More than 15 years ago, we were serving as the lead pastors at a church in Northeast Louisiana, and we scheduled a set of special services to encourage and challenge people spiritually. We invited Rev. Geary Phillips to be our speaker for those services, and I have not since forgotten one of the messages he preached. I remember it because it was such a different message, and the truth was so simple that it caught me off-guard.

As I recall, Geary told how that when his daughter (or maybe it was his granddaughter) was young, she would wake up some mornings, come find him, crawl up in his lap, giving him a big hug, smile sweetly, and say, “Good morning. I love you.” He contrasted it with some mornings which happened less frequently on which she would wake up in a less than pleasant mood… not smiling… no hug given… no sweet tone in her voice… no crawling up in his lap… no “I love you.” He talked about how he loved those mornings when she would wake up with a smile and an “I love you” so much more than the ones when she woke up with a fussy disposition. It wasn’t that he loved her any less. That remained the same regardless of her attitude. But on the days when she gave him a wake-up smile and expressed her love first thing, it caused him to want to do more for her that day. It opened the door for them to be close that day.

Then he told of how the Lord had challenged him to wake up every morning, and before he even got out of bed, to give the Lord a wake-up smile and tell the Lord he loved him. As he began to do this, he noticed that the days he practiced this, he felt closer to the Lord, and things just seemed to go better.

Something about it caught my heart’s attention. I didn’t have kids at the time, so I had to believe his experience in faith. But I determined that I would do my best to wake up that way each day… giving the Lord a wake-up smile and telling Him how much I love Him before ever throwing back the covers and putting my feet onto the floor. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve missed plenty of days over the past 15 or so years since that service, but I’ve tried to make sure that the days with a wake-up smile for the Lord outnumber those without.And you know what? Geary Phillips was right. The days I begin with the Lord by giving Him a wake-up smile, a sweet attitude & an “I love You” are much better than the others. Those days are not always miraculous, but there is something about them which just seems… better.I have my own kids now, and our boys are old enough to get up on their own, finding their way to wherever we are in the morning… usually, I’m in my La-Z-Boy sipping coffee and eating peanut butter. And sure enough, when they come in with a sweet attitude, smile, crawl up in my lap (even though Alex is getting big enough I may have to sit in his lap soon), and tell me that they love me… I smile back, give them a big ol’ hug and kiss, and our day goes better because it started off right.This isn’t deep. This isn’t difficult. But it does make a difference when genuinely applied to our lives daily. So why don’t you take “The Wake-Up Smile Challenge” yourself? Why not start each day by waking up, and before you ever move… maybe before you even open your eyes… just smile and tell God you love Him. See if that doesn’t begin to make a change in the way you view Him… in how close you feel to Him… in the way your day goes.And here’s one more challenge… why not practice this with the people you love and see every day? It just might make things go a little differently with them as well!

Last week, PR31 finally convinced me that we could do something I’d been putting off for four and one half years. For some bizarre reason, the people we bought our home from had put up a basketball goal in the back yard… in the grass… the yard even slopes there… like it does on almost the entire four acres. Yet there stood that eyesore.

The entire time we’ve lived here, I’ve mowed around. The past couple of years, it has stood watch over our garden. And every time I saw it, it was almost as if it taunted me. I would open the blinds to look out over the beautiful back third of our property to see all green… and the eyesore.

I didn’t think we could move it. I thought it would take maneuvering a truck around there, tying a chain to the thing and trying to uproot its cement base from the ground.

But it had rained quite a bit, and PR31 assured me that she and the boys would help me dig all around the cement, and that, if we all worked together really hard, we could probably get it out. The goal being that we would moved it around front to the flat, wide open square portion of our blacktopped driveway which would be perfect for a basketball court for the boys to use.

True to her word, she inspired the boys with her delusions of grandeur, and we all headed out to dig. But before we could discover how wide the cement went out, she decided to push on the pole. And it gave. I said, “Let me give it a try.” And with all my manly might, I pushed… and it gave some more. I realized the pole was so old that it was breaking loose where it met the cement. Could it really be this easy?

We pushed together and the pole gently broke at its base. We caught it, lowered it to the ground, twisted, and voila. A little hammering on the barely remaining edge of pole hitting up from cement, and everything was flat. We scooped dirt back over it, and it was as if it had never been there.

Team A grabbed that basketball goal, hauled it around front, bleached it, scrubbed it, repainted it, dug a hole, and the next day set the goal in place with its new cement surround. Twenty-four hours later, our boys were having a blast with their new goal… which cost us less than $20 including, paint, a new net, cement & a basketball.

There have been a couple of great 2-on-2 games and we’ve taught the boys to play horse. They’re having so much fun with it. I can’t believe I wasted four and a half years of staring at something ugly when I could do something about it and enjoy the results so much!

So, why? Why did I wait four years to do this? I’ll tell you why… I thought it would be too difficult, maybe outside what I could accomplish. But before you mock me too much for my lack of self-confidence regarding this super-simple task, let me ask you… what is it in your life that you have left undone because it just seemed too difficult?

We all have stuff like that, you know. And sometimes it’s more serious than a basketball goal… like forgiving someone who did us wrong… or pursuing that degree… or chasing that dream… or starting your own business.

Here’s the thing… it’s almost never as difficult in real life as it seems in our mind. And our procrastination only makes it seem even more challenging when, if we would just go ahead and do it, we’d find that is was easier than we imagined. Plus, there is great joy on the other side that totally makes tackling this tough thing worth more than we invest in it.

Don’t put off till tomorrow… or four and a half years from now… what you can do today. Just go after it! Do it today. You will find it’s not as hard as you thought, and you will be so glad you did it. Take it from a guy who now loves to look at out the back window at a beautiful yard, and out the front window at two boys hooping it up.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac email that PR31 received last week said it’s time to start planting veggies outside where we live. Now some would consider us “Coca-Cola Cowboy” type country folk, but we kind of feel like we’re farmers because live on four acres in a wooded… we are now raising chickens… and we have a garden plot that is about 25′ by 25′.

Now, you may think the almanac is a joke, and that there are more scientific methods, but if the almanac says it, that’s good enough for us. So, this week we got out the tiller, hoes and rakes, and we got dirty.

The ground had laid fallow since last year’s summer garden. Grass and weeds had crept in and hidden our beautiful soil. But the boys and I were determined to fix that. We did the initial tilling and pulling to get the ground turned over. Surprisingly, it was in great shape and didn’t require as much work as we expected. We will go back, pull more turned over grass and weeds out. Then we will till in some fertilizer to prep the ground. Rows will be mounded, pathways left to be able to navigate the future garden. Shortly thereafter, seeds will go in that beautiful black and brown plot. And we will wait.

That garden isn’t a whole lot different from our lives. Left alone for almost any length of time, weeds of stress… fear… doubt… and worry can creep across our hearts and minds, sucking the nutrients of joy and peace right out of us. If that has happened to you, it’s time to pull the weeds. Take some time for introspection… spend some time in God’s Word and talking with Him. See which priorities have gotten out of whack, or which disciplines have been allowed to slack. Put the guards back up. Keep a rake and hoe handy. Get a shovel if necessary. Just pull those weeds. You can’t grow the good stuff with them in the way.

Then plant seeds of faith in your heart and mind. Find some Scriptures that remind you of who God is and of all the good things He has in store for you. Find a great quote that builds you up. Write them down or print them out. Or do like we do and create a piece of home decor with them on it, then place it somewhere prominent so that you see it every day. Don’t just plant a few seeds either. Plant plenty of seeds of faith in the garden of your heart and mind. Nurture them, and soon they will grow.

As the seeds grow and spring up, the weeds may try to come back, but they will be much easier to spot and much easier to keep pulled. Soon, you will see blooming and productive plants, and memories of that weed-covered plot will fade away.

This is God’s spiritual almanac message to you today… It’s time to pull the weeds and plant the seeds!

Pictured above are PR31’s great grandmother “Muddy” and her grandmother “Grannie” or “Bertie.” Below each of them are one item they owned & use which have since come to be used regularly in our home. I used that step stool just this morning. And we use that rolling pin many a Friday night when we roll out the dough for our homemade pizzas.

Each time I use one of those items, I smile. I smile because I think of them. I wonder how many times they used that item. I wonder if they know how much it’s helping us live our lives today.

You see, for each of us, our destiny depends on our history. We are the people we are today… we are able to do what we do today… because of those who went ahead of us and who have handed down to us those things which help us. Some of those things are physical items, like the rolling pin and step stool. Others are life lessons, stories and emotional input. Still others are spiritual blessings passed down to us. Regardless of what it is, we wouldn’t be who we are or do what we do without the benefit of those who went ahead of us.

Keep on investing in the lives of others. Just think… one day, there will be others… kids, grandkids, friends, co-workers… who will get to be who they will be and do what they will do because you invested in their lives. And if we do it right, maybe just maybe, they will smile when they think of you!

Our family loves to watch Kids Baking Championship on The Food Network. About a dozen kids between the ages of nine to twelve from across the U. S. (& one from Canada this season) compete on the weekly show to see which kid will be crowned best kid baker in the nation.

One of the shows challenges which has become a tradition is “dessert imposters.” It involves the kids each using baked goods to create an identical look-alike to a meal from a theme given by the hosts. Like every challenge, there is a twist thrown in along the way to make the kids up their game just a little more. Some of the dessert imposters are easily spotted as fakes… not looking much like the real thing at all. Others are amazingly life-like replicas. Some even taste good.

But what struck me tonight is how how hard those kids work to create something fake. I know that’s the assignment for that part of the competition. It’s just crazy that it takes as much… or maybe even more… effort to produce a fake as it would to create the real thing.

And I wonder how many people are doing the same thing in their lives… working like crazy to create an imposter of what they think a real, successful life looks like. I wonder how different their life would be if they applied that same amount of effort at being their real self… genuine and authentic. What if they quit using filters on every picture of themselves? What if they didn’t pad their résumé with those carefully researched words they know employers are looking for? What if they used social media to be sincere and to encourage others?

I guess we all have some room for improvement in this area. I know the struggle is real to retain our integrity when it feels like we need to make ourselves sound like more. But why must we create imposters of ourselves?

We are each created by God, in His image. He loves us and values us as original masterpieces. None of our efforts to make ourselves look better than we are… or to look like someone else… are impressive to Him.

Truth be told, when our efforts are tested and prove that we are not what we tried to make ourselves look like, it’s not impressive to anyone else either. So, again I ask… why apply all the effort to crafting a fake us when, with the same amount of effort applied, we could make the original us shine.

So I’m calling on all of us today to take one significant step toward being less fake and toward being authentic. Maybe it’s only one social media post. Maybe it’s an interview. Maybe it’s a conversation with someone you find yourself starting to love. Whatever the case, let’s be real. Let’s skip the imposter round… regardless of how sweet it may sound

In his latest book, Whisper, Mark Batterson tells how several years ago he was challenged to make sure anything he said about someone else behind their back was positive. He wrote that he likes to “brag behind their back.”

I like that! What if we took time today to talk about one friend to another friend… and what if we bragged on that person without them knowing we did it? What if we made a habit of bragging behind people’s back? What if Word started getting back to people that we said something about them… something positive, encouraging, complimentary… behind their backs?

There’s something great about knowing that someone else is saying something nice about you when you’re not around. If they’ll do that, they must surely mean it. If they’ll say it when there is no expectation of anything in return, it must really come from the heart.

Wouldn’t it be terrific for someone else to hear tomorrow that you said something nice about them behind their back today? What if bosses started doing this about their employees… and vice versa? What if Republicans started doing this about Democrats… and vice versa? What if one business owner would do this about their rival… and vice versa?

I don’t know, maybe some of that is too much to hope for. But I don’t think it’s too much for you and me to begin making a difference in the lives of those around us by making sure that everything we say about them is good and helpful… that it encourages them if they hear we said it. I believe husbands can start doing this about their wives… and vice versa. Parents can start doing this about their kids… and vice versa.

Let’s let these encouraging words trickle back to people we care about and brighten their day. I for one want to find the biggest gossip I know and start spreading some good news through them about my friends! If you’re with me, use #goodgossip when sharing this post with others.

I love to see someone do what they do best…

* Michael Jordan or Lebron James playing basketball.

* Drew Brees or Tom Brady playing quarterback in football.

* Duff Goldman making cakes.

* Bob Villa or Chip Gaines remodeling a house.

You know, God gave each of us special abilities to do something well. Doing that thing fills us with joy and fulfillment… and others love watching us do it because it inspires them.

In Scripture, when God wanted to manage a multi-national food crisis, he picked Joseph. When He wanted someone to lead His people out of bondage to the Promised Land, He picked Moses. When He wanted someone to protect His people, He picked David.

And when He wanted someone to build the place He would express His presence among His people, He chose Bezalel and Oholiab. Not only were they “skilled,” “expert,” and “master craftsmen,” God had also given them, “the ability to teach their skills to others.” In today’s terms, they would have had the skills and a YouTube channel to show the rest of us how to do it right.

You’re no different. God has given you abilities and skills which others watch in amazement. Don’t underestimate yourself because what you do is not what someone else does. Moses was a leader, Aaron was a priest and Joshua was a warrior, but none of them even came close to being the master craftsmen that Bezalel and Oholiab were.

So get out there, and do what you do. Wow the rest of us. And while you’re at it, why don’t you start a YouTube channel so the rest of us could learn a thing or two from you?

Inspirational Challenge Post…

So, I’ve rolled this idea around in my mind for awhile and have some ideas for myself, but I found the exercise to be challenging… and enlightening… and exhilarating. So, I thought I would throw it out there for all of us to chew on. And I would love to hear your responses.

One of the ways to figure out what really makes us tick is to ask ourselves a question like this…

“If I were to start a non-profit… what would it be?”

Not sure? Don’t feel badly. I couldn’t think of what I would do at first either. And I’m not completely sure that I’ve nailed it down. There are so many people who need help. But this is where the fun comes in. Ask yourself some more questions…

– Who would your organization benefit? What people group or demographic moves your heart?

– Why do you feel like they need to be helped?

– What would it do to benefit/help them?

– Why is this special to you?

See? Learned a little more about yourself, didn’t you? Oh yeah, I forgot that I have one more question…

– What are you going to do about it?

Come on, we can all make a difference. You may not have to officially start a non-profit organization to do it. We can all do something… and I hope you will!

I was reminded today that we all seem to want to make everyone else think that we have it all together, that we don’t struggle.

That’s a lie.

We all struggle. We all face challenges. We all wonder… and doubt… and long. Then, because we do, we think we don’t match up to everyone else.

News flash… No one has it all figured out. We’re all doing the best we can.

Yes, even Christians. We may be forgiven, but we are still works in progress as we try to match up to what has been done for us.

So listen, friend, if you’re sitting there wondering if you “missed something in Sunday School” (a phrase I borrowed from a friend recently) because you thought you weren’t supposed to have those thoughts or feelings, I want to welcome you to the club of all humanity. You, my friend, are 100%… certifiably… undeniably… NORMAL!

So relax. And for Pete’s sake, could we please just be real… and authentic… and genuine with each other so that we don’t all going around feeling like failures?

Phew. Thanks. I feel better just getting that off my chest.

P. S.- If someone is vulnerable enough to open up and admit they don’t have it all together, please be kind enough to reciprocate. You might even encourage them while you’re at it. Who knows? They might even encourage you.