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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 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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When “Good Enough” Isn’t

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Dipping my paddle in the water, I balanced on the board and pulled hard, ignoring my body’s protests. It had been twelve weeks since I’d fractured my elbow and wrist in a bike accident. I’d been looking forward to vacation and assumed I would be “back to normal” so I could enjoy biking, paddle boarding and swimming. The doctor had assured me the bone would be fully healed by then but my physical therapist was still concerned by my ongoing pain and stiffness. The tendons and muscles that had constricted to protect the fractures were still tight, preventing full range of motion.  My therapist pushed me hard in our sessions leading up to the trip, not wanting me to settle for “good enough.” She’d had other patients who didn’t want to do the hard work to be 100% recovered.   Beyond the concern about my quality of life and ability to use my arm fully, she worried about future problems that would arise, particularly the early onset of arthritis in my elbow joint.

Just before I left on vacation, she gave me a list of exercises to do daily and encouraged me to press on toward healing. A few days later, taking my first spin on a paddle board in the harbor, I remembered her words. With each dip of the paddle, the pain and stiffness that were so strong at first began to subside. By the end of the day, my arm felt loose and almost normal after all of the activities I’d done. But with the dawn of the next day, I was right back where I started. Some days it was tempting to give myself a break and not do the exercises she’d assigned, but I knew this would only prolong my recovery.

I had to trust that my efforts were incrementally improving my range of motion and flexibility, despite the discouragement of the painful stiffness returning each day. It started me thinking about a passage of Scripture written by Paul:

“Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” (1Timothy 4:7b-10, NIV)

Physical training produces a healthy body, but it is not a one-time event. Whether it’s doing physical therapy to regain full strength or just exercising consistently, we must move our bodies to maintain health. Similarly, we need to engage daily in training ourselves for godliness. The difference is, this kind of regimen has eternal significance.

As believers, we know this–yet why is it so difficult for us to put into practice? Maybe it seems easier to just coast through life without spiritual discipline. Laboring and striving sound like hard work, so we settle for “good enough” instead of pressing on in our pursuit of Christ. We want to amble along comfortably instead of living with a sense of urgency. Yet there is so much we miss when we surrender to this lackadaisical attitude. We limit the exciting things God wants to do in and through us and we fail to experience the abundant life he promises.

The pain in my elbow reminds me throughout the day that I need to keep working and pressing on with my therapy. I’m praying that circumstances in my life will prompt the same sense of purpose in my walk with God. Will you join me? When facing a difficult situation, let’s pursue God and see what he wants us to learn instead of defaulting to self-pity. When we encounter the same issues over and over again, let’s confront them head on and lay them at the feet of Jesus instead of growing weary and giving up. Let’s not ignore  baggage that will only weigh us down or hold us back. Let’s trust him to use ongoing challenges to refine our faith and make us more like him. With each day, let’s make it a priority to spend time aligning with God through praying and reading his Word before jumping into the day.

One of the best ways to labor and strive in your faith is to commit to studying the Bible regularly.  During the summer months, it’s easy to let this discipline slide. As you prepare for the busyness of fall, why not prioritize time for a weekly study? If your schedule feels overloaded, this is not the activity to jettison in an attempt to simplify your life. Don’t settle for “good enough”  by keeping your walk with Jesus on the back burner. Press on and see what new things God has in store for you. Discover deeper truth in the Bible as you delve into it with others. Then strive to apply it to your life. Yes, some days it will feel like hard work and other days you will not follow through. But setting a goal to be consistent will give you a clear focus and over time you’ll begin seeing results.

I imagine I could function for the rest of my life with a right arm that doesn’t extend fully, but I don’t want to settle for that. I don’t want my daily life to be less than it could be and I certainly don’t want to set myself up for even bigger problems in the future. In a similar way, I don’t want to be stunted spiritually. I don’t want to settle for a lukewarm faith. I want to keep moving forward and discovering new things about God, his Word and how he wants to work in and through me to impact the world and further his kingdom. Will you labor and strive with me to do this? Will you commit to doing the hard work for your sake and the sake of those around you? I guarantee, it’s worth the effort.

Click on the link and make Third Day’s song “Soul on Fire” your prayer today.

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Productive Pain

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Cradling my broken arm in his hands, the physical therapist gently straightened it and bent it, testing for flexibility. I felt vulnerable without my wrist and elbow braces, but was motivated to do what was needed to help the healing process. After kneading the muscles and tendons around my elbow, he said, “I’m not gonna lie to you, this next exercise will hurt pretty bad.” With that, he began rotating my lower arm slowly back and forth. I squeezed my eyes shut as every muscle and tendon surrounding my fractured wrist and elbow reacted with searing pain.

I was relieved to put my braces back on when he finished; they made me feel less vulnerable and provided some stability and comfort. Before leaving, I asked the therapist how I could differentiate between “good” and “bad” pain. Knowing which motions would help the healing process would motivate me to push through the pain.  Almost as soon as I asked the question, I realized there was an obvious analogy in our spiritual lives. Just as there are good and bad kinds of pain in the physical realm, there are also good and bad kinds of pain in the spiritual realm.

Later that day I found the passage that I’d been thinking of as I winced on the table at the physical therapist. It focuses on the “good” kind of spiritual pain we sometimes experience:

 “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.’” (Hebrews 12:7-12, NIV)

The word “discipline” comes from two closely related Greek words: “Paideia” and ”Paideuo.” Both involve correcting, instructing and educating another person.   The words were originally used to describe rearing children, but were later used in reference to teaching those young in the faith. One word that was not part of either definition was “punishment.” There are nine different Greek words for punishment, but none of them includes these words. Discipline has nothing to do with revenge or seeking justice after someone has violated a moral code. Although our culture sometimes uses discipline and punishment interchangeably, they are two entirely different things.  Discipline is not for retribution, but for our benefit.

The Hebrews passage tells us that hardship is a form of discipline. This means the difficult experiences we face in life can all be used for good. Sometimes God allows painful circumstances to refine our faith or to build our trust. Other times, he wants to get our attention or to show us we’re putting our hope in something other than him. Occasionally he allows good things in our lives to be removed to make way for better ones. With our eyes on God, even the worst situations can make us spiritually stronger.

I’d never paid much attention to the last part of the Hebrews passage until breaking my arm. It says we should accept discipline to “strengthen our feeble arms” so that “the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” If I were unwilling to do the painful therapy required to restore strength and flexibility to my arm, I would ultimately be disabling myself. Although my fractured bones would heal, the stiff tendons and muscles would never become flexible again without some serious effort. The result would be limited mobility that would keep me from doing both daily tasks and fun activities that I love.

Similarly, submitting to God’s discipline heals and strengthens us so that we don’t go through life emotionally and spiritually stunted. Trusting God through challenging times keeps us from becoming bitter or from wallowing in self-pity. Instead, we lean into him through the pain, knowing that he is using it to produce a “harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

I’m learning anew the importance of letting God use difficult circumstances. The twinges of pain in my arm regularly prompt me to ask what he’s trying to teach me through this challenging time. My broken arm is an outward manifestation of something all of us experience inwardly. Each of us carries wounds, scars and memories that impact us daily, whether we realize it or not. When we let God use those painful things to draw us to him, we allow him to bring peace, healing and strength to our lives. You may not have a broken arm, but there may be some other hardship in your life that God wants to use to teach you. Will you let him do it?

Click on the link and be encouraged by Lauren Daigle’s song “Trust in You.” Let it be your prayer today.

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