Tag Archives: Focus

Prisoner of Whom?

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles….
Ephesians 3:1 (NIV)

One’s perspective makes all the difference.

Having just journeyed through the season of Lent, I was reminded time and time again that Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, suffering and execution had been predicted. Jesus knew what was going to happen, and He made it clear to His followers. Despite this foreknowledge of what was to happen, Luke writes the Jesus “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (9:51)

Jesus wasn’t the victim. He was driving the events that happened. He was on a mission.

As I’ve been studying the events surrounding Paul in the Book of Acts, there is a very clear parallel to Jesus’ story. Paul was a citizen of Rome. It was a rare status that afforded him all sorts of privileges. When Paul was arrested and put on trial, he could have easily gotten off. Instead he appealed his case to Caesar assuring that he would be taken prisoner to Rome. As he waited for his trial before the leader of the Roman Empire, he wrote letters. Ephesians is one of them.

I couldn’t help but notice in today’s chapter that Paul doesn’t call  himself a “prisoner of Rome,” but rather a “prisoner of Christ Jesus.” Paul, like Jesus whom he followed, does not see himself as a victim of circumstances, but a servant of Christ. He’s not a victim. He’s on a mission. There is no moaning about his imprisonment. He tells the believers in Ephesus not to be discouraged by his sufferings. The entire chapter is focused on God’s eternal, cosmic, Spirit-ual, Level 4 power:

  • God’s grace given me through the working of his power” (vs. 7)
  • boundless riches of Christ” (vs. 8)
  • God, who created all things” (vs. 9)
  • the manifold wisdom of God” (vs. 10)
  • “[God] from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (vs. 15)
  • out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit” (vs. 16)
  • how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (vs. 18)
  • this love that surpasses knowledge” (vs. 19)
  • him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (vs. 20)

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about the perspective with which I approach my own circumstances. Am I walking this life journey as a person who happens to claim to be a follower of Jesus but then lives my life as if I’m a victim of random earthly circumstance? Or, am I on a mission, as well? Like Jesus, like Paul, is my faith-journey propelling me to a larger purpose and mission rooted in Level 4 power and purpose?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it….”

The Implosion of Evil

The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another. When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped.
2 Chronicles 20:23-34 (NIV)

In our modern, twenty-first century enlightened world we rarely talk about the nature of evil. I find that, even among those who are followers of Jesus, there is a reticence to even think of the concept of evil. Jesus quite regularly referenced evil. The word or variation is used seven times in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Over the years Wendy and I have noticed a theme among epic stories regarding the nature of evil: evil eventually destroys itself from within. Sometimes, left to itself, evil naturally implodes. Tolkien used this device multiple times in his stories and it came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. As Merry and Pippin are captives of the Orcs it is an internal fight between factions of Orcs and Grishnakh’s lust that ultimately allow for their escape. Likewise, as Frodo and Sam attempt steal their way into Mordor through the stronghold of Cirith Ungol, a massive fight between two companies of Orcs destroy one another and allow the Hobbits to escape.

In today’s chapter we find a similar story from Judah’s history. A coalition of enemy armies are gathered to march against Judah and Jerusalem. King Jehoshaphat assembles all the people to seek the Lord. They pray, they fast, they humble themselves. God speaks through the prophet that the battle belongs to God and He will deliver. The people respond in praise. The coalition of enemy armies turn on each other and destroy one another so that when the army of Judah arrives, they find a field of dead bodies.

This morning in the quiet as I mull these things over I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ admonishment about the two mistakes one can make about the exploration of evil. One, he said, is to ignore it. The second is to get too deep and take it too seriously. The people of Judah didn’t ignore the threat facing them but focused their energies on seeking after God, trusting, and following. Before the threat could become a battle, the evil had imploded within. I never want to be naive, ignorant, or blind to the reality of evil that exists in our world. Neither do I want to give into fear or be overwhelmed by it:

This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

Once in a While, I’ve Gotta Stop Looking at my Feet

“Announce and proclaim among the nations,
    lift up a banner and proclaim it;
    keep nothing back, but say,
‘Babylon will be captured;”
Jeremiah 50:2a (NIV)

Just yesterday I read an article about living in the later stretches of life’s journey. A few years ago I would have simply passed that article by. All of a sudden, it seems more relevant.

When I was a young man, I remember our (somewhat) annual family gatherings at the lake. I would never have imagined during that stage of the journey that my folks would buy a place here, that I would eventually own it, and what life would be like spending chunks of each summer living, working, and hosting family and friends here. In those days, I was just trying to get through each day and living week-by-week. I gave little thought to anything beyond the stretch of the journey I was in at that moment. My eyes were focused on my feet as I put one foot in front of the other.

Today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s prophetic anthology is a fascinating. For most of the 50 chapters through which we’ve waded, the nation of Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar have been prophetically revealed as “God’s servant” gobbling up both Judah and the surrounding nations. Now, Jeremiah’s vision extends further down life’s road when Babylon will be defeated and suffer the same treatment they’ve dished out for years. At that time, the remnant of God’s people will return to their land. Jeremiah looks beyond the next chapter of the story to the subsequent chapters and the events in the plot line.

As a young man I had experienced relatively little of Life’s journey. Without the perspective that comes from experience, I found myself myopically focused on the day-to-day and the next milestone in view. The further I progressed and experienced more and more distinct stages of life, the more capable I’ve become at looking ahead. I can see past today. I can look past the next milestone. I can begin to envision that there’s not only a new chapter of life after this one, but also another one after that, and one after that. It doesn’t mean that I worry about the future, mind you. As Jesus reminded us in yesterday’s post, those tomorrows will take care of themselves. It is what it is. What will be will be. It does, however, give my today some much needed perspective.

This morning I’m reminded of a few specific stages of Life’s road that I thought would never end. There have been stages which required so much thought, energy, emotional, and spiritual resources that I couldn’t see beyond them. I can imagine that those taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and hauled off to Babylon felt that way in the midst of their exile. But Jeremiah’s message in today’s chapter stood as a reminder that there’s more to the story. Past this chapter of the story is another chapter, and then another, and another.

I can’t always see what lies ahead on Life’s road, but I’ve learned that it’s wise to stop looking at my feet from time to time. One in a while I need to look up, look out, and search the horizon. I can’t see clearly what’s coming, but I need the reminder that there’s more to the story. I will get there.

As for today? Press on.

Driven to Distraction

They sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.
Nehemiah 6:4 (NRSV)

For the last couple of years our local gathering of Jesus’ followers have been encouraged to pray about and choose a word that will be a theme for their year. My word for this year is “focus.”

Focus has been an interesting theme as I celebrate my half-century in this life journey, as an empty nest offers increased margins of time and resources, and as I am meditating on the reality of being on the downhill side of this life journey. I am ever and increasingly mindful that while my margins may have expanded in the micro sense, in the macro sense I am working with slowly depleting resources of time and energy.

We’re now almost half-way through the year and I’ve been spending some moments meditating on how my focus is going.  I have to confess that it’s not good. As I think about how I need and desire to focus my time, energy, and resources I find that life serves up a never-ending stream of distractions. I am so easily distracted in a million different ways. Between social media, technology, entertainment, television, games and events there is an endless supply of good and fascinating things on which I can focus my time and attention.

In today’s chapter, Nehemiah is desperately trying to focus on the project he’s been called to complete. He wants to get the wall rebuilt and the gates in place. He’s close to having the job done. Now, he is repeatedly harassed by critics and enemies who want to meet with him. He’s attacked with slander and gossip which requires him to address the lies and rumors. His life is threatened and he’s urged to sequester himself in the temple to be safe. Distractions. Distractions. Distractions.

Nehemiah’s response to these distractions was consistent. First, he took everything to God. He prayed for the work on which he needed to focus, and asked for God’s strength. He handed his troubles and enemies over to God and relegated justice to higher authority. And, he stayed focused on the work.

At the end of today’s chapter:

So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem; for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.

Today, I’m thinking again about my focus. The great thing about having a theme or a goal is that it becomes a point of reference. I may get off course or distracted, but simply having “focus” as my word of the year keeps calling me back from distraction. I can’t do anything about what’s past, but I have a new day, a clean day in front of me. And, on June 21 in Iowa, it’s a long day.

Time to focus.

Flexibly Staying the Course

And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous; for thus the Lord will do to all the enemies against whom you fight.”
Joshua 10:25 (NRSV)

Just the other night Wendy and I were with some friends and we recounted a period of time when we all worshiped together in the same church service. During this particular period of time the leaders loved having a catch phrase or motto that would be touted as the theme of whatever new initiative happened to spring into the leaders’ heads. There would be banners and bookmarks and an official launch of the great new theme. And, it would last for a mere few weeks until the next great theme came a long. There was a lot of laughter around the table as we recounted a number of themes and catch phrases that had been raised and then abandoned shortly thereafter when the next “it” theme came along.

In today’s chapter, I found it fascinating to find Joshua still clinging to the word God had given him back in the first chapter. “Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid or discouraged.” We’re ten chapters and several battles (both won and lost) into the story. Joshua’s theme, however, has not changed with the winds of war or shifting sands of the landscape. In fact, Joshua makes a point of ensuring that  the theme is not forgotten. He takes the opportunity of victory to call the nation together and remind them to keep focused on that which God had said to him from the beginning.

Today I’m thinking about the challenge of staying the course amidst a culture of social media, news media, web content and trending topics that reduce our attention spans to mere moments. As a leader in family, business, church and community I’m thinking about my role in helping groups and individuals remain focused on vision, values, goals, and objectives. Like Joshua, I want to hold course to the vision, even while I remain flexible in adapting to ever-changing circumstances around me.

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Doom and Gloom from Zeph to CBS

“That day will be a day of wrath,
    a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness….”
Zephaniah 1:15 (NRSV)

Wendy and I start most mornings with coffee, breakfast and the newspaper. We read through the news and discuss world events. We  talk about the elections and the latest prognostications from modern-day prophets on the editorial pages. More often than not we  chuckle at the horror, the doom, and the gloom that we find there.

There is something innately human about the way we flock to bad news. News outlets know that we, like lemmings, will be drawn and to blood (10 Dead in Latest Rampage) and fear (Study Shows Water Will Kill You). Publications on the left know that their readers are motivated by fear of the right (Ted Cruz Wants to Arm Babies!) and publications on the right know that readers are motivated by fear of the left (Hillary’s Secret E-mails Gave ISIS Our Nuclear Protocols!). What’s more, fear sells papers and draws viewers which generate advertising dollars. And fear creates lucrative financial opportunities (Do Cell Phones Breed Brain Worms? Congress Earmarks Funds for Research).

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

The ancient prophets were also doom and gloom-ers. Read today’s chapter and it’s enough to motivate a call to your physician for a prescription of Zoloft. The scenes of devastation that Zephaniah pictures are horrific, much like the scenes of devastation described by CBS Sunday Morning this past Sunday in their predictions of the earthquake,  “The Big One,” that will someday hit the Pacific northwest.

The thing is, there is truth in the doom and gloom. Read the historic accounts of Judah’s siege and devastating defeat to the Babylonians and all of a sudden Zephaniah seems fairly prescient. When you think about 15,000 dead in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami five years ago, the predictive doom and gloom for Seattle and Portland become more than mere yellow journalism.

History is full of tragedy, destruction, war, famine, suffering, and death. It has always been part of the human experience and it always  will. The question is not whether bad things will happen but how I will respond when they do. I can obsess in fear about what might happen in the future, or I can be wise in how I walk life’s journey on this day. I can choose to focus on anxiety-producing “what ifs” regarding tomorrow, or I can choose to focus on being a person of love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness today.

This morning, on this day, I am focused on Jesus’ words:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthew 6:34 (MSG)

One Word: Focus

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned….
Romans 5:12 (NIV)

For the past couple of years many people in our community have been going through the exercise of choosing one word as their theme for each year. Wendy, Taylor and I have joined in the exercise. Taylor has blogged about her experiences with her one word of “surrender” and “fierce,” but I haven’t really shared about mine.

In 2015 my one word was “fulfill,” or as I liked to think of it “Full-Fill” which stretched the meaning for me in interesting ways. To be sure, 2015 was a year in which many things were fulfilled in life:

  • Building and moving into a new house
  • Entering the final year of my fourth decade on this earth
  • Taylor’s fulfillment of a Master’s Degree
  • Wendy and I fulfilled our desire to visit Taylor in Scotland
  • Madison’s fulfillment of a Bachelor’s Degree
  • Suzanna’s fulfillment of getting off to college
  • My folks fulfilled their move into a retirement community
  • At work there was the fulfillment of some interesting things
  • My friend and mentor, Chuck’s, fulfilled his life journey

The net effect of all these life transitions for both myself and loved ones was to highlight one important point: l am entering a new stretch of my life journey. Things are in transition. The river of Life is flowing and I am suddenly aware how swift the current truly is. The finish line is out there on the horizon.

In today’s chapter, Paul writes the followers of Jesus in Rome and reminds them of some big picture truths. Among them, the reality that physical death is the fate that awaits us all. It shows up on the horizon of every one’s life journey. This can be a truth I can deny and avoid, or it is a truth I can accept and embrace.

To that end, this year my “one word” is focus. There are some things on which I need to focus as life enters a new phase. Some I’m aware of, and some I believe I have yet to discover. As always, I’m sure it will be a fascinating trek.

 

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