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Reach for the Prize!

I will have to say that all of the 2012 Olympic swimming has pumped me up!  What an outstanding Olympics for Team USA.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching their great achievements, and hearing their stories of hard work and overcoming their obstacles.

I love to swim!  I may be a novice swimmer, but I enjoy it just the same.  It’s a great quiet time for me.  I actually listen to music, or pray while I’m swimming.  It allows me to think about trying to reach for the prize.

Recently, I was thinking about Michael Phelps‘ swim coach, Bob Bowman, and how he has understandably put Michael through some trials to train him for the many adversities that might come his way.  He was quite successful at doing this.  I was also thinking about  Hebrews Chapter 12.  Both of these things got me to thinking about a similarity between our Father in Heaven, and some great coaches. The similarity of how they discipline…or train us for adversities of life.

Discipline is not always pleasant, but if one trains hard, with their “coach”, then they have the potential to become stronger…bringing about great joy.   For Michael, he has become the most decorated Olympian in history of any sport.

In my case, I’m not training for Olympic history, but I’m training for an Everlasting life.  I am hopeful that my new found joy will lead me to a greater intimacy with my Father in Heaven, and that will help me reach for the prize.

My pastor had a message a couple of years ago from Proverbs stating that “a friend loveth at all times”.  Sometimes those friends have to love with discipline.

I know that others have tried to discipline me in a loving way, so that I may learn to make better decisions.  More importantly, I know that they want me to experience the love God intended for me to know instead living in self pity (despair)…due to my past abuse.  In knowing that, I will need to make sure that I have a good “assistant coach” (Earthly companions) that may be looking over my “workouts” to make sure I’m on the right pace.  I may also have some questions about what “workout” will come next, or be the best for me.  I may doubt their knowledge; but, those coaches, full of wisdom, will help guide me to reach the prize.

There will be times that I won’t want to listen to the “coaches”, especially when they are speaking truth.  They will try to help me be better prepared for the race that’s set before me.  They will tell me that there will be obstacles…even when I can’t see them coming.  They will help me learn how to react and/or avoid them.

They will also help me to muster up the skills, and encourage me, to get ready to battle for any adversities that might come my way.  I will need to wear good equipment (full armor of God), put my “game face” on (fix my eyes on Jesus), look at the game plan (His word), and really listen to my assistant coaches (Earthly companions) and Head coach (Christ).  Together, they will try to help me put on the full armor of God as stated in Ephesians.

Philippians 4:13 states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”!  I know that I can win this battle and reach for the prize of Christ.  It will take hard work from myself, and many; but, it can be done.

God can restore my hardened heart, and really strengthen me.  God has shown me grace, mercy, and love, and in knowing this, I can become one step closer to being truly healed.

In order to be truly healed, my workouts will need to consist hard work & dedication.  The desire to do better.  Coaches that have great wisdom to share, and may be able to guide me.  Their knowledge will better prepare me for the days that follow. I will have to allow them to do so, and not let my pride get in the way. I will also need strength and courage to love boldly-not just others, but myself.  This will allow me to forgive, and be better able to focus on the prize.

I will be honest.  It’s still hard for me to believe that I can be granted grace and mercy.  I constantly forget this idea, or block it from my memory. Thank goodness God does not forget, and He places others around me to remind me of His grace, and to lift me up when I feel down.

In essence, I am just a beginner swimmer.  I have not totally learned to submerge myself into His healing waters.  I must learn to dive off the starting blocks to get a great push forward.  It will help me to swim as fast as I can to reach for the prize–Christ who strengthens me.

I know that I might get disqualified along the way; but, the good news is that I can start His race over.  God is very patient with me, and never gives up-even when I think He has.

Trying to swim hard to reach for the prize! †

Lenten Special

I would like to have the Lenten Special, please.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” ~ Psalm 73:25-26

The season of Lent precedes Easter, which is known as the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.  Lent is a 40 day period prior to Easter day.

Traditionally people “give up” certain things during the Lent period.  Usually a person will “give up” something they really like.  It usually is a habit of some sort, and it really depends on the person.  I really have a sweet tooth; but, have to have something salty to get the sweet taste out of my mouth…hahahaha!

Lent is not about a deprivation of our selfish habits…the ones we mostly partake for our personal gratification. Lent is a season of self-examination. During this period of self-examination we are called as Christians to examine how we “nourish” our bodies…as members of the body of Christ.  It’s about how we nourish our hearts.  It’s about how we focus on Jesus, who gives us strength.

My pastor said, “It’s like a spiritual test of where your heart is.  Your heart is where your treasure is.  Is it focused on “me” [self], or is it focused on Jesus?”

It’s human nature to want to focus on ourselves.  I’m extremely guilty of this.  In fact, I tend to focus on things that I may have regretted doing wrong or I may focus on good things that I feel have gone unnoticed.  Either way, my focus is on “me”, and not Him.  I focus on things that don’t give me true life.

There are also some who may focus on the things I’ve done wrong, and are really good at pointing them out to me, and sometimes to others.  It’s not like I live in a box.  I know I’m a sinner!  Most of the time, I actually regret doing a lot of the things I do.  But, something that I tend to forget, and need constant reminding of, is that there is no condemnation in Christ!  Only others, or my miserable self, may accuse of past, or present things.

Lent can also be a time to be a part of community; to be a part of others–who have a commonality of fixing their eyes on Jesus.

That’s really the goal isn’t it?  To fix our eyes on Jesus.  To understand that this beautiful gift from God, His only Son, is not just for ourselves but to be shared with others…with no strings attached.

Lent is a time to extend ourselves to others.  Extending not to just those who are impoverished, but, those that are older in age, those that may need comforting (for whatever reason), and to the sick and weary.   We should extend ourselves to those in our broken world; to be His messengers of love and mercy.  Our extension of ourselves should bear the very image of God.

Giving of oneself can be tough; but, there is a high return on the satisfaction odometer. Giving of oneself can be like a ripple effect.  Those that take His Light out into the world of others–do so because they take delight in this action, not because it’s “dutiful”.  It becomes a celebration that ripples out into the world.

I know that there is a lot more to Lent.  I could write pages on Lent.  Lent is not only about self-examination, it’s a plethora of  practicality of sorts.  Some of it’s about focusing on our faults; some of it’s about repenting;  some of it’s about extending ourselves to others; but, it’s mainly about keeping our eye on the prize of Christ Jesus.  He is the Author & Creator–the Finisher of the story of our lives.

During this season, what will you be serving up for your Lenten Special?

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and this is not from ourselves, it is a gift of God…”  Ephesians 2:8


Strong Enough

Who determines if one is strong or not?  No one should determine other’s strengths or weaknesses. We have our own strengths and weaknesses, knowing that God has a plan for us.  Every struggle in your life shapes you into the person you are today.  Be thankful for the hard times; they can only make you stronger…strong enough!  

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” ~ Philippians 4:13

Many of us have felt great guilt from the brokenness of our past, and present, struggles. We feel, or have felt, that we just have to live under a dark cloud. Through Christ, He became our answer for our brokenness. It was His sacrificial love for us that gives us strength to carry on past our struggles.

For some of us, the healing and restoration from life’s struggles are needed to rightly see God. This kind of healing is available through the power of God who makes us stronger. It may take some time to let those old idols go; but, one may consider the work of the Holy Spirit to heal those wounds—if we let him.

Despite our struggles in life, we can have confidence in knowing that Jesus suffered and died for us.  We can now find restoration and resurrection through him…and all from the hand of God.

We all know that our struggles can wreak havoc within us. They often leave us feeling like we are living in a world of tangled hangers.  Sometimes it’s hard to straighten them out without some kind of help.  While straightening up the “hangers” in our life, they may allow us to find support and comfort from others. Instead of regretting all of our struggles, we should be thankful when God puts others into our lives to help us.

One important question we may have is…does God care that we suffer? Does He enjoy watching us as we fall down? Of course not.

God knows that we suffer.  On our worst day, we are never alone.  Jesus is by our side. Our faith declares that God, our Father, sent His only Son to suffer at the hand of others.  He came into our world to deliver us from evil and give us a future and a hope.

How then does Jesus know about our path of  struggles? Within our faith we have learned how the only Son of the living God encountered real temptations. We know that Jesus overcame those temptations by using His Father’s words…scriptures.  We have read where Jesus suffered at the hands of family and friends. We know that His suffering became worse the closer he got to achieving His goal—to save our souls.

God knows that we are weak and He urges us to pray to Him, dare I say cry out to Him, so that we would be better equipped not to succumb to temptation.  Something happens to us when we take our struggles to the Father. He transforms us, and gives us strength and courage to do things we never thought possible. Even in the midst of our struggles, we can rise up to most challenges.  God would not bring us to our struggles, if He could not bring us through our struggles.  Don’t get off the beaten path, take the path to Jesus… often times the path less traveled.

Finally, I’m reminded of a song by Matthew West, that got him a Grammy award nomination.  It’s called “Strong Enough” and parts of it is as follows:

“You must think I’m strong…
To give me what I’m going through…
Forgive me if I’m wrong; but this looks like more than I can do on my own.

…Maybe that’s the point; to reach the point of giving up.
Cause when I’m finallyat rock bottom.
That’s when I start looking up and reaching out.

Cause I’m broken down to nothing
But I’m still holding on to one thing
You are God and you are strong when
I am weak

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,
and i don’t have to be strong enough

I know I’m not strong enough to be everything that I’m supposed to be
I give up.  I’m not strong enough.
Hands of mercy won’t you cover me.
Lord right now I’m asking you to be…Strong enough.”

God does know that we suffer and that we needed someone to give meaning and hope beyond our suffering. Jesus Christ was sent to enter into our world to deliver us from evil.  He gives us hope when we draw near to Him. Jesus’ suffering lasts beyond the cross to the wonder and glory of the resurrection. He is the Suffering Christ whose grace and mercy has saved us from our struggles today!  He makes us strong enough to carry on.

Strength to Carry On

I have been thinking, and trying to pinpoint, on how to express myself on the particular topic of strength. Some kinds of strength are good.  After all, it is a reflection of God Himself, and He said this is a good thing.  But, I think some strength, if misused, can be hurtful.  It does not have to necessarily have to be physical strength (like tackling someone to the ground); it can be as little as a look of disapproval.

Certain strengths have the potential to become an intimidating misuse of power over another person. I think it is important to know, that if gone unnoticed, strength could get out of hand and end up hurting others (like a form of bullying).  My disclaimer is that I have taken part, and we probably all have taken part in a misuse of power some time or another.  I myself can be rather dominating and/or manipulating.  It is a control thing.  It’s the power within me thinking that I can fix things on my own…instead of truly turning things over to God.  I have finally realized that can become a misuse of power that I frequent.

I think that it is God’s desire for us to use our positive strength to lead our families; like the Sanctus Real song says, “To stand up for them when they can’t”.  To be a wall…a somewhat pillar of strength.  God’s own characteristics include strength & tenderness; respect & forgiveness through His grace & mercy.  Only God can be the true judge of our life.

If we are truly made in God’s image, then we must have a desire to gain those characteristics—to be strong and loving.

There is nothing wrong with being physically strong, if one acts in an appropriate manner.  I guess I am trying to say that maybe a better strength to “workout” for–would be the strength that comes from the heart.  Reading the Bible, worshiping, taking part in a community are all great ways to strengthen your heart.

Strength looks different for different people.  It could be a silent strength, verbal strength, strong- heroic type strength, being protective and gentle for the abused, or even having the strength to be humble.

In Genesis, we find out that Eve was very manipulative.  Granted, she probably could not have wrestled Adam into eating the apple; instead, she used her verbal strength and tempted him in this way.  Although, Adam had been informed of this particular tree prior to Eve being created;  he chose to remain silent, or passive.  Adam could have spoken up and said something to warn Eve about not eating from this tree.  Eve obviously did not understand the importance of not eating the apple from the tree.  She insisted, to Adam, that the serpent was telling the truth…so they ate from the tree, and we know the rest of the story.

Eve using her verbal strength to tempt Adam led to his passiveness…which led to other problems; for instance, violence followed once they began procreating.  This violence started between brothers and definitely became a misuse of power and strength.  I believe many have seen this kind of power misused at some point in their life. This type of strength does not discriminate!

I also believe that we have the capability to misuse our own strength of power at times.  We are all sinners!  An extreme misuse of this strong power can be destructive for all involved.

So why do people misuse their power?

Maybe their “good” strength was ignored, or shamed, by someone.  Maybe their insecurities lead to their downfall.  Maybe wanting the other person to change encouraged manipulation of others…which is a misuse of power.

I am guilty of this sin.  My idol of controlling outcomes of others is one of my gross misuses of power.

God was proud of Jesus.  He claimed Him as His son, and said He loved Him. Affirmation is really important!  Although men and women like different kinds of affirmation, that does not mean to ignore each other because of the differences.  We all feel that we don’t measure up.  We are all insecure at one time or another—made vulnerable.  For some, the vulnerability might come from past abuse; belittling could be happening presently. Finally, some are scared of what the future has in store for them.  Will I be made fun of because of my lack of _?_ (fill in your own blank).

Abuse is a type of strength that is blatantly misused.  It comes in many forms.  It could be words spoken, or not.  It could mean being aggressive physically, or passive emotionally (not being protected).  It could be getting fired for something that one did not do—maybe simply because you’re too old.  It can also come as sexual abuse.  This type of abuse can have many levels of abuse: from harsh words spoken to the extreme of being beaten, or even worse things that I don’t really care to mention.

Sometimes rather than being a strong leader, we give in to our fears and insecurities.  Sometimes, we are just plain jealous of other’s strengths. I know this all too well.  Sometimes, I am more concerned about what people think of me, rather than worrying about how I am alienating God.  I also get caught up in wanting something that I really don’t need and may want to coerce someone out of it…or want them to give it to me.  It doesn’t have to be a material object; it could be as much as wanting protection, love, and respect.

When a person lashes out physically, or verbally, they feel as if they have some kind of strength (or power); but, in essence, it is not genuine strength.  It is hurtful, and it might be considered bullying.  Again, this could stem from their own insecurity or weakness.

This is not always true; but, some may have a deep rooted insecurity that they may not even be aware of within themselves. I will say nothing really justifies bullying, or being manipulative of others.  It is very hurtful to those that are on the receiving side.

Loving accountability must take place to help achieve the goal of healing from misused strength.  This can be done through community; such as with a church, some peers, or a strong group of friends.  Loving accountability must also take place to help one not to misuse their “weak” strength.  Both types of accountability need love and encouragement.

I will say that pointing out the misuse of power of another will usually not help.  Often times, it will make things worse.  Learning to love boldly would be most helpful in this situation.  Dan Allender uses an example of telling a story/example so that another  may see their misuse in character.  It’s like a mirror; thus, one could see the reflection of their action. This may allow them to see how they are truly behaving.

The act of “loving boldly” does not always work. One may have a change of the symptom, but not of the heart.  To love someone boldly takes some practice.  For one thing, the mirror would have to be turned one self first before reflecting the mirror on the other person.

Good strength, or power, can lead to good things.  Just look what Christ did for us so that we could live.  It took great strength, courage, and forgiveness to be able to do what He did.  I could never really fathom what He did at all. It was the greatest heroic act that has ever taken place.

Knowing that there is freedom in Christ, the heart will need to go under a complete restoration.  One might begin with being less self-centered.  I struggle with this quite often as well with many other idols.  I may think that it is all about me.  How I am feeling? I may not always take into consideration how the other person may be feeling, or what pain I may be causing to them.

One thing that needs to take place for restoration to occur may be admitting that a change needs to take place…especially in one’s heart. If you can’t admit your weaknesses, it will be almost impossible for restoration to take place. Blaming others will not make a change in the heart.

Now some may say that the other is too sensitive. Of course there may be times when one can be too sensitive.  If others continually make others feel that they are too sensitive; then, it’s possible that the weakness of the one pointing out may hurt others.

Now a misuse of power can take place within one self.  One can blame them self or have a self loathing of self due to guilt and shame.  All of this can lead up to the misuse of power within one self, and will usually get worse.

There will be times that one may tell their self that another person may be the problem, and that the other person needs to get the help. This could be an excuse which seems to cover the true problem…maybe the problem is within them.  Literally, the misuse of power can’t be seen by the person abusing it.

Surrendering and/or confessing your misused strength to Christ is essential.  It is important to acknowledge what you have done to hurt others, and it is important to ask God for forgiveness; but, it must be sincere.

When talking with another be genuine, and give many details.  This allows the other person to know that one is truly sorry.  Being humble is good when it’s sincere.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Luke).

Let God love and forgive those that misused strength.  His grace and mercy should be all consuming. One must accept the fact that God can use a restored heart to further His Kingdom, despite one’s weaknesses–past or present or even future.

Again, responsibility and accountability should take place.  This is one of the first steps to restoration of misused strength.  It is not just enough to say sorry; but, to truly understand why.  To tell the other that one is sorry, and act upon it, is a great strength.  Those that take responsibility will take their consequence and learn from it to become a restored person.

Now understand that restoration may not always occur; but, when one realizes their sinful nature, the process can begin to take place.  One must learn to put off “your old self” so that one can “put on the new self.  To know that we are created to be like God”. (Ephesians)

God wants to bring true healing; but, it can’t happen without humility.  If one continues down the wrong path they might become self-destructive, or may be the root of someone else becoming self-destructive.  Being humble does not mean to let others run all over them; but, to just stop misusing the strength that God has given.

One must become totally broken and surrender to Him.  God is for the brokenhearted and He will make the heart new.  We are sufficient in His grace, and He finds strengths in our weaknesses; thus, we will be given strength to carry on.  The kind of strength to carry on restoration due to grace, love, and humility.

“…but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31

We will have the strength to carry on…with the Son, and through the Son. Power will be given to the weak, and make us strong!

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