Choose Your Focus

“Focus determines reality.” (Qui Gon Jinn, The Phantom Menace)

I decided a long time ago to not let others determine what I believed and how much I believed. In other words, my faith in God is between me and God; there’s not third party.

Sticking to this is not easy, nor am I perfect at doing so. Why?

  • It’s easy to let hurt steal your focus and deflate your faith.
  • It’s easy to doubt because of what others do or fail to do.

Rather than simply deciding to stick to it, which I continually fail at doing, I am determining to continue returning to it. That determination is continually renewed, and I am able to go back to living this decision, only as much as I remember and follow what Scriptures says about it.

1.) Focus your thoughts.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

2.) Focus your faith.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

3.) Focus your spirit.

“For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the spirit.” (Romans 8:5)

My faith focus comes from a deliberate choice to focus on Jesus. Once that choice was made, my life then became one of progressively living out that focus through my attitudes, actions and words. I’m not perfect yet, but I’m making my way in that direction.

Join me?

The Full Armor of God

Think of the Armor of God as more than a list of helpful tips. Consider it as a recipe for an impenetrable Defense against the schemes of Satan (liar, thief). Think of it as how we block Satan’s access and withstand his attacks.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Paul gives this visual reminder to help us know what is essential to surviving and winning the battle with Satan. So, consider that if you feel like you’re losing, you might not be wearing your armor.

After describing the Armor of God and imploring Christians to put it on, Paul adds an emphasis on prayer.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)

Why would he emphasize prayer like this?

Because no matter how complete the armor, no matter how skilled the warrior, and no matter how much courage or bravery, battles are lost when communication with the commander is lost. In other words, in every battle, spiritual or physical, communication with the commander is essential!

This visual of the Amor of God helps me in the middle of the night when my thoughts keep me awake by helping me focus on God instead of the darkness. It also helps me during my daily prayer time to reaffirm my focus by helping me make a statement of faith. Finally, it helps me throughout the day too when I need to boldly proclaim the reality of God in my life.

Are you using the armor God gave you?

Shield of Faith

Large and slightly curved with a knob in the middle, the Roman shield allowed its bearer to deflect attacks and even knock an opponent backward. Soldiers would also soak their shields in water, so they could extinguish any flaming arrows shot at them by the enemy.

Spiritually, as most Christians know, the shield represents faith.

“Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” (Ephesian 6:16)

We likely all feel like we know exactly what faith is. Yet, it’s such a spiritualized concept that it’s easy to lose touch with exactly what it is and does for a Christian. This is especially true when looking at it as a piece of armor.

What is faith?

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

The word “substance” here means confidence and indicates something solid and real. What is “hoped for” and have “evidence of,” even though we cannot see it, is the truth and fulfillment of what God says in his word.

How does faith protect like a shield?

Faith guards and protects our beliefs and values, which we get from God’s word. Our faith deflects Satan’s attacks (e.g., lies, deceit, distraction, etc.). In other words, it blocks Satan’s access to all that we are in Christ. While he can’t ever take those things away, he can make us believe that we can lose them.

There is one more aspect to note about the Romans and their shields relevant to how our shield of faith protects us. Romans used what is called the “turtle formation” to fight.

The Romans were very tough to beat because of this formation, and hopefully the correlation for Christians is clear. Maybe you’re struck anew as I was by the shield of faith when you saw this.

Imagine Christians with their shields up together like this. Imagine them defending against Satan’s attacks together. We’d be unstoppable too!

Steal, Kill & Destroy

“The thief comes to steal, kill & destroy.” (John 10:10)

The word “steal” used in John 10:10 is not just a taking of something. It involves deception and misleading too. This verse is basically saying that the thief (Satan) wants to distract and trick us, so he can steal what’s most valuable to use.

What valuables? Peace. Joy. Hope.

He doesn’t just take them either. He kills and destroys them… if we let him. When we’re distracted, that’s exactly what we’re doing too… letting him steal from us.

Satan uses distraction and trickery to steal certain things from us because we won’t just give them to him. He cannot get close enough to certain valuables unless we’re not paying attention to them because we’re focused on something else.

What distractions? Hurt. Disappointment. Sadness. Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment.

What should we do?

“Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the devil… praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication…” (Ephesians 6:10-20)

In other words, daily put on… truth, righteousness & peace.

And pick up… faith, salvation, & God’s word.

All the while… pray, pray, pray.

This daily routine – more than that, really, a way of living – protects us from the “strategies and tricks” of the devil. It keeps us alert, so we protect what’s most important to us.

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

Transition in Change

Transition vs. Change

Though often used as synonyms, transition and change are not the same.

  • Change is situational.
  • Transition is psychological & requires “inner reorientation.”
  • Change is inevitable; transition is not.
  • We have to go through change.
  • We do not have to transition.

In other words, to quote William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes

“Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture.”

To further our understanding of the difference between change and transition, let’s look at a couple of examples from Scripture.

Example 1: The Israelites changed, but they didn’t transition. They wandered around the desert for 40 years because they refused to transition. They even expressed a desire to go back to captivity, to the way things were. (See Numbers 13 & 14)

What might this resistance to transition look like today?

  • Trying to control everyone and everything
  • Struggling with depression
  • Struggling with anxiety
  • Exhibiting self-destructive behavior
  • Hurting others
  • Feeling stuck

Example 2: The Apostle Paul changed AND transitioned. He also showed us that doing so is learned; it’s a process.

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)

Paul went from being a persecutor of Christians to a promoter of the Gospel. Within his writings throughout the New Testament, we discover a man who not only changed because of an encounter with Christ but who also continually transitioned well from that point forward.

The process involves small steps taken over time that add up to make a big difference. In other words, it’s about living a life of making progress toward perfection. Transitioning within change is a required part of that process.

Refining & Pruning

God wants to both change & transition us. He is the author of this process.

“I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.'” (Zechariah 13:9)

“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7)

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2)

When something is refined, it becomes a purified precious metal. When something is pruned, it produces a more plentiful crop. For us, this is a painful process but one necessary for growth, which comes only through transition.

A Transitioning Mindset

If you think you’re ready for change, you may be right. The real question is, are you ready to transition? No matter how ready I thought I was (e.g., empty nest), I was always wrong about what it would mean to transition and how ready I thought I was to do so.

What I’ve realized, though, is that if we we’re always ready and perfectly prepared for change, how would we learn trust God? We wouldn’t need the refining and pruning process where we learn contentment regardless of circumstances if we could prepare ourselves for growth on our own. In other words, the painful process of transitioning in change is the process required for growth.

We can, however, establish a transitioning mindset that at least minimizes our resistance to the work of transition God wants us to do in our lives. It leads us to a place of least resistance. We create a transitioning mindset when we take on the perspective of Job.

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)

Scripture expresses this same sentiment in other ways, the most well-known being Proverbs 16:9.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and makes them sure.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Healthy Change involves learning contentment and establishing our stability on Christ and all that he has done for us. This requires that we learn to transition (progress) as we are pruned and refined through all that life brings our way.

Setting the Example

Examples other people set these days discourage me. In all transparency, the example I set myself often discourages me too. Standards of character and quality seem so low sometimes, and so many people, myself included, seem to often settle for so much less than their best.

Just when I wonder if any solid examples exist, I recall the many people in the Bible who encourage me. In Philippians 2, for instance, Paul both tells us how to live and gives us examples of others to follow.

  • Timothy – Genuine friendship
  • Epaphroditus – Faithfulness and courage
  • Christ – Unity & humility

Paul’s letter encourages me to not only follow the examples set by Timothy, Epaphroditus, and especially Christ, but to also:

  1. Be humble.
  2. Be interested in others.
  3. Stop complaining about others.
  4. Have the attitude of Christ.
  5. Hold tightly to God’s word.
  6. Purpose to be a Godly example.

The Bible is filled with examples of those we can follow as we pursue holiness. Only one, Christ, gives a perfect example, but many others provide examples worthy of following.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Vast & Unfailing

Vast

What first comes to mind when you think of the word vast? My first thoughts are of the ocean, the sky, and space.

Vast (adj.) = of very great area or extent; of very great size or proportions; huge; enormous; very great in number, quantity, amount, degree, intensity, etc.

When something is vast, it’s immeasurable; it can’t be contained.

“Your unfailing love is vast.” (Psalm 36:5)

While the ocean, the sky and space are vast beyond my comprehension, it’s truly mind-blowing to realize that God’s love is even more vast.

Unfailing

Then there’s the word before love: unfailing. Not only is His love vast, it never fails either.

Though the meaning of word unfailing seems obvious, I looked it up anyway and found more to it than I expected.

Unfailing (adj.) = not failing; not giving way; not falling short of expectation; completely dependable; inexhaustible; endless.

When I think of all the things in life that are failing, which is pretty much everything at some point, realizing that God isn’t is truly awe-inspiring. He never falls short of our expectations. In fact, he usually exceeds them.

Another way to say something is unfailing is to say that it never changes. While the ocean, the sky and space are certainly vast, they aren’t unfailing. They do change. In fact, I cannot think of anything that is unfailing and vast. Only God’s love.

“Your unfailing love is higher than the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.” (Psalm 108:4)

Green & Growing or Ripe & Rotting

Never Done

Housework. Healthy living. Good relationships. Learning. Parenting. Ministry. Faith.

None of these are ever really completed. Any completion is really only a step toward what’s next. In fact, if we get to the point where we are finished, we begin to die in that area.

Never being done frustrates me sometimes. Knowing my feelings of satisfaction over completing something are only temporary sometimes discourages me. There’s always more to be done. Always more to know. Always a “next” to move on to.

With one exception.

Tetelestai

“It is finished!” (John 19:30)

Jesus’s last word’s on the cross.

Tetelestai = It is finished. Bring to a close, complete, fulfill. It’s an accounting term that means something is “paid in full.”

The debt of sin owed God was gone. All of the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus were fulfilled. Done. Complete. No more “next.”

Peace in Completion

Jesus’s finished work has tremendous implications for us.

  1. We have a message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
  2. Sin and Satan have no power. (Ephesians 6:16)
  3. We can live as new creations in Christ. (Ephesians 2:1,5)

Instead of being frustrated by the constant “more” and “not done” of life, I can find peace in what Jesus completed. I can choose to focus on what’s done and let it motivate what’s “next.”

Mighty Waves

The Bible often uses nature to illustrate God’s power and glory. By no means do we fully grasp the extent of that power, but certain verses do help us have some sense of the vastness and strength of His power.

“In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:4-5)

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)

For me, waves speaks profoundly about the vastness and awesomeness of God’s power.

“You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” (Psalm 89:9)

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” (Job 38:8-11)

So, when I read that “Ocean Waves are Officially Getting Stronger,” and how this is associated with the strength of the wind and rising water temperatures, I actually find comfort even though this means the waves are also becoming more destructive.

The comfort comes because I am reminded of just how powerful God is. It brings me back to a place of awe and wonder over his might. And I once again find myself at a loss for words to describe Him.

“One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?’ (Luke 8:22-25)

Benefits of Membership

Cloud Membership

One of my current goals is to become more literate with technology. I’m actually pretty literate already for a middle-aged, almost empty-nester (at least that’s what my boys assure me), but I recognize some gaps that need closed to better prepare me for the next season of life.

One of those gaps involves better use of “the cloud.” Specifically, I want to make sure all my photos and documents are backed up regularly. In investigating my options, I discovered that one of my memberships provided unlimited storage for photos. Turns out, it offered much more than that too, and I wasn’t using hardly any of it.

Up to this point, I used my membership for free shipping and to watch the occasional movie or television show. I just hadn’t investigated this service for anything beyond those for some reason. In addition to these benefits, this membership also offers free music and books as well as magazines, newspapers, audio books and games.

Sure, I pay for the membership, but the benefits are worth it. This is especially true if I use more of what the service offers and of what I’m already paying for anyway.

I then got to thinking about my other memberships. Was I not getting the full benefit of those either?

Church Membership

I applied this line of thinking to the membership that I most consistently use, my church membership.

The benefits of being part of a body of believers includes:

  • Relationships, friendships & accountability
  • Being part of something transformational
  • Connection with multiple generations
  • Encouragement & stability
  • Supportive and Godly leadership
  • Being a part of spreading the Gospel

No church is perfect, but being a member of a full-Gospel church sure has some amazing benefits, ones I have not found anywhere else.

As I thought about my church membership, I tried to assess if I was missing out on any of the available benefits. I am. This happened partly because I hadn’t thought about the benefits in a while and partly because I’d started taking my membership for granted.

Like with my cloud membership, I needed to take an active role in accessing the benefits of my church membership. Not only does my church provide the backup system I need to stay secure in my faith walk, but it also provides a place where I can exercise my gifts and even stretch myself. With this realization, I am determined to be a better church member.

Won’t you join me?