Happy Birthday Struggle to Victory!

Today marks the one-year birthday of Struggle to Victory. To celebrate, I am sharing some of the best advice I have received over my life and how this advice shapes my approach to blogging.

1. “Always look up.” My naturopath abides by this philosophy. Basically, this advice involves finding the root cause of ill health. In a physical sense, that means following the connections up the body, starting at the main source of symptoms. For example, I have had chronic pain and tingling in my left foot (the symptoms) for several years now. This problem has been traced up my legs to my hips and lower back (the source).

Blog application: As I focus on post topics and responding to comments, I must constantly go back to the source of all that I am, a child of the King and servant of Christ, to address the symptoms that are life.

2. “Go deeper down and further out.” Tom Tarver at A Curious Band of Others reminded me of this quote from one of my favorite book series (The Chronicles of Narnia). See Tom’s post “If You Started a New Community, Where Would You Begin?” For a wonderful application of this quote found in The Final Battle, the last book in the series.

Blog application: The Holy Spirit brings an abundant supply of thoughts and ideas He wants me to explore. Upon first glance, they usually have an ordinary feel about them, but further reflection and meditation usually reveals a pull to go “deeper down and further out.” This pull takes me from the ordinary into the supernatural. This constant draw to go “deeper down and further out” with God provides the drive behind all that I do. No area of my life remains untouched by this.

3. “You don’t have to have all the answers.” I read a lot of other blogs, and I am not sure which one gave this advice. What I do know is that it has helped me immensely by taking pressure off of me to always be as thorough and complete as possible. It’s not that being thorough and complete is bad, but it sure does make for lengthy posts, which does not usually draw and keep readers.

Blog application: Blog posts don’t need to cover every detail of a topic. In fact, leaving room for readers to think and possibly respond is not only good blogging but also greatly beneficial in promoting critical thinking and personal application. As I write this, I realize that my favorite blogs are ones that get me thinking and then encourage me to do my own thinking even past the comments I leave. My prayer is that I do the same for my own readers.

Want to know what my favorite blogs are? See the “Links” listing on the right hand side of any page in Struggle to Victory. Oh yeah, be watching for updates to this very soon!

4. “Do what’s next.” Not sure where this advice came from either, but I have applied it for many years to everything from house cleaning to grocery shopping. Basically, it means to not get overwhelmed by the big picture or size of the task but to focus on the one thing that needs done next.

Blog application: I sometimes get overwhelmed by all that I have to do. Focusing on what’s next allows me to be productive and meet deadlines through simple prioritization.

5. “Just be yourself, and people can’t help but like you.” My mom has said this to me for as long as I can remember. She was teaching me the simple but powerful truth of being who God created me to be.

Blog application: In every detail of my blog from the writing to the layout to the graphics, I simply try to choose what reflects who I am. I try to not make choices simply to impress others or make my blog like someone else’s. In taking this approach with my blog as well as in life, I am actually discovering more about who I am through the process. Mother always knows best, doesn’t she?

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Sunday Reflections – Living a Spectacular Life

What sets you apart? What makes you stand out? Are you different from those around you?

As Christians, we should definitely stand out in the world. But what about as individuals within the church?

Too many Christians stop growing after salvation. Don’t get me wrong – I am certainly not saying that salvation is anything less than the most spectacular event in a Christian’s life. But the spectacular doesn’t have to stop at salvation.

A Christian can – and should – continue down the path of an increasingly spectacular life. For me, life with Jesus keeps getting better and better. Only by the Holy Spirit’s work in my life for growth is this happening.

How can a Christian continue experiencing the spectacular life that begins at salvation? Here’s what I’m discovering to be essential in my own growth as a Christ follower.

  1. Take ownership. You faith. Your sin. They are yours alone, and you alone will stand before God on day. Take responsibility now. (Romans 14:12)
  2. Avoid comparisons. God hates all sin. Comparisons will never negate the need for confession. (James 2:10)
  3. Protect from within. The condition of the heart is everything, because the attitude of the heart directs all that we do and say. Above all, protect your heart. (Proverbs 4:23)
  4. Draw near. The answer to every issue, every problem, every area of stress and worry is always more of Jesus. And as you draw closer to Him, He reciprocates and draws closer to you. (James 4:8)
  5. Fight distractions. A simple life only exists when distractions are continually and deliberately mitigated. And the simple life lived for Christ is nothing less than spectacular. (Hebrews 12:1)

Being a Christian involves far more than being saved. Again, please don’t think I am lessening salvation in any way. That is far from the truth. What I am saying is that as awesome as salvation is, God has even more spectacular things planned for those who not only make Him Savior but also Lord.

 Making Christ Lord means living a spectacular life – one changed by His unending mercy and grace.

“Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live. He died for everyone so that those who receive this new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them. We have to stop evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now! What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life as begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:14-17)

DISCUSSION: How does your life reflect the spectacular life that Christ died to give us?

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How to… Run as if to Win the Race

Lessons from Jr. High Cross Country
My oldest son comes by running naturally. My husband and I have both been distance runners since we were about our son’s age. Our son has never not known us as runners. Somewhere along the line, he picked up our love for running.

Running for the past 25 years has certainly taught me a lot of life lessons that have contributed a great deal to who I am today. Yet even after all these many years of running, experiencing it through my son’s budding love for the sport has brought new perspective I failed to learn on my own.

Watching my son develop as a runner has taught me the following 5 lessons about how to run a successful race:

  1. Watch your form. Coordination is not the strongest ability for most junior high boys. Yet as they learn to run with good form and to stay relaxed at the same time, as they make good form a habit, their speed naturally increases. Watching this transformation illustrates the importance of fundamental habits, which really find application in every area of life.
  2. Make your move before it’s too late. Toward the end of the race, there’s often a point when a runner must take off to catch the runner in front of him. Too soon, and he’ll lose steam before catching him. Too late, and he’ll run out of time. This ability for timing comes with experience. As I watch these boys learn this ability, awareness of my own timing in many areas of my own life increases.
  3. Get off to a fast start. As the season progressed, my son learned that he usually finished about where he started. For this reason, he worked to get off to as fast a start as possible and to hold that place as best as he could to the finish line. This consistently worked well for him. Too many times in life, my hesitance and slow start in some area led to disappointment in my final result. My son’s example gives me inspiration to be a better starter so I can be a better finisher.
  4. Practice how you want to race. Only when my son began to increase his effort in practice did his race times begin to really improve. He learned a valuable lesson about focus and effort with daily habits and routines, much like his younger brother did this year in football. The overlapping Life Lessons Learned from Rocket Football and running a successful race contribute greatly to my own personal growth more than I ever expected them to.
  5. Realize that running is mostly mental. Sure, physical strength and ability matter too, but one’s mental strength often trumps another’s purely physical ability. This year, my son learned that he could be a top runner. When he realized this, he started runner faster and believing for even more success with running in the future. Watching him develop mental strength leads me to realize the importance of my own mental strength, especially its impact on my physical ability as well as how crucial continually growing mentally is in my own life.

A successful race does not necessary mean getting first place. But it does mean running your best. When one learns to do that consistently, he finds that running defines more than just his physical ability. And its lessons apply to more than just running, both for the runner himself and those watching his growth too.

DISCUSSION: What one point above can you immediately apply to your own life? How will you apply it?

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“I am thankful for…”

Wednesday’s post, Cultivating Thankfulness, provided some suggestions for encouraging a thankful attitude within your family.  Starting November 1st, my family and I kept a thankfulness journal with each of us listing something we are thankful for every day up until Thanksgiving Day. And, as promised, below are some of my favorite entries.

I am thankful to be working for a company that puts God & family first. – Daddy

I am thankful for an awesome youth group and a good time at youth convention. – Jonathan

I am thankful for my parents who love me. – Richard

I am thankful for my two sons who love Jesus. – Mommy

I am thankful for parents who taught me the value of hard work. – Daddy

I am thankful for Godly parents. – Jonathan

I am thankful for parents that love me and punish me even if it hurts really bad. – Richard

I am thankful that my parents took me to church when I was growing up. – Mommy

I am thankful for an encouraging run group. – Daddy

I am thankful for a dad who makes good pancakes. – Jonathan

I am thankful for a dad who makes good food. – Richard

I am thankful for clothes to wear and food to eat. – Mommy

DISCUSSION: As you can see, thankfulness doesn’t have to be complicated or elaborate. Cultivating a thankful heart is about appreciating the small things as much as the big. What are you thankful for?

Sunday Reflections – Cultivating Thankfulness

Beginning November 1st, my family and I started keeping a Thanksgiving journal. We have written something we’re thankful for in this journal every day. On Friday, I’ll post some of my favorites. For today, I want to challenge you to consider doing some sort of thankfulness activity with your family.

They key to a meaningful thankfulness activity is getting past the usual “I’m thankful for my family” kind of general comment that most people say when under pressure on such occasions. While being thankful for one’s family is important, getting into the details of life with the deliberate intent to be thankful can truly change a person’s heart.

Here are some suggestions you can try to help facilitate a more in-depth atmosphere of thankfulness in your home:

  1. Have every person write down 10 or more “I am thankful for…” statements. The more, the better. This exhausts the usual “I’m thankful for my family” type of statements and forces a look into the details of life.
  2. Make a list of all the usual “I am thankful for…” statements ahead of time (hint: they are usually the first five that most people think of) and make these off limits when having everyone come up with their own thankfulness statement.
  3. Focus the thankfulness activity on the people in the room. Have each person write three “I am thankful for…” statements about each person participating.

A thankful heart doesn’t come naturally for most people, if truly for anyone. A thankful heart must be cultivated.

This Thanksgiving, challenge yourself and your family to be more thankful in the days, months and years ahead. Consider making one of the above or another thankfulness activity a part of your Thanksgiving family tradition. Choose to cultivate thankfulness.

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How to… Celebrate Adoption

If the opportunity arises to attend an adoption proceeding, please do so. November is National Adoption Month, and each state usually has a specific day each year it declares “Adoption Day.” On this day, multiple families adopt one or more children. The families and children are all ages and races, and the families all look very different from one another. But what isn’t different is the look of “finally” on each family’s face as the day they’ve waited for (usually anywhere from 1-3 years) has finally arrived. The road each family took to arrive at this day is as different as the people who traveled it, but the focus and goal unites them all. On this day, the family becomes the child’s “forever family,” and the goal of “permanency” has been achieved.

“Adoption Day” for our youngest son.

The Michigan Department of Human Services posted that in 2009, more than 2,700 children were awaiting adoption in Michigan. Today, there are just under 3,900 children in the foster care system awaiting adoption. The statistics don’t change much from year to year, unfortunately, and so many children continue to await permanency with their “forever family.”

If adoption is a part of your family history in any way, you understand the feeling that the words “forever family” evokes. You know that it means you have someone who promises to never leave you, a feeling with which you may be all too familiar. The idea that adoption can bring a sense of belonging and can give a child an identity for which he/she is proud is one of the drivers behind “Adoption Day.”

While not every person reading this will have been adopted or even have an adoption in the family, every person can know what being adopted into a “forever family” means by making Jesus Christ Lord of their life.Every Christian should already know the feeling of permanency that being a child of the living God provides. This is open to every person. Unlike the 3,900 or so children awaiting a permanent family in Michigan, no person has to wait to become a permanent member of the family of God. No person has to wait to know what belong to the “forever family” of God is like, because adoption into God’s family can happen today.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him may never die but shall have everlasting life.” Admitting the need for a Savior, believing on the saving name of Jesus and confessing that you are a sinner is all that needs to happen in order to join God’s “forever family.”

No one has to wait for a declared “Adoption Day,” and no one has to wait for a family to be willing to adopt you. A family – God’s family – is ready and waiting, and the Father is always standing ready to welcome anyone with open arms!

DISCUSSION: What does being a part of God’s “forever family” mean to you? How do you celebrate it?

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5 Life Lessons Learned from Rocket Football

This past Rocket Football season, which ended about a month ago, proved to be one of tremendous growth in my son’s football skills and in his personal maturity. And those same lessons that cultivated his growth have been planted in my spirit for fruitful growth as well.

1.) Hang on when you’re getting dragged through the mud. In one rather wet and muddy game, my son grabbed onto the leg of a rather large opponent who was carrying the ball and refused to let go even as he was drug through the mud. Eventually, my son’s teammates came to help tackle the ball carrier.

The lesson? This lesson does not involve letting others take advantage of you. Instead, it involves simply hanging on until help arrives, because help is always available to those who ask.

2.) Keep your head up! My son started the season missing way too many tackles because he dove for the player instead of keeping his head up & wrapping his arms around the ball carrier. As the season progressed, however, he learned to wrap up and close. When he focused in by keeping his head up, he made some terrific tackles.

The lesson? My focus gets off all to easily in my busy life, and I often miss opportunities. I’m learning to keep my head up – to keep my focus – and am also finding success like never before.

3.) Practice how you want to play the game. At first, practices held a bit too much social time and not enough practice for my son and many of the other boys on the team. My son gradually (with some “encouragement” from myself and my husband) began to understand that his habits in practice determined his success during the game. With this realization came more focus (as much as an 11-year-old can focus) and effort in every practice.

The lesson? Sometimes I get lulled into daily habits and routine, forgetting that my everyday focus determines my overall reality. I need to learn to better connect the two.

4.) Learn from mistakes and move on. In a single play of one of his games, my son received two penalties for blocking in the back. He had not yet been taught how to tackle a player he was catching from behind. He could have gotten discouraged after that play, but he instead choose to learn from it. He moved on and improved in his tacking as a result.

The lesson? Mistakes can limit you or shape you in a positive way. You choose.

5.) Don’t let your perspective be limited by others. In one practice drill, players took turns tacking someone carrying the ball while the rest of the team stood watching and were lined up to form a sort of tunnel where this drill took place. When my son’s turn came after half the team had completed the drill already, instead of tackling the ball carrier, he took the ball away from him. He simply saw an opportunity and took action.

The lesson? My son didn’t let what everyone else did confine his perspective. His ever-present ability to see things differently than others do inspires me to not let “the way things have always been done” confine me.

My son is not the biggest player on the team. Look at the picture to the right. See the Plainwell guy in blue in the middle of the picture with red tape on his helmet? My son is the little guy next to him. (For those who don’t know, red tape on the helmet means a kid is too big to carry the ball.)

My son often finds himself considerably smaller than his opponents. But his energy and tenacity never seems to wane. His never-give-up approach to football inspires me to change my outlook when I feel like life is relentlessly pursuing me like a linebacker going after a running back.

DISCUSSION: Which of these lessons resonates the most with you and why?

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Sunday Reflections – Friend or Enemy?

Have you taken a spiritual inventory lately? A big part of such an inventory involves taking stock of your friendships, specifically your friendship with the world versus your friendship with God. Asking the following questions helps evaluate if you are a friend of God or His enemy.

  • What do your values reveal about you?
  • What do your passions say about what’s important to you?
  • What do your investments say about your focus?

Are you God’s enemy? Being a friend of the world means you are an enemy of God (James 4:4). Evaluate your friendship with the world by asking the following questions.

  • Are you investing all your energy, effort, choices and gifts into things without eternal value?
  • Are you willing to do anything to get what you want?
  • Are you a Sunday morning only Christian?
  • Are you more fervent with things like sports and television shows than you are with God?
  • Are you letting your values be determined by the world rather than Scripture?

Are you God’s friend? Being a friend of God, like Moses and Abraham were, means having an exclusive relationship with God. Being God’s friend requires being All In with Him. Ask yourself the following to help determine the status of your friendship with God.

  • Have you gone beyond making Jesus your Savior to making Him your Lord?
  • Do you trust everything in this life to Him?
  • Do you make excuses for why you can’t live for Jesus, or have you moved beyond blaming others and taken responsibility for your friendship with God?

How do you become a friend of God? James does not sugar coat anything he says, and his instructions for becoming a friend of God also come to us with clear instruction in James 4:7-10. Let’s look at these instructions in the form of questions to fit with our spiritual inventory mindset.

  • Have you humbled yourself before God?
  • Do you deliberately resist the devil?
  • Do you intentionally draw close to God?
  • Are you choosing to Stay Pure?
  • Have you shown repentance?
  • When was the last time you bowed down before God?
  • Do you regularly admit your dependence on Him?

Is friendship with God worth it? Let’s turn again to James 4:7-10 to determine whether friendship with God is worth giving up friendship with the world.

  • Resist the devil, and he will flee.
  • Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you.
  • Bow down before God & admit dependence on Him, and He will lift you up and give you honor.

I don’t know about you, but this spiritual inventory was not a lot of fun for me. In fact, it was somewhat uncomfortable. Depending on where you are in your life, an inventory like this might be downright painful. But the discomfort and pain pale in comparison to the benefits.

DISCUSSION: Have you ever done a spiritual inventory like this one? Was it helpful?

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How to… Stay Pure

Originally, the title of this post was going to be “How to… Stay Pure as a Young Person,” but then my 13-year-old son studied Psalm 119:9-16 and said, “This really applies to everyone, not just young people.” So, in the amazing wisdom that God gives through children, let’s talk about a lifetime of purity.

First, what do we mean by purity? Purity means to be free from guilt or evil, to be innocent. It can also mean stainless or whiteness. Spiritually, this means that regardless of our sins and the stains they created in our lives, “we can become as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

Second, how do we become pure? Psalm 51:1-10 says only God can make us pure. Apart from Him we cannot claim purity (Proverbs 20:9). Matthew 5:27-30 tells us that purity begins in the heart, and John 17:17 says that purity only comes from God. Regardless of your past, you can become pure by the cleansing power of His blood (Galatians 2:20).

Finally, how do we stay pure? The scripture that began this discussion between me and my son gives us the crystal clear answer to this question: Study and obey God’s Word.

How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. I have tried hard to find you — don’t let me wander from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. I praise you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. I have recited aloud all the regulations you have given us. I have rejoiced in your laws as much as in riches. I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways. I will delight in your decrees and not forget your word. (Psalm 119:9-16)

10 Things a Young Person Should Do to Stay Pure

Because I asked him to, my son wrote a list of 10 ways a young person can stay pure based on Psalm 119:9-16. Here’s what he wrote:

  1. By living according to God’s Word. (v. 9)
  2. Seek God with all your heart. (v. 10)
  3. Hide God’s Word in your heart. (v. 11)
  4. Praise God. (v. 12)
  5. Follow God’s laws. (v. 13)
  6. Rejoice in following God’s statues. (v. 14)
  7. Meditate on God’s precepts. (v. 15)
  8. Consider God’s ways. (v. 15)
  9. Delight in God’s decrees. (v. 16)
  10. Don’t neglect God’s Word. (v. 16)

3 Basic Steps to Purity

My son then went beyond my request and offered these 3 basic steps for staying pure.

  1. Decide to live according to God’s Word.
  2. Fill yourself with God’s Word.
  3. Seek God in prayer each day and allow Him to live and work in your life.

As a parent, I am concerned about my kids straying (wandering) in an increasingly Godless culture. I wonder if and how they can avoid the scarring mistakes of teenage stupidity that can create a lifetime of struggle with guilt. Fortunately, God’s Word says a lot about how to become and remain pure. And as a parent, I can encourage purity, pray for purity and model purity. But it turns out that my kids can do the same for me.

DISCUSSION: What life lessons have you learned through your kids?

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Staying Committed, Part 5 of 5 – Benefits of Total Commitment

Before we conclude this series on commitment, let’s review what we’ve discussed so far:

Staying in the Boat – Stressed the importance of getting into the boat, what it means to stay in the boat, and the importance of finishing strong.

Great Expectations – Looked at the foundation of our ability to carry out all other commitments in life, namely understanding and doing our best to live out God’s expectations with regard to commitment.

Biblical Lessons on Commitment – Looked at biblical examples of individuals who stayed committed to God and as a result kept their commitments to themselves and to others.

Guidelines for Godly Commitment – Studied 5 guidelines for making godly commitments.

God sure doesn’t leave us wondering about his expectations for commitments or how to keep them, does He? One of the many things I love about God is that He doesn’t just say, “This is what you should do and how you should do it.” He also provides motivation for WHY (the benefits) we should strive for total commitment in our lives. While there are more, let’s look at 4 of those benefits.

4 Benefits of Total Commitment

1. Righteousness & Justice“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” (Psalm 37:5-6)

2. Impact Others for Christ“Keep a close watch on yourself and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right, and god will save you and those who year you.” (1 Timothy 4:16)

3. Success“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” (Proverbs 16:3)

4. Integrity – “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.” (Proverbs 10:9)

In a world where commitments seem to be taken lightly, we can choose to stand out by striving toward God’s standard of commitment. In a culture where commitment has become optional based on feelings, we can decide that we will do what we say we’re going to do when we say we’re going to do it.

Someone once said, “There are only two options regarding commitment, you’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as life in between.” Let’s choose to stay committed. Decide with me today to stay in the boat and to live in the “in” and not the “out” or “in between.”

DISCUSSION: What are you doing today to make sure you stay committed?

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