Truth and unconditional love

Today, in the United States, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day. He wasn’t just a great American, he was a great man who spoke all over the world about love and hope. Hopefully, no matter what country you are reading this in, you know about Martin Luther King Jr. This quote came to my inbox last week and I thought that it should be shared today. He said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Every day that goes by I seem to find it harder to simply tolerate the nonsense that I see on TV or hear about on the radio. Being in politics, I struggle to “hold my tongue” when I hear about the crazy things that state and national elected people do. As the old saying goes, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then say nothing at all”. So, I remain silent. I’m one of these weird people who often look for the middle ground on issues and work to get things done. Peace among people is where we need to start. When individual people can’t agree or get along, peace is impossible. Dr. King is suggesting that we start with truth and love – something we are lacking in this day and age. Peace opens creativity, which allows people to feel free to exchange ideas and a willingness to collaborate with each other. Go out and make peace!

Romans 12:18 – “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

The bible teaches us to live in peace with one another and love your neighbor as yourself. Living this way allows us to reflect God’s love by loving each other and it makes all of our social interactions easier too. How better for Christians to show love than by living in peace? This is the message of the verse; “as far as it depends on you”. It all depends on you; how you react to a situation or how you create a situation.

We are taught to “stick up for ourselves” and not be bullied. We’re not taught to avoid conflict simply to live at peace. Conflict can be good and healthy for relationships. We should try to find common ground, work out the differences and keep our focus on the issue not the person. If you’re having a difficult conversation, start by making it safe for everyone, stay focused on the issue and how it makes you feel rather than what you think the other person is saying. This is not a time for assumptions. By living in harmony, we live by God’s word and show others that as God so loved the world, so can we.

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A Renewed Focus

Now that 2019 is actively underway and we all have hope for what this year will bring, I thought that letting the bible speak for itself might help point you in a more focused direction. Maybe some of your resolutions have already been broken or maybe you are struggling with others or perhaps you are keeping all of them (keep going). Whatever the case, we all need to think about how we are living this life and where our focus is. In the New International Version, the third chapter of Colossians is titled “Living as Those Made Alive in Christ” – a good theme for the new year.

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:1-4, 12-17

Cling to what is good

This marks only the second time that I have been late with a post. As they say, “best laid plans”. I usually try to stick to one subject at a time but this week, these two seemed to go hand and hand – Love and Hate. Frank Sinatra sang a song made popular by the TV show “Married with Children” called Love and Marriage. The words tell us that “they go together like a horse and carriage” and often, so do the words Love and Hate. We throw them around as we generalize most things in our lives; “I love football” or “I hate spinach”. When we use these words towards people; things change. Love and Hate become very powerful words that can change a situation in the blink of an eye. For anyone dating, the first time you say “I love you” is pretty powerful. The phrase is either repeated back to you in affirmation or left unreturned like an envelop with no forwarding address. The word hate is just as powerful when its directed at a person; to be told you are hated goes right to the core of your soul. We don’t mind if people don’t like us, but no one wants to be hated.

I’m not going to pretend that we will go around our lives “loving” everything or everyone, but the act of love can be just as meaningful. I would submit that the “act of love” involves compassion, understanding, empathy, commitment and building a sense of community (being one). Today, we need more Love, less Hate. Use this time of the year, when people are more open to acts of kindness, to be more loving. Spread the joy of this season with the ones you know and then spread it with those you don’t. Say hi to someone at church for the first time, step in and help someone at work who isn’t expecting it, sit and listen to someone who needs a friend or be forgiving of past mistakes. This is the season of Love, so go out and spread the joy.

“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs” Proverbs 10:12 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9

I thought that I would share a closely related verse this week since they both talk about Love and Hate. This is the last week of Advent; the week before we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Advent reminds us of the Love that God has for us so, it seemed fitting. God had so many opportunities to demonstrate his contempt with us and turn toward hate. We continued to deny Him, we disobeyed His laws until He finally took things in His own hands and sent us a Savior.

He showed us the ultimate form of Love by sending His one and only Son to die for our sins. There was no hate, just love. God’s inspired word is found in the bible, which teaches us that hatred stirs dissension. We’ve often heard about “the company we keep” and if we are around those that hate, we too soon will. We are encouraged to stay by what is good and to remember that love covers all wrongs. The wrongs of this world were covered by God’s love for us through Jesus Christ. His love is sincere and we must cling to that because it is good and righteous. No matter what you have done or what you have thought, God loves you and wants an eternal life with all of His children who believe. Cling to God and nothing can separate you.

Happy Thanksgiving

This week the U.S. will celebrate Thanksgiving, a time that Pilgrims were thankful for the help that they received from the Native Americans. The Pilgrims were known for offering a prayer of thanksgiving following a blessing such as the end of a war or a successful harvest. Thanksgiving became an official U.S. holiday in 1863 during the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln declared a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”, to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. For Americans, this is a day for the three F’s, family, feast, and football. It is also the kick off to the Christmas shopping season.

For many of us, this holiday is an opportunity to reflect on the many blessings in our lives much like President Lincoln had intended. I hope as the year has passed, that you have taken the time to give thanks every day for the blessings in your life and that you aren’t saving them all up for this one day. You will notice that I started this post, as I usually do when there is a holiday, “this week in the U.S. we will celebrate…” I do that because I am blessed by having readers all over the world. The power of the Internet is unbelievable but I would suggest that it wasn’t the Internet that connected us; it was God. Above all, I am thankful for my relationship with God and that He has chosen me to be the source of some insight into His word so that you too can have a stronger relationship with Him.

“Mercy, Peace and Love be yours in abundance.” Jude 1:2

The chapter of Jude starts like this: 1Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ”. Jude 1:1. He offers this message of hope for all of us. Conventional wisdom tells us that Thanksgiving is about being thankful for the blessings that we have received but we don’t acknowledge where they come from.

President Lincoln knew whom to thank but as a society, we’ve lost sight of that. I would offer that this simple verse is what God wants for each us – mercy, peace and love. If we have more than this, we are abundantly blessed; most of us are. There is no promise of good health, big homes, great jobs, fine clothes or anything material. God wants us to have peace, know mercy and feel love. We can find all of these things in His word given to us through the bible. We should remember that our needs are small and that God provides what we need, everything else is overabundances given by a society that has forgotten the one who gave it all to us. Celebrate Thanksgiving by giving thanks, remembering who made it all possible and seeking the comfort found in the gifts from God – mercy, peace and love. Happy Thanksgiving!

Purpose

I’ve written before that I believe most people function in “orbits” when it comes to their attitude, motivation, drive or simple ability to get along. If the peak of our performance were to be the center, our attitude can be found somewhere in an oval shaped orbit. Sometimes we are very close, while other times we are far away. When we are far away from our peak, things get a little troubling. We are crabby or we don’t feel like doing anything. Our motivation and drive are really hard to find. When we love what we’re doing, we are in close orbit and when we loathe what we do, we are farther out. Sometimes our orbit even grows in size and we are pushed to an even farther away.

No matter what your position in life is: supervisor, employee, executive, line staff, mom. dad, brother or sister; you have to know what keeps you going, what makes you peak? Lisa finds her center point every day at the gym. It’s what gets her up at 4am, everyday. Some people find it in their work because it gives them satisfaction while others find it in their friends. The important thing is to know what “does it” for you. It’s when people lose their focus or their drive that trouble begins. Find your focus and ask yourself where you are in your personal orbit, and then get close to the peak. Smiles and satisfaction await you.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and gooddeeds.” Hebrews 10:24

Some people live near their focus point all of the time. These are the people that ALWAYS have a smile and kind word. They are the ones who can inspire. Do you have people in your life that inspire you and do you inspire others? It’s harder to know if you inspire others but I would guess that everyone does and they simply don’t realize it. Our human nature is to be social; we were not intended to be solitary creatures, God gave Eve to Adam to keep him company.

This verse asks us how we can help each other live Godly lives of love and goodness. It is meant to be a question whose answer lies in being social. If you accept the orbits concept, you will know when you are at your peak, which is when you should be helping those around you. When you are in deep orbit, you should seek those who will bring you back through positive encouragement, love and good deeds. When people are in deep orbit, they can become lost and that is when the devil steps in to lead them astray. If you are losing sight of your center point, surround yourself with those that can spur you on toward love. The bible should be a place of inspiration and is filled with examples of God’s love. If you are at your center point, share your joy with others and become a source of positive influence.

Leadership Lessons

Leadership can be a number of different things to different people. Some seek leadership while others simply provide it. Leadership can be hard to define too. The United States Army defines leadership as “influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” I agree whole-heartedly with this definition, being a leader is about being able to influence people. Some will view the idea of “influence others” as a negative thing but in this definition, the goal is to get people to do things that they didn’t know that they could do.

Leaders need to work with every employee to help them achieve their highest potential. When employees feel supported at work, they tend to work harder and as a result, the organization becomes stronger. There are “leaders” who believe that they are leading because their people check with them on all decisions. They think that they are supporting their people because they answer their phone calls. In these cases, they are simply holding their employees back by not letting them make decisions, think critically and be independent. How are they supposed to learn if they never get a chance to make a decision?

If you are a leader, look out for your people and care for them. This doesn’t mean do their work or become protective over them. It means that you care about their future, their growth and work-related wellbeing. Leading is like teaching a child to ride a bike. You give them the lessons, you guide them by holding the seat and running along side them and then you let go. If they fall, you help them back up and reassure them before doing it again. When they ride on their own, you celebrate what they’ve done.

“For He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…” Psalm 91:11

This Psalm sounds like it is describing a great leader doesn’t it? God will guard you in everything: how great would that be? The interesting thing with this verse is that it doesn’t say “He will command His angels to do things for you” which is what most people want out of God. Most people want Him to provide for everything they desire and to protect them from everything bad. And when God doesn’t do all of that, they start to turn away.

C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Screwtape Letters”, describes what a letter between two demons might sound like and how simple it is to turn us against God. We are quick to turn on Him and begin relying on ourselves, which is really our sinful nature at work.

“He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways”. God is with you every day in everything you do. He is there to guard you and protect you, not from things on earth but to protect you for all eternity. God’s worry isn’t about this life; it’s about your eternal life. Re-read the Army definition of a leader and then apply it to what God does for you. His mission is to have us join Him in heaven and the organization is all of mankind. He wants to influence us so we can influence others. Be assured that God is there to guard you. He will not test or forsake you but has promised to love and care for you. Sounds like a great leader.

Loss of Hope

“Times are tough all over” was the title of a hit song in 1990. People have been saying this for years and since the recession, we all still know someone who feels like times are tough. It became a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “its happening to everyone” but it never makes anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that Lisa and I believed that our three hour round trip drive to see our premature daughter in the hospital was building character. Today, everyone one of us knows someone who has received a cancer diagnosis or had another type of life altering event. We hear them ask “why me, why did God do this to me?”

One of the greatest effects that homelessness has on our veterans is that they loss hope. These men and women, who have faithfully served our country and have been in life threatening circumstances for long periods, were accustomed to making positive contributions. Once they return home and exit active duty, our veterans can become lost in a world that they no longer understand or see in the same way that they used to. Once they start to disconnect, the trip downward is fast and it takes hope with it. Recent studies have shown that once hope is restored that these veterans often return to a productive life. No matter the situation, we all see people who are struggling in this world; living the “times are tough all over” kind of lives. What can we do help them – we can offer hope and support.

“Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12

Some people look at this verse as proof that God is testing them before they can have eternal life. Yet others view it as even though you are tested, do not give up hope because the promise is still yours. You do not have to buy, perform, sacrifice, say, write or do anything to receive God’s forgiveness. He has given us that gift already; we are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The “crown of life” James tells us about, is found in our belief that Jesus is our Savior. We don’t know why some people suffer more than others.

We certainly don’t understand why some people deal with their trials better than others. It isn’t for us to understand. Think about the trials that St. Paul suffered and he was a persecutor at one point in his life. There are millions of people on this planet suffering simply because they believe in Jesus as their Savior. What hope do they have? They have faith in God’s word and in His promises. It might be all they have but they have it. God is not punishing them or testing them more than anyone else. The devil is still at work in this world and when hope is dimmed he is encouraged; it becomes his foothold in our lives. God is telling us, through James, to not lose hope but persevere because eternal life waits for us. To me, that’s all the reason to keep hope alive.

Where’s the Love?

I have resisted writing about the mixed messages coming out of Washington DC. There was an old rule in the fire station – don’t talk about your wife, religion or politics. It’s not a bad rule but I’m becoming afraid that human beings are losing their moral compasses. If we stop taking care of each other then we are all in big trouble. The issues of “religious freedom” and what to “do” with undocumented residents is a great opportunity to discuss the love of God and our sin with people who you might not ever of had the chance to. I had opportunities to write this last week but did other things instead, perhaps even wasted time. Some would argue that I sinned because I wasted time; nothing new there. I know that not a day goes by that I don’t sin and most of the time I’m completely unaware of it. When did being born from an undocumented resident become a sin?

Someone I was talking with recently asked the question, are there degrees of sin? It was a great question because some people have a hard time accepting “big sins” but easily overlook the “small” ones; but in God’s eyes, sin is sin. I will argue that all of the discussions, arguments and debates about “religious freedom” and “dreamers” are focused on the wrong part of the equation; they are focused on the sin. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a common phrase many people use. While it’s a good one, it keeps the focus on the sin. I looked at a number of passages for this week that focused on God’s love, living in peace and sin but turned my focus back on why this whole dialog started in the first place – fear.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:28

No one ever talks about forgiveness. The conversation is focused on the sin during “freedom” debates or on being “illegal” on the DACA discussion. There is not a day that goes by that we all don’t sin. We can’t avoid it no matter what we do, thanks to Adam and Eve. Sin came into this world to destroy it but God had other plans. God loves us despite our sins.

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)

We are forgiven, period. No amount of sin, no degrees of sin, no amount of guilt or fear can change that we are forgiven through faith in Jesus. Yes, we should love our neighbor as ourselves and yes, we should hate the sin, not the sinner but we should never be afraid because we are forgiven. We should practice love and compassion as Jesus showed us. He never chose one ethnicity over another when he healed or shared God’s Word. He taught us to love everyone – brothers, sisters, Jews, Gentiles, sinners, saints and even tax collectors. It might be hard not to sin but it should be easy to love and show compassion toward another human being.

Merry Christmas

I’ve posted this before and find myself returning to it every year at Christmas. There are two times during the year that I really focus back on God’s word; now and at Easter. We can get so wrapped up (no pun intended) in the hustle and bustle on “holiday season” that we can easily forget about our celebration. We forget about Love and Forgiveness as God promised to all of us. We rush from event to event that we miss the best present of all time. So again, 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 2018.

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

If you live in the United States, you have been witness to mass shootings and a time in our politics of unprecedented division. I recently saw the city of Marawi in the Republic of the Philippines in a news broadcast; there is nothing left there but piles of rubble and shells of buildings in what used to be a thriving city. In June of this year, Isis took over the city and has held control over it for the past five months – until recently. Philippine Security Forces regained control of the destroyed city and now we are seeing the devastation for the first time. While we think things are bad here at home, they are often minor when compared to other parts of the world. The degree of these events affects our perception of what “bad” means to us. For some it means having to fly commercial instead of by private plane and to some it means not knowing where their next meal will come from.

There are so many parts of the world that truly have it “bad” but when we don’t see it or know someone there it is easy to not think about it or taking action. Each of us, no matter what part of the world we live in, is affected by events that can alter our feelings about other people. Religion, race, sexual orientation or political party are just a few ways that someone else defines us. When the phrase “I’ll only” begins a sentence to describe someone, it shows that the person speaking has their mind closed. I’m certainly not suggesting that we embrace hatred and those who hate but we must guard against putting everyone in the same category because they are similar to the haters. The 1970’s group, the Bee Gees, had a hit song titled “How Deep is your Love” and the Black Eyed Peas released “Where is the Love” in 2003. I think these questions are valid today. As we get ready for Thanksgiving in the United States, I encourage everyone to think about being truly thankful for the blessings in your life and to ask yourself “have I been a blessing to others?”

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:14

The two verses that precede today’s verse from Colossians 3 are: “12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The title of this section in the chapter is “Living as Those Made Alive in Christ” – a set of directions if you will. There isn’t really a lot of room for interpretation in verses 12-14, they seem pretty straight forward to me. Love is the most important virtue. We’ve all heard the expression that “love makes the world go around” but somewhere over the years we seem to have forgotten that.

We are all afraid of what “they” might do to us. We stereotype people and sensationalize events to make a point. We confuse one act of demonstration for another act of violence or insult. We need to start looking through the eyes of Jesus, being cautious and vigilant, with love and compassion. Political issues strain our relationships and cause more distress while religious, racial and sexual orientation stereotypes cloud our understanding and judgment. We are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved”. We need to start acting like it. Despite all of our disobedience and selfish ways, God found a way to bring us closer to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. It was Jesus’ act of love that paid the ultimate price for our sins; let it not be in vain.