Friday, January 17, 2020

Man Against Beast: Four Steps to Success

The squirrels live for birdseed. My husband lives to outwit the squirrels. Each perseveres against the other. When my husband hung a feeder with small holes on the ends just large enough to admit songbirds, squirrels simply chewed away the wood until the holes were large enough to admit them. Bill now replaced the wood and inserted staples around the hole. Squirrels surely won’t bite on staples. We’ll see. Life requires perseverance for both man and beast to survive.

Perseverance helps you recognize your potential and reach your destiny. Perseverance. The name of
the parent who can barely make ends meet. The name of the mom who spoon-feeds a seriously sick child. The name of the dad who cheers on a learning disabled son. The name of the kid who shows up for every practice, yet sits on the bench during every game. The name of the student who studies hard, gets C’s, yet earns a degree.

Do you need perseverance?

Maybe you get up in the morning, look in the mirror and dread going to work. Do you send out resumes week after week? Is there something you might do to make your current job more enjoyable?

Maybe you regret taking the first job you could get out of high school instead of going to college. Do you check out online courses? Do we take a course at a time, year after year, until you reach your goal?

Maybe you can’t talk to your husband about what’s on your heart, or maybe your teen is rebellious. Do you take time to read books such as Gary Smalley’s For Better or for Worse: A Valuable Guide to Knowing, Understanding and Loving Your Husband? Or The 5 Languages of Love by Gary Chapman. Those would surely lay a foundation for better communication.

Maybe you crave to understand the Bible or pray the way your friend does? Have you read God’s Word? Have you attended church?

Every success in life requires perseverance. Nothing much happens by accident. We get what we’re determined to attain. As a writer, I’ve received many more rejection than acceptance letters. I’ve spent many hours writing pieces that never saw the light of print. It’s all part of the journey. They say you have to write a million words before you’re worth anything as a writer. So I keep on writing.

In his book Ten Publishing Myths, Terry Whalin writes of Kobe Bryant, the winner of five NBA championships and two Olympic Gold Medals. Bryant started his day at 4:30 a.m., shooting baskets, conditioning, working on jump shots between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. Whalin writes, “His work showed because Bryant knew how to grind then grind some more.” According to journalist Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to become skillful in any craft.

Since perseverance helps you recognize your potential and reach your destiny, consider these suggestions:

1.     Choose an area in which you want to persevere and set a short-term goal. How would you like to see this situation change within the next two weeks? What might you do to initiate change?
2.     Find someone who can remind you of your goal. Ask them to hold you accountable to take one daily step toward reaching that goal. Maybe you can even trade accountability statements.
3.     Each day, pray for energy and endurance. Think of Bible people who persevered in spite of opposition—the apostle Paul, all of the disciples, the bleeding woman. They didn’t give in or give up. They offer role models of perseverance.
4.     As you reach a goal, do something fun. Celebrate!

“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance . . . for if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 2:5-8)

Do yourself a favor: identify what would make your life better, then take one step toward conquering that beast—even if the beast is only a squirrel.

And may God bless you as you persevere on your journey.

Friday, December 27, 2019

A Gift for You . . . From You

As you toss out the Christmas gift wrappings, consider gifts to upwrap for yourself in the new year. Look back with 2020 vision. What do you wish you had done in 2019? What are your regrets? What might you have completed by now if you had only started? Look ahead. What possibilities do you see in the following areas of life?

·       Health – How might you improve your health? A new condition I developed requires I eat a low-salt diet. Now, I’ve always known that too much salt is bad for you, so I go light on salt when cooking. But I never realized the sodium content of processed foods or restaurant fare.

I try to consume less than 1500 milligrams of sodium a day. Do you know that a slice of bread holds anywhere from 130 to 230 milligrams? American cheese can have up to 400 milligrams in an ounce. Even lean chicken meat, because it’s infused with a water/sodium mixture, contains sodium.

Then there’s restaurant food. My favorite Olive Garden minestrone has 810 mg.; the bread sticks with garlic topping, 460; and the salad with dressing, 770. Guess I’ll eat fruit for breakfast and dinner if I lunch at Olive Garden.*

Yes, it’s hard. It requires time and effort. But it leaves me feeling healthy and well. So it’s worth it all. What adjustments in the areas of diet and exercise might make you feel better? Think about it.

·       Family and Friends – How might you improve relationships? Sometimes we get too busy to entertain, too busy to visit. But our mental health depends on good relationships.

One Sunday afternoon we, on the spur of the moment, visited a son’s family. While they were surprised, they welcomed us, and we enjoyed a delightful time.

We are social people. We need each other. I would like to invite people in or visit people at least once a month. Bill and I could visit shut ins. We need to cultivate friendships and stay in touch with relatives.

·       Enjoyment – What gives you pleasure? Last May I listed a dozen short day trips Bill and I might take during the summer months. I cut the list into slips and put them in a jar. Each week we pulled a slip and did what it said.

These were simple pleasures. For example, we browsed through The Kitchen Shoppe in Carlisle, dined at BJ’s in Selinsgrove and went to the movies. Simple pleasures. Maybe you’d like to take a vacation or just start a stamp collection. Put something on the calendar. Or in a jar.

·       Generosity – I need to be more giving. I’ve started by looking at my clothes. As I put away the last of my summer clothes, my storage chest overflowed. So rather than buy a tub, I sorted enough clothes to give to charity so that I could add the rest of the clothes to my chest.

Do you use the library? Do you contribute to its upkeep? What charities do you support? Each year I make a donation to Samaritan’s Purse in honor of my grandchildren. They send you cards to give honorees telling them that you’ve purchased a goat for a family, etc., or, as I did this year, contributed to a missions hospital. I have a grandson training to be a doctor, so I thought that would be a good choice. Then, of course, there’s your church. Do you tithe? Think about how you might cultivate a more generous life.

·        Spiritual Growth – Do you feel connected to God? Are you confident that if you die tonight you will go to heaven? You can be. Jesus paid the price for your salvation. You can read all about it in the Bible. The gospel of John is a good place to start. Do you know if you spend 5 minutes a day reading your Bible, you’ll read through the New Testament in a year. Here’s a link to such a plan:

Do you take time to pray? Yes, God already knows your needs, but how does he get to know you if you never talk to him? We talk to our spouses and our children and our friends and our coworkers. Don’t neglect taking to God.

Think outside the box. Pray about world events while reading the newspaper or watching the news. Take a walk in nature and thank God for the beauty of creation. Before you fall asleep, thank him for the blessings of the day. He wants to hear from you.

I’m assuming you go to church. If you don’t, the new year offers fresh opportunities to connect with a congregation. Visit churches in your area until you find one that challenges you to worship and grow.

In closing, I remind you that you will not have 2020 vision as you look ahead. Only God knows what lies around the bend. (“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) But you do yourself a huge favor if you enter the year mindfully rather than helter-skelter. Sit down with a pen and have some fun thinking about what God might have for you in 2020.

*Ate at Olive Garden yesterday and discovered a Mediterranean menu with light, lower-sodium foods! They also offer a light dressing for the salad and bread sticks without the topping. So happy!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Book Review: Walking Tall in Babylon

Walking Tall in Babylon: Raising Children to be Godly and Wise in a Perilous World

If you have parents of teens or younger children on your gift list, this is the book for them. Author Connie Neal shares how she and her husband are raising their children to live in a culture taken over by nonChristian beliefs. They are teaching their children to think critically about what they see and hear. Her goal is that her children can govern their own behavior by the time they leave home.

Neal lists the characteristics of biblical Daniel and his friends to illustrate how they withstood the pressures of living in Babylon while remaining true to God. She shares detailed experiences of nurturing her own family with the goal of equipping her children to resist sinful behaviors and to stand for truth among their peers.

I like how Neal recommends books that may be useful to parents. I also like how Neal backs up her points with scripture and notes when she takes the liberty of deducing conclusions from biblical stories.

This book includes a chart to guide you in teaching children the interplay between moral absolutes, consequences, mercy and grace. The author shows deep respect and knowledge of God’s laws and ways of working in the world. For instance, she offers questions to discuss (with answers) to evaluate the story of David and Bathesheba.

Walking Tall in Babylon concludes with a Group Study and Discussion Guide, so it would be an excellent tool for small groups and Sunday school classes.

Neal’s last chapter offers hope: “But let us rest in the sure knowledge that our God is good, and powerful, and sovereign over all, in that he is intent on delivering those who are his during the most perilous times.” A must-read for parents . . . and grandparents. After all, we also want our grandchildren to “walk tall in Babylon.”

Neal has written dozens of books, including What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter?.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Five Ways to Face Tragedy

What do you do when things don’t turn out as you planned? When the things you prayed for do not happen? When, in fact, life takes a downhill slide? How do you keep the faith? Especially while carolers sing joy, joy, joy!

A friend and her husband planned an overnight visit to us a few days before Thanksgiving. We live at a midway point between their home and a daughter’s home. A few days before their visit, they were hit by a car while walking in their neighborhood. My friend’s husband did not survive.

How will my friend respond? I know her. She will trust God and keep the faith.

We can do the same. No matter the experience. No matter the outcome. God is faithful to us in times of peace and in times of distress. In times of sickness and in times of health. Even in times of accidents.

I think of biblical Job. He lost his children, his livestock and his health. His response? “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”

I think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When thrown into the fiery furnace because they wouldn’t bow to the image of the king, they trusted God. They knew God could rescue them, “But even if he does not . . . we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

By keeping the faith, these people gave it away. To us. And if they could keep the faith, so can we. We can trust that God will see us through whatever situation we face. He may or may not heal us. We may or may not die. But no matter what, God is with us. The Good Shepherd never leaves his flock. He cares for: Every. Single. Sheep.

So how do we face the tragedies, of life? Especially at Christmas?

·       We thank God that Christ’s name “Emmanuel” means He is with us. His Spirit calms our hearts. His Word reassures us of His Presence.

·       We thank God for small blessings. The support of family and friends. The air we breathe. The food we eat. The doctors and medications God provides. We focus on the positive, slim as it may seem.

·       We wait to see what God will do. Perhaps he will work a miraculous healing. Perhaps not. Perhaps we will never know what he is doing. But we wait and watch for His Hand.

·       We do what we can to help ourselves. What practical steps are required to ease our situation? Will we need therapy? We cooperate. Will we need help? We accept it.

·       We hope. A candle on the Advent wreath symbolizes hope. Christ’s birth gives us hope that, ultimately, everything will be all right. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came to earth that first Christmas, showed us how to live and died so that someday we may join Him in heaven. No. More. Tears.

God is faithful. In my own life, He has supported me in one way or another as I’ve said good-bye to loved ones and experienced losses.

Once, when I waited as Bill underwent a heart procedure, I watched tropical fish in an aquarium in a hospital waiting room. I was stunned by the exquisite beauty and variety of the tropical fish, fish created by our amazing God. Those fish reminded me of God’s wisdom and goodness--and brought me peace.

Recovering from grief and loss may require years of waiting and trusting. I know my friend has a long road ahead of her. But I also know she is keeping the faith.

Like Job, Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego, contemporary Christians around us offer hope in the midst of tragedy. And by keeping the faith, they give it away. To us. And faith is the best gift of all. At Christmas or anytime.

No matter what circumstances you face, take heart. Keep the faith. And give it away.

And have a Blessed Christmas—regardless of your circumstances. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

A Role Model

I grumbled at my husband for what I perceived to be a lack of communication. The previous day I had read a Facebook post in which a husband chronicled the glorious attributes of his wife. It was oh so sweet. And it made me want to hear such praise myself. I can't remember what Bill said (or didn't say), but I grumbled. And later apologized.

Why do critical words pop out of my mouth? Why do I speak before I think? Why do I want Bill to be what only God can be to me? I regularly disappoint myself by not living a perfect life. Can you relate?

Well, the apostle Paul did not live a perfect life either. This is what he wrote: Forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

Paul had persecuted Christians before he came to know Christ. And even after he knew Christ and longed to live a righteous life, he lamented that he had not yet attained all this. So we are in good company.

A blot on Paul’s conscience did not keep him from moving forward and neither should it stifle us. Jesus blood covers the ink blots of sin in our lives. Leave them in the past. Instead, focus on pressing on toward the goal.

That, of course, is easier said than done. Childhood hurts cut deep. Current offenses derail our emotions. It’s hard to keep a positive focus in a negative situation. But it’s not impossible. Here’s what I’ve learned from Paul:

Leave the past behind.

We cannot change our past experiences, but we can learn from them. We can seek truth. Were we abused? While we may never forget, we can forgive. We can listen to the testimonies of others who suffered abuse and lived to conquer its negative effects. Have we abused someone in the past? How have other Christians handled such failures? We have an awesome God who forgives, who does not leave us without access to His wisdom and resources.

Learn all you can.

I am amazed when I sit down each day to study the Bible how my eyes are opened to something pertinent. I’ve read through the whole Bible over and over and over again. But God can use little noticed verses to speak fresh truth to my heart. We are never too old to learn. That is a fact!

And we have so many resources available. Books, television broadcasts, online Bible studies. The list goes on. What topic would you like to learn more about? Search Amazon for books on the subject. What Bible book confuses you? Find an online commentary and read about it.

Live for the future.

Paul never knew what the future held. He just kept walking on. One missionary journey after another. The man surely tired. He surely wanted to sleep in his own bed. The older I get, the more I feel that way. What are your personal goals, career goals, service goals? How might you take a step to reach them? What do you want to do for God? How has He equipped you to build His kingdom?

If you need a mentor, there’s Paul. A man who put himself out for the kingdom. A man who admitted his faults and worked hard to overcome them. A man who wasn’t perfect, but he loved God and served others. What an inspiration to us all.