Don’t Be A Quitter

Did you know that 2 Corinthians is actually Paul’s 4th letter to that church? Since I’ve been obsessed with Sherlock on PBS, I guess I’ve put on my own detective hat and discovered a bit of Bible trivia. 

Paul spent 18 months ministering in the city of Corinth, a very cosmopolitan city. Both Jews and Greeks lived there influencing one another with their ideas of culture and religion. After Paul left, he learned the Corinthians were struggling with immoral behavior, so he wrote a letter to the church which has since been lost. That was letter #1. The Corinthians wrote a letter in return asking for clarifications on conduct and church rules. Paul responded by writing a letter we know as 1 Corinthians. His next letter (#3) to them was also lost, but his 4th letter is our book of 2 Corinthians. 

In each letter Paul not only encouraged the Christians in Corinth, but he confronted their sin. Time and again, Paul must have been disappointed in their drama and struggles. He taught them, invested into them, and spurred them on….only to travel to another city and learn that the Corinthians were listening to false teachers and struggling with immoral behavior. What’s more is that a few of the Corinthians began to doubt Paul’s authority! I can imagine Paul’s exasperation over their lack of maturity.

If you are a parent, I bet you can relate to Paul. We train our kids to act a certain way, and then we are shocked to see some of their decisions, like running crazily through a friend’s house or making a poor choice at a party. In those moments, we might feel disappointed or even angry. I’m sure Paul felt the same way on some level.

Here’s the kicker: Paul didn’t give up on the Corinthians. He didn’t wash his hands of them when situations grew tiresome. He didn’t stop loving or encouraging or fighting for them. He could have gotten defensive when the Corinthians doubted his authority. He could have become offended when they forgot all that Paul had already done for them. He could have grown tired of their immaturity and chosen to put his attention elsewhere.

He didn’t.

He didn’t give up, give in, walk away, get defensive, or become offended. He kept doing what God told him to do! Even when difficulties – physical AND emotional – made life tough, Paul kept fulfilling the mission God gave him.

Friends, that’s the key to resiliency: KNOW YOUR MISSION. When you know your mission….your purpose….you won’t give up in the hard times! Our ability to recover quickly from difficulties is found in the understanding of our purpose.

What has God asked you to do? Whatever it is, keep doing it. When – not if – life gets tough, when emotions get bruised, remember your calling. Paul did, and God used him to change lives. What could God do through you today?

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Sherlock, John, and Paul….and life lessons along the way

sherlockI love TV. What can I say? I’m a child of the 80’s when we watched all the greats: Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Cheers, The Wonder Years, and MacGyver. On summer days, I would wake up in time to watch reruns of The Love Boat while eating Captain Crunch. On school nights, my homework was completed in time for Moonlighting with Bruce Willis. Oh, yes. I’m a TV girl.

Still to this day my TV is on most of the time. But network programming is so yesterday for me. Now, Netflix owns me. No commercials. Binge-watching. Thousands of options. I confess I often spend more time surfing those options than I do actually viewing movies, yet My List on Netflix is full.

My latest binge-worthy find? Sherlock. It airs on PBS on Masterpiece Mystery, but seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix, and I’m hooked. Last night, I watched an episode in which two characters were at complete odds. One had betrayed another, and weeks of confrontations and accusations had ensued.

Then, came the moment. John forgave his wife. He said her past was her’s to deal with, but her future was his privilege to embrace. Tears streamed down her face as she accepted his forgiveness. John embraced his wife in comfort even as he confessed that he was still very angry. Nevertheless, he longed to restore the relationship. Score! That was a great scene.

Now, I don’t want to stretch too far, but we could all learn a thing or two from John Watson. Better yet, let’s learn from the Apostle Paul….he probably has more authority since he was a real person and all.

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul dealt with a church discipline issue. Previously, the church had united in confronting a man over a particular sin. I’m sure it was difficult and painful. What confrontation isn’t? In 2 Corinthians, however, Paul shared profound wisdom. Check it out:

“Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise he may become so discouraged that he won’t be able to recover. Now show him that you still love him.” 2 Cor 2: 7-8 (NLT)

Wow. That is a practical instruction for each of us today! Paul is referring to the church discipline issue, but the instruction resonates with me! There is a time to confront and a time to comfort. In parenting….in marriage….in friendships….in working relationships…..we need to know when to confront and when to offer the comfort of forgiveness.  

Paul said there was a time to confront and there was time to comfort….otherwise the offender might become too discouraged to recover from his mistake. 

The same is true for people in our lives.

  • We cannot hold grudges against our spouses.
  • We cannot deal too harshly with our children.
  • We cannot ostracize other people.

Friends, let’s hold high standards but be full of grace, comfort, and love. Let’s not use discipline or confrontation in an unforgiving way. Remember, the goal of discipline or confrontation is to restore the relationship, not to destroy the person. When people in our lives repent, let’s shelve our anger and graciously forgive. After all, that’s what God does for us every day. 

What does that look like for you today?

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The Perspective Shift That Changes Everything

The apostle, Paul, never ceases to amaze me. 2 Corinthians 1: 3-11 details the trials and suffering Paul endured as he preached God’s messages in Asia. He and his friends were “overwhelmed” and “crushed” and thought they “were going to die.” Those are real emotions and experiences, not just some quaint story in a book. Paul’s focus, however, was the comfort God gave during those trials. He viewed his suffering as something to be expected in life, and he viewed God’s comfort as the beautiful gift….the supernatural strength…..to help him endure. Shifting perspective from despair to joy is nothing short of amazing.

Ok, friends. Let’s get real. Do we view life and difficulties in the same way as Paul? Do we count it as a joy to suffer in order to experience God’s comfort? Do we then count it as a joy to pass the same kind of comfort to others who are struggling? Our struggles, though very real, pale in comparison to Paul. Most of us aren’t in jail or being physically harmed for our beliefs. Nevertheless, I don’t want to minimize our trials.

  • Conflicts in our relationships can bring emotional turmoil.
  • Financial stress can bring fear and anxiety.
  • Depression can bring isolation and unhappiness.
  • Parenting can bring exhaustion and frustration.
  • Medical issues can bring fear and irritation.

When we face a trial, our focus is often the trial, itself. We tend to pay attention to our pain and become discouraged. Paul was the same way, I’m sure. He wouldn’t have been human to respond any other way. But, Paul overcame his human emotions and put his eyes on God in the midst of frustration, fear, and unhappiness. He looked for the ways God was ministering to him, and he chose to be the man God wanted him to be, to soak up God’s comfort, and to pass that strength and motivation to others.

How can we do the same thing? How can we rise above the trials we face and look for God’s comfort?

  • We can praise God for the love and friendship of our spouse rather than complaining about their shortcomings.
  • We can pause to thank God for the paychecks that cover our bills and provide for entertainment for our families rather than complaining that we don’t have enough.
  • We can meditate on the goodness of God – His unending love, His forgiveness, His strength, His righteousness – rather than the perils of our problems.
  • We can look for the ways He refreshes us daily – through a bible verse, in an unexpected financial gain, in the words of a friend, in a burst of energy that allows us to get more done that we thought we could, in a quiet whisper that He loves you – instead of being blind to His activity.

So here’s my challenge for today: Don’t allow trials to be your focus or bring you down. Focus, instead, on the ways God is carrying you through the trials!

Some of you might have a hard time seeing God at work in your lives, however. If you don’t feel like He is carrying  through your trials, that could suggest you are separated from God. Feeling far from God, not hearing His voice….these are indications that you might have a relationship issue with your Father. The truth is sin causes separation in every form. Can I encourage you to pause right now and talk to God? Confess any sin and draw close to Him again.

Our trials will be difficult, but God’s comfort is enough to see us through. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you!

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Follow Me

follow meA few friends and I are reading through each of Paul’s letters in the New Testament of the Bible. We read a chapter each day and then share our thoughts in a group email since we all live in different states. In the quiet moments of my mornings, I read, journal, and share with my friends.

The other day, one particular verse grabbed our attention.

“And you should follow my example, just as I follow Christ’s.” (I Cor 11:1 NLT)

Wow. Sometimes I THINK this thought to myself, but I would probably never write it in a letter to a group of people! Paul was BOLD! And, apparently he was confident that his behavior was worthy of following.

I have to say, I find it much easier to model the Christian life when I’m “at work” (away from home, doing ministry, accomplishing a task, etc). When I’m teaching or coaching or engaging other people, I often feel confident to make the same bold claim as Paul. Yet, in my own home with those closest to me, my weaknesses bubble to the top. Maybe Paul could speak so boldly because he had no spouse or children to push his buttons! Maybe he was able to live “on point” because he traveled from place to place and was often alone after the crowds went home.

At least that was his explanation when he wrote in a previous chapter that following Jesus’ example was harder when we have the added demands of family, which he didn’t have.

Nevertheless, having a family has taught me vast amounts about love, sacrifice, forgiveness, selflessness, and compassion – all qualities of our Father in Heaven. When I stumble with my family, I ask forgiveness. When they stumble, I forgive. I am loyal and committed to them. Most importantly, I can see a steady track of spiritual growth since I met Jesus, and I’m using that to help train my family. As long as I’m doing those things, I can not only tell strangers to follow my example, I can tell my family to, as well!

What about you? Are there areas of your life that you can boldly proclaim “follow my example, just as I follow Christ’s?” Celebrate them! Becoming more and more mature as a Christian is something to which we should all aspire. If you are having trouble pinpointing some successes in this area, don’t fret. Just get started! Pick one area of your life and take a few steps of improvement by following Jesus’ example more closely. Remember, the goal is steady growth, not overnight perfection.

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3 Daily Decisions That Produce Good Results

temperHave you ever had a good old-fashioned temper tantrum? I have, but it’s more fun to confess someone else’s shortcomings, so I’ll refer to my children.

My oldest and I were chatting the other day about how much she has changed over the past decade. At 17, she is a much different person than she was a 7. We laughed as we reminisced about drama-filled moments over clothing choices or bedtime routines. We can laugh now, but I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through some of those mind-boggling scenes. Today, she is maturing into a young woman who listens to our life coaching and instruction, even if she still forgets to return my clothes that she borrows.

Paul spoke of maturity and immaturity in the book of 1 Corinthians when he addressed the believers in the local Christian church. He admonished them for bickering among themselves, jealousy, and a lack of self-control. In Paul’s words, they were “acting like people who don’t belong to the Lord” (1 Cor 3:3 NLT). Sounds like any good parent accusing their kids of being raised in a barn, doesn’t it? Well, he was right. People who belong to the Lord ought to act like it.

But, we often don’t.

That’s why today I’m continuing a post from earlier this week. I promised to share 3 practical decisions that produce good results of self-control. These 3 decisions are part of my plan to live a mature Christian life. Here you go:

  • Stay fresh and recharged throughout my day. This means I take strategic breaks throughout the day so my nerves don’t fray. It also means that I use a family calendar to plan ahead for all activities in order to avoid those stress-inducing moments of rushing out the door or forgetting last-minute items.
  • Recognize my triggers. When the drama is escalating in my house, I send my kids to their room until I have time to calm down. (Remember James 1:19!) 30 minutes can make the difference between a screaming match or a teachable moment. I employ the same method with my hubby. If my temper is rising, I’ll sometimes tell my hubby it is not a good time to talk and that I need time to chill so we can talk about the issue without an escalating war of words.
  • Look for God’s activity. Left to my own devices, I’ll forget about God throughout my day. Sad, but honest. Yet, if I make a simple plan to pray at points during my day, I force myself to pay attention to Him and His work. Praying at meals, before my kids come home, or each time I hop in my car helps me stick closely to the One I want guiding my steps!

Friends, the Kingdom is full of toddlers who aren’t spiritually mature enough to navigate their own desires. Let’s not lead spiritually stunted lives! Let’s grow and mature. Let’s not excuse poor attitudes and bad behavior. Let’s stay alert, recognize our triggers, and keep God front and center in our minds.

Thankfully, our God is able to steer the course for us….if we are willing to use some self-control.

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Toddlers and Faith and Other Insights From My Day….

Not long ago, I attended my niece’s first birthday party. I gave her a baby doll with its own bottle and pacifier, and she quickly sat down to feed her new baby. Until, that is, her 3-year-old brother saw it. Taken with the doll, he couldn’t resist slipping it out of his sister’s hands to play with it himself. The birthday girl was none too thrilled about this turn of events, and every adult in the room then busied themselves trying to distract both children in an attempt to avoid a total meltdown.

Every parent has been there. Toddlers don’t have the maturity to navigate their own desires, so parents must steer the course.

Toddlers aren’t the only ones, it seems.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul called the believers infants in the Christian faith because they weren’t yet spiritually mature. He didn’t mince words, either. He asserted:

  • They argued among themselves.
  • They were controlled by their own desires.
  • They were jealous of each other.

According to Paul, immature believers are controlled by their “worldly” desires, but mature believers are in tune with God’s desires.

That’s good food for thought, friends. Asking ourselves some probing questions might reveal answers that we don’t like. For instance, how much do my desires influence my behavior? What are my weak spots? In what situations do I seek to please myself rather than God?

I’m not asking you to do something I’m unwilling to do. After reading Paul’s words, I probed my own heart and pinpointed a few weak spots.

For me, my weaknesses become apparent when I’m tired or when my guard is down. For instance:

  • Late in the day when I’m tired.
  • When I respond too quickly without following James 1:19 (“Understand this, brothers and sisters, we all must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”)
  • When I have neglected God and have become more “me-centered.”

In those moments, I often choose to please myself and satisfy my worldly desires rather than to deny myself and choose God-pleasing actions.

Yet, when I’m focused on God, I stay in tune with Him! For instance:

  • When I’m refreshed and full of energy.
  • When I pause before I speak, act, teach, or respond.
  • When I choose to look for God’s activity throughout my day rather than ignoring Him and getting wrapped up in my own agenda.

So, what is my plan for living a mature Christian life? PRACTICAL DECISIONS THAT BRING GOOD RESULTS! Later this week, I’ll share those 3 daily decisions.

In the meantime friends, we don’t have to act like toddlers. With self-control through the Holy Spirit, we can navigate our desires and stay in tune with God. So, let me ask you:

What are your weak spots and how could a little self-control help you?

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I Fell Off The Wagon

What was your New Year’s Resolution? If guilt is making you choke just a little as you recall your commitment, you are in good company. Maybe you, like me, have fallen off the “new year, new me” bandwagon.

For 2015, my family made a year-long resolution to focus on spiritual virtues. One each month.

In January, we focused on encouragement. In February, love. March was all about displaying joy and a good attitude. We have tracked our progress on oversized post-it pads hanging in our den by writing down the ways we’ve demonstrated these virtues. As a parent and wife, I had moments of sheer pride as I witnessed my family soaring.

Then, April came. dun, dun, duuuunnnn.

Our intention was to focus on kindness. Easy, right? Suuuurrreeee.

We simply didn’t do it. We didn’t take advantage of teachable moments. We weren’t proactive. And, there were several moments days when all of us were plain mean.

So what do we do when we fall off the wagon? Get back on! So what if we messed up, missed out, or took a few backward steps? If we fall down, we get back up!

This month, our family is focusing on RESPONSIBILITY. (The irony wasn’t lost on me.)

Being responsible isn’t just a notion instilled in us by our parents to clean our rooms or arrive on time for work. It is a character virtue commanded by God for His children to be accountable for our lives and actions. It is a moral obligation to behave in ways that honor God.

The bible explains that each of us are personally responsible for our lives. Check it out:

The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.” Ezekiel 18:20

God even explains that we will be rewarded for our responsibility (or lack thereof):

“Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done.” Isaiah 3: 10-11

Did you notice that God wasn’t describing rewards and consequences in Heaven or Hell. He was talking about life right here on earth! Don’t miss this: responsibility reaps rewards; irresponsibility reaps consequences. 

Now, that’s not new info, is it? It’s actually a relatively elementary thought. Yet, often the most elementary thoughts are the most profound.

Consider these things:

  • We are personally responsible for our actions.
  • We are personally responsible to work and provide for ourselves and families.
  • We are personally responsible to obey God’s commands.
  • We are personally responsible for our response to the Gospel.
  • We are personally responsible for telling others about God’s great love.
  • We are personally responsible for our character.
  • We are personally responsible for our spiritual growth.

Yet, we often avoid responsibility by shifting blame to others. It’s someone else’s fault. We excuse laziness. We ignore God’s commands. We fear talking about our faith with others. We rationalize poor character. We blame the church for not being “deep” enough. 

If responsibility reaps rewards, these excuses for irresponsibility are leading us down a path of demise! Let’s choose instead to be accountable for each moment of each day.

Why not join my family in taking personal responsibility for life this month? Choose an area and start walking a path that leads to rewards!

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This Muscle Needs Stretching

encouragementBeing a parent is sometimes a thankless job. Moms and dads drive kids around town, take care of them when they’re sick, and solve childhood crises all without much encouragement from the people around them.

Being a teenager can be exhausting, too. Heavy school work loads, peer pressures, self-esteem issues, and transitioning from child to adult…..well, who wants to face all of that without a little understanding from the people around them?

What about being a younger child? Or a neighbor? Or an employee? Or a boss? Don’t we all face issues in our daily lives in which we could use a little encouragement? A pat on the back? A “way to go!”

I think so. That’s why this month my family has taken a challenge to be better encouragers. Not only do we need encouragement from others, but we need to learn how to encourage others, as well. This is a spiritual muscle we ought to stretch!

So, here is our working definition:

Encouragement: something that makes someone more determined, hopeful, or confident.

Our goal: do or say at least one encouraging thing each day.

Simple enough, right? Well, I thought so, too, until about 1 week into our challenge. When I realized that our encouragements only consisted of compliments to others (Your hair is pretty or I like your jacket), I knew we had better expand our understanding of what it means to encourage.

Now we have more specific goals. Check it out:

THINK positively! 

  • Bring sunshine into the room!
  • Catch someone being good!
  • Ask God to give you a positive attitude!

SPEAK positively! 

  • Make more positive comments and fewer negative ones!
  • Show appreciation, support, and respect!
  • Compliment before you complain!

THAT’S encouraging! Our challenge isn’t magically turning my family into 5 perfect people, but we are learning from it. After all, perfection isn’t the goal, transformation is. Slow, steady transformation into who God created us to be.

What steps could you take today to be a more encouraging person? Go ahead. Stretch that muscle. We all need the exercise. 

Hebrews 10:24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.

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What My Family Will Be Doing In 2015

Wow. December was a blur of doctor visits, pharmacy runs, and Lysol. 

Lots of Lysol.

Our family fell victim to the flu bug. Yes, the flu. 6 days of the flu for my husband, and 9 days for my daughter. The fun didn’t end then, either. Upper respiratory infections and sinusitis wreaked havoc, as well. I had little time for extra activities (like posting blogs) while I was busy sanitizing every item that Shawn and Madison touched. I couldn’t help but smile in the chaos, though. In one of my wiser moments, I had decorated for Christmas and completed most of my gift shopping before December 1! I can’t tell you how much less stress I faced during December because my to-do list was done. My neighbors probably rolled their eyes at my Christmas decor in November, but my family was happy and peaceful. Score!

Last night we said goodbye to 2014, and I’m still shocked that I didn’t fall asleep early. As I blinked my sleep-starved eyes, I listened to my family walk down memory lane. They looked at pictures we had taken throughout the year and read all the notes in our 2014 Memory Jar. It’s the only thing that kept me awake. We laughed as we reminisced, and I was thankful to be home – alone – with the people I love most.

This year, I plan to once again fill a Memory Jar with special moments, but we’re adding a twist. Each month of 2015, our family will focus on a new virtue. Love, contentment, respect….12 different virtues in all. Our goal? To practically apply the principles by which God wants us to live. Sometimes (ok, most of the time) people find it much easier to talk the talk but not walk the walk. Well, not us. Not in 2015. We are going to find creative ways to live out our faith each day. Up first: encouragement. We’ll write notes to others, memorize bible verses, and speak positively to friends and strangers all month. I’m already pumped about the potential of this plan to disciple my family and bless those around us.

What about you? What are your New Year Resolutions? Happy 2015, friends!

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Holiday Head Start

holiday headstart dateI never wanted to be that family. The one with Christmas lights up before Thanksgiving. I am a fan of celebrating the holidays….all of the holidays, including Turkey day complete with fall leaves, gourds, and pumpkin pie. Red and green decor has no place in the collage of Autumn wonder in my home. (Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I have a fall wreath on the door and some pumpkins on my mantle.) Christmas decor must wait it’s turn and not make an appearance until Black Friday – after I finish shopping with the other deal-crazed maniacs (read: my daughters).

This year is different. The last few months have been a blur of family demands that have left me emotionally and mentally fatigued. I thought I was busy when my kids were preschoolers and demanded moment-by-moment attention, but now that they are older, the demands are at another mental and emotional level. I find myself wanting to press pause on life and slow the whole mess down. But, I can’t.

I can, however, make a few changes. For instance, I can blog a little less often, say no a little more, and yes, decorate for Christmas a little earlier.

Let me explain. If I can’t slow life down, maybe I can find ways to enjoy it a little longer. Since I don’t want a hectic life to rob my family of the joy of the Christmas season, I’m choosing to start it a bit earlier. I know, I know. It means that red and green decor will overshadow Turkey Day, but who cares? Instead, my family has slowly been decorating the house, stealing moments to hang a stocking or string lights in between study sessions, tumbling, and football playoffs. We’re listening to Jingle Bells while we prep for Velocity 2015 and craft church messages. And, we’re taking pictures of our dog in Santa’s hat while we eat Halloween candy.

Rather than be slapped in the face by the holiday rush, I’m getting a #HolidayHeadStart, which by the way is the name of our latest teaching series at Mountain Lake. I might not be able to slow life down, but I can certainly prevent it from going by in a blur. I’m going to make it last. And make it count.

Local friends, join me this weekend at Mountain Lake as we all embrace a #HolidayHeadStart!

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