Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Are You Being Robbed?

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If you grew up or had kids or grandkids anytime between 1952 and today, then you’re probably familiar with E.B. White’s classic story Charlotte’s Web. Who doesn’t remember the lovable pig Wilbur and the clever spider Charlotte who saves him from becoming a Christmas ham? You may also remember the less lovable rat, Templeton, who begrudgingly provides the scraps of paper with words to inspire Charlotte’s web making. Templeton’s chief occupation involves digging through trash to find morsels of food and stealing items to stash in his nest.   As distasteful as he is, he’s a necessary and humorous foil to the more endearing characters.

My family had its own version of “Templeton” raiding our backyard shed over the last year. It turns out that the dried corn kernels used to fill the beanbags for our Corn Hole game made a tasty treat for an unsavory critter.   He wormed his way into the shed through a hole in the rotting plywood floor and would steal different objects for his nest, leaving behind evidence that he’d been well-fed (let’s just say those weren’t raisins on the floor of the shed…)

Eventually we bought new beanbags with “synthetic corn” that holds no appeal to critters. We also unscrewed the metal shed from its foundation and replaced the rotting plywood with new planks. When my husband and I removed the dilapidated floor, we found “Templeton’s” lair in the space underneath (thankfully he had long since vacated the premises—probably when the corn ran out). We were shocked to discover his nest lined with the blue and yellow remnants of the corn bags along with the fabric sack we’d used to store them. He had been stealing from us for months and we had no idea.

Cleaning out the mess made me think about Jesus’ words in the gospel of John:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV)

I started wondering how often we’re oblivious as Satan steals things right beneath our noses. Like a rat, he’s sneaky and quiet, expanding his territory little by little. He might leave trace evidence of his presence, but it’s subtle enough to annoy us without setting off alarms. He’ll keep stealing from us as long as we let him. We’re often unaware of his antics until he’s done quite a bit of damage. Finally, we take authority and say, “Enough!” I’ve been asking myself about some of the covert ways he steals from us:

-When have we let him rob us of joy or gratitude by focusing on what we lack instead of recognizing all that we have?

-When have we let him steal our peace and contentment by worrying instead of trusting God?

-When have we let him color our attitudes with negativity, stealing our hope and making us bitter?

Like a rat, Satan digs through the trash of our lives to see what he can use to distract and discourage us from God’s greater purposes. Our weaknesses are obvious to him and he knows just how to capitalize on them to make us feel powerless and hopeless.

-Insecurity rears its head when we focus on how others aren’t meeting our emotional needs instead of focusing on God, the One who loves us unconditionally.

-Self-confidence falters when we compare ourselves to others and feel we lack something, while pride gloats when we compare ourselves to others and feel we’re superior.

-Anger and resentment simmer in us when we believe we’re entitled to a certain privilege or comfort that’s been denied to us.

Are you letting Satan dig through your trash or steal from you without even realizing it? For those who have accepted Christ, we’ve been given authority to banish Satan and his insidious bag of tricks.

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV)

Let me encourage you to take your thoughts captive today. Claim the authority you have in Christ and invite the Holy Spirit to demolish any strongholds Satan has quietly established in your life. Don’t let that sneaky rat steal your joy and keep you from having the abundant life God promises.

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The Thrill of Letting God Disrupt Your Patterns

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San Francisco’s Coit Tower stands 210 feet tall atop Telegraph Hill. As one of the city’s best-known landmarks, it was a regular stop for my parents with out of town guests during my childhood. I still remember tumbling out of our station wagon with my four siblings, my mom and whatever visitors happened to be getting the grand tour. My dad would patiently drive in circles through the packed parking lot as we took in the panoramic view. There was an elevator that went to the top of the tower, but we never made the ascent. With the size of our group and the number of tourists waiting in line, we never had the time to fit it in with all of the other sights. We figured the view from the bottom was good enough—even with the trees and bushes partially obstructing it.

Although I’ve lived in the Bay Area most of my life, it was not until a recent visit to San Francisco that I rode the elevator to the top of Coit Tower with my son.  The 360-degree view of the city and all the surrounding areas was worth the time and effort. In one direction, the tall buildings of the financial district rose up in front of the green waters of the bay. Moving a little further around, I could see the iconic towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and the red brick buildings of Ghiradelli Square. Just beyond that, Alcatraz Island stood sentinel in the waters just beyond Fisherman’s Wharf.   A little further to our right, the Bay Bridge intersected Yerba Buena Island before continuing across to the city. The view from the bottom paled in comparison.

Sometimes I wonder if we treat our faith like tourists hitting the highlights in a big city. We breeze through a lot of opportunities for growth without engaging them fully or delving deeply. We hear sermons or read devotionals and declare they are “good” but never make time to incorporate the truth we’re learning into our lives.  We’re content to make a loop through the parking lot and catch the view from below, not wanting to inconvenience ourselves with the time, effort and cost required to ascend the tower and see the view. We have routines that we follow and agendas to keep. We like what is predictable and manageable for our schedules and we get complacent.  Or we pack our weeks so full there isn’t time to engage in anything deeply and we’re hesitant to relinquish any of our precious “free time.”

Inviting God to do new things feels disruptive to our carefully ordered lives. We fear it will be messy and complicated to serve in new places with different people. Sometimes we’re afraid to let God use our gifts in new ways because the results are unpredictable. Although we know He wants to stretch us continually, it just doesn’t seem worth the cost. The time and effort we’d have to expend deter us from pressing on.

Even people who met Jesus face to face struggled with these issues. The gospel of Luke tells the story of three different people who encountered Jesus and claimed they wanted to follow Him. All three ended up turning away when they realized how disruptive it would be to their lives. You can read about them in Luke 9:57-62.

Contrasting that is the story of Jesus calling his first disciples, Peter, James and John. Luke’s gospel describes a day when Jesus preached to the people on the shore of the Lake of Gennesaret as He stood in the boat of a fisherman named Peter. After working all night and catching nothing, Peter and his fishing partners, James and John, sat and listened to Jesus’ teaching. Once He was finished teaching, Jesus directed them to push out from shore and cast their nets even though they’d been unsuccessful the night before. Instead of balking at instructions from a non-fisherman, the men listened to Jesus and caught so many fish their boats began to sink. Their willingness to obey Him brought amazing results and revealed Jesus was no ordinary man.   After the miraculous catch of fish, He invited the three to follow Him. They responded in a way that humbles and inspires me:

“So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:11, NIV)

Peter, James and John abandoned their predictable lives and began the adventure of walking with Jesus. Their willingness allowed Him to use them in powerful ways. Think what they would have missed if they’d declined when Jesus asked them to follow Him.

Are you letting the predictable patterns of your life keep you from something new Jesus wants to do in and through you? Summer is a good time to evaluate your schedule for the coming year and to consider new opportunities. Is it time to step out of your comfort zone and get involved in something different? Is it time to test out that spiritual gift that’s been simmering on the back burner? Maybe you need to relinquish some of your cherished free time to volunteer or meet a need. Maybe it’s time to evaluate your finances and consider how you can bless others and honor God in new ways.

Will you trust God enough to pray and invite Him to stretch you in a new way? Will you let Him break you out of your routine and discover more joy? The view from the parking lot is nice, but the view from the top is beyond compare. It’s just a matter of letting Him change your vantage point. Are you ready to let Him take you there?

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Living Inside the Guardrails

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His bags were packed with clean, neatly folded clothes. Including sunscreen was perhaps overly optimistic, but I did hope the toothbrush and toothpaste would see a little action throughout the week. My thirteen-year old son was leaving for camp with our church’s youth group. If last year’s trip was any indicator, he’d come home wearing the same clothes and not having opened his toiletry bag even once. Personal hygiene issues aside, I was excited about his week away. For me, youth camps had always been a significant time of spiritual growth and good, clean fun.

My husband and I sat on the couch with our son a few minutes before his departure and tried to plant seeds for the week. “So, what kinds of goals do you have for camp?” His dad asked. “I dunno,” he said with a shrug. Trying to prime the pump, I threw out a few suggestions, “Maybe there’s one new activity you can try that you didn’t do last year. Or maybe you could make a new friend.” He continued to sit without a glimmer of a response. I forged ahead, trying to sound casual. “I think it’s great to make spiritual goals when you go to camp. Like, maybe you could try reading your Bible or praying every day.” Still nothing. Finally, my husband told him we would just tell God about our goals for his week. He was fine with having us pray for him, but didn’t want to chime in. I wasn’t disappointed in the least. I couldn’t be more pleased that he attends youth group, gets excited to go to camp and likes the Christian music we listen to at home. I know a spiritual foundation is being laid in him and he’s heading in the right direction.  I certainly wasn’t mature in my faith at thirteen.

One thing I’m realizing about spiritual growth for people of any age is that it only happens when we position ourselves to receive God’s truth. This happens when we spend time in places and with people who value having a relationship with Jesus. Each decision we make brings us a step closer to God or a step farther away. The more we read the Bible and implement what we’re learning, the more we continue to mature spiritually and see the blessings of living aligned with God’s will.

It’s like driving on a winding road or over a bridge.   We know the guardrail on the side is there to protect us from harm and make us feel safe, not to limit our freedom.

Similarly, spending time in places and with people who value God gives us spiritual guardrails that keep us on track in our faith journeys. For my son, it’s youth group, summer camp and parents who pray for him often. For adults I know, it’s participating in Bible study consistently, attending church, enjoying Christian friendship and spending time alone with God. These things keep our hearts teachable and our minds open to the ways God wants to stretch us.

The apostle Paul explains it this way:

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3:3-8, NIV)

Those who don’t know Christ live dangerously outside the guardrails that keep people pointed toward God. They are foolishly deceived by passions and pleasures, but think they are living ultimate freedom by giving in to their fleshly desires. Those in Christ, however, have become His heirs and have received the hope of eternal life. Because of this, followers of Christ devote themselves to doing what is good so that their lives bless others and honor God. The hindrances of sin no longer hold them back from living the abundant life God intends.

The ways we spend our time, the people we surround ourselves with, the things we watch, listen to and read all affect our view of God and His plans for us. How are you doing with living inside the protection of His guardrails? Are you pushing against them, enticed by the deceptions of our culture and its definition of “freedom”? What subtle influences pull you closer to Him? Which ones draw your attention away?

Every day the world bombards us with words and ideas that we can accept or reject in light of the truth of God’s Word. When we run towards Him, we remember we are beloved children of the King of Kings. Living inside the guardrails is exactly where I want to be.

Click on the link to hear the inspiring and upbeat song “Who I Am” by Blanca.


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Taking the Hindrance Out of Our Hurt

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The yellow ball bobbed in the water as my son swam behind it, pushing it forward with urgency as he sprinted the length of the pool. A player from the opposing water polo team was closing in on him fast. Suddenly, my boy’s body jerked to a stop and he appeared to be swimming in place. His opponent had reached out underwater and grabbed his ankle, pulling him backwards to keep him from getting any closer to the goal. I stared wide-eyed and turned to my husband, “Are they allowed to do that?”

He smirked before answering. “Well, not exactly, but sometimes it’s better to get a foul than to let someone shoot on the goal.”

Water polo, it turns out, is all about the teams creating hindrances for one another. I’ve often sat in the stands wincing as I watch one player put a hand on the shoulder of his opponent and hold his other hand high in the air, attempting to hinder him from scoring or passing to a team mate. I wouldn’t last five minutes, but my son seems to be energized by that kind of opposition. I’m amazed as I watch him pivot his body to swim around an opponent and drive toward the goal. For water polo players, moving past the hindrances seems to make a shot into the cage even more satisfying.

Could the same satisfaction come from getting around our own hindrances for God’s glory? If you’ve been doing Beth Moore’s study on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, you already know the answer is “yes.” She discusses several hindrances Paul identifies that can impede us from moving forward in our faith.

“14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! 17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-18, italics added, ESV)

Beth explains: “According to 1 Thessalonians 2:14-20, both people and Satan had authentically been successful at hindering Paul. But that’s just it. He kept pressing forward and refused to let the hindrance itself become a hindrance. He kept his squinting eyes on the goal. He didn’t get furious with God over all that had been permitted in his path or demand to know why God would make His will so utterly impossible to fulfill. He just stayed at it. He believed. He persevered” (Children of the Day, p. 70.)

In water polo, coaches use two terms as they shout directions to the players. During defensive plays, they’ll yell “press” when they want defenders to put pressure on offenders. The opposing players jostle in pairs, each trying to gain the advantage.   During offensive plays, coaches yell “drive,” spurring players to move toward open water and to find a position near the goal to score. Good players don’t let up on either one of these things. They press until they avert a goal and they drive until they score one.

Perhaps we can borrow some of their strategies when faced with our own hindrances in the spiritual realm. Rather than letting hindrances and the hurt that often accompanies them shut us down, we can use them to grow in our spiritual maturity and ability to be used by God. “What if, instead of fixating on taking the hurt out of our hindrance, we prayed for God to take the hindrance out of our hurt?” (Children of the Day p. 70)

Beth lists several “equations” to illustrate her idea. A few that resonated with me were:

Heartbreak – hindrance = depth

Disappointment – hindrance = faith

My pain – hindrance = my passion

I even added a few of my own to the list:

Insecurity – hindrance = authenticity

Self-consciousness – hindrance = sensitivity to others

Any hindrance we’ve experienced provides an opportunity for God’s transformation in our lives. When we lay them at His feet, He uses them to bless others. Consider Paul’s words: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV)

When we give God our hindrances, He matures us even as He heals and comforts us. The ways we learn and grow enable us to become a blessing for others facing similar challenges. In the process we are reminded that we are beloved children of the Almighty God, Who is hindered by nothing.

Click on the link below to watch Jason Gray’s music video “Remind Me Who I Am.” It provides some great visuals to help you remember that our hindrances do not define us. After watching, add your own equation to the comments section below and share the hindrance you need to relinquish to God so He can use your hurt for His glory.

Your Hurt- Your Hindrance = Your Opportunity to Impact Others and Glorify God.

(Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com)