No returns allowed

I remember the first gift I ever really wanted.

I was eight years old. It was an Earl Campbell football from the Western Auto store. I was a Houston Oilers fan and Earl was (and still is) my hero.

Santa came that Christmas morning and to my great disappointment- he brought a Tony Dorsett football. There had been an apparent mix up at the North Pole and I’d been given a football embossed with the name of the star running back of the rival Dallas Cowboys.

Fortunately, Santa made it right a day later.

As I’ve grown older, my thoughts about gifts have changed. Trips with Hollianne are cherished gifts, as were the births of our three children. I consider each time I see my parents as a gift.

I know a man who received a kidney transplant from his brother. I’ve read of another who received a heart from a complete stranger. Precious gifts indeed.

But the greatest gift we will ever receive came centuries ago.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

This was the ultimate act of love. Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Jesus died for the Jews and Gentiles.

The Republicans, the Democrats and the independents.

The wealthy and the poor.

He died for you and me.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. I John 2:2

During my prayer time over the weekend I’m going to specifically focus on the sacrifice of Jesus and His willingness to die for you and me.

It’s the greatest gift ever.

Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

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Listening

My job requires that I work with college students. And I love it.

I find that the best way to connect with our students is to go where they gather. I see many students in meetings around campus, but to really understand them…to really hear them…I need to interact with them outside my office.

I often eat lunch in the campus cafeteria. I attend their athletic events and intramural games. My wife and I invite them into our home for dinner.

I even ride horses with them (talk about getting out of your comfort zone…).

When you go to students in informal settings, they tend to talk more. They share more. You just have to be there.

If you abide in me, and my words in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7

How often do we think about this in our relationship with our Heavenly Father? We have complete access. He’s always there…exactly where we are…willing to listen.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24

God desires a close relationship with us. He longs to hear our fears and our hopes.

Call to me and I will answer you, and tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. Jeremiah 33:3

He is our comfort and our hope.

My prayer this week is to become more diligent in my prayer life. I need to be more intentional in accessing God through prayer. I know he longs to listen.

I know He’s always there for me.

Please let me know how to pray for you.

God bless.

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Brackets

Last night I spent an hour filling out my NCAA tournament brackets. An hour.

I love this time of year. Colleges, their teams, their campuses, their alumni and their fans all dream about deep runs through the games. Upsets occur. Buzzer-beating shots decide outcomes. And Cinderella teams make unpredictable runs through the tourney.

I’m as guilty as anyone about getting excited about the games in the tournament. I’ll watch as many live games as I can, and listen to others on the radio and computer.

I get consumed. And last night- I jumped over the edge into full-fledged March Madness.

What if I put that much daily effort into my walk with Jesus?

Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus‬ ‭26:1‬ ‭

I get distracted too easily. I let daily challenges and fun diversions (like NCAA basketball) take my attention away from my pursuit of Christ.

I create idols. And I tend to focus on the temporary and fun rather than seeking the joy and fulfillment that comes from a close relationship with Jesus.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:23

My prayer this week is to identify those things that keep me from focusing on Jesus. I want to eliminate the idols in my life that keep me from fully pursuing Christ.

The tournament will end later this month. God’s love for us is eternal.

Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

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Potholes

It’s been a brutal winter in West Tennessee.  Much worse than usual.

Lots of snow, single-digit temperatures and excessive amounts of rain have left its mark on our rural area.

Especially on our roads.

The extreme elements have severely damaged our region’s streets and highways.  The roads are cracked and worn…and the potholes are massive.

Potholes.  It’s amazing how the weather can transform a smooth driving surface into a broken, rough patch within a short time period.  But there they are…massive holes in our roads and highways that can damage our vehicles and make driving difficult.

We have these same seasons in our own lives.  Stressful situations within our families, unexpected illnesses or bad times at work can lead to our own personal winters.  Potholes on our hearts.

Often times these difficult situations come and go within a short amount of time. Other times they seem to linger for months. Years.

Regardless, the stress takes its toll on us. It leaves us hurting. Scarred. Broken.

But here’s hope for our pain.

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise. Jeremiah 17:14

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

We have hope through our relationship with God. We can have peace through our access to Jesus.

There are no barriers to Jesus. He’s here…waiting to receive our hurt and fear.

Whatever season you are experiencing, take your concerns to Jesus. Pray and then believe.

My prayer this week is to be more aware of the dark seasons that my friends, family and neighbors may be experiencing. I want to engage in prayer for specific needs and quick healing.

Let’s fill those potholes on our hearts.

Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

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Angriest in the nation

Tennessee just received a dishonorable distinction….it was found to be the “angriest state in the country.”

This announcement came as a result of a recent study which looked at crime statistics,  instances of elder abuse and the number of registered hate groups in all fifty states.  In this instance, being #1 wasn’t a good thing.

How do you combat this sort of thing?  What’s the opposite of anger?

As Christians, I think it should be “honor.”

What does it mean to be honorable?  I’ll suggest three strategies.

Preparation. Participation. Politeness.

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:21

Preparation:  People of honor seek the truth. They are life-long learners and are constantly reading, reflecting on what they’ve discovered and testing their ideas on others.  Honorable people constantly prepare.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:9-13

Participation: By participation, I am suggesting that we must engage with others.  Honorable people value relationships. They seek to interact with others and share their ideas.  They also learn about the values and beliefs of others.  Relationships are paramount above all else.

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. Hebrews 13:18

Politeness: I’m not talking about being meek, timid or retreating.  I’m talking about respect.  People of honor respect others, even if their values and beliefs are different.

This week my prayer is to become less “angry” and more “honorable.” And maybe- just maybe- Tennessee can become a little less angry…one person and one action at a time.

And please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

 

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Dehydration

I got diagnosed with dehydration this week.

I had been knocked down over the weekend with a stomach virus. The illness left, but I still didn’t feel right.  My head hurt.  My back ached. I was fatigued and had no appetite.

All I wanted to do was sleep.

A trip to the doctor showed that I had become dehydrated.  The virus had created a water deficit, and my symptoms were an indication that I needed to properly fuel my body.

It’s taken a few days, but I’m starting to feel normal again.

Have you ever been spiritually dehydrated?

I had an incredible men’s group that met each Friday when we lived in Knoxville.  We studied the Bible.  We prayed. We talked.  It was a safe place to learn, to stretch your comfort zone and be held accountable.

My family moved to a new city in 2017.  I lost my men’s group.

I didn’t realize it at first, but I missed the study. The discussion. The preparation. A group of men that held me accountable.

I was dehydrated.

As iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

I have recently started a men’s group out of my home.  We get together every Friday at 6am to study the Bible, pray and lift each other up.

This weekly gathering has reenergized my spirit. It’s sparked more exploration of the Bible.

I hadn’t realized how bad I needed that focus and accountability. Spiritual hydration.

My prayer this week is to continue to seek more opportunities to engage my faith with others at church, at work and in the community.

And please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

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It’s Hard to Hate your Neighbor

IMG_2390It’s been a rough morning for the news.

The top three stories in our rural corner of West Tennessee included the school shooting in Florida, a riot and fight that broke out on a cruise ship and a local gun store that was robbed over the weekend.

Not a banner news day for human behavior, for sure.

I’m not trying to get political here.  I don’t want to use this blog to promote any big, national agenda.

But I do think that I have a reminder that might help all of us.  It’s three simple words.

Love your neighbor.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12

We live in an interesting time.  As a country, we are becoming more isolated.

A recent New York Times article told that since the 1980’s, the number of adults that report being lonely had doubled…from 20 to 40%.  Another recent study showed that nearly 1/3 of Americans did not know their neighbors on their street or in their apartment building.  There have been several studies about declining church memberships across our country.

We’re ordering groceries online and shopping alone on Amazon at midnight.  These technology advances aren’t bad things in themselves…but they have impacted the way that we communicate with one another- and have seriously diminished our country’s opportunities for face-to-face interaction.

We just don’t know our neighbors anymore.  And in my opinion- that’s a problem.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18

Isolation can bring fear.  It can also make it much easier to make generalizations and value judgements on a particular group of people.  Instead, we need to engage.  Christianity is a contact sport.  We need to get to know our neighbors.  Not just those people who live around you, but those people in your office or at church.  Those people you walk by each day at work, in the coffee shop or at the gym.

Get to know their likes, their pain and their hopes and fears. Share your thoughts with them.

Host a dinner party. Invite someone for a walk or a hike. Start a book club…or a once-a-week prayer session over lunch. Rake your neighbor’s leaves.

Be vulnerable.  Be transparent.  Be yourself.  Who knows? You may find that you may have more in common with your neighbors than you think.

It’s awfully hard to hate those that you know.

And you might even change the next series of news headlines.  One person at a time.

My prayer today is to look for ways to engage my neighbors.  One cup of coffee and one act of kindness at a time.

Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

Carson Hollianne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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