Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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The Sword of the Spirit- The Armor of God Week 7

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To say I was going through a rough patch would be an understatement. One of my boys was a toddler and the other was in pre-school and although life at home was good, some hard situations outside our household were weighing heavily upon me. Looking back, I see that there was an element of spiritual attack I hadn’t even considered.

I remember one morning in that season I awoke feeling especially burdened with dark thoughts and anguished emotions. Sitting at the breakfast table flanked by one son in a high chair and the other chattering beside me, something triggered a flood of tears. The lump in my throat couldn’t hold back the sobs as I pushed my chair back and abruptly left the kitchen. Throwing myself face down on my bed, I wasn’t even sure why I was crying, but the tears wouldn’t cease.

A tap on my shoulder a few minutes later gently reminded me I had little people to tend to and forced me to gather my emotions. Wiping tears away, I tried to regain my composure as I looked up to find my older son standing in front of me. He held out his Beginners Bible and with wisdom that defied his tender age simply said, “Here Mom, read this. It’ll make you feel better.” I’m still not sure how he knew to bring me a Bible, but I’d been following his advice since long before he was born.

I’ll never forget the first time the words of Scripture jumped off the page, making me feel like a passage had been written just for me. I was a freshman in college, struggling to find true friends and to live by God’s standards. It was not the easiest time in life to decide to follow after Jesus whole-heartedly. The many worldly temptations of college had wooed away the one friend from home I’d depended on for spiritual support. Trying to shine a light for Jesus in the dark was not easy. I felt utterly alone, but undaunted in my desire to pursue Christ without compromise. And then one morning I stumbled across this passage:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, NIV)

Armed with this verse in the face of deep discouragement, I sensed God telling me not to lose my perspective. The trials I was facing were temporary, but if I persevered through them, my faith would prove genuine, which was eternal. Eventually, God also brought me friends who were godly, encouraging, and just plain fun.

Since that time, many more verses have felt especially relevant and personal in different seasons of my life. So much so, that I could make a time line of events in my life with corresponding Scriptures that spoke directly to me with words of wisdom, comfort, and direction. God’s Word has provided truth and light when I’ve been deceived by lies or have lost my way. It’s given me encouragement in times of trouble and hope when I’m tempted to despair.  I guess that makes sense considering Paul lists it as the final piece in the armor of God when he says, “take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  (Ephesians 10:17, NIV)

The Bible has been my greatest weapon to fend off attacks of the evil one throughout my adult life. And because it is the spoken Word of God, it is always fresh, relevant and personal. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”  (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).  Scripture is so much more than just words on a page.  When we engage it and apply it to our lives, it changes us.  It changes our attitudes, our desires, our relationships and the things we value.   It is a guide for every aspect of daily living.  It is our solid foundation and the plumb line that keeps us aligned with God’s will.

I’ve begun to notice a clear difference between the lives of people who are actively engaging God’s Word and people who simply embrace the Christian lifestyle and its values.  People who study the Bible consistently and apply what they’ve learned have a passion and a sense of purpose in what they do.  They serve others out of gratitude to God, not as an obligation.  They grapple with hard truths and have teachable spirits.  They are hungry to know more about God and how He’s calling them to live.  They don’t follow rules and checklists–they abide with Jesus and let the Holy Spirit guide them.  Their lives are not safe and predictable.  They trust God when things get messy and complicated.  They have too much integrity to worry about whether or not they are “showing well” or impressing the “right” people. They are profoundly aware that they are sinners only saved by Gods’ grace.  Their resulting gratitude causes them to give their lives for God’s Kingdom purposes.

Putting on the armor of God daily means putting into practice what we say we believe. And when we do that, the enemy doesn’t stand a chance.

I can think of no better song to include than Third Day’s “Your Words.” Click on the link to enjoy a musical reminder of the value of God’s Word:

Priscilla Shirer, The Armor of God, Lifeway Press, 2015.

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The Helmet of Salvation- The Armor of God Week 6

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We saw each other almost every day, but never spoke. She was a mom with kids around the same ages as mine and both of us spent the majority of the summer at the community pool. Most days, a babysitter would accompany her and play with her kids in the pool while she read fashion magazines in a lounge chair. She almost always wore headphones and never made eye contact with anyone. From my perspective, she seemed cool, nonchalant and socially superior. For some reason, being around her transported me back to middle school and she evoked the same feelings I’d had around the “popular” kids. I felt invisible in her presence.

My insecurities raged throughout that summer as I tried to figure out the social pecking order at the pool. After feeling snubbed by a few others, I was quick to assume certain moms didn’t think I was “cool” enough to be with either.  My self-doubt caused me to hang back, waiting and hoping that others would initiate conversation. When they didn’t, it only affirmed my negative assumptions.

That fall, my son started Kindergarten. To my dismay, I discovered one of his classmates was the daughter of the woman from the pool. With only twenty kids in the class, it was impossible for our paths not to cross. But as the year progressed, I began to see her in a different light. I’d befriended another mom who was a Christian and was surprised when she told me she’d been sharing the gospel with the woman I found so intimidating. They’d struck up a conversation on a field trip to the pumpkin patch and had continued the dialogue when they returned home. My Christian friend asked me to pray for the “cool mom” from the pool. Apparently, she had been going through a difficult time and was open to attending church and curious about Jesus. I was humbled to learn this news and realized that my insecurity had prevented me from taking initiative with someone who desperately needed God’s love.  It wasn’t social superiority that kept her aloof at the pool, but depression, grief and hopelessness.

Looking back on that season, I see a direct correlation to Priscilla Shirer’s teaching on the helmet of salvation in Ephesians 6. She explains, “When we control our thought life, new neural connections and pathways are visibly and measurably formed in the brain—which affects the health and wellness of our physical bodies. In other words, when we ‘take our thoughts captive,’ we are quite literally renewing and restoring our minds from a state of unhealthiness and deterioration to a state of wholeness and strength in God.” (The Armor of God, p.168)

Of all the pieces of spiritual armor we’ve studied, the helmet of salvation is the one I need most. Priscilla explains that salvation not only gives us hope of things to come, it also leads to a new way of thinking for the here and now. Much of the spiritual battle that rages in my life originates in my mind. By nature, I see things through a negative lens and often make false assumptions. I’m cynical and critical of others and of myself. I hold on to hurt feelings, harbor bitterness and struggle with insecurity. I’m a great hostess for pity parties (I’m usually the only guest).   Yet few would guess these things about me. That is because I am living proof of Priscilla’s claim that “Sometimes the greatest miracles God does are not in our circumstances [but] in our minds.” (The Armor of God, page 151)

When I put on the helmet of salvation, it protects me from the evil one’s attacks against my mind. The Word of God gives me all the truth I need to evaluate my thoughts and align them with my identity in Christ. Here are three elements that have helped me that might be beneficial to you too:

Marked by the Holy Spirit

Paul explains in Ephesians 1:13-14 that those who believe in Christ are “Marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us while we live on earth. He is like an advance on the inheritance we will one day we receive in full. Knowing this affects how I view my life, relationships and circumstances. Realizing I have a vast wealth of spiritual resources gives me confidence to share them with others so that they can experience abundant living too. The Holy Spirit prompts me, guides me and reassures me. He reminds me that being marked by him means my life will look different from my non-believing peers. And when I’m wearing my helmet, I know that being different is a good thing.

Engaging the Eyes of the Heart

In Ephesians 1:18-19 Paul prays that the eyes of our hearts will be opened so that we can see the hope we have, the riches of our heavenly inheritance and the great power we can access as believers. The helmet of salvation triggers the eyes of my heart, enabling me to see these things and to use them in my life. With my spiritual eyes I can see God at work in my circumstances, whether they are bad or good. I’m also able to look beneath the surface to recognize the different tactics people use to hide fear, pain and insecurity.  This helps me to offer grace instead of taking offense or casting judgement. The eyes of my heart help me to see how my own insecurity stunts me and enables me to move past it by embracing my identity in Christ.

Taking Thoughts Captive

In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 Paul describes the spiritual weapons God gives us to demolish strongholds, arguments and pretensions that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. He explains that we must take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. This is incredibly challenging for someone like me because thousands of thoughts course through my mind daily. I’m constantly evaluating myself and finding faults and flaws. I can fixate for hours on something negative before I realize that I’ve been believing lies about myself. They not only steal my joy but also cause me to be self-absorbed. When I take my thoughts captive, I recognize the time I’ve wasted wallowing in negativity. Once I make them obedient to Christ, it frees me to be used by God to impact others.

The song “Priceless” by for KING & COUNTRY provides a beautiful example of allowing the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of your heart, take your thoughts captive and re-frame your view of yourself. Click on the link and be encouraged:

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Walking by Faith- The Armor of God Week 5

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Faith, Priscilla Shirer tells us, is when we act like God is telling the truth. And each time we step out in faith and see God work, it spurs us on, giving us greater confidence to take additional steps and to see God continue to move and work in our lives. Having faith means we believe there is a God who is bigger and knows more than we do.

Perhaps the most well known passage on faith appears in Hebrews 11, which starts off with a simple definition: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV) It goes on to explain, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NIV)

Another passage written by Paul explains that followers of Christ “walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7, ESV) The idea of “walking by faith” means that we are striving to see the world through the lens of our belief in God and what we learn by studying the Bible. Instead of taking things at face value, we look for the spiritual implications and opportunities for growth that exist within them. We continually ask God to show us what he wants us to learn through the situations we face. We expect to see him at work in our lives and are open to letting him change us into better versions of ourselves.

Learning to live like this takes focus and discipline. We must fight against our natural tendency to compartmentalize different aspects of our lives. Imagine your mind as a bookcase and each book on the shelf represents one category in your life: the spines of your “books” include titles like “Family,” “Friends,” “Marriage,” “Work,” “Social Life,” “Fitness,” “Entertainment,” etc. Many of us start out with “Faith” as one of the categories in our minds. We engage it at certain times and in certain places with certain people, but it doesn’t permeate our lives or influence many of our choices. Our default mode is to make decisions based on our preferences, not on God’s Word.

But as we grow in our relationship with God and begin applying the truth of the Bible to our lives, we begin taking steps of faith. We start to see that God knows what he’s talking about and really does have a better plan for us than we have for ourselves. Faith begins to spill over into other “categories” in our lives, affecting the choices we make about relationships, money, career decisions, raising kids and even our social lives. Faith in God shouldn’t fit neatly into one compartment of our lives because it is meant to inform EVERY area of our lives.

What role does faith in God play in your life?  Does the hope of what is yet to come spur you on daily? Or have the cares of the world caused you to change your focus to what you can see and touch? Are there any compartments in your life that you’re holding back from God? Anywhere you’re unwilling to allow your faith to have influence? If you want more than what the world has to offer, pray and ask God to help you surrender all of your “compartments” to him. Stop rationalizing. Admit your fears. Root out apathy. Tell God where you are holding back and take a step of faith by inviting him to move and work in one previously “off limits” area in your life.

Make Lauren Daigle’s song “Come Alive” your prayer of faith for today.

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The Pursuit of Peace- The Armor of God Week 4

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Boosting myself over the side of the rubber raft, I slipped into the icy water, a shiver going down my spine despite the sunny day. A large boulder protruding from the river’s rocky bottom had stalled our adventure floating down the Truckee River. As the person with the most rugged shoes, I’d been elected by my fellow passengers to jump in the water and push us off. My sandals had thick rubber soles that protected my feet from the many jagged stones. They also provided stability for walking on the river’s uneven bed and maintaining balance in the moving waters. Once I pushed us off, I hoisted myself back in as the raft got swept into the river’s current. Without my shoes, I would have been more tentative and fearful about jumping in to help. The chances of cutting my foot, stubbing a toe or losing my balance in the river’s flow would have made me think twice before taking action. Yet having the right shoes gave me confidence and enabled me to accomplish the task quickly and easily.

Similarly, the swift-moving pace of life would be difficult to manage without putting on the shoes of peace described in Ephesians 6:15. God’s peace guards and guides us, enabling us to face anything that comes our way with confidence because we know God is trustworthy. Priscilla Shirer explains, “Shalom, the familiar Hebrew word for peace which permeates the Old Testament, does not refer to the absence of chaos, bur rather to an overall, deeply entrenched sense of harmony, health, and wholeness in the midst of chaos.” (The Armor of God, p. 98-99)

This explanation is contrary to the worldly definition of peace, which the dictionary describes as “freedom from any strife or dissension.” This kind of peace is based on exterior circumstances being harmonious and agreeable, which isn’t always possible to control. The “readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” provides the inner tranquility and stability we need to navigate life when things don’t go according to plan. (Which is most of the time, isn’t it?)

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I struggle to strap on the shoes of peace. Sure, I have ultimate peace knowing that God wins in the end and that I’ll spend eternity with him. But some days, I forget to let that deep-seated peace sustain me as I navigate different challenges life brings my way. As I was looking up different Scriptures about peace, I found a repeated phrase that caught my attention: “seek peace.” (You can find that phrase in Psalm 34:14, Psalm 37:37, Jeremiah 29:7, Ezekiel 7:25 and 1 Peter 3:11).

To seek something is to go in search of it, to attempt to attain it, to ask for it or to try to find or discover it. Action is required. Peace doesn’t just come to us by accident; we must pursue it, not hope and wait and wonder if we’ll ever receive it. Like all of the other elements in the list of Spiritual Armor, it is already ours, but we must take steps to activate it within us.

Peace is one element in the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22. And the only way to produce this kind of fruit is by abiding with Jesus, which he explained by saying, ““I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV) So in the end, the key to having peace and letting it guard our hearts and guide our steps is to spend time with Jesus, the Prince of Peace. It is only through him that we can maintain steady footing and stay balanced amidst the swirling waters of our chaotic lives.

If you find yourself feeling anxious, start your time with Jesus by applying the wisdom Paul offers in another one of his letters: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV) Along with your requests to Jesus, spend time thanking him for the things he’s done for you and the answers you’ve received to earlier prayers. Doing this not only re-aligns your focus, it also provides reassurance in your current struggles. Remembering where you’ve seen him move on your behalf before gives  you confidence he’ll do it again.

Sometimes I feel discouraged that all of this is so hard for me. It’s as if I’m pushing the re-set button every day to activate the peace God has given me. My natural inclination is to be anxious, so anytime I feel peace I know it must be from God. I’m thankful that it’s just one more opportunity to rely on him to supply what I can’t provide for myself.

Rend Collective has a great song called “My Lighthouse” that inspires me to seek God for peace. Click on the link and let it encourage you today.

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Righteousness and The Jesus Surfer- The Armor of God Week 3

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Riding my bike through a busy parking lot next to the beach, an old Volkswagen van caught my eye. It was covered in stickers from bumper to bumper, roof to tires. Easing to a stop, I pulled my phone out in hopes of snapping a photo when I noticed the van’s owner rummaging in the front seat. His long blonde hair and deep tan told me he was a fixture at the beach and had probably surfed his fair share of waves. Not wanting to seem rude, I approached him to ask permission before taking the picture. He was happy to oblige and eager to show me his favorite sticker on the van that read: “Why Worry? God’s in Control.”

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What followed was a 20-minute conversation about our mutual faith in Jesus. It was an unexpected “God Moment” in the middle of a Newport Beach parking lot.

The van owner enthusiastically told my husband and me the story of God’s redemptive hand in his life. As a young man, he’d embraced a carefree lifestyle with no plan, purpose or direction. He’d spent his days surfing and his nights partying and carousing with different women. What had started out as fun soon enslaved him, leading to 35 years of drug and alcohol addiction. He described a life of hopelessness, living in the shadows and alleys, unable to hold a job or make meaningful relationships. But it all changed when he found God.

Now, 17 years sober, he lives and works in a rehab center, sharing the good news of Jesus and helping others make the journey from the darkness of addiction to the light of freedom. He exudes God’s love and proudly refers to himself by the nickname he’s been given around town “The Jesus Surfer.” Although he still lives in the same community, his purpose and identity have changed as a result of his encounter with the living God.

I thought about the Jesus Surfer and his dramatic transformation as I read Priscilla Shirer’s definition of righteousness this week: “Righteousness is upright living that aligns with the expectations of God.” She explains that those who follow Jesus should affirm God’s standard and then align their behavior with it. Choosing righteousness means rejecting deeds done in darkness and embracing the light of God’s truth. Although Paul doesn’t mention the breastplate of righteousness until chapter 6 of Ephesians, he gives a clear description of what a righteous life should reject and embrace in an earlier chapter:

 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving…. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them…

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:3-4, 8-11, 15-20, NIV)

 Paul admonishes us to “make the most of every opportunity” and to “understand what the Lord’s will is” and “what pleases God.” Once the Jesus Surfer moved from darkness to light, he made it his goal to share Christ–whether he was sitting on his surfboard waiting for the next wave or leading a group at the rehab center. He even made the most of meeting perfect strangers (my husband and me) to share his love for God and his story of transformation. He pores over God’s Word and applies the truth he’s learning at church. He was eager to tell us about the latest sermon he’d heard and how it was impacting him. His enthusiasm couldn’t be contained, making his delivery disarming and winsome.

Although some of our stories may not be as dramatic as the Jesus Surfer’s, anyone who has accepted Christ has moved from darkness to light. With that transformation comes the mandate to pursue righteousness and reject sinfulness. Our location doesn’t have to change, but our perspective does. As you look at Paul’s lists, is there anything you need to leave behind? Anything you want to pursue more fully? Will you pray and ask for opportunities to bring light into the lives of people you know? Invite the Holy Spirit to help you live righteously and to pursue a deeper understanding of God’s will.

If you’d like to see and hear The Jesus Surfer for yourself, click on the link to view a brief news story that was done on him a few years ago. Let his life transformation inspire you toward living the righteous life God calls us to in His Word.

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