Check Your Posture

Future Signs

Watch the news, and you’ll see the signs Jesus talked about in Luke 21:5-38. They’re happening all around the world. Examine your communities and even your own family, and you’ll see them too.

Wars. Earthquakes. Famine. Epidemics.

Persecution. Betrayal. Hate. Destruction.

Amidst what seems discouraging and disheartening, Jesus also offers instruction and encouragement.

“By standing firm, you will win your souls.” (v. 19)

“Stand straight and look up.” (v. 28)

“Don’t let the day catch you unaware.” (v. 34)

“Keep a constant watch.” (v. 36)

These directives to his followers refer to awareness regarding a specific event in the future — Jesus’ second coming.

Check Your Posture

His words also get at what should be our current and constant posture.

Stand firm and straight.

Look up.

Be aware and watchful.

Even on bad days when the world seems against us and others are turning from God. Even when we feel alone and abandoned, like no one else sees the signs of the end. Yes, even when we’re hated and persecuted, and we pray for escape.

Stand firm and straight. Don’t cower in discouragement. Look up. Focus on the one who redeemed your soul. Stay aware and watchful. Know that Jesus will return, and you will stand before him.

Be Encouraged

Be encouraged by what’s to come because you know Jesus, and he knows you. Use the opportunities these end times present to be a witness to the truth of where your focus lies.

Jesus offers words of encouragement for just this purpose. His words are as true today as they were when he spoke them over 2,000 years ago.

“This will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry about how you will answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply.” (v. 13-15)

Take a few minutes to read Luke 21:5-38 and take in what Jesus predicts about the future and the place of his followers in it. Let it encourage you as you consider the dark times in which we live. Let it renew and refresh your faith as you focus on him.

Stand firm and straight.

Look up.

Be aware and watchful.

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!

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?

Guest Post: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

Today’s guest post comes from Chris Peek. Chris blogs at Trail Reflections where he offers content that encourages leaders to discover their life mission, live with intention, pursue adventure, and become fully alive. Chris’ posts offer creative insights and new ways of examining life, our callings, the Christian journey, and relationships. 

Also be sure to check out Chris’ new book Blaze Your Own Trail.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

Back in October, my wife and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary by taking a cruise to the Bahamas. During the final moments before departure, I took a photo of the ship’s main deck and posted it to Facebook with the caption, “Let’s go cruisin’!”

no phoneIt was the last time I would be connected to the outside world for six days. Sure, I could have paid the cruise line’s exorbitant fee just to check email, Facebook, and the web, but why did I need to? We were sailing in the open seas surrounded by crystal blue waters, headed toward magnificent tropical destinations.

Since most of my fellow cruisers were also unwilling to undergo voluntary highway robbery in order to stay connected, a most unusual thing happened. People stayed present in the moment. Strangers spoke to strangers. In turn, strangers quickly became friends.

Nearly every night at dinner, my wife and I made conversation with the new faces at surrounding tables. While lounging on the deck, we engaged with people. In addition, we made a point to nightly stop by the photography area just to talk with our new photographer friends cruise line employees from all over the globe, including South Africa, India, and Serbia.

Even today, we’ve maintained contact with a few of our cruise friends through the magic of Facebook.

After a week at sea, it hit me. This is way life is supposed to be. God designed us for community and to experience life right in front of us.

Social media cannot replace in-person interactions and the deep satisfaction we receive by being in the company of friends and family. When kept in proper balance, social media offers a number of incredible opportunities. Unfortunately, our constant connection with the outside world has a dark side, as well.

First, the bad and the ugly. Social media…

  1. Tends to dominate our time when we fail to place boundaries around its usage.
  2. Harms the relationships right in front of us when we lose sight of its importance. We dishonor those in our presence when we are consumed with checking our phones instead of engaging in conversation.
  3. Lends itself toward shallow connections. Many of the online discussions center around mundane topics, such as conversation about tonight’s dinner menu or the latest bathroom mirror selfie.
  4. Morphs into junior high all over again. People claiming over 2,000 “friends?!” Anthropologist Robin Dunbar of the famed Dunbar’s number has spent countless years researching human relationships. His work has consistently shown that we are designed to maintain about 150 meaningful relationships, a far cry from the thousands of people many boast as “friends” and “followers” on social media channels.
  5. Is often poorly utilized as a marketing tool. Some folks are simply in the social media game to promote themselves and their products without first taking time to develop relationships.

Now, the good. Social media…

  1. Offers a bridge to real relationship. While it is difficult to get to know friends at the heart level through social media, we are often able to obtain a glimpse of who they are. Hopefully, we take some of those friendships beyond Facebook and Twitter. One of the greatest pleasures I have had in recent years has been connecting with several online friends in the real world.
  2. Provides a convenient means to permanently maintain established relationships. Never before have we had such an incredible opportunity to stay connected and build lifelong friendships, even through the shifting seasons of life.
  3. Allows us to build connections around shared ideas, values, and passions. We live in extraordinary technological days. As a result, we have the opportunity to connect with people we likely would have never met otherwise. In fact, I originally connected with some of my closest friends through social media.
  4. Leads to the deepening of a few friendships. I have held some of the most meaningful conversations of my life online, especially through commenting on blogs. The key is to find people who are also out to build real friendships and virtually surround yourself with positive influences.

No matter how ingrained social media becomes in our culture, the medium can never replace the handshake between business associates, the eye contact across the dinner table, a shoulder to cry on, and the bear hug between best friends. However, if we engage it properly, our use of social media can lead us into an ongoing season of developing and enriching our relationships.

DISCUSSION: What other good, bad, and ugly aspects have you found within the world of social media?

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.

Teaching. Learning. Leading. Following.

Everyone teaches. Everyone learns. Everyone leads. Everyone follows. These exist as passive or active realities in every person’s life. These truths confront me daily, and I must choose whether they live in a positive or negative way.

You get to make the same choice. Everyone makes this choice, some deliberately and intentionally, others by letting life happen to them and allowing negative habits and influences to shape their existence.

Several sources combined to stir my thoughts on this topic.

sf_GoMakeDisciples_0010_Group 1Are you just a spectator in The Great Commission?

My view of The Great Commission expanded recently as I changed from just seeing it as a whole to better understanding each individual part. The inescapable aspect of it that seems to be gripping me more and more involves teaching.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

In my observations of the church, we are pretty good at the making and baptizing (or at least focusing there). But, sometimes, the “teach” part seems neglected. Well, I guess more so teaching to be disciples. We’re also pretty good at teaching to serve, an important part of being a disciple.

But what troubles me, and what my mind struggles putting into words, I find expressed well by the discovery of Bill Hybels (founder of the Willow Creek Church movement) when he surveyed his own members. Here’s what Hybels discovered:

“Heavy involvement in church programs did not translate into spiritual growth and maturity.”

In the article “What Non-Christians Really Think of Us,” the late Charles Colson discussed the following:

“What the Church needs to do is to make disciples, to grow people in the faith, not be spectators. We must teach them what Christians believe and how to live out these doctrines in all of life. Like Hybels, church leaders need to examine whether they are making disciples and encouraging holy living.”

On a personal level, this translate into looking into my own role as a teacher and a leader. At the same time, I must examine my own learning as well as following.

Before we begin discussing these thoughts, consider the perspectives the following resources provide.

schoolChristian Faith at Work – Is Everyone Gifted to Be a Teacher?

The post “Is Everyone Gifted to Be a Teacher?” by Chris Patton at Christian Faith at Work begins a series addressing the idea that every person’s calling involves being a teacher. While not everyone holds a formal teaching position and not everyone may be described as a “gifted” teacher, every Christian should teach others. Read the series to find out more. It’s well worth your time.

The Leadership Mandate – Book Recommendationdansblack_3D1-890x1087

My friend Dan Black from Dan Black on Leadership recently published a book titled, The Leadership Mandate. While reading it, two main thoughts immediately came to mind.

First, the book provides a terrific exploration of the basic elements of leadership. The elements Dan discusses must exist in order for someone to be an effective leader. What I liked the most about the elements he lists and discusses is that the first one involves leading yourself since an effective leader must lead himself successfully.

Second, my boys need to read this book. Because Dan simplifies the essential elements of leadership so well, The Leadership Mandate is a great resource for new leaders wanting specific action items that will help develop them as leaders.  (My 14-year-old did in fact read the book & found some helpful tips he plans to immediately apply.)

(Note: When you purchase  The Leadership Mandate now through October 7th, you will receive some terrific bonuses – 6 of them actually! Check out Dan Black on Leadership for more details on these bonuses!)

Time for Discussion

Do we have any business being teachers if we are not also students?

And, what effectiveness can we have as godly leaders if we are not also godly followers?

Is every Christian called to teach?

How does learning to lead yourself successfully fit into The Great Commission, if at all?

Lastly, how can the church improve at teaching disciples?

Are You Willing to Not Fit In?

When I was in grade school, I never felt like I fit in. That feeling followed me into my teen and adult years. I’d love to say this problem no longer exists now that I’ve hit mid-life, that I am now secure enough in who Christ made me to be that the desire to fit in no longer plagues me. That would be a lie.

Certainly, I am more confident, but the desire to fit in still lingers and often rears its ugly head in social situations.

Over the years, I did adapt to not fitting in. At some point, I even began to seek out ways to emphasize that aspect that seemed to define me. If others are doing something, I look for ways to avoid doing exactly the same thing. From clothing and accessories to exercise and eating to social interaction, something inside me now purposes to go against the flow, even if only slightly, of what the majority does.

5-7-13 be transformed 1

Both Right and Wrong

In 1 Corinthians 9:22, Paul says that “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” In other words, he tried to find common ground with people in order to bring them to Christ. Of course, this does not mean sinning, but it does mean getting involved in people’s lives and being authentic with them.

So, in the sense that my going against the flow sometimes causes disconnection with people I could influence, I am wrong in my approach. In fact, doing so has led to missing out on some significant witnessing opportunities. For that, I truly am sorry.

On the other hand, John 15:18-27 clearly indicates that to a great extent, Christ followers won’t fit in with the culture surrounding them. In other words, we must be in the world but not of the world (Romans 12:2). Jesus certainly set the example for us in this area by spending time with and ministering to those who needed Him most and who were often social outcasts, but He did not let them change Him.

When my intentions fall into the realm of wanting to remain separate from the material and fleshly focuses of the world, my approach to not conform and follow the crowd then seems wise.

Resist the Call of the World

5-7-13 be transformed 2

Perhaps both of these approaches need to exist. Maybe both looking for commonalities and connections need to exist alongside being an outsider. In my quest to find that balance, I realize that the outsider status must still dominate; otherwise, my impact as I connect and care becomes less effective.

Let’s look deeper at John 15:18-27 to hopefully understand the importance of an outsider status.

Being an outsider, feeling like you don’t fit in with the crowd (culture), can indicate progress towards becoming more Christ-like (v 18). Realizing that Christ chose you to be an outsider can keep feelings of rejection and aloofness from affecting your walk with Him (v 19).

What’s more, knowing that people aren’t really rejecting you but are actually reacting to their fear of the unknown creates a motivational steadfastness to perhaps amplify your outsider status (vv 20-21). You see, knowing Jesus creates a responsibility that so many people want to avoid because it means increasingly living as an outsider.

Knowing Jesus can mean breaking the death grip that the need to belong and be accepted by the world has. But a dying to self must happen, and this scares people. So, many instead choose to succumb to the call of the world and seek to eliminate any feeling of an outsider status (v 22).

Even with evidence of a better way, hate of Christ’s ways exists without any real cause except a desire to avoid the truth of Christ (vv 23-25).

Outsider Victory

God’s Holy Spirit reveals truth that reveals Jesus (v 26). As His Spirit dwells within us, our outsider status feels more and more like home, like a place of safety, peace and joy. And in that, we discover the courage to bravely tell others about the Jesus who welcomes outsiders. In other words, we become better able to care and connect in an authentic way.

DISCUSSION: What else does scripture say about how Christ followers must interact and exist in the world?

Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email or Subscribe in a reader

Related Posts: