Recommendations & Guest Posts

The purpose of this blog is to help Christians struggle to victory and age gracefully while living deliberate, determined & balanced lives that make the most of every opportunity. Within that goal come the goals of pursuing simplicity while remaining curious and unique at the same time. For more on the drive behind Struggle to Victory, please visit the Why? and About pages.

With that purpose and those goals in mind, I would like to announce that Thursdays will now feature either a guest post or a recommendation post. (Note that recommendation posts were previously on Tuesdays.) Anyone who would like to guest post on Struggle to Victory should read the Why? and About pages before expressing that interest. Guests posts published on this site must fit within the purpose and goals expressed on those pages. While I am under no obligation to publish any submitted guest posts, I will give everyone prayerful consideration. To put it even more bluntly, the Holy Spirit decides what is published on this blog, not me.

Suggestions and ideas for recommendations are also welcome and also must fit within the purposes and goals express on the Why? and About pages. See the following recommendations previously published on Struggle to Victory as examples.

This new and exciting change to Struggle to Victory is meant to enhance your experience with this blog as well as to give you additional resources to help you make the most of every opportunity in your life.

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Sunday Reflections – Lessons from a Jr. High Track Meet

The track season has ended, and summer approaches. We look forward to cross country in the fall, which involves running consistently through the summer. Running runs in the family for us. We have different paces (6-minute mile to 10-minute mile) and different distances we enjoy (5k to 1/2 marathons), but we all enjoy running.

While running has been a part of our family for years, this year was our first experience with track meets since our oldest son is now in 7th grade, which is the first year students at his school can compete in track. The variety of runners didn’t surprise me, since I’ve been running for 25 years now and know that people of all shapes and sizes run. I love that about running.

While I am not surprised at how my Everyday God speaks to me through the details of life, I still find delight and joy when He does it. And he did so again recently while watching my son’s junior high track meets with the following observations.

  1. Finish. (2 Timothy 4:7) At the first track meet of the year, one hurdler tripped and fell on his wrist. He then got up with his wrist dangling, looked around startled, and finished the race with one more hurdle to jump. Then, he left for the hospital to get his broken wrist treated. I don’t know this kid at all, but he showed great maturity (even in confusion and pain) to finish the race despite the pain, a lessons many adults seem to fail to grasp.
  2. Form. (Romans 12:6) While the form used depends on the type of running (distance vs. sprints for example), running form definitely makes a difference in speed and stamina. My son, while he has improved, has shall we just say an “interesting” running form. Another boy on his team runs on his toes. Two other boys (twins) have long, sweeping strides and arm movements. But they all finish the race, and they make up some of the fastest runners on the team. We all run the race differently, with our own unique style and gifting, but we all can complete successfully in the race.
  3. Focus. (1 Corinthians 9:24) Especially when sprinting, looking around at the other runners can be deadly. It can cost precious seconds that can lose the race. Focus in running means running your own race and letting others run theirs. A favorite television show of my family’s is The Amazing Race. We have watched it for many years, and it’s clear that the teams who do the best are generally the ones who focus on their own race and don’t worry much about what the other teams are or are not doing. Distractions can get us off track and cause us to lose the race.

You may be wondering why this week’s Sunday Reflections post focuses on middle school track, so let me explain. First, as I mentioned already, the track season ended earlier this week. Second, my husband ran a marathon this past Saturday, and we were out of town for the weekend. As a result of these two events, running was on my mind more than usual this week. More importantly though, I wanted to make the point that we serve a God who is everywhere. I believe He can and does speak to us anywhere, even at a middle school track meet or a marathon. So even if you miss church, although it shouldn’t be a habit because fellowship and worship are crucial to the victorious Christian walk, know that God will meet you wherever you are and speak to your heart in that place. You just need to be listening. When you are, the miraculous can happen, even learning from junior highers!

DISCUSSION: How is your race going these days? What are you focusing on?

Related Posts & Devotions:

Happy Anniversary!

This past Tuesday, my husband and I celebrated 19 years of marriage. (Our wedding anniversary also marks 25 years of officially being a couple.) Tomorrow marks the 6-month anniversary of Struggle to Victory. As I thought about these two anniversaries, I realized how many of the same principles that made my marriage successful will also make my blog successful as well.

  1. Consistency. Consistently forgiving, striving to meet each other’s needs and making God the focal point of our marriage. Choosing to focus consistently on these and other areas creates a strong marriage. When I started blogging, I remember the experts recommending posting consistently. Consistency creates a sense of reliability and trust, elements essential for any relationship, whether face-to-face or virtual.
  2. Commitment. No matter what, my husband and I remain committed to each other. This held true when we struggled through my chronic depression, the colic of our first child, and the journey that comes with adopting an older child. Never give up! Commitment to blogging also means not giving up. I have read more than once that many bloggers give up just before they would have hit the success for which they have been working. Simply never giving up helps ensure success in a marriage as well as in blogging.
  3. Courage. In marriage, courage comes into play with trusting your spouse. This is built and grows over time, and having the courage to keep working toward trust (both giving and receiving) goes a long way in strengthening a marriage. Courage with blogging involves putting your thoughts and ideas on the internet for all to see. It also means risking controversy and offense. Without courage, can one truly be a successful blogger that connects with readers?
  4. Connection. Connecting on a regular basis provides the glue that allows consistency, commitment and courage to truly create a strong marriage. My husband and I make a point to connect every night after the kids are in bed. (We explained to our now teenage son that this was why we insisted on an earlier bedtime than most of his friends, and he now cheerfully goes up to his room at the designated time). We also take a weekend trip together quarterly. This is the minimum, and usually we connect more than that. Connection is also essential in blogging. Connect with readers. Connect with other bloggers. Use the various avenues of comment streams and social networking to connect with others. Connection is the glue to any long-term relationship.
  5. Communication. Certainly a part of connection, communication also involves making sure goals and objectives line up as much as possible. This can mean coordinating weekly activities or focusing on larger goals such as reducing debt or making a large purchase. Communicating needs, wants, desires, etc. and being honest when doing so creates a culture of growth in a marriage. Communication for a blog means creating clear content that shows understanding of reader’s needs, wants and desires. Communication of any sort requires deliberate and intentional focus on a consistent basis.

Following in the steps of other godly marriages, my husband and I employ the above elements to make our marriage healthy and strong. Following in the steps of successful bloggers does the same for my blog. When I first began blogging, two resources provided the bulk of the information I needed. Ghostwriter Dad and ProBlogger got me started with the tips mentioned in this post as well as many others tips and ideas. I recommend them highly as resources for any blogger.

My marriage is by far more successful than my blog, and I hope it always remains as such. Yet, I know that if I employ the same principles in blogging as my husband and I do in our marriage, Struggle to Victory will be close to its 19th Anniversary when my husband and I celebrate our 39th Anniversary.

Recommendation – My 5 Favorite Bible Study Tools

This may shock some people, but not all of my favorite Bible study tools come from a virtual library. In fact, the top three I reach for regularly currently sit on my desk in front of me as real books. Yet, electronic resources provide a terrific supplement to my three favorites. Probably none of these resources are new to anyone, but I offer them now for consideration if you haven’t tried them or may have let dust accumulate on some of them.

  1. NLT Notemaker’s Bible – No study notes. No related scripture lists. Just scripture and room to make notes. This is the Bible I take with me to church, and the one I like to use for personal study. I like letting scripture simmer without any outside influence, and I know I’ll peek if it’s there.
  2. NASB Life Application Study Bible – I usually go to this after reading scripture in my Notemaker’s Bible. Love the notes at the bottom and the scripture links in the margins. This is my second resource when I feel my thoughts and ideas are ready for more guidance.
  3. Three-In-One Bible Reference Companion – The Associate Pastor at my church recommended this to me about 8 years ago when I first started teaching adult Sunday school. This reference helps when I have a topic I want to study further by defining the word and by providing all the scripture containing the word. This reference has many times provided the outline or skeleton for developing my teaching notes or for a devotion or other writing.
  4. Biblegateway.com – In addition to the many Bible versions, this website has a variety of other study tools as well including concordances, devotionals, topical indexing and more. Between this one and #5, I find much of what I need to craft what I want to write and say confidently.
  5. Biblos.com – Just like the way this site is laid out. Like having the various translations come up all at once with the commentaries afterward. Provides a quick way to get information that helps me think through a topic as well as move forward when I am stuck.

I have been considering adding an amplified Bible to my reference collection, and it would be an actual book and not electronic. There just something about holding an actual book, especially the Bible…

DISCUSSION: What are your favorite Bible study tools? Why are they your favorites? Do you have a recommendation for an amplified Bible?

Sunday Reflections – What’s Your Status?

Does your Facebook status accurately reflect all of who you are? Or, are you only posting about the dramatic parts of your life? Are you hoping people will think you are clever by what you post? Are you displaying only what you feel is socially acceptable? If all someone knew about you was from your Facebook status, how would they describe you? Would they have well-rounded view of who you are?

What about how people would describe you as a Christian? Are you genuine and appropriately transparent? Are you putting up a front and only showing what you think others want to see? Or, are you willing to be vulnerable when necessary? Are you the same person in private and in public, or do you act like a Christian only when others are watching? If people were to describe Christians based on only you, what would that description look like? Would it accurately reflect Christ?

As Christians, our goal is to show the world what Christ is like. This does not mean we need to be perfect. That’s not possible this side of Heaven anyway. It does mean that we need to continually improve, which comes when we pursue holiness. (Holiness means to be set apart.)

Pursuing holiness means doing our best to apply scripture – all of it – to our lives. (We don’t get to pick and choose what to apply and what to ignore.) Pursuing holiness means having a Christ-like attitude that is contagious. In today’s technological age, contagious means viral. Do you have a Christ-like attitude that’s going viral? Or, do you have a negative and critical attitude that others are catching?

Compared to the Facebook status of many people, my life is quite boring nor do I eat enough. Yet, my guess is that what I’m seeing doesn’t present the whole picture of their lives and who they fully are. But I find myself wondering if I am similarly guilty of presenting an incomplete picture of my life as a Christian.

I am certainly not advocating that people air every detail of their lives on Facebook. Some topics and details are simply meant for face-to-face conversations, IF they should be shared at all. (Some things should simply be kept between you and God.) But I’m also not advocating an in-your-face Christian who forces his beliefs on others. Instead, I am promoting that we purposefully decide to present who we are accurately and honestly by the lives that we live, whether virtually or face-to-face.

In other words, do your best to be real. As a Christian, that means letting the character of Christ in you be your status as a Christian. Let the Holy Spirit present opportunities to be real – flaws and all – in a way that shows the grace and mercy of Christ. That means that in being perfected, the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness and self-control) continually increase in our lives. No, not perfectly, just as no one’s Facebook status can accurately present a perfect life. Instead, with a sincere heart, do your “best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) A worthy status whether on Facebook or as a Christian. Come to think of it, shouldn’t these two status’ be one in the same anyway?

DISCUSSION: What adjustments can you make in your status starting today?

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Related Posts:

Are you an “All-In Oddball” Christian?

Go Against the Flow

Attitude Upgrade

Do You Have Broad Shoulders?

Football players, especially running backs and linemen, usually have physically broad shoulders. They’re very strong and able to withstand a lot of force without moving much. Some of this ability comes via genetics, but most of it is developed through hard work, strength training and consistent practice. Their example gives us a framework for developing broad shoulders of our own, not physically, but in a way that allows us to better reach victory in life’s struggles.

What does having broad shoulders mean? It means not being easily offended or at least letting go of an offense easily. It means keeping short accounts and simply not letting offenses linger (Mark 11:25). Having broad shoulders means becoming increasingly aware of the grace and forgiveness freely given us (1 John 1:9) and then willingly extending that grace and forgiveness to others (Matthew 18:21-22; Colossians 3:13).

How do we develop broad shoulders? Developing broad shoulders involves using our strengths to stand up under and even prevent offenses as well as allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our weaknesses to help us struggle through offenses. Broad shoulders also come through disciplines similar to what football players use to become physically strong and skilled.

  1. Build on natural ability. Know your personality and temperament and build on the strengths that come naturally. If talking out a frustration helps you let go of offenses, find a safe person to listen. If writing them out helps, do that. Maybe physical activity such as running or tennis helps you let offenses go. Find what works to release tension, and then employ it regularly to ward off lingering offenses.
  2. Discipline your thought life. Deliberately choose where your thoughts dwell. Instead of thinking about a person’s intentions, consider that you may not know the whole story. Consider that you may be operating under false assumptions. And realize that a bad day, a headache or a poor night’s sleep might be all that’s at the root of the offense. Discipline yourself to give the benefit of the doubt and chose to dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” and anything that is “excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8).
  3. Strength train regularly. Becoming stronger only happens through challenge and initial breakdown, just like our muscles only become physically stronger when we break them down through exercise. Don’t avoid life for fear of confrontation and difficulty. Rely on the Holy Spirit to lead you through the struggle in a way that allows you to “live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18) as much as it is up to you to do so.
  4. Practice consistency. This step involves visualizing what may happen in an upcoming situation and then reviewing (debriefing) after a confrontation. Deliberately chose to learn from every situation and in this way “make the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
  5. Be a spotter. When lifting especially heavy weights, spotters need to be present to assure safety. In a non-physical sense, being a spotter means seeking to meet others needs rather than focusing on having your own needs met. Look for ways to serve rather than be served.

Within all of these steps, always rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We can develop broad shoulders only so far on our own to possibly achieve the world’s standards. Going beyond what the world considers acceptable and doing what pleases God rather than man requires supernatural intervention. This happens by moving forward even in fear and committing your way to the Lord. It happens by realizing weaknesses and allowing God to be glorified as He makes the impossible happen.

Jesus was all about relationships when He walked as a human being on this earth, and He is still all about relationships. Having broad shoulders strengthens relationships as we realize that we are all human, and we all make mistakes. No one truly deserves forgiveness, yet our Heavenly Father freely gives it to us anyway. This can motivate us to develop broad shoulders for the sake of fellowshipping with believers and witnessing to unbelievers.

DISCUSSION: What can you do to develop your “broad shoulders”?

Please take the time to read 15 Words That Will Change Your Relationships by Barb Raveling at Beyond the Sinner’s Prayer. This post relates well to the development of broad shoulders.

Sunday Reflections – Be Committed

Ask almost anyone over the age of 60, and he/she will tell of a time when, “Your word was your bond.” In other words, if a person said he would do something, he could be counted on to do it. Sure, there were those who did not follow through, but they were the exception.

Today’s culture is very different. A person’s word is rarely fully trusted even when it is actually fully trustworthy. In a culture where selfishness and greed seem to dominate, a fog of mistrust covers almost every relationship at least to some degree. Unfortunately, not keeping a commitment has become almost acceptable, and excuses for doing so are a dime a dozen.

With that in mind, let us consider three areas where making and keeping commitments can work to build trust in a way that can be a catalyst for change within our culture. Understanding and striving for trustworthy commitment with regard to work, family and especially faith defines a person like no other character quality and can affect change in compounding ways.

Commitment to work certainly includes but definitely goes beyond work as it relates to a job. For children and teens, work means the effort put forth in sports and school. For adults, commitment to work involves a job but also other commitments such as volunteering. Commitment to work, really, is fully giving the effort needed to accomplish a task to the best of one’s ability. Commitment with regard to work involves the following core principles:

  • Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.
  • Do what you know is right. You only control yourself and no one else.
  • Be someone who can be depended upon regardless of whether or not others are reliable.

Commitment to family does not revolve around activity but rather around connection. In fact, over-commitment to activity actually serves in working against connection. Commitment to family involves a letting go of self and enters into a habitual preferring of others not out of obligation but out of love. Commitment to family also involves keeping whole as an individual and bringing the best of you, whatever that might be at any given time, to every situation. On a more detailed level, commitment to family involves placing a spouse above others (yes, even kids), as it is the one earthly relationship that most closely relates to the relationship we are to have with Christ.

Commitment to faith in Christ really surrounds and permeates all other areas of commitment. How a person commits to the call of Christ on his/her life determines how commitment exists in every other area, including family and work. Yet, caution must exist when considering faith as a separate area of commitment. In other words, faith is not yet another commitment to be balanced; instead, faith in Jesus is the scale that balances all other areas. Consider the following when evaluating your commitment to Christ and how your answers reflect your commitment in life as a whole.

  • Are you willing and ready to arise and be His voice? Whatever and wherever?
  • Has Christ won your heart? If He truly has, are you running after Him and following His lead?
  • Would you lay down your life for Him? What are you willing to sacrifice for Him?
  • Have you committed fully to the Lord? Are you allowing Him to pour you out as He sees fit?
  • How has Christ’s love changed you? Will you go and be where He wants? Do what He wants?
  • Will you follow the path He chooses and leads you down?

Answering these questions not only determines how your commitment plays out in the areas of faith, work and family, but it also determines the character with which your entire life is lived.

We live in a culture where keeping commitments seems optional at times. But while we are in this culture, we don’t have to be people of this culture. John 15:19 says “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”  As we commit more fully to Christ and increasingly give our lives to Him, commitments in other areas of our lives increase as a result. And we soon find that while we may live in a culture where greed and selfishness seem rampant at times, we do not belong to the world but to a Savior who deserves our complete and total commitment.

DISCUSSION: Discuss the impact of the above questions on your current level of commitment.