Probably somewhere around fifteen years or so ago, PR31’s nieces were spending the night at Nana & Pappaw’s house at Thanksgiving or Christmas along with us. We had no kids yet, and so we had volunteered to hang with the girls while their parents got “a night off.” That night, we stayed up late talking and playing games. Then we got the munchies. Like chips and salsa munchies. But we had wiped out the stash Nana and Pappaw had rather quickly. So, on the spur of the moment, we loaded them up into our vehicle and drove two minutes down the road to Walmart at midnight to get chips and salsa. Junk food obtained, we drove the two minutes back to the house, and the fun continued.

They have never forgotten that night. In fact, for the next year or two after that, it had to be re-enacted in some form or fashion.

Fast forward to last night. We had taken our own two boys to Nana and Pappaw’s for Thanksgiving, and gotten home a little later than expected. Black Friday sales had already started… don’t get me started, though I enable those stores because they woo me into their craziness… and we had not been able to find one particular $2 item the boys had been looking for.

Two memories flashed in my head as we began to settle in for the night…

First, the memory of taking our nieces to Walmart at midnight for chips and salsa. And second, a speaker at a retreat for youth leaders saying that we should invest as much energy, effort, creativity and time into what we do to make our own personal kids’ lives special as we do trying to make things special for those we minister to at church.

In that moment, I decided to live what one of my favorite signs PR31 makes says… “The best thing about memories is making them.” I told the boys to put their shoes and coats and hats back on because we were going to Walmart at 10:30PM to look for that $2 item. They couldn’t believe it. They got so excited when they realized I was serious. You should have seen their smiles.

I bet they’ll never forget that small gesture. Sure we were tired. No, we didn’t really want to get everything back together to go back out. But it was probably only an hour. And we will never get that hour to spend with them doing something random… and fun… and crazy… and spontaneous again. But we will have that memory to look back on and laugh about. I know because of the chips and salsa run years ago.

We don’t make memories for ourselves, you see… we help make them for others. And in the process, we get them for ourselves as well.

Don’t let these holidays slide by without making some great memories for someone else… Get out there and make them!

Ugh. It was just one of those mornings when I didn’t want to exercise. I knew I needed to. I like to eat. Exercising is a requirement for me to stay healthy and in shape.

Plus, PR31 was in her exercise attire and about to exercise herself. She’s disciplined like that. Consistent. And therefore, healthy and gorgeous. I know because I could see her from my recliner.

But she’s so inspiring. I told her that she had inspired me, and I was going to exercise myself. To this she replied, “Think about it this way… You’re just preparing for your future. What God has in store for you, you want to be ready for and looking your best. Live in the present, prepare for the future.”

Well, what do you think I did? Of course… I put on my exercise attire and got after it. Not because I felt like it. I didn’t. And really not even because I wanted to take in some extra “nutrients” for the day. Although, she is also an outstanding cook, and we never go hungry.

I exercised today because she reminded me of my future. (Thank the Lord for an amazing wife!) I exercised because I want to be my best, and I’m not there yet. I exercised because I want to be ready at a moment’s notice when the Lord says He has something He wants me to do.

Maybe it’s not exercise for you. Maybe it’s education. Or maybe it’s playing an instrument. Or maybe it’s making improvements at your job. Or maybe it’s your time alone with the Lord each day. Or physical therapy to recover from an injury. Whatever the discipline you need to tackle, remember that God has great plans for your future, and you want to be ready when it’s time to take that next step.

So, take some advice from PR31 like I did. It only cost me 30 minutes, and some sweat. I couldn’t tell today when I looked in the mirror, but I had all the strength I needed for the day. And it’ll show soon enough as my midsection flattens out again. As long as I keep living in the present and preparing for the future.

The future awaits… Let’s be ready when we get there!

It hit me the other day… “Your condition doesn’t determine your position.”

Daniel was a slave in Babylon, but God elevated him to roles of influence/leadership, despite his condition. Leader after leader turned to Daniel, leaned on his special abilities and trusted his character… eventually inviting him to lead incredibly significant portions of their kingdoms.

The same was true of Joseph in the Old Testament. He too was a slave in Egypt, but God elevated him to roles of influence/leadership everywhere he went. Because of his commitment to follow God… honoring Him with his character, and utilizing the gifts with which he had been empowered… God over-rode Joseph’s condition to make sure he was elevated to the position lined up for him.

By the way, the same is true for you and me. Our condition does not determine our position… God does. Our willingness to live in such a way that we honor Him with our character and utilize what He has given us makes us candidates for whatever role He determines is best for us… regardless of our situation, surrounding and circumstances.

So keep doing your best, and don’t worry about things around you look like. Don’t worry about the labels people try to slap on you. In the right way… at the right time… God can and will elevate you to a place of influence which just might surprise you… and those around you!

The people behind me in this picture really get what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 12:1, “That’s the most sensible way to serve God.” I had the privilege of watching them serve their community with a free Christmas Market craft fair, complete with free food. Then they invited the community to come watch a Christmas movie at the local theater, which they had sponsored. At the end, they handed out small tokens as a reminder of the movie, and they thanked everyone who came for the privilege of getting to offer this for them.

There was no sucker punch. They are the staff and volunteers from a local church in the town where I’m visiting. Yet no one stood and preached a sermon. At least not a planned spiritual speech with an invitation to respond. Instead, they laughed… and loved… and served… and helped… and gave… and bought stuff for sale at vendors’ booths. I saw them help sweep up the theater with the employees after the movie. I saw them clean dishes and put away tables and chairs so the maintenance person at the church wouldn’t have to. And they smiled the whole time they were doing it.

They didn’t give to get something in return. They simply gave. They simply loved. They simply served. No wonder their community loves them and turns to them when they have a need. They hear the sermons being preached by these folks’ actions louder than any spoken from a pulpit.

I’m so glad I was here tonight. I go to bed inspired. Inspired to live my life like them when I wake up tomorrow. Inspired to truly give… truly love… truly help… truly serve. Inspired to make a difference that makes a lasting impact.

People’s ideas of success vary greatly, and so I cannot be a success to everyone.  But I can be of value to each person.  If God lets my path cross theirs, then I have within me the ability to be of value to them.  It may be with a smile… or a hug… or help with schoolwork… or advice about dating… or how to have eternal life… or helping them break through writer’s block.  I can be of value.

The key is two-fold:

1) Be sensitive to God’s voice as He directs your steps.  If He nudges you to do something for someone, or say something to someone, do it.  He will always make you of value to others.

2) Ask people what you can do to help them.  You may have the knowledge… or the skill set… or the tools… or the wisdom they need to accomplish their dreams.

Forget trying to please people… and instead just try to help them.  Value trumps success.

I have been called gullible… naive… sheltered… innocent… too trusting… and the list goes on.  I get it.  It’s just the way I have chosen to live.  I choose to believe the best in people till they prove me wrong… and even then I believe there is hope for them to change.  Maybe that’s why I enjoy the movie Elf so much… because that’s the way Buddy the Elf goes at life.

As part of the Elf code of culture he is taught, he treats every day like Christmas.  He wakes up with joy… having worked some during the night to put smiles on the faces of those around him the next day.  He is generous… with his time and his possessions.  He is kind to everyone he encounters.

I suppose that’s why some people call this the most wonderful time of the year… because we all treat each other better.  (My personal reason is because of the increased focus on my best Friend and Rescuer, Jesus Christ.)  At Christmas, we often set aside offenses… we cut people some slack… we give more… we smile and wave more… we eat together more… we slow down a little and make memories.

Why can’t we treat every day like Christmas?  Why can’t we remember the real reason for the season and live in light of that?  Maybe we can’t afford to give expensive presents every day, but we can give some of our time to be with our family… or serve someone less fortunate.  Maybe we can’t keep up the Christmas decorations year-round (though I wouldn’t complain or get tired of them), but we can added extra little touches to everything we do to trim them with excellence.  

The point is, we CAN treat every day like Christmas… if we will.  Scripture points out that the same Holy Spirit who came upon Mary, enabling her to become pregnant as a virgin,  will come upon us and help us to live out love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.  And there is no law against living like that.  No one will stop you from being kind… or generous… or thoughtful… or joyful.

People may call you some of the things they call me… or Buddy the Elf… but you’ll enjoy life a lot more, and so will those around you!  So, let’s start today, and… treat every day like Christmas!

Oh, come on… You didn’t seriously think I could stop with one lesson from my favorite Christmas movie, Elf, did you?  Here’s another great takeaway… As Buddy “the Elf” grows up in the North Pole, he is trained along with all the other elves about Elf culture.  He learns that there are three points in “The Code of Elves.”  What we learn from one of those points is that, “There’s room for everyone on the nice list.”

Everyone.  I like that concept.  I’m a people person.  I like to include people rather than exclude them.  I like big teams, big groups, big clubs, big crowds.  Where there are lots of people allowed in, someone has an open heart and open arms.  And “the nice list” has room for everyone.

In other words, we can each choose to be nice… today.  We can choose to have a great attitude even when things don’t go our way.  We can choose to be generous even when our funds are low.  We can choose to love and forgive and release even when people have treated us wrongly.  We can choose to help someone out even we are tired and don’t really feel like it.  We can choose to smile, give, serve, help, and love.   We can choose to speak words of encouragement, hope, kindness, dignity and joy. It’s called being nice.  And we can be added to the nice list today by our choices.

This concept of Santa having a naughty and nice list isn’t anything new, though.  God has a list that He will check as we each face eternity.  It’s not a list to be scared of because He has made a way for everyone to be added to His “nice list.”  He doesn’t expect us to be nice enough on our own to make the list.  He sent His Son, Jesus, as the perfect nice list Guy, who would take our punishment… you know, for those times when we aren’t quite so nice… so that each of us could be on that eternal “nice list” no matter how naughty we’ve been up to this point.

Better yet, He helps us to be nice as a reflection of what He’s done for us… It’s like He put us on His “nice list,” and then said He would help us live that way.  II Peter 1:3 tells us, “By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.”  That means, if we will choose to be nice today, He will help us live it out.

Some people think they are stuck as “Scrooges” in life… that there is no hope of them ever making the nice list… but that’s just not true.  If we learn anything from my favorite Christmas movie, it ought to be that people can change… can have their name moved off the naughty list and onto the nice list.  And while Santa may be fictional in the way we know of him today, God is most certainly real.  He wants to help you be nice all throughout your day.

So, whether you’re on the field, on the job, or even on your sickbed today, ask the Lord to put you on His eternal “nice list” and then help you to make the choice to live like you’re on it!

We’re not even playing.  Today, we put up all our indoor Christmas decor.  Trees, stockings, salt and pepper shakers, wreaths, crafts hand-made by kids, the whole shootin’ match.  That’s right.  Our family loves Christmas.  PR31 has been watching Christmas movies on Hallmark Channel since Friday.

And today, as we got out the decorations and put them up, we listened to classic Christmas music and watched two of our favorite Christmas movies… North Pole and Elf.  Now, I have to admit, Elf may be my personal favorite when it comes to Christmas movies.  I laugh all the way through and almost cry at the end.  There are so many great life lessons from the movie.  And so tonight I’m going to share one of them…

Don’t compare yourself, but instead recognize that you have your own set of gifts, talents and abilities which makes you special.

We find this in the movie when Buddy the Elf falls behind making Etch-A-Sketches and Mae-Mae the supervisor elf tries to help him not feel bad about not being able to keep up.  He says, “No, Buddy, you’re not a cotton-headed ninny muggins.  We all just have different talents. That’s all.”

Buddy disagrees and says that it seems like everyone else’s skills are the same, but all the elves give him examples of how his special skills make all their lives better even though he is different.  It takes the whole movie for Buddy to learn that no one has the ability to stir Christmas spirit in others like him.

We’re not so different from Buddy sometimes.  We wish that we were more like others… able to do the things they can do.  We don’t see our own special skills and talents and abilities.  We don’t see how our uniqueness makes us special.

This isn’t a new phenomenon.  The Apostle Paul had to tell people nearly 2,000 years ago that God has given each of us a special gift, and that others need us to use that giftedness to make their lives better.

So,  no matter what name you may call yourself because you don’t feel you match up to those around you, remember that those people you are comparing yourself to probably wish they could be like you and do what you do.  Just be yourself, and do what you do.