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.


The Summitt

summitt and girls

We lost a great champion this morning.

Pat Summitt died today at the young age of 64.  While she lived a full life- one that included eight NCAA women’s basketball championships, thirty-two combined SEC championships, Olympic excellence and 1,098 victories on the basketball court- Pat Summitt’s life was cut way too short.

Above everything else, Coach Summitt was a teacher.

Several years ago she introduced a list for leaders called the “Pat Summitt Definite Dozen.”  These twelve items were guidelines for leaders…a primer for her players and students…and a blueprint for leadership success for audiences of all ages.

While Coach Summitt’s words weren’t presented in a Biblical context, you can certainly make strong correlations between her thoughts on leadership and what Jesus tells us about working and living with others.

Pat Summitt’s Definite Dozen:

  1.  Respect Yourself and Others
  2. Take Full Responsibility
  3. Develop and Demonstrate Loyalty
  4. Learn to be a Great Communicator
  5. Discipline Yourself so No One Else Has to
  6. Make Hard Work Your Passion
  7. Don’t Just Work Hard, Work Smart
  8. Put the Team Before Yourself
  9. Make Winning an Attitude
  10. Be a Competitor
  11. Change is a Must
  12. Handle Success Like You Handle Failure

Biblical parallels:

  1.  RespectDo nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2: 3-4
  2. Responsibility–  For each will have to bear his own load.  Galatians 6:5
  3. LoyaltyA friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.  Proverbs 17:17
  4. CommunicationLet your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  Colossians 4:6
  5. DisciplineFor the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
  6. Hard WorkWhatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men...  Colossians 3:23
  7. Working SmartFor the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…  Proverbs 2:6
  8. Put the Team before Yourself- Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.  James 4:10
  9. Attitude–  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
  10. Competitor–  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
  11. ChangeHave I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:9
  12. Handling success and failureI know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:12-13

Coach Summitt’s Definite Dozen are a template for leadership effectiveness.  These guidelines and lessons were passed down for decades to hundreds of players, coaches and fans of basketball.

These same themes are relevant for those of us trying to become better Christians, too.  All of the principles outlined in the Definite Dozen are present in the teachings of Jesus and the word of God.

Let’s keep the family, former players, coaches and friends of Pat Summitt in prayer this week.  And let’s all reflect on the Definite Dozen in our own lives…and see how we might improve our own effectiveness.

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





Grady Bogue- an eulogy

Grady Bogue died one year ago.  He was an educational giant.  Many people knew Grady from his five decades of devoted service to higher education.  Others knew him as a trusted faculty adviser or as a leading scholar on higher education policy and leadership.  I knew him as a mentor, counselor and friend.

Grady was one of the great influences in my life.  We all have these people in our lives.  He believed in me at times when I didn’t believe in myself.  He refused to ever give up on me as a student or a person.

On the anniversary of his death, I would like to present the eulogy from his funeral.

The Importance of Words

Everything I learned from Dr. E. Grady Bogue can be broken down into one simple concept: the importance of words.

Anyone who spent any time at all with Grady quickly realized how important words were to him.

Words to read. He was a lover of words written by others.   Grady was forever reading books. He read good books. He read bad books. Even when a book was going bad- quickly- he would still hold out hope that the content would turn around somewhere near the closing chapters. If it didn’t turn around, he loved to complain about how bad it was…and how it could have been written differently. If you ever accompanied Grady to a bookstore, I hope that you had nowhere else to be for a good while.

He was forever recommending books. Books on leadership. Books on ethics. Books that questioned authority and sources of power. Twenty years ago he tasked a group of young, eager master’s students to read Saul Alinski’s “Rules for Radicals.” It opened our eyes to inequities in our communities- and how to create political, social and economic change. He loved that book. Grady loved the underdog…the downtrodden…the forgotten. He was a champion. He loved to challenge the status quo- and he expected his students and colleagues to do the same. Reading shared books was a great way to spread knowledge and spark creativity in the eyes of his students and colleagues.

Spoken words. He was equally adept at delivering a speech that captivated hundreds of conference attendees, presenting a small lecture for a dozen doctoral students, or having an intimate, quiet conversation over a cup of coffee with a friend. He had numerous roles in his spoken interactions with others- depending upon the situation. He could be the counselor, comforter, advisor, scholar, artist, radical…and sometimes – if you were up against a deadline in your dissertation- a parole officer.  He made you careful about your own word choices too. If you made a statement in class or a Bible study, you had better be prepared for a question or two from Grady. He learned from you that way. And you learned from him.

I had watched Grady Bogue masterfully work conversations for 19 years before he was appointed to the chancellors’ position at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. I wondered aloud to Dr. DiPietro how long it would be before Grady’s great, probing questions descended upon the Chattanooga campus and with his fellow chancellors and vice presidents across the UT system. It didn’t take long. By the end of the first week he was already questioning budgets, fundraising totals, and the activities of programs across the UT system. Nothing escaped Grady’s careful study, and his questions- as always- were well-timed, appropriately phrased, and kept the audiences guessing as to where he was headed. I enjoyed watching him in that capacity over the past year. He loved the Chattanooga campus, and community, his colleagues across the UT system and the Trustees, alumni and donors he met. He communicated with these audiences like he had been a part of the UTC campus for years.

Written words. He was a prolific writer- composing 11 books and over 60 articles. But his best writing never appeared in a refereed journal or scholarly publication. Have you ever received a letter from Grady Bogue? You wouldn’t forget it. He loved letters. He wrote notes of encouragement; he sent words of advice; he sent letters of support…and sometimes…he sent letters of reprimand when he felt leaders weren’t representing their organizations well (I’ve received three of those myself). Grady made e-mail into an art form. His e-mails were legendary around campus- much like his letters. You can read Grady’s written words- and you can hear his voice leaping from the text into your ears. That’s a gift.

Words were important to Grady Bogue.

Grady’s words invited you inside his own family. While I had met Grady’s family over the years, it was through the text of e-mails that I learned of his great love and devotion to them. I’ve saved literally hundreds of his e-mails over the past two decades- and I’ve had great fun reviewing them over the past few days. Here are some of the family highlights:

Trips to Nashville to visit Linda’s family. The love he had for a sister in Tipton County, and the pain he felt when her health began to deteriorate. How he loved traditions and holidays. He informed me once how fortunate I was to send him an overdue paper that arrived on Thanksgiving Day (and I quote) “with me happy and in good humor with a tummy full of turkey and dressing.” Professional and personal triumphs of his children. The birth of grandchildren. Oh the grandchildren… Marriages. Anniversaries.

One of my favorite family e-mails arrived earlier this year. I had commented on how much I enjoyed his holiday greeting from UTC- to which he responded: “Wasn’t that a great picture of Linda Bogue? She’s the most beautiful woman in East Tennessee!”

Grady Bogue challenged all of us examine and celebrate special moments in our lives. His special place was Hilton Head Island- a place of solace and retreat for the Bogue family for over 30 years.

Grady did not mince words. He placed a high value on relationships. In a world filled with impersonal interaction and hurried communication- Grady encouraged us to slow down, take time to get to know one another, and to respect each other and our individuality. Everyone has worth. Everyone deserves respect. Grady not only taught that, he demonstrated it with his actions.

The world needs a few more Grady Bogues. We will miss him- but thankfully, he’s given us enough memories, stories and words to last for our lifetimes. Godspeed my friend.


Life lessons from next door

I was blessed to grow up next door to an incredible woman.  Katie Sue Fewell was my neighbor, my great aunt, and – most importantly- a tremendous role model.

Katie Sue was a high school history teacher in my hometown of Alamo, Tennessee.  She was the sister of my grandmother, Mary.  Katie Sue was the ultimate community servant.  Every blood drive, voter registration initiative and fundraiser that took place in our hometown had Katie Sue’s fingerprints all over it.

She was incredibly wise.  In looking back over her life, I recall four distinct leadership themes that Katie Sue demonstrated each and every day.  I’d like to share those with you.

Always wear the same size hat. (Humility) 

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

Always wearing the same size hat means being humble.  Don’t let your accomplishments in life, family or career swell your head.  We need to remember that it can all be gone in a second.  Our lives…and our achievements…are temporary.  A humble, gentle spirit allows us to appreciate the gifts and talents we have received, and encourages us to use those talents to further God’s work on this earth.  Humility breeds a servant heart.

We are all turtles on a fencepost.  (Gratitude)

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:17

You know the story.  A farmer and his granddaughter were walking across the expansive family farm.  They came across a turtle sitting atop a fencepost on the back of their property.  After surveying this sight for several minutes, the farmer looked at his granddaughter and said, “I don’t know how that turtle got up there, but I do know that it had some help.” Whatever we’ve accomplished in life, we need to realize that we’ve had help.  It may have been a parent, neighbor, youth minister or family friend.  And for this help- we should be grateful.  We should take the time each day to thank someone who has helped us along the way.

Bloom where you are planted.  (Perseverance) 

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  James 1:12

Life has dealt all of us difficult circumstances at one time or another.  You can’t always predict what obstacles will come your way.  Life is hard, but we need to develop an attitude that looks for the best in any given situation.  Tough times will come, and we need to be prepared to dig in, work hard and make the best of these difficult situations.  Our attitude is the key to perseverance during difficult times.

Choose to be brave.  (Courage) 

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.  Deuteronomy 31:6

It’s easy to think about courage in a “Hollywood” sense.  We all dream about those life-or-death moments we see in the movies- and how we could be as brave as those characters on the big screen.  But how about everyday life?  What about those times at work or at home when we need to be courageous and take a stand- but we don’t.  It might be peer pressure or just avoiding a conflict- whatever the reason…courage is developed one small action at a time.  Being courageous develops integrity…and integrity comes from both public and private life decisions.  Be courageous- whatever the situation.

Humility.  Gratitude.  Perseverance.  Courage.

Katie Sue left this earth in 1999- over 15 years ago.  Her lessons and example live on.  I pray that all of us have the opportunity to be a”Katie Sue” for someone- someday.

God bless.