Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Advance Part 5: Making Your Hardship Serve the Gospel

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Last summer one of my closest friends from high school passed away after battling cancer. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may recall a post I wrote about her last days called “Christians Never Have to Say Goodbye.”

I couldn’t help thinking about Kristi and her family as I heard Beth Moore share the final point of her ADVANCE acrostic:

E– Everything is redeemed if it serves the gospel

Beth’s main point was that we have the choice to use our hardships to advance the gospel and spread God’s kingdom on earth. I watched Kristi’s husband do this over the course of her brutal cancer treatments and her last days before going home to heaven. His regular posts on Caring Bridge not only updated friends and family about Kristi’s health condition, they also shared his faith journey with authenticity and boldness. It was impossible to read through a post without being pointed to the person of Jesus and to be reminded that true hope is found only in Him.

My friend’s husband exemplifies the idea of submitting something awful for the sake of the gospel. In the past year he has continued to write about his journey as he’s sorted through the grief of losing his wife and raising their four kids. He doesn’t sugar coat life as a single parent with sunny platitudes, but he does share the hope he continues to find through faith in Jesus.  Countless lives around the globe continue to be impacted by the truth he shares.

The Apostle Paul did something similar throughout his ministry. He took hardships he endured and used them to advance the gospel. Rather than focusing only on his “target audience,” he viewed anyone in his path as a perfect candidate for hearing the good news of Jesus. Even his guards and fellow inmates in prison benefitted from being near him. He rejoiced at the opportunity to share with these captive audiences.

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13).

In some cases, Paul’s faith was so evident in the midst of hardships that others were drawn to him even when he wasn’t focusing on them specifically:

After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household” (Acts 16:23-34).

Here are few thoughts based on these passages and Beth Moore’s teaching:

-We don’t always get to pick our circumstances, but we can choose how to respond to them

-We can trust God in the midst of a hardship and ask Him to reveal Himself and use it to advance His kingdom

-We can’t put boundaries around with whom, where or when we share the gospel; our “target audience” is anyone God puts in our path.

-When our focus is on God and we spend time with Him, our faith will naturally overflow to impact others

-It is biblical and honoring to God when we focus on Him in the midst of our hardships; this pleases Him and gives hope to others

I’m aware that these things are easy to write about, but much more challenging to put into practice. Still, what do you have to lose by praying a simple prayer like this: “God, use the hardship I’m facing right now to advance the gospel”?  Ask God to draw your attention to the ways He’s inviting you to advance the gospel in the midst of your difficulties.

Writing about Beth Moore’s teaching from the Living Proof Live event I attended has made it sink in so much more. I hope it’s been a blessing in your life and has inspired you while giving you practical tools to advance the gospel.

Here is the acrostic in its entirety:

A- A kingdom is coming

D- Dare to advance it

V- Vie fiercely in prayer

A- Add traction to your action

N- Never take a “no” from the devil

C- Cease the policing and the pacing

E- Everything is redeemed if it serves the gospel

*Special note to those planning to join Focused Living at CPC this fall: If you enjoyed reading about Paul and Silas in the Acts passage above, you are going to love our first study this fall on 1 & 2 Thessalonians by Beth Moore called Children of the Day.

If you’d like a great example of someone who is using his hardship to serve the gospel, visit Kristi’s husband’s blog at the link below.

http://www.bgoneb9bhealed.com/blog/

If you’re in the midst of a hardship right now, click on the link and be encouraged by Casting Crowns’ song “Praise You in the Storm”

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Advance Part 4: Policing and Pacing

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My past three blogs have summarized and expanded on Beth Moore’s teaching at the “Living Proof Live” event I attended in Stockton, CA recently. So far, we’ve been examining the acrostic A-D-V-A-N-C-E that focuses on Philippians 1:12-30. My previous posts have highlighted the first five points:

 A– A Kingdom is coming

D– Dare to advance it

V– Vie fiercely in prayer

A– Add traction to your action

N– Never take a “no” from the devil

This post explores the two aspects of the next point:

C– Cease the policing and the pacing

This teaching is based on Philippians 1:15-18

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.

Policing

Beth focused on the tendency we have to question the motives of others and to decide who is sincere and who isn’t. She emphasized that it is God’s responsibility to figure people out, not ours. Sometimes we size people up to make sure they do spiritual things “our way” and we miss out on the new things we could be learning from them. We become so focused on our “brand” of Christianity and our little faith community that we can become ingrown.

Back in my college days I was involved in a vibrant campus ministry. It was biblically solid and intent on sharing the gospel with others. Every spring, this group encouraged the students to be part of its summer outreaches. I prayed about it each year, but felt led to serve in other ministries over the summer. Some of the students and leaders were disappointed by this and even questioned my spiritual maturity.

One fall when we returned for classes, a guy in the group approached me. He’d attended a Christian camp as a counselor with his home church and heard I’d served at another location of the same ministry. He was excited about the ways he’d seen God at work there and wanted to know more about my involvement with the camp. The suspicion with which he’d viewed me had ceased once he saw that the place I was serving was “legit.” He, and others like him, had been policing me and questioning my maturity because I was involved in a ministry they didn’t know. I was relieved when he recognized its worth, but also hurt that I’d been judged for so long.

If I’m honest, there are times when I’ve been on the other side of that equation. When I encounter a fellow believer who doesn’t know the same Christian buzzwords, who hasn’t read the same books or embraced the same ministries, I can be a bit suspicious, questioning the validity of his or her faith. However, when I take time to get to know the person, I’m often humbled to discover a deep faith that just looks a little different than mine from the outside. It makes me want to give people the benefit of the doubt more and to judge less. I’ll rely on God to give me the discernment I need instead of policing them with my human wisdom.

Pacing

I’ve learned a few things about pacing from watching snippets of NASCAR races with my husband and sons. If there is a safety issue on the speedway during a race, a pace car will be sent out on the track to lead the other cars. The pace car drives at a safe speed and the race cars stay in their positions behind it. Once the problem on the track is cleared, the pace car exits and the cars pick up the pace again. The race resumes and cars are free to pass and drive at any speed.

Imagine if the cars continued to drive at the same speed once the pace car left the track. It wouldn’t be much of a race if the vehicles weren’t doing what they were created to do: drive fast.

When we fear breaking pace with others to follow God’s call, we become a bit like race cars that drive like they’re following a pace car after it’s left the speedway  We limit our spiritual growth and miss out on the ways God wants to stretch us and use us when we try to keep pace with others. There are seasons when our gifts, vision and goals may align with others and this can be a rich, rewarding experience. However, we can also get so comfortable with a group that we fail to see when God is calling us in a different direction. Sometimes He beckons us to claim new ground for Him, but we hold back on advancing because we don’t want to break pace with a group we love. It feels awkward or painful to move forward without “our people” beside us. However, if God is calling us in different directions, we need to break pace and trust Him. When our focus becomes sticking with certain people instead of following God’s call, we limit opportunities to grow and to advance the kingdom of God.

For me, this has been a significant area of growth over the years. As God has led me in new directions, there have been challenges and painful moments, but I’ve seen Him at work in exciting ways. My faith has grown, my trust in Him has deepened and I’ve been blessed to maintain cherished friendships and connections to different ministries even as I’ve expanded into new areas.

It boils down to this simple truth: when we fix our eyes on Jesus, we won’t be as worried about policing or being policed. When we are more concerned with keeping pace with Him than with others, we allow Him to use us to advance His kingdom.

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)

The song “Fix My Eyes” by For King and Country inspires me to cease the policing and the pacing. Click on the link and let it do the same for you.


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Advance Part 3: Keeping Your Courage Tank Full

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“Failure is not an option.” Can you picture a macho guy in an action adventure movie saying this to his team before sending them out on an impossible mission? While it sounds great, failure is an unavoidable part of our lives. How we respond to failure is the place where we have control.

Beth Moore explored this idea at the Living Proof Live event I attended in Stockton in June. My last few posts have expanded on some of the themes from her acrostic: A-D-V-A-N-C-E.

So far, we’ve covered the first four letters:

A- A kingdom is coming

D- Dare to advance it

V- Vie fiercely in prayer

A- Add traction to your action

Today we’ll look at the next letter:

N- Never take a “no” from the devil

Beth explained that Satan uses our failures and defeats to diminish our effectiveness and to convince us we’ll never succeed. Whether it’s falling back into an old pattern of sin or seeing a ministry we’re involved with flounder, we tend to let failures have more power over us than they should. However, God can use our setbacks to His advantage. He can teach us humility and grace or show us areas that need to be surrendered to Him. Our failures fertilize the soil we need for growth.

When we fixate on our defeats, they cause us to wallow in fear and insecurity, preventing us from advancing in our spiritual journeys or taking ground for God’s kingdom.   Beth used the analogy of a tank of gas, describing the way failures can drain our “courage tank” if we don’t submit them to God.

The Apostle Paul describes it this way:  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20)

Evaluating how full our courage tanks are should be a regular practice when we’re serious about following Jesus. If we find the needle on our gauge pointing towards “empty” then it’s time to surrender our fears to God and let Him fill us with “sufficient courage.”

Beth asked “What would you be like if you were operating at full courage? What do you have to lose?”

For me, operating at “full courage” means that I’m finding my confidence in Christ and developing the potential God has given me. I’m relying on Him to work through me and to use my spiritual gifts for His glory. I’m not looking to other people to define me or make me feel worthwhile because God is enough for me. When I’m operating at “full courage” I experience joy because of God’s incredible love for me, not because circumstances are lining up according to my plans.

A few years ago I encountered a season of failure that caused my confidence to falter and my faith to stall.   Looking back, I see how Satan capitalized on my insecurity to diminish my effectiveness in advancing God’s kingdom.

Over the course of a year I developed friendships with two different women who were struggling personally and seeking me for wisdom and encouragement. As my relationship with each of them grew, natural opportunities to share the gospel arose. Both seemed interested and excited to learn more- whether it was attending church or meeting with me regularly. It was exhilarating to have them ask spiritual questions and to point them toward Jesus. And then, without warning, each of them cut off relationship with me within a few months of each other. No return phone calls or texts; no answers to my e-mails. If I happened to bump into them around town they were cool and distant.

I continued to pray for both of them, but I was confused and bitter—disillusioned that I’d put myself out there only to have the relationships end abruptly with no explanation.

For several years, I shied away from reaching out to others, assuming there was something I’d done wrong to turn them off. I could only see my perceived failure. Satan had cut me off at the knees and robbed me of my courage and confidence.

So, two years ago when a new friend began asking spiritual questions, I was wary and hesitant. Her persistence won me over and I began sharing more of my faith with her. Eventually she plugged into Bible study with me and later coaxed me into starting a Bible study with her to reach other women in our community. (I’ve written more about this story in the post “Being Open Handed is a State of Mind” in April 2013).

Because of my perceived failures in the past, I turned to God, asking for His guidance, wisdom and courage. Instead of relying on my own abilities and previous experiences, I sought Him with each plan and decision along the way.   He taught me to trust Him one step at a time and to rely on Him for my confidence instead of my own skill or the approval of others.

I’d grown to expect rejection and was not prepared to have so many of the women we invited say “yes” to joining us for a Bible study. My co-leader and I moved forward with our plans in obedience. We didn’t worry about failure because we trusted God would provide whatever outcome He thought best.

In the last year, ten of us have been meeting weekly to study the Bible. For most of the women, this is the first time they’ve ever studied Scripture in their lives. Watching them grapple with God’s word, apply it to their lives and see Him at work has been like watching flowers bloom in a garden. Seeing their growth has filled my courage tank and made me realize the joy that comes from being used by God. My “failures” from a few years ago made me rely on God so much more than I ever did in the past.

A few weeks ago our group members gathered with our husbands, kids and some additional friends to host an event for Stop Hunger Now. The women in the group were eager to respond to God’s love by doing a service project together. I was overcome with joy watching as our kids laughed together wearing hairnets and packing food for the needy. Around fifty people came to help. A year ago, most of these women hadn’t even read the Bible, yet now they were advancing God’s kingdom in their families as they reached out to the hungry across the globe.

I’m glad I didn’t take a “no” from the devil when I felt discouraged after being rejected by my two friends. Looking to God to redeem my failure paved the way for His kingdom to be advanced. God has an amazing way of using setbacks to further His Kingdom. Our job is to let Him do it.

If you’ve been in a season of failure, click on the link below and be encouraged by Jason Gray’s song “Nothing is Wasted.”

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.   (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

IMG_1187For more information on Stop Hunger Now, or to host a meal-packing event, go to: http://www.stophungernow.org