Friday, March 27, 2015

Aim High, Finish Strong

I read an article in a running magazine that explained how caffeine could enhance a runner’s performance in a race by diminishing the perception of fatigue. I tried it in a marathon, and sure enough, not only did I set an all-time personal best, but I did so after expending precious energy conversing with a fellow runner during the entire first half of the race. Had I realized that my tongue would be stimulated along with my legs and had I focused more on the race, I’m sure I could have finished even faster.
In that instance and in others since, caffeine provided a boost that translated into a few minutes’ difference in my race time. I don’t take in extra caffeine during my normal training. If I did, it wouldn’t have the same effect during a race. Also, without a solid base of fitness upon which to apply it, no amount of caffeine would set any records. In order to benefit from that extra boost, I had to put in many miles of training week after week, adhere to a healthy lifestyle day in and day out, and really enjoy running.
I didn’t start my running career that way. At first my motivation was rather shortsighted. I had recently recovered from a very bad cough and didn’t want to get that sick again. Over time I discovered the following principles, which are motivational experts’ bread and butter because they can be applied to almost any area of life:
1. Set small, reachable, short-term goals. When I first began running, my goal was to put on my running shoes, get outside, and run a little every day.
2. Don’t beat yourself up when you fall short. You will have bad days and bad spells; everyone does. Negative self-talk about a disappointing performance is more damaging than the “failure” itself.
3. Be flexible. Adapt to changing circumstances. Expect surprises and flow with them.
4. Aim High. Small, achievable, short-term goals are necessary, but so are large long-term ones. Dare to dream an impossible dream.
5. Nourish your dream. Why is this goal important to you? Why do you believe it can be done? Why do you believe you are the person to do it? Write down your answers, collect inspirational and motivational quotes and anecdotes that support your answers, and review them in times of crisis and self-doubt.
6. Have patience. When clocking your progress, watch the hour hand, not the second hand.
Philippians 3:13-14 ESV / Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 6:33 ESV / But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Luke 10:27 ESV / And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Through the Fog

Changes are awfully unsettling for me. I like my little nest, where everything is just so and nothing jostles me too much. I like routines and schedules, the comfort of knowing what’s going on—both immediately and in the future. Change can be exciting sometimes, but mostly it’s really tough. It’s tough leaving behind stuff I know and love, and it’s tough not knowing what’s ahead.
Not long ago, my husband and I found ourselves moving away from family and friends. We had good reasons for the move, and we knew where we were going, but of course much of the future was still a big blank. And that was scary.
Our trip took us through mountain roads at night, and as we drove, thick fog set in. There were no lights or houses lining this stretch of road, and to make things worse, it soon seemed that we may have taken a wrong turn. Great.
I squinted into the fog, leaning forward against my seat belt, trying to see where we were going. I couldn’t see any signs, and I got more and more worried that we were going the wrong way. As I said, I don’t like uncertainty.
My imagination went hyperactive, creating all kinds of awful scenarios, like being lost in the mountains or sliding off the edge of a steep cliff. Each scenario was worse than the last.
Finally I quit trying to see through the fog and settled back in my seat. I looked over at my husband, and he was confidently driving on, not worried about the fog but just slowly following the road immediately in front of us. I sat back and willed myself to relax—and sure enough, we eventually got safely through the fog and back on to clear roads, and we made it safely to our destination.
My life at the time was like that dark and fog-clouded road. All I could see was what was immediately before us, like headlights only illuminate one patch of road at a time. But God is my driver, and I can trust Him. He has a perfect driving record, and He’s always gotten me safely to my destination before. Even though I have sometimes thought we were lost, He always knew exactly where we were.
When God led the children of Israel through the desert, they didn’t have a map or a compass or a smartphone with built-in GPS telling them when to turn. They didn’t even know where they were going. All they knew was that they were supposed to leave Egypt.
While it could not have been fun being slaves in Egypt, maybe it was tough for some of the Israelites to leave the only life they knew. Maybe some of them had friends in Goshen, and at least they had had food to eat and a place to live.
But as they obeyed and followed God, He took care of them. When they ran into a dead end at the Red Sea, He opened a road for them right through the water. When they were hungry, He dropped food from the sky. When they were thirsty, He poured water from a rock. When they didn’t know which way to go, He put a cloud in front of them to lead the way.
Yet even after all that, they still doubted God. I never understood why; it was obvious that God had been with them all along. Why would they question His abundance and care after He showed them again and again what He was capable of? But then, I do the same thing. God has never failed to provide for me and guide my life, and yet I still end up fretting when the future isn’t clearly mapped out.
Proverbs 3:5–6 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Even if everything is dark ahead, if you feel like you’re in a fog and you don’t know which way to go, if you acknowledge God, if you turn to Him, He will guide you. He will keep you on the right track and bring you through to your personal Promised Land.
As I was getting ready to make this big move, I came across a Bible verse that I couldn’t remember ever having read before—Jeremiah 29:11: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ the Lord says, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Now that’s a promise! He has plans for each of us. He is going to prosper us. He wants to give us hope and a future. Isn’t that great?
The future still isn’t totally clear, and I know it may never be. I’m not sure how everything is going to turn out in the end, but that’s okay. I know who is in control, and I know His plan is perfect.
1 Peter 2:9 ESV / But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Acts 2:38 ESV / And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Proverbs 3:6 ESV / In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Little Green Steps of Progress

One day Joe broke his arm. They said it was par for the parkour he practiced. Joe was a traceur. He lived in a world that consisted of one giant obstacle course, climbing and leaping, escaping and reaching, vaulting and rolling across his busy cityscape. Joe pushed himself on his runs, sometimes over cars or walls, sometimes across rooftops. Sometimes too far. Destiny watched him from afar, eyeing his toothpick arm and waiting for her chance.
On the morning when he broke his arm, Joe had gone with a couple of friends on a practice run for a home video they were making. A few warm-up moves gave Destiny her chance.
Joe ran up a small wall, perched on the top for an instant, then leaped out into space. His fingers closed around a horizontal metal bar in front of him, a bar that was supposed to stop his fall.
A bar supported by rotting wood.
The wood gave way, and Joe fell backwards.
The dusty ground broke more than his fall. He scrambled to his feet clutching his left wrist, which was bent down and then up in a sharp “Z.” Someone called the paramedics.
Joe woke up in the hospital, eyelids still heavy from the sedatives they’d given him. A white plaster cast from his wrist to his elbow sheathed his badly dislocated wrist and the two fractures in the radius.
For four weeks, Joe struggled with his disability. He learned to type with one hand, to live without daily showers, to let other people button his shirts and tie his shoes and wash his dishes.
After a month, the cast came off. Finally Joe was free. He spent ten minutes scratching and an hour and a half in the bathtub.
But all was not back to normal. After 29 days of disuse, the muscles in his left arm had shrunk and atrophied. His arm was now half its original thickness, and the skin hung like plastic wrap over his mended bone. The slightest attempt to turn or straighten the arm sent shockwaves of pain through his body.
Heat therapy helped to loosen the shriveled muscles, and he was able to pivot the wrist a little more each day. Soon it was time to start strength therapy. After a month of stockpiling cobwebs in the darkness under Joe’s bed, his old 35-pound dumbbell again found itself in the center of the room, squinting at the light. He grabbed at the handle enthusiastically with his left hand and heaved. Nothing. He strained. He sweated. He gritted his teeth and chewed into his tongue. He breathed muffled threats at the stubborn iron mass. The weight just sat there grinning. Tactics would have to change.
Joe borrowed a small expandable dumbbell from his sister (for a paperweight, he told her). It was tiny and covered in green plastic. Joe made sure no one saw him as he snuck it into his room.
As he struggled with his little green “paperweight,” he could hear his friends grunting under the weight of giant barbells, heaving and thrusting as they exerted themselves silly. He ignored the distant manliness.
It was hard work at first—even with such a ridiculously small plaything—and every lift pained him. But as the days went by and he ignored the ache in his wrist, it began to go away. Soon Joe had mastered the little green toy.
What pride he felt when he added two more little green disks. He still wasn’t strong, but he was getting strong. The solution would not be to crush himself with unrealistic expectations. It would be to start small and work up.
Soon he had added all of the little green disks to the dumbbell and was flinging it around like a house in a tornado. The iron dumbbell under the bed surrendered eventually as well, subjugated by determination and a few little green steps of progress.
Joe still has a ways to go before his arm is completely back to normal, but he knows that it won’t help to grizzle about the things he could once do with his arm. Instead, he looks back at how far he has come and ahead to complete recovery one day.
And when that day comes, well, I might just go out for another run.
James 1:12 ESV / Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Romans 5:3-5 ESV / More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Galatians 6:9 ESV / And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What’s the Point?

When I turned 60 last year, I did some soul searching. I clearly hadn’t achieved all I could or should have in my life so far. Was I therefore a failure? Give me a minute before I answer that.
I’d gone through some changes recently and was now at a place both geographically and career-wise that was not what I had had in mind. I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t entirely pleased with my circumstances either. I felt like I was becalmed at sea, no wind in my sails, monotonous stretches of ocean in all directions. The horizon was in sight, but that didn’t help. I couldn’t decide which point on the horizon to aim for, and even if I could, I had no means to propel myself towards it. What and where was my purpose in life?
For all my adult life, I had dedicated myself to varying degrees to achieving what I understood to be God’s purpose for me. I had thought I had a fairly good idea of what this was, but now all bets were off. I had primed myself for great things, but now great things seemed a pipe dream.
As I reflected on my own life and the lives of others, I realized that there are some people who most of us can agree were great—not necessarily because we approve of everything they said and did, but because they had an impact; in some objective way their lives and achievements were great. But were these relative few the only ones who had fulfilled their destinies? For that matter, is there any such thing as destiny? Are our lives supposed to be fulfilling in themselves? Are we supposed to be satisfied at the end of it all? Is that the point? Or is there something else at work here?
Saint Paul wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” When I meditated on this verse in the past, I had looked at it from Paul’s first-century perspective. We all know that there were copious amounts of persecution directed at the first Christians, to whom Paul was writing. He meant to encourage them that their brief lives here were not the final word or the whole story.
Life is often compared with school. I can remember grumbling along with many of my classmates about being stuck in school when we wanted nothing more than to get on with our lives. It seemed as though we would be stuck there forever, while teachers kept trying to cram more lessons into us. But school wasn’t meant to be the culmination of our lives. It wasn’t our destiny. It was merely a training ground, an opportunity to garner knowledge and skills that we could apply later.
I now believe that we are not supposed to peak in this school we call life. This life is only a stage. Yes, we are to gain all we can from it, but we don’t have to worry that we have somehow missed our destiny if all we have to show are some scars and hard-won wisdom.
What, then, are we supposed to accomplish here? What does God want or expect from us in this life? What is our purpose? This is how Solomon stated it: “Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about.”
We are works in progress, but if we can look at ourselves in the mirror and honestly say that we are trying to live our lives that way, then we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. Fulfilling this is our destiny. That is the point.
1 Peter 2:9 ESV / But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Proverbs 16:4 ESV / The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Romans 8:28 ESV / And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hope Eternal

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5 ESV).
This is one of my favorite Bible passages, but for the longest time I had difficulty understanding how “character produces hope.” I followed up to the “endurance produces character” part, but how do the difficult experiences that forge character make us more hopeful?
The cynic in me felt that it was more likely to be the other way around. I realized that life was going to throw me some curveballs. I didn’t expect things to be all sunshine and roses. I didn’t think of that as a bad thing, but it wasn’t exactly “hope.”
It dawned on me recently that I frequently settle for a superficial meaning of the word: “I hope we have good weather tomorrow.” “I hope things work out for you.” The way the word “hope” has come to be used, it can have an almost fatalistic ring to it. The things we hope for may or may not work out, so especially when we have little or no control over the outcome, we might as well “hope,” because that’s about all we can do.
But the apostle Paul is not talking about the wishful thinking kind of hope here. He’s talking about hope of the Gospel. It’s hope that is grounded in faith in God’s love and loving plan for us personally and for humankind. In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul writes, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” It’s when we face difficulties and the bleak, blank times of life that hope in the deepest, truest sense shines brighter, stronger. This is how the deepening and shaping of our character produces hope.
Then we won’t shrink from the trials of life or be apprehensive in times of uncertainty. The hope that “does not put us to shame” will never let us down. Why? Because it comes to us through God’s love, which “has been poured into our hearts.” From that love springs faith, hope, and yet more love. It’s a beautiful, perfect cycle, an ongoing exchange of hope and trust that God has given to carry us through life, closer to Him.
Romans 5:3-4 ESV / More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
Hebrews 10:36 ESV / For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
James 1:2-4 ESV / Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Journal

When the thought first crossed my mind that I should make a New Year’s resolution to keep a daily journal, I immediately dismissed it. Too many past resolutions had fallen by the wayside, and I could foresee ending the year with a journal full of empty pages. I also didn’t have time for another project, I told myself.
However, I had recently completed a counseling course in which keeping a journal was a requirement. The instructor had emphasized making a habit of recording thoughts, ideas, plans, experiences, worries, fears, and victories. It was an important step toward self-awareness, he explained, and that is crucial to being able to help someone else sort out their problems.
I decided to give it a fair try, and I’m glad I did. I chose a journal that had a thought-provoking quote and Bible verse at the bottom of each day’s page, and I committed to spending 15 minutes each day writing in it. Here are some of the benefits I have already experienced:
Keeping a journal helps me to better understand my strengths and to identify self-defeating or negative mindsets and habits.
It helps me uncover discrepancies between what I think and how I act—wanting to lose weight but finding excuses to not exercise, for instance.
Writing about difficult or sad experiences helps me understand and come to terms with what happened, which is a necessary part of the healing process.
Noting what I’ve prayed for each day and keeping a record of how those prayers were answered has strengthened my faith.
Writing about situations with people I have a hard time getting along with has helped me uncover and avoid the patterns that lead to misunderstandings and bad feelings.
At the end of each month I review and summarize the highlights, which gives me a better idea of how things are going, what challenges or obstacles came up and how they were resolved, which prayers were answered, what progress was made toward my goals, which decisions or plans I followed through on, etc.
Looking back I can wholeheartedly say that journaling was worth the effort. The filled-out pages of my 2011 journal are now a treasure chest of ideas, thoughts, lessons, revelations, achieved goals, and answered prayers.
Philippians 4:13 ESV / I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
John 14:15 ESV / “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
2 Corinthians 5:9 ESV / So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Prayer Points

1. Pray for General Andre and Commissioner Silva as they travel to KL and then to Penang.
Pray for all our Salvationists in Malaysia who will share fellowship with the General.

2. Pray for every Corps and Center in Malaysia, for colleague officers and all involved in TSA ministry.

3. Pray for God's Kingdom to come and HIS will be done in Malaysia.

Announcements

General's Visit to Penang
Dinner at Penang Children Home
Date: 1st April 2015 Time: 7:30pm
All are welcome!

MOMEMTUM
"Celebrating the Past, Embracing the Future"
Singapore 80th Anniversary Celebration
Date: 3rd - 5th April 2015
Venue: Singapore Central Corps Auditorium

Territorial Music & Arts Camp 2015
Date: 9th - 13th June 2015
Venue: Eagle Ranch Resort Port Dickson
Fees: RM160 until 20 April 2015 / RM210 after that.
Closing Date: 4th May 2015.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Gain by giving

You may have noticed the contented aura, even radiance, of people who make it a habit to give.Whether it’s time, money, help, friendship, or encouragement, they always seem to not only be content themselves, but to have enough to share with others. Jesus explained how this can be so: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap.” (Luke 6:38 NIV)
If we give to others, yield to their wishes to make them happy, or put their needs above our own, we can sometimes feel like we’re losing out. But we’re not really. God sees such unselfishness, and He will reward it. You never lose by giving.

The trade up
A story is told of a well-to-do lady who had become a Christian late in life. One day she was walking along a city street accompanied by her granddaughter. When a beggar approached them, the lady listened to his tale. She then took a bill from her purse and placed it in his palm. At the next corner a Salvation Army volunteer was waiting, and the lady dropped a gift into her kettle. Her granddaughter looked at her with curiosity and then said: “Grandma, I guess you have lost a lot since you became a Christian, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” said the lady, “I have. I have lost a quick temper, a habit of criticizing others, and a tendency to spend all my spare time in frivolous social events and pleasures that mean nothing. I have also lost a spirit of greed and selfishness. Yes, indeed, I have lost a good deal.
“And what I have gained is invaluable!—Peace of mind; power in prayer; a Friend who is always with me, who knows, loves, and protects me; fulfillment and richness in life that I never knew existed; faith that allows no room for fears; a promise of a wonderful heavenly home when I’m through with this earthly one—and much more! Yes, I’m happy about what I’ve lost, and what I have gained is priceless!”

The Bank of Heaven
“Take this to the poor widow who lives on the edge of town,” the old German shoemaker told his young apprentice, handing him a basket of fresh garden vegetables. The shoemaker worked hard at his trade and cultivated his little garden patch to make ends meet, yet he always seemed to be giving away what little he had.
“How can you afford to give so much away?” he was asked.
“I give nothing away,” he said. “I lend it to the Lord, and He repays me many times. I am ashamed that people think I am generous when I am repaid so much. A long time ago, when I was very poor, I saw someone even poorer than I. I wanted to give something to him, but I could not see how I could afford to. However, I did give, and the Lord has helped me ever since. I have always had some work, and my garden grows well. Since then I have never stopped to think twice when I have heard of someone in need. No, even if I gave away all I have, the Lord would not let me starve. It is like money in the bank, only this time the bank—the Bank of Heaven—never fails, and the interest comes back every day.”
God may not always reward you in mere dollars and cents; His reward may be in the form of protection from accidents, misfortunes, or serious illnesses that would have cost you a hundred times more than anything you may have given. But in whatever way it comes, He will reward you.

Give, and it will be given unto you!
According to legend, there was once an abbey which had a very generous abbot. No beggar was ever turned away, and the abbot gave all he could to the needy. The strange thing was that the more he gave away, the richer the abbey seemed to become.
When the old abbot died, he was replaced by a new one with exactly the opposite nature—he was mean and stingy. One day an elderly man arrived at the monastery, saying that he had stayed there years before and was seeking shelter again. The abbot turned the visitor away, saying that the abbey could no longer afford its former hospitality.
“Our monastery cannot provide for strangers like it used to when we were wealthy,” he said. “No one seems to make gifts towards our work nowadays.”
“Ah well,” said the stranger, “I think that is because you banished a brother from the monastery.”
“I don’t think we ever did that,” said the puzzled abbot.
“Oh yes,” was the reply. “And he had a twin. The one you banished was called ‘Give’ and his twin was ‘It shall be given unto you.’ You banished ‘Give,’ so his brother decided to go as well.”
Matthew 6:19-21 ESV / “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
2 Corinthians 8:14 ESV / Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.
Luke 6:30 ESV / Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.