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?

New Year’s Resolutions

Approaches to Making Resolutions

Every year I debate whether or not I should make New Year’s resolutions. This debate involves considering various approaches such as:

It also includes asking those closest to me if they’re making any resolutions. If they are, I ask them to share their goals with me and to tell me what they think of mine.

My debate also involves considering the reasons why many people choose to NOT MAKE resolutions. I don’t mean those who are just too lazy to set goals; I’m referring to people who deliberately choose not to set them and to either abstain altogether or take a non-traditional approach.

One approach is advocated by Pocket Mindfulness who explains Why You Should Not Set New Year’s Resolutions and What to Do Instead. It advocates:

“Rather than rushing forward in a panic to set resolutions or a list of goals you can start on New Year’s Day, forget all that and enter the New Year in a mode of being absolutely present, and absolutely positive, about how great [the coming year] is going to be.”

Another example comes from Tim Ferriss who recommends that we Forget New Year’s Resolutions and Conduct a ‘Past Year Review’ Instead. There’s also the approach of Georgia Bloomberg, professional equestrian and philanthropist, who says:

“I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I think if you want to change something, change it today and don’t wait until the New Year.”

I don’t disagree with Bloomberg, though I do think there’s value in including New Year’s resolutions in the process of change if only as a review as Ferriss recommends. Finally, simply determining to be “absolutely present, and absolutely positive” just doesn’t have enough substance for me.

Why I Make Resolutions

For the last 10 years or so, I’ve decided to make resolutions of some sort for the coming year. Ultimately, I make this decision because I can’t get past the success doing so has brought me. Not a perfect record. Not even close. Yet, far more progress with resolutions than without them.

I also make them because they have brought me closer to God and increasingly into His will. Plus, the Bible encourages the sort of self-reflection and examination that come with the process of making resolutions.

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:40)

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Simply put, making resolutions at the end/beginning of each year just reminds me to:

  1. Regularly go through this process of examination and renewal.
  2. Keep making progress toward perfection.
  3. Remember that I cannot make that progress on my own.

2020 Resolutions

In my yearly conversation over whether or not to make resolutions, I decided to make them for 2020. Doing so this year involves combining the approaches I’ve mentioned above with what has worked well for me in past years. That includes doing the following:

  • I am reflecting and looking for areas of weaknesses as well as strengths to improve upon.
  • My reflections are extending beyond 2019 and into the entire past decade.
  • Each resolution involves focusing on being absolutely present and more positive.
  • The “One-Word 365” approach can be expanded with multiple words that collaborate toward a resolution philosophy for the year.

Perhaps you’ve also noted that this reflection about New Year’s resolutions comes after the new year has already begun. My resolutions are not fully developed yet. This brings in a significant lesson I’ve learned over my many years of making resolutions: Don’t force them. Instead, pray about them. Reflect on them. Let the Holy Spirit lead you down the path of God’s will.

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!

What Could Go Right?

You’ve probably heard some form of this quote in a movie, usually said with a twinkling eye:

“What could go wrong?”

After all, what would be the fun in a plot line that didn’t have adversity and where everything goes according to plan?

Unfortunately, we often get too fixated on what could go wrong in real life too. Some of us, whether because of personality, a tough upbringing, or being hurt one too many times, just seem to have an unquenching need to identify and prepare for all that could go wrong.

Too bad doing so is impossible. I’ve tried. You simply cannot plan for every contingency.

You can, however, wear yourself out and stress yourself to insanity by trying. With that also comes the added frustration of wasted time since most of what we think could happen never does. Yet, those few times where over-planning produced helpful results keeps you hanging on to planning for all that could go wrong.

What if you flipped the script and instead asked?

“What could go right?”

How would asking this instead change your outlook? Your approach to planning? What might you do and think differently? How might it make you feel? How would it change your expectation of people and events?

As for me, I’m purposing to ask, “What could go right?” more often. I hope it eventually becomes my default.

I’ll still plan, but I won’t let my focus be directed by what could go wrong. I’m determined to choose to consider what could go right instead.

Taking this idea one step further, I want to look back on events – even just normal days, whatever those are – and be grateful for all that went right. In other words, I want to break the habit of ruminating on how things could (should?) have gone.

Join me?

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.

Change

Change

If you’ve ever watched the Big Bang Theory, you know that Sheldon, one of the main characters, hates change. In fact, he goes to extreme lengths to stop and/or undo any changes to his routine and to the people in his life. Over the course of the show’s many seasons, though, it becomes evident that even a genius cannot stop change.

Some people embrace change. Some resist it vehemently. Others just roll with it. Most of us are a mix of all these approaches.

As Christians, though, we have tools for coping with change that the rest of the world does not have.

Coping with Change

I find comfort in knowing that change is also Biblical, that it’s God’s idea.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ (Rev. 21:5)

In addition, focusing on the fact that healthy change leads to dependence on God helps direct my mindset during change of any size and amount. This doesn’t come naturally or easily, though. It takes deliberate intent.

Elements of Healthy Change

Though there are many more, elements of healthy change consist of focusing on the following elements:

1. Contentment

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)

Contentment doesn’t come naturally for most people. Instead, it’s something we learn. Even one of the greatest missionaries ever admits to having to develop contentment.

 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

The key to contentment, as evidenced by Paul’s testimony, is that it rests upon God, not upon our circumstances.

2. God’s Sovereignty

As believers, we can find peace in knowing that God is working for our good regardless of ourcircumstances.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28-29)

God knows the beginning from the end, and we can full trust him at all times for this reason.

3. Trust

One of my mottos is “Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.” As hard as I try to live up to this, I sometimes fail. God, on the other hand, never fails to do what he says he’ll do. He is infinitely trustworthy. We can completely place our trust in him to care for us even with tumultuous change taking place.

 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

4. The Future Kingdom

Placing my present circumstances, even when they feel like chaos, against eternity brings a sense of peace and stability within the emotional roller coast of change.

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Our goal is upward. For this reason, we press on even when we feel like giving up.

Change is Inevitable

Change is sometimes good, sometimes bad. It’s often stressful, which is also both good and bad. We do need stress to grow, after all. Change is also often unexpected, but it’s also sometimes planned and expected with life usually consisting of a mix of both.

For sure, though, change is inevitable. Our aging bodies are evidence of this truth. So, as we continue to experience change physically, mentally, and spiritually, let us be sure to focus on the tools God gives us.

“Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.” (Psalm 37:4-6)

Wanderlust

Popular on signs and t-shirts these days, the idea of having “wanderlust” is intriguing to me. But I can’t help but wonder…

Why do I have it?

I thought I could come up with a direct answer, but it turns out I can’t. In other words, I’m not sure why, but I know it’s stirred in me with increasing intensity over the years.

Anyone else have this feeling?

Critics say it’s a way to escape the world, to avoid commitments, and to simply have fun. With wanderlust, they say, nothing significant is accomplished. Further, some even claim wanderlust is caused by a specific gene (DRD4-7R).

Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but I have not seen these drawbacks when I give in to wanderlust. On the other hand, I do experience the benefits associated with it. Those benefits include…

  • An increased social network
  • An increase in openness, agreeableness, and emotional ability
  • Increased creativity.

With this new season in my life (i.e., empty nest), the wanderlust that has always existed for me seems amplified. I feel ready to expand my boundaries.

Can anyone relate?

What should WE do?

Sometimes I read the Bible and struggle with knowing how to apply it to my life. That doesn’t happen with Luke 3:7-14.

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

After John exhorts the people to basically live like they’ve been redeemed, the crowd wants to know what’s next. John then gives them very specific examples of how to produce the fruit of a repentant person, and he does so through three different groups of people.

  1. Be generous.
  2. Be honest
  3. Be content.

What’s especially interesting is that these three directives are the activity for us as Christians still today. In other words, any life dedicated to Christ will be on filled with generosity, honesty, and contentment.

Is yours?