Might Never Top That One

We had only been married several years when PR31 decided that she was going to try, without telling me, to get me the best possible Christmas gift she thought I would be able to dream of. One day, it hit her. She knew something I would love because I had owned it at one time.

Flashback Scene… It was the spring of 1995. Angela and I had just gotten engaged, and I suddenly realized that as we graduated college and got married, I would need money. So, I did what any sane college student would do… I started selling anything I owned that wasn’t nailed down or wouldn’t be needed in married life. This included a significant portion of my massive collection of 1980’s Christian rock cassettes. It was hard to part with some of them. In particular, I had every Petra tape made to that point, and I sold them as a set to my friend, Chris. I don’t recall how much he gave me. I just know it was hard to let them walk away.

Back to the story… Angela remembered how much stuff I sold so that we could start our life together. And she remembered those Petra tapes. Somehow, she got me talking about it one day, and I relived for her selling them to Chris. That’s all she needed.

She secretly hunted down an email address for Chris… this was before social media existed… unless you count chat rooms. She got in contact with Chris and asked if there was any chance he still had those tapes. He laughed, and told her, “You won’t believe this. I’ve moved three times since then, but I’ve never unpacked the box they’re in, and I know exactly where they’re at.”

Jackpot! She told Chris that she would pay any reasonable price he asked plus shipping cost, but he laughed and said that she could have them because he had never really wanted them in the first place. He just wanted to help me out. She gave Chris our address, and he sent the tapes.

Since we were going to be with family for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we opened our gifts a day or two before we left. We sat in the living room of the double-wide parsonage and gave our gifts to each other till there was just one gift left under the tree. PR31 launched into a speech that sounded more like a disclaimer… “I wanted to get you something special, and I think you’ll love this, but it may not be anything big. If it’s not, no big deal.”

I had no clue what I was about to open. I didn’t know how to prepare myself. Slowly, and more carefully than normal, I removed the tape and wrapping paper. I opened the small cardboard box, and pulled away the paper packed around the gift. Then my jaw dropped, and tears filled my eyes just like they are right now as I type this story.

I couldn’t believe it. These were not just replacements of the very tapes I had loved over the years. They were my Petra tapes! And not just some of them. All of them!

I fumbled around through the tears with some, “How did you…” and “I can’t believe this!” As PR31 told me all she had done to get the tapes, I realized what an act of love this was. She thought of my likes. She thought of something I sacrificed. She went to all that effort. And then God worked a miracle to let Chris have the tapes, know where they were, and be willing to part with them. It was one of the times in life when I felt the most loved.

Those tapes may have been the best Christmas present I ever got… outside of God giving the gift of His own Son, Jesus, that first Christmas. If they’re not, they’d sure be hard to beat. But it wasn’t about the dollar value… it was about the love invested through care, time and effort.

What if we all tried to live out that kind of love this Christmas? Not just with the gifts we give each other. I mean, what if we really considered what mattered to others? What if we went out of our way to do something special… something we knew would mean a lot to someone else?

Better yet, what if we tried to live out that kind of love all year long, and not just at Christmas? Maybe we can’t do something that special for every person we meet every day of the year. But maybe we could once a week… or at least one time each month. And how much more love would be people sense in their lives if they “opened a box” like I did one day, and realized how much we really care about them? Well, I can tell you. In fact, I just did.


A Promise For Giving Tuesday

Today is the day. More important than Black Friday. More valuable than Cyber Monday. Today is Giving Tuesday!

Over the past week, many of us feasted. Many of us traveled. Many of us bought items at special sale prices.

Today, across this wonderful nation, we have the opportunity to focus our collective attention on contributing… donating… giving. We have the opportunity to make a big difference with even a small gift. We weren’t willing to miss out on deals… now let’s make sure we don’t miss out on donating.

Some will give to organizations. Others will give to ministries. I’d like to suggest that we could even give to individuals. Many will give money, but perhaps you don’t feel like you have any extra money to be able to give. Then why not give of your time and talents?

Each of us can, and should, do something. What if everyone gave to someone today? How different would our world be by midnight? Not sure what you can give? Here are some ideas:

– Offer to babysit for busy parents who just need time to go grocery or Christmas shopping by themselves.

– Rake or mulch leaves for an elderly friend.

– Give a gift card for coffee to a college student to be used as they study for finals.

– Make a donation of simple hygiene products like toothpaste and soap to a local foster care organization.

– Take a meal to a shut-in.

– Pay for the coffee or meal of the person in line behind you at the fast food place you stop at.

– Find out something that a missionary in another country loves but can’t get while they are away from home for years at a time, and send it to them in a care package.

– Give one of the volunteer pastors at your church a gift card to Walmart.

– Give a blanket to someone who is homeless.

There are so many people around us who have needs. I’m not saying we have to match what we spent over the past week. I’m just saying we should give something.

We don’t just have to look up the big, well-known ones online and input our credit card number or text a number to donate $10. We can make a difference in the lives of someone we know or someone whose path we cross today.

You know, we don’t always have to get a receipt for tax purposes. Someone is keeping better records of our generosity than the IRS. God offers a pretty amazing promise in Proverbs 28:27 for those who take this to heart… “Whoever gives to the poor will lack NOTHING.” (Emphasis mine)

I, for one, plan to find a way to give today. As I write this, I don’t know who… or what… or how… I just know that I plan to give. And I hope you will also!

Conditionless Positioning

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!

Lost & Gained

Like any decent parent who loves their kids and wants to see them happy, I have at times been the old softy who, after admittedly being a little frustrated, have bought a replacement balloon… or two… to replace one that has floated off into the great unknown.  The same is true when ice cream has been dropped, or a new toy broken.  Especially if the boys have saved up and spent their own money on something.

Maybe your parents never did that.  Maybe you’ve never done that as a parent.  Maybe the philosophy you have lived under… or lived by… was “Tough luck, Chuck. Maybe this will teach you, and next time you won’t…”.  If so, I’m sorry.  

I’m sorry because that possibly influences the way in which you view God.  You may think that because your blew it… or messed up something… or lost something… you are bad and need to learn to be good.

But God is a good, loving and gracious Father. Scripture says that He is slow to get angry and quick to forgive.  It says that He delights in bringing joy into our lives.

No matter what stage of life you’re in, we all evaluate our lives when we’ve lost something.  Maybe you’ve lost your health… or a person you love… or a job… or a dream.  Whatever the situation, God sees that you lost it.  He knows how much you enjoyed it.  And He wants to give you something else in its place which will bring you just as much… if not more… joy!

So you made a mistake.  Let Him wipe those tears away.  And don’t be afraid to ask Him to give you something else in its place.  It’s in His heart to do it already.

Newfound Joy

It happened somewhat unexpectedly.  It was there… inside me, but dormant.  Till about a year ago.  Life changed, and I discovered this newfound joy… writing.

I speak publicly, and have regularly for more than two decades.  So it’s not that words are new to me.  If you’ve followed the blog, you know that I enjoy the stage and the microphone. And that won’t go away anytime soon.

But what I didn’t see coming was how much I would enjoy sitting at the desk, pecking out keys to capture life… and truth… and encouragement… and hope… in words on paper… or screen.  Unlike preaching, when I write, no one is usually around.  Well, the dog doesn’t count.

Sure it’s still communicating.  Of course it’s still using words to convey thought. But it’s a whole new world to me… all this blogging and publishing stuff that writers do. And yet it has somehow awakened something in me I did not know I had. Something planted there by God before He ever formed me in my mother’s womb.

Let me ask you… Is it possible that you have something in you yet to be discovered?  Is there something wonderful currently dormant in you?  What if you began to excavate around that area of your life and uncovered something truly special which you and others around you could enjoy?  Maybe it’s completely different than what you used to do… or do now… or think you’ll always do.

Why not take some time this weekend and find something inside you that is longing to be let out, longing to be shared with others?  Who knows?  You may be the next Picasso… or Mozart… or Steve Jobs… or…

Spread your wings a little… the air is great up here!

Christmas In July- Continued

It has been such a fun week of celebrating Christmas in July as a family.  Memories have been made, and I believe a new tradition may have just begun for Team A.  We even drew names to get each other a small, inexpensive gift.

During this other “most wonderful time of the year,” I am reminded of the classic Christmas movies I loved watching growing up, and which our kids are now getting to enjoy. I loved those old claymation-type animated Christmas movies like Frosty The Snowman and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

One of my favorite parts of the Rudolph storyline is when they need to find toys for Santa to give and Rudolph leads them to the “Island of Misfit Toys.”  There lived the toys that had flaws… and mistakes… and missing parts.  They were the toys culture said didn’t match up.  But Rudolph believed there were kids who would love having those toys.

Maybe sometimes you feel like a misfit toy yourself.  Maybe you don’t seem to match up to culture’s “ideals.”  Perhaps you don’t have the perfect shape or figure.  Maybe you’re not quite as young or glamorous as you once were.  Perhaps your résumé or ACT score isn’t what someone thinks it should be.

But for every person, God has a purpose and a plan.  There is someone out there who needs what you have to offer.  There is someone out there who will love you for you.  There is someone who doesn’t see your flaws and mix-ups as problematic.  Instead, they see you as unique and wonderful.

Ignore those purveyors of “perfect.”  Be yourself.  You have worth and value just like you are.  Ask God to reveal His purpose for your life, and point you toward His plan.  You’ll find Him pick you up off the “island of misfit toys” and place you in a healthy, loving environment designed just for you!

Stop! Thief!

In my early twenties, I worked for Academy Sports and outdoors.  I worked every department and even worked as a cashier.  At one point, I had to learn how to look for and catch shoplifters.  The manager taught me how thieves generally work and the proper way to stop them.  The goal was to stop the thief and keep the goods for the good of the company.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  And he was right.  When we compare ourselves to others, we lose sight of our own purpose… and talents… and value.

Were you to stand beneath the Space Needle in Seattle… or the Empire State Building in New York and look at a nearby one-story shop, you might think the shop is of no value.  But the shop meets the needs of people just as much as one of the taller buildings… only in a different way.

The same is true in our lives.  When we compare ourselves to others, we only see their value and not our own.  But we each serve a valuable purpose on this planet, and we should not discredit our own personality, style, etc. simply because we don’t look like, sound like, dress like, serve like someone else.  Doing so only lets comparison become the thief of our joy… and get away with the goods.

God was way ahead of the curve on this one when He presented the concept in the Ten Commandments that we should not want what isn’t ours.  When we compare who we are and what we have with others, we lose the joy of who we are and what we have.

So, don’t let comparison rob you blind. When you sense yourself beginning to compare and you see that thief trying to steal your joy, just quietly say, “Stop! Thief,” and take your joy back.

How Much More?

We don’t mind giving our boys things they want. I’m not talking about spoiling them.  I’m saying that we listen to what they talk about and have a pretty good idea at most times what they are interested in.  So, as long as it’s not something ridiculous or something that would hurt them, we like getting those things for them.

Good parents want to bless their kids.  That’s really why they want their kids to behave… to do right… to go along with them as parents… to express love & appreciation to them as parents. It’s not because the parents are needy or demanding, but because- if the kids will do these things- it will make it much easier for the parents to bless them and not have to correct or punish them instead.

If we as earthly parents- who don’t have it all together- want to put a smile on our kids faces by blessing them with some of the things they want, why do we have such a difficult time believing that our Heavenly Father wants to put a smile on our faces as His kids?

This is why He gives us guidelines to follow in life. He wants us to do right so that He is free to bless us as His children. So maybe it’s time we adjust our view of the commandments in Scripture from a list of do’s & don’ts which we must keep to earn God’s approval to a way of living which draws us into a closer relationship with Him and creates an atmosphere in which He is free to bless us.

And before we go our separate ways today, let me just add that while we don’t live for the blessings God gives us, it’s also not wrong to want those blessings and ask Him for them as we follow Him with our whole heart.

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