Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Widows and Orphans: Thoughts on Compassion

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“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says…Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  To look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  James 1:22 & 27

 Tenth Avenue North is a Christian band whose music speaks powerful truth.   A few months ago my son and I went to see them in concert.  The lead singer, Mike Donehey, is not only a great musician, but also a gifted speaker.  Before the concert, he spoke passionately about the importance of serving the needy.  He highlighted a ministry that connects impoverished children with monthly sponsors.  Mike explained that sponsoring a child is sometimes the only thing that keeps him/her from being sold into slavery.  A human trafficker will approach unsuspecting parents in extreme poverty and offer to give them money and take their child to get a “better life” in the city.  The well-meaning parents accept the money, thinking they are helping their child and the rest of the family at the same time.  However, unbeknownst to the parents, the “better life” in the city is actually a life of prostitution.  After sharing this, Mike asked the crowd to consider sponsoring a child, costing just under $40 per month.  The funds cover the cost of food, schooling, clothing and other necessities.  He ended his sharing by saying:  “You don’t need to pray about whether or not to show compassion to widows and orphans because we already know God wants us to do it.”  His directness may make you squirm, but there is no denying the truth of his words.

There are many worthy organizations that offer the option of child sponsorship including Compassion International, World Vision, Children of Grace, Macedonian Outreach and City Impact.  If you don’t already sponsor a child, consider looking into it.  Your monthly giving makes a world of difference to a child and a family in need.

Recently I heard a sermon online by Pastor Jim Wallis.  In it, he describes volunteering at a shelter for the homeless when he was a young man new to the faith.  He loved arriving early for the prayer time before serving the long line of hungry people waiting outside.   As those volunteering bowed their heads, an old woman with a deep faith would lead out with soulful prayers that always ended with: “Lord, we know that you’ll be coming through this line today, so help us to treat you well.”  Wallis was struck by the woman’s understanding of Matthew 25:40: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”    She knew that when we serve those in need, we are serving Jesus.

With this story ringing in my ears, my family and I decided to participate in a Coat Give Away at City Team Ministries in Oakland in December.  A family of four came through the line with a boy and a girl who were probably 6 and 8.  As I helped the mom comb through the racks for her daughter, the little girl spied a sparkly pink fleece sweatshirt.  Delight shined in her eyes as I helped her try it on.  The sweatshirt fit her perfectly, but had no growing room.  Her mom stood alternately smiling and looking anxious.  It was cute, but not particularly warm.  Pulling a heavier coat from the rack, I held it out:  “This one looks good, do you want to try it?”  It was thick; well made and had plenty of room for growth.  Relieved, the mom thanked me.   Her daughter unzipped the sparkly sweatshirt and started handing it back to me until I stopped her:  “You know what?  That sweatshirt looks so cute on you, I think you need to keep both.”  Gratitude and disbelief flooded their eyes.   Their smiles could have lit up the whole room.  As I walked them out, they were given bag lunches, blankets and a small care package.  The whole family left with warm coats, but I probably felt the best of all of them.  It cost me a Saturday morning, nothing more.

Let me stop you before you think I volunteer in homeless shelters every weekend.  Serving the needy feels awkward and uncomfortable for me.  I don’t know how to do it well or how to fit it into my schedule regularly.  I’m not gifted in it naturally, but I am trying to grow.  I’ve committed to praying and asking God how He wants to show compassion through me.  The rest is up to Him.  I wonder what would happen if each follower of Jesus did one act of compassion consistently.  I think the effects could be astounding.

Compassion is contagious.  Once you start serving, you want to do it more.  When you share what you’re doing with others, they want to join you.   Beth Moore says “Social consciousness beckons each of us across the board, but the ways we could respond are as varied as our holy passions…. God is practical.  He doesn’t ask us to do what doesn’t matter.  What seems a drop in the bucket to you is a sip from the wellspring of life to someone about to thirst to death.  Let’s muster the courage to ask Him to show us who to help and how. True religion is all hands on deck and all heads out of the sand. The mystery is that there, we often find our own healing and fulfilling” (James:  Mercy Triumphs p. 86).

Take a moment to post your thoughts and ideas about compassion.  Just click on the number in the circle to the right of this post’s title above to enter your reply.

Where do you serve or want to serve?  How do you find the time? How have you seen God bless you as you’ve shown compassion to the needy?  Let’s encourage each other to live out this scripture!


Below are the lyrics to a song about compassion by Audio Adrenaline called “Kings and Queens.”  You can also click on the link at the bottom to hear it and watch the music video.  I hope it will bless you and motivate you to serve the needy joyfully!

“Kings & Queens”

Little hands, shoeless feet, lonely eyes looking back at me

Will we leave behind the innocent to grieve

On their own, on the run when their lives have only begun

These could be our daughters and our sons

And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating

I know my God won’t let them be defeated

Every child has a dream to belong and be loved

[Chorus:]

Boys become kings, girls will be queens

Wrapped in Your majesty

When we love, when we love the least of these

Then they will be brave and free

Shout your name in victory

When we love when we love the least of these

When we love the least of these

Break our hearts once again

Help us to remember when

We were only children hoping for a friend

Won’t you look around these are the lives that the world has forgotten

Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open

[Chorus]

If not us who will be like Jesus

To the least of these

If not us tell me who will be like Jesus

Like Jesus to the least of these

Boys become kings, girls will be queens

Wrapped in your majesty

When we love, when we love the least of these

Then they will be brave and free shout your name in victory

We will love we will love the least of these

We will love the least of these

We will love the least of these

We will love the least of these

We will love the least of these

We will love the least of these

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Every Good and Perfect Gift

IMG_4905“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, the we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.”  James 1:16-18

Gifts.  We all love receiving them.  There’s something so enticing about a beautifully wrapped package concealing something chosen specifically to delight us.  Sometimes it’s even more fun to find the “perfect” gift to give someone else; something you know they’ll appreciate that will communicate your love for them.

How do you feel when you spend the time to find just the right gift for someone; to wrap it with care and send it hoping the receiver will be thrilled?  If you were anything like me, you’d hope for a response from the person the minute the gift was received.  You would be anxious to hear his or her enthusiasm and gratitude.  But, what if you never heard a thing? What if the person received the gift and either neglected to open it or quickly put it aside, forgetting about it entirely?  My guess is most of us would be hurt, disappointed and maybe even a little angry.

I wonder, though, do we ever do the same thing to God?   James 1 tells us not to be deceived and to recognize the good and perfect gifts we receive as being given to us by God.  In Week 2 of James:  Mercy Triumphs Beth Moore says:  “James sets before his readers the God of Heaven and earth who literally, actively, perpetually, and generously gives divine gifts to His children…All of us have received a host of them.  We just don’t always recognize them…God’s gifts are given with goals.  They’re perfect because they’re perfecting.  They don’t just give today.  They give toward every tomorrow”  (p.62).

God gives us gifts every day that we might take for granted:  the predictable rising of the sun, air to breathe; warm shelter; food.  He also gives us more personal gifts including our children, spouses, and friends.  He gives us experiences that shape our characters and refine our faith.

Another set of gifts God gives us is spiritual in nature.  The Bible includes several passages listing out the different spiritual gifts God bestows on His followers.  One verse that sums it up well comes from 1 Peter 4:10:  “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  In other words, the gifts God gives us are to be unwrapped, enjoyed and used to serve and bless others.  This is how we show Him love and gratitude.  It is also one of the many ways God reveals His glory on earth.  Not taking the time to discover and use our gifts is the equivalent of receiving the perfect present from someone who loves you and not even taking it out of the box!

A few years ago a friend from Bible Study arranged for a small group of women to participate in a spiritual gifts class led by two seasoned women from church.  I asked one of those teachers, Barbara Butlin, to share her thoughts with me on teaching the class and this was her eloquent response:  “I first took the Spiritual Gifts Class in 1991. It was the first time I realized that if I said “yes” to God’s kingdom work, He would be my ministry partner and I could rely on Him to equip me for whatever He called me to do. It was at that point that I began the most wonderful adventure of my life.  I have taught the Spiritual Gifts class at three churches for the past 20 years (10 years at CPC) and have had hundreds of students develop the ability to see themselves and others through God’s eyes. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours and He takes us to deeper levels of understanding throughout our lives with Him. It is a great source of joy to watch as others learn to appreciate how God gifts us and that these gifts are not for themselves but for the purpose of strengthening us and bringing glory to God for all to be able to see God alive and at work in our lives.  He has gifted me so that I can gift others. What I do for Him in love lasts for all eternity.”

Through that class God gave me clarity about my main spiritual gift:  The Gift of Encouragement.  I realized that the areas where I was serving and using my gifts energized me; they didn’t feel like work.  The places where I was serving using my own skills and not relying on God just didn’t fulfill or excite me the same way.  Serving only out of obligation to fill a need didn’t seem to bring as much joy or satisfaction.  The best part about receiving gifts from God is that HE gets all the credit for them, not us.  It’s not being arrogant or prideful to use the gifts God has given you- it’s being obedient and giving Him glory!  God gives us gifts to use so we can bless others and glorify Him.  When we don’t discover, develop and use them, everyone loses out.

Last year during Lent I felt called try an “experiment” with my gift.  Every morning I would wake up and ask:  “God, who do you want to encourage through me today?  Help me to be sensitive to the promptings of your Spirit as I move through my day.”  I was amazed at the ways He answered me over that forty-day period.  It was exciting to have Him place different people on my heart to call, e-mail, write or meet in person.   My family would ask nightly at dinner what God had led me to do.  We loved looking back over the day and seeing the people He placed in my path or prompted me to pursue.  Every time He would use me, I would thank Him for giving me a front row seat in watching Him work.

Guess what?  He can do the same thing in your life, if He hasn’t already.  He can use anyone who is willing to accomplish His purposes using the gifts He’s given.  Have you taken time to discover the “good and perfect” gifts He’s given you?  Have you found places to use them so that you can bless others?  If you haven’t, there’s no time like the present to start.  This isn’t about feeling guilty or doing it because you “should.” It’s about living into what God has prepared for you.

Take a moment to post a reply sharing how God has used your spiritual gifts! Maybe you’ve been inspired to discover them for the first time. Posting a comment could be a way to commit in writing to taking the first step in the process.  Go ahead, unwrap the gift, stand back and be amazed!



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Buckle Up and Get Ready for the Ride

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“Sometimes we can know something is right, wonderful, and as it should be yet still be pierced by it.”  Beth Moore tells us in the opening week’s study of James:  Mercy Triumphs.

If you’re a mom, that quote resonates in a way that can bring tears to your eyes.  Watching home videos of our kids in younger days can make our hearts ache.   I used to joke when my boys were younger that I was going to stack books on their heads to prevent them from growing taller.  A few months ago, my thirteen year old surpassed me in height, much to his delight and my chagrin.  In a few years I’ll be buckling my seatbelt as he begins driving. Being a good parent ultimately means that we work ourselves out of our jobs.  We raise our kids and eventually they mature to a point where they are adults standing on their own two feet.  We can lament it or embrace it, but change is an inevitable part of life.  This is “right and wonderful” but it pierces us.

Continual change is a fact of life for kids, but sometimes adults do all they can to keep things the same.  We find our niches and stay put.  We tend to struggle with fairly minor things like switching small groups or deviating from the usual church service we attend.   Welcoming major, life altering changes and perspectives takes us way out of our comfort zones.  However, if we are earnest in our desire to apply the Word of God to our lives, then studying the book of James is not going to let us stay the same.  It is going to stretch us and pierce us to the core.

From the first week of homework, Beth Moore sets the stage:  God uses unsettling things to grow us and to further His kingdom.  She references Acts 11:19-21 and describes how the disciples scattered as a result of persecution after Stephen was martyred.   She says “The very thing meant to stamp out the fires of Christianity only kicked the coals across the land and set a parched forest ablaze” (p.26).  Followers of Jesus fanned out to remote locations to escape persecution, but also continued sharing the good news of Jesus with Jews and Greeks.  Acts 11:21 says: “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”

During this time, three men arose as leaders of the Christians:  Peter, John and James.  James grew up in the same household as Jesus.  They were literal brothers sharing the same mother.   Beth Moore says:  “James skyrocketed to a place of tremendous prominence in the early church.  He bounced from doubter to leader in a mind-spinning flash of time” (P. 31).  Peter, John and James are referred to as the “pillars” of the faith in Galatians 2:9.  They extended “the right hand of fellowship” to Paul and Barnabas after they recognized God’s grace in Paul’s conversion.  At the Jerusalem Counsel described in Acts 15, these leaders grappled with hard questions about what it meant to live out the Christian faith- especially for newly converted gentiles.  (Melissa Moore Fitzpatrick goes in depth on this in her “Next Level” articles in Week 1 of the study). Because the church was so new, they had no traditions to follow, no clearly defined protocols or best practices.   They had to rely on the Spirit, the teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament to guide them.  There was no option for saying:  “Let’s do it like this because we’ve always done it that way.”  Tempers likely flared, feelings might have been hurt, but they pressed on.  Life was not predictable or ordinary; it was full of the unexpected and was changing rapidly all the time.

Conversely, today it can be easy to be lulled into complacency and not to feel that same sense of urgency to lean into God and seek His wisdom.  We have protocols and policies.  We know the spoken and unspoken expectations.  If we want to live life by a checklist, we can easily find one.  Sometimes we might follow the Christian lifestyle more than we actually follow Jesus. It’s safer and less messy but not really full of abundant joy.

The book of James is not going to be safe, easy or comfortable to study.   It is going to make us squirm from the very beginning as we study about trials producing joy.  Things will continue to heat up with topics like actions vs. words, faith vs. deeds, taming our tongues, favoritism, wealth and more.  The things we are challenged to think and do are going to pierce us.  However, they are also “right and wonderful.”  So, let’s all buckle our seatbelts and get ready for the ride.  Change is coming, and we’d be wise to embrace it so we can discover all that God has in store for us.