Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Assuming God is Good- No Other Gods Session 6

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Giggling from the backseat, my son read the completed Mad Lib aloud to his brother and friends. At the time, the boys were in elementary school—a prime age for reveling in the silliness of this classic fill-in-the-blanks activity. You probably remember doing Mad Libs of your own in younger days: one person acts as the scribe and asks the group for nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other parts of speech to write into blanks in a pre-written story the participants haven’t read. The results are usually funny—especially with boys who strive to choose the most ridiculous words they can think of.

As we get older, we continue filling in the blanks mentally, but the results are usually less fun and often reap more negative results. We get in the habit of making assumptions and filling in gaps of information with our best guesses. For many of us, these are more negative than positive. We do it all the time with other people. We also do it with God.

That’s why I find the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac, so astounding. As a test, God asks Abraham to do the unthinkable and kill his cherished child as an offering on the altar. Yet never once do we see Abraham getting angry with God or assuming he’s cruel. Scripture gives us a few clues about how Abraham saw the situation. The first is in Genesis 22 as Abraham prepared to take Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him:

“He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.’” (Genesis 22:5, NIV)

Despite the plans he had to sacrifice his son, he told the servants both he and Isaac would return. Why would he say that? I used to think he was just trying to act casually to cover up what he was about to do, but now I see that it may actually have been an example of his faith in God. A few minutes later Isaac asked his father where they would find an animal to sacrifice and Abraham replied:

“`God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ And the two of them went on together.” (Genesis 22:8, NIV)

Again, I used to think Abraham was stalling and giving an excuse to Isaac, but now I see that he really believed what he said. At the moment Abraham raised his hand to kill his son, an angel called out to him, showing that God was, indeed, trustworthy:

“`Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’ Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’” (Genesis 22:12-14, NIV)

In Hebrews 11:17-19, we discover more insight about Abraham’s perspective on God, especially regarding the sacrifice of Isaac:

“Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (NIV)

This story is hard to grasp on many levels, but what strikes me as I read it this time is Abraham’s unwavering trust in God. Never once did he accuse God of being cruel or unfair, even though what he was asked to do would cut any parent to the core. Abraham believed God was good and trusted him to provide.

I’m humbled by Abraham’s faith as I recall the many times I’ve filled in the blanks with negative assumptions about God. How many times have I fretted over a difficult or uncertain situation instead of simply laying it at his feet, knowing he is trustworthy? When have I demanded to know why God allowed pain in my life instead of trusting that he would use it for his perfect purposes? If I’m honest, there are many times I’ve struggled to believe the promise of Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV)

Instead of filling in the blanks with positive assumptions about how God will work in the unknown, I tend to fret and worry he won’t come through. For many of us, we assume God is either not paying attention or not going to act in time, so we turn to idols. We want God to work for good according to our purposes instead of his. So we look for comfort, security and control in other things instead of trusting him and waiting for him patiently. We “fill in the blanks” with idols when God doesn’t do what we want, when we want, how we want. All the while, we’re forgetting what Abraham remembered, even in his darkest hour. God is good. God is for us. God loves us. He has plans for us. He knows us. He knows what we need. He keeps his promises. His timing is perfect.

For me, the best way to remember this is to fill my mind with truth about God. I’ve found listening to good music with sound theology is a great method for doing this. So often, I find myself mentally playing a song that reminds me who God is and keeps me from filling in the blanks with negative thoughts. I’m always drawn back to my good, good Father. Click on the link to marinate in truth about God by listening to Chris Tomlin’s “Good, Good Father.”

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Seeking Biblical Truth in the Post-Truth Era: No Other Gods Session 3

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(Third in a series of posts inspired by Kelly Minter’s Bible Study No Other Gods.)

Turning up the volume on the radio, I wasn’t sure I’d heard the announcer correctly. She was sharing her thoughts on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016. It is an annual event for the dictionary staff to narrow down a list of words that highlight the ways the English language is changing in response to current events. In case you haven’t heard yet, this year’s word is “post-truth.” The official definition is: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” So, basically, post-truth means defining what is true based on feelings and personal beliefs rather than actual facts.

For followers of Jesus, navigating life in the era of “post-truth” means we must swim against the current of our culture. While people around us are deciding what they want to be true based on their feelings, we must hold firmly to the truth of God’s Word. I see a clear connection here to what I’m learning about lies in No Other Gods. Author Kelly Minter says, “I don’t see God’s heart in Scripture telling us to separate ourselves with a self-righteous finger that points at all the ‘sinners’ in pop culture. Instead God clearly teaches us to love all people. But loving is very different from putting ourselves in the way of messages that oppose His truth. It’s different than leaving open doors for the lies of culture to waltz into our hearts.” (No Other Gods, p. 67)

The lies of our culture permeate our lives, subtly and continually influencing us to revise our stance on what is actually truth. Reading through 2 Timothy 3, it’s easy to see connections to our world today: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:1-4, NIV)

So many examples from current culture come to mind as I read this that it’s hard to know where to start. With the onslaught of technology and the rise of social media, it’s become commonplace to embrace and celebrate every one of those things. It’s not hard to see pleasure and comfort are valued more than almost anything else. Many movies, shows, theater productions, magazines, popular songs and famous people model and promote living in a way that lacks self-control and values self-absorption (and pretty much everything else listed).

As followers of Jesus, however, we are called to a different standard. We cannot afford to be “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim 3:7, NIV) God’s Word is our standard of truth, but it’s up to us to absorb what we learn and then to live like we believe it. In a world that no longer cares about actual truth, this is especially challenging. The more we make choices that honor God, the more unusual we will appear to others in our culture.

Now that you’ve seen what NOT to embrace, maybe you’d like some specifics to help you understand how to honor God and stay aligned with truth.  Here is a great start: “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”  The final statement of this passage explains what we gain as a result: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8, NIV)

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to follow Jesus, I don’t want my endeavors to be ineffective or unproductive.  I don’t want to ride the fence and dabble in my faith while simultaneously letting the world shape my values and opinions.

I also don’t want to be someone who knows the truth of God’s Word but chooses to embrace the lies of the world or let my emotions lead me.  People like this are in the worst position of all: If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” (2 Peter 2:20-21, NIV)

Living according to God’s Word is the path to freedom, hope, wisdom joy, and salvation. Our culture continually feeds us lies to distract us from this truth. God’s ways and plans are best, but the Enemy will stop at nothing to make us forget this. He loves to lure people into compromising what they know is right so that they can find fleeting acceptance, false hope or temporary comfort. But we know better, don’t we? Hold tightly to God’s Word and continue to study it diligently. Although you can’t entirely remove yourself from the lies that permeate our culture, you can learn to identify them and reject them when you know the truth.

In Session 3 of No Other Gods, Kelly Minter includes lyrics to a song about lies written and performed by one of the “NOGS.” To hear “Liar’s Dream” by Alli Rogers, click on the link. If you have your book handy, you can follow along by reading the lyrics on pages 71-2.

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Bad Year, Good God

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I’ve heard people joke that 2016 is a year they’d like to forget. Daily headlines remind us our nation and our world have seen more than their fair share of ugly circumstances: tragic accidents, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, disturbing racism and political upheaval. Our nation is deeply divided, confused and disillusioned. Our world is in turmoil. People are losing sleep and shedding tears as they agonize over the variety of complex issues that have plagued us this year.

And yet, in the midst of all of these ugly and awful things, I am thankful. Not because of them, but in spite of them. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am thankful that my hope isn’t in human leaders, or manmade institutions. My hope isn’t in people, prosperity or earthly peace. I’m thankful because my hope is in the living God, who is sovereign over all things. I’m thankful because my ultimate citizenship is not in this world, but with God in heaven.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture seems especially fitting this week as I reflect on my thankfulness for God and his sovereignty. Below I’ve included excerpts from Isaiah 40 that cause me to feel thankful, hopeful and reassured, no matter what is going on in our nation and world:

Isaiah 40:21-25

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.”

Thankfulness Point #1: People who seem important or influential in this world may make a positive or negative impact for a time, but they will ultimately blow away like chaff in the wind. No earthly leader, no matter how wise or respected could ever compare to God. Likewise, no earthly leader, no matter how corrupt or questionable, could ever thwart God’s plans.

 Isaiah 40:26

“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

Thankfulness Point #2: God knows the stars by name and calls them out one by one. He also knows the number of hairs on my head and the head of every other person who has ever lived. (Luke 12:7) Nothing escapes his gaze. I am deeply thankful that the God of great power and mighty strength knows and cares about me personally.

 Isaiah 40:27-28

“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

Thankfulness Point #3: Even when we don’t understand what God is allowing in this world, we know he is trustworthy. His understanding is beyond anything our miniscule minds could comprehend. We can be thankful even when God’s ways and purposes are hidden from us. He is everlasting and sees world events from a vantage point that has a much larger scope than anything we can see.

 Isaiah 40:29-31

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Thankfulness Point #4: God renews our strength. No matter how weary and beaten down we become, we can always find refuge in him. His strength is available and accessible to us whenever we seek it. Not only does he renew and restore us, he enables us to soar like eagles so we can rise above even the most distressing situations.

Final Thought

No matter how ugly or distressing the events in the world are, we never have reason to despair. We can put trust and hope in the living God. He is our rock and refuge. Anything else we’re thankful for builds on that one truth. God is God and we are not. And that’s something we can celebrate at Thanksgiving and all year long.

For further reassurance on God’s sovereignty, click on the link and enjoy Natalie Grant’s song “King of the World.” Make it your prayer this Thanksgiving season.

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The Sword of the Spirit- The Armor of God Week 7

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To say I was going through a rough patch would be an understatement. One of my boys was a toddler and the other was in pre-school and although life at home was good, some hard situations outside our household were weighing heavily upon me. Looking back, I see that there was an element of spiritual attack I hadn’t even considered.

I remember one morning in that season I awoke feeling especially burdened with dark thoughts and anguished emotions. Sitting at the breakfast table flanked by one son in a high chair and the other chattering beside me, something triggered a flood of tears. The lump in my throat couldn’t hold back the sobs as I pushed my chair back and abruptly left the kitchen. Throwing myself face down on my bed, I wasn’t even sure why I was crying, but the tears wouldn’t cease.

A tap on my shoulder a few minutes later gently reminded me I had little people to tend to and forced me to gather my emotions. Wiping tears away, I tried to regain my composure as I looked up to find my older son standing in front of me. He held out his Beginners Bible and with wisdom that defied his tender age simply said, “Here Mom, read this. It’ll make you feel better.” I’m still not sure how he knew to bring me a Bible, but I’d been following his advice since long before he was born.

I’ll never forget the first time the words of Scripture jumped off the page, making me feel like a passage had been written just for me. I was a freshman in college, struggling to find true friends and to live by God’s standards. It was not the easiest time in life to decide to follow after Jesus whole-heartedly. The many worldly temptations of college had wooed away the one friend from home I’d depended on for spiritual support. Trying to shine a light for Jesus in the dark was not easy. I felt utterly alone, but undaunted in my desire to pursue Christ without compromise. And then one morning I stumbled across this passage:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, NIV)

Armed with this verse in the face of deep discouragement, I sensed God telling me not to lose my perspective. The trials I was facing were temporary, but if I persevered through them, my faith would prove genuine, which was eternal. Eventually, God also brought me friends who were godly, encouraging, and just plain fun.

Since that time, many more verses have felt especially relevant and personal in different seasons of my life. So much so, that I could make a time line of events in my life with corresponding Scriptures that spoke directly to me with words of wisdom, comfort, and direction. God’s Word has provided truth and light when I’ve been deceived by lies or have lost my way. It’s given me encouragement in times of trouble and hope when I’m tempted to despair.  I guess that makes sense considering Paul lists it as the final piece in the armor of God when he says, “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  (Ephesians 10:17, NIV)

The Bible has been my greatest weapon to fend off attacks of the evil one throughout my adult life. And because it is the spoken Word of God, it is always fresh, relevant and personal. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”  (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).  Scripture is so much more than just words on a page.  When we engage it and apply it to our lives, it changes us.  It changes our attitudes, our desires, our relationships and the things we value.   It is a guide for every aspect of daily living.  It is our solid foundation and the plumb line that keeps us aligned with God’s will.

I’ve begun to notice a clear difference between the lives of people who are actively engaging God’s Word and people who simply embrace the Christian lifestyle and its values.  People who study the Bible consistently and apply what they’ve learned have a passion and a sense of purpose in what they do.  They serve others out of gratitude to God, not as an obligation.  They grapple with hard truths and have teachable spirits.  They are hungry to know more about God and how He’s calling them to live.  They don’t follow rules and checklists–they abide with Jesus and let the Holy Spirit guide them.  Their lives are not safe and predictable.  They trust God when things get messy and complicated.  They have too much integrity to worry about whether or not they are “showing well” or impressing the “right” people. They are profoundly aware that they are sinners only saved by Gods’ grace.  Their resulting gratitude causes them to give their lives for God’s Kingdom purposes.

Putting on the armor of God daily means putting into practice what we say we believe. And when we do that, the enemy doesn’t stand a chance.

I can think of no better song to include than Third Day’s “Your Words.” Click on the link to enjoy a musical reminder of the value of God’s Word:

Priscilla Shirer, The Armor of God, Lifeway Press, 2015.


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Feelings Aren’t Truth- The Armor of God Week 2

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A few years ago one of my boys was going through a rough stage. The transition into middle school had not been  easy for him and intense emotional displays became the norm in our household. As I agonized over this with a friend one day, she gave me some advice: “Don’t ride the roller coaster with him.” I realized that every time he plummeted to the depths of discouragement, I had strapped myself in next to him to take the plunge. And every time he had a good day, I rode to the heights of excitement along with him. It was exhausting for me and not stabilizing for him.

Emotions are not a reliable guide. Like a roller coaster, they take us on a wild ride through a range of feelings, elevating us to dizzying heights of euphoria only to shift suddenly as they pick up speed heading to the bottom of a twisty curve. Like a thrill ride at an amusement park, they lure us in, only to leave us feeling queasy and off-balance in the end.

In The Armor of God Priscilla Shirer addresses the deception of emotions by explaining that feelings don’t have intellect, making them unreliable sources of information. Yet we often allow them to lead us as we make choices, don’t we? Instead of stepping back to examine our emotions under the light of biblical truth, we charge ahead with making decisions based on feelings alone. Sometimes we say “yes” to things that make us feel good in the moment, ignoring the long-term negative consequences. Other times we say “no” to things that would be beneficial for us just because we don’t feel like doing them.

Paul admonishes us to put on the belt of truth in Ephesians 6, but he explains the importance of this earlier in Ephesians 4. Let’s examine a few situations where lies fed by faulty emotions might counteract truth:

Lie #1: People Hurt My Feelings, So I’m Not Going to Invest in Them Anymore

Even in Christian groups, there are times when people hurt our feelings. We may feel excluded, unappreciated or overlooked, so we pull back and put up our defenses. Instead of letting an offense bounce off of us, we decide that we’re better off without certain people. In the process, we are also missing out on the good they have to offer and the things we could be learning through the  experience. Paul says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” (Ephesians 4:2-4, NIV)

Bearing with others in love for the sake of unity means that we need to work through our negative feelings about them. When we let our emotions make our decisions, we are being deceived.

Lie #2: Venting My Feelings is a Harmless Way to Process Them

 Since we’re talking about truth, I’ll be honest. There are times when we end up in situations with people we don’t prefer. Maybe it’s someone in your small group or a person serving alongside you in ministry. Anytime we encounter people, there is the potential for frustration. If we let our feelings lead us in these times, we are bound to make the situation worse.

It’s tempting to vent a frustration behind someone’s back. Sometimes it feels easier than praying. And it’s definitely easier than addressing the problem directly. Yet Scripture tells us, “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:25-27, NIV) If you’re in a frustrating situation, seeking wise counsel may be beneficial if you know the person will point you toward a biblical solution. However, venting about a problem just to complain magnifies it and taints your confidante’s perspective.  Try praying for gentleness, grace and good timing, then address the issue with the person who offended you. Another option is to decide to let it pass.  Then you have to get over it and move on without holding a grudge.

I can’t say it any more directly than Paul, 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) Before venting your frustration, think about what you hope to accomplish by it and decide if it aligns with the truth of God’s Word.

Final Thought

Our emotions are unreliable and often deceptive. When we let them lead us negatively, they fracture relationships and bring discord to the body of believers. When we fixate on things that offend or annoy us, we fail to recognize the opportunities we have for personal growth. We also give the devil a foothold to lead us deeper into unhealthy attitudes and sinful decisions.

Every day we have the choice to follow our unreliable emotions or to listen and believe truth. Let that message sink in as you enjoy Casting Crowns’ song “The Voice of Truth.”

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When “Good Enough” Isn’t

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Dipping my paddle in the water, I balanced on the board and pulled hard, ignoring my body’s protests. It had been twelve weeks since I’d fractured my elbow and wrist in a bike accident. I’d been looking forward to vacation and assumed I would be “back to normal” so I could enjoy biking, paddle boarding and swimming. The doctor had assured me the bone would be fully healed by then but my physical therapist was still concerned by my ongoing pain and stiffness. The tendons and muscles that had constricted to protect the fractures were still tight, preventing full range of motion.  My therapist pushed me hard in our sessions leading up to the trip, not wanting me to settle for “good enough.” She’d had other patients who didn’t want to do the hard work to be 100% recovered.   Beyond the concern about my quality of life and ability to use my arm fully, she worried about future problems that would arise, particularly the early onset of arthritis in my elbow joint.

Just before I left on vacation, she gave me a list of exercises to do daily and encouraged me to press on toward healing. A few days later, taking my first spin on a paddle board in the harbor, I remembered her words. With each dip of the paddle, the pain and stiffness that were so strong at first began to subside. By the end of the day, my arm felt loose and almost normal after all of the activities I’d done. But with the dawn of the next day, I was right back where I started. Some days it was tempting to give myself a break and not do the exercises she’d assigned, but I knew this would only prolong my recovery.

I had to trust that my efforts were incrementally improving my range of motion and flexibility, despite the discouragement of the painful stiffness returning each day. It started me thinking about a passage of Scripture written by Paul:

“Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” (1Timothy 4:7b-10, NIV)

Physical training produces a healthy body, but it is not a one-time event. Whether it’s doing physical therapy to regain full strength or just exercising consistently, we must move our bodies to maintain health. Similarly, we need to engage daily in training ourselves for godliness. The difference is, this kind of regimen has eternal significance.

As believers, we know this–yet why is it so difficult for us to put into practice? Maybe it seems easier to just coast through life without spiritual discipline. Laboring and striving sound like hard work, so we settle for “good enough” instead of pressing on in our pursuit of Christ. We want to amble along comfortably instead of living with a sense of urgency. Yet there is so much we miss when we surrender to this lackadaisical attitude. We limit the exciting things God wants to do in and through us and we fail to experience the abundant life he promises.

The pain in my elbow reminds me throughout the day that I need to keep working and pressing on with my therapy. I’m praying that circumstances in my life will prompt the same sense of purpose in my walk with God. Will you join me? When facing a difficult situation, let’s pursue God and see what he wants us to learn instead of defaulting to self-pity. When we encounter the same issues over and over again, let’s confront them head on and lay them at the feet of Jesus instead of growing weary and giving up. Let’s not ignore  baggage that will only weigh us down or hold us back. Let’s trust him to use ongoing challenges to refine our faith and make us more like him. With each day, let’s make it a priority to spend time aligning with God through praying and reading his Word before jumping into the day.

One of the best ways to labor and strive in your faith is to commit to studying the Bible regularly.  During the summer months, it’s easy to let this discipline slide. As you prepare for the busyness of fall, why not prioritize time for a weekly study? If your schedule feels overloaded, this is not the activity to jettison in an attempt to simplify your life. Don’t settle for “good enough”  by keeping your walk with Jesus on the back burner. Press on and see what new things God has in store for you. Discover deeper truth in the Bible as you delve into it with others. Then strive to apply it to your life. Yes, some days it will feel like hard work and other days you will not follow through. But setting a goal to be consistent will give you a clear focus and over time you’ll begin seeing results.

I imagine I could function for the rest of my life with a right arm that doesn’t extend fully, but I don’t want to settle for that. I don’t want my daily life to be less than it could be and I certainly don’t want to set myself up for even bigger problems in the future. In a similar way, I don’t want to be stunted spiritually. I don’t want to settle for a lukewarm faith. I want to keep moving forward and discovering new things about God, his Word and how he wants to work in and through me to impact the world and further his kingdom. Will you labor and strive with me to do this? Will you commit to doing the hard work for your sake and the sake of those around you? I guarantee, it’s worth the effort.

Click on the link and make Third Day’s song “Soul on Fire” your prayer today.

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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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