Love Holds the Key

Some of my favorite stories involve time periods where guards protected castles and all they stood for with fierce loyalty. The stories include bravery and courage. They show strength that goes well beyond what seems possible. Most importantly, these qualities are wrapped in love shown as compassion toward others.

Picture a guard in armor with this sense of duty as you read some of Paul’s closing words in 1 Corinthians. The terms used here are military words, and making that connection gives a better depth of understanding about how to live for Christ.

“Be on guard. Stand true to what you believe. Be courageous. Be strong. And everything you do must be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

This verse expressed succinctly show how to carry out all of what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians.

Be on guard.

Watch so you’re not surprised by the enemy. Attacks and challenges will come at some point. Be ready for them. Always be in full armor.

Stand true to what you believe.

Know what you believe and why you believe it. Refuse to compromise. Fix your faith in the Gospel. Determine to keep your ranks unbroken.

Be courageous.

Be brave. Don’t flinch when attacked. Maintain your ground. Resist! Press forward. Refuse to let fear of failure or criticism stop you.

Be strong.

True strength comes from God. Even in weakness, we are strong if He is our focus. Maintain your position.

Everything done in love.

Without love, everything is pointless. We only serve ourselves if love is absent.

As a Christian, I know the key to successfully living out Paul’s words falls at the end — “let everything be done in love.” First, I know it because Jesus himself declared love the most important command for us to follow.

“What commandment is the foremost of all? Jesus answered, ‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30-31)

Second, I know it because my favorite stories, and even more so many real life ones, show these qualities carried out both in love and in the absence of love. Strength, courage, standing true, being on guard all lead to evil’s victory in the absence of love.

Love truly holds the key to victoriously living for Christ.

A Glimpse of Infinite Power

Horses Grazing Religious Worship Background

Throughout history, men have placed their trust and even their very lives in the hooves of horses. The unique qualities and abilities found in horses are why they went first into battle and why thousands flock to see them race throughout the United States. Horses have a way of capturing our hearts and minds unlike any other animal.

Horses allow us to be a part of their worlds, too, even have dominion over them. They allow us to direct and teach them and to use them for our own benefit and gain.
Because of the role horses have played throughout our history, the comparison made in Psalm 20:7 holds tremendous significance for helping us better understand God’s power in our lives.

“Some boast (praise; trust; are strong through) in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.”

In King David’s day when he wrote the Psalm, many opposing countries conquered through the strength of their war chariots, and they wrought fear in whatever people they faced for this reason. The Israelites, under David’s leadership, chose instead to focus on the name of the Lord, a power infinitely beyond any other, and He came through time and time again.

Horses always give an imposing show. Even when grazing in the cool morning on dew-laden grass, their peaceful beauty speaks of a strength almost beyond measure. Yet, they’re weak in comparison to the power of the almighty God.

Instead of the comparison diminishing horses in any way, it actually works to expand my view of the strength of the Lord and make the power of the invisible God, the Creator of horses and humans alike, more visible. When I read and watch stories about tremendous horses like Seabiscuit, I am once again in awe of my Lord simply by glimpsing Him thorough one of His most magnificent creations.

This post was inspired by the book Seabiscuit by Laura Hildebrand.

Presence Over Productivity

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Productivity = the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.

Generate. Create. Enhance. Bring Forth.

We all feel good when these describe our day, week, month, year, life. We feel successful.

Presence = the act of being, existing or occurring at this time or now; current. Synonyms are being, companionship, company & existence.

Being. Existing. Occurring. Companionship.

True companionship — presence with another — satisfies a deep part in ourselves that otherwise remains untouched.

Both productivity and presence begin with outward activity, and both satisfy an inward need. But there’s a distinct and crucial difference between the two.

Alone, productivity remains pretty close to the surface of defining who we are as individuals. It brings a sense of acceptance from our culture. Eventually, though, as our ability to be productive waxes and wanes and even slows to a stop at times, we realize the limits of what productivity does within and through us.

Presence, on the other hand, fills a deep need within every person to receive acceptance as they simply dwell with others. Presence fulfills and rewards at our core. It allows for a deep satisfaction not found any other way.

Productivity still remains a healthy and satisfying activity. It even exists as a Biblical directive for our lives (2 Thessalonians 3:10, 2 Corinthians 9:6, Acts 20:35 & 1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Presence, though, satisfies at a much deeper level than productivity because it creates purpose in our lives that fuels meaningful productivity. When presence exists with our Creator, joy and rest result (Psalm 16:11 & Exodus 32:14). When presence happens within the body of Christ (other Christians), we experience help, healthy and victory (Genesis 2:18 & Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

If you struggle with busyness and overload and have no idea how to create margin and find a simpler life, let me share a principle — a phrase, really, that bounces around in my head — it helped me when I was chronically overwhelmed and overloaded and it helps keep me from getting to that point again.

Presence 2

Always choose being fully present in your relationships over being productive. You’ll soon discover the productivity, at least in the areas that matter, happens not in spite of choosing presence but because of it.

DISCUSSION: How has making relationships a priority transformed your life?

Go, Set A Watchman

Earlier this year, I read “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee. While the book disappointed, the title stirred my curiosity. After a quick search, I discovered the inspiration for the title and went on a bit of a journey into its meaning. What follows here reflects that journey.

Watchmen of Old

Many great cities (Babylon, Jericho & Jerusalem, for example) in Bible times had walls around them for protection. Watchmen stood upon these walls and looked for signs of enemies, travelers, messengers or any unusual activity.

The Hebrew word for watchman (tsaphah) literally means to lean forward & to peer into the distance. The word implies to behold, spy out, wait for & keep the watch. Watchmen held important jobs because spotting danger from a distance gave a king and his army time to implement a plan of action and protection if necessary.

A watchman, in order to do his job well, needs to stay awake and alert. He needs to fight distractions and be very good at discerning the nature of approaching situations. No reading a book or playing games on your phone. Watchmen must pay attention.

God’s Appointed Watchmen

The spiritual truth regarding watchmen plays out in the Old Testament when God set prophets as watchman over His people.

“For thus has the Lord said to me: “Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he sees.” (Isaiah 21:6)

Harper Lee borrowed the phrase “Go Set A Watchman” from Isaiah because Maycomb desperately needed a “moral compass.” Without it, the people followed the ways of culture and of the flesh. The idea of a “moral compass” captures well what God intended for the watchmen He set over his people.

In the Old Testament, a watchman (also used in Ezekiel 3:17) was a “moral compass” for God’s people to help them stay obedient to His will as declared in His word and to help them resist the culture around them.

Watchmen are also identified in the New testament and given tremendous responsibility as moral compasses over God’s people.

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)

However, as with literal watchmen on the walls, what happens with the information a watchmen provides is not up to them. The receiver of the information decides what action to take (Ezekiel 33:1-9). The purpose of watchmen set in place by God is to teach, explain, expound and warn. Those who receive that instruction choose how to respond.

Believers as Watchmen

God gives every believer the task of heeding the warnings and directions given by his appointed watchmen.

“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

God also appoints ever believer as a watchmen too. A variety of Scripture get at the importance of believers as watchmen and aid to further instruct us as to the duty and purpose of the watch we are to keep. Looking at just one — 1 Peter 5:8 — provides a great deal regarding the nature and activity of this responsibility. The first part of this verse in the Amplified says…

“Be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times.”

How this command gets carried out looks different from one individual to the next, but the general point is clear: Stay awake and pay attention. The motivation for doing so remains the same for every person and is found in the second part of 1 Peter 5:8.

“That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour.”

The enemy sneaks and prowls in an attempt to catch every believer unaware. He looks for the weakest moment to attack. He has restless energy that he can never satiate. We must keep watch, and we must heed the warnings of those God sets to keep watch over his flock. We must always remember the power and cunning of the enemy. We must fulfill our roles as watchmen.

DISCUSSION: How well are you heeding the watchmen (leaders) in your life? How well are you fulfilling your own role as a watchman?

Don’t Sleep Through the Storm

Gifted Sleepers

My husband has a gift for sleeping. He falls asleep within minutes of his head hitting the pillow, and he’s perfected the art of the power nap. He can also sleep on airplanes, even during turbulence. In fact, I’ve witnessed him fall asleep prior to takeoff and not wake until landing for shorter flights. I’m jealous. I do not have that gift.

I think Jonah had a gift for sleeping too. After choosing to deliberately disobey God, Jonah heads in the opposite direction of God’s leading. He boards a ship to Tarshish (the most remote location he could think of) and promptly falls asleep in the ships belly. In fact, Jonah sleeps so soundly that he fails to wake even when the storm hits.

“But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep. So the captain came to him, ‘What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.’” (Jonah 1:5-6)

In other words, “How in the world can you sleep in this storm?”

Now, maybe Jonah was just a good sleeper like my husband. Or, maybe he’s like so many of us who sleep (literally and figuratively) in order to avoid God-given responsibility (or responsibility of any kind for that matter). Regardless, it took a serious storm plus another person shaking him awake to finally get Jonah moving.

What can we learn from this single scene in the rather short story of Jonah?1100938_57493317

  1. Storms are sometimes from God. Whether he allows or sends them, storms (trials) are sometimes God’s tools for shaping our lives.
  2. God sometimes uses others to shake us into action. We often fail to have the right perspective during our own trials and need to hear another’s perspective to help us get moving.
  3. God sometimes uses unbelievers to direct believers. The captain was not a believer (yet), but he still implored Jonah to call on his God because the captain’s god (or gods) wasn’t getting the job done.
  4. God uses storms to get us moving in the right direction. The more determined the disobedience, likely the more powerful the storm. If there’s a raging storm in your life, consider how God might be using it to direct you.
  5. Even the best sleeper can’t ignore God forever. We can choose to dismiss Him, but no trick exists for completely and permanently avoiding Him. We will one day have to face Him (Galatians 6:7).

Try as we might, whether by literally sleeping or by “sleeping” in the form of busyness and distractions, we cannot avoid storms meant to set us on the right track. Over time, however, we may put our awareness of God to sleep and become less and less able to see and hear His directing. Let us each determine first not to be deliberately disobedient and to secondly not “sleep” during God’s redirecting.

DISCUSSION: How can we be sure to avoid “sleeping” and missing God’s directives?

Consider reading the following posts for helping answer this question:

Healthy Relationships During the Holidays and Beyond

Relationships 1Holiday Relationships

Relationships lie at the heart of holiday activity. For Christians, that first and foremost means an individual’s relationship with Christ. But we cannot escape that Scripture also advocates for a right relationship with other Christians. We are to encourage and build up the body of Christ. We are also to set an example of love for unbelievers to see.

The holidays seem to amplify the state of relationships; unfortunately, that includes making bad ones worse and often causing good ones to struggle. So much strain comes from already struggling finances, unmet expectations and inevitable disappointments.

As with physical and spiritual health, relationships can survive and even thrive during the holidays if deliberately considered rather than reacted to and given band-aid fixes.

Healthy Relationships

Consider the following advice as you work toward healthy relationships through the holidays and beyond.

  1. Be committed to caring. A focus on building bridges and not walls in our relationships, especially during the holidays, leads us to show concern for others and to focus on what blesses them.
  2. Cultivate respect. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians, the onus lies with the more mature spiritually and involves choosing relationships over ego.
  3. Develop & live out family convictions. State convictions and then allowed them to shape traditions.
  4. Be flexible. Flexibility is required to maintain relationships as life changes. Purpose to adapt, and refuse to hold tight to tradition for fear of change.
  5. Don’t let assumptions kill relationships. Make a point to respectfully express feelings, and don’t take for granted that others know how you feel. Say it both verbally and physically (hugs and smiles).
  6. Share responsibilities. Ask what you can do to help but also ask for help too.
  7. Engage people and be fully where you are. Put down the technology and make eye contact. Make sure your loved ones know you don’t prefer your electronics over them.
  8. Don’t allow expectations to kill relationship. Be realistic and have fair expectations of others. Don’t set them up for failure.

Depression and family contention hit their height for many during the holidays. Most likely, these two realities are closely related to the loneliness and disconnect so many feel this time of year.

Fortunately, a deliberate choice by individual Christians can make a huge impact for health and wholeness, healing and mending. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, rely on the Lord to guide you toward healthy relationships during the holidays and beyond.

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Becoming Spiritually Healthy

Light 1

Jesus Changes Everything…

The biggest impact on my focus for lasting transformation and increasing joy during the holidays and beyond came when I truly met Jesus in the pages of Scripture and allowed His Holy Spirit to direct my focus. I’ve technically been a Christian my whole life. Yet, it took almost 30 years for my faith to become a significant driving force, for me to truly become spiritually healthy.

This doesn’t mean my faith didn’t impact my life before that point. However, when I finally realized and admitted my utter dependence upon Christ to work in me through His Holy Spirit for a joyful reality, my faith became so much more than mere fire insurance.

If You’ll Let Him!

Jesus desires for us to be spiritually healthy. He wants to increase the focus of our lives continually more toward God. But, He doesn’t force Himself on us. His Holy Spirit doesn’t force its way in as the director of our focus either. We must let Him change how we think… which changes our focus, which then changes our reality… if we are to become spiritually healthy.

Spiritually Healthy Habits

Usually, being led by Christ through His Holy Spirit involves many activities we already know to be spiritually beneficial. In other words, letting Christ lead us simply means doing that which Scripture extols as necessary habits for continually increasing spiritual health.

  1. Don’t neglect the basics. Keeping a consistent routine of Bible study, prayer & worship proves immensely beneficial. The basics keep us strong for the unexpected life inevitably handed us.
  2. Try simple & minimal. Take this approach with every aspect of life from schedules to clothing. Allow yourself the mental space to enjoy the people in your life by keeping the material aspects as simple as possible.
  3. Pay attention to physical health. While indulging feels good in the moment, the consequences usually outweigh any momentary, immediate pleasure. Consider the long-term impact of choices prior to making them.
  4. Make relationships a priority. Choose relationships over doing and going and accomplishing and impressing whenever possible.

Deliberately considering what I allow to direct my focus, the thoughts I allow to dwell in my spirit, helps me continue making choices that lead to a positive and joy-filled life. As I do so, and as I keep to these habits, living spiritually healthy becomes a more natural part of who I am.

Establish your focus on the only person able to align all you are with truth, light and hope. Let Jesus continually and increasingly direct your focus and shape your reality. This is the only way to become and stay spiritually healthy.

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Aging Gracefully

Birthday Confetti Email SalutationEvery year as my birthday nears, I struggle with aging. Actually, I continually battle the thought of aging but fixate on it more when I must actually add to the number that captures the reality.

Yeah, I know the “age is just a number” sayings, but I don’t buy them. To me, that constantly-increasing number reminds me of my mortality, and I find I must deliberately confront my thoughts in this area in order to not find myself consumed by what sometimes feels like futility.

Maybe I love this world too much. Maybe I’m too attached to the desires of my flesh. Or maybe I simply struggle with the wasted time of my past, now lost forever. Regardless, I know I need to, as my pastor said recently, live forward instead of backwards, and for me this means confronting these thoughts that could paralyze me if I let them.

tent

While I struggle with aging, I’m also acutely aware that the number placed on my age only involves my current dwelling or “tent” as Paul calls it (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). I know that the real me, my spirit, renews daily (2 Corinthians 4:16)… it doesn’t age. I hold dearly to my future promised with Christ in Heaven, and I know I must “not think only about things down here” but must “also set [my] sights on the realities of heaven” (Colossians 3:1-2).

At the same time, I can’t deny my desire to extend this tent-dwelling life as much as possible, to live a long, good life on this earth. I simply cannot escape the deep sense that this mortal life truly matters even amidst its fleetingness.

Since this life does matter, I want to age gracefully. I want to live fully in a way that pleases my Creator because I don’t believe He would give me this life if it didn’t matter much, if He didn’t have a specific purpose for both now and into eternity.

Do you have a similar struggle with aging and/or a desire to age gracefully?

In my goal to age gracefully, the focus topic for August on Struggle to Victory, I’m looking to what Scripture says to help me live in victory even within the struggle. In that, I will explore what the Bible teaches about living a long, good life (which is actually quite a lot), attempt to understand the truth that “physical training is of some value” (1 Timothy 4:8) and look at what it takes to finish well.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on aging gracefully?

Discovering Strength Through Brokenness

broken In 2009, I discovered my allergy to dairy and my intolerance to gluten. Sensitivities to several other foods (crab, eggs and cashews) also came to light. As I changed my diet to eliminate these foods, I began to feel dramatically better. In fact, I felt better physically and mentally than I had my whole life.

Then I reached a plateau about two years later. I felt a tremendous sense of isolation as well as frustration as I watched others enjoy any food they desired. I saw only limits. I saw a cage that separated me from others. My frustration increased as I realized that my body is also tremendously sensitive to a lot of stimulation.

In fact, inflammation rises at the slightest chemical imbalance. Too much of any food causes distress, but any of certain foods causes setback. In addition, a lot of noise bothers me, and too much information in too small space of time easily impedes my ability to think. I also struggle being in groups of people for very long, sometimes even at all.

At times, I’m simply at odds with understanding why I am so physically and mentally sensitive. Some days, I just feel very alone. But, this journey also brings to light my many physical and mental limitations and weaknesses and gives greater understanding of how God’s strength flow in a practical way through my weaknesses.

In this struggle, I learned a valuable lesson: Freedom comes through brokenness revealed by weaknesses.

Realizing utter helplessness to be healthy on my own truly set me free. The process began with salvation and seeing my inability to escape the grip of sin. And it grew when I finally understood that every weakness I have presents an opportunity for increased freedom from the flesh.

My weaknesses humble me. They force me to understand my inability to control. They lead me to increased reliance upon the only One who truly has control. They present a choice between letting those weaknesses define and control me or allowing them to direct me toward His strength.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

My weaknesses constantly remind me of my need for Christ. They remind me every day of my lack of self-control and of my tendency toward acting based on feelings and emotion. Without Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit producing the fruit of self-control within me, I fall prey to the consequences of my weaknesses.

Brokenness opens the floodgates for His power to work perfection in spite of me. It allows for a Holy-Spirit-led life that does not seek to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18), desires that most clearly show through in my weaknesses. And this by nothing in and of myself but instead only through His strength filling in the spaces left by brokenness.

DISCUSSION: How has weakness led to brokenness in your life? What difference does God’s strength make in your struggle with weakness?

How to Maintain Balance

bicycle quoteAs I consider the times I’ve found myself out of balance, which is more than I like to admit, I realize that I only become imbalanced when I fail to adjust. When I neglect making adjustments as my life changes and as struggles arise, I lose my balance and fall over.

The answer, then, to how to maintain balance, involves making constant adjustments, to continually finding a new normal as circumstances change with the seasons of life. This requires honesty with yourself along with humility to admit the need to adjust. As we learn to live in this constant state of adjustment, which is really what balance is all about, we’ll find that we continually improve in our ability to balance.

Adjusting for Balance

Making the following adjustments on a regular basis helps me stay consistently balanced. That doesn’t necessarily mean I am always balanced… but I certainly live there more frequently the more I consistently practice these habits:

  1. cyclists dismountSlow but don’t stop. Refuse to give up and quit. Take time to slow down and rest if necessary, but keep moving forward.
  2. Maintain focus. Establish core values and align focus daily.
  3. Be a team player. Don’t attempt balance alone. Have regular accountability.
  4. Evaluate regularly. From work commitments to relationships, make sure priorities stay properly ordered.
  5. Find ways to simplify. Life is chaotic enough on its own; refuse to add complication.
  6. Be yourself. Balance and simplicity are unique to the individual. Find your balance. Find your simple. Find your normal.
  7. Know yourself. Find your niche, not someone else’s. Dan Erickson’s post “why you can’t have what your neighbor has” can help shed light on this idea.
  8. Avoid comparisons. I can always find someone better and worse at balance, but neither does anything to help me stay balanced.

All too often, I go from simply trying to balance the various elements in my life to juggling them. Trying to balance and juggle at the same time is hard; in fact, I can’t do it. Can you? Yet all too often that’s exactly where we live. It’s a place where I’m not just trying to keep my life balanced, but I’m also tossing appointments and commitments and projects and people around like juggling balls. In this place, I’m losing the strength and ability, the margin I need, to adjust for consistent balance.

But when I continually adjust for balance, I’m better able to discover and live a harmonious life. And in that harmony exists the margin of peace amidst chaos. Try it… I know you’ll like it there.

DISCUSSION: How do you adjust for balance? If you feel like a circus act both juggling and balancing, what can you change to move toward less chaos?

Recently, Bill Grandi at Cycle Guy’s Spin ran a series called Second Chances. In it, I wrote about my struggle with depression. Through a series of questions and emails, Bill asked if I would consider writing more about my struggle and how I (with God’s help) overcame it. He sent me some questions, and we decided to run it as sort of an interview. Due to length, it is divided into five conversations. Here’s the link to the first one and the second one. The third will come next week.