Until Further Notice – Take Time to Celebrate

“Lord knows, every day is not a success, every year is not a success. You have to celebrate the good.”

Reese Witherspoon

Today is Easter Sunday. Typically this day would be marked by going to church and gathering with family and friends. It is a day for celebration.

This year, Easter Sunday will be different. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, we can’t go to our church buildings, and we must refrain from larger gatherings with family and friends. I think we are all a little confused about what it might look like to celebrate Easter this year.

Our family will be attending one of our church’s on-line services this morning. We decided to dress up as if we were going to our church on Easter morning. We will spend time cooking and eating a delicious Easter meal. And we will more than likely connect with our extended family thanks to the wonderful technology of high-speed internet, video cameras, and Zoom software. We will find news ways to celebrate this year, and I’m guessing it will be an Easter we will long remember.

In the middle of crisis, it’s important to find reasons to celebrate. There is still good going on around us. While the pain and hardship of this current pandemic is real, there is reason to celebrate.

Today, I celebrate a risen Savior. I celebrate time with family. I celebrate God’s beautiful creation. I celebrate the healthcare workers in our communities. I celebrate friendship. I celebrate you.

Until further notice, take time to celebrate!

Prayer: Remind us of Your goodness. Teach us to be thankful and to celebrate. Thank you for Easter.

Ponder & Discuss: What can you celebrate today? (Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.)

They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

Psalm 145:7 (NIV)

Until Further Notice – Keep Going

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Winston Churchill

When I came home from work last night, I honestly felt warn out and depleted of energy and life. I would chalk this feeling up to the reality that my work week had been extremely challenging. I think many resonate with the feeling that the past several weeks of the COVID-19 crisis seem more like a few years.

I’ve run three full-length marathons in my life. 26.2 miles seems so easy when you are driving your car, but this distance can be grueling when you are on foot. I remember wanting to give up in the middle of each of those marathons. During the first marathon in Philadelphia, I wanted to give up around mile marker 21 when my right quadriceps muscle cramped up leaving me in quite a bit of pain. During the second marathon in Baltimore, I wanted to give up around mile marker 14 when my IT band decided it didn’t enjoy running very much leaving me to hobble along for 12 more miles. During the third marathon in New York City, I remember simply wanting the whole thing to be over despite running on healthy legs.

In each marathon, I kept going. It wasn’t always easy. It wasn’t always pretty. But it was worth it. I remember crossing the finish line in each of the three marathons. The feelings were all a bit different, but there was a sense of accomplishment knowing I had persevered in spite of the pain and fatigue.

We are all navigating a time in which we’d like to give up. But now is the time to keep going.

The apostle James reminds us (in James 1) that trials eventually lead us to maturity. When we face times of crisis, we can give up or we can press on knowing we will grow through the experience.

Until further notice, don’t give up. Keep going!

Prayer: In the midst of adversity, give us the courage and the strength to persist. Remind us of the prize that waits for us at the finish line.

Ponder & Discuss: How are you handling your crisis? What helps you to keep going? (Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.)

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:4 (NIV)

Until Further Notice – Be Kind

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

Mark Twain

Crisis brings out the best and worst of humanity.

The other day I had someone pay for my McDonald’s Shamrock Shake in the drive thru line. This was a big deal to me. First of all, I only go to McDonald’s for one reason, and one reason only – to get a Shamrock Shake during the month of March. Secondly, it was a totally, unexpected gift of kindness from a complete stranger. I don’t know who paid for it, but it made my day.

I’ve heard a few stories of rude and unkind patrons in grocery stores who either hoard toilet paper or completely lose it on someone who violated their personal social distance space.

As a human race, we can do better.

“Be kind to you web-footed friend, for a duck could be somebody’s mother….”

Kindness was meant to be given as a gift to those around us.

As people face the unknown of COVID-19, now is the time to be kind. Your smile, your random act of kindness, your thoughtfulness has the power to transform someone’s day – and perhaps even someone’s life.

What are you waiting for? Until further notice, be kind!

Prayer: Help me be kind. Help me think of others before I think of myself.

Ponder & Discuss: How has kindness impacted your life? How can you be kind in the midst of crisis? (Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.)

“Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.”

Job 6:14 (NIV)

Until Further Notice – Remain Calm

“Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options.”

Simon Sinek

Yesterday afternoon, I received some news regarding my job and the COVID-19 crisis. I’m not the only one who is getting unsettling news. I’ve heard stories of friends being laid off, businesses being shut down, and people being separated from their loved ones. My news could be a whole lot worse, but it still caused some anxiety in my life.

In the middle of a crisis, it can be extremely challenging to remain calm. For many of us, our natural inclination is to lose our minds and to think the absolute worst.

It’s times like this we must remember to remain calm.

As I shared yesterday, God is still in control. He’s got this. This doesn’t mean everything will work out with a nice bow on it. In fact, I don’t believe there is any place where we are guaranteed utopia while we live this life.

Nevertheless, we can be confident that God will fight for us. Remaining calm in the midst of crisis is possible when we give our problems and our worries to God.

If you are struggling to stay calm these days, I encourage you to practice these four basis steps:

  1. Breathe.
  2. Surround yourself with calming influences (ie. calm music, nature, calm people, etc.).
  3. Practice gratitude – there are reasons to be thankful in the middle of the storm.
  4. Go to God.

Until further notice, remain calm.

Prayer: In the middle of the chaos, give us peace. Help us remain calm.

Ponder & Discuss: How are you responding the crisis in your life? How would your life be different if you remained calm? (Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.)

“You only need to remain calm; the Lord will fight for you.”

Exodus 14:14 (NCV)

Until Further Notice – God Is With Us

“I’ve said all along that God is in control.”

Tony Dungy

What comes to mind when I say the word ‘Emmanuel’?

For most people they think of Christmas and the little baby Jesus born in a stable. “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel….”

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Matthew 1:23 (NIV)

I had the blessing of talking with a good friend last night. Like me, he is a leader at his job. The past ten days have not been fun for him at all. He has faced the difficulty of furloughing a quarter of his team, and he is also faced with a significant pay cut while his company tries to survive the storms caused by COVID-19.

After a long conversation, my friend said something profoundly simple but often overlooked. He said “It has been comforting and reassuring knowing that God is with us – even in the midst of crisis. I feel bad for those who don’t know this truth.”

It’s a truth we often overlook. After Christmas, we forget Emmanuel. Emmanuel means ‘God with us.” And Emmanuel is not just for Christmas. Emmanuel, God with us, is there for us all year long.

Have you lost hope? Have you faced discouragement? Look to the One who is in control – who is our fortress in times of trouble. Until further notice, look to Emmanuel.

Prayer: When the world seems bleak and hopeless, look to the one who is with us. Ask for a reminder of this truth today.

Ponder & Discuss: How have you experienced God’s presence recently? How as Emmanuel made a difference in your life? (Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.)

The Lord Almighty is with us.

Psalm 46:7 (NIV)

Until Further Notice – Pray For Our Leaders

Prayer is the most concrete way to make our home in God.

Henri Nouwen

Nearly three years ago, I took over leadership of my department. With over 80 team members, leading can easily become exhausting and at times overwhelming. I am blessed to have a fantastic department with a group of key leaders under me and around me.

Nevertheless, leadership can be lonely.

Leaders are often left with big decisions. They are looked upon for wisdom and guidance when everything else seems to be in crisis.

As we navigate COVID-19, there will be many people second guessing leadership. He should have acted more quickly. She shouldn’t have treated her team so poorly. They should have put more rules in place. People will debate leadership decisions for years to come.

Regardless of your position on your leadership at work, at church, in your communities, or in your country, you have a choice to make. While there is a time to speak up and take a stand, there is also a time to pray. Chose prayer. Our leaders need prayer. They need prayer for wisdom, for strength, for courage, for humility, for grace, and for help.

Until further notice, I encourage you to pray for your leaders. They need it now more than ever!

Prayer: In times of turmoil, guide and direct those in leadership. Give them just what they need to lead with wisdom, with confidence, with humility, and with strength.

Ponder & Discuss: Have you taken time to pray for your leaders? What might praying for your leaders make possible? (Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.)

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

I Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)

Until Further Notice – Stand Together

“What I’m not confused about is the world needing much more love, no hate, no prejudice, no bigotry and more unity, peace and understanding. Period.”

Stevie Wonder

I still remember the days and weeks immediately following 9/11. There was obviously a sense of uncertainty, despair, and loss. Planes flying into buildings and killing hundreds of lives will do that. I also remember a sense of resolve and a sense of unity. For a period of time, there was a sense of unity – we are all in this together.

Crisis can bind us together or tear us apart.

As we navigate the COVID-19 crisis, you and I have a choice. Will we seek to unify? Or will we choose our own path – a path of finger-pointing and a path of disharmony?

Everyone has an opinion. And there will always be differing political and social agendas. I get it.

We have more to gain by standing together.

It’s time we listen for understanding. It’s time we speak with compassion and empathy. It’s time we act with love.

The COVID-19 pandemic will mark humanity for years to come. May it be the tie that binds us together and reminds us to stand together for together we can change the world!

Prayer: In the midst of crisis, help us stand together. Give us a spirit of unity, and help us make a positive difference together.

Ponder & Discuss: Where have you seen others standing together to make a difference? What would unity make possible today?

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 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 4:1-6 (NIV)

Until Further Notice

Until Further Noticeuntil someone announces that a situation has changed or no longer exists

Macmillon Dictionary

The local library in my town as been undergoing construction. The construction started late this past fall, and initially the construction was only supposed to keep the library closed for a month. As I walked past the library multiple times throughout each week, I’ve noticed the re-opening date moving back further and further – January 2nd, January 9th, February 3rd, February 24th, March 16h, and April 6th. Last week, I noticed the sign changed one more time. It now reads “Closed Until Further Notice.”

This is the same type of creating that can be found on many businesses as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until Further Notice implies uncertainty. For many, this sign indicates a hopelessness. And I get it. We all want things to return to “normal” – whatever that might be. We want to get on with our lives.

As I ponder this sign and its meaning, I am reminded of our need for hope, encouragement, and grace.

With this in mind, I’ll be using “Until Further Notice” as a reminder of the hope we can have in the midst of uncertainty. Look for more “Until Further Notice” posts in the days to come.

Prayer: In the midst of uncertainty, we ask for reminders of hope. Help us to be communicators of this hope to others.

Ponder & Discuss: What changed in your world as a result of COVID-19? What has this pandemic made possible for you? (Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 (NIV)

Look for the Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so man caring people in this world.”

Fred Rogers

Have you been watching the news lately?

The news can seem pretty scary right now.

I’ve tried to stay away as much as possible. So much of today’s news media is about blaming this side or that side for the COVID-19 crisis. Or the news is filled with emphasis on the rapid spread of the novel corona virus and the rising death toll left in its wake. I read or hear stories of people reacting out of fear – hording toilet paper, hording hand sanitizer, and yelling at people who appear to be too close to them physically.

Many media outlets are using the crisis as an opportunity to either support their political perspective or tear down the political position of the opposing side. This path will only create more disunity and higher walls in our country and in our communities. In addition, they are spreading a message of fear.

Crisis can either destroy us or can unify us.

So here is my question to you (and to me)….

How are you responding to this crisis?

Are you helping others? Are you reaching out? Are you spreading hope?

Or are you acting only for you and your benefit? Are you hording? Are you spreading messages of fear and despair?

I believe it’s important to be informed and to take responsible actions to prevent the spread of this virus. But I also believe it’s important to look for the helpers – and to become one of the helpers wherever possible.

This week, I saw some of the helpers:

I saw a team of co-workers creatively gathering PPE (Personal Protection Equipement) for distribution to our field workers who are faced with serving our customers who are providing life-sustaining services to others at hospitals, healthcare facilities, and pharmaceutical research and manufacturing sites.

I saw a group of Rotarians gathering grocery store gift cards to distribute to families in need due to furlough or loss of job caused by COVID-19.

I saw friends in the healthcare arena sacrificially putting themselves at risk by serving in hospitals, urgent care facilities, and portable COVID-19 testing facilities.

I saw teachers working together to connect with their students and to creatively continue education despite the current requirements to remain physically separated.

I saw pastors doing their best to connect with their congregations in an effort to bring messages of hope.

I saw people in my community doing their part to support local businesses who have clearly been impacted by the isolation required by the government orders to “stay at home.”

I saw family members and friends creatively using their talents to entertain and encourage others through YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Zoom, and other on-line platforms.

These are stories that might not make it to CNN or FoxNews. But these are the stories we need to hear especially in the midst of crisis.

Look for the helpers!

Be a helper!

FREE Virtual Happy Hour for Men

Men:

I wanted to extend an invitation to each of you to participate in the first ever Stretched Men Group Virtual Happy Hour.  This will be an opportunity to connect as men, to share our thoughts and experiences related to the COVID-19 situation, and to be encouraged.  This invitation is open to you and any other guys who you think might be interested.  Just share the link below, and let me know they are planning to join us.  There is no cost associated with this event.

The Virtual Happy Hour will happen this Tuesday, March 24, 2020 from 7:00PM – 8:00PM.

My guess is we are all dealing with a mix of emotions, fears, and thoughts.  As many of us social distancing ourselves physically, the SMG Virtual Happy Hour will provide an opportunity to connect virtually.

Hope to see you there!

Jon

Join Zoom Meeting
https://zoom.us/j/9778629800