Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Developing Your Potential

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Buckling his seatbelt as we drove away from practice, my son turned to me with excitement. “Guess what, Mom? My lacrosse coach wants me to try out for his soccer team this weekend.”

“Wow, buddy, that’s quite a compliment. I didn’t even know he coached two different sports. I guess we can think about it, but why did you say ‘no’ when I asked you about signing up for tryouts a long time ago?” I probed.

After a moment of thoughtful silence, he answered. “I don’t know. I guess it just felt good to be asked and to know he believes in me.”

My son knew he had potential, but he wasn’t motivated to tap into it until his coach validated it too. With the knowledge that someone else was on his side, his confidence skyrocketed. This was obvious even in his last few games of the lacrosse season as he ran up the field dodging opponents and scoring goals. His athletic abilities hadn’t changed, but his belief in himself had grown exponentially.

It’s a good lesson for all of us. When we know a person recognizes potential in us, we are more eager to develop it.   I’ve experienced this in the last few years as others have challenged me to develop gifts God has given me for teaching, leading and writing. I would not be writing this blog if the women in my writers group and an inspiring leader from church hadn’t been there to spur me on. Similarly, I would never have had the courage to start a Bible study for women exploring faith if a friend hadn’t believed in me and partnered with me to do it.

God has given each of us a unique set of spiritual gifts, heart desires, abilities, personality traits and personal experiences to be developed and used for Him. When we take the time to discover and develop them, God uses all of these things to further His Kingdom. Pastor Erik Rees has created some excellent materials for exploring them in his study, S.H.A.P.E. Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life. He encourages us to consider Galatians 6:4-5:

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”   (The Message)

As followers of Christ, we’ve been entrusted with a life changing message and all of the tools we need to share it. Yet we often get tempted to find what’s comfortable and stick with it. We rely on the same people to perform certain jobs in ministries without ever asking God if there are new ways He wants to stretch us. Stepping out to risk facilitating a small group or leading worship may sound frightening. Perhaps there is a group of praying parents in need of a leader, but you don’t think your prayers are eloquent enough. Or maybe you’re great with kids, but fear you don’t have the Bible knowledge to lead them at church.   You might have the gift of administration but hesitate, not wanting to commit the time to use it in a certain ministry. Is it possible that you’ve grown comfortable and complacent watching others give and serve? Have you and opted out of using your potential with different rationalizations?

The Apostle Paul was great at coaching and developing the gifts and skills in others. We see this in his relationship with Timothy, a young partner in ministry with whom he traveled. In one letter Paul writes to Timothy:

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:8-16)

Paul admonished Timothy to persevere and not let his ministry be deterred by insecurity about his youthfulness. He told Timothy not to neglect his gifts but to use them fully and to continue developing them. The purpose was to optimize his effectiveness in sharing the good news of Jesus. Discovering and using our gifts is about honoring God and blessing others, not elevating ourselves.

Maybe you’re like my son who needed his coach to recognize the potential he had.  With an encourager to cheer you on perhaps you’d be more willing to discover new ways God could use you. If you’re intrigued by this idea, pray that He’ll give you the desire and the tools to discover how your gifts, experiences, personality and passion can be used for His glory. Pray for a person who can help you identify them and develop them.  If you already know your gifts, pray and evaluate how effectively you’re using them right now. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you courage and confidence if you’re feeling afraid or insecure. Maybe it’s time to branch out and trust Him to take the next step. Once He starts moving in you, you’ll never want to go back to your ordinary way of life.

Casting Crowns has an inspiring new song called “Thrive.” Click on the link to listen, then pray about how God wants to tap into your potential.

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Pushing the Pause Button

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I have conflicted feelings about technology. When it works the way I expect, I see it as a valuable tool that makes life easier. However, when it has glitches or requires skills beyond what I have, I throw my hands up in frustration and rant about the way it is taking over our society.

One aspect of technology that I embrace with enthusiasm is the “pause” button. Whether it’s for halting a video temporarily to take notes or pausing a movie for a bathroom break, I love having that kind of control. The action stops until I start it again.

I’ve been thinking about God’s view on having “pause” buttons in life. Genesis 2:1-3 records the first instance of this when God finishes the work of creation:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

God chose to rest even though He never grows tired or weary. I like to think He did this as an example for us to follow. Resting is meant to be a regular part of our lives. However, for many of us living in modern times, being still seems nearly impossible. Although the world spins on its axis at the same rate it always has, the pace of life seems to grow faster and faster.

Scheduling time to push life’s pause button helps us to be rejuvenated and to keep our priorities in order. I’m always amazed by how my energy and enthusiasm rebound after I’ve rested. For me, spending time with people and pouring into them gives me great fulfillment.   However, if I don’t allow margin in my schedule for time alone and time with God, I become depleted and lose the joy that comes from being with others. I have nothing left to offer because I haven’t taken time to get filled up by God.

Conversely, when I spend too much time working alone, I also feel drained. Writing a Bible study or blog flows easily when I’m rested and aligned with God. However, when I’m struggling for an idea or pushing myself to meet a self-imposed deadline, the flow of ideas dries up quickly. Then, it’s time to push away from the computer and ask God to re-energize me. When I let my brain rest and stop trying to figure something out, God brings me exactly what I need.

For many of us, learning to be still takes discipline. Sometimes it’s easier to continue running on the hamster wheel instead of risking the jump off. When I’m stuck in a holding pattern of busyness, God whispers to me softly:

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

I like the NET translation of this verse too:

“He says, ‘Stop your striving and recognize that I am God! 
I will be exalted over the nations! I will be exalted over the earth!’”

So often our striving and busyness are like taskmasters relentlessly spurring us on. Being still helps us remember who God is. It reminds us He holds all the power. Pausing allows us to step back and evaluate what we’re doing to make sure it fits with God’s plan and our priorities. Being still causes us to relinquish the illusion of control and to gain a fresh perspective as God rejuvenates our bodies, minds and spirits.

How about pushing the pause button right now? Give yourself three minutes and twenty-four seconds to stop striving as you listen to Kari Jobe’s song “Be Still.” Listen with your eyes closed and let the truth of the words sink into your mind. If you’re feeling weary, I pray you’ll find refreshment for your soul.


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Beauty from Ashes

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Fire scorched 3,100 acres of my favorite playground last fall. Despite its name, Mount Diablo State Park is a sacred place to me (Diablo means “devil” in Spanish). It is the place my family hiked when I was a child, the place my husband proposed to me in my 20’s and the place where I’ve ridden miles on dirt trails in adulthood.   So when I heard there was a wildfire, I fretted that Rock City, Pine Canyon, Wall Point, and my other favorite places would be ruined.

On my first bike ride the week after the fire, I was relieved that it had been contained to the eastern side of the mountain. The main evidence that I could see was a swath of blackened hillside above the Curry Point Trail Head. It looked charred and barren- like a post-apocalyptic war zone.

Despite California’s drought, late spring rains have finally turned our hills green. This week as I rode, the blackened portion of the mountain stood in sharp contrast to the lush grasses growing around the burn zone. It turns out that the fire created a banner year for wildflowers. With the dense chaparral being consumed by flames, seeds are finally getting the sunlight they need to grow. One blue and lavender bloom called a Kellogg’s has been spotted for the first time in eighty-one years. The fire was a catalyst for new growth: “Vast stretches of mountain that resembled a bomb site just weeks ago now are coming to life.” (“Life Renewed Amid the Ash” by Denis Cuff; Contra Costa Times 4/29/14)

God uses nature as a visual aide for our spiritual lives. The difficulties we experience can be like wildfires that bring destruction but ultimately allow God’s beauty and grace to rise from the ashes. Hard things happen: health problems, financial crises, divorce, job loss, wayward children, broken relationships, loneliness, depression, and the loss of loved ones.   However, these are the very things God also uses to reveal Himself to us in new ways. They can become part of His redemptive plan when we trust Him instead of turning away in bitterness.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
 because the Lord has anointed me
 to proclaim good news to the poor.
 He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives 
and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor 
and the day of vengeance of our God,
 to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, 
the oil of joy
 instead of mourning, 
and a garment of praise
 instead of a spirit of despair.
 They will be called oaks of righteousness,
 a planting of the Lord
 for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-4)

After a decade of wildfires in my life, God has been blessing me with a season of wildflowers blooming. I’m enjoying the ways He is developing my potential and using the gifts He’s given me to bless others and display His splendor. The difficulties I faced in the past and continue to experience draw me closer to Him and cause me to cling to His word. My roots of faith and trust grow deep in the charred soil of hardships.

Last week I went mountain biking with a close friend after she’d been unable to ride for three months. An injury at work created a season of difficulty in her life. Being back out on the trail together was a gift and we reveled in it together—grateful for our health, the beauty of our surroundings and the blessing of our friendship.

During the ride I was intent on finding a wildflower that grows only on our mountain called the Mount Diablo Fairy Lantern. I’d read they were out in full force after the fire, but was disappointed that I couldn’t find any on our ride.

The next day, I got a text message from my friend with a picture attached: “Is this the flower you were looking for?”

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She’d found the Fairy Lantern! It had been beside the trail right where we’d stopped the day before– I just hadn’t noticed it. On her second ride her eyes were scanning for it, trusting that it had to be there somewhere. She kept searching until she found it. Like my friend, we need to be searching for the ways God is working in our lives in hard times.  It’s not always obvious, but once we’re seeking Him, He’ll reveal Himself.   Many times it’s not in the way we expect. So often God has something to show us in the midst of our hardships but we fail to see it because we’re too focused on our problems instead.

Maybe you find yourself in the middle of a firestorm right now. Perhaps you’re standing in the charred remains of your life wondering what good could possibly come from such a hard season. Or maybe your life is blooming with beautiful wildflowers right now. No matter what season you find yourself in, God is worthy of our praise. He is the One who binds our broken hearts, who frees us from the bondage of sin, who brings light into the darkness, and who brings beauty from our ashes.

Click on the link below to hear “Broken Hallelujah” by The Afters. It’s an inspiring reminder that God deserves our praise in seasons of wildfires and seasons of wildflowers.

Do you have a “beauty from ashes” story? Take a moment to share it in a comment to encourage others.