Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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God is Greater- What Love Is Week 4

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Remember learning math in elementary school? Teachers would use all sorts of visual and tangible things to help us understand the different concepts. One I’ll never forget was learning the symbols for “greater than” and “less than.” Although the symbols were simple, it was hard for the kids in my class to remember which side of the “<” and “>” symbols represented the larger and smaller numbers. So my teacher cleverly told us to imagine a hungry alligator eating the number. Of course, his open mouth would face the greater number so that he had more to eat. I thought about that visual recently as I read 1 John. It’s reassuring to know that God is greater than some of the most powerful influences we face every day.

 God is Greater than Our Hearts

We often hear the phrase “follow your heart,” but if we heed this advice, the results aren’t always positive. In Scripture, the heart is used to represent thoughts, reasoning, understanding, will, judgment, affections, love, hatred, fear, joy, sorrow and anger. As a result, the heart can often lead us to make decisions based on our feelings instead of on truth. Sometimes it leads us down the right path, but sometimes it doesn’t. The prophet Jeremiah describes the heart’s fickle nature this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)

Our hearts can deceive us when we let them influence our faith too much. They can cause us to be too harsh or too lenient in our views of others and ourselves. If we’re feeling disconnected from God, this might cause us to doubt his love for us. And if we get stuck in a rut of sin, we might feel like we no longer deserve God’s love. Thankfully, “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20, NIV) Our salvation is not based on our feelings about God, but upon the grace, love and mercy he showed to us by sending Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. If you’ve accepted Christ as your savior, that is a truth you can believe, whether your feelings agree with it or not.

God is Greater than The Evil One

John’s letter also emphasizes that Christians are spiritually stronger than spirits of evil. He says, You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:3-4, NIV)  The “one” John refers to here is Satan, the prince of this world.

The evil one loves to distract believers with difficulties to prevent them from advancing the kingdom of God on earth. He wants to deceive us into believing we are powerless to fight his schemes. Sometimes he lulls us into apathy or self-absorption. Regardless of the methods he uses, his aim is the same: to take our eyes off of God and to make us forget that we have already claimed victory over him because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So the next time you’re facing discouragement, distress or any other negative situation, stop and pray.   Thank God that he is greater than the enemy and claim the Lord’s power over whatever difficulty you are facing.

God is Greater than the World

It doesn’t take much to realize that living for Jesus means living contrary to the majority of the world. Christ followers spend their days swimming against the tide of popular opinion and worldly philosophies. And just like physical exercise makes our bodies stronger, this “spiritual exercise” makes our faith stronger. It can also make us a little weary sometimes.

Although the world often sees following God’s commands as impossible, Scripture makes it clear that obeying God is within our grasp:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5, NIV)

We are victorious whenever we choose to reject the world’s influence on our thoughts and actions and follow God’s ways instead. This happens when we seek his direction for major life decisions instead of following worldly wisdom. It also occurs through daily decisions about the way we spend money and time, the company we keep, the pleasures we pursue and the ways we treat others. There is no need to feel burdened by these decisions. Doing things God’s way frees us up to grow closer to him and to discover more of the abundant life he has for us.

Claiming God’s Greatness

Maybe you need a reminder right now that God has overcome these areas in your life. Are your emotions influencing your thoughts more than the truth found in the Bible? Be encouraged that God is greater than your heart. Is Satan toying with you by causing you to believe lies or to wallow in self-pity? Be empowered knowing that God has overcome the evil one. Are the hollow philosophies and sinful choices of our culture wearing you down or lulling you into complacency? Be energized knowing that through Christ, you have overcome the world.

There are two great songs based on these truths that always encourage me. Click on the link to hear “Greater is He” by Blanca and “Greater” by Mercy Me.

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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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Strangers Here- Women of the Word Part 6

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How did Rahab feel standing on the plains of Canaan looking at the charred remains of Jericho? Her home had been reduced to rubble and all of her friends and neighbors were now dead. They’d trusted the thick walls of stone to protect them rather than submitting to the living God that led the Israelites. For six days the people of Jericho watched with a mix of fear and curiosity as the Israelites marched around the city’s perimeter carrying the Ark of the Covenant. They’d heard the stories about this mighty God, but Rahab alone had chosen to believe and follow Him.

Trusting the God of the Israelites had made Rahab a stranger in her own city. But when the walls came down on the seventh day of the Israelites’ marching, she faced a new challenge as a stranger in their camp. From an earthly perspective, she was an outsider in both places. In Jericho her faith in God kept her apart. With the Israelites, her status as a foreigner and a prostitute probably didn’t win her many friends.

The Bible doesn’t tell us the story of how Rahab integrated into their community. Beyond what’s recorded in Joshua, chapters 2 and 6, we have little information about her.  We don’t know how she and Salmon met or when they decided to marry. In fact, it’s not until we read the New Testament that we learn they had a child. Matthew 1:5 tells us that Salmon and Rahab were the parents of Boaz and the great great grandparents of King David. The genealogy continues through the centuries until it ends triumphantly at Jesus, the Messiah.

Still, Rahab had no idea she would end up in the family line of a great king and the Savior of the world. So why did she risk it all? Why did she abandon the people of her city? Why was she willing to accept its destruction? Why did she want to live among the ones who had obliterated all that she knew and loved?

The answer is simple, really. Rahab’s eyes weren’t on her earthly surroundings–they were on God. She told the Israelite spies: “The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:11b, NIV) She knew it was futile to fight against Him or to try and preserve her city and way of life. She held those things lightly in comparison with knowing and following the living God.

Long before the words of the New Testament were inspired, she exemplified the call for all believers to live as strangers in the world. We are simply travelers passing through this life on our way to something better. The apostle Peter urges believers saying: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” (1 Peter 1:13-15, NIV 1984 edition)

Peter reminds us to fix our eyes on Jesus and to be holy or “set apart.” Living this way means not placing our hope in worldly things like financial security, physical health, or even significant relationships and meaningful endeavors. The good things we experience in this life are blessings from God, but not our ultimate hope. Followers of Jesus know these things lack lasting value compared to the hope we have through Him. We hold them loosely, knowing they are only a small taste of the true joy, security and peace that await us.

Peter continues writing in this passage: “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:17-19, NIV 1984 edition)

Rahab lived as a stranger in reverent fear. She saw God’s power and let her awe of Him guide her choices. She knew what He had to offer was better than anything else. Her example inspires and humbles me. And it makes me wonder. Am I living a life set apart for God? Do I see myself as a stranger here? Do I hold loosely to worldly comforts and pleasures, or do I put my hope and security in them? Am I attaching myself too tightly to material possessions? Am I investing my time in things that are eternal or wasting it on frivolous activities with no lasting value? Am I like the people of Jericho, fortifying my earthly protections when I should be surrendering to the One True God?

Rahab became a stranger in her city when she chose to accept a God no one else acknowledged. And she was an outsider in the Israelite camp because she was a Canaanite. But she was never a stranger to God. He knew her, loved her and had a plan for her. He redeemed her life and then placed her in a family line that would ultimately produce the Redeemer of the whole world.

It couldn’t have been easy for Rahab. There were probably days when living for God meant being lonely.  Maybe she thought she would never belong anywhere. I think we can relate with her difficulties. There are days when it’s hard to be set apart. It doesn’t always feel good to live as a stranger in our world. It can be painful, lonely and uncomfortable. But God promises this is all temporary—which is why our hope is in Him, both for this life and the one to come.

Maybe you recognize the symbol in the photo at the top of this post. The “N-O-T-W” on my family’s bulletin board is a simple reminder that we are “Not of This World” –we were made for something more. The song “Strangers Here” by Tenth Avenue North also offers a great perspective on the joys and challenges of living set apart. Click on the link below and be encouraged:

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The Pros and Cons of “More”

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Crossing the floor of my younger son’s bedroom sometimes feels like navigating my way through a bed of nails. When he is deep into his creative mode, colorful plastic Legos with hard edges and sharp corners cover his carpet. He can sit for hours surrounded by a pile of his favorite building materials. Vehicles, skyscrapers, spaceships and mini figures have overtaken much of the real estate on his bedroom floor. Although I often point out that he has more than enough, requests for new Lego sets regularly appear on his birthday and Christmas wish lists. He sighs at my lack of understanding when I use words like “gluttony” or “hoarding” to describe his obsession with Legos. It’s a good-natured disagreement over a fairly minor issue.   He thinks he needs more and I think he has more than he needs.

It turns out the Bible has quite a bit to say about the concept of “more” but the issues have much higher stakes. Sometimes abundance is positive, as we see when Paul, Silas and Timothy urge the Thessalonians to please God and to love one another more and more:

“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more…  Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1,9-10, NIV, bold print added)

There are other times, however, when Scripture shows “more” as not necessarily positive:

-Hatred: “Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.” (Genesis 37:5, NIV, bold print added)

-Corruption: “But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. (Judges 2:19, NIV, bold print added)

-Fear: “Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.” (1 Samuel 18:29, NIV, bold print added)

-Sinful Behavior: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Ephesians 4:19, NIV, bold print added)

Beth Moore explains the tension between positive and negative abundance in our lives: “Something is going to grow. Something will get ‘more’ of us. Will it be hatred? Coldness? Addiction? Sensuality? Perversion? Devotion? Affection? Belief? Blessing? Ask yourself this question as I do the same: knowing the propensity of things to grow, which way do I want to go? ‘More and more’ one direction will force its antithesis into ‘less and less.’ We get to decide which we want to feed and which we want to starve.” (Children of the Day, p. 93)

Sometimes it’s wise and healthy to take a step back and evaluate the things in our lives that are influencing us “more and more.” Use the questions below to consider how each area impacts what grows “more and more” in our lives:

The company we keep:

-Are our typical activities and topics of conversation honoring to God?

-Does alcohol play a prominent role in our times together and would we still have fun without it?

-How are our personal attitudes and outlooks affected after spending time together?

-Are our worldly friends rubbing off on us more or is our Christian faith rubbing off on them more?

The social and extracurricular activities in which our families participate:

-How do they impact our schedules and ability to have healthy time margins?

-Does involvement in them still make it possible to go to church and be involved in Christian community?

-Are they defining our self-worth or our children’s self-worth?

-Are they bringing out the best in our families or making us more prone to comparison and unhealthy competition?

The entertainment we enjoy:

-Do the movies, TV shows, magazines, books, websites, social media, blogs, games and other past times we like influence us more toward worldly viewpoints or godly ones?

-Do we make time for entertainment, but struggle to find time to spend with God daily?

The material things we acquire:

-Do we talk about, look at and shop for material things continually?

-Are there any material things that have captured our attention and become the central focus of our lives?

-Are we willing to make needed changes when we recognize that material objects are mattering to us “more and more”?

The personal comfort we crave:

-Do we spend a significant amount of time arranging for and focusing on our own personal comfort?

-Is an emphasis on our physical, emotional and relational comfort causing us to become self-centered?

-Is being comfortable more important than letting God stretch us in new ways?

Finding a healthy balance with these things is a lifelong endeavor that requires constant prayer and vigilance. Not all of these issues have black and white answers–just like my son’s view on the quantity of his Legos differs from mine. The Bible is one of the best places to find clear answers.  Determining if you have more of something than you should is between you and God.

If you’re feeling convicted after reading through the questions and consulting Scripture, do not be discouraged. This is a great step toward healthy growth and shows that you have a teachable heart. God is ready and waiting to help you when you admit your struggle to Him. In addition to praying, you may need to ask for help from a wise friend, counselor or pastor.   There is no need for guilt or personal condemnation.   God’s Word promises us: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23a, NIV)

The good news is that there are things that we can pursue “more and more” without worrying about negative effects:

The Bible: The more we study it, the more we can be amazed by how God’s truth is woven together from start to finish. The more we learn, the hungrier we become to know more.

Prayer: The more we lay at the feet of God, the more we see Him working in our lives. This leads to more trust in God and more peace in all circumstances.

Jesus:  The more time we spend with Him, the more He reveals Himself to us and the deeper our relationship with Him grows.

The Holy Spirit: The more we ask Him to fill us, the more He gives us wisdom and enables us to impact the lives of others.

Christian Music: The more we listen to Christian music, the more we’re drawn to the heart of God and to seeing the world through a biblical lens.

A Godly Perspective on our Time and Finances: The more we see our time and money as belonging to God, the more willing we are to put aside our personal agendas in order to pursue Him, give generously and serve others to further His kingdom.

For more inspiration, click on the link to hear Colton Dixon’s song “More of You.” Make it your prayer as you listen.

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


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Developing Your Potential

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Buckling his seatbelt as we drove away from practice, my son turned to me with excitement. “Guess what, Mom? My lacrosse coach wants me to try out for his soccer team this weekend.”

“Wow, buddy, that’s quite a compliment. I didn’t even know he coached two different sports. I guess we can think about it, but why did you say ‘no’ when I asked you about signing up for tryouts a long time ago?” I probed.

After a moment of thoughtful silence, he answered. “I don’t know. I guess it just felt good to be asked and to know he believes in me.”

My son knew he had potential, but he wasn’t motivated to tap into it until his coach validated it too. With the knowledge that someone else was on his side, his confidence skyrocketed. This was obvious even in his last few games of the lacrosse season as he ran up the field dodging opponents and scoring goals. His athletic abilities hadn’t changed, but his belief in himself had grown exponentially.

It’s a good lesson for all of us. When we know a person recognizes potential in us, we are more eager to develop it.   I’ve experienced this in the last few years as others have challenged me to develop gifts God has given me for teaching, leading and writing. I would not be writing this blog if the women in my writers group and an inspiring leader from church hadn’t been there to spur me on. Similarly, I would never have had the courage to start a Bible study for women exploring faith if a friend hadn’t believed in me and partnered with me to do it.

God has given each of us a unique set of spiritual gifts, heart desires, abilities, personality traits and personal experiences to be developed and used for Him. When we take the time to discover and develop them, God uses all of these things to further His Kingdom. Pastor Erik Rees has created some excellent materials for exploring them in his study, S.H.A.P.E. Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life. He encourages us to consider Galatians 6:4-5:

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”   (The Message)

As followers of Christ, we’ve been entrusted with a life changing message and all of the tools we need to share it. Yet we often get tempted to find what’s comfortable and stick with it. We rely on the same people to perform certain jobs in ministries without ever asking God if there are new ways He wants to stretch us. Stepping out to risk facilitating a small group or leading worship may sound frightening. Perhaps there is a group of praying parents in need of a leader, but you don’t think your prayers are eloquent enough. Or maybe you’re great with kids, but fear you don’t have the Bible knowledge to lead them at church.   You might have the gift of administration but hesitate, not wanting to commit the time to use it in a certain ministry. Is it possible that you’ve grown comfortable and complacent watching others give and serve? Have you and opted out of using your potential with different rationalizations?

The Apostle Paul was great at coaching and developing the gifts and skills in others. We see this in his relationship with Timothy, a young partner in ministry with whom he traveled. In one letter Paul writes to Timothy:

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:8-16)

Paul admonished Timothy to persevere and not let his ministry be deterred by insecurity about his youthfulness. He told Timothy not to neglect his gifts but to use them fully and to continue developing them. The purpose was to optimize his effectiveness in sharing the good news of Jesus. Discovering and using our gifts is about honoring God and blessing others, not elevating ourselves.

Maybe you’re like my son who needed his coach to recognize the potential he had.  With an encourager to cheer you on perhaps you’d be more willing to discover new ways God could use you. If you’re intrigued by this idea, pray that He’ll give you the desire and the tools to discover how your gifts, experiences, personality and passion can be used for His glory. Pray for a person who can help you identify them and develop them.  If you already know your gifts, pray and evaluate how effectively you’re using them right now. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you courage and confidence if you’re feeling afraid or insecure. Maybe it’s time to branch out and trust Him to take the next step. Once He starts moving in you, you’ll never want to go back to your ordinary way of life.

Casting Crowns has an inspiring new song called “Thrive.” Click on the link to listen, then pray about how God wants to tap into your potential.


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Pushing the Pause Button

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I have conflicted feelings about technology. When it works the way I expect, I see it as a valuable tool that makes life easier. However, when it has glitches or requires skills beyond what I have, I throw my hands up in frustration and rant about the way it is taking over our society.

One aspect of technology that I embrace with enthusiasm is the “pause” button. Whether it’s for halting a video temporarily to take notes or pausing a movie for a bathroom break, I love having that kind of control. The action stops until I start it again.

I’ve been thinking about God’s view on having “pause” buttons in life. Genesis 2:1-3 records the first instance of this when God finishes the work of creation:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

God chose to rest even though He never grows tired or weary. I like to think He did this as an example for us to follow. Resting is meant to be a regular part of our lives. However, for many of us living in modern times, being still seems nearly impossible. Although the world spins on its axis at the same rate it always has, the pace of life seems to grow faster and faster.

Scheduling time to push life’s pause button helps us to be rejuvenated and to keep our priorities in order. I’m always amazed by how my energy and enthusiasm rebound after I’ve rested. For me, spending time with people and pouring into them gives me great fulfillment.   However, if I don’t allow margin in my schedule for time alone and time with God, I become depleted and lose the joy that comes from being with others. I have nothing left to offer because I haven’t taken time to get filled up by God.

Conversely, when I spend too much time working alone, I also feel drained. Writing a Bible study or blog flows easily when I’m rested and aligned with God. However, when I’m struggling for an idea or pushing myself to meet a self-imposed deadline, the flow of ideas dries up quickly. Then, it’s time to push away from the computer and ask God to re-energize me. When I let my brain rest and stop trying to figure something out, God brings me exactly what I need.

For many of us, learning to be still takes discipline. Sometimes it’s easier to continue running on the hamster wheel instead of risking the jump off. When I’m stuck in a holding pattern of busyness, God whispers to me softly:

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

I like the NET translation of this verse too:

“He says, ‘Stop your striving and recognize that I am God! 
I will be exalted over the nations! I will be exalted over the earth!’”

So often our striving and busyness are like taskmasters relentlessly spurring us on. Being still helps us remember who God is. It reminds us He holds all the power. Pausing allows us to step back and evaluate what we’re doing to make sure it fits with God’s plan and our priorities. Being still causes us to relinquish the illusion of control and to gain a fresh perspective as God rejuvenates our bodies, minds and spirits.

How about pushing the pause button right now? Give yourself three minutes and twenty-four seconds to stop striving as you listen to Kari Jobe’s song “Be Still.” Listen with your eyes closed and let the truth of the words sink into your mind. If you’re feeling weary, I pray you’ll find refreshment for your soul.


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Being a Person of Integrity

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I still remember the scene like it was yesterday, even though it happened quite a while ago. It was my first year working in a large public high school and I was off to a rough start as the new Leadership teacher. On this particular day, I stood in the classroom watching out the window as a group of students crowded boisterously around a soda machine just outside. The bell rang and as my Student Government kids began trickling in, most of them were grinning and holding frosty cans of soda. One turned to me and explained with glee, “That soda machine outside is broken and the door is open. Everyone’s getting free sodas!”

I turned to the student and said simply, “Hand me that can and go collect them from everyone else.” My tone of voice told him not to question me. As the students began to protest the confiscation, I spoke up, “Can someone tell me who owns the soda machine?”

I met eyes with a few of the kids and they looked away. One spoke up hesitantly, “Uh, I guess the school does.”

I continued, “That’s right. And do you remember seeing a line item on our Student Government Budget that says ‘Soda Commissions?’ Can someone tell me who gets that money?”

Another student raised her hand sheepishly, “Um, our school athletics programs and the Student Government get the money.”

I nodded and continued, “So, when you’re taking those sodas out of the machine, are they free, or are you stealing them?”

Now, I had everyone looking wide-eyed at me. One boy tried to defend their actions. “Well, when you put it that way, I guess we’re stealing them from ourselves and the other students. But the machine was open, so it’s not our fault if people are taking them.”

Barely able to contain my anger, I responded with a measured tone of voice, “You are student leaders and if you see something like that happening, it is your responsibility to lead by example. Rather than joining in what was happening, one of you should have stood by the machine and someone else should have gotten an adult to help. You set the tone at this school and I expect you to act with integrity.”

Another hand shot up, “Uh, Mrs. McCullum, I don’t even know what that word means and I’m pretty sure no one else does either.”

I answered simply, “Integrity is doing the right thing whether anyone is watching or not. It is being a person with a consistent character who chooses to do what is right because it is right and for no other reason.” I paused and thought for a moment before continuing, “I think we’re going to spend some time learning about what a true leader is, even if it means we plan a few less activities this year.”

Since that eye-opening day, I’ve realized that the quality of integrity is rarely discussed and poorly understood by our culture. So, when I saw Kelly Minter touch on it in Week 6, Day 3 of our study, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

Whether we’re discussing teenagers in the twenty first century or Levites in 444 BC, integrity is a crucial characteristic that is in short supply in our world. Nehemiah talks about it in two different instances in his story. The first is when he chooses leaders for the city after the wall is built:

“I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do.” -Nehemiah 7:2

The second time is when he returns to Jerusalem later and makes some final reforms after the people stray from the agreement they made to care for the temple and the Levites. Nehemiah lists his choice of leaders and explains his decision:

“I put Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and a Levite named Pedaiah in charge of the storerooms and made Hanan son of Zakkur, the son of Mattaniah, their assistant, because they were considered trustworthy. They were made responsible for distributing the supplies to their fellow Levites.” -Nehemiah 13:13

Minter explains: “The world doesn’t need more wealth, strength, power, or skill as much as it desperately needs trustworthy people. My heart is never more at rest, my soul never more at peace than when I am in the presence of a person of integrity. I find relational serenity in never having to second-guess what the person really meant, not having to dodge gossip or duck drama. When I have the assurance that a person’s word is true, motives pure, and intents just, I have found a rare treasure indeed…the names we just read through [in Nehemiah 13:13] don’t carry a lot of meaning, but they represent faithful and loyal people Nehemiah could count on.   Our world could be no more in need of such trustworthy souls today.” (Nehemiah, A Heart Can Break pp. 153-4)

Many people have a “public self” and a “private self.” The “public self” shows well and says the right things.   The “private self”, however, is where the truth resides.   It is where authentic thoughts, feelings and attitudes reveal themselves. Usually, it is also where some of the less appealing aspects of our characters exist: the secret struggles with sin, hidden addictions, quiet judgments of others, critical thoughts, self-pity, entitlement, impatience. We may not like to admit it, but we all have those things inside us to varying degrees.

God values integrity and if we are serious about wanting to follow Him, then we need to start removing the façade of our “public selves” and relinquishing our “private selves” for Him to do a little house cleaning. We need to show consistency of character, even when God is the only one who notices.

Here are a few questions to consider as you evaluate where you need to let God refine your character and build a firm foundation of integrity in you:

-Do I say what I mean?

-Do I mean what I say?

-Do I have ulterior motives when I want to get involved in an activity, with a group or with a person?

-Do I treat things people tell me in confidence as sacred secrets not to be shared?

-Do I adapt how I am around certain people in order to fit in?

-Do I roll my eyes or make derogatory comments about people after interacting with them?

-Do I talk about people behind their backs?

-Does my language change based on who I’m with?

-Do I say “yes” to things I really don’t want to do?

-Do I participate in activities or behaviors that I know aren’t pleasing to God?

-Do I ever drop hints, make subtle comments or make digs to let my opinion be known instead of just saying it clearly?

-Am I beyond reproach in how I handle my finances?

-Do I take advantage of people and situations for personal or financial gain?

-Do I justify “white lies” as okay in certain circumstances?

-Am I teaching my children or grandchildren the importance of integrity and demonstrating it in my own actions?

-Do I tell “half truths” or omit certain pieces of information to cover up a wrongdoing or to get something I want?

-Do I turn a blind eye to things I know are wrong happening within my sphere of influence?

-Do I cover up my mistakes or admit them?

-Do I compromise what is right to save myself money, time or inconvenience?

-Do I intentionally conceal things from my spouse?

-Would my behavior, thoughts and attitudes be pleasing to Jesus?

-Do I keep my word?

-Do I follow through on commitments?

-Do I base my decisions on what others are doing or on what is the right thing to do?

-Does what I say I believe match with how I live my life daily?

-Do I speak up when an error is made in my favor?

-Do I take action to right a wrong even if it is inconvenient or costly to me in some way?

-Do people consider me authentic and sincere?

If any of these questions caught your attention, take time to stop, pray and ask God to reveal where your life needs a fresh infusion of integrity. You don’t have to do this on your own strength.  He will supply what you need when you humbly admit your need to Him.  Sometimes this means retraining ourselves to respond differently to a situation instead of letting our “default mode” take over.  Other times it involves breaking unhealthy habits, patterns or cycles.  Trust God to help you take the steps needed to make the situation right, no matter how difficult it is.

Integrity Matters to God

Integrity should matter to us because it matters to God. Here are a few of the many verses that discuss it:

“I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you.” -1 Chronicles 29:17

“May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you.” –Psalm 25:21

“Because of my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever.” –Psalm 41:12

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.” –Proverbs 10:9

“Righteousness guards the person of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.” –Proverbs 13:6

Integrity Affects Our Impact on Others

Integrity also matters to others. If we claim to be Christians but lack integrity, our witness is ruined. Our actions often speak so loudly that people can’t hear the words we say.

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” –Titus 2:7-8

Let God Supply Your Integrity

If you are feeling convicted or overwhelmed, keep in mind that even Paul had to rely on God’s grace to supply the integrity he needed to minister effectively:

“Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.” -2 Corinthians 1:12

I’ll borrow Kelly Minter’s words as my closing prayer in this quest for integrity:

“May we seek to be people that God and others can trust, people whose deeds do not change whether we are in the dark or the light, whether we’ve been entrusted with little or much.” (p. 154)

Click on the link below to hear Francesca Battistelli’s song “It’s Your Life.” Think about how the words apply to being a person of integrity.