God is a God of Second Chances

The post below first appeared at Cycle Guy’s Spin as part of a series on 2nd Chances. Since it, along with a resulting series on depression, were so well-received and with depression coming even more to our attentions with the death of Robin Williams, I decided to repost both my second chance story along with the depression series here on Struggle to Victory. Thursday’s post will present the first of 5 posts in the depression series.

JonahLearning from Jonah

What do you remember about the story of Jonah from Sunday School? Maybe you remember Jonah’s change of mind toward obedience, him being thrown into the water and spit out by the whale, or the Ninevites’ change of heart toward God. Whatever first comes to mind, I’m guessing it’s not the plant at the end of the story.

The dead plant doesn’t get much attention in Sunday School class. I all but forgot about it until my oldest (now 15) got interested in Veggie Tales around age 3. Now, two things stick out when I think of Jonah.

  1. God is a god of second chances.
  2. Jonah showed the most emotion when the plant died, and we never hear of him again. (Jonah 4)

Jonah got angry when God gave the people of Ninevah a second chance. He got even angrier to the point of death when the shade-giving plant God gave him died. Let’s consider Jonah’s reactions in this story.

  1. He didn’t like having his plans changed.
  2. He played the “I told you so” card with God.
  3. He got embarrassed because what he predicted didn’t happen.
  4. He showed more concern for his own comfort than the spiritual welfare of others.
  5. He knew about God but failed to have a relationship with Him.

Unfortunately, Jonah’s story, especially his anger, reflects my own second-chance story all too well.

My Second Chance Story

For years, I wallowed in depression, refusing to see God’s compassion and mercy in my life. I threw tantrums when my plans were changed, and I hated appearing wrong. What others thought of me drove me to run away and avoid any discomfort. I knew about God – grew up going to church – but the spiritual state of anyone mattered little because caring meant confronting out-of-control emotion, and that mean discomfort. No thanks. I’d rather die.

Over time, God changed my heart from one focused on self to one that cared for others. He defeated my egotistical temper and replaced it with compassion and mercy. Through His Holy Spirit, God showed me the value of discomfort and how it could teach me to truly live. Through His Word, He developed a relationship with me that focused on pleasing Him instead of creating comfort.

I’m not sure what happened to Jonah after the plant died, but I know the same compassion and mercy God had for the Ninevites and that seemed lost on Jonah is the same compassion and mercy He has for me and for anyone who turns to Him.

Now when the plants die in my life and my shaded comfort disappears, God’s compassion and mercy – the avenues of second chances – turn me toward Him. They encourage me to push through embarrassment and toward relationship. God’s compassion and mercy drastically altered the course of my life and they’ll do the same for your life too.

DISCUSSION: What impact has God’s compassion and mercy had upon your life?

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Depression Series

DEPRESSIONRecently, 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, the conversation is divided into five conversations. Here’s the link to the first one, the second one and the third one. I believe Bill’s plans are to publish the remaining to in the next two weeks.

Please take a few minutes to visit Cycle Guy’s Spin to read my depression series along with Bill’s others posts which are always thought-provoking. Thank you, Bill, for this opportunity to share a very personal story. I believe God will do amazing things with our connection!

Overcoming Overload with Balance

balanceLast month’s focus on technology was interesting because I didn’t realize the impact of technology in the details of my life. I didn’t realize how out of balance I truly was regarding my use of technology and my need for almost constant access and information.

I certainly don’t think technology is evil. I love the relationships, the access to information and the freedom to share thoughts and ideas. Yet, I also realize the need to master or be mastered by technology and its incessant call. I understand that I must refuse to follow the crowd and instead choose my own focus. In doing so, I can overcome information overload by focusing on creating balance.

Laying Down the Gauntlet

Just like overload looks different on every person, so does a balanced solution for overload. In Managing Overload with Boundaries, we discussed basic principles as a guide in creating a plan for awareness, prevention and management of overload.

In today’s post, I am issuing a challenge, playing off our focus last month on technology and playing into this month’s focus on balance.

CHALLENGE

The challenge is this: Decide one way you can begin to become the master over technology in your life rather than a slave to it. Think of some change you can make that clearly says, “I refuse to follow the crowd and will decide for myself how to use technology & how to manage the information it constantly presents.”

To help, let’s look at examples of others working to create balance in their lives:

These examples and suggestions hopefully serve to get your creative juices flowing as well as to inspire and motivate.

Choose to Think

With the gauntlet laid down, consider this quote from Rick Dawson of Planned Peasanthood, someone who always hits home with truth…

“God gave us the ability to think – we have to choose to do so, on a minute by minute basis sometimes, if we don’t want to be overwhelmed by the ‘drinking from the firehose’ condition of living in an always on, 24/7/365 world. In its own way? It can set us up for the same sort of response that primitive man had – always afraid, always on guard.”

Choose to get grounded with God, and let Him prioritize your day. Trust God to get you the information and connections you need instead of obsessing over the constant inflow from technology. Find YOUR balance by choosing to think based on the guiding and directing of the Holy Spirit.

While I see the convenience of technology, I simply cannot shake the fact that it never satisfies my deep need for connection. And for that reason, I choose today to pick up the gauntlet.

DISCUSSION: Will you pick up the gauntlet too? If so, how?

Virtual Influences

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

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

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

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

How Do the People You Hang Out With Influence Your Thinking?

Who are the 5 people you hang out with the most? Do they encourage you? Do they tell you what you need to hear, not just what strokes your ego or helps justify your feelings? Do they challenge you to grow? Even when you disagree, do they stand firm in their convictions? Are they loyal to you even when it’s not easy being your friend? Do they help strengthen you when you’re stressed?

Rohn quote

Sure, we ultimately make our own decisions, but the more time you spend with someone, the more their impact on your thinking. For good and for bad, the people you spend time with influence you. Do you find this to be true?

But because we can’t, nor should we, eliminate all interaction with negative people or those who disagree with us, we must instead seek to deliberately choose what we allow to impact our thinking. Certainly, this involves the actual amount of time spent with someone. But how much does it also involve the depth to which you are vulnerable & transparent?

For example, you can spend time with negative, gossipy coworkers but refuse to let them influence your thinking by counteracting their influence through the other people you spend time with, the books you read, the movies and TV shows you watch, and even the music you listen to both during and outside of work.

Bob Sorge, in the final chapter of The Fire of Delayed Answers, brings Biblical application to this concept using Psalm 1:1-4.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers.

The Psalm doesn’t say we can or should avoid ungodly values, morals and attitudes altogether, but it does tell us we can choose not to walk, stand and sit with those living them. We can avoid much ungodly impact simply by how and where we choose to position ourselves. Failing to do so results in a gradual giving of ourselves to sin. Sorge expresses the idea this way:

“The sequence of “walks,” “stands,” and “sits” describes progressive entrapment in sin. The temptation of sin is to walk by, then to stand and hang out, and finally to sit down in it.”

Truth is, we will be tempted in these ways regularly. No practical way to avoid them. Influence comes at us constantly and in uncountable ways, but we can choose where to dwell and what we allow to dwell within us.

Let’s apply this concept to our virtual relationships. Who do you hang out with the most in forums or on social networking sites? Who do you walk, stand and sit with on a regular basis via text, email, blog reading/commenting, etc.?

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory will focus 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.

DISCUSSION: Are you the average of the 5 people you spend time with, virtually or otherwise? How can you apply Psalm 1 when we have as much, if not more, bad influence coming at us as good?

Making Allowances

Fault 2While I appreciate the sentiment of this statement, I have one major problem with it: Sometimes it does. Sometimes, poor planning – what many consider a “fault” - by another requires emergency action on my part.

Consider the following “faults,” inserting your own story.

She doesn’t handle last-minute changes well.

He doesn’t keep track of commitments.

She does most of her work last-minute.

He does not listen very well.

In such instances, there was a time when I would verbalize my irritation and either let others flounder in their faults or at the very least be uncomfortable in the wrath of my irritation. But then Colossians 3:13 got into my spirit:

Faults 1

For years, I simply did not want to make allowances. I wanted to correct people. I wanted to be justified in walking away in times of emergency or at least in making my annoyance clear as I bailed them out once again. Unfortunately, those reactions only allowed my emotions to rule and failed to cultivate relationships.

The only way I could begin applying what Paul meant when he instructed the church in Colossae to “make allowances for each other’s faults”  involved admitting that I too am part of the “each other.” In other words, I too have faults that others need to make allowances for regularly. And I want them to, right?

Doesn’t that mean they will, but I can only control my end of the “each other” and no one else’s. This involves realizing that making allowances doesn’t mean saying the faults are okay and don’t need changed; instead, it means that we take the fact that we all have faults into consideration and our New Nature Relationships strengthen as grace flows.

AllowancesHow to Make Allowances

Let’s look at Colossians 3:13 in context (vv. 12-15) for instruction on carrying out this aspect of cultivating relationships as we put on our new nature clothing showing we belong to Christ and are grateful for Him choosing us, making us holy, and loving us. In other words, how we treat others, including how we respond to their faults, reflects our inner ensemble, which includes:

  1. Tenderhearted mercy – Making undeserved allowances in a way that avoids hurting the offender even when justified in doing so.
  2. Kindness – Instead of lashing out because of chronic inconvenience, proceed in a way that preserves and strengthens the relationship.
  3. Humility – Not showing your rightness, but instead covering others weakness. You can either be right or have relationship; humility chooses relationship.
  4. Gentleness – Allowing and even helping the offender maintain and move forward with dignity.
  5. Patience – Allowing the mental space to recognize and correct faults, which are likely a frustrating struggle.

Right after instructions for making allowances, Paul says to complete the outfit of our new selves by forgiving others and by wearing love, which he calls “the most important piece of clothing.” Paul stresses forgiveness because “the Lord forgave you” and love because it binds believers “in perfect harmony.”

Cultivating Relationship

As we look at the details of cultivating New Nature Relationships, we begin to see how the focus must come off self and onto showing love. In our own efforts, impossible. But through the Holy Spirit, we are free to operate wearing the clothing of the new nature.

DISCUSSION: How might your current relationships benefit from “making allowances for each other’s faults”?

Thinking on Words

A friend recently said she planned on “wafing” at work the next day. At first, her word left me floundering to understand her meaning. But when I thought more about my friend and her approach to work, I somehow knew what she meant. The relationship created the meaning necessary to understand her words.

My friend also said that putting the word in quotes made it okay to use even though it is not a word. If that’s the case, then a lot of words need quotation marks.

Our conversation got me thinking about how people in general use words, both intentionally and unintentionally, how we create the meaning of the words we use, both real and made up, as well as the impact of relationship on the meaning of our words.

So, strap in, hold on, and journey into my thought process on the topic of words.

Words

Did you realize“unforgiveness” isn’t really a word? Not in my dictionary, anyway. “Impactful” isn’t either. Kind of disappointed since I use those words often.

Technically, adding “un” before “forgiveness” means taking back or undoing forgiveness. A very “churchy” (yes, another non-word) word, the assumed meaning of “unforgiveness” involves not forgiving or refusing to forgive, not so much an undoing of forgiveness given because of it not actually being given in the first place.

Impactful,”used to portray major impact or effect, is actually in some “online” dictionaries, but it’s not an official word according to Dictionary.com. And anyway, why not just use influential or effective? Unfortunately, I’ve used “impactful” so much over the years that I naturally think of it when describing something with great impact.

How many other words do I use frequently that don’t actually exist?

Words4

People constantly make up words. Some eventually become official words. (I’m still not over “ain’t” officially becoming a word.) Don’t we have enough words? Are we just too lazy to learn the ones we already have, so we make up new ones instead? Isn’t that kind of like being unable to find that thing you know you have somewhere, so you buy a new one instead of taking the time and making the effort to look for it?

Marketers, Tweeters (technically a real word) and “Facebookers” make up words all the time. Where do you think the Word of the Year “selfie” came from? (In case you’re wondering, second place went to “twerking.” Sorry, Miley!)

Ginormous” and “bestie” were also spawned “online” with “selfie.” The word “ginormous” combines gigantic and enormous, related synonymously, so why not just use one of the legitimate words? Can something truly be so gigantic and enormous that it needs both words to be described? Once something reaches enormous, does it need to be more? Or, is this simply our human tendency to add dramatic flare to everything?

Maybe my obsessive need to eliminate the little squiggly line under words creates an over-sensitivity to word choice. Or maybe my frustration over increasing laziness with the words we speak, over taking the time to communicate clearly and accurately, creates a need to consider the details of the words I use and the intentions behind them.

Words5

Take a minute to think about the words you use. Actually, think about how much you actually think about your words. Or, do you just let the words come forth without giving them much thought?

Scripture says a lot about using care with our words, and taking the time to consider these instructions strengthens character and relationships by bringing greater awareness to the fact that the words we speak – as well as how, when & why we speak them – reflect the atmosphere of the inner self with striking accuracy.

In January, we will look at how what we say, the way we say it and when we say it holds tremendous impact. In addition, we’ll look at how who says something matters along with the impact of the amount of words we speak (how much we say or don’t say). Finally, we’ll also look at the value of controlling our words along with ideas on how to incorporate this aspect of self control into the details of our lives.

DISCUSS: Take me on a journey into your thoughts on the use of words. Tell me what you think a detailed focus on this topic should include.

Too Overwhelmed to Become Less Overwhelmed

So often, people fail to work on developing a time management and goal-setting system simply because they feel overwhelmed. They feel like they are so far off track and have too many changes needing made that they just don’t know where to start. As a result, they don’t start anywhere and simply maintain the same dysfunctional system that got them to their current state of frustration.

Where to Start3-14-13 Where to start

Often, the answer is to simply just start. Just take a step forward. Yet, too often, the weight of perfectionism, too many choices or both prevents even that first step. Sometimes, setting big goals and getting your life organized simply seems insurmountable. When you feel this way, start the process of change by focusing on small changes that added together will make a huge difference over time.

The following tips can help you to start this small change process.

  1. Consider the extremes. Ask yourself what’s working well and what’s not working at all. Then look for ways to tweak what’s already working and to change with what is absolutely not working. Don’t worry about what falls in between.
  2. Get and stay teachable. This point has far reaching implications. Being teachable, or having the willingness to always learn and grow, is essential to a productive life. Within the context of goal setting and time management, being teachable involves a willingness to try different things. It means knowing that you can tweak what works and toss what doesn’t.
  3. Stick with what works. Or, at least with what kind of works. Really, something has to be working at least partly, or you’d be dead. You’ve got to be doing at least one thing right. When you’re already overwhelmed, trying to change everything at once just makes matters worse. Some changes can wait.
  4. Take the plunge. This means diving in with a new approach or method and being willing to experience failures. It means taking chances and continuing to do so until you find what works. Failure can be the greatest teacher, but we never know what will or won’t work until we give it a shot.
  5. Struggle through. Life will never be free from struggle. Not giving in, not being apathetic or complacent, not settling… that’s where the value in continuing to struggle exists.

If you make no other commitment today, commit to making your life a process of small change. Some days may involve huge leaps, while others will simply be successful when you don’t go backwards. Simply committing to lifting up your foot and taking a step starts the process of change.

When to Start

3-14-13 Start

Some people struggle with starting something new until every condition is perfect. Experience tells me this results in never starting. So, the perfect time to start is right now. Just one small step forward. Something. Anything. In order for small things to add up over time to make a huge difference, you have to be doing some small things. Choose one and start right now!

A Final Note

Know that person who seems to have it all together? She’s organized, in shape, and eats healthy. Her kids and husband seem content. You want to be just like her, right? Well, first realize that rarely are things as they appear. Secondly, know that being like her is impossible simply because you’re not her.

In other words, be you. Figure out the systems and approaches that work for you. Yes, they’ll be a combination of the approaches of others, but no two people have the exact same system for managing time and reaching goals.

For more on this, check out my guest post entitled The Big Picture: My Own Life Plan Method and its sequel Living in the Details: My Daily Plan at Christian Faith at Work. Then, check out Chris Patton’s articles entitled 3 Keys to Creating New Habits and The Daily Game Plan: A Must Use Tool! Not only will these give you some very different perspectives on goal setting and time management, they’ll help you more fully understand how we truly are all unique in our approaches to life.

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Guest Post – Making the Most of Every Opportunity

Two exciting events are taking place today on Struggle to Victory.

First, the first guest post on this blog appears below and comes to us from Loren Pinilis at Life of a Steward. The mission of Life of a Steward is equipping God’s people to be good stewards of their time so that they may advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ and bring Him glory.” As this mission statement indicates, Life of a Steward focuses on Christian time management, and I encourage you to check out his blog posts and podcasts.

If you would like to guest post on Struggle to Victory, please read Recommendations and Guest Posts.

The second exciting event, is that this is the 100th POST on Struggle to Victory. The fact that Loren’s guest post happened to be the 100th post (and I did not schedule it that way… pure coincidence, if you believe in that sort of thing) is what I call a “God thing” because Loren truly got at why Struggle to Victory exists.

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What images come to mind when you think about properly managing your time? How should a Christian view their time – and how should we live based on that view?

The scriptures speak of “redeeming the time” or, as other translations say, “making the most of every opportunity.”

It’s a familiar scriptural concept, taken from Ephesians 5:15-16: “Be very careful, then, how you live —not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

I wonder, though, if our modern culture misses much of what this verse is saying.

Our Thoughts

The popular view of time management is one of maximizing those precious seconds. It’s about prioritizing and planning. It’s about focusing and avoiding distractions. It’s about efficiency, effectiveness, and ultimately cramming as much into our day as possible.

So we often think of redeeming the time in the same context. We think that redeeming the time is to take full advantage of calendars, schedules, and productivity apps in order to not waste a precious second of our lives.

To many, redeeming the time is about battling the clock.

Kairos and Chronos

That concept isn’t necessarily bad, but that’s not really what Paul has in mind in Ephesians 5.

The Greek language has two words for time – chronos and kairos. Chronos is what we think of when we tend to talk about time – measurable time divided up into minutes and seconds.

Kairos, on the other hand, was not about the quantity of time – it was about the right time, the appointed time, the opportune time.

“How much time is in a day?” uses the chronos concept of time. “Is now the time to celebrate?” uses the kairos concept.

Paul’s Words

When Paul speaks of redeeming our time in Ephesians 5, he uses the word kairos.

So Paul is not necessarily asking us to measure our minutes and seconds and maximize them. He’s telling us to be on the lookout for opportunities – and to make the best use of those.

Modern society says the way to manage your time is to get away from distractions and focus. Think of your goals and your passions – and then put your head down and work, work, work.

Paul says that the way we should manage our time is to be alert. Be conscious of the opportunities that you have right now – and don’t let those go to waste.

Seeing the Opportunities

It may sound like a subtle difference, but what if we thought like Paul instead of buying in to what our culture tells us?

If you have children at home, you have a unique opportunity today to raise them. They’re growing day by day, and this window of time will eventually pass you by. Are you making the most of that opportunity?

Do you have the opportunity right now to encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ? They may need it.

Do you have the opportunity to love your spouse?

To spend time with neighbors?

Do you have the opportunity to evangelize to a lost person?

To teach and disciple?

To feed the hungry or clothe the poor?

To visit the widows and protect the orphans?

Do you have the opportunity when you’re younger to exercise, eat right, and care for your body?

To read and grow?

To pray and fast?

DISCUSSION: What would happen to your life if you shifted your perspective from minutes and seconds to opportunities?

 

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Creating a Relatively Simply Life

Relative simplicity is dictated and defined to a great extent by personality and temperament. Introverts tend to need simpler (slower-paced) lives than do extroverts. Neither is good or bad as long as life is lived in the gifts and passions possessed rather than having life simply happen to or around you. Realize too that just because someone else finds an activity relaxing, others may not find it to be so and may even discover that it adds a level of complexity that works to undermine our ability to Pursue Simplicity.

For example, I tried scrapbooking once but found the process too complicated with too many decisions to make and supplies to buy. My mind feels much more content with a simple photo album with dates of events written in the margin. For me, scrapbooking made life more complicated. For others, it’s a relaxing pastime.

Clothing is another example. I found myself constantly frustrated with trying to decide what to wear each day, and then I noticed I only wore about 20% of the clothing that I owned anyway. So, I systematically whittled my wardrobe down by over 40%. Yet I have friends who love to try new trends and constantly mix up their wardrobes. They like to express themselves through their clothing. I just like to be comfortable.

Simplifying my life in these ways has been very freeing for me.

Simplicity also pursues each individual in unique ways. For instance, add to my deliberate activities toward simplification the fact that recent foot (nerve entrapment) and back (slipped discs and spinal stenosis) problems along with Piriformis Syndrome have limited my shoe options to only a few pair for an indefinite time.

It’s not even that I’m just being obedient to the doctor and wearing only what he says I can; unfortunately, my severe foot and ankle pain give me the option of either wearing only those few pairs of shoes or not being able to walk. This is not a simplicity I had planned on or in any way pursued, but it definitely found me.

These examples may seem like small and perhaps even meaningless, but one principle of simplicity that seems inherently true is that small things done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference. In other words, simplicity has not come into my life through any one major event. Rather, there exist a multitude of small changes and adjustments that together make my life immensely simpler.

I also realize and acknowledge that the changes I made toward a simpler life seem meaningless to some and stupid to others. What I’ve chosen to do exists as essential to some people with many of the adjustments I’ve made seeming obvious and something I should have been doing all along. The combination of elements that create my simple life will look like no one else’s, yet the results are essentially the same… a relatively simple life.

DISCUSSION: How does your definition of simplicity differ from that of those closest to you? (Spouse, friends, kids, etc.)