Hope for a New Year

Now that 2023 is underway and we all have hope for what this year will bring, I thought that letting the bible speak for itself might help point you in a more focused direction. Maybe some of your resolutions have already been broken or maybe you are struggling to decide what to make of the new year. Whatever the case, we all need to think about how we are living this life and where our focus is. In the New International Version, the third chapter of Colossians is titled “Living as Those Made Alive in Christ” – a good theme for the new year.

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 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 3:1-4, 12-17

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Merry Christmas

This week we will celebrate the birth of savior, Jesus Christ. God recognized that we couldn’t obey the law that He had given to us. God knew that we were simply too involved in ourselves to be faithful to Him. However, God also knew that He could not forsake us and that His love for us was greater than His disappointment. We learn throughout the Bible that God foresaw this as He continued to tell of a savior throughout the Old Testament. His angels had been preparing the way. John the Baptist was busy in the Jordan River preparing for the coming of Jesus. Mary was spoken to by the Angel Gabriel in preparation for her role in saving the world. Elizabeth was given a child as a further sign by God of the miraculous things to come.

All signs pointed to the new King and Jesus revealed himself as an adult when God was ready for Him to begin His work. The bible has been the most scrutinized “book” in history. It has been authenticated to within years of accuracy, closer than any other historical document. God so ordered the world to allow this “proof” to exist. The bible is God’s word, given to us as a testament to His love for us.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13

We have all been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit! Now that’s something to celebrate. God gave us His only Son to save the world; He gave us His Devine Word to read and understand; He gave us eternal life through Jesus Christ. Mankind has never done anything to be worthy of eternal life and never can. No amount of works or prayer or tithing can give us what Jesus Christ did.

It’s only God’s promise and His love for all of His children that allows us to be with Him forever in heaven. Jesus took all of our sins and all of our faults with Him on the cross and left them in hell. When He ascended into heaven, he took us with Him there too, leaving us innocent in God’s eyes. We became marked with a seal only possible through our faith in Jesus Christ. We not only should celebrate the birth of our savior but we should celebrate God’s love for us.

Merry Christmas!

Great Leaders

Leadership can be a number of different things to different people. Some seek leadership while others simply provide it. Leadership can be hard to define too. The United States Army defines leadership as “influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” I agree whole-heartedly with this definition, being a leader is about being able to influence people. Some will view the idea of “influence others” as a negative thing but in this definition, the goal is to get people to do things that they didn’t know that they could do.

Leaders need to work with every employee to help them achieve their highest potential. When employees feel supported at work, they tend to work harder and as a result, the organization becomes stronger. There are “leaders” who believe that they are leading because their people check with them on all decisions. They think that they are supporting their people because they answer their phone calls. In these cases, they are simply holding their employees back by not letting them: make decisions, think critically and be independent. How are they supposed to learn if they never get a chance to make a decision?

If you are a leader, look out for your people and care for them. This doesn’t mean do their work or become protective over them. It means that you care about their future, their growth and work-related wellbeing. Leading is like teaching a child to ride a bike. You give them the lessons, you guide them by holding the seat and running along side them and then you let go. If they fall, you help them back up and reassure them before doing it again. When they ride on their own, you celebrate what they’ve done.

“For He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…” Psalm 91:11

This Psalm sounds like it is describing a great leader, doesn’t it? God will guard you in everything: how great would that be? The interesting thing with this verse is that it doesn’t say “He will command His angels to do things for you” which is what most people want out of God. Most people want Him to provide for everything they desire and to protect them from everything bad. And when God doesn’t do all of that, they start to turn away.

C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Screwtape Letters”, describes what a letter between two demons might sound like and how simple it is to turn us against God. We are quick to turn on Him and begin relying on ourselves, which is really our sinful nature at work. “He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways”. God is with you every day in everything you do. He is there to guard you and protect you, not from things on earth but to protect you for all eternity. God’s worry isn’t about this life; it’s about your eternal life. Re-read the Army definition of a leader and then apply it to what God does for you. His mission is to have us join Him in heaven and the organization is all of mankind. He wants to influence us so we can influence others. Be assured that God is there to guard you. He will not test or forsake you but has promised to love and care for you. Sounds like a great leader.

Do Not Be Discouraged

No matter how strong or independent we might think that we are, we all need encouragement. When we have kids, we encourage them all of the time; whether they are walking for the first time or going through potty training. We start our lives with so much encouragement only to watch it fade away into cynicism. After encouraging comes guiding and directing, which is followed by a little criticism before we simply stop doing anything. “They’re adults, they will have to figure it out” is how we justify doing nothing. Sure, as adult children, our kids may push back and resist and we will eventually just stop trying. This attitude also takes over at work with us. We rarely encourage co-workers or hear encouragement from others. I would suggest that our human soul needs it, otherwise we become so cynical that we can seem negative.

Sports teams are full of encouraging moments on the bench. Watch a team score a touchdown or a player hit a homerun and you will see encouragement at its peak. Supervisors have a responsibility to encourage their people along the way. Not every hit is a homerun but sometimes the only thing driving people to try harder is a little encouragement from others. For me, I’d been working about 12 years before I heard someone say, “great job”. Perhaps it was the first time I actually did something right but I was on a pretty successful career path at that time. Supervisors simply didn’t acknowledge good work. We need to change that. I often use restaurant servers as examples because I watch them as they work and they work hard! Tell them what a nice job they did for you. An extra tip says one thing but taking the time to tell them how they did will mean the world. Then, take that concept and start spreading to multiple aspects of your life, watch people’s reaction and sit back and smile.

“The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

Have you ever had one of those crazy experiences or maybe even a horrible string of days at work and then, when it was over, wonder how you made it through it all? Where do you find your strength and inspiration? Some of us can be motivated or inspired by other people while others are motivated by greed and winning.

If you are reading this blog, my guess is that the latter doesn’t do much for you. Sure, people can be motivating, and we can be inspired by the strength or wisdom of someone but, behind it all is the Lord Himself. He goes before you to light paths and order things so that those people are in your life. They may be put there years before He needs to use them, but He knows that you’ll need them. Stop and think about all of the really horrible things that have happened in your life and then think about the places, people and circumstances that kept you going. At the time they seemed random but if you carefully look back, you will see God at work. He promised to never leave you so do not be afraid or discouraged; God right there with you – every step of the way.

Where is God?

Why are all the good people suffering? It seems that too often we hear about someone who has lived very honorably getting sick while someone who has been a rotten person lives on. It’s frustrating because life might actually appear that way. We never hear about “that guy” getting cancer or the evil person at work being involved in a horrible accident. It’s always good people. We aren’t asking for it to happen to bad people but we do notice that they seem to never have these problems. In response to this question of why, I have two immediate thoughts: God needs good people to spread His word through their actions and trials and I don’t know any rotten people well enough to know if they are sick. After that, I started to dwell on my first thought. Good people who get sick always become a source of inspiration for others in some way. 

I’ve known several people who have had serious illnesses and they were inspiring to me as they fought through the challenges; they did the inspiring. So the answer to the question is not why but what are we to learn from this? Are you supposed to be a stronger supporter? Are you supposed to learn about the strength of prayer or how to trust in God? We are all God’s children and He gives us only what we can handle, so what are we going to do with the opportunity that God has presented? Rotten people might not seem to have these problems but if they are truly rotten to the core, then they have eternal problems to deal with. 

“All whom the Father gives me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.” John 6:37

God sent us all to Jesus – period. If Jesus won’t drive us way, what does? Many will answer that it’s sin but God took care of that on the cross at Calvary. Sin will not separate us from God’s love. I’ll suggest that the devil is the one who drives us away from our Savior Jesus Christ. He tempts us all of the time and disease is just one of his tools to turn us away from God. Many times people ask “why did God do this to her?” “Why does God let this happen?” It isn’t God. It’s the devil’s powerful way to make us doubt God’s love in our lives. The devil wants us to turn away from God and will stop at nothing to do it. Jesus will NOT drive us away! 

God can use the pain of disease or injury to show us His love, strength and compassion. God inspires good people to do great things as a result of these bad events. The anniversary of the September 11th attacks is coming up and people often ask, Where was God that day? He was saving thousands of people to do great things and he was inspiring others to be strong in the face of tragedy. Have you ever spoken to someone who was there that day? They tell great stories about the people they lost or they tell of how they found strength in the following years to carry on. They became the inspiration for someone else. This week, make a conscious effort to be inspired by someone or to inspire someone; show the devil your love for God and that you belong to Him. 

Focus

My business partner and I provide strategic planning consulting services for local governments. We use a slightly different approach to the traditional planning process where, instead of focusing on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, we talk about strategic focus areas and the principles that guide them. Every community or organization has them. Sometimes they are found in mission or value statements but often they are representative of the things important to the community. For example, every city, no matter its size, will focus on fiscal sustainability and transparency. In the past, strategic planning often focused on dreaming big – “what would we do if nothing stood in our way” thinking. In today’s reality, there are plenty of things to get in the way, so we ask our clients what is it that they are focused on and what principles are they based in. 

People, for the most part, can be the same – what are you focused on and what principles are those focused areas based in. Ask yourself, what am I focused on? How do you spend your time and what do you get from it? I’m not suggesting that if you spend your time watching TV for a couple hours at night and you’re not getting anything out of it and that you should stop; I am suggesting that if ALL you do is watch TV when you aren’t at work, perhaps you can focus some time elsewhere. Once you determine what you are focused on, you can start to drill in to why you do it and how you will do it. Bringing these things into perspective can help guide the choices that you make.

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured on the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

Talk about focus, Jesus had to keep His eye on where He was heading. Satan tried to blur Jesus’ focus when he tempted Him for 40 days. When God’s plan for His death was revealed to Him, Jesus remained focused on His goal of saving the lost. Even as He carried His own cross, Jesus remained focused on the goal of joining His Father in Heaven and defeating the devil once and for all. There were plenty of things to distract Him – fame, power, faithful disciples and the broken moral structure of the society that He lived in; yet Jesus remained focused. 

His strategic focus was saving the world and He based that focus on the guiding principles established by God – the Ten Commandments. Because of His focus, we can drill in to being good and faithful servants. Jesus took with Him, in His death, our sin and the guilt of breaking these principles. This freedom from sin allows us to focus on the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God. We can find our daily principles spelled out in the bible and maintain our focus on God. Spend some time reinforcing those principles and make time with God a strategic focus area.

Be filled with Joy and Peace

It doesn’t matter when you see my wife, if you ask her how she’s doing, her answer is always – “blessed”. Even at 4:30 in the morning when she is arriving at the gym for her daily work out, she is always cheerful. She is the only morning person in our family. The rest of us are night owls. She is filled with joy and peace and everyone knows it. What do people see when they speak to you or watch you at work? I certainly wouldn’t suggest that you be “on” at the wee hours of the morning, but it is important to know what time you fare at your best. Studies have shown that early risers are more productive. Again, I’m not suggesting that you change your peak performance time; just know when it is. My peak usually hits around 1pm and lasts until 4pm but I can also have a second peak about 9:30pm until after midnight. 

Knowing your optimum time is important so that you don’t tie it up in meetings or traveling between locations. This should be your time to focus on high-level work or your strategic/creative thinking time. Your peak time is when you should turn off your email and cell phone so that you can concentrate. This will allow you to achieve more at work while expending less mental energy since you are working when your mind and body are ready. Back to the question of what do people see when they speak to you? If you are in peak time, they should see the best you have to offer and when you are in off-peak times, they should see a person of joy and hope who knows the best is yet to come.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Not too long ago, there was a story out of Iraq about a pregnant woman who was sentenced to death, by stoning, for becoming a Christian and failing to renounce her new faith. I can’t help thinking about how strong she was. Here is a new Christian, someone who believed so strongly in what she was taught that she was willing to be persecuted. It’s a modern day story of St. Paul or John the Baptist. She was not only filled with joy but had enough peace to trust in Him that the power of the Holy Spirit would be with her. I cannot imagine what she must have gone through. It was rumored that one of the Columbine shooters asked a girl if she believed in Jesus as he held a gun to her head. When she answered yes, he moved on sparing her life. 

When my daughter was younger she was asking questions about faith when this came up. I reminded her that it would be better to die knowing that you kept your faith to the end than it would be to deny it and spend eternity without Him. There is no doubt that there are others suffering for their faith today. Please join me in praying for everyone who is being persecuted for their faith; asking that their faith remains strong and that they be filled with joy and peace to trust in God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Also take this time to pray for yourself; that you will be filled with joy and peace so that you too can overflow with the hope and power of the Holy Spirit so everyone will see that you are blessed. 

Attitude

There are a number of things that make us who we are; attitude, education, experiences, families, goals, faith and the list goes on. Last week I talked about suffering and how that affects us too. I love to people watch whenever we go out; it’s a huge source of entertainment. I often say that people are strange creatures, and the human psyche never fails to amaze me. The way we react to things or the way that we think is always interesting. I started to wonder about myself and if I’m just as crazy as everyone else – the answer is yes. I find that I’m really flexible and diplomatic with a significant segment of the people that I encounter every day. Then, I become this stubborn, crabby old man on the flip side. I try to be consistent and predictable, so people don’t have to guess which “Bill” is showing up. There are so many things that affect my attitude or outlook on the issues in my life. 

All of us juggle multiple roles – spouse, boss, worker, leader, follower, friend, brother or sister, neighbor, etc. Knowing how to respond can be the difference between being the hero or the zero. I often try to be more humble than not and the peacekeeper rather the pot stirrer. I’m constantly searching for the middle of the road. “Fair” comes out of my mouth often. As I prepared to write this, I found myself doing a personal inventory of sorts. I wondered how all of these traits come across when someone watches me. I know I’m just as crazy as the next guy, filled with idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. I would encourage you to take some time to consider your attitude about life and how others perceive you. Do you like what you see? What can you do to change it? What should you keep doing? What do you want to achieve?

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 

Wow! No pressure here – your attitude should be same as Jesus’. We have often told our kids that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time and this tall order is no different. In His usual wisdom, God has given us the directions on how to that as well. He gave us a four-step process to keep our attitudes in check.1) Do not consider yourself equal to God or even pretend to understand why He does the things that He does. It is too big to grasp. We must accept that He is doing what is in our best interests and in His own time. 2) Be a servant. Jesus was the ultimate servant and led others through His willingness to serve. He was a lowly carpenter who made things for other people. You can’t underestimate the power of servitude, so serve others with pride.

3) Do not take yourself too seriously. Humility is a strong character trait that is often confused with being shy. Being humble means that you’d be willing to wash the feet of someone else, nothing is too small of a job. You are not better than anyone else. 4) Jesus is your savior. Your salvation is found in Him and not through anything that you can do. You don’t have to worry about never being good enough or never doing enough; God took care of that for you. Jesus was exalted to the highest place after cleansing us from all sin. You can live your life of faith confident in your salvation and life everlasting. If that doesn’t give you a positive attitude, I can’t imagine what will. 

Persevere

“Times are tough all over” was the title of a hit song in 1990. People have been saying this for years and since the start of the pandemic, we all still know someone who feels like times are tough. It became a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “it’s happening to everyone” but it never really makes anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that Lisa, and I believed that our 3 hour round trip 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 people who lose their home or place to call home is that they lose hope. These men and women, who have faithfully persevered these past two years, are used to making positive contributions. Once they start to disconnect, the trip downward is fast and takes hope with it. Recent studies have shown that once hope is restored, recently evicted people 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 with less judgement and distain. 

“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. 

Happy Easter!

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 is a departure from my normal process, I felt it was appropriate to remind us of what salvation means. 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 live guilt free and God even left 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.