Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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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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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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When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Live Like You Believe It- What Love Is Week 1

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Reading through the opening chapter of First John makes my mind dart from one topic to the next. I sense John’s urgency as he writes, his passion for his readers to embrace a relationship with Jesus and to let their lives reflect the difference knowing Him makes. John’s approach is direct not because he is harsh, but because he cares too much to risk having someone miss the point.

He starts by emphasizing that he knew Jesus personally saying, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3 NIV)

The word “fellowship” comes from the Greek word “koinonia.” It includes both a spiritual and a practical component. Those who believe in Jesus and his resurrection are united in the Holy Spirit through the Son to the Father. Put simply, they have a personal relationship with God. And this means they also have a relationship with others who are connected with God. “Perhaps the clearest theological use of koinonia [fellowship] is in 1 John 1:3-6, where we read that when we walk in the light truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ and that this relation of grace has profound implications for daily living. For if we say that we have fellowship with God and walk in darkness, we lie! Here the basic meaning of ‘fellowship’ is a real and practical sharing in eternal life with the Father and the Son.” (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)

In essence, when we are walking closely with God, we connect easily with others who are doing the same, whether we’ve known them for years or are meeting them for the first time. I had the privilege of seeing this dynamic recently as I gathered with a group of women for a special lunch. All of us were believers, but some had never met.   Despite this, the talk around the table was rich and deep. An outside observer would have thought we’d all been close friends for years. The reason for this was our common love for and relationship with Jesus. Through many encounters like this one, I’ve learned it doesn’t take long for the Holy Spirit living in me to recognize himself in someone else I meet.   True fellowship flows naturally when people connected with God engage with one another.

Conversely, we don’t experience deep fellowship with people who have a façade of faith, but no substance behind it. John describes them as people who “claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness” (1 John 1:6a, NIV). John doesn’t mince words– he says people doing this “Do not live out the truth.” (1 John 1:6b, NIV) This reminds me of the years I spent volunteering with the high school group at my church. I could always tell how the girls in my small group were doing spiritually by how closely they wanted to connect with me. Those who rode the fence between faith and worldliness often remained at a distance from me, no matter how much I lovingly pursued them. They were lying to themselves, believing they could live by worldly and godly standards simultaneously. They wanted the warmth and reassurance of the light, but were lured by the lies lurking in the darkness. As long as they remained divided, true fellowship couldn’t happen.

John continues his teaching in the next section by explaining the importance of being honest about our sins. Again, not mincing words he says, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, NIV) As our world continues to eliminate moral standards, the line between right and wrong is slowly being erased. Our culture has moved from excusing sin to embracing it and calling it good.  When we determine our own versions of right and wrong, then we can convince ourselves that there is no such thing as sin. And if sin no longer exists, nothing is off-limits. Ultimately, this mentality eliminates the need for Jesus, the one who gave his life to forgive our sins.

For Christians, it is vitally important to recognize sin in our lives and to confess it. This means we need to study God’s Word consistently so that we can know the standards he calls us to maintain. We do this not because we want to follow a list of rules, but because we love God and don’t want anything to impede our fellowship with him or with others. Admitting our sins is an act of humility that honors God and reminds us how much we need him. When we ask for forgiveness it reminds us that we’re not perfect and that we need to show God’s grace to others. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV)  Doing this deepens fellowship with God and with other believers.

I’d sum up John’s teaching in this passage by saying that if we claim to know Jesus and to walk in the light, it will be evident in our lives. We’ll have meaningful relationships with fellow believers and we’ll have a deep love for God and the truth of His Word. We will admit that we are sinners, humbly confess sin and seek forgiveness regularly. Doing these things enables us to live with authenticity and to invite others to do the same.

Jeremy Camp’s song “Christ in Me” describes the tension between getting stuck in the dark of worldliness versus embracing the light of Christ. Click on the link and make it your prayer as you listen.

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Oaks of Righteousness- Women of the Word Part 9

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For thirty-three years Jesus walked the earth as a sinless man who was the living Word of God. The women in his family tree, however, were anything but perfect. From their stories, we see the roots of our own struggles and recognize that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. The lives of Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary reveal messy and complicated circumstances. And yet, through the women in Jesus’ family tree, we see God’s redemptive hand at work. With each new branch, he prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah who would ultimately die on a cross and rise from death to graft all people into his family tree.

Despite their flaws, these women were like the nearly indestructible oak tree: symbols of strength and endurance that survived even the most difficult circumstances. Most experienced the pain of a broken heart at least once in their stories—whether it was Sarah and Rebekah who longed for children that wouldn’t come, Leah and Tamar who were unloved by their husbands or Bathsheba who had one loss layered on top of another. Some like Rahab and Ruth had been captives to false religions while others like Eve fell captive to sin. A few, like Ruth and Mary, were poor. These women mourned over lost husbands, children, homelands and dreams. And yet, from them, the bloodline of the Messiah passed from one generation to the next. Reading a familiar passage written by the prophet Isaiah makes me think of them:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Despite their hardships, their pain, their poor choices and ugly circumstances, the women in Jesus’ family line ultimately displayed God’s splendor. They played key roles in fulfilling his covenant promise to Abraham, who was blessed to be a blessing to the entire world. (See Genesis 12:2-3)

Generations after Isaiah made his prophecy, that blessing was fulfilled in the person of Jesus, the Messiah that had been foretold since the creation of the world. (See Genesis 3:14-15) Jesus astonished everyone in his hometown synagogue by standing up and reading this same passage from Isaiah and boldly proclaiming that it was fulfilled in Him:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:16-21, NIV)

Jesus shocked the crowd with this statement just as he was beginning his earthly ministry. After teaching, healing and making disciples for three subsequent years, he was crucified despite committing no crime.   After Jesus resurrected from death and ascended into heaven, his disciples continued to proclaim the good news about him. And despite intense persecution and hardship, their numbers continued to multiply. Each time something threatened to wipe out the burgeoning church, it only grew stronger and spread further.

The disciples’ tenacity and continued multiplication reminds me of an unusual type of oak that grows in the Jurupa Valley in Southern California. Known as the Palmer’s Oak, it looks like an unimpressive little thigh-high shrub. From a distance, it appears to be a grouping of small trees spread out in a wide oval, but it is actually one tree that shares an ever-expanding root system. Periodically, a fire will rage across the hill where it lives, reducing it to ashes. The pressure placed on the roots by the fire causes the normally slow-growing tree to send up new sprouts. With each fire, the sprouts spread further and further.

It sounds a lot like the disciples who endured incredible hardships in order to spread their faith in Jesus. With each persecution they faced, they traveled to farther flung destinations, expanding their roots as they continued to share the gospel and watch their numbers grow. That endurance is what allowed the good news of Jesus to spread to different regions and to be passed through the generations, ultimately making it possible for us to know Jesus today.

And to think, it all started with those flawed women and their messy, complicated lives. God still brings beauty from ashes today. We have the privilege of being counted among those who display God’s splendor just like the oaks of righteousness Isaiah described so long ago.

The image of the tree has been a significant part of the Women of the Word study, both because of the family tree of Jesus and because of the oaks of righteousness. I couldn’t pass up including a song that weaves together these images and themes with a stunning visual representation. Click on the link and enjoy “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North.

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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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