Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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God is Greater- What Love Is Week 4

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Remember learning math in elementary school? Teachers would use all sorts of visual and tangible things to help us understand the different concepts. One I’ll never forget was learning the symbols for “greater than” and “less than.” Although the symbols were simple, it was hard for the kids in my class to remember which side of the “<” and “>” symbols represented the larger and smaller numbers. So my teacher cleverly told us to imagine a hungry alligator eating the number. Of course, his open mouth would face the greater number so that he had more to eat. I thought about that visual recently as I read 1 John. It’s reassuring to know that God is greater than some of the most powerful influences we face every day.

 God is Greater than Our Hearts

We often hear the phrase “follow your heart,” but if we heed this advice, the results aren’t always positive. In Scripture, the heart is used to represent thoughts, reasoning, understanding, will, judgment, affections, love, hatred, fear, joy, sorrow and anger. As a result, the heart can often lead us to make decisions based on our feelings instead of on truth. Sometimes it leads us down the right path, but sometimes it doesn’t. The prophet Jeremiah describes the heart’s fickle nature this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)

Our hearts can deceive us when we let them influence our faith too much. They can cause us to be too harsh or too lenient in our views of others and ourselves. If we’re feeling disconnected from God, this might cause us to doubt his love for us. And if we get stuck in a rut of sin, we might feel like we no longer deserve God’s love. Thankfully, “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20, NIV) Our salvation is not based on our feelings about God, but upon the grace, love and mercy he showed to us by sending Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. If you’ve accepted Christ as your savior, that is a truth you can believe, whether your feelings agree with it or not.

God is Greater than The Evil One

John’s letter also emphasizes that Christians are spiritually stronger than spirits of evil. He says, You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:3-4, NIV)  The “one” John refers to here is Satan, the prince of this world.

The evil one loves to distract believers with difficulties to prevent them from advancing the kingdom of God on earth. He wants to deceive us into believing we are powerless to fight his schemes. Sometimes he lulls us into apathy or self-absorption. Regardless of the methods he uses, his aim is the same: to take our eyes off of God and to make us forget that we have already claimed victory over him because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So the next time you’re facing discouragement, distress or any other negative situation, stop and pray.   Thank God that he is greater than the enemy and claim the Lord’s power over whatever difficulty you are facing.

God is Greater than the World

It doesn’t take much to realize that living for Jesus means living contrary to the majority of the world. Christ followers spend their days swimming against the tide of popular opinion and worldly philosophies. And just like physical exercise makes our bodies stronger, this “spiritual exercise” makes our faith stronger. It can also make us a little weary sometimes.

Although the world often sees following God’s commands as impossible, Scripture makes it clear that obeying God is within our grasp:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5, NIV)

We are victorious whenever we choose to reject the world’s influence on our thoughts and actions and follow God’s ways instead. This happens when we seek his direction for major life decisions instead of following worldly wisdom. It also occurs through daily decisions about the way we spend money and time, the company we keep, the pleasures we pursue and the ways we treat others. There is no need to feel burdened by these decisions. Doing things God’s way frees us up to grow closer to him and to discover more of the abundant life he has for us.

Claiming God’s Greatness

Maybe you need a reminder right now that God has overcome these areas in your life. Are your emotions influencing your thoughts more than the truth found in the Bible? Be encouraged that God is greater than your heart. Is Satan toying with you by causing you to believe lies or to wallow in self-pity? Be empowered knowing that God has overcome the evil one. Are the hollow philosophies and sinful choices of our culture wearing you down or lulling you into complacency? Be energized knowing that through Christ, you have overcome the world.

There are two great songs based on these truths that always encourage me. Click on the link to hear “Greater is He” by Blanca and “Greater” by Mercy Me.

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Inspired by Holy Week

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As one of the most significant times of the year for Christians, Holy Week marks the final days of Jesus’ pre-resurrection life on earth. As we observe each unique event, Jesus’ actions provide some powerful examples for us to follow. Let’s examine three of them and see how we’re called to respond.

Maundy Thursday- The Call to Serve Others

The gospels tell us that Jesus gathered with his disciples in an upper room of a home in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal. You may remember that this special dinner commemorated God’s faithfulness to the Jews as they fled from Egypt under Moses’ leadership (see Exodus 12 if you need reminder). Ironically, the disciples had no idea Jesus was about to serve as their ultimate Passover lamb the next day when he would be crucified.

Scripture tells us that as the disciples enjoyed the meal, Jesus got up, removed his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist and began washing his disciples’ feet one at a time. Despite the fact that he was their teacher and the most revered person at the table, he humbled himself, taking on the role of a servant.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’” (John 13:12-17, NIV)

Jesus’ directions to his disciples were simple, but not easy: they were called to live as humble servants, putting the needs of others ahead of their own. Those following him today are called to the same thing. We do this as an act of love and obedience to God, whether others appreciate it or not. Jesus promised that we would be blessed by living this way.

Good Friday- The Call to Sacrifice Your Agenda

A few hours after the Passover meal and before he was arrested, Jesus pleaded with God as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He dreaded the fate that awaited him:

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’…He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done’…So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.” (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44, NIV)

The “cup” Jesus referred to here was a symbol the deep sorrow and suffering he would experience as his Father’s faced turned away from him while he bore the penalty for the sins of the entire human race.  Despite knowing the physical, emotional and spiritual pain that awaited him, Jesus surrendered to God’s plan of redemption, put aside his own will and submitted to death on the cross to save the world from sin.*

Like Jesus, we’re called to sacrifice our agendas for a greater good. Then [Jesus] said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23, NIV)

Each time we choose to put aside our will and submit to God’s, we are fulfilling the call to deny ourselves. Doing this requires that we are intentional about praying and asking God to give us strength and guidance for the daily choices we make, both small and large.

Easter Sunday- The Call to Share the Good News

 On the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave, conquering death forever more. He appeared to his amazed followers and told them to share the good news of his resurrection and his message of salvation with the rest of the world.

 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:19-22, NIV)

Just as God sent Jesus to the world to free it from sin, Jesus sent his disciples back into the world to share this tremendous news with others.

Our Response

 It’s not easy to follow Jesus’ example. Serving others, sacrificing our personal agendas and sharing the good news aren’t things we can do consistently on our own strength. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or inadequate, don’t forget the fact that Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit and promised us peace. Through the Spirit, we have everything we need to walk as Jesus did. Start today by praying and asking the Spirit to equip you with exactly what you need. Once you realize he is the key to fulfilling these calls, you’ll never try to do it without him again.

If you’re not sure how to pray, consider making Jeremy Camp’s song “Christ in Me” your prayer today. Click on the link to be inspired:

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Confident and Unashamed- What Love Is, Week 3

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And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.  1 John 2:28 (NIV)

 Writing to the disciples of Jesus, the apostle John speaks tenderly, reminding them how much their Father in heaven lavishes his love upon them. He calls them “children of God” and gives them clear explanations for how their lives can reflect this profound truth. John writes passionately to believers that were being thrown into confusion by false teaching and ungodly influences in their culture. It doesn’t sound all that different from our current times.

In the verses spanning from 1 John 2:28 to 3:38, John lays out three clear explanations for children of God to understand how they can remain confident and unashamed in their faith. Applying John’s teaching would enable them to stand firm in the truth of God’s love. It will do the same for us as we contend with today’s culture.

Dealing with Sin

John repeats the same topic several times in this chapter: No one who lives in Christ keeps on sinning. Obviously we don’t become permanently sinless after we confess our sin and accept Jesus into our lives. But, as Kelly Minter puts it, we are “free of the dominant power of sin…our not sinning is not about how much harder we try. It’s about our relationship with our Father and His Son.” (What Love Is p. 89)

Just flipping through channels on TV, popular magazines, websites and books, it’s clear that our world celebrates sin and promotes self-gratification above all else. We’re rarely called to consider the consequences of our choices on others or ourselves. And we’re certainly not encouraged to think about how they affect our faith journeys.

However, as we grow in our relationship with God and understand the life he calls us to live, we’re drawn toward him and away from sin. Sin no longer entices us the same way because we know it’s going to hurt God and us. And when we do slip into sin, we’re quick to confess it because we know God will forgive us and we want to restore our relationship with him.

Don’t be Led Astray

John makes a point to say, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” (1 John 3:7, NIV) He admonishes us to look at the lifestyles and choices of the people that we trust for wisdom and advice.

There are countless places we go for these things: family, friends, magazines, blogs, websites, books, and personalities on TV, to name a few. It’s crucial that we consider the sources we’re allowing to influence us and that we ensure they hold to the same biblical truths we do. It’s not uncommon for followers of Jesus to embrace views in popular culture without a second thought, never realizing they are contrary to God’s Word.

Before reading articles, logging onto blogs or watching favorite shows, think about the messages you consistently receive from them. Compelling plots and interesting characters can get us hooked on books or shows that are shaping our views in ways that don’t honor God.  And just because a person looks appealing or speaks with authority doesn’t make their opinion worth adopting. Stop and think about how their words and actions measure up with the gospel. If they’re out of sync, you might be opening yourself up to being led astray.  Once you recognize the discrepancy, you can decide if they are still worth your time or if you would be better off without them.

 Love One Another

In the last portion of the chapter, John moves on to explain that loving one another is a powerful witness to our relationship with God. Over and over John tells us that we should love one another, regardless of whether we’re treated well or not. He says, “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18, NIV)

I’m amazed by how often in our culture we’re encouraged to withhold forgiveness, hold grudges, seek revenge and let our negative emotions dictate our actions and attitudes. Some of today’s most popular songs and shows regularly espouse messages of hate. It seems that being angry and vengeful equates with being powerful in today’s culture. God’s Word tells us nothing could be further from the truth.

 Tying All Three Together

I used to have a favorite magazine that I only bought on vacations. I thought it was harmless looking at pictures of famous people, catching up on the “scoop” in their lives and learning about the latest trends. However, once I had kids, I realized that I was exposing them and myself to lifestyles and ideas that were totally contrary to God’s ways. What seemed like a “guilty pleasure” was subtly influencing me. The magazine celebrated people who were confident and unashamed of their poor choices, desensitizing me to sins so prevalent in popular culture. At the same time, it was causing me to view the lives of the people in the pictures and articles as fodder for gossip.   I didn’t see them as real people loved by God, I was only interested in the entertainment their colorful lives provided for me. As the Holy Spirit worked in my life, the magazine not only lost its appeal, it sickened me. The allure was gone.

Dealing with sin, avoiding being led astray and loving others aren’t the source of our salvation, but evidence that we follow the one true God. Following John’s advice makes us confident and unashamed in God’s presence and provides light and hope for a world wallowing in darkness.

Click on the link and be reminded of theses tremendous truths by listening to “Children of God” by Third Day.

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Three Responses to the World- What Love Is, Week 2

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Frowning, I rifled through the clothes hanging in my closet. Despite the many things I had to choose from, nothing felt quite “right” for the occasion. My husband and I were preparing for an event with a group of people that often stirred up my insecurities. On the surface they seemed so flawless to me with their fashionable clothes, successful careers and beautiful homes. Any time I was around them I felt like an outsider pretending that I belonged.

After choosing an outfit that seemed marginally acceptable, I sat down to work on Day 5 in Kelly Minter’s What Love Is Bible study. Conviction pricked at my heart as I read: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, NIV)

I thought about the people I’d be seeing in a few hours. Most of them had achieved great success from a worldly perspective, yet they knew nothing of God. They had no clue about what it meant to live for what lasts. I felt convicted realizing I’d been so busy preparing my clothes to fit in with them that I’d forgotten to prepare my heart so that God could use me to impact them.

Navigating the divide between worldiness and godliness is tricky for followers of Jesus. How do we interpret Scriptures that condemn worldly thinking when we have to interact with people who embrace it every day? I think there are three main ways Christians respond to this.

The Covert Christian

There is a contingent of believers that engages easily with non-believers in worldly situations. Sometimes they become so adept at fitting in, no one would ever know they held different beliefs than the rest of the crowd. Their reasons for doing this are varied—some are insecure and afraid to stand out, others don’t want to be labeled or judged, still others want to remain culturally relevant to show the world that Christians aren’t a bunch of weirdos. Some aren’t confident in their knowledge of Scripture or their ability to defend their faith and decide it’s just easier to stay quiet. And some just want to have fun and ignore deeper issues. (Most of my knowledge with this category comes from first hand experience.)

There is an appropriate time and place to be subtle in our faith. Developing a relationship over time and letting a person see Jesus in your life can be a powerful and effective witness. However, many covert Christians never reach this point because they’ve become so adept at blending in, no one sees anything different in them. For the “covert” approach to work effectively, it’s important to pray for the people in the worldly circles you frequent. If you’ve compartmentalized your faith and it only shows with your Christian friends, your unbelieving friends are missing out. Pray and look for opportunities to influence your worldly friends and acquaintances more than they are influencing you.

The Holy Huddler

Another contingent of believers chooses to remove themselves from the world and its influences as much as possible. They prefer to create a bubble of comfort that insulates them from anything they see as a threat to their faith. They spend time with only Christians doing Christian activities. They keep their kids away from any exposure to the outside world or people with views that differ from theirs.

While the Bible does call us to be “set apart, ” there is a problem when we take this mentality to an extreme. Our lives should look different when we follow Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid anyone who doesn’t know him. On the contrary, we should be seeking opportunities to influence them. John 3:16, perhaps the most famous verse in Scripture, tells us that God loved the world so much he sent his only son to save it. If God was willing to do this, then we need to follow his example by reaching out to the world. Holy huddles can be comfortable places to find rejuvenation when the world makes us weary, but we aren’t meant to remain in them indefinitely.

The Intentional Influencer

A Christian with this mindset has a healthy balance between pursuing godliness and impacting the world. They are growing deep in Christian relationships and continually being sharpened and challenged so they can engage the world effectively. They look at their involvements in secular activities as opportunities to develop relationships with non-believers, with the ultimate goal of showing them God’s love and leading them toward a relationship with him. Intentional influencers know they need to work in concert with other believers so they can use their different gifts to impact a community. They realize they need others to pray with them strategically and to partner with them for greater impact in the world.

Intentional influencers are living proof of Jesus’ prayer for all believers: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23, NIV)

 A Final Thought

Depending on circumstances, you may cycle through each of these perspectives at different times in your life. If one of the descriptions made you squirm with discomfort, take some time to pray and ask God how to respond.   Let him know you’re open to his perspective and that you’re willing to change with his help.

For some great examples of what it looks like to live a life of impact and influence for God, click on the link and listen to “God is On the Move” by 7enventh Time Down.

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