Persevere

“Times are tough all over” was the title of a hit song in 1990. People have been saying this for years and since the start of the pandemic, we all still know someone who feels like times are tough. It became a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “it’s happening to everyone” but it never really makes anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that Lisa, and I believed that our 3 hour round trip 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 people who lose their home or place to call home is that they lose hope. These men and women, who have faithfully persevered these past two years, are used to making positive contributions. Once they start to disconnect, the trip downward is fast and takes hope with it. Recent studies have shown that once hope is restored, recently evicted people 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 with less judgement and distain. 

“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. 

Pigeon Holes

Condemnation or condemning someone is a pretty serious matter. The dictionary defines condemn as “express complete disapproval of, typically in public; censure”. Have you unknowingly condemned someone? I’m sure you didn’t utter the words specifically, but we often find ourselves saying something like “I’ll never work with him again” or “if she doesn’t get her act together, I’ll make sure she isn’t our team again”. These are statements of condemnation. Oftentimes, our condemnation is even a little more subtle “Oh him, he is always like that.” I refer to this as “pigeon-holing” someone; putting a person in a cage or box that they can never get turned around in. Some people are put there after one big mistake while others simply earn their position in the pigeon hole. 

You might ask yourself, “how many times do I need to get burned before I stop believing they will actually come through for me?” The better question is, “have you told them how they’ve let you down and what effect it has had on your work?” We need to be honest with people and let them know how their actions effect how others perceive them. Right or wrong, perception is reality in the eye of the one who perceives the action. If you have found yourself “pigeon-holing” someone, give them a chance to get out and make amends. If you leave them in the hole, you are condemning them to that place for a career. Reach out and share how they make you feel; not how they make everyone feel but how they make you feel. It makes it about the two of you which is less threatening. They might have been clueless about how their behavior affected other people because no one ever took the time to talk with them.

“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned. But whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:18

As Christians, we are not condemned! No matter what we’ve done, Christ took our weaknesses, our sins and our guilt with Him on the cross so we would share in God’s love and Grace. We are not condemned because we are forgiven! John tells us quite simply that those who do not believe already stand condemned. God’s inspired word, through John, sums up our salvation for us. We are not condemned! We are assured eternal life through our faith in Christ. 

We may make the same mistakes over and over; we may commit the same sins again and again, but we have forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice for us. God’s grace and love, along with our confession and repentance is what keeps us out of the pigeon hole. God isn’t interested in keeping us locked up or put in the same place, He needs us to be free so that we can spread the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. If you feel trapped, seek God and you will find the door to the hole that has been open this whole time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. God has not put you in a pigeon hole, you have put yourself there. God wants to see you free and flying high, make Him proud!

Happy Easter!

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter. It’s a great time of year! I am always moved by certain verses at this time of the year and decided to write a devotion that is mostly Bible verses. While this is a departure from my normal process, I felt it was appropriate to remind us of what salvation means. 34 “Then Peter began to speak: ”I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is LORD of all. 37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 

39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  Acts 10:34-43

The story of Jesus gathered up here in 9 verses, God truly works in mysterious ways. Accepting that God inspired the words written in the Bible is accepting that these words are also from God. The real “story” of Jesus is the message in verse 43 in which we receive forgiveness of sins through Him. Pause and think about that for a minute, forgiveness of sins – all sins. Nowhere does it say that forgiveness is limited to a specific number of sins, the type of sins or whom we commit them against; we can receive forgiveness for all of our sins. Live your life free from the guilt and slavery of sin. We have the ability to live guilt free and God even left us the directions how to; through St. Paul who wrote: 15”Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 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 3:15-17

We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ yesterday. We celebrate our salvation and life everlasting because of God’s grace in our lives. Jesus took the guilt and sin of the whole world with him on Good Friday as He suffered and descended into hell. All of that would have been for nothing if He hadn’t been raised on the third day. We celebrate our salvation because of what God did for us. St. Paul reminds us to live in peace and do everything in the name of Jesus. Have peace this week as you celebrate your salvation.  

Worry About It Tomorrow

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own”. Matthew 6:34. Worry can easily consume us if we let it. We can spend energy worrying about money, careers, health, family or anything that you can imagine. These are all “real world” problems that should not be ignored or diminished but they cannot be allowed to consume us either. Tomorrow is important from a planning perspective: a helping others perspective and a spiritual perspective. According to this verse, you might ask, “shouldn’t we just stay focused on what matters today and not worry about the future?” 

I’m a believer that the future matters because what we do today doesn’t just have an impact on today alone but will also impact our future and the futures of those around us. Why do we speak up and teach or mentor someone who makes a mistake? I’d suggest that we say something not to show off our own knowledge but to make those around us just a little better. If you don’t care about today, what will tomorrow look like? The key to the verse in Matthew is worry. It says nothing about taking decisive action or helping others to achieve more. The old acronym T.E.A.M – together everyone achieves more holds true. Let’s not worry about tomorrow but let’s all work together for a better tomorrow.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” John 17:20

I once heard a story about a firefighter’s first day on the job back in the early 50’s. He was mopping the kitchen with an old fashioned “stringy” mop when one of the strands got caught under the table leg. He left behind the single strand but his Captain saw it and asked why he left it. He replied that it was only one strand and it wouldn’t matter. His Captain calmly explained that if he left that one and another was left tomorrow and so on that, soon there would be a full mop under there. Picking it up, he realized that “tomorrow” is important. 

Jesus cared for tomorrow too. He is telling us that he was praying for those currently spreading the good news and for those who would grow in faith because of what they had heard. He was praying for us too! Jesus knew that future believers were just as important as the present ones. His focus remained on being our Savior despite knowing he had ahead of Him. This verse confirms that Jesus prayed for you and for me and, that the Bible is the inspired word of God (the message). Each of us will have doubt about our future and we all will, at times, have doubt about God’s love, thanks to sin and the devil’s work. We must stand strong over those doubts knowing that Jesus once prayed for us and continues to keep watch. The past holds nothing but the future is where we can find eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.  

God is Light

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 basic premise with an autocrat is that the employee lacks motivation, doesn’t understand their job well and needs constant over watch. 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 underperforms, 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 over 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 is about all that a normal person can handle. The political fighting in the U.S, the war in Ukraine, the mass shootings that we are now numb too and the lingering effects of the pandemic are just a few of the stresses that we have faced recently. Most of us have personal issues to deal with at the same 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 light! We walk in it all the time. We have comfort and peace in God’s light that we get 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.

Difficult People

People can be difficult! Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that I can be one of those people. Our daughter likes to say that people are the worst. I’m confident that I’m not that bad. If you are honest with yourself and consider your own life, you might be difficult at times too. Rick Warren in his book “Purpose Driven Life” refers to difficult people as those who are, EGR – extra grace required. I’d like to think that my own bouts of “difficultness” are driven by specific events, but these bouts seem to pop up more frequently when the stress in my life is high. My hope is that it is not the new normal and that I’m only difficult on occasion – check with my wife, she knows the truth. In my professional life, I have been known to force issues instead of letting them go; it’s a trait that I am not proud of. When I was in position of daily leadership, I found that I had a lot more grace to give than I do now. I now have multiple positions in widely different fields; each requiring different approaches to the people that I interact with. 

So, these are my “management confessions”. But honestly, there isn’t a day that goes by that none of us sin. We are all simply poor miserable sinners – that is the basic truth of the matter. Sin and grace go hand and hand. Someone offends you (sin) and you react; oftentimes negatively (more sin). People “talk it out”, make up and return to a congenial relationship (grace). If you think about the conflicts you’ve had or the times when you were less than pleasant, you probably lacked grace. If we were graceful in the beginning, we would not have been labeled “difficult” in the first place. Grace does not always beget grace, but it sure helps keep things running a little smoother. Think about the conflicts and difficult people in your life and ask yourself, have I given grace to this person or situation? Without question, grace giving is a two-way street, but someone needs to make the first move.

13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:13-14

We are all instruments for righteousness for God. Let that sink in for a minute. We are not sinners, we are not unrighteous and we are not unworthy. We were brought from death, because of sin, to life with God. We have eternal life with God through our Savior Jesus Christ. God knew us so well that he intervened on our behalf and sent His son to earth to live the perfect life, under the law, because we could not. During the Lenten Season we are preparing for the end of Jesus’ life on earth and the beginning of our His eternal life with God; who intends to use us as instruments for righteousness. We can’t help but sin but God solved that problem too.

Verse 14 is critical, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” We are all benefiting from God’s grace. It is not our adherence to the law or our gifts or our good works that gives us eternal life. We are all poor miserable sinners and there is no denying it. I’ve written before, there are no “degrees” of sin. God sees them all and forgives them all. He does this through His grace to us, His children, and our faith in Jesus as our savior. There is nothing difficult about that.

Dr. Martin Luther King jr

In the United States, we are celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day today. Since I’ve held elected office, I have attended presentations about his life which really opened my perspective 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 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. 

Dr. 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 each of us can have a huge impact on the world around us. Each one of us has God given talents that we can use to impact those around us. 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’ve told you before about 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 continue to dwell on his statement all these years later; 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. 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. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

I’ve posted this before and find myself returning to it every year at Christmas time. We just celebrated the birth of our Savior, and it is reminder of the real “new beginning” in our lives. 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 2022.

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

Pearls

I’ve mentioned before that inspiration for these weekly devotions come from everywhere in my life. I unintentionally came across today’s verse, and something just spoke to me – pearls of all things. My wife doesn’t own any and I’m certain that the necklace my mom wore when I was a kid was fake. I attended an awards dinner this past week and many of the women were elegantly dressed; no one was wearing a pearl necklace or earrings. As I get older, I am learning to accept that things today are nothing like they were in “the old days”. 

Oysters (mollusks) make pearls and are formed by the soft tissue of the oyster. I immediately thought of a callus that is formed on the surface of the skin – something hard that comes from something soft. Not really the same but you’ll see in minute my comparison. The term pearl is also used as a metaphor for something rare or admirable. When I think about how people live their lives, they can either be a pearl or a callus. One is rare and admirable while the other is hard and often painful. Ironically, we use the term callous (different spelling but same pronunciation) to describe someone who lacks pity or mercy. I’d suggest that our lives, simply as human beings, are to care for one another and show compassion and mercy on those around us. We should all strive to be the pearls in someone else’s life. You’ll never know when something you do or say will become someone else’s pearl.

45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  Matthew 13:45-46

I’ve been told that when searching for fine pearls, you will look through hundreds before finding the one that is just right. People are like pearls, you can search a hundred people but when you find one that is just right, you bring it into your life. Some of those pearls you marry and others become your dearest friends. Think about what you traded in (sold) when you found that great one. In your life, you come across hundreds of people, but you have only a few friends and even fewer close friends. When you marry your pearl, you trade your biological family to start a new one. As we have sought the pearls for our lives, we should seek to become pearls in other people’s lives.

God has looked at billions of people and still loves them all. The kingdom of heaven is filled with the finest of the pearls. God gave us the laws to follow and wanted us to become sin free. We remained blemished pearls because we are not able to follow the laws perfectly. So, God “sold everything” by sending His Son to pay for our sins so that we could become a fine pearl and share eternal life with Him. He bought us from the slavery of sin with His Son. As John 3:16 said “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Today, know that you are a precious pearl to God. 

Values

Temptation is everywhere and we all know it. Sometimes it shows itself at Costco when we see a “deal that we can’t pass up” or it shows up at work when we don’t need to “tell the whole story” Or we agree to get “creative with the accounting” because our boss told us to. I’d like to talk about the type of temptations that shape us as people, not those that tempt our waistlines or willpower like a donut or one more glass of wine. The people in our lives, the experiences that we’ve had and what we’ve been taught all shape our morals and values. Values are the inner judgments that determine how we will behave and morals are about how we execute those judgments. While some people interchange those definitions, it is clear that they are different but both of them influence how we behave. 

When we don’t experience negative consequences from “deceiving or cheating” our brain stamps it, “okay for use again”. We will continue to deceive ourselves until there are consequences and we are forced to “re-learn” to do it right. The best way to continue to train our brains is for us to keep doing the right thing, even when no one is looking; being people of integrity. If we give in, we are only deceiving ourselves and that will have life-long implications.

Romans 13:12 – “…let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

An armor of light sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I envision a brilliant white, shining armor chest plate and a matching shield. What can’t you defend off with such protection? We know, of course, that the white armor is the protection given to us from our Savior, Jesus Christ. He has clothed us in white as we go through our lives “not guilty” of sin because of His sacrifice for us. We must guard that our light does not dim by remaining true to our Father in Heaven and to His Son, our Savior. 

Our light dims every time we submit to darkness. When we do not live, as God wants us to, we dim our light. The good news however is that our confession of those sins and our faith in Jesus Christ allows our light to shine brightly once more. We all know people who have fallen in to darkness. We have a responsibility to shine our light on their lives and show them the way. Reassure them that they too, can put on an armor of light by turning their lives back toward God and then “get fitted for their suit” through Jesus Christ. We do not ever have to live in darkness; Jesus is our light.