The Perfect Blend

In honor of National Coffee Day this Thursday, let’s take a look at how our daily coffee can remind us about a very important aspect of our walk with Christ.

Every coffee drinker has his own way of preparing the perfect cup of coffee. I like bold coffee sweetened with liquid Stevia. My husband likes a little light-bodied coffee with his creamer. My mom likes straight-up black coffee.

The perfectly blended cup of coffee depends on the individual. You could even say that a person’s cup of coffee provides a visible example of his tastes, and maybe even his personality.

Every person has a unique blend of personality traits, just like every cup of coffee has its own individual flavor… if it’s good coffee, that is. Some people are more task-oriented, while others focus more on social events. Some people gain energy from being around other people, and some need alone time to charge their batteries.
God created each person as a unique part of His body, each designed for a specific plan and purpose.

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” (Ephesians 1:11-12, MSG)

One way this reality of “glorious living” bears true comes through the perfect blend of faith and works in our lives.

“Now some may argue ‘Some people have faith; Others have good deeds.’ I say, ‘I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.’” (James 2:18)

At first glance, James seems to contradict Paul in Romans 3:28.

“Man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Deeper investigation into both James’ and Paul’s writings helps us realize that the two actually complement each other. Together they tell us that while works don’t bring salvation, they sure do give evidence of a life changed by God through His saving grace.

In other words, before salvation works mean nothing. After salvation, they mean a everything.

True faith involves total commitment to God. Works do not substitute for our faith, but they do verify and bear witness to its existence. So, Paul’s and James’ teachings really work together to describe the perfect blend of faith and works in a life devoted to Christ.

Whatever our unique personality blend, every believer also must blend the reality of his faith with his actions to create a living faith that is a testimony to others. We may all live out our faith a bit differently, just like every coffee lover expresses his unique tastes, based on our unique personalities and interests, but genuine faith will be lived out in some way in every believer.

 Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email or Subscribe in a reader

5 Habits for Getting and Staying in Shape

athletic-2

The New Testament uses a variety of athletic metaphors to describe the life of a Christian. These references were certainly understood by those to whom the letter was written since the Olympic games, along with the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games and the Pythian Games, had been held for hundreds of years prior to any New Testament events taking place. And these metaphors are understood well still today in a culture where exercise and healthy lifestyles exist on a continuum from obsessiveness to belligerent avoidance.

These athletic metaphors were used in Scripture because many of the same habits for getting and staying in physical shape hold true for getting and staying in spiritual shape as well, not the least of which are similarities regarding the necessary mindset needed for both. Better understanding of these connections can lead us to effectively,

“run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Perseverance. Discipline. Self-control. All essential elements, along with many others, in both physical and spiritual vitality. These elements, all laced within the athletic metaphors used in Scripture, work with other related habits to create a solid training program applicable both spiritually and physically.

athletic-1For me, the following 5 habits for getting and staying in shape are crucial for my continued physical and spiritual health, both continual struggles even within consistent victories.

  1. Accountability. Physically, a gym membership and/or an exercise partner provide accountability, a key component to staying physically active. Likewise, membership in a Bible-believing fellowship along with connection to individuals through deepening relationships establish the essential element of accountability needed for spiritual fitness. Surrounding yourself with others for support and encouragement goes a long way in remaining consistently strong, both physically or spiritually.
  2. Variety. Exercise can become boring very quickly without variety. For this reason, my workouts vary from running and elliptical to biking and boxing to weights and video workouts. Relating this idea to spiritual fitness, avoid limiting yourself to one way of serving or studying God’s Word. Yes, serve in your area of strength (play on the worship team if you have musical ability) and have systematic approaches to reading God’s Word daily, but be willing to go outside of your comfort zone too (work in the nursery even though you normally teach adults or do a key-word study once in a while). Healthy variety not only helps prevent boredom, but it allows space for God to work in weaknesses, which ultimately makes us stronger overall (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  3. Rest. Neglect adequate recovery time between workouts, and injury will eventually occur. Spiritually, this equates to regular quiet time with God as well as getting physical rest since lack of proper rest inhibits the ability to confidently say “Yes!” when asked, “Are You Giving Your Best?” Being tired physically as well as spiritually significantly impacts effectiveness in every area of life.
  4. Stretching. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Are you will to try new activities? Stretching physically means trying new activities as well as regularly stretching muscles to make them better able to handle activity without injury. Spiritual stretching might involve getting to know new people, especially if you’re an introvert like me, doing an in-depth Bible study if you always just do a short devotional, or joining the choir even though you’ve never performed in front of an audience. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for opportunities to stretch physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Refueling. Our minds and spirits are like cars with regard to fuel; they need it in order to function. Physically, a healthy diet gives us the energy we need. Mentally, proper fuel (what we eat as well as drink) allows us to think and reason clearly and effectively. Spiritually, our spirits need filled up regularly on the truth of God’s Word. They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit through prayer, praise and submission. Life constantly asks more of us, which continually drains our energy. Refueling properly allows us to give without being drained and to do so on a consistent basis.

Adding to the connection between spiritual and physical fitness is the realization that both involve also ridding our lives of negative influences. Physically, this means avoiding unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, smoking and drugs. Spiritually, this means avoiding those things like that Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5-9 to “put to death.”

Developing positive habits and eliminating negative ones helps strengthen our perseverance, discipline and self-control, all essential elements of getting and staying in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. Development in this way increases our effectiveness and productivity in amazing ways.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

What habits can you adjust to become physically and spiritually stronger?

Consider studying this topic further by meditating on the following Scripture:

  • Philippians 2:16
  • Galatians 2:2
  • Galatians 5:7
  • 2 Timothy 2:5

More Than Meets the Eye

handicappedThat driver in front of you going what you deem as too slow, taking what you think is too long at stop signs, the one you zipped around at that 4-way stop while honking your horn… He’s a 15-year-old who just got his learning permit and is out practicing his driving.

That boss who seems overly sensitive and picky, who never seems satisfied with your work… She’s overwhelmed by her own mounting workload, plus the pressures of family to be at every little event are just wearing on her. She’s also not sleeping well.

That man who parked in a handicapped spot… Sure, he has a handicapped sticker, but he looks basically healthy except for being somewhat overweight… His asthma gets so bad so quickly sometimes that he needs to keep his car and medications as close by as possible just in case.

When someone snaps at you to get moving, when someone “ignores” you at the store, even when someone doesn’t return a text, instead of reacting and being offended or hurt, consider that…

There’s often more to a situation than meets the eye. There’s usually so much more you do not – and will never – know about a person and their situation.

What appears as reality is often either not accurate or only part of the story. After all, not only is there much we don’t know, but we’re pretty good at infusing our assumptions into another person’s life, aren’t we? On the reverse of that, we’re also pretty good at covering up reality and painting a pretty picture over the decay. Selfishness and insecurity seem to always so cloud our vision that we simply cannot see accurately.

Since we just don’t know so much information, what can we do? How can we positively interact with others when they just seem against us at times?

  • Give the benefit of the doubt. There’s likely a lot more going on than you know.
  • Assume the best you can, not the worst that usually comes automatically.
  • Pray for them. You may not know, but God does.

What’s more, how can we overcome our assumptions and selfishness and instead see the good? Since we never fully know a situation — nor should we always know since some things are simply none of our business — let’s purpose to let Philippians 4:8 direct how we think about and view others.

“Whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

How does this verse and the three suggestions above change how you view others?

Limitations and Strengths

2 corinthians 9

“It is not until we are comfortable with and thankful for our limitations that God empowers us to be used in our strengths.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead)

Fairly often, I’m comfortable with my limitations. Well, at last accepting of their existence. However, I probably spend an equal amount of time being frustrated by them. Mostly that means comparing myself to others, which only leads to increased dissatisfaction with my limitations as I desire to be someone I’m not and fail to appreciate the person God made.

Until just a few years ago, actually being thankful for my limitations never fell on my radar. Tolerance, a mix of apathy and acceptance, sure. But not thankfulness. Increasing frustration for certain when I thought about them too much.

The last few years have brought increasing comfort with my limitations as well as some measure of thankfulness much of the time. This came as I realized I’m not only protected by my limitations, but I’m directed by them too. You see, without my limitations, I’d more often that not head down the wrong path. I’d miss God’s will.

Take exercise for example. My goal now exists as general fitness and as good of health as possible. It used to be to project to others the image of an athlete, someone who could physically excel and be stronger, thinner and healthier than others. It was all about status and comparisons. My limitations? My body simply would not cooperate with the life of an athlete. I eventually saw those limitations as protection against a wrong focus, something that could easily have become an obsession.

So, I’m learning to be consistently both comfortable with and thankful for my limitations. I see their benefits more fully almost daily, and I realize the way God uses them to direct my focus toward His desires.

Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12, and he talks about how it was there to keep him from exalting himself. Before reaching what seems like a place of comfort and thankfulness with this thorn, Paul asked God three times to remove it. I can relate. I asked God way more than three times to remove my food allergies and sensitivities, another major area of limitation in my life.

Eventually, Paul reached the point of boasting in His weakness, realizing that it was in his limitations that the power of Christ dwelt in Him. His conclusion on the matter finally being…

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

The truth of grace’s sufficiency becomes evident through our limitations — our weaknesses — as we realize our utter helplessness for meaningful success in our own efforts. Even what we’re good at, we eventually realize, exists with limitations in place for our good.

When we reach a point of comfort with and acceptance of our limitations, we become more focused on being used in our strengths, our gifts and abilities, placed within us by our Creator. Placed there for divine reasons, our limitations direct us to and help keep us focused on to His glory.

Projection, Amplification & Perception

faults

My teenage boys sometimes talk about certain people who consistently annoy and frustrate them. While I usually encourage them to try and see the good, some positive, in those people, I also let them know I understand the struggle.

My oldest son terms such a person his “mortal enemy” (he watches a lot of superhero movies), and I get the meaning behind this quip. Some people just bring out something in us we’d rather not see. Yet, it’s ultimately quite important that we not only see it but understand what that something is if we are to grow as individuals.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves.” (Carl Jung)

At mid-life, I now realize the humbling truth of this statement. I also realize how blind to it I was as a teenager and even through my twenties. Now, though, I look for it almost automatically when I’m irritated and frustrated with someone, and doing so almost always not only brings some revelation for my own growth but also helps me be more loving toward that person.

A college professor of mine talked about this idea as “projection and amplification.” He said that not only do we project something about ourselves — a weakness, bad habit, etc. — onto another, but we amplify it in them too. Doing so, we think, allows that same fault within us to not appear as prominent, if others even see it at all in light of how big it is in another person.

Here’s the hard truth of what both my professor and Jung were saying and what took me years to learn…

“Your perception of me is a reflection of you.”

“We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

When we look at others, how we view them — our opinions of them — and ultimately how we treat them reveals more about who we are than it does about who they are. If we flip that, we realize that how others react to and treat us is often more a reflection of them than it is of us.

Does this realization change how you think about others?

For me, I try to understand what it is in someone who annoys and/or frustrates me that might be simply revealing a flaw or weakness in me. I attempt to let go of hurts others inflict because I realize there’s likely more going on beneath their surface than I could possibly know. I’ve simply learned that a struggle with another person can reveal much I need to learn about myself if I’m willing to see and admit the truth.

What can you do moving forward to apply this truth to your own life?

He Knows My Name

Name

As a writer, I have thought a lot about becoming well known. My name on the cover of a book. My book on The New York Times Bestsellers list. But my writer dreams don’t end there. I’ve thought about someone famous discovering my blog and asking me to ghostwrite for them or maybe co-write with them. I have even thought about being asked to do inspirational and motivational speaking. All pretty crazy ideas, I know.

In my reality, I know people who always seem to know other people no matter where they go. The coffee shop. The mall. Restaurants. We’re regularly interrupted. People know and use their name. I feel like a third wheel, or at least what I imagine a third wheel feels like, for however long they talk, most of the time not included in the conversation. I’ve just never been someone who has been known. (Except for in college when I had a byline in the campus newspaper every week. I enjoyed that probably too much.)

Much of my life, I’ve struggled with feeling overlooked and unimportant. Not just because people often don’t know my name but also because my introverted, shy personality keeps me backstage most of the time. (Don’t think because I’ve taught college classes and Bible studies that this changes anything. I’m pretty good at hiding behind my topic.) Ultimately, that’s where I like to be. Yet, a part of me has always wanted to be noticed, to be known, by others.

As I have taken this need to the Lord over the years, I have an increasing awareness of my messed up motives for wanting to be noticed. The Holy Spirit isn’t brutal about it, but He helps me realize that recognition by others won’t satisfy, not for very long anyway. Only God can satisfy my need for significance and notice.

He Knows My Name” by Francesca Battistelli (If We’re Honest album) speaks well to my need and to His satisfying of it.

I don’t need my name in lights.
I’m famous in my Father’s eyes.
Make no mistake.
He knows my name.

After years of struggling with this, my desire to be known on this earth no longer matters much most of the time. If it’s not His desire, then it’s not my desire either. If He ever decides for others to know me on a larger scale than my quiet, small-town life, then He’ll make that happen and at the same time give me the desire for it.

How did I find victory over this particular issue? His presence.

When He’s my center, my focus, worldly fame and notice fall off the radar. When His agenda replaces my agenda, my soul experiences overwhelm with Him, and my schedule no longer looms overwhelmed and overloaded.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

My name on a book or in lights or even called across a coffee shop… none of those really take up my mental energy anymore. What does? How to have more of His presence. Nothing else matters except that He knows my name.

Character Determines Potential

Character

“Character reigns preeminent in determining potential.” (Laura Hildebrand, Seabiscuit)

Character involves the moral or ethical quality of a person, and preeminent means superior and surpassing all others. Potential determines what something or someone is capable of being or becoming, their possibility. Potential exists as a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed.

Combining these definitions gives us an amplified version of Hildebrand’s discovery about character.

“The moral or ethical quality of a person is superior to all other qualities in deciding the possibility of excellence that exists within someone or something and that may or may not be developed.”

We see this truth of character determining potential through the life of Seabiscuit as it intersects with his owner, Charles Howard, his trainer, Tom Smith, and his jockey, Red Pollard. Howard recognized Smith’s wisdom, and Smith saw the potential in Seabiscuit, who had not been trained properly. Pollard was the last piece in the puzzle that finally showed Seabiscuit’s potential to the rest of the country. These men brought out Seabiscuit’s character – his heart – with amazing results.

As a child, I remember desperately wanting someone to see my potential, but I too often just felt overlooked. Maybe that’s why stories like Seabiscuit inspire me. And maybe that’s why frustration overwhelms me when I see potential in others but struggle seeing the character necessary to make that potential show itself in meaningful ways.

Character does not simply involve the surface person. Instead, true character shows through under pressure and in our attitudes, actions and words, especially with how those play out when no one but God knows the truth.

“Good character is about making good choices no matter who is watching or who will know about it.” (Dan Black in The One Required Leadership Quality)

We’ve likely all known – or have seen on television – someone with immense potential but who failed to realize that potential because of faulty character. What begins as poor choices in private, a more accurate reflection of our character, eventually shows through in the public realm. Our true character eventually becomes evident to all.

Thinking about this idea of character and potential and remembering how it played out in the life of Seabiscuit, two application points emerge to focus on as we encounter potential.

  1. Potential means very little if character is not developed.
  2. Focus on character, and potential will take care of itself.

The Bible says character is developed through endurance of suffering (Romans 5:3-5). This truth was certainly seen in Seabiscuit, and we all know it’s true in our own lives too.

This idea of potential being determined by character exists as a life principle we can embrace at every stage and in every season. It’s why parents can’t shield their children from all of life’s struggles, but instead should focus on character development within whatever life hands their children.

We also must not estimate potential, others or even our own, simply by appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). The attitudes, actions and words that ooze out when under pressure are what best indicate the status of character and thus the development of potential, and we need God’s help in seeing and encouraging both.

This post was inspired by the book Seabiscuit by Laura Hildebrand.

A Glimpse of Infinite Power

Horses Grazing Religious Worship Background

Throughout history, men have placed their trust and even their very lives in the hooves of horses. The unique qualities and abilities found in horses are why they went first into battle and why thousands flock to see them race throughout the United States. Horses have a way of capturing our hearts and minds unlike any other animal.

Horses allow us to be a part of their worlds, too, even have dominion over them. They allow us to direct and teach them and to use them for our own benefit and gain.
Because of the role horses have played throughout our history, the comparison made in Psalm 20:7 holds tremendous significance for helping us better understand God’s power in our lives.

“Some boast (praise; trust; are strong through) in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.”

In King David’s day when he wrote the Psalm, many opposing countries conquered through the strength of their war chariots, and they wrought fear in whatever people they faced for this reason. The Israelites, under David’s leadership, chose instead to focus on the name of the Lord, a power infinitely beyond any other, and He came through time and time again.

Horses always give an imposing show. Even when grazing in the cool morning on dew-laden grass, their peaceful beauty speaks of a strength almost beyond measure. Yet, they’re weak in comparison to the power of the almighty God.

Instead of the comparison diminishing horses in any way, it actually works to expand my view of the strength of the Lord and make the power of the invisible God, the Creator of horses and humans alike, more visible. When I read and watch stories about tremendous horses like Seabiscuit, I am once again in awe of my Lord simply by glimpsing Him thorough one of His most magnificent creations.

This post was inspired by the book Seabiscuit by Laura Hildebrand.

How to Get Unstuck

stuck 2When our van got stuck in the snow years ago, it overheated and caught on fire when I tried to get it unstuck. In hindsight, I should have just waited for the tow truck my husband went to call. Not one of my better decisions.

Stuck in traffic. Stuck in the mud (or snow). Stuck in a rut.

Doesn’t matter what kind of stuck… Frustration grows the longer I’m stuck, whether mentally physically or spiritually. The more frustrated I become, the less patience I have, and the more stuck I feel.

Being stuck gets my emotions all riled up, and I simply become unable to make good decisions. Until the frustration, impatience and anger abate, I feel lost in an endless maze of emotions. So, feeling stuck too easily turns into more like being trapped unless I find a way to overcome the emotions and get unstuck.

For this reason, my first step when I feel stuck is to get out from under out-of-control emotions. Sometimes this means simply walking away from the situation if possible and letting the emotions abate. When physical space can’t happen, I try creating mental space through praying, reading, singing… whatever gets my mind off how I feel, which is rarely a good lens for handling a situation well.

After my emotions fade, I can see more clearly and am able to assess the situation and consider the root cause. I ask myself, “Why did I get stuck in the first place?”  Sometimes, the cause is simply a wrong turn. Other times, being stuck serves as a warning from my subconscious alerting me to a problem I might not recognize on my own.

stuck 1With our van incident, while a wrong turn led us to getting stuck, and my impatience resulted in a significantly worse situation, the whole incident alerted us to a problem with the vehicle’s electrical system.  In this case, we just lost the van, and no one was hurt. Had this particular situation not happened, we might have learned about the recall through a much worse scenario.

Once we have a better idea of what caused us to become stuck, we can make the best choice for how to wisely work through the problem. If a wrong turn is the cause, the best solution is usually to just get back on the right path. Sometimes this means getting help, and sometimes this means backtracking. Either way, simply accepting the loss — and apologizing if needed — is often the best way to get unstuck.

In the past when I’ve felt stuck, I’ve generally made one of two bad choices for dealing with being stuck. Sometimes, I got stubborn and pushed (forced my way) through to progress. Other times, I did nothing and simply wallowed in my doldrums. Both of these approaches ended the same way… chronic stuckness from never actually dealing with the root cause.

Over the years, I’ve learned that being stuck is not necessarily a bad thing. It brings me to a standstill, to a place where I am unable to proceed or go back, and that makes me stop and think. When I get out from under my emotions and find the root cause, I also discover needed adjustments I would not have seen had I not gotten stuck.

Getting stuck never feels good, regardless of the details. Yet when we realize that the best adjustments in our lives often come because we get stuck, we see the benefit to this unavoidable waiting. We begin to understand that progress often comes with forced course corrections largely because we often don’t stop to look for them otherwise.

DISCUSSION: How do you get unstuck?

Balance Requires Simplicity

My earliest memories of a simple life exist with the Amish. I grew up on a dirt road in lower Michigan with three Amish families living within a ½ mile of me as well as having the entire community within a 5-mile radius.

The closest Amish neighbors frequented our house, usually to use the telephone but sometimes to ask for rides to somewhere further than they wanted to take their horse and buggy. The Amish made their own clothes, grew and raised most of their own food and attended church in one another’s houses. They read books and played games in their leisure time, and they worked hard almost every day. Their lives created my early definition of simplicity.

When I was 18, someone very close to me went through a painful simplifying of her life. I didn’t realize it until many years later, but her life illustrated how busyness and complication seemed to happen by default. Unfortunately, not until many years later, I realized that simplicity must be deliberate; otherwise, neither it nor balance will happen consistently in a person’s life.

Since that realization about 15 years ago, I’ve learned that our lives constantly search for homeostasis, both within and without.

Homeostasis: the tendency of a system… to maintain internal stability; a state of psychological equilibrium obtained when tension or drive has been reduced or eliminated.

Our minds and bodies constantly fight for this state of balance, and if we wish for it to happen on our own terms,  we must be an intentional member of that fight. Otherwise, painful choices and an out-of-control life will one day either force us into this state of balance, or being unbalanced will be the source of our demise.

We also must come to truly understand that simplicity plays a key role in establishing and maintaining homeostasis in our lives.

Even after seeing examples at both ends of the spectrum early in life, my life still came fraught with battles for balance because it lacked simplicity. In fact, I still constantly exist in some level of that struggle as I seek to maintain some semblance of simplicity in order to live a relatively balanced life even in an unbalanced and complicated world.

The following posts reflect my struggle with maintaining simplicity with the goal of achieving balance, and I pray they help others maybe struggle just a bit less and find victory a bit sooner.

DISCUSSION: What are some examples of simplicity that you have witnessed in the lives of others that may help the rest of us in our own struggles?