Christmas In July

Awhile back, PR31 and I decided that our family would celebrate Christmas in July this year.  The boys are on a break from school this week… My current work allows me the freedom to adapt my schedule… Hallmark Channel has Christmas movies on all week… QVC is selling like it’s Black Friday or Cyber Monday… Hobby Lobby is already putting trees and ornaments out on their aisles… So why not Team A?

We love Christmas in our family!  No seriosuly, we LOVE it!!!  The song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” and we believe the song is right.  Christmas is a time when people speak more kindly… when they are more generous… when they think of others and not just themselves.  Add to that the fact that we Christ-followers who say that we ought to celebrate all God has done for us throughout the year.

Stir that all up in a bowl, and just makes perfect sense to us to celebrate Christmas in July.

There are sugar cookies being made… Christmas carols are being played… classic Christmas movies being watched… a Christmas tree has been put up and decorated… an elf is being hidden each night after the boys go to bed… Christmas crafts are being made… and even small, inexpensive gifts will be exchanged toward the end of the week.

What’s crazy is… despite the fact that we live in the Deep South and it’s well over 90 degrees each day this week… when the skies were overcast the other day, and the air conditioner was turned down a degree or two, and the small lights on the tree and mantle are shimmering, and the Christmas decor is hung, and a Christmas movie is on… well, it’s easy to forget that it’s July.  In fact, the other evening I was almost so absorbed in the moment that I had to really had to think about whether it was July or December.

You can call it ridiculous.  You can say it’s just positive thinking.   You can say we’re just tricking our minds into thinking what we want to think, and tricking our feelings into what we want to feel.

Yet, it hit me that we have some power in our lives that is really quite amazing.  God has created us with the ability to transform the way we think and feel by changing what we see… or maybe more accurately, by changing what we choose to look at.  I can look at the thermometer and see that it is 92 degrees outside with a heat index of over 100 degrees…  too hot to go outside and enjoy much other than a pool.  Or I can look at the thermostat and turn it down another degree to create the atmosphere which helps create a sense of joy and fun for my family.

All this reminds me that Paul told the believers in Rome to “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”  And in II Kings 6, when an evil king sent a whole army to capture the prophet Elisha, his servant freaked out until Elisha prayed that God would help the servant see what he already saw… God’s army of angels with chariots and horses of fire completely surrounding the enemy army. What he saw changed his perspective.

That’s what I’m getting at today.  Instead of just looking at our situations and being baffled, or bored, or bummed, why not be proactive and decorate our world to reflect what it is more real and more in line with what God wants for us.  We might just be surprised.  We might forget the difficulties and challenges we currently face and relax.  We might just discover some extra joy we thought was only reserved for special occasions.

It’s up to us, though, to get out the decorations… roll out the cookie dough… and wrap the gifts… if we are going to change the way we think to point our emotions in the right direction.

So go ahead… toss a little tinsel… heat up a little ham… and have yourself a merry little Christmas now… in July!

You Are Such A Seed

I love that we homeschool our kids.  Wow, even as I typed that, I realized it was worded incorrectly.  Technically, PR31 homeschool’s our boys, and I am a very limited teacher’s aide.

Recently we began a new year-round model that seems to be working for us, and I’ve had some time to be at home during the day while they are doing their schooling.  Occasionally, on a break from writing, I’ll sit in on a lesson or be the sub for a class if PR31 needs to tackle something else.

Well, the other day, we were studying science and I read something in Alex’s textbook which caught my attention.  It read…

The size of the seed is not determined by the size of the plant…  Every seed contains a new living plant.

I learned in some of these lessons that there is a certain palm tree which produces a seed that can weigh as much as fifty pounds!  That’s more than our six-year old, Austin, weighs!!!  Yet, even though the giant redwood tree is much larger than this palm tree, it produces a significantly smaller seed.

Then it hit me that not only does the size of the plant not determine the size of the seed, but the size of the seed does not determine the size of the plant.  As I’ve mulled this over,  I have found myself reminded of Jesus’ words in Mark 4…

Jesus said, ‘How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.’” (Mark 4:30-32)

You see, it doesn’t matter how big or small we think we are.  We are each just such a seed.  You may view yourself as insignificant.  Someone else may seem to have so much more potential.  But the truth is that, inside of you, there is everything needed to produce something else great.  That something may be much larger than you appear to be as a seed.

You have life in you.  You have potential stored up in you.  You have greatness in you just waiting to be released.  Just like that mustard seed, you have the ability to grow into more and be a blessing to a lot of others who need what you have to offer.  You are just such a seed as that mustard seed.

So forget the fifty-pound palm seed, you wonderful giant redwood seed!  Just let yourself be planted by the Master Gardener… then sprout… and grow… and bloom… and produce.  Be the seed this world needs!  A lot of people around you will be glad you did.

Persistent Little Pumpkins

If you read my post from February 13th of this year (click here to read it), then you know that pictured above are pumpkin plants beside the sidewalk leading to the front door of our house.  In February, I tried transplanting those first several pumpkin plants to the garden in the back yard.  Sadly, they didn’t survive my farming skills.

But to my surprise, three more pumpkin plants recently came up in the same place out front. I had to mow and weedeat but have decided to leave these alone and see what happened since my transplanting efforts failed last time. I just couldn’t bring myself to mow these down, even though it’s the “wrong place” to grow pumpkins… and the “wrong way” to grow pumpkins… and the “wrong time” to grow pumpkins.

PR31 thought it was funny that I left them because she didn’t think they would ever produce.  So I had to snap this pic this past Monday when I walked by and saw the one plant blooming.  They are some persistent little plants.

They remind me of what Jesus taught people about talking with God.  Matthew, one of Jesus’ closest followers, recorded in the seventh chapter of his account of the Good News about Jesus.  This is what he wrote…

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  You parents– if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?  Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not!  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him.”  – Matthew 7:7-11 (NLT)

Sounds to me like God doesn’t mind if we are “persistent little pumpkins” when we talk with Him.  In fact, it sounds to me like He even encourages it.

So let’s be persistent today.  God won’t mind. And we can be sure that we will receive what we need when we keep on asking… We will find what we’re looking for when we keep on seeking Him… We will have doors of opportunity opened to us when we keep on knocking.

And when you are tempted to give up, just remember those pumpkin plants that just keep growing in my front yard… and ask, seek, knock one more time!

You Will Rise

I’m no cook, but I like food.  Therefore, I enjoy watching the Food Network.  And one of my favorite shows recently is “The Pioneer Woman” starring Ree Drummond.  Her cooking is good ol’ Southern home cooking… just my style.

We were watching today when something she said caught my attention.  She was pouring red velvet cake batter into a pan to bake.  Ree said, “This doesn’t look like much in the pan, but it will rise quite a bit in the oven.”

Ever felt like that cake batter? Maybe you feel like that right now… like you don’t look like much.  Don’t worry.  Those kinds of thoughts come to us all at various times throughout our lives.  The key is to remember the second part of what she said. Though you may not look like much now, after you’ve gone through whatever process you’re having to go through right now, you’re going to rise.

I suppose Timothy, the young pastor at the great church in Ephesus was having to deal with some folks who thought he didn’t “look like much in the pan” because his mentor, Paul, wrote him a letter in which he instructed him not to let people look down on him simply because of his age.  Instead, he encouraged Timothy to show those folks that he could “rise quite a bit in the oven” and live a life that was far beyond their expectations.

I want to encourage you today similarly.  Ignore those folks who don’t think you “look like much in the pan” because of your age… or your gender… or your physical challenge… or your race… or your level of education… or… or… or.  Stand up straight. Pull your shoulders back. Lift that chin.  Look them in the eyes with confidence, and offer a firm handshake.  Let them know that you “will rise quite a bit in the oven” by the way you talk to them… the way you behave around. Them… the way you treat others… the way you pursue God… and the way you are genuine.

You’re no ugly cake batter… you’re a beautiful cake in the baking!

Already

I love this quote…

“Long before Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus, the tree was planted to meet his need.”

Ficus sycomorus is the scientific name of the type tree Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus according to Luke chapter 19.  That type tree can take from twenty to fifty years to grow to its full maturity.  So it is possible that before Zacchaeus was born, that tree he climbed was planted. It also means that it was possibly planted before Jesus even came to earth as a man.

Here’s the good news we can take away from this for us today…

God already knows what you are going to need long before you’re going to need it. And He comes up with a solution to provide what you’re going to need before you even know to ask Him for it.

So you can relax now.  God has everything under control.  You’ll have what you need when you need it.

Look Away From It, Brother, Just Look Away

Our two boys crack me up!  Last week, we were in town running several errands as a family.  We had made a few stops already and we were working our way toward checking off our final to-do item when we passed a store that Alex really wanted to go into to look at some toys.  (Back story… He recently had a birthday and had some cash he had received for the very purpose of being spent on something he would enjoy.)

Normally, we probably would have stopped, but we had already been out long enough that we were all getting ready to be home.  We had already told Alex we would not be stopping at that store, and he had graciously accepted it… even though we could tell he still really wanted to stop there.

As we turned the corner and passed the store, I heard from behind us Austin say to Alex, “Don’t even look at it. Look away from it brother, just look away.”  We all burst into laughter at the unexpected advice from one sibling to the other. It will probably become one of those sayings which sticks with a family for the rest of their lives.

Then I began to think about what Austin said.  That was great advice.  I don’t know if “out of sight, out of mind” is true, but it sure helps when you’re being tempted by something.

I’ve been asked over the years what my favorite Scripture is.  Truth is, there are so many I love that it really is difficult to select one.  But I usually tell people who ask that one of the most useful verses in all of Scripture for me has been I Corinthians 10:13.  I was challenged to memorize  it in special course for students trying to grow closer in their relationship with God.  It has certainly come in handy on more than one occasion when I didn’t even have a Bible with me.

This is what Paul wrote to help people overcome temptation…

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.

The part that has always stuck with me is that God would show me a way out of the temptation so that I would not have to give into it… so that I could stand up to it… so that I could endure it and come out of that moment victorious.  As soon as I learned that truth… that there is always a way to escape the temptation, always a way to say “no” to it… I began to look for that way of escape in every temptation that came my way.  Often, it is as simple as Austin’s advice to Alex… “Don’t even look at it.  Look away from it, brother, just look away.”

So, if you find yourself tempted today… whether by something small and simple like an extra piece of cake… or by the cashier giving you too much change… or maybe even by something more serious like taking a drink or taking someone else’s spouse, let Paul’s words echo through your heart and mind.  You don’t have to give in.  There is a way out.  Look for the escape. And then put Austin’s words into practice… Look away, brother, just look away.

Just Be You

I have discovered something about myself… I am better with words than with wiring.  I am better at encouraging than correcting.  I learn better by listening or watching than by reading.  I do better living outside of town than I do surrounded by people in houses or apartments sitting right on top of each other.  I do better telling funny stories and tying them to truth from Scripture than I do attempting the old-school, campmeeting style of preaching from the 1950’s & 1960’s which I love to listen to. And that’s okay… because I was made in wonderful way. And I have chosen to just be me.

Maybe you are athletic.  Maybe you are artistic.  Maybe you are incredibly intelligent.  Maybe you are irresistibly interesting.  Just be you.
Whether you are an amazing stay-at-home wife and mom… or a spectacular salesperson, just be you.

Too often we want to look like someone else… or sound like someone else… or dress like someone else… or live like someone else.  But Scripture tells us in Psalm 139:14 that God made each of us in a wonderful way.  One translation expands the words to mean that we are “set apart.”  In other words, you’re terrific… just be you!

We were designed to be unique.  Some are distinctively debonair, while others are fabulously folksy.  Neither is wrong, both are right… for that person.  Just be you.

Today, determine to embrace that you are good at the things you are good at.  Your looks are perfect for you.  Your age is perfect for the time you were assigned to live in history.  The ways in which you are talented set you apart and make you phenomenal.

Just be you.

We’re all looking for… and needing… and hoping to find… someone like you.  Someone who knows who they are and embraces it. Someone who doesn’t care if they are better with words than with Worchestershire sauce.  Someone who is okay with the fact that they are better as an assistant than as a primary leader.

You have been set apart.  You have been made in a wonderful way.  You are unique… and special… in every way.

Just be you.

You’ve Got A Friend In Me

In the words of Michael W. Smith, “Friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them.” (You’re welcome for that earworm. Go ahead, download it and enjoy it. You know you want to.)

Obviously, outside the Lord, my wife (aka, PR31) is my best friend on this planet.  And yet the Lord has blessed me with some other great friends.  Some of those friendships are only for a certain season of life, and then they shift over into a more casual acquaintance type friendship.  But others are for a lifetime.

I’ve discovered that the bonds of deep friendship are forged in the fires of shared adventure and adversity.  I want to share about one such friend in this post…

We have traveled to other states and other countries together.  We have ridden in cars and vans and buses together. We have flown thousands of miles together.

We have spent time in private conversation and stood on platforms in front of hundreds together.

We have laughed together. We have vented. We have cried together. (Granted, I cried more than he did because I’m a crier and he’s not.). We have talked about our joys. We have talked about our frustrations and struggles.

We have made some extremely difficult decisions together.  And we have struggled over the simplest choices of what to eat.

We have spent weeks together at a time. We have spent moments together.  We have shared early mornings and late nights.

We have “snuck out” of the housing compound with a missionary in Central America to get my friend some chicken strips and French fries so that he didn’t have to survive on skittles and tootsie rolls.  And we have “ridden our favorite ride” at Six Flags (Johnny Rockett’s restaurant) for more than six hours when it was just too hot to chase teenagers around the amusement park.

We even remained friends when I accidentally leaked his secret dating and probable engagement to the young lady who is now his wife during a late night snack with twenty other people.

What this is all adds up to is a deep bond of friendship which has been forged in the fires of shared adventure and adversity.  Proverbs 17:17 tells us, “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.

That’s who he’s been to me… always loyal… a brother.  I wouldn’t be half the man I am today without his friendship in my life.  This friendship is for a lifetime.

And I am challenged today to be that kind of friend, not only to him, but to others also.  So let me challenge you… If you have a friend like mine, let them know today how much you love and appreciate them.  And why not join me in the quest to be that kind of friend to someone else?  Your friendship could be exactly what that person needs!

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