Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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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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Righteousness and The Jesus Surfer- The Armor of God Week 3

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Riding my bike through a busy parking lot next to the beach, an old Volkswagen van caught my eye. It was covered in stickers from bumper to bumper, roof to tires. Easing to a stop, I pulled my phone out in hopes of snapping a photo when I noticed the van’s owner rummaging in the front seat. His long blonde hair and deep tan told me he was a fixture at the beach and had probably surfed his fair share of waves. Not wanting to seem rude, I approached him to ask permission before taking the picture. He was happy to oblige and eager to show me his favorite sticker on the van that read: “Why Worry? God’s in Control.”

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What followed was a 20-minute conversation about our mutual faith in Jesus. It was an unexpected “God Moment” in the middle of a Newport Beach parking lot.

The van owner enthusiastically told my husband and me the story of God’s redemptive hand in his life. As a young man, he’d embraced a carefree lifestyle with no plan, purpose or direction. He’d spent his days surfing and his nights partying and carousing with different women. What had started out as fun soon enslaved him, leading to 35 years of drug and alcohol addiction. He described a life of hopelessness, living in the shadows and alleys, unable to hold a job or make meaningful relationships. But it all changed when he found God.

Now, 17 years sober, he lives and works in a rehab center, sharing the good news of Jesus and helping others make the journey from the darkness of addiction to the light of freedom. He exudes God’s love and proudly refers to himself by the nickname he’s been given around town “The Jesus Surfer.” Although he still lives in the same community, his purpose and identity have changed as a result of his encounter with the living God.

I thought about the Jesus Surfer and his dramatic transformation as I read Priscilla Shirer’s definition of righteousness this week: “Righteousness is upright living that aligns with the expectations of God.” She explains that those who follow Jesus should affirm God’s standard and then align their behavior with it. Choosing righteousness means rejecting deeds done in darkness and embracing the light of God’s truth. Although Paul doesn’t mention the breastplate of righteousness until chapter 6 of Ephesians, he gives a clear description of what a righteous life should reject and embrace in an earlier chapter:

 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving…. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them…

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:3-4, 8-11, 15-20, NIV)

 Paul admonishes us to “make the most of every opportunity” and to “understand what the Lord’s will is” and “what pleases God.” Once the Jesus Surfer moved from darkness to light, he made it his goal to share Christ–whether he was sitting on his surfboard waiting for the next wave or leading a group at the rehab center. He even made the most of meeting perfect strangers (my husband and me) to share his love for God and his story of transformation. He pores over God’s Word and applies the truth he’s learning at church. He was eager to tell us about the latest sermon he’d heard and how it was impacting him. His enthusiasm couldn’t be contained, making his delivery disarming and winsome.

Although some of our stories may not be as dramatic as the Jesus Surfer’s, anyone who has accepted Christ has moved from darkness to light. With that transformation comes the mandate to pursue righteousness and reject sinfulness. Our location doesn’t have to change, but our perspective does. As you look at Paul’s lists, is there anything you need to leave behind? Anything you want to pursue more fully? Will you pray and ask for opportunities to bring light into the lives of people you know? Invite the Holy Spirit to help you live righteously and to pursue a deeper understanding of God’s will.

If you’d like to see and hear The Jesus Surfer for yourself, click on the link to view a brief news story that was done on him a few years ago. Let his life transformation inspire you toward living the righteous life God calls us to in His Word.

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