Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Responding to Evil and Violence

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Driving on a recent road trip, I couldn’t help noticing the many flags flying at half-mast in different towns we passed along the way. In the past few months it’s been hard to keep track of the numerous tragedies that have occurred in our nation and world. The senseless acts of violence and terrorism we’ve seen in places like Orlando, Dallas, Nice and Berlin have left us shocked and saddened. I can hardly fathom one awful situation before another is reported.

Processing these events can be overwhelming. Sometimes I want to turn off the news or walk away from the article I’m reading. When we haven’t been personally affected, it’s tempting not to think about the latest set of ugly circumstances, isn’t it? Sometimes our emotions become dulled from overexposure. It becomes too draining to keep hearing about another random shooting or terrorist attack. We can feel helpless and hopeless.   Seemingly, there is little we can we do. How can we change things in a world that seems increasingly violent and hateful with each passing month?

Wanting to answer this question for myself, I turned to the best source of wisdom I know: the Bible. As usual, the answers I found were clear, but not easy. Here are a few things we can do in the face of evil and violence:

Pray for Our Enemies

Jesus’ teaching on this topic isn’t easy to practice, but it is truth we need to apply to our lives: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45, NIV)

When tragedies occur, we’re often prompted to pray for the victims and their families. What doesn’t come naturally is praying for the people who caused them. What would happen if instead of hating the evildoers and wanting vengeance, we prayed for God’s sovereignty and justice to prevail? How about praying that our enemies would be confronted with God’s power and authority and would have no choice but to submit to him? Or praying for their hearts to be softened and their souls to be saved? How about asking God to root the evil out of them and to replace it with his grace and love instead?

Repay Evil with Good

Our natural tendency when we’ve been wronged is to want to retaliate against the one who has hurt us. Yet Scripture urges us to resist this inclination and to surprise our enemies with kindness they don’t deserve:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NIV)

A commentary I consulted explains, “By feeding [our enemies] and giving them water to drink, believers heap up burning embers on their heads. This figure seems to mean that the enemy will blush with shame or remorse at such unexpected kindness.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, page 1220)

We can’t always do this with perpetrators of evil and violence in the wider world, but we can practice it on a smaller scale in our personal lives. When someone wrongs you, try responding with an act of kindness and see what happens. (If the Bible says it’s a good idea, it’s probably worth trying).

Take Personal Responsibility to Promote Good

 Followers of Jesus are called to live in a way that honors God and blesses others. Our behaviors and attitudes impact our spheres of influence for better or for worse. The interactions we have with others can make them feel bitter and hateful or loved and valued. Let’s commit to being people who make our little corners of the world positive and encouraging. Here are a few ways we can do that:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29-32, NIV)

Put simply, biting sarcasm, cynicism, bitterness and gossip do not bring peace into our surroundings. We impact the world around us by what we say and how we treat others. Think about how your actions and attitudes make others feel. Pray and ask God to remove the hurtful ones and to replace them with qualities that build others up. Pray that he increases the positive things you are already doing and saying.

Let’s strive to show a world bent on violence, hate and revenge that doing things God’s way is a better option. The darker the world becomes, the more opportunity we have to let the light of Christ’s love shine through us.

Christy Nockels’ song “By Our Love” urges believers to show the world God’s love. Click on the link and let the words inspire you today.

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Infinitely Large, Intimately Small

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Stepping out onto the sunlit terrace, it took a moment to realize the intricacy of the vast wall before me. A sea of green in countless shades fluttered in the bay breeze. Moving closer to the Living Wall at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I marveled at the thirty-foot high, 4400 square foot expanse in front of me. It was impossible to count the number of different plants that were growing out of tiny fist-sized outcroppings in the concrete wall. The more I looked, the more amazed I became. Stepping closer, I began snapping close-up photos to capture the stunning array of shapes, sizes and shades of green.

Eventually, my friends and I moved on to enjoy man-made works of art inside, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that wall and God’s infinite creativity even in the simplest things. He had a whole world to build yet he chose to make leaves in more colors and shapes than I could count. That’s pretty awe-inspiring and more than a little humbling.

The God of the universe sees the big picture and cares about the smallest detail simultaneously. He can be attentive and engaged with every person that calls upon him. We never have to wait our turn, take a number or be placed on “hold.” We can pray about anything and everything, trusting that he listens and cares because we matter to him.

 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NIV)

Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, I overlook God’s attentiveness. I try to work things out on my own strength and wisdom and I end up anxious, exhausted and no less burdened than I was before. I forget the invitation Jesus extends to us:

“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.” (Matthew 11:27-29, NIV)

When I accept this offer, I find peace even in the midst of the challenges I’m facing.  The best part is that God is strong enough to carry my burdens, yours and everyone else’s simultaneously. Not only that, he loves it when we ask him. And he does all of this while he holds the world together, without overlooking a single detail.

It’s hard to comprehend that God is infinitely big and infinitesimally small. The Living Wall exemplifies this paradox so beautifully. From a distance it’s just a massive expanse of green, but the closer you get, the more you realize its subtle nuances and minute details. The more you look at it, the more beautiful and complex it becomes.

Jason Gray’s latest song “Sparrows” reminds me to appreciate our God that is exponentially larger than we can comprehend. At the same time, he is intimately involved with the smallest details in our lives and in the wide world all around us. Click on the link to enjoy the song and be encouraged today.

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