Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Grateful, Thankful, Blessed

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Preparing my heart for the upcoming Thanksgiving celebration, I’ve been reading through a familiar Psalm lately:

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100, NIV)

Although I’ve read it many times, a few things struck me in new ways (I love that about the Bible). Maybe some of these things will resonate with you too.

-It’s important to recognize truth about God’s character:

A big part of worshiping God and being thankful involves knowing who He is and what He’s done. Reminding ourselves of God’s attributes makes it possible for us to be even more thankful. The psalm reminds us of the foundation of our faith: He is good, His love endures forever and His faithfulness continues through all generations.

-It’s important to understand God’s superiority as well as His loving care:

The psalm points out that He is God, He made us, and we are His.   We are the sheep of His pasture, which means He watches over us and cares for us. Everything we have is from Him and we would not exist without Him.

-It’s important to approach God with a thankful heart:

Entering into God’s presence with a thankful heart enables us to draw near and praise Him. Sometimes I’m tempted to start my time alone with Him by asking Him to meet my needs first, but this psalm reminds me to start with praise and thanksgiving. Often when I do this, it gives me new perspective about what I need. Praising and thanking Him first puts both of us in our proper places- it elevates God and humbles me.

On my birthday last year my husband and sons gave me a throw pillow with the words “Grateful, Thankful, Blessed” printed on it. The pillow sits on my family room couch and reminds me daily to reject the attitude of entitlement that has infected our culture. When we believe we “deserve” things, we become self-centered and superior. Having a thankful heart requires humility. Seeing the words “Grateful, Thankful, Blessed” when I start my day encourages me not to take the many blessings I have for granted and to be grateful for all that God has done for me.

In light of this, I chose a few phrases from Psalm 100 that caught my attention and personalized them:

-God made me, which means He gave me my intellect, my gifts, my abilities, my body, and my personality. If I’m ever tempted to feel prideful or critical about any of these things, I have a distorted view of myself and am being ungrateful to God.

-I am His. I can find peace knowing that He holds me in His hands, even when I feel anxious or overwhelmed. He is with me and He is sovereign.

-His faithfulness continues through all generations. He was there with my parents and grandparents and He is there for my family now. He will be with my kids and their children after them. His faithfulness has no limitations and is not bound by time or place.

As you read Psalm 100, what phrases can you apply to your life? Can I encourage you to make it personal before you devote time to shopping, preparing food, or setting the table? Thanksgiving kicks off a holiday season of busyness, but don’t let the true meaning get buried under your “to do” list.

Here are a few ideas to think about before you pray your own psalm of thanksgiving:

What qualities of God’s character are you thankful for today?

What comforts you about knowing you are His?

How has he shown His faithfulness to you?

Is there anything you’ve been taking for granted that you can thank God for now?

For further inspiration, click on the link to hear Matt Redman’s song “10,000 Reasons.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Feet Fitted with the Readiness of Peace

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Peace is an absence of strife or anxiety. It is tranquility and serenity. Most of us long for a larger dose of it in our lives, both individually and globally.   When I imagine peace, I picture my anxieties put to rest. All is right within me and in the world around me. My relationships are harmonious, my surroundings are orderly and there is nothing to cause stress or discord. It seems, however, that these moments of peace are rare, mostly because they are based on exterior circumstances that are not within my control.

In both First and Second Thessalonians, Paul describes the Father as “the God of peace” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, NIV) and “the Lord of peace” (2 Thessalonians 3:16, NIV). Sometimes we want to interpret this to mean our lives will be free from difficulty. However, it’s no secret that the world is full of strife and discord. It’s been that way since Adam and Eve’s first bite of the apple in the garden.

We can be assured, however, that God will give us peace, regardless of our circumstances. When we surrender our illusion of control and trust Him, we’ll find a peace that “transcends all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7, NIV)

Beth Moore reminds us that we can trust in God’s peace even as spiritual battles rage all around us. “Peace never means more than in the context of war. Maybe one day in eternity God will let us see what was going on over our heads in the unseen realm while we were just trying to get through another day.” (Children of the Day, p. 206)

Paul gives a clear illustration of the weaponry we need to fight and defend ourselves in spiritual battle:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 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. 13 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. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 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. (Ephesians 6:10-18, NIV)

Among the items listed in our spiritual armor are “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (Verse 15) This contrasts the usual image I have of peace as being restful. I picture peace involving kicking off my shoes and lying down to relax. Here, however, peace comes from the readiness of putting on shoes and preparing for battle. And what is it that makes us ready? Knowing the “gospel of peace.” This kind of peace comes from Truth planted deep inside us that is based on trust in God. It is nothing like the peace that comes from exterior circumstances and the absence of strife. It is being ready for anything that comes our way because we know the almighty God has fit us for battle.

Beth Moore’s lesson on peace in Week 8, Day 4 of Children of the Day cites several verses in Deuteronomy that reassure us in times of battle. All of them say essentially the same thing: “Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.” (Deuteronomy 3:22, NIV) God goes before us and fights the battle for us. We get to reap the benefits of His victory.

Giving some context to these words in Deuteronomy is helpful. God gives these promises to the Israelites as they are traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land.   In order to take the land, they will have to engage in battle. God reassures them that He will go before them and fight for them.

Beth Moore’s lesson doesn’t mention what happens next, but I think it’s a good warning for us. Despite God’s many promises, the people give in to fear and do not trust Him. He reassures them numerous times, but they fail to believe He’ll come through for them. The Old Testament book of Numbers 14 tells the sad story of the Israelites losing heart when they reach the Promised Land. Before entering it, they send in spies to scout it out. The spies return saying: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large… We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”   (Numbers 13:27,28,31, NIV)

The Israelites panic upon hearing the spies’ report. “That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, ‘If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’” (Numbers 14:1-3, NIV) They want to return to the land where they and their ancestors were enslaved for four hundred years.   In response, God pronounces this judgment against them: “For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.” (Numbers 14:34-35, NIV)

God never promised the people peaceful circumstances, but He did promise He would go before them and that He would be with them. Instead of finding peace in that, they put their trust in their own logic. The odds looked like they were against them and they weren’t willing to believe the Lord, despite the fact that He’d never failed them before.

God equips us with what we need every time He invites us to grow past our comfort levels. However, we have a choice to make. Will we trust Him and fit our feet with the readiness of the gospel of peace or will we shrink back in fear?

It’s unlikely that He’s called you into a literal battle recently, however there are many other places He may be urging you to go with Him. Maybe it’s…

-Walking into the hospital room of a loved one

-Gearing up to have your contentious college student home for the holidays

-Facing a challenging situation at work

-Dealing with a relationship fraught with tension

-Preparing for a medical procedure you’re dreading

-Figuring out your finances and making a plan to get out of debt

-Answering the call to serve somewhere outside your comfort zone

-Pushing through your hesitation and sharing Jesus’ love with a hurting person

-Receiving the diagnosis you dreaded hearing

-Hosting houseguests with a gracious attitude

-Navigating the emotions of your unpredictable teenager

-Facing another sleep-deprived day caring for your little ones

-Showing grace to extended family members who make the holidays a challenge

Wherever your feet take you, I hope you’ll be praying as you put on your shoes each morning. Try something simple like this: “God please fit my feet with the readiness that comes from gospel of peace.” Take time to examine His word and to arm yourself with Truth as you face your day. Then, rest assured that God is with you wherever you go.

If you’re in a quiet, contemplative mood, you’ll be blessed by Laura Story’s song “Perfect Peace.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xizx6XM8o70

If you’re looking for a song that will make you stand up and shout, don’t miss Chris Tomlin’s “Whom Shall I Fear?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOkImV2cJDg

Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; Lifeway Press, 2014


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Proactive Prayer

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Baring its sharp teeth, the dog growled menacingly as it stood poised to attack. Fear had gripped my friend and me as we walked past it each day on our way home from elementary school.   Usually we would reassure one another by pointing out the long metal chain that was stretched taut as the dog strained against it. However, on this particular day, my stomach lurched as we noticed the chain was slack. The snarling dog had finally succeeded in breaking free. Before we had time to react, it lunged for my friend, pinning her to the ground. Panicked, my seven-year-old mind cycled through the options: Should I try to pull the dog off? No, I wasn’t strong enough and we’d probably both get hurt. Should I knock on someone’s door for help? No, I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers. Should I run to get my friend’s mom? Her house was several blocks away, but it seemed like the only sensible option. Beginning to cry, I stumbled down the street before stopping abruptly to turn back. How could I leave her like this? “God, please help!” I cried out in desperation. Shocked, I watched as the dog stepped away from my friend and calmly walked back into its yard, dragging the broken chain behind it.

My cry for help had unleashed the power of heaven on a quiet suburban street that day. As a first grader, I knew little about theology or the Bible, but I knew God loved me. I’d been reassured that Jesus was always with me because I’d invited Him into my heart. Difficult situations often lead us to seek God. I guess I experienced it first on that on that spring day at age seven.

The story of the dog attack stayed with me through the years and left me in awe of God’s power. I knew He was there for me and could help me in times of desperation and trials. However, it was not until much later that I understood prayer isn’t just something to engage reactively when we are in the midst of hard situations. God also invites us to look ahead and pray proactively about things yet to unfold. Proactive prayers anticipate future situations, both good and bad. They help to prepare us and invite God to intervene in advance.

The apostle Paul knew this. Throughout his writings, he repeatedly asked for prayer.   We see this in both letters to the church at Thessalonica:

“Brothers and sisters, pray for us.” (1 Thessalonians 5:25, NIV)

“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1, NIV)

If I’m honest, I’ll admit that Paul’s requests for prayer are so frequent I don’t usually notice them. Until recently, I’d skim over his opening and closing comments so I could focus on the meat of his teaching. However, I now recognize the vital role prayer played in his ministry.   The message of the gospel spread through the Roman Empire not because of Paul’s skills or efforts but because of God’s power unleashed through prayer. Beth Moore explains it this way: “Not one inspired writer of the New Testament letters had more to say about prayer. He did not sit smugly back, presuming that Jesus would fulfill His purpose through him with little proactive effort on his part. He pressed in and prayed hard. To Paul, prayer was part of the necessary means even to a divinely foreordained end.” (Children of the Day, p. 192)

Praying proactively is about receiving what God has promised in His Word. It claims what He’s already said is ours for the taking. This kind of prayer isn’t about asking God to do what we want–it’s meant to make our perspectives line up with His. I’ll give you a few examples to clarify. Afterwards you can share your own in the comments at the bottom of this post.

The Desires of Our Hearts

Psalm 37:4 makes this promise: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (NIV) I used to read this and not see how the first phrase informed the second. I thought something like this: Sure, I delight in God, so why doesn’t He give me this thing I want? Now I understand that when we take delight in the Lord, it means we are aligning our hearts with His. The desires of our hearts are also the desires of His heart. We know His heart by studying His Word. For example, we know that He values families and that He wants us to tell our children about Him so that they can love Him and know Him: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, NIV)

My desires for my children have changed over time as my understanding of God has grown. Instead of praying only about their circumstances, I pray more about their hearts. I pray they will value God’s Word and long for a deeper relationship with Him. I pray they will have teachable hearts and be open to the ways the Lord wants to work in and through their lives. I pray that they will delight in Jesus as I delight in Him. I pray they will become men of integrity and character. That is the desire of my heart. Of course I want them to have healthy relationships and a good education. I want them to launch and become successful adults, but I believe the most important thing I can pray is that they will love God and value His Word. God’s Word assures me He wants the same for them.

Fulfilling His Call

Paul was called to share the gospel among the gentiles. He asked for prayer that the message would “spread rapidly and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:6, NIV). As followers of Jesus, we are all called to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19, NIV). Each of us has a part to play in sharing the gospel with others, whether or not we have the gift of evangelism. If this sounds daunting, remember that we do this through the power of the Spirit, not our own abilities. When we ask the Lord to identify people He wants to love through us, He will answer that prayer. Our job is to abide in Him and take action when He reveals someone who is ready to hear the good news. Second Peter 3:9 assures us that God doesn’t want anyone to perish, so we can pray with confidence knowing that asking for help us share His love is the very thing He wants us to do.

Changing Our Hearts, Not Just Our Circumstances

Without a doubt, the default mode of most people is to pray about their circumstances. The situations we face every day shape our attitudes, our relationships and our actions. It’s tempting to pray and ask God to fix or change difficult and frustrating situations. While this isn’t a bad thing to pray, it’s overlooking the fact that our circumstances have much to teach us. I think that’s Paul’s point when he says “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, NIV) Instead of praying for our circumstances and waiting to see if/when/ how God is going to work in them, we can try changing our perspectives with these simple prayers:

“God, show me what you want me to learn through this.”

“God, refine my character.”

“God, reveal yourself to me.”

“God, help me to show your love, mercy and grace to others who are going through this hard thing with me.”

“God, be glorified in this situation and reveal how You are using it for good.” (See Romans 8:28)

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23, NIV)

Praying proactively requires us to step outside our current circumstances and to have an eternal perspective. It also means we need to study the Bible so that we can know God’s will and pray for His kingdom to spread on earth. His power is within reach, but we get to decide whether or not we want to receive it.

Praying opens the floodgates of Heaven, enabling us to access God’s glory and power. For more inspiration, click on the link to hear Meredith Andrews’ song “Open Up the Heavens.”


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Do Not Be Deceived

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“Yo, ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!” I sing and clap along with my seatmates as we float through the amusement park ride. Slipping past us are scenes of a seaside village being overrun by jovial pirates. On one side, a line of women tied together with a rope stands waiting for their turn on the auction block. A pirate auctioneer points out what wonderful “brides” they’ll make. Most of the women pose, smile and try to appear attractive. Further down we float past two drunken pirates recklessly shooting guns at one another while perched precariously on kegs of gunpowder. Describing these scenes without the catchy soundtrack that plays throughout the ride gives them a different feel. If we took the smiles off the characters’ faces, the playful nature would be gone altogether.

If I think about it, the scenes we’re witnessing in this ride are horrific. Marauding pirates are finding drunken pleasure in terrorizing a sleepy village while women are being sold to the highest bidder. Yet it’s depicted in such an appealing way that we laugh, smile, and hum the memorable tune as the ride comes to an end.

My example here isn’t intended to condemn the amusement park or the ride. However, it does provide a perfect example of how easily Satan deceives us by making blatant sin seem appealing, fun and harmless.   We can be so absorbed by his lies that we fail to realize the sins we embrace or choose to overlook are meant for our harm, not our good: “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a, NIV)

Maybe that’s why I like Paul’s clear words: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3a, NIV) Our culture is full of deception as Satan lulls us into thinking of sin as fun and exciting while viewing righteousness as boring or unattractive. You don’t have to look very far in the world of advertising or entertainment to understand what I mean. We can easily be deceived into thinking that certain sins are “no big deal” or “all in good fun.” Rarely do we see the ugly consequences depicted later.

With our guards down we get lulled into complacency and compromise. Things that should upset us because they dishonor God no longer make us flinch. This is one of the many ways Satan deceives us and renders us ineffective as Christians. Jesus describes Satan as “a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44b, NIV)

Despite the deceiving allure of sin, a world without God’s love and goodness would be far from appealing.   Beth Moore paints a vivid picture: “If the entire law of God hinged on love, swing your head the opposite direction and picture the exact reverse. In the light of that darkness, you’ll begin to formulate the basic structure of lawlessness. Feel the temperature of warm hearts plummet to frozen tundra. Picture a world where people couldn’t care less about their neighbor.” (Children of the Day p. 171)

A world devoid of God’s presence would be an awful place, even for those who do not acknowledge Him. The Bible tells us that God is good, God is light and God is love. He doesn’t just bring these things to earth; He is the embodiment of them. This means anywhere that light, goodness and love exist on the earth, God is present. I believe this is true even in places where people refuse to acknowledge Him. That is why “the hellishness of hell will be the absence of God.” (Children of the Day p. 172)

Let’s consider this for a minute with a few Scripture passages to help us.

God is Light

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:1-4, NIV)

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.“ (1 John 1:5, NIV)

-Both passages above show that God created literal light and it is He who sustains it.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12, NIV)

-Jesus is the light of the world and makes it possible for us to move from spiritual darkness into spiritual light.

“There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:5, NIV)

-In the earth’s last days when Jesus returns, God will be the source of all light.

God is Good

“You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.” (Psalm 119:68, NIV)

-Strong’s Concordance explains: “God is good in the very widest sense of the word including His nature, character, and actions.”

God is Love

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8, NIV)

-The Wycliffe Bible Commentary explains: “Love is not simply a quality which God possesses, but love is that which he is by his very nature.”

Can you imagine living without light, goodness or love? While some people may take them for granted or not acknowledge God as their source, we daily reap the benefit of their existence in our world.

As Christians we have to make a clear and intentional choice not to be deceived by Satan and his lies. Paul gives us the best remedy for this. “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NIV)

We have the honor of holding the Word of God in our hands and have the freedom to access it at any time. We can study it alone using a multitude of resources or gather with others to learn and grow. Current events remind us that this is not the case everywhere in the world today. Let’s not take this great privilege for granted. We must be on our guards to avoid being lulled into complacency by attractively disguised sins. Engaging God’s word daily is the best defense for keeping ourselves from falling prey to deception.

“Forever Reign” by Hilllsong is a fantastic worship song describing some of God’s attributes that were highlighted in this post. Click on the link to hear some Truth set to music.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRBQtIEEkrU

Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; Lifeway Press, 2014

Pfeiffer, Charles, F. & Harrison Everett F; Wycliffe Bible Commentary; Moody Press 1990, p. 1475

Strong, James; Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2001, p. 103