Are You Setting Up for Success?

I’m not into resolutions anymore—unless they are life resolutions or commitments—because I function better with simple daily choices to glorify God and embrace His adventure for my life. But I’m big into mottoes for the New Year.

A motto is a positive, challenging, yet simple phrase we live by—with a constant reminder to check for progress. My motto for the New Year is: “Think Thin & Go for the Win in 2010!” I’m determined that this is the year I’ll slim down through healthy eating choices and regular exercise. It’s going to take steady, daily discipline. I also want to live like a winner in every area of life. It is one thing to know that we have victory in Christ and need fear no one but God. It’s quite another to live out that truth day after day (especially if one is naturally timid, like me).

So, along with my motto, I have two character traits to pursue in 2010. My traits for last year were “Joy” and “Courage,” and I can truly see the effects of focusing on those words throughout 2009. My words for 2010 are “Perseverance” and “Victory”! I plan to study these character traits, memorize scriptures concerning them (related to my motto), and make practical applications as often as I can. I already have two scriptures in mind to get started: “So we must not get tired of doing good...” (Perseverance, Gal. 6:9, HCSB); and “…whatever has been born of God conquers the world...” (Victory, 1 John 5:4, HCSB).

I envision lifting my arms to God in praise every day for the victory that is mine in Jesus!

It is common to set goals and create calendars to work through the months ahead, but it takes more than a few New Year’s resolutions and business tools to set up for and achieve success. It takes a workable plan, commitment, and discipline. I like this definition of success: “God’s measure of success involves our obedience and faithfulness to Him, regardless of opposition and personal cost.”

It’s a fresh year with new challenges and opportunities. I encourage you to create your own motto for 2010, and then choose dynamic character traits to pursue that will help you please God and achieve His goals for your life.

For more New Year’s wisdom, see “Before We Look Ahead” and “Colorful Goals.”


'I Heard the Bells'

We don’t hear Christmas bells often anymore—especially in California! But some of the fond memories of my childhood were the peeling of church bells in the Midwest, especially during this wondrous time of year. The bells called us to church, and they filled our hearts with joy. They reminded us of the power of Christmas carols to point us heavenward when overwhelmed by earthly struggles.

The text of one old carol by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow still have meaning for our day.

“I heard the bells on Christmas day,” Longfellow wrote, “their old familiar carols play.” We are so familiar with Christmas carols. We’ve sung them since childhood, and perhaps it’s easy to recite them mindlessly and lose their truth. But his words struck a tone in my heart this year. “And in despair I bowed my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said. ‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men.”

How about you? As you look around at the economic upheaval, broken relationships, crime, corruption, and wars everywhere—is your heart at peace? Or does despair and hopelessness color your days? Where is the answer for times like these?

Verse four of Longfellow’s song offers the reason for our hope: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.” Christians know that God reigns; He is in control (1 Chron. 29:11-13; Psalm 47:7-8; 115:3; Is. 46:9-11). Beyond these days of despair there is coming a day of true, lasting peace, because the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6) will return (John 14:1-4; 1 Thess. 4:16-17) and His righteous rule will change everything. Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent Reigns! (Rev. 19:6b)

Have you heard the bells of hope, anticipating His return? I wish for you God’s true peace in the days ahead.


Beyond 'Ho, Ho, Ho'

One of the delightful sounds of the season in secular Christmas is jolly St. Nick’s “Ho, Ho, Ho.” Wikipedia says Canada Post uses the characters HOH OHO as part of the postal code for letters to be sent to Santa. The corpulent Santa’s "Ho, Ho, Ho" sometimes frightens small children — and a kindler, gentler "Ha, Ha, Ha" has been recommended — but the loud "belly laugh" always makes me smile. (Others laugh with a "Ho, Ho, Ho," including the Jolly Green Giant and Jabba the Hutt. But I digress.)

The laughter of the Christmas season isn’t relegated only to red-suited Santas. The joy of children on Christmas morning and the laughter that accompanies Christmas caroling are just two of the many opportunities for side-splitting laughter. And why not laugh? Doesn’t this holiday celebrate the most joyous day of the year? The Savior was born!

All of nature groans under the curse and burden of sin, but on that hallowed night, true joy was born into the world. One of our carols, “Joy to the World,” encourages rejoicing with the words, “Let heaven and nature sing.” Because of Jesus’ birth, hope for joy entered the world. Jesus came “to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

How can we know that joy and blessing? The first line of “Joy to the World” tells us: “Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room.” It’s a choice. We either prepare a place in our hearts for the King of Kings, or like the innkeeper in Luke 2:7, we say there is no room. He wants to dwell in our hearts, but also to change them. I pray that you know Jesus; and if you do, that you will always give Him free access to your heart.

If you do not know the Savior, these scriptures will help you understand who Jesus is, why He came, and how you can receive His free gift of salvation:
• Man’s Problem is separation from God, because man is sinful, and God is holy (Isaiah 59:2; Habakkuk 1:13a; Romans 3:23).
• Man deserves spiritual death, which is not only separation from God now, but separation forever in hell (Ephesians 2:1; Romans 6:23).
• God desires to give us eternal life with Him in heaven (John 17:3).
• Our good works are not sufficient to bring us into a right relationship with God (Romans 3:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7; Romans 4:4-5).
• God demonstrated His love through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus, on our behalf (Acts 16:31; Romans 4:25; 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 3:12; 1 Peter 3:18).
• We must receive God’s Son, Jesus, to receive eternal life (John 1:12; John 3:16-18, 36). God adopts us into His family (1 John 3:1-3; John 1:12; Ephesians 1:3-8; Galatians 4:6-7; Romans 8:17)

Evangelist John R. Rice once said, " You can never truly enjoy Christmas until you can look up into the Father's face and tell him you have received His Christmas gift." I hope you have.

If you have any questions, I’d love to help you find joy in Jesus that lasts eternally longer than a simple HO, HO, HO.


Seven Ways to Deal with Difficult People

I took a deep breath and whispered a prayer. “Melinda” (not her real name) was at it again, and I didn’t like it. A controller who enjoyed deflating my enthusiasm, Melinda was one person I started to avoid. But I knew God wanted me to be “Jesus with skin on” to her, and I couldn’t do that if I kept running away. I had to figure out how to deal with my “difficult” friend.

We all have them—difficult people, irregular people, people who rub us the wrong way. Some, like Melinda, are controllers. Others are chronic complainers, nit-picking perfectionists, backbiters, self-absorbed, or easily angered. Maybe we struggle with them on the job, in marriage, or even in the church. (And to someone, we may be a difficult person!)

God’s love moving through us can overcome many barriers. Our goal is not to change our difficult person, because God is the One who changes hearts. But we can study the person so we can relate better, and we can learn how to respond biblically—giving God more room to work.

I want to share some things God is teaching me. Perhaps they will help you, too.

(1) Pray. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, so certainly we can pray for the one who rubs us the wrong way (Matt. 5:44-45).
(2) Relax. You can’t please everyone, and neither can anyone else—so give people space and grace! Learn to lean on God for understanding and guidance (Prov. 3:5-6). [Don’t think you’re the only one dealing with difficult people. Even Jesus had to learn to deal with them.]
(3) Allow people to be different. Choose to see beyond the negatives, because every negative trait has a correlating positive trait. (For example, a nit-picking perfectionist, controlled by God, would be a helpful detail person to keep a ministry running!) Look for people’s gifts, and try to see them from God’s perspective (1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12:3-8; Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Pet. 4:8-10).
(4) Speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Watch your heart motivation. (Sometimes, it’s better to be silent and allow God to work. Pray for discernment.) But especially with controllers and manipulators, truth with love helps them see you as a real person.
(5) Give your expectations to God. If your expectations are in people, you set yourself up for disappointment (Prov. 13:12a). People will fail us; God never will.
(6) Remember that you are accountable to God (2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 4:13). Sometimes Satan uses difficult people to rile us; but God wants us to respond biblically, regardless. Difficult people might also be God’s tool to shave off our rough edges or areas of pride.
(7) Keep a tender heart. Be quick to forgive (Matt. 6:14-15) and quick to ask for forgiveness. Don’t retaliate (Matt. 5:38-39).

God can do miracles when we choose to respond according to His Word, so don’t give up too soon!


A Better Focus on Prophecy

I write for a prophecy ministry, so my head and heart are fine-tuned to world events that point to the End Times. I love the predictions and prophecies of the Bible. It is a love instilled in me from youth by my mother, Patricia, who shared the truths she heard from great prophecy preachers in the past. But lately, though I still study the signs of Christ’s coming and other End Times themes, there is a subtle nudge in my spirit that there might be a better focus for my time.

I believe the Holy Spirit is reminding me that if I’m truly looking forward to Christ’s coming, I need to “stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model” for my own (1 John 3:1-3, the Message). The Bible says there is a special crown for those who “love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). If we love the soon-appearing of our Lord, we’ll continue to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith (4:7).

But what if we don’t love His appearing? How do we change our hearts? We love Jesus’ appearing more and more as we fall in love with Him (1 John 4:19), abide in His loving presence (John 15:9), and obey Him (John 14:23).

My husband leaves for weeks of ministry in foreign countries, and I miss him because I love him. It’s not really any different with Jesus—only magnified beyond our ability to express it. The more we know our beloved heavenly Bridegroom, the more we miss Him and long for his return.

When I was younger and immature in my faith, I prayed that God would delay His return and allow me to get married, to have children, to do so many things. Later, He did a work of grace in my heart, and today, though I’m sometimes distracted by the baubles and pursuits of earth, there’s really not anything else I long for in life. I’ve realized that I’m just passing through a short space of time, and nothing will last except my relationship with the Lord. I just want Him—I want to see Jesus! I want Him to snatch me up into His presence in heaven. The Bible tells me He will, and I believe it will be soon (1 Thess. 4:16-18).

The disciples knew Jesus in a precious, intimate relationship. They spoke often of their love for Him. Paul and James encouraged believers to keep working hard for Christ, and to establish and purify their lives until His return (1 Thess. 4:12-13; Titus 2:12-13; James 5:8). We don’t know when Jesus will return for His Bride. Even Jesus, while on earth, did not know the exact time when that would occur (Matt. 24:35-36). But the promise of His coming is powerful—an encouragement, comfort, and incentive toward holiness and faithful service.

It’s not hard to imagine the Apostle John, saying, “Yes! Come, Master Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20 The Message). That’s my prayer, too.

See: "Anticipation," a Christmas message that focuses on the return of the Lord.