Sunday Reflections – Amplifying Missions

2-27-13 How

 

DISCUSSION: Are you sending or going or both? Tell us your favorite mission story.

Sunday Reflections – Walls of Inspiration

The walls of my home display what inspires me.

Family pictures. Inspirational sayings and quotes. Bible verses. Even just single words that describe approaches to life.

These walls reflect who I want to be, my values, and what’s important to me.

They serve as constant reminders, something I need to surround myself with more and more as culture constantly seeks to invade my life.

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A wall at my church displays photographs of all the missionaries our church supports.

The wall on the big screen in the sanctuary shows these missionaries during prayer times.

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These walls stand for what I consider to be a hero, values important to God.

These walls serve as regular reminders of the Great Commission and my part in that commission.

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The walls that surround me most often show what I want to be the focus of my time, talent and treasure.

2-20-13 So all can hear

DISCUSSION: How do you remind yourself of where you want to focus your time, talent and treasure?

Sunday Reflections – Connection is Crucial for Victory

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The topic of connection is not a new one for Struggle to Victory. Just type the word “connect” or “connecting” or “connection” into the search box on the right hand side, and quite a few posts show up. Some, like No Man is an Island, directly addresses the topic of connection, while other posts address it indirectly or as a sub-topic.

The reason for this topic coming up so frequently lay with my belief that connection is crucial to finishing the race victoriously. Without connection, even people with great spiritual insight can still be turned from God.

In James 5: 13-20, James emphasizes the importance of connection to God and to other Christians. In this passage, connection specifically through prayer stands out as the way in which “a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.”

But the importance of connection shows up in a lot of other ways too. In his many letters, Paul continually expressed longing to be with those he knew would encourage him and who he knew supported him. And members of the early church met daily because they needed the encouragement to endure persecution that only connection with each other could bring.

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Conversely, an avoidance of connection often indicates a larger problem. Jonah did his very best to avoid responsibility by running away and disconnecting.  Moses gives another example of someone who ran away and disconnected in order to avoid the consequences of his mistakes. Fortunately, God still used them. Notably though, one got reconnected and went on to be used even more by God, and the other didn’t and was never heard from him again.

Not only does the importance of connection evidence itself in a person’s spiritual life, connection with others on a regular basis is crucial to a person’s physical health too.

On a very personal level, this melancholy introvert must deliberately seek out regular connection in order to keep depression, both a significantly mental and physical battle, at bay.

Need hard proof? Here’s what the experts at Psychology Today have to say about the importance of connection.

  • Social connection improves physical health and psychological well-being.
  • Lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesitysmoking and high blood pressure.
  • Strong social connection leads to a 50% increased chance of longevity.
  • Social connection strengthens our immune system, helps us recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen our life.
  • People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression.
  • People who feel more connected also have higher self-esteem, are more empathic to others, more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.

2-13-13 connect 3See the article Connect to Thrive for more startling information on the importance and power of connecting. Don’t you love it when scientific research supports what God’s Word has shown for so many years already?

As Christians, we are called to fellowship (connect) with one another regularly. Luke said of the early church, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)

Just as Christianity grew out of connection among its individual members as they connected to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9) and fellowshipped with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14), so too will the church be strengthened and grow in no other way but through connection and fellowship.

Connection creates a strong base that allows for greater effectiveness that is significant, long-term and sustainable. Want to increase your faith almost instantly? Connect with others. Want to feel more encouraged and motivated? Connect with others.

DISCUSSION: How has the importance of connection evidenced itself in your life?

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Sunday Reflections – Would You Ignore Kublai Khan?

The Mongol Empire By Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide

The Mongol Empire
By Kallie Szczepanski, About.com Guide

Kublai Khan, the grandson of Ghenghis Khan, ruled during the 13th Century. Kublai Khan’s empire, which he basically inherited from his grandfather, stretched from China to Central Europe and was larger than that of Alexander and the Roman Caesars. No one has yet matched the size of the Khan Empire.

Since the Khan Empire had reached its limit, Kublai focused on maintaining peaceful borders. With his mother being a Christian and with possible influence from Marco Polo, Kublai expressed interest in Christianity for helping strengthen his empire. The story goes that Kublai requested that 100 missionaries be sent by Pope Gregory X to the Mongol Empire to teach Khan and his people about Christianity.

That request went unmet, so Kublai Khan instead turned to Buddhism, which still exists as the dominant way of life in Mongol and the other areas previously part of the Khan Empire.

What if Pope Gregory X had fulfilled Kublai Khan’s request for 100 missionaries? We can only imagine the impact that would still be felt today not only in Mongolia and the rest of Asia but also throughout the world had that request been met.

Amplifying Missions

While I am not a historian, nor do I pretend to understand the politics involved in Pope Gregory’s reasons for ignoring Kublai Khan’s request, I can say that this story has amplified my focus on reaching the lost. I realize even more the need to walk through the doors God opens. I’m more fully understanding that missions cannot wait. And, I have too often underestimated what serving and loving Jesus can do.

Time to Walk Through Open Doors. When God opens a door, I need to walk through it. I wish I could say I have all A’s in this area. Sadly, I do not. Like Pope Gregory, I too have missed some significant open doors presented to me by God. And, equally as sad, I will probably miss others. But I can say that this story has heightened my awareness of the impact of letting fear keep me from walking through those open doors.

Missions Can’t Wait.

Just as Kublai Khan did not wait to strengthen his empire through religion, reaching out to this lost and dying world can’t wait either.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

God’s patience astounds and even stupefies me at times, but 2 Peter clearly tells the reasons for that patience. This scripture also indicates the importance of reaching the lost.

While missions have been a priority financially for my husband and me for many years now, we both feel the calling to prepare for more. The opportunity for missions is now, and that is the path of obedience we commit to follow.

Never Underestimate What Serving and Loving Jesus Can Do.

One of my favorite aspects of Missions Month at my church comes through the many stories told not just about the miracles taking place but about the opportunities God constantly presents to those with a heart of obedience.

People living their lives serving and loving Jesus provide endless inspiration for others to go into the world themselves or to be a part in sending others. Examples of such opportunities include teaching natives of a country to speak English by reciting Psalms, Proverbs and poems by Mother Theresa. They also include receiving support from country officials in unexpected ways and through being able to provide Bibles in native tongues.

These stories of serving and loving strike a chord in my heart to amplify my own outward expression of the inward reality of Jesus being Lord of my Life.

Reaching the Unreached Through Education

“There are over 400 unreached groups in Northern Asia. Many of the best and brightest from these peoples end up spending four years in a university. This is a crucial window to reach these never before reached peoples.”

The Bassett Family serves “the university students of Northern Asia. This gives [them] access to reach the unreached before they are sent into the work force. [Their] family aims to serve the future leaders of Asia with excellence.”

The Basset Family has said yes to the call to reach the unreached in Northern Asia. They have chosen to walk through an open door. They are serving and loving in obedience.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

You can learn more about the Bassett Family and their service in Northern Asia at Light4Asia.

Sunday Reflections – The Logic of Patience

1-30-13 PatienceMy pastor recently stated that rather than having a temper problem, he has a patience problem. I certainly identify with that. My temper usually flares when something isn’t happening when I think it should and in the way I think it should. It flares, usually, when I’m simply being impatient.

When exploring the value of patience, we largely consider its negative consequences, and we do this because of the motivation that doing so can provide. For today, though, let’s look at patience from the other side, from the benefits that it provides.

Do you remember using “If… then…” statements in geometry? What about computer programming? Grammar maybe? Concepts explained through these statements stuck with me, I think, because they provided a logical argument with which to analyze any topic.

Looking at the benefits of patience through “If… then…” logic has helped me gain a renewed ambition to become more patient and as a result to further defeat any control my temper might try to exert.

  • IF I want to grow, THEN I need to be patient.
  • IF I want to harvest, THEN I must wait after I plant.
  • IF I am patient with others, THEN love and unity will grow.
  • IF I want to overcome temptation, THEN patience must be a rule.
  • IF I want to win over my enemies, THEN I must employ patient persuasion.
  • IF I am patient with others, THEN I am showing love.
  • IF the Holy Spirit controls my life, THEN patience will grow within me.
  • IF I love one others, THEN I won’t get hung up on faults.
  • IF I exercise patience, THEN I act counter-culturally.

A spirit of patience must blanket our lives. We also need to choose patience during specific life events too. Patience happens when it becomes an attitude of the heart.

AMPLIFY: My 2013 social focus involves thinking first and reacting less. I want to develop a better habit of acting instead of reacting. I’ve tried willpower. Doesn’t work. The fruit of the Spirit needs to increase in me.

DISCUSSION: Ecclesiastes 7:8 says, “Patience is better than pride.” Help me understand and apply that concept.

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Sunday Reflections – You’re Rich, and So Am I!

1-23-13 treasureIf you line all of “us” up (meaning, everyone who reads this post and probably pretty much everyone we know too) based on our financial status, we would all be in the top 10% of the world’s income. Think about that for a minute.

Still not sure? Go to How Rich Am I? at Giving What We Can, and enter your information to calculate where you stand with regard to income compared to the rest of the world. Surprised?

(Note: I don’t necessarily recommend Giving What We Can as your primary giving source. I personally feel your tithe should go to your church home.)

So, knowing that we are all truly rich, let’s look at what the Bible says should then follow. In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, we find a list of what the “rich” on earth should and should not do with OUR wealth.

  1. Don’t act superior because you’re wealthy.
  2. Don’t believe, desire or trust in wealth.
  3. Believe, desire and trust in God.
  4. Make your good deeds as abundant as your riches.
  5. Distribute your wealth liberally.
  6. Share your wealth to make others comfortable.

The Weymouth New Translation says it this way: “Be beneficent, rich in noble deeds, open-handed and liberal.” (Beneficent means “doing good or causing good to be done; conferring benefits; kindly action or purpose.”)

This portion of 1 Timothy also gives us the benefits of keeping these commands, which is realization that our true treasure exists in heaven, where we find “life that is truly life.” Matthew 6:19-21 expands on this concept.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In other words, have an eternal perspective. Focus on that which will last into eternity and not on that which will one day cease to exist. So, “life that is truly life” means life that cannot be destroyed and that is completely protected by God. In focusing on the eternal in this life, we focus our hearts on that which will go on forever.

AMPLIFY: Last year, my husband and I held A Spending Fast during the first quarter of the year. Our motivation for this was to stop the habit of spending without thinking that we had gotten into during the holiday season (which, for us, also happens to be somewhat of a birthday season too). We are holding another spending fast this year, but we have amplified it by not just limiting our extra spending but also by praying for ways to better invest in “life that is truly life.” More on our amplified spending fast in an upcoming post.

DISCUSSION: How do you think that the command to give to help others fits with God providing us with “everything for our enjoyment” (see the end of verse 17 in 1 Timothy 6)?

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Sunday Reflections – Divine Uniqueness

1-16-13 comparisonsMy husband belongs to a Saturday morning running group to which he and about a half dozen other runners remain extremely faithful. We’re talking every Saturday morning regardless of weather, and in Michigan that sure creates some interesting running conditions at times. This group inspires me!

Their inspiration reached the point of me wanting to train for the distances they constantly focus on, mostly ½ and full marathons. So, I convinced (meaning, laid a guilt trip on) my exercise partner to train for and run a ½ marathon with me. After two ½ marathons apiece, we decided that we hated them.

Our bodies simply refused to cooperate, and the resulting chronic injury has forced me to reevaluate my approach to exercising.

This led me to truly understanding that some people are built for distance running, and some are not. So, I am now working to find the approach to exercising that works best for my body, schedule, temperament and lifestyle.

Guess what? I enjoy exercising again. I still run, but shorter distances. Plus, I do a lot of cross training. My husband on the other hand, while he will play almost any sport, focuses on running ½ marathons and on actually continually achieving a personal record. (His fastest ½ marathon is a 1:38.)

Non-Negotiables

Life requires a lot of non-negotiables in order to be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy. We all need certain nutrients. We all require rest. Everyone needs physical activity. And we all need connection with others. While we all need these non-negotiables, we each require a unique balance of them.

We all need exercise, but we don’t all have to get it exactly the same way. We all need rest & relaxation, but those can look very different from one person to the next. And we all need connection with others, but how our relationships operate and even the number of them we have exists as uniquely our own.

Divine Uniqueness

A relationship with Christ is also a non-negotiable. But just like with all the other non-negotiables, your individual relationship with Christ is unique and different from anyone else’s. Let’s explore this a bit further.

  1. God is limitless. His power is limitless, infinite, beyond measure (Psalm 147:5). He knows everything (1 John 3:19-20). Nothing is hidden from him (Hebrews 4:13). Doesn’t Him being unlimited take the pressure off though? I mean, if He already knows and sees everything, I don’t have to pretend with Him or hide anything from Him like I feel I have to sometimes with people. For me, that relieves a lot of pressure. I can completely be my unique self with God.
  2. You’re different. Yeah, I hate to break it to you, but you’re a little different. So am I. (Some would say I am a lot different.) But different is okay because that was God’s intention. He created us to be different from one another, each for a unique purpose. We all have a unique combination of qualities given to us by our Creator. (Romans 12:3-5)
  3. We need differences. A person without an arm or a leg can adapt and accommodate for what’s missing, but doing so doesn’t change the fact that a part is missing. The body of Christ works the same way. It can and does adapt when a part is absent, but nothing can exactly replace the missing part. The job that missing part was meant to do simply won’t get done in the exact way that part was meant to do it. Our uniqueness is essential to the body. (Romans 12:3-5)

Amplify: So, we probably all realize the truth of our uniqueness. Just a quick survey of the people you know personally should be proof enough of this truth. Though we fight against it sometimes and give in to conformity, we ultimately know that no two individuals are alike. Knowing that our relationships with Christ are unique should impact our actions. This happens through avoiding comparisons, appreciating differences, acknowledging strengths and accepting a person regardless of weaknesses.

DISCUSSION: What additional application do you see?

Sunday Reflections – Favorites

12-31-12 Favorites

Still on vacation with my family. Today I am sharing my three favorite
“Sunday Reflection” posts from my first year of blogging.

Live Dead

“Are You Giving Your Best?”

A Foundation with No Building is Just a Swimming Pool

 I will return to the blogging world on January 7th.

Happy New Year!

Sunday Reflections… “And He will be called…”

If there was only one Bible verse that I could remember and keep with me in a dark, dank prison cell, that verse would be Isaiah 9:6.

12-26-12 and he shall be called

Wonderful… The KJV separates “wonderful” from “counselor” as a description all of its own. Amazing (MSG). Excellent. Great. Marvelous. Astounding. Incomprehensible. Beyond human conception. The wonder of His love for us exists as perhaps the greatest mystery of our faith (1 Timothy 3:16).

Counselor… He gives all men counsel, His perfect knowledge of what’s best imparted to us. His counsel includes vast, immeasurable wisdom (Romans 11:33). Wisdom that comes when we wait, like Joseph did, before acting (Matthew 1:20). Counsel that comes when we give God time and space to move, when we refuse to listen to our flesh and instead wait for God to speak.

Mighty God… Could be translated “Strong Hero.” Mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8). He does what only He can do because of His limitless might and power. I watch a lot of movies that have heroes who inspire through their character shown in their actions. I seek out stories of real-life heroes in the face of tragedy and violence. Yet, no hero – fiction or real – comes close to my Mighty Hero God who has no limits.

Everlasting Father… An unending reign. Eternal Father. In a world where the only constant is change, having a Father whose reign has always been and always will be brings stability that cultivates tremendous hope (Isaiah 40:28).

Prince of Peace… His peace involves receiving the favor of God from the Prince of Wholeness (MSG). No end exists to the peace He brings, to His perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3 & Isaiah 32:17). Perfect peace in an imperfect world. Then, one day, perfect peace in His Perfect Kingdom.

If I knew nothing else about my Lord, Isaiah 9:6 would be enough. It reveals His character and His heart. It reveals what He wants to do and be in my life.

DISCUSSION: What would be your “one verse” and why?

Sunday Reflections – “It was just another day.”

Note: This post was not easy to write, but it was necessary to write. I needed to process this horrific tragedy. I needed, at least for my very small, considerably insignificant part, to bring some good out of the senseless.

12-19-12 question 1Just Another Day

People going about their morning just like every other morning with no knowledge of the horribly unordinary day that lies ahead of them. The school nurse at Sandy Hook said the day started with “comforting routine.” Yet, a day that started as “just another day” changed so many lives… no more ordinary days for so many people.

While I have watched the newscasts, the pictures replayed in my mind are not of reality. I picture my boys’ school. I picture how a gunman might go in, how he might plan to kill there. How someone might take “just another day” and turn it into a day of infamy in my own life.

I don’t know how families and communities move on after something like this.

As I watched the developments in the story, my thankfulness for all of the ordinary days I’ve had and all of the ones to come have increased. More than ever before, I am cognizant of evil and its ability to destroy any semblance of a “normal day” for the rest of a person’s life.

Virtually every TV news show tells the story anew each day as the pieces of the story come together. I want to turn away because it’s so horribly sad. But, I don’t turn away because the families of 26 people – 20 young children – can’t ever turn away. Somehow, watching and feeling grief – though comparably minuscule – gives me some way of showing support and sympathy.

Refuse to Fear

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I’m not going to try to make any sense of why anyone would murder 1st graders. The topic of gun control perplexes me. So does wondering about the cause of a demented mind. Complex. Controversial. Complicated.

But I refuse to have fear! The only fear that drives me is fear of the Lord, because His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

Where Was God?

Psalm 44 captures well the feelings so many of us have after senseless tragedy. Please take a minute to read Psalm 44 now.

In this Psalm, the writer remembers past victories and blessings from God. He then moves into and ends with wondering where God is as people go through tremendous suffering. That’s it. No explanation as to why God seems distant and even absent and why He doesn’t move to change the situation.

I feel that way today. I know that God has done amazing things in the past and wonder how He could have allowed this to happen. Why didn’t He stop it? I know He could have. Like the Psalmist, I end my pleas without specific answers; at least, not tangible answers that make everything okay again.

12-19-12 question 2

No Other Comfort

Romans 8 offers comfort and hope. As a Christian, I know that sin does not have control over me. Not my sin, not anyone else’s sin (v. 3). I find comfort in knowing that God knows what it’s like for a parent to have a child murdered (v. 31). Though I may sometimes feel God is distant in times of suffering, I know that my feelings often deceive me. If my feelings were accurate, the God’s Word wouldn’t be. Therefore, I rely on knowing that NOTHING separates me from Him (vv. 35-37).

Though my processing of the Sandy Hook tragedy comes with personal struggle, I realize that my own struggle pales and even disappears in comparison to those who are personally living this tragedy. Yet, I also know that processing this for me means preparing for future suffering in my own life.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.
But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 – NLT)