Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Seeking Biblical Truth in the Post-Truth Era: No Other Gods Session 3

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(Third in a series of posts inspired by Kelly Minter’s Bible Study No Other Gods.)

Turning up the volume on the radio, I wasn’t sure I’d heard the announcer correctly. She was sharing her thoughts on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016. It is an annual event for the dictionary staff to narrow down a list of words that highlight the ways the English language is changing in response to current events. In case you haven’t heard yet, this year’s word is “post-truth.” The official definition is: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” So, basically, post-truth means defining what is true based on feelings and personal beliefs rather than actual facts.

For followers of Jesus, navigating life in the era of “post-truth” means we must swim against the current of our culture. While people around us are deciding what they want to be true based on their feelings, we must hold firmly to the truth of God’s Word. I see a clear connection here to what I’m learning about lies in No Other Gods. Author Kelly Minter says, “I don’t see God’s heart in Scripture telling us to separate ourselves with a self-righteous finger that points at all the ‘sinners’ in pop culture. Instead God clearly teaches us to love all people. But loving is very different from putting ourselves in the way of messages that oppose His truth. It’s different than leaving open doors for the lies of culture to waltz into our hearts.” (No Other Gods, p. 67)

The lies of our culture permeate our lives, subtly and continually influencing us to revise our stance on what is actually truth. Reading through 2 Timothy 3, it’s easy to see connections to our world today: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:1-4, NIV)

So many examples from current culture come to mind as I read this that it’s hard to know where to start. With the onslaught of technology and the rise of social media, it’s become commonplace to embrace and celebrate every one of those things. It’s not hard to see pleasure and comfort are valued more than almost anything else. Many movies, shows, theater productions, magazines, popular songs and famous people model and promote living in a way that lacks self-control and values self-absorption (and pretty much everything else listed).

As followers of Jesus, however, we are called to a different standard. We cannot afford to be “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim 3:7, NIV) God’s Word is our standard of truth, but it’s up to us to absorb what we learn and then to live like we believe it. In a world that no longer cares about actual truth, this is especially challenging. The more we make choices that honor God, the more unusual we will appear to others in our culture.

Now that you’ve seen what NOT to embrace, maybe you’d like some specifics to help you understand how to honor God and stay aligned with truth.  Here is a great start: “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”  The final statement of this passage explains what we gain as a result: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8, NIV)

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to follow Jesus, I don’t want my endeavors to be ineffective or unproductive.  I don’t want to ride the fence and dabble in my faith while simultaneously letting the world shape my values and opinions.

I also don’t want to be someone who knows the truth of God’s Word but chooses to embrace the lies of the world or let my emotions lead me.  People like this are in the worst position of all: If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” (2 Peter 2:20-21, NIV)

Living according to God’s Word is the path to freedom, hope, wisdom joy, and salvation. Our culture continually feeds us lies to distract us from this truth. God’s ways and plans are best, but the Enemy will stop at nothing to make us forget this. He loves to lure people into compromising what they know is right so that they can find fleeting acceptance, false hope or temporary comfort. But we know better, don’t we? Hold tightly to God’s Word and continue to study it diligently. Although you can’t entirely remove yourself from the lies that permeate our culture, you can learn to identify them and reject them when you know the truth.

In Session 3 of No Other Gods, Kelly Minter includes lyrics to a song about lies written and performed by one of the “NOGS.” To hear “Liar’s Dream” by Alli Rogers, click on the link. If you have your book handy, you can follow along by reading the lyrics on pages 71-2.

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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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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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Confident and Unashamed- What Love Is, Week 3

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And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.  1 John 2:28 (NIV)

 Writing to the disciples of Jesus, the apostle John speaks tenderly, reminding them how much their Father in heaven lavishes his love upon them. He calls them “children of God” and gives them clear explanations for how their lives can reflect this profound truth. John writes passionately to believers that were being thrown into confusion by false teaching and ungodly influences in their culture. It doesn’t sound all that different from our current times.

In the verses spanning from 1 John 2:28 to 3:38, John lays out three clear explanations for children of God to understand how they can remain confident and unashamed in their faith. Applying John’s teaching would enable them to stand firm in the truth of God’s love. It will do the same for us as we contend with today’s culture.

Dealing with Sin

John repeats the same topic several times in this chapter: No one who lives in Christ keeps on sinning. Obviously we don’t become permanently sinless after we confess our sin and accept Jesus into our lives. But, as Kelly Minter puts it, we are “free of the dominant power of sin…our not sinning is not about how much harder we try. It’s about our relationship with our Father and His Son.” (What Love Is p. 89)

Just flipping through channels on TV, popular magazines, websites and books, it’s clear that our world celebrates sin and promotes self-gratification above all else. We’re rarely called to consider the consequences of our choices on others or ourselves. And we’re certainly not encouraged to think about how they affect our faith journeys.

However, as we grow in our relationship with God and understand the life he calls us to live, we’re drawn toward him and away from sin. Sin no longer entices us the same way because we know it’s going to hurt God and us. And when we do slip into sin, we’re quick to confess it because we know God will forgive us and we want to restore our relationship with him.

Don’t be Led Astray

John makes a point to say, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” (1 John 3:7, NIV) He admonishes us to look at the lifestyles and choices of the people that we trust for wisdom and advice.

There are countless places we go for these things: family, friends, magazines, blogs, websites, books, and personalities on TV, to name a few. It’s crucial that we consider the sources we’re allowing to influence us and that we ensure they hold to the same biblical truths we do. It’s not uncommon for followers of Jesus to embrace views in popular culture without a second thought, never realizing they are contrary to God’s Word.

Before reading articles, logging onto blogs or watching favorite shows, think about the messages you consistently receive from them. Compelling plots and interesting characters can get us hooked on books or shows that are shaping our views in ways that don’t honor God.  And just because a person looks appealing or speaks with authority doesn’t make their opinion worth adopting. Stop and think about how their words and actions measure up with the gospel. If they’re out of sync, you might be opening yourself up to being led astray.  Once you recognize the discrepancy, you can decide if they are still worth your time or if you would be better off without them.

 Love One Another

In the last portion of the chapter, John moves on to explain that loving one another is a powerful witness to our relationship with God. Over and over John tells us that we should love one another, regardless of whether we’re treated well or not. He says, “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18, NIV)

I’m amazed by how often in our culture we’re encouraged to withhold forgiveness, hold grudges, seek revenge and let our negative emotions dictate our actions and attitudes. Some of today’s most popular songs and shows regularly espouse messages of hate. It seems that being angry and vengeful equates with being powerful in today’s culture. God’s Word tells us nothing could be further from the truth.

 Tying All Three Together

I used to have a favorite magazine that I only bought on vacations. I thought it was harmless looking at pictures of famous people, catching up on the “scoop” in their lives and learning about the latest trends. However, once I had kids, I realized that I was exposing them and myself to lifestyles and ideas that were totally contrary to God’s ways. What seemed like a “guilty pleasure” was subtly influencing me. The magazine celebrated people who were confident and unashamed of their poor choices, desensitizing me to sins so prevalent in popular culture. At the same time, it was causing me to view the lives of the people in the pictures and articles as fodder for gossip.   I didn’t see them as real people loved by God, I was only interested in the entertainment their colorful lives provided for me. As the Holy Spirit worked in my life, the magazine not only lost its appeal, it sickened me. The allure was gone.

Dealing with sin, avoiding being led astray and loving others aren’t the source of our salvation, but evidence that we follow the one true God. Following John’s advice makes us confident and unashamed in God’s presence and provides light and hope for a world wallowing in darkness.

Click on the link and be reminded of theses tremendous truths by listening to “Children of God” by Third Day.

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Live Like You Believe It- What Love Is Week 1

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Reading through the opening chapter of First John makes my mind dart from one topic to the next. I sense John’s urgency as he writes, his passion for his readers to embrace a relationship with Jesus and to let their lives reflect the difference knowing Him makes. John’s approach is direct not because he is harsh, but because he cares too much to risk having someone miss the point.

He starts by emphasizing that he knew Jesus personally saying, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3 NIV)

The word “fellowship” comes from the Greek word “koinonia.” It includes both a spiritual and a practical component. Those who believe in Jesus and his resurrection are united in the Holy Spirit through the Son to the Father. Put simply, they have a personal relationship with God. And this means they also have a relationship with others who are connected with God. “Perhaps the clearest theological use of koinonia [fellowship] is in 1 John 1:3-6, where we read that when we walk in the light truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ and that this relation of grace has profound implications for daily living. For if we say that we have fellowship with God and walk in darkness, we lie! Here the basic meaning of ‘fellowship’ is a real and practical sharing in eternal life with the Father and the Son.” (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)

In essence, when we are walking closely with God, we connect easily with others who are doing the same, whether we’ve known them for years or are meeting them for the first time. I had the privilege of seeing this dynamic recently as I gathered with a group of women for a special lunch. All of us were believers, but some had never met.   Despite this, the talk around the table was rich and deep. An outside observer would have thought we’d all been close friends for years. The reason for this was our common love for and relationship with Jesus. Through many encounters like this one, I’ve learned it doesn’t take long for the Holy Spirit living in me to recognize himself in someone else I meet.   True fellowship flows naturally when people connected with God engage with one another.

Conversely, we don’t experience deep fellowship with people who have a façade of faith, but no substance behind it. John describes them as people who “claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness” (1 John 1:6a, NIV). John doesn’t mince words– he says people doing this “Do not live out the truth.” (1 John 1:6b, NIV) This reminds me of the years I spent volunteering with the high school group at my church. I could always tell how the girls in my small group were doing spiritually by how closely they wanted to connect with me. Those who rode the fence between faith and worldliness often remained at a distance from me, no matter how much I lovingly pursued them. They were lying to themselves, believing they could live by worldly and godly standards simultaneously. They wanted the warmth and reassurance of the light, but were lured by the lies lurking in the darkness. As long as they remained divided, true fellowship couldn’t happen.

John continues his teaching in the next section by explaining the importance of being honest about our sins. Again, not mincing words he says, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, NIV) As our world continues to eliminate moral standards, the line between right and wrong is slowly being erased. Our culture has moved from excusing sin to embracing it and calling it good.  When we determine our own versions of right and wrong, then we can convince ourselves that there is no such thing as sin. And if sin no longer exists, nothing is off-limits. Ultimately, this mentality eliminates the need for Jesus, the one who gave his life to forgive our sins.

For Christians, it is vitally important to recognize sin in our lives and to confess it. This means we need to study God’s Word consistently so that we can know the standards he calls us to maintain. We do this not because we want to follow a list of rules, but because we love God and don’t want anything to impede our fellowship with him or with others. Admitting our sins is an act of humility that honors God and reminds us how much we need him. When we ask for forgiveness it reminds us that we’re not perfect and that we need to show God’s grace to others. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV)  Doing this deepens fellowship with God and with other believers.

I’d sum up John’s teaching in this passage by saying that if we claim to know Jesus and to walk in the light, it will be evident in our lives. We’ll have meaningful relationships with fellow believers and we’ll have a deep love for God and the truth of His Word. We will admit that we are sinners, humbly confess sin and seek forgiveness regularly. Doing these things enables us to live with authenticity and to invite others to do the same.

Jeremy Camp’s song “Christ in Me” describes the tension between getting stuck in the dark of worldliness versus embracing the light of Christ. Click on the link and make it your prayer as you listen.

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