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Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Good Goodbyes-No Other Gods Session 5

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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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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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Choosing to Be Different– No Other Gods Session 1

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(First in a series of posts inspired by Kelly Minter’s Bible Study entitled No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern-Day Idols, Lifeway Press 2012)

 Holding the cup, I shifted it from one hand to the other and tried to blend in with the crowd. I only recognized a few faces at the party since it was one of my first weeks in college. Surrounding me were many under-aged revelers happily drinking from their red cups and re-filling them from the large keg of beer in the corner. Trying to find my place in a new world, I was struggling with how to be social while maintaining my integrity. I wanted to be a light to my peers but I also wanted to fit in. I’d been wrestling with how to navigate being a part of a sorority and attending social events without dishonoring God or compromising my morals.  Finding an answer had not been easy.

Later, I called a friend who was a strong believer at another large, public university. We had similar convictions and I wondered how she navigated the party scene in the Greek system. We both wanted to fit in, make friends and be social, but we also knew the culture could easily lure us to bad choices that would lead us to a whole host of sins.

I told her about the party and how I’d accepted the cup offered to me, but hadn’t really drunk from it. She sympathized with my dilemma, but didn’t mince words, “Well, how does anyone know you’re different if you do that? You’ve just got to tell people you don’t drink.” I was surprised and convicted by her words. I’d called expecting her to tell me it was okay to blend in at the party as long as I didn’t get drunk. She explained, “If you stand out as different, someone may ask you why. That’s a great chance to share your faith and be a light in a dark place. Who knows what kind of encouragement you might give to someone who really needs it?” I’d been so focused on wanting to fit in that I hadn’t considered the impact I could have by being different.

In the weeks that followed, I began attending parties with a changed perspective. I enjoyed socializing and gained the confidence to say: “No, thanks, I don’t drink,” when someone held out a red cup to me. Some dismissed me, but others were intrigued and wanted to know why. As the weeks unfolded, people stopped pressuring me to drink. They accepted and even respected my stance. In time, I discovered there were others in the Greek system that loved Jesus and chose not to participate in the drunken revelry so prevalent in that culture. Their choice to stand out as different encouraged and emboldened me. Eventually, we banded together and, with the support of a campus ministry, launched quarterly outreach events and weekly Bible studies for the Greek system.

Our choice to honor God and not just blend in with the culture of sororities and fraternities opened the door for him to use us in powerful ways among our peers. We integrated ourselves into the system without embracing the aspects of it that would draw us away from God. We were in the world, but not of the world—choosing to set ourselves apart so that God could use us to impact and influence those around us.

I’ve thought of that season in my life many times in the years since. The story isn’t really about underage drinking; it’s meant to show what happens when we broaden our perspective about how we engage others. In each season of life, we have the opportunity to influence our culture for Christ or to be influenced by it

There is a story about God’s chosen people, the Israelites, that illustrates this in a different way:

“They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, ‘Do not do as they do.’” (2 Kings 17:5, NIV)

Contrary to my opening story, the Israelites did not remain set apart from the sinful choices of the people around them. Instead of remaining true to the God of their ancestors, they imitated other nations that didn’t follow God or value his laws.  It is a sobering reminder that if we are not intentionally seeking to influence the culture around us, then it is influencing us. There is no neutral zone.

When we mindlessly plunge in and embrace the worldviews surrounding us, we open ourselves up to many attitudes and choices that lead us further away from God. We begin to value worthless and hollow things more than the things of God. We look for satisfaction in cheap, imitation idols instead of the one, true God. The further down this road we go, the harder it is to backtrack because we start to adapt our lives to worldly perspectives instead of God’s Word. It’s so much easier to float along with the current of popular culture than it is to swim against it.

Take some time this week to think and pray about this concept. Are you seeking ways to influence others for God’s kingdom or inadvertently allowing the people around you to influence you? Be honest with God and invite him to change your perspective where it’s needed.

It may take a while to disentangle from the worldly things that have captured your time and attention, but it is never too late to change course. By God’s grace, every day is a new opportunity to realign with him and to turn your back on things that have no lasting value.

Jeremy Camp’s “Christ in Me” is an inspiring song about recognizing the hollow ways of the world and choosing to change your perspective. Make it your prayer today.

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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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God is Greater- What Love Is Week 4

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Remember learning math in elementary school? Teachers would use all sorts of visual and tangible things to help us understand the different concepts. One I’ll never forget was learning the symbols for “greater than” and “less than.” Although the symbols were simple, it was hard for the kids in my class to remember which side of the “<” and “>” symbols represented the larger and smaller numbers. So my teacher cleverly told us to imagine a hungry alligator eating the number. Of course, his open mouth would face the greater number so that he had more to eat. I thought about that visual recently as I read 1 John. It’s reassuring to know that God is greater than some of the most powerful influences we face every day.

 God is Greater than Our Hearts

We often hear the phrase “follow your heart,” but if we heed this advice, the results aren’t always positive. In Scripture, the heart is used to represent thoughts, reasoning, understanding, will, judgment, affections, love, hatred, fear, joy, sorrow and anger. As a result, the heart can often lead us to make decisions based on our feelings instead of on truth. Sometimes it leads us down the right path, but sometimes it doesn’t. The prophet Jeremiah describes the heart’s fickle nature this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)

Our hearts can deceive us when we let them influence our faith too much. They can cause us to be too harsh or too lenient in our views of others and ourselves. If we’re feeling disconnected from God, this might cause us to doubt his love for us. And if we get stuck in a rut of sin, we might feel like we no longer deserve God’s love. Thankfully, “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20, NIV) Our salvation is not based on our feelings about God, but upon the grace, love and mercy he showed to us by sending Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. If you’ve accepted Christ as your savior, that is a truth you can believe, whether your feelings agree with it or not.

God is Greater than The Evil One

John’s letter also emphasizes that Christians are spiritually stronger than spirits of evil. He says, You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:3-4, NIV)  The “one” John refers to here is Satan, the prince of this world.

The evil one loves to distract believers with difficulties to prevent them from advancing the kingdom of God on earth. He wants to deceive us into believing we are powerless to fight his schemes. Sometimes he lulls us into apathy or self-absorption. Regardless of the methods he uses, his aim is the same: to take our eyes off of God and to make us forget that we have already claimed victory over him because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So the next time you’re facing discouragement, distress or any other negative situation, stop and pray.   Thank God that he is greater than the enemy and claim the Lord’s power over whatever difficulty you are facing.

God is Greater than the World

It doesn’t take much to realize that living for Jesus means living contrary to the majority of the world. Christ followers spend their days swimming against the tide of popular opinion and worldly philosophies. And just like physical exercise makes our bodies stronger, this “spiritual exercise” makes our faith stronger. It can also make us a little weary sometimes.

Although the world often sees following God’s commands as impossible, Scripture makes it clear that obeying God is within our grasp:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5, NIV)

We are victorious whenever we choose to reject the world’s influence on our thoughts and actions and follow God’s ways instead. This happens when we seek his direction for major life decisions instead of following worldly wisdom. It also occurs through daily decisions about the way we spend money and time, the company we keep, the pleasures we pursue and the ways we treat others. There is no need to feel burdened by these decisions. Doing things God’s way frees us up to grow closer to him and to discover more of the abundant life he has for us.

Claiming God’s Greatness

Maybe you need a reminder right now that God has overcome these areas in your life. Are your emotions influencing your thoughts more than the truth found in the Bible? Be encouraged that God is greater than your heart. Is Satan toying with you by causing you to believe lies or to wallow in self-pity? Be empowered knowing that God has overcome the evil one. Are the hollow philosophies and sinful choices of our culture wearing you down or lulling you into complacency? Be energized knowing that through Christ, you have overcome the world.

There are two great songs based on these truths that always encourage me. Click on the link to hear “Greater is He” by Blanca and “Greater” by Mercy Me.

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Three Responses to the World- What Love Is, Week 2

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Frowning, I rifled through the clothes hanging in my closet. Despite the many things I had to choose from, nothing felt quite “right” for the occasion. My husband and I were preparing for an event with a group of people that often stirred up my insecurities. On the surface they seemed so flawless to me with their fashionable clothes, successful careers and beautiful homes. Any time I was around them I felt like an outsider pretending that I belonged.

After choosing an outfit that seemed marginally acceptable, I sat down to work on Day 5 in Kelly Minter’s What Love Is Bible study. Conviction pricked at my heart as I read: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, NIV)

I thought about the people I’d be seeing in a few hours. Most of them had achieved great success from a worldly perspective, yet they knew nothing of God. They had no clue about what it meant to live for what lasts. I felt convicted realizing I’d been so busy preparing my clothes to fit in with them that I’d forgotten to prepare my heart so that God could use me to impact them.

Navigating the divide between worldiness and godliness is tricky for followers of Jesus. How do we interpret Scriptures that condemn worldly thinking when we have to interact with people who embrace it every day? I think there are three main ways Christians respond to this.

The Covert Christian

There is a contingent of believers that engages easily with non-believers in worldly situations. Sometimes they become so adept at fitting in, no one would ever know they held different beliefs than the rest of the crowd. Their reasons for doing this are varied—some are insecure and afraid to stand out, others don’t want to be labeled or judged, still others want to remain culturally relevant to show the world that Christians aren’t a bunch of weirdos. Some aren’t confident in their knowledge of Scripture or their ability to defend their faith and decide it’s just easier to stay quiet. And some just want to have fun and ignore deeper issues. (Most of my knowledge with this category comes from first hand experience.)

There is an appropriate time and place to be subtle in our faith. Developing a relationship over time and letting a person see Jesus in your life can be a powerful and effective witness. However, many covert Christians never reach this point because they’ve become so adept at blending in, no one sees anything different in them. For the “covert” approach to work effectively, it’s important to pray for the people in the worldly circles you frequent. If you’ve compartmentalized your faith and it only shows with your Christian friends, your unbelieving friends are missing out. Pray and look for opportunities to influence your worldly friends and acquaintances more than they are influencing you.

The Holy Huddler

Another contingent of believers chooses to remove themselves from the world and its influences as much as possible. They prefer to create a bubble of comfort that insulates them from anything they see as a threat to their faith. They spend time with only Christians doing Christian activities. They keep their kids away from any exposure to the outside world or people with views that differ from theirs.

While the Bible does call us to be “set apart, ” there is a problem when we take this mentality to an extreme. Our lives should look different when we follow Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid anyone who doesn’t know him. On the contrary, we should be seeking opportunities to influence them. John 3:16, perhaps the most famous verse in Scripture, tells us that God loved the world so much he sent his only son to save it. If God was willing to do this, then we need to follow his example by reaching out to the world. Holy huddles can be comfortable places to find rejuvenation when the world makes us weary, but we aren’t meant to remain in them indefinitely.

The Intentional Influencer

A Christian with this mindset has a healthy balance between pursuing godliness and impacting the world. They are growing deep in Christian relationships and continually being sharpened and challenged so they can engage the world effectively. They look at their involvements in secular activities as opportunities to develop relationships with non-believers, with the ultimate goal of showing them God’s love and leading them toward a relationship with him. Intentional influencers know they need to work in concert with other believers so they can use their different gifts to impact a community. They realize they need others to pray with them strategically and to partner with them for greater impact in the world.

Intentional influencers are living proof of Jesus’ prayer for all believers: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23, NIV)

 A Final Thought

Depending on circumstances, you may cycle through each of these perspectives at different times in your life. If one of the descriptions made you squirm with discomfort, take some time to pray and ask God how to respond.   Let him know you’re open to his perspective and that you’re willing to change with his help.

For some great examples of what it looks like to live a life of impact and influence for God, click on the link and listen to “God is On the Move” by 7enventh Time Down.

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Investing Wisely

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My heart hammered in my chest as butterflies danced in my belly. Although my only physical activity was the darting of my eyes and the nervous shaking of my knee, I was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. I’d spent the past four days waking up several hours before dawn, driving long distances to remote locations and nursing an aching back from sitting on hard, metal bleachers. It was the tenth and final game of my son’s biggest water polo tournament of the year. And although I was only a spectator as the drama unfolded in the pool each day, it often felt like a full body experience. The last game kept the crowd in suspense until the final moments. In the end, my son’s team clawed its way from behind to claim a hard fought victory.

As the teams lined up on the pool deck to shake hands, I asked myself why my family willingly submitted to such a costly experience.  Were the “bronze” medals my son’s team wore worth all of the effort? We’d spent a fair amount of money on travel, food, tournament fees, and accommodations. Beyond that, we’d spent our precious vacation time cramming into stands to cheer for our son’s team as it battled for victory in the pool. With each game we experienced a range of emotions from disappointment and frustration to pride and jubilation. Watching the gleeful team celebrate its third-place medal was satisfying, but not the real motivation behind our effort.

My husband and I viewed the time we took and the financial and emotional costs associated with the tournament (and the whole sport for that matter) as an investment in our son. It’s not that we have grand illusions that he’ll get a full ride to college or earn a spot on the Olympic team—it’s more about the life experience and opportunities for character development. Over the years, he’s learned much more than how to play the game of water polo. He’s discovered how to show respect for his coaches and the officials, how to work with a team, how to win graciously and how to handle disappointment maturely. He’s learned a lot about discipline, commitment and hard work.  He’s had fun making friends but has also learned how to deal with difficult people and situations. The dollars, time and emotions we’ve spent have been an investment in his character and in his growth toward manhood.

There’s a big difference between spending and investing. Once something is spent, it’s gone for good: like spending money on something that will eventually lose its value or become obsolete. Investing, on the other hand, gives a return. When we invest in things that are worthwhile, they return greater rewards.

Jesus told this story about the value of investing wisely:

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

 22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

 23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

 24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

 28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 25:14-30, NIV)

The bags of gold (translated as “talents” in other versions) represent the many resources God gives us to use during our lives. Every day we have a choice to invest them wisely, to squander them thoughtlessly or to keep them to ourselves, as the “wicked, lazy” servant did in the parable.

Thinking about the resources God has entrusted to me causes me to do a bit of soul-searching. It’s good to stop and consider if I’m as intentional with other areas as I’ve have been with my son’s involvement in sports. I try to ask myself periodically if I’m making worthwhile investments with the things listed below:

-My time (Am I following my own agenda? Am I generous or stingy with my time? Am I intentional about managing it wisely?)

-My relationships (Am I reaching out to people who need love and encouragement or focusing only on people who are part of my usual circle?)

-My finances (Am I generous? Do I tithe? Do I give sacrificially?)

-My natural abilities (Do I use them for my own benefit or to bless others and honor God?)

-My spiritual gifts (Do I know what they are? Am I using them regularly?)

-My intellect (What kinds of things do I put into my brain? Am I developing my mind and continually stretching myself to learn new things?  Am I using what I know to bless and benefit others?)

-My body (Am I exercising and sleeping enough so I can stay healthy? Do I put too much emphasis on my appearance? Do I have habits with food, alcohol or other substances that are unhealthy?)

-My tangible resources (Am I willing to open my home? Am I willing to help people with needs such as making meals, babysitting, doing extra carpool duty?)

-My spiritual life (Am I committed to growing in my relationship with God and my knowledge of His Word? Can I see signs of growth as I look back over the last few years?)

If one of the categories or questions causes you to stop and think, take some time to pray about it. Ask God to reveal whether or not you are making a wise investment with that particular topic. Let the Holy Spirit guide you and, above all, don’t try to tackle the entire list at once! Invest wisely one step at a time and know that God is saying to you “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I suspect a few people who read the list above are going to focus on the areas they need to grow and will react by feeling like failures.  If you’re tempted to beat yourself up, please don’t.  Instead, click on the link below and be encouraged by Casting Crowns’ song “Just Be Held.”