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The other day I was scrolling through social media and saw pictures of my friend as she flitted around Rome. She looked like Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday.” Hers weren’t the only pictures I saw that day to remind me that others were having a fabulous time in exotic places while I was sitting home in the Central Valley of California on a 103-degree day.

I think most of you can probably relate. We see our friends in Hawaii, Europe or St. Lucia and long for our own escape from the mundane. A friend recently posted a meme that stated: “Everyone is posting their vacation pictures, and I’m like … I went to Walmart.” Whether budget or time off is a limiting factor, an Instagram-worthy vacation may not be in your summer plans.

While vacation envy is definitely a first-world problem (even one night in a hotel is an extreme luxury in most parts of the world), the Bible has a lot to say about how envy of any kind can affect us. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” When I look at my friends’ experiences and feel an inequity to my own, it causes decay in my soul because at its core, it makes me question God’s goodness.

If you’re looking at a long summer of staying home, here are a few ways to combat vacation envy.

Unplug from social media.

The old phrase “out of sight, out of mind” holds a lot of truth. If I’m daily feeding my mind with the experiences of others, I will be prone to compare my own situation with theirs. Try taking a social media break for one week or longer. Observe how you feel during your break and what changes. (I wrote about how this experiment changed my daily life and relationships when I tried it last year.)

Rediscover your hometown.

When we first moved to California three years ago, I checked out a lot of the local tourist spots (yes, even Bakersfield has some!) such as Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace. I also enjoyed visiting unique restaurants (the Caribbean place downtown and a local Tex-Mex haunt with legendary chocolate sheet cake). A simple Google search can unearth the top attractions in your local area. If you can’t travel this summer, try checking out what your town has to offer (and why not invite someone to go with you?).

Plan a day trip.

Everywhere I’ve lived, there have been interesting places to visit within a few hours’ drive. In Pennsylvania, it was Amish country and Gettysburg. In Colorado, I could travel to beautiful mountain towns. And in California, the beach is just a few hours away. Day trips can be super-affordable (pack a lunch and all you’re out is some gas money) and feel like mini-vacations. Try planning several this summer to get out of town and break up monotony.

Be thankful.

This is an age-old remedy to envy. Sometimes it can be hard to take Paul’s words to heart: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). But this really is the antidote to all kinds of envy. When we thank God for our own circumstances — even if they include staying home this summer — we conform to His will. Thanking God for His blessings in our lives reorients us to see His goodness and brings life.

Whether a vacation is in the plans for this summer or not, you can take a vacation from envy. Unplug, explore your surroundings and be thankful. Who knows — this could be your best summer yet!

Copyright 2019 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.

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“You can sweep the floor if you want.”

My parents never had much sympathy when I was bored. As kids, we learned quickly not to go to them with complaints of nothing to do — they just might give us a list.

I haven’t complained of boredom in years, but as I think through how we as a culture spend our downtime, I think adults get bored just as often as kids. Maybe I don’t label my feelings as boredom, but every time I spend hours on YouTube or veg in front of the TV or scroll through Facebook out of habit — I think I might be bored.

What is boredom?

With the rise of hyper-portable technology and constant access to media, boredom has gained a comeback of interest. At first, we may think we shouldn’t ever be bored anymore — with the tap of an app we can be on to the next thing — but more and more experts are listing benefits of boredom. Most suggest that occasionally turning off devices will result in greater problem-solving skills and the creative bursts that come after stretches of nothing to do. According to those in the know, boredom isn’t something to be avoided, but embraced.

This is interesting stuff. (Ironically — or maybe appropriately — none of this online research was boring.) Before I started Googling boredom, I don’t think I could have defined it any better than “the state of being bored” or something like that. But the Time article above defined it as “a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied.”

Not satisfied. That makes sense.

When we’re bored, it means our brains are looking for something to do. Something to satisfy us.

Made for more

Where do we go to find that satisfaction?

Maybe YouTube. Maybe Hulu. Maybe scrolling through Facebook or Instagram.

But we weren’t made to stare at screens for fulfillment and satisfaction. We weren’t saved to live the easy, distracted life.

Throughout the New Testament, the Christian life is compared to circumstances like a soldier getting dressed for war or laborers harvesting a field. These aren’t idle word pictures. As people made in God’s image, we were created to mirror God in His role as Creator. Work has always been a good part of God’s creation.

As saved children of God, we are called to make our lives count in service to Him. As Christians, we know that living for ourselves or our own entertainment will ultimately never really satisfy us. Only in following Jesus first will we find fulfillment — even to the point of laying down our lives in service to others as our act of worship to God.

This is probably why our brains hunger for stimulation. They weren’t made to just consume media. We were made (and saved) to do things.

Next time you’re bored

Boredom isn’t bad. Our choice lies in what we do with it. “Boredom is both a warning that we are not doing what we want to be doing and a ‘push’ that motivates us to switch goals and projects,” one researcher says.

So consider this a push. Next time you’re bored, don’t turn to a screen. Open your Bible (your real one). Challenge yourself to do something hard before you do something easy. Maybe that would be completing a task you’ve been putting off. Or memorizing a Bible verse.

Run a mile or two. Call a friend who needs encouragement. Read a couple chapters in that book you decided to finish this summer. Give yourself the “neural stimulation” that you didn’t realize you were needing.

I love a “Blue Bloods” marathon, and there’s a place for using media as entertainment. But imagine what our churches and communities would look like if we stopped turning to media to satisfy us. Picture a community where it was normal for neighbors to interact regularly and really know each other, for friends to work on projects together instead of binging on reruns, and for all of us to seek activity instead of entertainment.

And if we can think of nothing else, we can always sweep the floor.

Copyright 2019 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.

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As an introvert, I know how difficult it can be to embrace certain date ideas, especially when you’re dating an extrovert.

Many dates that extroverts find exciting, I find draining. Going out to the busiest restaurant in town, seeing a movie on its opening weekend, attending a loud concert or making noise at a sporting event can be fun, but I have to be in the right mood. Most of the time, these are the last things I want to do on a Friday night after a long week.

That’s OK. Not every date has to be a full-scale production. In fact, introverts have an advantage when it comes to dating. In addition to having fun on a date, you should be able to talk and get to know each other. Introverts are most comfortable in quiet spaces, and when we invite our dates into these spaces, we’re more talkative and relational, thus setting the stage for a successful date experience.

Here are some creative and low-key date ideas for introverts — but I’m convinced extroverts  will enjoy them too.

1. Hammocking

There’s something disarming and playful about swinging from the trees like Tarzan and Jane. If I set two chairs between a couple trees and strike up a conversation with my date, that’s boring (maybe even creepy). But replace the chairs with a hammock and now it’s a carefree, creative activity that helps you relax and float through conversations without a care in the world.

2. Hiking

If you want to get to know someone, go on a hike together. There’s something about the great outdoors, fresh air and a sense of exploration that brings deeper topics to the surface. I guarantee you’ll talk about more than just your favorite movie or music genre.

I do a lot of soul searching when I’m hiking. When I hike with a date, we both end up talking about big picture things like our current fears and future aspirations.

3. Kayaking/Paddleboarding

I can’t swim (I had a bad experience), so I’m averse to this one. Rumor has it though that kayaking and paddleboarding are great activities that make for adventurous and memorable dates. I’m sure they have a similar effect to hiking, but you have to try it out and let me know how it goes.

4. Picnic/Order Takeout

Instead of sitting in a busy restaurant surrounded by other diners, order your meals to go. Find a quiet neighborhood park or a secluded bench somewhere, enjoy your meals together and have a nice, private conversation without all the distractions. This might be daunting for a first date, but once you’ve enjoyed a few dates together, this a great way to get to know each other better and have a more personal conversation.

5. Shopping spree

Rather than spending money on a nice dinner and two movie tickets, why not go shopping instead? To make it memorable, go shopping for each other. Skip the big-box stores and shop at smaller local boutiques and gift shops (feel free to set a spending limit). At the end of the night, you can both give each other something unique and have a fun souvenir to remember the date.

6. Escape rooms

Think your boyfriend or girlfriend is marriage material? A good way to test it is to get locked in a room you have to escape from in less than 60 minutes. Escape rooms are challenging and require a lot of communication, problem solving and teamwork to survive. It’s a great way to see how well you and your date work together under pressure. Some escape rooms are hard to do with just two people, so this might be a great double-date idea.

7. Sightseeing

Hop in the car or on bikes and visit some of your favorite sights nearby. Drive through the mountains, ride along the beach, visit a historical site or just travel to your favorite local hangouts. I enjoy visiting my favorite hometown spots during dates and sharing why they’re significant to me. It’s a great conversation starter and you never know, you just might discover you share a special place with your boyfriend and girlfriend.

8. Painting/Cooking class

Sharing the experience of learning something new together always creates great memories. This is a playful way to relax, let your inner child loose, stimulate your senses and explore one another’s imaginations. Who knows? You just might reveal a hidden talent you or your date didn’t know you had.

9. Gardening

This one’s a stretch for most guys, but gardening is a cathartic and underestimated dating idea. Community gardens are a great way to get to know new people, and planting and caring for a garden is a fantastic way to see how well you enjoy the more mundane parts of life together. Get your hands dirty, water, fertilize and pull some weeds together. You’ll both enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor.

10. Symphony/Stage Performance

Last but not least, do something old-fashioned and go to a live stage performance or the symphony. Have fun with this classic outing and dress up in the fanciest clothes you have. Afterwards, go out for tea or coffee and talk about your favorite parts. Then share your least favorite parts. The most important thing is that you talk afterwards.

I’m sure you’ve had some great date ideas that helped you and your date get to know each other better without draining you to depletion. Take a moment and help your fellow introverts out by sharing your experience in a comment below.

Copyright 2019 Matt Stickel. All rights reserved.

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Usually the month of May is a pretty fun time of year. Days are longer, the weather is nice, and Justin Timberlake memes take over social media.

Those never get old.

This year, though, May didn’t end soon enough for me. My hometown fought off tornado warnings and crazy thunderstorms all month long, and record rainfall caused all sorts of problems. The basement in my new house flooded, resulting in thousands of dollars of repairs and hours of wrestling insurance claims. The air conditioner in my wife’s car broke down — twice — leading to more expensive repairs. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it seems every day last month we were hit with bad (expensive) news after bad (expensive) news.

#FirstWorldProblems

I’ll admit: These are “first world problems.” I don’t really have anything to complain about in comparing my “problems” to most of the struggles going on around the world.

Still, you know what this feels like, right? “When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year”? (Hi, “Friends” fans.) Sometimes it feels like you just can’t catch a break, and it’s exhausting to get back up time and time again after being hit and hit and hit by bad news, bad breaks and bad luck.

I know it’s (unfortunately) normal to have these trials, but recently I heard something at my church that made me think about my crummy month in a new light.

Greatest strength and greatest weakness

My church recently went through a teaching series looking at the Holy Spirit and our spiritual gifts. One of our teachers brought up an interesting point I hadn’t really considered before:

The devil knows what your gifts and strengths are, and he’s going to attack you the hardest in your strongest areas, because he doesn’t want you to be effective.

Look, I really don’t understand spiritual warfare; the good-vs.-evil spirit world is something I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand on earth. But I do believe it’s real. I believe Satan is real, and I know he is hell-bent on destroying and sabotaging God’s people. We can have confidence he won’t win in the end, but he’s putting up a pretty good fight in the meantime.

For years now I’ve known that my primary spiritual gift is encouragement. “Words of affirmation” is my love language, and in just about any personality inventory or strengths finder test I take, something about encouragement is at the top of my list.

When I was facing all those frustrating setbacks last month, I had trouble putting words to how I was feeling. Yes, I was frustrated, stressed, annoyed, tired — all those things — but they weren’t the primary emotion I was feeling. Hearing that teaching about the devil and spiritual gifts helped me realize: I was discouraged.

That is the word I was looking for. I was discouraged, and that powerful emotion took over. It shifted my mood, altered my thoughts, and actually kept me from using my dominant gift.

When you’re deeply discouraged, it’s a lot harder to encourage others. If your well is empty, you have nothing left to pass on to those around you, and that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling.

Satan doesn’t play fair

That small shift in perspective has been important for me. Yes, sometimes bad things just happen, and I don’t think every single bad thing necessarily has colossal spiritual consequences.

But sometimes maybe it does. I believe God has specific plans in mind for me to accomplish (Ephesians 2:10), and if Satan can weigh me down so significantly that I can’t act in my primary gifting, that’s a major victory for the one determined to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

What about your vulnerabilities?

I’m still pretty upset about the hand I’ve been dealt the last month. It still seems unfair, and I’m pretty sick of getting bad news. It’s on some level understandable for me to slip into discouragement.

But that’s what the devil wants. He doesn’t want me to write this post that might provide a spark of encouragement to you. He doesn’t want you to realize his dirty, unfair strategies.

Maybe your spiritual gift is giving, and you’ve been hit hard financially or lost your job.

Maybe you love to serve, but you’re facing an illness keeping you from helping in the ways you wish you could.

Maybe you’re a leader, but the teams you’re on shrug you off because of your age.

I think it’s helpful for all of us to do two things:

  • Be confident in what gifts we have
  • Be on the lookout for attacks in those areas

I don’t think things happen by coincidence. Satan is real, and he wants to tear you down so you can’t live a healthy, God-pleasing life. Recognize that for what it is: an unfair blow from an enemy trying to cheat his way to victory.

Here’s the good news: Any victory of his is short-lived. God has good things in store for His people, and those of us on His team will be on the winning side of history.

In the meantime, be ready. Be on the lookout for hits that feel unfair; you have all you need to defeat your enemy. “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The world needs you and your gifts, so get back up and fight back with all you have.

Copyright 2019 Matt Ehresman. All rights reserved.

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When I was a teenager, I got hooked on the Christy Miller series by Robin Jones Gunn. (Anyone else?) These teen romance novels set on the California coast stirred up hopes in me that I might just find my own cute surfer boy. Here’s a description of the first book, “Summer Promise”:

Christy Miller has the dream summer ahead of her in sun-kissed California, staying with her aunt and uncle at their beachfront home. Aunt Marti loves to shop, and those surfers are cute — especially Todd. Christy promised her parents she wouldn’t do anything she’d regret later, and some of her beach friends are a little wild. But Todd and his “God-Lover” friends are giving Christy a new image of all things eternal. Can this summer live up to its promise?

Like the book’s protagonist, summers always felt “full of promise” for me when it came to relationships. And when you think about it, a slower pace coupled with extended daylight provides greater opportunity to cultivate a relationship.

Summer Loving

Maybe you’re hoping for some romantic developments this summer. I don’t know if the season holds an edge for blooming relationships or not (or if teen fiction is the best place to get inspiration), but here are a few ideas if you want to jump into dating this summer.

1. Plan summer get-togethers. Take advantage of summer events. Barbecues, pool parties and beach trips offer great opportunities to expand your network. If no one you know is hosting, try throwing one yourself. A few years ago, a friend of mine hosted a barbecue that brought together her friends from work, church and the gym. She enlisted her roommates to do the same, and the result was a lively group of people who were meeting for the first time

One summer, a group of us from church (mainly singles) watched a movie almost every other week (on discount night) and then went out to Chili’s afterward to eat and hang out. I’m a movie lover, so that is still a fun memory.

2. Maximize outdoor activities. If you’ve been thinking of getting to know someone better, take a hike, climb or bike ride. These are low-pressure “dates” that work great in the get-to-know-you phase. One of my first dates with my now-husband, Kevin, was a hike in a local park. When he asked me if I wanted to go, I didn’t have the stress of deciding what to wear or what to order off a menu (that date came later). Similarly, a friend of mine met her fiancé through a meet-up hiking group in her city.

3. Pray. If you’re hoping for romance this summer, pray for it! Pray for it daily. It was freeing for me when I realized I could pray for a spouse just as I prayed for other things in life. Much of this encouragement came from reading Candice Watters’ article “Pray Boldly.” In it, she explains that we can and should pray for marriage if that is a desire. But, she warns, these prayers aren’t primarily about wish fulfillment.

Asking God to help you find a mate is asking Him to take you from a place of single focus to one that will require selflessness. Far from being the answer to all your dreams and fantasies, marriage is a crucible for making you more like Christ. Thankfully, in the midst of the refining, marriage also provides the opportunity for friendship, companionship, romance, love, fun and yes, sex.

When you pray for a spouse, be mindful that you are asking God to introduce a radical (but good) change into your life. You’re not asking for a Danny and Sandy kind of love. You’re asking for something much deeper and more meaningful.

4. Ask. If a woman has caught your attention, take a risk and ask her out. Along with the variety of outdoor activities and group events already mentioned, most communities have free summer concerts, fairs and festivals, providing multiple cool date ideas. Invite her to join you.

And women, don’t put all the pressure on him to impress you with the perfect date. My first real date with Kevin ended up being dinner at a casual restaurant after the game night we were supposed to attend together got canceled. When he asked if I’d still like to get dinner or coffee with him, I quickly agreed, and we had a great time.

Summer Promise

While summer romance may not often play out the way it does in the pages of a teen romance novel, the season does hold promise for those looking for love and serious relationships. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Many times the biggest key is engagement. Go to the group hangout. Organize the outing to a concert in the park or summer blockbuster. Ask someone on a date. And pray for God’s overall guidance and favor in your love life. Then have a great summer!

Copyright 2019 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.

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Twelve weeks is about all we get. After seemingly endless months of winter and the stresses of school and flu seasons, we have around 84 days to bask in the joys of summer. Sonic happy hour. Strolling downtown on a summer evening. Maybe a trip to the beach.

Even for those of us who aren’t students (or teachers), the extra hours of daylight pull us outside and back to our childhood memories of pool parties and the ice cream truck.

But it won’t last long. This summer — like every summer before it — will go by fast. In just a couple short months, we’ll be ordering the first pumpkin spice lattes of fall and wondering where summer went.

I hope we will look back on these summer months without regrets. It can be so easy to spend huge chunks of time binging on TV shows or filling our days with other media — yes, I know how exciting it is to have time to fill with “doing nothing.”

Summer is a great time to rest from responsibilities and have fun. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a movie or relaxing by the pool, but let’s be creative and intentional with how we spend our extra time this summer. To keep our entire summer from melting into wasted time, here are a few ideas for making the best use of our summer season:

  1. Make plans with someone you’ve been meaning to connect (or reconnect) with.
  2. Set aside an hour and read your Bible. Just start somewhere and keep reading in order for the entire hour.
  3. Volunteer at least once.
  4. Talk to an older member of your family about their life memories.
  5. Go somewhere you’ve never been — even if it’s just the mom-and-pop restaurant two blocks from your place.
  6. Read two or three or five books (it’s not as hard as you may think).
  7. Invite someone new to your church or community to go with you to an event. Introduce them to others.
  8. Plan your own event. Invite some good friends and some people who might benefit from getting to know you and your friends.
  9. Ask someone in leadership at your church how you can help them or if they know of a church need you could help out with.
  10. Visit someone in the hospital.
  11. Pick at least two days and hold them completely blank. When the days come, fill one with rest. Fill the other with helping others: mowing a neighbor’s yard, watching a church family’s kids, or just spending time with an elderly person in a retirement home.
  12. Ask God what you need to do that you’ve been putting off. Do it.
  13. Create something. Maybe it’s artwork or a blog post or woodwork. Maybe it’s dinner.
  14. Memorize a Bible passage.
  15. Go on a day trip within your state.
  16. Set aside a specific time regularly for prayer. Ask God to guide your decisions and to grow you this summer, and make sure to reserve some of your prayer time for the needs of others.
  17. Go on a walk with a neighbor.
  18. Check out a library book from a section of the library you don’t normally visit.
  19. Listen to your pastor’s most recent sermon in the middle of the week. Write down anything you don’t remember hearing the first time.
  20. Go see a kids’ movie in a theater. Bonus points if you take a niece or nephew (or honorary niece or nephew) with you.
  21. Write out your testimony.
  22. Choose a Bible passage or story you know well. Read it over and over until you see something in it you had never noticed before.
  23. Write a letter to a family member (grandparent, parent, sibling, cousin).
  24. Plan a hike or bike ride and invite a friend along.

I love summer. Dripping ice cream cones, fresh watermelon, free time, vacations. Like all of the seasons, summer is a gift from God for us to enjoy and to steward well. These summer months can be full of growth and maturity as well as rest and fun. Let’s have fun this summer — and let’s also use our free time this summer to grow closer to God and others.

In a few months, maybe we can meet up with a friend and share how much God taught us this summer. And sip our pumpkin spice lattes together.

Copyright 2019 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.

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I was enjoying a beautiful summer day in the mountains. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and the sound of the nearby brook competed with the crunch of the gravel under my feet. Suddenly, my hike was cut short by a missing bridge. Apparently I was enjoying the atmosphere and scenery so much, I didn’t notice the sign a mile back that read: Bridge out ahead.

Long, beautiful relationships can end just like that. When you’ve been with someone you adore for a year or more, it’s easy to take things for granted. If you’re not careful, you might miss some signs that your relationship with your long-time boyfriend, girlfriend or fiancé might come to a quick and unexpected stop.

Here are some “bridge out ahead” signs to watch out for in your longer-term relationships.

They still “hang out” with other single guys or girls alone

This one seems obvious, but when you’re infatuated with someone you can make up excuses for them. “They’ve always had a bunch of friends of the opposite sex, and I shouldn’t ask them to change their friends just for me.”

Truth is, you should.  Anyone interested in forming a meaningful relationship with you will do just that — keep it meaningful. If they hang out one-on-one with other friends of the opposite sex, then your relationship isn’t exclusive. They’re treating you just like another one of their friends.

Talk about it and see if you can reach a mutual agreement about boundaries when it comes to spending time with their friends. It’s not an easy conversation, but it’s an important one.

They keep bringing up past grievances

My best friend was in a yo-yo relationship. They’d take five steps forward and six steps back. Whenever they disagreed, his girlfriend would bring up something that had hurt her in the past. Sometimes it was something my best friend had done to her and since apologized for.  Other times it was something others had done to her, and she was scared he’d do it to her too.

One of the powerful things about love is it never keeps a record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5). Forgiveness is a huge part of making loving relationships last. Resentment and guilt are ways to push people away, not keep them together. Ask for forgiveness. Never stop extending it, either.

They don’t introduce you to their family

This is tricky to navigate. There are people out there with broken families. You shouldn’t fault your significant other for not introducing you into the chaos of their dysfunctional family if they have one. They may not want the dysfunction to scare you away or hurt you. Still, you should know about them. You should also see that your boyfriend or girlfriend is doing their part in loving them, maintaining appropriate boundaries, and striving to live at peace with them.

But if their family seems nice, they don’t complain about them and yet they’ve never introduced you to them, that’s worth talking about. Maybe start by talking about your family and see if they talk about theirs. If they do, tell them you’d love to meet them sometime and see what happens.

They lie about insignificant things often

A little lie here and there doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is — especially in a serious relationship. Sometimes people have no reason to lie, but they do it anyway. It’s a destructive habit.

It’s not the size of the lies but the frequency of them that’s particularly destructive. Many little lies are just as damaging as one big lie.

Trusting one another is an important part of making relationships work, and lies, no matter how small, leave room for suspicion. That suspicion only undermines trust and devotion.

They’re not vulnerable with you

Being vulnerable isn’t easy. I still find it hard to be vulnerable around my best friend in the world — my wife. It’s hard, but I do it because it’s important to me and it’s important to her. She cares about me; she worries about me and wants to know how I’m feeling about things, especially when it’s influencing our relationship.

If your significant other has a hard time opening up or expressing how they feel, that’s something worth working through together. But if that’s not something they’re interested in doing, that’s something to consider.

If you’re with someone who remains guarded around you, don’t give up. You earn vulnerability. If you completely disarm yourself and shed all your armor, odds are they’ll do the same.

They don’t treat you like Jesus would

As Christians, we know the love we’re looking for from a spouse because we’ve experienced it to a much greater degree in our relationship with the Lord.

In Ephesians 5, Paul says that Christ’s love for His church is signified in marriage. Think about that. Every believer has felt and enjoyed the intimacy we all long for in marriage because we’ve been united to Christ by faith. We know what it feels like to be someone’s beloved — their one true love no matter what.

Jesus showed just how far He’d go for you, and that’s what He expects your spouse to do too. There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, but when you’re both fighting just as hard to make things work, it’s close.

When it seems like your significant other isn’t pursuing you and fighting for your relationship, the bridge may be out ahead. Don’t panic. Pause, pray and talk through things. Share how you feel and ask them to share too.

You can work through almost anything when you’re both working together. The bridge might be out ahead, but together you can rebuild and meet in the middle.

Copyright 2019 Matt Stickel. All rights reserved.

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Recently my church started serving wine during communion. Apparently it was a decision at least a couple years in the making, and it sparked a smidge of controversy within the congregation. My pastor explained the decision from the pulpit, and anyone with questions or concerns was encouraged to share them with the church elders.

After the switch, I jokingly told my pastor that it’s a good thing my mom went to heaven last year, because for her sake she and I would’ve probably had to change churches over this. Never mind that grape juice is still offered for those with personal reasons or convictions around alcohol consumption; it was Mom’s opinion that Christians shouldn’t drink alcohol — ever. My dad believed the same.

I disagree with my parents, believing that a correct interpretation of Scripture prohibits drunkenness, not drinking. Jesus-loving, committed Christians will forever disagree on this issue. I grew up in a teetotaling (alcohol-free) home, and it was just fine. I respected my parents. I didn’t feel I was missing out. I didn’t go off the rails in college, partying at every turn. In fact, I don’t think I tried alcohol until well into adulthood. I’m still kinda “meh” about it for the most part. But Jesus turned water into wine, and I’ve never had grape juice gladden my heart, so there’s that.

A disturbing trend

But here’s what I think is weird. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of Christians get super pumped about alcohol. I’m hearing more people talk about it, and I’m seeing more people drink it more often and in greater amounts. It’s not that alcohol is in their lives, it’s that it’s become more central to their lives; it’s a focus of many of the things they do. And I’m starting to get concerned. Here are a few examples:

One of my friends was part of a play group of Christian moms and their kids. The kids played while the moms drank wine. The gathering never happened without booze.

I’ve seen church events advertised that are centered around drinking: pub crawls, beer and wine tastings, or brew nights coupled with small group Bible studies or hymn sings.

I’ve been to several parties hosted by Christian friends that had alcohol as a main event: coolers of drinks, an open bar, alcohol-involved games and more.

Alcohol is being used more and more as a coping mechanism. It’s becoming more acceptable to “need” to go out for margaritas after a long week at work, or have a glass (or bottle) of wine because I got dumped, have a tough conversation or task coming up (“liquid courage,” right?) or am lonely or bored. A fellow believer told me he always drinks at least a little bit at parties because he “likes himself better that way.”

Or drinking is just a sneaky habit that creeps up on us. A friend recently said she had to cut herself off from drinking at home. She’d gotten into the habit of having a glass of wine after work. That glass became two. Then three. She now only drinks in restaurants or with others. She knows her triggers and has set boundaries.

What the Bible says

Again, drunkenness is a sin, and I’m not saying drinking is. But line-drawing isn’t the issue here. We focus on “not being drunk” and in our minds picture someone passed out in an alley or hanging over the toilet at a frat party. We justify getting “tipsy” because that’s “not really drunk.” We pat ourselves on the back for staying overnight at a friend’s house after drinking — “Better safe than sorry.”

The Bible says a lot about sin. But the Bible also says a lot about other things that come into play when drinking alcohol. Things like self-control, wisdom and idolatry.

The issue for some might be self-control. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit; it’s a good and honorable thing. Titus 2:12 tells us to “live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.” Second Peter 1 reminds us to supplement our faith with virtue, then knowledge and self-control, among other things. Doing this keeps us “from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.8) Proverbs 25:28 says a person without self-control is like “a city broken into and left without walls.”

Wisdom must also be exercised. There are many cautions in Scripture about the reckless use of alcohol or dependence on it. Hosea 4:11 says wine “takes away the understanding.” Proverbs 23:30-35 describes alcohol’s slippery slope, warning that eventually “your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.”

And what about our drinking’s effect on others? Most of us don’t have the person next to us top of mind when we drink. But we should always look to others’ interests and not do anything that may offend a brother or sister in Christ, nor should we engage in something, even if not prohibited in Scripture, that may cause someone else to stumble.

Finally, our comfort and security should be in Christ. Even in spiritual freedom, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 6:12 that we shouldn’t be “dominated” (or “mastered”) by anything other than Christ himself. That is idolatry. Many things in this world are vying for our attention and affection, including the latest and greatest craft brew or mixed drink. They don’t deserve them.

Time for Spirit-led self-evaluation

So what do we do with all of this? Well, we don’t get weird or legalistic about it. Honestly, I suggest we just start praying. And reflecting. And being sensitive to the Spirit. And make changes accordingly, like my friend above who tweaked her wine-drinking habit to reflect what she knew in her conscience was best for her.

Even the Apostle Paul, though in being judged felt he didn’t have anything against himself said, “…but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” What does this mean? It means he kept very short accounts with the Lord. He was constantly letting the Spirit fine-tune his heart and behavior. He was submissive to the proddings of conscience. He kept asking the right questions, then repenting and adjusting when necessary.

So if you drink, why do you? Are you using alcohol to wind up, wind down, be funnier or more interesting, or cope with loneliness or stress? Do you know when to stop, and do you? Are you hindering others in their faith by drinking? Are you setting an unhealthy example for others who may be watching you? Does alcohol consume a lot of your interest, time and investment? It may be time to start probing for answers.

Finally, if you’re smart, you know there are a ton of habits and vices that could’ve been used as the primary example in this post. Maybe you’re not into alcoholic beverages. OK, fill in your own blank. Where could you see more self-control and wisdom, and less sloppiness, dependence or mastery in your own life? In eating? Watching TV? Using your smartphone? Trust me: I’ve taken out my own piece of paper. I know my junk.

Let’s link arms and encourage one another in this area and others. We have immense freedom. But we must be sober-minded and watchful. The devil is prowling around like a lion, seeking to devour us. Let’s keep him out of the camp.

Copyright 2019 Lisa Anderson. All rights reserved.

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The other day I had a surprising experience. I took my car to a new location for its regular oil change. The moment I pulled into the garage, I could sense this place was different: It was service and a show! The mechanics called out to each other like kitchen cooks in one of Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants. Four people at one time addressed various items and reported back to the group. All the while, they included me in a polite and friendly way, making me feel like a racecar driver at a pit stop.

I realized it had been quite some time since I encountered a group of people who seemed to enjoy their work so much. It was refreshing. They were in a groove, having a good time and providing great customer service. I thought about the factors that contribute to a staff like that. I imagined they had good management and likable coworkers. They probably felt valued. The shop environment wasn’t anything special, but it was tidy and ran like a well-oiled machine. (See what I did there?)

Grumpy Employees

Generally, the encounters I have with employees nowadays are nothing like this happy crew. Clerks tell me they’re glad they only have a few minutes left of their shifts. Friends complain about their difficult work environments or annoying coworkers. And overall there’s just a resounding “meh” about work in general.

Blasé feelings toward work aren’t a new phenomenon. According to Gallup, only a little over a third of U.S. employees polled said they were “actively engaged” in their workplaces — and that’s a record high number:

The percentage of “engaged” workers in the U.S. — those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace — is now 34%, tying its highest level since Gallup began reporting the national figure in 2000.

In case you’re wondering, 53 percent of those polled were “disengaged” (they show up and do the minimum required), while 13 percent were “actively disengaged” (miserable at work).

As I thought more about the happy “pit crew,” I wondered how much of a satisfying work life is controlled by external factors such as management, environment, pay and coworkers, and how much is motivated by internal factors such as a positive perspective of one’s job or work in general.

Why Work Matters

As a Christian, my viewpoint of work should also be informed by Scripture. And a look at God’s Word reveals some encouraging truths about work.

My work can bring God glory. Most of us would probably agree that even average jobs glorify God when we follow the instruction found in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” That passage may not be talking specifically about work, but, you know, whatever you do. And if you work, your job is covered under that umbrella. Knowing that you can bring God glory through your job whether you’re “slinging lattes,” as my former-barista husband likes to say, or running a multi-million dollar organization, should inspire you to work with conviction.

Work is part of God’s master plan. From the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1) to the future new Jerusalem (Isaiah 65), work is part of God’s plan for humans. At times I may feel like the main reason I’m working is to pay the bills, but I’m created to find purpose and satisfaction through work. God also offers me rest, which is most satisfying when I am regularly engaged in work.

The work I do matters to God. Ephesians 2:10 reveals an amazing truth: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We are created in God’s image to tend to His creation while proclaiming the gospel whenever possible. Whether I feel like my job is personally satisfying or not, God has planned out specific “works” for me to do within it. And my responsibility is to walk out those things.

Beyond these three truths, we also learn in the wisdom literature of the Bible that work is a gift from God. Consider the words of Ecclesiastes 5:18-19:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil — this is the gift of God.

If work is a gift, I am called to receive it with thanks regardless of how satisfied I feel at the moment. The happy mechanics saw their work as something that was making a positive difference (and it was!). As I dwell on God’s purpose for work and my personal responsibility as a worker, I can find joy in the job that’s before me today.

Copyright 2019 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.

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If you were born before 1700 A.D. nearly anywhere in the world, your life trajectory was pretty much determined at birth. Your geographic location, social status and your parents’ occupation would likely decide where you would live and what you would do for a living.

But you and I were born in this generation, and the possibilities for our futures are nearly unlimited. We won’t necessarily live our entire lives in the same town where we grew up or have a decades-long career in the same field as our parents. “You’re on your own,” Dr. Seuss tells us. “And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.”

So as you look at the blank pages of your future, and with Dr. Seuss’ inspiring charge in mind, here are nine foolproof steps for planning the rest of your life.

  1. Make a list of what you are good at. This could be anything: math, grammar, folding napkins, predicting Avengers plot twists. Try to think back as far as possible. What awards have you received? What accolades? What marketable skills have others claimed you have? Once you have written a list, decide which skills will make you the most money and choose your career accordingly.
  2. Make a list of what you are not good at. This could also be anything: science, legible handwriting, eating veggies, coping with Avengers plot twists. This is your list of excuses. You’ve been asked by your boss to head up the committee on community relations? Drafted into a new church ministry focusing on home repairs for single moms? No problem. Point out to the powers that be how committee-leading or carpentry have never been your strengths, and commit to staying in safe, non-challenging areas where you know you can excel with little effort.
  3. Write a bucket list. This is your time to dream big! Want to hike a mountain or write a book or launch a popular YouTube channel? What hipster destinations or tourist hot spots are calling your name? That Maui vacation isn’t going to plan itself, so write it down and start making it happen.
  4. If marriage is one of your life goals, think about when you want to tie the knot. Just after graduation or once you have a few years in the workforce under your belt? How old do you want to be? Just remember to do marriage on your terms. You’ve got plenty of time!
  5. Get a multi-year calendar or calendar app. It’s best to be well-prepared for life’s milestones, so use this calendar to record the dates of when you plan to finish your schooling, meet the future Mr. or Mrs., pay off debt, buy a house, retire, and any other major life events that come to mind. Don’t forget to use a pen. Permanent ink will help you commit to your plan.
  6. Jot down how many kids you want to have. Bonus if you can estimate the dates they’ll be born.
  7. Choose where you want to settle down (or if you’re not planning to settle, list your first few temporary locations). Don’t forget to take into account harsh weather patterns, local attractions, income taxes – and school districts, if you plan on having kids.
  8. Draft a budget using online research of top salaries in your field of study. While you’re at it, you should research 401(k)s and other investments. It’s never too early for retirement planning.
  9. At Thanksgiving this year, inform your extended family about your detailed plans. Accountability helps, after all. You should probably also have them vaguely “pray” about your vision for your future. Getting God’s stamp of approval will seal the deal.

Obviously, I’m (mostly) kidding about all of this. Life just doesn’t happen the way we plan it. Even Dr. Seuss knew that. “You will come to a place where the streets are not marked,” he wrote. “Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.”

Dark streets are not a comforting thought. If we were on our own, planning our own destinies, we’d be in a pickle. But Jesus promises us a hope that Dr. Seuss couldn’t offer, reminding us not to worry about tomorrow.

Here’s an idea: write your dreams and plans for the future on paper and seal them in an envelope, then five or 10 years down the road, open the envelope. Read the ideas you once had and see how God led you in some ways you expected, but also in other ways that completely surprised you.

We have so many more options in front of us than people did in any other time period, but ultimately our future rests in the same hands that held all the futures before us. That’s good news. And because of this, we have an adventure before us no matter where we go.

Copyright 2019 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.

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