Contentment

We brought a new family member into our home last summer. Mo is everything you might expect a young black Labrador retriever to be…a bundle of lightening, curiosity, sweetness, mischief and love.

And we’ve treated her like we would a new baby. We’ve ordered special beds. We’ve bought her “indestructible” chew toys. We’ve tried fancy dog treats and stimulating exercise toys. Her happiness has been our goal.

But you know what? Out of all the toys and comforts that we’ve provided- Mo’s most treasured item is a basic yellow ball.

A $2 ball.

She’ll play fetch for hours with that ball. She’ll lay it beside her head for a nap. It’s the first thing she searches for in the morning. That basic retrieving ball is never far away from Mo. It brings her happiness, comfort and joy. Contentment.

Contentment is difficult to find. We often find ourselves looking for that next item…the next toy…to bring us happiness and joy. But we rarely obtain the satisfaction and peace we are searching for in our lives.

I’m guilty of it. I look at the cars, the homes, the jobs…the lives of those around me. Instagram and Facebook show happy families and good times. Vacations and retreats. Confident, content and happy people. I then look in the mirror and see brokenness in my own life.

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 1 Timothy 6: 6-8

In reality, I need to focus on my blessings. Instead of the outward comparisons, I should focus on those gifts that are right in front of me. My wife. My children. My health and job. A wonderful community to call home and good friends who stand by me when I need encouragement.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

Jesus has given us all we need to find contentment. Giving our hearts…our lives…to Jesus means eliminating the distractions that society places in our way. We brought no material wealth into this world and can’t take anything with us when we die.

How do we find it?

  1. Count your blessings. Often. Yes, it’s an overused phrase. But have you done it lately? Write down the things you are grateful for in your life. Your parents. Your spouse. That friend you can always call when times are tough.
  2. Pray over your blessings. Acknowledging these gifts and thanking God for your blessings is another way to increase the awareness of what you “have” instead of focusing on what you “don’t.” Do this often. Prayer grounds us and allows us to focus on what’s important.
  3. Be a blessing to someone else. The best way to have peace in your heart is to invest in someone else. Check on your elderly neighbor. Call your friend who’s going through a divorce. Cook dinner for someone who is hurting.
  4. Get in God’s word daily. Read the words and study the actions of Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Read the words of Paul. Study the Psalms. The Bible gives us a wonderful roadmap for peace.

My prayer this week is to find peace in my own life. I want to discover my own yellow ball.

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

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A weeping waitress and a forgotten order

I had an unexpected encounter in a restaurant today.

I stopped in to grab a quick bite to eat. My mind was running a mile a minute, as I had a day full of activities I needed to plan out in my head.

The waitress came to take my drink order and I told her that I already knew what I wanted to eat. I quickly blurted out a simple order of bacon and eggs.

But she didn’t write anything down. She just stood there- studying my face.

I repeated my order, thinking maybe she was tired or maybe confused. But she continued to just look at me with a blank stare on her face.

We looked at one another for an awkward 5 seconds or so. She finally walked away toward the kitchen.

A couple of minutes later she walked back over to the table with my coffee and asked…”don’t you work at the college?” I told her that I did.

“I thought I recognized you. I saw you at graduation yesterday,” she said with a smile.

I returned her grin and told her that graduations were special and I always enjoy watching students celebrate at this special occasion. It’s a happy culmination of years of hard work, I explained.

She pulled out her phone and found a photo she wanted to share. The picture was of a smiling young woman in her cap and gown.

“This is my granddaughter. She’s had a rough road and life hasn’t been easy for her. She’s the first person in our family to attend and finish college.” She went on to talk about the long path her granddaughter’s life had taken her down…and that she had faced many challenges and overcome many past mistakes to get where she was right now.

“She’s found her way.”

Tears were streaming down her face. She sobbed and quickly walked away, apologizing to me over her shoulder.

As I walked out, I couldn’t help but think about the pain and hurt that grandmother had felt in the past…and the sense of pride and relief that she felt now.

I tried to imagine how God must feel when we return to Him.

We’re given a glimpse through various passages in the Bible.

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:3-7

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17

Joy over finding the lost sheep.

No condemnation, only salvation.

My prayer this week is to examine my own life and see what barriers I have placed in my relationship with our Savior. I will pray for the strength to address these challenges and to seek a closer walk with Jesus.

Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless you!

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Envy: the thief of joy

I recently read a study that reported that Americans are the unhappiest they’ve been in 50 years.

I completely understand it. We’ve faced the uncertainties of a pandemic. We’re seeing social unrest. We’ve been more isolated over the past 20 months.

We’ve also seen a spike in social media usage. As society has faced the frustrations COVID-19, the amount of time that people have turned to social apps on their phones and laptops has increased dramatically. We’re interacting with people less than we did 20 months ago, and we are turning to social media to fill a void. And that’s impacting our mental health too.

The uncertainties of our current lives coupled with an increase of social media usage has created an interesting dynamic: a dissatisfaction with our own lives. I fall victim to the urge everyday. Through online social media outlets I see people taking incredible vacations. I see happy children. I see impeccably prepared meals and smiling spouses. I read about successes in someone else’s job or office. I witness virtual reminders that people are running races, losing weight and winning awards.

I see people that have life all figured out.

And I’m envious.

Why can’t I have those things? When I look in the mirror, all I often see are imperfections. In my own mind, I feel doubt and second-guess decisions. I kick myself for past mistakes…and I certainly don’t have life figured out.

“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings and not your own.” – Harold Coffin

We read many examples about envy in the Bible.

  • Cain and Able (Genesis 4:1-16)
  • Saul and David (1 Samuel 15-31)
  • The older brother and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15)

It’s one thing to recognize and acknowledge envy and comparison, but what can we do about it?

As Christians, I believe we have three ways to combat the “envy urge.”

  1. Celebrate the good in others. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) We all have unique abilities. Take time each day to recognize the special gifts God has given others and praise them for it. Is someone a great cook? Praise their cooking! Has someone lost weight? Celebrate their success with them! By lifting others up, we might lighten a burden or insecurity that they are struggling with internally.
  2. Focus on YOUR talents. Comparing our talents to the talents of others isn’t healthy. What are talents? Find a friend, counselor or someone who can help you explore your own gifts. Figure out what YOU do well and focus on becoming even better. The only comparison we should struggle with is summed up in the following question: “Am I better than yesterday?” The focus should be on personal improvement, not the standards you set by comparing yourself to others.
  3. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10) A relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship that we can have. If we keep our eyes on Jesus, our work to love others, serve others and lift others up will fill our lives with joy, peace and happiness. Contentment comes from a close relationship and walk with Jesus.

“Don’t compare your life to others. There’s no comparison between sun and moon. They shine when it’s their time.” – unknown

My prayer this week is to tune out the voices of defeat and insecurity in my own head. Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless you.

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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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Don’t Cut that Hair

Have you ever thought much about the story of Samson? I’ve been studying from the book of Judges this week and enjoyed revisiting the story of this Nazarene judge.

You remember the details. Samson was given superhuman strength as long as he didn’t cut his hair. Samson waged a war against the Philistines, an enemy of the Israelites. He eventually was enticed and betrayed by a woman, Delilah, who gave him over to the Philistines. While in captivity, Samson’s hair regrew and he used his strength to topple a Philistine temple and kill many of his captors.

Pretty intense, huh?

I’m fascinated by this story from Judges 13-16. And I’m struck by the three leadership lessons we can gain from the story of Samson.

1. God has given all of us a gift. Samson was given great strength. He used his gift for good purposes. We need to identify and maximize the gifts God has given to us.

2. We all have weaknesses. Samson was easily enticed by a woman. He was distracted by lust and it eventually brought an early end to his work and influence. What are our areas for concern? Lust? Greed? Envy? Indifference? We need to acknowledge these weaknesses and make sure they don’t derail our personal ministry efforts.

3. We all have an opportunity for redemption. Samson was captured, but he was given one last opportunity against his foes. It’s the same for us. Life will deal us unfortunate circumstances. We’ll make mistakes. But our God is a God of grace. There’s always hope through Jesus. As long as we have a repentant, resilient heart…there’s always forgiveness and redemption.

My prayer this week is to realize my Spiritual gifts, be aware of those behaviors which cause me to stumble and to never cease to walk with Jesus.

Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

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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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