Thursday, January 25, 2024

Jesus Is Looking For More Beggars

Every January our ministry hosts her annual board meetings in Arizona; and, last weekend those meetings cycled around once more. 

In fact, it's been thirty-one years of such cycling!

Prior to these gatherings, I work, work, work (as does my assistant, Allison) to compile all the reports each member will need, in order to pray over and discern God's "Best Yes" for FOCUS Ministries in the coming new year. 

Much of what the board requires from us runs parallel to what my accountant expects for tax purposes, so all tax-documentation is gathered at the same time and delivered in early January...

...AND, at the same time, the end-of-year receipting for our donors also comes due. 

This pile-up happens regularly as I've come to anticipate.

What I don't expect, however, and what always catches me by surprise is the incredible generosity of our donor base. 

Every (!) Single (!) Year (!) I am humbled at the out-pouring of gifts to FOCUS Ministries (which keeps "us" in FOCUS), along with their words of encouragement and prayer. 

So, as I handed out our annual budget report, showed the board our 2023 P & L documentation, this reality simply overwhelms me time and time again.

(Proverbs 25:11. This verse has always been our hearts prayer for those who are a part of our donor base...)

I never cease to be ABSOLUTELY STUNNED at the goodness of God as He puts our ministry in the hearts and minds of folks to give... 

(side note: this blog is not a ploy for giving to FOCUS Ministries, it is simply me reflecting on the grace of God and His generosity). 

As I've given thanks to the Lord, and written such to our donors, my mind keeps conjuring up snippets from the following verse and I've gone back to look at it:

Now we make known to you, brothers and sisters, the grace of God given to the churches of Macedonia, that during a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity. For I testify, they gave according to their means and beyond their means. They did so voluntarily, begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints. They did this...because they gave of themselves first to the Lord, and, then, to us...

2 Corinthians 8:1-5, NET

Now read the same verses in
The Message paraphrase:

Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.

This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us.

What descriptive words that give us a picture into the heart of committed, Jesus-followers, who have "given of themselves first to the Lord," and, walk in deep understanding of GOSPEL-GRACE!

These Macedonian men and women had given themselves unabashedly and unashamedly to the Lord, fully surrendered to do His will, because of what He had done for them (BTW, this should be a typical response to the gospel).

In fact, the gospel meant so much to the Macedonian churches, that in spite of their suffering and their poverty, they were incredibly full of joy; 

...and, when our joy is full, generosity also flows.

It seems to hold true:

The greater the joy, the greater the generosity.


Because this kind of joy isn't stifled by scarcity...

In fact, these folks were so full of joy, it caused them to BEG EARNESTLY and PLEAD for the privilege of helping others in need.

Did you catch those two words in bold print as you read the verse? 

I can't help but ask this question: 

When was the last time I begged to financially help out other believers?

In fact, have I ever?

Truth is my attitude may fall somewhere between begging to give and giving "grudgingly and under compulsion." 


Frequently, I see beggars on street corners asking for money. 

Never once has there been an enthusiastic "beggar" stopping cars pleading to give money away.

The thought makes me chuckle as I ponder it (and, no,  I'm not suggesting we should). 

Yet, what a world-changing-dynamic, if more of us who have unreservedly given our hearts to the Lord, gave to the needs of others, starting in our own churches, then going beyond. 

Oh, how attractive Jesus would be to the lost who observed us earnestly pleading and"giving of our own means and more!"

Such sacrificial love might turn enough heads, they'd say, "Oh, how they love one another! Whatever it is they have, I want it!"

Yep, this morning, I'm thinking, Jesus is looking for more beggars among His ranks!

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Sunbeams, Memories, and Joy.

This has been a week filled with memory.

On Sunday, Bay spoke at Burton Baptist Church, which his grandfather (a missionary to the cowboys of Northern Arizona) helped to start back in 1927. 

I took a picture of him behind the very same pulpit his grampa preached from in those days.

Many of the older folks remember Fred Barnes (whom Bay is also named after) and shared several stories that left us grinning. 

On Monday, we drove down the hill to the Valley, stopping at my brother and sister-in-laws' home in Sun City for a mini-Barnes family reunion with siblings and cousins and spouses who were in town. 

Again, the memories flowed, leaving us all laughing over the past.

On Tuesday, I gathered with seven dear friends from college days. There's a lot of "past" behind us, over 40 years (& more for some who were even childhood friends). 

So much history, so many warm memories; and, the laughter filled my soul.

However, as Bay and I drove to Arizona on Saturday, he reminded me of a memory I'd tucked away in a filing cabinet somewhere in the far recesses of my mind. 

I'm not even sure what brought it up in our conversation; yet, this memory looms larger than all the others shared over the week, and has been on repeat when my mind is quiet.

About 30 miles outside of Nairobi (Kenya), in Thika District, is a primary school for children who are disabled, called Joytown. 

Joytown was founded by a Salvation Army missionary back in 1962, with the purpose of providing resources and rehabilitation to the physically disabled, that they might be enabled to walk and/or gain skills that would help them live self-reliant lives (information from their website). 

Our friend Dr. Dick Bransford (1940-2022) frequently visited to provide medical services literally changing lives of hundreds of children. 

(pictures from the Joytown website)

Dick specialized in spina bifida, club feet, polio and other congenital handicaps; so, Joytown was dear to his heart. 

Now and then, he would take one of us along with him.

Somewhere, I've still held onto pictures of Adam playing soccer there as a youngster. He's "kicking" the ball around with a group of boys, many of whom are on crutches and even in wheel chairs. This, too, is a sweet memory I cherish.

But, I have a personal memory, as well. 

It's a snapshot stuck in my heart of a one-day visit. 

In an early education classroom, the teacher pulled us aside to say the students had asked if they could share a song. 

I looked around this overcrowded room filled with kiddos being taught in fairly primitive conditions. 

Every student held in common their particular medical issue, and, mutually shared one more thing - bright, smiling, enthusiastic spirits, ready to give from their hearts to ours this sweet gift.

Those who could stood.

Right in front of me, however, sat a sweet girl in her wheel chair.

She'd been born without legs or arms, yet she sang with gusto, more than any of the other students.


At the top of her lungs.

Her brown eyes huge, her smile reaching up and pulling on those very eyes as she sang, 

"Jesus wants me for a sunbeam / to shine for Him each day. / In every way try to please Him / at home, at school, at play..."

(Sunbeam: a ray of sun light; may be used to describe a beam of sun light that shines brightly and happily...)

Oh! My! Word! was she ever a sunbeam (🌞) and she lit the entire room!

This precious girl, in spite of her difficulty, and in spite of issues that wouldn't be perfected til she entered heaven's gates, held a joy inside of her that spilled over to every one of us.

Somehow she'd caught hold of an understanding of the gospel in such a way that it lived through her. 

She didn't manufacture gratitude, she personified gratitude with joy, and spritzed it every where her wheelchair took her.

And, I?

I left humbled. 

Maybe it's why I tucked the memory so far to the back behind other memories...

I'm not sure I've grasped the gospel quite so well. 

With all my years lived, education, physical health, opportunity, and "ability," there are still moments I don't necessarily want to be a sunbeam.

There are still times my smile doesn't reach my eyes and I have no gift of song to offer.

There are times when the gospel isn't allowed to live through me. 

This week, though, the Lord has reminded me He is THE LIGHT of the world and when I follow Him I am to shine the same light (John 8:12).

In fact, He told His disciples: 

Not to be hidden under frustration, anger or frowns.

Not to be covered up with a bushel of complaints.

Not to be placed under a basket of bitterness.


We're to sit at the front of the room, singing loudly, letting our light shine for the glory of God...

IN SPITE OF...well, whatever the circumstances!

What a memory and what a reminder!

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Hearing Hints

From early on, God ordained new beginnings in the form of new months and new years.

January's our month.

For me, this first month of our new year is typically a time of reflection. 

I'm fairly certain this is true of most folks (even those who left Egypt and found themselves floundering a bit).

We can't help looking back as we tie up loose ends from the previous year and put a period or exclamation mark at the end.

 However, in the case of some I've spoken with recently, the more accurate punctuation might be a question mark…

For those of you who find this to be true, may I remind you that the question you raise matters in the long run:

(thank you to the Instagram-world for this reminder)

With this said, more than looking back, I tend to point my toes in a forward-direction; and, ask: What can I do to be more prepared for what might come my way around the next turn?

That's what makes new-months-in-new-years the perfect time for a Re-Set (which also happens to be the theme I picked back in November for a conference where I'll be sharing this next month). 

Just yesterday, Bay and I discussed the importance of being certain that we hear God's voice as we make decisions that will affect the months to come.

The conversation raised yet another thought I began to ponder through the rest of the afternoon and can I prepare myself to truly hear His still small voice, and not just blindly wander about, trying this and that, hoping I stumble on His good and perfect will?

Once more, I doubt I'm alone in those simple things that swirl around in my brain.

In the reflecting, I thought about Ananias (Jehovah-is-Gracious), the man the Lord asked to go to Paul following his Damascus-Road-Experience.  Please read the story here from Acts 9:10-18: Ananias' Call

As I read that passage, I asked myself if there were any Girl-Scout-type-hints to be found, because 1) sometimes I think I might be hearing God's voice, but tend to dismiss those thoughts as my own imaginations; and, 2) out of all the "voices" I hear calling my name during the course of the day (from laundry to dishes to bookkeeping), how do I pick out God's voice among them?

Yep, the Lord unveiled a few pointers in that pretty incredible story!

There are two hints in the first verse (above), and those are the only two on which I am still chewing:

1) The first descriptor of Ananias is "disciple." Those who lived in Damascus KNEW THIS to be true. It goes without saying, Ananias was considered by all to be a follower of Jesus, walking in His footsteps, committed to learning how to live life by imitating the Teacher/Master. 

This means, Ananias had a habit of seeking the Lord, no doubt through spiritual disciplines that were common in the early church. These disciplines included fasting, praying, sitting under the teaching/mentoring of others (maybe he was a teacher), memorization, sharing of one's faith, giving, and most of all - 

- Reading (!) from the history, the law, the poetry, the prophets...and not just reading...marinating on the Word, studying it, practically applying it. Remember this - meditation and memorization were popular disciplines of the early church since the Scriptures were only on scrolls in the temple.

I know Ananias did these things, because in Acts 22:12 it says:


As I researched the word "devout," the definition contained a lot of good information. Here's what stuck with me:

Ananias didn't just take hold of the law*, the law took hold of Ananias.

(*The law is equivalent to THE WRITTEN WORD OF THE LORD...)

Truth seized the heart of Ananias and he learned to appropriate it unto himself.

What Ananias read, he carried out (& according to the Greek prefix of this word - he did so REALLY WELL).

Wow! I have had to stop and ask myself if this is true of me? I can read the Word til Kingdom comes, but if I don't let it take hold of me, I can never truly be transformed by it. I must give it space to renew my mind and direct my path. Ananias had learned how to do this.

2) The last six words of Acts 9:10 speak volumes. "Here I am, Lord," he said.

"Here I am, Lord..."

These are my favorite four words in all of Scripture, which translate from Greek down to one Hebrew word I consider my favorite: 


Oh, how I long for a "hineni-heart."

I've blogged on it before (a quick search will bring those entries up). The word literally means, "I'm here and I'm ready for action." 

Hineni is a ready response from one who has heard the voice of God before and is humble, ready, submitted, willing, and available to do whatever the Lord asks.

A statement of such magnitude doesn't come from hearing the voice of God one time and doing the BIG THING...

Ananias began with little obediences, quick obediences, from other times of paying attention...from morning and evening praying, "Sh'ma, O Israel..." and meaning it from the depths of his heart. 

Ananias had learned to trust the Lord, his One True God, and because he had, the Lord trusted Ananias to be His messenger.

(P.S. God trusted Ananias to carry His message to the man who would become one of the greatest of God's messengers. What an example he set for Paul.)

Second application question: am I learning to obey God in the obvious, little things He asks of me, that He might trust me with the bigger asks along the way?

I'll only become an Ananias as I spend time in God's Word (meditating and applying) and having a ready available heart to do His will.

PS. Some commentators argue that Ananias was a reluctant-obeyer, because he questioned God. I, rather, argue that this part of the story points to the intimate friendship Ananias had with the Lord, for he knew he could ask God for clarification, if needed...and, who wouldn't want clarification with what Ananias was being asked to do. 

Thursday, January 4, 2024

What Might You Do With a Paint Can and a Roller Brush?

Something random popped up this past week that had me recalling the years I spent as Dean of Women at Arizona Christian University. 

It shocks me to think I've been away from that position for as long as I held the job! 

(Am I really ten years older? Mirror check: YEP!)

I dearly loved my team, the students, and what I saw as ministry (foremost). 

As the women's dean, I spent a lot of my time with the girls in what I lovingly called "intense discipleship."

I wore many hats: 

Discipline / Accountability 😉

Leadership Training 

Hospital Runs

Chapel Speaking

Dress-code Monitoring 😳

Devotional Writing (in fact, this blog was birthed out of that aspect of my job); and, 

Pancake Flipping (generally at midnight).

However, the majority of my day was spent mentoring young women, which often felt like counseling (a rose by any other name...).

Funny, how this week, at the beginning of a new year, two of my gals reached out to me through social media to ask some questions that might help them with a "re-set."

I'm honored they thought of me...yet....

While I hold a master's degree in counseling, I still don't feel qualified, nor have I ever felt effective in that particular role.

I have other counselor-friends who are GREAT at this job. 

I'm not one, however, who seems to be able to guide others through the past messes in their lives and direct them in the present.

If that's what the girls needed, I generally sent them to someone else. 

The counseling / discipleship / mentoring I excelled in had little to do with looking backward, and had everything to do with looking forward. 

I wasn't the one who could help unravel the tangled up past, but I could point my girls to a pristine, clean-slate, fresh, untarnished, bright future. 

What a great way to use what they'd learned and allow God to redeem their past experiences, by starting anew with anticipation.

I recognized, pretty quickly, my "brand" of guidance looked much more like offering hope; and...


Since, here we sit, still on the cusp of a brand new beginning, it seems like a perfect time to address this very thing; because that's what a New Year offers.


We still have 361 more days of blank pages just waiting for us, and a new chapter in the book of our lives to be written. 

(Personally, I want to sit spellbound with the expectation that stirs in my heart!)

You and I, we get to determine how our tomorrows will play out - one step at a time, one decision at a time, one minute at a time...

Are we going to let the past define the future?

Is the current issue that seems to overwhelm holding us captive? 

Will we let the "taskmasters" in our heads continue to dictate what tomorrow will look like? One more depressing day after another...

We've been given a choice:

We can let our lives shrink to the size of our past and current problems, or we can look ahead to the HUGE, amazing journey God has set before us and live it to the fullest. 

It's no wonder that the Apostle Paul called his troubles "light and momentary;" he always set his face looking forward to his tomorrows, and the vast expanse of it all called him to make every moment count.

In comparison to all that the Lord has for us down the road, I totally understand those words "light and momentary" (even if they don't feel like it at the time).

This is why Jeremiah 29:11-12 is still a favorite passage:

God has a plan for us.

His plans are for our good. In fact, His GOOD SPIRIT leads us (Ps 143:10).

If we seek Him, wholeheartedly, through prayer on our life's journey, He promises us His presence; and...

In His presence is fulness of joy (Psalm 16:11b) in spite of the storms about us, and (one more thing)...

Ahead of us is NOTHING BUT HOPE.

In this regard, I take note the following verse that refers to the Saints of old, they all "looked forward with anticipation (Hebrews 11:9)..."

They didn't settle in the Land-That-Was; but, they focused on the Land-Beyond, where everything holds a completely different appeal.  Oh, that I / we would do the same...

I love this quote I read recently - it fits well with what I'd love for us to grasp in 2024:

"It's easy to let the hurts and slights of yesterday, like an unruly child coloring on the walls, mar all our days. What would happen if, instead, we let our future loose with a roller and a paint can?"

-Mark Buchanan-

So, go grab some paint (& pick a fun color)...

...then, let that roller loose as you live in the hope of your bright, unblemished tomorrow!

As I close, these words are a perfect commentary on the tomorrows ahead, and why it's so good to focus forward:

Our God has more to give us. He has more promises to keep. He has more of Himself to show us. He has more invitations for us to enjoy. He has more...  Anticipating more...

-Becky Dietz- 

He is the God of so much more!