Mercy

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

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

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

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

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

My Strength is found in Him

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

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

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

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

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

 

From the Tops of Mountains

Yesterday, I was telling my brother a story about my son. Greg has a hard time understanding “spending habits” and what the consequences of bad habits are. I explained that you can literally hear him think because what ever is going through his mind comes right of his mouth. We had a good laugh at the almost eighteen year old’s expense. In the US, we are suffering through the start of the Presidential campaign season for 2016. This is a time when we get to hear from anyone interested in running for President and many of them have the same “problem” that my son has; we get to hear them think out loud.

Most of us do not go around and speak everything that is on our mind – thank goodness. We hold some things back to spare someone else’s feelings or we continue to support a friend instead of telling them the direct truth because the truth is too painful. Good or should I say smart husbands never answer their wives honestly when they are asked, “do these jeans make my butt look big?” I would suggest that sooner or later we start forgetting what is true anymore or how to be truthful. We seem to be answering circumstances “technically true” rather than simply true. Take a minute and think about how you communicate, when do spare someone’s feelings and when are you just not being truthful. I’m not suggesting that we go around being brutally honest; there is a fine line between civility and cruelty. What is on your heart is revealed in your words. The devil is trying to change your heart by changing your words and thoughts; stay vigilant!

“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:10

God put His stamp on each of us and it was Him that sent a savior into the world. No matter what God did to steer us in the right direction; we still failed to obey His commands. But God did not give up on human beings; His love for us was still stronger than His anger or disappointment. In our heart of hearts, we believe in God. Some people want to see signs (Thomas), some believe because of their upbringing, some are confident and others yet do not believe at all. The ability to believe or not is within us.

Our hearts and our beliefs have justified us with God; we are free from punishment of the Law. It is our profession of faith that makes the bigger statement; it is what is on our hearts. People can walk around believing but without outward profession of faith they fall short. Profess your faith and you will be saved is the straightforward message of this verse. Give thanks before meals, even in public. Tell co-workers and neighbors about your confidence in the love of God our Father when the answer fits. We often hear about people who would “go to the top of a mountain to profess their love for a spouse” but would they climb that mountain to profess their faith in God and salvation through Jesus? Would you? It is your belief in Jesus as your savior that you will be saved, don’t be afraid to share salvation with everyone.

True Friends

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

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

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

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

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

Why me?

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

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

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

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

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

What is true?

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

My mother will be having surgery this week for a broken hip. She’d kill me if I mentioned her age so I’ll just say that she is in her “advanced years”. I have faith that the doctors are capable and that the hospital staff is competent, at least that is what I hope for. I’ve not met the doctors nor the hospital staff; we are left with hoping that they are good enough to care for her. It makes you wonder about the other things in life that you have to simply have hope for. We will be traveling often this fall and leaving our 18 year old high school senior home alone for a few days. We have to have faith that he will do the right things and hope that we are right. At this point it looks like most of what we do in our lives is dependent upon faith and hope. We take the chance that the mechanic isn’t fixing things that aren’t broken, that the financial advisor knows what she’s doing or that the doctors are capable. Come to think of it, faith and hope rule our days. It sure makes me wonder what I actually know.

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

This verse can summarize our belief in God; being certain of what we do not see. No one alive today has seen God or Jesus. No one has seen the works of Jesus or His disciples to retell it first hand. Humans often have to be sure of what we hope for. We hope that God is real; we hope that the passages of the bible are factual and we hope that our faith is real. What if you stop there with just having hope? Much like Thomas who doubted Jesus when He returned, do you need proof? Our faith, as suggested in this verse is based on being sure of what we hope for AND being certain of what we do not see. In John 3:8 it is written that we don’t see the wind but we hear it; we don’t know where it comes from but yet we know it’s there. This is how our faith in God works, we can’t see Him but we should KNOW that He is there. If you need proof, look at the kindness of people or the compassion that people have for one another, these same traits are found in the teachings of Jesus; our savior and our proof of things that we do not see. The world is not filled with bad people. It’s filled with good people following the teachings of someone they have never met but who have the faith and certainty that God has put His mark on their hearts.

Favorites

There’s an old expression for someone who was the teacher’s favorite student, the “teacher’s pet”. Every kid in the class despised the teacher’s pet. They felt like the “pet” always received preferred treatment, got away with a little more social freedom than the other kids and seemed to get better grades. Children don’t realize the importance of following the rules, doing your work and getting along with others. These are the types of behaviors that these kids displayed to earn the title “teacher’s pet”. As we grow up, we often fall back into behaviors or feelings that we once had as children. I would bet that there is someone in your place of work or an organization you belong to that reminds you of a “teacher’s pet”. A co-worker or colleague who the boss seemingly treats better than anyone else or who has a little more leeway when it comes to using their discretion. Annoying isn’t it?

I wonder what our fourth grade selves might say to us when they see how we are reacting. Are we jealous because they are getting attention? What is it that they are doing that has put them in this “superior” position? What aren’t you doing? Supervisors have a responsibility to avoid these types of circumstances in their work places. It’s hard not to give high performers extra responsibility, more challenging assignments and a little more understanding when they make mistakes. Good supervisors however, will engage all of their employees to find out what they want to accomplish that will support the mission of the company. They will give employees the right challenge to match their skills and desires. They shouldn’t give an employee an accounting project if the employee doesn’t have any practical experience. Avoiding favoritism is hard for a supervisor but it critical for the overall team’s success. If your supervisor isn’t providing you these types of challenges, ask for the opportunity; maybe they simply needed to know that you cared.

“…God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34-35

Imagine if God actually had favorites and then imagine being one of them! What kind of things could you do or what kind of things would you know? Interesting, isn’t it? The truth is, we are all God’s favorites. If we think about the people or places in our life that are our favorites; we always give them special treatment. We’ll visit a favorite restaurant multiple times or the friend that we think of first when we want to go out for a night or have an extra ticket to an event to give away. This describes the difference between God and us; He has no favorites. We are all equally loved, no matter what our place in life.

John 3:16 says “God so loved the world…” It doesn’t say that God loved a special few or that He loved His favorites, He loved the WORLD. God showed His love for us by saving us through Jesus Christ. He didn’t offer to save His special friends or those that serve Him or specifically anyone other than those that fear Him, do what is right and have faith in Jesus as their savior. God’s promises are clear and no amount of works or giving or special prayers will get us eternal life. We have it simply through God’s grace, which means, we are ALL His favorites.

Live Life to the Fullest

Have you ever said, “What am I doing here?” or “How did I get here?” These phrases are usually uttered in frustration with either the people or circumstances around you or at yourself for not paying closer attention to what was happening in your life. Many people have said that they will “never drink again” following a wild night and yet do it again days or weeks later. So we continue to wonder what we are doing with our lives. For far too many people, this internal struggle ends in suicide. I’ve written before about God’s plan for us and that we simply can’t imagine what it is because of our own need to be in control. We often see people living their lives disconnected from purpose. There are numerous examples of positive people whose lives bring meaning to others and there are also examples of people who appear to be suffering for no reason.

We cannot understand these examples because we see them through human eyes. We apply our reasoning, our free will and our understanding to something that is being controlled by God. The sick person is an inspiration to others just as much as the MVP of a professional sport – hopefully more so. Our lives are a gift and every day is special. How do you look at the day ahead of you? I post this blog early in the morning on Monday in hopes of inspiring your week. I think it works. I have no idea how many people read this, share it or what impact it has. I do know that each week more people start following the blog, so I keep writing. How do you live and inspire others? Is inspiring others a goal in your life. Many people believe that they aren’t capable of doing that because we are programmed to think that only celebrities or people in the news can do that. We all can inspire, everyday and all of the time, through a smile; a helping hand; a kind word; not saying what you really think; serving others; you name it. We can live very satisfying lives by putting others first and then watching what we get back in return. Everything you do is important to someone, do everything to your best.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

No one knows what life after death is really like. What is eternal life? I have to imagine that if you are reading this blog that you are waiting to find out because you believe that you have eternal life through your faith in Jesus Christ. God Himself has promised us eternal life in both the Old and New Testaments. We have no idea what it means but we believe it. Jesus reminds us in this verse that He came to give us all life and not just life on earth. He took all of our transgressions, accepted the punishment that we deserve and he suffered so that we could have a full life and share it with Him.

Stop and think, Jesus did all this for us, shouldn’t we live our lives to the fullest as a living example of His grace? Jesus did not suffer so that we could ignore the teachings of the bible and “live our own lives”. God did not send His one and only Son into the world so that we would live in fear. Living life to the fullest is not permission to live selfishly, it is permission to live a life that inspires others, one that shares the good news and one that demonstrates love; the kind of love Jesus taught us about. Live your life to the fullest in Jesus.

Serve with love

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 find myself thinking or writing a lot about restaurant servers when I think of serving others. This should shed a little light into my life with exactly how much time I send in restaurants but I digress. Watch a server run from table to table taking orders, dropping off food or drinks, picking up dirty dishes and making sure that you have every thing you need or that everything is just the way you want it. They do it all with a smile. Can you say that you serve others with such energy and 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 not getting in return 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 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 while He traveled and in doing so, He showed us how to serve one another in love. More  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.

What is Love?

In particular during these past two weeks, I’ve witnessed three people demonstrate what love is. We all say that we know when we find love it but so many of us can’t define it. Few of us are lucky enough to find that person, get married and stay married; we know love and express it in many ways. Lisa and I started dating 31 years ago this month (maybe even this week) and she has always shown me what love is. Her support of my career and of each step during my non-traditional education path, not to mention the thousands of dollars from our savings and she never said no. Not to mention the five houses we’ve had in three states because of my career. I could write all day about her but she isn’t one of examples. One is of a wife being by her husband’s side as he has his third brain tumor removed while being worried that she’ll won’t be able to meet the needs of her clients (she’s a sole proprietor), another is the best friend of our dear friend’s (Joe) wife who made sure that I knew about Joe’s retirement following his stroke 14 months ago. She also is there for Joe’s wife Kathy, to help her or to just listen because Joe needs constant care. Kathy says that everyone should have a friend just like her.

But the one most demonstrating love is Joe’s wife Kathy. We met them just over 27 years ago when Joe and I started to work together. They became great role models for Lisa and I about raising a family. Today, Joe is in a wheelchair and unable to care for himself. Kathy tirelessly cares for him and does so with a positive attitude and a smile on her face. Everyone that knows her will say that she is one of the strongest people you will ever meet. She has always been there for her friends when they had trouble. Her and Joe were there for us when our daughter was born prematurely at 27 weeks. She takes care of Joe with such love and care. She will even joke that this isn’t what she envisioned in retirement but she is grateful for what she has. To me, this is what Love is.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. 1 John 3:16

To be honest, this devotion is not ending the way I envisioned when I started it. So, what is love? I believe that we recognize love because we have seen it demonstrated to us. People like Kathy learned about love from someone else, who learned it from someone else and so on. The first real show of love came from God and has been written for us in the Old Testament. God continued to fight for His people, protect them and still cared for them even when they disobeyed. Instead of turning to anger for rejecting His commandments, God turned to Love and sent us His Son; a savior to give us all a chance to be with Him.

During His ministry, Jesus taught us about Love. He asked for forgiveness of the Soldiers crucifying Him because they did not know what they were doing. Jesus taught us to take care of each other and serve one another not ourselves. He knew what was happening to Him and yet He still gave His life for us. He could have pushed the “Easy Button” and went somewhere else to avoid His death, He didn’t. The friends that I’ve seen over these past two weeks could have found another way to deal with their situations but they didn’t, there are plenty of “Easy Buttons” to push these days. They didn’t because they all know what real Love is. We don’t know why Joe had his stroke or why my other friend’s husband has had three brain tumors, but God is showing us what love is through these amazing people.