Blue collar or white collar.

Advanced or challenged.

Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian or African.

Athletic or bookworm.

The actor in the movie said, “We are all born into a role, but the person you become is up to you.”

So my question today is… Who are you becoming?

I’m not asking what labels have been slapped on you by parents, educators, coaches, bosses or friends. I’m not asking how much you make or what you scored on a standardized test. I’m not asking what your bank account balance is. I’m not asking what challenges you have had to face because of where you were born or which family you were born into.

I’m simply asking… Who are you becoming?

You have been given the freedom to choose how you will live, regardless of where you live or how old you are. You get to choose how deeply you are going to love. You get to choose whether or not you will have a good attitude toward the authority figures in your life. You have the power over the words which come out of your mouth. So, who are you becoming?

Are you becoming a better version of yourself? Or are you just letting things slide?

There are times I look back over my life and wish like crazy that I had been wiser… more considerate… more self-disciplined. I could let that frustrate me, or I can let it mean that I have at least learned from those mistakes and become a better person.

Look, because of what Jesus Christ did for me, my sins are forgiven. That doesn’t mean I can just walk around acting however I want. While God views me as I will be… completely perfect… a finished product… it’s up to me to become a person who lives up to what He has done for me. I want to become more. I want to become a better husband. A better dad. A better son, brother, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, and nephew. A better friend. A better leader. A better servant. I want to become more. I’m not content to stay at the same level emotionally or spiritually. (I know I should have added physically, but let’s face it… I’m fairly content. 😜)

What about you? Who are you becoming? Don’t get stuck. Don’t give up. You can be a better version of yourself tomorrow. And even better a year from now. So wear your “Hello, my name is…” nametag for now, but do all you can to keep becoming who you can be!

I recently heard someone ask the question, “How long are you willing to try and fail before you quit?”

Yeah, I’ll give you a moment to ponder that one…

Some people quit before they even start because something seems too difficult. Others will try something for a little while, and see if they are good at it or can accomplish it quickly. Others will try until they cannot think of any other way to succeed on their own.

Then there are those who are determined. They are determined to keep trying even if they didn’t succeed the first time, or second time, or 29th time. They are determined to succeed if it takes more time, more effort, more money. They are determined to ask others to help them. They are determined not to give up.

I think about Abraham Lincoln who kept running for political offices even though he had lost in so many of his attempts to be elected. I think about Thomas Edison, who refused to give up when as many as 1,000 of his efforts at creating an incandescent light bulb failed, and when his first successful one was dropped by a young boy going to show others. I think about missionaries who have gone to places where they may only reach one convert in their decades of ministry on a foreign field. Those people were determined.

And I can’t get this question out of my mind.

I am typically not a quitter. I may be a steady plodder who understands that it may take me awhile to figure out how to do something… it may take me plenty of tries to get it right… I may have to find someone else who knows more about it than me to teach me how… I may have to save up slowly to have what I need to accomplish it… but I am usually willing to keep trying and failing if I believe deeply that what I’m doing is important and valuable. Yet I wonder if I sometimes give up too quickly or too soon?

Is there something in your life that you really want to accomplish? Do you want to run a marathon? Be a better dad? Invent something useful? Help widows? Stop human trafficking? Become an entrepreneur? Graduate? Write a book? Learn to paint?

What’s stopping you? To what extent are you willing to go to succeed? I’m not talking about doing wrong. The ends don’t justify the means. I’m simply asking if– like me– you might sometimes stop just a little too early. What if we were willing to try and fail even more so that we could learn and succeed even more?

So you didn’t get the job or get the promotion. So you didn’t pass the test. So you didn’t make the team or the band. So you didn’t inspire them or make them laugh. So you gained back some of the weight you lost. So you didn’t ________________________________.

Whatever it is that is blocking your path to succeeding at what God has put in your heart and mind to be and do, don’t quit yet. Be strong. Rest if you must, but don’t quit. Be courageous. Try something bold and different. Even if others think you are foolish for continuing to try, keep going for it. You’ll be the one laughing when you succeed at what they thought was impossible.

God is not a quitting God. His love never fails. He is always there to help us succeed when we look to Him for help. So, don’t give up today. Not just yet. You’ve got more in you. Try again. Fail again if you must, but just don’t stop believing or trying. In the end, you’ll be glad you were willing to try and fail as long as it took!

Our friends who live in the north may have a difficult time believing this, but it is almost time for me to get out the tiller and turn over the ground in our garden patch in order to begin getting it ready for planting. I’ll have to till it up two or three times, weeding and leveling before we make rows and plant seeds and seedlings. But those seeds have to be in the ground by Good Friday around here, or there won’t be much to pick this summer:

I read this quote from Audrey Hepburn recently which caught my attention because I’ve got gardening in the back of my mind. She said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” That, my friends, is truth. We almost didn’t plant a garden last year because we weren’t sure if we would still be living here, but we went ahead and did all the work for the garden, whether for ourselves or someone else. I’m sure glad we did because we enjoyed a lot of veggies out of that garden all the way up into fall.

So, I’m planning to plant a garden in the back yard again this year. Do I know that we will be living here in the same place “tomorrow?” No, I do not. But someone will be living here. And someone will be glad we did the work to plant that garden.

You see, doing all the prep work and then planting a garden is an act of faith. It is believing there is going to be a tomorrow to go out and harvest what we’ve planted. It is an act of hope… trust… faith. It is believing that all the effort will have been worth it. It is believing there will be a pay-off or return for our investment.

The same is true in life. When we make the investment in time and effort and energy today, we say to ourselves and those around us, “I believe there is going to be a good tomorrow. I’m planning for it. I’m preparing for it. I’m looking forward to it.” That’s faith.

So, whatever you’re facing today, plant a garden… that is, believe in tomorrow. Don’t give up. Don’t avoid the prep work because it seems early… or looks daunting… or because you think you may not be the one to enjoy it. Getting ready says you believe there is a good future to look forward to. And there is! God has good things in store for those who love Him and follow Him. So, get your work gloves out, grab some tools, and let’s get that garden planted!

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!

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!

One of the gifts Alex received for Christmas this year was a pogo stick. And though I never had one, I could not wait for him to open it when we celebrated Christmas as a family. Sure enough, he opened it and loved it. And it didn’t take him hardly any time all to be up and bouncing multiple times to our amazement.

Then Austin wanted to try it. We weren’t sure Austin would like it yet, and so we had not gotten him one. But he insisted on trying it out. He tried. Then he tried again. And he tried again. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not seem to get the balance and motion to work. Even after we got back from visiting our families for Christmas and the boys got back at the pogo-ing, Austin struggled to get even two or three jumps strung together. He would get frustrated and say, “I’m just no good at it.”

We tried to encourage him to keep trying, to keep believing. But when you just seem to keep failing, believing for success is a tough pill to swallow. We wondered if maybe his body just wasn’t at a stage of development where he could achieve what it took to pogo.

Then the day before yesterday, something clicked. He had kept trying. Alex tried to share what he had learned that worked for him. And Austin would just not give up. Suddenly, while I was watching him, he jumped six times. Then it was ten. Then he started setting goals. Next he nailed more than 20 jumps. Out of nowhere, he strung together 60 hops. The kid was becoming a human Tigger before our very eyes.

We were blown away when he came back to our room before we left to go somewhere, and he showed us a video he shot on the iPad of him jumping. As I watched, I counted… ten, twenty, forty, eighty, 100… 110! One hundred ten consecutive jumps on the pogo stick without stopping.

Yesterday, he decided to up his game. How high could he bounce? How far? Now Alex was trying to compete and catch up to him. Austin surprised us by showing us his new trick… he could jump up the steps from the sunken living room to the entryway and back down without falling. Next was some kind of trick where he kicked his foot out while jumping. Then it was jumping over things stacked on the floor, followed by special landings. I’m starting to think we better get a helmet and some elbow pads on this kid.

But wait a minute… Isn’t this the same kid who couldn’t do it to begin with? Isn’t this the same kid who thought he was no good at it? Isn’t this the kid who had compared himself to his brother who happened to learn it almost immediately and got discouraged because he couldn’t keep up? What happened? What brought about the transformation?

I’ll tell you what happened. Austin didn’t give up. He kept hoping. He kept believing. He kept trying. He kept taking advice. He kept watching someone else do it and learning from them. He kept on. And though it wasn’t immediate like it was for Alex, success came.

It reminds me of Abraham in Scripture. God said he would be the father of many descendants, but for 25 years, nada. Yet Paul told the Romans that Abraham was counted right with God because he just kept on believing, kept on trusting, kept on hoping. Abraham kept on until the promise became reality. When it looked like he couldn’t, he kept believing and hoping he could and would.

You know, there may be something that you want to accomplish, but you think you are “no good at it.” Don’t give up. Keep hoping. Keep believing. Keep trusting and trying. Keep studying. Keep watching and learning. One day soon, just like Austin and Abraham, you might just succeed beyond what you could have ever expected!

By the way, Austin hasn’t stopped. This morning he woke up with new goals and new ideas for the pogo stick. And he is inspiring Alex to try for more by his success. So get out there today and try again!

I have a problem. I keep doing the same thing over and over. And it’s ridiculous. It’s crazy. In fact, Albert Einstein is credited with saying that, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.”

What is my problem? I use the ellipsis too much in my writing.

See, I write the way I talk most of the time. (You probably just read it much slower than I say it.) In a blog that is more a relaxed flow of thoughts, perhaps it is alright to overuse the ellipsis. You, the reader, get it. It gives you the cue to pause as you read.

But when I wrote my first book, I Got A “D” In Leadership, my editor pointed out repeatedly… until she got tired and just finally said to watch for it from that point forward… that I way overuse this little jewel of punctuation. (I think it’s my favorite, although the exclamation point runs a tight second.) The problem is that there are other ways to show pause in writing. Enough ways to keep the writing interesting and the reader engaged. She gave me examples and showed me why they would work more effectively.

So when I wrote my second book, The Upside, I purposely worked hard at making sure I did not overuse the ellipsis. And would you like to know what one of the first fixes my editor had to point out? You guessed it. The almighty ellipsis, my best friend in writing and simultaneously my arch nemesis. She reminded me that, while I could use it, there are other ways to accomplish the same thing. And sometimes those ways are truly better.

Now, I know old habits die hard, but I was reminded once again in that editing process that there are other ways to accomplish the same thing. Truth is, when I switched to some of the others, I found myself liking the writing better. It better suited what I was trying to communicate. It gave me new methods. I actually enjoyed the writing even more.

Here’s the thing… We all deal with this problem. Oh, perhaps yours is not a punctuation problem. Yours is almost certainly something else. Maybe something far more significant. Perhaps you need to shed some weight for your health. Maybe you want to improve your marriage. Or maybe you just want to get to work on time. But the principle is the same.

There is probably at least one other way of accomplishing your goal. You don’t have to keep doing things the same old way. And a new year is the perfect time to decide to and discipline yourself to try a new way. And in the process, you just might find that you like the new way even better.

God is the God of new things. Sure, He is from eternity past. Of course He is familiar with history. But He offer new life, new hope, new methods, new creativity, new options, new possibilities. Instead of doing things the same old way, why not ask God to help you today to begin to discover new ways to accomplish your goals?

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!