Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Everything is Opposite- Sermon on the Mount Part 2

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Squinting at the scoreboard above our high school’s pool, I was surprised to see how many goals were posted on the “Guest” side for the evening’s water polo game.   My son and his teammates had been playing well and I was sure they’d scored a few more goals than the board showed for our home team. After a few minutes of confusion, I recalled we weren’t originally scheduled to host the game. The location had changed because our opponent’s pool was having maintenance issues, making us the “Guest” team in our own pool.

Turning to the fans surrounding me in the stands, I reminded them that our goals were being logged on the “Guest” side of the board. Most breathed a sigh of relief. Few of their sons had remembered to tell them this important detail before rushing out the door. Every time new fans arrived we told them the same information: “We’re the guest team tonight.” It’s always helpful to know how to read the scoreboard accurately so you can cheer for the right team.

As I opened the pages to Jen Wilkin’s Sermon on the Mount Bible study this week, my experience at the water polo game seemed like a fitting analogy. Reading Jesus’ opening words in the Sermon on the Mount evoked that same disconcerting “everything is opposite” sort of feeling.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-10, ESV)

In the world’s eyes, few of the descriptions listed by Jesus would be considered a blessing—no one wants to be poor in spirit, mourning or meek. Few people in our world value righteousness, give mercy or show purity of heart. Fewer still strive to be peacemakers or feel blessed in the face of persecution.  Most of the things our world values are completely opposite.

However, as followers of Christ, we don’t see things from the world’s perspective. We know we’re just travelers passing through on our way to our true home in heaven. Jesus makes this clear in John 15 when He explains “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world” (John 15:19a, NIV).

Our citizenship is in heaven. While we’re here on earth, our purpose is to be a dwelling for the Holy Spirit to bring God’s light into the world. (Paul talks about this in Ephesians 2:19-22, if you want to read more). In essence, we’re on the “Guest” team while we’re here and are called to invite others onto it with us by sharing the good news of Jesus with them.

Living the kind of opposite life Jesus describes is difficult, especially when the world around us doesn’t see value in what we’re doing. There can be lonely moments when we’re the only ones in the stands cheering for the “Guest” team because no one else cares about what matters to God. What I’m realizing, though, is that being blessed doesn’t always mean experiencing comfort or ease on this side of heaven.  We live with the tension of knowing Jesus has claimed the victory over sin, death and Satan, but our world has not yet embraced this truth. When the game ends, however, all people will look at the scoreboard and see that the “Guest” team has posted the win.

I thank God for blessing me with fellow travelers on my faith journey who walk beside me to encourage and challenge me as we strive together to live like Jesus. It’s a blessing to live an “everything is opposite” kind of life with others who know we’re just passing through on our way to a better place. It’s all about having our focus in the right place.

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Christians Never Have to Say Goodbye

Kristi and Marybeth Inverness '91

Kristi and me in Inverness, Scotland 1991

I wrote a blog about heaven this past December called “Traveling Light with and Eye Towards Home.”  In it, I recounted the story of backpacking in Europe with my friend, Kristi.  What I didn’t mention in that posting was that Kristi was in remission after a nine-month battle with breast cancer.  We didn’t know that it was only a temporary reprieve.  The cancer returned with a vengeance in March of this year.  I had no idea that my blog on heaven would become so relevant so soon.

As Kristi’s health declined, I longed to see her face-to-face and prayed God would show me the right timing to make a trip to her home in Texas.   We’d talked, texted and e-mailed regularly throughout her illness, but it just wasn’t the same as being with her.  At the end of April the timing was right and after getting the green light from Kristi and her husband, I booked a flight to Austin.  Traveling alone, I had some good time to prepare myself emotionally and spiritually.  I also had a number of friends and family supporting me with prayer at home.  I asked God to use me to bless and encourage Kristi and her family.  I was anxious about seeing my spunky friend sick and wondering how the weekend would go.

When I finally arrived at her house, Kristi greeted me warmly and maneuvered across the room to give me a hug. She wore a headscarf and gingerly pushed a walker but her broad smile and cheerful spirit remained intact.  In fact, I was amazed at the amount of things we did over the course of the weekend considering Kristi’s frailty.   Her family was bound and determined to give me a full “Lone Star State Experience” when they found out I’d never been there before.  So, in spite of going to give them help, I got a big dose of Texas hospitality in return.

On Saturday morning I sat with Kristi at a hometown parade watching three of her four kids smiling and waving from one of the floats.  Afterwards, I experienced my first Texas thunderstorm- a two-hour deluge unlike anything we have in California.   I spent a quiet afternoon organizing Tupperware in the kitchen after painting Kristi’s toenails metallic blue (she was in desperate need of a pedicure).  While she was resting, her 6 year-old son appeared in the doorway dressed as Captain America and glumly declared “I’m bored.” As any mom would, I countered “How about showing me some of your toys?”  Thanks to my boys, I knew a thing or two about comic book heroes and Lego mini figures, which earned me serious status as I sat playing with him.  That evening I tasted my first “Texas Barbeque” without a plate or utensils at Rudy’s (a combination of a restaurant and gas station).

Sunday morning I was in charge of loading Kristi’s wheelchair into their Suburban and driving the family to church while her husband competed in a triathlon.   Later that afternoon we attended a family reunion in an adobe house that was over 100 years old.   It was a fun and busy weekend filled with moments of laughter and light-heartedness- definitely not what I was anticipating.

On Sunday morning after church, Kristi and I had a rare moment alone at the house.  Feeling prompted by the Holy Spirit, I asked if I could share Psalm 34 with her, which I’d read in Jesus Calling earlier that morning.  It seemed to fit her circumstances perfectly (funny how the Bible does that…):

“I will extol the Lord at all times;
 his praise will always be on my lips.

I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing.

The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing…The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted 
and saves those who are crushed in spirit”  (Verses 1-10, 17-18).

Later, before leaving for the airport, I found another quiet moment with Kristi and her husband.  It was a blessing and privilege it was to lay hands on them to pray after being apart for the duration of her battle with cancer.  I left feeling at peace, so glad for the time we’d spent together and not entirely sure it was the last time I’d see Kristi in this life.  It seemed like she still had a lot of fight left in he and the family had definitely not given up hope.

As school let out in June, I received word that Kristi’s cancer was spreading and her doctors had run out of viable options for her. I was so glad I’d traveled to see her, but felt I had one more thing to do that I’d been avoiding.  So, I sat at the computer one afternoon and wrote Kristi a letter.  I’d been overwhelmed thinking of how to sum up a friendship that began when we were in 8th grade and spanned so many years.  We’d experienced so much of life together, how could I capture that in a few pages?  With the Holy Spirit guiding me, I wrote a simple letter and sent it with a CD of songs to encourage Kristi and her family.   Here is an excerpt from that letter:

In spite of all these milestone moments we’ve shared, I think the one that means the most to me happened over the course of summer and fall in 1988.  Newly graduated from high school, we both launched in different directions with the same purpose:  working at Christian camps to serve, grow and (of course) have fun.   Working at Houseboats was transformational to my faith and my life choices.  I remember coming home so excited that I finally really “got” my faith and loved God in a way I never really had before.  Returning to life and friends at home was hard and I felt like a stranger in a strange land.   Most people outside my family looked at me like I’d gone a little crazy from being around so many Christians for so long. 

The one exception to this was you.  I can remember talking to you and hearing about your experience at Redwood Camp and realizing that we had both had life-changing and faith-changing experiences that would forever alter the courses of our lives.  I can’t tell you what a relief it was for me to discover that I was not alone and that there was someone who understood the choices I was making and affirmed me for them.  A deeper bond grew between us from that day forward.  Our friendship wasn’t just based on fun times and shared memories, but on a passionate love for Jesus and a desire to follow Him with our lives.

As we headed off to college, we were both set on finding Christian friends and plugging into ministries at our new schools.  Like most of our friends, we both chose to join sororities.  Although the social scene was familiar to us, it felt a bit different now that we’d fully committed to God and were not “riding the fence” as we had in high school days. 

For me, this proved to be pretty challenging at first.  I can remember struggling to find Christian friends among my peers in the Greek System.  As a freshman, I wanted to fit in and make new friends. I called you for some encouragement and you admonished me not to fall back into the lukewarm waters of our high school years and to stand firm in my faith.  You told me it was good for me to stand out as different and pointed out that this could be a great avenue for sharing my faith with a group of people who desperately needed to hear the truth.  I can remember thinking “Wow, God has really given her a strength and conviction that are pretty amazing.”  I don’t know if I ever really told you, but that “pep talk” gave me the courage to press on, to be different and to be a light in a dark place.

If I’ve never said it before, let me say it now:  Kristi, thank you for being a voice of Truth when I needed it most.  The impact you had on me at that time made a significant difference in my life choices.  I’ll never forget your words of encouragement that day or in the days that followed.

Thank you for your partnership in the gospel for these many long years.  I rejoice knowing we will spend eternity praising Him together.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers…I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1:3a-6

Kristi’s husband read the letter to her on Friday, June 28th.  I’m so glad I responded to the Spirit’s prompting to write it.  On July 2, I received word that my sweet friend breathed her last with her husband at her side.  She was freed from her broken body and finally at home in heaven.

A week after receiving this news, I had a dream about Kristi.  We were having a conversation and sharing some final moments together.  I don’t remember the words, but there was a feeling of warmth and peace between us.  She was smiling, confident and reassuring.   Moments later I awoke in the dark and realized I wasn’t just crying in my dream, but in reality.  As I sat up to wipe away the tears and blow my nose, I felt the relief of emotional release. Adjusting to this new reality has been hard; the sadness churns in me but tears have not flowed very freely.

I am still processing this huge loss, yet there is a peace in me that is deeper still.  Kristi lived every moment pointing people to Jesus until she took her final breath.  The faith and trust she and her family showed in her last 15 months impacted countless people and opened their eyes to God’s saving grace.   He used their hard circumstances to bring about much good in their lives and the lives of many others.

I walk in confidence knowing that I will see Kristi again.  I’ll paraphrase C.S. Lewis’ sentiments from the book A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken:  Christians never have to say “Goodbye”, only, “Until we meet again.”

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Georgetown, Texas 2013