Lessons from Galatians

Every year, my oldest son (now 15) attends Christians In Training at Bair Lake Bible Camp. And ever year, he asks if he can write a post about what he learned at camp. This is the third installment of that “series.”

4 Topics to Take Out of Galatians

galatiansThis year at CIT, our main focus book was Galatians. Some of the many seminars were Galatians, The Gospel, Justification by Faith, Biblical Generosity, Servanthood, Idols of the Heart, Evangelism and Worship. The four seminars that stuck out for me were Galatians, The Gospel, Justification by Faith, and Biblical Generosity. These four seminars helped me come up with four topics to take out of Galatians.

  1. The Gospel (Galatians 1:3-5)
  2. Don’t add anything to the Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9)
  3. The Gospel came from God (Galatians 1:11-12)
  4. The Gospel is about Jesus
  5. Freedom (Galatians 3:22-25)

In the Galatians’ seminar, the teacher (Rick Larmen) said that the main word to take out of Galatians is “freedom.”

  1. Christ has freed us from the curse (law) (Galatians 3:13-14)
  2. Before Christ we were slaves to the law, after Christ were are freed from the law (Galatians 3:23-25)
  3. Justification by faith (Galatians 3:6-9)
  4. Justification is an act of God the Father (Galatians 3:7)
  5. We are declared righteous (Galatians 3:11-14)
  6. We become children of God (Galatians 3:26-29)
  7. Biblical generosity (Galatians 6:6-10)
  8. Support your supporters (Galatians 6:6)
  9. A man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7)
  10. If you are not generous, it will come back to bite you (Galatians 6:8)
  11. Never give up (Galatians 6:9)
  12. Invest in everyone especially Christians (Galatians 6:10)
  13. Be generous when you get the opportunity (Galatians 6:10)

Thanks to these seminars, I learned that Galatians is more than a letter. It can teach you many things like how to be biblically generous or what the gospel is.

Check out Jonathan’s other posts from his first two years at CIT:

Time for a Paradigm Shift?

milkFood Substitutions

Because of a dairy allergy, coconut milk substitutes for cow’s milk. Because of a gluten intolerance, rice-based products substitute for those made with wheat flour.

“That’s got to be hard,” many people say to me. “No, it’s really not,” I respond. “I’m used to it.”

But the comment always reminds me of the beginning of the journey when I constantly felt frustrated. I looked at store shelves and even my own cupboards and saw only what I couldn’t eat.

Over the past five years, my paradigm regarding food shifted dramatically. Through this process, God also taught me more about Himself.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui-Gon to Anakin, Star Wars, The Phantom Menace)

cookiesAfter diagnosis of a food allergy & several sensitivities, I slowly adjusted my eating habits. My attention now goes to what I can eat, and I think little about what’s not on my menu anymore. When I focused on what I couldn’t eat, I felt deprived. When I focused on what I could have, I discovered new and enjoyable experiences.

In the Christian life, focusing on what God offers brings exciting and eternally beneficial experiences well beyond anything the world offers. What you “can’t” have no longer becomes what you want.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Ice creamIf I eat dairy or gluten, my digestion immediately slows almost to a stop. If I keep eating them, my body fails to get needed nutrients, and eventually adrenal fatigue and depression set in along with other unpleasant reactions. The consequences range from immediate and uncomfortable to severe and debilitating. I must live with a zero-tolerance policy regarding gluten and dairy.

I must also have zero-tolerance in certain areas of my spiritual life if I want to remain spiritually healthy. Days need to begin with prayer. Regular fellowship and worship need to exist. Bible study must happen frequently & regularly. Compromising in any of these areas leads to consequences that are devastating.

“Simply the thing I am shall make me live.” (William Shakespeare)

Upon first discovery of my food allergy and sensitivities, I felt like my life was horribly complicated. I struggled to figure out what I could and could not eat and felt not only like a burden when eating with others but an outsider as well.

Now I realize my diet simplifies my life and makes me healthier because most unhealthy foods filling so many dinner tables don’t find their way into my house much. Restaurant choices are limited (cross-contamination), but these limitations also simplify choices and save time. Once I accepted myself physically with regard to food limitations, I realized that simplicity was a gift that helped me and my family lead healthier lives.

As I learn to accept who I am spiritually, my life becomes simpler and more focused. Instead of wishing I was someone else with different gifts, talents and abilities, I find peace and contentment with who I am. Accepting myself as God created me is having wide-reaching impact on my life.

“[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

The integration of so many substitutions into my life also leads me to be more aware of the life-giving power that substitutions can have. After all, they created a healthier me than has ever existed.

The biggest truth that these substitutions bring to light for me involves the substition of Jesus for my sins, for everyone’s sins. No, I don’t think of this every time I make a food substitution, but I do think of it often, especially when I reflect on the journey my health and eating have taken over the past five years.

The connection between my eating and spiritual journeys exists as one of the major reasons I truly believe God wants to be in every detail of our lives. He also wants to use every detail to shape spiritual paradigms too.

DISCUSSION: How has God used a situation or journey in your life to make a paradigm shift?

Guest Post on Stretched

Stretched guestToday, I have the privilege of guest posting on Jon Stolpe’s blog Stretched while’s he’s on a mission trip in Guatemala. Jon is a Christ-follower, and he writes about leadership. life, parenting, marriage & faith.

Take a few minutes to check out my post “Finding a New Normal,” and leave a comment if you have an extra minute. While you’re there, check out some of Jon’s posts… they’re well worth your time!

Discovering Strength Through Brokenness

broken In 2009, I discovered my allergy to dairy and my intolerance to gluten. Sensitivities to several other foods (crab, eggs and cashews) also came to light. As I changed my diet to eliminate these foods, I began to feel dramatically better. In fact, I felt better physically and mentally than I had my whole life.

Then I reached a plateau about two years later. I felt a tremendous sense of isolation as well as frustration as I watched others enjoy any food they desired. I saw only limits. I saw a cage that separated me from others. My frustration increased as I realized that my body is also tremendously sensitive to a lot of stimulation.

In fact, inflammation rises at the slightest chemical imbalance. Too much of any food causes distress, but any of certain foods causes setback. In addition, a lot of noise bothers me, and too much information in too small space of time easily impedes my ability to think. I also struggle being in groups of people for very long, sometimes even at all.

At times, I’m simply at odds with understanding why I am so physically and mentally sensitive. Some days, I just feel very alone. But, this journey also brings to light my many physical and mental limitations and weaknesses and gives greater understanding of how God’s strength flow in a practical way through my weaknesses.

In this struggle, I learned a valuable lesson: Freedom comes through brokenness revealed by weaknesses.

Realizing utter helplessness to be healthy on my own truly set me free. The process began with salvation and seeing my inability to escape the grip of sin. And it grew when I finally understood that every weakness I have presents an opportunity for increased freedom from the flesh.

My weaknesses humble me. They force me to understand my inability to control. They lead me to increased reliance upon the only One who truly has control. They present a choice between letting those weaknesses define and control me or allowing them to direct me toward His strength.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

My weaknesses constantly remind me of my need for Christ. They remind me every day of my lack of self-control and of my tendency toward acting based on feelings and emotion. Without Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit producing the fruit of self-control within me, I fall prey to the consequences of my weaknesses.

Brokenness opens the floodgates for His power to work perfection in spite of me. It allows for a Holy-Spirit-led life that does not seek to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18), desires that most clearly show through in my weaknesses. And this by nothing in and of myself but instead only through His strength filling in the spaces left by brokenness.

DISCUSSION: How has weakness led to brokenness in your life? What difference does God’s strength make in your struggle with weakness?

Consistent Stretching & Strengthening

Stretching 2Foot and leg pain began when I started running at age 14 because a boy I liked ran cross country. (Incidentally, over 20 years later, not only do I still run, but I’m married to that boy who also still runs.) My first memory of these problems were shin splints. My cross country coach faithfully taped my feet before every practice & meet to help alleviate some of the pain.

My mom took me to the podiatrist who fitted me with orthodics, which I don’t recall really wearing much (okay, not at all). In college, I ran very little, so the pain subsided, and I all but forgot about it.

Then the pain started again after college because I started running again. I also started teaching college classes, which meant a lot of standing, and the pain in my feet and legs gradually increased and returned worse than ever.

Stretching 1After trying orthodics again, expensive shoes & lots of rest, I finally sought to revamp my running form as well as to incorporate cross training activities. Still, the pain increased to the point of not being able to walk without a limp.

Next, I endured the most painful event ever in my life, nerve testing of my feet (seriously, huge crochet needs stuck in the side of my feet). No problems found. Next came hours of physical therapy on pretty much every joint & ligament from the waste down. Painful.

The point? I’ve done a lot to find relief from this chronic feet, leg & hip pain. But only one route brought any consistent relief… stretching & strengthening.

Physical therapy taught me how to stretch the tight muscles in my legs and feet. About the same time, I began to strengthen my core too. When I do these regularly, my feet and leg pain – along with any back pain – almost disappears. Missing a day or two here and there isn’t a big deal, but chronically missing them gradually brings back the pain and tingling sensation.

My lifelong struggle with foot, leg and hip pain and finally finding the solution of stretching and strengthening remind me of the importance of consistent Bible study, prayer and fellowship. When I do these activities regularly, my focus remains steadily on Christ and my purposes set toward His desires. When I don’t, I lose focus easily and find myself lost and unbalanced in a chaotic world. These activities, when done consistently, do for my soul what stretching does for my muscles… prepare me to better handle the stress and strain of life.

So, why don’t I always keep with the habits of prayer, Bible study & fellowship?Probably for the same reason I neglect my stretching & strengthening routine at times. When the pain goes away, I forget what brought relief. Conversely, when I feel the pain, I’m motivated toward the habits that keep me flexible and strong.

The same holds true spiritually. Unfortunately, I’ve sort of trained God that I need to feel pain and/or discomfort in order to keep to the good habits that provide for my protection. He knows I need to be reminded of the basic habits needed to remain strong and flexible in this journey of life.

Does your life reflect this truth? Share your story in the comments.

You Play How You Practice

As my boys progress in sports (cross country, track, football, basketball & baseball), they increasingly learn the value of practice. Largely, that means the value of repetitiveness for learning and improving. But equally important involves realizing that games and meets simply exist as reflections of how they practice.

SlideIn baseball, how my youngest runs bases in practice comes through clearly in his game performance. Any goofing off or slacking in practice results in a flat at best and mistake ridden at worse, game. Same with hitting and catching.

My oldest runs, and this principle applies equally to even the more individually-oriented sports. (That’s not to say running isn’t a team sport, because it definitely is.) My son used to run with his friends during practice, but this often meant he wasn’t running to his potential. As a result, his race times were mediocre and inconsistent. When he realized that pushing himself in practice resulted in faster races, he practiced with more intention. Not only is every race now hard and fast, he is one of the most consistent runners on the team.

runnerI began wondering if this idea transferred to other areas of life too, say my walk as a follower of Christ. If so, when did I practice? And when were the games?

“And they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” (John 13:35)

While there are other ways, essentially our interactions with other Christians reflects on how we will interact with non-Christians. In other words, our “practice” takes place around other Christians. Below are my initial ideas on this, and hopefully you also see the hints of Scripture within them without me pointing them out:

  1. If we love each other, our love for Christ shows.
  2. If we don’t love each other, non-Christians question the validity of the faith we profess.
  3. Preferring others is one way to love each other.
  4. We can improve at loving others the more we practice doing so.
  5. We both provide and have examples to follow when we love each other.
  6. Regular interactions (practices) with a “coach” (pastor, mentor, teacher, etc.) are essential.
  7. Serving allows for exploration and exercising of gifts.
  8. When love for one another lacks unity, we lose valuable energy for loving outside the body (in the game).
  9. Loving others in the body means helping the body as a whole, including the “weaker” parts, to become stronger.
  10. Game time takes place on the mission field of life.

To help with application, consider the following questions. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

What happens when we look at time with other Christians as practice that prepares us for game time (time with non-Christians)? How does this change our attitude, actions & words?

Do we too often view loving other Christians as the game and then spend all of our time & energy there? Do we practice a lot & then forget to show up for the game?

Or, maybe our practices aren’t very good, maybe we’re not trying very hard. Maybe we’re not living love. How does a weak practice time impact game time?

What if we just aren’t playing as a unit? What if we’re trying to put an “I” in team?

While not a perfect analogy, how does the idea of “you practice how you play” fit into your view of how we should live as Christians?

The Role of Accountability in Balance

AccountabilityFor over 20 years, running partners made sure I regularly completed the miles needed for my goals. In recent years, I meet with a Godly woman from church for Biblical accountability. In writing, accountability comes through my critique partner as well as through Godly people I interact with online. And of course, my spouse provides accountability like no other person in my life.

What is Accountability?

Being accountable means being responsible & answerable. Accountability means not simply acting according to feelings, wants and desires but basing actions on what we believe is honorable and truthful.

Accountability keeps us from hurting ourselves and others by making us liable, responsible and answerable for our actions or lack of action. Without accountability, the door remains open for saying and doing just about anything we want.

Accountability and Balance

Accountability to God and to other Christians exists as a Biblical principle (see Galatians 6:1-5, Luke 17:3, James 5:16, Romans 14:12 & Hebrews 4:13.) It also serves to strengthen us in ways we could not discover on our own.

Accountability 2

But how does accountability help specifically with balance?

Accountability provides a source of wisdom for the adjustments needed to maintain balance and keep from toppling over under the pressure and stress of our overloaded and drama-filled lives. Simply put, allowing accountability to function properly makes balance easier to maintain. When I neglect and/or ignore accountability, my life quickly becomes unstable.

Accountability helps maintain balance because it…

  1. Encourages us. (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Accountability helps us know what we’re doing right and gives direction for decisions. It also helps us know we’re not alone in our struggles.
  2. Improves us. (Proverbs 17:17) We need others to alert us to improvements as well as how to go about making them. Attempting to stay balanced alone just isn’t possible because we simply cannot accurately see everything about ourselves.
  3. Makes us think about our words. The Bible says we’ll be held accountable for every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:36-37). Accountability forces us to not only think about what we say but also about what influences exist at the heart of our words.
  4. Builds trust. (Luke 16:10-12) Letting Godly people speak into our lives exercises humbleness. It practices our willingness to open ourselves up to necessary change, and this stretches us in a way that allows for bigger responsibility as we gain a reputation for honesty and transparency.
  5. Realigns us when we mess up. (1 John 2:1-29 & James 5:16) We’re expected to mess up. That’s part of life this side of Heaven. So, the real test of solid character shows with how a person reacts after messing up. A willingness to be reshaped by the Godly wisdom of another goes a long way in getting back on track after making mistakes.

Establishing Accountability

Accountability only comes when we deliberately pursue it. This happens by being…

  • Open to it. This means not being defensive and instead being teachable. Accountability requires humbleness.
  • Transparent & honest. I need to share my weaknesses and struggles in order for another to truly be able to help me. The protective bubble surrounding my ego has to go.
  • Willing to receive it. Too many times, I’ve appeared open to accountability and then proceeded to ignore all wisdom coming my way. Be willing to apply and adjust using the wisdom gained through accountability.

Before I can be someone to whom another becomes accountable, I must make sure I am first willing to be accountable to another person. This in itself is another aspect of balance that accountability brings into a person’s life.

I wish I could say that I’ve always had this level of accountability in my life, but that would be a lie. Because I’ve been on the other end of the extreme, living a life completely absent of accountability, I can say with certainty that it is a necessity for maintaining a balanced life.

DISCUSSION: What role does accountability play in helping you maintain balance? If you’re out of balance, how can accountability help you find balance again?

Loren Pinilis at Life of a Steward offers additional insight into the topic of accountability in his recent post “The Key to Making Accountability Work.
Definitely worth taking the time to read!

Following a Core Value to Establish Balance

Core Value

This statement “God. Family. Work. (In that order)” exists as the first stated core value for the company where my husband has worked for the past 22 years. Armstrong International encourages employees to honor God as their top priority, to establish and maintain a strong family life, and to work hard and do their best in their jobs. But their jobs come third.

The Armstrong family knows a strong business comes from employees with balanced lives, especially within core relationships. And this emphasis is likely why the company continues full steam ahead after 110 years.

Armstrong’s emphasis on God first, family second and work third creates a solid foundation for establishing and maintaining balance in life.

God First

Relationship with God creates a solid foundation for a balanced life. This core strength creates a stability out of which meaningful relationships with others can flow. Without relationship with the Father, you might as well give up on a balanced life because He is the scale providing accurate measure for balancing all areas of life.

Relationship with Christ through Holy Spirit fellowship and time in God’s Word makes truth the foundation on which a person can build a consistently stable life. The quality of every other area of life directly flows out of this relationship.

As we are obedient to the greatest commandments…love God above all and love others as self (Matthew 22:36-4)… we discover that balance not only happens consistently but even exists amidst chaos.

Family Second

Our relationships, especially with those closest to us, provide an outflow for the abundant love of Christ. In other words, relationship with Him makes relationship with others exist naturally. We can’t help but share His love.

Relationships provide input into our lives regarding balance. As we consider the quality of the connections we have with those closest to us, we know where to focus for more effectively living the love of Christ. At the same time, our close relationships also challenge our balance and ultimately strengthen us as we make the adjustments necessary for maintaining balance.

In fact, when making decisions about how to balance by…

  • Simplifying
  • Choosing to say “no” to good things to be able to say “yes” to better and best
  • Limiting commitments

…relationships provide a solid guide for specific choices.

Almost always, choosing what benefits relationships with those closest to us – Christ first and family second – presents the best choice for establishing and maintaining balance in our lives.

Work Third

With God as our top priority and with confident, stable, core relationships, our work life then becomes another extension of who we are in Christ. With that, our work becomes a way to…

Following the core value of “God. Family. Work. (In that order)” to establish balance won’t free our lives from trouble or stress, and it won’t always keep chaos and drama at bay. It will, however, provide a stability – a peace even – within our inner circle of existence that allows us to better function in all other areas of life.

DISCUSSION: How might this core value simplify your approach to achieving balance?

Reducing & Preventing Overload by Capturing Thoughts

In Solving the Problem of Information Overload, we realized that the goal for reducing overload involves balance, which comes through deliberately capturing and filtering thoughts and by setting information boundaries.

When we receive information, regardless of its source and avenue, we react to it through our thought lives. The more aware we are of this process, the better able we are to deliberately make choices regarding our focus.

A large part of capturing thoughts involves creating a strong core of truth within us out of which our thoughts can then operate.

Capturing Thoughts

sf_spiritOfTruth_05Taking thoughts – the products of our God-given ability to reason, reflect and respond – captive means avoiding decisions based solely on our finite processing. This requires holding to a central truth to help govern those thoughts.

Truth should shape us, not the information we take in. The information we receive and digest, whether overloading us or not, should not sculpt thoughts. If it is, we’ve got it backwards. Instead, let truth determine the shape & direction of thoughts. Information then becomes a tool for spreading truth.

Spending time in Scripture allows truth to become part of our thinking and to fuel our filtering system. This practice must exist at our core instead of as a problem-solving method only, and this only happens by spending time regularly dwelling with Him and allowing His Holy Spirit to guide our thinking (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).

Reducing Overload

An overloaded mind produces a divided focus, and a divided focus fails to live fully by truth. So, in addition to establishing a habit of building core strength on truth, capturing thoughts involves limiting and managing the information we take in to allow for a more singular focus.

To reduce overload in a way that allows truth to direct and guide, first limit incoming information and then make sure what you do allow to dwell supplements your thinking instead of draining it.

This process requires taking the time to think about what you’re thinking by asking the following questions regularly:

  1. sf_beautifulMind_04What am I allowing to shape my thoughts? Psalm 1:1-2 says to avoid bad influences and focus on good. We’ll cover more of how to manage this in the next post.
  2. What am I allowing to dwell in my mind? If you think you can’t help what you think about, you’re wrong. Scripture tells us we can choose where to fix our thoughts (See Romans 8:5, Philippians 4:8 & Hebrews 3:1)
  3. What is the source of my thoughts? Do they come from the thinking of others? Or, do they flow out of the truth of Christ established in you? (See Colossians 2:8)

Overload blocks deliberate thinking and even an awareness of the thinking process itself. At some point, you just have to say “Enough!” and give yourself time and space to stop the inflow of information, consider what’s going through your head (writing thoughts down or talking them out can help), and pit them against God’s truth.

If you fail to capture your thoughts by thinking about what you’re thinking, you’ll be the one in the cage while your thoughts wreak havoc as you watch through the bars of overload. Choose to use information as a supplement and an avenue to spread truth instead of letting it overload you.

DISCUSSION: What experience do you have with reducing information overload? What role did God’s word play in that process?

How Parents Can Model Balanced Technology Use

1380315_40329376Parenting & Technology

My parenting has never not known technology. In fact, I’m not sure how my parents disciplined or entertained me when I was a kid.

Today, my relationship with my kids cannot escape the influence of technology. Like it or not, technology shapes my kids’ thinking and will forever be a part of how they interact me and with the world.

More and more though, technology also impacts how I think and interact with the world. And I’m discovering that if I don’t deliberately choose how that interaction takes place and especially how much that interaction takes place, it too easily replaces valuable connection with others.

Training a Child

According to the Pew Internet Research Project 75% of all teenagers have a mobile phone, and 58% of all 12-year-olds have one. Of those kids…

    • 90% send/receive texts
    • 50% send 50 or more texts daily
    • 80% use them to take pictures
    • 64% share pictures with others
    • 60% listen to music
    • 46% play games
    • 32% swap videos
    • 23% access social networking sites

But before we are too frustrated with our children’s seemingly constant use of technology and blame it for the disconnect all to apparent in way too many families, consider the following data from the Barna Group

  • Parents are MORE likely than their teens to use their mobile devices regularly.
  • Parents watch just as much TV, movies & use the Internet as their kids daily.
  • 2/3 of parents think technology (cell phones, computers & video games) make family life better.
  • 1/3 of parents say they do not regularly take a break from technology.
  • 49% of parents worry that technology wastes their children’s time.
  • 21% of youth say parents have a double-standard regarding technology use.
  • 17% of youth say their parents bring their work home too much.
  • 39% of parents and 27% of tweens/teens say they’re frustrated that technology makes face-to-face conversations more difficult.

This research tells us that while teens/tweens spend a lot of time on their cell phones parents are equally guilty with regard to their use of technology. This research also illustrates that the Biblical instruction to “train a child in the way that he should go,” (Proverbs 22:6) most certainly now involves technology use not just in our children’s lives but in our own lives as well.

Modeling Technology

How can Christian parents model a balanced use of technology in a culture seemingly obsessed by and revolving around technology? Consider the following suggestions:

  1. 1105898_27026966Make face-to-face communication a priority. Since only about 10% of our communication happens with our words, a lot of communication fails to take place when limited to only words such as through text and email. Make a point to model effective communication in all your relationships, so your kids see you placing consistent value on it.
  2. Set technology boundaries. In a study by Psychology Today of 55 families, 1/3 of parents used mobile devices throughout a family meal, and 40% of parents ignored their children by focusing on their mobile devices leading to kids acting out to get parents’ attention. Start by banning mobile devices & television during meals, and consider creating regular breaks from technology.
  3. Remember that you can’t have rules without relationship. In other words, boundaries on technology or in any other area mean nothing when true relationship doesn’t exist. Get involved in your children’s lives. Instead of spending the entire track meet or baseball game on your phone, enjoy that moment in your child’s life. Instead of complaining about your kids always texting or playing video games, text them and play video games with them. The more consistent you are in developing and maintaining relationship, the less impact outside influences such as technology will have on the depth of those relationships.

For certain, there are a lot more ways we can model a balanced integration of technology into our lives. What are your suggestions?