Nowhere to Turn

What a week! There are hundreds of adjectives that could follow in describing a week like this in America. There are also several emotions that emerge from the events we saw this week. People have said, “I feel lost and have nowhere to turn!” Many times they are just frustrated by what is happening at that moment and things aren’t as bad as they think. There are times however, when things are truly bad. Is this one of those times? Honestly, I don’t know. I was introduced to the military contracting world by a man named Todd who helped me make connections with people that would change the course of my life. I’ll never forget the Saturday phone call we had when he described the turmoil in his life. His ex-wife had burned down his house, his older sons were doubtful of their mother’s involvement which was creating conflict and his truck was broken into and some of his belongings were stolen. As we talked, he kept referring to the strength of Job and all of his troubles. Neither Job nor my friend lost faith. 

During my career in the fire service, I saw people’s lives changed in the blink of an eye. This week, our faith in political leaders changed, our confidence in “freedom” was shaken and our future became that much more uncertain. However, it’s not just this week that causes people to fear the future; daily struggles still exist for many people – medical conditions, financial issues, workplace stresses and relationships. It is how we deal with these problems that is key to our happiness. Unfortunately, some people turn to substance abuse to escape, while others turn to friends or family for help. Healthy choices have long-term effects. The others only ease the pain temporarily and then pile on more problems for later. If you are struggling or know someone who is, seek long-term answers because your problems are, in the grand scheme of things, short-term. 

20 “Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:20-21

When I first started planning this devotional, I was looking only at verse 21. It is easy to write about listening to the voice that says, “This is the way”. However, it is important to remember that God also brings adversity and affliction. It sounds crazy to think that God brings these bad things to us but we must remember, “Everything happens for a reason”. Sometimes they build strength for what is yet to come, other times they provide you wisdom to advise someone else later in life. In some cases, God is using you as an example of faith for others to see – a living witness. 

We are reminded that no matter what ‘bad thing” is happening to us, “your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Much like you must open the door when opportunity knocks, you must be ready to hear God’s voice. He won’t necessarily speak directly to you or send an Angel in your dreams, but wouldn’t that be awesome! God uses all of us in different ways to send His messages. It was my new friend, who was experiencing far worse things than I was, that was sending me the message that my future was going to be okay. The day we spoke was transformational for me. Looking back, I know that it was God telling me that, “This was the way”. Keep listening!

Hope and Compassion

I have to admit that I waited until yesterday afternoon to finish this week’s devotion. I was waiting for the election results. I had intended to right about hope and compassion this week regardless of the outcome, I just had two completely opposite openings to navigate. Then, while I sat down to write, I changed my perspective. For some people, Presidential Elections represent either hope or despair and no other options. Presidents come and go but it is the spirit of America that keeps us moving forward through this life. The outcome of local elections affects our lives far more than who the President is; we drive the streets and use the parks of our cities and towns every day. I can’t forget about the quality of our public safety services that are impacted by decisions made at the local level. If hope is on your mind today because of the election (either lack of or more of) then I challenge you to think deeper about the word hope.

Compassion on the other hand should always be on your mind. How can we care for each other or love thy neighbor without compassion? We care for our kids and our parents because we have compassion. I think that as a society, we are about to learn how important compassion is in the coming months. As the pandemic surges worldwide and the global economy remains bloody, thousands of people will begin the eviction process because they have not been working and have been unable to pay the rent. What will happen to them? Will they find hope and compassion? 

Love thy neighbor is a powerful challenge. I believe that most parents will always be there for their kids and that their compassion for their kids will never fail. Hope and compassion can be found in almost everything we do. Hope is found in the love of our Heavenly Father who also shows us that His compassions will never fail. Look around your life and you too will see God’s love 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 elected its next President this past week – ALL WEEK long. 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 one of the most painful election cycles in modern times. Many people are excited about the outcome and many are not. Some may not even stop after the votes have been counted. Please pray for us!

There are people in our lives who have struggles each day. A sick loved one, a family member who has passed, or other problems that can overwhelm us as individuals. It is easy to lose hope and 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 are being reminded 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.

Facts

I am a creature of habit; especially when it comes to my TV watching. There is an old(er) show that is a favorite of mine – Cougar Town. Its been on a couple of networks over the past few years but ran through seven seasons. It’s a cross between Seinfeld and Friendsand ironically stars Courtney Cox. Anyway, there is a character on the show that, among other proclamations, she would proclaim “FACT” when she stated something, whether or not it was true. The moral was obviously just because we say something is a fact doesn’t mean that it is. It seems today that we might have a hard time telling the difference between what is true and what isn’t. “If its on the Internet, it has to be true” used to be all the rage but now we have to worry about “fake news” or internet troll farms. The irony is that some people still believe what they see on-line is ALL true! What do we know to be true anymore? It seems like every time you turn on the TV or open a news magazine, there is something just so amazing that you can’t believe it is happening in this day and age.

We all know someone who is need of medical care or needs a medical procedure. We have faith that the doctors are capable or that the hospital staff is competent, at least that is what I hope for. We’ve not met the doctors nor the hospital staff; we are left with hoping that they are good enough to care for our “someone”. It makes you wonder about the other things in life that you have to simply have hope for. When we used to travel and leave our 18-year-old high school senior home alone for a few days, we had to have faith that he would do the right things and then hope that we were right. At this point it looks like most of what we do in our lives is dependent upon faith and hope. We take chances that the mechanic isn’t fixing things that aren’t broken, that the financial advisor knows what she’s doing or that the doctors are capable. Come to think of it, faith and hope rule our days. It sure makes me wonder what I actually know.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

This verse can summarize our belief in God; being certain of what we do not see. No one alive today has seen God or Jesus. No one has seen the works of Jesus or His disciples to hear them recount the experiences first hand. Humans often have to be sure of what we hope for. We hope that this is all real; we hope that the passages of the bible are factual and we hope that our faith is real. What if you stop there with just hoping? Much like Thomas who doubted Jesus when He returned, do you need proof?

Our faith, as suggested in this verse is based on being sure of what we hope for AND being certain of what we do not see. In John 3:8 it is written that we don’t see the wind but we hear it; we don’t know where it comes from but yet we know it’s there. This is how our faith in God works, we can’t see it but we should KNOW that its there. I know that in today’s world it is hard to believe that God’s love and peace is still with us. If you need proof, look at the kindness of people or the compassion that people have for one another, these same traits are found in the teachings of Jesus; our savior and our proof of things that we do not see.

Truth and unconditional love

Today, in the United States, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day. He wasn’t just a great American, he was a great man who spoke all over the world about love and hope. Hopefully, no matter what country you are reading this in, you know about Martin Luther King Jr. This quote came to my inbox last week and I thought that it should be shared today. He said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Every day that goes by I seem to find it harder to simply tolerate the nonsense that I see on TV or hear about on the radio. Being in politics, I struggle to “hold my tongue” when I hear about the crazy things that state and national elected people do. As the old saying goes, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then say nothing at all”. So, I remain silent. I’m one of these weird people who often look for the middle ground on issues and work to get things done. Peace among people is where we need to start. When individual people can’t agree or get along, peace is impossible. Dr. King is suggesting that we start with truth and love – something we are lacking in this day and age. Peace opens creativity, which allows people to feel free to exchange ideas and a willingness to collaborate with each other. Go out and make peace!

Romans 12:18 – “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

The bible teaches us to live in peace with one another and love your neighbor as yourself. Living this way allows us to reflect God’s love by loving each other and it makes all of our social interactions easier too. How better for Christians to show love than by living in peace? This is the message of the verse; “as far as it depends on you”. It all depends on you; how you react to a situation or how you create a situation.

We are taught to “stick up for ourselves” and not be bullied. We’re not taught to avoid conflict simply to live at peace. Conflict can be good and healthy for relationships. We should try to find common ground, work out the differences and keep our focus on the issue not the person. If you’re having a difficult conversation, start by making it safe for everyone, stay focused on the issue and how it makes you feel rather than what you think the other person is saying. This is not a time for assumptions. By living in harmony, we live by God’s word and show others that as God so loved the world, so can we.

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.

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.