Keep Trying

I grew up in the city, and so building a fire on your property was something that was actually prohibited by law… and the home owners association rules. So, you can imagine why one of the reasons living on four beautiful acres in the middle of a wooded community with no restrictions appeals to me is the freedom to build a fire when and where I want on our property.

Now, I was a decent Royal Ranger– the boys program at our church which included camping, knot-tying, and building fires along with memorizing Scripture and helping others. During my tenure as a Royal Ranger, I was taught fire safety, and still try to abide by those guidelines.

But we build some fires at our place! Some roaring ones. (I mean, how are you going to make s’mores if you can’t build a fire?) When we first moved out here, it took me awhile to get back in the swing of building a good fire. But slowly, along with some help from YouTube, the boys and I have become pretty proficient at causing wood to flame.

Today was different, though, for some reason. I had collected some small branches and twigs which had rotted and fallen out of trees, and put them in the burn pile. I grabbed my dryer lint, my old mail advertisements and one of those long lighters. I piled the sticks just right. They were small and dry. They should have practically burst into flame. But I almost couldn’t get the thing to take off.

Thing is, I really needed to get that fire going because I had two small trees on our property which had died and needed to be taken down. There was going to be a lot of wood to burn, and I couldn’t seem to keep the flames alive. I kept adding advertisements, re-lighting dwindling embers, adding more lint. At one point, I was tempted to give up. But I knew I couldn’t. There was too much to do. I needed that fire.

So, I kept nursing it. I kept feeding it. I kept re-lighting it. And then it happened. Some of the twigs finally caught fire. And when they did, they flamed up and caught other sticks on fire. Soon, I had a decent enough amount of heat and bed of embers below the flames to know that I could keep adding all the wood I would need to today. In fact, the picture above is the last of the wood I added just a couple hours ago.

As I was trying– and not succeeding– earlier this morning with my attempts to get the fire going and keep it going, I realized that this can happen to each of us spiritually sometimes. We feel like all the fire in us has died out, and nothing we try seems to get it really going. We go to church. We listen to worship songs. We read the Bible and pray like the preacher told us would help. But no flame. Nothing lasting. Oh, maybe a quick little flare-up at a conference or service. But nothing that keeps the burning of God’s presence and power alive in us.

If that’s where you’re at today, I want to encourage you to do what I did with this literal fire today… Keep trying! Keep reading God’s Word. Pick up a devotional book that grabs your attention. Keep talking TO God even if you don’t feel like you’re talking WITH God. Keep the worship music playing… and sing along. Keep going to church… even if some of the people aren’t perfect and everything isn’t exactly the way you’d prefer. Keep trying. Because at some point, God will honor your commitment and faithfulness. He will burst into flame in your life, and you will be so glad you didn’t give up. Whatever you do, keep trying!

Forward-Focused

My friend grew up on a farm, and to plow straight rows, they would put a stake at the end of the field and drive the tractor with plowing discs in a straight line toward by looking at that one fixed point the entire time. If they looked backward to see what they plowed, they could be thrown way off-course. If they looked to the side, they might only get a little off-course to begin with, but over a distance that small percentage off would end up messing up the whole field. The cool thing was that, after the first row was plowed straight by looking ahead at the fixed destination, the stake was no longer needed. They simply needed to put the edge of the disc in the first row and run along it because they knew it was straight. If they did the first row right, the rest of the rows would be straight also. It’s the power of looking straight ahead at your destination.

Our eyes are on the front of our face for a reason… Wherever we are looking is where our brain tells our body we will probably be heading. That applies in the physical, but it also applies to the rest of our life.

There is no need to look backward because what’s done is done. We can’t go back and change any of it. To look backward is to begin trying to move toward our past, and we never arrive at that destination because it is unreachable.

To look to our sides is to be distracted, and that can cause us to veer off our path. And even looking off slightly can cause big problems later on.

Let’s look ahead of us. Let’s fix our eyes on our destiny. Let’s set a fixed point in our future and stay focused on moving straight toward it. No looking back. No glancing off at distractions to our sides.

Look forward. Move forward. And what follows will be as straight as that first row.

Bonus Post: Just For Fun

So, we were out enjoying supper with good friends tonight when I happened to mention that peaches were on sale this week at a local grocery store. Something about that triggered a boisterous response from a certain young lady in the group… who shall remain nameless… who then let us know that what is wrong with our world is that there are not enough peaches and pears… always mostly apples and oranges.

I guess I had never noticed, but she’s right. Apples and oranges are in ample supply at every turn year round. But peaches and pears, how often do you see those? And who picks those as their first choice?

Why not, I say?! Let’s all buy more peaches and pears! Let’s plant peach trees and pear trees! No more hum-drum red delicious and navel norm for us. We are the people who eat peaches and pears!

Now that this is off my chest… I bid y’all a happy weekend… full of peaches and pears!

9-Year Old Truth

Just this morning, our 9-year old, Alex, reminded me of a deep truth in some very simple terms.  He asked me if I’d like to play the new level he created on the Wii U game, Mario Maker.  He said, “I think you’ll like it… I call it ‘God’s Path’.”

Here’s a pic…


Alex then began to describe to me how it is laid out.  At the beginning, you get to choose one of two paths to take in the game.  Each has an initial challenge, with a slight difference… the challenge on the upper path (aka, “God’s Path”) has a green shell… the challenge on the lower path (aka, “the Devil’s Path”) has a red shell.  He informed me that green means go, and red means stop.  Then he told me that I would definitely want to take the upper path and face the challenge with the green shell.  By choosing “God’s Path,” there would be a few challenges along the way, but there would be plenty of “power-ups” provided also to help overcome those challenges.  But on “the Devil’s path,” there would be a ton of challenges which could not be overcome… no way to win.

He had my full attention at this point, and I couldn’t wait to play.  As directed, I took “God’s Path” first.  It was a breeze!  I zipped through it with no problems, and when I got to the end, it dropped me out of the tunnel at the top of the flag pole where I could get the highest score and an extra life.

Then Alex says I should try playing “the Devil’s path.”  I told him I didn’t want to because I liked “God’s Path” and would never want to take “the Devil’s path.”  He replied, “I just want you to see how hard it is, Daddy.”  How could I refuse?

So, I took the lower path.  What a train wreck! I’m already no gamer.  But this path was so full of enemies and challenges, without any power-ups to help me get past them, that I had to re-start over and over… and over and over… and over and over again.  And when I finally forced the game to the end, it dumped me out so close to the bottom of the flagpole that I could only get the lowest score possible.

Now, I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I still cut… and I’m at least smart enough to see what he was showing me.  Talk about your armchair theologian!  This 9-year old kid just laid out for me the truth of the value of choosing to follow God’s plan for my life instead of the enemy’s way.

And on this Friday, I invite you to take a tip from Alex… choose “God’s Path” in real life.  Though you may face challenges there, too, they will be far fewer, and you will always have the power you need to overcome them.  Conversely, if you choose to take “the Devil’s path,” good luck with that.  It’s impossible to complete successfully, and it will cost you what could’ve been.

To quote the famous poem by Robert Frost…

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Truer words may never have been spoken… unless you count a 9-year old armed with a video game!

Take Another Step

Talked with a friend today who told of his struggle to blog consistently.  Granted, this guy has more than one absolutely legitimate reasons… not excuses, but genuine reasons… why he has not been able to blog like he wants to.  And I love that he’s bold enough to say he wants to keep going for it.

But he asked me… as have a few others… what my key to blogging six days per week for the past year has been.  And truth be told, this really applies to more than blogging.  It’s really what it takes to be consistent with anything in life.  If I could narrow it down to the three biggest contributing factors, they would be:

1) Make it about something bigger than the action itself.  For me, writing the blog daily was originally about all the people I could encourage, and about me learning to write daily so that I could author books.  Find a cause that gives you a bigger motivation to stay committed day after day.

2) Make yourself accountable.  When I launched my blog, I told a crowd of leaders at a leadership event that I had started a blog and would be writing it six days per week.  And when I started the blog, I announced it to all those who read it that I would write it six days per week.  Now that all those people had heard me say it, I had to be a man of my word and maintain my integrity.  Sometimes, I would be busy and realize at 11:30 at night that I had not blogged yet that day. I would determine that I would write quickly and post by 11:59 because I committed to write six days per week.  Knowing that someone might call me on it has kept me writing.

3) Just do it today.  There have been times I haven’t had anything to write for an entire week, but I would just try to find something to write for that day, and not worry about the days ahead.  All I have to do is check today off the list. Little by little, a little becomes a lot.  Tomorrow, I will write my 300th blog since starting.  That didn’t happen all at once.  It happened one day at a time.

It’s about consistency, but cut yourself a little slack.  Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t always succeed.  Just put one foot in front of the other, and take that next step in the right direction.

One last suggestion… ask God to help you do what you’ve committed to do.  He wants you to succeed.  And He knows how to help you.

Now, having kept my commitment today, I’m going to bed… but I’ll be sure to write again tomorrow with the Lord’s help!

The Making of a Marriage… Or Any Other Great Relationship- Part 3

I was in my last year of college, and I was talking with one of my professors about what my life might look like…my future… marriage… you know, just light casual conversation.  And she gave me some incredible advice that served me well.  That stately little powerhouse of a lady told me to make sure I married a young lady who was my equal because we were going to be partners in marriage.

She went to say that I should choose someone who was strong enough to challenge me in all areas of my life… because that would push me to always be moving forward in order to be the leader in our family.  She went on to clarify that by saying I should be the leader did not infer that I would better than my wife or superior… just fulfilling my role and responsibility.

She talked about the fact that in a marriage, both the husband and the wife are partners… equals.  But she went on to say that, although they are equals, each one has a unique, God-given, God-designed role.  My role was to lead and give her an example… to stay far enough ahead of her to challenge her to press forward for more, but by choosing a strong spouse that I would never be able to run off and leave her behind.  And yet not someone so strong that she could run off and leave me in the dust.

It boiled down to finding an equal, and respecting that she was my equal… my partner in this marriage.

That was amazing advice… and I am so glad I took it!  And boy did I evermore find an equal in PR31!  That girl keeps me on my toes.  Her generosity challenges my faith to believe I can be more generous.  Her prayer life challenges me to stay more in-tune with the Lord.  Her discipline and commitment level challenge me to  do more than not quit, but to take it up a notch.

Neither one of us has ever felt superior to the other that I can recall.  We are in this thing together… equals… partners.  We respect each other.  And we respond to each other as we fulfill our roles in the relationship.

To view someone as your equal is to show them the respect they deserve… and who wouldn’t want to spend their life in a loving relationship with someone who feels like that about them?

This works in other relationships also…

What if bosses treated their employees as equals instead of subordinates?  What if parents treated their kids with dignity and respect as equal members of the family?  What if students treated their teachers like real people just like themselves?

Respect.  Dignity.  Equals.  Partners.  In this together.  This is a great way to build a great relationship.

So why not give these three ideas a try over the next week… or month?  Why not learn to apologize well… communicate clearly… and give respect?  It could end up making a marriage… or any other relationship great!

The Making of a Marriage… Or Any Other Great Relationship- Part 2

PR31 and I had been married about six to eight months when we went to stay with her folks for about six weeks in between jobs.  During that time, we went to the young married couples Sunday School class that her mother was teaching.  The class was packed because she was an incredible teacher. She was way ahead of her time in utilizing video curriculum to elevate the excellence of the class and kick off discussions.

One of those video series she used was by Gary Smalley.  Well, PR31 and I got intrigued with them… and since we lived with the teacher, we had access to the videos whenever we wanted.  And since we were in between jobs, we had time to watch them.

One of the greatest takeaways we gained from those videos was a session he shared on communicating with word pictures to help the other person understand how what they said to us made us feel.  The illustration he gave was of a couple packing to go on vacation.  The husband pinches the wife’s side and asks if they are going to eat desserts on this vacation. He is only joking and means the pinch as a loving touch and the question as a joke, but she takes it as him saying she is overweight and doesn’t need any desserts on vacation.  Smalley picks up a small rock, a pebble, from a table and drops it on the floor… and says this is what the husband thought he did.  Then he picks up a huge boulder and drops it on the floor with a loud thud… and says this is what the wife felt when he said it. He used a word picture to help the audience understand what each was thinking and feeling. And he urged couples to find some way to help their spouse understand better what they were thinking and feeling.

This was nothing new… just sort of new to us.  I mean, Jesus used word pictures all the time to help people understand what God is like… and what matters to Him… and how God feels about certain things.  We call them parables… “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” or “Suppose one of you…”

Well, this Word picture thing sounded like a good idea for helping us learn to communicate in our marriage.  And low and behold, that Smalley guy is one smart cookie.  It began working for us… and it still does.  We even use it with our boys now.

Sure, it takes a while to figure out how to figure out the best word picture to share with a person. But you figure it out. It might go something like, “When you rub that dry napkin between your hands, it’s like someone raking their fingernails down a chalkboard… it drives me nuts.”  Don’t give up.

Sometimes the word picture doesn’t really convey the truth. So we added our own part as a disclaimer before the word picture.  We might say, “Let me try a word picture to explain how this makes me feel.  But if I mess it up, please let me walk it back and try again to get it right.”

Basically, this slowed the conversation… gave latitude for attempts at communication… and extended grace to the other person when they were genuinely trying to express thoughts and feelings in love.  These are always good for your marriage.

Over time, we built up enough word pictures which we both understood that we could say, “Okay, you know how you said… Well, think of that because this thing makes me feel exactly the way you said that makes you feel.”  Suddenly, the light would go on for the other person, and resolution came a lot more quickly because we now shared a common word picture that gave us a handle on how the other person was feeling,

So go ahead… give it a try the next time you feel your blood pressure rising because of something your spouse just said or did.  You can make a great marriage.  And hey, it works with any other relationship as well.  You can have a great marriage… or friendship… or parent-child relationship.  Anyone can do this.  And you’ll be glad you did!