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Good Goodbyes-No Other Gods Session 5

To my wonderful Life in Focus subscribers: Please note that I have a new website that includes identical  blog posts to the ones you read here plus many other great resources (plus all of the archives).  I plan to phase out lifeinfocusblog and to post exclusively at www.marybethmccullum.com in the near future. Please consider subscribing to my new site to continue receiving my posts in your inbox.  Thanks for considering!!

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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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When Pain Exposes Your Idols: No Other Gods Session 2

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

Whenever I’m leading a group through a Bible study, I make it a priority to work through the book on my own before they begin. Back in the spring I studied Kelly Minter’s No Other Gods in preparation for this fall. The day I was reading Week 2, Day 3, I was sitting at my desk attempting to position my arm so that I could write. A huge splint bent at a ninety-degree angle was making it awkward to put pen to paper. It was just four days after breaking my elbow and wrist and I was reading about how God uses pain to identify our idols. Using the life of Hannah from 1 Samuel, the lesson gently emphasized that God occasionally brings pain into our lives for a reason. The last question on that day of study asked me to consider how Hannah’s life was enriched by God’s closing of her womb. Trying to connect her painful experience to mine, I scrawled a list of the things God was teaching me through having a broken arm (my comparison is not intended to diminish the deep pain of infertility). That list helped me to clarify the ways he was working and inspired me to write a few blog posts about what I was learning. (You can find those five posts from May and June of 2016 in the archives to the right.)

Now, seven months later, I was reviewing the lesson again to stay in sync with the women in my group. Turning the page in my book, I discovered a yellow Post-it note with the bullet-pointed list in my messy handwriting from back in the spring. It was the one I’d written a few days after breaking my arm. Ironically, I found it on the same day my doctor’s office had delivered a new device that will hopefully aid in healing my arm once and for all (at the moment, it still doesn’t extend fully).

Reading the list convicted me that some of the lessons I thought I’d learned needed to be repeated. I should probably explain this a bit more. My new therapy requires me to put my arm in a heavy elbow splint and to sit for thirty minutes three times a day. The device must remain on a hard surface and I have to be in a seated position. Since it’s my right arm, I can’t write, type or do anything particularly productive. Suffice it to say, I’ve been lamenting having ninety minutes of “wasted” time daily for the foreseeable future. My husband, on the other hand, thinks it’s awesome.  Apparently, my constant drive to be productive makes it difficult for my family to relax around me.

The more I thought about this, the more I felt convicted that although productivity is a good thing, it has become something of an idol in my life. The drive to complete tasks and tend to responsibilities can be relentless. And wrapped up in that is an underlying assumption that being constantly productive makes me a worthwhile person. There is a sense of power, identity and control that comes from knowing I’m accomplishing things constantly.

Reading Hannah’s prayer after the birth of her miraculous first child, I was struck by the contrasts in her description of God’s activities:

“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.

The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts…

For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; on them he has set the world.

He will guard the feet of his faithful servants, but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken.” (1 Samuel 2:6-7, 8b,9, NIV)

This is not the description of a haphazard or capricious God, but of a God who knows exactly what to give people in different seasons of their lives. He knows who needs more and who needs less; who needs to be humbled and who needs to be exalted. And he creates circumstances accordingly.

The last line of this passage is the one that strikes me hardest: “It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken.” The power, identity and control that I get from being productive can make me feel strong. But this verse reminds me if my productivity is opposing God’s plans for me, I will be broken. For me, there are times when this has been literal. When I’m working so hard to do things “for” God without drawing on his strength and wisdom, I’m actually producing nothing of lasting value. Only when I draw near to him first and let his strength fill me and his wisdom guide me will I make any impact for his kingdom. And when he needs to remind me of this, he allows painful circumstances in my life, like a broken arm that refuses to heal fully without ninety minutes of doing nothing “productive” every day.

God is much more interested in a heart that is fully surrendered to him than a mind intent on being productive—even when the goal has spiritual implications (like writing a blog, preparing a Bible study or leading a ministry). Author Donna Partow says it this way: “God is not interested in the most efficient or effective way of accomplishing his work in this world…What he is profoundly interested in is you. And me…He is profoundly interested in molding and shaping us—conforming us to the image of his Son. He is profoundly interested in preparing us for the coming Kingdom, when we will reign as joint heirs with his Son.”

Josh Wilson’s song “Fall Apart” celebrates the way pain draws us near to the heart of God. Click on the link and be encouraged as you listen:

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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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Claiming Your Spiritual Authority- The Armor of God Part 1

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Studying the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20 helps us to recognize we are not powerless when under spiritual attack. But have you ever stopped to wonder why Satan has any power over us at all? Ever wondered how he got any authority in the first place? Have you ever considered what it took for God to get it back for us?

If you want to understand the bigger picture, put a bookmark in Ephesians and flip back to Genesis and the beginning of time. You’re probably familiar with the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3, but maybe you haven’t connected it with studying the Armor of God.

Just after creating Adam and Eve, God blessed them and said: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NIV)

In these statements, God gave Adam and Eve authority to rule over the world. They had the free will to choose to do things his way or to follow their own path. Although everything he had given them was good, it wasn’t long before Satan came in the form of a serpent and enticed Eve to doubt God. By tempting her to disobey, the crafty snake implied God might be withholding something desirable from her.

Here’s a portion of the story, starting with Satan convincing Eve to disobey God: “’God knows that when you eat from [the tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”(Genesis 3:5-7, NIV)

Although God remained the ultimate and sovereign authority, he allowed Adam and Eve to exercise their free will, even though it went against him. By choosing to disobey him, Adam and Eve gave away the authority he had given them at creation. Sadly, they were too naïve to understand the consequences. They failed to realize that everything under their authority would fall when they fell. Their actions brought a curse on all of creation and gave Satan authority over all that God had given them.

Many years later, when Jesus was just beginning his earthly ministry, Satan showed his legitimate authority over the earth when he tempted Jesus: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” (Luke 4:5-7, NIV)

In this encounter, Jesus retraced Adam and Eve’s footsteps to the point of temptation. However, instead of giving in to it, he chose obedience to God and refused Satan. During his life on earth, he set aside his nature as God so that he could live as a human: “[Jesus] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  As the only sinless man, he willingly paid the debt for the sins of humankind: “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8, NIV)

When God resurrected Jesus from death, Satan was defeated and stripped of his authority: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, NIV)

Jesus returned us to the original place of authority for which we were created. He was there when Satan fell from heaven at the beginning and he restored what was lost in the Garden of Eden through his death and resurrection. He said to his disciples: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” (Luke 10:18-19, NIV)

Although Satan has temporary authority until Christ’s return, we have power through Jesus to overcome the enemy every day. There is no need to fear. Ultimately, we can rest in the knowledge that God will keep the promise he made to Eve when he said her offspring would eventually crush the serpent’s head (see Genesis 3:15). The apostle Paul reminds us of this saying: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20a, NIV)

If you are a follower of Jesus, God has given you spiritual authority. It is yours to claim, if you choose. Knowing how to use his authority requires diligent study and application of God’s Word. Priscilla Shirer’s The Armor of God is a great way to awaken to this amazing truth. When you apply what you learn, you’ll unleash God’s rule and reign in your life, you’ll combat the enemy and you’ll impact others for God’s kingdom.

For a reminder of God’s greatness and how it affects us, click on the link and enjoy Phil Wickham’s song “Your Love Awakens Me.”

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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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Productive Pain

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Cradling my broken arm in his hands, the physical therapist gently straightened it and bent it, testing for flexibility. I felt vulnerable without my wrist and elbow braces, but was motivated to do what was needed to help the healing process. After kneading the muscles and tendons around my elbow, he said, “I’m not gonna lie to you, this next exercise will hurt pretty bad.” With that, he began rotating my lower arm slowly back and forth. I squeezed my eyes shut as every muscle and tendon surrounding my fractured wrist and elbow reacted with searing pain.

I was relieved to put my braces back on when he finished; they made me feel less vulnerable and provided some stability and comfort. Before leaving, I asked the therapist how I could differentiate between “good” and “bad” pain. Knowing which motions would help the healing process would motivate me to push through the pain.  Almost as soon as I asked the question, I realized there was an obvious analogy in our spiritual lives. Just as there are good and bad kinds of pain in the physical realm, there are also good and bad kinds of pain in the spiritual realm.

Later that day I found the passage that I’d been thinking of as I winced on the table at the physical therapist. It focuses on the “good” kind of spiritual pain we sometimes experience:

 “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.’” (Hebrews 12:7-12, NIV)

The word “discipline” comes from two closely related Greek words: “Paideia” and ”Paideuo.” Both involve correcting, instructing and educating another person.   The words were originally used to describe rearing children, but were later used in reference to teaching those young in the faith. One word that was not part of either definition was “punishment.” There are nine different Greek words for punishment, but none of them includes these words. Discipline has nothing to do with revenge or seeking justice after someone has violated a moral code. Although our culture sometimes uses discipline and punishment interchangeably, they are two entirely different things.  Discipline is not for retribution, but for our benefit.

The Hebrews passage tells us that hardship is a form of discipline. This means the difficult experiences we face in life can all be used for good. Sometimes God allows painful circumstances to refine our faith or to build our trust. Other times, he wants to get our attention or to show us we’re putting our hope in something other than him. Occasionally he allows good things in our lives to be removed to make way for better ones. With our eyes on God, even the worst situations can make us spiritually stronger.

I’d never paid much attention to the last part of the Hebrews passage until breaking my arm. It says we should accept discipline to “strengthen our feeble arms” so that “the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” If I were unwilling to do the painful therapy required to restore strength and flexibility to my arm, I would ultimately be disabling myself. Although my fractured bones would heal, the stiff tendons and muscles would never become flexible again without some serious effort. The result would be limited mobility that would keep me from doing both daily tasks and fun activities that I love.

Similarly, submitting to God’s discipline heals and strengthens us so that we don’t go through life emotionally and spiritually stunted. Trusting God through challenging times keeps us from becoming bitter or from wallowing in self-pity. Instead, we lean into him through the pain, knowing that he is using it to produce a “harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

I’m learning anew the importance of letting God use difficult circumstances. The twinges of pain in my arm regularly prompt me to ask what he’s trying to teach me through this challenging time. My broken arm is an outward manifestation of something all of us experience inwardly. Each of us carries wounds, scars and memories that impact us daily, whether we realize it or not. When we let God use those painful things to draw us to him, we allow him to bring peace, healing and strength to our lives. You may not have a broken arm, but there may be some other hardship in your life that God wants to use to teach you. Will you let him do it?

Click on the link and be encouraged by Lauren Daigle’s song “Trust in You.” Let it be your prayer today.

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Working Together for Truth- What Love is Week 6

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Driving through the city on a sunny afternoon, I watched from the passenger seat as familiar sites rolled by my window…ornate Victorian houses, clanging cable cars, trendy stores, chic cafés, and tiny gardens sandwiched between tall buildings. A few blocks further down, the picturesque scene transformed as we passed liquor stores, empty lots filled with trash and raggedy people sleeping in doorways. One group leaned against a graffiti-covered wall smoking cigarettes and drinking from bottles tucked inside paper bags. A few kids skipped past them down the sidewalk, their fresh faces providing a sharp contrast to the bleak surroundings.

For most people, scenes like these cause different emotions to bubble to the surface. Some turn their heads, preferring not to engage the conflicting feelings that may arise. Others look on in compassion, but feel poorly equipped to bring help and hope to kids living in a neighborhood struggling with such vast problems.

Although I’ve felt both of both of those things at different times, that day I felt hopeful. I thought of the letter sitting at home on my kitchen counter from a little boy in that neighborhood. My family had just begun sponsoring him and I pictured the Christian school that he attends that is part of a ministry bringing the light of Jesus to that spiritually impoverished neighborhood. The people serving there have willing hearts and years of experience that enable them to engage the neighborhood with love and care. And as you might expect, they often have more needs than resources to fill them.

A ministry’s need is a believer’s opportunity to act. In the book of Third John, the apostle John addresses this idea of supporting people in ministry to bring the light of God’s truth into the darkness of the world. He describes several leaders that he sent to the church to teach them.  Although these people were strangers to the the congregation, the church members welcomed and housed them.  John praises these actions saying,

“Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.” (3 John 5-8, NIV)

Though times have changed, this encouragement from John is as relevant and applicable today as it was then. God calls followers of Jesus to work together for truth in both direct and indirect ways. It takes one passionate person to obey God’s call to start a ministry, but it takes the encouragement and tangible support of a larger body of believers to implement the vision.

Maybe reading this causes you to feel overwhelmed trying grasp what part you can play in coming alongside a person or ministry to further the gospel.   There are numerous ways to partner with others bringing the message of truth to our world, whether it is sharing your financial resources, offering consistent prayer support, or volunteering your time. Will you commit to praying about where God might be calling you to provide faithful support for people serving in Jesus’ name?

The Lord often prompts us to give back to the places we’ve been blessed or calls us to intervene in situations that break our hearts. Where is he drawing your attention right now? To help you get started, you’ll see a list below of a few ministries that have touched me personally.

-Sonshine Specialized Camping Ministries: This ministry was a key part of building my faith foundation and developing my spiritual gifts in my teens and twenties. Founded in 1975, this ministry has a passion for sharing Jesus with groups of students away from the bustle of daily life on houseboats at Lake Shasta and the Sacramento Delta.   They could not exist without support from people who partner with them financially and in prayer.

For more on Sonshine Ministries, click here:http://www.sonshineministries.com/35-YEARS.html

-Cru (Formerly named Campus Crusade for Christ): The mentoring and Bible studies led by their staff members solidified my faith and equipped me for ministry in my college years and beyond. Founded in 1951 on the campus of UCLA, this ministry’s goal has been to share the gospel with college students as part of fulfilling the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. Today Cru has a ministry presence in 190 countries.    Staff members are responsible for raising all of their living expenses by inviting people to partner with them.

For more on Cru click here: https://www.cru.org/about/what-we-do/milestones.1.html

-San Francisco City Impact: Founded in 1984, this ministry exists to intervene on behalf of the people in the inner city of San Francisco and is fueled by a love for Jesus and a passion for prayer. This ministry provides for the needs of the underprivileged through a school, a health and wellness clinic, a rescue mission and more.  Partnering with this ministry gives me an outlet to impact people who are in heartbreaking circumstances.

For more on SFCI, click here: http://www.sfcityimpact.com/sfciplaybook

-Samaritan’s Purse: Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people around the world who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Partnering with this ministry gives me the opportunity to act when tragic events occur all over the world.

For more information on Samaritan’s Purse, click here: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/our-ministry/about-us/#

Some of us may feel we lack the gifts or experience to engage the types of people ministries like these serve.   However, there are simple ways we can come alongside them. We may start by investing our finances and then go deeper by committing to pray. And the more we invest, the more open we’ll become to giving our time and eventually discovering gifts we may have that that would bless them. Best of all, doing this is a perfect way to demonstrate our love for God through obedience to his word.

For further inspiration about partnering with others for the sake of the truth, click on the link and enjoy Matthew West’s song “Do Something.”

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