Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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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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An Outsider’s View of Judgment and Hypocrisy- Sermon on the Mount Part 8

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Bobbing on the ocean’s surface, I listened as the surf instructor reminded me what to do. Together we squinted towards the horizon, scanning for the next set of waves to roll in. Standing waist-deep in the water, he prepared me for my first ride before shouting with glee, “Ok, here we go!” With a shove of the board, he pushed me in front of the swell and began shouting “Paddle! Paddle! Now stand up!” With one swift motion I pushed myself from my chest to my feet and steadied myself as the board moved towards the shore. After years of wanting to learn, it was a thrill to surf in the warm waters of Kauai that day. The long board, low waves and encouragement from a knowledgeable teacher were key ingredients for success.

As much as I loved the experience, you won’t find me riding the waves off the California coast anytime soon. There are many aspects of the sport that intimidate me, but the main one is that I’m not an “insider.” I’ve learned through listening to family members and friends that there is a whole culture and code of conduct in the world of surfing. There are unwritten rules about who surfs what beaches and who has first dibs to drop in on a wave. A newbie who doesn’t know better is sure to get a tongue-lashing from locals who don’t appreciate a “kook” messing up their surf session. (Yes, surfers have their own brand of slang and terminology too.)

For me, the act of riding the waves was hard enough. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my instructor.  Adding the unwritten rules within surf culture makes it far too intimidating to be enjoyable for me. If you’ve never surfed before, you’re probably nodding your head in agreement. But if you know the thrill of riding a wave, you might think I’m crazy for letting surf etiquette keep me from continuing to learn.

What if I told you that many people outside of the church view Christian culture the same way? There are aspects of it that attract them (that whole promise of eternal life isn’t so bad, after all). But there are so many parts that intimidate them that they aren’t willing to risk engaging in Christian community.

For the past few years I’ve had a unique opportunity to spend time weekly with a group of women who considered themselves “newbies” to exploring faith. Some had a church background but lacked Biblical knowledge while others were discovering the Christian faith for the first time. Regardless of their levels of experience, two things held them back from seeking answers to their spiritual questions: hypocrisy and judgment. Most had at least one negative experience with a “churchy” person that had tainted their perspective of God and the Church as a whole.

I’ve learned a lot from this group of women as we’ve continued to meet and study the Bible together. They have given me an “outsider’s” view into the Christian sub-culture. For most of them, our group was the first time they felt safe to ask questions without fearing judgment or criticism. That is why Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are so striking to me:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5, NIV)

Judging people labels and categorizes them, diminishing their value and dismissing them based on outward flaws. Many Christians are quick to let the sinful behaviors and attitudes of non-believers deter them from engaging in relationships. It’s so much easier to judge a person for things we see on the surface than to take time to develop a friendship and to discover what influences and worldviews have impacted their perspectives.

Judging people creates a barrier that prevents opportunity for deeper relationships. It intimidates others and often causes us to appear self-righteous. Judging others also puts us in a position of superiority that stands in opposition to humility. It causes us to hide our sins and weaknesses for the sake of pride, making us hypocrites in the process.

Jesus gave us the perfect model for engaging others with love. He took time to get people in all stations in life–even the worst sinners. His harshest words were directed not towards “sinners” but toward the most self-righteous and superior people He encountered, the Pharisees.

The next time you’re tempted to make a quick judgment on someone, take a moment to stop and think first. What factors might be contributing to their actions and attitudes? Examine your heart and ask God to help you see the person as He sees them. Make time to understand them before being so quick to dismiss them.

There is a place for using discernment to hold people accountable for their sins, once we’ve made things right within ourselves and with God. However, this needs to be done in the context of a loving caring relationship, not as a snap judgment. (See James 5:19-20 for more on this.)

Let’s strive to be more like my surf instructor– coming alongside people patiently and helping them to discover the tremendous joy found through a relationship with Jesus.   When we begin with love and encouragement, they may eventually trust us enough to let us address the areas in their lives that need transformation. And there won’t be any need to judge.

Let’s never forget that God gave us grace when we deserved judgment. May the song “Call it Grace” by Unspoken remind you of this foundational truth and motivate you to share it with others.

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