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F.O.C.U.S

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oct2016walkAs I was working out the other day – the word focus came to my mind. As it did – I formulated an acronym for it. Not sure why I did but that is me I guess :) FOCUSFind One Cause U Support. I was sure that acronym had already been used. Guess what? It has not. But apparently if you google acronyms for the word focus – you will get 32 – yes 32 – other options.
As I have let my newly coined acronym steep in my brain, this thought occurred to me: Are we ADD in our pursuits – going from one good thing to the next without every taking the time to understand why we support what we support? Is there a common theme in each of those pursuits? Plus, I wonder how many people are supporting too many “good causes” which can dilute their time, energy and financial resources for the one cause (the one thing that deep down drives & pushes & calls) that may give them the most passion, purpose and enjoyment while at the same time benefiting others? Are we fearful of saying no to more because of what others may think of us? Do we say yes just to please other people? You see, to find one cause u support -it takes a bit of personal inventory and reflection on what brings you the most enjoyment and purpose in life. Are we willing to risk the pursuit even when others may not agree or understand?
I am currently reading a book titled, ‘Courage & Calling.’ The author, Gordon T. Smith, writes, “In John 17:4 we have the remarkable words where Jesus says to the Father, “I glorified you on Earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” I long for the same; that I am able to come to the end of my life and know before God that I had fulfilled my vocation. But we will not be able to do this unless we learn to say no. We will not have this privilege unless we come to clarity about who we are and what we are called to do. This requires focus, discipline and courage. But the results are freedom – freedom from ambition, freedom from the pressures and expectations of others, freedom to be who we are before God. It is freedom to embrace the call of God upon our lives with joy and hope.”
Let’s be honest: We all desire lives of freedom – filled with joy and hope but that does not just happen. It takes discipline and courage to be your unique-beautifully created self in a world filled with ambitions, fears and expectations. Simply, it takes…FOCUS?

Prepare my heart…

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As I was reading & writing this morning, this phrase came to my mind: ‘Prepare my heart to receive it’ – not fully sure all what that means yet but as I let it sink in – I thought about a few things:
(1) A farmer preparing a field. The farmer does not and would not expect a harvest without cultivating and planting.
(2) A team preparing for a game. The players and coach would not expect to win without preparing during practice.
(3) A band preparing for a concert. The band would not expect to hit all the right notes without hours of prep beforehand.
(4) A teacher preparing for class. The teacher cannot nor should not expect a great learning environment if he/she is scrambling to get a lesson together.
(5) An employee preparing for a presentation. The employee cannot expect to hold the attention of the employer if they ‘wing it.’
(6) A pastor preparing a sermon. The pastor should not expect a great response if he/she has not taken the time to hear from God.
(7) A spouse preparing a surprise. The spouse must pay attention to what the other’s likes/dislikes are if the surprise is to be of great value.
(8) A parent preparing to discipline. The parent may not get the result they want if all they are concerned with is behavior and neglect the heart behind the behavior. That takes much prep!
As I thought about all those scenarios and the degrees of variation that can occur within each of them – I did notice one thing. Being prepared is the key to receive what comes our way no matter what it is. If we are not prepared, how can we expect to not get anxious or worried? A friend gave me a verse: Matthew 6:34 (msg) - “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.” Being prepared is giving our attention to what matters.
Two other verses I found that speak to preparing the heart. (1) Ezra 7:10 – “And Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.” Ezra not only prepared his heart but followed through with action. Let us be people that throws off passivity and prepares our heart to receive and gives attention to what God is doing right now! (2) Job 11:13-19 - “If only you would prepare your heart and lift up your hands to him in prayer! Get rid of your sins, and leave all iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong and free of fear. You will forget your misery; it will be like water flowing away. Your life will be brighter than the noonday. Even darkness will be as bright as morning. Having hope will give you courage. You will be protected and will rest in safety. You will lie down unafraid, and many will look to you for help.” Did you catch it – a prepared heart leads to walking in confidence.
How are you preparing your heart to receive all God has for you?

leave off the IF

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A friend and I were speaking about what it looks/feels like to love unconditionally. We were sharing how often we put conditions on our love – on our generosity – on your time, etc…We say something to this affect: I will love you if…I will give you to if…I can help you if… Sound familiar?
As we continued to chat – he shared with me something he read. He said that the author of this book stated (and I paraphrase), “How many people did Jesus restore their sight only for them to go and have lustful/greedy thoughts based on what they could now see? How many people did Jesus restore their shriveled hand only for them to go steal or murder? How many people did Jesus cast out demons of to restore their sanity only for them to call him crazy? How many people did Jesus restore their ability to walk only for them to walk away from him? How many people did Jesus restore their voice that later was in the crowd that yelled crucify him?” It seems Jesus did not put ‘if’ at the end of his statements…I will restore your sight if you never look away from me. I will heal your legs if you only follow me. I will restore your voice if you only share your faith. It appears that Jesus just said, “I will love you. I will heal you.” Unconditionally – unapologetically – unashamedly – love manifested itself.
Now the next question to ask: Did Jesus really not expect anything? I think he did. He often stated, ‘Sin no more.” I think he expected the person’s life to be changed. But his love/healing was not based on if it did or did not. His love was based on his heart’s motivation to share the love of the Father – costly yet free.
So, what is our love based on? Is it based on what we can get -how we benefit or is it based on our heart’s motivation to share the love we have received? Are we called to love and serve and give at the cost of our health or immediate family – of course not. Do we need to set boundaries with certain individuals – sure we do, that is wisdom but do not call it healthy boundaries when it is nothing more than, ‘I get nothing in return.” Let us evaluate our heart’s motivation when it comes to loving others and take seriously the call of 1 Tim. 1:5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Can we learn to leave off the IF & dare to say: I will love you. (period) I will help you. (period) I will listen to you. (period)

Replacement

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As you look around your home – do you see items that need to be replaced? I bet you do – we all do. But even though we see items that need to be replaced – we don’t do anything b/c of  two things (1) we think the cost is too high (whether that be emotionally or financially) and (2) we are comfortable (which is often synonymous with fear of change). Therefore – we hesitate and we accumulate. In the home, we accumulate items that collect dust – are often over-looked & under-used – and, if honest, create more work.
Now, look inwardly – at your heart – do you see items that need to be replaced? I bet you do – we all do. But even though we see items that need to be replaced – we don’t do anything b/c of two things (1) we think the cost is too high (we may have to give up certain friends, habits, foods, etc.. or maybe we will be viewed differently) and (2) we are comfortable (which is often synonymous with fear of change). Therefore – we hesitate and we accumulate. In the heart, we accumulate items that hinder growth – are often never dealt with – and, if honest, hurt relationships.
I am currently reading a 12-day devotional called: ‘I choose…’ On one particular day, it read, “In a world of endless ‘what ifs’ and always changing, ‘what nows’, it is easy to focus on our circumstances…then we allow potential bad news to plant seeds of fear and worry…that’s the danger of worry; it grows and takes up precious space in our hearts and minds…let’s choose to take our eyes off our wavering circumstances and instead focus on the one who never changes. God is famous for replacing…”Then it listed three things. I listed them below plus added a few of my own.
Replacement…(1) worry with peace (2) fear with trust (3) uncertainty with hope (4) bitterness with forgiveness (5) shackles with open doors (6) sadness with joy (7) indifference with compassion (8) lies with truth (9) orphaned with loved child (10) lost with found (11) blind with now can see (12) division with reconciliation (13) striving with grace (14) brokenness with restoration (15) pride with humility (16) weakness with strength (17) death with life (18) hate with love (19 fatigue with rest (20) coke (aka: pop) with water (21) sedentary with movement
Now ask yourself, what is taking up space in my heart and does it need replacing? At first glance, the replacement cost may seem high or uncomfortable but know the end result of a transformed heart, renewed identity and healed relationships is worth every effort. Let us not hesitate nor accumulate…or maybe better stated, “…do no grow weary in doing good…throw off everything that hinders and run with endurance the race marked out for you, fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith…” (Gal. 6:9 & Heb. 12:1-2)

Question Mark or Exclamation Point

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“You are not a question mark.” This was said to one of my front staff (as she was slouching over the computer). She smiled (well, she actually playfully scowled) and sat up ‘super – straight.’ This prompted me to say, ‘That is right - you are not a question mark – you are an exclamation point.This exchange of words only took a few seconds but I have been thinking about it ever since with this lingering thought: What does my posture reveal about my health?
Let me explain b/c this question has both physical and spiritual aspects:
Physically – what is my posture? Do I look like a question mark? Am I hunched over? Are my shoulders rounded and my neck pushed forward? This posture typically increases pain levels. It often negatively affects the spine and surrounding muscles – it even adversely affects breathing. Or do I look more like an exclamation point! Am I upright? Is my head aligned over my shoulders? This posture often has less pain associated with it plus can enhance spinal and muscle control and help breathing.
Spiritually – what is my posture? Do I look like a question mark? Am I hunched over – cowering, shameful, anxious or fearful? This posture typically reveals identity issues (not knowing who God is or who I am). It often negatively affects relationships. Or do I look more like an exclamation point? Am I upright? Is my mind set on things above? Do I realize I am fearfully and wonderfully made? This posture often deepens and strengthens relationships.
Bottom line: Posture matters to a greater depth than we often recognize plus we fail to appreciate how closely our physical and spiritual posture mirrors one other. Today, take a moment to examine your posture (both physically and spiritually). If you notice some hunching over – truth is: we all have some to varying degrees but when noticed, are we willing to ask – how can I turn that question mark into an exclamation point. It may take effort to ‘straighten it out’ but know this – you were never meant to be a question mark; you were created to be an exclamation point!

stop, drop & roll

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When you hear the words – stop, drop and roll – what do you think about? Fire, right? Specifically someone on fire. It is what we are taught in school to do if your clothing catches on fire. Why am I mentioning this? Well, as I continue to read the book Uncommon by Tony Dungy – I was reminded of this phrase. The phrase was not specifically in the book but the chapter I section I was reading, ‘Lift your friends & others’ made me think of it. This section of the book spoke about friendship, mentoring and the power of positive influence. As I read, the picture that came to my mind was someone on fire and another person yelling at them to stop, drop and roll. But even more, they did not just yell the words but actually helped them perform the task. Yes, the person on fire got slightly burned but their life was saved.
As that picture lingered in my head, I wrote on the page I was reading the words, stop, drop and roll” with these words underneath – ‘stop, listen and care.‘ You see, all around us – every day – we see people ‘on fire’ – stressed out, burnt out, anxious, hurting, etc.. and we do nothing. We see the fire (or possibly the potential of fire) and think to ourselves, that is not our issue or if they need help, they will ask. Ever seen a person on fire – they typically are not asking for help but rather running around frantically trying to put it out. They need help, period. What if we decided to ‘stop, listen and care.’ A person may get slightly burned but it could save their marriage, their career, their health – literally their life. Now, I know you may be thinking – I cannot stop, listen and care for every person I see that I think may be ‘on fire.’ True, you cannot stop for every person but let me ask you a question: when is the last time you did stop, listen and care? And I did not say you had to give them money, let them live with you, meet with them weekly or anything else. But what I did say was that you probably could: (1) Stop: take the time to notice if someone is on fire (2) Listen: be present with the person in front of you once you stop (3) Care: figure out what you can and can not do to help.
People are burning alive. Are you (and I) willing to stop, listen and care so they can stop, drop and roll? And let’s be honest – in our social media crazy – phone always in our hands – quite distracted society – just our ability and willingness to stop and listen may be all the care we have to give.

Be Uncommon

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Currently, I am reading Tony Dungy’s book ‘Uncommon’ – you can find it here.  As I am reading, many things are standing out to me but one stood out to me today that seemed to resonate deeply. It is this: to be uncommon is to be ordinary but available. Did you catch that – ordinaryavailable…that makes you uncommon!
In the world we find ourselves today – do we not fall into the trap of common – doing what everyone else does – having the latest gadgets no matter the cost – staying ‘super-busy’ running from event to event. It seems that being stressed, tired and frustrated are the common traits of the day. To be uncommon – many think they have to climb the ladder of success – win the ‘big game’ – make lots of money – do something no one else has ever done and there is nothing wrong with any of those in and of themselves but who are you trying to be – that is the question. What if being uncommon is as simple as being yourself?
Today – more than any other time in history – we have a identity crisis – people have no idea who they are (and no – for those who are wondering – I am not speaking to the transgender debate). We have a deep-down-to-to-core misunderstanding of who we are and what we were created for. We try to be something different – something like the person we see on TV – or maybe like the popular kid – we try to be anything and everything but end up being – well, common. Our identity should be rooted and grounded in that fact that we were made uniquely, wonderfully and for a purpose. We have lost that perspective – we think we are made by accident and click around for the next viral hit hoping it gives us purpose. Can we stop? Can we stop comparing ourselves to other people and just be ourselves – our unique-wonderful-ordinary self. You see – we are all the same but what makes us uncommon is coupling our ordinary self with being available. In our perceived busy-ness we are often unavailable to lend a hand – to listen – to care or maybe worse yet – we are right in front of the person (I think of my kids) and we are unavailable b/c – dare I say it – we are staring at a electronic device. Yikes! Take a breath – pause – and realize our ordinary selves are fairly awesome – I mean, come on – there is only one uniquely-created, wonderfully-crafted, purposely-positioned you. Yes, you may be ordinary yet you matter greatly. As you let that become a foundational reality; take the time to be available. But a small word of caution – make sure in being available you do not become over-extended, stressed and as common as you were before.
Let’s sum this up: Be your unique, ordinary self — Be available – Be uncommon!

Transformed or just an experience

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How many experiences do we have that truly transform us – truly shift our thinking, attitudes or life? Maybe more than we think but just don’t recognize it or take the time, attention and intention it would take to act upon that experience. As I was reading this morning, I was struck by the conversion of Saul to Paul. You can read it in Acts 9 if you would like but here is the jest. Saul was an enemy to Christians – persecuting the church and even killing believers – and then while traveling one day (the Damascus road) – he encountered Christ in a powerful way – Saul was knocked to the ground and blinded. Woah! That is certainly an experience. What would Saul do with this experience? Would he allow it to transform him or remain the same? Did he have a choice? I think so b/c we always have a choice. I think he could have let the experience be just that – an experience that was cool – ok, supernatural and kept on doing what he was doing. But he choose to let the experience transform him – his life – the entire church as we know it. And most of us know the remainder of the story – Saul – who once persecuted the church – was renamed Paul and become a servant & lover of the church. A singular transformation that is still transforming others today!
Now, as I am thinking about this, I thought how many times we like Saul – persecute the church – not physically killing people but our words and/or actions have often spoke negative & hurtful thing about the church. That church does this – this church does that -music is too loud – pastor speaks too long – did you see what so and so were doing – you know what I am speaking of – our words/action wound, hurt and cut deep. And as I sat that wondering, I thought – have we had a road to Damascus experience but we did not recognize it or we did not let it transform us. Have we let our experience with Christ change our name (identity) so we become a servant and lover of the church? And something else I thought about was this – an encounter with Christ changed Saul to Paul. His encounter did not necessarily change the circumstances around him nor did it change the people inside the church (or outside for that matter) – the experience transformed Paul and then that started transforming others.
As I mentioned this to a friend – in his wisdom (thanks JR) – he replies, ‘The validity of Pauls’ experience was that he was not looking for it. Quite opposite actually. If you head out on some walk looking for transformation the potential to taint the experience with preconceived outcomes is very high. Not that you should not go on the journey but go in the proper way looking for God not a prescribed way (process) to find God.” And I thought – how true. We often here a story of great transformation and think how can I recreate that so I can be transformed too. Guess what – that is not your story. Oh, but you have one! Question is – will you let your own road to Damascus experience transform you or will it be just an experience? Will you let a singular transformational experience start transforming so much more than just yourself? Choice is yours…

Everyday kind of Love

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Helen Keller stated, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” I was reminded of that quote as I listened to this song (This Love) and part of the song sings, “…it is an everyday kind of love…” That got me to thinking. Love is not just for the “big moments” of life but also (maybe even-more-so) for the everyday – mundane moments that seem so insignificant yet they are what makes life move forward. Without the everyday kind of love – there would be no love for those crazy big moments we give ourselves to. As I was thinking about how an everyday kind of love would play out during my week, I came up with a daily list so thought I would share. You can use my list or better yet, make your own. It really doesn’t matter how you do it but what absolutely matters is that you do it – that you give yourself to an everyday kind of love that will forever impact those around you.

Monday: Meditate on a verse
Tuesday: Tell my children I love them
Wednesday: Text friend/family to encourage them
Thursday: Be present with my kids
Friday: Thank God for His goodness
Saturday: Enjoy play. Laugh more.
Sunday: Hug my wife

As you can see, the list is very simple and in reality I do each of these items multiple times during the week. It is not an exhaustive list of what I do or could do but it is a reminder to me. A reminder that an everyday kind of love should be intentional, practical and part of my normal routine. . And guess what – as it becomes normal – it will be your  everyday kind of love that changes the world!

The Healing Way

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Leo Buscaglia wrote, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” I was reading the other day and the author of this devotional mentioned Jesus healed others in two primary ways: (1) By his touch (2) By his words. His hands and/or his speech affected everyone he encountered. Do you realize that your touch and words have an effect on others. Question is: are they ‘the healing way?’
In 1908, J. Madison Taylor, MD said, “No single therapeutic agent can be compared in efficiency with this familiar but perfect tool…the human hand.” Your hands – your touch, when used appropriately – have the power to touch the soul. Think about it – a hug, a pat on the back, holding hands, a high five, hands lifted up in prayer- whatever the mode of touch – your hands reach out to touch others around you. And that touch brings healing.
Y. Berg wrote, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” Your mouth – your words, when used appropriately – have the power to touch the soul. Think about it – a compliment, a thank you, an intimate conversation, a prayer – whatever the mode of speech – your words go forth and impact those around you.
Jesus stated: ‘I am the way…’ and ‘…that we could do greater things than him’ – I believe that speaks to our collective ability to impact the world on a day by day – moment by moment – individual by individual basis but this truth remains – if we are to do the greater, we must walk in ‘the way’ – the healing way!
“Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.” Ps. 63:3-4