Building Strong Relationships

picnic-1208229_1280High-quality relationships never come about by accident.

Strong friendships and families are built intentionally. The best relationships must have a solid foundation in order to survive times of strain and testing. Here are five practical exercises we can apply to strengthen our relationships.

1)  Compliment freely!

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” According to Dictionary.com, the word “corrupt” can be used to define something that is “infected”1 or “tainted”1.

In our society, we are quick to speak words that are “infected” with condemnation or “tainted” with harsh criticism. We don’t think twice about criticizing but are painfully slow with compliments. Some people try to build themselves up by tearing others down, but this approach only damages both parties. Finding the good in someone else is actually a sign of humility because it forces us to acknowledge that we aren’t the only talented individuals on planet earth.

You don’t have to hand out compliments right and left, but when you notice a positive feature about someone, tell them! You will have to give constructive criticism at times, but as a part of that critique you can mention something positive about the person or their actions.

2) Challenge one another in love.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
Friendships are supposed to help us grow. We can encourage each other in our pursuits, and gently correct when we notice something that is damaging our friend. Relationships not only give us joy, they also make us face our struggles and weak spots. The best kind of friend will not leave us to face our struggles alone, but will rather link arms with us and walk with us.

Just as iron sharpening iron, sparks may fly in our relationships, but that is not always a bad thing. Conflicts resulting from corrections may hurt, but sometimes a little bit of pain forces us to change. In our relationships, we always must remember to correct and challenge with love. In their discussion of Proverbs 27:17, Jason and David Benham wrote, “if these clashes are motivated by love, then we should embrace them, not avoid them.” (Living Among Lions, page 182)

3)  Celebrate one another’s victories.

Did your friend pass their driving test? Or perhaps they baked a batch of cookies that weren’t burnt to a crisp? Maybe they can’t stop smiling because their cousin just had a new baby. Whatever the joyous occasion, partake in the celebration! As Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice”!

You may not understand how momentous this occasion is, but to your friend, it could be life changing. Besides, when something exciting happens to you, you will want your friends to be eager to celebrate alongside you.

4)  Stay for the struggle.

The second half of Romans 12:15 says, “weep with those who weep.” Many people stick around for the party but quickly diminish when the going gets tough. This reminds me of the Prodigal Son. His friends stuck around as long as he had money, but once the money was spent—and he was left to starve—the friends vanished into thin air.

Being a friend during good times is easy, the real test comes when harder circumstances hit. Celebrating with our friends is a necessity, but we need to remind ourselves to be there when they are going through a rough time. This includes proactively contacting them as well as offering any support we can.

We regularly need to remind ourselves to be a shoulder to cry on as well as someone to celebrate with.

5)  Be quick to forgive and forget.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

We can only offer God’s kind of forgiveness when we are acting in His strength. On our own, the urge to hold a grudge is simply too strong to overcome. Once we truly forgive, we will soon find ourselves forgetting the instance.

Forgetting a friend’s mistake doesn’t mean that you should immediately trust your friend again, but rather give them an opportunity to earn your trust back without holding their mistake over them.

Although building a strong relationship requires time and conscious effort, the friendships in our lives are well worth it. First, we need to remember to use our words to lift our friends up. Then, out of love, we can challenge and even gently correct our relations. We also must remember to celebrate during the good and comfort in the bad. Finally, we can offer forgiveness when they make a mistake, knowing that we will also need forgiveness in our relationships.

 

Advertisements

Beware, Financial Traps Ahead!!!

bank-1269026_1280

Part of growing into a responsible young adult is learning to manage money with wisdom, common sense, and generosity. We set a pattern for our finances from the moment we start making money, even if that money is only from birthday and Christmas gifts. In order to safely survive without incurring mounds of deadly debt, we must first mark the major financial pitfalls on the road ahead.

Despite popular belief, the most important years of your financial journey are your high school and college years. Why? Because the financial philosophy you develop during this time will either make or break the next few decades of your financial future.

If you are not careful, you could spend years cleaning up the financial mess from your high school and college days.

You may think that being a teenager means no financial decisions or problems, but it is possible, even now, to land in huge financial trouble. Once a fourteen year old boy called the Dave Ramsey radio show, because he had $21,000 dollars of debt.

If you make it past your high school years with no financial scares, the college years still await and are ready to devour you. According to Student Loan Hero, “The average student loan debt for Class of 2017 graduates was $39,400*, up six percent from the previous year. . . Americans owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers.”[emphasis mine] In other words, as soon as you get out of high school, you will have to decide if you want to incur almost $40,000 dollars of debt in only four years.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Many students incur even more than $40,000 dollars of debt, but without the high paying degree to rectify the issue. Financial guru and bestselling author Dave Ramsey regularly has young adults calling into his radio show who have anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 dollars just in student loan debt. While a couple of these individuals have degrees in high paying fields (such as medicine or engineering), several of them have super low paying degrees or even degrees from bogus universities. Just like these people, you could spend years, maybe decades, paying off student loan debt unless you carefully guard your finances during college.

If you managed to survive the student loan debt attacks, then you still have to contend with vicious credit card companies. Credit card companies fiercely target college students, knowing that they are some of the most gullible victims. You must have a plan before you set foot on campus, because if you wait, you’ve already been sold. Newsweek cited a study that showed just how susceptible college students are to credit card marketing:

“Last year, U.S. PIRG compiled the survey results from 40 universities in 14 states and found that more than three fourths of undergraduate students stopped at a marketing table to learn about credit-card offers. Of those, a third were offered T shirts, water bottles, food, even “stress balls” in exchange for filling out a credit-card application. Such tactics work: nearly two out of three students in the 1,500-person sample said they’d signed up for a card.” [emphasis mine]

In another story, one college freshman applied for a credit card purely because she wanted the t-shirt that the marketing table offered if she filled out the application. She incurred $25,000 dollars of debt on that credit card which she is still working to pay off fifteen years later, now thirty-three years old. Your college financial decisions will haunt you long after you graduate.

 

While I cited a great deal of scary statistics about financial danger, the essence of this article is pretty simple (and not terrifying). Money is not a moral force, but rather a tool. If you use it poorly, it will wreak mass destruction on your life and the lives of your family members. But, if you utilize it wisely, it will empower you and your family to live prosperous, generous lives. Choose carefully, because the financial decisions you make now could shape the rest of your future.

Why We Should Obey

ludovic-charlet-544834-unsplash.jpgAt Shelton High School in Connecticut, parents and students were outraged when the high school administration chose to enforce the prom dress code. The dress code banned dresses that were backless, had cut-outs, or exposed the wearer’s midriff. Students who arrived at the prom sporting inappropriate attire would not be allowed into the building. However, for many, respecting this rule was simply too much to ask. Students even started a petition protesting the dress code enforcement. A mass rebellion was sparked, simply by asking people to obey a basic rule that was stated in the student handbook.  

This story reveals a much deeper root of disrespect in our society. Many young adults and teenagers struggle to obey rules and submit to authority.

Submission is never easy. To the contrary, it may be one of the hardest things we ever learn. However, we must practice it because there will always be someone we have to submit to. Right now, we have to submit to our parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses. In the future, we will have to be submissive and humble if we want to sustain a healthy marriage. Successful adulthood is impossible without humility and submission to authority.

I understand that this is a heavy topic. Discussing submission typically does not make people feel warm and fuzzy. However, it is a vital discussion that we must have if we want society to function correctly.

On a side note, this article was never intended as a direct attack against any individual or group, but rather as a discussion of the general attitude of disrespect that our culture fosters. Thankfully, we have complete and full forgiveness for all rebellion through Jesus’ love and grace. However, we can save ourselves much heartbreak and trouble if we choose now to submit to God and those in authority over us.

The severe consequences of adult disobedience

Our regard and respect for rules and authority in our lives right now will foretell how we respond to rules and authority as an adult. If a young person continues on with their immature flippancy and disrespect towards authority, then the consequences will be severe, even life altering or deadly.

Christal McGee is the perfect example of the consequences of disrespect for rules and authority. According to The Washington Post, in September of 2015, eighteen year old Christal McGee was driving home from work. She decided to use the snapchat speed filter to document her speed. She reached 113 mph. Problem is, the speed limit on the suburban road was 55 mph.

Unfortunately, Christal did not see the other vehicle before it was too late. She crashed into Maynard Wentworth, an Uber driver, going 107 miles per hour. Inflicted with a traumatic brain injury, Wentworth was hospitalized for months.

Not only did Christal hurt herself and another driver on the road, she also risked the lives of the friends who were in the car with her, including a friend who was pregnant. According to another source, Christal is now in jail for her offense.

All of this damage was caused by Christal’s blatant disregard for the speed limit posted on the side of the road. Much heartache could have been prevented if she had simply respected the rules.

The Young Christian’s Response to Authority

Thankfully, those who have received Jesus as their savior have complete and perfect forgiveness, and thus the ability to move forward after making mistakes. God helps us overcome our rebellion and turn to humility instead. 1 Peter 5:5-6 paints a picture of what Biblical submission should look like for the young believer:

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,”

God’s grace covers us when we mess up; and gently turns us around when we are stuck in our own pride. James 4:7 instructs us to submit ourselves to God. The purpose of submitting to God is so that we can be closer to Him, thus experience His love and grace more powerfully. Obedience to authority and to God is actually freeing, giving us the power to move forward in life with a clear conscience. I would encourage you to live as a radical example of submission to God and authority in this rebellious society. We can shine a light for Jesus by simply being humble and obedient.

Sources for the news stories referenced in this article:

Prom Dress-Code Change Sparks Outcry at Connecticut High School

Shelton prom goes on amid dress code controversy

Teen took Snapchat photos while crashing Mercedes at 107 mph. Now her victim has sued Snapchat

Teen driver in Snapchat ‘speed filter’ crash jailed on felony charge

Trading Prince Charming for the Prince of Peace

king-1304612_1280Recently, two videos snagged my attention. In the first, a YouTube celebrity expressed her grief over the breakup with her boyfriend. In the second, Michelle, the widow of Christian apologist Nabeel Qureshi, explained how she was handling her husband’s death. Their opposite strategies for processing grief revealed where their hope truly rests.

The celebrity YouTuber was crushed because life had revolved around her boyfriend. In the aftermath of their breakup, she not only had to cope with his absence, but other damaged relationships that she failed to maintain while she was pouring everything into her boyfriend. While fighting back tears, she came to the conclusion that we just need to seek happiness.

On the contrary, Michelle immediately acknowledged that although she had lost Nabeel, she had not lost God. Nabeel provided for her for a season, but God was her true source of all provision. God used Nabeel in her life, and He would continue to provide for her in his absence. She refuses to label herself as a “widow” or a “single mom” because first and foremost, she is a child of the one true King. While she is still processing her emotions, the grief is not destroying her.

Both these women lost the love of their life, but one is crumbling and the other is steadfast. Why? Because Michelle never lost sight of her everlasting identity – daughter of God.

Ladies, we naturally desire that special guy in our lives, but we must realize three truths.

  1.  We may never have a “significant other”.
  2. We could lose that significant other through death or a break up.
  3. We can never find lasting peace and happiness in another person.

Even though a significant other can fail us, die, or simply never enter our lives, if you have a relationship with Jesus you are never left alone. You may not have Prince Charming, but you always have the Prince of Peace. People constantly shift and slide, but Jesus is rock solid. He will always be peace and stability in our lives.

Here are four verses that show us the role God plays in our life:

  • He is the firm foundation, the unmovable rock, the only One who will never fail us. (Psalm 18:2)
  • Jesus is to us Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
  • While many relationships leave people bruised and broken, our relationship with God heals and restores us. (Psalm 103:2-4)
  • Jesus turns our mess, our brokenness, and our ashes, into something beautiful. (Isaiah 61:3)

Expecting peace and satisfaction from another person is placing an unfair burden on their shoulders–one that they cannot possibly carry. Rather, we should turn our desire for peace and stability to the only one who can satisfy–Jesus Christ. Due to the changing nature of humans, we should never find our identity and value in another individual. We have already been given an everlasting identity–a daughter of the One True King. Regardless of whether you meet Prince Charming, you can know that the Prince of Peace is always by your side, constantly comforting, counseling, and loving you.

 

Navigating the Choppy Waters of College Decisions

laptop-3087585_1280

Figuring out a college major is not always black and white. In fact, discerning college ambitions and vocational desires is a trial and error process that requires both faith in God and common sense. College is often the beginning of the journey into figuring out what we want to do with our lives. And one of the first major decisions in this journeys is which major to choose.

In his book, Thriving at College, Professor Alex Chediak says, “Not only could there be more than one great major for you, but changing majors in not the end of the world. Better to try something and then have to shift gears if it doesn’t work than to never try something at all.” (Page 199)

In other words, having everything figured out is impossible.  As we venture out and try new things, we discover our God-given personalities and passions, allowing us to purposefully peruse the path He has set before us.

It is not our responsibility to figure out our whole lives by some arbitrary age like 18 or 22. However, it is our responsibility to utilize wisdom and common sense when making immediate decisions that affect our future.

For instance, when I was choosing my college major, my mom was included in the process (after all, she practically knows me better than I know myself). I evaluated both my weakest and strongest areas. I am only mediocre at math and science, but I tend to excel in writing and reading. Thus, even though a career as a computer engineer or marine biologist might be lucrative, I would be miserable due to the math and science foundation required.

I considered a professional writing major, but I am a complete extrovert and want to regularly interact with people in my future career. Therefore, I finally landed on a communications major. I see it as a unique way to combine my love for writing and public speaking with interacting with people. Of course, this is always subject to change, but God cannot guide you unless you are moving forward. God utilizes our passions, desires, talents, and strengths to lead us in the direction He has planned for us.

Now, at this point, I do not fully know what this major will entail. I could start the program, discover that I need to readjust, and turn down a different route. But that is okay. Again, trial and error is not a terrible route when figuring out your future.

Avoid making decisions for your future self, way down the road. Rather, choose to make logical, wise, God-led decisions in the here and now and be flexible to make needed adjustments. God does not stop leading us when we make a mistake or misstep. Rather, He promises to continue His guidance everyday of our lives. As Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way. But the Lord directs his steps.”

 

Refreshed by God’s Word

ben-white-167553-unsplash.jpg

I have always struggled to read my Bible consistently. At times, I have been able to read a chapter a day, sometimes even for months in a row. But more often, I slip into the abyss of not cracking the cover open for weeks on end.

At the beginning of this year, I had fresh determination. I printed off a Bible reading plan and made dozens of Bible memorization cards. My plan was to read the Bible through in a year and memorize a verse a day.

I think I fell off of the reading schedule after the first two weeks of January and the memorization schedule even sooner. I failed yet again. Almost every night during the hectic spring months, I thought about cracking my Bible open, but was not able to muster the energy to do so. With a heavy heart, I would turn off my light and crawl into bed. Soon, self-condemnation began to cause me to avoid my Bible. I would kick myself down before I had even started.

I like measuring progress by numbers. Thus, if I do not read an entire chapter or several chapters, I feel like a failure.

Finally, I realized that I just needed to feed on God’s word.

One April night, I fell into bed exhausted. It had been a straining day academically and spiritually. Even though my eyelids were heavy, I knew that I desperately needed God’s word. I was dry. Rather than discipline myself to start back where I had left off (weeks ago), I decided to adapt my strategy to my lack of energy.

I lounged against my pillows and flipped to the New Testament. I landed on the last few chapters of Romans. I soaked up the verses I had highlighted, then flipped to the next page. I started at 10:45 and continued this pattern for the next hour.  Occasionally, I would stop to read a whole chapter, but for the most part I just enjoyed reviewing the verses I had highlighted in previous reading sessions. It was informal. It was enjoyable. It was refreshing. And best of all, it did not demand too much concentration from my sleepy brain.

From this experience, I learned that sometimes we need to adjust our Bible reading strategy to our current phase of life.

If you have stalled out on reading your Bible, then do not force yourself to jump right back on your plan. Sometimes we need to give ourselves a chance to just relax in God’s word. Not every Bible session needs to be intense or “highly productive”.

Enjoy God’s Word.

If you have found yourself spiritually dry, but condemnation is keeping you away from your Bible, then your mission should be to find refreshment and enjoyment in the scriptures again. Go to your favorite book of the Bible, track down your favorite verse, and soak it up. Once you gain some momentum, you can return to your original reading plan.

Just remember, even random Bible reading is better than zero Bible reading. If, late at night, reading your appointed three chapters feels too daunting, then just savor a few of your favorite verses.

Sometimes the hardest thing we can do is restart after we feel like we have failed.

Restarting our journey through scripture after a period of spiritual dryness is tough. We just need to dive in, even if that means restarting ourselves in an easier place.

If you were learning to ride a bike, would you rather start climbing up hill or rolling down a flat sidewalk? If you are trying to jumpstart your love for God’s word, would you rather follow your reading plan and trudge back to Leviticus or bask in your favorite Psalm? Nothing against cycling uphill or reading the book of Leviticus, but we need to build our endurance and momentum if we are to make it through the tougher challenges like these.

If you are like me and often find yourself stalling out on your Bible reading plan, not opening your Bible for days, then remember the ultimate goal: get in God’s word daily, somehow. If that means reading a few verses at 10:45 at night, then that is still a victory. If it means scanning a few chapters on your lunch break, that is also a victory. The point is not to zealously follow a schedule-rather the goal is to incorporate God’s word into our lives. Squeeze in time today to bask in some of your favorite verses. Relaxing in God’s word will leave you refreshed, wash away condemnation, and embolden you to read the more challenging parts of the Bible.

What Laundry Teaches Us About Life

laundry-413688_1920

When I was eleven years old, my mom taught me how to do my own laundry. I faced the chore enthusiastically-even transforming a cardboard box into a cute laundry hamper with pink and white paint. However, learning to do my laundry required time and patience. Even with my mom’s careful coaching on sorting colors and operating the washer and dryer, years passed before I fully comprehended the concepts. I ended up with at least one white shirt that is now blush because I washed it with a darker garment. Thankfully, blush is now in style, so I can pretend I did it on purpose.

While laundry may be viewed as drudgery or an inconvenience, I think it is the best chore ever. Here are four reasons we can be grateful that we have to do laundry:

1) Laundry gives us the opportunity to serve those in our households.

Serving those outside our home is often easier than serving the people who are closest to us. For example, going on a mission trip provides us with an adventure. It is exciting because we are meeting new people and experiencing a different culture, so serving and being selfless in this environment is natural. However, we often take those we live with (our families) for granted. One practical way we can love those around us is to perform simple tasks for them. Even folding and putting away a load of a family member’s laundry can be a huge encouragement. Several times, my sisters have sneaked into my room and folded my clothes for me. I have always felt so loved by this sweet gesture.  If you are trying to find ways to serve your family, look no further than their mountains of laundry.

2) Laundry can help us realize how privileged we are.

Sometimes, laundry can seem endless, like a waste of a perfectly good Saturday afternoon. But people in third-world countries would love the opportunity to do laundry like we do.  Not only would they appreciate having high quality clothing, but they would also appreciate the modern appliances we have to make laundry simpler. Washing clothes by hand is exhausting. Twice when our washer was out of order, I decided to wash my laundry by hand. Only when I was in the middle of the project did I realize the difficulty of doing laundry without a washer and dryer. Wet clothes are heavy, and you use a lot more water than your washer would. If you need a reason to be grateful, then you can simply look at your clean pile of high-quality clothing and the two machines that made doing your laundry so easy.

3) Laundry gives children and teenagers a chance to cultivate responsibility.

In order to ensure that we have clean clothes, we are forced to regularly check the status of our laundry hampers. Failing to be responsible with laundry has sharp, instantaneous consequences (like running out of clean clothes). Since laundry is a fairly simple task, it the ideal job to develop responsibility in children and teenagers. And, if the task is not attended to, the youth will quickly learn his or her lesson by the lack of clean clothes. After all, we will not always have our moms around to make sure our clothes are clean.

4) Laundry gives people a chance to escape from their arduous work to a simpler task.

For most people, folding and putting away laundry does not require much active thought. If you need an escape from your schoolwork or paperwork for a few minutes, but do not want to lose productivity, then put in your earbuds  and conquer the  pile of laundry on your bed. You can enjoy a guilt- free break, listening to some of your favorite music or podcasts, while keeping your hands busy. This short laundry break will allow you to return to your main work projects with a renewed sense of focus and energy.

Laundry may seem like a mundane chore, but it is actually a golden opportunity. Laundry gives us the chance to serve our families, count our blessings, cultivate responsibility, and be productive during our free time. Rather than complain about doing laundry, or any chore for that matter, we can be grateful for the opportunity and take the moment to realize just how blessed we are.