September 17, 2014
FIRST-PERSON: It's all about focus
Judy Woodward Bates
Posted on Sep 4, 2013

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DORA, Ala. (BP) -- Few would argue that Amon was among the worst of Judah's kings. He was so hated, in fact, that "Amon's own officials conspired against him and assassinated him in his palace" (2 Chronicles 33:24). And yet his son Josiah proved to be one of Judah's best kings.

Scripture tells us, "Josiah was 8 years old when he became king.... During the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, Josiah began to seek the God of his father David" (2 Chronicles 34:1, 3). While Amon had kept his heart and mind on pleasing himself, young Josiah sought to please the Lord.

The debate about nurture over nature has been going on for centuries, but in my humble opinion, the whole thing can be boiled down to one word: focus. While Amon sought self-satisfaction through possessions, power and tyranny, Josiah looked for fulfillment beyond himself and learned that the only true satisfaction was in serving Jehovah.

There have been several high-profile trials in recent years, many of which involved horrific crimes and were perpetrated by people whose childhoods were horror stories within themselves. In every case, their attorneys argued that their clients' upbringing made it impossible for them to be anything but what they'd become. The Bible repeatedly refutes that kind of thinking.

Take my friend Tom, for example. His only memories of his father involve hearing his mother's screams as he cowered in their tiny shack's only closet. The day his dad left for good was a relief to Tom and his mother.

For several years, his mom, uneducated and with no family to fall back on, did her best to keep them in food, clothes and shelter, but things were always rocky and the two went to bed hungry on many occasions.

Then came the day 14-year-old Tom came home from school and found a note and a $20 bill on the kitchen table. His mother stated that she'd be gone a few days and for Tom to use the money for whatever he needed until she got back. That was the last he ever heard from her.

Tom was terrified that ending up in an orphanage or foster care would mean leaving his school where he had excelled in all his classes. So what did he do? He went to a man who owned a nearby auto repair service and told him what had happened and how he wanted to be able to stay in the area.

The man hired Tom to work after school and weekends and promised to keep Tom's family situation a secret. He paid Tom a small salary and provided him with a room and bath in back of the garage.

Four years later, Tom graduated at the top of his class, earning a full scholarship to a small four-year college. There Tom applied himself just as diligently to his studies and a part-time job and graduated with a degree in business management.

"Until I was in college, I didn't darken the door of a church," Tom said. "I was too afraid some well-meaning person might report me to the state welfare. But I prayed and I studied my Bible and I put my faith in Jesus Christ to help me. And He never once disappointed me."

Today Tom and his wife Carmen teach fifth grade Bible study at their church and own a highly successful business in a major southeastern city. Tom is known by all his employees as a tough but fair boss.

"Laziness doesn't cut it with me. Excuses don't cut it with me. I'll help anyone I can when he's down," Tom said, "but I won't allow anybody to use his past as an excuse for his present.

"Life gave me a boatload of excuses for not making it, but by keeping my focus on Jesus Christ, I grew to know that, through Him, I could do anything I needed to do to make a success of my life."
Judy Woodward Bates, an author, speaker and TV personality, is on the Web at Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( and in your email (
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