Life is full of uncertainty.

 

We have this expectation that we will have a comprehensive plan for our lives and be able to pursue it without hindrance, and yet rarely is that the case.

 

Curve balls are thrown our way. We don’t meet our goals and ambitions. Life takes unexpected twists and turns.

 

And yet God is still on His throne.

 

In the midst of uncertainty, He never changes. In the fog of confusion, He remains true.  In chaos, He remains in control.  When life is unpredictable, He remains faithful to His Word.

 

In the Bible, King David knew a bit about the uncertainty of life. He had been crowned king, and yet spent many years on the run in the wilderness as the previous ruler, King Saul, sought to kill him.  The position was rightfully his, yet he could not exercise the authority he had been granted. And even in the midst of not knowing how things would turn out, he knew where his trust laid. As he said in Psalm 18:

 

In my distress I called upon the LORD;

to my God I cried for help.

From his temple he heard my voice,

and my cry to him reached his ears. (v. 6, ESV)

 

David did not know how God would provide, but he knew that He would. Even as his very life was at stake, David knew that God heard his cries and was preparing his way.

 

As you face uncertainty in your life, may your trust be that of David’s. May you turn to God for help and strength and may you trust in Him to provide. May you know that while the future may look murky to you, it doesn’t to God. And may you join with David in saying:

 

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,

my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2, ESV)

Last winter, my husband and I took our kids to visit several amusement parks in San Diego. After about our fourth day of kid-sized entertainment, my children were understandably tired. As we left an attraction one of my children came upon the store that is conveniently located where any passing child will definitely want to walk through it. After many days of hearing “no” when asked if we could buy something, my child was having a difficult time accepting the refusal. As I encouraged her to have a good attitude, she said some of the truest words I have ever heard come from her mouth, “But mom – it is hard to have a good attitude when we don’t get what we want.” And she is right.

However, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it. It is important to teach our kids to have good attitudes. Doing so will help them now, and will help them as they develop into a fully functioning adult. After all, no one likes to work with the person who is complaining all the time. Teachers don’t commend students who are most known for the ability to whine. Even other little people prefer to be around those who are joyful and content regardless of the circumstances.

So here are a few tips for helping our children develop (and maintain) good attitudes.

1. Create conditions for success.

Kids are resilient and in the midst of growing and learning about the world, they can contend with a lot. However, sometimes as parents we may set them for failure because we push them to their limits. While being tired and exhausted doesn’t excuse a bad attitude, it may help explain it. We won’t be able to control every circumstance, but if we can limit the amount of times that we are asking young children to deal with challenging circumstances and physical exhaustion.  Be the planner for your kids. This doesn’t mean just scheduling play dates and getting them to soccer matches. It also means that you take into account their individual needs and you don’t over-commit or over schedule them more than they are ready to handle.

When creating conditions for success, also consider the following:

  • State clear expectations – make sure your kids know how you want them to behave – not just in concepts, but in particularity. If you are going somewhere they can’t run – and they are used to running all day – tell them that. It is better to have the discussion ahead of time than having to correct them after the fact.
  • Acknowledge difficult moments – some days are going to be more challenging than others as are some certain circumstances. Talk to your children about these ahead of time. It can help them to know that they are going to have to work harder to have a good attitude so that they can mentally prepare for what lies ahead.
  • Discuss the long-term consequences of their behavior – young children don’t know what we mean when we say we want them to grow to become “successful adults” so help paint the picture before them. For example – if someone doesn’t want want to share their toys – ask them what it would be like if no one shared. They are reacting to the moment; help them see the grander picture.
  • Help them see beyond themselves – One day I wasn’t able to pick up my daughter at the time I said because there was a bad accident on the freeway. When she began to object to my tardiness, I told her the reason I was late and asked her to consider the other people whose day had been ruined because they were in the accident. Those individuals’ days were a whole lot worse than ours. And even at a young age – she could see that and her complaining was replaced with compassion.

2. Deal with the Behavior.

Although it may be inconvenient, don’t ignore bad behavior. Deal with it. Even when it messes with your schedule; even when it might make you embarrass. If you are around others, have a quiet talk with your child outside of the center of activity. But don’t just let it ride. Your job is to teach your children what is expected of them, not to make excuses on their behalf.

Conversely, celebrate good behavior. A LOT. Especially when your children are really young. They are learning and a great way to help someone learn is through affirmation. Even when it doesn’t seem like a big deal – try to make it a big deal. Does one child willingly share with another – give them a high-five and tell them why.  Does your kid maintain a good attitude even when they are disappointed? Tell them that you know it was difficult, and you are so proud of them. We want right attitudes and behaviors to be the norm, so sometimes we don’t acknowledge them. DON’T DO THIS. Everyone likes to be told that they did a good job – even your two-year old who shows kindness to a friend.

3. Model right responses.

As has been said many times, when it comes to parenting, “more is caught than taught.” If we want our kids to have good attitudes even in challenging circumstances, we need to show them what that looks like by our words and behaviors. If they see us get upset at the inconveniences of life then they will too. If we grumble and complain when we don’t get our way, we should expect to experience the same with our kids. Conversely, if they see us giving thanks, being gracious, and maintaining joy even when life throws us unexpected twists and turns, we are more likely to see these characteristics exhibited in our kids. They may only pay attention to some of our words, but they will definitely pay attention to how we live our lives.

Closing Thoughts

Helping our kids learn how to have and maintain good attitudes is not easy. They are going to be tempted and persuaded that it is their prerogative to express their displeasure and we are going to have to teach them to curtail those responses. But engaging in the work is worth it. It means that our kids are more likely to have good attitudes now, and to maintain those right responses as they become adults.

 

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to a group of moms regarding this subject. This is a summation of that talk. If you would like to listen/watch the whole thing, you can do so here.

 

 

Run to the Battle

April 19, 2017 — Leave a comment

Often times when our country experiences destruction we hear about those rare individuals who run into mayhem in order to save others. With seemingly little regard to their own personal interests, men and women set aside fear and safety. and risk harm and sometimes even death, in order to assist those who are caught in the proverbial cross-fire. Even when ruination seems imminent, there are people who will run into the fire, or the collapsing building, or the literal onslaught of bullets, with the hope that another’s life may be spared.

For many of us this seems unfathomable. We may be willing to consider it for those we love, but it is hard to imagine the fortitude that is required to set aside one’s own well-being in order to help unseen strangers. And yet, these men and women are rightly celebrated for what they do. Their commitment, their earnestness and their courage should be applauded.

And when we are caught in our own battles – when there are souls to be won and sin to be defeated-  they should serve as an example of how we should behave. 

This was David’s approach. When the giant needed to be slayed, he ran towards Goliath (I Sam 17:48). Not only was he willing to face what seemed like certain defeat, he was so confident in his Father’s ability to conquer any foe that he hastened to the fight. What must have seemed like foolish brazenness was anything but. David knew that his slingshot and stones didn’t stand a chance – except for the fact that God was on his side. And because God was on his side, his victory was already assured. David wasn’t arrogant; David had trust.

And perhaps what is most telling about all this is what is missing from the narrative. There were no excuses; no four-step plan. David was not going to wait for the most “ideal circumstances” (from a human’s perspective), nor was he going to delay with strategies and personal agendas. David didn’t build a coalition or offer alternative explanations. David knew what needed to be done, and he obeyed. With eagerness and conviction he did what God desired him to do.

As should we. 

Is there a sin that needs to be eradicated and you have been making excuses? Run towards its defeat.

Is there a person that needs to hear the Gospel and you have been obfuscating or delaying? Run to them with the Good News.

Is there a ministry that God has given you and you haven’t been stewarding it faithfully? Slaughter halfheartedness and hasten to faithful service.

Whatever it is that God is calling you to, don’t delay; don’t linger, don’t wait.

Run to the battle.

And as David knew – if God is calling you to it, you can trust that victory (by His terms) is already yours.

 

If you know the account of Gideon in the Bible you probably know that he was a man who set out a fleece in order to determine whether he could fully trust the word that he was receiving from the Lord. Although Gideon is rarely used as an example of someone who is a pillar of faith, it is not uncommon to point to reference his story when we aren’t sure what we should do. After all God provided Gideon with two clear signs that was his job to conquer Midian. Then God fulfilled His promise by giving Gideon victory after drastically reducing the number of armed men that went with him to fight (Judges 6:36-7). “Putting out a fleece” has become Christian vernacular for seeking a sign from God regarding the action someone should take.

What happens to Gideon after God uses him is often left out of the Sunday School stories. After returning from victory, Gideon used the spoils of war to create an artifact (called a ephod) which soon became an object of worship for the Israelites. The man who had been so afraid to go to battle set up a symbol of his conquest and as it says it Judges 8, “it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” The implication is that, along with the rest of the nation of Israel, Gideon and his family begin to trust in the symbol of victory rather than the One who provided it.

It is tempting to wonder how Gideon could possibly do this (after all – he clearly knew at one point that he was incapable of winning the fight), however it is a enticement that is not unique to him. We are all apt to rely on on our abilities, insights, and talents to do the work that God has set before us. We are all prone to forgetfulness about Who is accomplishing the task when we begin to receive accolades for the outcome. Like Gideon, we go from wallowing in our inadequacies to trumpeting our abilities. And like Gideon we may go from relying on God, to trusting in ourselves.

But we must fight this.

Because as the rest of Gideon’s story demonstrates, self-trust is a futile endeavor. Gideon was right – he was incapable of taking on the Midianites – but God was not. Gideon wasn’t the main actor in the story – he was the instrument that God used to accomplish His purposes. Trusting in the tool is short-sighted; it assumes the instrument has power and intentionality all on its own. But it is only when the tool is wielded by the hand of the Master that it can accomplish its purpose.

So while we may be tempted to trust in ourselves and our successes, we must remain steadfast in relying on the One who not only provides the success, but equips us with what we need to accomplish it.

 

I can do all things through him with strengthens me. – Phil 4:13 (ESV)

This familiar verse has been used on everything from greeting cards to wall signs to a rallying cry for sports team. People tend to like this verse because it inspires them to “be all that they can be.” Yet people generally forget to look at the preceding verses. Immediately before Paul writes about his reliance on Christ to do “all things” he writes about the fact that he has learned to be content in all circumstances (v. 11-12). The focus of Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians wasn’t on his ability or capacity; instead he wanted to remind them that regardless of what situation they faced – whether they had plenty or were in need, whether they were weak or they were strong – they can be confident in Christ’s provision and could rely on Him to accomplish His purposes.

This is not an easy thing to do. Often times, it is easier to look at what we are capable of, conjure up our courage, and to try to overcome obstacles. And while all of these things may be needed, what is needed first is a reliance on Christ. Christ is the One at work; we are His instruments to accomplish His purposes. What we should mediate on when we think of this verse is the One who strengthens us, not the person that He is strengthening.

This should give us great hope. As we ponder our future, we can depend on God to give us all that we need to accomplish what He has called us to do.  As we consider His purposes for our lives, we can delight in all He is able to do through hearts that are devoted to Him. And whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, we can be content in the One who is able to transform that circumstance for the purposes of His Kingdom.

 

Dual Role

April 14, 2017 — Leave a comment

 

When we present the Gospel we often focus on the message of salvation.

This make sense. After all – what we want people to know is how they can be saved from their sins an spend eternity with God.

It is this message that they are most likely to respond to because it is in their self-interest to do so. It may be what first attracted us to a relationship with Christ; we realized the depravity of our sin and the need we had for a Savior.  Understanding how Christ’s death and resurrection provided our redemption is critical in coming to a place of repentance and faith.

And while the Gospel is clearly the anthem of salvation, the biblical Gospel also hearkens another tune. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:16-17 (ESV):

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,  as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.

In other words – the Gospel is about salvation – true. But the Gospel also broadcasts God’s righteousness. His justice is on display, as is His mercy and grace. His love is proclaimed, as it is goodness, kindness, patience and peace. The truth of His Word is herald and His faithfulness is trumpeted.  All of Who God is, is demonstrated most clearly to us through the fact that He sent His Son to die a death that He did not deserve so that His enemies might be called His kids.

The Gospel is about how God provided a way for us, but it is also gives us the most powerful expression of the God we are called to serve.

And when we tell the Good News to others we need to make sure both these things are made clear.

Two Rules

April 13, 2017 — 2 Comments

 

Every day before I say goodbye to my kids, I ask them one question – “What are we going to do today?”

The answer, often said in unison,  is simple – “Be kind and be respectful.”

It’s a mantra that we have said for years now – nearly since the time my children could talk. We say it because I want to remind them what the expectations are for their behavior. It’s simple because I want them to remember it even when I’m not there.

We started this little recitation with my eldest. As is probably true for most children, it wasn’t easy on either of us when she first went to school. I knew that there would be new temptations and I knew that there would be new influences. I wanted to help her remember how “Team Winter” behaves and I wanted her to know what was important to her mom and dad. There were lots of things that she would be learning at school – some good and some bad – and whatever she learned, I wanted to give her a filter through which to consider it.

I was helped in this endeavor by a wise friend who encouraged me to not make the rules of our house too cumbersome. With little ones a parent is constantly telling them “no” as they learn boundaries and form understandings. If you are constantly saying “no” to new categories of behavior, it is hard for little brains to sort out what it is that they can and can’t do. Instead, if you create a few broad categories that many things can fall into, it helps them learn, remember, and hopefully apply, what they know.  We decided on two rules. The first was that they were to be kind. Regardless of what our kids encountered each day, we wanted them to be people who would be quick to show compassion and love. The second was that there were to be respectful. This didn’t mean that they always had to agree with authority, but it did mean that they would show deference to those that God had entrusted with their care.

The beautiful thing about these two, umbrella-like rules, is that many things fall underneath them.

  • Are you fighting with your sibling? Don’t do that – it’s not kind.
  • Are you putting your shoes on the couch? Please remove them – that’s not respectful of other people’s stuff.
  • Are you tempted to lie? That doesn’t show kindness or respect to the person you are talking to.

Time and time again we have been able to employ these two standards to correct and direct our kids’ behavior. The beauty of them is that because they are easy to recall our children always know which way they are to aim. They are clear about the standards, even as they learn the particulars of what those behaviors look like. They know what is expected of them, and are rarely surprised by the corrections they receive.

And sometimes those rules have prompted correction in my own heart as well.

No Comparison

April 12, 2017 — Leave a comment

Often times when I am teaching one of my greatest challenge is to have my students anticipate how what they are learning in class will be useful to them in their professional life. Terms and theories can seem so arbitrary and more than once I have had a student question why things can’t be more like the real world, only for me to try to convince them that what they are learning is what is needed for the real world. It’s hard for them to imagine life outside of the classroom walls. And this makes sense, the class is familiar to them; their career is not.

As much as I invest time in helping them prepare for their career, my students can tell you that I also invest considerable time in trying to prepare them for another future – that of their eternal destiny. As I often tell them, I want them to be successful in whatever profession God leads them to, but I want their success to be determined by God’s standards, not the world’s. I want them to make decisions, choose paths, and commit to actions based on what will be considered “profitable” from Heaven’s vantage point, and not merely from their contemporaries’ perspective. My hope is that they are constantly looking to eternity and it is that future reality that has the most impact on what they do each day.

The challenge is that just like it is hard for them to picture life in the “real world,” it is hard for them to really anticipate the joys of Heaven. I know this because they want to delay their experience of Heaven until they can achieve certain milestones on Earth. They want to have kids, or achieve a certain professional stature. They want to grow old or make sure that they have had a chance to fall in love. Whatever their particular ideal is they want to make sure that they get to experience that first, and then they’ll be “ready” for Heaven.

It is a temptation that is not limited to college students. There has probably been a time that each of us has secretly (or not-so-secretly) wished that we will get to experience something in this life before God calls us Home. This tendency, however, fails to consider that there is nothing in this world that can compare to the reality of being in God’s presence. There is no happiness here that is not superseded by the joy there. There is no success on this Earth that is not surpassed by the delight of being with Christ.  There is no achievement or accolade of this world that is not eclipsed by the privilege of praising God in His presence.

We are tempted to think that we are “missing out” if we don’t get to a certain stage of this life, but in reality, we are currently missing out on the satisfaction of being with our Maker.

And perhaps if we gained a deeper appreciation for the majesty and delight of an eternity with God, we would find our contentment there and not in the things of this world.

 

Daily Deliverance

April 11, 2017 — Leave a comment

It’s a wonderful thing to delight in our salvation. When we talk about the fact that God has saved us, most often we are thinking about how He has atoned for our sins and taken on the penalty that was rightly ours to bear (2 Cor. 5:21). Repenting from living for ourselves and placing our trust in His Son’s death and subsequent resurrection means that rather than spending eternity apart from God, as we deserve, our eternal home is with Him. We think of our salvation as what we will experience when our life on this Earth ends. Our salvation is a future reality that we have not yet experienced.

It’s true that we won’t partake of the fullness of salvation until we stand united with our Savior, however, as the Psalmist reminds us (Ps. 68:19), God’s provision for our lives is not reserved only for eternity. He is daily providing the strength His children need to live a life that is pleasing to Him. He doesn’t just care about what happens when our lives end; He is intimately concerned with what is going on in our lives now (Mt. 6:28-30). While we may not fully appreciate the magnitude of what we have been saved from until we stand before Him face-to-face, we should recognize that His concern for His children is not only for that day, but for today as well.

Looking forward to eternity and rejoicing in our ultimate salvation is appropriate. Being thankful that God provides for us on a daily basis is as well.

Re-prioritizing

April 10, 2017 — 2 Comments

I like checklists. As I have probably mentioned before,  I am the type of person who will write something down on a list for the pure joy of being able to cross it off. There is a sense of accomplishment in completing a task and there is a feeling of resolution in being able to remove it from my list. For many this might not make sense, but for some, I’m sure it does.

The challenge is that sometimes the state of my to-do list is reflected in my attitude. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or ineffective at getting things done, I can get frustrated, discouraged and snippy. Even when I’m able to prayerfully fight these tendencies there still can be a feeling of uncertainty as I look at what I wanted to accomplish and compare it to what I actually did and the amount of daylight I have left. Deciding what I’m going to push off until tomorrow can become another chore and impetus for annoyance unto itself.

However, what I need to remember is that my job is not first and foremost to get things done. In whatever sphere of influence you consider – as a wife, as a mother, as an employee or as a church-member, I’m not primarily a task completer. Instead, my main objective is to glorify God. Therefore, my main to-do isn’t to finish a task, but to please Him.

George Müller said it this way:

The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.

Did you catch that? Three words are used to describe this purpose: first, great and primary. And the aim is clear – to find rest, contentedness and peace by trusting in God. No other task is of greater import; no other objective supersedes it. When the Christian starts by focusing on Christ everything else falls into its rightful place; everything else becomes secondary.

This may not always be easy. And we can only accomplish it through prayer. But aiming first and foremost to find our happiness in Christ will not only help ensure that our days align with His plans, it will help ensure that our words, actions and attitudes do as well.