Small victories win wars

It’s March, guys! The third month of 2017 has already begun. How are you doing with your resolutions? Confession time: January was a complete failure for me, and February wasn’t much better.

I had plans to eat right, to exercise regularly, to rest, and to spend time with the Lord. And while I managed some of it some of the time, overall I failed completely. So in March I trying again.

Does anyone else struggle with this? You have the best, most sincere intentions. You make plans and contingencies. You psyche yourself up for the difficult days, and you try to prepare yourself for the inevitable temptation. You do everything you can to convince your traitorous brain that you shouldn’t eat that or that you’ll feel better after you walk those two miles or you’ll get all your work done eventually and a break will be good for you.

But it doesn’t work.

And then one day you find yourself sacked out on the couch eating M&Ms out of a ten-pound bag while you start in on your fifteenth draft of the same article, and the treadmill makes fun of you silently from its darkened corner of the basement. You feel like the biggest loser on planet Earth.

How does that happen? Well, I’m not sure if it’s the same for anyone else, but I’ve begun to suspect that my approach to goals in general is to blame. I’m a big picture person. I don’t do details very well, and I usually operate under the assumption that no matter what happens, everything will eventually work out.

And since God is in control, that’s true for His people. He’s big enough to work out the details of our lives so that they turn into something beautiful, even if the circumstances are horrible. But that doesn’t absolve us from making wise choices in the mean time.

God gave us brains for a reason.

So many times, as Christians, I think we focus too much on the war, instead of the battle. Wars are made up of many little battles, some that we win and others that we lose. And, frankly, we lose those little battles because we’re willing to accept defeat. In the grand scheme of the war, we can lose a battle because it won’t affect the eventual outcome.

That’s both comforting in one sense and terrifying in another. Yes, it’s great to realize that we’ve already won the war regardless of how many battles we may lose. But does that mean we can just stop fighting?

No! Of course not! (Romans 6:1) Just because Jesus has already accomplished the final goal doesn’t give us the excuse to give up today’s battle. And make no mistake. Today is a battle. This very moment is a battle.

If anyone ever tells you that this life can be free of conflict, struggle, or strife, they’re selling something. Just being honest. Our life here was never meant to be free of those things. As long as we have the Holy Spirit in us, we will be in a constant battle with ourselves and the world around us. But don’t let it discourage you, because Jesus has given us the strength to overcome any challenge (John 16:33).

So how do you win those every-moment battles? How can you overcome the temptation to neglect your physical or spiritual or emotional health?

Well, just like wars are won through through smaller battles, your daily battles should be conquered with small victories. Instead of focusing on the big picture which seems unconquerable, focus on the choice you have to make right now.

Should I eat that handful of M&Ms even though I know it will hurt my blood sugar? Should I not take a break from my daily work because I have too much to do? Should I skip my exercise because it’s too much trouble?

None of those are earth-shattering questions. No answer to any of those questions will shake the world off its axis. But for those questions, there is a right answer and a wrong answer for you. No, the world won’t end if you eat the M&Ms, but it’s not the wisest choice you can make.

Living healthy is a daily battle, and the only way you’ll win is seeking wisdom to face the questions. That’s how you win those hourly battles—by making good choices. And you learn how to make good choices from God’s word. (1 Peter 1:13-16)

Ultimately, the choice is yours. You get to decide what you do, what you eat, where you go, how you act. God has given us that freedom. But if you choose a course of action without wisdom, you open yourself up to the consequences.

I don’t know about you, but as much as I love the big picture of life, I can’t win at life on my own strength. I need God’s help. Frankly, I can’t even win in an hourly battle without God’s Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). Nobody can.

But the truth is: God’s given us everything we need to live a victorious life (2 Timothy 1:7).

What choice do you have to make right now? What does God say about it? Have you even asked Him? If you haven’t, there’s your problem. He wants to help. So give Him a chance and see what happens.

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God is the source of hope for the New Year

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. Lots of people are gathering food and party supplies to ring in the New Year with snacks and togetherness. Some folks (like my family) are planning a quiet evening of movie watching. And then? Well, the New Year will begin, and we’ll all get back into our routines. And, if previous years are any indication, the momentum we gathered at the beginning of the year will run out about a month into it.

And there are all sorts of explanations. It might be a lack of discipline. It might be general laziness. It might be too much stress or too little sleep or both. Many factors play a role in derailing resolutions. But in my experience, there’s nothing that can derail me worse than a loss of purpose or direction. If I don’t know where I’m going or if I don’t have a goal to reach, I wander. I hesitate. I second guess myself. I give up. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.

 

nature-flowers-plant-springToday’s verse is Romans 15:13.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

People have to have hope. You can’t live without it. Love lasts forever, yes, and your faith can fail. Mine does often. But if I ever lose hope, I’ll stop completely. I’ll lose faith if I lose hope. I’ll stop loving if I lose hope. My hope in the Lord gives me the strength to have faith, to love people who don’t love me in return.

When we get home and receive everything God has promised us, we won’t need our hope anymore. But while we live on earth, hope is a necessity. And fortunately for us, God has given us everything we need to cling to hope in Him. He’s demonstrated His goodness. He’s proven His Word. He’s shown us that He never makes mistakes and He always keeps His promises.

When you know God like that, you trust Him, and when you trust Him, He gives you joy and peace. At that point, your hope becomes something confident, something unbreakable, something unquenchable. And that’s how I want to face 2016, with unquenchable hope.

Don’t mistake hope with naivete, though. I think a lot of people do. Just because you hold on to hope doesn’t mean you’re living in denial. It doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the facts. It just means that you’re placing your trust in Someone who is big enough to make all the negative facts work together into a positive result.

2016 is going to bring a lot of challenges, but you know what? God is bigger than the challenges I’m facing, and I trust Him completely. So the hope I have in Him can be confident, because He is where hope comes from.

You don’t have to wait for Friday to start over

The idea of starting over isn’t always appealing. When I finished my freshman year of college, I changed schools. I went from a super-conservative, unaccredited college in Florida to a public state university in Kansas, and it was looking I was going to have to start over again. I had 33 credits and for all intents and purposes, it didn’t seem like they would be accepted. In that instance, starting over wasn’t going to be fun.

The Lord opened some impossible doors, though, and all 33 of my credits transferred (even my Bible courses) to Wichita State University, and I finished my degree there and had a great experience. I was thankful that I didn’t have to repeat my freshman year. So in that case, beginning again wouldn’t have been my preference. But there are plenty of times in my life that I wish I could have a Do Over moment.

I say something or I do something I shouldn’t say or do. Or I come to my senses later on and wish I could have the moment to do over again. Those are the times when you wish starting over was easy.

explosion-firework-new-year-s-eve-december-31Today’s verses are Lamentations 3:22-26.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
for salvation from the Lord.

This is the time of year that we all start thinking about new beginnings. A new year begins this week, and lots of people will be initiating new ways of living. New diet plans. New budgets. New clothes. New jobs. New everything.

New years mark the time to start over again, and everyone around the world usually embraces the idea whole-heartedly. I mean, after a year like last year, who wouldn’t want a fresh start, right?

But oftentimes, new years are just a rehash of the old year, aren’t they? Not to be a doomsayer. That’s just the truth. Most people who make New Year’s Resolutions end up stuck in the same rut all over again in two or three weeks. That’s a generalization, sure, but it’s not an untrue one.

And that’s okay. You know, we all deal with that. Everyone faces troubles like that.

But what if you need to start over? What if you really do need a new beginning? Well, that’s where God comes in. See, new starts with God really are new beginnings. Every morning, His mercies are new. That means He doesn’t hold sins from yesterday against us. If we’ve confessed them and repented (which means we’ve determined not to live that way anymore), He forgives us and moves on.

God doesn’t hold your sin over your head. He’s forgotten it. There’s no guilt, no shame, no pointing fingers, and no baggage.

Do you need to start over? You don’t have to wait for the New Year to get here. You can start over now, and God will give you fresh start. You just have to turn to Him. Start living your life to please Him. Search for His will in every situation.

The world will remind you of all the wrong you’ve done. The world will condemn you because you aren’t strong enough. The world will give up on you because you don’t have the power to change. That’s not what God does. God makes you into a new person and gives you the power to live a new life for Him.

Don’t wait for Friday. You can start over today. Just ask.

Winding road through the Guatemalan jungle, Peten, Guatemala

When God does something new, it’s always impossible

In less than 24 hours, a new year begins. 2015. 2015? I was looking at a list of upcoming movies the other day, and the summary of one stood out to me. It’s a sequel, and the directors have set it 22 years after the original movie released. Then, I remembered that the original movie released in 1993. And the sequel is releasing–and is set–in 2015. I remember 1993. I remember 1993 very well. And that was 22 years ago?

Gosh.

New years are always exciting because it’s a chance to do something different. It’s a fresh start for everyone. That’s where the idea of resolutions came from. The desire to start over, to live life differently, to make better (usually healthier) choices. Something new isn’t always appealing, especially to those of us who dislike change, but new is important.

God is always up to something new. He’s always got some project He’s working on, and while we may not understand all the pieces, the whole is always undeniably good. Because He is good.

Winding road through the Guatemalan jungle, Peten, Guatemala

Winding road through the Guatemalan jungle, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Isaiah 43:16-19.

I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters,
making a dry path through the sea.
I called forth the mighty army of Egypt
with all its chariots and horses.
I drew them beneath the waves, and they drowned,
their lives snuffed out like a smoldering candlewick.
“But forget all that—
it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

It’s one thing for us to make a New Year’s Resolution. It’s something else for God to do something new. Why?

Well, for one, if God promises that He’ll do something, He’ll actually do it. When was the last time you met someone who actually kept a New Year’s Resolution? They’re hard to keep. You have to be pretty dang stubborn.

What the prophet Isaiah is actually talking about in this passage is the birth of Christ. That was certainly something the world has never seen before–or since. But if you look at your own life, you’ll see how God is working on a day-to-day basis, accomplishing things in you and through you that you never thought possible.

When God does something new, He always does the impossible. Have you seen a path through the wilderness? Have you seen rivers in a desert?

God wants to do something new in your life, but the trick is trusting Him enough to let Him. It’s easy to cling to the same-old, same-old in your life because you know it, you understand it, you can halfway control it (you think). Stepping back and letting go of the life you understand is terrifying, and giving it over to God is doubly so. Giving up control in your life is petrifying.

But God is always up to something new. And it will always be impossible. And it will always be good.

So wherever you are on this New Year’s Eve 2014, consider letting go of your life. The harder you hold on to it, the more of it will slip away. Let God have it. Let God do what He wants with it, and your 2015 might be bigger and better and more impossible than you ever imagined.