Believing is Seeing

Birthday 2Until the recent past, shopping existed as therapy and a way to for a least a little while forget about life’s struggles. I loved finding good deals and saving money on unplanned purchases. Loved the image I showed from being stylish, though I’m not sure how much others actually noticed.

For whatever reason, the feel of some new thing energized me and gave me a sort of high. A high I forgot and needed again as soon as the new became old.

I’m not sure when, but the same sort of fading of newness happened with my physical self too. I find myself wondering…

When did the physical weariness begin to rear its ugly head?

When did the groaning and sighing become so commonplace?

When did my desire to recuperate replace my desire to be active?

I’m not talking a negativity, really, but rather an increased awareness that feeling new and energized — like I used to in a new outfit — happens a lot less frequently in the physical sense now than it used to not too many years ago. My body simply doesn’t respond and renew physically like it did even 5 years ago. At the same time, my desire to focus there exists more for maintenance purposes now anyway.

When I read 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, I gain a better understanding of what’s likely happening. I’m becoming more aware of my earthly tent and its weaknesses. At times, I focus there and allow the number of my life as it increases toward finality to consume me. If I stay in that thinking, I get increasingly discouraged. But if I choose to dwell instead on God’s truth, I find tremendous encouragement once again. Specifically, I am renewed in my knowledge that…

I will have an eternal home in Heaven one day, one God Himself made.

The body I will have will be like wearing heavenly clothing, like putting on a new outfit but knowing the newness will never fade.

Not only did God prepare this eternity for me, He guarantees its reality through His Holy Spirit.

This reality — one more real than the physical one we live in now — not only encourages me, it gives me great confidence too. And this confidence…

Always exists even though I’m not yet in my real home.

Focuses on believing rather than seeing.

Provides motivation to always please the Lord.

The encouragement and confidence instilled by God’s truth in my heart through His Holy Spirit helps me turn my birthday focus from a melancholy perspective that feels overwhelmed by the current reality to one that aims to please God rather than self. One where the earthly weakness still exists but that matters less and less as eternal life draws increasingly near.

DISCUSSION: How does “believing is seeing” play out in your life?

Happy Birthday to Me

Birthday Cupcake with CandleMiddle age struck three years ago, and I muffled through the passing as quietly as possible. Since then, I prefer not to even talk about my age most of the time. (Okay, not at all, actually.)

Approaching my last day in this life doesn’t really bother me. The steady decline of my physical state between now and then bothers me. My body already shows signs of it happening, and I hate feeling helpless knowing it’s going to happen no matter how much I resist. Exercise. Healthy eating. Adequate rest. Anti-wrinkle cream. And still the signs of aging multiply.

The forehead crease between my eyebrows bothers me the most of all the signs of aging, probably because of its prominence. Without major intervention via Botox or going under the knife, the crease will likely continue to stop conversations. “What’s up with that crease in your forehead?” (Seriously happened.)

When I focus on my physical aging, a gaze that happens in August more than any other month, the mental and spiritual aspects of my self seem get wrapped up in the obsession too. And this all-inclusiveness of the aging process bothers me more than the forehead crease.

Anti-Aging Scripture

One portion of Scripture brings me not only amazing peace within my struggle over my physical aging but also tremendous encouragement and even guidance.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

What’s that about “eternal glory”? Just this…

“…because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.” (2 Corinthians 4:14)

As I celebrate (which basically means pretending it doesn’t happen) my third year past what many consider life’s halfway point, I am drawn to focus on the part of me that isn’t “wasting away” but is “being renewed day by day” (means I’m actually not aging, right?)… the part that gets to experience this “eternal glory.” I’m definitely up for that!

This change in focus certainly gives the physical decline (and I may be exaggerating its severity only slightly) less attention, which then allows my attentions to find their way toward God’s desires. And that renewed focus — the one bent toward eternity — completely changes my perspective by helping me to…

  1. Refuse to give up and become a couch potato.
  2. Focus on renewal instead of on that which will continue to fade.
  3. Look past the physical of this life and toward the reality of eternity.
  4. Maintain a forward focus instead of a downhill one.
  5. Seek eternal joy in place of temporary happiness.

And while I now feel motivated to continue making progress because of the truth of the Scripture given above, what follows in the next chapter of Corinthians ices the cake (and I don’t even eat cake, not even for my birthday). We’ll look at that portion of Scripture — at the new body we’re promised — in next week’s post.

DISCUSSION: Where does your focus lie?

A Pleasant Aroma?

Coffee

Coffee Snob

Sauteing onions. Anything tropical. Blankets dried outside. All smells I enjoy. Each one brings to mind a pleasant thought or memory. My favorite aroma, though, is coffee. It draws me in, and I find great comfort in its fragrance.

Those closest to me, and even many not so close for that matter, know I love coffee. They know it makes me a happier person, especially in the morning. I blame my mom. She began the addiction when I was 13 by bringing it to me every morning when she woke me up for school. (I’ve never really been a morning person.)

My youngest son likes to bribe me to take him places by promising to buy me coffee (It often works.) My husband knows the best way to keep in my good graces (and to romance me) is by having coffee with me regularly. In fact, he often lets me know when he’s having coffee even when he travels or is at work, and I’ll brew a cup just so we can have coffee “together.”

My husband and others closest to me also know the coffee must be high quality. Don’t waste my time with the cheap stuff or if the coffee’s been sitting for a while and has that burnt, bitter smell – and putrid taste – to it.

My pickiness with the coffee led my husband to affectionately label me a “coffee snob.” If coffee doesn’t smell fresh and isn’t of high quality, I want nothing to do with it. (Actually, much of the not-so-cheap stuff doesn’t meet my standards either.)

A Sweet FragranceCoffee 2

I wonder if my fragrance as a Christian draws people in like I’m drawn by the smell of good coffee or if it wrinkles noses like when I run into the aroma of sub-par or stale coffee. Are people repelled or drawn by my fragrance? Am I a “sweet, life-giving perfume” or a “hukster” unconcerned with quality (2 Corinthians 2:14-17, NLT)?

Even more importantly, what does God think about my aroma? He certainly desires to use every detail of our lives to illustrate His truth, to let His glory show through us (Colossians 3:17). He also uses that which we find appealing and that which repels us to help us better understand His desires for our living in relationship with Him and with others, to help us understand the impact of our aroma.

Even coffee, which a person usually either loves or hates, can show Scripture application in a way that not only sticks but that finds us regularly. For me, coffee provides a daily reminder to check my aroma, to determine whether or not I am appealing to others, to ask myself, “Do I have an aroma that pleases God and draws others to His grace and mercy or that repels them toward the world?”

DISCUSSION: How would you characterize your aroma?

Thanksgiving in August?

TitleEver heard of Christmas in July? Well, how about Thanksgiving in August? Seriously, the whole kit and caboodle… turkey, dressing, green bean casserole. Whatever your family traditionally does for Thanksgiving, why not make it happen this August too? While we’re at it, bring on the pre-Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales at the same time!

No? Okay, maybe not. But at least let’s consider the spirit of Thanksgiving as we approach the back end of summer. For that matter, why not think about how to move from the yearly pilgrimage celebrating Thanksgiving as a holiday to a year-long “Thanksliving” frame of mind? (Thanks for the term, Steve Miller.)

In moving from Thanksgiving to “Thanksliving,” we must take a deliberate and intentional approach to thankfulness. In doing so, the actions of gratitude — the ways we show the thankfulness hopefully existing within us — become increasingly and continually visible.

Moving from simply knowing that I should live out thankfulness to actually following through in tangible ways is a struggle I’m not proud to admit exists. But, I’m learning to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving and to slowly but surely transition my life to be more consistently one of “Thanksliving.”

Changing my attitude to a more positive, thankful one is not going to happen by me wishing it. I must deliberately choose to pursue “Thanksliving,” and this happens by taking the time to regularly verbalize thankfulness — even when not encouraged by any holiday — and to also stop blocking God’s work in my life.

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 3:17)

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

We’re designed to show gratitude. Every part of us longs to give thanks, not just sometimes but continually. Everything we do exists as an avenue for living out this part of our spiritual DNA. We simply must take the time to pay attention to God’s workings in our lives. Doing so grows that desire and moves our focus beyond just celebrating Thanksgiving and into a mindset of “Thanksliving” all year long.

Question: What steps can you take live a life of “Thanksliving”?

Lessons from a Blind Man

Bartimaeus

Blind Bartimaeus

Somehow, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) knew about Jesus. Knew enough to call out to Him even when those around him discouraged his doing so. In fact, their urgings to “Be quiet!” met only louder pleadings on his part. He wanted to be healed, he knew Jesus could heal him, and he probably realized this chance may not pass by him again. So Bartimaeus cried out for mercy, and Jesus heard him, saw his faith, and healed him. In Jesus’ response, we get a picture of how He handled — and how we should handle — interruptions.

But that’s not the end of their interaction because Bartimaeus then followed Jesus. We don’t know how far he went with Him, but Bartimaeus’ immediate response involved following Jesus. In Bartimaeus’ response, we receive a poignant view of how to respond to the presence of the Lord in our lives.

Responding to the Presence of the Lord

The presence of the Lord compels us to recognize our desperate need for Him. And in that need, we hopefully cry out to Jesus as Bartimaeus did. When we do, our lives become profoundly altered. Our perspectives change. The way we think changes. As a result, our actions change. When we respond to the presence of the Lord in our lives, we…

  1. Refuse to let circumstances stop us from calling out to Him.
  2. Refuse to let others deter us from calling out to Him.
  3. Realize that Jesus welcomes our interruptions.
  4. Realize that Jesus often asks us to play an active role in His ministry to us.
  5. Become willing to throw aside whatever might hinder our going to Him.
  6. Learn that interruptions often bring the most effective ministry opportunities.
  7. Learn to speak honestly to Him about our needs.
  8. Continue to respond by following Him even after He meets our most immediate needs.

As the way we think changes, our approach to loving others — to ministry — changes too. In essence, we become more like Jesus in attitude, action and word. One way that becomes evident is in how we deal with the unexpected happenings in our daily lives.

Viewing Interruptions as Ministry

The story of Blind Bartimaeus, as with many of Jesus’ interactions during His 3-year ministry, also shows how to handle interruptions as we live in ministry. When they came from people who sincerely sought Him, Jesus always stopped and gave his time and attention to the interruption. Actually, I’m not sure He even saw these interactions as interruptions. Others certainly did, but Jesus seemed to view them as part of ministry. Should we view them any differently?

With this thinking, the interruptions of life take on completely different meanings as they change from interruption or irritation or even frustration to ministry:

  • My teenage boys wanting to talk while I’m working
  • My husband wanting to go for a walk while I’m studying
  • A friend asking to meet for coffee when a project deadline looms
  • An extra trip to the grocery store when the food pantry needs stocked

Interruptions turned ministry create some of the most powerful interactions of love in a person’s life. Had Jesus not viewed interruptions this way, a large part of His earthly ministry — and some of the stories with the most impact for us still today — would not have happened.

The lessons in the story of Blind Bartimaeus not only indicate a counter-cultural path but also a forget-the-flesh path if we are truly to benefit from the presence of Jesus in our lives. Hearing and obeying His voice, letting it take precedence over what others say and do and even over our own circumstances not only gets us closer to Him, but it also creates an increasing desire to remain in His presence and to live ministry in the everyday events — planned and unplanned — of our lives.

DISCUSSION: How do you respond to the presence of the Lord? How do you respond to interruptions?

5 Minutes for Faith

5-minutes-for-faith-post-graphic

For today’s post, take a trip to 5 Minutes for Faith, where I am beginning my time as a monthly contributor on this site.

My post today is titled “What’s Your Secret?” and encourages a focus on God-awareness over what the world calls “self-awareness.”

Looking forward to chatting with you at 5 Minutes for Faith today and then next week back here on Struggle to Victory, where we will be discussing Chapter 5 of Bob Sorge’s book, The Fire of Delayed Answers, on Tuesday & looking at the topic of flexibility on Thursday with the post “Can you touch your toes?”

The Lord’s Obedient Servant

slide-0Obedience seems to invade my thoughts a lot lately, maybe because I have 12 and 14-year-old boys who sometimes struggle with obedience. Sometimes there’s outright resistance. Sometimes there’s physical obedience with mental disobedience. And, sometimes, there’s true obedience out of love and respect.

My boys know that we have zero tolerance for two things: Disobedience and disrespect. Separating outright disobedience and disrespect from general teenage boy stupidity presents a challenge at times, but we do our best as parents to not just discipline when our kids are disrespectful and/or disobedient but to explain the serous impact of those behaviors both temporally and eternally.

Almost every time I discipline my boys for disobedience or disrespect, the Holy Spirit gently reminds me of the presence of both issues in my own life, especially disobedience. To help with this understanding, Isaiah 40:5-11 gives a picture of the Lord’s obedient servant.

Just as God did with Isaiah, He gives new understanding of His will on a consistent and daily basis. He only asks that we diligently listen to Him, refuse to turn away from Him and avoid hiding from Him (v. 4-6).

In obediently paying attention to God, the benefits of obedience become increasingly evident.

  1. Courage. Dismay becomes dispelled, replaced by a stone-like, immovable quality (v. 7).
  2. Determination. His will becomes all that matters (v. 7).
  3. Confidence. Assurance of victory (v. 7).
  4. Presence. Always near His righteousness (v. 8).
  5. Certainty. Enemies destroyed and guilt erased (v. 8, 9).

Isaiah then goes on to describe two alternate realities that exist in opposition to obedience. The first reality involves being so steeped in darkness we are incapable of turning to the light, and we can’t bear to see the lit path of obedience.

The second reality involves existing in a false light, one where we create our own reality and our own truth to the point of no longer having an awareness of God’s light, which shows us the path of obedience. This reality is actually worse because seeing a light within a light is almost impossible.

The result of these alternate realities involves “great torment” (v. 11), referring to an eternal separation from God. When I realize the devastation accompanying disobedience as compared to the joy of obedience, I find motivation to seek His light in darkness and to rid my life of any false light leading me down the wrong path.

As a parent, I want my kids to focus on the paths God lights before them and not on darkness or any self-created light. That perspective as a parent gives greater understanding of the fact that my Heavenly Father wants the same for me as His child.

So I seek to teach my boys the benefits of obedience that exist now and that extend into adulthood and eternity. At the same time, I also seek obedience and its benefits for my own life on both sides of Heaven.

DISCUSSION: How do we seek obedience and its benefits?

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Vacation Brain

vacation brain

Last week I shared some Thoughts About Balance, which I wrote prior to leaving for a cruise vacation. As I write this post three days after returning from vacation, the topic of balance still draws my thoughts but in a slightly different way.

Literally, I still feel like I am on the cruise ship at times with its constant swaying. I even wake up in the middle of the night from what I can only describe as my brain trying to connect with my now shipless reality.

Having this swaying sensation in the absence of being on a boat led me to realize that sometimes our minds can get stuck cruising while the rest of our bodies struggle to go through the motions of life. This creates and out-of-balance state that I call “vacation brain.”

Defining Vacation Brain

The Urban Dictionary offers two definitions for “vacation brain.” First, “vacation brain” is “the 1-2 days before vacation when you can’t get much work done because your brain is already on vacation.” Second, “when you feel like you’re on vacation but you actually aren’t.”

Those definitions make sense, and I’ve experienced both, but allow me to offer a third definition. “Vacation brain” is “failure to live your life in a deliberate way that leads toward balance physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Let’s face it, if we live our daily lives the same way we live when we are on vacation, we’d all be in serious trouble. Oh wait… that’s how many people ARE living their lives. I wish I could say I have never lived that way but am happy to say that is not my current reality.

The Symptoms of Vacation Brain

The symptoms of “vacation brain” exist within what I call a “cruise ship lifestyle.” Here are the ones that stand out most to me.

  1. Increased comparisons
  2. God neglect
  3. Flesh focus

The posts, Understanding the Symptoms of Vacation Brain and “Are You Living a Cruise Ship Lifestyle?” will delve deeper into how this topic relates to the influence of culture and will also discuss the application to our everyday lives. For this post, let’s discuss some ideas to remedy this unhealthy state of existence.

The Remedy for Vacation Brain

The best remedy that I know of for “vacation brain” comes from Romans 12:2.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

When I came home from my cruise vacation and started feeling the shipless swaying sensations (they lasted a week after my last cruise), I knew that concentration and focus would be a struggle for me until the sensations went away. (On a side note, Mal de Debarquement Syndrome does not go away for some people.) Even when they do go away, I am keenly aware that “vacation brain” can easily become a part of my everyday lifestyle if I don’t deliberately choose to not let that happen.

To help keep “vacation brain” from becoming a permanent lifestyle, I focused in on the following:

  1. Renewing my routine. Vacations break routines, and returning to them quickly can help get thinking back on track.
  2. Reading a lot. I needed to get as much positive input as possible, so I read God-focused blogs in addition to my Bible. Reading is one of the best ways to reprogram your thinking.
  3. Reconnecting. While my husband and I connected a great deal on our cruise, I missed my friends and the rest of my family. Reconnecting can help refocus.
  4. Reviewing my pre-vacation status. I took a look at my writing notes prior to vacation remind myself of my various projects. I also reviewed my calendar a couple of months out as a reminder of what’s coming. Doing an inventory like helps direct focus and concentration.
  5. Refusing to be the same. Vacation was tremendously relaxing. I also came back with new perspectives and refuse to let the benefits of vacation be erased.

Almost immediately upon our return from vacation, we had to deal with some significant life issues that today remain unsolved. As I write this, I find myself wondering if the relaxation of vacation will quickly dissipate as a result. Then I realized that vacations don’t necessarily create a state of peace that will live on indefinitely; instead, they hit a reset button that helps us better deal with life’s coming challenges.

Over the life of this blog, the topic of vacations has come up several times, and I think that’s because they hold tremendous value for helping us to hit the reset button in our lives in so many ways. At least, that’s why I value them so much.

DISCUSSION: What other suggestions do you have for remedying vacation brain? Why do you think vacations are so important, maybe even crucially essential, for our lives?

Related Posts:

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Battling Boredom: My Struggle with Flat Faith – Series Summary

4-2-13 Bored

Thank you for taking this journey through my battle with boredom and struggle with flat faith. The list below provides a home base for the series, and this page can serve as a reference for passing this information along to others who might benefit from reading it.

Part I – Discovering the Role of Boredom
Part II – Understanding the Role of Connection
Part III – Understanding the Impact of Comparisons
Part IV – Diving Deeper into the Role of Boredom
Part V – My Battling Boredom Game Plan

Want to delve more into this topic of flat faith? Check out the guest posts Flat Spots Here and There – Part I and Flat Spots Here and There – Part II  by Kathy Howard, the author of Fed Up With Flat Faith.