Shelf Life

I can still remember a junior high English teacher telling me I was so sweet that she wished  she could take me home with her… over 30 years ago.

I can still remember my youth pastor trusting me to lead an entire youth service in his absence… over 20 years ago.

I can remember the times when a former professor championed me in a moment that felt like failure in ministry… more than 20 years ago.

I could list numerous instances from decades ago of times when people affirmed me.  Why?  Because, as Dick Foth writes, “Affirmation has a long shelf life.”  People don’t forget when we affirm them.

Proverbs 18:21 says that the tongue (or rather the words it speaks) has the power of life and death. We get to choose.

Choose to affirm. Decades from now, those you affirm today will still remember & find life in that.

Come In From The Cold

It was probably the coldest weather I’ve ever been out in during my entire life.  It was about -40 degrees in the midst of the blizzard which was pounding Moorhead, Minnesota with snow.  Dad was away from home with my oldest sister Cathy.  So Mom informed my other older sister, Karen, that it was up to the two of us to go outside, scoop the snow away from the basement windows, and scrape any ice off of them.

I was all of about five or six years old.  So, at first, this sounded like fun.  We were going to get to go outside and play in the snow. Then Mom began to bundle me up with warm clothes.  Long johns… check. Jeans…  check.  Two pairs of socks… check.  T-shirt and flannel long-sleeve shirt… check.  Sweater… check.  Snowmobile suit (aka, insulated overalls for those of you in the Deep South)… check.  Scarf… check.  Knit stocking cap… check.  Gloves… check.  Snow boots… check.  And then she said, “You can only stay out five minutes at most, and then you have to come back inside to warm up.

Wait a minute…  This doesn’t sound like we’re about to go play in the snow.  Is this even safe?

But we trudged outside, looking like the Michelin Man, found the first window and went to work on it.  We got it cleared off, and Karen said we needed to head back inside.  At that point, I was more than happy to do so.  It was bitterly cold, and we were not playing anything in the snow.

When we got inside, our clothes were slightly damp from the falling snow, and we were cold to the bone.  Mom got my outer gear off in the entryway, though I wasn’t sure I was going to be warm enough even inside to take it remove it.  Fortunately, Mom had been making hot chocolate while we were outside.  We drank in the heat from the house along with our mugs of steaming hot chocolate.  As we finished up, she said, “Okay, let’s get you suited up again so that you can go do the next window.”

Hold up… do what?  I just got warmed up.

Again Mom reminded us to stay outside no longer than five minutes.  She didn’t have to warn me now.  I understood clearly why this was important, and I had no intention of staying out even five minutes if we could get done more quickly.  With that, we donned our cold weather gear, and did the deed.  Finishing the next window, we came inside again, cold as we could be.  It felt like the cold was compounding interest.
Once more Mom helped me get out of the outer gear and into the kitchen.  There she had waiting for us bowls of warm soup.  That sensation makes me think of what the first day in Heaven will be like.  I’m not sure I could have been any happier to see any food in the world at that moment.  With each bite, it seemed my body temperature began to stretch for normal again.

I only remember having to go out about three times like that.  And each time we came in, Mom was ready to warm us up.

You know, it’s a cold world out there.  Blizzard cold.  Forty degrees below zero cold.  People can’t stay out in that all the time and survive.  They need a place that’s warm to thaw out hardened hearts… cynicism… jaded outlooks… hurts… losses.  And they need someone who is standing there in that warm place ready to get the cold off of them.  They need someone who has gone to the effort of making sure there is hot chocolate for the spirit and some warm soup for the soul.

Countless times throughout Scripture, God challenges His people to be the kind of people who look out for those who have had to endure the coldness of this world… foreigners… widows… orphans… the poor.  It is His heart’s desire to see each of us be the kind of people who say, “Come in from the cold.  I’ll warm you up.  I’ll help you get ready to go back out and face what you have to face.  I’m sorry you have to face it.  But please don’t stay out there in it.  Come back in from the cold, and I will be here with something else to warm you up.”

That’s what I try to do six days a week with this blog… give you a place to come in from the cold and warm up.  It may not seem like much, but it’s one more way I can live out my overarching life purpose to “love and encourage people, offering them grace and hope.”  And I hope that I inspire you to look for others around you who need you to tell them, “Come in from the cold.”

Try Again

I was about five years old, and it was summer in Minnesota.  Brother Hahn was a loving, retired minister who attended the church my parents pastored at the time. And that summer he invited us to go fishing with him at the lake where they had a lake house.  Dad agreed, and we went fishing.

Brother Hahn had grandkids.  So that meant he also had gear for kids to go fishing.  He had one of those orange, U-shaped life vests.  And he had one of those short, two-foot kids’ fishing rod and reel combos.  I was in hog heaven sitting in the middle of that boat between my Dad and Brother Hahn.  We were catching bluegills, having ourselves the time we had dreamed of when the invitation was extended to us.

That is, till it happened.  I don’t remember exactly how it happened. I just remember that it did.  With my hands, and therefore most of the rod and reel over the edge of the boat, I lost my grip on Brother Hahn’s rod and reel which he had for his grandkids to use.

I experienced something of which it might be my first memory… forgiveness.  Bro. Hahn was probably disappointed, maybe even frustrated, but he never showed it.  He told me everything would be alright, and that I shouldn’t worry about it.  We enjoyed the rest of the trip, but it seemed slightly tainted with my mistake… at least in my mind.

A number of months later, Brother Hahn came up to us at church and invited us to go fishing with him again.  I was surprised that he would want the kid who lost his grandkids’ fishing rod to go fishing with him again.  But Dad agreed, and we went to the lake again.

And then I experienced something else, possibly for the first time… grace.  When we arrived at the boat, Brother Hahn said something along the lines of, “Here, Allen, you use this one.”  To my amazement, he held in his extended hand the very rod and reel I had lost while fishing on the previous trip.  He had fished in that spot long after our first trip… hooked something… reeled it in… only to discover he had caught the rod and reel I accidentally dropped overboard.  It was dirty, and so he had meticulously cleaned it up, oiled it, put new line on it… and purposely invited me to fish with it again.  Grace.

I was scared to use that rod and reel.  I was also extra careful to hold tightly to it.  When extended that rod… and thereby grace… to me, I was determined not to make the same mistake.

What shocked me, though, was that he was willing to let me try again.  I was just a little kid.  I could have dropped it overboard again.  But he didn’t seemed to be phased by that at all.  He believed in me.  And he believed in second chances.

Let me just say… Brother Hahn was so much like God.  God is not afraid to give us second chances.  We make mistakes.  We goof up.  We even sometimes just flat out choose to do wrong.  But in His love and grace, He simply catches what we dropped overboard, cleans it up, hands it back to us, and says, “Here, try again.”

So no matter what you’ve done… no matter how bad you think it is… no matter how little right you have to be invited again, accept the invitation. Try again.  And this time hold it a little more carefully.  This time, honor the extended grace by using what has been lent to you to bring great joy to the One who gives it to you.  Try again!

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!

Love Is…

Tonight’s post is one simple request…

Please reply by telling me the story of someone in your lifetime who has exemplified love by “unselfishly choosing for another’s highest good.”

Thanks! I look forward to reading them.

A Little Something Extra

I don’t know the young man or young woman’s name who took our order at the counter of the McDonald’s on the main strip in Gatlinburg, TN that evening, but I remember the feeling I had walking out of the building and showing PR31 the tallest ice cream cone I had ever received for a buck at any McDonald’s.

We were on vacation, and we were splurging for a little treat on a cool October evening. We had walked up and down the strip, enjoying a leisurely time together.  We didn’t have to get an ice cream cone.  It was just a little something extra to top the night off. And it ended up making our vacation memorable.  In fact, it started a little tradition of visiting that McDonald’s on any of our trips to Gatlinburg.

I had no idea that I would walk out of that restaurant with ice cream so tall I thought it might topple off the cone if I tilted it too far one way or the other.  That was something the folks in South Louisiana refer to as “lagniappe” (pronounced lan-yap).  It means, “a little something extra.”  That’s what that person did for us that night… a little something extra.  It was kindness.

Kindness is when we do a little something extra for someone… whether they deserve it or not… whether they’ve earned it or not… whether they’ve asked for it or not… whether they paid for it or not.  It is an attitude of generosity which goes far beyond money or goods.  Sometimes it’s helping out before we’re asked. Sometimes it is paying a compliment to someone who looks to be having a tough day but is doing a good job.

In the Old Testament, King David asked one day if there was anyone from Saul’s family to whom he could show kindness.  Saul was his predecessor… and the guy who had tried to hunt him down in order to kill him.  And yet David made a choice to be kind to Saul’s family because of his friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan, and because he wanted to have a right attitude.  It’s not that being kind was common.  In fact, it wasn’t in that day an time. Most kings wiped out any relatives of their predecessors.  So what David did was rare.

Sound familiar?  We live in a world where kindness is often a rarity.  Some people think it’s antiquated. But I’ve never met a person who didn’t appreciate it.  Everyone needs that little something extra… kindness.

So today, let’s tip that waitress a little more than we have to.  Let’s take some cookies to a friend or neighbor.  Let’s send someone a text just to let them know we think they’re amazing.  Let’s spiral the ice cream a little taller on the cone than is expected.  You never know… You just might make someone’s day in a way they’ll never forget.

Does It Really Matter?

A few years ago, I went through a three-month fitness and lifestyle transformation program with a group of friends.  In one of the training sessions, our coach told us the story of a woman who decided to transform her health one small decision at a time.  On average, she drank at least nine sodas each day.  So her first commitment was to cut one per day.  To her surprise, she was able to cut two per day very quickly.  And after a very short time, she had cut back to one per day.  That was a huge difference in her health which began with one small decision.

One day, the Old Testament prophet Elijah visited a woman in the town of Zarephath during the middle of a drought and famine.  He asked her to give him something to eat and drink, but she replied that she was a widow and only had enough to make herself and her son one more meal before they completely ran out and would most likely die in the days following.  In what seems like a cruel request, Elijah asks her to go ahead and make him some food first.  In that moment, this woman made a small decision which impacted her destiny.  The Bible tells us that because of her decision to honor God by feeding a small meal to this prophet, she never ran out of oil or flour from that day till the drought and famine were over.  Others went without, but this widow who could not provide for herself and her family never did.

I remember hearing a Japanese fable once about a jungle which caught on fire. As the fire spread and grew worse, all the animals began to make their way out of the jungle and away to safety.  All except for one lone hummingbird.  This little hummingbird would fly to a nearby lake, scoop up a few drops of water in its beak, fly back to fiery jungle and drop the water on the fire.  After having passed the crowd of exiting animals several times, one of the elephants asked why the hummingbird was making this futile effort.  The hummingbird responded, “I’m doing what I can.”

Our decisions determine our destiny.  Take that to heart today.  No matter how small your decision to act seems to be at the moment, remember that it has power to shape your future.  Choose the small kindness… the small generosity… the small forgiveneness… the small courage… the small compliment.  Though it may appear small to others at the moment, that one decision could multiply into your destiny before your very eyes!  And even if it takes some time to show its effects, stick with it.  Sometimes our destiny is revealed by our legacy. 

The Result

Someone was very kind to my boys yesterday and handed them some money.  It was more than they usually have at any one time… I mean, they’re only 6 & 1/2 and almost 9.

They were so appreciative of receiving the gift and thanked the giver. And the whole scene touched my heart for a couple of reasons:

1) Someone acknowledged my kids and took note that they have dreams and desires. They’re not “less than’s.”  They are just younger and maybe shorter than we adults.  It was as if that person valued my kids as people… for who they are… and for the things they do.

2) That person didn’t have to give them that money.  There is no unwritten code of etiquette which suggests it would have been appropriate.  It was sheerly a gesture of kindness, love and generosity.

Here’s the thing… When that person blessed my kids, it blessed me and made me happy.  It made me feel glad for my kids and good toward the giver.

And my guess is that God feels the same way when we treat others with kindness and generosity… when we value each other for who the other person is and what they do.  I surmise He grins a big grin and says, “Yeah! That makes me happy.”

I’m convinced that God will bless us when we treat others the way that person treated my kids yesterday.  Because if I— a far-less perfect father— feel that way when someone blesses my kids, how much more will God feel that way when someone blesses His kids?

What if tomorrow we put forth the effort to treat someone else kindly… with generosity… with respect and dignity?  Why, I believe we would honor God and invite His blessing on our own lives.  And I for one want to live that way!

A Place Called Nowhere

Scholarship

We have some friends who give at least one scholarship each year to a teenager who wants to go on a missions trip but is financially challenged. Their story about how the scholarship came about is theirs to tell, or at best saves for another time.

Several years ago, I found out about the scholarship and knew of a student going on a trip I was leading who needed some assistance. I obtained the application and gave it to the student who subsequently filled it out and sent it to our friends. The student ended up receiving the scholarship and going on the missions trip with us.

Nowhere

I know, cool story.  But what our friend said to me when I thanked them for helping this student out struck me so profoundly that I am often reminded of it. She wrote that they were happy to be able to help and then added these words (paraphrased)…

People like to thank God for blessings that seem to come out of nowhere… and I’m so glad I live in a place called “Nowhere!”

I read those words and was floored. For what seemed like the first time in my life, it hit me that blessings don’t come from nowhere. God uses average, everyday, ordinary people like you and me to share His blessings with others.

That scholarship… a check in the mail… someone in the drive-thru ahead of you buying your coffee… Those blessings didn’t come from nowhere. They came from a real God… utilizing a real person to impact your life positively at a moment when you least expected it.

Who Will It Be?

Now flip it.  Just think… you and I live in a place called “Nowhere.”  Each day we have the potential to transform someone else’s day… and perhaps their entire life… by blessing them.

And it doesn’t have to be just with money. Pay a compliment.  Pay attention.  Pay respect.

Send a note. Send flowers. Send a text.

Someone within your reach tomorrow will also be within your capacity to bless.  They may think their blessing came from nowhere… and you and I will both know that you are a resident there!  “No one can help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” (Author Unknown)

So, who will it be? Who will you choose to bless “out of Nowhere” tomorrow?

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