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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Responding to Evil and Violence

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Driving on a recent road trip, I couldn’t help noticing the many flags flying at half-mast in different towns we passed along the way. In the past few months it’s been hard to keep track of the numerous tragedies that have occurred in our nation and world. The senseless acts of violence and terrorism we’ve seen in places like Orlando, Dallas, Nice and Berlin have left us shocked and saddened. I can hardly fathom one awful situation before another is reported.

Processing these events can be overwhelming. Sometimes I want to turn off the news or walk away from the article I’m reading. When we haven’t been personally affected, it’s tempting not to think about the latest set of ugly circumstances, isn’t it? Sometimes our emotions become dulled from overexposure. It becomes too draining to keep hearing about another random shooting or terrorist attack. We can feel helpless and hopeless.   Seemingly, there is little we can we do. How can we change things in a world that seems increasingly violent and hateful with each passing month?

Wanting to answer this question for myself, I turned to the best source of wisdom I know: the Bible. As usual, the answers I found were clear, but not easy. Here are a few things we can do in the face of evil and violence:

Pray for Our Enemies

Jesus’ teaching on this topic isn’t easy to practice, but it is truth we need to apply to our lives: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45, NIV)

When tragedies occur, we’re often prompted to pray for the victims and their families. What doesn’t come naturally is praying for the people who caused them. What would happen if instead of hating the evildoers and wanting vengeance, we prayed for God’s sovereignty and justice to prevail? How about praying that our enemies would be confronted with God’s power and authority and would have no choice but to submit to him? Or praying for their hearts to be softened and their souls to be saved? How about asking God to root the evil out of them and to replace it with his grace and love instead?

Repay Evil with Good

Our natural tendency when we’ve been wronged is to want to retaliate against the one who has hurt us. Yet Scripture urges us to resist this inclination and to surprise our enemies with kindness they don’t deserve:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NIV)

A commentary I consulted explains, “By feeding [our enemies] and giving them water to drink, believers heap up burning embers on their heads. This figure seems to mean that the enemy will blush with shame or remorse at such unexpected kindness.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, page 1220)

We can’t always do this with perpetrators of evil and violence in the wider world, but we can practice it on a smaller scale in our personal lives. When someone wrongs you, try responding with an act of kindness and see what happens. (If the Bible says it’s a good idea, it’s probably worth trying).

Take Personal Responsibility to Promote Good

 Followers of Jesus are called to live in a way that honors God and blesses others. Our behaviors and attitudes impact our spheres of influence for better or for worse. The interactions we have with others can make them feel bitter and hateful or loved and valued. Let’s commit to being people who make our little corners of the world positive and encouraging. Here are a few ways we can do that:

“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)

Put simply, biting sarcasm, cynicism, bitterness and gossip do not bring peace into our surroundings. We impact the world around us by what we say and how we treat others. Think about how your actions and attitudes make others feel. Pray and ask God to remove the hurtful ones and to replace them with qualities that build others up. Pray that he increases the positive things you are already doing and saying.

Let’s strive to show a world bent on violence, hate and revenge that doing things God’s way is a better option. The darker the world becomes, the more opportunity we have to let the light of Christ’s love shine through us.

Christy Nockels’ song “By Our Love” urges believers to show the world God’s love. Click on the link and let the words inspire you today.

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Lost Tempers, Lost Keys and Crumpled Creations: Sermon on the Mount Part 4

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Pushing the re-dial button on my cell phone for the tenth time, I listened to the familiar sound of the voicemail greeting, yet again. I paced the sidelines as my frustration mounted toward the person I was trying to reach. She’d left me a message only seconds earlier trying to find out the location of my son’s soccer game, but now she wasn’t answering my return calls. By the time we finally made contact, it was nearly half-time and my frustration had boiled over into full-blown anger.

It turns out that unbeknownst to her, the phone had been on silent mode the whole time. When she realized her mistake and confessed it, I had no grace to offer. Harsh words flew out of my mouth without restraint. Although my anger felt justified, I realized at once that unleashing it had been the wrong choice. Even the sincerest apology couldn’t erase the hurtful words I’d spewed.

As the game ended, I dug in my purse for my car keys and discovered they were nowhere to be found. Trying to re-trace my steps, my husband and I spent an hour combing the soccer fields, the parking lot and the trail I’d hiked during pre-game warm ups. As we looked, I silently berated myself in anger, wondering how I could have been so stupid and irresponsible.  Throughout our search, my mind was filled with hurtful words to describe myself. After over an hour of looking, we gave up and headed home using a set of spare keys.

Later that evening, my family stood at a church service, participating in the opening set of worship songs before leading the elementary kids off to class. As the music played and the lyrics appeared on screen, my throat suddenly constricted and shame washed over me. How could I sing about God’s grace and love when only a few hours earlier I’d chosen to withhold them? My eyes welled up as I thought about how I’d let my anger lead me into sin.  I began to see that the harshness of my thoughts and words had done a great deal of damage.

At the pastor’s cue, my family headed out of the church service corralling a pack of enthusiastic elementary kids to a classroom nearby. As we led them through a lesson, small groups, crafts and games, God continued to work in my heart, gently opening my eyes to the ways my anger earlier that day had affected Him too.

An hour later, class ended and as parents arrived to retrieve their kids, one little girl searched the room frantically looking for a picture she’d made during class.  She wanted to show her father, but it had gone missing. It was clear she wasn’t going to leave without it, so we scoured the room until we finally found it crumpled in a ball and sitting under a chair. I smoothed out the paper before handing it to her with a reassuring smile. At first she was distressed that her beautiful creation had been so mistreated, but as soon as it was in her hands, she beamed with pride and presented it to her father.  He was quick to point out the specific qualities that made the picture special and a smile lit up her sweet face.

To anyone else, it was a colorful mess of felt tip markings and fingerprints, but to her father and her, it was precious.

It wasn’t until a few hours later that the events of the day came into focus for me. My angry thoughts and words toward myself and another person were the equivalent of taking that little girl’s picture and crumpling it up in front of her. Of course, I would never do something so cruel and hurtful, yet that is what I did to God.  That’s why I’d had a hard time singing worship songs–my anger earlier in the day had shown a blatant disregard for His most valued creations: people. This realization gave me a deeper understanding of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24, NIV)

Our thoughts and our words matter to God. They affect how we view and treat others, as well as how we view and treat ourselves. The more we let anger simmer in our minds, the more it taints our perspectives. And in the process, we hurt the God who loved us enough to sacrifice His son for us.

Jesus’ half-brother, James, expands on this when he explains:

 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10, NIV)

Being angry isn’t a sin, but it quickly leads to sin when not surrendered to God. Anger tears the fabric that weaves relationships together, and it injures the heart of the One who created each of us. We are precious in His eyes and He wants us to view one another in the same way.

The next time I’m tempted to lash out in anger at myself or someone else, I’ll think about how that little girl lovingly smoothed out her wrinkled picture and I’ll remember just how precious we are to God.  Can I encourage you to do the same?

Click on the link to hear the song that was too hard for me to sing after my day of anger: “This is Amazing Grace” by Phil Wickham. After listening, thank God that His grace is sufficient to cover over even our ugliest sins. (And while you’re praying, I’d be grateful if you asked for my keys to be found and returned too!)

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