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.

What Did You Say?

“What is that supposed to mean!” Have you ever said those words? Often times we rush through our conversations that we skip a few key words and change the meaning of everything that we are trying to say. Text messaging has made this problem even worse. We see young people who have a hard time expressing themselves. Their sentences are short and void of emotion, if it can’t be said in a text or e-mail, they just aren’t saying it. How are we to supposed to deal with them? I had a conversation yesterday with someone who works in a school, and they told me that young kids today have no ability to converse with each other or with adults; and when they do, it’s usually quite rude.

One idea is that when we speak to our younger friends or co-workers (not elementary school kids) and the communication is critical, we can ask them to repeat back to us what they think we said. Another way to improve communication is simply asking them how they want to be communicated with. One thing is for sure; we must choose our words carefully knowing that each one has the possibility of meaning more than one thing to a new generation of young people who may have a slightly different dictionary version than we do. We must be flexible and patient, our role is to continue to lead them with our actions.

“because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”  1 Thessalonians 1:5

The Bible is such a great book, but it too can be filled opportunities for misinterpretation. Look at the various churches that claim to offer insight into God’s word and then proceed to tell you how to live your life. The Gospel did come to us with great power; we can impact people’s lives by following the words given to us. We are not the judges of other people’s lives; the Bible tells us that. The Holy Spirit is present in our lives but so is the devil, each are constantly fighting for our attention. 

It is the deep conviction that we have in our faith that keeps the devil in check. Our words mean something; they are the light into our heart. Do you openly profess your love and belief in Jesus Christ? When given the chance to gossip about someone, do you jump on it? These are all windows into your heart. The Bible is more than just words; it is the WORD of God, given to us through the Holy Spirit who inspired its writers. The words and stories are told in such a way to bring meaning to each word. At the end of the day, we must watch our words and our actions because as they say, actions speak louder than words. The Bible is our guide. No matter what we’ve done or said, we are forgiven by the grace of God and by Jesus taking our sins onto Himself so we may have eternal life. Now that is plain and simple no matter how you say it. 

Watch Your Mouth

When I read today’s verse, I immediately thought of the phrase “you are what you eat”. I realize that there is little connection between the verse and the phrase, but I’ve been trying to make better food choices and well; I digress. Leaders of all kinds must choose their words carefully. One of the most powerful tools a leader can use is encouragement. There are so many stresses in people’s lives, coupled with their desire to do the best work that they can, they’re left to feel overwhelmed or simply disconnected from others around them. We rarely hear “good job” from the people we work with or those close to us. Sometimes, we are just too busy to say it or we simply don’t take the time to. For leaders, that can be a disaster. People in leadership positions must acknowledge their people and the work that they do for them – even if it’s “their job”. 

A simple “thanks” or “good work” can go along way in motivating someone. We don’t know what is happening in their lives and this simple gesture can be what keeps them going. I used to work for a woman who said “good job” all the time. At first, I was surprised because it was the first time that I worked professionally outside of a paramilitary style organization, and no one ever gives compliments there. It reminded me that I was doing good work and that someone appreciated it. There’s an old saying that goes, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all”. If you never say anything nice or encouraging, are people walking around thinking that you have nothing nice to say? It’s what comes out of your mouth that means more than what you think or write about someone. Spread a little good will and watch the smiles, then smile at yourself knowing that you were the cause.

“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’”  Matthew 15:11

This was Jesus speaking to the Pharisees when they saw the Disciples eating with dirty hands. But that isn’t where it stopped. In Matthew 15:17-20, Jesus went on to say: 17“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’”  

We have to ask ourselves here: what’s in our hearts? Do you go through your life with the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude? In the end, we are all “unclean”. Every one of us will say something hurtful, have thoughts about stealing or wishing harm upon someone, gossip and in some cases, we’ll act on them. We are all guilty at one point in time or another; we are unclean. The good news is that Jesus Christ wrapped us in pure white clothing whereby making us clean when he took our sins with Him to the cross. We are always clean with our faith in Christ. No tricks, no works, no negotiations, simple forgiveness from the grace of God. Now that should make you smile!

We are Free

Yesterday was July 4th and in the U.S. we celebrate our country’s independence as the Fourth of July Holiday. I have traveled to Washington DC many times for work, and you can see signs of our founding fathers everywhere along with the power of our government on what seems like every corner. It wasn’t until I’d seen just about everything else before I visited the Jefferson Memorial. Not for any other reason than, I was too lazy to “go all the way over there” on the other side of the pond. 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 each 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; 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.

Forget What is Behind

“Forgive and forget”. It works great in theory but it’s hard to practice on a regular basis. We always seem to be quick to forgive but never quite get to the forget part. Men famously complain that their wives never forget “that one time when we were dating” – years ago. Men are just as bad, so I’m not celebrating here. Saying “I made a mistake” is one of the hardest things people can say to each other. It shows great humility and is a demonstration of the respect that the person has for the relationship. There are several versions of “I made a mistake”: I was wrong; I shouldn’t have done/said that; I didn’t mean to or that’s not what I meant and the newest version – just kidding. I don’t quite get that one. Despite all of these versions, what we don’t often hear is a good old fashioned – “I’m sorry”.

Sometimes mistakes have consequences; one of which is at a personal level for the one who admits it. When they do, we should acknowledge the effort it took to admit the mistake by responding to them with the affirmation that it’s “okay” or “I forgive you”. Our human nature makes forgetting about it hard; this mistake or hurt always seems to resurface when the same person is involved in a new but similar situation. Our brains are programmed to “recall” events and how we reacted to them is part of how we learn and is how we process rapid decision-making; so the mistakes comeback sub-consciously. We have to keep our emotions “in check” and dismiss them from our reaction (unless it’s a duplicate event). Ultimately, give everyone a little grace and your forgiveness.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:14-15

St. Paul was telling the Philippians to leave the past behind them, forget their old ways, old habits, old beliefs and old understandings. His advice to us today is the same, look toward the future and to what you can do today to live a better life. No matter what you’ve done, leave it in the past. At the time Paul wrote these letters, the people of the world were leading pretty brutal lives. They raped, pillaged and murdered each other. It was an “every man for himself” world. They watched human slaughter for entertainment in places like the Coliseum in Rome. St. Paul was telling them to leave all of it in the past and focus on the future prize promised by God – eternal life through Jesus Christ. 

I have no idea how many people read this each week but I will bet that no one has lived a life today like those who lived in the First Century. No matter what you you’ve done, look toward the future you have through Christ. God wanted you saved, that’s why He sent Jesus to die for our sins – then and now. You are forgiven! As it is written in Acts 10:43 “…Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” There are no other versions or ways to say it; you are forgiven. Now start living and looking toward to the future with Jesus Christ.

Common Sense isn’t so Common

“He doesn’t have enough common sense to change a nickel!” was a phrase I heard often from my first Captain. He would use that to describe just about anyone who couldn’t quite “get it”. I don’t know if he ever used it to describe me but I’m sure, at times, I lacked “a little change” myself. Merriam Webster’s defines wisdom as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.” The challenge we have in our roles as spouses, siblings, parents and leaders is that we don’t or can’t teach wisdom. In education, we refer to “teaching wisdom” as teaching critical thinking. It is difficult to teach someone how to “think”. We usually associate wisdom with experience and maturity. Critical thinking is skillful and responsible thinking in which you study the problem from all angles, and then exercise your best judgment to draw conclusions. 

Teaching critical thinking consists of three basic concepts: 1) Reflecting on the issue or question; to stop and think, avoiding snap judgments, accepting the first idea that comes to mind or automatically accepting whatever is presented. 2) Gently asking questions such as “How do you know”, “What are the reasons?” and “Is that a good source of information?” which establishes the reasons for a point of view or seeks the reasons for others’ views. 3) Being aware of alternative possibilities, conclusions, explanations, sources of evidence, or points of view. Merriam Webster’s defines understanding as “the power of abstract thought; the capacity to apprehend general relations of particulars”. We must have wisdom before we have understanding. As leaders, we tend to deal with teaching people what to do (knowledge) and ask if they understand it. We should be focusing on their depth of understanding through critical thinking.

“And he said to man, ‘The fear of the LORD—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’ ” Job 28:28 

A lot can be said of Job. When I hear his name, I immediately think – strength. He certainly stayed faithful to God and despite what happened to him, he knew that God was with him. If anyone can tell us about what God meant, I believe Job to be an excellent teacher. Having the fear of the Lord is something that is wise for an individual to do. It certainly stands today; we should all have fear of the Lord our God.

We shouldn’t fear God because of the “bad” that will happen but because He is our Father and we should live to His glory. Besides, not living to honor God will surely keep you from eternal life. God sent us His Son to take away all our sins – a reconciliation with the Law if you will. This reconciliation, however, does not give us a “free pass” but gives us eternal life by our faith in Him. It is wise to fear God. Job also tells us that if we shun evil (follow in the way of the Lord) that we truly understand what God was trying to say all along. He is the way, the truth and the life. Fear the Lord and shun evil, can it be that simple?

Listen and Find Me

Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.35For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD. – Proverbs 8:34-35

I’m mixing it up again! I guess I do that so neither of us get bored with the rhythm of a weekly devotion. Let’s look back at Easter again and remember what it all means. We marked the saddest day in our church year, Good Friday. No one really feels good about Jesus’ crucifixion but it marks the beginning of the end for Satan’s hold on our lives. On that Friday, Jesus fulfilled his earthly mission to save the world but not without extreme torture. He was sacrificed so that we might live with our Father in heaven for all eternity. On that good day, God, through His Son Jesus, defeated the burden of sin for us all forever. How easily we can forget that we are free from the penalty of sin and can look forward to eternal life with our Father. All that happened on one “good” Friday. However, the job was not completed upon His death. Jesus still needed to descend into hell, finish the job and rise to life once again on the third day. 

Our forgiveness from sin was raised up to heaven along with Jesus and we now enjoy freedom from the bonds placed on us by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The Proverbs verses tell us the rest of the story. “Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” We are blessed because we have the word given to us by God Himself and we listen to the messages of Jesus Christ about how to live our lives. We watch the doors of our lives to be sure that we remain strong and keep Satan in his place by knowing and believing that we have eternal life in Jesus Christ. We wait for the day that we will be raised from the dead, like Jesus, to live eternal lives in paradise. 

We can only do this through our faith in God the Father and His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. “For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD.” God is always with us, which also means, so is Jesus. We struggle in our lives to live as Christ taught us to and we all fall short. It’s Satan who puts guilt in our minds and on our hearts; he’s the one telling us it really doesn’t matter. His words are empty and his promises are lies. The one who told us “those who find me, find life and receive favor from the LORD” is the only thing we should be listening to. Please know that your sins are forgiven if you have faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, no matter what. There are no degrees of forgiveness or no scale of the works that you can do to receive forgiveness. God’s grace to all of us means a life free from the guilt of sin and forgiveness of those sins for all of eternity. If that isn’t something to celebrate again, I don’t know what is.