Praise and Thanks

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, no matter where you are; it always a good time to be thankful. After a week of prayer and thanksgiving for all that we have, I thought focusing on praise might be a good follow-up. There is so much negativity in the world these days. No one, it seems, can escape being criticized these days. Black Friday sales brought angry shoppers pushing for the few sale items or upset people that who missed the deals. Not to mention the scores of people of who complained about being with their families on Thanksgiving Day. A day set aside for thanks and there was undoubtedly an awful lot of complaining. Where was the praise? My sister usually has most of the family to her house for dinner. She cooks all day, makes more than enough food and even opens her house to friends without their family nearby. She does a great job and we all have a great time. When we leave, everyone says thanks as they walk out the door but that is not what I think of when I say praise.

Sure, we could heap on the accolades but to truly praise her would be to call a day or two later to thank her again or even send an old fashioned “thank you card”. What about the other people in your life, how well do you do praising them? Try praising people that you work with or serve you somewhere or help you out. Don’t just say “thanks” but give them some praise with a specific reference like: “You did a great job on that special project, it really did the job for us” or “That was the best service we have had anywhere in a long time, you did a great job”. A little love and praise can carry someone a long way in this world of negativity.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation…” Isaiah 52:7

God loves it when we thank him for all that he has done for us, but he also likes the praise that should precede it. He is the one who makes all things possible. God is the giver of life and in Him, all things are possible. He is controlling all things and we have a hard time understanding or comprehending that. God is in control. Without Him, we are simply left to die a lonely short existence here on earth.

We can do nothing that will earn us a place in heaven; no amount of good works or tithing or kindness can earn for us what God has already given to us through His grace and mercy. Our salvation is found in one thing – faith in Jesus Christ as our savior. God sent His son into the world to save us from our sinful nature and our selves. Without God’s grace, we would not have our salvation. For us this means giving praise for the awesome things that God has done by bringing the good news to others or simply demonstrating the love that God has shown us. We do good works and give our tithes not to win God’s favor but as a demonstration of His love for us. As we enter this season of joy and gladness, we should also remember to praise the one who made it possible.

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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!

Crisis

The Chinese word for crisis has two symbols grouped together that mean “a time of opportunity” and “a time for danger”. I’ve used this symbol when I teach Change Management to illustrate that change can sometimes be viewed by employees as a time of crisis. We all loose something during “change”, sometimes its as significant as losing a job, while other times it may be less dramatic or it may simply be a feeling of loss that disturbs people the most. Whatever the case, as people, we all deal with loss in a variety of ways. During a time of change, we will go through the 5 stages of grieving: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Many times these stages result in significant resistance to change.

The status quo is very comfortable for us – we get used to what we do and how we do it. Good managers will recognize that people will grieve their losses (perceived or real) and take steps to help their staff move through the grieving process. Managing change is an art and a science; change leaders must understand that and work through the issues. Major change requires patience. Change management requires constant communication and reassurance and should never result in ultimatums that people simply accept the change or leave. Employees must also recognize that change is both an opportunity and a dangerous time. It’s dangerous for them as they navigate the grieving process and overcome their resistance. It is a time for opportunity because they can show that they are a team player and may even become a change agent.

1 Corinthians 14:33 – “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…”

God does not want us to live in disorder and chaos but He does want us to grow. Growth only comes with change. In the beginning, God kept forcing changes on us, He challenged everything that people knew and believed. He gave us opportunity after opportunity to change our hearts and minds. Finally, God sent us His son, Jesus Christ, known as the Prince of Peace. Jesus was a great reconciler for us; bringing us to peace with God our Father.

There are some that still are not willing to change from doing things their way and failing to believe in God and His son; they continue to do what they think is best based on earthly desires. Talk about resistance! There is no need to grieve; we have been given everlasting life with God through our faith in Jesus Christ. This is cause for celebration and not a moment of crisis. There is noting but opportunity in this good news. Continue to share your faith, keep up your devotions and listen to God as he speaks to you; He is speaking to you through the change agents in your life. The change agent maybe you, are you ready?

Blessed

It doesn’t matter when you see my wife, if you ask her how she’s doing, her answer is always – “blessed”. Even at 4:30 in the morning when she is arriving at the gym for her daily work out, she is always cheerful. She is the only morning person in our family. The rest of us are night owls. She is filled with joy and peace and everyone knows it. What do people see when they speak to you or watch you at work? I certainly wouldn’t suggest that you be “on” at the wee hours of the morning but it is important to know what time you function best at. There have been a number of studies that show that early risers are more productive. Again, I’m not suggesting that you change your peak performance time; just know when it is. My peak usually hits around 1pm and lasts until 4pm but I can also have a second peak about 9:30pm until after midnight.

Knowing your optimum time is important so that you don’t tie it up in meetings or traveling between locations. This should be your time to focus on high-level work or your strategic/creative thinking time. Your peak time is when you should turn off your email and cell phone so that you can concentrate. This will allow you to achieve more at work while expending less mental energy since you are working when your mind and body are most ready. Back to the question of what do people see when they speak to you? If you are in peak time, they should see the best you have to offer and when you are in off-peak times, they should see a person of joy and hope who knows the best is yet to come.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

A number of years ago there was a story out of war-torn Sudan about a pregnant woman who was sentenced to death, by stoning, for becoming a Christian and failing to renounce her new faith. I can’t help thinking about how strong she was. Here is a new Christian, someone who believed so strongly in what she was taught that she was willing to be persecuted. It’s a modern day story of St. Paul or John the Baptist. She was not only filled with joy but had enough peace to trust in Him that the power of the Holy Spirit would be with her. I cannot imagine what she must have gone through. It was rumored that one of the Columbine shooters asked a girl if she believed in Jesus as he held a gun to her head. When she answered yes, he moved on sparing her life.

When my daughter was younger she was asking questions about faith when this came up. I reminded her that it would be better to die knowing that you kept your faith to the end than it would be to deny it and spend eternity without Him. There is no doubt that there are others suffering for their faith today. Please join me in praying for everyone who is being persecuted for their faith; asking that their faith remains strong and that they be filled with joy and peace to trust in God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Also take this time to pray for yourself; that you will be filled with joy and peace so that you too can overflow with the hope and power of the Holy Spirit so everyone will see that you are blessed.

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S., so I thought that I’d provide a little history lesson. Three years after the U.S. Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate, with flowers, the graves of the war dead. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery. Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” he urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time; testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

Several states in the south refused to acknowledge Memorial Day and held their own ceremonies to observe the passing of confederate veterans. There are several U.S. cities that claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, and the debate continued to fester for almost 100 years. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it was often called Decoration Day. It was then placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays. May we never forget the sacrifices that many made to keep us free people.

14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the LORD. Hebrews 12:14

If it were not for the civil war, we would not have Memorial Day. The day was expanded to honor all those that made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free. It is a holiday that I wish we didn’t need but I am thankful for everyone that made it possible for me to post on this blog and live an unencumbered life. We must make every effort to live in peace with all men. This verse is very specific about who we should be at peace with – ALL MEN. This doesn’t apply only to the countries that the U.S. is friendly with; it applies to everyone.

Live in peace and be holy. Sounds simple enough but we know it can be hard. There is no exclusion to whom we must be holy with – I have to be holy with the guy who has the annoying dogs behind me! This verse is a great reminder that living in peace and holiness is hard and will require sacrifice. Some sacrificed everything for us to live in peace, we owe them our best to live holy lives; without it no one will see the Lord. We should live our lives as Jesus showed us – gracefully with humility, with love, faithfulness and forgiveness. Enjoy your holiday weekend but remember why we have it. Put a little “memorial” into Memorial Day and give thanks for those that made it possible and then go out and be holy.

God’s Light in the world

I just finished reading a couple of leadership articles from different sources. One was about Servant Leadership – leading others to greatness through service to them. I have been a long-time believer in Servant Leadership and believe that it is just as important a concept today as it was when I heard about it 30 years ago. When you serve others, you become a light to them. The old, autocratic leader is a life crushing way to be led.  The Autocrat believes that employees lacks motivation, don’t understand their job well and need to be constantly watched over. Its roots are in the military when orders were given and followed without question. The result today is a dark workplace filled with uninspired employees.

Servant Leadership switches the focus to the employee through empowerment, trust and faith in them. When an employee under performs, they are coached back to success. Leaders in this type of environment are not served by their employees; instead they serve the employees. Southwest Airlines has been operating under this philosophy for 40 years and they have been pretty successful. If you are not in a leadership position, you can still be a servant leader to your coworkers. Think about parenting for minute, you are serving your children constantly (driving to practice, helping with homework, teaching life skills, etc.) and providing a living example of being there for them. How do you relate to the other people in your life? Are you a giver or a taker? This world is exhausting and having someone take care of you may sound peaceful, but I believe that you will be more satisfied helping others achieve their goals than you will be if you are being catered to.

5 “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7

I urge you to let verse 5 sweep peace over your mind – “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” The world events over the past month are about all that a normal person can handle. Chemical attacks in Syria, nerve agents used in a public pub in England, school shootings, random and targeted attacks on innocent people are just a few of the stresses that we have faced. Most of us have personal issues to deal with at the same time as everything else. Perhaps it’s a medical diagnosis, a job loss, financial problems, relationship issues; the list can go on and on. From the sound of things, there is no light anywhere in this world. The world is a dark place and we need God to provide us light.

We know from these verses and many more that with God there is no darkness. Sure, there is a lot of shade but there is no darkness. When we are in the dark, we are often afraid, confused and uncertain. Our senses change as we adjust to the dark but we remain uncertain and afraid because we are not in control of our physical space. We never know when we will trip on something, bump into a wall or fall down. God is our light! We walk in it all the time. We have comfort and peace in God’s light that we have through our fellowship with each other and with Him. This “cleansing from all sin” comes through our faith in Jesus Christ, who’s blood was shed for us. Go boldly into the world with the light of God shining all around you.

Division

I’m trying something a little different this week by using a larger block of scripture. For the past few weeks, each week, I have had new followers join this blog; many from countries outside of the United States. I truly appreciate everyone who receives this and passes it along to others. I started this blog five years ago as a precursor to finishing my still “unfinished” book but it grew into something that I never imagined possible. Spreading the joy and peace of God’s Word has been incredibly fulfilling. This is one of the spiritual gifts that God has blessed me with; despite what my high school English teachers said about my writing skills. We all have gifts; do you know what yours are?

The last verse talks about divisions among us. As we move through our days of uncertainty, strife, fear, hopefulness, peace, enlightenment and hopefully a little joy; we seem to be constantly bombarded with people trying to divide us. Liberal, conservative, socialist, capitalist, patriot, immigrant, “one of them” or “one of us” are all labels that are being tossed around without consequence. These divisions are creating chaos and in chaos, terror lives. High school kids being afraid to go to school or who hesitate when the fire alarm goes off is not a result of peaceful society. I urge everyone to carefully consider using labels or engaging in divisive dialog. Know your facts before repeating what you hear on your favorite news channel or read on the internet. Please look for context and understanding of the subjects you are about to debate; avoid extremes. United we stand, divided we fall! No matter what the subject is, division and chaos are never the best outcome.

6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you– 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”  1 Corinthians 1:6-10

St Paul was reminding the people of Corinth that God is with all of us until the end and that we shall be guiltless on the day that Jesus calls us home. This verse should give us all so much peace. God has given each one us spiritual gifts to use while we are here on earth. Some of you have musical talents, some have creative talents, some math skills while others are blessed with athletic talents. EVERYONE has spiritual gifts. God is using each of us, directly or indirectly, to spread the good word; witness our faith; or demonstrate Christian living. Do you see how you are fitting into God’s plan? If you don’t see it, take time to reflect on how God has worked in your life and how you are working in the lives of those around you.

St. Paul was also urging the people of Corinth (and us) to remain united in faith. While there are many denominations of Christianity, we all remain Christians. I mentioned earlier that it is in chaos where terror lives and the devil loves chaos and terror. When we start to doubt God’s presence, the devil is ready to exploit our doubt. When we no longer see God in our lives, the devil starts to “help us see” our own understanding. And, when our faith in God or mankind or each other is fading, the devil is standing ready to give us false hope. These are trying times and we all must be strong to resist the chaos and embrace the peace and hope that we HAVE in God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Rejection and Lost Hope

Rejection happens all of the time. People don’t like our ideas, we hang up on telemarketers, our company loses a big proposal or worse yet, a relationship falls apart. String a few of these together and life becomes miserable. People begin to fall into despair and then nothing can go right. This is when hopelessness takes over and all is lost; someone without hope becomes lost. The US is right in the middle of a hopeless situation when it comes to school violence. We are struggling to balance our right to bear arms with maintaining safety in our schools. We are struggling to provide the mental health care necessary for those who desperately need it; before they turn to violence. We are struggling to seek solutions because no one wants to “lose” and compromise has been deemed a weakness.

People are losing hope in their government and its leaders. When we lose hope, we lose all sense of belonging and self-worth. We feel rejected by everything and everyone. The Florida high school kids expressed their outrage this weekend and spoke of feeling rejected by their government and the elected officials who are supposed to keep them safe; are they losing hope?  There are a number of people in this world who are rejected on a regular basis; many of them young people or our military veterans. There isn’t a month that goes by that we don’t read about a young teen that takes their life because their peers who resorted to bullying them have rejected them. Or the veteran who returned from military service only to find that the world they once knew has rejected their new world view. Do you know when you feel like you are losing hope? Can you recognize it in someone else?

“He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”  Luke 10:16

We all have exclaimed at some point in our lives “This is hopeless!” We usually rebound and find a solution to the problem or God puts someone in our life to help us through. What about being rejected? We experience rejection a lot in our youth but we learn from it and adapt. As adults, we typically experience it less and my guess is because we don’t put ourselves in situations to be rejected – we learned from our youth. We must be aware in our own lives when we are losing hope or know someone who is.

For some, this turns into clinical depression but for most of us, we just get down. Much like the frog in the pot on the stove that doesn’t feel the water getting hotter, we don’t know when it’s turning from being down to becoming depressed. Find your hope in God; through Him nothing is hopeless. Jesus is warning in this verse that He will not be rejected without consequences. If we reject Jesus, we reject the Father. There is no wiggle room in that! So, if our hope is in God we should have nothing to fear, right? God wants us to come to him and to come often in prayer. Know the word of God by reading the bible and you will be filled with hope regularly. Armed with this knowledge, you can be that person God puts into someone else’s life to bring them hope and acceptance rather than despair and rejection.

Martin Luther King Jr

In the United States, we are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day today. I have written before about my attending presentations about his life which have really opened my mind about the struggles of minorities. I must admit that I knew little about him before attending these events but I have come to understand more than the civil rights fight that he undertook. He wouldn’t accept the status quo; he wouldn’t back down against great pressure nor would he compromise his beliefs. He spoke all around the world to what is reported as millions of people with a simple message – we are all one people. Lately in the United States, we seem to have forgotten that. Racial discord still exists and now we are divided by our politics. Hatred, ignorance, intolerance and just plain evil are everywhere these days. People are turning to violence in an attempt to get their messages across. Frustration is ruling our behaviors.

Martin Luther King Jr. fought against violence and took a stand to resolve differences in a non-violent way; though not everyone supported that strategy. His speeches were moving and his understanding of the issues were extraordinary and yet, many agree his work remains unfinished. He used his talents to change the world. Most of us will never reach the stature of Dr. King but we can have a huge impact on the world around us. Each of us has God given talents that we can use to impact those in our lives. Sometimes people are in our lives for a brief moment, like in line at the grocery store and others are people we’ve known for years but we have the opportunity to model the same beliefs that Dr. King did, good Christian values.

“For in Him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge…” 1 Corinthians 1:5

I once had a friend who shared with me a serious problem that would have lifelong implications for him. As he described his problem he said that he has done a lot things in his life and that he didn’t feel “right with God yet and as long as I’m not right with Him, I can’t be right with anyone”. This statement stopped me dead in my tracks; how could someone who professes to be a Christian say something like that? As I have dwelled on his statement, I believe that many people feel this way. This is why so many non-denominational “churches” leave out all discussion about sin. People feel bad and unworthy because of sin so if we don’t talk about it, people will come to get revitalized.

As we talked, I seized the opportunity to share my knowledge about our savior, Christ Jesus. I reminded him that he was already “right with God” because of what Jesus did for us Easter weekend.  1 Corinthians 1:7-9 goes on to say “7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gifts as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” We lack nothing; there is nothing we can do or must do to be “right with God”. He knew our weaknesses long before we did and sent us a Savior so we could enjoy eternal life with Him. God decided we were worth it long before we could do anything to prove it to Him.

What to make of it?

My mother’s brother passed away this week after a courageous fight with dementia. My mom and her brother Jim were very close as kids and stayed that way as they both surpassed 90 years of age. As kids, they attended dance class and would tell stories about how they used to entertain at dinner parties that my grandparents would host. They were very fond of each other and despite losing many of their memories, neither one forgot about each other. It was truly touching. The irony of his passing was that he died on my grandma’s birthdate – December 12th. While I know that my cousins are experiencing the same sense of loss that we are, I also know that they are celebrating the same joys that we did as well.

The whole experience has allowed me to connect with my cousin, support her on the journey in care and once again in grief. While the circumstances are sad, I am appreciative of the opportunity. So when we ask why did it happen that way, I know with great confidence that God was at work here. This time of year can be very sad for some people; a look back over the year past and what did and did not get done. I am comforted by the faith I have in God’s promises and can see His hand in my life. I like to use this analogy: during our life, we cannot see the path that we are on but when we finish a segment of it, God sometimes gives us a satellite view of where we’ve been. We mourn the loss of another great family member but we celebrate that we had him in the first place.

6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7

My Uncle did a lot in his lifetime, raised great kids, had a large extended family but most importantly, he was a man of great faith. He was very content with his life and was at peace when he passed. This verse from Timothy reminds me about the story of the DASH whose premise is what have you done with the time represented by the dash between the year you born and the year you die. We bring nothing into this world and we take nothing out; its what we do with our time that counts. God has given us the tools to do great things, we just need to slow down and learn the keys to using them.

The directions are in the bible and sometimes we even have examples in our lives. Jesus lived as an example for us but God also gives us examples like my Uncle Jim in our lives today. Slow down to see them and be content with the things in your life; it ends suddenly. We will never know the impact we will have on others and we all have a DASH; fill it with contentment, love, kindness and worship to God who made it all possible.