All posts by tunemyheart

Mark Browning lives on 60 wooded acres in the Greater Bates City, Missouri metropolitan area. For over a quarter of a century he has been wed to the lovely Penny with whom he shares four children and four grandchildren. In his spare time, he teaches English at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

Lottery Tickets for Down Under

31Days
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Proverbs 21:20

The wise save for the future.

A few years ago, I taught a composition class to a group of home schoolers. One of their assignments was to write a proposal for how their family should spend some considerable sum of money. One boy, Chandler, had a grandiose plan that would take his entire family to Australia to chase crocodiles or something like that. The class pointed out to Chandler that his plan would involve a great deal of money that his family couldn’t simply wish into existence.

Undaunted, he smiled and explained his plan for that slight inconvenience: “Lottery tickets!” he proclaimed. “We’ll just buy a bunch of lottery tickets.”

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty-some years, lottery tickets pay a whopping 45 cents on the dollar. That means that if you buy $100 worth of them, you can expect to walk away with $45. Of course, since a tiny number win big, the bulk of people will finish with less than  even that $45.

Playing the lottery, as Chandler surely understands by now, is not saving for the future. Saving for the future involves socking away that $100 or whatever you can manage, leaving it alone until you actually need it.

While God doesn’t seem to bless lottery ticket purchases for most people, He will bless our efforts when we demonstrate our trust in Him by saving for the future.

  • Are you a saver or a spender? What traits of these types do you possess?
  • What stands in the way of you making the most of your savings opportunities?
  • Will you pray diligently in the coming week about what God wants you to do to save for your future? Will you trust Him to open the way for that?

Constructive or Destructive?

31Days
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Proverbs 27:17

Be a constructive friend.

In my teen years, I spent a lot of time with two friends. For several years, Tony was my constant companion. Later, circumstances led me to spend more time with Scott. I stayed in touch with both of them from about age 10 to 20, but they definitely had distinct years in first place.

Once, when I was a college freshman, Tony gave me a ride back to MU on the way to his school in Rolla. When we got there, Tony reluctantly shared what Scott had been saying about me and my relationship with a certain girl. It seems that Scott thought me stupid to be with her and believed she’d bring me down. Scott didn’t share any of those concerns with me, but didn’t seem to have any problem trotting them out with Tony and others.

I think Scott might have been on to something. My dating relationship with that girl ended after two years. In May we’ll celebrate 35 years of marriage, but Scott might still have a point.

He was a pup at that time, so I don’t fault him, but Scott was not being very constructive. His words had a far greater likelihood of pulling me down than of doing anything positive. Even had he been right about that girl, his approach was wrong-headed.

Our goal as friends should always be to build our friends up and to help them prosper. That’s what Jesus did for us and what we should do for the ones we love.

  • Have you ever been less than constructive in your dealings with friends?
  • When was the last time that a friend proved especially positive toward you? How did that change your life?
  • How can you best pray for God’s assistance in celebrating the successes and sharing the afflictions in the lives of your friends?

Does This Make Me Look Fat?

31Days
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Proverbs 27:5-6

Be candid with your friends.

“Honey, does this look good on me?” Every husband knows that the answer to that question is, “You look great.” We don’t always say it, but we know the answer.

Beyond that bit of shallowness, we recognize that one of the great values of getting close to someone is the ability to be–in fact the obligation to be–completely honest with them.

Probably my best friend at work is Nathan. Although a terrific teacher and all around person, Nathan has a tendency to get pulled into positions of leadership that he finds overwhelming and utterly dreadful. Three years ago, he was detesting serving as the chair of a big campus-wide committee. Last year, he was swamped as president of the faculty senate. This year, he got sucked into serving on a different big committee.

When he resigned from that most recent gig, he expressed his relief. Instead of celebrating with him, I laughed and suggested that he’d soon let himself get lured into another difficult role. He looked at me funny for a moment, but since then he’s thought about that habit of his.

If we did not trust each other and enjoy each other’s company, I would not have been able to share that bit of criticism with Nathan. What he’ll do with it, time will eventually tell.

  • Do you receive criticism and praise from your friends in an open and accepting manner?
  • Do you offer criticism and praise to your friends in a way that helps them to become stronger?
  • What friend can you pray to speak more openly to in the coming days?

Closer than a Brother

31Days
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Proverbs 18:24

Be committed to your friends.

We joke that my mother describes anyone she ever stood in line with at the grocery store as “my really close friend.” But there are legitimately close friends, people who have populated my mother’s life for decades. One of them is Opal. Now and again, I’ll hear Mom talk about Opal and comment on how her old friend can’t get out and about like she used to.

“Have you called her recently?” I’ll ask.

“Well, no,” she almost always answers. “I’ve been thinking that I should but . . .” Her voice trails off, leaving the sentence unfinished.

I’d fault my mother more for her lack of closeness to her friends if I were really good at the matter myself. But like her, I have a tendency to intend to call or visit someone, to recognize the “should,” but never to follow through and keep the connection close. I can think of two people, old friends from our church choir, who I knew were seriously ill and needing some human contact. I had good intentions to get with them, but somehow something always intervened. And then they were gone.

Some friends will stick closer than a brother. I’m afraid that I fail on that count far more often than I succeed. However, when we consider the example set by Jesus, the call to committed friendship should seem very important.

  • Who are your closest handful of friends? How do you ensure that you remain closely committed to them?
  • In what ways do you fall short of maintaining your friendships? In what ways do you excel?
  • How can you pray for your closest friends and for the other levels of friends in the coming week? Will you actually do it?

Standing before Kings–or Deans

31Days
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Proverbs 22:29

Understand that the cure for laziness is NOT worse than the disease.

A couple of weeks ago, my dean–that’s academic-speak for my boss–came to observe my class. There was a day when that event would have made me nervous. In those times, I would have invited him to come on a day when I knew the lesson plan would be especially excellent. Then I would fuss over it beforehand to be sure that every little detail was perfect.

These days, with nearly 30 years of teaching under my belt, I just told the dean to pick a day. He came in and watched my class. Although I was very much aware of his presence, I can’t say that it changed my behavior. If only all of my life were that well ordered.

It’s amazing how, when we do what we’re supposed to do, things usually turn out for the best. When I do my normal, appropriate level of preparation for class, I don’t have to worry about getting into trouble with the boss. When I pay my bills or change my oil or eat a healthy diet or do anything else that my laziness might tempt me not to do, and good things happen.

At its heart, I think, laziness is a matter of weak faith. When I give in to laziness, I’m essentially saying that I do not trust that God has control of my life. I’m not trusting Him to reward me; thus, I have to reward myself.

Name some examples when hard work and self-discipline have paid off for you. Can you name some opposite examples?

In what ways do your choices contribute to the big picture God has prescribed for your life? In what ways are you demonstrating a lack of trust in that picture?

What area of your life needs your most urgent prayer attention to defeat any stronghold of laziness?