Saturday, March 30, 2013

3/30/2013 by Ed Carlson

“For we do not have a priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

As we reflect on our lives and our relationship with God and others, where do we fall prey to temptations?   I find that at times when I am feeling quite smug about my Christian walk God provides me something that is like a mirror and makes me see the real me.  The Barna Group recently surveyed people on the subject of temptations for Todd Hunter and his book, “Our Favorite Sins”.   Here are some of responses and the percent of those surveyed who stated they most commonly struggled with “temptation” in these areas:
Worrying or being anxious                                                                          60%
Procrastinating/putting things off                                                              60%
Eating too much                                                                                            55%
Spending too much time on social media                                                 44%
Being lazy, not working as hard as they should                                       35%
Gossiping or saying mean things about others                                        26%
Being jealous or envious of others                                                             24%
Viewing pornography/sexually inappropriate content                          18%
Lying or cheating                                                                                           12%
Abusing alcohol or drugs                                                                              11%
Expressing anger or “gone off” on someone by texting or e-mail        11%
Doing something sexually inappropriate with someone                        9%
Yes, this list contains some areas in which I struggle.    What about you?  I have to admit that sometimes I am tempted to rationalize my behavior by saying, “I am no different from the rest of the world.”  That’s another temptation to avoid.

 Why do we struggle in these areas?  The survey respondents’ top three reasons were: “not sure” – 50%, “to escape or get away from ‘real life’” – 20% “(isn’t that scary?)and “because I enjoy it”- 20%.  Only 1% said because of “human nature or sin.”  

And what do people do to try to avoid their areas of temptation?  23% of those surveyed said, “prayed,” “depended on God,” or “recalled or read scripture.”  That is encouraging, but……   Another 8% said “focused on something else.”  There is that word “focus” – the theme for these Lenten reflections.  Paul wrote to the Romans in 8:51b “”those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the (Holy) Spirit desires.”  “Have their minds set on” – another way of saying “focused;” focused on what the Spirit desires.

So, how do we set our minds on what the Spirit desires?  Certainly continual study of our Holy Scripture is very helpful.   I also find that taking time at the end of the day to reflect on my day to be very helpful (and would be more so if I did it more consistently).  I reflect on my interactions with people and ask myself if they reflected my Christian faith (were they consistent with what the Spirit desires?).   I reflect on both those things I did, and those things I didn’t do (did I offer words of encouragement or did I tear someone down? did I speak up when it was needed or did I avoid potential conflict? etc.)  I also think about my encounters with God during the day (did I recognize them? did I respond to them faithfully? or did I waste them by doing nothing or letting my pride lead to wrong responses?).  And then it is time for prayers- of confession, of petition, and of praise – remembering “The Lord takes delight in his people, he crowns the humble (consider others first) with Salvation.” (Psalm 149:4)

Jesus Christ died on the cross for us, and for our sins.  And he was raised that our sins might be forgiven through his abundant grace; that we would be recipients of God’s manifold blessings, including the gift of the Holy Spirit - to guide us, to protect us from the evil one, and to enable us to be the hands and feet of our living Savior, Jesus Christ.  Let us rejoice!  And in response for God’s great love may we strive to stay focused on “what the Holy Spirit desires” and to live our lives accordingly.

Friday, March 29, 2013

3/29/13 - by John Schroeder

Since my visit to the Holy Lands in 2011, it is impossible for me to focus on Holy Week without reflecting on that visit. It is especially true this year since in just the last couple of weeks I have finished reading a history of Jerusalem. It was on my visit to Jerusalem that God demonstrated to me most vividly the importance of broadening my focus and taking the entire journey from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to the Hallelujahs of Easter.

There is a tendency these days to de-emphaisze our sin and its cost - to focus on the pleasant happy portion of the gospel and to keep the less pleasant aspects out of focus. Too often, mainstream, best-selling Christian literature tells us the good news of Christ's "helping us towards wholeness," or His "granting us our hearts desire" - But what Christ did for us was so much deeper and so much more fundamental that to discuss such things in such a fashion is talk about Handel or Mozart as if they were mere ten bar jingle writers.

My friend Mark Roberts is writing a commentary on Ephesians. He is using a daily devotional he writes, or sometimes edits, as an occasion to work out many of the ideas and avenues he is pursuing in that effort. Back in January, he looked at Ephesians 2:1-3 and said:
There's no need to scream at the Apostle Paul as he begins Ephesians 2. He does not waste a moment getting to the bad news, and his news is really quite bad: "As for you, you were dead . . . ." Now that's not exactly news you want to hear from someone. It's also news that stirs up lots of questions: Dead? What do you mean? Dead in what way? How do you know I was dead? If I was once dead, am I still dead?

We'll get to these questions soon. For now, I want to note that bad news is an essential piece of the Christian Gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. If we don't grasp the bad news, we won't understand the good news. And if we don't feel the horror of the bad news, we'll miss the joy of the good news. Too often these days, Christians downplay the bad news because we don't want to put anyone off. But, by ignoring the bad news, we diminish the amazing goodness of the good news.
It has often been said that had Christ died on Good Friday and there was no resurrection on Easter, Jesus would be just another nattering nabob with messianic pretensions. That is indeed true, but what I have not seen written is that had Jesus merely been resurrected on Easter morning, that would not be such a big deal either. After all, Jesus had already established resurrection as a part of His bag of tricks. Lazarus and his family were more than willing to testify to the power of Jesus to bring the dead back to life. No, there must have been something about Christ's death on Good Friday that made this particular resurrection something special. Without Good Friday, Easter would be just another miracle in the life of a man that made so many miracles.

In point of fact, if we shift our focus but a bit, the deepest miracle of Holy Week may not be the Resurrection. As we just said, this miracle was already firmly established. The real miracle may just be that Jesus died at all. Think about it. He was, after all, God Incarnate. He is the Alpha and the Omega - He was before and He will be after - he is the eternal God. How can that which is eternal die? How can that which is forever terminate? And more ominously, what could kill the eternal and omnipotent Creator of all things? Certainly not a few nails and a bit of suffocation inducing hanging.
The Garden of Gethsemane

Which brings me back to my visit to Jerusalem. I related the story of my visit to the Garden of Gethsemane to Lee Cook not long after I got back. Lee wrote of it in The Messenger. The facts are simple. I entered the garden gates and tears began to flow - unbidden. They did not stop, despite my best effort, until I left the confines of the garden and the attendant Church of All Nations. When Lee related my story, he spoke of my being overwhelmed with emotion, but I must confess that is an imprecise description of what I was experiencing. I had gone to the Holy Lands cynical about the spiritual significance of the various sites. I attached to them no particular importance. Their authenticity is, and always will be, in some level of doubt and a large part of the message of Christ was that our experience of God is not bound by time or place.  This was not some mere overwhelming of awe or anything else.

Rather, what happened to me at the Garden was, I believe, a direct encounter with the Holy Spirit. This is something rare amongst the frozen chosen of the Presbyterian church, but it does happen. The best way I can describe it is that the Holy Spirit came up to me, grabbed me by the collar and shouted in my face, "THIS IS REAL!"  My focus was sharpened with the understanding that the events described in the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were fact. Hard, cold fact. These were not literary means of expressing deep theological concepts. This was not crafting a narrative because an essay would not do. These were real events, involving real people. And more, the way the Holy Spirit chose to shout that message at me was to give me a taste, the smallest possible portion, of the agony that Christ experienced in that garden and then crescendo-ed to a culmination on the Cross on Good Friday.

Golgotha Chapel In Holy Seplechure

You see, it was not hard for the Holy Spirit to grant that small taste to me  All He had to do was bring me face-to-face with my own sinfulness.  Not the sort of peek-around-the-corner-with-your-eyes-all-squinty look we usually take, but make me focus to a hard, piercing stare lasting but the most fleeting of moments.  The reason we take peek-around-the-corner-with-your-eyes-all-squinty looks at our sinfulness is because the agony of truly focusing on our depravity is unbearable. And so it became clear to me what force it was that could kill the unkillable. Imagine confronting in such a straightforward look not just your own sins, but all the sins of history and all the sins yet to come. The agony of such is truly beyond our comprehension. Why else would Jesus cry out on the cross, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" (Matt 27:46)

Theologians have argued and argued about this cry of Jesus from the cross. Is He quoting Psalms merely to appear to fulfill prophecy? How could the Trinity be rent into multiple pieces? Can God forsake himself? It's a bit like analyzing the force vectors when a hammer drives a nail in a piece of wood, Who cares? What is apparent in the cries of the Psalmist and the cries of Christ is unbearable, unrelenting agony. This, then, is the force so great that it could kill the unkillable. My sin, and your sin, killed Jesus.

Many Good Friday services feature a ritual in which the congregants write sins they wish to confess on a piece of paper and they nail that paper to a cross. Most people feel relief from this action, But the symbolism runs deeper than we often realize. We are putting those nails into Jesus hands and feet when we nail our sins to the cross. We are killing Jesus because those sins are what killed Him. That was the source of my tears that day in Jerusalem - the shattering realization that I was responsible for the the very real agony that Jesus suffered.

Light from the dome onto the Tomb of Christ
Oh how sweet grace, the grace of Easter, becomes when one truly realizes what is being forgiven. Jesus is not just forgiving me "my sins," He is forgiving me for killing Him!

What response can we possibly offer to such revelation? I am certain nothing I ever do can in any fashion merit the grace I am granted nor compensate Christ for the agony He suffered. But I must make the effort -- with the total commitment of all that I am and all that I have. Every time I sin, each slip I make, is another hammer blow on one of the spikes holding Christ to the cross - or driving the spear just a bit deeper into His side. I do not wish to be a part of that hideous scene anymore. I MUST give my all to overcome it.

Good Friday is the blackest day in history. But the blacker we understand it to be, the deeper our focus on that blackness, the brighter the dawn of Easter becomes. To truly appreciate Easter we must take the whole journey to that glorious morning.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

3/28/13 by Bob Keiter

The New World Dictionary does not make it easy to pick one definition for the word "Focus".  I will go with "An adjustment to make a clear image".

In  the book of John 12:27-36, Jesus knew his crucifixion lay ahead, and because he was human, he dreaded it.  He knew he would have to take the sins of the world on himself and he knew this would separate him from his Father.  He wanted to be delivered from this horrible death, but he knew God sent him into the world to die for our sins, in our place.  Although we will never have to face such a difficult and awesome task, we are still called to obedience.  Whatever the Father asks, we should do and bring glory to his name.

One of the first "growing up" religious books I owned was given to me by my grandfather.  It was called "Focus on the Gospel".  Paul, the writer, planned to visit Rome and he wanted the Christians there to pray for him so he could go on to serve God.  Paul wanted to protect new Christians from elements destructive to their faith and character.  We as Christians often settle for "what is" rather than reaching for "what is possible".  When we are in tune with the Holy Spirit, Paul says, we produce His fruits; love, joy, faithfulness, and self control. 

We should exercise our freedom to love and serve.  Freedom must be guided by love as we build each other up in the faith, being sensitive and helpful to those who are weak.  (Romans 14: 1 - 15: 4)

My goal to try to stay focused is to remember the following:  1) Live simply, 2) Speak truthfully, 3) Serve faithfully, 4) Love generously, 5) Pray daily, and 6) Leave the rest to God.

We should all sharpen our focus on life by praying like Paul did.  This will give us insight into where we are spiritually.  Let's cling to the truth we have heard from true teachers and stay in focus this weekend. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

3/27/13 by Lee Cook

Matthew 10:37-39
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

I always come to passages like this with fear and trembling. I, like most Americans, have made Jesus out to be a really nice fellow. A loving teacher who came so we could all just get along.  And then, "Wham", Jesus breaks out of my mold and shows that he will not be tamed by our deeply held 21st century beliefs.

A person said to me once, "Lee, I was hoping you would tell me this was a bad translation. I just can believe Jesus would say this". Alas, it's not a bad translation, and Jesus says things like this a lot, but we just usually skip over those parts.

I've tried to be open about my own struggles in my faith journey, and this is something I've been struggling with recently. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? I think I've fallen into the current false belief that life should be easy and being a follower of Jesus should be painless. But in fact, life is hard and being a Christian is a call to suffer. I'm not trying to paint a dark picture, just an accurate one. 

Being a Christ follower means giving up everything: hopes, dreams, ideologies, political affiliations, and even familial ties (this was especially true in the early church). There is nothing more important to us than Christ and his Kingdom. But as I prayed this morning, I had to be really honest and admit that I often seek to "find my life". I do everything I can to avoid the cost of being a Christian.

As we approach Good Friday, I can't avoid a confrontation with my own hypocrisy and brokenness. As we journey to the Cross, I can't help but hear Jesus' words anew: "Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me". 

I'm not advocating a new "earn-God's-love" mentality. Rather, I'm advocating listening to Jesus' words and deciding if we are truly on the road of discipleship or if we are just fans of a "Jesus" who tells us what we want to hear. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

3/26/13 by Nancy Coler

Faith is a peculiar thing. We want it to be something solid in our lives. If you are anything like me, then you sometimes find you are looking through freshly Windexed window panes of glass, seeing God quite clearly, yet at other times things are quite out of focus, like those obscured panels of glass used for bathroom windows. Perhaps Jesus is there but you can’t really make Him out.  Naturally these changes in the glass are governed by my own life’s events and my personal disciplines, or lack thereof.
Tremendous changes in my life both good things and sad things, bad things and great things have molded my faith from childhood through maturity to demonstrate how God stands beside me. Those events yielded various levels of clarity in the glass with which I see Him.
 Psalm 91:14-16 God says, “Because you are devoted to me, I’ll rescue you, I’ll protect you because you know my name. Whenever you cry out to me, I’ll answer. I’ll be with you in troubling times. I’ll save you and glorify you. I’ll fill you full with old age. I’ll show you my salvation.
This is my favorite time of year, and it reminds me of God’s amazing grace, which is everywhere this time of year! One step out my backdoor and I am greeted by so many flowers! To breathe in the delights of spring’s scent is an elixir that gives me a rush! It doesn't have to be spring to recognize the beauty in our world and to be personally restored by it. Recently I had the good fortune to take a watercolor workshop by an instructor with such enthusiasm that he pointed out the beauty in a photograph of a pile of junk!  “Look at the shapes!” “Look at the values, the darks, the lights!” He was so totally jazzed by this pile of junk! Then we all began to see there was indeed an artful beauty there after all, we needed only to really look. 
My glass becomes a bit clearer all the time. If I just keep on looking through it, I will see God. He is there. I know that. Sometimes I need to wipe away a bit of the mist on the glass to bring things into to better focus.
Today’s Lectionary readings:
Morning: Psalm 34 +146
Evening: Psalm 25+91
Jeremiah 15:10-21
Philippians 3:15-21
John 12:20-26

Monday, March 25, 2013

3/25/13 by Mark Williams

The biggest trap I see in my life is that it’s so easy think and feel I’m doing it (this thing called life) all by myself. Whether I get sucked into feeling alone and isolated and can’t imagine anyone else having the slightest idea what it’s like for me to go through the pain and suffering I’m subjected to, or I choose to accept, for whatever reason, that by my own force of will or strength of intelligence, that if something is going to happen, I have to make it happen. 

A lot of that changed when I received a jury summons several months ago and was selected for, what turned out to be, a ten-week criminal case. 

I truly don’t think I understood theliteralpower of prayer until I was in the middle of  my time at the Pasadena Courthouse. 

Giving up any amount of control is not an easy thing for me. For the most part, in my line of work what I don’t set up, prep for, dig into, and present for others to read, doesn’t get done (that’s one of the joys of being a work-from-home writer with my bosses in Chicago). Did you know many Chicago businesses allow for at least nine weeks for jury duty for their employees?

What I thought was a horribly unfortunate situation turned out to be a great lesson and opportunity for me to relearn (that’s usually how it works for me—learn, forget, relearn) that as much as I’d like to think I’m in control and free to be out in front, choosing my own path, the best place for me to be is behind Jesus, centered on the plan he has laid out for me. 

Letting go and trusting Him at the exact moments I wanted to cling tighter and tighter to my own comfort habits, my own strengths, would have been impossible without, what eventually became, my daily prayers and conversations with Him. I asked Him why I needed to hear this brutal testimony and what possible good could come of all this, and He kept responding, “Give it to me.” Why is there so much brokenness here? Give it to me.Why are jury deliberations making me feel claustrophic? Give it to me. Why do you want me to step forward? Give it to me. How are we ever going to agree? Give it to me. 

Obviously, I’m a slow learner. Where I thought I wasn’t getting a direct answer, I eventually realized I was. Without the act and discipline of prayer  and my conversations with Jesus, I was having a great deal of trouble remembering to give it all to Him.  Thankfully, He was very patient with me. All I know is without prayer, without my LCPC community, without other strong Christians around me, my life is out of focus. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

3/23/13 by Mary Wilson

I was born in the morning and have always loved the morning as well as morning food like coffee and toast. I am a “morning person” even when I stay up too late or don’t sleep well. I love sunrises and roosters...or any early tweeter.  Over the years I have found Psalm 143 verses 8-12 a great companion for starting any day because they remind me of my need for daily surrender and trust.

 ( Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul, verse 8.) Read all the verses for best effect!  

 I have always identified with David’s desperate cries for deliverance, even though I am not hiding in a cave or being chased by crazy King Saul. My enemies are just as real and rarely take a day off.  My husband’s love for Westerns has rubbed off on me, so much so that when I think of my enemies , I think of a gang of bandits on horseback with gunslinging pride and idolatry as the leaders followed by their slimy cousins jealousy and envy and that  no-good varmint worry always brings up the rear. They come in a group and work as a team, wreaking havoc in my heart.  When I hide myself in the Lord, by focusing on his boundless and eternal love for me and the daily grace he supplies, I am rescued. I am ready to learn his will, ready to ride with His Good Spirit on the level ground instead of those backwoods bandits.  Best of all,I am filled with an infectious gratitude that opens my eyes to all the things I have to celebrate. Just as surely as the sun rises each day, I need another dose of this surrender, trust, and rescue.  In fact I need this kind of love therapy all day long which is another reason why this psalm is such a good prayer.  You can easily substitute  “afternoon”  or “evening”  or “KIDS HOPE”  or “Sparks Meeting”  or “mission trip”  or “family vacation”  for the word  “morning “,  and you still have a powerful petition!  I like the way 19th century poet/novelist George MacDonald describes our need for the daily surrender that leads to the right focus.

But he who would be born again indeed,
Must wake his soul unnumbered times a day,
And urge himself to life with holy greed;
Now open his bosom to the wind’s free play;
And now, with patience forceful, hard, lie still,
Submit and ready to the making will,
A thirst and empty for God’s breath to fill. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

3/22/13 by Greg Wolflick

FOCUS. Isn't that something you do with your camera?  Or is it the name of one of the new Ford model cars?  Looking in Merriam-Webster I had no idea there were so many definitions of “focus.”  The first six involved various scientific applications that I would need to ask Doug Given to explain to me.  The seventh and last is one I can grasp.  Focus: directed attention.  
And I understand in general that our “focus” particularly during this time of Lent should be on our faith journey, on God and of the gift of His Son Jesus Christ and on the grace of the resurrection.  But there seem to be a lot of moving parts to “focus” on.  
It reminds me of the golf lessons I once took.  I thought, this should be simple.  But in the first five minutes the instructor gave me way too much to think about: my grip (something about interlocking my fingers) the way I stand, the way I took the club back, the angle of the club to my body, keep my left arm straight, rotate my hips, lock my left knee, keeping my chin down but my head up (impossible!) while all of the time paying attention to the plane of the club, slow down my swing, pulling with my left hand and following through.  Really?  I am going to focus on all of those things at one time.
So it is sometimes with our faith.  What am I focusing on?  Reading the Bible? My prayer life?  My daily journey? The needs of those in our community who are sick and in need of prayer?  The youth of our community and the troubles they face? Do I focus on the golden rule? The great commission?  The Ten Commandments?  Which one should I focus on today, in this hour, in this minute?  Where should my focus be?
My focus today is on a simple truth.  In Romans 8:15 Paul said: The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry “Abba Father”. And in Galatians 4:6: Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba Father”.  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God had made you also an heir.
As children of the Father we are called into relationship with God, the Almighty Father.  And just as sons of our earthly fathers, we must focus on our relationship with God as the “Father”. We must not tend to it occasionally, like Sunday morning, but throughout every moment of every day. We must invite our heavenly Father’s relationship into every aspect of our life. With this “Fatherly” relationship as our focus, we are able to understand His will for us as we live our daily lives. Through this relationship with God as our Father we are filled with a peace and confidence which transcends all earthly understanding and which can overcome any challenge this world may throw our way. Focus today on the simple truth that God loves us so much he invites us to call him “Father” and into a relationship made possible through the sacrifice of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

3/21/13 by Nikki Cook

Cue the circus music.

I am a spinner of plates.  You know what I'm talking about -- the circus act that has a plethora of plates spinning all at the same time on top of thin, wobbly wood poles.  The performer keeps his/her arms up, ready at every second to spin a plate that appears to be slowing down and ready to fall.  "Don't let them stop. Don't let one fall" is the mantra of the plate spinner.  

My plates are probably the same as yours -- work, family obligations, personal relationships, etc.  I try to maintain the balancing act of committing an adequate amount of time to each, with the goal of never letting one slip to the floor.  The motion of each of them is a blur; the spinning means I rarely focus on one thing.

But this isn't a post about balancing those plates.  It's a confession.  A confession that while my arms are up, protecting everything from shattering, my arms are not reaching out to the Lord the way they should.  My eyes are not focused on my Savior.  

It's never to late to re-prioritize.  Lent gives us that opportunity.  What better way to focus on God's grace then to commit to a prayerful heart. Our Father wants to hear from us all the time.  While we're waiting to pick up the kids from school, while we're making dinner or washing the car.  A moment of gratitude or confession or a plea for help.  For me, prayer is the first step in re-focusing on the Lord.    

So the plates will continue to spin (this is life in the 21st century!) and the circus music will continue to play but a greater sound can be heard as I converse with the One who loves me.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

3/20/13 by Gary Woodward

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons has two windows. The caption under the first is MEN and the drawing depicts a simple light switch with markings for ON and OFF. The second drawing above WOMEN is that of the inside of an airliner cockpit, with all its myriad buttons, switches, gauges, lights, and controls. One can only imagine the operating manual!

As funny as that is, the airline cockpit analogy can also be applied to the playing of a musical instrument. There are a countless number of components, each of which requires literally thousands of hours in a practice room to bring into focus. Some are more apparent than others, but all are vitally important.  I am thinking of the importance of an oil pressure gauge being like the correct fingering for a high f-sharp. That particular gauge is not likely placed near the pilot’s main field of vision, but would be something that she or he would monitor in a periodic visual scan of all of the instrumentation. As vital as that detail might be, it is the most important information of speed, altitude and attitude that is reserved to be displayed directly in front of the pilot. Likewise the musician focuses in on the important areas such as tone, rhythm, intensity, and phrasing, while the awareness of a hundred other details runs “in the background.”

Then there is the matter of playing in an orchestra. Here the musician is asked to take his skills into an arena that is fraught with limitless complexities of musical and social interactions. Now not only do you need to bring your very best micro-focused game, but you also need to have a wide angle, macro focused awareness of all that is going on around you. And you need to be able to adjust your playing instantaneously to whatever conditions are presented at each moment, all while working with a group of people with enormous egos that compensate for the fact that they spent a great deal of their childhood in a practice room, and being praised for the result! (Honestly, most orchestral musicians have worked most of this stuff out and are pretty cool people!) Playing in an orchestra is like flying our airliner at full speed in rush hour traffic.

And then there is the matter of the conductor. Now I need to say a few things about this character so that you don’t get the idea that I am going to make an analogy between a conductor and God. The audience’s perception of the maestro is an elegant, enlightened figure standing in front of the orchestra, waving his arms in mysterious ways that somehow elicit a wonderful musical experience. The orchestral musician, on the other hand, views him (generally) with a healthy skepticism. This is born from his experience working with conductors that range in temperament from humble to ego-maniacal and technically from utter incompetence to brilliance. Most fall in the middle, as they are human beings, but all of them hold the fate of the performance in their hands. And some of them even hold the fate of your livelihood in their hands, as well. 

Last weekend I was privileged to be involved in a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with the Long Beach Symphony. This is the 100th anniversary of the work’s premiere. The piece was so groundbreaking and so shocking that it caused a near riot at its first performance. So complicated was the music that it took over 20 rehearsals to prepare it back then. We did it in four rehearsals, and the music is still mind bending.
The maestro in Long Beach enjoys the good will of the orchestra, as he is someone whose heart is in the music and who treats the orchestra with respect. He prides himself on conducting the performances from memory, which has historically caused a few troubling moments. Generally orchestras can cover such lapses without the audience being at all aware. But in the case of the Rite, the rhythms are so complicated, that any tiny mistake on the conductor’s part, especially in the last 15 minutes of the piece would result in the music coming to a grinding halt – what we call a “train wreck.” 

Many expressed concern before the performance that the maestro would conduct by memory, and those concerns were heightened when he indeed came to the stage without his score. It was to be a moment of truth. There were some 85 performers on stage, an all-star cast of LA’s top freelancers, representing a collective professional experience of over 2000 years, ready to play this monumental, complex work with no safety net.

The performance had gone well, so spirits were high as we approached the treacherous ending. As we launched into it an amazing thing happened. As everyone cranked up their personal level of focus and concentration, they also gave in to the process, allowing the orchestra to achieve an incredible level of cohesion that was carried on a wave of tremendous freedom. The performance was a great success.

As in music, so too, in our spiritual life much can be gained through discipline and obedience. I think it is our responsibility to be focused and prepared. But Lent is about letting go. And this story is about letting go, stepping back from all of the work that we do. Ultimately when we come to the end of ourselves, finding that our human efforts are insufficient, we will succeed in that day of testing only by giving ourselves over to God’s processes, turning our focus and trust towards Him. That way we can become the instruments through which He can achieve a command performance.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

3/19/13 by Jeff Emmerson

I’ve got way too many things to focus on! It is literally mind boggling how much stuff we have to attend to each day, week and month.
Here’s my typical “focus” list, things always on my plate or in my mind.

·       Kids!! Homework projects can be very focus intensive. Building Styrofoam models of castles or Spanish missions, dissecting apples to chart the oxidization of the flesh as it turns brown, making educational board games. Then there is the challenge of recalling 7th grade algebra; is this a noun or a pronoun; what is a parallelogram etc? Wow, that takes some focus.
·       How about health! Yes, I watch my blood pressure and cholesterol, watching my diet, exercising and doing heart healthy things. Approaching 50, this takes on even more of my focus as each doctor visit seems to get more involved and the tests more elaborate.
·       Work! Now that takes up some brain power. 40 employees to keep stable and productive, way too many bosses for me to make happy, insane customers. There goes 10 hours of the day in focus time.
·       Relationships! One must tread carefully when dealing with significant others. It can be a minefield of potential hurt and disappointment if less than loving care and compassion are offered. You had better pay attention to what you say and do! And pay attention to what she says!

With so much on our plates, so many aspects of life to focus on, it can be difficult to set time aside for God, to sit in silent communion with our Lord, basking in his focus on us. We are too involved with focusing on our own lives to allow ourselves to enjoy the focus He has on us.  But time with God is essential to enable us to better focus on all the other things in our lives. With Him by our sides and in our hearts and thoughts as we navigate each day’s trials, we are better able to juggle and balance the ups and downs of the day. We are strengthened and nourished by His focus on us, but we need to take the time to fill up on His Holy strength and love. Algebra is so much easier when I ask God for patience and access to long term memory. Work is easier to handle when I keep compassion and love in front of me when dealing with employees. It is so much easier to maintain a healthy heart rate with the Lord holding me through tough physical temptations that might not be good for me. And how much more can we love our wives or husbands when we bask in the love of God.
Make God our first focus of every day and you will find that you are looking through a different lens that will be clearer, sharper and filled with a love and compassion for life, and everyone and everything in it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

3/18/13 by Greg Perkins

Based on Psalm 119:73-80

'Meditate' is not a word you hear much about in our culture.  If you do, it's normally associated with gurus in lose clothing humming and chanting to the god of sticks and wood.  Not the most positive image for a soul who's bent on following Jesus.  But many times the writers of the old and new testaments encourage us to meditate of God's precepts.  On Him.  For His ways are in essence, Him, much like His word.  Sounds like a foreign concept but its actually fairly simple - dwell on them.  Don't let your mind wander and look at your smart phone.  Get away.  Turn off all the intrusions and focus your mind to think about a Holy God, and what He asks of us and has done for us. Seek his FACE and not his Hands.  What does that mean?  Stop praying for the goodies all the time and seek God and his countenance.  Perhaps one way to start is to think about what the world would be like if he removed himself from it.  How dismal, dark and frightening it would be without His love, His grace and favor.  Dwell on, think hard about how much He loves us - enough to sacrifice His own son.  It's mind blowing, and will change you - at least for the day.  And then you can meditate on his good works tomorrow as well.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

3/16/13 by John Gray

I use Focus for perspective and prioritizing things in my life.  Isn’t focus a funny little word?  You can focus your energy like a laser, focus your view to the tiniest detail or the broad landscape, or change your focal field to include the detail and landscape.  But why focus at all?  I use it to remember how the details fit into my life and how my life needs the details so they all fit together.  I use it to check that I’m not missing something more important.  More than once I have concentrated so hard on not spilling a glass of water that I tripped because I didn’t include the floor into my focus.  I’d forgotten that not tripping is more important than spilling the water.

Here are the lectionary readings for today:
Saturday March 16
Morning: Ps. 43; 149
Evening: Ps. 31; 143
Jer. 23:9–15
Rom. 9:1–18
John 6:60–71

I admit that I read through the New Testament verses first, thinking that they always are easier to relate to me and my life.  But after reading all of the readings I found that I was more drawn to the verses in the Old Testament.  So below are how some of the verses remind me to focus on the important things.  I hope they will spark your curiosity to read the verses and see how they relate to your life, and our community.  I pray that we all take this time in Lent to grow in our love of the Lord.

Psalm 31 v24
Be strong, and let your heart take courage.
All you who hope in the Lord.
Psalm 143 v10
                Teach me to do Thy will,
                For Thou art my God;
                Let Thy good Sprit lead me on level ground.
Psalm 43 v3
                O send out Thy light and Thy truth,
                let them lead me.
Psalm 149 v1
                Praise the Lord!
                Sing to the Lord a new song.

Friday, March 15, 2013

3/15/13 by Whitney Lescher

What does the word focus means for me in this season of my life?  What can I possibly say to encourage someone else in this area?  My thoughts kept leading me back to music.  In different seasons of my life God has used different means to speak truth into my life.  Right now music is my stronghold and it renews my spirit, as well as teaches me, each day.  When I find myself distracted during prayer, or when worried or angry thoughts flood my mind, I have found that singing about God’s majesty helps me to focus.  Singing a meaningful worship song, and meditating on the words, allows me to focus on what (and who) is truly important.

As I’m learning how to use music as a way to find God, I have found myself seeking it in more and more places.  Sunday morning worship is a highlight of my week, I have the Christian music station (channel 826) turned on every chance I get, I have started listening to only Christian CDs in the car, and I even like to walk past the Student Center at PEAK to see what our youth might be singing.  As a result of all this wonderful music, I find myself singing throughout the day because the desire to worship is imprinted on my heart.

When I sing, my heart feels at home and seems to focus in a way that is difficult to describe.  I think that is because we were created to be creatures of worship and when I am living out my calling I am at peace.  My focus should be on glorifying Jesus, and on the work that he is doing in this world and in me, and music has helped me remember this.

When I listen to the lyrics of a song, and I can relate to the artist, it encourages me that I am not alone.  Sometimes a particular song sticks with me throughout the day and helps me with challenges that arise.  Other times an artist will sing about a struggle that her/she has gone through, or is currently going through, and I find my heart reaching out to him/her.  There are other songs that remind me of particular people in my life and it leads me to pray for that person.  Then there are songs that simply praise God for his majesty and make my heart rejoice.

Worship leads to prayer and prayer can lead us to worship, and at times they are hard to distinguish from one another.  The point is that Jesus is giving me opportunities to focus on what is truly important in this life.  He is using the musical talents of my brothers and sisters to bring about growth.  I am so thankful that he blesses them with creativity to write songs because they have become such a blessing to me and our entire Christian community.  My prayer today is that each of you would seek to find worship songs that give you hope, joy, peace, or encouragement and that music would help you to grow too.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

3/14/13 by Alan Nunez

Thank you Lee, for inviting me to focus on Jesus, the only real super man that ever lived and we've got Him right here in our hearts!  The weird thing about it is that so often we turn our attention to the busyness of the world, our work, our kids, our spouses and we ignore the Holy Spirit right inside of us.  Even when I’m doing church stuff I can get so busy on committees and projects that I stop taking time to be still and listen to God.  I’m not taking time to pray or read the Bible regularly which is where I hear Jesus speaking to me and the Spirit’s promptings.  I must slow down and pare down my activities because God gave us a choice from the beginning, He won’t force His will on us.  He wants us to choose to respond to His calling and in order hear that Voice on a daily basis, I must focus my attention on a regular basis to get guidance on decisions that are troubling me.  God is always there but is my back towards Him or am I turning towards Him and into His arms and Grace.  When I do focus on His Love and Grace then I feel empowered to pass this on to others who need it and who can then be changed and have a new life.  How can I pass on to others the peace that passes understanding when I am exhausted, distressed and pressed rather than relaxed, focused, energized and purpose-driven.  God help me to remember that you are always present and that all I need to do is take a few seconds to say a quick prayer, take a deep breath, and get back to work with a renewed sense of direction and purpose.  Not just during the Lenten season but every day. Amen  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

3/13/13 by Frances Mencia

Have you ever had a day where you start to question yourself about the choices you have made?  Where, for the most part the blessings around you are plentiful, but you focus on the negative incident that just happened.  It can be something as trivial as a person you work with speaking to you in a belittling tone – real or imaginary – where it feels as though that person is saying, “you really do not know what we are trying to do here, so your opinion does not matter.”  So far, when it happens to me, it has never been enough for me to want to turn around and walk out – my work is fulfilling enough to remind me why I work and why I work where I do – but it does hurt and it is all I can focus on, feeling as though I am being judged and judging right back.

Scripture tells us that we will become what we focus on – if we focus on the negative, we will become negative, which is why is it important we focus on the positive and the good.  “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Lord, my prayer is to you today is to help me see the good in people and not focus on the negative, even if they are being negative towards me.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

3/12/13 by Kerry Milbrodt

I have a tendency toward what some call "the monkey mind".  My thoughts jump around and lose focus.  I start with one thought and end up on another and wonder how I got there.  My day usually begins by getting ready for school and work, then I take a short time to read scripture and pray.  This is a good start but then I get distracted with everything else in my day; getting to work, work itself, what to make for dinner, which meeting I have to attend, etc.

 Two things that help me get back on track are the song, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus", with the words, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace".  These words remind me that concentrating on Jesus makes all the other distractions merely that, distractions from what is most important, Jesus Himself.

The other thing that I find comforting and focusing, is the story of Jesus walking on the water in the storm and how Peter jumps off the boat and walks toward His savior on top of the raging waves. But as soon as he looks down and takes his eyes off Jesus, he begins to sink.  I don't want to sink!  This is a powerful, graphic vision that really helps me when I begin to feel overwhelmed.  I can feel the wind and the waves but I can also feel the love the Savior has for me and that all I have to do is reach out my hand and hold His tight.

Monday, March 11, 2013

3/11/2013 by Stacie Roach

When I was growing up, my family would attend several Dodger games every summer. Besides ordering a chocolate malt and singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", my favorite thing to do was look through my dad's binoculars. I wanted to see the players up close. If I could see the faces of Mike Piazza, Erik Karros, and Hideo Nomo, my night was complete- I felt as if I had truly been with them in the action. My young self was content with a blurry, few second glimpse, even if it was from way up in the nose bleed section.

As I've gotten older, my perspective has changed. Occasionally, I'll go to a game and bring some binoculars, but the experience is quite different. The blurry images I see no longer satisfy, and the longer I try to find the right lens setting, the more strained my eyes become. I strive for a perfectly crisp image, but I never find it. What I am searching for is simply too far away.

As odd as this may sound, my experiences with binoculars at different stages of my life are similar to my relationship with the Lord. As a child, God seemed very distant and unreachable. I went to Sunday School and said my prayers each night, but I was talking to a "Being" somewhere far away. Being young, I was fine with this- I didn't know any better. My perception of God seemed crystal clear to naive eyes, but in truth, it was cloudy and fragmented.

I was in high school when I realized my "binoculars" for God were out of focus. Instead of recognizing His nearness and desire to know me fully, I kept Him at a distance. The binoculars became a crutch--- I thought that if I kept my image of God cloudy and fragmented, I would be able to avoid my sin and utter need for Him. My thinking was that if God was far away and blurry, I might be just the same for Him. And, I did not want to risk Him seeing me any closer. It was easier to live in denial.

Little by little, God chipped away at the binoculars I had at my eyes. He loved me enough to not allow me to sit far from Him any longer. He left the baseball diamond and climbed the stairs to meet me in my seat in the back row. Face to face, the binoculars were of no use. God became clear and in focus for the first time.

Is the Lord out of focus for you? If you're like me, He comes in and out of focus depending on seasons in life. But, what I've noticed time and again is when I draw near to Christ, He comes in focus, and His will for me is much clearer. It seems like common sense, but it requires discipline and action. Neither committees nor church attendance, nor acts of service, can bring God into focus as much as spending time with Him. Face to face. Heart to heart.

As the author of Hebrews writes, "let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:22).

Prayer: Lord- Forgive us for trying to keep You at a distance. May we draw nearer to You each day. Will You become the focal point of our lives, as we seek You and dwell in You. Be our focus. Amen.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

3/9/13 by Randall Wetzel

A 737 at 39,000 feet and 70 degrees below zero outside.  Not quite hell.  In near panic, with people I hardly know, going somewhere I have never been - to do what?   I can’t remember tropical medicine, what do I know about malnutrition, scabies, parasite infested water, gastroenteritis, poverty and physical suffering beyond my experience?  Here I am - a senior, respected doctor – totally out of my depth.  I don’t speak the language, I have nothing to offer, my hands are empty. Maybe they will let me mix concrete.  Surely, I will look like a useless fool.  It will be hot, sweaty and uncomfortable, and I’ll probably get malaria or dengue.  Foolish.  I have far better things to do with my valuable time – what am I doing here?   What a mistake!   I am cut off.   God, why am I here? What can I do – what can I do… I do?
And the answer came from that not so reassuring, still, small voice:   “Nothing.”   “Apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).”
In fact, apart from Him “all of my righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6).”
“What can I do?”, to which the  answer is often - not much,  is the  wrong question,  especially when  I am focused on me. If the focus is on what I can do, I end up crying as the Psalmist:
Why are you downcast, O my soul 
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God    (Ps 43:5)
Yet again, He teaches me this lesson.  When the focus is on me, when I worry about myself, what others may think of me, focus on my abilities, my possessions, when I ask – ‘what can I do,’ who am I, or give into unhealthy self-focus with thoughts like: ‘I can’t do it,’ ‘I have nothing to give,’  ‘I am useless,’  then I continually fall short, miss the mark, transgress His plans for me.   Then, by my self- focus:
I am cut off from His sight
Yet He hears my cry for Mercy when I call to Him for help (Praise God!)          (Ps 31:22)
So the question is not ‘what can I do?’ – but rather what will Christ do through me?  How will He choose to use me? The focus isn't on what I can do, but on Him and the plan He has for me.  Not what I can do, but what he will do.  Much better to just follow Peter’s advice:  “Cast all your fears on him for he cares for you.” (1 Pet 5:7)
Remember what that great cloud of witnesses reminds us to do in the 12th chapter of Hebrews:  “Let us focus our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.   But how?   How do we see Christ more clearly?  By loving Him more dearly, and following Him more nearly – day by day.  And focus by first and last knowing Him through His revealed word; “ if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him (I John 2:5).” Focus through praise; “May the praise of God be ever in my mouth (Ps 149)”, and focus by remembering, with constant thanksgiving, ‘that we have been set free from sin and have become slaves of good, the benefit to reap is holiness (Rom 6: 22).’  Focus on His hope and mercy as in the Psalms above. Remember that, since we have been raised with Christ, we can focus our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. We can focus our minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:1-2). Thus hope, gratitude, praise, being in the word, focusing on heavenly things and prayer are all disciplines of focusing on Jesus.  May we keep our focus on the One who said:
I am the light of the world.   (John 8:8)
Before Abraham was born, I am.  (John 8:58)
Somewhere between Miami and Santo Domingo, being reminded that I can do everything only through Him who gives me strength, I said to Him: “I have no idea why you have me on this plane, but it is entirely up to you.   I am yours; this must be your idea because I don’t understand; nevertheless, I will keep my focus on you by serving you in whatever way you enable me to do. Please Lord, keep my focus on you; this is all up to you.  I have nothing to bring except a desire to see you more clearly.  Make me an instrument of your love Lord; bless me by allowing me to serve and then maybe I will be so bold as to hope that you may allow others to see You through me.  Keep my focus on You lest I fall.  Cause my eyes and thoughts to be so intently focused on you that I see nothing else and therefore see you everywhere I look, in every face I see, in every place I go. “   Focus. Peace.

Friday, March 8, 2013

3/8/13 by Kathy Yukl

When we hear the word "focus", some of us cringe because we struggle with focusing on anything, especially in the midst of way too many distractions.  Many of us have mental disabilities:  ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, dyslexia, and others, which have often remained undiagnosed, especially in older folks, leading us to think we just aren't trying hard enough.  As strong as our faith may be, our attempts at engaging in the traditional disciplines of prayer, inspirational reading, meditation, and devotionals are too often met with frustration and guilt.  

We hear many of our fellow believers offer prayers, smoothly saying just the right words.  When we try, we stumble and bumble and end up feeling quite foolish, so studiously avoid being asked to pray out loud in front of a group.  As members of a church family, we are constantly urged to engage in regular devotionals and reading the Bible in order to grow in our faith.  Again, some of us find such exercises tedious to the point of torture, which we dare not share with fellow Christians out of fear of disapproval.

From the time we were toddlers, my parents taught my sisters and I to pray every night at bedtime.  It was a wonderful tradition that I have always been grateful for and continued well into adulthood, looking forward to sharing all my thoughts and feelings with a loving God.  But somewhere along the line I found myself increasingly struggling with concentration, to the point where I was actually falling asleep about two thoughts into it!  As a teenager I forced myself to read the Bible from cover to cover.  While it proved to be a worthwhile exercise, only parts of it actually "stuck" and made sense.  Over the decades, I have participated in many classes and Bible studies, gaining valuable knowledge and insights, and also at times nearly falling out of my chair in boredom. 

Thankfully, God has our weaknesses and disabilities covered!  

If the usual kinds of exercises in growing our faith just don't seem to work for us, God will always help us with less obvious means.  He has many "tools" in his toolbox, including other people, who don't even know that something they've said has been just what we needed to hear.  Hanging out with fellow Christians, attending events that are Christian oriented, regular attendance at worship and numerous other similar activities can also serve to help us grow in our faith.

When praying, we don't have to make a speech, follow menus and stick to proscribed times and places.  In fact, we should "pray without ceasing" throughout our waking hours, whenever the thought occurs to us, even in the bathroom!  Mrs. Pifari, fourth grade Sunday School teacher here at LCPC in the 1950's, suggested we should picture Jesus residing on our shoulders at all times, knowing everything that's happening to us, every feeling, every need.  Yes, it's nice to use words, mostly to help us clarify our thoughts.  But mental vignettes work equally well, and frequent prayers of just a few seconds are as effective as long-winded ones!

While we should never abandon more conventional focusing on spiritual matters when we are able, neither should we beat ourselves up when we find our imperfect brains betraying us.  God knows and loves each of us and will always help us find paths to greater faith and understanding.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

3/7/13 by Darren Pollock

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.           -Romans 5:19

The Christian life between Christ’s two advents is characterized by a tension sometimes referred to as an “already/not yet” dynamic— Christ’s kingdom is already here, though not yet in its fullness; we are already living in the “last days,” but the “last day” has not yet come; we are already justified, though our sanctification has not yet been completed. In Romans 5, Paul paints a picture of Christ as the new Adam. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all humankind like a virus, so Christ’s life of obedience provides the antidote to those who are in Christ. We can look to Christ, in his human nature, and see what true humanity looks like—the model of who Christ is making us to be. Presently, however, we are somewhere in between our old and our new humanity, between our Adamic and our Christ-like natures. We are already being cleansed and transformed, but we are not yet “complete” in our Christ-likeness.
This “already/not yet” tension, as it pertains to our sense of identity, creates a kind of Jekyll and Hyde opposition within us (think of Paul in Romans 7). The consistent counsel of the New Testament for dealing with this internal division without succumbing to a clinical personality disorder is to focus our gaze on Christ (this is expressed perhaps most directly by the author of Hebrews: “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith”). In a section of his Church Dogmatics where he addresses the nature of true humanity (taking Nietzsche’s twisted and self-aggrandizing anthropology in Ecce Homo as a foil), Karl Barth explains that we must look at the human nature of Jesus to have any true understanding of humankind: “this is the standard of what [humankind’s] reality is and what it is not. It reveals originally and definitively why God has created man.”
So often we get this backwards…in seeking to understand the nature of humanity, we look instead at ourselves (more specifically, at our Adamic nature). But in so doing, we define humanity according to an aberration from the true humanity. 2012 was a devastating year for the Michigan apple crop. An unseasonably-warm late winter coaxed all of the apple trees into blooming prematurely, and the next cold spell that hit killed the blossoms, and the crop for the entire season. Walking through an apple orchard that spring, one who had never seen an apple tree might have thought that this was normal—row after row of naked, barren branches. To know what an apple tree was supposed to look like in April or May, one would have to have in mind the image of a healthy tree.
Two problems predominate when we fix our eyes not on Christ, but on our fallen, Adamic nature: either we despair of our utter rottenness, or we come to see our universal foibles as normal and normative—as constitutive of our very nature (“all of these trees are desolate and fruitless…that must therefore be what an ‘apple tree’ is”). How often do we excuse our selfish and sinful behaviors and attitudes by rationalizing that they are “only natural”—when in reality they are not “natural” to our true humanity, but to our fallenness!
We do well—for the sake of humility and gratitude—to remember our sinfulness and our “old” nature, but a healthy recollection of this is only possible when we have our eyes on Christ. If you were scaling the Empire State Building, among the more helpful pieces of advice shouted at you from below would be “Don’t look down!!” You wouldn’t want to forget what was behind you (lest you decide to step away from the building for a quick breather), but actually looking down would be disastrous. Instead, you would (I imagine—I’m no skyscraper-climbing guru) want to keep your eyes fixed on the goal towards which you were climbing. With this approach in mind, we can navigate the “already/not yet” tension between our two natures with grace and with confidence in God’s guiding and protecting hand, proclaiming along with Paul (Philippians 3:12): “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

3/6/13 by Michelle Bouse

When I was younger, my dad always said, “If you aren't sure what to do, say a prayer & ask God for help. After saying the prayer, be patient and wait for his answer.”  But I always wondered how I would know when he sent an answer?  As an adult I realized all I have to do is wait & listen for God to whisper the answer into my heart.  (It definitely took me a lot of practice)

So often think of someone and am drawn to pick up the phone and call them. When they answer they say, “How did you know I needed to talk with you?”  
God whispered it into my ear I tell them. 

When I'm chatting with clients at work sometimes something pops out of my mouth, unsure of what I said, my client asks, “How did you know that?” 
I tell them God must have whispered it in my ear. 

Out of the blue I am reminded of someone who needs me to pray for them. I stop and pray and thank God for the reminder.

Job 4:12 
“This truth was given to me in secret, as though whispered in my ear.”

I believe God speaks to each of us every day. I believe God speaks only with the intention of love. I believe He speaks at times with tough love, parental love, as a friend, as a teacher. 

I believe God works in subtleties. I believe He doesn't scream and yell, that’s why his messages are easy to miss. I believe He is calm, caring, patient & kind.  I believe everything He says, He says with LOVE directly into our hearts.
When He speaks to me I like to call it, God’s Whispers (of love).

Job 33:14
“For God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it.”

For this Lenten season, why not focus on God’s whispers. They are unique to each one of us. He's always whispering, its just a question of are we listening?  Find out where and when God speaks to you.  Is it in your dreams, in church, in the shower, when you are out in nature, while you’re driving, in prayer, doing yoga, through songs, as you work or just as you fall asleep? Then focus on simply relaxing, trusting & listening. 

You never know how important those whispers can be. Some of my tiniest whispers have been some of my life's greatest "ah-ha moments.” 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

3/5/13 by Zillah Novak

Being focused can be a positive attribute, that causes us to concentrate on a task, a goal, or the key points of a debate to reach a conclusion or logical solution.  The ability to focus is of significant importance in using instruments such as lasers, radiology and heat seeking devices.  The focused light of a laser can burn a hole through metal and sunrays focused through a lens can start a fire.  Athletes recognize that unless they concentrate on executing the drills they practice regularly, instead of how they are feeling about errors in a game, or working through a losing streak, they could slip into a mind-set of defeat.  Endurance and patience are products of Christian maturity, as they show trust in an outcome according to God’s perfect plan.

Occasionally, though, being narrowly focused is a detriment.  Who wants to engage in conversation with someone who is exclusively absorbed in one subject, particularly if the subject of absorption is themselves?  Even the effort to memorize great sections of scripture (while a noble goal) might result in being oblivious to how one is applying its meaning in actual life experiences.  

Lent is an appropriate time to concentrate our thoughts on the meaning of Jesus’ laying down his sinless life as a redemption for each one of our sinful lives – the extraordinary gift of grace.  Jeff Verry made the point in his Good Friday message that instead of focusing on what to give up as a Lenten sacrifice, or conversely, the extra good deeds to perform, we earnestly should seek to have a deeper relationship with Christ Jesus, the Redeemer.  Whether it be through prayer, the study of scripture, worship, or to heed the Lord’s call to service, we should be alert for how the Savior is drawing us to Him.  The indescribable, unlimited love of the Father is not like a narrow laser beam, but broadens as it flows from Him, encompassing us all.  Focusing on Him will increase our desire to be obedient to His directions, to expand our sensitivity to others, becoming more aware of how we can meet their needs.  May the Lenten season be a period of discovering the power and majesty of the person, Jesus the Christ.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

3/4/13 by George Buehler

  At John 7:17, Jesus said, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will
know whether my teaching is from God.” To which I have to ask: Why would
anyone not will to do God’s will? What kind of insanity or idiocy is this? It is
not as if you could get away with it, since God is God. And once you consider
that God is supremely loving as revealed in the Bible, why would you not
want his will to control, why would you not be appalled at the prospect of
one’s own feeble and finite will replacing his will?
   Yet that’s exactly what Jesus encountered. People rejected him and his
teaching. It was not because people just misunderstood or were misinformed
or did not have enough evidence to make an accurate judgment. The root of
the problem was that people did not will to do God’s will. So they were
offended at Jesus’ teaching because it exposed their evil. Indeed, they wanted
to kill Jesus.
   Jesus diagnosed their unbelief as rooted not in ignorance or sincere
agnosticism but in a perverse will — they did not will to do God’s will,
otherwise they would have recognized Jesus’ teaching as from God.
   Do we will to do God’s will? We are masters at deception and guile; the
foolish pride that would confuse our will with God’s will can lie hidden deep
behind a devout facade. After all, it was the best people in Jerusalem — the
best dressed, best educated, the most well-spoken, those living in the best
houses, the most influential and religious — it was these who killed Jesus.
   We have no superiority over those who crucified Jesus or who refuse to
accept Jesus today. It is only God’s grace, unmerited by us, that is saving us
from bondage to the foolish pride that does not will to do God’s will. But I
think as Christians we always have to ask ourselves: Do I will to do God’s
will? To what extent do I remain preoccupied with my selfish desires, while
giving empty and passing tribute to God’s will? We need to focus on why I
would do that. Given that God is unquestionably on my side and working for
me, and unquestionably knows what is good for me and has plans for me that
far exceed my finite imagination, why would I not 100% will to do his will?
Why would I not hunger and thirst for righteousness? As C.S. Lewis put it, it
is like refusing to go to the seaside so you can make mud pies in your yard.
   And to those people who do not want to hear about Jesus, should we not
challenge them with the question: Why do you not want to at least take a
close look at this gospel? What strange perversity makes you not will to do
the will of a good and loving God as revealed in Jesus?
   The command that we die to self so that we can live to Christ is not a
harsh demeaning command, it is the offer of a gift, the best and greatest gift
we could possibly receive.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

3/2/13 by Geoff Bryan

Is it possible that "focus" is a two-way street?

In this post I answer, "Yes, it is possible." Here's some background.

Lee Cook has remarked that, despite the wide variation in his sermons, they all boil down to a single question: "What are you going to do about Jesus?"

To me, as I embarked some two years ago on the journey that has brought me from the Church of Sleeping In on Sunday to active membership at LCPC, a more crucial threshold question was: "What are you going to do about God?"

Prior to that time I had accepted uncritically the assertions of people like Richard Dawkins that life just kind of happened one day, and that humans were no more than a happy accident of natural selection acting on the progeny of tadpoles, meerkats, and caterpillars.

Then in 2011, an unlikely series of events caused me to reexamine (and ultimately reject) these assertions. Indeed, I was caught completely flatfooted by what I found. From the breathtaking complexity of the DNA molecule to the unbelievable fine-tuning of the cosmos, evidence of a supreme Creator -- of God -- surrounds us in every aspect of existence. Clearly there is a God.

Well, okay-- but now what?

Michael Novak pinpoints the problem in No One Can See God:

[O]ur senses cannot touch God. Neither sight nor sound, scent nor taste, nor touch, either. Our imagination cannot encompass Him, nor even bring Him into focus. . . . Our minds can form no adequate conception of Him; anything the mind imagines is easily ridiculed. The God who made us and out of his infinite love redeemed us and called us to His bosom is divine, not human. As such, He cannot be found using human perceptual equipment.

Yet I could not let the matter rest. Something -- what I now believe to be the Holy Spirit -- tugged relentlessly on me. I ached from what Barbara Brown Taylor has described as "the God-shaped hole inside of us" which "only God may fill."

Having been raised in the Presbyterian faith (though I wandered astray as a young teenager), I turned again to Christianity for answers. I read extensively in the literature known as "apologetics," writings designed to persuade and justify Christian belief. This process spanned many months. I came away from this literature with a profound conviction in the truth of Scripture and the reality of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, a conviction far more genuine than anything I had felt as a youth.

Now here's where the focus part comes in.

In the course of my reading I came across three verses from the book of John that rocked my world. They form a sort of chain that has astonishing implications. In John 14:6, Jesus states, "No one comes to the Father except through me." In John 6:44, Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him," and in John 6:65 Jesus adds that "no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." My mind boggled then, and it continues to boggle today. Could this actually mean that the Father himself is drawing me to Jesus? Me? Insignificant, unworthy me? Yet I can think of no other explanation for my journey of the past couple of years, and my insatiable thirst to know more. Talk about a humbling concept . . . the idea that God, himself, might choose to focus . . . on me!

Meanwhile, I have discovered that this journey involves asking "now what?" over and over again. R.C. Sproul puts it nicely in Chosen by God:

When we are converted to Christ, we use the language of discovery to express our conversion. We speak of finding Christ. We may have a bumper sticker that reads I FOUND IT. These statements are indeed true. The irony is this: Once we have found Christ it is not the end of our seeking, but the beginning. Usually, when we find what we are looking for, it signals the end of our searching. But when we "find" Christ, it is the beginning of our search. The Christian life begins at conversion; it does not end where it begins. It grows; it moves from faith to faith, from grace to grace, from life to life. This movement of growth is prodded by a continual seeking after God.

The more I explore and learn about Christianity, the more it seems there is yet to explore and learn, the more layers left to peel from the onion. Sometimes the complexity and the subtlety seem insurmountable. Yet I sense God's continued focus, drawing me forward. And I take some comfort in Søren Kierkegaard's musing in The Sickness Unto Death as to whether we shouldn't often hear this prayer:

"God in heaven, I thank you for not requiring a person to comprehend Christianity, for if that were required, I would be the most miserable of all. The more I seek to understand it, the more incomprehensible it appears to me . . . . Therefore I thank you for requiring only faith, and I pray that you will continue to increase it."


Friday, March 1, 2013

3/1/13 by Jerry White

Psalm 130 – A song of ascents
How fitting that a Psalm of ascents would speak to me so clearly. My Lenten season had degraded to daily skirmishes to the point that a battle raged between my commitment for the season and my habits of escape and withdrawal that resulted in bouts of guilt ridden self loathing. All of this drove me away from the main purpose of Lent; drawing near to Christ and his suffering, embracing the sacrifice and victory that He has already won on our behalf. 
Psalm 130: 1 & 2: “1Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; 2O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.”
The first act of ascending to the foot of the cross is recognizing our need for it, deep within us, until we cry to him with an intensity that rocks our soul.
Psalm 130: 3 & 4 “3If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? 4But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.”
Then we confess and repent in order to receive the assurance of His forgiveness with our response of worship and praise.
I really love this next part; I can relate to the watchmen. One of my favorite things about Mission Arizona is to walk about the camp, late at night and into the early morning while watching over the mission team, praying for them, crying out for God to lead us and to dwell in everything we were doing. Under the moonlight with a star-filled sky while hearing the breathing of a couple of dozen people who were out working and serving Him all with the backdrop of coyotes in the distance and even a couple of times drums from the reservation, I was often times answered in the quiet and was assured that all would be well in the camp.
Psalm 130: 5 & 6: “5I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning.”
Psalm 130: 7 & 8: “7O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. 8He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”
And we pray it now Lord; we put our hope in You, Your love never fails. Bring us to your redemption, from all our sins, all those things that keep us from having you always before us. We lift You up in victory, risen from the dead, sin and death vanquished. Come quickly Lord!”