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.  

God is Light

I just finished reading a couple of leadership articles from different sources. One was about Servant Leadership – leading others to greatness through service to them. I have been a long-time believer in Servant Leadership and believe that it is just as important a concept today as it was when I heard about it 30 years ago. When you serve others, you become a light to them. The old, autocratic leader is a life crushing way to be led.  The basic premise with an autocrat is that the employee lacks motivation, doesn’t understand their job well and needs constant over watch. Its roots are in the military when orders were given and followed without question. The result today is a dark workplace filled with uninspired employees.

Servant Leadership switches the focus to the employee through empowerment, trust and faith in them. When an employee underperforms, they are coached back to success. Leaders in this type of environment are not served by their employees; instead they serve the employees. Southwest Airlines has been operating under this philosophy for over 40 years and they have been pretty successful. If you are not in a leadership position, you can still be a servant leader to your coworkers. Think about parenting for minute, you are serving your children constantly (driving to practice, helping with homework, teaching life skills, etc.) and providing a living example of being there for them. How do you relate to the other people in your life? Are you a giver or a taker? This world is exhausting and having someone take care of you may sound peaceful, but I believe that you will be more satisfied helping others achieve their goals than you will be if you are being catered to. 

5 “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7

I urge you to let verse 5 sweep peace over your mind – “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” The world events over the past month is about all that a normal person can handle. The political fighting in the U.S, the war in Ukraine, the mass shootings that we are now numb too and the lingering effects of the pandemic are just a few of the stresses that we have faced recently. Most of us have personal issues to deal with at the same as everything else. Perhaps it’s a medical diagnosis, a job loss, financial problems, relationship issues; the list can go on and on. From the sound of things, there is no light anywhere in this world. The world is a dark place and we need God to provide us light.

We know from these verses and many more that with God there is no darkness. Sure, there is a lot of shade but there is no darkness. When we are in the dark, we are often afraid, confused and uncertain. Our senses change as we adjust to the dark, but we remain uncertain and afraid because we are not in control of our physical space. We never know when we will trip on something, bump into a wall or fall down. God is light! We walk in it all the time. We have comfort and peace in God’s light that we get through our fellowship with each other and with Him. This cleansing from all sin comes through our faith in Jesus Christ, who’s blood was shed for us. Go boldly into the world with the light of God shining all around you.

Change is Good

Transformation within an organization is a process that doesn’t always have to be driven from the top down. It can be driven from inside the organization or from outside of it. We all react differently to change, or “transformation” and it is important to remember both that take place differently for each employee. The key success factor is that employees must be part of the process. Employees and leaders alike must be willing to accept more than one right answer during any transformation. The workplace is rapidly changing and transforming, as is the workforce. A new way of doing business is unfolding before our eyes and the “work world” that we knew is transforming right in front of us. 

For long-time employees it’s disruptive, for some leaders it’s more work and for some organizations its an infusion of innovative ideas. Do you know where you fall in this spectrum and how you are reacting to it? Transformation can be scary and is definitely stressful. If we think of all the great things that we have access to today and remember that they were a result of a transformation, we can begin to see the possibilities of the future. Sure, a change to the process that you’ve been doing for years isn’t exciting, but it is part of a greater picture and that can be exciting. Change can be good; you never know where it can lead. 

7But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” John 16:7

Jesus had to initiate change with His disciples in the days leading to His arrest. He was creating a vision of the future for them. He was giving direction and encouraging them to carry on the mission even if He was no longer with them. He told them what to look forward to and how important their work was. Imagine this group of men with no sense of what he was saying and not fully understanding that He knew what was about to happen. They kept asking for explanation after explanation when He finally said today’s verse. He was essentially telling them “trust me, this is a good thing”. 

They were scared, it was stressful, and they all reacted differently. They even struggled to see the future – sound familiar? Jesus was telling them that after me, something even greater is coming – the advocate or Holy Spirit will come to them and make them even better than they can ever imagine. Sure, you’ll be persecuted he tells them later in John, but your reward is an everlasting life. No amount of change or fear can prepare us for that, but we can be assured that in the words of the Bible, God is telling us about the transformation we will see that is not of this world. Continue to read, re-read and study the Words given to us by God himself and you will continue to transform yourself as God is transforming the world around us. 

Losing 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 world is witnessing a hopeless situation in Ukraine. We are struggling to balance the protection of a nation against an aggressor with maintaining enough separation to ensure we are drawn into a war. In the U.S., we are struggling to seek solutions to a number of problems 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 effects of the pandemic will be felt for many years to come as we all struggle to figure out who and what to believe about our own safety. 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. 

God’s 4 Whispers

Given the dramatic world events this past week, I thought that I’d send out some advice from Pastor Zach Zehnder’s book, Being Challenge. I’m careful about copying someone else’s work but his reminder is worth giving to you word for word. He describes these as the basic truths that God whispers to us daily and that the evil one tries to deceive us into forgetting. God is with ALL of this in these trying times, I pray that you will remember that.

God says, “I love you.” While this is the most basic of all whispers, many of us forget this because we hear the devil saying – “God could never love a person like you”. Pastor Zach writes, “God’s love is everlasting and unconditional… His love reaches you wherever you go” Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God says, “I forgive you.” Pastor Zach writes, “For many of us, our lives are filled with guilt and shame. We feel defective, and we tear ourselves apart. As we condemn ourselves, the devil is there to kick us even further down.” Remember that Jesus has taken away your sins and guilt and that you are justified in God’s eyes. Psalm 103:12 tells us, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Trust God to give you the wisdom and strength to live a life in glory to God. 

God says, “I choose you.” Pastor Zach reminds us that, “while we are forgiven by God, many of us still believe our past disqualifies us from being a valuable instrument in the present and the future. The enemy loves to remind us that we’re not qualified. Our past doesn’t have to define our future in God’s kingdom.” Jesus tells us the truth in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I choose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit.” 

God says, “I’m coming back for you.” I’ve written before that it is easy to lose hope in this world, especially this week, we wonder where is God? Pastor Zach tells us, “I trust that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours, even if I can’t fully see the picture right now” Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Pastor Zach continues, “Even where you don’t feel his presence, you can be sure that He’s working in you and for you. Perhaps you don’t hear these whispers often enough because you don’t see it happening in your lifetime.” Remember, God has a plan.

God reminds us, through St. Paul, with these words – 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:22-25

Be in God’s Peace this week!