Like Fingers on a Hand

“Like fingers on a hand… We are all different and unique. We are all of equal value. We are all created to work together. And although we appear separate, we are all linked to – and a part of – each other.” This is the phrase on the landing page of website www.onehumanfamily.info. I came across this organization several years ago, but the concept means just as much to me today as it did when I first saw it. I can’t stop thinking about the concept, especially with the insanity taking place around the world.

I struggled to find a way to bring this into a weekly devotion I recently read Ephesians 2:11-22. I realized why this saying meant so much to me – I had heard the concept before. I encourage you to visit the website for one human family after you read the verses below. My prayer is that you will also see what St. Paul was saying is that we are all one through the strength of Jesus.

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:11-22

The Fields Are Ripe

Have you ever stopped to think about all of the people that have helped you in your life? There are teachers who helped mold your mind or shaped your learning, the people that have shaped your worldview and there are strangers that have helped in ways that you don’t even know about. If we were to list them all, it would be too long to comprehend. We all have had people that played a significant role in shaping a part of our lives. Some of them have given us great advice or simply were there to listen and others created a pathway for us to follow behind them. The latter did what is referred to as “the heavy lifting”. Both the advisor and the trailblazer are significant to us in our development. 

We are currently engaged in a biblical journey in our house to strengthen ourselves and our relationship with God. I’ve been reminded about how our lives, values and morals are shaped. It is a constant process, for most of us anyway. People are shaping and teaching us constantly; some are reinforcing our beliefs while others are changing our worldview. This verse got me thinking about whom I’ve relied on in my life to help make me who I am today. Lisa and I met 38 years ago in January, which by the way, neither one of us can remember the specific date. Besides being unable to comprehend being together that long, we both know how much we have influenced each other. I also know that there are about a dozen people who were there for me as I traversed my career; some reminding me to slow down and others pushing me on because they saw something that I hadn’t. I realized that I’ve had little to do with who I am and that others had done the heavy lifting. Some took chances on me, others pulled me up into opportunities while people like Lisa were there adjusting to be everything else I needed. Give thanks for those people in your lives and then let them know how much you appreciate all that they’ve done. 

37Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”  John 4:37-38

This verse is Jesus speaking to his disciples after he met the Samaritan woman at the water well. Jesus is the sower, He did the hard work for us and we will reap the reward; eternal life through Him. Jesus also is speaking of those before Him, the prophets and those doing the work that God commanded, allowing all of us to reap the benefits of their labor. So, is the sowing all done now that we have God’s word and salvation through Jesus? I don’t believe so. 

“One sows and another reaps’ is true”. As disciples we still have a harvest to tend to as is written in John 4:35 “…look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” We are the ones that have reaped the goodness of the harvest but we also have some sowing to do. Let’s get out there and sow the good news of Jesus Christ. I bet some of you are saying, “Are you kidding? You want me to go and preach to others?” I’m suggesting that you be a witness of God’s love and grace. He has blessed each of us with specific talents or gifts to sow the fields. Some can sing, some can write, some have strong arms and backs but all have love and the belief that we can make a difference. God is with you and He has already given you what you need to be the person that changes lives. Look around your life and see what He has done for you and then look for ways to pass it on to others. The fields are ripe! 

Compassion

As the NFL football regular schedule ended this weekend, some are celebrating, and some are lamenting their team’s season. Some teams really clicked this season and others couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag. In the end, some teams won or lost because mistakes made – no doubt about that. I’m not talking about any team or game, but games are usually won because one team took advantage of someone else’s mistake. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Someone makes a mistake and the office jerk is not only quick to point it out but also then tries to take advantage of it. How do you react when someone makes a mistake? I always make two promises to the teams that I’ve lead – 1) I will make mistakes and 2) I will never repeat them. They key is what we do with the experience of making a mistake. 

We all forget that post-it-notes were a result of someone’s mistake. The old saying of “its water under the bridge” is so true; you can’t get it back. My philosophy is that you have to acknowledge the error, learn from it and move forward. This is why, each week, football teams review films of the game they just played – win or lose. They don’t dwell on the outcome, they are always looking forward. People make mistakes all of the time. A baseball player who hits the ball only 33% of the time (.300 avg.) is a great player. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of productivity goal? So next time someone around you makes a mistake or you do; give them a little smile and let them know that it’s okay. The office jerk will get theirs in all due time.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

We always seem to make one mistake after another; breaking commandments left and right. How can we call ourselves Christians if we can’t live a life without sin? St. Paul would certainly have a thing or two to say about that. His first direction in this one verse as part of a letter to the Ephesians was “Be kind and compassionate to one another”. This is a great place to start. How you handle yourself with others is a good indication of the messages that have gone to your core. My guess is that you are compassionate and caring toward others. You do your best to help when you can and pray for help when there is more to be done than you can handle. 

As Christians, we forgive and forget a lot more often than we give ourselves credit for. If you held onto every wrong against you, the weight of those emotions would be crushing. We forgive strangers everyday yet we find it hard to forgive those we love. Jesus Christ taught us to be patient with everyone. Even His own disciples were les than helpful in the end yet He forgave them. God, Our Father in Heaven who loves us so deeply, is compassionate with us even when we disappoint Him. All of our sins have been forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection, no exceptions. God forgives you for the sins that you have committed and those that you have yet to commit; that’s why we can call ourselves Christians. Go out and demonstrate God’s love through your faith in Jesus Christ, the world needs our kindness, compassion and forgiveness. 

Many Kinds of Service

The dictionary tells us that the word “service” means several different things: a ceremony like a church service, a set of things like a tea service, performing a job that doesn’t make anything in the end like the plumber who fixes a leaky faucet, work that is performed by someone that serves other people like a waiter and doing something that contributes to the welfare or life of others like those in military service. Sometimes we hear the word “service” used by people: “that was great service we got at dinner last night”, “I need to get my car serviced at the dealer”, “we are number 1 in customer service”, and “my phone service is so spotty.” What version of the word service matters to you?

I often talk about my “service career” that dates back to my very first job in a full-service gas station back in the suburbs of Chicago. We’d wash the windshield and check the oil if requested, no matter the weather. I went on to serve others for more than 25 years in the fire service and now I’ve been serving the public in new ways as a consultant, military contractor, and public official for more than 10 years. I could go on about each of the roles that I’ve filled but none means more than writing this blog each week. I’m reaching thousands of people with my thoughts and sharing the Word of God. How can you be of service? I’d suggest something as simple as a smile, a handshake, a “welcome aboard” greeting to a new co-worker are easy ways to start. Modeling the behaviors of Christ in this crazy world might just be the type of service that someone desperately needs. Witnessing to others is often the hardest part of being a Christian but you don’t need to write a blog to tell the Good News to others, just a little servant’s heart.

“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.” 1 Corinthians 12:5

Paul was right; there are different kinds of service! He said this in his letter to the people of Corinth way before the dictionary was invented. However, none of the dictionary defined types of service are what God wants us to focus on. Jesus told us what to do in Matthew 28:18-20 when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So, what does this have to do with service?

If we think about some of things that Jesus commanded us to do – teaching the message of salvation, loving and caring for one another, and taking care of those in need are just a few examples. These are all an act of service! People are lost all around us and God is depending on us to show them the way back to Him. Being a faithful servant, caring for and loving each other are only the beginning. Why do we perform service for others? Do we do it so that we can go to heaven with eternal life? No! We perform service for others because we want to show them the love that we have been given by Jesus. We don’t have to do anything for eternal life; Jesus already did it for it for us by taking our sins with him onto the cross. All you need to believe is that Jesus is the Holy Spirit; that is all that we must do. By being the “someone” in a person’s life, you will bring glory to God. There are different kinds of service, but we are lucky to have the same Lord, a loving and caring God who gave His only son so that we can have eternal life through Him, now that’s what I call service!

We are Free

Yesterday was July 4th and in the U.S. we celebrate our country’s independence as the Fourth of July Holiday. I have traveled to Washington DC many times for work, and you can see signs of our founding fathers everywhere along with the power of our government on what seems like every corner. It wasn’t until I’d seen just about everything else before I visited the Jefferson Memorial. Not for any other reason than, I was too lazy to “go all the way over there” on the other side of the pond. I remember very vividly seeing the monuments one night and the Jefferson Memorial didn’t look that far away after visiting the MLK Memorial. I was wrong but that’s another story. When you see the quotes from great leaders like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and MLK you are inspired as an American. 

The interesting thing about all that history however is, we have no idea what they really went through to get us to the point of “One Nation Under God”. Not too far from the Lincoln Memorial are the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Korean War and the World War II Memorials. These four memorials each represent some of the “actions” that have kept our country free since July 4, 1776. Again, these memorials tell of men and women who sacrificed it all for us to be free in circumstances that are unimaginable to most of us. This Fourth of July is not just a celebration of our country’s birth but is a celebration of those that have fought, here and abroad, for us to remain free. Some did it with words and pens, others with swords and rifles, but they all did it for their love of their Country; their actions meant millions of others would be free. 

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1John 3:18

When I first saw this verse I was ready to write about love and honesty but with the July 4th Holiday upon us, this seemed more appropriate. We “love” a lot of things in our lives – dessert, a TV show, a movie, our clothes/shoes, our cars, food and even our electronic devices. Some people “love” things so much that they post about them on Facebook, Twitter or Insta-Gram. None of these are what God had in mind when he inspired the writers of the bible. We can tell people we love them, we can write them poems or letters or in today’s case we can tweet it but how do we show it? People will say that they love their fellow man when they write a check to a charity and others by volunteering. It’s important to remember, sharing God’s love isn’t about works. 

It’s not about how many checks you write or how many hours you volunteer at the homeless shelter or how many doors you knock on to share the word. We have God’s love because we believe and His love isn’t dependent upon anything we do. We are instructed with this verse to love with actions and in truth. The old phrase “actions speak louder than words” is best applied here. Don’t go around professing your love for God but cheating every chance you get. Don’t write or say: “You’ll be in my prayers” but then never pray. All of us, as God’s children, have been given the gift of God’s love; not only was it written for us in the bible, but it’s shown everyday by His actions in our lives. Let’s celebrate ALL of our freedoms this week: as a nation we enjoy certain freedoms and as a sinner, we are free from eternal punishment through our faith in Jesus Christ. We have these freedoms today because of courageous acts by many; we should never forget them.

Live by the Spirit

I have been blessed to work with the same group of people for more than 10 years during these military exercises that I do. I have learned much more about myself and how to work across multiple levels of an organization than perhaps I’ve been able to share. This is the first year that we haven’t worked together so I’m a little nostalgic. I vividly recall a “lively” exchange with one of these old friends as we shared our passions when he said, “We are in violent agreement with each other”. Take a moment and re-read what I wrote – yes we were in agreement. Our discussion brought out our passion for doing a good job. It makes me wonder how many other times I get into violent agreements with people since I am such a passionate personate person.

As human beings, we need to remain in control of our emotions and maintain awareness of how we react to things. I’m not one who usually “flies off the handle” but when I get to that point, I turn into a freight train. Passion is a good thing to have in life – in love, in commitment or to help others, etc. We must guard that passion when we get emotionally involved in issues; there is a difference between a passionate and an emotional response. Self-control starts with peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness as a result of faithfulness. Peace and patience allow you to remain calm in the face of the issue. Kindness and goodness remind us that someone will be on the receiving end of our self-control (or lack of it) and those interactions should be gentle. People will respect you, you’ll respect yourself and you’ll glorify God with the gifts He has given you.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-23, 25

There is nothing like starting a week with a little self-reflection. Have you been reacting with passion or emotion? It is good to be reminded that the fruit of the Spirit or the essence of what the Holy Spirit has given us; lives within us. We don’t have to seek these things or learn them; God has given them to us. Jesus lived His life demonstrating them, God inspired the words written in the bible; all we need to do is study and practice them. 

It’s okay to be happy (joy) and to get along with others (peace). Be patient and kind with everyone, even those who require a little extra effort. Your demonstration of goodness and gentleness are God pleasing and witness to your faith in the Word of God, above all. These fruits lead to more self-control and less frustration that will circle back to finding love, joy and peace in your life. God is amazing in how He ordered all of these “fruits” to work in support of one another in our lives. “Since we live in the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” is great advice to us for how to live our lives, especially these days! 

What is Love?

I was reading my devotional this week and the verses from 1 John 3 were a part of it. I’ve read this before, but it really stood out this week. Maybe it’s because I’m growing tired of all of the negativity in society today. People are arguing about everything – even when they agree! I’ve got a co-worker that calls that, “being in violent agreement with each other”. I think one aspect that really stands out is this, if you keep reading the bible (over and over) God will speak to you differently each time. As we enter Holy week, I believe there is no better way than to remind ourselves about love and God’s love for us. Let us be reminded of the peace that we find in Jesus.

1 John 3:11-24 11For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 4:7-21 7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 

17This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19We love because he first loved us. 20Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Happy Holidays?

I hope that you enjoyed a safe and very Merry Christmas holiday weekend. Some enjoyed the extended weekend while others returned to work on Saturday and continued their labors. If you are like me, you NEEDED the joy that Christmas brings at this time of the year. In a few days we will close the book on the year 2020 and not a minute too soon! Unfortunately, the first day of 2021 will not feel any different than today – we are still in the midst of a pandemic after all.

Let’s celebrate anyway and remember the good news of our lifetime – the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. This particular reading of the bible at Christmas time always moves me and I enjoy sharing it. I have no analogy to add and no wisdom to share; I thought that I would let the word of God stand alone and reach everyone in its own way. Please have a safe New Year’s Eve and may God bless your 2021.

God’s Love and Ours 

7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 

13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” 1John 4:7-16

Love, a gift from above

In what will be a huge shock to my wife, today I’m going to write about something very personal. Yesterday, we celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary. What can you say to someone who you’ve spent over half your life with? There are no gifts or no greeting cards that could ever express the emotions that you feel when you slow down to think about the amazing people in your life. You don’t get to choose your family but your spouse… Some people have not been as blessed as we have been in finding a true match or a true partner for life. Sure, there are ups and downs but all in all, we’ve been blessed to have each other. What kind of a gift do you give to a person like that? You tell the world! Since these devotions reach around the world, that is exactly what I’m doing; tell the world how much I love my wife.

I’m not one to be serious for long, I keep finding ways to lighten the mood – so here you go: As I wrote the last sentence in the last paragraph, I thought that people are going to think that I did something horrible and this is how I’m being punished; a grand gesture because I was a complete jerk. It’s true that I can be a jerk at times, but this is written purely from the heart. We regularly celebrate what a great team we are, how we support each other (her supporting me more) but we constantly work hard at it. People ask, what is the secret? The answer is complicated to do but basically simple, keep your spouse in mind – always. This is the foundation of teamwork, putting the team ahead of your own desires or ambitions. We have always cared for each other, even when the kids were small. We knew we were stronger together than we were apart. Today, our nest is empty and when people ask how it’s going, I always reply, “We still like each other after all these years so it’s going great”.

17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. 19My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:17-20

What a verse to describe your spouse – “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” As a couple, our path to faith was a winding road. I believe that the good and perfect gift of my spouse is truly a gift from above. We didn’t have “a moment” that brought us close to God, but we did have constant reminders that faith in God and the understanding of the love shown to us by our Father and His Son was important to our lives. God’s love was consistent and reliable, just as James is reminding us here. While there is great marriage advice in verses 19 and 20, it is also great advice for living in these turbulent times.

Verse 19 really needs to be repeated, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”. In a world that we often cannot tell fact from fiction, we must take time to seek the calm in the world, God wants us to be righteous and love one another. President Kennedy, in a commencement address he gave at Yale in 1962 said: “For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” As I have been blessed with great love in my life for 34 years, I hope that you choose love, truth and peace over hate, myths and anger so you can “produce the righteousness that God desires.” You can do it because Jesus is beside you all of the way.

God’s Grace

Every once in a while, I like to post verses that stand on their own. We have too many people talking these days and I don’t want to be just another voice on the internet. Last week I talked about the law and our freedom from sin. This week explains the whole concept in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Verse 20 is key for our understanding of our relationship to the law. We see again in these verses how we are free from sin and that it is nothing but God’s grace and our faith in Jesus that frees us from our sin. There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but we can be absolutely sure of God’s love for us and our freedom from sin. I’d like to suggest that you read the verses that follow and reflect on what they mean to you. Hopefully, they mean something more meaningful or insightful than the last time you read them.

Romans 3:19-31

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Righteousness Through Faith

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.