Three Lessons Learned from a Virus

What a difference two weeks can make.

Just a few short days ago, I was considering overseas travel this Fall. I was busy preparing for a business trip to Florida in April. The university campus where I work was filled with students coming back from Spring Break. Everyone was eating out, traveling freely and worshiping with friends. Life was good.

All of that has come to a sudden halt.

The coronavirus has now been labeled a worldwide pandemic. The United States now leads the world in confirmed cases. 

Schools are closed, sporting events are cancelled and travel is restricted. Americans are being encouraged to only go out when necessary. Social distancing has become a “thing.”

We are hurting: financially, educationally, emotionally and spiritually. 

The coronavirus has in Biblical terms, become a Goliath

But I’ve learned three key lessons in the past two weeks that I’d like to share.

  1. Human interaction is essential.  We’ve been asked to limit our exposure to others and the world is hurting…because we are built for fellowship! Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17.  We need to make certain that we are interacting with others on a daily basis…either on the phone, social media or an appropriately-spaced walk with neighbors! Companionship- in whatever form- is important.
  2. God’s beauty is manifested in the outdoors.  We’ve yearned for opportunities to get outside during the coronavirus episode. While we’ve been discouraged from shopping, dining out and traveling…simple activities like walking the neighborhood with family or taking drives along country roads have become an oasis in this time of isolation. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. Psalm 145:5 I’ve taken time to watch both sunrises and sunsets on several occasions in the past week. God’s glory is all around us in the outdoors. Get outside and enjoy his wondrous works.
  3. Focused prayer is crucial to building our faith.  I’m guilty of rushing through prayers each day. But my prayer life these past two weeks has been more specific than usual. Prayers for the struggling. Prayers for the medical professionals and first responders. Prayers for a vaccine. Prayers for the small businesses and schools. Intense, focused and intentional prayer. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24

It’s hard to see any silver lining, but my hope is that we emerge from this crisis a stronger, more humble nation. Many of life’s distractions are limited right now, so perhaps our focus can be on purposeful relationships with family and friends… and our walk with Jesus.

Please let me know how I may pray for you.

Jesus loves you.

God bless.

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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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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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What Defines Your Life?

46926910_1171007609722558_3611263589727338496_nAs I creep toward 50, I’ve been spending lots of time reflecting on the past…and looking at how I want to define my life going forward.

And you know what?  The secret to life isn’t too complicated.

I propose that life’s purpose is determined by three simple things.

Your life will be defined by people, relationships and experiences.

And we need to be intentional about each.

  • People:  We need to surround ourselves with good people. People that lift us up, inspire us and make us whole. We should seek out others who project the lives we want to live…those that have character traits that we desire.

Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals. I Corinthians 15:33

  • Relationships:  Life isn’t a solo activity. We are surrounded by people who are hurting and are crying for help. It’s our job to interact with those around us…to notice needs and offer help.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. I Peter 4:8

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. I Thessalonians 5:11

  • Experiences:  How are we spending our time? We have limited hours in the day, so we need to maximize each of them.  Prioritize your hours, days and weeks to make sure that your time is well-spent. Make sure you are investing time in experiences that are fruitful and helpful.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:16

My prayer this week is to be more intentional about the future. I want to invest in people, relationships and activities that add value to my life…and help others.

And 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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