Brownies and a Dime (or A Little Bit of Sin) by Beth Smith

Brownies Michelle Tsang via unsplash.comI love this story about “a little bit of sin.” Two teenagers wanted to see the latest movie, one their father was quite sure was inappropriate.

“There’s only a little bad language in it,” they pleaded. “There’s almost no violence, and, while they talk about sex, you never see any on screen.” The father was adamant. The teens were upset. Eyes were rolling. Grumbles were rumbling.

But this was a very creative dad who loved his children and wanted to make a point. He headed to the kitchen to bake a batch of brownies. The house was filled with the tantalizing aroma of the coming chocolate treat. The teens soon made their way to the kitchen, begging for brownies.

“Help yourself!” the father said, “But before you dig in, you should know that I added just a little bit of dog poop to the recipe. There’s not much. You won’t be able to see it. I’m pretty sure you won’t even taste it. It probably won’t hurt you a bit.  So go ahead. Have all you’d like.”[1]

They got the point. That’s the way sin is in our lives. It doesn’t matter how much or how little, it’s still there.

First John 1:10 says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him (God) out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” Fine! But how about those of us who have really messed up? Some of us have had this thought, “I’ve done so much wrong, really evil stuff. I know I’m beyond redemption, beyond forgiveness.” Not true! Those who are forgiven much love him all the more. None of us are beyond His forgiveness. We’re like the lost coin in the parable that Jesus told. Let me recount it for you.

Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and carefully search until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15: 8-10 NIV).

The lost coin in this scripture was a silver drachma. It was probably only about the size of a dime, but it was worth about a day’s wages. It was worth the search! And we’re worth the search. If we’re feeling lost, either eternally or temporarily, we can be sure that God desires to find us and to help us find him. He searches for us and joyfully receives us.

Next time you see a dime, let it remind you to cry out, “Here am I, Lord. You’ve found me.”

 

Photo by Michelle Tsang via unsplash.com

[1] http://www.snopes.com/glurge/brownies.asp , accessed 6/2/2015 reported that, “Our earliest sighting of this item comes from a August 2001 web site posting, and it has since appeared in at least one gook. However, even in its earliest incarnation the author was not identified, which makes it difficult to determine whether the story is a true account or a work of fiction.”  This author found it uncredited on several websites.

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You Win the Serve!

 

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I grew up in South Florida, Hollywood to be exact. It was a great place to be a kid. I’ll spare you the long list of delights and simply describe one—paddleball. Paddleball is a bit like racquetball except:

  • The paddle is all wood.
  • The ball is pink and very bouncy.
  • The court is outside, and open except for the front wall.

Good luck finding many paddleball courts, or paddle balls for that matter, now.(I couldn’t even find a photo!) But once upon a time, it was all the rage. There were courts by the schools, courts at public parks and courts by the beach, all of them crowded.

My dad taught me to play paddleball. It was great fun and a great workout. I didn’t realize until recently that it was also a great way for him to instill his positive attitude in me.  As a general rule, my dad did not let me win.

Lesson number one: Life doesn’t always give you what you want.

The rules of paddleball are pretty simple.

  • When your opponent slams the ball off the front wall, hit it before it bounces more than once.
  • Make sure your return sends the ball to the front wall before it hits the ground again.
  • Don’t hit the ball out of bounds. (You’ll lose the point, and you’ll have to go running for it. Remember, no back wall!)

We would play until we were drenched with sweat and out of breath. We’d laugh a lot. I haven’t played in decades, but my imagination can take me back to the court by Hollywood Hills Elementary School in an instant.

Lesson number two: Simple things, done with those you love, are priceless.

My dad is really good with words. He would say silly things as we played like “7- Up, the all family drink” when we were tied 7-7 and “We all need fortitude” when the score was 4-2. But the one I remember best is this: “You win the serve.” In racquetball, whoever loses a game gets to serve first for the next one.  I never once heard my dad say, “You lost.” He always said, “You win the serve.”

Lesson three: A whole lot of life is dependent on how you look at things.

My dad has had his share of hardship. You don’t need to read his list. You’ve got your own list. But he would be the first to tell you that he has lived and is living a life into which the Lord has poured great blessing.

  • He would tell you that sometimes he’s won the game and sometimes he’s won the serve.
  • He would recount the importance of spending time with those you love.
  • He would remind you that you won’t always win, but that will be okay.

My dad is a smart guy. I hope you’ll benefit from some of his wisdom today!

The Relational Ride (or iPhone Alternatives for a Great Family Vacation)

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Your family + nineteen hours in the car. A blessing or a great big bother?

Attitude is everything, so they say. My friend Karen has a terrific outlook on spending hours upon hours in the car with her kids. Since summer is coming, I asked permission to share her wisdom with my readers. So, if you’re a parent planning a summer road trip with your kids, this blog’s for you. (If you’re not in that category, perhaps you can share it with someone else who needs it.)

Pray. Pray before you even start your engine. Begin by seeing your road trip as a blessed opportunity to spend uninterrupted quality time together with your family. You have a captive audience. Take advantage of the situation! Talk. Laugh. Bond.

Break it up. Use rest areas as a chance to toss a ball, run a race, or take a hike for 15 minutes or so. Little bodies weren’t made to sit indefinitely. (Frankly, neither were adult bodies. Steve and I are much happier travelers if we move around every couple of hours.)

Pack their bags. Give each child an individual bag with a few travel treats: favorite snacks, sugarless gum, a new book, an activity book, crayons, paper, stickers, or small toys. Don’t let personal electronics eat up too much of the trip. Those little battery powered boxes will draw each person into a world of their own, putting an end to relationship building. That might be fine for a little while, but resist the temptation to let “screens” become the norm.

Prepare to be entertained. Look for activities the whole family can enjoy together: audio books, read aloud books, Mad Libs Junior, trivia games, or Twenty Questions. Again, try to keep the movies to a minimum. Remember, this is a time to be together!

Teach appreciation. In Karen’s words, “I always encourage the boys to look outside and see what’s different or beautiful about the current surroundings.  We take note of sunsets and rainbows, wildlife and mountains and lakes.”

Thanks, Karen, for your great advice. Now, how about the rest of you? How do you turn long hours on the road into something memorable and fun?

 

Practice Hospitality

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A few weeks ago I was invited to dine at a famously scenic restaurant in Austin. I was ushered into a beautiful room overlooking the lake. My vantage point, one of the top stories of a multi-tiered establishment, also gave me a view of several crowded tables below me. One gave me pause. It was party of ten, apparently a family plus a couple of friends. They were enjoying appetizers and beverages as sunset approached…and eight of them were bent over their smart phones for many long minutes. I admonished them in my mind, then caught myself in a similar crime just days later.

  • When was the last time you looked at your smart phone?
  • When was the last time you looked someone in the eye?
  • And do you ever call someone, hoping to get their voicemail so you can just leave a message?

We have allowed ourselves to become broadly connected, yet at the same time oddly isolated. Is this shyness? An enslavement to efficiency? Just a bad habit?

Romans 12:13b is exquisitely direct. “Practice hospitality.” There was a time when I thought hospitality meant simply opening one’s home and serving cookies. (More about that in a later blog.) A bit of research has extended my understanding. Here are a few more detailed definitions.

  • The generous reception and entertainment of guests.
  • A relationship between a guest and host, in which the host received the guest with goodwill.
  • Showing respect for one’s guests, treating them as equals.

Reception, relationship, and respect all speak to our definite and deliberate focus on another person. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” The gathering of believers is a sacred thing. What do we miss when we are distracted? And if we are gathered with those who do not know the Lord, what does our distraction say to them about their worth?

Furthermore, children may be heavily impacted by the number of words spoken to them in their early years. How much has that volume been reduced by the constant pull of a smart phone screen?

Focus. Attention. Concentration. These can be difficult to maintain in our swirling culture. But they are gifts we can give to those around us. They are gifts I think our Lord would have us mete out with generosity. They are a part of hospitality. Will you join me in a renewed effort to be fully present at the table–or at the office, or in the kitchen or…? Let me know how it goes. And if you discover tips that help you pay attention, I hope you’ll share them here.

Hope

(Shared by a member of Men Living R.E.D., Northwest Bible Church, Spring, Texas.)

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“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Although this verse is about suffering for doing good, it also applies to the way we handle difficulty. If we mope around like the world is coming to an end, who will be compelled to ask about the hope that is in us? If we know that heaven is our ultimate destination, that our joy is not in this world, we may provoke the question, “Why are you different?” Let me share a personal story —-

Back in my Texaco days, I was running a meeting and my daughter called me. I ALWAYS answer for my family – no matter what I am doing (sorry Texaco). I put the meeting on pause and answered.

My daughter had been in a minor car accident and she was pretty shook up.

I turned away from the meeting and went quickly through the Dad questions: Are you okay? Yes. Are you safe right now? Yes. Is anyone else hurt? No. Are the cars blocking the road? No.

Big sigh of relief – Okay, honey you are okay. Everything is okay. Cars are just equipment. Take a deep breath and calm down.

Do you want me to come get you? No, I can drive it home. Be careful. Sit for a few minutes and relax. I will look at it tonight. Not to worry. Everything is going to be fine. I love you.

It was over quickly, and everyone in the room could not help but hear the interchange. I told them that she was fine; it was just a fender bender. No big deal; she just needed to talk to me.

After the meeting and over the next few days, almost everyone came up to me to talk about the phone call and my handling of it. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but I learned that it spoke volumes about my relationship with my daughter. The Dads in the room were surprised that I wasn’t more upset about the accident and inconvenience and expense. The Daughters in the room were envious that their own dads were not as understanding. They saw my relationship with my daughter as something special. All of these conversations naturally led to talking about eternal things.

Why did I tell this story? Three lessons learned:

1 – Perspective – keep your eyes fixed on the real prize – show the hope that is in you.

2 – Don’t forget that everyone is watching – especially and even more closely during the down times.

3 – As the Holy Spirit said through Peter — Always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in you.

Is the way you’re living right now compelling any questions about HOPE?

A String of Protection

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My son will be a father soon. No matter where you are in life, I suppose you can imagine what great emotion wells up within me as I type those words. As I look forward to the months and years ahead, I find myself looking back as well, back to when Tony was young and God wrapped him in supernatural protection over and over again.

I have known the Lord long enough to realize he protected Tony many times when I never even caught scent of the danger that was present. But here are a few times I saw God’s loving hand covering my son.

  • Before Tony was born, he was diagnosed with a heart condition which, by the time of his birth, had been completely healed. You can read about that here.
  • Before Tony could walk, he had a favorite playing spot in our Dallas kitchen. He liked to pull out pots and plastic bowls from the drawer beneath my oven. This was very convenient for me, because I spent plenty of time in that kitchen, and it was great to have my little one occupied. One night, after Tony was fast asleep, I heard a loud crash. I rushed into the kitchen and found that a heavy glass blender had fallen from the cabinet above the oven, smashing to bits in the spot where, had it been a different time of day, Tony might well have been playing. I swept up those shards with a heart of thanksgiving.
  • Before Tony could talk, we were all outside in the front yard of our Houston home. It’s funny how details sometimes stick in our brains. I can see him now in red stripped overalls, a long sleeved shirt, shoes and socks. I was sitting in the driveway when he toddled up and somehow, wordlessly, let me know that something was bothering his toe. I reached for him and saw, to my horror, that his back was covered with fire ants from knee to neck. They were just about to reach the top of his shirt. We stripped him, swiping the bugs from his body. He escaped the whole ordeal with just one bite—on his toe. How that one ever got there, I will never know.
  • Tony has a tiny scar on one finger. Before he was old enough to go to school, I had a muffin business. He was with me there one day and, foolishly, I allowed him into the production area. He walked right toward the open oven and, much too quickly for me to stop him, was headed for a bad burn on the side of his face or down his arm. He redirected just in time. All that’s left of that could-have-been-awful day is a tiny scar.

Parenting is full of moments when we hold our breath, trying not to worry about the unseen dangers ahead. We cannot protect our children from all things hard and dangerous. And, undoubtedly, God will allow into their lives some hardships which we would never choose for them. Still he loves our children even more than we do, and he will, HE WILL, protect them as needed.

When I am rocking my grandson, I will sing to him about God’s faithfulness. May you sing about his faithfulness in your heart today!