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!

 

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Disciples

“If you hold to my teachings you are already my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31b-32.

I know what you’re thinking; this is not how he usually writes these! Scripture first? I needed to mix things up a little this week.

What did Jesus mean when he said “you are already my disciples”? What is a disciple anyway? A disciple is someone who is a follower; someone who believes and helps spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus told us that if we “hold to my teachings” we are already His disciples. Holding to His teachings is Jesus’ way of telling us to grow in our faith so that we can overcome the pressures and troubles that we face every day in our lives. The Holy Spirit is in us and we should be in the Word every day; studying it, praying over it and obeying it.

According to Scripture, being a Christian disciple means that we should do these things:

  1. Putting Jesus first in all things (Mark 8:34-38). Our attention should be on our Lord and pleasing Him in every thing that we do. You can ask yourself, would Jesus like me to say this, do that or think those thoughts about someone?
  2. Following Jesus’ teachings (John 8:31-32). Jesus was the perfect example for us to follow because He lived His life perfectly.
  3. Fruitfulness (John 15:5-8). Our job is to believe in Jesus Christ, and if we do, the Holy Spirit will produce the fruit in us. This fruit will bring change to our lives as we grow closer to God our Father. We’ll have better thoughts, words and actions that will make Jesus smile.
  4. Love for other disciples (John 13:34-35). We are told to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love is all about actions. We should be thinking more about other people than we do about ourselves.
  5. Make disciples of others (Matthew 28:18-20). We are to share our faith and tell nonbelievers about the wonderful changes Jesus Christ has made in our lives. Sometimes we think that we can’t do it or that we might say the wrong thing. Remember, you have the fruit of the Holy Spirit growing in you and it makes a big difference.

This is the time of year that people are open to hearing about Jesus. Have you considered bringing your family or a friend to church with you? Think of it like when they come, they get a little bit of God on them each time. The more times they come, the more of God and the Holy Spirit they get on them and the closer they grow to God. Shouldn’t everyone be covered in the love of God? The last line of our verse is “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” We know the good news of our savior Jesus Christ. We are free from sin because Jesus took them all to the cross with Him. We will have eternal life because of our faith in Him. We are free in the truth of Jesus Christ and our job, no matter how old we are, is to be good disciples and make disciples of others. Try to get everyone you know covered in God!

Calm out of Chaos

The old saying is that chaos breads discontent is very appropriate these days. American politics are getting more and more “angry” and people in general seem to tolerate a lot less from each other. Radical outbreaks are occurring all over the globe and terrorism is griping us all in our homelands. What is happening? Chaos has effects on our health, our mental state and how we live our lives. Some people choose to hide in hopes of it going away while others seems to thrive on the uncertainty and a few more like to make matters worse.

Chaos in the workplace is a common occurrence all too often as well. The top employers remain on top because they remember who is on the front lines with their customers; unhappy employees have a direct impact on customer service. Keeping employees happy is not about coddling them or offering Ping-Pong tables in the break room. Creating an engaged workforce can be a result of many different workplace strategies that are not always associated with pay and benefits. Good supervisors offer coaching, provide developmental opportunities and encourage teamwork as a way to create a peaceful work environment. Employees that are encouraged by their work, as Abraham Maslow told us, tend to perform at higher levels that often result in greater satisfaction and customer service excellence.

1 Corinthians 14:33 – “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…”

God does not want us to live in disorder and chaos. Jesus Christ, was known as the Prince of Peace. Jesus was a great reconciler for us by bringing us to peace with God our Father. Jesus taught us to be humble, loving and forgiving of one another. These are all synonymous with peace.

God does not want us to live in fear but be loving and forgiving toward each other with the knowledge of everlasting life with Him through Jesus Christ. There is no greater display of peace but to promise ever lasting life in heaven with God our Father and His son, Jesus Christ. Now that’s peace! The disorder that we see all around us today is not created by God. Who better to use fear and chaos to turn us all away from God but the devil himself? It is our sinful self to use these events as temptation to turn away and believe in our own power rather than rely on our God of peace. Do not turn away but turn to God in prayer and find calm in His words.

You Can’t Fail

I’d like to end 2015 with a great reminder and another departure from my standard format. Let’s start this week with the verse that is very appropriate for both the Christmas holiday that just past and the start of a new year.

“God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” 2 Corinthians 5:19

This is why we had Christmas – so God could reconcile with the world. His people, born of sin, could not be with Him in eternal life unless we had a savior. This is great news. But think about what this verse means for you in 2016. God is NOT counting your sins against you! Sin is not measured by severity. It is all sin and we can’t stop ourselves from doing it. Just as we think we are living really good lives and following the commandments, we are still sinning. If you become so confident that your “godly life” is more pleasing to God – you’re sinning. The complaining that you do about your boss or that one family member – you’re sinning. We can’t help it!

There is an old saying, “what would you do if you knew that you couldn’t fail?” We can be so afraid of our selves or our lives that we stop trying. For some people, this fear can be paralyzing. They are afraid to try things or explore new ideas because they are afraid to fail. Others will get so down on themselves because of sin that they give up on getting to know God. They’ll say “God could never forgive me what I’ve done”. God has already forgiven them, you and me! Our sins have been erased through our faith in Jesus Christ; He took them all to hell and left them with the devil. Sin has no place in our lives. God does not and will not count them against us because He loves us as any Father would love His children.

Start 2016 confidently and don’t worry about sin being the anchor in your life. We are all special people in God’s eyes, so go strongly and confidently into 2016; like you can’t fail. Trust in God, rely on Him for guidance and strength and see what happens. Happy New Year!

 

From the Tops of Mountains

Yesterday, I was telling my brother a story about my son. Greg has a hard time understanding “spending habits” and what the consequences of bad habits are. I explained that you can literally hear him think because what ever is going through his mind comes right of his mouth. We had a good laugh at the almost eighteen year old’s expense. In the US, we are suffering through the start of the Presidential campaign season for 2016. This is a time when we get to hear from anyone interested in running for President and many of them have the same “problem” that my son has; we get to hear them think out loud.

Most of us do not go around and speak everything that is on our mind – thank goodness. We hold some things back to spare someone else’s feelings or we continue to support a friend instead of telling them the direct truth because the truth is too painful. Good or should I say smart husbands never answer their wives honestly when they are asked, “do these jeans make my butt look big?” I would suggest that sooner or later we start forgetting what is true anymore or how to be truthful. We seem to be answering circumstances “technically true” rather than simply true. Take a minute and think about how you communicate, when do spare someone’s feelings and when are you just not being truthful. I’m not suggesting that we go around being brutally honest; there is a fine line between civility and cruelty. What is on your heart is revealed in your words. The devil is trying to change your heart by changing your words and thoughts; stay vigilant!

“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:10

God put His stamp on each of us and it was Him that sent a savior into the world. No matter what God did to steer us in the right direction; we still failed to obey His commands. But God did not give up on human beings; His love for us was still stronger than His anger or disappointment. In our heart of hearts, we believe in God. Some people want to see signs (Thomas), some believe because of their upbringing, some are confident and others yet do not believe at all. The ability to believe or not is within us.

Our hearts and our beliefs have justified us with God; we are free from punishment of the Law. It is our profession of faith that makes the bigger statement; it is what is on our hearts. People can walk around believing but without outward profession of faith they fall short. Profess your faith and you will be saved is the straightforward message of this verse. Give thanks before meals, even in public. Tell co-workers and neighbors about your confidence in the love of God our Father when the answer fits. We often hear about people who would “go to the top of a mountain to profess their love for a spouse” but would they climb that mountain to profess their faith in God and salvation through Jesus? Would you? It is your belief in Jesus as your savior that you will be saved, don’t be afraid to share salvation with everyone.

Who Cares?

What does compassion mean to you? People often believe that it is the ability to feel sorry for others and some believe that it is showing care for others. I’ve talked about showing grace towards others as means of sharing the teachings of Jesus, which to some is being compassionate. I’d suggest that the answer is really all of the above and may include several other aspects that I haven’t touched on. Personally, I find that compassion is best served with part humility and a big component of being genuine about the subject. I’ve had a few people in my life that, after I speak with or see them, who leave me feeling great. They have such a demeanor about them that you can’t help but be warmed by your interaction with them. They are kind, giving and rarely have anything negative to say.

The speaker at commencement last week offered several suggestions about having a successful career and life. One of the tips was to eliminate negative people from your life because they drain the energy out of your life. Compassionate people bring calm, understanding and positive emotions into our lives. They teach us how to look for the good in all things and how to accept the things that we cannot change. Most of us are compassionate about homelessness, poverty, children and the sick. What about the all of the other things in our lives that you can or should care about? There is a great line in the movie “Back to School” starring Rodney Dangerfield when he’s describing a teacher he has; “He seems to care, about what I don’t know”.

What do you care about and are there things that you should be more compassionate about? Our lives go so fast that we can miss opportunities to be more compassionate about more things. Commit to being more positive and strive to be the type of person that when you leave someone, they have a warm feeling inside because you were there.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.” Psalm 103:13

God cares about and has compassion on us in our weaknesses. How many of us would stick with friends or family that constantly failed to meet our needs or respect what we’ve asked of them? We are all weak from the original sin in our lives, yet God is compassionate towards us. Would you be that compassionate with people in your life? As a parent, I am compassionate with mistakes that my kids make, or the challenges that they present or the needs that they have. I’ve often said that the best supervisory training is parenting. God, as our Father, has compassion on us too. We see His compassion most brightly in the form of a Savior sent to redeem us for all eternity.

I do not fear God as the Psalmist did because of God’s compassion towards me and the grace that He gives me through His son Jesus Christ. Jesus intervened on our behalf with God and now we all can live in peace through Him. Just thinking about it gives me that warm feeling inside.

If You Can

It was a big weekend in our house; we celebrated two college graduations. Our daughter graduated with her BA in Communication with a minor in Marketing and I graduated with a Masters in Public Administration. It makes you wonder what you can really accomplish if you put your mind to it. Yes, there is always a little hard work to add in the mix but you have to want it in order to achieve it. At this point in my life, I wasn’t sure how I could get it done. I was working here and there; I’ve been on City Council and working through those challenges, and then try to meet the demands of a Graduate program. A good friend of mine asked me how I managed to juggle all of the balls at once. Honestly, I’m not sure but I know a few things helped tremendously. I have an awesome family that is understanding and patient. My wife and son in particular, suffered most during these past 18 months. They missed me simply being present in the family. I was constantly working on homework or writing papers while they picked up the slack around the house. My son missed out on our quality time together – the whole point of my working from home. My friends were supportive and always encouraging. So how did I manage to juggle all of the balls? I didn’t, it was a team effort! If everything is possible, what would you do? Is there something holding you back from going after a dream or the next step in your career or life? I found myself talking about enrolling in a Masters Program for months before I finally did it. Eventually, I just took my fears straight on and jumped in. Having the confidence that I was protected by my faith is what I believe allowed me to leap. There are no boundaries in your life if you have the right people in corner; starting with a strong faith in God’s power.

“’If you can?’” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23

I love imagining Jesus speaking to me directly when I read verses like this. We’re just sitting outside on the patio on a sunny afternoon with perfect temperatures. I, of course, say something that gets His attention and He replies, “If you can?” As if to say, “why wouldn’t you?” or “Why do you doubt yourself?” He then begins to reassure me about all of things I’ve done so far and how God has been at work all of these years preparing me for this moment. “If you can?” He says again. “Why can’t you? Give me one good reason why you can’t”, He dares me. Of course, I have no good reason other than being afraid. He then gently reminds me, “Everything is possible if you believe in the power, the grace and love of God.” I learned over the years that God puts a team of people in our life to prepare us for just a time as this. I never imagined going to school at this point in my life but I’ve been preparing for it for years and I just didn’t know it. With God, everything is possible. Don’t let anything or anyone stand n your way.

What is Love?

In particular during these past two weeks, I’ve witnessed three people demonstrate what love is. We all say that we know when we find love it but so many of us can’t define it. Few of us are lucky enough to find that person, get married and stay married; we know love and express it in many ways. Lisa and I started dating 31 years ago this month (maybe even this week) and she has always shown me what love is. Her support of my career and of each step during my non-traditional education path, not to mention the thousands of dollars from our savings and she never said no. Not to mention the five houses we’ve had in three states because of my career. I could write all day about her but she isn’t one of examples. One is of a wife being by her husband’s side as he has his third brain tumor removed while being worried that she’ll won’t be able to meet the needs of her clients (she’s a sole proprietor), another is the best friend of our dear friend’s (Joe) wife who made sure that I knew about Joe’s retirement following his stroke 14 months ago. She also is there for Joe’s wife Kathy, to help her or to just listen because Joe needs constant care. Kathy says that everyone should have a friend just like her.

But the one most demonstrating love is Joe’s wife Kathy. We met them just over 27 years ago when Joe and I started to work together. They became great role models for Lisa and I about raising a family. Today, Joe is in a wheelchair and unable to care for himself. Kathy tirelessly cares for him and does so with a positive attitude and a smile on her face. Everyone that knows her will say that she is one of the strongest people you will ever meet. She has always been there for her friends when they had trouble. Her and Joe were there for us when our daughter was born prematurely at 27 weeks. She takes care of Joe with such love and care. She will even joke that this isn’t what she envisioned in retirement but she is grateful for what she has. To me, this is what Love is.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. 1 John 3:16

To be honest, this devotion is not ending the way I envisioned when I started it. So, what is love? I believe that we recognize love because we have seen it demonstrated to us. People like Kathy learned about love from someone else, who learned it from someone else and so on. The first real show of love came from God and has been written for us in the Old Testament. God continued to fight for His people, protect them and still cared for them even when they disobeyed. Instead of turning to anger for rejecting His commandments, God turned to Love and sent us His Son; a savior to give us all a chance to be with Him.

During His ministry, Jesus taught us about Love. He asked for forgiveness of the Soldiers crucifying Him because they did not know what they were doing. Jesus taught us to take care of each other and serve one another not ourselves. He knew what was happening to Him and yet He still gave His life for us. He could have pushed the “Easy Button” and went somewhere else to avoid His death, He didn’t. The friends that I’ve seen over these past two weeks could have found another way to deal with their situations but they didn’t, there are plenty of “Easy Buttons” to push these days. They didn’t because they all know what real Love is. We don’t know why Joe had his stroke or why my other friend’s husband has had three brain tumors, but God is showing us what love is through these amazing people.

I do believe!

Today marks the start of Holy Week as we await the solemnness of Jesus’ crucifixion and His glorious resurrection three days later. This week should be about Jesus. There are a number of verses in the Bible that discuss what Jesus was saying and doing in His last week. It is amazing to read that His disciples did not know what He has been talking about until it was too late. It made me think about how I read the bible and what I might be missing. As I considered what to write for this important week, I wondered about the people who know Jesus but like the disciples, do not understand what is happening around them. I’ve heard people say “Sure I believe in God and that Jesus was His son but I don’t get into the rest of the bible”. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “I go to church and that’s enough for God to know that I believe in Him”.

I’m not warmed by either of these phrases but I will hold judgment because that’s God’s call not mine. However, I really do know what Jesus did for us and continues to do on our behalf.  St Paul in a letter to the Philippians said 12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”(Philippians 2:12-13). St Paul is suggesting that we obey God’s word whether we feel His presence or not. This is such a profound statement that I can also hear Jesus saying this to me. Re-read the verse again but think of Jesus saying it instead. This verse means much more now doesn’t it?

We owe our salvation to Jesus, who intervened on our behalf, but we owe our eternal lives to God, who through His grace and mercy sent His Son to be punished for our sins. We can do nothing more at this point but believe in the word of God that assures us that we are saved through Jesus. Mark verse 9:24 says, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus taught us how to live our lives, what is important in this world and what we can do to enjoy eternal life with Him. If you have ever doubted, simply read the verses about Holy Week and give thanks for ALL that God has done for you. You will overcome any “unbelief” in no time.