Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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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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Foreigners to Faith- Women of the Word Part 7

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Sitting on the edge of the couch, she perched the large Bible on her knees. She’d broken the seal on the shrink-wrap moments earlier and was examining the sturdy leather cover and the gold-edged pages. Looking up with a sheepish grin she explained, “Buying this was one of the most awkward things I’ve ever done. I felt like an Eskimo shopping at a bikini store.” The group laughed as she continued, “No, seriously. I was sure someone in the Christian bookstore was going to say I had no business buying this Bible and that I didn’t really belong there.”

It was the first week of a new Bible study I’d started with a friend. Ten women sat clutching cups of coffee as they nestled into the couch and introduced themselves. Some were exploring faith for the first time, others had grown up in the church but had never really understood the Bible. All of them agreed to join my friend and I as we led them on a twelve-week “experiment” to explore the Bible together and discuss questions about the Christian faith. They were earnest seekers and most of them had one thing in common: they felt like strangers and outsiders to the world of faith.

Our twelve weeks of study flew by and they all agreed things were just starting to make sense. They were unanimous in their desire to continue. When the first year came to an end, they clamored for more, returning the next fall eager to continue learning and growing. As time passed, they moved from being strangers to God and His Word to being earnest believers in the midst of life transformation. Most had never realized just how inclusive God is and how much He wants authentic relationships with the people He lovingly created.  They were excited to share their newfound knowledge and wanted to expand our group to include other seekers.

I thought about this precious group of women with a smile as I read the story of Ruth recently. Scripture tells us she, too, began as a foreigner–an outsider who wanted to belong. Her faith in God and devotion to her Jewish mother-in-law prompted her to leave her homeland and travel to Bethlehem after the death of their husbands. Forsaking her family and culture, Ruth told Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16b, NIV) We don’t know what drew her to the God of the Israelites, but her devotion was sincere and she remained true to her word.

Despite her dedication to her mother-in-law and God, the Jews probably didn’t welcome Ruth warmly when she arrived in Bethlehem. After years of being admonished to remain “set apart,” they could have been wary about accepting Naomi’s foreign daughter-in-law into their community. The people had been taught not to intermarry with foreigners to prevent tainting their faith with pagan depravity and idol worship. However, this viewpoint may have caused them to view outsiders with condescension, suspicion or fear. Although she had accepted the God of Israel, Ruth’s status as a foreigner kept her on the fringes of the community.

In spite of her marginalized position, Ruth had to mix with others to provide for Naomi and herself. With few prospects for employment, she did the only thing a reputable, poor, widow could do: she gleaned in the fields. Every day she walked behind hired hands to collect leftover grain. It was exhausting and potentially dangerous work for a lone woman with no protector, but it was the only option she had if she wanted to eat.

Through her hard work, humble spirit and dedication to Naomi, Ruth began to gain favor with Boaz, the owner of the fields where she worked. He said, “You left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:11b-12, NIV)

The praise Boaz gave to Ruth was not based on her bloodline or her country of origin, but upon her heart and her character. This was the first step toward a new chapter in her life story. Eventually she went from being an outsider to marrying Boaz and being welcomed into the community. She was grafted into the most esteemed family tree among the Israelites. It grew from Abraham and would be in full bloom with the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.

Boaz saw Ruth’s heart because God saw her heart. Scripture confirms: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b, NIV)

Perhaps their story could inspire us to consider the “foreigners to faith” in our midst every day. There are people all around us on the fringe looking for a place to belong and be loved. Like Ruth, they might be willing to risk venturing onto “foreign soil” to discover God and His Word. But they need observant and sensitive people like Boaz to notice. Are we praying, asking God to open our eyes and lead us to them?

“Through him we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus.” (Romans 1:5, The Message)

Maybe you already know how exciting it is to lead someone to the hope found in Jesus. Or maybe you’ve never considered how you could be used for God’s redemptive work in the life of a “foreigner to faith.” Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear them share their story and to know you were part of it? Click on the link and imagine the impact God could make through you as you listen to “My Story” by Big Daddy Weave.

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Advance!

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Last week I had my first experience seeing Beth Moore teach in person at a Living Proof Live event in Stockton, CA. I was impressed as she described praying that God would give her a specific word for our group of 5000 that weekend. God delivered some powerful answers to her prayers and used her to inspire the crowd in mighty ways.

Her theme for the weekend was “Advance!” based on this verse: Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12)

She admonished us to advance in the gospel personally so that we could advance the gospel in the lives of others. Using the acrostic “A-D-V-A-N-C-E” she led us through a series of key points to make Paul’s message in Philippians applicable to our lives today. I always absorb information more thoroughly by taking notes and reviewing them. I’ll be using my next few posts to share the key points from her three talks and then I’ll add my own thoughts about them.

Here are the first two parts of the acrostic:

A- A Kingdom is Coming.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”   (Matthew 24:14)

God’s kingdom is a present reality and a future reality. When we share the gospel, we participate in spreading His kingdom on earth.   To advance the gospel, we must know God’s word and then pray for open doors to share it with others. Whether we have the gift of evangelism or not, this is part of our call as followers of Christ.

Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to further His kingdom when we say: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,your kingdom come, 
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10) Asking for God’s will to be done on earth allows us to claim territory for Him. As hearts and minds surrender to Christ, we advance His Kingdom and the world around us changes for the better. We also add to the ranks of the souls who will celebrate in God’s forever kingdom.

Furthering the kingdom is about living out the gospel first with our deeds and then with our words. When our actions toward others align with God’s will and word, we bless them and spread His kingdom. Mother Teresa said it well: “Spread the love of God through your life but only use words when necessary.”

D- Dare to Advance It

The Greek word for “advance” is “prokopen” which Beth explains as “to beat or drive forward as if with repeated strokes, hence to go forward or further, make progress, proceed.” She connected this to the example of clearing dense brush in a jungle using a machete. Similarly, we use the sword of the Spirit to hack through the darkness to advance the Kingdom of God. “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

If we don’t advance in our knowledge of the word of God, we won’t understand the access we have to God’s incredible power. Without these things, we can’t further God’s kingdom. Bible study doesn’t sound quite so tame when it’s described like that.

Don’t let all this talk about hacking through darkness scare you! Spreading God’s kingdom isn’t about hitting people over the head with a Bible. It’s about loving them. Here are few ideas for advancing the kingdom:

-Show compassion to a hurting world

-Give mercy instead of judging people

-Be honest about your own sin and brokenness with God and others

-Forgive people when they don’t deserve it

-Allow time in your day to be interrupted, to listen, to show kindness

-Say “no” to selfishness and self-absorption

None of these things can be done on your own strength. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and equip you, then advance!

Every time I hear Jason Gray’s song “With Every Act of Love” it inspires me to further the kingdom of God on earth.   It makes me realize simple acts of love lead others to want to know Him. This is how we advance the gospel.

Click on the link to hear “With Every Act of Love.”

**Special thanks to my son for creating the scene of the advancing Lego army for this week’s photo.

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Letting Your Heart Break

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This week our Focused Living Bible study launched a new study:  Nehemiah:  A Heart That Can Break.  In the opening video author Kelly Minter explains that Nehemiah was a Jewish exile living in Persia.  He was a descendant of the Jews who had originally been carried off to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzer conquered Jerusalem in 587 B.C.  By 539 B.C. Cyrus, King of Persia had conquered King Nebuchadnezzer and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland.   Over the years some returned to Jerusalem, while others remained living in Babylon, the only home they’d ever known.

Nehemiah was one of the Jews who stayed in Babylon.  As the story opens, about 140 years have passed since the Jews were first carried off from Jerusalem.  We learn in Nehehmiah chapter 1 that our main character was cupbearer to King Ataxerxes.   Minter explains that a cupbearer would have been like a butler.  My mind immediately pictured the character “Carson” on the popular show Downton Abby.  The time periods and cultures are wildly different, but I imagine some things about the job would be consistent in any era.  A butler would be responsible for running an esteemed household with proper etiquette and decorum. Although he would not be wealthy personally, he would be at ease living and working among people of great stature.  He would be accustomed to fine things and grand surroundings.

In Nehemiah 1:2-4, our hero heard news about Jerusalem while he was serving King Ataxerxes at his winter resort in Susa:

Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.  They said to me,  ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’  When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”

From his location of opulence Nehemiah wept for his fellow Jews living in disgrace.   Minter points out  “though the suffering of the Jews would have naturally been of some concern to him, technically this was not his problem.  He didn’t live there.”  (p.13)   Nevertheless, Nehemiah’s heart broke when he learned the news.  His first reaction was to seek God in prayer:

Then I said:  ‘Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.’”  (Nehemiah 1:5-6)

Nehemiah ended his prayer asking God to give him success and to grant him favor in the presence of the king.  Then, he waited for an opportune time.  Several months passed before his chance to ask King Ataxerxes for assistance finally arrived.  When it did, Nehemiah entreated him boldly, knowing that God had gone before him to prepare the way:

The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?’  Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.’”  (Nehemiah 2:4-5)

Nehemiah’s heart broke for his people and he asked to leave his place of comfort so he could help them.  Minter explains Nehemiah had “a God-inspired heart that couldn’t bear the thought of letting his fellow Jews suffer—a heart that had no choice but to do something.” (p.14)  Spurred on not by obligation, but by a desire to obey God and love others, Nehemiah set out on a monumental quest to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem.

Minter uses Nehemiah’s example to challenge us saying “You may not be in a position to leave your job like Nehemiah, but surely there is someone whose well-being you can seek and promote…When embraced by God’s grace, the called to serve is no longer a guilt-trip but the gospel.”  (p.27)

Maybe her words confirm what you’ve already sensed God doing in your life or maybe they are convicting you a bit.  Perhaps God is nudging you to alleviate the suffering of others in some way.   Personally, I spent far too many years feeling unsure about what “doing something” should look like in my life.  I vacillated between feeling guilty that I wasn’t serving the needy and rationalizing all of the reasons why it wasn’t feasible for me.  Then, in 2011, I was asked to write a blog for a secular website about Rich Stearns’ book The Hole in Our Gospel.  Reading the book and writing my thoughts about it changed me.  I started praying God would show me where and how He wanted to use me.  I didn’t move to Africa or start a Missions organization in the inner city, but God did break my heart and has prompted me to serve the needy in a variety of ways since then.

One small example of this happened a few weeks ago.   My twelve-year old son’s youth group was planning a fun day in San Francisco.  I was excited to go, but something inside of me cringed as I thought of the many homeless people we would encounter.   It felt wrong to expose the kids to people with such profound need without preparing them to show God’s love and compassion.  After praying about it and talking with the Middle School Director from church, we made a plan to have the day be a combination of sight seeing and serving the needy.  All of the kids were invited to bring bags filled with supplies such as toothbrushes, wipes, chapstick, granola bars, and socks.  Each bag also included a pamphlet with the Gospel clearly and simply explained.

When we got off the BART train at Powell Street we walked the kids through a nearby neighborhood where our church has been partnering with a ministry called City Impact.  We knew we’d encounter needy people on the streets, but also wanted the kids to see the location of the ministry since they’d participated in donating items to help it in the past.

Most of us were tentative and uncomfortable as we walked through the neighborhood at first.  The kids were looking to the adults for reassurance and we silently prayed for the Spirit to give us courage and confidence to lead them well.  One man standing in a doorway stepped out and questioned me with a concerned tone: “Do you folks mean to be here? Union Square is in the other direction.”  Clearly, we did not look like we belonged there. However, as he soon as he saw us pulling bags out and offering them to people, he smiled and nodded.  A few blocks later, we encountered him again, this time he’d rounded up a few friends:  “Do you all still have some of those bags left?  These guys could use them.”  As the kids handed out the supplies the men smiled, thanked us and said “God bless you.”

Further down the block we came to a long line of people waiting for a free lunch from a well-known church.  As we walked up the sidewalk offering bags, some recipients were bold enough to ask for specific items:  “Do you have deodorant? How about a razor and shaving cream?”  I answered honestly:  “Sorry, no, this is all we have.”  Not everyone was polite and a few even inspected the bags to choose which ones had items they wanted more.  We encountered unsavory sights and smells.  We felt awkward at moments and anxious at others, but we stayed and gave out all the supplies we had.  Some of the students even gave snacks they’d brought for themselves.

Within thirty minutes, we’d given away all the bags and headed to Union Square for lunch.  A few of the kids were surprised at how quickly we ran out.  Some felt badly that we didn’t have more to give. There were eighteen people in our group and we probably handed out at least thirty bags.  We barely made a dent in giving them to everyone who needed or wanted them.

Thinking about it in retrospect, I realized that “doing something” doesn’t mean we are going to save the world single handedly.  We’ll never be able to feed every hungry person.  However, any time we act to alleviate the suffering of others our efforts make a difference.  All the people who received bags that day knew for a moment that they mattered– someone saw their need and sought to meet it.

Serving others can be messy, time consuming and inconvenient.  Sometimes it’s complicated and uncomfortable.  Often it means stepping out of our comfort zones and being stretched in new ways.  However, when we pray first and let God guide and equip us, we have nothing to fear.   He will lead us to the specific things He wants us to do and will use us to bless others and glorify Himself.  Demonstrating this kind of obedience is one of the most profound ways to show our love for Him.

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Matthew West’s new song “Do Something” sounds like it was written specifically for the Nehemiah study.  Click on the link below to hear it and be inspired to pray about what “doing something” might look like in your life.


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Walking for Water

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Recently a good friend was telling me about how her kitchen faucet was broken. Her husband was out of town, so she’d put a sign on the faucet to remind herself and her kids to get water in the bathroom.   It was a colossal pain for three days until her husband returned and fixed the problem.  I could empathize with her frustration because I lived without a kitchen for five months during a remodel.

During the time of our remodel, I was reading a book called The Hole in Our Gospel by World Vision President Rich Stearns.  Our whole church read it together over the course of six weeks.  In fact, writing my thoughts about that book was what launched me into the world of blogging.  The book opened the eyes of many people in our church to the tremendous needs existing among vast numbers of impoverished people around the world.  Our church was so moved that we committed to investing time and resources in a village in Ethiopia for the next seven years.  A lasting impact will be made as we build a school, sponsor kids, dig a well and provide support to help the people of Sintaro move from surviving to thriving.

I’ve had a small taste of the frustration of not having water readily accessible.  For the people of Sintaro, this is a way of life.  Three times a day they must hike down a steep ravine to get water from a dirty stream for all of their needs—from cooking to bathing to drinking.  Women and children lug heavy jugs back up the trail to the village.  It’s sobering to think about the amount of time they spend getting water.  Having running water readily accessible is a pretty vital aspect of life.  I think most of us who have it take it for granted.  I know I do.

My husband and I have gotten involved with an event to raise money to dig a well in Sintaro Village.  A team of us has been planning a hike for the community to “walk for water.”  The people of Sintaro do it three times daily.   We’ll do it for an hour on a Saturday to identify with their struggle and raise funds to make a lasting difference.  The sponsorship money hikers  contribute or raise will go directly into a fund to build the well in Sintaro Village.  It’s a simple but exciting opportunity to make a difference.   Registration has been open for the last month and we’re hoping to have at least 100 people participate.  We still have a ways to go to reach that goal, but I’m confident we will.  All it requires is signing up, sponsoring yourself and maybe asking a few  additional folks to sponsor you as well.  If you invite friends, their sponsorships will be matched by an anonymous donor.  Participants will have the choice of walking on a paved trail or hiking on a dirt one for about an hour.  That’s it.  If you can’t hike or won’t be in town, please consider sponsoring someone else or making a donation.

I ‘m hoping we’ll remember the heart behind this event—it’s not about feeling guilty or fulfilling a duty, it’s about aligning ourselves with the heart of God.  I think Jesus says it best:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”  -Matthew 25:31-40

To get more information or to register for the Hike, click on the link below.

http://www.hikeforsintaro.org

To see a 3 minute video of the hike the Sintaro villagers make three times a day, click on the link below:

Click below to hear a song that will inspire you to bring water to those in need: :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYP5gE-kDjY

I’ll look for you out on the trail October 5th!