Faith, Family, Friends and Freedom

                                  cornucopia-by-edvard-munch

Cornucopia, oil on canvas by Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

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And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  –Colossians 3: 15-17 (ESV)

Besides getting senior discounts in restaurants and AARP rates on hotel rooms, one of the benefits I’ve reaped by growing older is developing a clearer understanding of what really matters in my life. When I was young, most of my attention was focused inward, which I suppose if fairly normal. 

As a new Army lieutenant, fresh out of college, I loved the excitement of living a soldier’s life.  I liked going out and having fun with friends. I also enjoyed playing all kinds of sports and outdoor recreation like skiing and cycling. Sadly, there were many things I neglected during this phase of my life.

As I got a bit older, I began to pay more attention to the incredible woman I had married. I grew to realize that Linda’s physical beauty was exceeded by even greater inner beauty. I grew to admire her patience—especially with me and my antics—and her fortitude.  When she sets her mind on something, it’s going to get done.  I also began to comprehend how wise Linda is—blessed with more common sense than anyone I’ve ever known.  She is also one of the humblest and most generous people I know!

Having our first child was a wake-up call greater than any drill instructor ever delivered to a barracks full of sleepy-eyed soldiers.  It was one of those ‘blinding glimpse of the obvious’ moments when selfish me suddenly realized I’m responsible for more than just myself.  While a wife is easily neglected, a screaming newborn is an entirely different matter.  Sad that I didn’t figure this out earlier!

My newfound sense of responsibility led me back to the Church, something I’d managed to neglect since the time I entered college some seven years earlier. This sudden change of direction came as quite a surprise to my then, non-Christian wife.  Thankfully, she was steered towards God.  Sadly, it happened without much help on my part.  Thank you Holy Spirit!

Over the course of my 24-year Army career there were many long deployments and other periods away from home.  During these busy years Linda faithfully kept the home fires burning, managing a busy household and doing the lion’s share of parenting our two daughters. My military travels around the world helped me develop a deep appreciation for the blessings we enjoy as Americans—something that many of us simply don’t recognize.

Fast forward to the present and I can’t help but feel blessed every day. Linda and I are reaping the benefits of having honored our marriage vows for nearly 40 years.  Our daughters are both grown and successful, we have a wonderful son-in-law, and we’ve been blessed with three adorable grandsons. We’re fortunate to be able to see our grandsons daily. We have loving, extended families in diverse locations around the world. We’ve made many lifelong friends along the way, all of whom have blessed and enriched our lives. Most of all, we’ve been blessed by a loving God who was willing to sacrifice His only Son to redeem our souls.

This is the day that many Americans pause to give thanks to God for the blessings in their lives.  I urge everyone to take a few moments to consider your blessings and give thanks for your Faith, Family, Friends and Freedom—the  things that truly matter in life.

Do You Have A War Room?

This blog post was inspired by the new book by Karen Ehman titled, Listen, Love, Repeat which releases on November 15, 2016 you can purchase a copy at http://listenloverepeatbook.com.

What exactly is a War Room, you ask? Merrimack-Webster defines a War Room as a room where battles are planned that is equipped with maps, ideas, information, etc. Basically a military headquarters where a status is kept on troops that are in battle. The battles I want to talk about, however, are of a spiritual nature and our battles are fought (and won) on our knees.

Do you ever feel like you are fighting a battle with the people God’s placed in your life? Every conversation becomes a way to defend your opinion, justify your actions. Wouldn’t life be grand if everyone saw things your way? These moments can often times put an added stress on friendships and family relationships…

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Count Your Blessings

faucet-with-drinking-water                                            Count your many blessings, name them one by one.

                                                                                                  —Johnson Oatman Jr.

 

Our Daily Bread is one of the daily devotionals I read regularly. A recent piece by David Roper titled Stage by Stage, focuses on the Old Testament book of Numbers 33.  The chapter tells us God commanded Moses to write down the story of the Jews’ 40-year pilgrimage that began with escaping from slavery in Egypt and ultimately took them to the plains of Moab, a strip of land that today is part of Jordan.

Roper speculates that God’s reason for commanding Moses to document this pilgrimage was to allow the Jews to “…retrace that journey in their thoughts and record God’s faithfulness at each location.”  The Seder meal the Jews celebrate to mark the beginning of Passover is closely tied to Numbers 33, which seems to support’s Roper’s argument.  Each course of the Seder meal recalls an event in God’s liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, as told in the book of Exodus.

God is truly faithful and His faithfulness alone is blessing enough—but there are so many additional blessings in our lives if we will simply look for them. Focus determines attitude.  I’m no spring chicken, so I’ve developed a few medical problems over the years, like having four root canals.  What a blessing to have a root canal!  What did people do a hundred years ago?

I could focus on other, more lingering medical problems and quickly become depressed as I grow older.  Instead, I’ve tried to heed the lesson of St. Paul who says in Philippians 4:11 (NIV), “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

Focus on the positives in life and you’ll find your blessings. For those of us fortunate enough to live in the United States and other developed countries in the West, it shouldn’t be difficult to compile a long list of blessings. Think about it!

                                              ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free…                                                                             (From “Simple Gifts, a traditional Shaker tune by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr., 1848)

During my military career I spent some time in Saudi Arabia. Unless you’ve been there, I could never begin to explain how lacking in personal freedom the average Saudi people are.  Saudi Arabia reminds me how blessed we in the Western World are to simply be free.    

Westerners can turn on a faucet and draw a drink of clear, clean water. This truly is a blessing that most people take for granted.  Serving in Somalia when I was in the Army drove the point home, as I watched Somali workers building a bridge drawing water directly from the muddy Juba River and drinking without disinfecting it. I’m frequently reminded of this blessing when I take a drink of cold water.  

Westerners can walk into a grocery store and find food in abundance that, 200 years ago, would have made the great kings of Europe envious.  Here in my hometown of Sioux Falls, S.D., we even have a Christian ministry called The Banquet that serves free meals to anyone who walks in the door—no questions asked (https://thebanquetsf.org/).  

My family and friends are all blessings to me. Proverbs 5:18 tells men to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (NIV). I’ve been blessed with nearly 40 years of marriage to my wonderful wife who I met when I was 17 years old. We have both been blessed by children and grandchildren.

I have a good number of dear friends, some of whom I’ve known since high school. When I say dear friends, I’m talking about the ones I could easily trust with my money, my house keys, and caring for my children.

One such friend was recently involved in a head on collision.  He was banged up pretty badly, but I’m blessed to still have him around. I have a couple of friends who have died.  I was blessed to have had them in my life. I have another friend who has been blind for life; he taught me what a blessing it is to simply be able to see.

Comedian and actor Bill Murray recently received the Mark Twain Award for humor from the Kennedy Center.  He grew quite emotional during his acceptance speech and closed by saying to the ceremony attendees:  “Look at each other. Look at who we are. Look at how we are all together here right now. Alive! That’s pretty good, right?”

Bill Murray gets it! Do you?

“Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.”

                                                                                                                          –Psalm 40:5 (NIV)

Simplicity is the Goal

Simplicity!

adult-goals

When Politics Divides Christians

This very timely message is reblogged from the “Provocative Christian Living” blog of Pastor Dan Lacich.

Provocative Christian Living

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” A portion of Jesus prayer in John 17

For several years I have taught theology and leadership courses at International Leadership University in Burundi, Africa. Burundi is right next to Rwanda and is made up of the same Hutu…

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Love: A Gateway To The Soul

I enjoyed this so much. I’m a native of Harlan County, KY. You have to have been there to truly understand the level of poverty and desperation–words cannot describe. Many churches focus on overseas missions, which is wonderful, but the need is so great right here at home. One of the largest mission fields anywhere is the one right outside the doors of your home church!

My first mission trip was in the heart of Kentucky. Harlan County is one of the poorest counties in the United States and I was joining a group on their 23rd year serving this wonderful community. I was assigned to an outreach group whose job it was to bring needed clothing, school, and cleaning supplies out into the different communities throughout the county.  The first two days were filled with several wonderful experiences.  Not only were we filling a need in people’s lives, but we were able to engage in prayer and conversation with this special community.  This kind of work was well within my comfort zone and I was filled with joy and thankfulness for the work I was given.  The next two days, a storm rolled in and our plans to set up our operation outside had to be adjusted.   We were asked to visit with the…

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Working Remotely

telecommuting

Productivity in Pajamas

For 10 of the past 11 years I’ve worked remotely for several employers, something commonly called telecommuting. In one instance, I worked for over five years for a global corporation with more than 120 thousand employees, while only setting foot in a company building twice. I’ve enjoyed great success as a telecommuter.  

Telecommuting requires a specific set of skills and equipment.  Telecommuters require a home office with multiple effective means of communicating, usually a computer, phone and fax machine at a minimum.

It also requires self-discipline—the ability to concentrate and stay on task. There are many distractions to working from home, so an undisciplined person can easily veer down the wrong pathway. It’s very easy to waste time when distracted.

Employees who telecommute are expected to be honest.  They must log their work hours accurately, even though they lack the direct oversight of a supervisor.

Successful telecommuting requires considerable knowledge of the employer and a degree of loyalty and belief in the employer’s business practices, policies and procedures.   If you don’t understand your employer and believe in what they do you can’t be totally effective.  This is why we have conscientious objectors opposed to serving in the military, for example.  

Finally, being a telecommuter requires professional competence. A telecommuter’s quality of work reflects upon the entire company. 

Flourishing Christianity

It struck me recently that being a successful telecommuter is, in many ways, like being an effective servant of Christ. Communication with God is an important part of being a Christian. We see numerous instances of Jesus praying throughout the Gospels.  Jesus taught his disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer. We’re even told that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we lack the words.  Prayer is about communing with God and feeding the Spirit of God that resides within us. We should strive to make prayer an integral part of our daily lives.

Being an effective disciple of Christ requires self-discipline.  The popular Christian writer Mitch Kruse has pointed out that disciple and discipline share the same root, discipulus, the Latin word for pupil. Kruse writes:

“The concept is that we surrender ourselves to something or someone, similar to an athlete surrendering his will to a coach…. Solomon said that we should love discipline (Prov. 12:1).”

Just as an employee must surrender to his/her employer’s desires, disciples of Christ must surrender their self-will in order to do His will. Prayer, faith and surrender of self are all hard work, but they come with great rewards. It is easy to lose focus and stray off the path. Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said:

“Never discard a conviction. If it is important enough for the Spirit of God to have brought it to your mind, it is that thing He is detecting. You were looking for a great thing to give up. God is telling you of some tiny thing; but at the back of it there lies the central citadel of obstinacy: “I will not give up my right to myself” — the thing God intends you to give up if ever you are going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.” (ODB 9/24)

Similar to how a telecommuter needs to be honest with his/her employer, Christians must be honest with the Creator.  Isaiah 55 tells us God is slow to anger and quick to forgive those who repent of their sins and earnestly seek His forgiveness.  1st John 1:9 says if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of unrighteousness. Repentance is an ongoing process that’s essential for Christians.

Just as a telecommuter must learn and know about his employer, so must Christians learn about and know the Savior. We learn through reading and studying the scriptures.  We know through prayer and the instruction of the Holy Spirit. This is why every Christian needs to set aside a time of quiet devotion each day. Proverbs 2:1-5 says”

 “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (ESV)

Finally, Christians need to be professionally competent like a good telecommuter. A Christian’s competence is on display every day.  It is shown not so much by what they say, but how they live.

 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

 Christians truly are remote workers for Christ!