. Sure, this time of year can be overwhelming and stressful but God never said it was going to be easy. Take that stress out of your life and imagine the presents that you are buying and wrapping are for Jesus. Imagine that the parties and family gatherings are to celebrate Jesus’ birthday because – they are. Have a Merry Christmas!

 

I Have Hope!

I saw two unrelated things this weekend that made today’s verse come alive for me. First was the cover of a magazine that revealed Olympic Gold Metal Figure Skater Scott Hamilton’s third brain tumor. His outlook is inspiring and he is quoted as saying something to the effect of, “No day is guaranteed by God. So I live them one at a time and nothing will change that”. At some point after the second tumor, I would start asking myself questions about continuing treatment. I tend to be naturally pessimistic about these kinds of things. Not Scott Hamilton! He really demonstrates how important staying positive is. I pray that he recovers from this medical event and keeps telling his story.

The other was from the movie “Bad Moms” that was released this past summer. I’m not a perfect person and I must admit that I like movies that truly add nothing to my life but a few laughs; movies like Blazing Saddles and Caddy Shack are classic to me. I’m not a movie critic but from my point of view, “Bad Moms” was a waste of time. I could go on but to get to my point, there was a scene in the film when three moms were telling each other how they would do anything for their children. No matter what, these moms would always be there for their kids. I believe most parents feel that way and their compassions will never fail. I use these two examples to show that hope and compassion can be found in almost everything we do. Scott Hamilton shows us hope because of the Lord’s great love and that parents (God, our Father) have compassions that never fail. Look in your life and you too will see them all around you; and that should give you hope this week.

21Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23

The United States will be electing its next President tomorrow. The world has been watching our unique democratic system in action for more than a year. If you are reading this and live outside of the US, be thankful! For the rest of us, we’ve been suffering through the most painful election cycle in modern times. Many people have given up, some aren’t voting and others will not stop the rhetoric even after the votes are counted. Please pray for us!

Seriously though, there are also people in our lives who have struggles each day. A sick loved one, a family member who has passed, or problems that can overwhelm us as individuals. It is easy to get lost in despair. Take comfort in the verse today “therefore I have hope: 22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” God’s compassions never fail! As humans, we want our answers or our solutions right now. We tell ourselves that we don’t have time to wait and can’t understand why God doesn’t get that. We start to feel consumed by doubt. We are being reminded here that God’s compassions are “new every morning”. So, no matter what the outcome of the election is or what the test results say or what happens in our lives; we will not be consumed! God loves each and every one of us. Go forth this week in peace, knowing that you have God’s love with you.

Finding Strength

“Why do I even bother?” It seems that I’m asking myself this question alot these days. Why vote? Why speak up? Why do I care? Does my opinion really matter? We all ask ourselves these questions from time to time. I wish I had an answer to why we ask them. It seems to me that we are programmed to care about many of things in this world, even the things that have no direct impact on us. I suppose this is where compassion lives – we care. When we care, it matters to us. Our ability to influence the outcome is another story altogether.But we still care and can get frustrated when we try to help and get no response. We’ll vote in the November elections and if our candidate isn’t elected, we’ll get frustrated and say, “Why bother?”

Imagine for a moment though, no one cared. If it didn’t immediately affect them, they ignored it. People being directly affected by discrimination started civil rights movements but it was people who cared enough to help that made a difference. You can see where change has taken place across the planet and there were always people willing to do something to make that change possible. This door swings both ways – good and evil are accomplished by people willing to take action. The good news is that the good has far out numbered the evil. So what motivates you? Perhaps it’s music or reading or maybe even a special person. Know what helps to motivate you and keep that close so you can use it when doubt creeps in. Staying positive is often easier said than done but you never know when or if you will be someone else’s inspiration.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

I can’t even begin to imagine if God had given up on us. We were terrible children who won’t or couldn’t obey His simple commands and requests. We grew impatient waiting, we ignored Him and when He did send us a savior, we turned away and then killed Him. But God was patient and knew us better than we knew ourselves. He let His plan unfold and now there are millions of Christians in this world and millions more now have eternal life because of Jesus. We are encouraged because we have faith in the Word of God.

We often hear that we should be looking for the silver lining in everything. Honestly, it is hard to find good in so much of the bad that is going on in this world. God tells us to encourage our hearts and be strengthened in good deed and word. The best place to find these is in the bible. We will never know the real purpose of evil but we know the real promises of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. The devil does bad things to get us to turn away from God and our best defense against him is turning toward God. Seek Him in everything and you will find encouragement and strength.