Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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The Aftermath of Being “Punked”

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Beth Moore told a story in Faithful, Abundant, True:  Three Lives Going Deeper Still about a time when she was duped by a woman with a testimony that seemed too amazing to be true.  When Beth learned that she and her ministry had been deceived, one of her staff members said: “We’ve been punked!”

I decided to look up the word “punked” online to see some of the definitions for this slang term that has become popular in recent years.  Here are a few of the definitions I found:  punkedA way to describe someone ripping a person off, tricking, teasing; humiliated completely, as in disrespected; putting oneself in a position of being open to ridicule; having been lied to or fooled.

Like Beth, I still wince when I think of a few times that I’ve been “punked” by Satan through hard circumstances with others.  While I’ve never had someone “punk” me in such a deliberate way, I’ve experienced my fair share of pain.  What I chose to do with the pain often led me down a path of being spiritually attacked. People may hurt us intentionally or unintentionally, but it is really Satan who does the “punking.”  First Peter 5:8 says it clearly:  “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  When we’re hurt, we can either draw closer to God or look for unhealthy ways to cope that leave us spiritually vulnerable.

Looking back, it’s clear there were times when I made myself pretty easy prey for that prowling lion looking for someone to devour.  Beth Moore gave a big and extreme example of when Satan used a situation to “punk” her, but we all have situations that can lead to being “punked” by him. It’s just one of the down sides of living in a fallen world.  We can be sure that even if someone didn’t intentionally mean to “punk” us, Satan looks for ways to capitalize on our hurt and use it against us.  Here are a few situations he can use to “punk” us when we’re not staying alert:

-A pastor or ministry leader disappoints you personally causing you to withdraw from Christian community or to stop attending corporate worship services

-A pastor or ministry leader’s sinful nature is suddenly exposed and you stop trusting anyone in a leadership position and cynicism begins to take root in you

-Your tight knit community of friends fractures and goes its separate ways causing you to feel hurt and wary of engaging in deep relationships anymore

-Your spouse, friend or business partner betrays you, leaving you choking on your own bitterness and unable to see past your own problems

-Your teen or adult child seems to do the opposite of everything you taught him, leaving you disillusioned about the Christian parenting tools you thought were foolproof

-The ministry where you’ve been serving seems to be changing in a way that doesn’t fit with your vision so you disengage and stop seeking ways to use your gifts

-You have a difference of opinion with someone you serve with and decide it’s not worth it to be involved in ministry anymore

-A close friendship falls apart and your fear of being hurt prevents you from cultivating new friendships

If you can relate to any of the scenarios above, you are not alone.  What if it’s too late?  What if you’ve already been “punked?”   Here are a few thoughts on dealing with the aftermath and moving back into a place of health and wholeness.

-Don’t let being “punked” make you bitter

Ephesians 4:31 tells us:  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”  When bitterness takes root in us, it flavors everything in our lives negatively.  Bitter people rarely exude joy, peace, or grace.  It’s hard to share the love of Christ when bitterness plunges its roots deep into the soil of our lives.   Pray and ask God to remove the bitterness you feel welling up inside of you.

-Don’t lose trust in all people because you were burned

In Matthew 10:12-14 & 16 Jesus says:  As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet…I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  Being shrewd and innocent means having discernment to know the difference between people who are trustworthy and people who are not.  It is unwise to assume the negative about all people you encounter because of one or two bad experiences.

-Pray against cynicism

Colossians 3:12-14  “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Cynicism doesn’t coexist well with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love.  It makes us sarcastic, jaded and unable to be authentic in our relationships with others.

-Don’t lose sight of the other good things in your life

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Sometimes it’s easy to focus on the hurt we feel and to miss all of the other places good things are happening.  Good things and hard things usually co-exist in our lives.  We show wisdom when we can be thankful noticing the good and instead of fixating on the bad.

-Get help to access the tools you need for healing

Matthew 18:15-16 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”    Often we try to muscle through hard situations on our own when what we need is the help of others.  There was a time when the same person was repeatedly emotionally hurting me.  I was afraid to talk to anyone about it for fear of being a gossip.  When I finally confided in a wise friend, she spoke the truth and reassurance I desperately needed to hear.  Eventually a Christian counselor equipped me with the tools I needed to heal and learn from what I’d experienced.  The ways I grew by facing my pain caused much good to come from a very difficult situation.

-Practice Forgiveness

Matthew 6:14-15 says:  “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  I don’t think I could say it any clearer.  If we love God, then we need to forgive.  This is a choice we make, not a feeling.  Think of forgiveness as a cycle that may need to repeat rather than a one-time transaction.  You’ll feel tremendous relief when you’re able to release your hurt at the feet of Jesus.

-Take time to heal, but don’t withdraw permanently

Matthew 5:14-16 says: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Taking time to heal is healthy and good, but we can’t hide our lights forever.  If you need to push the “pause” button for a while to re-group, that is a good thing, just don’t let it become your new “normal.”  Hebrews 10:25-26 says:  “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

-Don’t let Satan sideline you and keep you from using your gifts to bless others

1 Peter 4:10 says: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  If you’ve been hurt while serving in a specific area and want to step back, take some time to pray and see what is next.  Maybe there are some issues you need to confront in your current situation.  Maybe it is time for you to find a new place to plug in and use your gifts.  Just make sure you don’t leave any unfinished business behind before you move on.  Running from a difficult or frustrating situation doesn’t bring healing– it just delays it.

-Put on your spiritual armor

Ephesians 6:10-18  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”  Be aware that you are vulnerable to spiritual attack and access the spiritual armor God gives you to stand firm against it.

Just in case you need a reminder if you’ve been “punked”, you are not alone.  You might be wondering how I compiled the list of suggestions above.  It’s all from personal experience.  I’ve let the messiness of life open me up to being “punked” by Satan more than once.  Hopefully, the things I’ve learned will bless you and enable you to avoid having to learn the hard way like I did.

There are many helpful resources to assist you if you’ve been “punked” and don’t want to find yourself there again.  A few books that have made a difference for me are:

Forgive and Forget by Lewis Smedes (Don’t let the title fool you- this book is about learning from your hurt so that you won’t be doomed to repeat it)

Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

If you have other resources that have helped you, please make a comment and share them with others.

Need a little encouragement right away?  Click on the link below to hear the song “Holding Nothing Back” by Ryan Stevenson. It will remind you that it’s best to keep our eyes on Jesus in the midst of our hurts and disappointments.  There is no better way to safeguard against getting “punked.”

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When Praying Expectantly Wears Thin

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Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.  –Proverbs 13:12

California is having its driest winter in the state’s 164-year history.  While I know this is bad news for our water supply, I must admit I’m enjoying the dry days, warm weather and clear blue skies.   I can’t make it rain, so I might as well enjoy the sunshine.  Who could blame me?

Recently our family took advantage of a warm and sunny Saturday to go mountain biking together.  My younger son had been asking to ride on a specific trail that he spied a while back, so we thought it was the perfect day to try it.  He knew that getting to the fun downhill part would require quite a bit of hill climbing first.  I was pretty impressed he wanted to do such a challenging ride.  At first the promise of that grand finale on the second half buoyed his spirits as we started our ascent.  Pretty soon, however, he started falling behind the rest of us. The excitement for the descent evaporated as his muscles burned and his lungs gasped for air.  When he finally reached the top, he’d lost all desire to finish the ride and wanted to turn around and go back the way we came.

I cheered for him as he walked his bike up to where we were waiting and reminded him of his goal.  “You can’t stop now, buddy!  The trail you’ve been waiting for is coming soon.  Just two more small hills and we’ll be on the fun part.  You can do it!”  I was trying hard to sound positive and encouraging, but he wasn’t buying it.

“This ride is stupid and I don’t want to do it anymore,” he grumbled as he dropped his bike to the ground and sat hunched at a picnic table nearby.

He’d been waiting expectantly for what he thought would be a fun ride, but the journey there was harder than he anticipated.  Maybe you can relate.  We all have those times when our enthusiasm begins to wear thin the longer our expectations go unmet.  I couldn’t help thinking about this as I did the lesson for Week 4, Day 4 of Faithful, Abundant, True:  Three Lives Going Deeper Still.  I love that Priscilla Shirer is encouraging believers to pray big prayers.  She says  “Knowing God and the resources He’s made available to you … changes not only how you pray but what you feel free to ask God for.  You will begin to realize that you don’t have to pray small or with reservation.  You can ask the Lord for exactly what you desire no matter how outlandish or impossible it may appear to be”  (p.92).

I wholeheartedly believe Priscilla’s words to be true.  God can do anything we ask.  However, I also know firsthand that “whether God moves is a question of His sovereignty, not His ability.  What He does is His business.  Believing that He can is our business”  (p.94).  Sometimes praying expectantly gets tiring, maybe even a little discouraging.  Waiting with no clear sense of when a prayer might be answered is hard work when we try to do it on our own strength.  Over the years of waiting for different prayers to be answered, I’ve learned some things that have helped me not to lose hope.  Below are a few thoughts and verses on how to keep your focus wear it needs to be as you pray expectantly and wait for God to reveal His plans to you.

-Keep Your Eyes On God Instead of on the Answer You Seek

It can be easy to fixate on the answer we’re looking for instead of on God.  Praising God for who He is and reminding yourself of all Jesus did for you can bring you a peace that is not dependent upon your circumstances or a particular answer you’re seeking.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  –Hebrews 12:1-3

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.  –Isaiah 26:3-4

-Maintain An Eternal Perspective

Sometimes we get so consumed with the thing we’re praying for that we forget this world is not our permanent home.  It’s helpful to take a step back sometimes and see your situation from a different perspective.  We are just passing through this world on our way to our home in heaven.  A good question we can ask ourselves to keep in check is: “In the light of eternity, how much does this really matter?”

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   -2 Corinthians 4:16-18

-Remember that God Does Things His Way, Not Yours

It’s easy to focus so much on the outcome we’re expecting that we miss the ways God is already at work in our lives (or even in a particular situation we’re praying for).  When we pray expectantly, it’s helpful to take God’s sovereignty into consideration.  We need to give Him room to move and work in the way He sees best instead of expecting Him to do things according to the expectations we have.

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.  –Isaiah 55:8-9

-Focus on Gratitude

When we are praying expectantly about a specific situation, it might be easy to forget all the things God has done or is doing in our lives.  It builds our faith and our trust in God when we take time to list the specific things we can already be thankful for in our lives.  We can even thank God for how He is working behind the scenes while we wait.  In all circumstances, there is something for which we can thank God.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

-Pray for Strength and Confidence in God as You Wait Expectantly

It is okay to admit to God that we are growing weary or that our confidence in Him is waning.  We can ask Him to restore our strength, confidence and hope as we wait.  We can ask Him to show us what we can be learning as we trust Him for the answers to our prayers.  It helps to be honest and admit when we’re struggling and need help adjusting our attitudes.

I remain confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord 
in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord;
 be strong and take heart
 and wait for the Lord.  –Psalm 27:13-14

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.  –Psalm 139:23-4

-Let Others Encourage You

It’s always easier to wait for something when we have company.  Enlisting a trusted friend to pray with us and to encourage us as we wait for God helps us to stay hopeful.  It also keeps us from getting bitter or disillusioned if the answer is taking longer than we think it should.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. –Hebrews 10:23-25

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. –Hebrews 3:12-14

You may be wondering how things turned out for my son on our bike ride.   After he regained his strength and listened to our encouraging words, he was willing to get on his bike and continue.  At first, he was sullen as he trudged up the next hill pushing his bike, but he was definitely trying harder.  Not surprisingly, all of his grumpiness disappeared when we finally reached the trail that wound back down the mountain.  When we stopped to enjoy the sweeping views part way down, he was back to his old enthusiastic self and couldn’t wait to keep riding.  He led the way down the hill and was thrilled with what he’d accomplished at the end.
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I pray that you’ll find hope and courage as you pray expectantly.  There can even be joy in the waiting if you’re open to seeing it.  God has great things in store, there is no doubt about that.

Click on the song “While I’m Waiting” by John Waller for some further encouragement as you wait.


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When God’s Abundance Turns Sour Circumstances Sweet

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In Faithful, Abundant, True:  Three Lives Going Deeper Still Priscilla Shirer says:  “As I’ve considered different seasons of my life, it’s occurred to me that I’ve often been waiting on my circumstances to change before feeling like I can experience God’s abundance.  We often think:  If I can just get out of this season and into the next one, then I know abundance will be waiting for me.  If I can just get out of this disappointing, frustrating circumstance I’m in, then I know I’ll experience God’s best”  (p.68).

Like Priscilla, this thought process has occurred in different seasons of my life.   One time that stands out was my freshman year in college when it felt like all of the comforts and security of home were stripped away from me.  Instead of embracing the exciting new phase I’d entered, I grieved the end of my childhood.  Making meaningful connections with new friends was a struggle and I longed to be known and valued.  I viewed my new surroundings in Southern California with a critical eye and compared everything to home.   Nothing met my unrealistically high standards.  I thought: If I could just leave this place, I would be happier.

In spite of my struggles, I knew I had to figure out how to make things work.  I grew up in a home where “We Don’t Quit” was a motto—I could even picture the paper with my dad’s printing written in green felt pen and pinned to my brother’s bulletin board.   I didn’t want to give up so easily after all the hard work of getting into college and I certainly didn’t want to disappoint my family.

So, in the midst of my intense loneliness, I turned to God– the only One I felt really knew and loved me in this strange place so far from home.  For the first time in my life I needed and wanted to spend time studying His word to find truths that would sustain and encourage me.  I poured out my heart in prayer, sharing my struggles and heartaches.  I listened to Christian music at night as I fell asleep.  It bathed my mind with God’s comforting promises, which seemed more relevant to me than they ever had before.

As the school year progressed, I slowly began to accept my new surroundings, to find friends and to enjoy Christian fellowship.  By the time my parents came to collect me in June, I realized that I was leaving a little piece of me behind as we drove up back to Northern California.  More importantly, my relationship with God was stronger and deeper than it had ever been in my life.

In the midst of my misery and loneliness, I’d discovered the abundance of God’s love and the reassurance of knowing that He would always be with me.  By removing me from the comfort and security of my earthly home, He showed me that my ultimate comfort and security came first and foremost from Him.  God took my sour outlook and sweetened it slowly as He revealed Himself to me during that difficult year.

There have been many other times when I’ve struggled through hard things. Difficulties are always going to pop up, but that doesn’t mean we just have to grit our teeth and white-knuckle our way through them.  God is there with us and has things to show us through our struggles.  Priscilla Shirer says it well:  “The abundant life is not when no impossible situations occur and you’re experiencing peace, joy, and happiness.  While that’s nice, true abundance is really seen when you’re sitting in a prison circumstance, when you’re eye to eye with an impossible situation, and right in the heart of your impossible, you experience the fullness of God”  (p.69).

Seven years ago I found myself staring impossible right in the face and felt hopeless to do anything about it. My Dad’s health was rapidly deteriorating as a debilitating neurological disease ravaged his mind and body.  Although we loved each other, we’d never had a great relationship.  We’d both made feeble attempts to connect at various times in life, but they never produced much.  As I watched him decline, I despaired that I’d lost the chance to develop a close relationship with him because of his compromised state.

And then, right in the heart of impossible, God showed up and made the last two weeks of my Dad’s life our sweetest time together.   He gave me the courage to initiate sharing thoughts with my Dad that I’d never been able to verbalize before.  Although his ability to think and speak was painfully slow, he responded and we had several tender conversations.  It was the first time we shared honestly how we felt about each other without the usual awkwardness or sarcasm that characterized our relationship.   By the time my dad passed away I had a peace about our relationship that had eluded me for my entire life.  I’d thought my Dad’s illness had eliminated any possibility of having a meaningful connection with him, but God used it to bring us together in a way I never would have anticipated.

Ironically, the relationship with my dad that had been such a source of pain and hopelessness for me was the catalyst that launched me into sharing my writing with others.  After my dad passed away, I wrote about our final days together and submitted it for consideration in an anthology of short stories.  To my surprise, the story was chosen and published in 2013 in a book called When God Makes Lemonade:  True Stories that Amaze and Encourage.  I was humbled to discover that God often uses the hardest things in our lives to reveal Himself to us.  Reading the book has showed me the authors of the other stories experienced something similar.
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The truth is we get access to God’s power when we lay our weaknesses and difficulties at His feet.  The apostle Paul knew this when he wrote 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10:

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When we take our hard circumstances and our weaknesses and entrust them to Jesus, we invite Him to bring change.  Sometimes He changes the hard things we’re dealing with, sometimes He gives us the courage to take action, but often He changes our perspectives more than anything else.  There is no circumstance too large or too small for Him.  Paul tells us God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).  We can have great hope remembering that He can go beyond our wildest imaginings.

Is there a sour circumstance in your life?  Maybe something that seems impossible to change?   God can and will work to bring sweetness to it in His perfect timing.  He is able.  Are you willing to let Him show you?

For added perspective on this topic, click on the link to listen to Laura Story’s song “Blessings.”  It will show you how God uses hard situations to change us and to show us a new perspective.