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!

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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.

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.

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.