You Can Afford It

“No one is so poor that they cannot at least pay attention.” – Unknown

One of my goals in life is to be more and more generous. However, like most of us, there are times when I feel like I cannot give as much as I would like. Perhaps it’s finances… or material possessions… or even time. But at that exact moment, I’m not able to give all that I would like to give.

There is a way, however, in which each of us can be generous at any given moment. It’s a gift any of us can afford. It is the ability to pay attention.

Everyone needs attention. Many long for it because they rarely receive it. People nod and wave. We often ask, “How are you,” as we keep walking right past a person. And so, many people go through life depleted in the reservoirs of their soul because they have experienced a drought of attention. Yet, we can all afford to pay attention in almost any given moment.

Years ago, a man I worked with in ministry taught me this valuable life lesson. He said it had been handed down to him from an mature minister whom he had watched practice it on many occasions. I had shared with my co-worker how, at the events we led, I felt so inadequate at giving everyone some time so that they knew I was interested in them and cared about them. What he shared that day helped me from that moment on to live generously in those times.

He said that I would never be able to give everyone as much time as they would want with me or as much time as I would want to give them, but I could always pay real attention to the person right in front of me. I could look them in the eye, and not look over their shoulder to see who else I needed to talk with. I could listen to what they were saying, and not try to formulate what I would say in response till they were done. I could focus on them, and let them know they were special. And when those few moments were done, that person would feel special… cared for… noticed… respected… loved… acknowledged. When I finished paying genuine attention to that person, I could feel free to move on to find the next person to whom I could give the gift of attention. Sure, there would be the casual greetings because too many people and too little time meant there was no way to do this for everyone. But for those to whom I could give the gift of attention, their day would be better, and my relationship with them would be deepened.

He was right, of course. I began right away to do my best to practice generosity in the form of genuine attention. No, I wasn’t always successful. I would sometimes get caught up in the chaos and allow myself to get too busy to give this gift, but I did my best. Years have passed since he shared that affordable gift idea with me, and I began trying to be generous in that way. Interestingly, I received a text just this past week from someone who shared how much it meant that I had paid attention to them and to others back then. It mattered to them. It still matters to this day.

So, the next time you think you don’t have anything to give… the next time you want to be generous, but aren’t sure you have a $20 bill in your wallet to hand a college student… or a car to donate to charity… the next time you desire to make a difference by giving… give the gift anyone can afford. Pay attention to the person in front of you at the moment. It may be your spouse, your kids, your co-worker, a neighbor, or the person on the aisle in Walmart who just wants someone to talk to. Whoever it is… whenever it is… just do your best to be generous with your attention. I promise… you can afford it!

Trek Or Tent

Note: Straight-Up Spiritual Post

Last night, standing in a church service where I was about to speak, the person leading worship said something about following God as He leads us like the Israelites did when God led them through the wilderness using a pillar of cloud during the daytime and a pillar of fire at night.

Looking into Scripture for the reference point, the cloud/fire pillar was where God would be as He led His people to the Promised Land after delivering them out of slavery in Egypt. When it was time for the people to move and go in a particular direction, God would lead them using this cloud/fire pillar. It was tall enough for the millions of them to see and follow. As long as God moved, they moved.

But there would be points along the journey when God knew they needed to stop and rest. So, the pillar would stop moving. When it did, everyone stopped, and they would set up camp there. They would erect the Tabernacle… the place of worship where man connected with God… right underneath that cloud/fire pillar. Then they would all set up their tents, and they would camp their till the pillar lifted from the Tabernacle and started moving again. As soon as it lifted, they broke camp and followed again.

Now I don’t think God has ever chosen to lead me with a pillar of cloud or fire. I sometimes wish life was that simple. But He does lead and guide us in definite ways. If we are playing attention to Him, He will help us know when it is time for us to get moving. He’ll lead the way so we know which direction to move. He will shield our eyes from what would blind us from our path, or He light the path in the dark so we know where to walk. And He will also help us know when to take a break.

Sometimes, however, when it’s time to move, we procrastinate because we hate to leave our campsite. We’ve gotten used to the lay of the land. It’s familiar and comfortable to us. Other times, when it is time for us to stop, set up camp and rest, we want to keep moving. We think we are strong enough. We think we are prepared for the challenges ahead.

The thing is, we need to learn to recognize when it is time to move and when it is time to camp. To do that, we have to keep our spiritual eyes trained on God for His prompts. He knows better than we do what is up ahead. He knows better than we do when we need to rest up and gain strength.

Let me ask you… Is it time to trek or tent in your life right now? If you’re not sure, why not take a few moments right here, right now, and just ask God to show you whether He’s moving or stopping. Then whatever He’s doing, do that, and you’ll be in the right place at the right time.

Believe

This is going to be a great week!

Repeat after me… “This is going to be a great week!”

Now… Believe it! Believe that God has good things in store for you this week. Each day is going to get better. Something is going to make you smile… make you breathe easier. Someone is going to be kind to you. You are going to accomplish something… excel at something. You’re going to laugh more. You’re going to feel better. You’re going to achieve your goals.

This is not a week to dread. This is a week to anticipate!

How can I guarantee this? How can you live up to the hype? Well, simply put, it’s basically up to you and me. We can either go into this week dreading each day… fretting and worrying… stressed and fearful. Or we can choose to look for the best in people… see opportunities in challenges… search for the silver linings to passing clouds. It’s up to us. We will get what we believe for… either way. It takes exactly the same amount of trust and emotional energy.

Solomon wrote in Proverbs that the fears of the wicked and the hopes of the godly will come about. That tells me that how I choose to look at this upcoming week largely impacts how the week will go for me.

So, decide early on in this week that it is going to be great… maybe one of the best weeks you’ve ever had. Determine to see the best in people and find positives in every situation. Start each day smiling and looking forward to all the good you will find that day. And at the end of this week, I believe and declare that you will see that you have had the great week you anticipated!

Now let’s do this!

Best… Day… Ever!!!

Several times over the past couple of weeks, Alex has burst into the room where Angela and I were, and exclaimed, “This is the BEST… DAY… EVER!!!” Usually, it has to do with achieving a new level on a video game, combined with having a favorite dessert, and maybe one other delight. Whatever the case, in his mind it was the best day ever. What’s funny to me is that happened again and again… apparently each day topping the previous “BEST… DAY… EVER!”

Truth be told, I find it hard to believe this tops the days when we’ve gone fishing. And I find it even more difficult to believe these days trump Christmas or our trip to Disney World a few years ago. There’s no way anyone would say these days compare… except Alex.

And I love it! I love that he’s not living in the past. For him, each day holds the potential to be celebrated… to be the BEST… DAY… EVER! In fact, it’s almost as if he’s looking for those days to be great. He’s hoping they’ll be great, even if they haven’t been the most exciting yet. Proverbs 10:28 says, “The hopes of the godly result in happiness.”

What are you hoping for today? Are you looking for today to be great? Is there anything that could happen, no matter how small, that would make you want to celebrate?

You know, it doesn’t always have to be something big. Maybe you have a great hair day… BEST… DAY… EVER! Or maybe the person ahead of you in line buys your coffee… BEST… DAY… EVER! Or maybe you get an actual, old-school, handwritten note in the mail… BEST… DAY… EVER! Or perhaps you have your teeth cleaned at the dentist, and they say you don’t need any additional work… BEST… DAY… EVER! Or maybe you aced a pop quiz… BEST… DAY… EVER!

Today, get your hopes up, and look for all those little things that might add up to making this the BEST… DAY… EVER! Then get up tomorrow, and do it again. Let every day have the potential to be your BEST… DAY… EVER… and you’ll find you end up having a lot more of them… like Alex.

Thanks for the cool reminder, bud… This just might be one of my BEST… DAYS… EVER!

Way More Fun

It’s football season. At our house, that means NFL. I’m not interested in the politics… I just watch it to relax and have fun. Now, the boys like watching with me, but they are not quite as captivated by all the finer points of the game. They do, however, love to play.

So, we have created a little ritual of our own. At commercial breaks, or halftime, or when a game is over, we play our own scaled-back games of football. We play inside because it’s air conditioned, and because we have a pretty decent size living room. One of the boys plays offense, the other defense. I am all-time quarterback… and referee. It’s that last part that creates the issues.

Basically, it doesn’t matter what call I make on any play… one of the boys usually gets frustrated with it. We often have to replay the down because I couldn’t see a play well-enough to call it accurately. The replay is mostly because I don’t want an argument from either one of them.

We’ve been working on having a better attitude. In most cases, that means not getting mad at the referee or at the opponent for making a great play. I’ve been challenging them to work on being good sports. Truth is, they both have some pretty decent skills. But I know that attitude trumps skills in life… even in football. A player can cost their team the game by losing their cool.

So, I was pleasantly surprised yesterday afternoon when Alex announced to me that they had decided to play with great attitudes and do their very best not to get upset during the game. I wondered how it would play out, but sure enough, they were young men of their word. They played the whole game with terrific attitudes, acknowledging calmly they wish a call would have gone another way, but moving on to the next play… or even congratulating the other player on a great play against them.

At one point well into the game, Alex said, “You know, Daddy, it’s way more fun playing football with a good attitude.” Austin agreed, and I beamed with pride at the lesson they had learned.

You know, life is way more fun when we have the right attitude… when we treat people the way we want to be treated… when give others the benefit of the doubt, knowing that no one is perfect except God… when we are big enough accept outcomes, even though they didn’t go our way. The Apostle Paul wrote that we should make it our goal to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus. That’s a tall order, but God wouldn’t have said to do it if He wasn’t going to help us be successful at doing it.

This week, let’s determine right from the start to have a great attitude… at home, at work, at school, in the store, wherever we are. Let’s choose to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus. My prognostication is that we won’t even get to the end of the week before we declare like Alex that life is, “way more fun!”

Not Just Ice Cream

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.

Weed As You Go

So last week I pulled up the remains of our early summer garden… along with a ton of weeds which had grown in amongst the plants. I’d like to tell you that I was being spiritual and doing like Jesus mentioned in a parable where the master told the workers to just let the weeds grow with the plants, and they would separate them at the harvest… but that’s just not true. It was hot, and I plain ol’ got tired of pulling weeds each day.

The garden had started out so beautifully. I had tilled and re-tilled. We had pulled out grass and weeds. We made wide paths and nice hills. It looked so great. And as the plants grew initially, I was so keen to make sure we kept the weeds out.

But then it got crazy hot, and it got easier each day to just let this little weed or that little weed go till the next day. Only it was still hot the next day. Plus, we were getting veggies from our plants. So who cared if there were a few weeds?

I’ll tell you who… this guy… last week when I began to clean out the garden for our late summer & early fall planting. There were so many weeds! I worked for hours till my shoulders and neck and back and knees ached. I sweated my clothes through. I couldn’t even finish. I will still have to go back with the tiller to get some of the more densely weeded areas. It will still be hot. And it won’t be any easier. In fact, it will be harder.

In much the same way, we can let little things go unchecked in our lives over time. A bad habit… a poor attitude… not keeping spending in check. If we would just deal with those little things as we go, one here or there, it wouldn’t be that tough at all. Sure, it may not be fun at the moment, but it will certainly be easier than a major overhaul if we let things build up and multiply.

So, stop today and do a little weeding. What negative thing do you need to pull up & toss out of your life? Don’t put it off. It will still be hot later. You’ll sweat less if you just tackle it now.

Weed now, or weed later. It’s your choice. I say we just weed as we go. You’ll be glad you did later!

Two Good Questions

Benjamin Franklin kept a journal in which he would ask and answer two questions each day… one at the beginning of the day, and one at the end of the day. At the beginning of the day, he would ask himself, “What good shall I do today?” And at the end of that day, he would ask himself, “What good have I done today?”

I love that because he planned to do good everyday. He didn’t just hope to do good… He strategically planned it out.

And then he held himself accountable to his goal. He knew he would have to answer that question at the end of the day, and it motivated him.

What if we each took ol’ Ben’s concept and used it as our own each day? What if we strategically planned to do even just one good thing tomorrow? What if we wrote it down? And what if we then held ourselves accountable to it tomorrow evening to make sure we followed through? Imagine how different our tomorrow might be! My guess is that we would be so glad that we did good, we would want to do it again the next day.

According to Ephesians 2, God planned for us to do good works. Seems like if we would just put Ben Franklin’s plan into practice, we would find ourselves getting on God’s plan and making a significant impact on those around us.

Ben Franklin asked two really good questions. My question today is… Will we do good tomorrow? I plan to, and I hope you do also!

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