Read the Instructions

This past Christmas morning I joined many fathers around the world as I struggled to remove my son’s toys from it’s wrappings, I glanced at the instructions thought “I can do this”, and then struggled to put it all together, finally resorting to reading the instructions more thoroughly to follow the steps to assemble the toy.

The manufacturer had a plan for putting the toy together, I thought I knew better.  I’m handy enough that usually I can manage to get it put together (sometimes without using all the pieces), but when I falter and struggle, I know I can fall back on the instructions.

I’ve always wished life came with an instruction book.  I wish children came out of the womb with an instruction manual attached.  I wish my body came with a how to guide for when I feel sick.  I wish my career came with a step by step plan I could follow when tough decisions came up.

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
   By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
   do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
   that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, LORD;
   teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
   all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
   as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
   and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
   I will not neglect your word. 
— Psalm 119:9-16

The Bible is God’s manual to live by that He has provided for us.  Many times I take the same approach to reading the Bible as I did in reading the assembly instructions for my child’s toy.  I only looked at it when I didn’t know what to do next.  At that point in the construction of the toy I’ve already screwed up the assembly that reading the instructions just gets us by instead of giving us the full function and usage of the toy or item.  Had I read the instructions ahead of time, I would have done it correctly the first time.

Reading the Bible teaches us about God, who He is, what He thinks and how He acts.  Knowing the ways of God helps us to make wise decisions.  The only way to know these principles is to ready and study God’s word. 

This is an area I need to improve upon myself.  I know that if I study more, then decisions will come easier and I’ll have the wisdom and tools to live through any situation.

Thoughts are Powerful

Previous posts in series:

  1. We Are What We Think
  2. The Power of Positive Thoughts

 

Thoughts are powerful.  Reflect and you will realize how much your mind and what you’re thinking will affect your entire life.  When thoughts are dark and gloomy, you tend to feel bad.  When your thoughts are happy and go lucky, you will feel full of life and energy.  If a person thinks to themselves, I will never get a job, they are not likely to get one.  If you convince yourself that you are a failure, then you tend to make more mistakes than others.

This is the third in a series of posts on what I’ve learned in reading Joyce Meyer’s : Power Thoughts (ISBN: 9780446580366).  The topic for this post is simple, Thoughts are powerful.

Joyce gives us Romans 14:14 to focus her discussion around.

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

The keyword in this passage is “thinks”.  In the Greek, this word is given as logizomai, which means to reckon, decide, to conclude.  This was more than a passing thought, this was a conclusion.  If the person that Paul was talking about in Romans, thought something was unclean, then they concluded without a doubt that it was unclean to them.  That doesn’t mean that there was anything inherently wrong with the item, but the person concluded that it was to them.

Joyce uses this to illustrate to us the power of thoughts.  The people in Paul’s day thought that certain foods were unclean and to them it was a spiritual stumbling block.  There was nothing physically wrong with the “unclean” foods, but the conclusion that they were unclean was enough.

How does this apply to our lives today?  Let me quote Joyce on this as I think it states clearly our problem today.

We can never move beyond what we think and believe.  Many people today don’t even bother to think rationally about what the believe and sometimes end up building their entire lives on beliefs that simply are not true.  For them, whatever “they” say becomes truth – and “they” may be the news media, a celebrity, a group of friends, or others who enjoy sharing opinions, but may or may not really have any idea what is true.  When we believe lies, our minds can actually limit us and even keep us from doing what God created us to do.  But, if we will contend for the truth, embrace the truth, and build our lives upon the truth, we will succeed in every endeavor.

How true that is.  How many times do we a celebrity talking on the news on a subject they have little qualification to be an expert on, yet we consider them an expert simply because of their star power.  What Joyce is saying here is we hold responsibility to find the truth and embrace it.  We will be bombarded from all sides with competing truths, the enemy of truth is clearly identified as a liar (John 8:44).

We need to take responsibility for our thoughts.  We have the power to resist the enemy by choosing to think on things that are good and positive.  We can be assured of a better life by thinking good thoughts.  Don’t let negative thoughts be your conclusion. 

Becoming a habitual positive thinker takes practice and time, but if you let God work on you in this area, the dividends that you will reap are tremendous. 

Attitudes are Contagious

I’ve got four kids that range in age from 5 to 15.  You can guarantee this time of year, that when one brings home a cold or flu bug, that most if not all of us will share in the joy. 

Have you ever watched someone laugh and even if you don’t know why, you can’t help but laugh along?

How about if you watch someone yawn, you’re almost guaranteed to join in.  In fact, I bet over half of you reading this now just yawned, I did.

So many things are contagious and your attitude is no different. 

I saw some friends last night that I hadn’t talked to in a month or so.  We’re both struggling with some of the same issues in our personal lives in varying degrees of severity and duration.   But nonetheless, we’ve found a kindred spirit with each other and can relate.  But the thing I want to talk about with him, is that no matter the situation, no matter the difficulty, he seems to always see things on the bright side.  Perhaps inside he is stressing more than he shows, but his outward attitude is one of filled with positive thoughts and hope for the future.  This attitude is contagious. 

We talked for an hour or so last night and it was amazing the change in my own attitude after he had left.  Before he got to my place, I was pretty stressed and just in a terrible mood.  After he left, my spirit was uplifted and hopeful.  Not perfectly, but better than before. 

I strive to always carry with me a positive attitude despite what I may be feeling inside.  I find that I can usually talk myself into a good mood if I try hard enough, but there is nothing better than a good friend to help you along. 

I try to stay positive in all situations for my family’s sake as there is no gain in being negative.  If you’re negative you tend to live in the past and focus on the problems, while if you have a positive mindset, you will focus on the future and the solutions to your problems.  Focusing on the solutions, help you to achieve your goals and often solve your problems.  Much better way to live I think.

None of us are perfect.  And none of us will live a trouble-free life. 

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. –John 16:33

But we have hope that God will provide for our needs (not necessarily our wants) in all situations.

When you say ”it’s impossible”, God says “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” –Luke 18:27

When you say, “I can’t go on”, God says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

When you say “ I can’t do it”, God says “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” -Philippians 4:13

When you say “I’m not able”, God says “And God will generously provide all you need.” – 2 Corinthians 9:8

When you say “I’m always worried and frustrated”, God says “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:7

When you say “I feel all alone”, God says “…Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5

Keep a positive attitude as it will take you farther towards living an exceptional life and it will be the contagion that spreads to all those around you.

BTW:  To my friend I talked about above, you know who you are (you told me you read all my posts, perhaps the only person!)  I say, “thank you” and the future is bright.

Testing your assumptions

Assumptions, we all have them.  We assume we know what someone else is thinking, we assume that we know all the facts about something, we assume.  We make assumptions about something just about every time we speak or think.  The definition of assumption (as taken from here)

In logic an assumption is a proposition that is taken for granted, as if it were true based upon presupposition without preponderance of the facts.

Basically all that means is that all assumptions we make, every time we assume something about anything, we are taking for granted something that we don’t have facts to prove or disprove.

What are some of the assumptions we make every day.

  • “It only takes me 10 minutes to drive to work so I’ll leave exactly 10 minutes before I have to be there.” 
  • “She knows I love and appreciate her, so I don’t have to keep telling her.”
  • “My toddler knows better than to touch the hot stove.”
  • “She won’t talk to me, she’s too pretty to be attracted to me.”
  • “I’ll never find a job, so why bother.”
  • “It will be too hard to start my own business while I have a full time job.”
  • “I’m too out of shape, I’ll never be able to run a marathon.”

So many assumptions, I could go on and on, in fact I’ve made an assumption right now that you would rather not read any more assumptions (I’m probably right!)

If you look at that list above many of them are negative.  “I can’t…”, “…too hard”, “I don’t…”  Assumptions can keep us from getting the most out of our lives.  Assumptions can hurt feelings and damage relationships.  Assumptions can make our lives difficult if they prove false, but if they prove true then we’ve made a correct choice.  But how can we determine if they are true or not if we never test those assumptions.

Test those assumptions

Once I test my assumptions, I often find that I’m surprised at what I may have been missing if I had just stuck with my initial assumption.

  • When I was single and first met the woman who is now my wife, I assumed that she wouldn’t want to be with  me.  I assumed that she wouldn’t be interested as I figured most woman would be.  I tested that assumption by talking to her anyway and here we are 22 years later, happily married with 4 kids.
  • I left a job to work for a small startup about ten years ago.  Six months later, the startup faltered and I was quickly unemployed.  I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to make it on my own.  However, I was forced to test that assumption as the economy was bad and there were no more jobs to have.  I was forced to make it on my own.  Ten years later, I’m still working on my own and while the last 6 months have been a struggle, I’ve been successful otherwise.
  • I assumed that no one would read a blog that I may write, regardless of topic.  I’ve started and stopped a number of blogs over the years, but never stuck to them.  When I started this blog, I assumed the same.  Well I realize that it’s only been a month and a handful of posts, but this is the most writing I’ve done in my life (and I’m loving it and want to do more).  Still not a ton of readers, but I have an action plan to fix that.
  • I saw all those people around the web who talked about the great savings they had at stores using coupons.  I’m talking saving 75% or higher.  I assumed it was too hard and I wouldn’t achieve those results.  Well I’m happy that my wife and I tested that assumption and our recent trip to the store netted us almost $50 worth of product (that we will use), for just $6.

Unless you test your assumption, you’ll never know what you are missing out on in life.  Go up and talk to that girl, start that home business, start exercising and make that commitment to get back in shape, start trusting in God and see how that changes your life. 

How to test your assumptions

Don’t let your assumptions rule your life.  Test them and determine if they are true or not.  Only then can you make a truly informed decision.  

  1. Take a goal that you are working towards.
  2. List out the assumption or barrier that is keeping you from reaching that goal.
  3. List out tactics to test that assumption to see if it proves true.

Example:

Goal:  Find an idea that makes an extra $1000/month on the side.
Barrier:  I don’t have an idea. (Assumption is: “I’ll never come up with a good enough idea.”)
Tactic:  Write down 10 or 20 things you are good at or like to do.  Then sort them by the amount of money you think you can make from them in 10-15 hours per week.  Example:  Photography –> not much money potential perhaps because of tons of photographers in your area.  Piano lessons –> could translate into $25 or more an hour. 

There ya go, you’ve now got some ideas so that assumption is busted.  Next step is taking action on the idea, which will have it’s own set of assumptions, barriers and tactics.  Repeat this process and test your assumptions.  This will guide you on the process to reaching your goals.

Your turn.

Try it out, list a goal no matter how big or small and then try and recognize the assumptions or barriers that are the roadblocks, then get a plan to test those assumptions and take action.

I’d love to read comments on what your goals and assumptions are and how you plan to take action.

The Simple Life

One of the ideas that I wanted to talk about on this site that I’ve not explored much (only one article really) is living a simple, frugal life.  What do I mean by that.  Well quite simply, to be a better steward of my money, to be smart about where my resources go, and to live a comfortable life.  Another aspect I want to share with you on this blog is tips on how to do just that.  I’d like to share tips on how to stretch your money by shopping smarter (my wife is getting quite good at this) and how to enjoy life and live comfortably on less.

Stretch your money

Whether you’re on a fixed income or not, stretching your money to its fullest just makes sense.  If you’re wealthy, then being smart about your spending habits will make more money available for other uses.  If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, then you’re spending habits may be the difference between eating this week or not.  Either way, here are some quick tips on stretching your money.

  1. Use coupons especially when matched up with sale prices.  There are tons of sites out there to help you with this.  One of my wife’s favorites is www.hip2save.com.  You can spend as little or as much time on this as you want. 

    For example, just the other day there was a coupon from Swiss Miss for $2 off any Hot Cocoa product (expired now, but here is the post we found).  We were able to print off two of those coupons, which when combined with a sale price at our local grocery, we picked up 60 packets of hot chocolate for under $1.00.  Something that normally would have cost at least $5 or more.  Doesn’t seem like much, but add those up over time and it can mean a lot to your grocery bill.  There are plenty of other sites and I’d like to link to these as I come across them or to good deals as I find them.  No this won’t turn into a coupon site, but you’ll see some good deals from time to time.

  2. Take advantage of store customer appreciation type of cards and programs.  Most stores now have some sort of customer advantage card or cash back coupons that print on the back of your receipt.  For many years we ignored these completely.  But again, when combined with coupons and sales, you can often go buy a lot of product and spend very little out of pocket.  Again, we are just beginning, but can see the benefit of it already.  Friends of ours who’ve figured this out, have come home with hundreds of dollars of product for virtually nothing (think about getting $150 worth of items for under $10!)  This doesn’t mean buying product you wouldn’t use, but by just being smart and stocking up on items when you can get it cheaply. 

    A few months back, I had multiple coupons for the brand of deodorant I use.  These were for $3.00 off of two sticks.  We combined that with a buy one get one free sale (normally $3.50 or so) and managed to get two sticks for 50 cents which normally would have cost me $7.00.  Needless to say, I got as many of those coupons as I could and stocked up with enough deodorant to last me months.

These are the types of things I’d like to share with my readers.  I’ll find good deals and share them with you or just share with you a good purchase that may inspire you to try it yourself.

Enjoy life and live comfortably on less.

One thing we’ve done to simplify our lives is to learn on how to live on less.  For us this means we’re starting to grow our own food and put it up for the winter.  We’ve learned how to can or freeze our vegetables.  We’ve begun to buy food in bulk as we’ve learned how to store it properly to last for longer periods.  We’ve begun to make our own breads and other baked goods instead of buying mixes or premade baked goods at the store.  We haven’t completely moved over to that type of lifestyle, but we’re making progress.  One good resource we’ve found is, Back Woods Homes magazine.  This is one of the best resources online or in print on self-reliant living.  Check it out and it is the only magazine that I still subscribe to.

One thing I’ve enjoyed about our lifestyle changes, is that we seem to be happier with less.  We still have a ways to go and still need to make some serious changes, but our goal of becoming debt-free while it is a long way off, is within our grasp.  By shopping smarter, we have more money to not only pay towards our debt, but to give and bless others.  By blessing others, even by buying a cup of coffee for a stranger, can go a long way to helping you enjoy life.  Start with the small things and then like the proverbial snowball rolling downhill, those small things can grow into the large things.  Either way, I’ve found that by making an effort to bless others, I feel better each day and much to my surprise, I’ve been blessed in return.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  -Malachi 3:10

God promises that by giving a small part of what He has entrusted with you to further his kingdom, He will bless us in return tremendously.  I’ll have more on this later in my series on Power Thoughts, but when you give freely to others to bless them (even that cup of coffee for someone else), God will use that small action, that small gift to, bless yourself and others in ways you cannot even fathom.

What does this all have to do with living simple and shopping smarter?  Well when you shop smarter and live simply, you’ll have more left over at the end of each paycheck to bless others.  This, at least for me, allows me to enjoy life in a way I never imagined.

Future direction

The purpose of this post is really to share with you some ideas for new posts you’ll see here.  This fits in with my theme of helping Christians live exceptional lives in a world that often fights against us.  By being frugal and living simply we can allow ourselves to live exceptionally.

I would love to hear from you if you’ve taken steps in your own lives to live simply.  Please comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Dependencies

What are we dependent on these days?  Maybe the bigger question is, what are we dependent on that is truly not necessary? 

I work in the IT field and as such, I’m very dependent on a connection to the internet to do my job to the best of my ability.  Today our office’s internet was out.  It was amazing how little I thought I could really accomplish without it.  Couldn’t check my email, read my blogs, listen to my music streams, catch up on the latest news during lunch.  So many things that I think I’m dependent on, that when it’s not there, I feel lost.

What are we as a society dependent on?  Electricity!  We’ve all had times when the power has been out for a few minutes, no big deal (other than having to reset some clocks and things like that).  What about for a few hours?  We start to get a little antsy.  How about a day?  Well, now we’ve moved into a mode where we start wondering what to do with ourselves.  A few days or more?  No we’ve kicked into survival mode.  We worry about food spoiling, we worry about fresh water, we worry about heat and the list goes on.  Most people in America, would struggle to survive for a week or more without electricity (in my scenario, we can’t just hop in a car and travel a few miles to where power is and camp out in a hotel or at a relatives house). 

What if there was no supermarkets?  Could we grow or hunt our own food?  I suspect many couldn’t.  What if fresh water was difficult to come by?  Could we survive?   What if we had to live like our ancestors did not so many generations ago?  Could we build our own shelter?  Could we grow our own food and store up enough to last the winter?  That’s a question that I think many of us would fear the true answer to.

I don’t suspect that we’ll have to live through any of these scenarios anytime soon.  I sure hope not for all of our sakes.  But would it hurt to prepare just a little?  Maybe stock up on some canned and other non-perishable foods.  Keep some fresh water available for drinking.  Have the ability to have alternative heat (keep some wood chopped and handy in case you need to build a fire for heat and cooking).  Learn some survival basics.

Also try to remember that all we have, all those material things we are so “dependent” on can be gone in a moment.  It’s good practice to sit down and realize that most of those things we so depend on our just conveniences that we are able to enjoy.  Do we need them?  No, but they are nice. 

I’m gonna strive to be less dependent on these conveniences.  Will I ever go off the grid?  No.  I’m not giving up my internet anytime soon, I still plan on shopping at the local supermarket, and I’ll enjoy my heat and air conditioning.  But I will try to take small steps so that if those things every disappeared, I could survive and in the mean time I can live more independently and probably a lot cheaper.  I think this exercise will help me see the priorities that are important;  God and family.  Those are things I can and need to depend on!

The Power of Positive Thoughts

This is my first post, other than the introduction, in my series reviewing and discussing the book Power Thoughts by Joyce Meyers

The power of positive thoughts really is the main point of this entire book.  The power that positive thoughts releases in your life is truly incredible and can be seen even in small portions.  Even practicing a few of the concepts presented throughout this book has resulted in an amazing turnaround not only in my own attitude, but indeed in how circumstances occur around me.  Positive thoughts breeds positive results.

Joyce gives us five rules to make an attitude adjustment that allows us to think positive thoughts and in fact make it habit forming.

  1. Maintain the right attitude when the going gets rough.  This is very difficult for me and I imagine it so with others as well.  You have to make a conscious effort to maintain positive attitudes throughout your trials and tribulations.  The trick I found is to begin positive at the onset.  As soon as a negative pops into your head, stop them.  Stop them right in their tracks.  Determine right from the start that you will not agree with the negative thoughts and that you will not listen to them anymore.  Stand strong with your positive thoughts in all circumstances.  It’s not difficult to recognize that negative thoughts have entered your mind, but it is difficult to keep them from taking over your thought process.
  2. Realize the rough times won’t last forever.  Again this is a difficult one to work through.  When you are in your deepest, darkest seasons in life, it’s tough to remember that all seasons pass.  Winter becomes spring, spring becomes summer.  God uses trials to produce good results in our lives.  He always wants to bless us.  Remember as you go through your tough times that this probably isn’t your first challenge in life.  You survived the last one, probably learned some valuable lessons and you will survive this one too.
  3. Don’t make major decisions during a storm.  This can be tough to do because often the storms in life bring life changing decisions that need to be made.  But try to stay as still as possible.  Our thoughts often run wild in the midst of chaos, but we need to be still and know that He is God.  We need to trust God that He will do what we cannot.
  4. Stay in touch with the “control tower”.  The analogy that Joyce uses here is the air traffic control tower.  The air traffic controllers are the only people who can see the whole picture of what is going on in the sky and who have the knowledge to tell planes where to go and how to fly.  They see the storms and can tell you how to fly around them or take alternate routes.  Just as airplane pilots maintain contact with the air traffic controllers, we must stay in touch with God.  He sees the big picture and can help direct our lives around and through the storms of life.
  5. Try to keep things in perspective.  We tend to look at our situation as the worse possible situation we could be in.  We tend to view minor crisis as major events (and in fact often do the opposite as well).  It helps to keep a proper perspective.  Try to make a habit of looking at the whole of life instead of centering on the one problem we are dwelling on at the moment.  Try to remember all the good that has come in your life and thinking about the good that will come.  Doing this makes problems seem so much smaller.

A positive attitude enables you to make the best of every situation and keeps circumstances from having power of your life.