Empty

I took this photo of my Jeep tonight as I left the office.

It’s been a wild seven days. Early last week, we had a campus of excited students and a myriad of activities. Within 24 hours we were shifting classes to online formats and letting students return to their homes. It’s like we flipped a switch.

And it’s not just here. The coronavirus has impacted lives all over the country. We’ve watched the situation overseas with interest in the Fall, but few realized how fast the virus would spread…and how quickly it would impact our lives.

We’ve been encouraged to stop gathering in groups. To isolate. To stay at home. The best way to stop the spread of the virus is to create distance from one another.

And like the photo of my Jeep indicates- it’s a lonely existence right now.

The Los Angeles Times ran a news story this week about how working from home, seeing empty shelves in stores and- yes- the plunging stock market can cause anxiety and depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even talk about it on their website.

And man…I’m feeling it.

The Bible speaks quite a bit about times like these.

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. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:6-8

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. Proverbs 12:25

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lordyour God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Tough times come. I’ve read about the plagues from 100 years ago. We’ve faced uncertain financial future before. Wars have ravaged our country and torn apart families. This earth is filled with uncertainty and fear.

But Jesus provides peace. He promises hope. He promises a future.

When I doubt myself or our future this week, I pledge to double-down in my prayer life.

When I’m anxious about our current situation, I will give it over to the One who cares for us beyond measure. I’m going to pray to the One who loves me unconditionally.

And when I feel empty, I’m going to ask Jesus to fill me with his love and blessed assurance.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Pray for me during these uncertain times. And please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless and keep you. Always.

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Please Lord….not me

Have you ever dreaded something you knew that you had to do?

I was studying Acts chapter 9 today and something struck me right in the heart.

The chapter starts with Saul (eventually known as Paul) persecuting and plotting murder against Christians. He had just picked up his latest “hit list” and was headed to Damascus. But God had other plans…and blinded Saul during his journey.

We know that the Lord then came to Ananias and instructed him to go to Saul and minister to him.

And Ananias was worried. Afraid. Scared.

“But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”” Acts‬ ‭9:13-16‬

Despite his fear, Ananias went anyway. His trust for the Lord was greater than his fear of Saul.

How about you? Is your faith in our God bigger than your greatest fear?

What would you do for God’s kingdom if you knew you wouldn’t fail?

My prayer this week is to increase my faith. I want to be bold in my walk with Jesus and my personal ministry to others.

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

God bless you.

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Friends in Low Places

Sometimes help comes from unlikely places.

I was studying Joshua Chapter 2 this week. In this chapter, Joshua had sent two spies into Jericho. The King sought to capture the spies, but Joshua’s men were hidden by Rahab….a prostitute.

A prostitute.

I have two takeaways from this passage of scripture…

1) God uses unlikely people to carry out good work for the Kingdom. A prostitute. A tax collector (Luke 19). An adulterer (John 8). A murderer (Acts 9). We should never doubt our ability to be a vessel for God’s work!

2) God doesn’t care about our past. He is focused on our future. He is concerned about our potential. He loves a repentant heart. No matter what sin we’ve committed or bad choices we’ve made- God loves us anyway. We need to embrace this love and grace…and boldly look for ways to share love and the good news of Jesus.

My prayer this week is to find clarity for my purpose. I want to get beyond my shame and brokenness and become a better disciple for Jesus.

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

God bless.

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Wounded

I’ve been acutely focused on wounds these past few months.

My dad has struggled with diabetes for many years, but recently it’s gotten progressively worse. Recent surgeries have caused both physical pain and emotional hardship.

There are lots of unknowns related to his future. And the uncertainly can take you to dark places.

The New York Times recently reported that from 2016 to 2017, the proportion of adults who described themselves as more anxious than the previous year was 36 percent. In 2017, more than 17 million American adults had at least one major depressive episode, as did three million adolescents ages 12 to 17. Forty million adults now suffer from an anxiety disorder — nearly 20 percent of the adult population. 

These are the known cases of depression. The actual numbers must be astronomical.

Wounds have always existed. There are many examples in the Bible:

  • The woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11)
  • Struggles with family, like the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-18)
  • Persecution because of following Jesus (2 Corinthians 11: 23-28)

 

We hurt in many ways. Wounds of regret of past sins. Wounds of illness and sickness. Wounds of broken relationships (perhaps the toughest of all…)

Fortunately, we have a Savior that has borne wounds for us.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  2 Peter 2: 21-24

By His wounds we have been healed.

How do we begin to heal? I suggest three ways:

  1. Learn from the pastAn intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. Proverbs 18:15. We must learn from our mistakes and acknowledge our forgiveness. (“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. Isaiah 43:45). We must also seek forgiveness from others when necessary.
  1. Focus on the presentSet your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:2
  1. Realize the potential of the futureTruly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life. John 5:24. Finally, remember that suffering always precedes glory, as the Savior said of his own wounding (Luke 24:26).

 

I don’t know what you are struggling with today, but I do know that there is relief. My prayer focus this week will be for the millions of unknown issues across our world that are creating wounds.

And if I can pray for you specifically and confidentially, please let me know.

God bless you.

 

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A Season of Suffering

My dad is in a fight.

While he’s struggled with diabetes over the past couple of decades, complications from the disease have finally caught up with him. He’s struggling mightily.

He has a great surgeon. His doctor’s office is wonderful. Home health care has been responsive and helpful.

But the pain is constant. The recovery is slow. And with the physical struggles come internal, mental hardships. It’s hard to have a good attitude when you are in continual pain, but he’s trying.

Our friends and family constantly ask what my dad needs. His medical team is doing all they can do for him. My step-mom (an angel) gives him constant attention at home. Others sit and visit with dad…trying to take his mind off his current health struggle.

But he truly needs prayer. Sincere, constant prayer to lift him out of this health scare…prayer to help him with the pain. And prayer to aid in his recovery.

The Bible is filled with examples of faithful people who leaned on prayer when times were hard.

  • Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles)
  • Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego (Daniel)
  • Paul (Ephesians)
  • Job

Prayer changes lives.

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears them and delivers them out of all their troubles. Psalm 34:17

Prayer changes people.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12

So, when we or those we love enter seasons of suffering…our default should be prayer. Focused, targeted prayer.

My request this week is for prayers for my dad, Big Keith. Prayers for his pain, treatment and healing.

And let me know how I can pray for you.

Prayer changes things….especially during suffering.

God bless you.

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Pause

We’ve entered the busiest time of the year.

End of year deadlines at work. Holiday travel. Last-minute shopping. Receptions, events and special holiday programs.

It’s also a stressful time. A recent study suggests that 62% of people report elevated stress levels during the holidays. The main culprits? Family and financial pressures.

And during this time, we can also squeeze out time with Jesus. Yep. I’m guilty too.

I suggest that we all need a pause.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Take your cares to Jesus…and He will give you relief and rest.

Pause for five minutes today. Intentionally take time to pray. Focus completely on your blessings and needs. Offer up your hopes, desires and fears. Jesus craves this time with us.

And He will provide relief.

My prayer this week is to pause each day and spend more time with our Lord and Savior.

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

God bless.

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How to Live your Life

I drove across rural West Tennessee to attend a funeral this morning. It was a memorial event for a man who died too soon…much too young.

I only knew this fellow by our interactions through the University of Tennessee at Martin. He was heavily involved in our fundraising and advocacy efforts. I considered him to be a tireless promoter of education.

But at his memorial service, I learned much more about him. I learned of his roles as a husband, a father and a grandfather. I learned about his love of music and how he played the piano growing up in church.

The most powerful comment, however, came when the minister spoke of his decades of teaching Sunday School classes. The preacher said, “as good as Melvin was at preaching God’s Word, he was even better at living it out. His daily walk was a Sunday School lesson.”

Powerful stuff.

It’s a reminder that studying the word of God is important. But living it is equally as important.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

I’ve thought about that statement all afternoon as I drove home. Is my walk a living example of the teachings of Jesus?

My prayer this week is to be aware of my influence. How can I show God’s love through my daily interactions with family, friends and coworkers? How can I show gentleness and grace to others during this holiday season and beyond?

I want to be intentional about my walk with Jesus…and how that flows into everything else I do.

Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

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Skipping Thanksgiving

We’re skipping Thanksgiving this year.

The stores in my hometown are already filled with Christmas decorations. Holiday wreaths adorn neighborhoods mailboxes and doors. Social media is filled with photos of friends displaying their Christmas trees. Holiday music is on the radio.

I’m not sure why. Thanksgiving is an important season of reflection and gratitude. A time to pause with family and friends. A time to count our blessings.

But we’re barreling right past it toward Christmas. A missed opportunity to celebrate all that we are thankful for in our lives.

It’s not surprising, actually.

How often do I stop during the day to reflect on the blessings in my life?

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 106:1

God has richly blessed me with a great family, incredible friends, my health and a job that I love. I’m so blessed.

Yet I don’t pause and say “thanks” nearly enough.

I skip thanksgiving every day, if I’m not careful.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17

My prayer this week is to pause more often…to stop and thank God for the blessings in my life. My family. My health. My friends.

And especially, Jesus Christ.

I don’t want to skip thanksgiving ever again.

And please let me know how to pray for you.

God bless you.

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Tug of War

The college where I work really celebrates Homecoming in a big way. One of the student traditions is a huge tug of war competition called “Rope Pull.” Literally hundreds of people- including alumni- come out to watch student groups compete against one another.

As I watched this week, I couldn’t help but think about my own personal tug of war. The daily struggle between doing good or allowing my selfish desires to take control.

Pride. Selfishness. Anger. Resentment. Greed. All of these feelings cloud my thoughts and let the pull of sin take over. A losing battle of tug of war.

Fortunately, Jesus won the fight over sin. We may lose a battle, but Jesus has won the war.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the means of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

While our sinful nature can cause us to stumble and fall, we can be confident that God will always provide hope, escape and relief.

My prayer this week is to examine my heart for hidden sin and bad habits- and to have the courage to pray for strength to deal with it.

God loves the humble in spirit! Let’s recognize our struggles and resolve to do better.

Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

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Will you hold my baby?

I was recently traveling on a crowded flight on a work trip. My row was full, but fortunately I had an aisle seat.

Just across the aisle was a woman traveling alone with a toddler and a newborn. She had her hands full….literally. The infant was crying and the toddler was all over the seats, floor and aisle. The mother looked exhausted.

The toddler and I struck up a series of short conversations while we waited for takeoff. She asked lots of questions.:

What’s your name?

Where are you from?

Where are you going?

What are you reading?

Do have babies at home?

I enjoyed our interactions, and it seemed to keep the toddler occupied (and give her mom a break).

Shortly into the flight, the toddler announced that she needed to go to the bathroom. Her mom said that the baby had just gone to sleep, and asked if she (the toddler) could wait until the plane landed.

The kid couldn’t wait. It was an emergency. She needed to go NOW.

Frazzled, the mom looked across the aisle at me and said:

“I hate to ask you this, but can you please hold my baby while I take my daughter to the bathroom?”

She looked sad and anxious. I’m sure that she had weighed her options and determined that her best solution was to ask a stranger to hold her sleeping baby while she assisted her toddler.

“Of course,” I replied. She reluctantly placed her baby into my arms. I held her sleeping child for about 5 minutes until the family returned to their seats.

“Thank you,” the mom said with tears in her eyes.

I sat back and processed what had just happened. This woman trusted a stranger to hold her precious baby so she could help another child. She was out of options and had to throw her trust into me.

Trusting your baby to a stranger.

Have you ever felt so desperate that you didn’t know where to turn?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and trust not in your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

Our faith is tested daily. We have health obstacles, work issues and family troubles. Sometimes challenges in my life are so complex that I can’t see an answer.

But I have to remember to let go and ask God for guidance.

This week my prayer is to not rely on my own wisdom, but to ask God for solutions and inspiration to address life’s challenges.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. Psalm 118:8

Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

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