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!

Recently, we were gathered with some family and someone had purchased chocolate chip cookies from a local bakery. The boys love those cookies, and so we kind of have to monitor how many they eat. Because we do this, they sometimes come ask before they get another cookie.

We were outside working on a project when Austin came out and found Angela. He asked, “Mama, can I have another cookie.” She sweetly replied, “Sure, baby.” At that, Austin grinned, pulled a cookie out of his pocket and began to eat it.

That, my friends, is called faith.

You see, faith comes expecting. Faith comes ready to receive. Faith says, “I believe the answer will be ‘yes,’ and so I’m bringing a cookie with me. That way, when I get that ‘yes,’ I’ll have my cookie ready.”

Scripture says that when we ask the Lord for something, to exhibit true faith we must really believe that We are going to receive what we are asking for and not doubt. It’s not just a hope. It’s not just a wish. It’s expecting to receive. It’s carrying a cookie in your pocket when you go ask your mama if you can have a cookie.

What is it that you are asking of God today? What is it that you need Him to provide… or do… or answer? Are you really believing that He will Grant your request? Do you have Austin’s kind of faith… the kind that carries a cookie in your pocket when you go to ask?

Choose today to believe before you even ask that the answer will be “Yes!” Carry a cookie in your pocket… and enjoy it when God says, “Sure, baby!”

The other day, on a particularly beautiful day after a number of days in a row marked by rain, we were outside as a family and decided to give the chickens a little time outside their coop and run to free-range. They were having the time of their lives eating up grass, weeds, bugs and worms. The three of them would go around together. Then they would split up and do their own thing.

At one point, a loud helicopter flew over pretty quickly. Each chicken stopped, listened, and then they all ran straight for their coop, in an almost single-file line. When they felt threatened, they knew right where to run. They knew that coop was their safe place to get away from danger. There, they sleep in peace and safety each night. There, they find nourishing food and refreshing water. There, they safely live out their purpose and lay eggs for us each day. That coop is their safe place.

For those of us who have a relationship with the Lord, we also have a safe place in life. We simply have to speak His name. And when we speak it- wherever we are- He becomes the place we can turn to for protection, for peace, and for provision. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 18:10 that the name of the Lord is our strong tower, and as the righteous, we can run into Him and be safe.

If something has startled you in life, speak the name of Jesus, and let your heart run inside His. There you’ll find your safe place.

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!

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!

We had the day off and so we headed to to another town to spend the day together as a family. Upon arriving in said town, we picked up something to eat and headed off to do a little shopping… each person having picked one store in which they wanted to shop.

Now, I don’t want to say that we are cheap. Thrifty isn’t really the right descriptor either. So let’s just say we are frugal. We try to wisely use the money with which we have been blessed. So our first stop was at a store which sells new items they get from name brand stores at reduced prices. We usually find a deal or two in there, so we decided to stop and see what we might stumble across.

What we stumbled across was a significant discount on clothing and a few household items. Enough that we stayed in the store for two hours. Even Angela, who does not enjoy shopping for clothes usually (Thank You, Lord) found an armload. We dug through racks and tried on clothes till the boys tired and were no longer having fun.

We each had several items in the cart when we finally headed to the checkout with our deals. Angela leaned over to me and said, “Just remind me that, if it is a little bit bigger total than we planned on, we got a lot of great deals and needed the things we got.” I assured her it wouldn’t be that bad, and we made our way to stand in line.

As we stepped up to a cashier, I did as I always do and asked how he was doing. His response was one word… “Tired.” I smiled and tried to boost his spirits, but as I tried to position myself where I could read the computer monitor on the register to make sure the items were ringing up at the right price, I realized he was typing in numbers faster than I could keep up, and I was too far away to see the amounts.

Now, I told you we’re frugal. I asked him politely how much several items of clothing rang up for, and he replied, “Fifty cents.”

“Oh,”I attempted to casually ask, “are all the clothes fifty cents?”

“No, some are fifty cents. Others are not, but then,” and his words trailed off into something unintelligible. I gave up trying to figure it all out and decided we would just see what the damage was at the end.

He finished scanning, typing and sacking, then announced that the grand total with tax would be $30.88. I know I don’t have a poker face. What’s inside typically shows up like a neon sign in my expression. I glanced at Angela. She looked back at me, and I knew that neither of us could put it together. We had put 26 items of clothing, including jeans, jackets, tops, and more, plus a pair of dress shoes for me, a backpack for one of the boys, and a few household items on that counter. There was no way that could be right. The total should have been way more.

I asked if he had checked out everything. He said, “Yes, will that be cash or credit?” We paid the man, gathered our three large bags, and headed to the van. We didn’t say a word till we got outside the store. Then Angela asked, “Did we just get all those clothes for fifty cents each?” To which I replied, “Yes, and my shoes were only three dollars.”

We loaded the items in the back of the van, got in, buckled up, and Angela began looking over the receipt. We almost couldn’t believe it. God had just unexpectedly blessed us with a deal that blew our minds.

The thing is, it shouldn’t have been unexpected. We had prayed hours earlier as we left the house that God would go ahead of us, show us favor, and direct things to work out for our benefit as we went about our day. And boy, did He ever?!

Here’s the other thing…

We put some clothes back because we kind of liked them, but not at the price the app said they were when we scanned the tags. We just began to think that maybe it was a little too much. As we drove away, we were kicking ourselves for not getting those items, too. Had we known they were only going to be fifty cents each, we would have bought all of those and kept on looking for more as well. But we had forgotten our prayer… forgotten that the Lord knows what we need before we ask… forgotten that He must smile, wink, and say, “Watch how I’m about to do something good for My kids!”

Scripture says that we harvest in proportion to the amount we plant. That planting is evidence of the amount of faith we have. Had we believed that God was going to bless us the way we asked Him to that morning, perhaps we would have carried everything we wanted to the cash register. We were still blessed like crazy, but we could have been blessed even more. And it reminded us to trust God even more.

Now, I don’t know if you’ll get a deal on clothes or if He will bless you some other way, but I encourage you today to have big faith because the God I serve is a much bigger God than we typically give Him credit for being. And He wants to bless you. So, when you ask big, remember to plant lots of seeds of faith and expect a big harvest of blessing. Who knows, you might just need an extra buggy!

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!