Each morning, when our miniature Schnauzer, Sugar, goes outside and takes care of her necessary morning routine, she is rewarded with a treat. Sometimes, when I am the one giving her the treat, I play a little game with her in which I put the treat in one hand, then put my hands behind my back, switch it back and forth, and then bring my closed hands back around, placing them in front of her. She then sniffs my hands, and tries to figure out which hand the treat is in. Obviously, I want her to have the treat, and even if she gets it wrong the first time, I open the other hand and give it to her.

The other morning, Alex was the one giving her treat, and we discovered he plays the game a little differently with her. When he plays it, he puts a treat in both hands. In other words, he wants to make sure that she gets a treat the first time. Regardless of which one she picks, he guarantees her a win. When I saw that, I thought, “That’s really how God is with us.”

You seed God WANTS to bless us. He makes sure that we can find His blessings. He’s not actually hiding them from us. He’s not toying with us. He’s not even treating us like I do Sugar… He’s not saying, “Well, if you can find it, you can have it. And if you don’t, I guess I’ll eventually help you and go ahead and reluctantly bless you.” No, He desires to bless us. To be good to us. To help us succeed. He guarantees us a win if we come to Him expectantly.

Sometimes, we make God out to be some stingy, trick-playing magician who is using sleight-of-hand to keep us guessing. But that’s not who He is at all. Scripture tells us that He delights in being good to us.

Listen, today God holds out both of His loving hands in front of us, and there is a blessing in each hand. Just pick. If He’s offering it, then you can count on what He’s handing you being a blessing. Whichever hand you choose, you just can’t lose!

I love watching NFL games! Obviously, as a New Orleans Saints fan, I’m quite captivated as we come to the end of the season, and my team is in the playoffs. But I follow the game year-round, and I have been reflecting this week- as so many teams whose seasons have ended are letting coaches go and looking toward the next draft- about what each change a team makes really means.

I recall a statement by Adam Capland which I heard on an NFL radio show back in the preseason. He said, “Transactions always tell a story.” In other words, when teams trade, cut or hire, they express who and what they value. For example, just last week, a team in the playoffs hired a kick-off specialist because they didn’t feel like their regular place kicker could put the ball in the end zone on kick-offs. Simply hiring that other kicker meant they didn’t trust their own kicker to do his job. They didn’t value him or his abilities enough to believe in him.

Now, we can berate those team tycoons for the way they cut head coaches from the team coldly after several losses, or move on to the up and coming rookie because the crowd is tired of the veteran who is no longer in his prime. But the truth is that our transactions always tell a story as well. What we spend our money and time on speaks to what is important to us personally.

Each day, we have the opportunity to place value on people, to express how much they matter to us and to God. Simply saying yes to spending time with someone can speak volumes to them about how special and wonderful they are. Sometimes a small gift expresses immense love or appreciation. Jesus said that wherever our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Our transactions always tell a story.

It’s true. We give our time, attention and money to those whom we value most. Andy Stanley has said, “Saying ‘yes’ to one thing means saying ‘no’ to something else.” We only have so much of each to give, and so we prioritize. Who and what we love least will get cut or traded for who or what we love more or most.

Only people will last for eternity. People should always trump stuff. I know we can’t give everyone our undivided time and attention. Sometimes the money and the time truly aren’t available for everyone in your life. I’m not suggesting that you can give the best of yourself to all those to whom you want to give it. But maybe we could turn off the TV or put away the phones little more, and play a game with our kids. Maybe we could skip the meal at the restaurant and give to a friend in need. Maybe we could give up those few extra minutes of sleep to get up and spend some time with the Lord, reading His Word and talking with Him.

Transactions always tell a story. How has the story of your life read up to this point? Are you pleased with the story so far, or do you wish you could erase some of the story and re-write it? Well, we can’t re-write the past, but the good news is that the next chapter’s pages are blank. We have the opportunity today to begin writing the story in a way that tells the story our hearts longs to tell… Let’s tell a great story!

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…

This past weekend, we had a massive garage sale. Friday in particular was brutally hot, and we spent most of the day outside. Although I must admit, I tried to stay in the actual garage with a fan blowing on me as much as possible.

In the middle of the day, a dear family friend stopped by and visited with us for awhile. She is the sweetest lady you could ever meet. She is thoughtful, gracious, considerate, and never to be outdone when it comes to generosity. After her visit, we all commented how fun it was to have her stop by.

Later that afternoon, she texted me to let me know that she was picking us up some ice cream and would be by to deliver it to us shortly. I told her she didn’t need to do it, but she insisted. And sure enough, about ten minutes later, she rolled into the driveway with her delivery. For the record, it wasn’t just ice cream… It was Blue Bell. I grew up in Texas, and so the jingle… “Blue Bell, the best ice cream in the country,” actually means something to me.

I thanked her profusely, as did the boys. What she didn’t know until I told her, was that when I slipped inside to gobble down a quick lunch earlier, I wanted some kind of dessert. I had thought to myself, “It is so hot, some ice cream sure would be good.” But I knew none of us would be going to the store that day because of the garage sale, and so I figured ice cream was just out of the question. It was just a fleeting craving and a fanciful whim… so I thought. Until she brought ice cream.

I had not said a word to anyone about ice cream. I didn’t have to. The One who knows all things delights in every detail of my life, according to Psalm 37:23. He knew that He could nudge her heart to buy ice cream, and she would do it. So He did.

She did not know that I needed that ice cream reminder that day to remind me that if my Heavenly Father can cause someone to bring me the dessert I wanted on a whim, then He can tackle the other part of that verse, which says He also directs the steps of my life. It was a subtle reminder, but it was not lost on me. He threw it, and I caught it.

So when is ice cream not just ice cream? When it reminds that person receiving it of how intimately involved God is in their life. You see, it wasn’t just ice cream she delivered Friday… It was love… It was encouragement… It was hope.

So, this week, let’s be sensitive to those nudges… because we never know when it is not just ice cream.

When you go to a restaurant to eat, and you place your order with the server, they typically bring you exactly what you ordered. You asked for it and expected it, so that is what they brought you. What’s interesting is that you can also tell that server you believe they are going to do a great job serving that meal… and they will do just that.

People will rise to the level to which they are challenged to rise. It’s because they believe that someone else not only believes they are capable, but that someone believes in them.

We all struggle from time to time in believing in ourselves. It’s part of the human condition. Yet, within each of us, there is this ability to help others rise out of that struggle and achieve all they are capable of being and doing.

I have chosen to believe the best in people… to hold them to high standards… to cheer them on and believe in them… to let them know all the potential I see in them. And you know what? They typically respond by becoming exactly that… or more.

This is what Jesus did with the disciples He selected, and with basically anyone He met. He called them to a higher standard. Those who were genuine may have faced challenges and struggles along the way, but for the most part they rose to the occasion and became more than anyone else expected.

Whose challenges will you look past today in order to see their potential? And what will you call them to? How will you cheer them on and celebrate them as they begin to make progress? And how will you both feel when they reach that potential?

It’s time to stop reading for today and start reaching. You get what you order!

Author’s Note: Excited to share this 400th post with you today!

Sometimes the boys try to explain a video game to me, and it sounds like they are speaking a foreign language. Sometimes PR31 tries to tell me how to cook something or what she is doing with a craft, and it seems like we must be from different countries because I can’t seem to understand what she is saying.

But there is a language all of us understand… and crave. That language is encouragement. We all know it when we hear it, and we each need to hear it daily.

I was speaking at a conference recently, and I sat in on the other sessions when mine was over that morning. One of the speakers shared a University of Washington study from ten years ago which showed that students between the ages of 12-17 hear negative statements at a rate of 30 negative statements to 1 positive statement. My guess is that teenagers aren’t the only ones hearing that many negative statements in life. If it isn’t someone else, we sometimes speak negatively to ourselves.

That’s why it’s so important to speak “up.” Speaking the language of “up” means keeping our words positive, uplifting, helpful, good, and encouraging. It’s a foreign language to many people. They have rarely or never heard it, and so they don’t understand it very well. But instinctively, they know there is something about it that they like. And like any language, if we will practice, we can not only hear it and understand it, but we can begin to speak it.

I want to be fluent in the language of “up.” I want every word that comes out of my mouth to be tinged with hope and joy. I want to see people’s frowns turn into smiles when I speak this language to them. I want to hear from people that their life improved after I spoke this language of encouragement and inspiration to them.

It’s funny to me that we always think of Heaven and God as being up because Heaven is too difficult to locate, and God is not restricted or limited to one location or direction. But isn’t it interesting that we think of Him and where He lives as “up?” He is the originator of speaking this language called “up.” Even when He has to challenge or correct, it is in such a way and with the desire to lift us… “up.” And since my life revolves around knowing Him intimately, loving Him deeply and following/serving Him faithfully, I want to speak His language… the language of “up.”

We can learn this language and become fluent, and in so doing begin to bring transformation to the lives of those whose paths cross ours each day. Don’t let an opportunity to make such a significant impact pass you by today. Send the text, make the call, pay the compliment, offer the encouragement, share some hope… Speak up!

For the second time this winter, we have snow! I know, not a big deal for those of you who don’t live in the Deep South, but for those of us who do… it’s a pretty big deal. And the beauty is, I won’t have to shovel any of it like we did when my family lived in Minnesota. Win-win.

Interestingly, this time with the snow, we have seen a significant number of songbirds gathering around our property in their search for food. There have been cardinals, bluebirds, finches and wrens. It has been so much fun to just sit and watch them.

Our oldest son, Alex, remembered that we had some birdseed and decided to put some out in a feeder hanging from our front entryway. He filled it up and then spread some on the ground as well. Soon the birds found the seed, and they haven’t stopped coming. Knowing that we helped them and seeing how excited they are about this provision has made our bird watching even that much more enjoyable.

Now, those birds didn’t know where they were going to find food. They didn’t ask for the food. They didn’t come knock on our door to see if we had any birdseed to spare. They were simply on the lookout. We were the ones who saw their need. We were the ones who had the ability to provide. We were the ones with the power to make their life better and easier. We were the ones with enough care in our heart to help them out.

Then I remembered this morning that Jesus once said something about this that applies to all of us as humans. In Matthew 6:26, Jesus said, “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your Heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to Him than they are?”

Since we are more valuable to Him than birds, we don’t have to worry about how our needs are going to be provided for today. Truth be told, it’s nice to ask God to meet our needs, but He sees our needs… He sees us searching. And He has not only the ability to provide, but the care and concern in His loving heart to do so.

I don’t know what you need today, but God does. He sees you. He’s watching, and He will provide. And when He does, He will watch with joy as you take in His blessings… blessings you could not obtain on your own… blessings you did not know we’re coming… blessings that were lovingly provided by Someone greater than you.

I promise… you are more important to God than the songbirds around our home. Yet God made sure a nine-year old put out birdseed for them yesterday. And He will make sure that your needs are provided for as well! Keep your eyes open… He’s putting out birdseed for you!

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!