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.

Depression During the Winter Months

The Pain of Change

Depression used to be my standard operating system. It existed like an evil best friend I knew was bad for me but who also held together my destructive comfort zone. Strange how we’ll stay in poor habits just because they’re comfortable, isn’t it?

depression-1

Gradually, I divorced this evil friend and found freedom from depression. I’ve lived outside of the pit for many years now. Yet, I still find myself occasionally gazing back into its miry depths. More than other times of the year, battling depression during the winter months is especially difficult.

Why Depression Intensifies in Winter

Part of the reason for this occasional visit seems to be that depression impacts so many people. It’s simply impossible to avoid altogether.

depression-2

Another part of the reason is that many of the elements leading to depression seem to converge and intensify during the winter months. Here are just a few that make depression in the winter months intensify.

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Then there’s the uniqueness of the holidays. They take us out of our normal routines. They present us with seemingly endless sweet and savory opportunities. We essentially let our guards down, and that’s all the opening depression needs to gain a foothold once again.

Refuse to Let Depression Win

The sooner you can reestablish that guard, the less damage depression can do during the winter months. In fact, you can actually more than just get through them — you can enjoy and celebrate them.

But this is so difficult to do all on your own. I know I simply cannot remain victorious over depression without help from others. A lot of others.

On Struggle to Victory, you’ll find a great deal written about depression. As hard as I’ve tried, I cannot separate myself from it because it played such a large role in shaping the person I am today. My prayer is that my experiences can help you or someone you love find victory too.

You can click on the Depression category along the right side of any page and find many posts related to overcoming depression. Also, I’ve listed several below that you may find especially helpful with depression during the winter months.

Refuse to give up the fight. Refuse to let depression win. The best tip I can give in that effort is to simply not quit. Persevere. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. I pray that the resources I offer here can help you or someone you love continue doing just that, especially when depression during the winter months seems inescapable.

A Higher Standard

higher-standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Why Makes the How Easy

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Lessons from a Track Meet

track 1Track meets provide a unique perspective on being the best. At one meet, a runner can get the best time and win a race only to find himself less than the best at the next meet even if he runs the same time as in the previous meet.

Then there’s the idea of a personal best. Regardless of time in comparison to other runners, running a personal record (PR) trumps overall place and time. Even the slowest runner at a meet relishes the idea of a personal best.

Also consider the idea that the best in one race, say a 400 meter (once around the track) may very well fail to be the best in a sprint (shorter than a 400 meter) or in a 3,200 meter (8 times around track). In other words, the best in one race usually won’t be the best in every race.

track 2We tell our son, “We’re happy when you do your best,” whatever that might be on any given day. We remind him that his best will vary from day to day too. If he gets a personal record, we need not remind him of this. But when he struggles, like all of us do, he needs reminded of how best fluctuates but always remains the goal of the day.

The best involves giving all you have to the task at hand. It doesn’t mean living for chance but combining chance with preparation. Weather can impact your best, other runners can impact your best, even the crowd may impact your best. But your preparation, good or bad and sufficient or not, exists as an element you can control, and it also significantly impacts your best.

Best also never means that better isn’t possible, first because best varies from day to day and second because the element of growth always leaves open the possibility of a new best. The key, then, lies in progress over perfection.

Strive for the best.

Be your best.

Prepare for the best.

Appreciate the best.

Push beyond the best.

Progress over perfection.

DISCUSSION: Do you always strive for your best, whatever that is on any given day? If not, what needs to change for this to happen?

Becoming A Defensive Christian

Defense Wins Championships

Game planSuperbowl 50 brought a lot of controversy and drama. Fortunately, a good game took place too. In fact, the game produced one of the best defensive battles I’ve seen since I started watching football the year of the Super Bowl Shuffle.

Denver prepared by studying tapes of Carolina’s offense, and then they developed their defensive game plan based on what they saw. Good strategy because guess what plays Carolina used during the Super Bowl? Exactly what they’d been using all season. Nothing new. So, excellence in preparation met with amazing talent, and the Denver Broncos pulled out a win few expected.

Our Defensive Strategy

Christian Armor Email SalutationThe championship difference made by the Bronco defense in Super Bowl 50 reminds  me of how a solid defense is crucial to victory in the Christian walk too. (I love how God uses everyday life to speak his truths into my life.)

The Bible certainly calls for a defensive-heavy strategy for success as Christians. Though offense stills remains important, defense certainly receives more options.

There are four specifically defensive weapons in the Armor of God listed in Ephesians 6: the breastplate, shield, belt and helmet. The footwear and the sword could be considered both defensive and offensive weapons.

Defense protects. It keeps the enemy — the opponent — from infiltrating and taking over. Defense keeps the opponent from gaining victory. As Christians, we must become defensive specialists.

Become a Defensive Specialist

While the opponent changes from game to game in football, it remains the same day in and day out for Christians. Since “we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11), we can become defensive specialists too and keep the devil’s point scoring to a minimum. How do we do this?

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:11)

Maybe you, like me, learned about the Armor of God in Sunday school but never really understood its application until much later in life. Not until I realized the value of a solid defense in other applications did I truly understand how it must also be a consistent focus in my life as a Christian.

Just as John Elway did with the Denver Broncos, I need to rebuild my defense and develop a strategy that will allow me to lead a more victorious life. I’m  tired of being defeated. I’m tired of feeling exposed. Time to fortify my offense through the strengthening of my defense.

What does a solid defensive strategy using God’s armor look like?

Gifts to Give Someone Struggling With Depression

Artistic Christmas Tree with GiftsWith Thanksgiving over and Christmas rapidly approaching, many people start to feel the opposite of what they’re supposed to feel this time of year. Instead of feeling joy and happiness, too many instead find themselves depressed.

Depression touches everyone. Most people either know someone who struggles with depression, or they have their own struggle. This comes as no surprise considering the that…

About 9.5% of the U.S. adult population suffers from a depressive disorder in a given year. (That’s about 18.8 million people.)

Depression has been a lifelong battle of mine, and those closest to me have struggled with what to do during my depressed times. For the past five years, though, depression has no longer held a choking grip on me. While still a struggle from time to time, I no longer feel as though I’m barely holding my head above water.

There are 5 gifts others gave that helped me reach victory over depression. At best, these gifts give a depressed person a much-needed lift out of the deep end, and at worst, they don’t do any harm.

  1. Acknowledge feelings. This does not mean to necessarily agree, but it does mean to acknowledge the feelings are real. To say someone who is depressed should not feel a certain way and then proceed to present a case as to why that is true only makes a depressed person feel worse. Simply acknowledge the feelings exist whether or not they are accurate.
  2. Keep advice to yourself. The worse advice I received was anything close to “Just be positive” or “Just cheer up.” My response was always the same: “Don’t you think I would if I could?!” When a person is seriously depressed, no amount of advice is going to bring them out.
  3. Value them and their ideas. To know my ideas and thoughts have value gives amazing encouragement. As with acknowledging feelings, this doesn’t necessarily  mean agreement. It does mean, however, acknowledging a person’s value and ideas even if their reasoning makes little sense.
  4. Listen. Sometimes a depressed person just wants to vent. Being able to vent to someone who listens without judgment takes off some of the heaviness depression creates in a person’s mind.
  5. Confirm loyalty. The person closest to me for most of my life stated more than once, “I will not leave you.” Knowing that no matter how low I got I would not be alone made a tremendous difference in my outlook. At times I didn’t believe it, and I tried to convince him staying was a bad idea. But he held true to his word, and I believe this is one of the main reasons depression no longer controls my life.

There are so many reasons for depression, and those reasons do need addressed in order to be victorious over depression. Along the way, giving the above gifts tells a depressed person he is not alone, that someone will listen and not dismiss his feelings and that someone believes he has value. These gifts can truly make a key difference in helping someone struggle through and find victory over depression… my life is a testimony to this fact.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you have for helping someone who is depressed?

See “Making the Church a Safe Place for Mental Illness” by Stephen Altrogge  for another perspective on this topic.

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?

How to… Be Victorious

Let’s first be clear that victory ultimately belongs to the Lord. Throughout the Old Testament, we see numerous examples of victories brought by God to those who honor Him. And for every Christian, ultimate victory – the victory over sin, death and the devil – came through Christ alone. We already have that victory.

Victory within our individual lives comes from inside and shows outwardly in how we live our lives. Once we have ultimate victory through Christ and the freedom that comes with it, how do we then live victorious lives? How can we live lives that make being a Christian attractive? (Titus 2:10)

Victory isn’t necessarily about winning the race or game, but it does involve running “in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). In other words, it involves running your best race. (See the story of Oscar Pistorius for a wonderful modern-day example of this.)

Victory is actually defined as winning the mastery in battle over odds or difficulties. With this perspective, let’s look at some of the elements that better enable us to be victorious from the inside in

a way that is lived on the outside.

Persistence: Simply refuse to give up. (Romans 2:7)

Knowledge: Don’t be handicapped by ignorance when you can help it. (Proverbs 2:10-11)

Wisdom: There’s a big difference between knowledge alone and knowledge with understanding.  (Proverbs 4:7)

Growth: Never underestimate the power of incremental growth over time. (2 Peter 3:18)

Action: Pray, make a decision, and move forward. (Proverbs 16:9)

In the coming weeks, we will look at each of these elements using the context of a health journey I took over the past 2 ½ years. My hope is that the elements involved in my journey to victory in this area will become tools others use to find their own path to victory.

One caveat. Please know that I fully believe that real, lasting victory in any area is only possible through God’s Holy Spirit working in and through an individual. True victory cannot be obtained by human power alone. Yet, God does ask us to step out in faith and follow the path to victory.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on the elements listed above? What other elements do you feel are essential to victory? 

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You Are One-of-a-Kind Special

In 2012, Dr. Pepper came out with a commercial that has individuals proudly proclaiming how they are “one-of-a-kind.”

Being one-of-a-kind gives an impression of high value. A one-of-a-kind painting. A one-of-a-kind car. A one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry. These items are unusual, unusual makes them special and special indicates value.

How are you one of a kind?

If you were to wear a t-shirt like the ones in the new Dr. Pepper commercial, what would your t-shirt read? What would you like to declare about yourself?

I like the idea of making a declaration about what makes a person one-of-a-kind. After all, there’s something unique about everyone. Well, not so much one specific thing necessarily, but rather a combination of qualities and skills that make each person one-of-a-kind.

God’s Treasured Handiwork

Long before Dr. Pepper, long before we were even born, God had a one-of-a-kind design in mind for each of us.

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Exodus 19:5)

 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ” (Jeremiah 29:11)

That isn’t all either! Check out Romans 8:15-17 and Psalm 139:13-16 for more.

What Makes You Special

In a world where individuals constantly aim to stand out in unique and special ways, and increasingly is some very odd and often frightening ways, we all too often overlook that what we do has nothing to do with why we are special. What makes us one-of-a-kind special is whose we are.

All of creation shares the imprint of God, but no one imprint looks exactly the same. As individuals, we each represent our Creator in unique ways. And that representation is the key to a victorious life.

Do you embrace your uniqueness because of WHOSE you are?