I was traveling early this morning on my way to a conference. As I prepared to land in Atlanta for my connecting flight, I realized that I had just enough time to grab a quick breakfast sandwich and coffee.
Everyone else had the same idea.
The line for the only open coffee shop was long and the customers were cranky and irritated. To top it all off, there were only two available employees working that shift. They were also out of about half of their menu due to supply chain issues.
But I noticed something as I waited in line. The woman who was working the cash register remained extremely positive. She greeted each customer with a smile and a heart-felt “good morning.” She repeated what items were available and apologized for the inconvenience and long wait. It was refreshing. No matter the temperament of the current customer- she stayed calm and pleasant.
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
I was incredibly impressed with this cashier. Despite the circumstances and environment, she was encouraging and kind. It was an example that several customers commented on when they approached her at the register.
It’s an example of how my attitude can be an example…either for good or bad. If we have the love of Jesus in our heart, we need to SHOW it. Let’s commit to being that person who is full of hope and love.
We’ll never know what impact it’ll have on someone else.
My prayer this week is to be more intentional about being positive. And please let me know how I can pray for you.
I called to check on an old friend right after Labor Day. We talked for a couple of minutes before he dropped a bombshell. When I asked about his wife, he flatly stated “I just don’t love her anymore.”
I thought he was kidding…but he wasn’t. He went on to say that they had just grown apart. Their kids were all out of the house and he felt as if they were just roommates (his words). There was no excitement nor spark in their relationship.
I asked if they had tried counseling. He stated, “she’s become critical of anything and everything I do, so why would I subject myself to that sort of punishment?” He wondered aloud what life would be like if he just started over.
Thirty years, two kids, great careers and a beautiful home. But it was all crumbling inside.
I was stunned. How could this have happened to my friends? I carried this weight with me for weeks.
I thought about several of my friends who had successful, happy marriages. What was the secret to having a good marriage? I decided to contact them and ask. While the answers were all a bit varied, I found six central themes that I thought I’d share.
Find the good in your spouse and praise it. The world is cruel. We are surrounded by clouds of negativity everywhere we go. Think about all the negative influences that you encounter every day…and realize that your spouse experiences that too. A little encouragement goes a long way. Your home should become a safe place. Find aspects of their lives that they excel in…and tell them about it. Have they done something great at work? Applaud it. Did they look nice as they left for work this morning? Compliment them. A few kind words can not only brighten their day, but it starts a habit of having you look for the positive in people- and expressing it. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Date your spouse. Think about the things that you and your spouse enjoy and commit to doing them regularly. Many of the people I talked to said that they have a “date night” each week. They find a good restaurant or go see a movie. A couple said that they had struggled to find things that they had in common, so they invested in accompanying their spouse in things that they enjoyed (hiking, watching a television program together or going for a bike ride). Find a community service or church activity that you both can participate in on a regular basis. Commit the time and stay focused on making it a priority.
Comparison is the thief of joy. Things just aren’t always what they appear. We can’t compare our marriages to those we see on social media or in the community. Couples everywhere try to put their big smiles, perfectly-dressed kids and spectacular vacation destinations on display, but appearances don’t always show the pain and brokenness that might be present in their lives. Instead of comparing your marriage to those images of “perfection” around you, focus on what you can impact- which is your own marriage. What brings you contentment? What brings your spouse peace? Focus on THOSE things…the little things that can bring peace and joy to your relationship.
Don’t keep secrets. If theres’s a habit or behavior that is keeping you from a total commitment to your spouse- remove it from your life (or at least modify it). It might be something that keeps you away from home like a hobby or community activity. Or perhaps it’s allowing comparison (see above) to distract your focus from your first love. Or maybe it’s a secret desire that you are holding inside. Whatever it is, take an honest assessment of your inner thoughts and actions and commit to eliminating these from your life. I talk about counseling a bit later (see below), but finding a professional to talk to can help if you are struggling with tough issues. Many of the people I talked to suggested that having an accountability partner that focused on helping you maintain positive relationships. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Luke 8:17
Pray with and for your spouse. Spend several quiet moments each day praying for your marriage, for your spouse (specifically) and for your life together. Commit to quietly doing this for several months. This year I’m reading Forty Prayers for My Wife and I would highly recommend it to others as well (there’s a companion book for spouses who pray for their husbands, too). Committing to pray for someone intensely makes an incredible difference in your spiritual life. It also draws you closer to the needs and desires of your spouse. And once you have established the routine of praying for your spouse, ask them to pray with you each day. Be intentional about this time together. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12
Seek the help of experts. Many of the people I talked with stated that they visited a Christian counselor once a year or committed to marriage enrichment retreats and seminars. They admitted that the counseling was helpful to breaking down communication barriers and uncovering hidden hurts before they became overwhelming. They planned their visit(s) at the very beginning of the year and kept them on their calendars as priority events. Others said that they committed to spending time with couples that were in different stages in life that could mentor them. Spending time with others who want to invest in your relationship can only benefit both of you.
I’m not a relationship expert, but I’m grateful to know many people who are willing to share their marriage advice and wise counsel.
This year I am committed to praying for my wife and my marriage. She deserves my very best each and every day. I will also pray for marriages that are hurting, as we never know how our friends and neighbors are struggling. I will also commit to pray for those who have been wounded by broken relationships- and remain focused on the healing that only Jesus can provide.
And as always, let me know how I may pray for you.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
The pandemic highlighted something that I’ve struggled with for years. Significant hearing loss.
I’ve had a ringing in my ears for a while. But with all the masks covering people’s mouths over the past year, I realized that my hearing is worse than I thought. I went to a specialist in Memphis and my thoughts were confirmed. I needed hearing aids.
Call it pride, but it was hard to put the hearing aids on that first day. The worst fear was realized in a meeting last week. We were in a large room with an echo and I was struggling to adjust my hearing aids to a new setting. When I asked someone to please repeat themselves, they loudly responded with “you need to crank up the volume on those hearing aids, man!”
And at that very moment- I felt imperfect, different and ashamed.
Fortunately, I was studying 1 John this week and got a great reminder: God calls us to be different. And as a child of God we never have to be ashamed.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2
God uses “imperfect” people throughout history to carry out His will. Abraham. Moses. Paul. Rahab. David. Jonah. Naomi.
And you know what? My hearing aids have also provided me with an opportunity to interact with others. Students have approached me to talk about my devices and shared their stories about hearing loss with me. Another person asked if he could take a photo of my hearing aids to share with his father- a fellow that needs to get them but is hesitant to wear them.
We can’t judge perfection through the world’s eyes, but through God’s eyes. We are created in His image. We are made whole through a life with Jesus.
I’ve had two new revelations. First, I can hear so much better! I’m so glad I got them as my quality of life has improved. Second, I realized that probably won’t need these things in Heaven.
Let’s celebrate differences this week. We have completeness in Jesus Christ.
Please let me know how I may specifically pray for you this week.
This week marks one of my favorite times of year on our campus: commencement. It’s a time to celebrate the accomplishments of our students and congratulate them on successfully navigating four (or more) tough years of college. Countless hours of studying, writing papers and preparing oral presentations have culminated in this one moment.
And this year, graduates worldwide have navigated an even tougher set of circumstances. The coronavirus has created many new obstacles for all of us- especially our students. Through it all, they just kept pushing.
And I’ve got a short message for this week’s graduates….wherever you are.
You’ve made it. Take a moment and breathe it all in. No…really. These past four years have been tough, but the past 13 months have been really difficult. You’ve reached an important milestone in life and you need to stop and celebrate!
Let me leave you with three quick pieces of advice as you move forward.
You are tough. Over the past year you have faced every type of obstacle that is humanly imaginable. You’ve experienced remote learning, the threat of physical illness, and an uncertain economic outlook. Through it all, you’ve kept pushing. Learning. Surviving. Succeeding. Don’t think about what you didn’t get to do this past year. Instead, think about the new ways you have learned to cope with challenges and overcome them with creativity, grit and determination. 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
Always give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s been a tough year. Most of us are carrying around a load of burdens and concerns. In a time when we need to come together and listen to each other, we’ve been isolated and alone. When you encounter someone who seems irritated, frustrated or withdrawn…remember that they may be experiencing a tough time and have a heavy heart. Give them grace and offer a smile. You never know what a kind word or nice gesture can do for a weary spirit. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
Say “I love you” daily. As the world opens back up and you prepare for a new career and life adventures, you’ll be busier than you’ve ever been. Some of will be getting your first jobs. Others are starting graduate school or moving across the country. You’ll have countless new people to meet and new roles to learn. Through it all, don’t forget your family and friends. They’ve been there for you so far…and want to remain your support system as you move forward. Keep in touch with those special people in your life. Call them. Send them a quick note or text. Shoot them pictures of your new adventures. But most of all- tell someone you love them everyday. It’ll bring a smile to their face and the communication will brighten your day, too. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
I wish you the best as you transition to the next phase of life. You can do anything and be anything. Don’t ever stop believing in yourself…or loving others.
I was driving to work earlier this week and witnessed a man cross his yard and pick up a poorly-thrown newspaper from his elderly neighbor’s yard…and go place it on her porch.
A simple, meaningful gesture.
A recent survey suggested that 55% of Americans are feeling more stressed than they were just a few months ago.
There are disagreements about the coronavirus and reopening our country. We are having tough conversations about race and justice. People are experiencing financial strain and social isolation.
There’s a lot to process. And it’s hard to know what to do.
A mentor once told me that when the world is chaotic and unclear, the best thing we can do is focus on what’s immediately in front of us…and act.
And what’s directly in front of me everyday? People.
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. Romans 13:9
During times of great societal stress and strain, we can all do something to help our neighbors. It’s truly simple…get out of “self” and into a “serve” mentality. Service doesn’t have to be a significant, public event. It can be as easy as paying someone’s electric bill. Or calling to check on the sick or homebound.
Or standing up for someone who desperately needs it. Your family. Co-workers. The child next door.
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. Romans 15:2
Love your neighbor as yourself. And where are our neighbors? They are right in front of us.
My prayer this week is to have the awareness to recognize ways to serve my neighbors…and the courage to act.