Creating Structure

Summer 2013 (2)As discussed in The Importance of Structure, we humans need appropriate structure for productivity and to help keep negative habits from running rampant. This holds true in a variety of settings from businesses to families to classrooms. In fact, creating structure where none exists often serves to undo long-standing poor behavior.

My youngest son (now 12) provides a perfect example of this truth. For 8 years of his life, he had no structure. He moved from house to house (and often hotel to hotel), always around different people except for his older half-sister. School was optional. At some point, as his birth mother became increasingly absent, his behavior went from undisciplined to unruly.

Yet, over the past almost four years, as we applied the advice of a wise adoption case worker to provide consistency, our son is now a responsible young man who loves to serve at church and cares about his grades. He now reads above his grade level, and he is no longer classified as a special education student.

The advice to be consistent with our son really revolved around providing structure. For starters, he simply needed to know that the basics of life would stay the say from having enough food to eat to where and when to sleep.

Essential Elements of Structure

While many elements exist for solid structure, several essential elements seem to rise to the top. From business success to raising godly kids to helping students achieve learning success, the essential elements of solid structure seem to always include consistency, organization and discipline.

Consistency provides security and safety that encourages stretching and trying new things. Organization gives a better chance of not only completing but finishing strong. And discipline, while usually resisted at the time, provides the learning necessary for growth.

When creating and maintaining structure, though, we must remember that too much structure can stifle. Overdoing structure results in attitude problems leading to disobedience and disrespect. Working to constantly maintain a balance within structure, changing with the seasons of life, is crucial for structure to produce positive results.

Results of Appropriate StructureMattawan (8)

Like the essential elements of structure that rise to the top, there also seems to be certain positive results that consistently show up as well. To begin with, confidence comes when individuals overcome self-defeating habits in the safe environment of positive structure.

Security also results from solid structure because children, students and employees alike know what’s expected of them as well as what to expect from their performance.

Growth physically, mentally, spiritually and socially also takes place as confidence grows within a consistent and organized structure. Without this type of structure, we get stuck in ruts and negative habits simply because they are comfortable and change isn’t.

Structure for Sanity

I wish I could say that our focus on structure with our son came purely from a desire to simply do what was best for him. It did not. In fact, a large part of my motivation stemmed from wanting to stay sane. I needed the structure to keep my frustration from venturing into really unhealthy levels (well, staying there anyway… it got there plenty of times). I needed it to have a game plan that I desperately hoped would pay off.

Even though born out of self-serving motivations, my desire to create solid structure eventually turned into truly believing in its foundational ability to create consistently positive results.

DISCUSSION: Discuss your experience with structure. Also, what application regarding structure can you make to/with God’s Word?

For a slightly different take on the importance of structure, check out Does a Book Need Structure to Be Published? at The Write Practice. You may also be interested in reading Thinking About Structure, which sort of started this recent focus of mine on structure.

Breaking Out of the Lather, Rinse, Repeat Routine

shampooThe “No Poo” Method

Not too long ago, I decided to revamp my hair care routine. I was struggling to get my hair to style how I wanted it or even in any way I thought acceptable. It was oily and what I considered unruly, and I felt constantly self-conscious of it.

Then I read a magazine focused on natural methods for everything from house cleaning to personal care. One article talked about using baking soda and apple cider vinegar instead of shampoo. It’s called the “no poo” method. After additional research, I decided to give it a go. Based on my research, I also added olive and lavender oils to the routine as well and decided to only wash my hair every other day.

vinegarMy hair care routine just was not working well. I kept trying different salon products with no positive progress. So, I decided to break out of that lather, rinse, repeat routine and try something radically different. So far, so good.

The Definition of Insanity

My recent hair routine revamp represents what I think we all need to do from time to time in one area or another. We get stuck and feel in a rut, but we fail to change anything, and we just keep doing what everyone else does.

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Albert Einstein)

The idea of repetition involves making something a habit, making it automatic. Professional athletes practice the fundamentals over and over again. Writers write day in and day out. And at least to some extent, this repetition should produce positive results.

But Einstein’s point becomes clear when we realize habits are failing to produce those positive results. In fact, they may even frustrate and depress us because of the lack of progress. At times, insanity seems imminent.

This happened with my hair care routine. It’s happened in my exercise routine. My kids often develop pointless habits that need adjusted. These practices of doing the same thing over and over again with no progress not surprisingly produced the same, frustrating, lack-of-progress results over and over again.

Break Out of the Routine

While habits often produce beneficial results, they also often create a rut of frustration and boredom. When this happens, either we choose to break out of the routine or to continue on the road to insanity.

Choosing to break out of the routine includes the following elements (not necessarily steps in this order as many can happen simultaneously):

  1. Assess the current state of affairs. What is not working? What can you change?
  2. Research possible solutions and changes. Get the knowledge you need to make wise changes. Refuse to be ignorant.
  3. Seek wise counsel. Get advice from someone who is where you want to be. Pray a lot.
  4. Acquire the tools. What do you need in order to make changes? Supplies? Instructions? Knowledge?
  5. Obtain accountability. Let someone know what you’re doing, and ask them for honest critique of the changes you’re making. Be willing to hear what they are saying and make adjustments based on their advice.
  6. Find encouragement. Read about people who made similar changes with success. Get around people who encourage you to change & grow. Refuse to let negative in, and that often means shutting out the influence of culture through avenues like television & magazines.
  7. Reassess regularly. Go back to #1 every so often and re-assess what’s working and what’s not.
  8. Try different approaches. Be willing to make mistakes to figure out what works. Mistakes are great teachers!
  9. Nix changes that don’t work. Some approaches just won’t work for you. Keep what works and get rid of what doesn’t.sf_runRace_01
  10. Refuse to give up. You are not trapped. There is a way through, over, under around, whatever. Stay persistent! Quitting is the only sure way to make no progress.

Not only are these elements ones I used to break out of the “lather, rinse, repeat” routine, they are ones I have used to make changes in many areas of life. Sometimes, the changes happen rather quickly like they did with my haircare routine. Sometimes, they happen slowly over time like they did for me with defeating depression.

Never giving up really is the key. Simply refuse to quit running the race (Hebrews 12:1).

DISCUSSION: What elements would you add to the list?

Whitewater Living

river

For many, whitewater rafting simply seems too scary. The idea of allowing the current to take you where it will, out of control. Maybe they’re just afraid of falling out of the boat. That was me until recently when my family and I went whitewater rafting while vacationing in Tennessee. Initially, I was apprehensive and afraid but went because my family was very excited and would be less so if I opted out.1000097_10200931585244204_1876371616_n

Instead of feeling out of control and scary, whitewater rafting was exciting and exhilarating. In fact, whitewater rafting actually provides a great way to understand how whitewater living, a term many use to express an out-of-control life, can be victorious and exciting instead of scary and unnerving. Here’s how…

  1. Expect variety. Our trip took us through calm waters and rapids. Similarly, life goes from calm to crazy within a matter of seconds at times, but expecting life to be anything but varied like a river really means having false expectations about life.
  2. Understand classification of rapids. Our raft guide explained that rapids are classified not based on what’s visible but on how difficult the area would be for a swimmer because the danger comes from the rocks below the surface. When we focus on what exists below the surface (character, convictions, etc.), we can better manage any level of rapids in life.
  3. Realize the dam is open. On the river where we rafted, rafting only took place the days the dam was open since this increased the flow of water. In life, we must realize that sometimes life is flowing more quickly and intensely than others, and we need to adjust accordingly.
  4. Plan for the worst. Prior to rafting, we received instructions for worse-case scenarios. We learned about our safety gear (helmets & life vest) and what to do if you fall in the water (swim toward the raft, don’t stand up). While not our focus, we must also plan for worse-case scenarios in life. We must know our convictions before we need them and emotions are high.
  5. Get locked in. Most people fear falling out of the boat, so they refuse to go rafting. But when you lock your feat into the raft (there’s an area all around the bottom inside you push your feet into), trust me when I say you aren’t going anywhere. In life, we must simply be locked in to God’s Truth.
  6. Paddle in sync with the leader. We paddled according to our guide’s instructions. We also needed to paddle in sync with the other rafters for the boat to move correctly. The idea of unity with other believers as we live our faith seems fitting with this idea of rowing the boat in sync for efficient movement of the raft down the river.
  7. Hold on to your paddle! We were shown how to hold the paddle and instructed never to let go. If we did, our paddles could easily come out of our hands and injure a fellow rafter. When we struggle with our faith or when we fail to live authentically, we can cause another to stumble. We must hold on to our faith and refuse to let go.
  8. Listen to your guide. The guide told us when to row. He steered the boat. He knew the river well and was our only sure way through the rapids safely. God’s Word is our guide through life. We capsize or fall out of the boat only when we fail to cling to His Truth. Doesn’t mean the river won’t ever get rough or bumpy, but it does mean we have a constant guide steering us through it.

Our lives are so much like a whitewater rafting trip that the experience, while scary at times, can also take us to new wonders and experiences that you just don’t get standing on the shore. With the proper tools, instructions and the right guide, the river of life can truly be an exhilarating experience.

DISCUSSION: What aspect of whitewater rafting can you immediately apply to your life?

Finish Strong

Quite frequently, I’ll hear a sermon or teaching or read an article or blog post and think to myself, “I wish I had thought of that.” This happened recently while listening to Nino Guarisco speak at my church.

Nino and his wife Tammy serve as missionaries to the students at the University of Michigan. You can connect with Nino on facebook.com/theitaliandude, on their web site, ninoandtammy.com or on Twitter @theitaliandude.

The following post comes from the notes I took when Nino spoke. While the wording, arrangement and some details are mine, Nino gets full credit for the main idea and scripture application. I truly do wish I would have thought of this!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~7-25-13 run

What do Chuck Templeton, Braun Clifford & Billy Graham have in common? Before even attempting an answer, you might be saying, “Who are Chuck Templeton and Braun Clifford?” And, asking that question is actually the point. No one remembers them.

Let’s take a minute to answer the question though. Chuck Templeton, Braun Clifford and Billy Graham have the following in common:

  • They were all in their mid 20’s in the 1940’s.
  • All began their ministries around the same time.
  • All began their preaching through Youth for Christ.
  • They were all well-known with good reputations in the 1940’s.

Here’s where the similarities end. Now consider the following…

  • In 1946 Chuck Templeton and Braun Clifford were featured in an article titled “The Best Young Men Used of God” published by the National Association of Evangelical. The article did not mention Billy Graham.
  • At age 25, Braun Clifford was preaching to thousands upon thousands of people everywhere he went.
  • Because of his good looks, Braun Clifford was invited to play the part of Marcella in the famous motion picture “The Robe.”
  • Chuck Templeton left ministry to become a journalist and by 1950 was agnostic.
  • By 1954, Braun Clifford lost his family and his health and became an alcoholic. At age 35, he was found dead of siroccos of the liver in a rundown motel in Texas.

People don’t know who Braun Clifford or Chuck Templeton are today. But, they certainly know Billy Graham.

The point? How you start doesn’t matter. Even the middle doesn’t matter too much. At least, they don’t matter if you fail to finish strong.

Consider Solomon

In the beginning of his life, Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:1-15). In the middle of Solomon’s life, God once again reminded Solomon of staying focused and not letting his attentions wander from God (1 Kings 9:1-9). But sadly, at the end of Solomon’s life, he did in fact turn his attention from God and toward the gods of his many wives (1 Kings 11:13).

Solomon started well, really well in fact. He even appeared to be running strong in the middle of his life. But clearly, he failed to finish strong.

How to Finish Strong

If you watched only one episode of American Idol 2013, you heard Nicki Minaj say at least once, “I’m obsessed with…” Interestingly, the object of her obsession changed from one episode to the next and often within a single episode. What we can learn from Minaj is that we do need to be obsessed. But, unlike Minaj, we need to keep the focus of our obsession on God Almighty in order finish strong the race set before us.

Let’s look to what 1 Peter 5:8-9 tells us about running the race and finishing strong, about how we can stay obsessed with pursuing God.

  1. Realize it’s going to be a struggle, a fight. We will struggle with Satan, and we will struggle with ourselves.
  2. Be obsessed with finishing the race. Finish everything you do well, no matter how big or small. If you can’t finish the small things, do you think you’ll have the endurance to finish the big? (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
  3. Keep the faith. This doesn’t happen through works and one’s own ability. (Romans 10:17)

Get Obsessed!

With what are you obsessed? If it’s anything other than finishing strong, crossing the finish line, consider reevaluating your obsessions. Refuse to be like Minaj who spreads her obsessions around. Refuse to be like Templeton or Clifford who started well but failed to keep focused on God and therefore failed to finish strong.

Refuse to be like Solomon at the end of his life when he allowed his focus to be drawn away from God. Determine to keep your focus on God alone and to not let another have any control over that focus. Become obsessed with God alone!

DISCUSSION: How does your life reflect that of a person obsessed with finishing strong?

Check out the post Finishing at Cycleguy’s Spin for more inspiration to not quit and instead to finish strong… to achieve victory.

Pursuing Perfection, Part III

Path to PerfectionPursuing Perfection, Part I defined perfectionism and helped us view it through God’s eyes. Pursuing Perfection, Part II showed how we are already perfect in God’s eyes because we receive the instantaneous perfection occurring at salvation. This third part in the series takes the idea of perfection further as we look at how perfection is a process (aka progressive sanctification).

We do have a part to play…

Perfectionists have one thing right, we are supposed to pursue perfection. But they go about it completely wrong by relying on their own efforts to achieve the objective.

Those with a “good enough” mindset have it partially right too in that the goal is impossible. Because our efforts don’t get us to the objective, we sometimes just don’t bother to try very hard. But, the “why bother” approach does not match up with God’s desires for us either.

(Note: See Pursuing Perfection, Part I to better understand the definition of perfectionism and perfectionists as well as what a “good enough” mindset entails.)

Fortunately, scripture clearly tells us what our role is in this process. And this role involves the activity of the Holy Spirit working in our lives toward perfection. The following are all a part of the process of being perfected:

  1. Endurance/Patience (James 1:4) – Never giving up. Reaching the end of the race. Crossing the finish line.
  2. Love (Colossians 3:14) – Binds us together in perfect harmony. The glue for unity.
  3. Holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1) – Get rid of the bad stuff that draws us  away and distracts us from God.
  4. Praise (Psalm 8:2) – Silences our enemies.
  5. Faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10) – Growing in faith takes us toward perfection.
  6. Good Works (Hebrews 13:21) – God equips and gives the desire to do them. They illustrate our faith.
  7. Unity (John 17:23) – We are more powerful as one, strong body than individual parts working separately.
  8. Strength/Power (2 Corinthians 12:9) Our imperfection (weaknesses) allows His power to show. When we try to be perfect in our own efforts, His power is no longer the focus.

If we focus on these attributes, which God enables in us through His grace, we can know we are moving toward perfection. They provide a gauge by which we can assess our progress. The specifics of how these are carried out through the work we do, ministry, our hobbies & interests, etc., are unique to each individual. This eliminates the need for comparisons or competition with regard to sanctification.

The Struggle with Perfection

The struggle with perfection comes because we live in an imperfect world, we are imperfect people, and perfection really is impossible for us. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on the goal of perfection. We can’t go to the other extreme and put forth little to no effort just because we know perfection isn’t possible.

A huge part of my spiritual growth has been the renewal of my mind in the area of perfectionism. But that doesn’t mean that mindset has completely disappeared. For me, it means that I choose not to let the perfectionist in me direct my life. Yes, I’ve learned not to let perfectionism rule and reign and instead to allow a perfect God to rule and reign.

  • I’ve learned that the perfect shoes, bag & hairstyle don’t exist.
  • I’ve learned that I don’t have to correct people’s grammar constantly.
  • I’ve learned that most people don’t notice when commas or periods are missing.
  • I’ve learned that my own efforts to be perfect lead to a muddy and miry pit.
  • I’ve learned that God perfects others, not me.
  • I’ve learned that compassion, flexibility & forgiveness require accepting imperfections.
  • I’ve learned that walking the road to sanctification (holiness) makes my friendships, marriage and kids want to strive for perfection too.
  • I’ve learned that imperfection allows God to be more fully present in my life as I admit my need for Him to perfect me.

At the same time, I want to encourage those who are discouraged to the point of not wanting to try because they know perfection is impossible. God wants us to pursue perfection but to do so depending on Him. He wants us to play the role He has given us to play and to always strive for our best. And, He’s given us a way to accomplish perfection, both now and in the progressive sanctification that is our lives.

So taking this to heart, we need to remember…

  • We cannot become perfect through our own efforts.
  • “Good enough” thinking leads to lukewarm Christians.
  • God, in His grace, has already made us perfect through Jesus.
  • We do have a role to play in the process of being perfected.

DISCUSSION: How does the process of pursuing perfection – also called progressive sanctification – exist in your life today?

Pursuing Perfection, Part II

As we established in Pursuing Perfection, Part I, God wants us to be perfect. He knows that won’t happen through our own efforts, though, so He made a way for us to be perfect. Our own efforts won’t bring perfection. The world’s path won’t either. Only God’s way provides a way for perfection to become a reality.

You’re Already Perfect!Path to Perfection

Consider the following people’s lives. If you read the scripture reference, you’ll actually see these individuals described as “perfect” “mature,” having “wisdom,” “blameless” “righteous” and even “without blemish.” All of these get at the idea of perfection in the eyes of God.

If these individuals and groups of people - with their human frailties and significant mistakes – are seen as perfect (without fault) to God, why can’t we, even on this side of heaven, be considered “perfect” too?

How do we reach perfection?

“People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have, and looking for it where they will never find it.” (Edith Shaeffer)

If perfection is impossible, why bother? Why not coast through life with a “good enough” mentality? For two reasons. First, God tells us to strive for perfection. Second, He has provided a way for us to be perfect.

We can be perfect through…

  1. God – His grace perfects, confirms, strengthens and establishes us (1 Peter 5:10).
  2. Christ – He has already achieved perfection for us (Hebrews 10:14).
  3. The Holy Spirit – Our human effort blinds us to the process of perfection the Holy Spirit leads us through (Galatians 3:3).
  4. God’s Word – Imperfect hands + the perfect tool (His Word) = adequately equipped (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
  5. Ministry – Matures the body of Christ to perfection (Ephesians 4:11-13).
  6. Sufferings – Jesus, the author (perfector) of our salvation, was the perfect leader because of His sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).
  7. Love – Drives out our fear, including the fear of not being perfect (1 John 4:18).

The Pressure is Off!

“Grace is God acting in our lives to do what we cannot do on our own.” (Dallas Willard)

God perfected us through Christ, and nothing we do can reach the goal of perfection. But, that doesn’t mean we just give up and coast through life.

Scripture clearly says that perfection comes through Christ; it’s instantaneous at salvation. But, it also say that it’s at the same time a progressive work in our lives. Pursuing Perfection, Part III gets at how that progression exists based on scripture.

DISCUSSION: How does your life change knowing that the pressure is off to be perfect because, through Christ, you already are perfect?

Pursuing Perfection, Part I

Defining Perfectionism

This topic pulls at strings deep inside my heart and mind. Not only does it represent a personal struggle, it also reflects a struggle I see in those I love too. Perfectionism creates a focus on self, and many – myself included – find this mindset difficult to shake. For this reason, this series will address this widespread challenge and look at the path to freedom from its dictatorship.

7-16-13 perfectAre you a perfectionist?

Consider the following definitions:

Perfect = complete or to complete thoroughly

Perfection = the state of being entirely without fault

Perfectionist = a person who is displeased by anything that does not meet very high standards

Perfectionism = a personal standard, attitude or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything else

Still not sure? Read through the following signs to help clarify whether or not you’re a perfectionist:

  1. All or nothing thinking
  2. Critical eye (worse on self than others)
  3. Pushed toward goals by fear of not reaching then
  4. Unrealistic standards
  5. Focused on results instead of the process
  6. Depressed by unmet goals
  7. Fear of failure
  8. Procrastination
  9. Defensiveness
  10. Low self-esteem

Confession time: I said “yes” to all 10 of these. Clearly, a perfectionist mindset securely grasps my thinking. While this is a more widespread issue for me, many people are perfectionists only in certain areas of life. For example, my oldest son is a perfectionist with grades in school but not in other areas of life.

My Perfectionist Story

When I was a child & through high school, I lived life without much guidance or any focused plan. In college, I became a perfectionist. Why? Maybe I wanted control over my life, or perhaps I wanted to finally feel good about myself, or it could be I wanted others to acknowledge my accomplishments. Most likely it was a combination of these and other reasons.

Regardless of why it started, my battle with perfectionism eventually found its way into virtually every area of my life.

  • Perfect shoes – Guys don’t understand, but shoes matter.
  • Perfect purse/bag – So glad I have not kept count…
  • Perfect hair – A lifelong struggle still without resolution.
  • Perfect work – A missing comma is good reason to reprint & recopy.
  • Perfect friendship – Expectations of perfection resulted in lacking any longstanding friendships.
  • Perfect marriage – Being depressed over imperfection almost cost me my marriage.
  • Perfect kids – Always focusing on how to improve and forgetting to focus on progress.

I wanted perfection but at the same time knew perfection was impossible. I created a heavy burden for myself and others. I was not a fun person to be around.

The “Good Enough” Approach

At the other end of the spectrum are those with a “good enough” approach. They don’t even try because they know that perfection is impossible. So, instead of doing their best, they do enough to get by.

“So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot or cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16)

Doesn’t sound like just getting by really works well either.

The Impact of Culture

Perhaps you’ve seen the slogan, “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” in a Lexus advertisement. I want a perfect car, don’t you? For me, that means never having to buy another car or fuel it up again.

For sure you’ve heard the sayings, “Practice makes perfect,” and “Nobody’s perfect.” So, we practice to achieve something we can never achieve? Why bother?

Probably the best example of how our culture impacts perfection lies in the beauty industry. Products to make us perfect and then more products that made the old perfect no longer good enough.

Without a doubt, our culture pushes us to the extremes telling us to be perfect but at the same time keeping it well out of our reach. We are set up for failure. Unfortunately, Our own expectations plus the mixed message of our culture bring us only to frustration. Perfection remains painfully illusive.

God is a PerfectionistPath to Perfection

Both approaches – perfectionism and “good enough” – focus on our own efforts, and that’s not what God had in mind when he told us to be perfect.

“Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

That’s right, God wants us to be perfect. He is a perfectionist, but He can be BECAUSE HE IS PERFECT. But here’s the difference… God provides a way for us to become perfect. Our culture and our own efforts do not.

Pursuing Perfection, Part II looks at the only way to obtain perfection… God’s way.

DISCUSSION: Anyone else have any perfectionist confessions?

 

Did you know God has tattoos?

7-9-13 quote 1

Why do people get tattoos?

In the article The Psychology of Tattoos, Dr. Michael R. Mantell, Phd., says people get tattoos for a variety of reasons including wanting to be noticed and identifying with a certain social group. They also get them to represent a loved one, for religious reasons, and for patriotism. And, some people admit to getting them by way of a bad choice.

Mantell goes on to describe tattoo-lovers as “a proud lot” who want to “declare that they are what they are.” In fact, Mantell says people with tattoos are “ordinary” except for having “a strong sense of identity they have no intention of hiding.”

I’m not advocating getting a tattoo. I don’t have one nor do I intend to get one. Just not interested. And I really don’t intend to get into a discussion on the debate surrounding tattoos (Collin Kapernick comes to mind here.). For this post, let’s just focus on the fact that most people who get tattoos do so with great thought and have great meaning behind their choice.

In other words, people who get tattoos hold something – a person or group or belief – as being so important to them they are willing to make it a permanent part of their body. Actually, perhaps we could use more dedication like that in our society.

Did you know that God has tattoos?

“Behold, I have indelibly imprinted (tattooed a picture of) you on the palm of each of My hands; [O Zion] your walls are continually before Me.” (Isaiah 49:16,)

Indelible means something cannot be erased, moved, changed, eliminated or forgotten. Zion here means God’s people, of which you are hopefully one.

Notice that the location of the tattoos are the palms of God’s hand. A sensitive area. A visible area. An area not easily overlooked. The point being that God has His people ever before His consciousness.

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible says that God’s tattoo signifies…

“that his people were always in his sight, his eyes were ever upon them, and never withdrawn from them; as anything held in the hand, or tied to or wore upon it, as a signet or ring that has the name of a person on it, to which the allusion may be; which shows how near and dear they are to him, what affection he has for them, and care of them.”

Just like many people get tattoos (again, not advocating, just stating fact), as a reminder of something significant and valuable to them, we are tattooed on God’s hand for that very same reason.

What can our response be to this deep affection?

God does not want us to be discouraged. He does not want us to feel abandoned or neglected. He desires that we know and experience His compassion. We are so important to Him that we are a permanent part of His thoughts, something like how a tattoo becomes a permanent part of a person’s body.

In response, we can be diligent in making our calling and election sure, and we can rejoice in the hope and glory of God (2 Peter 1:10-11).

Personally, I would be uncomfortable with my name and certainly with my face tattooed on a person’s body, but I am certainly not uncomfortable with being tattooed upon the very palm of God Almighty’s hand. Realizing His ever-present thoughts about me makes me know I am valuable and significant to Him.

DISCUSSION: How does knowing God is always thinking about you change how you live your life?

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Thoughts About Freedom

7-4-13 freedom 1As part of his testimony, a friend of mine says that prior to being saved he was talking to a friend of his who was a Christian serving time in a state prison for crimes committed prior to giving His life to Christ. My friend says, “This guy was in jail and free while I was outside and in bondage.”

My friend’s testimony teaches me that our physical reality often has little to do with our freedom, and it reminds me of Paul’s testimony from prison on multiple occasions.

As I reflect on my own life, I can recall many times of chains. Probably the time I longed the most for freedom was in my battle with chronic depression. At my lowest, the hope of freedom literally kept me alive. As I now live free of those chains, I find myself ever thankful that depression no longer defines me.

Many people still live in spiritual chains. They don’t know freedom, and many don’t even believe freedom is possible.

As Christians, we exist as living testimonies of the freedom Christ bought for us with His blood. Our response can only be sharing that path to freedom with others by living lives exemplifying that freedom.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free.” (John 8:36

“So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”(Romans 5:21)

“So Christ really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”
(Galatians 5:1)

DISCUSSION: Are you living a life that exemplifies the freedom that Christ won for you?

Note: I am on vacation this week with my family. I will respond to comments and join the discussion when I return. 

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Fancy Talk or Powerful Living

6-25-13 Fancy talk “For the kingdom of God is not just fancy talk; it is living by God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 4:2)

Some days I feel like I’m really good at talking (or writing) about God and His Word but not very good at living it out. I know the right words to say (and write) and all the Christian lingo, but those do me – or anyone else – no good if my words fail to produce powerful action.  

I’m not even necessarily talking about actions that contradict my words, although those are certainly damaging. What I’m most troubled by in my own life is lack of action. In other words, I often feel like I have a lot of fancy talk but not much – if any – powerful living.

If I want to move from fancy talk to powerful living, it makes sense to increase my awareness of how God’s power comes into my life.

6-25-13 PowerWhat are the sources of God’s power?  

  1. The Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) Gives words & presents opportunity to preach the Gospel.
  2. The Bible (Hebrews 4:12) Reveals complete truth.
  3. Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-4) Our example for putting words into action.
  4. Prayer (James 5:16) Prayer plus righteousness gets results.
  5. Other Christians (1 John 5:4-5) Living victory through faith in Christ.

Knowing the sources of God’s power and even making sure they exist in my daily living still mean nothing should I fail to produce meaningful action. And to do that, I need to become strong in God’s power.

How can we become strong in God’s power?   Being strong in God’s power means standing firm, which involves our words being illustrated by our actions. The Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), a familiar passage of scripture, gives valuable insight into how we can turn our fancy talk into powerful living.

  1. Christian Armor Email SalutationUse all the tools available to you. Think of all the tools great warriors carried with them. To help you visualize, pick a movie with good battle scenes (like Lord of the Rings) and watch how the warriors not only had a variety of tools on them at all times, but they used all of those tools when the battle got especially tough and lengthy.
  2. Let righteousness (goodness, honesty, fairness, rightness) strengthen your core. Any exercise specialist knows that a strong core is essential for the whole body to be strong. No matter the activity, core strength will increase chances for success.
  3. Use peace as your firm foundation. Peace gives a firm foundation by guarding our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7). Having a foundation of peace means emotions don’t control you.
  4. Hold up your faith to prevent injury. A strong faith, like a good shield, keeps evil from harming you.
  5. Protect your mind with your salvation. Salvation protects your mind because no one can take it from you. You can only lose it by choice.
  6. Know how to use your one offensive weapon. Watching good battle scenes helps understand the importance of a sword, which seems to be a natural extension of the user. A good swordsman puts in hours of practice and always has his sword with him, ready for use.
  7. Stay persistent in prayer. Constantly be praying, and let the Holy Spirit guide your prayers.

As I look at what the Armor of God does for a Christian’s ability to stand strong, to put words into action, I realize that it’s really a principle for successful living in any area of life. From relationships, education and career to running a marathon, writing a book and building a house, the above steps really provide a path for significance that comes only through being used by God.

DISCUSSION: What are some specific ways we can turn fancy talk into powerful living?

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