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.

 

Facts

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom

What does serving others mean to you? To some people it means volunteer work and to others, it means helping when someone asks for help. I have worked in service to others my whole life. My first job was a gas station attendant, then I went into the fire service before retiring and contracting for the military. There is a great deal of satisfaction serving those who are serving our nation. These men and women have committed to maintaining our freedoms that we will celebrate this July 4th. The other side of my life is as an elected person serving our community through policy making and oversight. Look at the people who are “public servants” and you will find that a vast majority of them do it with a smile.

Serving others means doing so without expecting anything in exchange; being a cheerful servant. Service to others is hard to do today. We have been bombarded with the notion that when you help someone, they “owe” us something in return. We go to work, perform well and in exchange we expect a paycheck – sounds natural doesn’t it? We all know that people who work for free have a hard time keeping a roof over their heads and food in the kitchen. A mental battle occurs between serving cheerfully and the pressures of this life to get something for our effort. When we give and give yet get nothing in return, it’s hard to keep giving. Remind yourself that you are serving others not for a reward today but for the genuine satisfaction of helping someone in need. When you serve from the heart, you serve with love in mind.

Galatians 5:13 “You, my brothers, were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge in sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”

We all enjoy freedom and God has given us the ability to make free will choices. Free will means that we are not bound to anyone or anything, but we need to remember the first commandment – “You shall have no other God”. Do not be bound by your love for material things, possessions, positions, money, etc. You are free to choose to give your love to God and to serve Him. Do not indulge in the sinful nature and avoid the traps of living today.

We should serve one another in love. Jesus gave us a great example of serving others in love. He knew what people were thinking, he performed miracles, he was presented gifts and he was free to roam the countryside. He served in love, He taught others as He traveled and in doing so, He showed us how to serve one another in love. Most importantly, he gave himself for us as the ultimate demonstration of His love and obedience to God. We aren’t being asked by God to be crucified, He just asking us to be good servants to each other.

People are the worst

Our daughter often utters the frustration, “people are the worst!” Unfortunately, she’s more right than wrong on this topic. “People” means us, you and me. We all possess the ability to be the worst when it comes to how we treat each other, our inter-personal communications, or how we don’t care for each other. I was sucked into Facebook today and saw a post from someone who said why can’t we all just along but two days before posted an inflammatory photo that spreads hate. Are you there for the people in your life? Your friends and family should be able to count on you when they are struggling. An important part of being a friend or being part of a family is knowing that you can count on each other to keep you grounded; like standing next to you in rushing waters.

Leadership at work includes providing direction, vision and support for your organization’s mission. It also means being your best so that your employees can count on you to stand next to them in rushing waters. Leaders should want to help their people navigate through their challenges (waters) and when things get bad, you can stand by them so that they are not swept away.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you…” Isaiah 43:2.

You can feel confident that God will be with you through thick and thin. This is another promise that God has made; to be with us in all that we do and that nothing will sweep us away – we have eternal life through Him. It is a great relief to know that we are not alone; we will not be challenged beyond what God knows we can handle. While we might think that we can’t possibly take any more and we feel like the waters are rising quickly, we should also feel the comfort and peace in knowing that He is with us.

If we develop trust and establish a relationship with our family, friends or the people we work with, they will have faith in us to believe that we will take care of them. We too then, need to develop our relationship with God and continue to learn about His promises. Don’t rely on God only when you pass through the river, get to know Him and see what happens when you are only passing through the puddled waters.

If you can?

I haven’t been home for longer than six straight days since January 10th. I’m currently “out of town” again but will be at my present location for longer than I’ve been in any one place all year. To say I’m exhausted is an understatement! I love the work that I do and the people that I work with; otherwise this would be a huge emotional anchor. It is an honor to serve my community and my nation. Everyone I know asks me how I handle doing both, living in hotels all of this time and flying so much. 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 in particular, suffers the most (usually when I’m home). I’m sure she misses me simply being present in the moment.

To add insult to injury, I’ve been sick with one infection after another (or the same one that never left) making me tired and boring to be around. I managed to get it all done because of the teams that exist in my life – spouse, work, council, friends and church. 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? Having the confidence that I was protected by my faith is what I believe allows me to keep pushing. 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 will then begin 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 reminds me, “Everything is possible if you believe in the power, the grace and love of God.” God puts a team of people in your life to prepare you for just a time as this. I never imagined doing the things that I do 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.

Have no Doubt

My wife has saying “You don’t get if you don’t ask”. We have several stories in our lives when she’s used this philosophy when we were faced with dilemmas. When our daughter was little, we took her to see a live character performance. She had gotten sick about half way through it so my wife called the theater to see if there was anything they could do. They had us come down the next weekend and report to a special area. We were then escorted into the venue and right into the front row. The whole thing was crazy but you can’t get something if you don’t ask for it. Many people don’t like asking for help or asking for things in general; oftentimes we feel like we’re taking advantage of people.

In the corporate world, they say that employees should be asking for raises and not waiting for them to be given out. What is it that you want that you are not asking for? Our families don’t know what we want if we don’t tell them. As children we were encouraged to write to Santa with our Christmas list and some of us were taken to the store or mall to see the big guy and tell him ourselves. As we got older, we stopped doing that. As employees, we have needs or desires for our careers or our professional development. If we don’t share them with our supervisors, we will never fulfill our dreams or reach what Maslow described as “self actualization”. Don’t let anything get in your way of at least asking for the things you want, you never know what might come of it.

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:6

Asking a venue manager for tickets to a show is not the same as asking God for help. Do not doubt God’s power and love for you! Believe in Him and that He will do what is best for you. It’s hard to understand that what God believes to best for you is not always what you believe is best for you. Ask God in confidence; He answers prayers. God also likes to hear praise and thanks for the things in your life. While He might know what you’re thinking, it doesn’t hurt to actually acknowledge God’s role in your life.

In this verse we are reminded that when we doubt God’s power, our lives will be churned like the sea. Again, I’ll say, God has a plan for each one of us and He puts people and circumstances in our lives to help facilitate that plan. He simply asks for our faith and trust in Him through Jesus. The bible is filled with verses that demonstrate God’s love, that tell us how to live our lives and that we should have faith in Him. If you doubt what God’s plan is, ask Him. Many times people turn to God when they are in trouble or in need. God also tells us to turn to Him always in prayer. The stronger that your faith in Him is, the easier it is for you to see Him at work in your life. You will never doubt again.