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!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, our family really likes to enjoy most holidays. Angela is super creative, and always seems to have some fun little ways we can make a holiday enjoyable for the boys.

Now, April Fool’s Day may not be the biggest holiday on the calendar, but you can bet your bottom dollar that we are going to prank each other plenty on that day. In fact, we enjoyed it so much this year that, as we put the boys to bed that night, they asked if we could extend it and make it April Fool’s Week. We gladly obliged, and the shenanigans began.

Toward the end of day 2, Alex had gotten Angela pretty good once or twice, and she had promised to get him back. His mind began swirling with ways she might try to prank him. As the boys got into bed, Alex kept looking all over trying to see how she was going to get him. She told him, “Oh, it may not be tonight. You don’t know when it’s going to be.” He could hardly stand it.

Later, she revealed to me that she didn’t have a prank set up. The prank was that she was trying to make him think she had one planned. Thus, he would go around the rest of the week looking under every cover and around every corner trying to avoid being pranked… all the while not knowing that WAS the prank.

Kind of reminds me how the ol’ devil works on us. He tries to trick us into thinking that he can do something to us, when in reality he has no authority or power over us unless we give it to him. He was defeated by God when God kicked him out of Heaven after a failed coup. He was defeated at the Cross when Jesus died for our sins, and at the Tomb when Jesus rose from the dead, sealing victory for us over death, hell, and the grave.

So the next time the devil threatens that he is going to get you, don’t sweat it. Ignore him. He’s trying to make you think he’s got something planned that is going to take you out, but he doesn’t… because he can’t! His plan is simply to make you think he can and thereby cause you to worry and fret, giving into fear so that he can manipulate you. Just look that ol’ liar in the eyes, and tell him to bring it! He’ll skulk away like the trickster he is, and you will chalk up another tally mark in God’s victory column.

I love the meme I saw on social media last week which read, “It doesn’t snow in Louisiana… It pollens.”

It’s that time of year when the greenish-yellow powder dusts everything that sits still for thirty seconds or more. It’s that time of year when antihistamine is part of my daily regimen.

So you can imagine my delight when this morning while I was sipping my coffee, eating some cereal and having some time alone with the Lord, I heard the rumble of thunder and then a downpour of rain. You see, the driveway has been coated with so much pollen that it just wouldn’t come clean. Using the leaf blower only created yellow clouds which settled in other places… only to be replaced by more pollen. But a good hard rain… well, that was just what we needed to wash away the bee and butterfly dust.

You know, sometimes our lives get coated with guilt and regret because of the things we’ve said or done. We may or may not verbalize it to anyone, but it lays there like that greenish-yellow pollen, tinting us till we don’t look like our normal selves and creating an allergic reaction in others around us. But we don’t have to live that way. We don’t have to wear that guilt, shame or regret. If we will turn it over to God, He will wash it all away… just like the rain washing the pollen right off our driveway.

David… a guy in the Bible who cheated on his wife with the wife of one of his closest friends and comrades in arms, and then had the guy killed when the woman turned up pregnant, was later called a man after God’s own heart. How does that happen? Well, in Psalm 51, he comes clean with God. He asked God in the second verse of that song to wash him clean from his guilt. And God did!

He will do the same for you today. All you have to do is ask Him, and the rain of His mercy and forgiveness will wash the pollen of your guilt and regret away in an instant.

There are a few puddles on the driveway as I look out the window right now. Their edges are not tinted yellow. They are not ringed with remnants of pollen. They are clean and clear.

That’s how your life will be if you’ll ask the Lord to wash away your guilt today. That’s why Jesus came and died. It’s what God wants. He’s not trying to hold anything against you. He wants to wash it all away. Just ask.

I don’t know what you’re afraid of. I really am not crazy about heights. Or snakes. Or confined, closed-in, restrictive spaces.

Yeah, I know those may be a little silly. There are a lot more serious things in life we could be afraid of… like getting sick. Or getting fired. Or being left alone. For some people, it is facing something new. Or someone new.

The thing is, we don’t have to live in fear. All throughout Scripture, God instructs- and on occasion even commands- those who love Him and follow Him not to be afraid. But He goes a step further and tells them how they can achieve that fearless lifestyle. He tells them to remember that He will be with them. Remember that the God who spoke, and suddenly sun and moon and stars appeared, would be WITH them. Remember that the God who could destroy the whole earth and yet save each species to start over was WITH them. Remember that the God who could tame lions and part seas was going to be WITH them.

So David didn’t have to fear Goliath… because God was WITH him. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didn’t have to be afraid of being thrown in the fiery furnace because there would be a fourth person in the fire WITH them… and He was God. Esther didn’t have to fear going in to see the king unannounced… because God was going in WITH her. Peter didn’t have to fear walking on the water in the middle of a storm… because Jesus was right there WITH him.

And the even better news is that you and I don’t have to live in fear as we face our challenges… because is WITH us also. You’re not walking into that job interview alone… He’s WITH you. You’re not alone in that MRI room… He’s WITH you. No matter what you’re facing, you do not have to fear because that same God who was there for all those people thousands of years ago is alive… and will be WITH you.

So, don’t be afraid today… for He is WITH you!

Our family loves board games and card games. Admittedly, I probably love them more than Angela or the boys, but we all enjoy a good round of Sorry, Clue, Jr., Mexican Train, or Farkle. We are all just a little competitive. We talk a little smack about how we’re going to trounce the others quickly. We cheer and laugh it up when someone smokes another player with a great move.

Our most recent addition to the cabinet full of games is Monopoly Deal. It’s the card version of the board game. It’s fun because it really involves luck-of-the-draw almost as much as it does some strategy.

The boys have gotten pretty good at it, but the other night Angela beat Austin soundly. When they finished, Austin said, “Aw, man! I forgot I had all these good cards I could have played. I bet I would have beat you if I hadn’t forgotten I had those.”

It’s true. In the heat of the game, he had laid aside some of his cards or stuck them behind other cards in his hand, and he forgot they were right there at his access for him to use to win. He could have defeated his opponent… and had bragging rights for at least a few minutes… IF he had remembered the good cards he had to play.

Here’s the thing… What was true for Austin in that card game is true for all of us in life. When we forget the good things we have at or disposal, we are more likely to lose out. When we forget that God has given us good promises and good gifts, we miss out on winning more times than not. We face an opponent who doesn’t care if we forget. In fact, he’d like for us to forget that we have access to provision, healing, grace, miracles, and so much more.

Choose today and everyday to go through “your hand,” and remember all the good things God has given you to make you successful in life and overcome the enemy of your soul. Look through Scripture, and remember that you have powerful promises. Look through your life, and remember that you have wonderful experiences when God came through for you before to show you that He is there for you now.

Don’t let those “good cards” stay tucked away and hidden. Play them early and often, every chance you get. In the end, you’ll come out the winner.

Let me encourage you to stop right here and right now to sort through “your cards.” Write down a list of three or four promises God has given you. Then write down three or four memories of times in life when He came through for you. Keep them with you, and as you go through the day, if you hit a point when your opponent seems to be getting ahead of you, pull out your good cards and play them one after another on him. He doesn’t stand a chance when you remember your “good cards!”

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!

There may not be a more guttural display of manly competitiveness than that of arm wrestling. Pit two men against each other in a test of sheer arm strength till veins bulge in their foreheads and necks, and people will gather around to watch. Pit me against either of our sons, Alex or Austin, and no one would pay the price of admission.

Why? Because it’s no contest. Their bodies have not yet developed muscles to the point whereby they would have enough strength to defeat me. Simply put, I would win every time.

I remember challenging my parents to arm wrestling when I was younger and winning many times, only to realize in later years that it is because they were letting me win. I was so disappointed to discover that I wasn’t as strong as I had thought.

You know, the enemy of our souls is a lot like a little kid arm wrestling their parent. That kid doesn’t stand a chance unless he is allowed to win by the parent. The kid would lose every time. And the truth is, Scripture tells us that “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.” In other words, because God lives in me, when the devil challenges me, I can win every time. He’s just out-powered. It’s no contest. The only way the devil can win when he comes against me is if I let him win. But as long as I oppose him… as long as I put up any resistance at all… he simply cannot overcome it.

There is this myth which floats about mankind which says what is going on in the spiritual is an epic battle between good and evil… that God and the devil are equal opposites, and we just have to wait and see who will win. That is misguided thinking. The angel who rebelled against God and became who we know as the devil was a creation of God who was instantly defeated the moment he opposed God, and he has been living a defeated existence ever since. There is absolutely no comparison or competition.

And since the Creator of the Universe lives in those of us who have accepted Him, we have that power in us. This means the devil is no competition if we will simply offer resistance.

I don’t know how he has flexed his wicked muscles in front of you today, or how he has taunted you to sit down at the table and grasp hands, but when he says go, just hold tight… give him a wink… and then slam his wrist through the table… because he doesn’t stand a chance of winning if you oppose him with the One who is greater living in you.

So get out this week and arm wrestle the devil if you must. Just remember… you can’t lose as long as you offer resistance!

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!

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!