Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Frenzy is Not Your Friend

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Snuggling up next to me on the couch, my son settled in for a good story. He was home sick from school and thoroughly enjoying a little quiet time with my undivided attention. After a hectic week, both of us enjoyed slowing down to read a favorite illustrated book from his childhood: Jennifer and Josephine by Bill Peet.

Told from the perspective of a stray cat named Josephine, the story describes her days spent living in the back seat of an old touring car. The opening scene depicts a junkyard with the rusted out car, named Jennifer, slowly falling apart. Much to Josephine’s surprise, however, a traveling salesman buys the old car planning to drive her hard until she dies.

After riding in the backseat for a few miles, Josephine nicknames the salesman “Mr. Frenzy,” highlighting his constant rush to get from one place to the next. She describes him as a pushy, rude bully who drives Jennifer quickly and carelessly over winding country roads. Mr. Frenzy takes one risk after another, with no heed for other drivers or the property that he destroys along the way.

Reading the story made me think of times when I could be nicknamed “Mrs. Frenzy.” The busier I become and the more I cram into my schedule, the less sensitive I become to those around me. There is an illusion of control that comes with packing my schedule full. However, when I leave no margin in my time, I become thoughtless, impatient and irritable. Anything that stands in the way of accomplishing my agenda becomes an obstacle to be removed.

Usually, when I’m behaving like “Mrs. Frenzy,” I leave a wake of destruction in my path, much like the traveling salesman in the Bill Peet story. For starters, my frantic pace causes me to ignore basic household tasks: piles of clean laundry sit for days waiting to be folded and unopened mail clutters the counter. As I let the urgent overshadow the important, I become insensitive to people and don’t tend to relationships the way I should. In my frenzied state, I’m not open to being interrupted by people who need my help or attention. And most important of all, my frantic pace causes me to feel impatient even when I’m trying to spend time with God.

It’s funny how the Lord sends the same message in different ways until we finally receive it. The same week I read the story about Mr. Frenzy to my son, I’d read a devotion entitled “Silencing My Soul” that convicted me in a similar way. Using a psalm as her inspiration, the author challenges readers to spend five minutes daily being still before God, just listening for His voice and enjoying His presence: “But I have stilled and quieted my soul.” (Psalm 131:2, NIV)

The day I read it, I was already heading toward “Mrs. Frenzy” mode and had been rushing through my quiet time so I could get on with my day. Reading the printed prayer at the end of the entry convicted me: “Dear Lord, my soul is having a hard time being still. I lay down my resistance to silence, and commit to five minutes of daily silence with You for the next month. I praise You in advance for what You are going to say to me in the silence. Thank You for the rest only You can give. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” (Wendy Pope, Encouragement for Today, p. 26)

It was no coincidence that I read that devotional on a day when I was in a rush. It was yet another reminder that I need to focus on God’s agenda for my day instead of trying to maintain a frenzied pace attempting to get everything done. It’s amazing how trusting Him allows me to accomplish exactly what I need to do. I guess that’s a picture of Jesus’ words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

The “yoke” described here is a tool used for plowing a field. It is a curved piece of wood with two slots fitted over a pair of oxen. Imagine how unbalanced it would be to have one animal trying to carry a yoke meant for two. Similarly, when we try to carry our burdens on our own, we feel weary and beaten down. For someone like me, the added weight causes me to feel frenzied and overwhelmed. However, when we yoke ourselves to Jesus, He gives us the strength we need because we are walking in step with Him. There is no need to be frantic when the Maker of the earth and stars walks beside us and shares the load.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 46:10, “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’” (NIV)

Another translation says: “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (NASB)

When we take time to be still, God reminds us He is Lord of all and we are not. Our striving is a vain attempt to be in control of our lives. Ultimately, it makes us exhausted and depleted. However, when we quiet our souls, we are reminded to put God in His proper place as the main focus and priority in our lives.

When I’m “Mrs. Frenzy,” my priorities are based on my agenda. I’m wild-eyed, impatient and definitely not someone who is restful to be around (just ask my family). In conquer mode, I usually do a lot more harm than good. However, when I’ve taken time to be still and have spent time being filled up by the Holy Spirit. I give God room to bless others through me. I’m at peace, which allows others to be restful in my presence.

Will you join me in taking the challenge to spend five minutes being still before God every day for a month?   You might be surprised at how long it feels as you try to empty your mind and focus solely on resting in Him.   I’ll give you a little boost for your first time– just click on the link and listen to “Be Still and Know” by Stephen Curtis Chapman. If you can be still for 3 minutes and 16 seconds to listen to this song then you only have another minute and 44 seconds to go!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgaHaioAjyg

Peet, Bill: Jennifer and Josephine; Houghton Mifflin; 1967.

Swope, Renee; TerKeurst, Lysa; Evilsizer, Samantha and the Proverbs 31 Ministries Teams; Encouragement for Today; Zondervan; 2013.

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Receiving God’s Gifts Requires Action

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Rolling over on my side, I looked at the clock and groaned. It was three in the morning and I was wide-awake–my mind churning through a series of “what ifs” and unfinished items on my “to do” list. I had one more day to make preparations before my husband and I would be leaving on a trip, but instead of being excited, my stomach was tangled in a knot of stress. Months earlier he came home from work with a glossy brochure depicting white sand beaches and swaying palm trees on the sunny shores of Florida. It looked enticing and wouldn’t cost us a thing, but all of the preparations necessary seemed daunting. As our departure date drew nearer, I felt bad about being away from our kids and worried about all of the responsibilities I was leaving behind. For a fleeting moment, we even considered cancelling the trip, wondering if the stress it was causing was worth it.

Fortunately, wisdom prevailed and we realized our boys would be fine and our responsibilities would still be waiting for us when we returned. I boarded the plane with a backpack full of books, ready to tackle some projects that needed to be accomplished. I’d been putting them off for a while and figured I could be productive while my husband attended morning meetings.

On our first day there I propped my feet on a chair overlooking the ocean and sat with my Bible and journal on my lap.

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As the warm breeze soothed me and I listened to the waves crash on the shore, I prayed and asked God to forgive me.  For months my life had been moving at a frantic pace and I’d been craving rest and refreshment, yet when He provided something far greater than my hopes, I’d almost rejected it. I needed some time to let my soul catch up with me. Instead of jumping in to tackle my projects, I prayed and offered God my precious hours of free time.   I sat and enjoyed His presence, letting His peace wash over me.

Later, as my husband and I relaxed on the beach I realized our trip was a great illustration for our spiritual lives. The Bible makes it clear that God has so much to offer us through His free gift of grace. Still, we have to make the choice to accept it and to invite Him to transform every aspect of our lives. He doesn’t just want us to look at the enticing brochure with pictures of a tropical paradise. He wants us to accept the gift and experience swimming in the warm water of His love and digging our toes into the sand of His grace.

IMG_0425Do you ever glance at the Bible like a travel brochure–dreaming about the places God could take you but never actually letting Him show you first hand? It’s great to study about concepts like love, grace, faith and forgiveness. However, until we begin putting them into practice, they aren’t really affecting us. Take a look at the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 and you’ll see what I mean. The revered Bible characters listed there showed their faith in God through believing His words and then taking action. There are a lot of verbs in that passage. Heroes of the faith like Abraham, Noah, Moses and Rahab demonstrated that they believed God’s words by following His instructions.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in light of a passage God keeps bringing to mind. In Ephesians 3:20 the apostle Paul reminds us that God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (NIV) I can imagine some pretty big things, so if God’s power can do even more than what I can think of, then I want access to it. I don’t want to just know it’s there– I want to see how He can use it in my life. I don’t want to let the worries of my daily life choke out the opportunities to see God at work. Instead, I want to give my challenges, fears and dreams to Him and trust that He can work through them.

I almost let my worries keep me from an amazing trip with my husband. There is so much I would have missed if we hadn’t gone, and I never would have known it. And the thing that makes me smile most is that God did provide time for me to open every book I brought in my backpack. But instead of being in a frenzy of productivity, I found time to read and study when God prompted me. After being refreshed by Him, I enjoyed working on my projects instead of seeing them as a chore.

It’s funny how often I need to be reminded that when I invite God into my circumstances He makes everything fall into place. He even fills me with joy and peace in the process.

To hear more about this idea, click on the link to hear Jamie Grace’s song “It’s a Beautiful Day.”


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Staying Spiritually Sharp

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Clutching the packet of paper-wrapped knives, I walked to my car. It felt good to get them sharpened—a task that had been on my “to do” list for far too long. As I’d chatted with the man who had done the work for me, I asked, “How often do you suggest getting knives sharpened?”

“Oh, I’d say every six months or so, depending on how much you use them and how well you care for them.” I smiled to myself realizing I hadn’t been quite that diligent. The last time I had my knives sharpened was sometime during George W. Bush’s Administration.

I’d heard for years that a dull knife was dangerous. With a little research I found out why this is true from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. In a short demonstration video, kitchen tester Bridget Lancaster explains that a dull knife is “an accident waiting to happen.” She goes on to say, “A dull blade will require more force to do the job. That will increase the chances of slipping and missing the mark.”

Her use of the phrase “missing the mark” caught my attention since it is one of the definitions used for sin (taken from a term used in archery). The experience with my dull knives also reminded me of a favorite verse: Continue reading


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Tying a Bow on Three Great Studies

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I’m a big fan of closure. When I come to the end of something, I like to pause and reflect on all that I’ve learned and how it’s impacted me. With another year of Bible study coming to a close at Focused Living, it seems like a good time to take inventory of the major themes we’ve been studying since September.

If you attend Focused Living, you’ll see this post complements my teaching at our end of the year brunch. For those of you who follow this blog but don’t attend the study, you’ll find some good nuggets of truth. (You might even be inspired to try doing one of the studies). The passages we’ll use will help us to see what God calls us to do and how we can apply that truth to our lives. I pray you’ll be inspired to put the things we’ve learned into practice.

Children of the Day

Beth Moore’s study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians focused on the major them of living as “children of the light” based on this verse:

“You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” (1 Thessalonians 5:5, NIV)

And what are we supposed to do as children of the day? Our answer comes a few verses later:

“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8, NIV)

Using armor as a metaphor, the passage urges us to keep faith and love close to our hearts (the breastplate) and hope protecting our heads (the helmet).

This sounds great in theory, but how are we to put this into practice?

“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)

Rejoicing and giving thanks continually protects our hearts. These attitudes reveal faith and trust in God that goes beyond our immediate circumstances. Even when we don’t understand the things He allows in our lives, we know God is working them out according to His will and for our good. Similarly, praying continually protects our minds and helps us to keep hope central in our thoughts, no matter what we are experiencing.

I like using visual reminders to communicate themes. Because I don’t have any suits of armor handy, I’m giving you a more modern version of a helmet and breastplate (my son’s lacrosse helmet and chest pads). Let them remind you of the spiritual protection we need for our heads and hearts.

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One in a Million

Priscilla Shirer’s study on the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land focuses on giving us courage in our journeys through the “wilderness” of difficult seasons in our lives. She encourages us to trust God in our hardships and to fix our eyes on the hope found only in Him. Continue reading