Category Archives: Principles of Success

To Forge A Heart

Heart Ruby

TO FORGE A HEART

   “Who could refrain that had a heart to love and in that heart, courage to make love known?” (Shakespeare)

   Hearts. This  week has been all about them: red hearts, pink hearts, gold and silver hearts, candy hearts, balloon hearts, card hearts, flower hearts, chocolate cake hearts. Hearts as far as the eye can see.

   But what makes a heart?

   Is it the red paper, the white lace, the scissors and glue? Is it the once-a-year words written with ink that fades as the months go by? Is it the glitter, the sparkle, the shine?

   Or—is it more?

   Is it the heart leap you feel the day he says, “Will you?” or the day she says, “Yes!”? Is it the chest-racking sobs the night your door slams shut for the last time and taillights disappear down the road and fade to black?

   Is it the single tear trickling down your cheek when you stand helplessly by as the quiet beep-beep-beep of the heart monitor withers to silence? Is it the choking loss for words that comes when the doctor looks you in the eye and says, “benign”?

   Is it the moment you meet your newborn, ten tiny fingers, ten tiny toes, a vulnerable heartbeat ticking against your pounding chest? Is it the swelling in your throat as you walk your baby down the aisle and place her hand into the hand of her future happiness?

   Is it the squish of wet sand between your toes on a solitary beach or the giggling swish of arms and legs in the fresh, cold white at the birth of a snow angel? Is it the deep crimson roses delivered to your door on your birthday, your anniversary? Or not delivered…?

Is it the day you collapse hard onto your knees with no words, slow tears pleading for someone to hear your heart splintering? Or is it the slow, red dawn that speaks that the bleak winter of your wandering has finally come to an end?

  What makes a heart?

   Is it the day you cut the bright ribbon and open the doors of your dream? Is it a piece of paper saying “Mr. and Mrs.” or “Class of 2019” or “I was thinking of you.”?

   Is it the pink rage on your cheeks the day your child gets off the bus, head bowed low, and whispers a word you prayed he’d never have to hear? Is it the green haze that clouds your eyes and pollutes your soul when she walks by, owning his hand instead of you?

   Is it the smile you give to a stranger, the last dollars in your pocket  you give to a penniless man, or the time you give to read that same storybook, out loud, over and over,  for the forty-third time?

   Is it the extra job you work at night so you’ll see those shining eyes on Christmas morning, or so you’ll finally climb high into the clouds of that mountain you’ve dreamed of conquering since you were ten, or so you’ll watch that one walk across the stage who could never have walked there alone?

   What makes a heart?

   Not shiny black cars or shimmering diamonds or crisp hundred dollar bills but loud laughter and quiet tears, hidden sorrows and public joys, endless mornings of hope-filled prayers and as many nights of sleepless fears. It’s gratitude too deep ever to repay and forever friendship—pinky sworn; it’s empty caverns of the soul carved by loss, and it’s mama-bear love.

   Life makes a heart. And life breaks a heart.

   But without all of life, there can never truly be a heart.

 

 

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We Have Standards?

Woman Crying II

WE HAVE STANDARDS?

   Toni Morrison once said, “People will forget what you say and do, but they will always remember the way you made them feel.” No doubt that statement is true, but what’s the deal behind it? Is it to remind people to be kind—even when expressing a hard truth? Or is it to say that we should avoid any mention of life’s hard truths because they might make someone feel badly? Knowing Morrison’s work, I believe her intent is to remind us to be kind because in her writing, she takes on some hard truths. I seriously doubt she was telling us to avoid them.

   Nevertheless, this sentiment that feelings are now the new standard by which we judge truth has become the mantra of a generation:

If the message makes me feel good, it must be truth and the people speaking it are moral. If it makes me feel bad, then it must be lies, and the people speaking it are evil.

   Am I exaggerating? I wish.

   The problem with that kind of thinking is that it puts countless numbers of people and concepts into the “evil” category because what they say or symbolize can make us feel, well, “bad”. The fact is that sometimes the truth can hurt—which is what motivates us to change. So what would happen if we did away with conventional standards of truth and went with the “feel-good” variety? And what if this thinking were to become the new standard of behavior and morality instead of, say, the Ten Commandments or the Constitution? How would our thinking shift? Let’s explore a few pages in the (entirely theoretical) New Standards Handbook, shall we?

Conscience.

   My conscience must be evil because it makes me feel bad about myself on a regular basis. Every dang time I try to do something I like, I get this little ping in my head which means, “Don’t do that. It’s bad.” I don’t like that ping. I should just ignore it. That way I would never feel sad about anything ever again. In fact, I think we should all just ignore our consciences. They’re outdated anyway—we’ve evolved enough as human beings that we don’t even need them anymore. And I’m sure God would agree. Oh, and about God…

God.

   God is good and all—don’t get me wrong. But he can make you feel pretty horrible sometimes. All of that “Thou shalt not” stuff—it’s not fun. And that “hell” thing? Why does he have to bring that up? It’s scary. And it makes me want to cry. Not that I would ever go there, mind you, but what about all of those evil people who say all those things that just make you feel so rotten? They could end up there and it makes me feel horrible just thinking about it. So let’s not think about it—or talk about it, either. In fact, we should forbid people to talk about it. That way no one will ever have to feel bad. Ever.

Parents.

   They tell me I had great parents but now I’m not so certain. After all, they made me feel bad lots of times. Lots of times. And it wasn’t always just my feelings that got hurt—sometimes other body parts ended up hurting, too. That’s evil. It must be. Sure, I grew up, went to college—even graduated. And granted, I’ve been able to get a good job and keep it—and I haven’t ever committed a felony or anything or even been to jail (other than to visit a relative whose parents weren’t as mean). But still, when dad told me after college that I couldn’t be in a band and that I had to get a real job—do you have any idea how that made me feel?? And when I told my father what I thought of his totally unsupportive attitude, my mother called me disrespectful! That’s name-calling. That is so rude!

The Constitution.

   The only thing I have to say about that over-rated document is that the things in it only apply to citizens. That is so wrong. How do you think un-citizens feel? They can’t even plead the 5th!  Again—just wrong. And you know what else?  Somewhere in there it says that “free speech” means you can say anything about anyone—even if it’s mean!  That’s also wrong. What we really need is an amendment to end that—people should not be allowed to say mean things. In fact, there should be a list of things people shouldn’t be allowed to say. Or do…

Everything Else.

   People should not be allowed to do things that can make people feel bad. Like employment evaluations or grades: Did you know that every day in America hundreds of thousands of people cry because they’ve received a mean evaluation from a boss or teacher?? That is simply evil. Speeding tickets can also make you feel bad. Oh, and having to show ID should be banned because if you have an ugly picture, well, you just shouldn’t have to show it. That would be mean. The same with doing foul shots in gym class—you shouldn’t have to because what if you can’t? Then you’d feel bad. And also…

The End.

   Of course, none of the above is real. I can’t even imagine how terrified I would feel if any of it were true—it would be like a page from The Dying Days of the Roman Empire. Thankfully, there’s no correlation. At all. I made it all up.

   Still, there are two things that are true, and it would do us well to remember them. First thing: our feelings are not the standard for truth. Second thing: while it’s true that people may attach some emotion to the thought of you, no one can “make” you feel anything. Your feelings are a choice you make.

   Or maybe that’s the first thing.

 

   

 

That Paradox Thing

hamlet1

THAT PARADOX THING  

   Awhile back when the high school English modules were released upon the earth, I found myself most unhappy. Those modules made about as much sense as selling ice in Antarctica. In fact, it seemed that they were written by people who probably believed in hobbits; they simply had no basis in reality. And the modules were just wrong; instructions were numbered 1, 3, 4 (there was no 2); supplemental social studies’ texts were mistakenly inserted as English texts—it just went on and on. And to add insult to injury, the idiotic things were scripted, meaning we had to follow them verbatim, no deviation. At all. And if we didn’t follow them, no doubt the stock market would crash or Planet X would collide with earth or some such evil thing.

   The bottom line? I reached a point where I was done. I told God that—for several months—and sadly, I wasn’t kidding. I simply didn’t understand how to use something that made so little sense. I felt, for the first time in fifteen years of teaching that I couldn’t do the job. However, what God did was totally unexpected and I didn’t necessarily get it at the time.

Life’s Little Paradoxes

   Paradoxes are those things that seem to contradict one another but really don’t. The Bible is full of them like “you must die to live” and “the more you give [away], the more you get.” Things that are easy to understand—just not always for a decade or so. Still, those are fairly common principles so we’re kind of used to them. But there’s another paradox that we may not be quite as familiar with, aka:

The “Take A Dive” Principle

   This principle means that to “go higher,” you must first “go lower.” Now lots of us tend to think of that principle in terms of humbling ourselves.

We rarely think about it when we find ourselves involuntarily brought low through some cruel—and completely unauthorized by us—situation in life.

   And that’s what happened to me; I was sent to the middle school to teach reading to 7th and 8th graders who—you guessed it—couldn’t read.

   Now you’d think that by 7th and 8th grade, kids would be able to read. That’s what I thought. But apparently not. So there I went, to the realm of the “little kids”. But the horror! I’d be teaching some book about somebody’s underpants or something—instead of Shakespeare or Bradbury! Had I done something wrong? Had I gone and ticked somebody off? Had I died and gone, well—you know where…?

   What had God done to me??

   Actually, as I came to find out, he’d bailed me out. No modules. That’s correct—none. In other words, the pressure of trying to teach complete blather was gone. In the end, maybe I wasn’t teaching Hamlet, but it turns out I didn’t have to teach Captain Underpants either. (Evidently, that’s for the 5th grade teachers to enjoy.)

A Prerequisite to Promotion

   All throughout the Word of God, we see this principle in action. For instance, Joseph (Jacob’s son), was brought low in the extreme when he went from being his father’s favorite son to being sold as a slave. And from there it just got worse. In the end, however, he was promoted to second-in-command of Egypt.

   Another example is Sarah, Abraham’s wife, who couldn’t have a baby. Back in that day, an inability to have children was looked upon as a defect in a woman so Sarah suffered that shame for decades until she was long past the age where she could even hope to have a child. And yet what happened? God happened. Sarah not only became a mom in her (very) old age, but she became the mother of nations.

   Just let that sink in.

   Jesus himself was brought low for a greater purpose. He was born under a cloud of dark suspicion; after all, it was whispered that Joseph wasn’t really his father. And trust me, that was a black mark on his name and reputation that would plague him his whole life. Add to that the fact that he didn’t just die, he was executed as a criminal. And he wasn’t just executed, he was hung on a tree. In those days, to be hung was an actual curse reserved for those considered unredeemable. But his humiliation was all part of God’s plan to save us and to exult him to the highest place of honor over all creation—forever.

   Oh, and there was Moses, too—back side of the desert for forty years before being promoted to the greatest prophet in the Bible… You get the pic.

The End Game?

   It might not look good for you right now—you might be in a position where you’ve been lowered, demoted, shunned, and/or humiliated. But instead of feeling like a failure, think about this instead: God often takes people low before lifting them to heights beyond what they could ever have hoped or dreamed. I can tell you. I’m back at the high school part of the day now—and yes, I’m teaching Shakespeare. But there’s not a module in sight.

   It may look like the end of the world and the situation you’re experiencing might feel like an actual death. But in God’s economy, the tomb is only a temporary stop on the way to miracles.

  

 

 

 

Release and Catch

fish goldRELEASE AND CATCH

   In the world of fishing, there’s a thing called “catch and release” in which folks catch fish and then release them back into the water. In the spiritual realm, it works the opposite way: we’re to release things into existence from the spiritual realm and then catch them—receive them—into the natural realm to affect whatever situation or circumstances we’re praying about.

   Recently the Lord spoke to me to proclaim release of things in the spirit realm because they’ve either been delayed, tied up or because it’s simply not been their season of release. Until now. Now the Lord is saying that it’s time to release those things that we’ve been waiting for. That’s the good news. And as far as I know, there is no bad news.

What’s It Mean to “Release”?

   To release in the spiritual realm means to use the authority we’ve been given to free those things which have not, to this point, been available to us in the physical realm. However, in order to do that, we need to understand the authority that we have already been given. The key is “Christ IN us, the hope of glory.” That means that because we’re “one with Christ” as he is with the Father, we now have the same authority that he has to free those answers to prayer which have been delayed or bound up in the spiritual realm. But that’s a whole other teaching. The point is that when we exercise that authority, things break loose. And how do we do that? We make proclamations of release. We speak into the spiritual realm and command those things for which we’re praying to be released in the name of Jesus.

   There is a thing (I don’t know what else to call it) in the spiritual realm called an “ungodly delay”. What that means is that some answers to prayer or other events that the Lord wants to release are held up or bound in the spiritual realm. This is almost always a tactic used by the enemy to keep God’s will from being accomplished on the earth. Granted, not everything is an “ungodly” delay; sometimes we’re required to wait for something which is not yet in God’s timing to have appropriated. However, when the enemy can delay answers to prayer, he certainly will. Why would he not? And as long as we don’t understand the authority we have to release those delays, they will stand.

   Remember Daniel’s dilemma? He was praying and fasting for understanding regarding an earlier prophecy. However, the answer didn’t come until the 24th day when an angel appeared to him and told him that while God had heard his prayers on the first day of his fast, the angel had been delayed in getting the answer to Daniel because he had been held up by the demonic prince in charge of the stronghold over Persia. The angel said that he wasn’t able to deliver the message to Daniel until the archangel Michael arrived to help him fight his way through the opposition.

The key? Delays of any kind apart from God’s timing are released by proclamation of the Word of God in the name of Jesus Christ.

What’s It Mean to “Receive”?

   The bottom line is this: in order to “get” anything from God, we need to actively receive or accept it; it won’t be dumped on us some night when we’re asleep without  our cooperation. In other words, we can pray for something all day long, but if we don’t take the present off the shelf and open it, it stays on the shelf.

   “Receiving” is not a passive thing. Rather, it requires a deliberate response from us to take that thing which God has promised and to “receive” it—to catch it—to believe that it has been released.

But What If We Don’t See It Happen?

   We’re talking about a release in the spiritual realm which must happen before anything can be visible in the physical realm. For example, if someone is ordained by God to be released into ministry, that happens in the spiritual realm before they’re ordained on the earth. Moreover, the ministry itself won’t be full-blown immediately, it will need to be developed. That means that when we release something in the spiritual realm, then it is freed to be implemented on earth although it might take a period of time before it’s evident to us. But don’t be discouraged. The Lord wouldn’t tell us to release in the spiritual realm if it were a pointless activity.

What Do We Do While We’re Waiting for It to Happen?

   Prepare. Farmers prepare the soil before they plant. Parents prepare for the baby before it’s born. Teachers prepare lessons before they teach. People prepare for ministry before they launch it. Preparation after a proclamation of release is like watering a seed. Moreover, it demonstrates faith and God always rewards that.

   Right now, it’s time to begin to proclaim the release of that which God has for us, for our families, for our nation, and for our world.

   If not us, then who?

 

 

  

 

Get Ready to Go Deeper.

Casting Nets

GET READY TO GO DEEPER.

   Every new year, we make resolutions, one of the most common being to ditch that thing that didn’t work out so well in the past and move on—especially if it’s something we’ve been trying to succeed at for a very long time but “crash and burn” is all we know.

   This is the same situation Peter, Jesus’ disciple, found himself in after net fishing all night in his boat and catching nothing. He was not only disappointed, he was worried. Fishing was not just a hobby—it was his livelihood, his bread and butter, the provision for his family. Just not that night. But as he dragged his net to shore, exhausted and frustrated, Jesus meets him and says,

   “’Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets and you will catch many fish.’”

   Still, Peter wasn’t so sure. “’Master,’” he says, “’we worked hard all night and didn’t catch a thing.’” But then he adds, “’but at Your word, we’ll try again.’”  The story ends with Peter’s nets so full they began to tear (Luke 5:4-6).

   So what does that mean for us? This quick exchange between the Lord and Peter contain four extremely essential keys to the successful fulfillment of our dreams and destinies.

KEY #1: “Now Go” = Obedience.

   Notice that Jesus says to Peter, “’Now go out…’” The key here is to obey the Lord and to do it immediately. If Peter hadn’t obeyed the Lord at that moment, he would have had no provision or success. Here’s the bottom line: When God says “now,” it’s best to move. We’ll never achieve provision or success if we are not willing to obey—and to obey “now”—not later. Moreover, considering that God often saves the “now’s” until we don’t expect them, expect to be surprised by a “suddenly”. Peter didn’t see God’s directive coming but he was prepared to obey. Here’s another fact: the more we obey when we don’t see anything happening, the more prepared we’ll be to obey the moment God says, “Go!”

KEY #2: “Deeper” Means “Bigger”. 

   Sometimes the Lord may tell us to go “deeper”. While “going deeper” can have many applications, in the sense of fulfilling a vision or destiny, it often means to seek larger territory, more impactful opportunity—to go big!  At the same time, however, going deeper, seeking bigger things, might be a bit scarier and will require more faith. However, the risk of “going deeper” did pay off for Peter. And as a victory principle in the kingdom of God, it’s huge.

KEY #3: “To Let Down” Means “to Work”. 

   The Lord tells Peter, “’Let down your nets’”. Note that God didn’t just drop the fish from the sky, but rather Peter had to work; he had to actually fish. The take-away here is that God loves to co-labor with us; He doesn’t want to have to do “it” alone (whatever “it” is) nor does He want us to have to do it alone. He wants to work with us—but that means we will have to work.

KEY #4: The Timing Is the Thing. 

   Then there’s the timing. Apparently, in Peter’s day, nighttime was the accepted time to fish, but Jesus instructed him to fish at a time that others might’ve questioned or even ridiculed. Yet often God will instruct us to do something in the off-season or during a time that just seems wrong. However, it really helps to remember that He’s in touch with all of the logistics of a situation and we are not. As the story goes, Peter’s nets became so full that they began to break. If Peter had argued that the timing didn’t make sense, then he’d have failed.

     So—even if you’ve been through a long season of “try and fail, try and fail,” it may be that that season is about to end. After all, fishermen are supposed to be successful at fishing and you are supposed to be successful at whatever you’re called to do—or God wouldn’t have called you to do it. But you hardly need me to tell you that. So get ready to “let down your net” again. Don’t be afraid. 2019 is the year to achieve much bigger things than you “can even think or imagine”.

   Get ready to go deeper.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Word for 2019…

Angel - FREE

A WORD FOR 2019…

   Every January, we hear the same things said about the new year: It’ll be a year of prosperity and success, bondages broken, long-awaited prayers answered, new relationships, et cetera. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that—I pray for those blessings as well. But here’s one thing we have to keep in mind no matter what happens this year, good or bad:

   Our pursuit of God and His presence has to be the priority—or none of the rest of it matters. Nor will any of it work out.

   Now I know what you’re thinking: “Been there, heard that.” But have we really heard it?

   What If You’re Not Happy?

   Have you ever had an experience where you got that thing you’d dreamed about and prayed for and waited on forever—and then it doesn’t bring the fulfillment or happiness or peace you thought it would? There’s still an emptiness deep inside, a longing you can’t explain? Sometimes even disappointment sets in (which, if not dealt with, is a dangerous thing). If so, that means one thing: we’re depending on that new opportunity or new assignment or new relationship to fulfill us. The problem is, it doesn’t work that way. The presence of God is the one thing which will give us that sweet peace and fulfillment and joy we crave. Sure, the new job or heart-throbbing relationship or bigger bank account will certainly give us some satisfaction, but those aren’t the end game. No assignment or amount of money or person can give us peace for the long term—nor are they supposed to. Rather, it’s God’s job to provide us with peace and fulfillment; however, it is our job to spend time in His presence to access it.

   Let’s be honest, shall we? It’s easy to get desperate about seeking God when we desperately need something from Him, but what about when we don’t? What about after He gives us that opportunity or prosperity or destiny we’ve been crying out for? After we get it and we’re not quite as desperate, is seeking His presence still really as much of a priority now as seeking His provision was back then? 

   “But seeking God’s presence is hard!”

   Or not. Seeking the presence of God does not have to be complicated—although we think it does. We often think it requires hours of prayer or Bible study or some other work to get God to pay attention to us or to “show up”. But guess what? God is waiting for us to show up; He’s already there.

   So where is “there”? It’s any quiet place you can find to go and sit and just be.

That’s what God means when He says, “’Be still, and know that I am God.’”  He means be still.

   He doesn’t mean we have to write a thesis or read the whole Bible in a week or pray for three hours a day (although you can if you want). It does mean we have sit down and listen. Or go to the park and listen or take a long drive and listen… simply find any place where you’re alone and quiet, and it can be just you and God. That’s all.

   And the Point Is…?

   So what’s the point of this whole little commentary? It’s simply to ensure that when your prayers are answered and your dreams do come true and you have discovered your destiny—that you’re happy. And you will be if the Lord is at the center of those things. That’s all I want for you. So here’s the Word of the Lord for 2019:

   Just. Be. Still. 

 

  

  

 

The Ghost of Christmas Present(s)

Scrooge-Marley

THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT(S)

   Imagine, on Christmas Eve, being visited by a terrifying and tormented apparition warning you that if you don’t change your ways, you’re headed for the same eternal torture that he endures. That would make your Christmas, wouldn’t it?

   This happens to old Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when his long-deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, returns to haunt him. But Scrooge is not convinced regarding his warning; rather, skeptic that he is (and to change the subject), he challenges Marley as to why he’s bound in heavy chains.

   “’I wear the chain I forged in life,’ Marley says. ‘I made it link by link and yard by yard. I gartered it on of my own free will and by my own free will, I wore it.” Marley sadly confesses that each link in that heavy chain represents a selfish or evil deed he performed while on earth—or a good deed he neglected to perform.

   Scrooge is stunned. “’But you were always such a good man of business, Jacob.’”

   “’Business!’ Marley cries. ‘Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business! The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”

   Mankind is our business as well. And in the mass press of Christmastime when we’re up to our ears with shopping, wrapping, eating, and making merry, it’s easy to confine our concern for others to our own families and friends.

   But what if we went further? What if we gave something of ourselves to those we don’t know well or even at all? Giving is, after all, the heart of Christmas. We’ve all experienced the true joy of giving to someone and watching their face light up in delight at our gift or visit or other act of kindness. So what if we did that for total strangers? I have to tell you—it’s a ton of fun.

   There are lots of ways to surprise people with love and kindness at Christmas. I have a soft spot for people who are required to work outside in order to do their jobs—full-service gas station attendants (yes, they do exist), mail delivery people, and especially volunteers like the Salvation Army folks who ring the bells in the freezing cold. You know what’s really fun? Bringing them a hot chocolate from Dunkin Donuts or McD’s. They’re so happy!

   There are all kinds of other things you can do, too. Ever have someone pay for your order in a drive-through? Sometimes that even starts a chain reaction: Someone pays for yours, then you pay for the next person, and so on (although that can drive the cashier crazy so buy her a donut). Or you could bake goodies for a nursing home, for your kids’ teachers and staff, or for policemen or firefighters. (Hint: before you do, call and ask if it’s okay to bring food. Sometimes these orgs have rules about random people bringing edibles. It’s often best to serve an organization where the people in charge know who you are.) Or you can remember those in your doctor’s/dentist’s office, your auto mechanic’s shop, or your salon.

   Another random act of kindness is to send a pizza to someone who’s working a long, lonely nightshift or to give a small token of appreciation to the frazzled store clerks who have to put up with not-so-pleasant people in the last days of the Christmas shopping rush. Maybe it’s just a candy bar that you give, but even if they don’t end up eating it, it’s just the idea that someone cared enough to take notice of them that will bless their hearts and let them know they’re appreciated. And don’t forget food banks which always need, well, food. Many grocery stores have bins where you can drop a few non-perishable items on your way out the door. Don’t think it doesn’t matter—every can and bottle adds up.

   Appreciate the folks who serve in the military? Send a holiday package to a military person and include a card saying, “Thank you for your service.” Military families serve as well so you might send them a gift card. Unfortunately, many military families don’t make a lot of money—especially young families—and an anonymous Christmas gift might help to make their Christmas a little brighter. In fact, I pretty much guarantee it.

   Know a single person who could use some company for the holidays? Invite them over for dinner sometime. And please don’t forget single parents—many of them struggle to give their children a decent holiday. (Not all single parents have financial struggles, though, so do your homework before you make assumptions.) But if that’s the case, imagine the joy and relief that a single mom or dad feels when they receive a gift card to help them to bless their own children with a gift that otherwise they may not be able to afford. We all love giving gifts to those we love—why not help someone else do that? And along that vein, here’s another idea for a single parent family: Take their child or children Christmas shopping so that mom or dad actually gets a gift. What can be more fun than that? Single parents often feel forgotten during the holidays.

   This year, give a gift to someone who might feel left out or who needs to be encouraged—it will mean so much to them. Or here’s a mindbender: Give a gift to someone who doesn’t necessarily deserve a present and see what bridges that might build (and it shouldn’t be that fake candy coal you can buy to put in someone’s stocking). Giving will put you and everyone else in the true spirit of the season. As the reformed Scrooge promised: “’I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.’”

   You can do that—just be the Ghost of Christmas Presents.

 

 

‘Tis the Season—For Holiday Scams

Dark Scam

‘TIS THE SEASON—FOR HOLIDAY SCAMS

   Today I got a call from my son to warn me about some of the latest “scare-you-for-$” phone scams. Here are a few of the more popular:

   SCAM #1: Phone rings. “Hello, is this so-and-so?”

   “Yes.”

   “Ma’am, every year thousands of children will not have a Christmas this holiday season—no food, no presents, not even a candy cane. And with—”

   “Excuse me, but—”

   “No, excuse me—with your credit card gift of just $1000, you can help a—”

   “I know—a fat guy on a computer living in his mom’s basement. No thanks.” Click.

   SCAM #2: Phone rings again. “Hello, is this so-and-so?”

   “Yes.”

   “Do you have a son named _______?”

   “Yes.”

   “He’s been arrested (or in a car crash or mugged) and needs you to get a $500 money pak immediately… hurry… he’s suffering!”

   Can I just tell you? Your son does not need bail money or money for the ER or plane fare because he was mugged, drugged, and put on a plane to Bourogue. He’s fine.

   SCAM #3: Phone rings yet again. “Hello, is this so-and-so?”

   “Yes.”

   “This is (Your Power Company). You owe the company $1200 and we’re on our way over to shut off your power right now. However, if you send a money pak immediately, we won’t shut you down.” (Seriously, this is a real thing.)

   Well, you’re smarter than that so you say, “Uhm, that doesn’t sound right.” Then you hang up, Google the number for YPCo. and—funny thing—it’s the same number the guy called from. Even funnier thing: you talked to billing and it turns out you don’t owe YPC $1200. In fact, you don’t owe them a cent. Still, the guy calls back so you tell him that. He then informs you that he was calling from the corporate office in D.C. and you called the local YPC number and the local guys don’t have current billing info because there was a computer glitch that messed with their systems (although they don’t know that) and blah, blah, blah… So (says the guy) the bottom line is that you do too owe YPC $1200 and the crew is still coming to turn you off if you don’t pay. And then you’ll freeze to death. On Christmas.

   Now I know what you’re thinking: Who falls for those scams? Right?

   One of my relatives once fell for a well-established scam targeting older people and it cost him nearly a hundred thousand dollars. Every year, thousands of people are scammed which is why, every year, thieves make millions of dollars scamming them.

The art of the con—especially targeting older folks and especially this time of year—is really quite lucrative. And that’s because the scare tactics work.

   Another big money-maker for the criminals is that the big, bad IRS is going to freeze your bank account, notify your employer that you’re about to be a convicted felon, and sell your children into slavery if you don’t cough up your credit card number. Right now. NOW!! And the clock is ticking—every minute that you don’t pay adds interest and penalties and fees to the bill.

   But take a deep breath. If you haven’t yet heard, the IRS doesn’t make phone calls, they send letters. Lots of them, if need be, but they won’t be calling you—ever. So it’s okay to hang up on them.

   During this season of giving and good will, don’t let someone take advantage of you; don’t be the victim of a scam and don’t let your loved ones be, either. Granted, sometimes these criminals are stupid and their scams are so ridiculous that even my dog wouldn’t bite. But for every five stupid scams, there’s one that’s really good—too good. And hundreds of poor souls will fall for it and lose thousands of dollars—even hundreds of thousands. However, here’s the disclaimer: I am not saying that people shouldn’t give to those in need during the holidays (or any other time). What I am saying is that giving should be done to reputable organizations which will be responsible with your gift, seeing that it goes to the cause it was advertised to help. So go ahead and give—just not to anyone or any organization that you don’t know or that you didn’t personally call.

   This holiday season, if there’s one thing you have to remember, it’s this: Once you, yourself, voluntarily use your own credit card or give access to your bank account, you can’t then turn around and cry “fraud” to the bank or the credit card company and get your money back. It’s not fraud—you gave your money away. And it’s gone.

   So—when the scammers come calling, just hang up. If it really was your long-lost Uncle Scrooge, he’ll call back.

 

  

  

 

 

Things I’ve Learned—And Not Always the Easy Way

Teddy Bear Looking out of Window

THINGS I’VE LEARNED—AND NOT ALWAYS THE EASY WAY

  1. God uses and multiplies the thing that’s already in your hand.
  2. You can do the right thing with the wrong attitude and it counts—because you’re trying to do the right thing.
  3. “Foregiveness” means giving something before it’s deserved. That thing is mercy.
  4. Time is the most precious commodity we have. And the clock is always ticking.
  5. “Fear of success” is not a thing. Fear of losing success is a thing.
  6. It’s better to try and fail than to live with the regret of never even having tried.
  7. Instant success often leads to inevitable failure—because we haven’t learned to manage the instant success.
  8. God is way is smarter than me.
  9. Hardheadedness is not proof of courage. Faithfulness is proof of courage.
  10. There’s a huge difference between being “done” and being “finished”.
  11. A liar might tell the truth. We’ll just never know.
  12. If you’re pursuing your destiny, sooner or later you will hit a wall. Your options are to go around it, dig under it, or blow it up. Just don’t go home.
  13. God doesn’t do social promotion. If we don’t learn it the first time, we’ll just keep repeating the lesson—again… and again…
  14. Disappointment will make you bitter if you let it. Bitterness is the cancer of the soul.
  15. Toffee cookies are really good.
  16. There will always be people who have it better than you and people who have it  worse. Which you focus on will determine the kind of person you become. 
  17. If you do the most good that you can with what you already have, you’ll discover your destiny.
  18. Some days the dream just ain’t behavin’.
  19. Life is not fair. If it were, we’d all be dead.
  20. Common sense is not that common anymore.
  21. Opportunity is a gift to be handled with gratitude.
  22. Life “on the shelf” is usually prep time for life in the spotlight.
  23. You can’t out-give God. But try anyway.
  24. A heart of flesh cannot be forged apart from trial and anguish.
  25. Silence is necessary for anything to make sense.
  26. No seed, no harvest.
  27. Tea cures everything.
  28. Loneliness is part of the human condition. Emptiness is optional.
  29. What we hear ourselves say is usually what we get ourselves.
  30. Correction is not rejection.
  31. Eternity is the great equalizer.
  32. The end does not justify the means. Ask anyone in prison.
  33. Words are a double-edged sword.
  34. In the end, “good enough” is only someone’s opinion.
  35. Santa is real.      

 

 

 

Two Words That Will Change Everything

Old couple kissing

TWO WORDS THAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING

   Recently I happened to see a teenager sitting at a table who was asked to get up and get a book. He never even looked up—he simply said, “Mom,” and mom, who was in another room, jumped up and hurried to get the book for him. I don’t recall that he even said “thank you”. Now, if I had to guess, I’d say that little scenario has been playing out for some time. And while I’d like to say it was rare, I can’t. We’ve all seen some version of the girl who sticks her hand out to dad and says, “Money.” There’s no real “please” involved or even if there is, it’s not really sincere. The expectation is that dad will fork over the money, no questions asked. And dad complies. Although he may have one question: “Is $25 enough?” (Probably not.)

   It’s so fun to be taken for granted, isn’t it? You’ve all probably experienced it at one time or another—having done a favor for or given to someone a few times and suddenly it becomes an expectation that your generosity will continue because—well, just because. That’s your function in life.

   Now I get the whole Christian thing about “not giving to get” and “going the extra mile” but we’re human, and when it becomes clear that another person is taking advantage of our kindness, it can sting. And that’s especially true when you’re really only trying to show love to someone and they’re just not getting the memo. It’s frustrating to say the least.

   But here’s the scary part: What if we’re one of those people? What if we’re the ones who don’t recognize the sacrifices being made for us by the people who care about us? Or even worse—what if we do know and we simply ignore them? What if we take for granted that those people who give us so much are just always going to be there because—well, why shouldn’t they? Husbands, wives, grandparents, children, friends, pastors, employers, co-workers—we don’t really need to say that we appreciate what they do—they’ll just know. Right?  Probably not. But here’s an even scarier thought: What if it’s not just people we take for granted? What if it’s God, too?

   I have to confess—more than once in the midst of worship, I’ve shifted into petition mode. Suddenly it goes from ministering to God’s heart and becomes about what I need. I drift from thanking the Lord for what He has given me and find myself asking for yet more.

But the fact is, God deserves our most sincere gratitude. And so do those who’ve been so kind to us.

   So what if this Thanksgiving, we went beyond the redundant verbal recitations of what we’re grateful for? What if we actually did something to demonstrate how thankful we are for that person, act of kindness or gift? Perhaps we could take a moment and write a “thank you” card or make that long-overdue phone call—one which really expresses our heartfelt appreciation and love for the people who’ve stood by us and helped us out? We all know someone to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. Why not pay it?   

   This Thanksgiving, let’s do the right thing and say a simple, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I can’t tell you what it’s meant to me.”

   I can tell you what it will mean to them.