Make Your Mark

This week I was at a ministry conference in East Texas and saw something pretty cool….

camp memoriesThat photo was taken at Camp Deer Run in Winnsboro, TX in the chapel at that camp facility.  They have the tradition of letting the campers make their mark on the rafters, beams, and ceiling of the outdoor chapel.  It was really cool to walk around and look at all the different messages, images, and memories from the last 30 years.

I couldn’t help but think about the campers who had left their name and where they are now.  Some would be my age or older.  Some had just been there last year.  The group would consist of teenagers, college students, young adults, married couples, and young parents.  All of those people and the thousands of lives that they have touched over the years since they made their mark on that old chapel…

Our girls with Miss Vera in the Fall of 2014.

Our girls with Miss Vera in the Fall of 2014.

Our family has been thinking about a sweet lady who made her mark on us.  Our sweet friend Vera died last week at the age of 101.   Think of all the events she saw in life and the changes that swept through the course of a century of living.  I will always remember Vera’s contagious enthusiasm.  I am glad that our entire family was able to spend time with this sweet lady and we are blessed that she left her mark on us.

We too will leave our mark on the people of this world, whether good or bad.  When we turn on the news we see a lot of the bad things folks are doing that leave behind hurt, sorrow, and confusion.  It is good to know that in the simplest of day to day interactions we can leave behind a hope and example that cannot be erased.  Grace, love, charity, patience, laughter, enthusiasm, dedication, and compassion are just a few of the ‘marks’ that we can make on those around us.

Written On My Heart – Week 4

There is no better mark to make in our own lives and on the hearts of our children than God’s Word.  I hope you have been enjoying challenging yourself, your kids, and your friends to learn more scripture.  This is your chance to “make your mark”!  Here is this week’s worksheet… Written On My Heart – Week 4

Under His Wing

Over the weekend we added a pair of chicks (see them live here) to our backyard flock.  These cute little birds are fragile and require a fair amount of care.  Watching them leads to some clear spiritual applications in our relationship with God…

It Is Cold Out There

safe under his wingEven though baby chicks look warm in their fuzzy jackets of down, they cannot regulate their body temperature for the first few weeks.  In our home we keep them under a heat lamp at 90-95 degrees until they are fully feathered.  In a natural setting they would stay very close to their mama and their brothers and sisters to keep warm.

The same is true of young Christians as well.  It doesn’t matter if you are 14 or 40 when you accept Christ, you need to stay close to the life giving source.  As time goes by and we study and grow, we will be able to better fend for ourselves in a world that can sometimes seem very cold and challenging.

Obviously this requires us to GROW as Christians.  If you never pick up a Bible, say a prayer, attend worship services, or talk about your faith…are you growing?  Our spiritual growth won’t happen naturally as physical growth does for a baby chick.  Our growth requires effort and some purpose.

Strength In Feathery Wing

Have you ever handled a full grown chicken before?  Their wings can be surprisingly tough even though they are made of incredibly light bones and feathers.  More than once I have been ‘wing whipped’ in the face by a startled hen.  Trust me, it hurts!  Mama hen can spread her wings out over her chicks providing a solid defense from wind, rain and other elements.  I have even seen some of our grown hens put a wing over another chicken during some of our colder nights here in Texas.  There is a lot strength and protection in those wings.

It is no wonder there are so many scriptures and hymns that speak of the safety of resting under the protective ‘wing’ of God.  You can imagine how comforting it is for a chick to be tucked under the wings of its mother.  How much greater is our comfort to know that we rest in the caring embrace of our Heavenly Father.

God’s creation speaks to His care and concern for us, His plan for us, and His incredible power and foresight.  Even these small and fragile chicks send a constant testimony of the Creator in the gentle cheeps that are filling our home these days.  As we become more and more detached from the outdoors, I encourage you to take a bit of time just to watch and look for God in the things that are all around us.  Make sure that you are safe under His wing.

Written On My Hearts – Week 3

The Written On My Heart series of memorizing scripture and Bible facts has been a fun adventure for our family so far this year.  I hope you are getting some good benefit as well.  It is fun to hear from friends at church and across the country as they put these pages to use.  Here it is… Written On My Heart – Week 3

Cleaning Out The Attic (and Written On My Heart Week 2)

We moved into our house 7 years ago.  The possessions from our tiny starter apartment left our new home feeling bare, the garage barely used, and the attic empty.  As you can imagine, the years and the children quickly led to a home that was filled with possessions and an attic that was overflowing with clutter and disorganization.  Last week, while putting Christmas decorations away in the attic, I decided something had to change…

(Stick with me, this post isn’t really about our attic but has spiritual lessons threaded throughout…ok?  Let’s go!)

Shedding Some Light On The Problem

One of the biggest problems in our attic, like most, was light.  How can you fix a problem when you can’t see what you’re doing?  The worst parts of the attic were the parts where it was dark and hard to see.  Our builder did an excellent job of having his crew go above and beyond by laying down a large amount of decking in the attic for storage but the electrician only put up one little light.  When I decided to tackle the problem, a quick trip to our local hardware store and $30 filled the storage area of our attic with light.

brain clutterJust as our attic became cluttered, dangerous, and non-functional, our minds can become dangerously cluttered as well.  We can begin to forget important things for work or for our family, or we might become so distracted that we forget what is really important in life.  It is good to pause, turn off all the distractions, and really think about what we are wanting to accomplish and what our main priorities in life are.  It is amazing how easily we can distract ourselves from thinking about what is really important.  Turn the smartphone off, click the TV off, stop the streaming music and just sit and think or discuss things with your spouse….shed some light on the situation.

If you really want a challenge, let the light of God’s word shine into the darkest corners of your mind.  When I was cleaning out attic I was a bit scared of what I might run across, and the same might be true when we let God shine in our lives.  Put your trust in Him and take the garbage out.  Filling your mind with more of His word, via the Written On My Heart series, might be just the solution you need!

Kick It To The Curb

I can guarantee you that our trash man will be VERY unhappy with me today and the recycling guy will also be thinking horrible, horrible things about me as well.  Even the folks at the local donation spot will probably be quite upset when I pull up.  Last night I tore into the freshly lit corners of the attic finding boxes of clothes that had been set aside for reasons unknown, broken small appliances, and about 20 large product boxes for items we don’t even own anymore.  I was tossing so many things out of our attic that I made my wife mad…not because she was upset about things going out but because every time there was a loud thud on the garage floor she was afraid I had fallen out of the attic.  These items were sorted into trash, recycle, donate, and then taken immediately to the appropriate spot.

(Having trouble getting rid of things?  Consider reading this interesting article about “status quo bias” and why our default is to keep things instead of getting rid of them.)

Our minds and our spiritual lives can be buried in so much rubbish that there is no way to effectively use or find the things we want.  We cut our cable just over a month ago and I have found that one pleasant side effect is more focus in my thinking.  No longer do I purposelessly plop down in front of the History Channel or stay up way too late watching one more episode of Good Eats.  The extra rest and fewer distractions have made for better quality in all aspects of my life…plus we have some extra cash!  Are there things in your life which in themselves are good but are keeping you from doing the things that you need to be doing?  Perhaps it is time to kick them to the curb…

Hold On To Some Treasures

While sorting through some of the boxes I came across a box of items from my boyhood that I had forgotten about.  There were some photos, awards, and documents that I was ready to let go of but there were some treasures that I brought down out of the attic to share.  One was a book I had written while in the third or fourth grade.  I brought it down to show to our oldest daughter.  The other was my original Gameboy that still worked.  So much for ridding my life of distractions :)

Clearing clutter from our lives allows the special things to really shine and get the attention they deserve.  Can you imagine what our families would be like if we put aside so much of the meaninglessness we fill our days with and invested that time and energy in our spouse and kids?  A clear mind with a clear purpose can make life much more enjoyable.

Written On My Heart Week 2

Putting useful things in our minds is always a good objective.  I have appreciated all the positive feedback from individuals and congregations about the Written On My Heart challenge.  This week and next week you will be challenged to memorize the books of the Old Testament, if you haven’t already, and we will have some associated verses.  Here’s your worksheet >>> Written On My Heart Week 2

 

Why Should You Memorize The Bible?

thinkingA longtime gospel preacher that I knew, Johnny Ramsey, was a walking, talking Bible.  He could deliver a sermon without any notes and could quote scripture after scripture from memory.  He didn’t have a photographic memory or some special gift.  He simply worked hard to memorize something that was important to him.  Every night his wife would flip through index cards with scriptures and quiz Johnny on the passages he was striving to memorize.  He was effective in his memorization because he used these verses often.  Remember, use it or lose it.

Memorization is one of those things that many of us have convinced ourselves that we cannot do.  It is true that some might be better than others with this skill, but all of us can do it.  In her book “The Secrets of Top Students,” Stefanie Weisman writes the following:

Memorization has gotten a bad rap recently. Lots of students, and even some educators, say that being able to reason is more important than knowing facts; and besides, why bother committing things to memory when you’ve got Google? My response to this – after I’ve finished inwardly groaning – is that of course reasoning is important, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know facts as well. It’s not like you have to choose between one or the other. Besides, facts give you a foundation on which to reason about things.

Ms. Weisman is correct.  The facts that we memorize give us a credible foundation from which to build a reasonable argument.

This year my family and I have committed to memorizing various passages from the Bible and other important information from this text.  My wife and I set this goal for ourselves and our family after my wife recently filled in for our daughter’s Bible class.  We grew up memorizing various information and verses from the Bible and that foundation of knowledge has served us well as we reason from God’s word with the issues we face in life.  When my wife asked even the most basic of questions to this young class they looked at her with big blank stares.

Our first text that we decided to memorize as a family (which is on the downloadable worksheet at the end of this post) was Deuteronomy 6:5-9.  Please note the kids are only memorizing verse 5.  Here is the entire passage:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Even though this passage is from the Old Testament, it gives a clear reasoning for why we are to commit God’s word to memory.  We (the parents) are supposed to diligently teach our children about God.  We are to talk about God when we are at home, when we are out and about, at the end of the day, and at the beginning of the day.  God is supposed to be a part of our lives and conversation at all times.  The Old Testament provides a clear picture of what happens to God’s people when His word is not a part of their lives.

On Sunday I challenged our church family to join us in working to memorize more of God’s word in 2015.  The worksheet in this post was included in our Sunday handout.  I have already heard from several who are excited to work on this with their family or as individuals.  The worksheet provides challenges for young children all the way through adults.  Even our 3 year-old is working with us to memorize the most basic concepts of the verses we are working on as a family.  Don’t believe me?  Here is a quick video of our youngest saying the books of the New Testament last night at dinner while we were working on this challenge…

So without any more delay, let me challenge you to join our family as we work to write more of God’s word on our hearts.  In the coming weeks we will have more worksheets with a verse, a fact, and some tips and tricks to keep your family motivated and having fun with this challenge.  Download Written On My Heart – Week 1.  I will be posting a new worksheet every Tuesday throughout 2015.

Beware of the Emergency Care Clinic

This post is a bit out of the norm for me but I thought a good number of my Texas readers would be interested in this information.  Have you noticed the large number of stand alone emergency care centers popping up?  They look a lot like a CareNow or a Minute Clinic but they are vastly different!

emergency room signMy mother-in-law recently popped into an emergency care clinic near her home when she became ill.  The facility was built in an old Eckerd Pharmacy store that had been remodeled.  About five years ago, legislation went through Austin allowing stand alone emergency clinics.  The major difference between these care centers and an urgent care facility is the price.

How many of us would knowingly go to the emergency room if we think we have strep throat?  Very few of us.  But when you step into an emergency care clinic, which might look just like a CareNow, you have indeed stepped into an emergency room.  It is a mistake that countless Texans have made since this legislation was passed.  The bill for the strep throat test at the emergency care clinic was $400 plus service fees.  For comparison, Minute Clinic lists the price for a strep test on their website at $30.

Emergency care clinics charge emergency room prices for services and pass the added expense along to the insurance companies and the consumer.  In many cases the insurance company will go ahead and pay the bill, which is one reason our premiums are so high.  But in some cases insurance companies reject charges from these facilities leaving the consumer on the hook for the inflated pricing.

Dave Lieber, an investigative reporter for the Dallas Morning News, wrote an in-depth article about these facilities and the legislation that allows them to operate.  (You can read the FEC Licensing Act here.)  Mr. Lieber does a great job of pointing out the key way to determine if you are at an urgent care facility or an emergency clinic.  By law, an emergency clinic must have the word “emergency” or “ER” in the title of the business or the numbers “24/7.”

There is nothing wrong with the stand alone emergency clinics.  They offer a vital service if a patient has a true emergency.  They have top-notch equipment and properly trained medical staff.  I felt it was worth writing this post to warn my fellow Texans about these facilities if you think they are just another urgent care facility.  No where in the legislation for these facilities are they required to tell patients the cost for services or if your health insurance will cover the procedures.  It is a buyer beware scenario.

Most of us are not capable of making clear and informed decisions when we are sick or dealing with a medical emergency.  As Mr. Lieber suggested, take a few moments to contact your insurance company to determine if your local emergency clinic is in-network.  When an emergency arises you can make an informed decision about where to seek treatment.  If you are sick, try to visit your primary physician or an urgent care facility like CareNow or Minute Clinic.

Don’t live in Texas?  Similar legislation is passing in states across the country as medical providers look for additional sources of revenue.  Consider doing a Google search for “emergency care clinic licensing” and the name of your state.  If you have noticed a boom of stand alone medical facilities your state has probably enacted similar legislation.

Cutting The Cord On Charter Cable…An Experiment

Last Monday I wrote about how much my financial laziness had cost our family over the last year.  I’m surely not the only one who loses focus from time to time.  I promised a post about cutting our cable which will save us approximately $1,500 in 2015.  Let’s take a look at our story and then consider a few tips…

Our Story

How much money could you save by cutting your cable?

How much money could you save by cutting your cable?

I have been a happy customer of Charter Cable since 2007.  I know a lot of people are dissatisfied with Charter’s service but I have been very pleased with Charter’s performance, free upgrades, and reliability at home and at work.  When we moved into our home in 2007 we did the Charter Triple Play that included cable, internet, and phone for $99 plus tax.  It came out to around $125 with tax and I was good with that.  That introductory price would expire every year or two so I would call Charter and negotiate back into that pricing package…until this year.

The plan expired over the summer and I didn’t notice it until November.  Our bill had jumped up to around $223 for our services!?!  We have two cable boxes (one being a DVR), internet, and home phone.  I called to negotiate prices and found that Charter had made pricing changes with the new Charter Spectrum offerings.  Over the course of a week I spoke with three different reps about pricing options and they all said that the lowest price for our services would be $190 to $200 with taxes and fees.  Out of curiosity I asked about the price of internet alone… approximately $60 with taxes and fees.  A bundle with internet and phone would be approximately $72 a month.

One of the more interesting things was the expiration of a customer loyalty credit.  Note to Charter, when good customer relations are already challenging, it can be offensive to remove a customer loyalty discount from a loyal customer :)

Our Decision

When my wife and I sat down with the math, we were simply unwilling to pay $120 a month for TV with the new pricing option.  We are not anti-TV.  We really enjoy our shows and are glad the children have shows that they enjoy, but they are simply not worth $120 a month when there are other options.  When the hard drive on our DVR went out, I took that as a clear sign that it was time to pull the trigger and cut our cable.  The retention department at Charter was very friendly and happy to remove the cable portion of our package, leaving internet and phone for $72.04 a month.

I had already put in place the components that would deliver our television content:

  • I ordered a Wineguard HD7694P antenna to install in our attic.  When we built our home, I installed a video distribution system.  This antenna allows any TV in our home to receive a strong broadcast signal.  The broadcast towers, which can be located with free services like AntennaPoint.com, are approximately 22 miles from our home which makes for a strong signal.  There are other great antennas like the Leaf products that can be installed behind a flat panel TV.
  • I bartered for a Mac Mini computer on Craigslist.  In cleaning out some extra CD and DVD duplicating equipment in my office, I struck up a deal to swap a duplicator for an older Mac Mini that would be perfect for streaming content and basic web browsing.  I purchased an Apple wireless keyboard, Magic Trackpad, and MeshWe Bluefin that “attaches” the keyboard and trackpad as one unit.  There are much cheaper options out there but I am a big fan of Apple and their ease of use and reliability.  More about this component and other options later in the post.
  • We already owned a Phillips DVD recorder with DVR as part of my CD and DVD duplicating equipment.  Losing our DVR was going to be painful.  The Phillips unit isn’t very user friendly but it fits the need for basic recording of broadcast content when there is something we really want to watch or we want the option to pause live TV.
  • Additionally we signed up for Netflix.  Combined with content from our existing Amazon Prime membership, many of our favorite shows are available through these two services.  Netflix costs $7.95 a month.

Some might wonder why we want to keep the phone.  We have young children in the house and have trained them to use 911 on our home phone if there is an emergency.  Cell phones move around and can be tucked away but the home phone is always in one spot if there is an emergency and they have to make the call.  We also use our phone for our security system.

Observations and Tips

We view our decision as an experiment.  We have committed as a family to 6 months without cable and then we will review our choice.  It has been about a month since we cut the cord and television viewing has already declined.  With cable, the TV was often on in the background as filler, especially in the evening after the children had gone to bed and we were doing housework.  It is also easier to monitor the time our children spend watching TV since most of their shows come from Netflix or Amazon and require a purposed ‘click’ to view.  I appreciate that Netflix has a ‘Kids’ screen that shows only kid friendly content.

Having a full fledged computer (Mac Mini) by the TV in our living room is a bit of overkill with all the great streaming devices available today.  We already have an Apple TV and an Amazon Fire Stick in our home and both are great streaming devices.  Most streaming devices allow only content from certain providers, for example Apple TV does not allow content from Amazon streaming.  A computer can easily view any content that is available on the internet without limitations.  If you’re thinking about cutting your cable or dish, consider getting a simple streaming device or using an old computer.  Many modern gaming systems like the Xbox and PlayStation also provide streaming media content.

I recognize that there are other services available, like Dish, that provide content for $30-50 a month.  That pricing is promotional pricing and we would soon find ourselves paying more than we would like for TV in our home, again.  If Charter had offered the $99 pricing again I wouldn’t be writing this post.

These are just a few of my personal observations about cutting cable for our household.  If I hadn’t made any changes, our existing cable bill would have cost over $2,600 in 2015.  After cutting cable, the internet and phone will cost $864 with an additional annual expense of $96 for Netflix.  We will save approximately $1,640 in 2015 by cutting the cord.

Do you pay for TV?  Have any tips or tricks for saving money on television content?  I’d be interested to read what you have to say in the comments section…

Your Best Payday of the Year

This is a post about saving money.  More accurately it is a post about more efficiently managing the money that you have.  Those few people who really get a thrill out of monitoring their bank statements might not get a lot out of this, but hopefully everyone else will find a bit of useful info and some inspiration…

My financial laziness cost me how much???

Juggling all the tasks of life can be a lot like a performer spinning plates.  Keeping everything moving and balanced is a real challenge.  Don't let your finances be the plate that comes crashing to the ground.

Juggling all the tasks of life can be a lot like a performer spinning plates. Keeping everything moving and balanced is a real challenge. Don’t let your finances be the plate that comes crashing to the ground.

For many years I had the tradition of taking a day off each year just to give our finances a full checkup and overhaul.  I made, or more accurately saved, more money in that day than I would if I had been in the office.  In 2013 I got lazy (or allowed myself to become over scheduled) and never made financial checkup day happen.  About a month ago I got a wake up call that made me realize it was time to dig back in and check all the bills and accounts.

My financial wake up call came in the form of a check that cleared for only 10% of its value due to an error at the bank.  The accountant of the organization that cut the check caught the error and gave me a call.  That mistake would have cost my family several hundred dollars and gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get after our finances.

Care to guess how much my financial laziness was costing our family?  In my one day of researching and calling I found about $3,000 worth of sloppiness.  It has taken several weeks to get everything squared away and some items are still being resolved, but the key is getting the ball rolling.  Here is a bit about the financial issues I found…

Utilities Were Our Biggest Area of Waste

I am using the term “utilities” very loosely because it was our cable and wireless bills that were killing us.  Our wireless package was WAY out of date.  Our new package includes more data per line, unlimited minutes and messaging.  Total annual savings for wireless will be ~$720.  Our cable company had also changed up our bundle.  (I’ll be writing more about the changes we have made to our cable, internet, home phone bundle next Monday.)  Total annual savings for the cable bill will be around $1,800 annually.  (Yeah you read that right…that’s why it is getting a whole post next Monday.)

Part of my financial checkup day is calling all of our utility providers to make sure we are getting the best deal we can possibly get.  Most providers know that the marketplace is competitive and that it is cheaper to keep an existing customer as opposed to adding a new one.  Being polite and direct is my best advice.  When I finally get an actual person on the phone I tell them what I am working on so we can cut right to the matter at hand.  I was also able to save a bit of money on our electric rate.

Wading Through Medical Bills

Many who are regular readers know that my wife broke her leg this summer.  That led to a variety of new and different medical bills.  We have excellent medical insurance through my wife’s employer but I sometimes find unnecessary charges or procedures that have the wrong code attached to them.  In total I found about $500 worth of errors in the medical bills.

My best advice on medical bills is to start with the procedures that the insurance company did not pay for.  I called the medical provider to ask why those charges might have been declined by the insurance company.  In many instances a billing error was discovered.  When resubmitted with the proper code the procedure was accepted by our insurance provider.

Dealing with medical bills, insurance companies, billing companies, and medical providers is a GIANT pain and can be quite confusing.  Take notes about the various people you speak with including name, employee ID (if possible), date, time, and subject matter of the conversation.  Also, set a reminder in your phone or on your calendar to follow up on matters.  We recently discovered a medical billing issue from a year ago that we forgot to followup on.  A medical provider had a refund check for over $400 in our name sitting in a folder in their office.  The check had been there for almost 10 months!

Get Your Budget In Order

I use Mint for our budget.  I have been using Mint since before they were purchased by Intuit.  The free online service continues to improve.  Securely associating your bank account, credit cards, mortgage, and other financial accounts helps Mint automate the process of developing a budget.

When you first setup Mint it will load and analyze three months of your financial data.  Some of the items will automatically be assigned to the appropriate category, but your data will require significant ‘massaging’ when you first get going.  Mint helps to develop an accurate picture of the money that is coming in and the where it all goes.  I also like having the ability to input cash transactions that can get lost along the way.

Replace Bad Habits With Good Ones

When changing any behavior, you need to make sure that a positive alternative is available to replace the negative one.  Our savings have been redirected into automatically deducted savings.  Contributions to retirement and college funds have been increased.  If you don’t do something proactive with your anticipated savings they will simply disappear into another financial failure.

Suggestions For Your Finance Day

Here are a few areas to consider looking on your financial day off….what other suggestions would you have?

  • Necessary utilities like water, gas, and electric.  Are there lower rates available?  Are there places to conserve?  Any spikes in the water bill that might indicate a water leak in a toilet or sprinkler system?
  • Optional utilities like cable, internet, phone, wireless, etc.  Is the service necessary and useful?  Can a cheaper price be found from the current provider or another provider?
  • Mortgage payment.  Is the interest rate on your loan still competitive?  Would it be worth looking into refinancing with the low interest rates available now?
  • Subscriptions. It is easy to let little subscriptions ($5 to $25 a month) pile up.  If a service is not being used, cut it off.
  • Insurance.  Get a quote from another insurance provider.  Make sure to have your policy on hand so you can get an accurate rate comparison.  If the quote is lower, consider sharing it with your current provider to see if they will match it.  Is your current insurance sufficient?
  • Medical bills.  I have already mentioned that this category is no fun at all but there can be a lot of cash being wasted on these bills.
  • Eating out expense.  It is also worth looking at the monthly expenditure on eating out.  I know in times past this number has been shocking for our family.
  • Investments.  Are there better options available for your savings?  Can you increase your contributions with some of the money you have saved?

Finally, treat yourself well on financial checkup day.  Perhaps you want to save all this money while wearing your PJs….great!  Maybe stuffing your face with some unhealthy food will make the day better…go for it!  Have a bit of fun with a day filled with the unpleasant tasks that so many of us push aside.

I would love to hear some of your tips regarding this subject in the comments section below.

Feeling Tired?

Feeling tired, discouraged, bogged down?  I know I sure feel that way at times.  Lift up your head and look around you for some positive, encouraging examples…

I snuck a photo of our 90+ year old neighbor out mowing her lawn.  She defies age.

I snuck a photo of our 90+ year old neighbor out mowing her lawn. She defies age.

I know I have written about our 90+ year old neighbor before, but she continues to impress!  Earlier this week I was walking over to pick up our daughter from school and I saw our neighbor out on her John Deere mower, chopping up her leaves.  It was a cool, but pleasant afternoon and she was out tidying up her lawn.  How many 90+ year olds do you know who still mow their own lawns?

She doesn’t have to mow her own lawn.  Two of her children live in adjacent homes and are more than willing to come over and pitch in when help is needed.  Her grandchildren and great grandchildren also come over to help with chores.  My neighbor knows that the secret to ‘staying young’ is to keep moving!

Let me remind you that this is the same 90+ year old neighbor who broke her hip while bowling last year.  One of her first questions to her doctor after surgery was, “When will I be able to bowl again?”  Within months she was back at the bowling alley with her league.  She is a very special lady.

There are lots of special folks around us all.  It seems we know many who are struggling with cancer and other serious illnesses, or are facing other struggles in life.  Our older daughter recently sent out some cards that she drew to some of these folks.  Her cards contained a simple message of encouragement that only a small child could write.  What was interesting to me was the response of those she sent cards to.

When I receive a card I read it and appreciate the sentiment.  The people that our daughter wrote to are in a different place in life.  The card really meant a lot and was a great source of encouragement.  Every one of the recipients of one of her cards either responded with a card of their own that they sent to our daughter, or responded with a letter.  One gentleman even said her card is a prized possession.  When was the last time you have been moved by such a simple gesture?

When I feel tired or overwhelmed, I think of others and the challenges they are facing in life.  I want to say THANK YOU to so many in my life who live out a positive example even in the face of struggles, challenges, and trials.  We have many in our life who are fighting brave, inspiring battles against serious illness and they are a source of inspiration and optimism.  We know others who are givers, constantly thinking of others and their well being and they are a source of perspective and focus.  When we take the focus off our own problems and share in the joys and sorrows of our community, we live a life that is overflowing with blessings.

Don’t forget our Dinnertime Devotionals series.  Devo 42 is hot off the digital presses and is ready for download by clicking the link – Dinnertime Devotionals 42

 

Lessons From A Door

I am a big believer in life-long learning and the concept that there are observational lessons to be gained all around us.  With that in mind, a few observations from some changes that took place at my office yesterday….

We have some super talented folks in our church.  Yesterday two of our members continued their project of putting vision panels (little windows) in the office doors of staff who elected to have them.  Within an hour they had my door off of the hinges, a hole cut, vision panel built and installed, and the door hung back on the hinges.  They know what they are doing!

My door is held together with cardboard.  Cardboard!!!!

My door is held together with cardboard. Cardboard!!!!

I had never looked inside a hollow core door like the one on my office, but I was surprised to find out what was in there.  My door that has always seemed so solid and protective was filled with cardboard!  “Filled” really isn’t an accurate description.  A honeycomb network of cardboard pieces would be more accurate.  The door for my office consists of little more than two 1/8″ skins of wood veneer and cardboard.

The obvious lesson is that things aren’t always as they appear.  My door appears to be pretty tough but a solid kick would easily penetrate through the thin layers of wood and cardboard.  It is a good reminder about where to put our hope and trust.  So many of the things around us may seem very permanent and strong, but they are only temporary in the grand scheme.  The people in our lives can be an amazing strength and support but they too are only temporary.  God is infinite and unfailing in His love and provision for us.

Some might be wondering why we are putting vision panels in the doors of staff who would like them.  The church exists in the real world and we are aware of the need for transparency and accountability.  Our long-time insurance agent had suggested several years ago that vision panels might be one way to provide some of this transparency.  For those who are employed by the church there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in our activities in the building.  Vision panels allow for accountability whether the door is open or closed.

This is the time of the season when we sing songs about old Saint Nick and how he sees you when you’re sleeping, and knows when you’re awake, etc.  Kinda creepy when you think about it.  We also have an “Elf on the Shelf” in our house named Pete who is keeping an eye on the kiddies for Santa and bringing back a report every night.

My job title was changed when they cut a hole in my door :)

My job title was changed when they cut a hole in my door :)

These tales are part of the fun and tradition of the holiday season, but we recognize that in our lives there is One who watches.  It might be easy to think of God sitting back and keeping a grand record of right and wrong in the book of life, but I believe it goes beyond such simplicity.  God’s mercy and love exist on a higher level than I believe we can even reason.  When we strive to live as New Testament Christians we read of forgiveness and mercy.

Many of us want our privacy.  We don’t like the idea of being watched, recorded, or analyzed.  For some the idea of the ‘all seeing eye’ of God is one that causes trepidation.  For others the idea of a God with intimate knowledge, loving care, and gracious provision is a great source of comfort.  With God there is no reasonable expectation of privacy and I am glad He is watching over me.

For those who have been following along with the Dinnertime Devotional series, I apologize for missing the last few weeks.  We continue this week with a challenging series of study from Philippians 2.  I hope that you enjoy Dinnertime Devotionals 41 and have a great rest of the week!

It Is Better To Behave

Yesterday I was reminded of a lesson my parents constantly instilled in me… You never know who’s watching so it is better to behave.  A pair of chance encounters vividly drove this point home.  Story time….

Yesterday I was running a load of boxes from our church building to Mission Printing in Arlington.  I had recently cleaned out my truck and of course had taken my tie down straps out of the truck which left my load of 12 large boxes perilously perched in the truck bed.  Sure enough while driving I was cut off and the entire load shifted as I firmly applied the brakes.  Nothing flew out but I saw lids flying and trouble was close at hand.

Parents struggle to get kids to behave but it is something we will struggle with all of our life.

Parents struggle to get kids to behave but it is something we will struggle with all of our life.

I was pulling up to a stop light so I hopped out of the truck and jumped into the bed to reposition things until I could make it to a place where I could stop to properly fix things.  When I got back in the truck my phone rang and it was a preacher friend from East Texas named JJ.  I answered the phone and JJ said, “Hey Buddy!  Is everything OK with your car?”  A bit confused I looked around until I saw JJ waving at me from the car in front of me.

What are the odds that he would be in town at that very moment at that specific light where I would hop out of my truck.  We chatted for a bit as the stop light changed and then I told him not to judge as I pulled into a liquor store parking lot to reposition my load of gospel tracts :)

I continued down the road with my newly secured load.  Within a mile I spotted a familiar vehicle, it was my neighbor BJ out on a PGR mission in preparation for Veteran’s Day.  What are the odds that on a side of town I don’t venture to often that I would see two people who were also attending to business in that area at that time.

I am sure everyone reading this post has similar stories of running into people while on vacation or a business trip.  It is always interesting to consider the number of relationships we have and what a small world it truly is.  It is always best to behave because you never know who is watching.

Of course we do know that God is always watching.  If you want to have a fun conversation with a little kid, try talking to them about the omnipotence and omnipresence of God.  It is a concept that I have a tough time grasping as an adult but a young child can bring a fun and interesting perspective to the conversation.  There are some definite benefits to always striving to put your best foot forward:

  • Your act of kindness, patience, or forgiveness could make a lasting impression on someone.  We never know what the people around us are going through and your seemingly innocuous act could make a huge impact on someone else.
  • One harshly spoken word or flagrant action could forever change the way people perceive you, your family, or those claiming to be followers of Christ.
  • I often pray for God to give me an opportunity to reach out to people.  There is no telling the time or place where God will give that opportunity so I need to always be at the ready.

Hebrews 13 is a great passage on this topic.  I am going to close this post with the entire text.  Make sure you don’t miss Dinnertime Devotionals 40 at the very end of this post.  I hope you have a blessed day and are a blessing to everyone you meet.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

God’s word is a great encouragement to us.  I hope you will spend some time with your family talking about God.  The sincerity of parents who walk the walk and talk the talk of their belief in God is constantly seen as the #1 factor in a lifelong faith in children.  It is my hope that Dinnertime Devotionals 40 is a blessing to your family.