A Brain, a Heart and Courage

By Linda Tancs

In the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy meets up with three characters, each seeking a different attribute. The scarecrow wants a brain. The tin man wants a heart. And the lion wants courage. That’s a pretty good summation of what we need to persevere through life: wisdom, love and courage.

The Bible exhorts us to gain wisdom (see, e.g., James 1:5; Proverbs 3:13-18). How do you do that? By reading the Bible, the source of all God’s knowledge and understanding. Wisdom is a gift from God, the means to discern the truth in all things. We’re told to love wisdom, and wisdom will protect us (Proverbs 4:6-7). Above all, though, we are commanded to love God (Deuteronomy 10:12) and extend that love to our neighbors (Luke 10:27). It’s fair to say that the pursuit of wisdom and love takes courage. It’s so much easier to hide one’s head in the sand, avoiding truth and neglecting the work to build strong relationships. Yet we’re reminded to be strong and of good courage (Deuteronomy 31:6). That’s because fear, insecurity and anxiety undermine the courage we need to foster effective personal and professional relationships. But you’re an overcomer! Stand firm and apply the power formula of wisdom, love and courage to persevere through life’s tasks and struggles.

Lessons from Wildlife

By Linda Tancs

The Bible is full of anecdotes concerning animals. Some of the best known examples are Jonah and the whale and Noah and his ark. It’s no secret that God loves animals. In Psalm 50, He reminds us that He knows and owns every animal in the field. That includes Sparky, Fido, Fluffy, you name it. We’re stewards of every animal on the earth and accountable to God for our treatment of them (Proverbs 12:10). Besides stewardship, animals teach us many lessons. For instance, God directs us to look to the ant for the principle of diligence and perseverance (Proverbs 6:6). He also tells us to be surefooted like deer (Habakkuk 3:19), gentle like doves (Matthew 10:16), confident as an eagle (Isaiah 40:31) and courageous like a lion (Proverbs 30:29-30). And maybe the ultimate lesson comes from sheep, the emblem of discipleship (John 10:4), because they need to be led.

As the poet William Wordsworth put it, let nature be your teacher.

More Than a Conqueror

By Linda Tancs

There’s no shortage of famous conquerors in world history, like Napoleon—renowned for his strategy and command of the battlefields of war (until Waterloo, that is). For most of us, there’s a different battle brewing. It’s in the mind, where nagging thoughts often plague and condemn us that we’re not where we need to be, not up to the task, not able to navigate life successfully, and so on. When the mind wages war we need to remember that we’re more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). What does it mean to be “more than a conqueror?” It means that, unlike Napoleon, there is no battle and, therefore, no need to conquer. We’ve already won. Through Christ, we are ready for anything and equal to anything that comes up in life (Philippians 4:13). Victory is assured; you needn’t worry about meeting your Waterloo.

The Challenge of Love

By Linda Tancs

Is there anyone in your family who is difficult to love, who pushes all the wrong buttons? Maybe it feels like you’re surrounded by fiery beasts or tongues like sharp swords, as David described in Psalm 57:4. Perhaps your nemesis is a child, parent, spouse, sibling or extended family member, or even many of the above. You might be tempted to think ‘well, I don’t have to love anyone who won’t love me back or treats me unfairly.’ Don’t give in and fail to accept the challenge of love. Love is, after all, the foundation of our existence and evidence of our oneness with God. There is no commandment greater than love, as Paul reminded the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13:13) and John told his readers (1 John 4:16). Likewise, Jesus exhorted his followers that everything hinges on love of God and love of others (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28; John 13:34-35).

We should give thanks for the difficult people in our lives because they teach us how much work we may still need to do in the love walk. Those who are easiest to love actually teach us very little. So put on an “attitude of gratitude” the next time you feel tormented, and work on walking it out.

Finding Beauty in Imperfection

By Linda Tancs

Are you a perfectionist? Or do you suffer with a spouse, friend, family member, colleague or boss who is one? Psychologists define perfectionism as the need to be or appear perfect. It might sound ideal to strive for perfection. In fact, I recall one of my college professors calling it a “virtue.” But decades of studies reveal that perfectionism correlates with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health problems. That doesn’t sound very ideal, or virtuous, does it? Yet we live in a world that embraces perfection, as evidenced in everything from grade inflation in schools to airbrushing perceived imperfections out of photos.

On a spiritual level, perfectionism underscores a self-reliant effort to be flawless that undermines the power of God. The Pharisees are prime examples of biblical perfectionists, bound by legalism, pride and judgment. Psalm 18 reminds us that only God is perfect (Psalm 18:30). He seeks to do a good work in us, to perfect us in holiness through Grace (Philippians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 7:1). In God’s eyes, perfection arises from an inner beauty, not outward adornments (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Perfect your faith, not your IQ score, selfies or triceps.

What’s In a Name?

By Linda Tancs

In Hollywood, every producer wants to cast a movie with a “bankable” name. Likewise, in other fields, big names garner authority and leverage.

The Bible, too, has its share of heavyweights among God’s people, like Abraham, Moses, Job, David and Daniel. But just as noteworthy are the unnamed—anonymous people, even outsiders, immortalized for their deeds in the service of God and his kingdom. Consider, for instance, Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well. She’d had many men in her life and, worse yet, was a Samaritan engaging in conversation with a Jew. Jesus’s gentle correction of her sinful ways and His mere knowledge of her past had her undone in a matter of minutes. Despite her bad reputation and limited knowledge of the Messiah, she drew many in her town to the Gospel (John 4), making her one of the most unlikely evangelists in human history. Just before Jesus’s death, another unnamed heroine mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels anoints Him with expensive oil while He is dining with his apostles. Although the apostles are indignant at this display and intrusion, Jesus remarks that what she has done will be told in memory of her whenever the Gospel is preached (Matthew 26:7-13).

You don’t have to have a big name to make a big difference.

What Do I Know?

By Linda Tancs

Are you a know-it-all? How would others describe you? Being a know-it-all kind of person is easier than you may think. In fact, a psychology professor coined the term “Lake Wobegon Effect” to describe a human tendency to overestimate one’s attributes, like knowledge, talent and accomplishments. It’s a dangerous tendency, often leading to pride and arrogance.

The apostle Paul recognized the dangers of putting one’s faith in human wisdom. He even went so far as to tell the Corinthians that anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much (1 Corinthians 8:2). As for himself, he resolved not to know anything but Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2). Furthermore, Proverbs 28:26 tells us that anyone who leans on, trusts in and is confident of his own mind is a fool. Don’t rely on your own insight or understanding (Proverbs 3:5). The more you let God teach you, the more you’ll realize how much you still have to learn (Psalm 147:5).

God is Not Santa Claus

By Linda Tancs

One of the most misconstrued and misapplied Bible verses is undoubtedly John 10:10, where Jesus is recorded as saying that He came so that we might have and enjoy life and have it in abundance. For many this verse has come to imply a promise of “the good life.” Certainly, many folks do enjoy a good, earthly life. But the Lord doesn’t promise you a Cadillac or a nice house. What He promised to show you is the Way. Jesus proclaimed, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6). Enjoying life isn’t about enjoying things; it’s about enjoying Him. In God’s economy, the good life is our ability to experience His joy and delight—to the full, until it overflows (John 15:11).

When we live His way, we reap the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23). Those fruits and any other blessings (2 Corinthians 9:8) are meant to be shared.

Where is Heaven?

By Linda Tancs

Where is Heaven? Heaven is where God is, our eternal home. But don’t just look up. Look around, too, because Heaven is all around you. As poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau put it, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”

In other words, it’s more than just a salvific concept. The kingdom of Heaven is God’s presence in our daily lives, a real-time experience. As Jesus said in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, the kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15). It comes in the most ordinary moments of life, when we bridge our gaps with others and when we gather in a community of faith. Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel gives us Jesus’s examples of our collaborative role in Kingdom work. For instance, He likens the Kingdom to a mustard seed that we, the people, sow in a field. In other discourse, He likens the Kingdom to yeast that a woman mixes with flour to leaven (Matthew 13:31-35). In each case, God provides the tools for our fruitful use, showing us that salvation is not something we have to wait for; it’s something we can experience in our everyday lives. The same message underlies Luke’s understanding of salvation. The healing scenes he presents give us examples of what different expressions of salvation in daily life look like (Luke: 4:31-37; 4:38-44; 5:12-16; 5:17-26; 7:1-10; 7:11-17; 7:21; 7:21; 8:40-56; 9:37-45; 13:10-17; 17:11-19; and 18:35-43).

Move beyond an individualistic view of salvation and look for the communal aspects of it.

Shake It Off

By Linda Tancs

Singer Taylor Swift wrote a song called Shake It Off. The hit song reminds us that sometimes you just have to “shake it off.” Shake off the rude behavior, the office politics, the insults, the deceit and so on. The apostle Paul knew how to shake it off. So did Jesus. In one instance in Paul’s case, he literally shook it off when a snake attached itself to his hand and he simply shook it off, suffering no ill effects (Acts 28:5). And Jesus reminded his disciples to shake the dust off their feet and move on if a town was unwelcoming (Matthew 10:14).

What do you need to shake off? Are you holding on to a grudge, resentment or anger? It hurts you more than the person who offended you. As someone once said, it’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Shake it off.