Finishing Well

startThere are 2,300 people mentioned in the Bible and 100 are prominent figures. Of those 100, only 1/3 finished well. Regarding the 2/3 that failed to finish well, most of them faltered in the last 1/2 of life.

When I look at many people older than me, I see the same trend with many struggling physically, mentally & spiritually. Many seem to have given up on aging gracefully and are just surviving, waiting for their last day to arrive. Many, unfortunately, have even given up on any kind of service to God, though they served Him fervently for much, if not all, of their younger years. “Let the younger ones do the work now,” they say. They are, at the moment, failing to finish well in the last 1/2 of life.

For much of my life, I dreaded growing older because I just didn’t see any older person who aged gracefully. All I saw were people getting more miserable with each passing day, and I knew I wanted no part of getting older if that’s what it was like.

Thankfully, my view of getting older changed in recent years as it is now being shaped by a few individuals who are aging gracefully. They serve God with increasing fervency. They possess joy, wisdom and peace that seems to come from a lifelong process of sanctification, an increasing intimacy with God that becomes immediately obvious in their presence. They still have struggles, but they never lose their focus on Christ. Their faith shines even in the toughest of times. And that, I want.

Likewise, there are that 1/3 of the 100 prominent who still serve as examples of how to finish well. I’m thankful for their example too. Combine the examples of people I know with those I read about, and I’m believing that I too can finish well.

How to Finish Well

finish

When I run in organized races, people I don’t even know cheer me on. Other runners cheer me on too. I also find myself encouraged by the others who finish the race and then go back down the course to cheer on other runners. And even though I know none of these people, I’m encouraged just to be told, “Keep going! Don’t quit. You’re almost there.”

The race of my faith life is also cheered on by people I don’t know, those who have gone before me and finished well. It’s encouraged by those running the race with, though a bit ahead, me too. My running is fueled by the words of Scripture acknowledging that the race is difficult but that finishing well is more than possible.

  1. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Cross the finish line. (2 Timothy 4:7)
  2. Complete the task Jesus gives you to do. (Acts 20:24)
  3. Discipline yourself & make sure what you teach matches how you live all the way to the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
  4. Endure to the end. (Hebrews 12:1)
  5. Stay qualified through the end. (Colossians 1:10-14 & 1 Corinthians 9:24)
  6. Let Christ complete His work in you. (Philippians 1:6)
  7. Stay confident. (Hebrews 10:35)
  8. Live forward, not backward. (Philippians 3:12-16)

To me, these Scriptures say, “Keep going. Don’t quit. You’re almost there.” They, along with the stories of the 1/3 who did finish well and those running just ahead of me today, encourage and cheer me on daily. They fuel my determination to finish well and to refuse to join the ranks of those who, in the last 1/2 of life wax and wane into average at best and flat out failure at worst.

DISCUSSION: What individual from the Bible do you think is the best example of finishing well and why? What motivates you to follow the advice listed above on how to finish your life well?

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:

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!

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?

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?

Struggling for Balance

Every area of life requires and continually struggles for balance. We’ll look at that struggle at play in a variety of rolls throughout this month, but first let’s develop an understanding of what balance is and what it requires.

7 Principles of Balance

In thinking about balance, several principles stand out as universal in our struggle. As we work to obtain and maintain balance, we must always keep in mind that balance…

  1. tree postRequires movement. To stay balanced, we must constantly move and adjust. Sometimes, the adjustments are small and invisible to others, but they always exist.
  2. Exists as a constant goal. Our physical bodies constantly work toward balance, toward homeostasis. The desire for balance exists as naturally as the function of our physical bodies. We can never escape this continual striving for balance.
  3. Needs focus. When doing a tree pose in yoga, focusing on a fixed point in front of you helps maintain balance. When your gaze wanders, balance becomes an increasing struggle.
  4. Can improve. The more you do the tree pose (along with a variety of other yoga poses), balance becomes easier. The more you consistently work at it, the better your ability to stay balanced.
  5. Keeps drama & chaos at bay. In some variety shows, acrobats show off their balancing skills by complicating the situation with people balanced upon people balancing a variety of objects. In real life, drama within balance only leads to chaos and overload.
  6. Looks different for every person. Everyone has unique limits. Every holds unique gifts and abilities. Because of these facts, our ability to balance looks different too. The basic principles stay the same, but we all obtain balance uniquely.
  7. Requires honesty & humility. We have to admit that we need to rest and readjust regularly. We have to admit our need for help in living a balanced life. Not admitting these means choosing the hard – and likely impossible – path to balance.

We’ll address the above principles later this month as we look at the role relationships, accountability, simplicity, commitments and faith all play in our constant struggle for balance. Before we can consider the activity of balance within the various aspects of our lives, though, we have to first realize the importance that having an accurate scale plays in achieving, maintaining and assessing balance.

An Accurate Scale

scale

The Bible talks about the importance of having a fair and just scale, one that accurately weighs and balances whatever it measures. That’s what we need for our lives too.

Comparisons are not accurate; neither are we able to accurately measure our own balance (2 Corinthians 10:12). God needs to be the scale. Only He knows what balances means for each individual, and He tells us through Scripture and through His Holy Spirit. The only way to obtain and maintain a balanced life is to have it continually weighed, measured and adjusted by the only accurate and just scale available to us.

DISCUSSION: Where do you feel you’re out of balance? What adjustments do you need to make?

The High Calling: Simplicity at Work

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

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Today’s focus is on The High Calling, a collection of resources founded on the belief that God cares about our daily work. On this site, you’ll discover a broad range of articles, interviews, devotionals, and inspirational stories—all specifically created to help you find God in your work, family, and the broader culture. The writers and bloggers featured on The High Calling tell engaging stories crafted to encourage you in the high calling of your daily work.

This week’s theme at The High Calling is Simplicity at Work. Some of the featured posts appearing this week include:

Monday
Why Did I Say “Yes”?
by Kate Montaung

Tuesday
Community Post: Simplicity Under Trial
by Clare Carter

Wednesday
Community Post: Why Simplicity is Necessary to Live in a Story that Matters
by Chris Peek

Thursday
Community Post: Simplicity Simplified
by Tina Cress

Friday
Community Post: Focus Determines Reality
by Kari Scare

Note: Posts listed above will not appear “live” until the day they’re scheduled.

Please take some time this week to visit The High Calling, reading the posts and interacting with the amazing writers featured there. You’ll come away encouraged, strengthened & challenged.

Five Ways To Combat Stress, a Guest Post by Dan Erickson

Dan Erickson writes about writing and blogging in a hectic world.  His blog,  “writing for the sake of my humanity,” is an eclectic combination of writing and blogging advice, poetry, music, and minimalism.  Dan has written two books including, A Train Called Forgiveness , based on his personal experience of being the child victim of an extreme religious cult.

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Dan EricksonStress.

I’ve had my share.

I was the child victim of a religious cult, basically a slave to a megalomaniac cult leader.  After my escape as a 16-year-old boy, I went to the opposite extreme and enjoyed my freedom a little too much.  I spent years wondering aimlessly, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, which be the way, didn’t relieve the stress.

After a dozen years of self-abuse, I finally found my way back to normal.  Whatever that is?  I went back to college at the age of 30, earned my master’s degree by 38, and was married about the same time.

My spouse wound up having extreme mental health issues.  More stress.  We lost our firstborn child.  Stress on top of stress.  She couldn’t care for our second.  Her meddling parents tried to convince her she could.  Triple stress.  That led to a divorce that took five years to complete, and to me becoming the single parent to my daughter when she was 11-months old.  Superstress.  Yes, that’s a new word.

So as you can see, I’ve dealt with my share of stress.  Recently, I added more stress to my plate.  I started a blog (or three).  I wrote a book (or two).  I bought a house (only one).  And now I’m teaching double-overload classes as a college instructor in order to pay for the house.  Geez!  Will I ever learn?

Yes!  I will.  And I have.  What I’ve learned is that one doesn’t necessarily have to eliminate stressful events, but rather there are ways to relieve stress during those events.  The key is balance.

Stress becomes harder to bear when we focus only on the stressors.  So we must find other outlets, other places to focus our energy.  We need to learn to compartmentalize our activities.

Here are five things I’ve done to help myself through the most stressful times in my life.

  1. Eating right: I put this at the top of the list because it’s essential to well being.  When we eat foods that lack nutrients, it’s like fueling our bodies with bad gas.  If you get bad gas in your car, it can cause it to sputter and run inefficiently.  When we eat junk we get tired and worn down.  This is the last thing we need when we’re under heavy stress.  Make sure to spend the extra time and money to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts, and other foods rich in nutrients.
  2. Exercise: My divorce was strung out and frustrating.  The waiting and the expense was enough to drive anyone crazy.  So… I ran.  I discovered that running is an excellent way of dealing with pent up negative energy.  Something happened when I ran.  It was meditative.  I focused only on the moment, each step, my breath.  That allowed me to disengage from the stress of the divorce.  Exercise helps us think clearer.  It’s an essential part of dealing with life’s stressors.
  3. Team support: I’ve always been a bit of a maverick.  If I can’t do it myself then forget it.  When I became a single dad, I discovered that I could not be a one-man show.  I had to reach out to others.  What I found is that there are a lot of good people out there who are willing to help out someone in distress.  Several members of the church I attend stepped up to help take turns watching my daughter so that I could work and take occasional getaways.  Having people in your corner during stressful times is a Godsend.
  4. I’m a musician.  Music has always been an incredible outlet for me.  But sometimes life has become so complicated that I’ve set my music aside for short periods of time.  When I’m stressed I’ve found that returning to music is another effective self-therapy.  For you it might be writing, cooking, or gardening.  But having a hobby to turn to helps to balance things out a bit.
  5. Meditation: I’m not a Zen Master.  I’m not a Yogi.  In fact, I’m a Christian by faith.  But I’ve found that meditation can be extremely helpful in relieving stress.  That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in prayer.  I do.  And I practice prayer, too.  But sometimes prayer can cause us to focus on the problem when we should let it go.  I’ve found that practicing simple breathing exercises while letting the mind relax, letting thoughts dissipate, can bring down tension levels considerably.

I’m sure there are other things one can do to combat stress.  From my own experience, finding a balance that includes good nutrition, team support and healthy activities has worked wonders.

DISCUSSION: Tell me about a stressful situation in your life.  What methods were most effective for you in dealing with the stress?

Dan invited me to guest post on his site, “writing for the sake of my humanity,” earlier this month. Check out the post, “writing, why you should trust the process,” on Dan’s blog. Be sure to peruse the rest of the site while you’re there!

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on my virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

Virtual Influences

InfluenceFor the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on my virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

With that in mind, the following is a list of individuals with whom I interact with on a regular basis on this blog, on their own blogs, and/or on other blogs. Please take the time to visit some (or all) of them over the next few days, and I think you’ll soon realize why they are part of my virtual influences.

There are others for sure, but these are the ones who not only do I read their blogs regularly, but they are regular participants on Struggle to Victory over the last few months. Many of these individuals are also people I email periodically, some more than others, for advice, prayer, etc. I truly am blessed to have these godly individuals in at the core of my virtual influences.

DISCUSSION: Who are the individuals at the core of your virtual influence? Give kudos to anyone on this list, or add to the list with some of your favorites!