Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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With Every Broken Bone, I Lived

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Squeezing the handbrakes on my bike, I pulled to a stop next to my husband and scanned the trail ahead.   A stream with submerged rocks stretched across the path, still flowing after a rainy winter. We had a decision to make: press on knowing that we were going to get wet or turn back the way we came. Never ones to shy away from an adventure, we opted to continue.   There were several creeks to cross on the trail and getting muddy was inevitable. Still, it was a beautiful day and worth the time it would take to clean our bikes once we got home.

As we pressed on, I thought about what a great analogy our bike ride made for life. So often we have the choice to play things safe or to take risks knowing things might getIMG_1571 a little messy. Thinking about the blog post I would write once we returned home, I stopped several times to take pictures that I wanted to include with it.

Little did I know that our adventurous ride would end with an accident that would leave me with fractured bones, a black eye, and a bruised ego.   The worst part was that after crossing streams, climbing rocky trails and navigating challenging terrain, I fell on the street just a few blocks from home.

And yet, six weeks later, the inspiration that I discovered on that bike ride remains true. I would still rather take risks and feel truly alive than avoid them and play it safe. I’m not only talking about physical activities like mountain biking and waterskiing, I’m referring to the risks we take to grow spiritually and to spread God’s kingdom on earth.

Maybe this example will help: A little over three years ago a friend asked me to pray about  leading a Bible study with her. She wanted to reach women who had questions about God but were too intimidated to join a study held at a church. She agreed to open her home weekly if I would lead the group. The first year, we invited eight women to commit to twelve weeks.  At the end of that season, all of them wanted to continue meeting.

As I look at this group three years later, it’s evident that God has been at work in mighty ways. These women have transformed and their families are taking notice. Their kids are clamoring to go to camp with the youth group and several of their husbands are exploring faith with other men. My co-founding friend was so inspired that she organized a Bible study at her church that is now thriving.  Another group member volunteered to be the new host and co-leader with me, despite feeling hesitant and inexperienced.  A previous member that moved away now runs a study in her home.  Still another member is starting a prayer group for parents from the local high school. All of these women felt fearful and unsure of themselves, but they trusted God and took risks that are causing them to grow. And they are blessing others in the process.  A ripple effect has occurred in the group and the circles seem to be ever-widening.

Looking back, it was a huge risk for me to agree to start this group. First and foremost was the fear of being rejected. I’d been stung by people in the past when I had reached out to them and was not eager to be hurt again. I also feared the time it would take to create a study and to research answers to their questions. I worried about adding more responsibilities and relationships to my life.  I fretted about how I would handle “hot topics” and controversial issues.   If I had given into my fears and decided to play it safe, I would have missed out on so much. Pouring into these women has made me feel truly alive and filled me with joy. Watching the impact the group has had on others outside of it is awe-inspiring.  The opportunity to be used by God with this group has given me a deeper understanding of the abundant life Jesus promises in John 10:10.

The pages of Scripture are filled with examples of people who took risks for the sake of God. Most of them experienced tremendous hardships, but they also experienced profound joy and a depth of relationship with their Creator that surpassed every difficulty they faced. Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, Ruth, Daniel, Mary, Peter, and Paul come to mind immediately.

Maybe the reason many of us are averse to taking risks today has to do with our culture’s view of hardships. We equate a “normal” life with smooth and easy living. As long as things go the way we want and expect, life is good.   We like things that are comfortable, predictable, and not too challenging.

Somehow, I don’t think this was what Jesus had in mind when he said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b, NIV) He also said: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b, NIV)

The risks we take and the hardships we face are all a part of living an abundant life. When we embrace them and learn from them instead of lamenting them, we leave room for God to transform us. Our faith and trust in him grow deeper and others around us are impacted mightily.

Someone recently asked me if I was going to give up mountain biking as a result of my accident. The thought hadn’t ever crossed my mind. As soon as the doctor says it’s okay, I’ll be back out on the trail (when I’m not waterskiing, of course). I won’t be reckless but I’m not giving up activities that make me feel alive, even if they have the potential to cause injury.

The other day I heard a song that made me smile because it characterizes risk-taking in a positive light  (it also gave me the inspiration for this post’s title). Click on the link and enjoy “I Lived” by OneRepublic.

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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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Inspired by Holy Week

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As one of the most significant times of the year for Christians, Holy Week marks the final days of Jesus’ pre-resurrection life on earth. As we observe each unique event, Jesus’ actions provide some powerful examples for us to follow. Let’s examine three of them and see how we’re called to respond.

Maundy Thursday- The Call to Serve Others

The gospels tell us that Jesus gathered with his disciples in an upper room of a home in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal. You may remember that this special dinner commemorated God’s faithfulness to the Jews as they fled from Egypt under Moses’ leadership (see Exodus 12 if you need reminder). Ironically, the disciples had no idea Jesus was about to serve as their ultimate Passover lamb the next day when he would be crucified.

Scripture tells us that as the disciples enjoyed the meal, Jesus got up, removed his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist and began washing his disciples’ feet one at a time. Despite the fact that he was their teacher and the most revered person at the table, he humbled himself, taking on the role of a servant.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’” (John 13:12-17, NIV)

Jesus’ directions to his disciples were simple, but not easy: they were called to live as humble servants, putting the needs of others ahead of their own. Those following him today are called to the same thing. We do this as an act of love and obedience to God, whether others appreciate it or not. Jesus promised that we would be blessed by living this way.

Good Friday- The Call to Sacrifice Your Agenda

A few hours after the Passover meal and before he was arrested, Jesus pleaded with God as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He dreaded the fate that awaited him:

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’…He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done’…So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.” (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44, NIV)

The “cup” Jesus referred to here was a symbol the deep sorrow and suffering he would experience as his Father’s faced turned away from him while he bore the penalty for the sins of the entire human race.  Despite knowing the physical, emotional and spiritual pain that awaited him, Jesus surrendered to God’s plan of redemption, put aside his own will and submitted to death on the cross to save the world from sin.*

Like Jesus, we’re called to sacrifice our agendas for a greater good. Then [Jesus] said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23, NIV)

Each time we choose to put aside our will and submit to God’s, we are fulfilling the call to deny ourselves. Doing this requires that we are intentional about praying and asking God to give us strength and guidance for the daily choices we make, both small and large.

Easter Sunday- The Call to Share the Good News

 On the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave, conquering death forever more. He appeared to his amazed followers and told them to share the good news of his resurrection and his message of salvation with the rest of the world.

 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:19-22, NIV)

Just as God sent Jesus to the world to free it from sin, Jesus sent his disciples back into the world to share this tremendous news with others.

Our Response

 It’s not easy to follow Jesus’ example. Serving others, sacrificing our personal agendas and sharing the good news aren’t things we can do consistently on our own strength. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed or inadequate, don’t forget the fact that Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit and promised us peace. Through the Spirit, we have everything we need to walk as Jesus did. Start today by praying and asking the Spirit to equip you with exactly what you need. Once you realize he is the key to fulfilling these calls, you’ll never try to do it without him again.

If you’re not sure how to pray, consider making Jeremy Camp’s song “Christ in Me” your prayer today. Click on the link to be inspired:

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Oaks of Righteousness- Women of the Word Part 9

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For thirty-three years Jesus walked the earth as a sinless man who was the living Word of God. The women in his family tree, however, were anything but perfect. From their stories, we see the roots of our own struggles and recognize that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. The lives of Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary reveal messy and complicated circumstances. And yet, through the women in Jesus’ family tree, we see God’s redemptive hand at work. With each new branch, he prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah who would ultimately die on a cross and rise from death to graft all people into his family tree.

Despite their flaws, these women were like the nearly indestructible oak tree: symbols of strength and endurance that survived even the most difficult circumstances. Most experienced the pain of a broken heart at least once in their stories—whether it was Sarah and Rebekah who longed for children that wouldn’t come, Leah and Tamar who were unloved by their husbands or Bathsheba who had one loss layered on top of another. Some like Rahab and Ruth had been captives to false religions while others like Eve fell captive to sin. A few, like Ruth and Mary, were poor. These women mourned over lost husbands, children, homelands and dreams. And yet, from them, the bloodline of the Messiah passed from one generation to the next. Reading a familiar passage written by the prophet Isaiah makes me think of them:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Despite their hardships, their pain, their poor choices and ugly circumstances, the women in Jesus’ family line ultimately displayed God’s splendor. They played key roles in fulfilling his covenant promise to Abraham, who was blessed to be a blessing to the entire world. (See Genesis 12:2-3)

Generations after Isaiah made his prophecy, that blessing was fulfilled in the person of Jesus, the Messiah that had been foretold since the creation of the world. (See Genesis 3:14-15) Jesus astonished everyone in his hometown synagogue by standing up and reading this same passage from Isaiah and boldly proclaiming that it was fulfilled in Him:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:16-21, NIV)

Jesus shocked the crowd with this statement just as he was beginning his earthly ministry. After teaching, healing and making disciples for three subsequent years, he was crucified despite committing no crime.   After Jesus resurrected from death and ascended into heaven, his disciples continued to proclaim the good news about him. And despite intense persecution and hardship, their numbers continued to multiply. Each time something threatened to wipe out the burgeoning church, it only grew stronger and spread further.

The disciples’ tenacity and continued multiplication reminds me of an unusual type of oak that grows in the Jurupa Valley in Southern California. Known as the Palmer’s Oak, it looks like an unimpressive little thigh-high shrub. From a distance, it appears to be a grouping of small trees spread out in a wide oval, but it is actually one tree that shares an ever-expanding root system. Periodically, a fire will rage across the hill where it lives, reducing it to ashes. The pressure placed on the roots by the fire causes the normally slow-growing tree to send up new sprouts. With each fire, the sprouts spread further and further.

It sounds a lot like the disciples who endured incredible hardships in order to spread their faith in Jesus. With each persecution they faced, they traveled to farther flung destinations, expanding their roots as they continued to share the gospel and watch their numbers grow. That endurance is what allowed the good news of Jesus to spread to different regions and to be passed through the generations, ultimately making it possible for us to know Jesus today.

And to think, it all started with those flawed women and their messy, complicated lives. God still brings beauty from ashes today. We have the privilege of being counted among those who display God’s splendor just like the oaks of righteousness Isaiah described so long ago.

The image of the tree has been a significant part of the Women of the Word study, both because of the family tree of Jesus and because of the oaks of righteousness. I couldn’t pass up including a song that weaves together these images and themes with a stunning visual representation. Click on the link and enjoy “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North.

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Proactive Prayer

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Baring its sharp teeth, the dog growled menacingly as it stood poised to attack. Fear had gripped my friend and me as we walked past it each day on our way home from elementary school.   Usually we would reassure one another by pointing out the long metal chain that was stretched taut as the dog strained against it. However, on this particular day, my stomach lurched as we noticed the chain was slack. The snarling dog had finally succeeded in breaking free. Before we had time to react, it lunged for my friend, pinning her to the ground. Panicked, my seven-year-old mind cycled through the options: Should I try to pull the dog off? No, I wasn’t strong enough and we’d probably both get hurt. Should I knock on someone’s door for help? No, I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers. Should I run to get my friend’s mom? Her house was several blocks away, but it seemed like the only sensible option. Beginning to cry, I stumbled down the street before stopping abruptly to turn back. How could I leave her like this? “God, please help!” I cried out in desperation. Shocked, I watched as the dog stepped away from my friend and calmly walked back into its yard, dragging the broken chain behind it.

My cry for help had unleashed the power of heaven on a quiet suburban street that day. As a first grader, I knew little about theology or the Bible, but I knew God loved me. I’d been reassured that Jesus was always with me because I’d invited Him into my heart. Difficult situations often lead us to seek God. I guess I experienced it first on that on that spring day at age seven.

The story of the dog attack stayed with me through the years and left me in awe of God’s power. I knew He was there for me and could help me in times of desperation and trials. However, it was not until much later that I understood prayer isn’t just something to engage reactively when we are in the midst of hard situations. God also invites us to look ahead and pray proactively about things yet to unfold. Proactive prayers anticipate future situations, both good and bad. They help to prepare us and invite God to intervene in advance.

The apostle Paul knew this. Throughout his writings, he repeatedly asked for prayer.   We see this in both letters to the church at Thessalonica:

“Brothers and sisters, pray for us.” (1 Thessalonians 5:25, NIV)

“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1, NIV)

If I’m honest, I’ll admit that Paul’s requests for prayer are so frequent I don’t usually notice them. Until recently, I’d skim over his opening and closing comments so I could focus on the meat of his teaching. However, I now recognize the vital role prayer played in his ministry.   The message of the gospel spread through the Roman Empire not because of Paul’s skills or efforts but because of God’s power unleashed through prayer. Beth Moore explains it this way: “Not one inspired writer of the New Testament letters had more to say about prayer. He did not sit smugly back, presuming that Jesus would fulfill His purpose through him with little proactive effort on his part. He pressed in and prayed hard. To Paul, prayer was part of the necessary means even to a divinely foreordained end.” (Children of the Day, p. 192)

Praying proactively is about receiving what God has promised in His Word. It claims what He’s already said is ours for the taking. This kind of prayer isn’t about asking God to do what we want–it’s meant to make our perspectives line up with His. I’ll give you a few examples to clarify. Afterwards you can share your own in the comments at the bottom of this post.

The Desires of Our Hearts

Psalm 37:4 makes this promise: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (NIV) I used to read this and not see how the first phrase informed the second. I thought something like this: Sure, I delight in God, so why doesn’t He give me this thing I want? Now I understand that when we take delight in the Lord, it means we are aligning our hearts with His. The desires of our hearts are also the desires of His heart. We know His heart by studying His Word. For example, we know that He values families and that He wants us to tell our children about Him so that they can love Him and know Him: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, NIV)

My desires for my children have changed over time as my understanding of God has grown. Instead of praying only about their circumstances, I pray more about their hearts. I pray they will value God’s Word and long for a deeper relationship with Him. I pray they will have teachable hearts and be open to the ways the Lord wants to work in and through their lives. I pray that they will delight in Jesus as I delight in Him. I pray they will become men of integrity and character. That is the desire of my heart. Of course I want them to have healthy relationships and a good education. I want them to launch and become successful adults, but I believe the most important thing I can pray is that they will love God and value His Word. God’s Word assures me He wants the same for them.

Fulfilling His Call

Paul was called to share the gospel among the gentiles. He asked for prayer that the message would “spread rapidly and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:6, NIV). As followers of Jesus, we are all called to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19, NIV). Each of us has a part to play in sharing the gospel with others, whether or not we have the gift of evangelism. If this sounds daunting, remember that we do this through the power of the Spirit, not our own abilities. When we ask the Lord to identify people He wants to love through us, He will answer that prayer. Our job is to abide in Him and take action when He reveals someone who is ready to hear the good news. Second Peter 3:9 assures us that God doesn’t want anyone to perish, so we can pray with confidence knowing that asking for help us share His love is the very thing He wants us to do.

Changing Our Hearts, Not Just Our Circumstances

Without a doubt, the default mode of most people is to pray about their circumstances. The situations we face every day shape our attitudes, our relationships and our actions. It’s tempting to pray and ask God to fix or change difficult and frustrating situations. While this isn’t a bad thing to pray, it’s overlooking the fact that our circumstances have much to teach us. I think that’s Paul’s point when he says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV) Instead of praying for our circumstances and waiting to see if/when/ how God is going to work in them, we can try changing our perspectives with these simple prayers:

“God, show me what you want me to learn through this.”

“God, refine my character.”

“God, reveal yourself to me.”

“God, help me to show your love, mercy and grace to others who are going through this hard thing with me.”

“God, be glorified in this situation and reveal how You are using it for good.” (See Romans 8:28)

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23, NIV)

Praying proactively requires us to step outside our current circumstances and to have an eternal perspective. It also means we need to study the Bible so that we can know God’s will and pray for His kingdom to spread on earth. His power is within reach, but we get to decide whether or not we want to receive it.

Praying opens the floodgates of Heaven, enabling us to access God’s glory and power. For more inspiration, click on the link to hear Meredith Andrews’ song “Open Up the Heavens.”


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The Fallacy of the “Epic Fail”

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From the moment I heard the phrase “epic fail,” I chose not to make it part of my vocabulary.   It seemed like everywhere I turned, I would hear people jokingly say “epic fail” to describe anything from burnt toast to a catastrophic train accident. This type of phrase, known as a “meme” (rhymes with “team”), is a cultural symbol or social idea that transmits quickly from person to person and becomes part of the fabric of our language and culture.

The first time my husband and I heard our boys say it, we added it to the list of “banned words” for our household. We didn’t want our boys over-using such a negative and exaggerated phrase to label mistakes, whether they were theirs or someone else’s. If they viewed every mistake as an “epic fail,” we thought they’d be less likely to stretch themselves to try new things.   Failure and mistakes are valuable tools for learning and we didn’t want them emphasized in such a negative way. Over-inflated descriptions like that have a way of defining us, even when they’re said in a joking manner.

When I read Beth Moore’s comments about the word “failure” in Children of the Day, the choice we’d made to ban the term was reaffirmed. She says: “Satan loves to fuel our feelings of failure. Just when we finally muster the courage to act or take a stand for the gospel, he prompts us to believe we blew it. Our feelings of failure can start an ongoing cycle of inadequacy: If we feel like failures, we’ll act like failures and, if we let that condemnation go unchecked, we’ll make our next decision out of the same perceived defeat” (Children of the Day, p. 41).

The Apostle Paul rejected the idea of failure and encouraged the Thessalonians to do the same. Acts 17:1-9 describes his visit to Thessalonica with Silas and Timothy and the riot that started as a result of his teaching. Their visit to Thessalonica ended with the three men fleeing the city at nightfall, leaving the new believers behind to deal with the mess. Still, in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul says:

“You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.   We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else” (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6a, NIV).

Paul did not view their efforts in Thessalonica as a failure because regardless of the outcome, he knew that he, Silas and Timothy pleased God by sharing the gospel with pure motives. They didn’t try to put a positive spin on a bad situation; they simply didn’t see it as a failure in any way.

How I wish I could say the same of myself. I’ve often let my perceived failures hinder me from moving forward with something that God is calling me to do. Once my feelings get hurt or my ego is injured, I’m tempted to sit on the sidelines and nurse my injuries instead of getting back into the game and trying again.

I’ve dealt with this repeatedly over the last few years as I’ve been growing and learning as a writer. It can be frightening to share a piece I’ve written and to ask for constructive feedback. Sometimes the observations people make sting. A few times I’ve even been brought to tears and have wanted to give up. However, I’ve begun to embrace those constructive comments and harsh words as opportunities to continue improving. I’m beginning to see my mistakes as tools to teach me. Since the ultimate goal of my writing is to encourage, inspire and challenge people in their faith, I want it to be the best it can be. This means learning from my mistakes and pressing on rather than letting them define me. My prayer is that, like Paul, my focus is not on pleasing my readers, but pleasing God.

When our efforts don’t look successful from a worldly perspective, it’s important to remember that: “Christ’s economy completely redefines failure…We can’t let Satan shut us in or he wins the battle. He’s trying to make wound-lickers out of warriors. When God opens the door again, let’s stand back up, brush ourselves off, and step through it” (Children of the Day, p. 42).

Paul reminds us of the power we can access through Jesus: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIV). Don’t let Satan deceive you with the sting of a past “failure” or the fear of a future one. Instead, adopt Paul’s attitude and reject the idea of the “epic fail.” If your motivation is pure and your goal is to please God, you will be a success every time, regardless of what the world sees.

The band MercyMe has a fantastic song out right now about rejecting the label of “failure.” Click on the link and be inspired by the catchy tune of “Greater.”

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

(For more information about memes, you can visit: http://netforbeginners.about.com/od/weirdwebculture/f/What-Is-an-Internet-Meme.htm)


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Strategically Placed

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If you’ve ever bought or sold a property then you’re probably familiar with the three most important selling points of a home: “location, location, location.” The well-known adage from the real estate industry emphasizes a simple point–a good location is the best advantage for a favorable sale.

It turns out that geography also impacted the early church’s ability to spread the gospel. During Paul’s years of ministry, the city of Thessalonica was positioned to have great influence over the surrounding regions: “It was a powerful metropolis with easy access to the interior and the northern frontier by means of good roads, and it lay not far from Asia and other Roman provinces by way of the sea” (Beth Moore, Children of the Day p. 33-4 quoting Gene L. Green).

Once the Thessalonians heard the gospel from Paul and accepted Christ, they took their strategic placement for sharing the gospel seriously: “The Thesssalonians looked outward. These were not a rustic people who were occupied only with local concerns but a city of great influence in all spheres, not only the political and economic but also the religious. Therefore it comes as no surprise to hear that when the Thessalonians turned from their idols to the true and living God, they themselves became the ones who brought the gospel to Macedonia, Achaia, and everywhere (v.8)” (see previous reference).

Paul highlights how the Thessalonians looked outward: “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Because of their central location and their passion to share the gospel, everyone knew about the Thessalonians’ faith in the One True God.

The city of Thessalonica was located on premium real estate, but today being strategically placed has more to do with our perspectives than our physical locations. With Jesus in our lives, every place has the potential to become strategic for sharing the gospel. When we’re filled with the Spirit, our faith in God becomes “known everywhere.” Whatever situation we find ourselves in has the potential to be used to further God’s kingdom.

At times it may not be clear how the Lord is using us strategically, but if we continue to abide with Him, walk in obedience and pray for opportunities to be used, He will reveal His plan in time. Sometimes, our job is simply to position ourselves in a spot where God can use us and then to wait and see what He does.

When our kids were little, my husband and I made a deliberate choice to send them to public school. We wanted to be lights for Jesus among those who didn’t know Him. Our neighborhood school was a good one and seemed like the right fit for our boys. Over the nine years they attended their elementary school, I volunteered alongside teachers and parents in many different capacities. Time spent at the school provided opportunities to build trust and develop friendships. Sometimes, it also gave me chances to share my faith in Jesus.

Four of those elementary years were spent pouring myself into an after-school math program. I’d prayed about doing it and felt God was calling me to it, but sometimes questioned whether teaching math was really the best use of my time. It didn’t feel very spiritually significant to me. I didn’t realize how God was laying a foundation for future opportunities. Through my involvement there, I developed close relationships with several different parents who co-taught with me.   One of those moms eventually came to Focused Living with me and later asked me to co-lead a smaller group study in her home. Another one of my previous co-teachers joined us and just began her second year with our group of ten women. (To read more about this story, see my blog “Being Open Handed is a State of Mind.”)

Now I see how God strategically placed me teaching math to fourth and fifth graders so that I could build those relationships and hone my teaching skills. The women in the home study are all there because God strategically placed them in my life or my co-leader’s life. We befriended them over the years through volunteering in classrooms, rooting for our kids on sports fields and crossing paths in our neighborhoods. Had it not been for that math class, I would not be experiencing the joy of pouring into them weekly as they learn from God’s word.

Strategic placement is about recognizing your proximity to others who need Christ’s love and then inviting God to use you in their lives. It takes time, patience and persistence. I continue to discover places where God has strategically placed me so that I can gain valuable experiences and bless others. Whether it is helping an elderly neighbor in distress, sharing lunch with a young mom in need of some adult conversation or providing encouragement to a struggling teen, any place in my life becomes strategic when I offer it up to God.

What areas in your life is God already using strategically? Maybe you’re not convinced your current “location” is a favorable one for Him to use. If that’s the case, pray and ask Him to open your eyes and show you where He wants to use you to further His kingdom. Here are a few ideas to consider:

-Within your home and extended family (spouse, kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, parents, in-laws)

-In your neighborhood (maybe it’s time to reach out to that neighbor whose name you don’t know)

-Anywhere you volunteer (secular or Christian)

-In your homeschool co-op (these parents rarely get a moment to themselves to read God’s word and be encouraged!)

-In your Christian school (families at Christian schools need to be encouraged to grow deeper too)

-Groups you belong to (Bunco, Bridge, quilting, college alumni, service organizations, country club, golf, tennis, bocce ball, hiking, gourmet, etc.)

-Places you frequent (grocery stores, doctor’s & dentist’s offices, staff and patients at your chemotherapy treatment center, banks, dry cleaners, hair/ nail salons)

-Places your kids are involved (schools, PTA meetings, sports teams, choirs, academic clubs, friends/ classmates)

-At work (co-workers, clients/ patients/ students)

Your strategic place can be with anyone anywhere. When the Holy Spirit leads the way, things just fall into place. He does all the work–you are simply His willing instrument.

Try praying a simple prayer like this: “God, open my eyes to a place in my life where You want to use me strategically to further Your kingdom. Pour out your Spirit and equip me with the tools I need to impact others for You.”

Post a comment to let us know how God is using you strategically!

If you still need further encouragement and inspiration, click on the link and enjoy Josh Wilson’s song “Pushing Back the Dark.”