Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Feelings Aren’t Truth- The Armor of God Week 2

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A few years ago one of my boys was going through a rough stage. The transition into middle school had not been  easy for him and intense emotional displays became the norm in our household. As I agonized over this with a friend one day, she gave me some advice: “Don’t ride the roller coaster with him.” I realized that every time he plummeted to the depths of discouragement, I had strapped myself in next to him to take the plunge. And every time he had a good day, I rode to the heights of excitement along with him. It was exhausting for me and not stabilizing for him.

Emotions are not a reliable guide. Like a roller coaster, they take us on a wild ride through a range of feelings, elevating us to dizzying heights of euphoria only to shift suddenly as they pick up speed heading to the bottom of a twisty curve. Like a thrill ride at an amusement park, they lure us in, only to leave us feeling queasy and off-balance in the end.

In The Armor of God Priscilla Shirer addresses the deception of emotions by explaining that feelings don’t have intellect, making them unreliable sources of information. Yet we often allow them to lead us as we make choices, don’t we? Instead of stepping back to examine our emotions under the light of biblical truth, we charge ahead with making decisions based on feelings alone. Sometimes we say “yes” to things that make us feel good in the moment, ignoring the long-term negative consequences. Other times we say “no” to things that would be beneficial for us just because we don’t feel like doing them.

Paul admonishes us to put on the belt of truth in Ephesians 6, but he explains the importance of this earlier in Ephesians 4. Let’s examine a few situations where lies fed by faulty emotions might counteract truth:

Lie #1: People Hurt My Feelings, So I’m Not Going to Invest in Them Anymore

Even in Christian groups, there are times when people hurt our feelings. We may feel excluded, unappreciated or overlooked, so we pull back and put up our defenses. Instead of letting an offense bounce off of us, we decide that we’re better off without certain people. In the process, we are also missing out on the good they have to offer and the things we could be learning through the  experience. Paul says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” (Ephesians 4:2-4, NIV)

Bearing with others in love for the sake of unity means that we need to work through our negative feelings about them. When we let our emotions make our decisions, we are being deceived.

Lie #2: Venting My Feelings is a Harmless Way to Process Them

 Since we’re talking about truth, I’ll be honest. There are times when we end up in situations with people we don’t prefer. Maybe it’s someone in your small group or a person serving alongside you in ministry. Anytime we encounter people, there is the potential for frustration. If we let our feelings lead us in these times, we are bound to make the situation worse.

It’s tempting to vent a frustration behind someone’s back. Sometimes it feels easier than praying. And it’s definitely easier than addressing the problem directly. Yet Scripture tells us, “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:25-27, NIV) If you’re in a frustrating situation, seeking wise counsel may be beneficial if you know the person will point you toward a biblical solution. However, venting about a problem just to complain magnifies it and taints your confidante’s perspective.  Try praying for gentleness, grace and good timing, then address the issue with the person who offended you. Another option is to decide to let it pass.  Then you have to get over it and move on without holding a grudge.

I can’t say it any more directly than Paul, Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29-32, NIV) Before venting your frustration, think about what you hope to accomplish by it and decide if it aligns with the truth of God’s Word.

Final Thought

Our emotions are unreliable and often deceptive. When we let them lead us negatively, they fracture relationships and bring discord to the body of believers. When we fixate on things that offend or annoy us, we fail to recognize the opportunities we have for personal growth. We also give the devil a foothold to lead us deeper into unhealthy attitudes and sinful decisions.

Every day we have the choice to follow our unreliable emotions or to listen and believe truth. Let that message sink in as you enjoy Casting Crowns’ song “The Voice of Truth.”

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Claiming Your Spiritual Authority- The Armor of God Part 1

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Studying the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20 helps us to recognize we are not powerless when under spiritual attack. But have you ever stopped to wonder why Satan has any power over us at all? Ever wondered how he got any authority in the first place? Have you ever considered what it took for God to get it back for us?

If you want to understand the bigger picture, put a bookmark in Ephesians and flip back to Genesis and the beginning of time. You’re probably familiar with the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3, but maybe you haven’t connected it with studying the Armor of God.

Just after creating Adam and Eve, God blessed them and said: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NIV)

In these statements, God gave Adam and Eve authority to rule over the world. They had the free will to choose to do things his way or to follow their own path. Although everything he had given them was good, it wasn’t long before Satan came in the form of a serpent and enticed Eve to doubt God. By tempting her to disobey, the crafty snake implied God might be withholding something desirable from her.

Here’s a portion of the story, starting with Satan convincing Eve to disobey God: “’God knows that when you eat from [the tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”(Genesis 3:5-7, NIV)

Although God remained the ultimate and sovereign authority, he allowed Adam and Eve to exercise their free will, even though it went against him. By choosing to disobey him, Adam and Eve gave away the authority he had given them at creation. Sadly, they were too naïve to understand the consequences. They failed to realize that everything under their authority would fall when they fell. Their actions brought a curse on all of creation and gave Satan authority over all that God had given them.

Many years later, when Jesus was just beginning his earthly ministry, Satan showed his legitimate authority over the earth when he tempted Jesus: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” (Luke 4:5-7, NIV)

In this encounter, Jesus retraced Adam and Eve’s footsteps to the point of temptation. However, instead of giving in to it, he chose obedience to God and refused Satan. During his life on earth, he set aside his nature as God so that he could live as a human: “[Jesus] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  As the only sinless man, he willingly paid the debt for the sins of humankind: “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8, NIV)

When God resurrected Jesus from death, Satan was defeated and stripped of his authority: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, NIV)

Jesus returned us to the original place of authority for which we were created. He was there when Satan fell from heaven at the beginning and he restored what was lost in the Garden of Eden through his death and resurrection. He said to his disciples: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” (Luke 10:18-19, NIV)

Although Satan has temporary authority until Christ’s return, we have power through Jesus to overcome the enemy every day. There is no need to fear. Ultimately, we can rest in the knowledge that God will keep the promise he made to Eve when he said her offspring would eventually crush the serpent’s head (see Genesis 3:15). The apostle Paul reminds us of this saying: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20a, NIV)

If you are a follower of Jesus, God has given you spiritual authority. It is yours to claim, if you choose. Knowing how to use his authority requires diligent study and application of God’s Word. Priscilla Shirer’s The Armor of God is a great way to awaken to this amazing truth. When you apply what you learn, you’ll unleash God’s rule and reign in your life, you’ll combat the enemy and you’ll impact others for God’s kingdom.

For a reminder of God’s greatness and how it affects us, click on the link and enjoy Phil Wickham’s song “Your Love Awakens Me.”

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Overcoming Ignorance and Fear About Spiritual Warfare

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Calling him careless would be an understatement. Nolan was a blonde-haired ball of energy that entered my son’s class in second grade. He was new to our neighborhood but immediately joined our daily walks to school. Most mornings, he careened toward us on a pair of oversized Rollerblades that he could barely control. Oblivious to danger, he would speed and swerve into the middle of the street, never bothering to check for cars first. More often than not, a vehicle would stop suddenly to avoid hitting him. But no matter how many times we warned him, Nolan’s cavalier attitude never seemed to change.

Contrasting this careless behavior, there was a time not long ago when I was the opposite of Nolan. I’d recently recovered from a bike accident and after a three month recovery and hours of physical therapy, I fretted about getting back on my bike. Everything felt like a potential hazard. The curb, a patch of gravel or a car parked on the side of the road all seemed menacing. Each one caused my heart to race with fear, threatening to topple me from my bike and leave me in a crumpled heap on the pavement.

These stories of carelessness and hyper-vigilance make great metaphors showing the reactions people have to the topic of spiritual warfare. For many, the subjects of Satan, evil spirits and the realms of darkness are too much to fathom. Whether they evoke fear, cynicism or discomfort, there are people who would rather ignore the whole topic. Like Nolan on his Rollerblades, they remain blissfully ignorant, assuming that what they refuse to acknowledge can’t hurt them. This posture leaves them open to attack and unaware of the spiritual authority they have through Jesus.

The other extreme are people who over-spiritualize every situation. They attribute any mishap or problem in their lives to spiritual attack. Like my paranoia when I returned to biking, they believe Satan is lurking around every corner ready to pounce and destroy them.   These people are often fearful and see God and Satan as having equal amounts of spiritual authority on opposite ends of the spectrum of good and evil. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The idea of unseen realms and forces of evil makes some of us squirm, but learning about it is vital if we want to continue growing spiritually. The spirit world is real and pretending like it isn’t won’t make it go away.

The most important thing you need to understand about this topic is that Jesus has already won the war– Satan does not have equal power to God. Through Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection, he paid the penalty for sin, thus claiming victory over Satan. (I’ll explain this further in my next blog). In Ephesians, we learn how “we can actually receive and experience tangible, long-term effects of this victory in our practical everyday living.” (The Armor of God, p. 25)  Paul’s letter explains the spiritual gifts and tools God has given Christians and urges us to use them wisely.

For the next several weeks, I look forward to discovering how to apply the things we learn about spiritual warfare to enrich our prayer lives. Using Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, The Armor of God as a jumping off place, we will explore the different elements of spiritual armor God gives us and how we can use each one to claim victory over the enemy.

If this topic excites you, you’ll be energized and inspired by what we learn together. And if it scares or intimidates you, you’ll find practical explanations that help you see its relevance and ease your fears. It is a worthwhile topic and one followers of Jesus can’t afford to ignore.

Together we will learn to be vigilant about protecting ourselves from spiritual attack. We’ll discover how to identify and repair the chinks in our armor. And we’ll understand the authority we have through Christ, which will give us confidence in the spiritual realm. By the end, we’ll have a balanced perspective and will have navigated around blissful ignorance and fearful paranoia.

Over the next few weeks we will discover how to Put on the full armor of God, so that [we] can take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:11-12, NIV)

For further encouragement on this challenging topic, click on the link and be inspired by Chris Tomlin’s song: “Whom Shall I Fear.”

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Two Keys to Spiritual Growth

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Although the days are warm, there is a chill in the air each evening that hints at the approach of fall. I’m back in the routine of packing lunches daily and doing endless loads of stinky laundry. Wrangling schedules to accommodate sports practices and games for both my boys seems like an ongoing topic of conversation. But this year these tasks are bittersweet because next fall, one of our boys will be heading off to college.

I see my sons every day, but I still marvel at how they’ve grown and matured. They tower over me and are able to carry on witty, insightful conversations with ease (when they’re in the mood to talk). Their physical and intellectual growth has been happening incrementally all along, but suddenly it’s more noticeable. My husband and I certainly aren’t perfect parents, but consistently nurturing our boys throughout their childhood has produced some pretty amazing results.

I started thinking about this in spiritual terms, trying to pinpoint what the keys are to consistent growth in this unseen realm. Here’s what I came up with:

Regular Time Studying the Bible

It seems obvious, but consistently reading the Bible is a vital key to spiritual growth. Imagine if the doctors and nurses handed me my first born at the hospital and said: “Don’t forget to feed him every day.” It goes without saying, doesn’t it? Yet, there are many people who proclaim faith in Jesus that are spiritually starving themselves because they haven’t made time for this vital discipline.

Jesus explained our need for spiritual nutrients provided in God’s Word by quoting the Old Testament: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4 NIV)

Few of us look at eating as an obligation. It’s crucial to consume food regularly for strength and energy. Yet for many of us, we see time in God’s Word as a chore, something we “should” do to be “good” Christians. Others of us view it as a treat to savor—the reward we get once all of the “important” things have been completed.   Yet studying the Bible is most effective when we do it daily. It renews our minds and helps us see things through God’s perspective instead of our own. It reminds us to root our identity in Christ and teaches us to live in a way that honors God and draws others to him.  It guides our decisions and gives us wisdom beyond anything we conjure up on our own.

If you are participating in a group Bible study this year, think of the homework as a tool to access God’s Word rather than a task to complete. Don’t view it as drudgery like you did when you were a kid in school. Try approaching it as an opportunity to be guided through the Bible in a way that will deepen your understanding and expand your faith. Incorporate your studies into your daily time with God and watch how your consistency leads to spiritual growth.

Regular Time in Prayer

Similar to studying the Bible, praying enables us to share our hearts with God. There are several elements that prayer includes: praising God for his attributes, confessing sins, thanking God for specific ways he has worked in our lives and asking him to help others and ourselves. Communicating with God about these things enables us to deepen our relationship with him. As we spend time in his presence, we show him he matters to us and we invite him to move on our behalf.

It’s just like the time my husband and I have spent with our kids over the years. Our relationships have grown and deepened because we’ve been around each other. We’ve been available to guide and encourage them through challenging circumstances because they know we are reliable. We’ve been there to cheer for them when things go well. They trust us and respect our advice (even though they don’t always like it or want to follow it).   We couldn’t have quality relationships with our boys without spending consistent time with them over the course of their lives. The same is true of our relationship with God.

Here is a simple prayer written by King David that you can use daily: “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 entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8, NIV)

Accept the Invitation

As we head into fall, will you embrace these keys to spiritual growth? Will you prioritize reading the Bible and praying daily as vital for your spiritual health instead of seeing them as obligations, luxuries or haphazard activities? If your answer is “yes,” remember the key is consistency. Like watching children mature, it will happen slowly. Some days will be harder than others. And sometimes your good intentions will be derailed. But if you strive for consistency, you will see the fruit of your efforts in time. And when you look back, you’ll be amazed at the growth that has occurred in you.

Click on the link and be inspired by Lauren Daigle’s song “First,” Make it your prayer this week.

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