Freedom

Tomorrow is July 4th and in the U.S. we celebrate our country’s independence as the Fourth of July Holiday. I travel to Washington DC often for work and there you can see signs of our founding fathers everywhere and the power of our government on what seems like every corner. I waited to visit the Jefferson Memorial until I’d seen just about everything else because I never wanted to “go all the way over there” so I’d just skip it. 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 all 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 and in some cases, 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.

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Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day! I’ve been hearing that for the past 24 years but haven’t said it since 1986 when my own father passed away. I remember the day when I became a father for the first time and again 5 years later like it was just yesterday. It was a little overwhelming to become entirely responsible for another person and shape how they would turn out. How would my actions permanently impact their lives? There were things that I wanted for them like an annual family vacation and things that I didn’t want them to experience like loneliness. I’ve been blessed to achieve both of these and I am very proud of my kids; they are awesome people who care deeply for others and are good role models.

I’ve often said that good supervisors are like good parents; firm when needed, caring when appropriate, there to help and offer advice and but they know when to let the kids figure things out on their own. My kids used to hate that part; when they would hear from me “what do you think you should do” or “what are the options you’ve considered”. Above all, a good parent loves their children and makes them feel safe under all types of circumstances. The same can be said for a good supervisor, you should love your people but in a different way. They should not fear the workplace or the atmosphere there, they should not feel unappreciated or like they have no say in the current direction or their own future. They should feel safe under your direction while you are seeking to constantly strengthen them.

 

14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:14-15

 

We are all “sons” of God; male or female it doesn’t matter. I’d like to think that my kids feel lucky to have me as their father but nothing like the feeling of being children of God. We aren’t lucky to have God as our Father; we have God’s grace and mercy to be lead by the Spirit of God in our lives. Our free will allows us to accept it or deny it but the Spirit is always with us waiting for us to accept God and our Lord Jesus Christ. No matter what we do or say, the Spirit is always present. Just as a parent is always there for their children, our Father is always there for us.

We are no longer slaves to the fear of guilt or the wrath of God; we are free because of our love and belief in Jesus Christ and the triune God. No matter what we’ve done, God forgives all of us. Our Father in heaven sent Jesus to save us from the world we know and from ourselves. The devil wants us to believe that no matter what we do, there is no pleasing God so we might as well enjoy ourselves here on earth. Cry out to our Father and stay strong in your faith knowing that you are forgiven and safe in His care. Your Father in heaven loves you. Like a good parent, He is always there; just call on Him “Abba, Father!”

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.

Imitation is the greatest form…

We usually do not associate the words “love” and “workplace” without thinking of someone’s poor judgment. I’d like to suggest that we bring Christ’s example of love into our workplace. Among other things, we know Jesus as compassionate, caring, understanding, patient and overflowing with love. Leaders and followers need to be all of these as well. We all need to show compassion for our co-workers and our staff and we should care for them by looking out for their best interests. Sometimes that means having to deliver constructive criticism. It takes a lot of courage for someone to offer that type of criticism.

Oftentimes we are faced with having to be the one to tell someone else that their actions are having a negative effect on us or on our team. When giving someone constructive criticism, it should be delivered with compassion and care. If it’s done properly, constructive criticism can and should be received as a gift because it is being delivered as a present – genuinely given with thoughtful consideration of the person receiving it. We need to show understanding and patience to co-workers and staff. Making mistakes is okay, remember they cause learning to take place but making the same mistake over and over is the sign of a problem. Be patient with those around you especially if they are learning new systems, products or programs. Be slow to anger and disappointment, it shows that you care. All of these things combined show your love towards others, just as Christ loves us.

 Ephesians 5:1,2 – “Be imitators of God… as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…”

We are so blessed that God loves us. When God handed down the Law contained in the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were afraid because they had seen God’s wrath first hand. As they continued to live according to their own ways, God spoke to them through the prophets giving the promise of a Savior. God wanted to be close to His children but sin was preventing that. God sent His only Son into this world to take upon the cross all of our sins.

Jesus suffered for us because of our sin, but He knew that it would bring reconciliation with God. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” The ultimate sign of love just for us – even if we didn’t deserve it. God knows what we need. We cannot live without sin as Christ did but we can live a life of love as Christ showed us to. Be an imitator, show others your love and when they ask you why or how you can do it, don’t hesitate to tell them where your strength comes from.

 

Mercy

The old classic management book: “Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers” contains a chapter on time management or as it is referred to – Sacred Time. I’m reminded that when we work too fast or on too many things at once, that none of them are being done well or on time. The authors suggest three – “10 minute time outs” a day that are just for you. Most people will say that their best ideas come to them in the shower or in the bathroom. Do you know why? They are alone without interruptions – no phone, no e-mail, no people.

By now we all know about the game rooms at Google Inc. and the freedoms that come with working in Silicon Valley. Some companies are even letting their employees take off as much time as they feel they deserve or need, but they have to produce results. We have so many things vying for our attention today that we are becoming a society with zero attention span. If you complain that a movie is too long because it’s two hours, you are already on your way to joining the rank and file. Be merciful to yourself and build in some free time on your calendar. Look at your to do list and see what really needs to be done by you and what can be done by someone else. If you reduce your stress, you will extend not only your attention span but your life span as well.

“Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36

Mercy has a lot of definitions. If we look at our own sin and our inability to follow God’s commands, we deserve the punishment of death. Our Father however, showing mercy and love and tells us, “believe in Me and My Son and you will be set free”. If He can forgive us for all that we do, how can we not show mercy to those around us?

“I forgive you”, three powerful words that are the opening to mercy. Christ taught us about compassion and love but it was the Father that taught us about mercy. God wants to be close to us despite our failings, so He sent Jesus to take all of our sins with Him in death on the cross. He then bought eternal life for us all by rising to heaven to sit with the Father. “God so loved the world…” the ultimate show of mercy. No one asked for your son but Luke suggests we be merciful to each other like our Father is toward us.

My Strength is found in Him

Parents have the responsibility to give their children strength – strength to get through difficult times, strength to accomplish more than they thought was possible and the strength to carry on everyday. Not only as parents but also as adults, we should inspire those around us. We should  be a source of encouragement, a resource for guidance and a cheerleader for our kids and other young people as they reach beyond their limits and try new things toward personal growth.

Our son turned 18 this weekend, he’s an adult – just ask him! My hope at this point in his life is that he will say that his parents “Were always encouraging me, helping me figure things out and giving me opportunities to grow”. So many people influenced me when I was his age. I turned 18 in February and by October of that same year, I was in recruit firefighter school. The ‘men” I was working with saw things in me that I never did. They encouraged me, they taught me, they gave me advice and they put me in my place when I needed it. I’m sure they didn’t have any idea how they would impact me for the rest of my life and now I’ve taken those lessons and given them to my own son. He has the strength to be confident as he readies himself for what life has in store.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

So, where do you get your strength? This passage reminds us to find our strength in God – “Him who gives me strength”. In our fast paced lives we can sometimes forget that. We can do everything through Him because God is our strength; he is with us all day – everyday. Our privilege to be a parent is a gift from God; He has put us in this place at this time. We also have had a great mentor – Jesus Christ. He taught us to have compassion, patience and to be encouraging to those around us.

You can be the source of strength for your kids and those you work with by being a positive role model. When people ask you “Where do you get the strength from?” You can answer quite easily: God gives me the strength. In order to maintain your strength, like in any good workout routine, you need to work at it daily. We’ve all experienced a few days off from the gym; it gets harder to go back the longer you are away. Staying in God’s word or keeping up with bible study and devotions can be hard in our hectic lives; remain strong and stay committed. Much like the men who were there for me and had no idea that they would effect how I raised my son, you may be doing the same for someone else. Don’t worry; your strength is from God.

 

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.

True Friends

True friends will always tell you the truth. Our daughter knows that if she needs the clear facts about a subject to call me. If she needs someone to listen and be a good friend, she calls my wife. Not that I’m not a good listener, it’s just that I’m a little more direct and emphasize logic over emotion – just what all men do! So when a man has troubles that he is looking for another man to confide in, it is often a hard conversation for both of the friends. Its not that men are incapable, its just that we aren’t really wired that way, so emotional conversations are hard for us. Six years ago I was faced with the somewhat unexpected end of my fire service career. It wasn’t a planned retirement but my injury and subsequent surgery forced it on me. I had hoped to remain in a position that could use my mental abilities more than my physical ones.

I called a very good friend of mine and asked him to help me figure out what I was going to do for the rest of life. He offered a few suggestions that were not very appealing and he suggested that I teach fire services classes and share what I had learned in my 27 years on the job. My reply to his suggestion was that “I didn’t want to be that old retired guy who was hanging around just to teach”. As only a good friend could say, my very good friend said “I hate to break it to you, but that is what you are – a retired guy.” I was floored by his brutally honest answer. After the sting cooled, I realized that he was absolutely correct. I stopped worrying, began praying and started planning. Now six years later, I can easily say that I’ve never worried about being that old retired guy and I’ve worked hard to create a whole new path for my “second career’, mostly by letting God work His plan. I will always be grateful for my friend’s honesty and candor.

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Proverbs 27:6

I hope that it’s obvious how this verse hit me after reading it. There are a number of sayings about friends but the one that hits close to this verse is “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. False promises, false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing, and justifying sin are all around us these days. CS Lewis wrote a book titled “The Screwtape Letters” based on the fictional exchange of letters between two of the devils workmen – one was Uncle Screwtape. It is a fascinating point of view to look at our lives from the devil’s perspective (what can be perceived anyway).

The devil works all around us, each and every day, trying to get us to quit on God. He tempts us with perceived power, daily riches bought through sin, inattention to our relationship with God or simply getting in the way of us being with God. These are the kisses noted in Proverbs. These kisses are the distractions or the seduction of this life that we can easily get caught in. Sure, being good is hard and God doesn’t make our lives easier (for our own good) so a relationship with Him causes us both pain and offers joy (wounds). Our enemy (the devil) makes it all seem so simple that it can be easy to let God slide a little farther from your heart. Don’t be fooled! Like any friendship, it takes work but a relationship with God has eternal implications – eternal life with Him through our faith in Jesus Christ. It’s the kind of relationship that you can only have with a true friend.

Why me?

I don’t think that I’ve shared a whole bunch of personal stuff on this blog since I started three years ago so this week will be another first. Last week was emotional in many ways. As I mentioned, my mother was scheduled for surgery to repair a broken bone near her replacement hip. The good news is that she didn’t have the surgery since the hip replacement was still functioning, the bone was “just” cracked near the parts. She was sent to a rehabilitation hospital for physical therapy to improve her strength and ability to walk. It was a stressful week to say the least. She is very anxious to get back to her normal routine but these frequent changes are causing her additional challenges with her memory. She has dementia and stress makes it much worse.

Being in the hospital with her was a trigger for me as well. To be brief, I’ve never really talked the things that I’ve done or seen in my career with anyone; I learned to keep it compartmentalized and locked away. Seeing my mother lying in the hospital suddenly brought out a number of tragic and disturbing mental images for me. I could see faces of people that I’d worked on, I was recalling traumatic incidents that I responded to and I was beginning to recall horrors of my career. I now know firsthand about what triggers PTSD memories and quite honestly, I didn’t like it. I closed up the doors to those places in my mind and pushed on. So, a week after her fall, a non-surgery event, the move to a rehabilitation facility, a mental near-miss for me and renewed dementia concerns, we all keep asking ourselves, “why is the happening?” We never really understand why bad things happen to us and honestly, there are some people who seem to have huge share of the “bad things” happening to them. I believe the verses this week answer this question.

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

God does not give us more than we can handle. He asks us to turn to Him for strength and guidance. As humans we often turn to inward needs or we turn to an escape. We usually only turn to God as a last resort, a kind of “I’ve done all that I could think of, it’s your turn” moment. In the long run, God is building us up, He’s making us stronger because He knows that the devil will be working hard to turn us away form God.

These troubles in our lives are small compared to the love that God has for us. If we turn from Him during these difficult times, what will we do when it really counts? God is giving us the ability to face down anything that the devil throws at us. This weeks verses tell their own story, the problem and the answer are simply contained in two verses. Stand up to your troubles, stop worrying about the “why” and know that God is in control.

What is true?

In our family, we have a new (old) favorite show – Cougar Town. Its been on a couple of networks over the past few years but it ran through seven seasons. It’s a cross between Seinfeld and Friends. Anyway, we recently saw an episode in which one of the main characters would proclaim “FACT” when she stated something, whether or not it was true. The moral was obviously just because saying something is a fact doesn’t mean that it is. It seems today that we often have a hard time telling the difference between what is true and what isn’t. “If it’s on the Internet, it has to be true” has become a new common phrase. The irony is that some people believe it! 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.

My mother will be having surgery this week for a broken hip. She’d kill me if I mentioned her age so I’ll just say that she is in her “advanced years”. I have faith that the doctors are capable and that the hospital staff is competent, at least that is what I hope for. I’ve not met the doctors nor the hospital staff; we are left with hoping that they are good enough to care for her. It makes you wonder about the other things in life that you have to simply have hope for. We will be traveling often this fall and leaving our 18 year old high school senior home alone for a few days. We have to have faith that he will do the right things and hope that we are right. At this point it looks like most of what we do in our lives is dependent upon faith and hope. We take the chance 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 retell it first hand. Humans often have to be sure of what we hope for. We hope that God is 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 having hope? 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 Him but we should KNOW that He is there. 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. The world is not filled with bad people. It’s filled with good people following the teachings of someone they have never met but who have the faith and certainty that God has put His mark on their hearts.