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.

Imitate God’s Love

I’d imagine that this year’s Easter celebrations were different; some might say weird. While gathering in fellowship and worship are the usual ways we celebrate the most important day of the year, we all found that it isn’t the only way. Easter is the day we are shown God’s love and the love of Jesus Christ who suffered for us but rose in celebration of the victory over sin so that we might have eternal life with Him and God our Father. We all need a little more love these days!

I’d like to suggest that we bring Christ’s example of love into our lives even more today. We know Jesus as compassionate, caring, understanding, patient and overflowing with love. We all need to show compassion for each other, those we know and those we don’t know. During these tough times and bombardment of information we are under, one thing that is missing from it all is common sense and an acknowledgement of human behavior. People are going to make mistakes, or they’ll act in ways that we don’t understand. We need to show understanding and patience to each other; every “gathering” of two or three people is not an afront to social distancing guidelines. Be patient with those around you, 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 firsthand. 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 on that Good Friday.

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.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr

Today, the United States recognizes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. It wasn’t until I started studying his work that I realized he did more than just his famous, “I Have a Dream Speech.” One of the awesome benefits of being an elected official is that you are exposed to a wide range of experiences and information. Each year, various groups in our West Valley celebrate MLK Day with some type of program and they invite their elected officials. Several years ago one group printed this from a sermon by Dr. King on August 11, 1957:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’ An individual has not begun until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. Every person must decide at some point, whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

We have all benefited from the deeds and sacrifices of those before us. They left a mark for us and now it is our responsibility to make contributions for the greater good. The freedoms we enjoy, the privileges we have as free citizens have all come at a cost to someone. Have you ever thought about the legacy that you will leave? We might not be in the national spotlight but we can always make a difference right where we are.

“A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” – Proverbs 11:25

God has given us all great talents, not for our own benefit but for the benefit of others. God never wanted us to be selfish or alone; He wanted us in fellowship with each other. If we have talents, God has given us enough to share. If you Google “Spiritual Gifts” you will find a number of resources to help you determine what gifts you have and how you can use them.

Once you know how God has gifted you, you can start sharing them with others. Living the example of Jesus is pleasing to God and will make a difference in someone’s life. Sure, a difference for one person might not seem like a big deal but what if that person goes on to make a difference for 1000 people and then one of them goes on to make a difference in millions. Like dropping a rock in the water, the single act can send waves that are immeasurable.

 

North Star

Christmas is just a couple of days away so I feel that it’s appropriate to use the entire post this week for Christian living. The first Christmas day found the wise men looking for the brightest star – the North Star, to find the birthplace. God was sending us a savior, a leader, a servant and equally important, a bright star to show us the way. Leading a few to righteousness sounds like a big task, let alone leading many to righteousness. In typical human fashion, we can’t see ourselves doing that. God gave the world, in a single star shining in the darkness of the North, THE light of the world. Jesus spread the word of God with only 12 followers.

Out of a single man – a single star – came the salvation for all of mankind.The analogies are plentiful here – a single flashlight can lead to safety, a single decision, etc. God gave us freedom from sin and everlasting life through His son, one man, Jesus Christ. When you ask yourself – “what can I do?” you should think of yourself as that single light. This is the time of year people will be open to hearing about Christ. Take the opportunity to lead someone to righteousness. Like stars that fill the night sky, you’ll never know what you might be the start of.

“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” Daniel 12:3

Christmas is just a couple of days from now and all of our planning for the holiday will finally come together. God gave THE ultimate gift that day, His Son. This day was prophesied throughout the ages. Even John the Baptist talked about “someone who is greater than I”. God sent us a light for this world, a world filled with darkness. This light helps us see God’s will, through our faith in Jesus Christ as our savior. God wants us close to Him and He wants all of us to join in Him in everlasting life.

Matthew encouraged us to keep our faith and remain strong in our belief by reminding us that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. If we can be strong in faith, nothing is impossible. Whatever your vision of the future is, use the help of the brightest star to keep your faith in Jesus Christ strong. A future without Christ is not a future; it’s the end. Enjoy the birthday party this week (Christmas); I hope you are spending it with your family or friends or both. Ask God for help finding the light for this life and let your imagination run wild for what eternal life will be like. Merry Christmas!

Love Covers…

“If everyone was perfect like you and I, we’d have a lot fewer problems” was something my mother would jokingly say. We all have imperfections and weakness that we expect others to overlook but often we have trouble overlooking them in others. If you reverse my mother’s saying – “If everyone was just as cracked and broken as we are, we’d have a lot more problems”. Imagine the personality imperfections that you have (I know it’s hard too) and then add them to the people you deal with on a regular basis. By the way, they get to keep the imperfections that they already have. How does that picture look? Rick Warren in his now famous book “The Purpose Driven Life” talks about giving people a little more grace. He calls them “EGR – Extra Grace Required” people. These are the people who really test you and your ability to overlook their imperfections.

I would imagine that we all have them in our lives but if you are an EGR person? Have you taken personal stock of yourself to see how you treat others or what demands you put on those around you? Are you tolerant of others? As a society we can better coexist if we become more tolerant of each other and our differences. Unfortunately, we have people in this world guided by the opportunity to take advantage of the weaknesses of others. I would suggest that we all give the same grace to others that we receive and if you still feel under appreciated, give more.

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense” Proverbs 17:9

We are often reminded of Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek. I suspect that this is the way we heard about being tolerant of others. Sure they will strike you, but give them the other cheek too. As I wrote last week, what if God wasn’t tolerant with us? On some level, we offend Him every day and yet He still loves us. As in all cases, God does as He says; fostering love to cover over an offense.

I make the connection with this verse to fostering grudges, seeking revenge or retaliating against others. None of those things foster love. They feel good because they are the work of the devil and he wants us to go against what God wants in our life so he gives it a little extra. No, I’m not saying that all things that feel good are a product of the devil. The fight of good verse evil in our lives is constant and when God is winning, the devil will make evil feel just a little better. Love, patience and compassion are just a few of the actions that we can take toward each other. God has filled the bible with behaviors that if everyone followed them, we’d have a lot fewer problems.