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Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Good Goodbyes-No Other Gods Session 5

To my wonderful Life in Focus subscribers: Please note that I have a new website that includes identical  blog posts to the ones you read here plus many other great resources (plus all of the archives).  I plan to phase out lifeinfocusblog and to post exclusively at www.marybethmccullum.com in the near future. Please consider subscribing to my new site to continue receiving my posts in your inbox.  Thanks for considering!!

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The mama swallow clung to the wall just below her peeping chicks. Perched on the edge of the mud nest in the eaves, her babies flapped their tiny wings. Every few minutes, she would take flight, circling back to the nest and squawking at her chicks, encouraging them to spread their wings and fly. One by one, the babies wobbled out of the nest, plummeted a few feet and then discovered what they were made to do. There was one tiny bird, however, that clung to the nest long after the others had flown off. The mama squawked insistently, darting back and forth near her little one to encourage him to fly. When he finally did, we couldn’t help cheering, feeling privileged to have witnessed his momentous first flight.

I thought about that moment as I read Kelly Minter’s fifth lesson in No Other Gods entitled “Good Goodbyes.” Like the mother swallow urging her chicks to take flight, Minter encourages us to examine the things in our lives that we might need to bid farewell if we’re serious about eliminating idols. For many of us, staying in the cozy, warm nest feels a lot more comfortable and secure than launching out. Although the freedom of flying beckons us, we’re more worried about plummeting to the ground.

Ironically, some of the things God calls us to bid farewell didn’t start out as idols, they were actually good things that helped us to grow. But once we start relying on them to fill us or to provide comfort or security, they can become idols.  And then it’s time to say goodbye. For me, this has often been related to the desire to belong. I’ve spent a good portion of my life viewing myself as an outlier, someone often on the outside looking in. So when I’ve found a person or group where I feel accepted and included, I can latch on pretty tightly—to a degree that often becomes unhealthy. Regardless of whether it’s people in a women’s Bible study, an accountability group or a few close friends, I always need to monitor how much I’m looking to them for identity and reassurance. There are times when God has had to remove me from a group before I’m able to see that I was clinging to it more tightly than I should have been. Here are a few other situations where good goodbyes may be in order:

A role you’re used to playing:

Maybe you’re so accustomed to being in charge, leading or hosting that you’re preventing others from having the opportunity to grow and be stretched in new ways. This could be true in a family, a church, a small group, a volunteer organization or at work.

On the other hand, maybe you’re used to being served and being a participant. You like having little or no responsibility so that you can come and go as you please. Or maybe you’re accustomed to playing the cynic, always seeing what’s wrong with a group so that you have an excuse for never engaging it on a deeper level.

Regardless of which description you identify with above, if you’re in a position that is causing you to be stagnant or that is preventing others the opportunity for growth, it may be time for a “good goodbye” to that role.

A person you’re depending on:

 God brings people into our lives at different seasons to pour into us, to nurture us and to help us develop our potential. Sometimes he blesses us with a partner in ministry that brings the perfect amount of balance and support. But just like the mama bird has to urge her chicks out of the nest, there comes a time when we need to spread our wings and fly. When we begin to depend upon a specific person to continue feeding and supporting us, we may be unintentionally making a new idol.

Even Jesus, the ultimate mentor, left the earth so that his disciples could learn to rely on the Holy Spirit (see John 14 for more on this). Jesus’ physical departure from earth catapulted Peter and the apostles into key leadership roles in the burgeoning Christian church. Think about the power and authority Peter showed in the book of Acts compared to his impulsivity and immaturity in the gospels. Through relying on the Holy Spirit, he led many disciples in spreading the good news of the gospel in Jerusalem, “Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8b, NIV)

Similarly, there may come a time when you’re called to move on from people you depend on or partner with. It can be a “good goodbye” if you take the things you’ve learned from them, rely on the Holy Spirit, spread your wings and fly.

 A group you value:

 As Christians, we are called into community. When we find like-minded people we can journey beside in life, this is a true blessing. In Acts chapter 2 the fellowship of believers enjoyed meeting together daily to break bread and grow in faith. We know they weren’t a closed group because Scripture tells us “they added to their numbers daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b). Eventually, however, the believers scattered in the face of persecution and in the process they spread the gospel far and wide.  It was probably painful for the fellowship to break apart, but ultimately it enabled them to impact many more people.

Sometimes a “good goodbye” may be in order when we want to remain part of a particular group so much that we’re holding ourselves back from a new calling God has for us. If we lock arms with others and look inward instead of trusting God’s leading, we are dangerously close to making that cherished group into an idol.

Jeremy Camp’s song “Christ in Me” challenges me to remember that when I relinquish my idols and fix my gaze on Jesus, I find true freedom. Click on the link to hear a musical inspiration for saying “good goodbyes.”

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True vs Truth- No Other Gods Session 3, Post 2

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(Fourth in a series on Kelly Minter’s Bible study, No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols)

I carry an ache with me all the time lately, even though I’m physically fine. I feel it most profoundly at night when I kiss my oldest son goodnight after putting my hand on his head to pray for him. I feel it when I look at the stacks of college-related books and papers sitting on our office counter and each time I review another essay he’s written for an application. My son will become a legal adult in the spring and shortly afterwards, he’ll walk across a stage wearing a cap and gown, signifying the end of his childhood and the beginning of the next chapter in his life. And although this is right and good, the sadness overwhelms me sometimes.

In my twenties, I used to envision the family I would have someday. More often than not, I would picture what my future children would be like as teenagers. Much of the planning my husband and I did focused on the era we’re now enjoying with our two boys. As I think about our oldest son preparing to launch into adulthood, it feels like the wave we’ve been riding since we started our family is about to crash on the sand. After all, the era we’ve been anticipating for years and enjoying thoroughly is going to change forever within the next year. Sometimes I’m tempted to feel a little hopeless, thinking life right now is as good as it gets.

Fixating on this could lead me down a dangerous path of negative thinking.  I could spend so much time dwelling on all of the things that will never happen again that I could miss out on embracing this new season my family is entering.  I have one boy on the brink of adulthood and another who will follow in a few years. Part of parenting means equipping our kids to launch well. So, while it’s true that my kids are getting older and our years raising them will come to an end, the truth is our relationship with them won’t. Beyond parenting, I trust God has many more fulfilling endeavors for my husband and me in the years ahead. Some may involve our kids, but others won’t.

True vs. truth:  it’s a concept that I’ve been thinking about for the last few days as I’ve been working through Session 3 in No Other Gods by Kelly Minter.  She uses the story of Adam and Eve to drive home some powerful observations about what happens when we fixate on isolated things that are “true” but fail to see the larger context of Truth (with a capital “T”).  As you may remember, Satan appears in the garden in the form of a serpent and questions Eve about God’s command not to eat from a specific tree. After he plants seeds of doubt about God’s goodness in Eve’s mind, the serpent cunningly convinces her to disobey God and try the fruit:

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:6-7, NIV)

Kelly Minter points out that while the serpent did deceive Eve, nothing he said was false in that immediate moment:  they did gain knowledge of good and evil and they did not die on the spot (although their disobedience did ultimately bring death into the world).  She quotes Michael Wells of Abiding Life Ministries who says, “Satan will tell us what’s true, but he never tells us the truth.”

I’ve been thinking about that quote all week.  How often do I fixate on what is “true” in the moment, but fail to see the bigger Truth?

There are many times when I let what is true at a certain time deceive me and prevent me from seeing the bigger picture– like feeling sad about my kids growing up but forgetting that I’m doing my job right if they’re actually becoming capable adults. I can lose perspective on other things too– like when a friend unintentionally hurts me, or when the scale doesn’t show the weight I expect to see.  It might be an unanticipated expense that threatens my confidence in God’s provision. It could be feeling despair about the direction our nation and world are headed and failing to remember that God is still sovereign over it all.  The opportunities to focus on the little “t” instead of the big “T” are endless.

Armed with my new knowledge, I regularly pray for the discernment to see the difference between what is “true” and what is “Truth.” I don’t want to be so easily deceived or to get so wrapped up in the small things that I fail to recognize the big picture. Jesus tells us in John 16:33  “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Now that’s Truth with a capital “T” that I can believe, no matter what.

The link below is one of my favorite songs and the video with it shows the difference between what is “true” and what is “Truth.” Click on the link and enjoy “Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray.

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When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong

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Turning my head for the briefest moment, I realized my carelessness just in time to see my front wheel colliding with the curb. The pavement seemed to rise up to meet my face as I crashed in a heap. Before I’d had a chance to react, I was sprawled on the side of the road, tangled in my bike and still clipped into the pedals. Rushing back to help me, my husband gently pulled the bike off me and surveyed my injuries.

The road rash on my swollen cheek and shoulder looked bad, but were minor injuries compared to the pain radiating down my right arm. A trip to the ER confirmed I’d fractured my elbow. Wrapping my arm from shoulder to fingers, the nurses listened sympathetically as I lamented that I didn’t have time to slow down at such a busy time of year.

Initially I didn’t realize that even my most common activities would be impacted by this injury.   I knew I could forget about getting exercise for a while. The effort required for simple tasks like bathing and dressing was hard enough. What I didn’t anticipate was that holding a book, writing and typing with two hands would also be extremely challenging. Suddenly, the main things I sought for spiritual and mental health were no longer available to me.

Lying in bed the morning after my accident, I realized I needed to find some new ways to connect with God that were outside of my usual practices. I thought of the many people who constantly share their life happenings on social media—it almost seems as if events don’t really “count” unless they’re posted. It turns out I can be the same way with my spiritual disciplines. If I don’t write prayers in my journal or fill in answers in a Bible study workbook, I feel like I haven’t done an actual “quiet time” like a dutiful and faithful Christian “should.”

I’ve written and thought a lot about the idea of abiding—of remaining present and engaged with God throughout each day. With the limitations created by my injury, God is challenging me to find new ways to do this consistently. My broken elbow has caused me to be a lot less productive and a lot more introspective. Holding an ice pack to my face with my left hand and having a nearly unusable right hand prevents me from multitasking like I usually would. It’s hard to grasp a book or even scroll through my phone. In those idle moments I’m trying to focus on God instead of letting my thoughts just ramble. My injury is teaching me to settle into the quiet and just be in God’s presence.

As much as I’ve grown over the years, I’m realizing God still has many things to teach me (or re-teach me). I am learning to trust him in the midst of my physical weakness and to be attentive to what he wants me to learn during the season of forced rest. And with each passing day, I’m learning to be thankful for the ways life has been simplified to accommodate my injury. I’m learning things I would be too busy to recognize in the usual fast pace of my life.

I’m taking comfort from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth when he writes about an unnamed physical problem that challenged him:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NIV)

God’s grace was sufficient for Paul. I pray the same will be true of me as I learn to let his power be made perfect in my weakness. With every task I am unable to do with one hand, I’m being prompted to thank him for something- whether it is the patience I’m learning or the people he’s using to help me.

When I completed my last Bible study workbook by Kelly Minter, I started praying God would provide new sources of inspiration for my writing, but I never anticipated it being something like this. I hope you’ll join me over the next few weeks as God teaches and blesses me through this unexpected season of physical challenges. And as you read, I hope you’ll consider the new places he wants to take you on your faith journey this summer. Sometimes you don’t even have to leave home to do it!

I couldn’t resist sharing a song that feels like it was written just for me in the midst of this crazy time.

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When God Interrupts- Women of the Word Part 1

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“Hey, Aunt Marybeth—would you be up for having me recover from my knee surgery at your house? I thought it might be a little more comfortable than my dorm room.”

My attitude toward my nephew’s request could have gone one of two ways. I could have viewed it as presumptuous and an imposition interrupting my family’s busy schedule. Or, I could have considered it an honor that he felt comfortable enough to ask us for help. My family had developed a close relationship with him since he began attending a college near our home, so the request was easy for him to make and for us to grant. Opening our home to him had always been a blessing to us and this was no exception. Being there for him after surgery just deepened his relationship with our family further.

I remembered that event and the blessing of having life interrupted as I read Mary’s story in Luke 1 recently. Scripture tells us that Mary was a virgin, pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. In a stunning set of events, an angel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” He explained that Mary would conceive a child who would rule on David’s throne and that her son’s kingdom would never end. In other words, she would be the mother to the Messiah that had been promised since the time of Abraham, thousands of years earlier.

Not surprisingly, the news of this impending life interruption troubled Mary greatly since she was an unmarried virgin. Under Jewish law, she could have been stoned to death as an adulteress for being pregnant out of wedlock. Even if she wasn’t accused of adultery, her plans for the future were going to be derailed by this unexpected pregnancy. However, after the angel explained a few more details, Mary responded simply, “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled.”

I marvel at the way Mary relinquished her plans for God’s greater purposes. She trusted Him and didn’t ask about how He would work out all of the potential problems that lay ahead. She was open to Him, no matter how disruptive His plans would be to her life. It’s humbling, isn’t it?

From a worldly perspective Mary had much to lose through this pregnancy as an unwed teenager. It could have signaled the end of her betrothal to Joseph and the beginning of a life ostracized from her family and her community. Yet, Mary knew God had a vantage point beyond what she could see. She didn’t let possible negative outcomes keep her from being open to His plan. She didn’t know how things would work out, but she did know Who would work them out for her.

Reading further in Luke 1, we find Mary’s song of praise to God, often referred to as The Magnificat. In the nine verses of her song in Luke 1:46-55, she recounted God’s greatness and remembered His deeds from the Israelites’ history. She recognized that the child she carried would fulfill the promise God made to Abraham: “I will make you into a great nation…and all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2a & 3b, NIV)   Throughout her song, Mary quoted passages from Psalms, Isaiah, Habakuk, Exodus, Jeremiah and 2 Samuel.

Mary’s song reveals her tremendous knowledge of Scripture and a deep understanding of God’s character. Maybe this is part of the reason He chose her to bear His son. She recognized the significant role she had been chosen to play and rejoiced in it saying, “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name…He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1:48b, 49, 54, 55, NIV) She knew God kept the promises He made because she had seen it throughout the history of her people. She applied what she learned to her circumstances and lived like she believed it was true.

Mary’s example humbles me, but it also inspires me. Her knowledge of Scripture and her ability to apply what she learned to her life makes me want to study it even more. Her openness to God’s interruptions challenges me to be mindful of the ways He wants to bless me with unanticipated opportunities. Her willingness to accept God’s new plan for her life and to believe He would use it for good makes me want to pray for His will more and mine less. Mary saw beyond her circumstances and recognized that God would impact the world through the child she would bear. This attitude causes me to evaluate my prayers and to consider how often they focus on my needs and my little world versus praying for God to use me for His purposes and His greater good.

How does Mary’s story impact you? Are you open to God’s interruptions in your carefully orchestrated plans? Do you want to see beyond yourself and to let Him use you to impact the world? I pray this Christmas season will be one that provides new opportunities to encounter Him and to recognize the blessing of His divine interruptions.

Francesca Battistelli’s song “Be Born in Me” provides a beautiful example of Mary’s willing spirit. Click on the link and enjoy a Christmas worship moment as you listen.

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Transition Troubles

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The e-mail caught me by surprise when it landed in my inbox two months ago. A dear friend broke the news that she was moving 3000 miles away. To say it was a shock would be an understatement. We squeezed in time to meet once before she left to see her new house for the first time. A month later, she returned to California to take her son to college and say goodbye to friends. It was a fast transition with no lead up–I was nowhere near ready to say goodbye. I know we’ll both be processing this huge change for months to come. I miss her already, but I trust that God has good things in store for both of us.

It seems everywhere I turn I’m encountering people dealing with transitions right now. Some of them are just part of our life stages: families leaving beloved elementary schools as their children begin middle school and other families taking kids to college for the first time. There are parents adjusting to having an empty nest and young adults trying to figure out life after college. Some are watching their kids get married and start families of their own. Others are wrapping up careers and navigating the unknown waters of retirement; some are selling homes and moving on now that their kids are grown. While these events are emotional, they are also evidence of positive growth and change.

Other transitions are more difficult to accept: the shift into single life resulting from divorce or the transition from being married to being widowed. There is the unwelcome transition from having a job to searching for a new one. Or the struggle of watching a close-knit community unravel and wondering how to move ahead.   These difficult transitions may be forced upon us, but we still have to learn how to live with them.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t like times of transition. They are usually uncomfortable and awkward; often they are painful and difficult. But no matter what negative feelings I have about transitions, they are a part of life I’ve learned to accept and to entrust to God. When I’m still struggling to understand how to function as I transition from one thing to the next, I can trust that God already has a plan for me. I may not like the changes, but I can thank Him anyway and live expectantly knowing He has good things in store.

If you’re going through a transition, here are a few things that might help you navigate it and keep your focus in a healthy place:

-It’s OK to Grieve

Transitioning from one phase to the next means you have to leave something behind. It is healthy and normal to grieve the loss that the change is causing. If you’re trying to bottle up your negative emotions and put on a happy face, you’re going to struggle that much longer. Acknowledge your sadness to God and let yourself grieve for a while. Get help from a wise friend or counselor if you need it.

“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8, NIV)

-It’s Not OK to Wallow

Sometimes we get stuck in a transition and can’t move on. It’s healthy to feel sad for a while, but not to make it a permanent habit of your mind. If we spend too much time lamenting painful changes in our lives over and over, it prevents us from looking ahead to see what God wants to do next. If you’re still living and breathing, then God still has plans for you. There is a time to move on.

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14, NIV)

-It’s Good to Move Forward

Like waves crashing on the beach, life is constantly moving and changing. We can try to dig our toes into the sand and refuse to accept change or we can frolic in the surf as it washes over us. Either way, we’re going to get wet.  We can’t avoid being affected by what’s happening around us. You can trust God whether you know what life holds for you on the other side of your transition or not. Seek Him in the midst of your struggles and let Him lead you.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV)

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The Thrill of Letting God Disrupt Your Patterns

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San Francisco’s Coit Tower stands 210 feet tall atop Telegraph Hill. As one of the city’s best-known landmarks, it was a regular stop for my parents with out of town guests during my childhood. I still remember tumbling out of our station wagon with my four siblings, my mom and whatever visitors happened to be getting the grand tour. My dad would patiently drive in circles through the packed parking lot as we took in the panoramic view. There was an elevator that went to the top of the tower, but we never made the ascent. With the size of our group and the number of tourists waiting in line, we never had the time to fit it in with all of the other sights. We figured the view from the bottom was good enough—even with the trees and bushes partially obstructing it.

Although I’ve lived in the Bay Area most of my life, it was not until a recent visit to San Francisco that I rode the elevator to the top of Coit Tower with my son.  The 360-degree view of the city and all the surrounding areas was worth the time and effort. In one direction, the tall buildings of the financial district rose up in front of the green waters of the bay. Moving a little further around, I could see the iconic towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and the red brick buildings of Ghiradelli Square. Just beyond that, Alcatraz Island stood sentinel in the waters just beyond Fisherman’s Wharf.   A little further to our right, the Bay Bridge intersected Yerba Buena Island before continuing across to the city. The view from the bottom paled in comparison.

Sometimes I wonder if we treat our faith like tourists hitting the highlights in a big city. We breeze through a lot of opportunities for growth without engaging them fully or delving deeply. We hear sermons or read devotionals and declare they are “good” but never make time to incorporate the truth we’re learning into our lives.  We’re content to make a loop through the parking lot and catch the view from below, not wanting to inconvenience ourselves with the time, effort and cost required to ascend the tower and see the view. We have routines that we follow and agendas to keep. We like what is predictable and manageable for our schedules and we get complacent.  Or we pack our weeks so full there isn’t time to engage in anything deeply and we’re hesitant to relinquish any of our precious “free time.”

Inviting God to do new things feels disruptive to our carefully ordered lives. We fear it will be messy and complicated to serve in new places with different people. Sometimes we’re afraid to let God use our gifts in new ways because the results are unpredictable. Although we know He wants to stretch us continually, it just doesn’t seem worth the cost. The time and effort we’d have to expend deter us from pressing on.

Even people who met Jesus face to face struggled with these issues. The gospel of Luke tells the story of three different people who encountered Jesus and claimed they wanted to follow Him. All three ended up turning away when they realized how disruptive it would be to their lives. You can read about them in Luke 9:57-62.

Contrasting that is the story of Jesus calling his first disciples, Peter, James and John. Luke’s gospel describes a day when Jesus preached to the people on the shore of the Lake of Gennesaret as He stood in the boat of a fisherman named Peter. After working all night and catching nothing, Peter and his fishing partners, James and John, sat and listened to Jesus’ teaching. Once He was finished teaching, Jesus directed them to push out from shore and cast their nets even though they’d been unsuccessful the night before. Instead of balking at instructions from a non-fisherman, the men listened to Jesus and caught so many fish their boats began to sink. Their willingness to obey Him brought amazing results and revealed Jesus was no ordinary man.   After the miraculous catch of fish, He invited the three to follow Him. They responded in a way that humbles and inspires me:

“So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:11, NIV)

Peter, James and John abandoned their predictable lives and began the adventure of walking with Jesus. Their willingness allowed Him to use them in powerful ways. Think what they would have missed if they’d declined when Jesus asked them to follow Him.

Are you letting the predictable patterns of your life keep you from something new Jesus wants to do in and through you? Summer is a good time to evaluate your schedule for the coming year and to consider new opportunities. Is it time to step out of your comfort zone and get involved in something different? Is it time to test out that spiritual gift that’s been simmering on the back burner? Maybe you need to relinquish some of your cherished free time to volunteer or meet a need. Maybe it’s time to evaluate your finances and consider how you can bless others and honor God in new ways.

Will you trust God enough to pray and invite Him to stretch you in a new way? Will you let Him break you out of your routine and discover more joy? The view from the parking lot is nice, but the view from the top is beyond compare. It’s just a matter of letting Him change your vantage point. Are you ready to let Him take you there?

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Advance Part 4: Policing and Pacing

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My past three blogs have summarized and expanded on Beth Moore’s teaching at the “Living Proof Live” event I attended in Stockton, CA recently. So far, we’ve been examining the acrostic A-D-V-A-N-C-E that focuses on Philippians 1:12-30. My previous posts have highlighted the first five points:

 A– A Kingdom is coming

D– Dare to advance it

V– Vie fiercely in prayer

A– Add traction to your action

N– Never take a “no” from the devil

This post explores the two aspects of the next point:

C– Cease the policing and the pacing

This teaching is based on Philippians 1:15-18

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.

Policing

Beth focused on the tendency we have to question the motives of others and to decide who is sincere and who isn’t. She emphasized that it is God’s responsibility to figure people out, not ours. Sometimes we size people up to make sure they do spiritual things “our way” and we miss out on the new things we could be learning from them. We become so focused on our “brand” of Christianity and our little faith community that we can become ingrown.

Back in my college days I was involved in a vibrant campus ministry. It was biblically solid and intent on sharing the gospel with others. Every spring, this group encouraged the students to be part of its summer outreaches. I prayed about it each year, but felt led to serve in other ministries over the summer. Some of the students and leaders were disappointed by this and even questioned my spiritual maturity.

One fall when we returned for classes, a guy in the group approached me. He’d attended a Christian camp as a counselor with his home church and heard I’d served at another location of the same ministry. He was excited about the ways he’d seen God at work there and wanted to know more about my involvement with the camp. The suspicion with which he’d viewed me had ceased once he saw that the place I was serving was “legit.” He, and others like him, had been policing me and questioning my maturity because I was involved in a ministry they didn’t know. I was relieved when he recognized its worth, but also hurt that I’d been judged for so long.

If I’m honest, there are times when I’ve been on the other side of that equation. When I encounter a fellow believer who doesn’t know the same Christian buzzwords, who hasn’t read the same books or embraced the same ministries, I can be a bit suspicious, questioning the validity of his or her faith. However, when I take time to get to know the person, I’m often humbled to discover a deep faith that just looks a little different than mine from the outside. It makes me want to give people the benefit of the doubt more and to judge less. I’ll rely on God to give me the discernment I need instead of policing them with my human wisdom.

Pacing

I’ve learned a few things about pacing from watching snippets of NASCAR races with my husband and sons. If there is a safety issue on the speedway during a race, a pace car will be sent out on the track to lead the other cars. The pace car drives at a safe speed and the race cars stay in their positions behind it. Once the problem on the track is cleared, the pace car exits and the cars pick up the pace again. The race resumes and cars are free to pass and drive at any speed.

Imagine if the cars continued to drive at the same speed once the pace car left the track. It wouldn’t be much of a race if the vehicles weren’t doing what they were created to do: drive fast.

When we fear breaking pace with others to follow God’s call, we become a bit like race cars that drive like they’re following a pace car after it’s left the speedway  We limit our spiritual growth and miss out on the ways God wants to stretch us and use us when we try to keep pace with others. There are seasons when our gifts, vision and goals may align with others and this can be a rich, rewarding experience. However, we can also get so comfortable with a group that we fail to see when God is calling us in a different direction. Sometimes He beckons us to claim new ground for Him, but we hold back on advancing because we don’t want to break pace with a group we love. It feels awkward or painful to move forward without “our people” beside us. However, if God is calling us in different directions, we need to break pace and trust Him. When our focus becomes sticking with certain people instead of following God’s call, we limit opportunities to grow and to advance the kingdom of God.

For me, this has been a significant area of growth over the years. As God has led me in new directions, there have been challenges and painful moments, but I’ve seen Him at work in exciting ways. My faith has grown, my trust in Him has deepened and I’ve been blessed to maintain cherished friendships and connections to different ministries even as I’ve expanded into new areas.

It boils down to this simple truth: when we fix our eyes on Jesus, we won’t be as worried about policing or being policed. When we are more concerned with keeping pace with Him than with others, we allow Him to use us to advance His kingdom.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

The song “Fix My Eyes” by For King and Country inspires me to cease the policing and the pacing. Click on the link and let it do the same for you.