What is your fear doing?

no fearWhat does fear look like in your life?

Zombies, ghosts, vampires, and evil witches (as opposed to the good ones) — only get to me when I read stories or watch movies containing them. My solution? Avoidance. No matter how much I tell myself (and truly believe) they aren’t real, I still get nightmares. So while I’m not exactly afraid of them (seriously, I know they’re not real) they somehow get to me on a subconscious level. But these fears really don’t affect the way I live my life much.

But many fears do affect daily living and life choices to varying degrees. For example, those afraid of heights avoid skydiving and climbing ladders, and a fear of spiders causes entertaining reactions from many people. These fears are manageable though, and not usually significantly life-altering.

Then there are the fears that keep us from progressing in life.

Fear of failure makes us not even try. Fear of what others think leads to dangerous conformity. Fear of rejection prevents relationships from blossoming. Fear of the future causes staunch routine and vehement resistance to change. Fear of what might happen motivates many to seek relationship-damaging control. These fears I know well either through observation and/or personal experience. How about you?

To some extent, every fear holds the potential to limit life and keep us from following God’s will, but some fears certainly seem to have more power for doing so than others. So what can we do when fear grips us, and we simply want to hole up somewhere and live a safe, comfortable life?

The Bible says numerous times — someone counted 365 times, one for every day of the year — to not be afraid. God obviously knew fear would be a stumbling block, so he gave an abundance of encouragement for overcoming it.

Overcoming Fear

For me, overcoming fear lies with the examples found in God’s word of how others handled fear. These stories help change how I think about fear.

My favorite example is when Joshua became the leader of the Israelites and then faced the daunting task of leading God’s people into the Promised Land. God encourages Joshua by telling him to “not fear” and “be of good courage” multiple times (Deuteronomy 31 & Joshua 1:5-9).

The same God who encouraged Joshua and promised to never abandon him — and Scripture  shows God followed through on that promise — is the same God who will do the same for me today. That gives me courage to keep moving in spite of my fears.

Benaiah is another example of courage in the face of fear (2 Samuel 23:20-23 & 1 Chronicles 11:22-25). He faced a lion, two great warriors, and a man with a spear when he himself had only a club, and he came out victorious. In fact, his bravery (as well as many other positive characteristics) moved him up the ranks in both David’s and Solomon’s armies. Benaiah must have felt fear (who wouldn’t?), but he still did what was necessary to achieve victory.

We can’t stop fear. We will face it, and it will grip us. And while we may not be able to control the circumstances surrounding our fear or often even our reactions to what we fear, we can choose to pursue freedom from all fear (Matthew 6:25-34 & John 11:25-26).

Remember that focus determines reality, and with the power of God working in and through us, we can face our fears and push through to accomplish the will of God. We can focus on the fear itself or on the one who conquered sin, death and the grave. That choice determines the impact fear has on our lives.

DISCUSSION: Ask yourself what you’re afraid of. How does that fear shape your life? Are you focusing on the fear or on the one who calms all fears?

5 Keys to Lasting Change

Change Managementchange quote

Change happens in everyone’s life. Sometimes our first reaction to change is fear. Sometimes our first reaction is to buckle down and resist. Sometimes we dive completely into change and sometimes run from it.

How we ultimately decide to handle change determines our success or failure in life. Fortunately, we can decide to change how we handle change.

The best way I’ve personally found to handle change — both the change that comes whether I want it to or not and the change I take initiative to make — is to lean on that which does not change.

When Nehemiah was presented with an opportunity to bring about change, he could have simply ignored the internal tug. He could have continued as cup bearer to the king and lived a comfortable, safe life. He chose instead to lead change. Before he took any action, though, he anchored himself on the eternal God who never changes.

Nehemiah’s Example

Nehemiah is often studied for his obvious leadership characteristics such as integrity, humbleness, courage, compassion and focus. Nehemiah also provides a tremendous example of how to institute lasting change that endures through struggles.

Nehemiah traveled over 500 miles to lead change with a group of people who were stuck in brokenness for over a decade. He then motivates the people of Jerusalem to work toward significant and lasting change. Nehemiah’s example during this transformation gives several points to consider regarding how to institute lasting change in our own lives.

5 Keys to Lasting Change

Far more than just a city, Jerusalem represented an identity for the Jewish nation. The city and its wall told of the Jews connection (or lack of it) to God. When Nehemiah heard that the city walls and the people’s connection to God were in shambles, he chose to take action. God then used Nehemiah to transform His people.

Nehemiah’s approach to change, as directed by God through prayer, can teach us a tremendous amount about how to make change in our own lives.

  1. Stay organized. Nehemiah always had a plan in place, but he was also flexible as needed. Staying organized allows progress to continue even when chaos surrounds. In fact, reorganizing even when chaos seems in control can be extremely helpful.
  2. Be resourceful. Nehemiah asked the king for help, he asked the people and leaders of Jerusalem for help, and he found creative ways to continue the work even while opposition threatened. You’ll find resourcefulness present in the lives of all great leaders and heroes because change rarely happens in its absence.
  3. Persevere. Nehemiah had a plan, a specific purpose, and a steady persistence through difficulties, obstacles and discouragement. He kept moving forward regardless of what the opposition said or did. He persevered because he was centered on God’s will.
  4. Be consistent. Nehemiah consistently prayed, stayed organized and remained resourceful. Consistency shows reliable character, a necessary element for lasting change, and that’s the type of person others will follow through change.
  5. Be reliant. Above all, Nehemiah’s example shows the importance of relying on God. Nehemiah prayed regularly, even spending months praying and fasting before taking action. Because he relied on God, his approach to lasting change took hold in a powerful way.

Whether we are in need of complete rebuilding like the walls and people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time or we recognize the call of God in our hearts to institute change in some way, these key provide a solid approach for managing that change. Most importantly, Nehemiah’s example of anchoring himself in an unchanging God provides the single most important key for change to truly endure.

DISCUSSION: What other keys do you find essential for lasting change, either by way of experience or through another’s example?

The Babel of Unity

Babel

Most Christians know that God desires unity. We’ve also likely experienced the effects of disunity on individual as well as group effectiveness. So we get the basic concept that unity is good, and disunity is bad. Right?

Then enters the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. The people build this tower, working together in unity with one language, only to discover that God is displeased. Why? What about their unity upset God?

Here’s the point… While God does desire unity among believers, he does not want it at the expense of our obedience to Him.

To help understand this truth, let’s consider the following points from the story:

  1. The people settled in one place when they knew God wanted them to spread out and populate the earth.
  2. The people focused on “building a name” for themselves rather than on obeying God.
  3. Left alone, the people only focused inwardly rather than on God’s bigger purposes.
  4. The people were led astray by ungodly leaders.

In that basic outline of the story, I see my own struggle with remembering what God desires of me and with keeping His will as my focus at all times. And this struggle is not because God’s directives are too big or overwhelming. It’s because I’m an imperfect human being with a part of me that wants to go and do and be all on my own. I want to say and do what I want when I want, and I sometimes balk at this idea of obedience to anyone else’s way.

Reading stories like the Tower of Babel, along with the many others in the Old Testament, I realize how much human nature does not change. In these stories, I see how my life might play out should I continue to settle where I want, build a name for myself, and focus inwardly. So it helps me tremendously to think through these stories, ones I’ve heard and read many times during and since my childhood days in Sunday school, and draw lessons to help me avoid the same mistakes others have made.

With that, consider the following application points drawn from the Old Testament story of The Tower of Babel.

  1. Arrogance and pride lead to thinking we can match and even exceed God’s wisdom. (Proverbs 16:18)
  2. Desire for self-sufficiency leads to rebellion. (Isaiah 65:2)
  3. Building anything through relying on our own efforts rather than on God alone is futile. (Psalm 62:5-8)
  4. Be careful of following others into disobedience. (James 4:4)
  5. God will step in to diffuse rebellion. (Genesis 11:5-9)

When I think of the times in my life when I lost my focus on God, I usually (always?) replaced that focus with selfishness and independence. I also stopped moving forward, and I planted my feet in order to establish myself. I looked to my own wisdom and ability to achieve success, and I simply followed the whims of my fickle emotions.

Let’s be clear on one point, though: God always intervenes when his people head down the path of disobedience. The problem is, we don’t always notice his activity because we’re too inwardly focused. And the more we ignore Him, the less sensitive we become to His voice, and the more blind we are to our arrant ways. Eventually, God simply leaves us to our own devices (Romans 1:24).

BUT, if we listen to His still, small voice, and if we acknowledge our wrong ways and simply, as Bob Newhart says, “Stop it!”, we can avoid the confusion that comes into our lives when we take the path lined with arrogance, pride and rebellion. When we turn our focus back toward God, we’ll experience a rushing return of his grace and mercy, and his blessings once again will begin to flow in our lives.

But don’t take my word for it, take God’s word for it.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

DISCUSSION: Can you think of additional application from the story of the Tower of Babel?

 For another take on the story of The Tower of Babel, see Loren Pinilis’ post “Why God May Oppose Your New Year’s Resolutions.”

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Infused with Alacrity

Have you ever been annoyed by someone’s enthusiasm? When someone consistently lacks authenticity and instead exists wrought with emotion & absent of action, do they grate on your nerves? When a person seems full of inflated enthusiasm that flares quickly and fades even more quickly, do you find yourself rolling your eyes in frustration at having to again waste your time?

Perhaps you’ve been that person who has episode after episode of enthusiasm that quickly waxes and wanes, and you wonder what’s keeping you from finally following through… just once.

Perhaps the key involves alacrity.

Alacrity 1

What is Alacrity?

Alacrity involves having a cheerful readiness, promptness or willingness as well as having a liveliness and briskness to what you do. Synonyms for alacrity include eagerness, keenness, fervor, zeal, sprightliness & agility.

The Latin origin of alacrity — alacritus — combines “lively” and “tasty” and gives the idea of an enthusiasm that “tastes good” to the point of craving more.

We’ve all experienced this type of enthusiasm — the type resulting in action with far-reaching impact. This type of enthusiasm is followed by well-thought-out planning built on garnered wisdom carefully crafted into an exciting vision. That’s enthusiasm infused with alacrity.

Regardless of whether you struggle living out your enthusiasm with significant, meaningful action, or if you simply want to take your enthusiasm to another level, focusing on alacrity might be the key.

Alacrity 2

Boaz & Alacrity

While studying the book of Ruth, I came across the term alacrity in an unexpected place. Easton’s Bible Dictionary gives the name Boaz the meaning “alacrity.”

In other references, the name Boaz is defined with the words swift, strong, powerful, mighty, fierce, safety, protection and quick. All of these sort of skim the edges of the meaning of alacrity, but they don’t explain how the word fits with the man Boaz in the story of Ruth.

So I reread the book of Ruth with the idea of alacrity in mind, and the term came alive in a way that stuck… a way that is helping me infuse my enthusiasm with alacrity.

(Note: If you don’t know much about the book of Ruth, I encourage you to read through its four short chapters now with the idea of alacrity in mind.)

Alacrity 3

Infused with Alacrity

Alacrity comes alive in Boaz’s example. Based on this example, let’s look at how alacrity can be infused into a person’s enthusiasm and become carried out through that person’s attitude, actions and words.

Alacrity becomes infused in a person’s character when they…

  1. Look out for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4) Boaz made sure Ruth – and by extension Naomi – were taken care of in a right and proper way. Alacrity showed through in his willingness to help others.
  2. Are motivated by compassion. (Colossians 3:12) At first, Boaz’s motivation came simply when heard how Ruth took care of her mother-in-law. Alacrity showed through in his eagerness to help another person.
  3. Fulfill responsibilities. (Galatians 6:4-5) Once Boaz discovered his responsibilities as “kinsman redeemer,” he moved into action to immediately and fulfill them. Alacrity showed through in his readiness to meet requirements.
  4. Live deserving of esteem. (1 John 3:18) This doesn’t mean seeking respect; instead, it involves living worthy of respect from others. Alacrity showed through in Boaz’s agility, or natural willingness to live with godly character.
  5. Go above and beyond. (Colossians 3:17, 23-24) Boaz took initiative. He made the decision to act & then went well beyond expectation & obligation. Alacrity showed through in an enthusiasm that “tasted good.”

Alacrity 4

Alacrity Challenge

Does your attitude exude enthusiasm in a way that equips others?

Does it result in effective and complete action with long-term impact?

Do you live a life of integrity and effectiveness in a way that goes beyond the minimum required of you?

Do you use the opportunities before you and the gifts, talents and abilities God gives you to make a difference in the lives of others?

If not, what can you do differently to infuse alacrity into your enthusiasm?

Study it out: Read the book of Ruth. What other ways can you see alacrity come through in Boaz’s attitude, actions and words?

Where Should You Place Your Trust?

TrustAnalyzing Trust

Where do you place your trust? Friends? Family? Spouse? Parents? Teachers? Doctors? Pastors? Authors? Children? Finances? Abilities? Talents? News? Television?

To some degree, every object of trust breaks trust at some point. We all know the sting of broken trust. If we’re completely honest, we all must admit to being the source of that sting at times too.

Where you place your trust and the level of trust you extend to another depends greatly on your view of their overall trustworthiness, dependability and reliability. How much you trust also depends upon your overall ability to trust in general. In other words, trust exists specific to the trustworthiness of the person or thing being trusted, but it also exists based on your overall life experience with trust as well as on your individual expectations for trust.

For example, I trust my husband more than any other person because our shared experiences over the past 29 years prove his overall trustworthiness. Doesn’t mean he’s never let me down, but it does mean his life speaks to a solid character deserving of trust.

On the other hand, broken trust with other people surprised me enough times over the years to the point of lowering my expectation for trustworthiness in general. People I thought I knew were not who I thought they were. Apparent character turned out not to be false. And, spoken values ended up as dust in the whirlwind of busyness and overload.

So, while my overall trust of my husband still stands strong and gives hope that trustworthiness still exists in people, my overall trust of people in general exists weaker today than it did five years ago.

Choosing Obedience Over Feelings

Today, I stand questioning the trustworthiness of people in general. Befuddled by what seems to be an epidemic gap between the private self and the public self in way too many individuals, I expect the appearance of character to no longer match reality and am pleasantly surprised when it does.

My reaction to these feelings involves wanting to live an introverted life, a natural bent for me anyway. But even more than what seems natural, I find myself drawn away from connecting and gravitating toward keeping people at a safe distance emotionally.

Yet, a pull deep within me keeps me from completely withdrawing. It keeps the desire for connection alive even at the risk of hurt caused by broken trust. That inclination involves the Holy Spirit’s work within me creating a desire to please God and do His will regardless of my feelings.

Scripture says to love others. It says to to connect and encourage and admonish and give advice and get advice. So, withdrawing goes against God’s desires. I admit to often being at odds with Scripture’s directives regarding connection. My desire to lessen the sting of broken trust rides high in my awareness, and I often given in to it.

The sting of broken trust leads me to pull against what Scripture says about loving others.

Since what I’m feeling does not match with what I know of God’s Word, I must analyze the disconnect and better align my thoughts and feelings with God’s Word.

With that realization, let’s consider what God says about trust.

What God Says About Trust

Scripture clearly tells us where NOT TO place your trust:

  • Weapons (Psalm 44:6) — This gets at the idea of our ability to defend ourselves.
  • Wealth (Psalm 49:6, 7) — A means for sharing blessing not an object of trust.
  • Leaders (Psalm 146:3) — Leaders often make mistakes and fail to meet our expectations.
  • Man (Jeremiah 17:5) — Placing people as the source of trust brings curse, not blessing.
  • Works (Jeremiah 48:7) — Trusting in skills and abilities leads to captivity; works are never enough.
  • Righteousness (Ezekiel 33:13) — We simply don’t possess the ability to obtain righteousness, to do enough to be completely trustworthy, on our own.

Scripture helped me understand the hurt caused by broken trust came because I expected complete trustworthiness from people and things unable to deliver it.

Scripture also clearly tells us where TO place your trust:

  • God’s Name (Psalm 33:21) — His name reflects His attributes and His character. God always holds true to His character.
  • God’s Word (Psalm 119:42) — Scripture provides the answers needed for every struggle of life.
  • Christ (Matthew 12:17-21) — The hope of all the world rests securely on the perfectly trustworthy shoulders of Jesus.

We are to trust in His Word, in who He says He is and with hope in the death-conquering power of Christ. My trust should belong nowhere else. And as is the abundant nature of God, He also gives benefits of trusting Him.

Place Your Trust in God

Trust blessings

When reading this list of benefits of trusting in God alone, I wonder try to trust or have confidence in anyone or anything else.

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Other posts on trust:

Why We Need Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

Below is a guest post by 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.

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Why We Need Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

My heart is prone to forget. For seven years, my wife has struggled with a chronic health condition known as POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) – a form dysautonomia. From 2008-2011, we traversed the specialty medical circuit – VCU, Vanderbilt, Toledo, and the Mayo Clinic – as Karen underwent test after test, consultation after consultation.

Over time, it became apparent that she would be forced to manage the disease rather than be cured of it. Through the days, months, and years of pain and struggle, Karen has shown incredible strength and resolve. And as her condition became our new “normal,” our attention turned to growing our family.

Some doctors opined that we should hold off on having children. However, Karen’s POTS specialist in Toledo encouraged us to pursue pregnancy, stating that many POTS patients do really well while pregnant.

Yet after three miscarriages, we contemplated whether or not we should simply give up. Thankfully, we didn’t lose complete hope, even in the midst of some extremely dark days. Eventually, Karen got pregnant once again, and this time, everything seemed to be on track right up through the first several hours of labor.

I have a saying that few things in our lives seem to come easy, and the delivery of our son would be no exception. About 4:30 AM, the doctor burst into our room, jarring me out of my light nap. With a deep concern in his voice, he confirmed that both Karen’s and the baby’s heart rates were unstable. They needed to perform a C-section right away. After the longest hour-and-a-half of my life, she gave birth to our beautiful, healthy son.

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Prone to Forget

Six months later, my heart is prone to forget about the struggle and pain. I am more apt to go about our daily routine of diaper changes and battling acid reflux without spending a moment recognizing God’s blessing of a beautiful baby boy.

Similarly, my heart is prone to lose sight of the cross and the brutal sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. I am so self-absorbed that I am more concerned about paying the bills than God’s work throughout the nations. I can stand in awe of God’s blessing one day and have completely forgotten about His favor a mere 24 hours later.

Maybe that is why the apostle Paul urges us to “Pray without ceasing…” or why the Psalmist prayerfully offers, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.”

There are so many distractions in our world that it takes discipline to remain in firmly entrenched in God’s presence. Spiritual discipline. That’s not a phrase we hear bandied about too much anymore, even within the walls of the church. Discipline sounds so twentieth century. We live in the century of instantaneous pleasure and success.

I’m probably the last person who should be writing about spiritual discipline because my heart is prone to wander and is filled with inconsistencies. Nevertheless, an ongoing relationship with God cannot exist without spiritual discipline. Discipline is a word we often associate with routine and boredom. Yet by adding a little variety, we can keep our relationship with God alive and vibrant.

Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

We don’t have to sit in the same location to pray or read the Bible. We don’t have to attend the same church service and sit in the same pew we have been sitting in for the last 20 years. If your spiritual walk feels stale, it’s probably because it is. The goal of spiritual discipline is not discipline in and of itself, but to draw into a more intimate walk with the Father.

What are some ways we can add variety to spiritual disciplines?

Worship – This can take on so many forms. Why not look for creative and meaningful ways to worship? Work is worship. Art is worship. Singing is worship. The key is whether the worship points back to God or to self.

Prayer – I like to pray while I am walking on a nature trail. Sometimes I talk to God while driving. Other times, I prefer to pray just sitting in silence. We may need to break away for an hour and spend time with God in His Creation.

Acts of Service – There are an infinite number of ways to serve the church and community. They key involves utilizing our unique calling in a variety of others-centered ways.

Bible Reading – There are numerous, sound Bible translations available to us, and it may help to switch up every once in a while. In addition, we have limitless books, courses, Bible studies, and workbooks available at the click of a mouse. These resources provide a helpful way to inject life into devotional times.

DISCUSSION: Is your heart prone to wander? What other ways can we add variety to spiritual disciplines in order to make our hearts come alive?

 

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!

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.

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.

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?