Playing to Win Instead of Playing to Not Lose

winPlaying to Not Lose

Sports commentators often discuss how teams need to decide to “play to win” instead of simply “playing to not lose.” In football, it’s the difference between going for a field goal or a touchdown. In a high school cross country race, it’s about racing the course and other competitors instead of focusing on running how you feel.

The difference between playing to win instead of playing to not lose? Usually, a mediocre and a winning record.

A playing-to-not-lose mindset involves being driven by fears and protecting what you have. It means reacting to others, essentially letting them decide your game plan, and not taking risks.

As Christians, playing to not lose looks like John’s description of the Laodicean church in Revelation as “lukewarm.” It’s the third worker in Matthew’s parable of the bags of gold. And it’s the person who refrains from the “don’ts” but neglects the “do’s” on Paul’s many lists in the New Testament.

Playing to not lose as a Christian involves just getting by. It strives to simply avoid any bad results. Eventually, the surrounding culture consumes such a person until no one can tell he is even a Christian.

winner

Playing to Win

Scripture directly addresses the idea of playing to win and connects it with our pursuit of righteousness.

“Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Many habits exist with the playing-to-win mindset. Three jump out as foundational.

Seize Opportunity

Over his high school cross country career, my oldest son learned to race smart. His coach taught him how to put himself in the best position to take advantage of opportunity. The result? My son reached most of his goals, including winning a race and receiving All County and All Region honors.

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Christians put themselves in the best position to seize opportunity when they first make sure the opportunity is God-ordained. Similar to training for a runner, this comes through daily habits. Prayer, Scripture and being Spirit-led set us up to know when God-ordained opportunity approaches and allows us to make the most of them without hesitation.

Also, we need to make sure not to miss God-ordained opportunity because we’re so focused on the forest we don’t see the trees. In other words, we too often miss everyday, small opportunities because we only look for the monumental ones.

Take a look at your daily habits and at whether or not you’ve set your vision too broad. If opportunity seems to regularly miss you, adjust your vision and your habits accordingly.

Work Hard & Stay Humble

A significant aspect of working hard, which sets us up to take advantage of God-ordained opportunity, involves humility. Without both hard work and humility, we’re likely to either not be ready for opportunity or be too self-focused to see it.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)

Successful teams – the ones that win championships, not just games – consist of humble players. The victory is all that matters. Credit doesn’t. Who gets the ball doesn’t. At the same time, these humble players work hard to make sure the team as a whole wins. It’s the same as the “All In” mentality that won the New York Giants the 2012 Super Bowl.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

As Christians, working hard and staying humble means pleasing God over men. It means preferring others and pointing them to Christ. And it means rejoicing when others win victories over sin and Satan. That mentality involves whole-hearted service and valuing relationship.

Focus

Inherent within every element involved in playing to win is focus.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui Gon-Jinn, The Phantom Menace)

In sports, commentators and analysts regularly talk about the importance of focus, whether because of its absence or its role in victory. In everyday life, focus plays an essential role as well, but we often don’t realize it until it’s absent. Simply consider The Toxic Impact of Multitasking to understand how significant loss of focus has become for most people.

The Old Testament as a whole gives us a poignant picture of focus too. It shows a steady and passionate God juxtaposed with wandering and fickle men. Story after story shows men losing focus and God drawing them back to Him.

As Christians, we are either God focused, or we’re not. There is no gray area. No other options.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Choosing simplicity helps us regain our focus. When we let go of the things of this life and focus on the eternal God, we gain a laser focus on that which lasts forever.

These three foundation habits – sizing opportunity, working hard and staying humble, and focusing – found in every person who plays to win, create A Higher Standard that sets a person apart.

5 Ways to Thrive Under Construction

construction-sign-1311371-1280x960

In Michigan, there’s always some sort of road construction going on somewhere. They say you can’t drive more than 6 miles from any point in Michigan without coming to a lake (there are 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan), but I think that’s true with construction too. Road construction seems to take forever too. As soon as one area is finished, another begins. 

Construction on our character happens the same way. Always an area needing work, and progress often seems minuscule if existent at all. 

Then I think back over my life and take stock of the changes, the maturity and growth. Most of it happened gradually and seemed nonexistent until suddenly fresh demarcation lines appeared and the orange cones disappeared.

Construction — on roads or on character — frustrates me, and is only eased when I consider what happens when it doesn’t take place. The sides begin to crumble, then the cracks creep into the center and make the path bumpy and rough. Eventually, rough roads are avoided altogether.

5 Ways to Thrive Under Construction

road-signs-construction-1-1503521-1278x832Let’s begin by acknowledging that construction, while necessary and beneficial, is also uncomfortable and inconvenient. Let’s accept these truths and move forward into growth. With that baseline, we can begin to appreciate the process and operate in a way so as to not impede progress and possibly even help make it happen more smoothly.

To actually thrive — and maybe even welcome — construction, practice the following habits:

  1. Have patience. Getting impatient in the middle of construction holds no benefit whatsoever. Instead, it makes the wait seem longer and more unbearable. Take a deep breath and use the time to relax, think and pray. Take this opportunity to learn that you just can’t control everything. Realize that more often that not, waiting in patience produces the best results for everyone involved.

    “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

  2. Don’t rush progress. Trying to force progress usually harms rather than helps. Instead, take the pace the construction zone sets to allow time for navigating the rumble strips, lane changes and detours that accompany most construction projects. Refuse to only live life at the pace you decide, and consider that perhaps another speed might be better for your current season and that the obstacles placed in your way are beneficial instead of inconvenient.

    “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)

  3. Stay aware. Awareness creates a safer space for construction and includes noticing internal and external signage as well as realizing the status of other people as they also make their way through the construction. Awareness also provides wisdom by making sure the construction process not only goes smoothly but that the work done remains the highest quality.

    “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

  4. Plan ahead. When you know you’ll travel through areas with construction, planning ahead simply makes sense. Sometimes that means allowing extra travel time while other times it means taking an alternate route. Planning ahead smooths out the construction process by avoiding having to rush as well as by making the process of interacting with others happen in at least a neutral and hopefully a more beneficial way than it would if you had to fight the clock.

    “A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.” (Proverbs 16:9)

  5. Consider the results. Sometimes, the only way to endure a long season of construction comes by considering the end results — the smooth roads. Think of how good driving down a new road feels, how smooth it is. When time for proper construction is allowed, the end result is preferable in every way to the old. During this process, determine to be kind, knowing that everyone gets through the construction eventually and realizing that the consequences of not doing construction is far worse than the inconvenience it brings.

    “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

under-construction-icon-1242121Because of the heavy use along with the extreme temperature changes, Michigan’s roads will always need regular maintenance. The same holds true for my character, and yours too. Until Heaven, imperfection and sin will continue making our paths rough and in need of construction.

When it comes to any type of construction, we have to adopt the philosophy of progress over perfection. As we establish this mindset, we learn to be patient with others and with ourselves. We realize the importance of putting relationships above our need to control and manipulate the situation, and we instead allow the construction to continue as it needs to for the benefit of all those traveling toward perfection.

DISCUSSION: What can you change about how you travel through construction zones?

10 Character Building Lessons from Baseball

20160330_184712Baseball never fell on my radar let alone my schedule until my youngest son started playing little league. Since then, he’s played several years of travel baseball and now finds himself on the high school stage with JV baseball.

Regardless of the level of play, basic character building principles are inherent in the game of baseball. Advice shouted by coaches and parents on how to best play the game correlate well with how to live a life of excellence.

  1. Get dirty! While this may be a mother’s laundry nightmare, getting dirty in baseball generally means a player went “all out” to make a play. Sometimes in life, we need to “get dirty” in order to make a real difference.
  2. Make a play! Making a play can change the momentum of a game. When we find ourselves feeling stuck, sometimes the only way to break free is to do something out of the ordinary.
  3. Keep your eye on the ball! One of the most common mistakes in baseball comes when a player takes his eyes off the ball. When we lose focus, making progress and achieving goals becomes difficult at best and often impossible.
  4. Shake it off! While hopefully less common as the season progresses, mistakes do happen. Someone inevitably drops the ball or strikes out. The best approach when we make a mistake is to admit it, learn from it, and move on. Don’t let it snowball.
  5. 20160330_185001Down & ready! Some of the most embarrassing moments in a baseball game come when a player isn’t ready and sees a ball too late to stop it because he failed to pay attention. Life continually throws unexpected struggles at us, but many trials in life also come as surprises simply because we weren’t paying attention.
  6. Everybody moves! When the ball is hit, every player needs to move accordingly. Sometimes, just going in the right direction is all we need to do to move toward excellence.
  7. Put it in play! Hitting a baseball is probably the hardest task in all of sports, and a professional player who gets a hit half the time is considered productive. Simply putting the ball in play presents a solid chance at scoring. In life, some seasons are survived simply by putting yourself in play and seeing what happens.
  8. Get there! As fast as most players throw at higher levels of baseball, all out effort is required just to make it to first base. What would happen in your life if you gave all out effort?
  9. 20160423_122527Be a wall! One of the positions my son enjoys most is catcher. The catcher must stop every ball from getting by him to prevent base stealing. Hopefully, the mitt stops the ball, but often the catcher’s body must do it. Some seasons in life certainly require that we stand firm even as the hits of disappointment, fear and failure strike us one right after another.
  10. Smother it! Another phrase relating to catchers, this means covering the ball as it hits the ground in front of you. In life, some days come filled with needing to simply protect your time, your family and your faith. Some days, we just need to smother what’s important to keep it from getting away from us.

A teachable baseball player takes these foundational principles and builds on them in order to become a better player. Tommy Lasorda made the distinction this way…

“There are three types of baseball players. Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happens.”

A person who realizes that baseball – actually, any sport – provides character building opportunity for a life of excellence, understands how watching or playing the sport really transcends the sport itself. The late, great Ernie Harwell brought the point home well when he said…

“Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.”

Harwell’s quote brings Ephesians 5:16 to mind.

“Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.”

Opportunities such as the character building lessons discussed above exist in every sport and in many other activities. Are you making the most of them?

Thanksgiving in August?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Biblical View of Balance

wineBorrowing from two disciplines, wine making and fine arts, let’s define balance in a way that helps better understand what exactly we’re working toward.

In wine making, balance means the degree to which all the attributes of a wine are in harmony, with none either too prominent or deficient.

In fine arts, balance involves the composition or placement of elements of design (figures, forms, colors, etc.) in such a manner as to produce an aesthetically pleasing or harmoniously integrated whole.

fine artTaking those two ideas and sort of combining them gives us the idea that balance involves harmony achieved when each part of the whole holds its proper amount, and all the elements work to create a harmonious state.

Harmony… that sums up the idea of balance well, doesn’t it? Especially when we consider harmony within and its relation to our outer state.

The Bible on Balance

While the Bible may not speak to every, specific life situation, I do believe a biblical principle exists to apply to every detail of life.

With that, let’s look at what Scripture tells us about balance. Without God’s Word and His Holy Spirit guiding, my struggles remain just struggles, and victory stays well out of my reach.

Scripture tells us that…

  1. Balance involves timing. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
  2. Trusting God brings balance. (Matthew 6:31-34)
  3. God’s Word helps us adjust to maintain balance. (2 Peter 3:17)
  4. Our thoughts impact our ability to balance. (Philippians 4:8-9)
  5. Money & “things” can easily disrupt our balance. (Hebrews 13:5-6)
  6. We can receive peace and courage from God to help us maintain balance. (John 16:31-33)
  7. Balance involves avoiding what is too distracting for you. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  8. Keeping worries and cares to ourselves creates imbalance. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
  9. Being purposeful about rest has a tremendous impact on our ability to stay balanced. (Mark 6:30-31 & Genesis 2:2-4)
  10. Thinking first and seeking God’s will to help us adjust makes all the difference in maintaining balance. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

We know God is the author of peace, not of chaos (1 Corinthians 14:33). And we know Jesus came to restore peace (Romans 5:1). Knowing these truths tells me He desires us to live in balance, to have harmony and peace in our lives. In fact, He wants it so much that He provides the way for that to happen.

Doesn’t mean life will be perfect, but it does mean we can have peace, harmony and balance even when living in the chaos and imbalance of this world.

DISCUSSION: How does Scripture help you keep striving toward balance & harmony?

How to Strengthen Your Marriage

5-21-13 marriage heartsNot long ago, a friend struggling in her marriage asked me for advice and encouragement. Before getting to my response, I want to share the specific wording of her email to help you feel her desperation.

“I want a divorce. What is wrong with me? I don’t know why I got married. I knew from the beginning that I would never want to get divorced, so why get married? Now I am stuck in a marriage that is an absolute mess and is nothing but misery all the time, and I am so tired of all of it.”

First and foremost, I wanted to help my friend with her marriage. But in advising her on how to do that, I was able to better appreciate how my own marriage went from simply going through the motions of a commitment to being vibrant and exciting.

Tomorrow, my husband and I officially celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and we have actually been a couple for 25 years. (On a side note, my husband’s birthday is Friday. Happy Birthday, Rex!)

When giving my friend advice, I knew that all I could really say with confidence is how God worked to save my marriage. Not only did this “process” help my husband and I struggle to victory in our marriage, it still happens regularly to keep the marriage from falling back into destruction.

  1. Decide that divorce is not an option. You just can’t even consider it. Let the frustration of no way out drive you to find a way to work it out. Ultimately, while God allows divorce in some cases, He still hates it (Malachi 2:16). We refused to let it be an option simply because it hurt God’s heart.
  2. Develop your personal relationship with Christ. You’re not your spouse’s Holy Spirit. You can’t force him/her to grow. You can only take the steps to grow yourself because you can only control you and submit to God for yourself.
  3. 5-21-13 marriageDecide to honor & respect your spouse. You may not feel your spouse deserves honor and respect, but your feelings on the matter truly don’t really matter. Scripture clearly indicates that wives are to respect their husbands and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:21-33). It is amazing how much a man is motivated by a wife who respects him. And, ladies, how do you feel when you know your husband loves you above all else except God?
  4. Devote regular time to prayer. Just “be” before God. Pour out your heart to him. Say the ugly things you’re feeling to him, so you don’t have to say them to your spouse. This does not mean you and your spouse won’t talk about anything difficult, but I find that I have far less negative to say to my spouse when I talk to God first.
  5. Do the above over and over, again and again. Keep going through this process. Eventually, you’ll reach another, higher plateau. That plateau may still feel low, but it will be higher than your previous low. Just keep going a little higher, one small step at a time.
  6. Don’t give up. Sort of related to #1 but a little different because a marriage can still legally exist even after the two individuals involved have given up. Get stubborn about saving your marriage instead of being stubborn about fighting for your own rights and needs.

My marriage is not perfect, but I can honestly say it is the best it’s ever been. We still struggle and have accepted that we will always struggle. A marriage that struggles is one that hasn’t given up. In any aspect of life, if you’re struggling, that means you’re not giving in, right?

DISCUSSION: What advice would you have given to my friend?

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Harmony In Submission

The Bible sometimes uses marriage to describe what our relationship with Christ will look like in Heaven (Revelation 19:7, for example). In making this connection, God creates a framework for earthly marriages that foreshadows our future relationship with Him.

This framework is detailed further in Ephesians.

“…and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25)

Out of respect for Christ and His submission to the will of the Father, we submit ourselves to our spouses within marriage. Unfortunately, our flesh often bucks up when we hear the word submission because we think it dictates a domineering relationships in some way. But that’s not what God intended.

For Wives

Submission means following a husband’s leadership in Christ. This includes complete commitment to your husband and the relationship. It involves cheering him on instead of trying to fix and change him (that’s God’s job anyway). It means deciding to build him up whenever possible.

On an individual level, a godly wife focuses on developing her inner beauty.

“Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)

Note that the scripture doesn’t say to NOT pay attention to your appearance; it just says to not give that a greater focus.

For Husbands

Submission means laying aside your own interests to care for your wife. In doing so, you seek to understand and protect her and to also strive for gentleness and tenderness.

In addition, your leadership should reflect godliness and not demand servitude.

“You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7)

In addition to honoring his wife, a good marriage also benefits a husband’s spiritual life. Logically, the opposite is also true.

Harmony In Submission

As husbands and wives submit to one another “in the fear of Christ,” they show their trust in God. They let go of self, the enemy to submission. They deliberately and intentionally choose to prefer one another.

In marriage, separate wholes come together to make one new whole.

“And the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mark 10:8)

Through submission as Scripture indicates, spouses learn how to harmonize with one another. In doing so, they become a beautiful tune pleasing to the ear not only of people around them, but most significantly of God in Heaven.

More importantly, spouses within a Godly marriage learn how their relationship with Christ will be in Heaven. Realizing this is life-changing as we understand that not only are we building up our spouses as we strive for harmonious submission, but we are also preparing ourselves for eternity.

Are You All In As A Christian?

poker-chips-3-1422891-1600x1200An “All In” Lifestyle

In December 2011, the New York Giants adopted the motto “All In” after hearing a motivational speech by Gian Paul Gonzalez during a chapel service. The immediate impact of this speech is truly amazing.

This “All In” lifestyle, as Gonzales calls it, caught on in every facet of the Giant franchise. They even placed the motto on towels to remind the team and to show the fans their commitment. Oh, and they went on to win the Superbowl that season too. They were 7-7 when Gonzales spoke to them.

While “All In” is best known as a poker term, it certainly well represents the idea of a full-commitment standard that can be applied to almost any area of life.

The “All In” Christian

Being “All In” as a Christian means, as Paul phrased it, to “run in such a way that you may win” (1 Corinthians 9:24). It means being comfortable with being considered as “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11) in this world. And it means “making the most of every opportunity” sent your way on a daily basis and in a determined and deliberate way (Ephesians 5:15-16).

Being an “All In” Christian means living in a way that puts Christ and obedience to Him first and that does not adhere to the shaky (yes, that’s putting it kindly) morals of the surrounding culture. It means staring that culture in the face and saying, “I’m not going to be molded by you!”

While being “All In” essentially looks different for every person, every person who is “all in” needs an unprecedented level of passion and commitment. They need to find another level, a higher standard, for which they continually reach. They need to find a way to dig deep and refuse to quit, making perseverance a way of life.

Have you decided to go “All In”?