Discover Encouragement and Overcome Discouragement

sticky-notes-1159958Discussing Discouragement

Lack of progress. Politics. Stupidity. Illness. Aging. Unemployment. Failure.

These things continuously discourage me. If I dwell on them too often and too deeply, I become depressed. Before I reach that point, though, I try to focus on what Scripture says about encouragement.

My visits usually begin here:

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9)

If we focus on remembering God’s activity in our lives, on what His Word tells us and on His promises, we too receive encouragement from the Lord just as Joshua did.

Discovering Encouragement

sticky-notes-1159969God gives us encouragement in countless ways. We choose to be a part of it simply when we accept it.

Encouragement from God comes through…

  1. Prayer, scripture and progress. (Psalm 138:3, Romans 15:4 & Philippians 1:6) Prayer gives us strength to live as God desires and refocuses us on the encouragement He offers. God’s word offers encouragement through stories, guidance and hope. And the progress He works in us keeps us motivated for continual growth.
  2. Remembering. (Joshua 24:16-17Do you regularly remember what God has done in your life? Scripture certainly sets that as a necessary pattern for the lives of men. Through it, we see that God never changes, and that certainly is encouraging.
  3. Reflection in our eternal hope and our position in Christ. (1 Peter 1:6 & Philippians 2:1-2Think about what the Bible says God has in store for us. Exciting and encouraging, right? Plus, belonging to Christ encourages in a profound way as we regularly experience God’s grace and mercy.
  4. Through visible faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:7)
    How often does seeing another person’s faith in action encourage you? The reverse is also true. Look around!
  5. Through other Christians. (1 Thessalonians 4:18, Romans 1:11-12,
    1 Thessalonians 5:11, Acts 14:21-22 & Hebrews 10:24-25
    We can help each other refocus on eternity. We can gather regularly encourage one another through faith. Encouragement also comes as we strengthen and motivate one another.

When you are encouraged in these ways, doesn’t it feel like anything is possible? That’s kind of the point, actually.

Determining Reality

sticky-notes-1159963When I seek encouragement because I feel sorry for myself, I’m always disappointed. Doing so just focuses me more on my own discouragement and cultivates depression.

When I let God encourage me, I’m never disappointed. When I purpose to encourage others, I’m also always encouraged.

Focus determines reality, after all. When I seek out encouragement, I focus on myself. When I let God encourage me and when I look to encourage others, I focus outside of myself. One results in regular discouragement, the other growing encouragement.

Wondering where to start? Not sure how to specifically live this out?

Begin with what encourages you. Do that to encourage someone else. Sure, everyone is different, but we’re a lot alike too. Plus, as the old adage goes, it’s the thought that counts.

A Higher Standard

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If you are truly Playing to Win, you must learn to seize God-ordained opportunity, work hard and stay humble, and develop a laser focus for God. Missionary Jim Elliot captured this mindset when he said…

“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

The Playing to Win mentality ultimately means reaching for the higher standard set by the only perfect person who ever walked this earth.

Jesus set a higher standard. He focused on His purpose, which He received from God, and he never wandered away from that. Interestingly, Satan too has a laser focus, and Jesus placed them side by side when he said…

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Following this higher standard sets you apart. It makes you distinctly different from the world around you. Yet, it’s about progress not about being perfect. Pursue perfection — righteousness — knowing you won’t get there this side of Heaven, and rejoice in the grace of God that fills in the gaps left by your imperfections.

Look to the Old Testament to see this concept played out. Even amidst many, many mistakes, there are lots of examples of individuals pursuing this higher standard.

Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Ruth, Elijah, the disciples, Paul and the early church.

All these people developed or were directly given a simple focus, and they seized the God-ordained opportunities presented to them. They prayed for boldness, then worked hard and stayed humble as they made their way toward perfection.

Your Why Makes the How Easy

When you chose to go beyond the minimum, past just getting by and “good enough,” you begin to live to a higher standard. When you push past distractions and decide on a simple, God-ordained focus, you keep the path clear for victory.

In order to maintain this Playing to Win mindset as a Christian, you must know your why. If you don’t, the how gets muddied and weighed down with struggles. But if you know your why and stay focused on it, the struggles simply become the how of reaching perfection.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Make becoming a disciple, serving Christ and letting Him decide your reward, be the overriding purpose for all you do. Let working for the Lord be your driving force and motivation.

This is Playing to Win for the Christian. This is running as if to win the prize.

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.

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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.

Learn To Single-Task Again

tolkein-bread-quoteIn 2010, I crashed and burned mentally. The official diagnosis involved adrenal fatigue, and many factors led to my state of exhaustion.

One of the biggest involved having too many commitments and going in too many directions. A constantly-divided focus led to a state of overwhelm and overload.

To recover and heal, I gave up a lot of poor habits and replaced them with healthier ones. That’s the only way to really heal from adrenal fatigue.

One area needing a major overhaul involved my belief in multitasking as an operating system. The Toxic Impact of Multitasking needed eliminated. Its replacement? Learning to single-task again.

The Brain’s Desire

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Our brains want to think deeply and creatively. As any multi-tasker knows, neither is possible with any consistency when your brain tries to focus on a multitude of different tasks at the same time. Instead, we end up reacting to life and living only a surface-level existence.

But, as Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., tells Forbes, with concerted effort…

Anyone can leave the “chaotic addiction of multitasking behind” and see “immediate and immense” benefits as well as an increase in creativity, energy and focus.

I’m living proof of this truth.

Single Tasking Habits

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In addition to recommending adequate rest and exercise, Chapman gives three steps to reestablish single-tasking as a habit.

  1. Give your brain down time. Build in breaks throughout your day, and be sure to take at least a yearly extended break (called a vacation in case it’s been so long you forgot). Like a muscle, our brains need time to rest and recuperate. Ever feel like you make poorer decisions as the day goes on? We must choose to combat Decision Fatigue if we have any hope of not falling prey to its talons of dumb… bad… stupid… decisions.
  2. Focus deeply & eliminate distractions. Just like a person can’t go from couch to 5k instantly, deep focus needs worked up to as well. I certainly recognize that distractions find us all too easily. But with practice, we can develop the ability to focus deeply and attract fewer distractions. The more you reduce multitasking, the more you’ll excel at focusing.
  3. Make a to-do list. A to-do list kept a crash and burn at bay for many years and keeps me from regressing more often still today. Not only a tool to promote focus, a to-do list is also a terrific way to track progress. Remember too that you’ll get better at making and using to-do lists as you perfect what works best for you.

Commit to Change

Make a choice to break your multitasking addiction and instead to work toward a singe-tasking life. Be stubbornly determined to do so. Once the benefits begin, your belief in what Chapman claims and what my own experiences show, will increase.

As with any change, commit to it to make it work. Alter daily habits and admit that the way you’re working now isn’t the best option and that maybe you can trust the example of those who have gone before you on this journey.

The Toxic Impact of Multitasking

multitasking

My Multitasking Mistake

On a recent work task, I completed what I thought fell precisely in line with my directives. Instead, what I thought I needed to do was completely wrong. Not even close, actually. The mistake devastated me and threatened to send me into a dark, self-deprecating pit.

After the emotions wore off and I quit trying to blame someone else, I thought about my mistake and what led to it. Essentially, I performed a mental root cause analysis. I first tried to credit the error to the general excuse of miscommunication but realized that just lets everyone involved off the hook and doesn’t help much. So, in all honesty, I admitted that the cause of the mistake fell solely on myself, more specifically, on my attempt to multitask.

Instead of putting my full attention into a planning meeting, I got distracted by other tasks. The worst part? Well, there are two worst parts, actually. First, I wrote down the correct task needing completed. I just didn’t look at my notes because I failed to even remember I took them. Second, I thought this type of mistake existed only as a habit broken long ago. Clearly not.

The mistake serves as a reminder about the importance of maintaining focus, which impacts reality in significant ways.

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Focus Determines Reality

Not only does what you focus on determine the direction you take, but how many tasks you focus on does too. Focusing on multiple tasks at once divides and weakens your attention and productivity. It diminishes the quality of your efforts and slows overall progress.

Multitasking — originally a computer term — is technically impossible for humans. Our brains actually task flip, but it happens so quickly we can’t tell the difference. Computers can process several tasks at once. Humans cannot. Instead, as Jon Hamilton on NPR Morning Addition explains:

“Even simple tasks can overwhelm the brain if we try to do them all at once.”

“We frequently overestimate our ability to handle multiple tasks.”

I thought I’d beaten this bad habit of multitasking that contributed to my overwhelm and overload so many years ago and created the mediocre quality that eventually crept into every area of my life. And while it’s not fully returned, this backslide served to remind me of habits I need to refresh and reestablish if I am to maintain a right focus that in turn establishes the reality I desire for my life.

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The Mental Impact of Multitasking

In Why Single-Tasking Makes You Smarter, Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., calls multitasking toxic because it drains the brain, zaps cognitive resources and promotes early mental decline. Multitasking also decreases sharpness and increases cortisol, which can damage the memory center of the brain.

And those are just the long-term consequences. In the short term, multitasking overloads the brain, makes you less efficient, keeps thoughts at surface level and causes mistakes to occur more frequently.

Honestly, before experiencing the difference between a life filled with multitasking and one more oriented toward single-tasking, I did not buy into what Chapman asserts. Now, I realize the truth in how multitasking consumes a person’s mental resources to the point of almost complete ineffectiveness.

What toxic evidence of multitasking do you see in your life?

Next week we’ll explore the benefits of single-tasking and look at some basic habits to help get there.

Voting My Conscience

ballot-1440045-1599x1068For the past 26 years, my voting choices revolved mostly around what the two main parties offered. My husband and I did venture outside of those one presidential election, but we ended up feeling like our votes were completely wasted.

Research for my voting choices has up to this point involved listening to a few individuals I respect and knew did their research along with reading one or two seemingly objective sources that placed the candidates side by side.

My point is that while I voted my conscience all those years, I didn’t really base it on much information. I’m not proud of that, by the way.

Honestly, I’ve never felt inclined to do much more than I did. Until now.

For months now, I’ve believed my choice involved horrible or not quite as horrible. Two choices. That’s it. Turns out, there are other choices. Actually, the choices are boundless when you consider write-in votes.

ballot-box-1519379-1599x1068I still don’t know who will get my vote for president in a few weeks, though I do know one for sure who will not. However, I do feel as though I’m not forced into voting just to keep someone else out of office.

Never before have I posted anything political on this blog, but I am bothered by this election like none before it. With that, I offer some information I’ve found quite helpful, and it comes from a blogging friend of mine.

The full post is reprinted below, but I encourage you to also visit Wisdom of a Fool and leave a comment there. Also, there are several links within the post I encourage you to visit. If you aren’t yet, won’t you join me in becoming an informed voter?

Who are McMullin, Stein, and Johnson: and what could they mean to you?

If you’re like many American’s today you value your right to vote but feel trapped between a rock and a hard place—you don’t like either of the primary political party candidates.

And if you’re like many others (on both sides), you might be tempted to simply vote for your affiliated party even if you don’t like that candidate simply because you REALLY don’t like the opposition.

But what if you had another option?

What if a third party candidate better represented your beliefs?

Now, you might be thinking that’s a wasted vote (after all, that’s what the media is trying to make you believe).

History (and our constitution) disagree.

4 Times in American History neither candidate reached the needed 270 electoral votes to become president. If you’d like information on that please click here.

So what happens if neither candidate reaches the needed 270 electoral votes?

The National Achieves and Records Administration: US Electoral College says:

“If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote. The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most Electoral votes. Each Senator would cast one vote for Vice President. If the House of Representatives fails to elect a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.”

Here are 3 other options:

Evan McMullin– Is a constitutional conservative. For 10 years he worked for the CIA spearheading counterterrorism in places such as the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Later he used his Master’s in Business to help industries such as energy, biotech, technology and more.

Here are a few of the issues he is focused on.

  1. Military- “…we will rebuild the military and give our service members the tools they need to defend our freedoms and our way of life—while also protecting Americans’ hard-earned dollars.”
  2. Economy-“…make the tax code fairer and simpler, helping to spur business innovation, especially the growth of small businesses… Small businesses should pay closer to 25 percent of their profits in taxes, whereas now there are many that must pay almost 40 percent. Right now America also has the highest corporate tax rate – 35 percent – of any advanced economy.”
  3. Healthcare– “…repeal Obamacare as soon as possible, replacing it with a more streamlined, pro-market approach to insurance…encourage competition and innovation by putting patients, families, and doctors for first.”
  4. Government Accountability– “…support House Joint Resolution 100, a proposed constitutional amendment for the re-empowerment of the states. This amendment would enable a two-thirds majority of the states to repeal any Executive Order, regulation, or administrative ruling issued by the executive branch.”
  5. Immigration– “The path to reform begins with securing our borders. Once they are secured, there should be a process of earned legalization for the illegal immigrants who are already here. There is simply no efficient way to deport 11 million individuals; doing so would break apart families and likely cost $100 billion. Furthermore, legalization is not amnesty.”
  6. Trade- “…supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement recently signed by 12 countries, including Japan, Australia, and Vietnam. The TPP will eliminate tariffs for all the countries that sign, but it will not go into effect until ratified by Congress.” SIDE NOTE-This is NAFTA on steroids. While there are many benefits of NAFTA, the disadvantage of it includes “…destroying half a million American jobs and lowering U.S. wages. In addition, NAFTA increases the S. trade deficit.”To learn more about NAFTA (pros and cons) click here.
  7. National Debt– “…enact reforms that make these essential programs more efficient while fighting pervasive fraud and abuse…simple truth that you can’t keep spending money you never had.”

To learn more about McMullins Platform click here.

Dr. Jill Stein– 2012 Green Party candidate for president. Wants to revitalize democracy. She’s a mother, physician, and an environmental-health advocate.

Snapshot of her platform:

  1. Jobs as a Right– “…replacing unemployment offices with employment offices. Advance workers rights to form unions, achieve workplace democracy, and keep a fair share of the wealth they create.”
  2. Health Care as a Right– “Establish an improved “Medicare For All” single-payer public health insurance program to provide everyone with quality health care, at huge savings.”
  3. Education as a Right– “…Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university. End high stakes testing and public school privatization.”
  4. A Just Economy– “Set a $15/hour federal minimum wage. Break up “too-big-to-fail” banks and democratize the Federal Reserve. Reject gentrification as a model of economic development. Support development of worker and community cooperatives and small businesses. Make Wall Street, big corporations, and the rich pay their fair share of taxes. Create democratically run public banks and utilities. Replace corporate trade agreements with fair trade agreements.”
  5. Protect Mother Earth– “Lead on a global treaty to halt climate change. End destructive energy extraction: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, and uranium mines. Protect our public lands, water supplies, biological diversity, parks, and pollinators. Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe. Protect the rights of future generations.”
  6. Freedom and Equality– “Expand women’s rights, protect LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination, defend indigenous rights and lands, and create a welcoming path to citizenship for immigrants. Protect the free Internet, legalize marijuana/hemp, and treat substance abuse as a public health problem, not a criminal problem.”
  7. Peace and Human Rights– “…End the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases…”

To learn more about Stein click here.

Gary Johnson– Libertarian Candidate. Two term Republican Governor of New Mexico. A business owner who describes himself as “fiscally-conservative and socially-liberal.”

Here are a few of his beliefs:

  1. Taxes– “…elimination of special interest tax loopholes, to get rid of the double-taxation on small businesses, and ultimately, the replacement of all income and payroll taxes with a single consumption tax that determines your tax burden by how much you spend, not how much you earn.”
  2. Civil Liberties– Supports Same Sex Marriage and Abortion Rights
  3. Immigration– “we should focus on creating a more efficient system of providing work visas, conducting background checks, and incentivizing non-citizens to pay their taxes, obtain proof of employment, and otherwise assimilate with our diverse society .Making it simpler and more efficient to enter the United States legally will provide greater security than a wall by allowing law enforcement to focus on those who threaten our country, not those who want to be a part of it.”
  4. Environment– Believes in Climate Change. “…believe that the federal government should prevent future harm by focusing on regulations that protect us from real harm, rather than needlessly costing American jobs and freedom in order to pursue a political agenda.”
  5. Education– “…believes that state and local governments should have more control over education policy. Decisions that affect our children should be made closer to home, not by bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, D.C. That is why he believes we should eliminate the federal Department of Education. Common Core and other attempts to impose national standards and requirements on local schools are costly, overly bureaucratic, and actually compromise our ability to provide our children with a good education.”
  6. War on Drugs-“…remove cannabis (Marijuana) from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which will allow individual states to make their own decisions about both recreational and medical marijuana — just as they have done for decades with alcohol…do not support the legalization of other recreational drugs that are currently illegal. It is, however, their belief that drug rehabilitation and harm-reduction programs result in a more productive society than incarceration and arrests for drug use.”
  7. Wasteful Spending– “…pledged that his first major act as President will be to submit to Congress a truly balanced budget. No gimmicks, no imaginary cuts in the distant future. Real reductions to bring spending in line with revenues, without tax increases. No line in the budget will be immune from scrutiny and reduction. And he pledges to veto any legislation that will result in deficit spending, forcing Congress to override his veto in order to spend money we don’t have.”

To learn more about Johnson’s platform click here.

While no candidate is perfect, perhaps one of these lesser known candidates better represent your beliefs and concerns. If so, I encourage you to not buy into the lie that you must vote for either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump. But if you like them, vote for them. It’s your choice.

You are given one vote and are free to vote however you choose.
And your vote matters.

Michelle Obama recently gave a powerful speech that highlighted how important each vote is. In 2012 Barack Obama won the election by a small number of votes in certain states. Hilary Clinton recently showed a few maps of just how powerful each vote is.

Examples: If 13 people would have stayed home in Florida Obama wouldn’t have won that state. Likewise he won Ohio by 19 votes, Wisconsin by 34 votes. Breaking it down by precinct – If 7 Obama Voters in each precinct had chosen to vote for Romney in the state of Florida, Obama would have lost that state.

YOUR VOTE MATTERS- To see more click here.

If you do like one of these candidates and they are not on your state’s ballet you can WRITE IN YOUR VOTE. So just because you don’t see your preferred candidate on the ballet doesn’t mean he/she is not an option. It means you must WRITE in the name you want to vote for.

I encourage you- Vote your Conscience. 

SIDE NOTE- McMullin has a real shot at winning Utah. For more click here or here.

Pursuing a Holy Spirit Led Life

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Growing up in church, I learned a lot about the Trinity. The idea of Father, Son & Holy Spirit, three in One, never struck me as odd. It simply always existed as truth for me.

With this upbringing, I learned a lot about God, mostly that he was like a grandmaster in chess and we the pieces on the board of life. Jesus became the focus at Easter and Christmas, and the Holy Spirit existed as a passing name in creeds and Scripture recitation.

Of course, we talked about all three together — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — whenever we talked about the Trinity, but most of our discussions centered around God. This is probably why I’ve never doubted God’s existence or who the Bible says He is and what it says He does.

Partly a gap in teaching. Partly me not paying attention. Probably partly a spotty memory of my childhood too. For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit never hit my spiritual radar much until my late 20s.

Holy Spirit Influence

“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)

“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:9)

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

When these Scripture referring specifically to the Holy Spirit finally opened up to me, I realized two important things:

  1. The Holy Spirit had been active in my life since salvation.
  2. The Holy Spirit constantly offered me more, and I had failed to see it.

Now, I see the Holy Spirit offering encouragement in my walk as a Christian. Even though most of my struggle is self inflicted, He still works within me to lead, guide and comfort.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

slide-12Getting Out of the Way

As I experience the Holy Spirit’s activity in my life, I want more. In that quest for more, I’ve come to realize that the way to experience lies mostly in what I need to stop doing.

“Do not quench [subdue, or be unresponsive to the working and guidance of] the [Holy] Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19, AMP)

In other words, the Holy Spirit stands ready to help, advocate, comfort and encourage, and I need to avoid hindering or quenching His work. Simply put, I must choose to be led by Him.

Personally, I “quench” (stifle, extinguish, put out) the Holy Spirit’s influence in my life when I get too busy, overwhelmed and focus on anything but God’s desires and glory. Conversely, when I quiet my life and focus on hearing from Him, the flame of the Holy Spirit continually burns bright and lights my way.

Make no mistake, I do nothing to generate or create the Holy Spirit’s activity in my life, but I sure can do a lot to impact how much I notice and follow it.

Pursuing The Holy Spirit

With these realizations, pursuing a Holy Spirit-led life consistently involves two main approaches for me.

  1. Don’t let my life get so busy I can’t hear His voice over the noise.
  2. Get into Scripture daily since it’s the primary way the Holy Spirit “talks” to me.

Simplicity creates space in my life for the Holy Spirit to move. Not that He couldn’t anyway, of course, but I certainly fail to recognize His beckoning when my life gets too busy and complicated. This pursuit of simplicity has deepened my faith and drawn me closer to God through His Holy Spirit more than any other practice in my life.

Can you see the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life? If not, why?

The Perfect Blend

Every coffee drinker prepares the perfect cup of coffee in a unique way. I like bold coffee sweetened with liquid Stevia. My husband likes a little light-bodied coffee with his creamer. My mom likes straight-up black coffee.

The perfectly blended cup of coffee depends on the individual. A person’s cup of coffee provides a visible example of his tastes, and maybe even his personality.

Coffee Type Indicates Personality Type

Every person has a unique blend of personality traits, just like every cup of coffee has its own individual flavor… if it’s good coffee, that is. Some people are more task-oriented, while others focus more on social events. Some people gain energy from being around other people, and some need alone time to charge their batteries.
God created each person as a unique part of His body, each designed for a specific plan and purpose.

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” (Ephesians 1:11-12, MSG)

The Perfect Blend of Faith and Works

One way this reality of “glorious living” bears true comes through the perfect blend of faith and works in our lives.

“Now some may argue ‘Some people have faith; Others have good deeds.’ I say, ‘I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.’” (James 2:18)

At first glance, James seems to contradict Paul in Romans 3:28.

“Man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Deeper investigation into both James’ and Paul’s writings helps us realize that the two actually complement each other. Together they tell us that while works don’t bring salvation, they sure do give evidence of a life changed by God through His saving grace.

In other words, before salvation works mean nothing. After salvation, they mean a everything.

True faith involves total commitment to God. Works do not substitute for our faith, but they do verify and bear witness to its existence. So, Paul’s and James’ teachings really work together to describe the perfect blend of faith and works in a life devoted to Christ.

Whatever their unique personality blend, every believer also must blend the reality of his faith with his actions to create a living faith that is a testimony to others. We may all live out our faith a bit differently, just like every coffee lover expresses his unique tastes, based on our unique personalities and interests, but genuine faith will be lived out in some way in every believer.

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Limitations and Strengths

2 corinthians 9

“It is not until we are comfortable with and thankful for our limitations that God empowers us to be used in our strengths.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead)

Fairly often, I’m comfortable with my limitations. Well, at last accepting of their existence. However, I probably spend an equal amount of time being frustrated by them. Mostly that means comparing myself to others, which only leads to increased dissatisfaction with my limitations as I desire to be someone I’m not and fail to appreciate the person God made.

Until just a few years ago, actually being thankful for my limitations never fell on my radar. Tolerance, a mix of apathy and acceptance, sure. But not thankfulness. Increasing frustration for certain when I thought about them too much.

The last few years have brought increasing comfort with my limitations as well as some measure of thankfulness much of the time. This came as I realized I’m not only protected by my limitations, but I’m directed by them too. You see, without my limitations, I’d more often that not head down the wrong path. I’d miss God’s will.

Take exercise for example. My goal now exists as general fitness and as good of health as possible. It used to be to project to others the image of an athlete, someone who could physically excel and be stronger, thinner and healthier than others. It was all about status and comparisons. My limitations? My body simply would not cooperate with the life of an athlete. I eventually saw those limitations as protection against a wrong focus, something that could easily have become an obsession.

So, I’m learning to be consistently both comfortable with and thankful for my limitations. I see their benefits more fully almost daily, and I realize the way God uses them to direct my focus toward His desires.

Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12, and he talks about how it was there to keep him from exalting himself. Before reaching what seems like a place of comfort and thankfulness with this thorn, Paul asked God three times to remove it. I can relate. I asked God way more than three times to remove my food allergies and sensitivities, another major area of limitation in my life.

Eventually, Paul reached the point of boasting in His weakness, realizing that it was in his limitations that the power of Christ dwelt in Him. His conclusion on the matter finally being…

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

The truth of grace’s sufficiency becomes evident through our limitations — our weaknesses — as we realize our utter helplessness for meaningful success in our own efforts. Even what we’re good at, we eventually realize, exists with limitations in place for our good.

When we reach a point of comfort with and acceptance of our limitations, we become more focused on being used in our strengths, our gifts and abilities, placed within us by our Creator. Placed there for divine reasons, our limitations direct us to and help keep us focused on to His glory.

He Knows My Name

Name

As a writer, I have thought a lot about becoming well known. My name on the cover of a book. My book on The New York Times Bestsellers list. But my writer dreams don’t end there. I’ve thought about someone famous discovering my blog and asking me to ghostwrite for them or maybe co-write with them. I have even thought about being asked to do inspirational and motivational speaking. All pretty crazy ideas, I know.

In my reality, I know people who always seem to know other people no matter where they go. The coffee shop. The mall. Restaurants. We’re regularly interrupted. People know and use their name. I feel like a third wheel, or at least what I imagine a third wheel feels like, for however long they talk, most of the time not included in the conversation. I’ve just never been someone who has been known. (Except for in college when I had a byline in the campus newspaper every week. I enjoyed that probably too much.)

Much of my life, I’ve struggled with feeling overlooked and unimportant. Not just because people often don’t know my name but also because my introverted, shy personality keeps me backstage most of the time. (Don’t think because I’ve taught college classes and Bible studies that this changes anything. I’m pretty good at hiding behind my topic.) Ultimately, that’s where I like to be. Yet, a part of me has always wanted to be noticed, to be known, by others.

As I have taken this need to the Lord over the years, I have an increasing awareness of my messed up motives for wanting to be noticed. The Holy Spirit isn’t brutal about it, but He helps me realize that recognition by others won’t satisfy, not for very long anyway. Only God can satisfy my need for significance and notice.

He Knows My Name” by Francesca Battistelli (If We’re Honest album) speaks well to my need and to His satisfying of it.

I don’t need my name in lights.
I’m famous in my Father’s eyes.
Make no mistake.
He knows my name.

After years of struggling with this, my desire to be known on this earth no longer matters much most of the time. If it’s not His desire, then it’s not my desire either. If He ever decides for others to know me on a larger scale than my quiet, small-town life, then He’ll make that happen and at the same time give me the desire for it.

How did I find victory over this particular issue? His presence.

When He’s my center, my focus, worldly fame and notice fall off the radar. When His agenda replaces my agenda, my soul experiences overwhelm with Him, and my schedule no longer looms overwhelmed and overloaded.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

My name on a book or in lights or even called across a coffee shop… none of those really take up my mental energy anymore. What does? How to have more of His presence. Nothing else matters except that He knows my name.