Friday, March 25, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Opinions

This week I read a blog post with a disturbing title: Why You Shouldn't Read the Bible in a Year. The author gave several reasons why he thought it was a bad idea to rush through the Bible in a year just because it's on your Bucket List. 

The post made me pause, because a friend and I have been reading The One Year Bible (NIV) this year. For a second, I thought about scrapping my daily readings. Maybe he was right, I reasoned. Sometimes my eyes glaze over when I'm reading about how many men are in each of the tribes of Israel or how to deal with various skin diseases. Maybe I should be spending my time on the parts that are more applicable to my life now.

It didn't take me long to come to my senses again. It is a good thing to read through the Bible in a year! That blog post was someone's opinion and I don't have to change my reading habits just because he feels like he can't, or shouldn't, read the Bible in a year.

I have read the Bible all the way through many times. Sometimes I've done it in a year, sometimes I've gone more slowly. In my humble opinion, I think every Christian needs to read the entire Bible at some point. It contains God's words to us. Sure, some parts are confusing (and some parts are a little boring, I know) but there's something special about knowing you've read every word of the book that teaches, challenges, and encourages us in our faith.

It's been quite a few years since I read the Bible all the way through, that's why I decided to do it again this year. I can't help how the blog writer feels about my goal. Maybe he's super busy, or maybe he's lazy, or maybe...I don't know. I can't judge him. I can only decide what I'm going to do this year. I have enough time. I haven't done it for a while. I'm going to read it. I'm also studying some parts so that I get even more out of it. 

As far as other opinions go, I'm sure all of you have noticed strong opinions in the world around you. Politicians, news people, friends, relatives, enemies, strangers...everyone has their own opinion about everything.

How do we live among others who don't have the same opinions we do? Very carefully. We stand firm on the things that matter and we show grace in the areas that don't. This is especially difficult because there are so many different opinions about what matters and what doesn't. 

The whole chapter of Romans 14 deals with different opinions and the importance of not judging others. Of course, we must agree on the essentials of the faith (and what a perfect day - this Good Friday - to remember that one of those essentials is the belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for all of our sins and make us righteous before God!) but on matters that are not essential, there is room for many different opinions. 

I can feel strongly about something and not apologize for it, but I also need to be kind and tactful if I choose to share that opinion with others. I don't have to bully or ridicule someone when their opinion doesn't match mine - even in the essentials.

"Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters....So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin." (Romans 14:1, 22-23 NIV)

Do you have strong opinions or are you easily swayed by what others think? How can focusing on God help you to stand firm in your opinions and yet show love to those who don't agree with you?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Details

I've always been pretty good at catching typos and grammatical errors in the things I'm reading. I notice missed apostrophes, misspelled words, and incorrect homophones (your/you're, they're/their/there, it's/its). 

About a year ago I read an advanced copy of a book written by a fellow writers conference attendee and I noticed some errors. I offered to send them to her by email so she could correct them in the final version of the book. I sent what I'd found in the first part and she was surprised at what I'd found. "You have a good eye for this," she wrote. She said it was helpful and offered to pay me something. "Oh no, that's okay," I declined. I told her I just wanted to help and I'd never edited anything before so I didn't want to get paid. When I finished, I was proud of the work I'd done and realized I had really enjoyed it.

Several months later, I noticed quite a few errors in an ebook written by another friend. I offered to edit it for him and he was thrilled. He offered to pay me, and told me how much he was thinking. I was shocked at the amount and started to protest. "No," he said, "The cheapest I could find out in California was $1200, so this is much less than that." I said I'd see how long it actually took and we'd decide later on an amount. I took his book and started to edit it, but it didn't seem to be as much fun when I knew someone was going to pay me for my work. All of a sudden I was worried about missing a typo. I doubted my ability. I edited part of it and then set it aside for a couple of months, feeling guilty every time I saw it. I kept apologizing to my friend when I saw him, but I didn't work on it. Finally, I got it out one day and realized that I was about halfway done. I took it to Florida with me and finished the job. He is going to pay me, I charged him a little less than the generous amount he originally offered.

I recently started editing his second book. I don't plan to take nearly as much time with this one. My confidence is growing and it's becoming fun again. I could see myself taking on more editing jobs in the future.

This experience has caused me to notice some things about myself that I don't like. I think I tend to procrastinate and put things off when I feel pressure to perform or if I'm worried about doing something wrong or disappointing someone. I can have fun if I'm just doing something for myself (writing, playing piano or guitar, volunteering my time for some project) but I get stressed out when I get paid to do something. 

Ooh! All of a sudden I flash back to when I had to quit teaching Spanish a couple of years ago because I got sick from all of the pressure I put on myself to make sure the kids liked me (some didn't) and that I was doing it "right" (I couldn't). It makes more sense now.

Noticing typos in a book or newspaper is great, but noticing every flaw in myself just keeps me stuck in a very frustrating place. Why do I do that? I encourage others and I don't hold their flaws against them, but I tend to beat myself up about my flaws daily.

Sorry, this week's post seems to be more of a therapeutic journal entry, but maybe it can help someone else notice a similar tendency. We all have to do our best, but when we make a mistake we need to brush it off and move on, not focus on it and stay stuck because we're afraid we'll do it again.

We can't drive a car well if we are focused on the hood ornament. Sure as anything, we'll end up in the ditch if we're that focused on our own vehicle. We also don't stare at things along the road or next to us, otherwise we'll start to veer in that direction. No, we look way out ahead of us, don't we? With our peripheral vision we notice side traffic, our own vehicle's path, pedestrians waiting to cross the street, and traffic coming toward us. Looking ahead allows us to keep our vehicle between the lines and make progress as we drive along.

I'm beginning to suspect that it might be that way in life as well. If we're just focused on ourselves we'll probably crash. We need to look out ahead. We need to have one focal point. Could that focal point be God? With our eyes fixed on Him, we can move forward, noticing ourselves and those around us, but not focusing on any one thing so much that we veer off course and wind up in the ditch.

"...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1b-2 NIV)

Do you tend to focus on too many details? How can focusing on God help you to move forward instead of staying stuck as you notice your own flaws?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Fifty

"Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored." (Titus 2:3-5)

I can remember reading these verses for a Bible study when we lived back in Rock Rapids, Iowa. I was newly married and I definitely considered myself one of the "young women" in our group. I looked around at the gray haired ladies in our group and soaked in all they had to say about life, parenting, and marriage.

I still feel very much like that young, insecure girl quite often. I feel like everyone else knows what they're doing, but I'm just playing house. I still need to learn from ladies who are older than I am. They have so much to teach me.

This past Sunday I celebrated a special birthday. I turned (gulp) fifty! It was a nice day, full of cards and expressions of love from my friends and family. No big party or anything, but lots of little things to make the day special. 

Since then, though, I have found myself being startled by a random thought every once in a while. "My life is half over!" And then I think a little more and realize it's probably more than half over because not everyone makes it to 100 years old. That's sobering.

It doesn't depress me, but it does make me want to take stock of my life and make sure I'm doing what God has called me to do. I've been lots of places and accomplished quite a few things in my first fifty years, but I want to get more deliberate about accomplishing some more things on my bucket list before I kick the proverbial bucket.

I also realize that I'm one of the "older women" in those verses from Titus 2. I hope I'm encouraging younger women in their relationships even as I continue to learn from those older than me.

Whatever your age, you can keep learning from older Christians and look for younger people to encourage and teach. Don't stop until you drop!

"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12 NIV)

How old are you? How old do you feel? How can focusing on God help you to "number your days aright" and do what He has planned for you? How can you encourage someone younger than you?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Encouragement

We had a great youth group meeting the other night. It's always good to see our wonderful group of high schoolers, but this week's topic really stayed with me the rest of the week. (I hope it stayed with all of them, too.)

We talked about compliments and how encouraging they can be. First we watched this youtube video:

In the video, people were able to give and receive compliments right on the street. It was touching to hear the nice things they said about each other and how each person reacted.

We had a good discussion in youth group about how we give and receive compliments. Often we get embarrassed and want to protest when someone gives us a compliment. We don't want to seem proud, even though compliments can really encourage us. We fail to give compliments sometimes because we don't want someone to get a big head or we feel like things become awkward when we compliment someone.

As we talked, I mentioned that I like to encourage people and Abbie (you remember Dear Abbie, don't you?) was quick to say, "You're really good at that." I was surprised, but I didn't push the compliment aside. I smiled and said "Thank you." Her simple comment stayed with me and has encouraged me ever since then. It's nice to know that someone recognizes my efforts to encourage others, even though I often feel like I don't do it enough.

I hope the students thought about compliments and encouragement as they went to school the rest of the week. I hope they took a moment to say something nice to other students as they went about their day. 

There's a quote I think of often and it helps me to be more deliberate about encouraging others:

"One word or note brings more encouragement than a thousand thoughts never expressed."

We may miss the chance to compliment and encourage hundreds of people, but the times when we do take the time and make the effort to say something or write a little note can mean so much to the person we bless with our encouragement. Let's look for ways we can encourage others every day.

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." (I Thessalonians 5:11 NIV)

Are you good at complimenting and encouraging others? How can focusing on God help you to look for ways to encourage others with a kind word or note?

PS - As I write I think I've addressed this topic in another Focus Friday post. Forgive me for repeating myself, but I think it's a topic that's worth bringing up every once in a while. I'm going to turn 50 on Sunday, so I'm afraid I may start to repeat myself even more in the years ahead. You'll have to bear with me and just ignore me if I start to ramble.