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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Keep Punching

We can learn a lot from adversity.

Jimmy Braddock was born into a poor family of Irish immigrants in 1905. His parents were hard-working and did all they could to support their seven children in the tough neighborhood of Hells Kitchen in New York City.

Jimmy dreamed of going to Notre Dame and playing for legendary coach Knute Rockne. But college wasn’t financially attainable and Jimmy went to work. He discovered that he had a gift for boxing, and after a series of successful amateur fights he turned pro at the age of 21.

He was known for his toughness and had a tremendously strong right hand. After three years, Jimmy had compiled an impressive 44-2-2 record. He was eventually given a fight against the heavyweight champion, Tommy Loughran in 1929. His successful career took a bad turn that night, as he not only lost his shot at the title, but he also damaged his prized right hand.

He went on to fight 33 more times after breaking his hand, but never returned to his prior glory- going 11-20-2 in that span.

Jimmy eventually found himself a forgotten, broken boxer. To make matters worse, the events surrounding the Great Depression created an unstable time for Jimmy and his family. He was unable to box. He was unable to find steady work. He had lost everything.

But something happened over the next several years. He had to walk many miles a day to the New York City docks to look for daily work. The manual labor he participated in each day not only strengthened and healed his right hand, but it made Jimmy’s left hand even stronger than his right. Jimmy’s health had improved, as had his resolve to better provide for his family.

He got the chance to fight professionally again- and he jumped at it. Jimmy was first regarded as simply a journeyman fighter…and easy victory for other young boxers. But Jimmy won his early fights. And eventually garnered enough attention that he was given another shot at the title in 1935. Fighting a much younger and much stronger champion, Jimmy overcame all odds and defeated Max Baer to become the heavyweight champion of the world!

What can we learn from Braddock’s story?

Life is all about valleys and peaks: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

Think about the obstacles that Braddock overcame. He was born poor, rose to become a successful fighter, lost everything and then fought back to reclaim his career and life. But he learned from each and every lesson in life. We can too. Our trials teach us steadfastness and perseverance so that we may become complete. What are you learning during periods of adversity?

When you don’t know what to do, do what’s right in front of you: Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. Proverbs 16:3

When uncertainty and doubt hit Braddock’s life, he did what came naturally. He knew he had to take care of his family, so he went to work. He did what was right in front of him…a singular focus on survival. We can have similar focus in our lives too. If we turn our eyes to Jesus and make Him our first priority, all our other plans will become clear. What can we do? Read the Bible. Study and reflect on the lessons. Worship and serve others. Pray diligently.

Learn and practice gratitude: Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38

Braddock never forgot all the help he was given while he was a child and again as an adult when he lost everything. He repaid all the government assistance he and his family were given during the Great Depression. He joined the Army in WWII and trained soldiers in hand to hand combat. He later opened a construction business and provided many with an opportunity to make a good living. Braddock was grateful for what he had received. We should be too. Let’s have that giving spirit that comes from a relationship with Jesus. Let’s be thankful and give without hesitation to others.

My prayer this week is to look at obstacles as opportunities to learn and grow. Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless. And keep punching.

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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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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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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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Walking with the Father

I see an awesome sight most mornings.

My neighbor walks his son to our local elementary school everyday. I get watch them as I leave my house for work. They walk and talk for the three block journey to the school.

What a great experience it is for the dad…starting his day with his son.

And what an opportunity it is for the son, too. What protection and comfort he must feel! He’s starting the day with his #1 fan by his side!

For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! Luke 11:10-13

I realize that I have that same opportunity. Our Heavenly Father is waiting for us…ready for us to come to Him for comfort, counsel and peace.

My prayer this week is to be more intentional about my time with God. I want to make more time each day to go to Him in prayer. To ask for advice. To seek comfort. To offer appreciation for the blessings in my life.

I want to experience the Father.

Please let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

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Unexpectedly seeing Jesus

I was preparing to leave campus for home tonight when I saw a small sign posted on a bulletin board…”Open Bible Study; Thursday evenings at 7pm; room 215.”

I don’t know why, but it surprised me. Surprised by the sign. Surprised that I saw the announcement among a host of other flyers.

I walked to room 215 to see what was going on. And there they were…four students huddled over their Bibles talking about the quest for perfection through Jesus Christ.

We run into Jesus in unexpected places.

The Samaritan woman ran into Jesus unexpectedly in John chapter 4. In a period of pain and shame, He gave her a thirst for “living water.”

In John chapter 8, an adulterous woman received grace from Jesus.

Zacchaeus was considered a cheat and a sinner…a tax collector…yet Jesus called to him and invited himself into Zacchaeus’ home. We see this in Luke chapter 19.

Where have you last seen Jesus unexpectedly? Was it in a random act of kindness from a stranger? Perhaps it was an encouraging note from an old friend.

This week my prayer is to continue to seek Jesus everyday. And to illustrate the love and compassion of Jesus in my own, public walk.

“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

Please let me know how to pray for you.

God bless.

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What’s your Titanic?

The Titanic sank 106 years ago this week. Approximately 1,500 of the 2,200 passengers died when the cruise ship hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912. It’s considered to be the biggest maritime disaster in history.

The ship had been designed to be indestructible, but five compartments were punctured by the iceberg and the entire ship sank in a little over two hours.

Pride and overconfidence can create a Titanic situation in our own lives.

I sometimes get too comfortable in my own skin. Perhaps it’s a streak of success at home or work, or maybe it’s a sense of pride that I feel in my own abilities.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

Inevitably, I then experience a “bump” that exposes my weaknesses. Life brings events that us that knock us down and can crush our spirit.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18

The key to life is keeping a humble spirit….a prayerful, grateful spirit that guides our thoughts and activities.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 14:11

Spending time in God’s word keeps us centered and humble. If we make our daily walk with Jesus our first priority, we will be better prepared to deal with life’s Titanic “bumps.”

My prayer this weekend is to willingly let go of any pockets of pride in my life. I desire an attitude of service, love and humility.

And let me know how I may pray for you.

God bless.

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Stuff

How much is enough?

And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. Luke‬ ‭9:3-4‬

My family has lived in our new house for 15 months. We’ve finally placed pictures on the walls and figured out what furniture goes in which room. It feels like our “home” now.

Hollianne and I had a revelation over the weekend. While we downsized our possessions when we moved across the state, we’ve somehow- in just over fifteen months- started accumulating more “stuff.” Our attic is filling up. The closet in our basement is crowded. Our pantry is packed…and we are thinking about doubling its size.

Some of the happiest people I know are those with very little in terms of worldly possessions. Missionaries who have dedicated their lives to living with (and serving) the poor. People who have committed to living in rural, impoverished areas to improve conditions there….or social workers who are fighting poverty and crime in urban areas.

Its time to refocus. Our purpose has nothing to do with finding comfort through worldly possessions.

We are not called to be comfortable.

We need to invest in relationships. Good, nurturing relationships that spread the love of Jesus.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, 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. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” 1 Timothy 6:6-9‬

My prayer for this weekend is to focus on what I truly need- rather than what I want. I need a renewed attitude toward sharing the hope of Jesus and His message of forgiveness and love. This is what will bring contentment.

Please let me know how I can pray for you.

God bless.

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