Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Living Intentionally Engaged- What Love is Week 7

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Stepping into the sunshine, my husband and I set out on a walk in the cool of morning. It had been weeks since we’d had a free Saturday to spend an hour outside together. The brisk air spurred us on as we passed cozy homes in our neighborhood. Many displayed rustic Adirondack chairs with colorful pillows that begged for someone to sit down and enjoy them. Turning to my husband I asked, “How many of these chairs do you think people actually use?” Smiling, he gently turned the question on me, “When was the last time we sat on our porch together?” Sadly, I couldn’t remember.

I thought back to times we’d enjoyed in the past, lounging on the benches with a cup of tea in the morning sun or sharing a meal with our boys on a warm evening.   We hadn’t done that in a long time and there was only one reason: we’d let busyness rob us of this simple pleasure.

As I thought more about it, I realized that my “to do” list over the last few weeks had caused me to be distracted and disengaged from my husband and kids. Even when I was physically present with them, my mind was somewhere else.   Realizing this turned my thoughts to a concept I’ve been learning about in First, Second and Third John:

“The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 John 3:24,NIV)

The word “lives,” used twice in this verse, translates from the Greek word, “meno.” It means: “to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy) to abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand or tarry.” (James Strong, Dictionary of the Greek New Testament)

The part of the definition that catches my attention is the phrase “be present.” Over the course of studying these books, I’ve been learning the importance of being present in my walk with God– of living intentionally engaged with him by his Spirit so that I can let his love fill me. When I do this consistently, his love ultimately overflows from me and affects those around me. John explains this reciprocal process: As we are present with God and remain in his love, his love continues to dwell in us.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives [meno] in love lives [meno] in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16, NIV)

In this passage John echoes a concept he learned from Jesus, who told the disciples:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain [meno] in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)

I’m realizing anew that remaining in Christ requires that I fix my mind on him intentionally and continuously. We aren’t accessing his power when we live on autopilot, doing things out of habit without truly engaging him. Being present and intentional requires relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us throughout every day. There is no other way we can live in obedience to Christ and walk as he did. Apart from him, we can do nothing of lasting value.

This brings me to a related passage of Scripture written by the apostle Paul:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV)

If God is love (and 1 John 4:16 tells us he is), then this passage emphasizes that even the good or spiritual things we do are worthless unless God is in them. Again, this reminds me that all that we do requires intentional engagement—even actions that seem positive on the surface aren’t worth a thing if God isn’t in them with us. We must be present [meno] with him so that he can work in and through us.

I’ll be thinking about the word “meno” for a long time. The benches on my front porch will be a daily reminder to be intentionally engaged in each moment with God. Only then can I be fully present with my family and others so that he can bless them through me.

I couldn’t resist including a song with an English translation of my new favorite word, “meno”, in the title. Click on the link to enjoy a worship moment with Kristian Stanfill’s rendition of “One Thing Remains.”

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Working Together for Truth- What Love is Week 6

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Driving through the city on a sunny afternoon, I watched from the passenger seat as familiar sites rolled by my window…ornate Victorian houses, clanging cable cars, trendy stores, chic cafés, and tiny gardens sandwiched between tall buildings. A few blocks further down, the picturesque scene transformed as we passed liquor stores, empty lots filled with trash and raggedy people sleeping in doorways. One group leaned against a graffiti-covered wall smoking cigarettes and drinking from bottles tucked inside paper bags. A few kids skipped past them down the sidewalk, their fresh faces providing a sharp contrast to the bleak surroundings.

For most people, scenes like these cause different emotions to bubble to the surface. Some turn their heads, preferring not to engage the conflicting feelings that may arise. Others look on in compassion, but feel poorly equipped to bring help and hope to kids living in a neighborhood struggling with such vast problems.

Although I’ve felt both of both of those things at different times, that day I felt hopeful. I thought of the letter sitting at home on my kitchen counter from a little boy in that neighborhood. My family had just begun sponsoring him and I pictured the Christian school that he attends that is part of a ministry bringing the light of Jesus to that spiritually impoverished neighborhood. The people serving there have willing hearts and years of experience that enable them to engage the neighborhood with love and care. And as you might expect, they often have more needs than resources to fill them.

A ministry’s need is a believer’s opportunity to act. In the book of Third John, the apostle John addresses this idea of supporting people in ministry to bring the light of God’s truth into the darkness of the world. He describes several leaders that he sent to the church to teach them.  Although these people were strangers to the the congregation, the church members welcomed and housed them.  John praises these actions saying,

“Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.” (3 John 5-8, NIV)

Though times have changed, this encouragement from John is as relevant and applicable today as it was then. God calls followers of Jesus to work together for truth in both direct and indirect ways. It takes one passionate person to obey God’s call to start a ministry, but it takes the encouragement and tangible support of a larger body of believers to implement the vision.

Maybe reading this causes you to feel overwhelmed trying grasp what part you can play in coming alongside a person or ministry to further the gospel.   There are numerous ways to partner with others bringing the message of truth to our world, whether it is sharing your financial resources, offering consistent prayer support, or volunteering your time. Will you commit to praying about where God might be calling you to provide faithful support for people serving in Jesus’ name?

The Lord often prompts us to give back to the places we’ve been blessed or calls us to intervene in situations that break our hearts. Where is he drawing your attention right now? To help you get started, you’ll see a list below of a few ministries that have touched me personally.

-Sonshine Specialized Camping Ministries: This ministry was a key part of building my faith foundation and developing my spiritual gifts in my teens and twenties. Founded in 1975, this ministry has a passion for sharing Jesus with groups of students away from the bustle of daily life on houseboats at Lake Shasta and the Sacramento Delta.   They could not exist without support from people who partner with them financially and in prayer.

For more on Sonshine Ministries, click here:http://www.sonshineministries.com/35-YEARS.html

-Cru (Formerly named Campus Crusade for Christ): The mentoring and Bible studies led by their staff members solidified my faith and equipped me for ministry in my college years and beyond. Founded in 1951 on the campus of UCLA, this ministry’s goal has been to share the gospel with college students as part of fulfilling the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. Today Cru has a ministry presence in 190 countries.    Staff members are responsible for raising all of their living expenses by inviting people to partner with them.

For more on Cru click here: https://www.cru.org/about/what-we-do/milestones.1.html

-San Francisco City Impact: Founded in 1984, this ministry exists to intervene on behalf of the people in the inner city of San Francisco and is fueled by a love for Jesus and a passion for prayer. This ministry provides for the needs of the underprivileged through a school, a health and wellness clinic, a rescue mission and more.  Partnering with this ministry gives me an outlet to impact people who are in heartbreaking circumstances.

For more on SFCI, click here: http://www.sfcityimpact.com/sfciplaybook

-Samaritan’s Purse: Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people around the world who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Partnering with this ministry gives me the opportunity to act when tragic events occur all over the world.

For more information on Samaritan’s Purse, click here: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/our-ministry/about-us/#

Some of us may feel we lack the gifts or experience to engage the types of people ministries like these serve.   However, there are simple ways we can come alongside them. We may start by investing our finances and then go deeper by committing to pray. And the more we invest, the more open we’ll become to giving our time and eventually discovering gifts we may have that that would bless them. Best of all, doing this is a perfect way to demonstrate our love for God through obedience to his word.

For further inspiration about partnering with others for the sake of the truth, click on the link and enjoy Matthew West’s song “Do Something.”

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Praying God’s Will for Your Circumstances- What Love Is Week 5

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Waking up in the dim morning light, I listened to the rain pelting our tent. It was the last day of our church’s mission trip to Mexico and the first day I’d overslept. My muscles were sore from three days of manual labor and my head foggy from not sleeping well. The sunny weather that started the week had given way to grey cloud cover that eventually turned to a steady rain. I groaned inwardly but tried to be positive as I prepared to wake the six teenage girls in my tent.

Before climbing out of my sleeping bag I prayed silently, asking God to give me strength. Later, I realized my prayer fit perfectly with what I’d been learning in First John. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15, NIV)

I could have focused on our circumstances and prayed for the rain to stop. Instead, I focused on our hearts, praying for things God promises in his Word. I knew he would give us strength, because I’d been assured of it in Paul’s writings: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NIV)

I also knew that to make it through the day our group of 275 students and adult leaders had to remain positive and encouraging. We needed to work in unity and to look beyond the wet day of physical labor that awaited us. It was vital to keep the right perspective as we slopped through the mud to finish building fourteen houses for impoverished families. We couldn’t control our circumstances, but we could control our attitudes about them.

It was our sixth day away from home and our fourth day of work. Tempers could easily have flared as people were worn down from working hard and being away from the comforts of home. And yet, instead of grumbling about the less-than-ideal conditions, the group rallied to make the best of it and to support one another. This, too, was God’s will and exemplified Paul’s writings in Colossians:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV)

I thanked God as I worked with my team carrying buckets of cement, sand and water to hand-mix stucco for the exterior walls. They smiled and sang, encouraging each other and making jokes to keep the mood light, despite the continued rainfall and the challenging conditions. Again, I realized God’s will was clearly evident in their behavior as I thought of another verse: Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” (Philippians 2:14, NIV)

As the afternoon wore on, most groups in the neighborhood were putting the final touches on their houses. However, one group was scrambling to finish due to a week full of unexpected setbacks. Since my team was finished, I walked over and joined with people from other build teams to lend them a hand. Tension hung in the air as we worked to finish the house. Ankle-deep mud and cramped workspaces made it difficult to move without falling. Dogs and playing children ran through the site, creating an even more chaotic environment. I knew the team leaders were feeling anxious about finishing the house by the end of the day so I prayed God would bring a spirit of peace to them and to the site. Later I realized I’d known to pray for peace because I’d read it many times before: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)

By the time the buses arrived, every house was finished. More importantly, the build teams had maintained positive attitudes and willing spirits throughout the day. We’d kept our eyes on showing God’s love to the homeowners and to one another.

Climbing onto buses at the end of the day we were wet, sore, and tired, but filled with joy. We had given our circumstances to God and had prayed for his will to be done. The end result was that fourteen families had solid homes to shelter them and 275 students and adult volunteers experienced the power of being used by God to accomplish his will.

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That rainy day in Mexico will stand out as the most memorable one of the week for me. I saw the power of praying God’s will and recognized that prayer isn’t about removing obstacles or increasing our comfort, but about aligning with God’s plans

Do you want a confident prayer life? Make it a priority to know God’s will by studying his Word. Then stand back and be amazed as he answers.

Click on the link to enjoy Hillsong United’s song “Hosanna.” Make the lyrics your prayer today.

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