Goal Setting: Realizing Your Destiny for 2018

It’s the end of another year. We are putting away Christmas decorations, returning the sweater two sizes too big, and prepping for a night of partying to various degrees. As we close the chapter of 2017 in each of our lives, we look to the future of what 2018 will bring.

Perhaps you had a rocky year, and you are less than enthusiastic about moving forward. Perhaps you just had the best year of your life and you feel that things couldn’t get better. Either way, you may feel a sense of fear of what 2018 can hold.

A new year always brings out people’s best intentions. The determination to make ourselves better. We set out to lose X number of pounds, receive a certification or degree, or to earn a certain amount of money. All worthwhile goals, but where is the determination come December, February 1, or Jan 15th.

Physical Goals

These are usually the first ones to go. Studies have shown that most gym memberships occur in the month of January. Of those, almost a third of them only visit the gym once a week during the first month and are dropped out by the third.

People who are not used to working out or eating healthy find the adjustment hard. Those people think that on January 1 they can flip on a switch and dive head first into the deep end of physical fitness. It doesn’t happen that way. It’s not that simple.

Fitness goals need to be structured. Fitness goals need to be spread out. If you want to eat healthily, then don’t quit ‘cold turkey’ all food that is deemed bad for you. Begin by cutting back, and what’s more important find a replacement. After a little while, cut back more. Ease your way into a healthier lifestyle.

The same goes for working out. Don’t think you have to go to the gym five times a week and twice on Saturday and work out for three hours. Be subtle. Although, the change that will be most difficult is making the time. While it doesn’t have to be three hours, you do need to work in some time and adjust as you go.

Setting worthwhile goals is not only about setting out to accomplish the important things, but it’s also about learning the discipline of what it takes to make your goals reality and having the determination to do what it takes to accomplish them.

Academic Goals

We all aspire to have the perfect job. Maybe it’s the one we are working, but most likely it is not. We simply tolerate the place we are working. Day in and day out we punch the clock and get to work, trying to work as little as possible before we can clock out and head home (or to the gym).

Most of us know where we would like to be; in a better position with our company, in a different position in another company, being on our own and calling our own shots, or even retired with a pretty good nest egg to live off. With any of these, goals need to be set to accomplish them.

As it is with Physical Goals, to accomplish your Academic goals, it’s about making subtle adjustments to get you to where you want to be. If you try and change overnight, then you will become exhausted and not keep up with it. You could also experience things like; people looking at you differently because you come in on time now instead of two or three minutes late, coworkers changing attitude with you because they see you as a brown-noser now, or even you don’t get the recognition for the positive changes you have made.

Another way these goals are like your fitness goals is that you need to know how to stagger them. Don’t try and accomplish them all by February 1, or even December 31. You will have your short-term goals, the ones that can realistically be accomplished in a year, and you will have your long-term goals, the ones where it will take some time to get there.

One of my long-term goals is to write full time. Right now, I am a truck driver in the oil field. My desires do not keep me driving a truck for the rest of my life. I do it, as most of us do, to pay the bills. My goal is to retire from working for a job, to writing as a job. This goal I hope to accomplish in five years, well, for now. I set that goal in October of 2016. AND I am well on my way. This blog is part of accomplishing my academic goals.

Whether your goal is to become a manager or CEO, or if you want to be in a different field or you have dreams of owning your own business, it begins with setting smaller goal, accomplishing them, and then moving on to the next step of your drawn-out plan.

Personal Goals

This hits a bit closer to home. Everyone can relate to getting healthy and job advancement. But not everyone is you. You are the one who looks in the mirror every morning and considers who the person is who is staring back. Either we like what we see, we don’t like what we see, or we are indifferent with good and bad thoughts. We know what we would like to be different, we know that if we just changed that one thing about us then we would look more favorably upon the figure in our reflection. And we strive to change that one thing.

Sometimes the changes are evident. Stop smoking. Drink less. Spend more time with family. Other times the changes are less obvious, at least to others. Every day you see that flaw in yourself, and you desperately want to change. This goes beyond the physical and feeling a bit pudgy. It is often a mental state that is lived in and no one knows but the person suffering.

Goals to change who we are, are the most difficult to overcome. Habits that have been ingrained in us that have us bound to making certain choices. Buying that next pack of cigarettes, or case of beer is a hard habit to break. Working that one extra hour or making that one stop on your way home is a difficult cycle to end. Even trying to make subtle changes can be excruciating.

Some personal goals can run even deeper. Deep down to the person we are, or have become. Maybe you are a negative person who always finds what is wrong with a plan or idea. Even right now you are reading this saying ‘it can’t be done, and this is why.’ I used to be a negative person. It took a while, but I have overcome my tendencies to pick things apart. Now for every one negative thing I see, I try and find two positives; BEFORE I open my mouth.

It doesn’t matter if you have an unfavorable outlook on life or if you have been a manipulative person; able to get anything you want by drawing on the pity of others. It doesn’t matter if you feel you are beyond all hope. It does not matter what your age, gender, or occupation is. It doesn’t matter how many times you have failed, or how bleak the future looks; you can make a change.

Change begins with the recognition of what you see your fault is. Next comes confiding in a friend that you are wanting to make a change. Then comes deciding what needs to be done to correct the issue. Finally, you need to follow through with what you decide to do. You have your confided friend as accountability.

Spiritual Goals

Now we must talk about the glue that holds everything together. Having spiritual goals helps you determine what your other goals should be. If you don’t have the spiritual recognition that something is wrong or missing in your life, then you will continue, as always, through the monotony of life with never making a difference. Without conviction in your heart, you do not desire change. Even the recognition of the lack of anything spiritual in your life is a spiritual conviction. And that is a good place to start. It creates desire.

When you desire more out of life, the one place you should begin with is yourself. And I don’t mean anything on your personal goal list. That will inherently change as spiritual goals are developed. I mean yourself; as in your heart. Who does it belong to? Yourself? Your spouse? Your children? Family? I will tell you something, every one of those people will fail you. Your family, your spouse, your kids, even you; yourself will fail you. There is only one person who never fails; Jesus Christ.

It becomes imperative that a relationship with God exists before we begin any changes in our life. Not only for direction but for the real support we need to get through the challenges we face. A friend can give you words of encouragement. A spouse and kids can give you love and support. But all that is external. You can get all the external motivation in the world and still feel unsuccessful. It is only through internal recognition that true comfort can be attained. If you don’t feel it inside, then words will fail, and often times so will you, because you give up.

The only person who can run the race is you. You can have a cheering section telling you to go and that you can do it, but unless you get on your feet and move, the race cannot be won. The confidence comes from within. And this confidence is deeper than self-induced motivation. It comes from the giver of life, the one who gives us the strength to take the next step when we are at our end; it comes from the one who wants us to succeed in all we do.

Final Thoughts

Every change we face this coming year, whether it be part of a new year’s resolution or something forced upon us, we need to go about it with a positive attitude. All circumstances put on our path are God-given. They are God-given to guide us. They are God-given to challenge us. They are God-given to grow us.

The question we need to ask ourselves as we move into 2018 is not, “Who do I want to be?” It needs to be, “Who does God want me to be?” When our focus is switched from what we want to what He wants, then the other changes that need to be made will become easier. When we chose to look to God for encouragement, then no disheartening words of man can bring us down. When we finish the God-given race before us, we develop the confidence needed to move on to the next goal. Each step moving closer to the person we are destined to be.

The (Hi)Story of Christmas


Luke 1:26-45; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-12

The story is timeless. We hear it year after year; it is retold from generation to generation. But do we understand that this is more than a story? This is history. The events really happened. Mary, Jesus, and the shepherds, are all real people who lived. The star shined, the stable smelled, and the birth of this baby was celebrated. It is as real now, as it was then.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: It is taken from the accounts found in both Matthew and Luke. Our history lesson begins with Joseph and Mary. Both descendants in the line of David, the line God chose to produce the Messiah, the one who would save humanity from their sins.

Mary was an ordinary teenage girl, pledged to be married to Joseph, a carpenter; but before they were joined in marriage, she was found to be pregnant. However, this was not a regular pregnancy, the child Mary was carrying was conceived through the Holy Spirit.

Mary’s story begins with a visit by an angel of the Lord.

The Angel of the Lord Visits Mary and Joseph

God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

Mary answered the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Mary explained to Joseph about what she had been told.

Joseph, her husband, did not fully understand what was happening. After Mary told him about her pregnancy, he was troubled. Not wanting to expose her to public disgrace, he decided to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet Isaiah: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

Mary was not the only one experiencing a unique pregnancy. Elizabeth, a relative of hers, was also having a baby, hers was special because it was beyond childbearing years. This pregnancy was also a work of God. Six months earlier, Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah had also been visited by an angel and told that he and Elizabeth were going to have a son, and they were to name him John and his significance was “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice, she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

The Calling of the Census

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their hometown to register.

Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. The town was so crowded with people for the census; all the inns were full. The only housing they were given the option to was a stable.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a cattle feeding trough, called a manger. She and Joseph gave him the name Jesus.

Angels Visit Shepherds in their Fields

Meanwhile, there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, just as they were told. Jesus was lying in the manger. After they had witnessed him for themselves, they spread the word concerning what the angel told them about Jesus, the Messiah, being born, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds had to say. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned to their fields, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.

The Magi’s Visit

Approximately two years after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, during the time of King Herod, Magi came in search of the Messiah. Magi were astrologers; they had followed a star that appeared in the sky. They came from the east to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Tradition names three wise men, however, no one really knows how many visited Jesus and his parents. The names given to three of them were: Melchior, who carried gold, Caspar had frankincense, and Balthasar held myrrh.

Each of these gifts has significance. Gold was given to represent kingship; Jesus was called the King of the Jews; frankincense was used by priests, a priest offered sacrifices for the sins of the people, Jesus was to offer the perfect sacrifice with his death on the cross; and myrrh was traditionally used for burial, and Jesus was to die for our sins.

When King Herod heard what the Magi said, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. He called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law; he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose, went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Mary and Joseph also received a heavenly warning; they fled to Egypt to get away from Herod. When word came of Herod’s death, they relocated back to Israel, into a town called Nazareth. There they lived with Jesus until his adulthood.

Final Thoughts

Two thousand years or so ago, God stepped out of heaven and became a baby, just as was promised and foretold throughout the Old Testament. His birth does not end our history lesson, Jesus was born with a purpose. He came into this world to restore our relationship with him that had been marred since Adam and Eve.

His birth is important in that God reached out to us. He sent Jesus to a world that was drowning in its sins and the laws regarding those sins. A sacrificial system had been in place to provide a way to cover those sins. Jesus came to replace the temporary sacrifice with a permanent perfect sacrifice. He was fully God and fully man, living as one of us. Living a human life, but a sin-free life. He came to this world to save us by dying for us. But He had to be born to die. And that is the true significance of The Christmas Story.

Writing the Future Through Remembering Our Past


As many of you know, I live in South Texas. On Thursday night we got to experience something that might have been a once in a lifetime event; it snowed in San Antonio, TX. Yes, we occasionally get a good cold snap and may get an icy mix, but this was snow that fell and accumulated. Those in San Antonio saw 4” in some areas. In my neck of the woods, we saw just under an inch. I know, if you are reading this and you live up north you may laugh at 4”, but to us South Texans it is a big deal.

As photos are being snapped and snowballs are being made from what little snow that could be gathered, I realized that this was a memory in the making. Carolyn, myself, and our kids were in the process of mentally recording something we would replay in ten or twenty years. I love being cognizant of these little moments. So much of my life is played out in reruns in my mind. To be consciously aware of being in the moment of creating a memory is exhilarating. It enables you to make quick decisions that help the memory more poignant.

This is what I want to talk to you about this week; creating the memories for the future through what we are doing today drawn from what we experienced growing up. I have so many memories of Christmas’ long ago, as I know you do. But are we taking those memories and telling those stories to our children? Do they know what it was like for you growing up during Christmas time?

I know that Christmas may still be two and a half weeks away, but for a moment last Thursday, we were creating a memory of experiencing a White Christmas.

Memories of Christmas Past

I grew up in Southern California. This meant that if you wanted a White Christmas, you had to drive up into the San Bernardino mountains. Yet, year after year we would watch the snow line dip lower and lower and prayed that it would fall far enough to get a few flakes at the house. To my recollection it never did. So, I don’t have a story of, “that one Christmas when…”

The stories I do have were of family, faith, and traditions. There are so many that I would have to write a series of blogs to cover every single one of them. I will hit the highlights and move on.

The first thing was the Christmas tree. I remember going to a Christmas tree lot to buy our tree. The sights and smells filled that young child with excitement. I don’t know what they do to trees nowadays, but I don’t think they smell quite like they did back then. I remember coming home to decorate it; always with a miniature train rolling on its tracks around it and Carpenters Christmas Portrait playing on the 8-track. My father loved trees, trains, and Karen Carpenter.

Christmas’ in the Bray family were pretty hectic. Many houses to visit, each with presents, food, and holiday cheer. It began Christmas Eve at my mother’s aunt’s house. They called it an Open House. It was my mom’s side of the family get together. I remember virgin Pina Coladas, and I remember that one time my colada was not so virgin, but that’s my little secret.

After the Open House we would go home and wait for Santa. My sister and I would listen to the Muppet’s Christmas, also on 8-track, waiting for that knock on the door. In our home growing up, we did have a fireplace, but Santa did not come down the chimney in the middle of the night. He came to the door to deliver presents. And every year my mom would send my dad out to get milk. And every year my dad would miss Santa’s visit. My sister and I never caught on.

Early the next morning we would pile up in the station wagon and head to my grandma’s house. We ate breakfast there and opened gifts from the family there, about 10-12 of us. After those festivities, we would head over to my grandparents on my dad’s side house for lunch and presents there. Then we would end up back at my mom’s aunt’s house to open stockings.

These stockings were the highlight of my Christmas’ growing up. These were no ordinary stockings. They were basically laundry bags, and they were filled with items my aunt and grandmother collected throughout the year. They had a closet they would fill with items such as books, school supplies, candies, canned food that we liked, T-shirts, and if we had a hobby, you could guarantee you would receive plenty of things to keep you busy for a while. Then they would wrap each item and then put them in these ginormous stockings.

This tradition continued into adulthood; my wife nearly fainted when she received her first Christmas Stocking. For a while, our kids got to experience the pandemonium. After we moved back to Texas, that all stopped to an extent. My grandma, the kid’s great grandma, still sends out gifts that cost my mom and extra bag charge when she visits each year.

Those memories stick with you. I’m sure most of you have similar stories out there, even as you read my account the theater screen of your mind is replaying your memory reels of long ago. The real question is what are we doing with those memories? Are they remaining in the past, or are we using those experiences to keep traditions alive today?

Living Christmas Present

As I have grown older I’ve come to realize that traditions don’t have to remain the same, they can evolve as the child you were, becomes the adult you are. Times change, and people change. However, we must not let anything keep us from enjoying the here and now. Just because I don’t give my kids the same size stocking I grew up with does not mean that we cannot have as much fun at Christmas time as I did growing up. It’s just a different kind of fun.

The family I grew up with is 1200 miles away, I don’t have those two-day celebrations anymore, but what I do have is that my mom comes to visit every year. During her early December visits, we celebrate Christmas. These are gifts from my mom and the California family. Then, come December 25, we celebrate Christmas again. So, the tradition my kids are growing up with is that they celebrate Christmas twice.

The one adjustment I am trying to make with my kids is that we try and not focus so much on the getting as the real reason why Christmas is celebrated. The church we attend has a Christmas Eve service; we attend every year. Songs of remembrance that Jesus Christ was born, the one who would grow up and save humanity through his death on the cross and resurrection three days later.

I also make attempts to read the Christmas story every year. The story we all know and love of the pregnant Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph having to sleep in a stable because the inn was booked solid because everyone was in town for the census. Then in the middle of the night, she goes into labor while shepherds in the field receive an angelic message saying that this baby, the one prophesied about, was being born. The baby Jesus was born, and everyone marveled at him. Songs we sing of memories they had of their baby being born. A tradition I am trying to keep going so our kids will always remember.

It seems that from the Friday after Thanksgiving to the day after Christmas we tend to lose sight of those truths. It is all about what we want and what we are going to get, and hardly ever about what we want to give. I will admit, I get lost in it too. I, just like everyone else can’t wait to see what is under the tree with my name on it. Although with four kids those gifts are few if any. But that is what Carolyn and I have agreed upon, to give what we can for our kids and not so much for each other, but that is a whole other story for another blog.

Creating a Christmas Future

So, what are you doing this year that will have your children saying, “remember when” when they talk about being a kid to their children?  You will find that it is the little things they will remember. Those silly little dollar store gifts what were in my stocking as a kid made an impression on me that still last until this day. The things you find for your family to do will be imprinted on their minds and hearts far into their adulthood. It could be an unexpected early December snowfall, a planned trip to see Christmas lights, or a quiet evening at home with hot cocoa and Christmas music; it doesn’t matter as long as the family is part of it, as long as your heart is in it, and as long as you keep on doing it.

If there is any takeaway, you could have from this week’s blog is that to remember that Jesus is the real reason we celebrate this holiday. I encourage you to attend a Christmas service in your local community. Take the family and discuss what Jesus’ birth meant for this world, and even more, discuss what his death and resurrection mean. That is the true meaning of Christmas, and the ultimate gift any of us will ever receive.

Battling Double Standards: Living a Life of Integrity

You may get a laugh out of this. Every time I hear the phrase ‘man of integrity’ my mind wanders off into the silly world of radio commercials. Several years ago, radio stations would play a commercial called, “Real Men of Genius.” The ads for Bud Light beer would celebrate an unsung job like, Mr. T-shirt Launcher Inventor and Mr. Basketball Court Sweat Wiper Upper; or recognize a man who was taking too bold of a stance like, Mr. Way Too Much Cologne Wearer and Mr. Really Really Really Bad Dancer. These humorous ads were popular, and I for one would turn the radio up any time one would come on because you never knew what was coming.

The thing about the ads that stood out to me was that even though these jobs were unsung, the ones in those positions were heralded as heroes. The ads were laced with reasons to be proud of who you are, in whatever you do. Mr. Major Highway Line Painter could be proud of his work, “Michelangelo had the Sistine Chapel, Da Vinci had the Mona Lisa, and you, you got Route 22.” Yes, the ads were basically saying, ‘you work hard, you deserve a beer,” but the idea of finding the good in your job probably helped people appreciate their jobs a little more. Well, that and I bet they sold a ton of beer.

What is Integrity?

When we enjoy our jobs, we work harder at them. As a result, we are recognized for our performance and hopefully are rewarded. How you treat your job is part of what integrity is all about. We know you work hard when you are being watched, but what about when the boss is not around? Do you hold yourself to the same standards? That is integrity. It is what we do when no one else is watching. It applies to more than just our job. Integrity can be seen in how we treat our spouses, our children, and whatever form of service we engage in.

Displaying Integrity in our Jobs

In our fast-paced, get ahead at any cost, society, integrity is a lost art form. There is a double standard that exists when it comes to getting ahead. We paint within the lines when we absolutely have to, but the first opportunity that comes along we find the shortcuts to make our agenda advance. Often, we do not consider what or who we knock down in the process. We take shortcuts to promotions, to happiness, and to fame. If we still see someone using caution when heads are turned, we laugh and point, telling them they will forever be stuck where they are at. Shaking our heads, we move to the next rung on the ladder of life, leaving the man of integrity behind.

The sad part is, that in how society works. These shortcuts often lead to success. But, you must consider the cost of taking these actions that lack integrity. Matthew 7:12 teaches us that we are to treat others as we expect them to treat us. This is what is known as The Golden Rule. One of the first verses I memorized as a child. The message that stuck with me was that if I wanted to be treated well, I needed to treat others the same way, if not better. This is effective across the board. With your jobs, with your relationships, and with life in general. If you stab people in the back, you will get your back stabbed eventually. If you honor others before yourself, you will be eventually honored. Maybe not to the level of renown, but you will feel better about the person you have become.

You can choose the road to a successful life by stepping on others, or you can pave the road to inner success with words and deeds that uplift your employer and coworkers. Money and accolades are empty in the end anyway. Only a life of integrity can truly fill the sense of purpose that people seek. Having people look at you in a positive light can help you in the long run. You will have the love and support of those you have helped, instead of the malice and disrespect of those who you manipulated and overlooked on your path to prosperity.

You can be quick to be successful and hated, or you can let time and hard work reflect who you are and be loved. Yes, we are an impatient race. But in all reality, who is the real man of genius here?

Displaying Integrity with our Actions

The year was 2011, the sport: football. The man gaining spotlight, a well-known rookie named Tim Tebow. This successful Florida Gators quarterback made his presence known on the field. In college as well as the NFL. But he would not be remembered for what he did between the lines. It is what he did on the sidelines, in what we know now as ‘Tebowing.’ It is a phrase coined by a fan who had photographed Tebow kneeling on the sidelines and praying.

Tebow was vocal about his faith. He was not ashamed to publicly give thanks to God. He is quoted in 2012 saying, “Regardless of what happens, I still honor my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, because, at the end of the day, that’s what’s important, win or lose.”  So, win or lose, you could find #15 kneeling in the end-zone praying to God. It was not a flashy display of “look at me, I am a Christian.” It was a humble act that his heart was convicted of doing.

The media did not see it as such. They were quick to point out that he was wrong for doing what he was doing.  They called it moral grandstanding, and media outlets consistently mocked his faith. Even a Saturday Night Live skit was created mocking the beliefs he held. There were even sports commentators upset that he was thanking God first, over his offensive line. Yet, game after game, trade after trade, there was Tim Tebow, remembering who is really in charge.

Now, the situation is not just one player kneeling in prayer; we have whole teams taking a knee. Although, not in prayer, but in so-called protest. It is claimed that they protest social injustice and racial biases. This coming from men playing a game for millions of dollars and advertising contracts that make even more money. They talk about how their race is being held back and the government should do more about it, and until change is made, they will kneel. They kneel not in thanks and appreciation; it’s in what they feel they are entitled to.

The media is not shunning these men, as they did Tim Tebow. They are holding them up on high in support of their right to protest. You know who is at odds with it, the fans. It’s not that fans are not supportive of racial equality, they are tired of the display of disrespect. The media continue to praise the kneelers for their bold stand, the same media that ridiculed one man for his display of religious beliefs.

I am confident that Tim Tebow is for race equality. His thought is that any display of beliefs must be expressed in the right way. For one thing, Tim Tebow puts his money where his mouth is.  He is consistently using his voice, and money, to help others. He is walking with integrity. The words he speaks are reflected in his actions. How many of those that kneel go to the inner-cities to help those they say they are kneeling for? Yes, I know there are a few, but the number of kneelers and the number of those actually trying to help others are very different.

To stand, or to kneel in this case, for equality is the players right. I have gone over that in a previous entry. However, it’s like Tebow says, beliefs need to be expressed in the right way. To take a group of people and give them help and hope through God is honorable. To take that same group of people and point a finger of blame at someone for their current conditions is not.

Living a life of integrity is about speaking life into people. Using love as a springboard to convince others into doing good themselves. It is not spreading hate and animosity, even if the other party is truly at fault. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King said those profound and applicable words.

We must allow integrity to infiltrate our lives in all that we do. The double standard of it being wrong for someone to speak their faith, while it is okay for someone else to protest an injustice, must be reconciled. At the same time, it takes a real man of genius to realize the difference and know when the time is right to take a stand, as well as the proper forum to take that stand in.

Tim Tebow: a real man of integrity.

Displaying Integrity in our Marriage

Vice President Mike Pence has gone on record of saying that “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”  Although that quote was from 2002, an article on Karen Pence, his wife, in a March 2017 issue of a major newspaper brought that quote to light once again. What came out of it was an immediate firestorm against VP Pence’s convictions.

Every mainstream news outlet ran with the story. Each with a headline, not praising Pence for honoring marriage and respecting wife, but denouncing his actions as racist, gender-biased, and misogynistic. The flurry of voices accusing him of hurting the women’s movement through gender discrimination was spelled out in bold type. They all bashed him for his Christian values toward marriage. One article even called it illegal. The overall theme was that he was wrong for not allowing himself to be alone with another woman.

Fast forward to November 2017. What are the major stories across the media? Men in prominent positions are being accused and revealed for their sexual harassing behavior. These men, behind closed doors, have made advances toward women (and toward some men… but that is a whole other story.) We can’t scroll through a news feed without another man’s secret antics being brought to light. It is a sad world we live in when the sanctity of marriage, and even the sanctity of how a woman is to be properly treated, is disregarded by men who clearly lack integrity.

With these recent stories in mind, look back on how Pence treats the relationship with his wife. The one thing we know is that he will never find himself on the receiving end of an accusation like this. His stance is not only about keeping temptation away; it’s about avoiding the appearance of impropriety. He is heeding I Thessalonians 5:22 that says, “Abstain from every form of evil.”

His actions are those of a man with integrity. He loves, cherishes, and honors his wife. Love, honor, and cherish: The part of the marriage vow that has been forgotten. We should praise, and better yet emulate, our Vice President’s actions. This is a model of what marriage should be. He is one of the real men of genius.

Mike Pence: a real man of integrity.

Final Thoughts

There are too many double standards in life. The do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do mentality needs to be dealt with. God has called each of us to live a life of integrity. Titus 2:7-8 teaches us, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned.”

A life of integrity begins with the concession that there is a higher standard. And in living up to that higher standard, knowing that you cannot do it alone. You need a higher power to achieve a higher standard. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the means of being able to truly live a life of integrity. When we try to do things in our own strength, our humanness takes over and we fail. When we surrender to a the Lord to help us in reaching a higher standard, win or lose, we will achieve success.

When we began, we stated that integrity was how you acted when no one else was looking. Well, there is one person who always has an eye on you. You can never hide anything from Him. What goes on behind closed doors and the ulterior motives we have are known to the Lord. And it takes that motivation to live a life of integrity. And it takes a real man of genius to realize the changes that need to take place in order to live that upright life.

Back to the Fundamentals of Life: Remembering our First Love

Last Thursday we celebrated the 154th Thanksgiving since it was made a National Holiday by President Abraham Lincoln. Although the day does have its roots back to the first recognition of Thanksgiving, the event we colored pictures of growing up, the fundamental of the holiday has always remained the same giving thanks.

This position of gratitude is not just giving thanks in general. What often goes unsaid is that every mention of the holiday, the thanks was given to:

In Jamestown, VA in 1619 proclaimed, ” a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

In a 1782 a declaration by the Continental Congress a day of solemn thanksgiving to God for all His mercies.”

In 1789 and 1795, George Washington states, “it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God.”

And finally, President Lincoln in 1863 with this proclamation of a day of, “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Do you see a trend? Those are just four of many instances. The picture of people being unselfish, sharing with one another, and genuinely giving thanks for the provisions they had been given. Every instance of Thanksgiving involves God’s hand of provision.

Today, families gather every fourth Thursday of November to eat a large meal that took hours and often several people to prepare, and the one thing that is primarily left out is giving thanks. The talk over dinner is not about how God has blessed their lives; it’s about what store are they going to visit first for Black Friday sales.

Disregard for Others

America has lost its appreciation for what they have through the anticipation of what they want to have, at discounted prices. Never is greed so evident than it is on Thanksgiving night. You see people’s true nature when a store only has twenty televisions and one hundred and twenty in the line for that TV, all with the mentality of: it’s my money, I earned it, and I deserve it, so I’m going to get it.

It is disheartening when greed overtakes the thankfulness we were expressing just twelve hours earlier. It’s shocking to see someone pushing another over for bath towels at a Black Friday sale. That is not an exaggeration. I was there and saw it first-hand, it was not pretty. While I’ve never seen bloodshed, three years of working at Walmart on Black Friday did teach me a valuable lessonsome things are not that important.

Our culture has become incredibly self-centered. We covet the things we do not have and envy the ones that do. These feelings grow so strong that some cross the line and take the things they feel they are entitled to. After all, why should the life circumstances, that have been forced upon them, penalize them from the things they want?

There is no moral compass anymore. It even spills over to those who do have success. Recently there was a story of three college basketball players. While visiting China as part of promoting the basketball league, they visited several local stores and felt the need to steal from a few of them.

I don’t understand what can go through a person’s mind to get them to want to steal anything. I can somewhat see a desire to take something that does not belong to them if a person is homeless or starving, but these boys were neither. Yet they still decided to disrespect; the law, the stores they stole from, the country they were visiting, the league and the team they were representing, and America as a whole. The sad part is that this is not an isolated instance.

We have lost our first love, the concern for others.

Remembering Others

I grew up in a day when if there was some sort of hardship someone would write a song about it to create awareness of a cause. Some of you may remember Band-Aid, U.S.A. for Africa, and Farm Aid. People were active in causes to help raise money through hard work. Nowadays, we don’t petition each other, we petition the government and lay blame on them when the problems are not fixed.

Matthew West writes in his song, “I Created You,” about a person seeing problems of hunger and pain around them. They are saddened, upset, and asking God why doesn’t he do something. And God answers that he did, he created the person asking the question.

We are going to be the ones to enact change, by helping others. We cannot rely on the government to solve the personal problems this country faces. It is up to the people to act. I am not talking about revolution or anarchy. I am talking about need. I am talking about reaching into our own pockets, using our personal time, and using our voices to spur others on to helping change come about. As Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

It reminds me of a scene in Star Trek II, during a heartfelt moment between Kirk and Spock these words are spoken, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. We need to regain our sense of humanity by considering others in our words and deeds, even at the sacrifice of our own prosperity.

Disregard for Love

For the last month, we have seen news stories about those in prominent positions being accused of sexual harassment. It seems we cannot turn on the TV without hearing about a movie star or news personality being drug through the mud. Of those exposed, some have come clean, some even apologizing and appearing to get help, while others vehemently deny pointed fingers.

Since society reflects what it sees in the media, what people see the media doing becomes the norm of what is acceptable. We see the media telling us what to drink, what to wear, where to shop. If they tell us we need to drive a Lincoln, we think to achieve prominent status we need to drive a Lincoln.

So, what does it say when these men’s secret lives begin to come to light? Love for them is a forced action; they covet someone, instigate affection, and expect reciprocation. Or we see some being arrested and put on trial for the assault of a wife or girlfriend. Love for them is: do what I say or else. Not the role model we grew up with. There are no Ward Cleavers or Dr. Heathcliff Huxtables anymore. (And even Mr. Cosby is not above approach.)

Love is viewed as a light bulb. When that bulb burns out, we toss the bad bulb out and replace it with a new one. And so, it goes; if feelings change, just break up or get a divorce. We treat love as an old pair of gym socks.

We have lost our first love, an example of the permanence of love.

Remembering Love

Love is not something that is here today and gone tomorrow. Love is permanent. There should not be any circumstance that could change love. Despite common belief, love is not a feeling. Love is a decision. We choose to give someone affection. Personal feelings have little to do with the decision to show love. Colossians 3:14 tells us, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” If love is something we put on, then how can it be an anything but a choice?

In 1 Corinthians 13, known to most as The Love Chapter, we are instructed about what love is. It is patient and kind, it is not seated in envy nor should it cause anyone to boast. It is never arrogant or rude, forcing its own way on someone. It does not become irritated or resentful with lack of reciprocation. Its truth is always celebrated. It bears through all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and it endures through all things. Most importantly, love never fails.

When love is a decision, then there is no pressure when we don’t feel love. We don’t question or doubt our decision about the one we have married. Instead of treating love as a perishable, we need to treat it as a something that is sustaining. A fire comes to mind: it can be fed. As long as you continue to feed wood into a fire, it will continue to burn. The more we feed love, the longer it will  continue to burn.

Disregard for Life

A variety of public service advertisements air, demanding that you sponsor a pet. If you don’t, those animals will be euthanized. Then, seconds after that commercial ends, the news comes back and reports on a federal judge who prohibited a state law from being enacted that banned a dangerous abortion procedure. We are giving more consideration to saving soulless animals than we’re giving to a living human being. Let the dog live, kill the child. What is wrong with people? We care more for the pardoning of a Thanksgiving turkey than for finding the morals within ourselves to value human life.

You cannot turn on the news without stories of who shot who or what deranged person walked into a public place and opened fire on a group of innocent people. We blame the guns, the manufacturers, and the laws that exist, ignoring the real problem; morality. We shine a temporary light on the communities affected, mourn the losses, then move on to the next tragedy. It is a sad endless cycle. Not in the spotlight leaving an impacted area, but that it continues to happen all over the world.

We have forgotten our first love, the sacredness of life.

Remembering Life

Unlike love, life is not a choice, though some would argue the case. One of my favorite quotes is from Ronald Reagan from the 1980 Presidential Debate, “With regard to the freedom of the individual for choice with regard to abortion, there’s one individual who’s not being considered at all. That’s the one who is being aborted. And I’ve noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born.” He goes on to say that if there is any question at all about if life exists, then the answer should be yes until there is evidence to the contrary.

The respect for life goes beyond abortion; it goes beyond the tragic events that claim lives, it is about having the morals that scream that all life is sacred. It’s not in the segregated efforts of different organizations. It lies in the combination and unification of these organizations. Once we come to the realization and acceptance that all lives matter, then every single life will matter.

Treating a stranger as a brother and a friend, and not the enemy, is the mentality we need. God created each of us. According to Jeremiah, He knew us before we were born, and He has a plan for each person. If each of us has a specific plan for their life, then no one person is greater than the other. We are all on a level plain. Since we are all on a level plain, then we all should strive to succeed in what we were called to do. Most of that calling is to love one another. And loving one another gives us the desire to help your brother and friend in their efforts to succeed.

Final Thoughts

1 Corinthians 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” It continues in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” And it all culminates in Mark 7:20-23, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” We can choose to do good, or allow the bad to corrupt us.

The solution is in Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Seeking what God desires and living a life that is pleasing to him, is what can help this world turn from the greed and selfishness that have plagued it. If we consider the good of those around us, not letting the things of this world corrupt us, then we can become united in the stand against all that is immoral.

Reagan said, in that same 1980 debate with Congressman John Anderson, that this country needed to get back to the fundamental beliefs we once had that had been abandoned. He felt that America had the hunger for a spiritual awakening, but he also said that churches were not doing what they need to do regarding the government involving themselves in the family. The church needs to take a stand.

This feeling is the same today. Once again, we need that spiritual awakening. We need to take a stand in support of the traditional values we have left behind. Until we wake up, we will continue to see the atrocities of life flourish. America has forgotten its first love, the acknowledgment of a higher power and living a life in accordance with a moral code that the forefathers knew all too well. The morality of having standards of life, liberty and a pursuit of happiness.

Veteran’s Day: A Tribute to our Armed Forces

On Friday morning I sat in a School Auditorium and listened to poems and songs in honor of those who have served in our military. The first and second grade sang songs. My daughter who is in the third grade recited a poem. The fourth grade recited the Preamble to the Constitution, and the Kindergartner’s delivered the Gettysburg Address. The fifth grade sang, “Proud to be an American.” Then, members of the High School band played The Star-Spangled Banner after each branch of the military’s anthem was played through the sound system as members of those branches stood to be recognized.

If you have children in Elementary School, I am confident that most of you had the same Veteran’s Day Assembly experience I had. But the question I have for you is, did it move you?

Does the steadfastness of our Constitution give you chills?

The Preamble itself is filled with declarations that are summed up in six essentials: Unity, Justice, Tranquility, Defense, Welfare, and Blessing. All these things early Americans held sacred. They no longer wanted to live life under a supreme ruler and grew fed up with taxation without representation. They were being told, “this is how it is going to be, and you have no say so in the matter.” Realizing that their whole reason for coming to the new world, to get away from tyranny, was still being forced upon them. They had to make a stand. And they stood. It all began with 52 words.

Words have the power to ignite a person’s soul. If it were not for the minds that wrote these words of declaration, the cause would have never been made into something tangible. America would not be here today, well in its current form, if it were not for those who fought for a cause that was specifically lined out. The names of those who fought are figuratively signed at the bottom of the preamble in the blood of those who died.

Do Lincoln’s words make you think?

On November 19, 1963, President Lincoln delivers a speech at the dedication of a once battlefield, now cemetery for those who lost their lives in the Civil War. Lincoln begins his speech with a reminder of why this country was established. Lincoln continues, “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

 Men and women died in defense of a belief in 1775-1783 during the Revolutionary War. They fought and won freedom from tyranny. The children and grandchildren of those fought and died for a belief in 1861-1865. They fought and won freedom for equality. The idea of standing up for beliefs was ingrained in citizens of the U.S. From the time of the Forefathers, to Lincoln, to present day. People choose freedom, even to the point of dying for those beliefs.

Do those who have fought make you feel thankful?

Wars have come, and wars have gone. From both world wars to the more recent wars in the Middle East. Still, men and women fight to keep our freedoms safe. They even fight to help others realize their freedoms. They choose to accept the responsibility of providing for common defense. If they did not believe in those freedoms, then they would not desire to pick up arms to defend them.

It is sad to me that those who choose the honor of representing our country get ridiculed, mocked, and words put into their mouths. Many would have you believe that every member of the armed forces is being coerced into get on a cargo plane, shipped to a foreign land, given a gun, and told to hunt down an innocent enemy. These generic spokesmen fill the papers, news feeds, and airwaves with tales of soldiers not wanting to fight, even with all evidence to the contrary.

The irony here is that the naysayers are trying to stifle the very ones who provided them the ability to exercise their freedom of being able to stifle them. These men and women in uniform could choose not to fight. They could be relieved of their weapon, forfeit their rank, and surrender their uniform. But they don’t. Trump is right, these men and women know what they sign up for. In fact, to them, it would be a great honor to die in a fight for freedom. Of course, no one wants to be killed, but they know there is that risk, and accept it with open arms.

These men and women are just like you and me. They have parents, they grew up, went to school, got braces, had acne, went through puberty, and messed up countless times. Just ordinary human beings, but they felt a calling to service. The desire overcame the cost, and they chose to enlist. There are no supermen among them. At least that is what they would say. Still, they make a conscious decision to sign up, battle through basic training, endure the advanced training, and put themselves at risk for each of us. Often get separated from family for long periods of time, they see children grow up via photos and video chat. They are doing something I could never do.

When I see a uniform, fatigues, or even a window decal I feel indebted to that person. If it were not for their sacrifices, you would not be reading these words I am writing to you now. And to those who turn up a nose, whisper a curse, or take a kneeyou should be ashamed of yourself. Even if you have the freedom to do so.

The greatest thing in all of that, those that serve could care less. They know that the freedom they are fighting for is the very freedom you are using to scorn them. If the freedom to mock them were taken away, then what are they fighting for in the first place?

 Does Lee Greenwood’s song make you stand taller?

I am old enough to remember when “God Bless the USA” was released. Although, it was a sad year for my family. My father, an Air Force veteran, died that year after a short battle with cancer. I don’t know if he ever got to hear that song before he passed, but I know for a fact it would have made him proud. My greatest memory of the song was the Fourth of July celebration my church would have every year. One of the choir members would sing that song, and it touched my heart every time, even as a 10-year-old boy. I still get chills every time I hear the intro and must turn up the volume and sing along.

It is disappointing that it takes a national tragedy for Americans to come together and unite in pride for the U.S. After 9/11, pride exuded from everyone’s pores in this country. It was echoed from the abundance of car flags to musicians writing and recording songs in support of our country defending itself. Putting a boot in someone’s ass became a catchphrase, people were proud to live where the stars and stripes and eagles fly, and everyone remembered where they were when the world stopped turning.

Now its more like, have we forgotten?

American soldiers took up arms and defended ourselves from the atrocious act that was taken against us. And we were proud to send them off in defense of the lives that were stolen. Yes, many of them did pay the ultimate price, but again, they were honored to make that sacrifice if it meant that we here in the states would be protected through their sacrifice.

Do the anthem and the flag bring you to tears?

I live in south Texas. We love High School football. Every Friday night, you can expect half the town to attend the local Varsity game. My son is a senior and plays wide receiver, so yes, we are at every game. Now, being in South Texas, at a High School Varsity game, you know they are going to begin with the National Anthem. The marching band, in which another son plays French horn, gets things going with a drum roll as local Air Force cadets march out the flags in cadence. Once they reach the 50-yard line, another flag is raised at the north end of the field. Then our Mighty Indian Band honors the flag, and those who enabled it to be raised, with The Star-Spangled Banner.

This is one place where you will never see anyone taking a knee.

Although the song was not adopted until 1931, the poem itself existed over 100 years before. In 1814, after an American victory at the Battle of Ft. McHenry, Francis Scott Key penned these inspiring words of what he witnessed. His amazement was over the flag that still was erect after the heated battle was won. In the darkness, he would not know who won the battle until the next morning, the dawn’s early light. When the sun rose, he saw the American flag waving victoriously. And he was moved.

Does seeing the American flag wave in the breeze move you the way it moved Francis Scott Key? Do you think about those men and women who made the sacrifice that allows that flag to be raised? Are you thankful for the freedom you live under that others have provided?

Final Thoughts

When this is posted, Veteran’s Day will be a memory. But don’t allow it to become a once a year event. Every time you pass a courthouse, school, or business that has Ole’ Glory on display, remember those who have chosen to represent those who have chosen not to. Thank the Lord that you live in a country that allows us the freedoms to worship in the manner we chose. That we can stand up and voice our opinion without fear of reprisal, and that those who oppose that view have the same freedom to express themselves.

Take the time to thank a veteran. Shake their hand, look them in the eye, and express your gratitude for their service. They may not seek the spotlight, but they will be grateful that someone took notice and acknowledges their untold sacrifices.

Thankfulness, Freedom, and Praying for Our Leaders

I have been writing this blog for almost two months now. I have written on subjects like The Second Amendment, Immigration, and Gun control. The Presidents words and actions have been topics I have covered as well. Over the last week, I have gone over each entry and have come to a conclusion: our country is being lost a little more each week. It wasn’t until I reviewed last week’s post that I figured out what is wrong.

Last week’s post was my tribute to those who have served in the armed forces. That post fits into the theme of this upcoming week; being thankful. It is appropriate that Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving are so close together. If it were not for those men and women who fought and died for this country, we would not have the things we have that make us thankful.

How We Fail to be Thankful

In this country, we have grown accustomed to having stuff. Personal items like clothing, cars, homes, and electronic devices, have become part of who we are. We have developed a sense of entitlement, and we feel we deserve everything we have. Well, don’t we? We put in our 40 at work, we pay our taxes and give to charitable organizations. If we want to spend some of our excess on a new Samsung TV, a Louis Vuiton purse, or dinner at Ruth Chris, then we should have that right. We deserve it, and I for one enjoy a good steak.

Our gotta-have-it mentality has blinded us to what we already have. We are constantly looking for bigger and better. What we currently possess is never enough. So, how can we be thankful for the things that we have if we are always looking for the things we want. We find ourselves quite unthankful and bitter when we cannot have the newest model. We should be ashamed.

How Can We Be Thankful?

First of all, we need to take inventory. Not physically writing a list, although if you are a list writer, knock yourself out. Look at all the stuff that you own, but look at it from the aspect of being blessed with those items, not how they lack from what is on store shelves right now.

Second, take each item individually and consider what it took to get it, then think of what your life would be like without that item. Doing this gives you an appreciation for that particular item. Once you see that thing through a thankful state, move onto the next.

After a while, you will notice a trend. You begin to appreciate what you have a little more. The newest model may still appeal to you, but you will not take for granted what you have the way you did.

 One Step Further

Now that we have looked at what we have, and gained a different perspective on being thankful for our possessions, consider the bigger picture. We tend to be so narcissistic that we don’t look beyond our circle. The bigger picture is with those around us. What would our life be like without the friends we have, our jobs, the city we live in, the state we live in, the country we live in. We take each of those for granted as well. We have grown up with so much freedom that we have become blinded to the freedom that freedom brings. No, that is not a typo. Read it again, slowly. You will see what I mean.

Next, we need to ask, what is freedom? Where did it come from?

As we were reminded last week, freedom came from those who fought and died for it. The men and women of our armed services willingly chose to put their lives on the line so that you and I can live in this wonderful country free from tyranny and the evil that lurks about us. For that, we need to be eternally thankful. Without their sacrifice, we may not have the ability to make choices as we do.

We have the freedom to worship as we chose.

We have the freedom to be educated.

We have the freedom to choose our profession.

We have the freedom to take a stand for what we believe in.

We have the freedom to take a stand in opposition to what others believe in.

This freedom comes at a cost. A cost that is decided by the powers and entities that exist to govern us. Starting with the President and making its way down to our local mayor. These men and women make decisions that affect each of us. No one is exempt from the choices they make. No one is exempt from the laws they enact. Which is why it is imperative that we are involved in the process.

What is Our Part in the Governing Process?

If we want to retain the freedoms we grew up with; we need to do these three things. First of all, we need to vote. If you do not vote, then you should have no standing when you complain about the governing decisions.

Second, you need to stand for what you believe in. If you do not make your voice heard, then we cannot come to an understanding of each other in order to find common ground to build a bridge between our ideals.

Thirdly, and I feel most importantly, because it ties all three together, we need to pray. Without prayer, we wouldn’t know who to vote for, we wouldn’t have a set of ideals to stand behind, and we would never have an ultimate source to go to when all does not go how we want it to.

Prayer is the Key

This does not mean that we pray for our guy to be elected, or for a competitor to fail. This type of prayer is unproductive as there are greater powers at work than just what we want to happen. There is an ultimate design and the will of God that is at work. Regardless of how many of us feel, the powers that be are in their positions due to God’s will, or allowance. The issue is how we chose to react when someone who is at odds with our position is in office. Will we bellyache and turn our backs, or will we support them in spite of our personal feelings?

If we want to see changes we need to begin with prayer. Pray for our leaders. Pray that God will guide them in their decisions. Pray that God will change their hearts if they are supporting a view that opposes God’s design. Pray that God will influence their actions, to be honest, and fair. Most of all pray that God softens our hearts towards them, accepting them as the authority figure, even if we do not approve of them spiritually, politically, or personally.

The Bible encourages us to pray for those in power (I Timothy 2:1-2). We should not resist them because if we resist them, we are resisting God who has placed them in power (Romans 13:1-5). I Peter 2:13-17 tells us we should not only honor the higher powers, but to respect those who are below them. Honoring each other, God, and those He has set in place.

Thankful Prayer

It does not matter if we view a leader as good or bad, our government needs the support of its people. That support should always begin with prayer, even if we do not like the person in office. Our prayers do not have to be for their agenda’s success. Our prayers should be for God to guide our leader in making right decisions in accordance with God’s will for our country.

Often our prayers are given based on how thankful we are. And how thankful we are rooted in how much we appreciate the life we have. If we feel we have a mediocre life, it will produce mediocre prayers. When we know we are living a blessed life, then our prayers will reflect it. When we see the good through the bad, we become thankful regardless of our situation.

Above all, we ought to be thankful for being born in a country that has freedom. We ought to thank God that we can live without a governing authority forcing us to say certain things, do specific things, or believe certain ways. And if we fail in any way, we are punished up to and including death. This is happening all over the world. It is our prayers and retaining focus on what is important that keeps us from suffering the same fate of freedom denied.

Freedom will never have any true meaning for us if we continuously degrade the process that enables us to be free. The negativity keeps us from developing a sincere appreciation for the life we have been given. An appreciation for life brings about the desire to continue in that life. And the way to continue to live a thankful life is to support to the ones who are responsible for that life to exist. Our leaders need guidance to maintain that life. Our prayers bring that guidance. Prayer is where the process begins. Prayer is the universal answer. Because no matter what your political view is, we all desire the best for our blessed country.