Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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The Fallacy of the “Epic Fail”

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From the moment I heard the phrase “epic fail,” I chose not to make it part of my vocabulary.   It seemed like everywhere I turned, I would hear people jokingly say “epic fail” to describe anything from burnt toast to a catastrophic train accident. This type of phrase, known as a “meme” (rhymes with “team”), is a cultural symbol or social idea that transmits quickly from person to person and becomes part of the fabric of our language and culture.

The first time my husband and I heard our boys say it, we added it to the list of “banned words” for our household. We didn’t want our boys over-using such a negative and exaggerated phrase to label mistakes, whether they were theirs or someone else’s. If they viewed every mistake as an “epic fail,” we thought they’d be less likely to stretch themselves to try new things.   Failure and mistakes are valuable tools for learning and we didn’t want them emphasized in such a negative way. Over-inflated descriptions like that have a way of defining us, even when they’re said in a joking manner.

When I read Beth Moore’s comments about the word “failure” in Children of the Day, the choice we’d made to ban the term was reaffirmed. She says: “Satan loves to fuel our feelings of failure. Just when we finally muster the courage to act or take a stand for the gospel, he prompts us to believe we blew it. Our feelings of failure can start an ongoing cycle of inadequacy: If we feel like failures, we’ll act like failures and, if we let that condemnation go unchecked, we’ll make our next decision out of the same perceived defeat” (Children of the Day, p. 41).

The Apostle Paul rejected the idea of failure and encouraged the Thessalonians to do the same. Acts 17:1-9 describes his visit to Thessalonica with Silas and Timothy and the riot that started as a result of his teaching. Their visit to Thessalonica ended with the three men fleeing the city at nightfall, leaving the new believers behind to deal with the mess. Still, in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul says:

“You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.   We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else” (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6a, NIV).

Paul did not view their efforts in Thessalonica as a failure because regardless of the outcome, he knew that he, Silas and Timothy pleased God by sharing the gospel with pure motives. They didn’t try to put a positive spin on a bad situation; they simply didn’t see it as a failure in any way.

How I wish I could say the same of myself. I’ve often let my perceived failures hinder me from moving forward with something that God is calling me to do. Once my feelings get hurt or my ego is injured, I’m tempted to sit on the sidelines and nurse my injuries instead of getting back into the game and trying again.

I’ve dealt with this repeatedly over the last few years as I’ve been growing and learning as a writer. It can be frightening to share a piece I’ve written and to ask for constructive feedback. Sometimes the observations people make sting. A few times I’ve even been brought to tears and have wanted to give up. However, I’ve begun to embrace those constructive comments and harsh words as opportunities to continue improving. I’m beginning to see my mistakes as tools to teach me. Since the ultimate goal of my writing is to encourage, inspire and challenge people in their faith, I want it to be the best it can be. This means learning from my mistakes and pressing on rather than letting them define me. My prayer is that, like Paul, my focus is not on pleasing my readers, but pleasing God.

When our efforts don’t look successful from a worldly perspective, it’s important to remember that: “Christ’s economy completely redefines failure…We can’t let Satan shut us in or he wins the battle. He’s trying to make wound-lickers out of warriors. When God opens the door again, let’s stand back up, brush ourselves off, and step through it” (Children of the Day, p. 42).

Paul reminds us of the power we can access through Jesus: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIV). Don’t let Satan deceive you with the sting of a past “failure” or the fear of a future one. Instead, adopt Paul’s attitude and reject the idea of the “epic fail.” If your motivation is pure and your goal is to please God, you will be a success every time, regardless of what the world sees.

The band MercyMe has a fantastic song out right now about rejecting the label of “failure.” Click on the link and be inspired by the catchy tune of “Greater.”

(Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com)

(For more information about memes, you can visit: http://netforbeginners.about.com/od/weirdwebculture/f/What-Is-an-Internet-Meme.htm)

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Strategically Placed

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If you’ve ever bought or sold a property then you’re probably familiar with the three most important selling points of a home: “location, location, location.” The well-known adage from the real estate industry emphasizes a simple point–a good location is the best advantage for a favorable sale.

It turns out that geography also impacted the early church’s ability to spread the gospel. During Paul’s years of ministry, the city of Thessalonica was positioned to have great influence over the surrounding regions: “It was a powerful metropolis with easy access to the interior and the northern frontier by means of good roads, and it lay not far from Asia and other Roman provinces by way of the sea” (Beth Moore, Children of the Day p. 33-4 quoting Gene L. Green).

Once the Thessalonians heard the gospel from Paul and accepted Christ, they took their strategic placement for sharing the gospel seriously: “The Thesssalonians looked outward. These were not a rustic people who were occupied only with local concerns but a city of great influence in all spheres, not only the political and economic but also the religious. Therefore it comes as no surprise to hear that when the Thessalonians turned from their idols to the true and living God, they themselves became the ones who brought the gospel to Macedonia, Achaia, and everywhere (v.8)” (see previous reference).

Paul highlights how the Thessalonians looked outward: “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Because of their central location and their passion to share the gospel, everyone knew about the Thessalonians’ faith in the One True God.

The city of Thessalonica was located on premium real estate, but today being strategically placed has more to do with our perspectives than our physical locations. With Jesus in our lives, every place has the potential to become strategic for sharing the gospel. When we’re filled with the Spirit, our faith in God becomes “known everywhere.” Whatever situation we find ourselves in has the potential to be used to further God’s kingdom.

At times it may not be clear how the Lord is using us strategically, but if we continue to abide with Him, walk in obedience and pray for opportunities to be used, He will reveal His plan in time. Sometimes, our job is simply to position ourselves in a spot where God can use us and then to wait and see what He does.

When our kids were little, my husband and I made a deliberate choice to send them to public school. We wanted to be lights for Jesus among those who didn’t know Him. Our neighborhood school was a good one and seemed like the right fit for our boys. Over the nine years they attended their elementary school, I volunteered alongside teachers and parents in many different capacities. Time spent at the school provided opportunities to build trust and develop friendships. Sometimes, it also gave me chances to share my faith in Jesus.

Four of those elementary years were spent pouring myself into an after-school math program. I’d prayed about doing it and felt God was calling me to it, but sometimes questioned whether teaching math was really the best use of my time. It didn’t feel very spiritually significant to me. I didn’t realize how God was laying a foundation for future opportunities. Through my involvement there, I developed close relationships with several different parents who co-taught with me.   One of those moms eventually came to Focused Living with me and later asked me to co-lead a smaller group study in her home. Another one of my previous co-teachers joined us and just began her second year with our group of ten women. (To read more about this story, see my blog “Being Open Handed is a State of Mind.”)

Now I see how God strategically placed me teaching math to fourth and fifth graders so that I could build those relationships and hone my teaching skills. The women in the home study are all there because God strategically placed them in my life or my co-leader’s life. We befriended them over the years through volunteering in classrooms, rooting for our kids on sports fields and crossing paths in our neighborhoods. Had it not been for that math class, I would not be experiencing the joy of pouring into them weekly as they learn from God’s word.

Strategic placement is about recognizing your proximity to others who need Christ’s love and then inviting God to use you in their lives. It takes time, patience and persistence. I continue to discover places where God has strategically placed me so that I can gain valuable experiences and bless others. Whether it is helping an elderly neighbor in distress, sharing lunch with a young mom in need of some adult conversation or providing encouragement to a struggling teen, any place in my life becomes strategic when I offer it up to God.

What areas in your life is God already using strategically? Maybe you’re not convinced your current “location” is a favorable one for Him to use. If that’s the case, pray and ask Him to open your eyes and show you where He wants to use you to further His kingdom. Here are a few ideas to consider:

-Within your home and extended family (spouse, kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, parents, in-laws)

-In your neighborhood (maybe it’s time to reach out to that neighbor whose name you don’t know)

-Anywhere you volunteer (secular or Christian)

-In your homeschool co-op (these parents rarely get a moment to themselves to read God’s word and be encouraged!)

-In your Christian school (families at Christian schools need to be encouraged to grow deeper too)

-Groups you belong to (Bunco, Bridge, quilting, college alumni, service organizations, country club, golf, tennis, bocce ball, hiking, gourmet, etc.)

-Places you frequent (grocery stores, doctor’s & dentist’s offices, staff and patients at your chemotherapy treatment center, banks, dry cleaners, hair/ nail salons)

-Places your kids are involved (schools, PTA meetings, sports teams, choirs, academic clubs, friends/ classmates)

-At work (co-workers, clients/ patients/ students)

Your strategic place can be with anyone anywhere. When the Holy Spirit leads the way, things just fall into place. He does all the work–you are simply His willing instrument.

Try praying a simple prayer like this: “God, open my eyes to a place in my life where You want to use me strategically to further Your kingdom. Pour out your Spirit and equip me with the tools I need to impact others for You.”

Post a comment to let us know how God is using you strategically!

If you still need further encouragement and inspiration, click on the link and enjoy Josh Wilson’s song “Pushing Back the Dark.”


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Pour Out Your Spirit

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Inspiring stories spill off the pages of the book of Acts. We see the lives of ordinary people transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, causing the message of the gospel to spread like a swollen river flooding the flatlands. Fishermen from sleepy villages spoke to educated men with wisdom, courage and authority. Believers gathered to pray fervently in the face of persecution and saw God move and work in mighty ways.

One of these stories happened in Acts 4 after Peter and John spoke confidently before the Jewish authorities about Jesus being the Savior of all people. When the Jewish leaders “saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

Peter and John returned to the other believers and gathered with them to pray about those opposing them. They spoke with conviction, inviting God to do a mighty work in them:

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:29-31)

The story is inspiring, but may feel like something that no longer happens in the modern world. Beth Moore begs us to reconsider: “Is He not the same God? Has He not said that He’d pour out His Spirit on His sons and daughters (Joel 2:28)? Must we hunker down in the cramped limits of the status quo? Or will we welcome Him to do the exceptional when He pleases, to wreck our small notions and loosen our tongues with ‘Who then is this who does such things?’” (Children of the Day p. 25)

Maybe these ideas intrigue you, but you wonder how something like this could happen in your life. Perhaps they sound intimidating, scary even. If you were trying to find this kind of courage or power on your own strength, you wouldn’t get very far.  Let’s not miss two key phrases from these stories: “these men had been with Jesus” and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Courage, boldness and authority flow through us when we are abiding with Jesus and letting the Holy Spirit fill us to capacity.  We’re just empty vessels, all the power comes from Him.

Everyone who accepts Christ receives the Spirit. After all, Ephesians 1:13 states it plainly: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit is not just a single event, however. It is an ongoing process. In the Acts 4 story above, the believers already had the Spirit, yet after they prayed they were “filled and spoke the word of God boldly.”

But how does that work? Can we continue to be filled more and more by the Spirit even after we’re saved?

Imagine a thimble filled with water. It’s at capacity, not another drop could fit inside. Now imagine a drinking glass. It’s bigger, so more water fits inside, but it’s still filled to capacity. Finally, imagine a swimming pool brimming over with water. Each of these containers has a limit and once it is exceeded, it will overflow. The bigger the container, the more the surroundings will get wet when it does.

In the same way, the Spirit impacts those around us as He fills us so full that we begin to overflow.  But unlike a solid container, our ability to receive Him increases each time He fills us and we pour Him out.  I think that’s what Joel 2:28 describes when the Lord says: I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.

Maybe the believers in Acts 4 had a swimming pool-sized capacity for the Holy Spirit because they invited His filling so often. They prayed bold prayers and asked God to move, and He did. They spoke with authority and acted courageously because the Spirit was flowing through them.

Whether our capacities for the Spirit are more in line with a thimble, a glass or something bigger, there is always room for expansion. May I humbly suggest that if you’re interested in seeing more of the Holy Spirit’s power in your life, you pray a simple prayer each day? Try something like this: “Lord, pour out your Spirit on me. Increase my capacity to receive you and to be used by you.”

The Holy Spirit does the work of enlarging our capacities incrementally over time as we seek God and grow in faith. Sometimes we may not realize it’s happening until we see Him do something in us that He hasn’t done before. Growth happens through consistently pursuing the Lord one step of obedience at a time.

The Thessalonian church saw the Spirit work. Beth Moore points out that both the writers of 1 & 2 Thessalonians and the readers “got wet with the work of the Spirit when the wave of the gospel flooded Thessalonica.” She says “I want to get wet in that wave too. Don’t you? I long to be keenly conscious of God’s power and presence when He makes Himself known…Authentic anointing: there is no substitute.” (Children of the Day p. 26.)

Let’s pray for “authentic anointing” as we study these sacred books together. I can’t wait to see the way the Spirit overflows in our midst.

Phil Wickham’s song “Heaven Fall Down” captures the idea of increasing our capacity for the Spirit. Let the words of the song become you prayer as you listen.


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The Power of “We”

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A wall of water sprayed up behind my son as he carved his sixth turn around a buoy on the waterski slalom course. Watching him from the boat, I raised both hands in victory and cheered for his accomplishment.   It was his first time successfully completing the course he’d been trying to master for the past several summers. My husband and I were thrilled with his tenacity and equally excited that he was embracing a sport we both love.

Waterskiing has been woven into the fabric of our family since my husband and I first met working at a Christian houseboat camp back in 1988. For us, loving Jesus, ministering to students, living in community, and experiencing the adrenaline rush of waterskiing were all part of the same package. They were the ingredients that had combined to lay a solid foundation for our life together.

Once we were married, our goal was to buy a boat to foster memorable experiences and deeper relationships. Over the years, we’ve enjoyed spending warm summer days out on the water. Our boys have never known life without the roar of a boat engine or the thrill of hearing the words: “It’s your turn to ski.” We’ve loved including friends and family in the fun over the years.

What makes this pastime magical for us is the shared experience. It’s not something any of us would do by ourselves.  It’s the power of “we” that has turned boating and waterskiing into such beloved activities for our family. Whether it’s just the four of us or a crowd of friends and cousins, it’s all about doing it together.

The power of “we” also applies to our lives as Christians. Beth Moore puts it this way: “’We is an amazing, empowering word. We are so much stronger than I am. We study so much harder than I would. We believe God for so much more than I could” (Children of the Day p.19, italics added for emphasis). Jesus said it another way: For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20).

While time alone in God’s word is crucial, it is equally important to gather with others consistently to learn, discuss and grow together. Being connected to a Bible study group enables us to have the accountability and challenge we need to press on in our faith. It connects our hearts and our lives and allows us to spur one another on toward spiritual maturity.

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well…  encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:8 & 12)

The lake where we ski has a regular group of people who come to enjoy time out on the water. While our ages and skill levels vary, we all enjoy discussing techniques, gear, news and people involved in the world of waterskiing. Spending time around others who love the sport and want to improve fuels our desire for it.

Participating in Bible study does this same thing for our faith. That’s why I look forward to fall and the launching of different Bible study groups I enjoy. I can’t wait to discuss the things I’m learning or to hear about the ways God is working in the lives of others. Proverbs 27:17 captures this idea well: As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another.

Many of the people reading this will be jumping into Focused Living at CPC in the near future for Beth Moore’s newest study on 1 & 2 Thessalonians called Children of the Day. If you’re still deciding if you want to commit, let me push you off the ledge and into the “yes” category. For those of you who live out of the area, I hope and pray you’re looking for a study where you can connect with others to deepen your faith.

If you’re a veteran to Bible studies, maybe it’s time to share the blessing with a person who hasn’t been involved in a while or who has never done it before.   Is it time to pray and ask Him to show you someone who is ripe for an invitation? Perhaps you could gather with a few people and meet in someone’s home to study together if a church Bible study seems too intimidating.

The joy that comes from being in community and growing in faith with others is beyond compare. The only thing that would top it for me is is if we were doing it by a lake and planning to ski a few sets afterwards. I think Jesus had the right idea:

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. (Mark 4:1)

In keeping with the “water theme” of this post, I’ve chosen to include Chris Tomlin’s song “Waterfall” to inspire you (there aren’t a lot of songs about waterskiing out there). I can’t wait to jump back into the waters of Bible study, splash in God’s goodness and experience the power of “we” with you.

Click on the link below to read the lyrics and listen to the song.