These are azaleas. Wild azaleas to be exact, but they are azaleas.

These are azaleas, too.

So are these.

As are these.

And both of these are also.

Why did I just bombard you with pics of flowers? And the same kind of flowers at that?

Look again. They are all called azaleas, but they are each unique. The wild type look quite different from the domesticated type, yet both are stunning. There are different colors, but even within what we would probably all label “pink,” there are three different shades on our property. The first picture was taken yesterday on a hike with some friends about thirty minutes away from here in a National Forest. The rest are within fifty yards of each other in our front yard, and some of those are weighing just feet of each other.

Here’s what I’m wondering today… Why is it that we can marvel at the beauty and celebrate the uniqueness of each of these flowers, and yet we struggle to believe that our own differences make us beautiful as well? I guess I’m just glad that God didn’t make you like me. I like variety. I like that you’re different than me. We can wear the same labels… Christian, American, male, Southerner… and yet be very unique. That’s because we are made in the image of God. His creativity is endless. The variety of facets of His beauty are limitless. So when He creates people, He makes them in His image… unique, wonderful, a joy to experience, breathtaking to behold.

Why don’t we quit fussing about not being a certain size or having a particular face shape? What if we simply celebrated our own differences… those things that make us wonderful, and beautiful, and exquisite to those around us?

How about we celebrate the introvert as much as the extrovert? What if we would begin to look for the labels which unite us instead of the minute details which make us distinct? And when we find those itsy-bitsy differences, what if we cheered because they are what make us each special?

I know, I know…. can’t we all just get along? Let’s all sing Kumbaya together. I know it sounds like all that. But I think one of the things that keeps me looking at those azaleas is the slight differences which make them magnificent. And I just want to live my life looking at people with the same mindset. We’re all the same, but not exactly. And it is those differences that make life interesting.

Those are my musings this evening. I hope you’ll join me in the quest to enjoy the small differences in those around you, too. Maybe spring will look a little more beautiful to all of us. And hey, we might just make a new friend or two!

I just got off the stationary exercise bike at our house. I typically ride six miles when I am using this bike for cardio exercise, and it usually takes me about 22-23 minutes to complete that six miles. Sometimes I pause it to jump off and do some circuit calisthenics, and so my routine may take a little longer. But by the time I’m done, I’ve worked up a good sweat, my heart has pumped at a good pace, and my muscles feel that they have been well-used.

Now, I know that there may be someone reading who is a fitness fanatic. You read those numbers, and you are severely underwhelmed. Perhaps you even did the math while you read and quickly estimated that my biking is almost a four-minute mile. Then you may have thought, “Allen, don’t you know that there are plenty of people who run four-minute miles? You’re not doing very good exercising if you are only biking a four-minute mile.”

But here’s the thing… I’m not competing against those people. I’m not in a race. I’m not working toward a personal record. Nothing wrong with those things. It’s just not what I’m setting out to accomplish. I’m simply trying to conquer another day of cardio to keep my body in good health. The goal is different. So, it’s not comparing apples-to-apples.

This is where we often get into trouble. We look down on ourselves because we don’t feel like what we are doing compares to what someone else is accomplishing. We feel like our four-minute mile on an exercise bike isn’t as good as someone else’s four-minute mile on foot in a marathon. But we need to focus on what we are trying to accomplish.

The writer of Hebrews says we are to run the race God has set before us. Not the race He has set before other people. The race He has set before us. When we do this, we honor Him and accomplish our assignment more effectively.

You don’t have to keep up with someone else. You don’t have to give as much as they give… or serve how they serve… or worship the same way they worship. You do have to be true & faithful to what God has set in front of you to do if you want to truly succeed in life. And when you focus on the race set before you, you’ll see yourself succeeding more and more.

So, if you’re not impressed with my speed on the exercise bike, that’s okay. I’m not trying to impress or out-do anyone else. I’m just trying to stay healthy so I can honor God with my life and be here for my family and those I serve. Every time I knock out another six miles in 22 minutes, I wipe the sweat from my brow and feel the success of victory over my own laziness.

For the record, I’m not trying to make my distance or time what you need to strive for either. You’ve got your own race set out before you. So get out there, and do what you’re meant to do. You’re going to be great!

And the winner of this year’s Christmas song of my heart is… drum roll, please…

Such A Strange Way To Save The World!

It comes at the Christmas account from the vantage point of Joseph, and it hits at the heart of how confusing all the stuff God was doing in his life seemed to be at the time. Joseph had to be full of why’s. And the chorus of the song reflects what some of them might have been. Check these out and see if you can relate…

Why me, I’m just a simple man of trade
Why Him with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside this stable filled with hay
Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl
Now I’m not one to second guess
What angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save the World

As I listened to that song weeks or maybe months ago for the first time this Christmas season, it resonated in my heart. I have my own list of why’s. The season of life I’m in right now brings with it a fair share of them.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t listening. God certainly spoke to Joseph. It’s not that Joseph wouldn’t obey God. Indeed he did every time the Lord directed him to do something. It’s just that Joseph was caught off-guard and confused by how God was working. So he had some why’s.

You probably know what that’s like, too…

– Why did your loved one pass away?

– Why did that relationship not work out?

– Why didn’t you get that job?

– Why haven’t you been able to fulfill your dream yet?

Listen, don’t give up on God. I know He may not be doing things the way you’d want or the way you think He should, but you can trust Him. Stay close to Him. Ask all the why’s you want. Then listen, and obey, as He answers and directs.

Joseph ended up fulfilling prophecies, protecting the life of the Savior, raising Him to be a godly man who knew Scripture and treated people with respect. Joseph played an incredible role in the life of the only begotten Son of God. Joseph influenced the man side of Jesus in a powerful way. Sure, he had his why’s, but his why’s didn’t stop him from listening and obeying.

And here’s the rest of the story… Your why’s won’t keep God from working powerfully in you, through you and for you. You too can be a why’s man- or woman- and still make a huge difference in this world.

So, if you’re going through a challenging season in life right now and you have a lot of why’s, put this song on repeat, and let it reassure you that it’s all going to work out.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I am pleased to announce to this audience the release of my second book. While the first book was aimed at empowering leaders, this book is a daily devotional with 150 one-page devotions designed to help individuals have develop a consistent daily journey with the Lord. Each devotion contains a story, a spiritual truth, a passage of Scripture where the truth can be further searched out, a key verse from that passage to carry in your heart throughout the day, and a 2-3 sentence prayer starter to help kickstart your conversation with the Lord on the topic of the day.

We all face enough negative elements in life which drain us spiritually and emotionally. This book is designed to help us take a look at life from God’s perspective… The Upside.

While you may recognize some of the stories or thoughts from this blog, I believe the deeper spiritual truths which accompany them in this book will enhance your nearness to God. I encourage you to get a copy for yourself. And these would make great gifts for family or friends who want to kick off the new year keeping their resolution to grow spiritually.

The book is available in both paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon by clicking HERE.

Thank you for the privilege of being a part of your life each week through this blog. I hope that the book will be an added blessing to you.

God bless and Merry Christmas!

The picture above was taken the day AFTER Alex, Austin and I had mulched all the leaves in the yard with the riding mower and blown all the leftover debris off the driveway. Yes, you read it right… the day after. We must have billions of leaves on our property.

I woke up the mowing after we had made the yard look so great to see this view. I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. We wasted all our time yesterday. It looks like we didn’t do anything at all.”

But I knew better. There have been times in the past when I had the mentality of just letting all the leaves finish falling, and then trying to mulch them all. Fun story, I caught a riding mower on fire one time doing that. I had let so many leaves build up that they got caught up under the engine and ignited.

Lesson learned. Mulch anyway. Sure, the yard may only look clean for one afternoon. Sure, you may have to do it all again in a couple of days. Mulch anyway. It makes a difference. Once the leaves get soaked by a rain or build up too much, the job is incredibly difficult and takes much longer.

You know what else is crazy? Sometimes we each look at our lives and feel like I felt looking at that yard covered once more by leaves. If we’re not careful, we can begin to think that what we are doing to help others, bless others, serve others is not making a difference. Yet, it is. If we didn’t do what we had done yesterday, people’s situations would be even more difficult today.

You are making a difference in the lives of those around you. You’re making a difference at work, at church, at school, in your community. So, there are new problems today. There would be double the problems if you didn’t do what you do.

Paul told the believers in the church at Galatia not to get tired of doing because eventually they would see that their efforts were making a difference… people’s lives were being impacted.

The same is true for you. Don’t give up on doing good for others because it looks like you’re not making a dent in the problem. One day, you’ll be glad you did what you did.

As for me, I’ve got more leaves to mulch…

Angela and I always had outside dogs growing up. In fact, we had only had (mostly) outside dogs during the first 20 years of our marriage. That is, until we came across our family’s current beloved canine, Sugar the Schnauzer, at a pet adoption day at a pet store in another city. If you have read this blog for almost any length of time, you know a little about Sugar already.

The thing is, before Sugar, we really thought we liked bigger, outside dogs better. We definitely would not have usually chosen a smaller, inside lap-dog. We thought they were too yappy and that you couldn’t wrestle with them. What fun would that be?

Then the Lord gave us Sugar. Sure, we had to adjust to what it means to have an inside dog, but now we love having one. And we are pretty sure that if we were ever to get another dog, we would choose a smaller, inside lap-dog all over again.

Isn’t that odd? We never saw that one coming. God gave us something we didn’t even know we would enjoy. In fact, we thought we might not enjoy it nearly as much. But He knew better. And so He gave us what was best for us- what He knew we would love more if we just gave it a chance- instead of holding on to what we thought we wanted.

You know, He doesn’t just do that with dogs. He can work all things together for your good when it comes to something like a job that you would love… or a spouse whom you would love… or a car, or a house, or even a degree plan. God has good things stored up, ready to give them to you. Things you may not even know that you would love. But you would, if you would let go of what it is you think you want… and simply trust Him with what He knows you’ll love even more.

As we move toward the end of 2018, why not begin to loosen your grip on some of your preconceived notions and leave the perfect gift-giving responsibilities to the One who knows you better than you know yourself? You’ll be glad you did. I ought to know… I’ve got a Schnauzer.

Yesterday, Alex turned 10… We have a kid in double digits, what?! On top of that, I ate too much cake. How could I not? Like the climber who climbed the mountain, I ate it because it was there. And because I LOVE food!

Our seven year-old, Austin, is the opposite equal of me when it comes to food. He eats to live… I live to eat. I like to think about what I’ll snack on and what I’ll have for lunch while I’m eating breakfast. Meeting someone… How can we work food into this? Celebrating something… What kind of food will make the celebration better? Road trip… What kind of snacks will I take, and where will I stop to get something for a meal?

I wouldn’t say I’m addicted… I think I control it pretty well. Of course I love sweets and crunchy snacks, but most of the time, I am just as happy to eat PR31’s roast, carrots and potatoes… or a plate of sliced bananas and berries with little honey drizzled over them. Okay, I may have to take a break while writing this blog.

Of course, if I eat something, then I get thirsty. And my beverage of choice is strong, black coffee throughout most of the day. Except when I’m hot and tired from exercising or working in the yard… or when I have something salty to eat. Then I crave water. Cold, clean, refreshing H2O, baby. Nothing else quenches thirst like water.

Hunger and thirst are cravings which are part of our existence as humans. They some of our deepest, most basic needs. Give me food and water, my life is a lot happier.

But there are desires in each of our hearts which long to be satisfied. They are much deeper than what job we will do or even who we will marry. They even surpass my… I mean, our… cravings for food and water.

We all long to belong. We crave to be loved. We deeply desire to be wanted. We each need to know we have purpose and meaning.

Too often, we try to satiate these deep longings with surface supplies. We feel our heart rumble for love, and we turn to a human. We feel parched in our soul to belong, and we join a club.

Yet these deep-seated desires and cravings can only truly be fulfilled by One Person. In Psalm 145:16, we read that when God opens His hand, He satisfies the cravings and longings and desires which reach out from deep within us to find fulfillment.

Stop and ask yourself right now… What is it that I really long for? I’ll hazard a guess that… if you’re truly honest with yourself and God… it’s much deeper than the simple requests we make of Him for finances or fiancées. And if we will ask Him to see those cravings, He will open His hand to satisfy them. And when we get real with Him about those longings, He never lets us down.

So, whether you choose watermelon or apple pie as we head into this midsummer celebration of our freedom here in the good ol’ US of A over the next week, let each scrumptious bite remind you that there is One who is ready to open His hand and satisfy the deepest desires of your heart. Satisfaction guaranteed!

Now, maybe Austin has left something I can snack on…