comfort

img_1414Early in July, sixteen-year-old John Turner tested positive for COVID-19. He felt terrible for three days and then dealt with severe headaches for almost two weeks. He, Terri, Daniel, and sister Leesa quarantined fourteen days in their home in Foley, Alabama, which was no easy assignment. Wisely, Terri waited three days after the mandated period to have John tested again and the result came back negative. If the result had been positive, another fourteen days of quarantine would have been required.

After returning to football practice, John told me last weekend that his blood pressure has been running high. I told him to be careful because doctors are finding cases of athletes suffering with heart issues after bouts with the virus.

The day after our conversation, John went to the trainer during practice saying his heart felt like it was about to explode. Before the trainer could do anything, John passed out. He was taken to the ER where tests were done. Terri texted around 9:00 that evening saying he was released and feeling better.

Two days later, John’s teammate and best friend Isaiah found his mother dead in their house. While she had been struggling with some health problems, the passing was unexpected. Isaiah’s father died a few days before this past Christmas. With his older siblings out of the house, this senior in high school is all alone.

John was one of the first to comfort his friend. He told me he could not forget the image of Isaiah’s mother lying on the bed with a sheet pulled over her head. Terri and Daniel agreed with John’s offer for Isaiah to move in with them. A memorial service is planned for this weekend.

Such stories of hardship and loss are playing out all over the world. But “God is close to the brokenhearted.” (Psalm 34:18) How many times have we received His comfort? How many times have we been rescued? How much compassion have we experienced? As we’ve learned to sing our prayers to God, may we extend the comfort, mercy, and love we have received to all around us.

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guards my heart
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” II Corinthians 1:3-4

“Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher (©2013)

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unity

There have been many calls for unity lately, but Jesus seeks a specific type… one that will change the atmosphere and last forever.

“My prayer is not for them alone, I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me that they may be one as We are one — I in them and you in Me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:20-23)

Jesus shows the path in His prayer: ‘Let all the saved be in the Father and Son… just as the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. Then the world will know I am who I say I am — the Beloved Son of God and Savior of the world. I have given you the glory My Father gave Me so you may be one and so the Father’s love may be known.’

The rebellious, the violent, the rash, the evil-doers, lovers of themselves, haters of God, the proud… (see II Timothy 3:1-5) can never bring about true unity. Without the Father, Son, and Spirit, even well-meaning, upstanding citizens will not find success. Jesus is the only Way… and as we find our place in Him, light will shine and bring glory to the Father.

The Holy Spirit is faithful to remind us of Jesus’ words. Over and over this summer, we heard a familiar teaching: “I am the Vine and you are the branches. Abide in Me.” What a beautiful picture of unity — a fruitful Vine, tended by a perfect Gardener, thriving in an existence of trust. And there is an obvious truth — without the Vine, the branches can do nothing. (read John 15:1-8)

God will judge all things. We are simply to live confidently in Christ and receive all the fruit of the Spirit. The Lord gives wisdom, compassion, understanding, and love… and these are what our world desperately needs.

“Therefore, judge nothing before its appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring light to what is hidden in darkness and expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” I Corinthians 4:5

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:2-5

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summer

Wow… what a summer! Teachers came back to work this week as we prepare for students to return Monday. Our leaders have worked diligently these last three months to provide the safest environment and best educational opportunities in a different world. We would all appreciate your prayers as school begins.

There was no travel to distant lands this summer, but we did stay connected with brothers and sisters across the world. Through Zoom, we were able to visit and be encouraged by friends in Israel, Ecuador, Brazil, Greece, Thailand, Namibia and several states in our country.

Many nations have experienced the COVID pandemic without some of our modern health benefits. Pastor Manuel’s family suffered terribly in Ecuador as both Paula’s parents and a brother died of the virus. Mayra, Marco’s wife, is mostly recovered after being hit by a truck while riding her bike to work. We’ve cried and prayed and longed to be with our friends.

Such trials can create feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. And though we know that God is with us, the pain of loss can be overwhelming. So where can we go but to the Lord? He is faithful to encourage us with words such as these: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) God sees and understands every circumstance.

Jesus did not treat death or suffering in a flippant manner. He entered the pain of His friends and saw death as the enemy only God could defeat. Jesus wept with Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, but He challenged them to believe in Him — the Chosen. “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

I’ve been healthy this summer, though I did spend a lot of time at Emory. The attempts to trick my bone marrow into producing essential blood cells have not worked, so I continue to get periodic transfusions. The good news came from a clear bone marrow biopsy and PET Scan. My blood still shows no cancer and we praise God for His care. Two years ago, I entered a cutting edge CAR-T cell trial. Out of twenty-four initial patients, I am the only one still cancer-free.

“Why me?” is a question I cannot answer, but I tell God I want to live boldly and not take His gifts for granted. I can say things from experience that people need to hear, but I want to share with the heart of Jesus. He is perfect. Let’s pray that each of us will be filled with His compassion, understanding, and love. Our world needs such blessings.

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Matthew 14:14

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” I John 3:18

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pomp and circumstance

This is our final week of school so this will be the last writing for a while. As you know, graduations have taken a new path this year because of our social distancing constraints. One way or another, I hope you can celebrate with graduates you know in the completion of a section of education. Congratulations to all!

img_1621Wilkes’ birthday is two days after my dad’s March birthday, and Macy’s big day is two days after my mom’s birthday in May. We recently visited my parents for an early celebration of my mom turning 86. The next weekend we enjoyed a Minnie Mouse Tea Party on Macy’s third birthday. What a blessing!

img_1641We are so thankful for our family and friends. We also thank God for the health He has given me this past school year. The steroid regimen I received to boost platelet and red blood cell production in my bone marrow was ineffective in March, so it looks like we may now try a different drug which will be administered once-weekly four times at Emory. We know God is in control… and we cherish your prayers.

Our team of sixteen had to cancel a May trip to Ecuador, a nation hit particularly hard with the virus. Please pray for brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world who have suffered in many different ways because of the pandemic. Susan and I were also planning to visit friends in a couple of other countries this summer, but it looks like we’ll have to wait a while.

I love Jesus’ words: “Fear not, little flock.” What an honor to be in the ‘little flock,’ knowing our Good Shepherd is the perfect Leader. He is with us! This is why we need not fear. Let’s constantly depend on God’s grace and the Spirit’s reminders to keep our eyes, hearts, and minds fixed on the One who holds all things together.

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the Pioneer and Perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3

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resistance, suffering, and perseverance

Lewis is my name and I recently turned my life over to Christ. My wife Sarah saw the huge change in me and decided to put her faith in Jesus also. Our two young children now have parents who are trying their best to be the mom and dad, and the wife and husband, God wants us to be. We are far from perfect, but we both feel so blessed to be on the same journey of faith, hope, and love.

But this journey is being met with resistance. Sarah’s family has basically disowned her and we have faced a host of other challenges. Reading the Bible helps us understand that there is a battle being fought in the spiritual world that is very real. All children of God have a ruthless enemy who hates to see a person or a family dedicate itself to the Lord and His ways.

Individually, I’ve sensed Satan’s desire to simply get me to retreat from faith and return to a life of ‘calling my own shots.’ So my prayer is to recognize his crafty ways, and for God, who has all power, to make me good soil. I do not want to be the hard path, or the rocky soil, or the thorny ground where ‘life’ is choked out. I want to bear fruit for the One who saved me. (see Mark 4:1-20)

Remembering the power of prayer and the Person of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, I must ‘resist the devil’ and know he will eventually flee. The life of the child of God (or the family of God) is no joke. Satan constantly schemes… but “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.”

I need my focus to be on our Good Shepherd who has rescued His sheep and will not be defeated. No one can snatch us out of His hand! He gives peace in the midst of the storm. He whispers: ‘Joy comes in the morning’ and encourages us to persevere. He says perseverance must be learned for us to become mature.

I long to be a mature husband, a mature father, a mature disciple of Christ… who lives by faith. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” If difficulty comes, I must choose to trust, obey… and persevere.

Though He has given us salvation and every spiritual blessing, God seems to choose to let suffering take place in the lives of His children. Though we are young in the faith, Sarah and I confess that our trials have actually led to more dependence on God. If Jesus “learned obedience from what He suffered,” should we be any different?

What did Jesus mean when He said anyone who follows Him must “take up his cross daily”? Peter wrote: “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.” I don’t have all the answers, but such Scriptures help us understand that our blessed life in Christ will not always be easy. I am asking God for grace to be faithful… no matter what.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-3

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