Love

If you live in the United States, you have been witness to mass shootings and a time in our politics of unprecedented division. I recently saw the city of Marawi in the Republic of the Philippines in a news broadcast; there is nothing left there but piles of rubble and shells of buildings in what used to be a thriving city. In June of this year, Isis took over the city and has held control over it for the past five months – until recently. Philippine Security Forces regained control of the destroyed city and now we are seeing the devastation for the first time. While we think things are bad here at home, they are often minor when compared to other parts of the world. The degree of these events affects our perception of what “bad” means to us. For some it means having to fly commercial instead of by private plane and to some it means not knowing where their next meal will come from.

There are so many parts of the world that truly have it “bad” but when we don’t see it or know someone there it is easy to not think about it or taking action. Each of us, no matter what part of the world we live in, is affected by events that can alter our feelings about other people. Religion, race, sexual orientation or political party are just a few ways that someone else defines us. When the phrase “I’ll only” begins a sentence to describe someone, it shows that the person speaking has their mind closed. I’m certainly not suggesting that we embrace hatred and those who hate but we must guard against putting everyone in the same category because they are similar to the haters. The 1970’s group, the Bee Gees, had a hit song titled “How Deep is your Love” and the Black Eyed Peas released “Where is the Love” in 2003. I think these questions are valid today. As we get ready for Thanksgiving in the United States, I encourage everyone to think about being truly thankful for the blessings in your life and to ask yourself “have I been a blessing to others?”

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:14

The two verses that precede today’s verse from Colossians 3 are: “12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The title of this section in the chapter is “Living as Those Made Alive in Christ” – a set of directions if you will. There isn’t really a lot of room for interpretation in verses 12-14, they seem pretty straight forward to me. Love is the most important virtue. We’ve all heard the expression that “love makes the world go around” but somewhere over the years we seem to have forgotten that.

We are all afraid of what “they” might do to us. We stereotype people and sensationalize events to make a point. We confuse one act of demonstration for another act of violence or insult. We need to start looking through the eyes of Jesus, being cautious and vigilant, with love and compassion. Political issues strain our relationships and cause more distress while religious, racial and sexual orientation stereotypes cloud our understanding and judgment. We are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved”. We need to start acting like it. Despite all of our disobedience and selfish ways, God found a way to bring us closer to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. It was Jesus’ act of love that paid the ultimate price for our sins; let it not be in vain.

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I’ve Got This Plan…

I have to smile every time that I think I’m in control of my own life. Just when I start to worry about when my next work project will come in, it does. When I think that I’ve got my latest life strategy planned out, a situation arises that changes it. I believe that God has guided my life all along but I failed to see it until my career ended suddenly. When I started looking back over my life and began writing my yet unfinished book, I could see the patterns emerge. I’ve been “retired” from my dream of being in the fire service for just over 6 years and I never could have imagined the journey I’ve been on. I certainly did not plan any of it and every time I try to plan or worry about a plan, God reminds me that He is charting the course.

My experiences in these past six years have been unimaginable. I’ve met incredible people from all walks of life. As a Councilmember, I’ve been invited to be part of a special group that meets monthly to discuss development, investing and economic conditions in the metropolitan Phoenix area. This group really influences what happens in our region; the connections are amazing. I had a conversation with a few people looking to connect an outside property owner who “only needed $5 million” with an investor; it was unreal. I continue to work with the US Army on Homeland Defense initiatives and have become friends with very special people. We will fly to Texas in a couple of months to celebrate one of my “new” friend’s retirement. Not to mention the conversations that I’ve had with General Officers and their staffs. I never planned any of this. My work as a local government consultant continues to take me across the country and into the lives of people who want to do the best they can for their residents. All of these things came to be because I stopped worrying about being in control of my plan and let God show me the way.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States and that got me thinking about what I’m thankful for. More importantly, it also reaffirmed how I got to where I am. A friend (Andy) who I only work with a few weeks of the year on military assignments sent me a text message that he was thankful for our friendship and being able to work together. I never would have met Andy if I was in control of the planning in my life. We all desire to know what lies ahead and to influence those circumstances. Completely letting go is hard. We are human and being in control is one of the things that separates us from the animal kingdom.

We can still make our plans, have our dreams and establish targets for achievements; this is the freewill that God gave to us. The verse for this week reminds us that God will establish the steps of getting there. I am planning for a long life that ends with my being thankful for a great family and a satisfying life. The truth is that if my life ended today because it was in God’s plan, my life would end with my plan being fulfilled. Sure, it may not have been very long but I achieve what I hoped I would. I am thankful for that and mindful that it is also human nature to never be satisfied with our lives. God knows just what we need and will direct your steps if you let Him.

Giving Thanks?

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 day for the three F’s – family, feasts, and football. It is also the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season. Each year, the local paper in Stoughton MA prints the list of things that local leaders are thankful for; a nice reminder of the holiday. 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 everyday for the blessings in your life and that you aren’t saving up your thanksgiving for this one day. You should have noticed 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 believe 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 share His word and be the source of some insight into it so that you too can have a stronger relationship with Him.

“Mercy, Peace and Love be yours in abundance.” Jude 1:2

This chapter actually starts with: 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 rarely 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!

Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism. Just the name makes me think “what an oxy moron”; what can be constructive about criticism? Having given out my fair share of it, I’m sure that it was an oxy moron to the person receiving it too. I had always believed that it should be given as gift and received as one too. It takes courage to tell someone how they might improve or try something differently. It was when I started studying the concept of employee coaching that it really made sense. In coaching, the supervisor is not criticizing the employee but they are offering constructive observations about behaviors, seeking to understand the goals of the employee and attempting to align those goals with those of the organization. Effective employee coaching can go a long way toward building up an employee, not criticizing them. What does the word “praise” mean to you when you hear it? For many, it’s only something you do at church. Our society has become so negative that all we seem to hear are criticisms. We should be throwing around a little more praise for people and the things they do. Think about the last time you told a server at a restaurant that they did a good job. You may have tipped well, but saying something will make it mean much more. I’m not suggesting that you walk around all day telling everyone “good job” but more often than not, they never really know if they doing a good job. The next time that the chance presents itself; tell someone how much you appreciated their work or advice. Not only will you make someone’s day but you’ll also be surprised how good you will feel about yourself.

“Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done.” 1 Chronicles 16:8

During the sermon in church today, we heard a verse from St. Paul in one of his letters to the Corinthians that essentially says – we cannot understand the wisdom or the timelines of God. We don’t understand why things happen and we become frustrated when our prayers are not answered right a way. Last week I wrote about bad things happening to good people. We cannot understand His ways. I also suggested that we seek to understand why these things happen. We should not criticize what is happening but give praise and thanks for all that He has done. The person who is sick has been given another day to experience; the person who is financially struggling is being prepared for something greater or perhaps being drawn to God. We need to give more thanks and praise. In prayer, God can handle our requests and our questioning His wisdom but He can also handle our moments of praise and thanksgiving. Our praise should not remain silent in prayers but they should be shared with the “nations”. Spread the good news about what God has done, He deserves it.

Being Thankful

I returned home on Friday from another week of travel; I was San Antonio doing a little work for the US Army. I used to average two weeks of work each month with the Civil Support Training Activity about four years ago. I traveled to every state west of the Mississippi in those years; I met a lot of great people and trained a lot of incredible soldiers and airmen defending our nation on the homeland. Budget cuts throughout the years have taken their toll on military contractors and now I find myself working with them about three or four times a year. I am very thankful for the opportunity that I had and the great people that I still “call friend” when I see them. It’s the only place outside of the fire station that you could develop those types of friendships. Thanksgiving is this week and if I tried to tell you everything or everyone that I was thankful for, you’d be reading this for hours. My wife and I spent ALL weekend together shopping for supplies or working on small projects; we haven’t done that in the last year or two, I’d guess. We started to talk about how grateful we were for the huge blessings in our lives and what we’ve been able to accomplish under difficult circumstances at times. We never let things set us back; we kept talking about the hard times building character for us. We, once again, sat amazed by the work of God in our lives – even when we didn’t know it. Take time this week to reflect on all that you have to be thankful for and look at how God has moved your life, even when you faced struggles, He was there. Thank Him for His work and then thank someone in your life that makes things just a little bit better. Happy Thanksgiving!

15 “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful… 17 And 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

In our house Thanksgiving Day is the start of the Christmas season. We start listening to classic Christmas music, decorating the house finds it way onto the calendar, preparation for baking begins, Christmas card lists are printed and the peace of the season is in the air. The year will end soon and we all start thinking about how thankful we were for so many things and we look forward to what the new year will bring. No matter what has happened in your life let God’s peace, given to us through His son Jesus Christ, be with you and comfort you. It’s hard to think about telling God “thanks” for sending us a savior who had to die before we’d figure it out. God knew what it would take to save us and all He asks is that “whatever we do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and to give thanks to God through Him.” A simple “thanks” is all He wants. Through all of the mess in our lives, the frantic pace that we live and the set backs we have, we still have a lot to be thankful for. Our faith in Jesus Christ and God’s grace has guaranteed us eternal life; free from all these worldly problems. Even when you struggle, be thankful. God has a place for you in heaven, which is something to be thankful for!