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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Living Intentionally Engaged- What Love is Week 7

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Stepping into the sunshine, my husband and I set out on a walk in the cool of morning. It had been weeks since we’d had a free Saturday to spend an hour outside together. The brisk air spurred us on as we passed cozy homes in our neighborhood. Many displayed rustic Adirondack chairs with colorful pillows that begged for someone to sit down and enjoy them. Turning to my husband I asked, “How many of these chairs do you think people actually use?” Smiling, he gently turned the question on me, “When was the last time we sat on our porch together?” Sadly, I couldn’t remember.

I thought back to times we’d enjoyed in the past, lounging on the benches with a cup of tea in the morning sun or sharing a meal with our boys on a warm evening.   We hadn’t done that in a long time and there was only one reason: we’d let busyness rob us of this simple pleasure.

As I thought more about it, I realized that my “to do” list over the last few weeks had caused me to be distracted and disengaged from my husband and kids. Even when I was physically present with them, my mind was somewhere else.   Realizing this turned my thoughts to a concept I’ve been learning about in First, Second and Third John:

“The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 John 3:24,NIV)

The word “lives,” used twice in this verse, translates from the Greek word, “meno.” It means: “to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy) to abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand or tarry.” (James Strong, Dictionary of the Greek New Testament)

The part of the definition that catches my attention is the phrase “be present.” Over the course of studying these books, I’ve been learning the importance of being present in my walk with God– of living intentionally engaged with him by his Spirit so that I can let his love fill me. When I do this consistently, his love ultimately overflows from me and affects those around me. John explains this reciprocal process: As we are present with God and remain in his love, his love continues to dwell in us.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives [meno] in love lives [meno] in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16, NIV)

In this passage John echoes a concept he learned from Jesus, who told the disciples:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain [meno] in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)

I’m realizing anew that remaining in Christ requires that I fix my mind on him intentionally and continuously. We aren’t accessing his power when we live on autopilot, doing things out of habit without truly engaging him. Being present and intentional requires relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us throughout every day. There is no other way we can live in obedience to Christ and walk as he did. Apart from him, we can do nothing of lasting value.

This brings me to a related passage of Scripture written by the apostle Paul:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV)

If God is love (and 1 John 4:16 tells us he is), then this passage emphasizes that even the good or spiritual things we do are worthless unless God is in them. Again, this reminds me that all that we do requires intentional engagement—even actions that seem positive on the surface aren’t worth a thing if God isn’t in them with us. We must be present [meno] with him so that he can work in and through us.

I’ll be thinking about the word “meno” for a long time. The benches on my front porch will be a daily reminder to be intentionally engaged in each moment with God. Only then can I be fully present with my family and others so that he can bless them through me.

I couldn’t resist including a song with an English translation of my new favorite word, “meno”, in the title. Click on the link to enjoy a worship moment with Kristian Stanfill’s rendition of “One Thing Remains.”

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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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Authority Lost and Reclaimed- Women of the Word Part 2

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Squaring my shoulders, I tried to smile, hoping no one could see my heart thumping wildly as the teacher spoke, “Class, this is our new student teacher, Miss Callahan. She’ll be taking over for the rest of the semester and I expect you to show her some respect.”

One or two expressionless sophomores made eye contact with me; the rest slumped in their chairs or talked with their seat mates. No one acknowledged the teacher’s announcement. As an unseasoned student teacher ready to start my first classroom assignment, the scene in front of me was hardly encouraging.

That semester of student teaching was one of the most challenging times in my life. The two classes I taught behaved in almost opposite ways: the sophomores were disengaged and disrespectful while the seniors were open and willing to learn.   It wasn’t that my teaching methods varied from one class to the other or even that the kids were different ages. The issue was the way the students viewed my master teachers, the ultimate authorities in the classroom. One teacher had lost the attention and respect of her students in September, so by the time I arrived in January, her authority meant nothing. I was fighting a losing battle to win their respect. The other teacher, however, was both feared and esteemed. Her authority meant something, so as her student teacher, the class took my authority seriously too.

This memory surfaced recently as I pondered the concept of authority reading the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3.   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)

God created the world and then gave Adam and Eve authority to rule over it. 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 Him, the snake implied God might be withholding something desirable from her:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’

 You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it 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 3:1-6, NIV)

By choosing to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve gave away the authority God had given them at creation. They were too naïve to understand 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.   Although God remained the ultimate and sovereign authority, He allowed Adam and Eve to exercise their free will, even though it went against Him. But they also had to live with the consequences of their choice.

This is why many years later, when Jesus was just beginning His earthly ministry, Satan could legitimately claim 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)

Fortunately, Jesus retraced Adam and Eve’s footsteps to the point of temptation and succeeded in obedience where they had failed. Although Jesus was fully God, he set aside that part of Himself so that He could function completely 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. 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… Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 24-25, NIV)

Jesus gave us the same Holy Spirit that empowered Him, making it possible for us to be obedient to God and to have an intimate relationship with Him (see John 14:11-21). Jesus returned us to the original place of authority for which we were created. 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. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20, NIV)

Our Master Teacher commands ultimate authority and respect and as His “student teachers” we have access to that same authority. It is ours to claim, if only we will recognize this and act upon it.  Satan was defeated at the cross, but he will continue to wreak havoc on the earth until Jesus returns.  He pushes boundaries, preying on weakness and taking advantage of people who don’t know or have access to spiritual authority through Christ.  “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV)

There is no need to fear, however:  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:20, NIV)

Do you understand the authority God has given you? Are you using it to combat the enemy and to unleash God’s rule and reign in your spheres of influence?

If you want to learn more about these concepts, consider reading Charles Kraft’s book I Give You Authority, which provided the inspiration and content for this post. The information here is a brief overview of this important topic for anyone that is serious about following Jesus.

For a musical reminder of this important truth, click on the link to hear Blanca’s song “Greater is He.”

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Know Jesus, Know Peace

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Some nights, sleep eludes me- especially with the list of things to remember during the Christmas season. I wake up at three in the morning and my mind begins to race. Like a Border collie herding sheep, my thoughts dart around my brain attempting to corral the tangle of ideas that fill my mind. I can go on this way for hours, tossing and turning in the dark until I remember to whisper a prayer.   Finally, my mind rests as I lay it all at God’s feet and accept the gift of peace He promises in His Word.

The theme of peace is woven throughout the story of the Messiah, from Old Testament to New. Isaiah called the Christ child the “Prince of Peace” hundreds of years before Gabriel told Mary she would conceive a son by the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 9:6, and Luke 1:31-33, NIV). The angels celebrated the birth of Jesus by giving glory to God and proclaiming “peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14, NIV) Jesus, the Messiah, would usher peace into the world unlike anything previously experienced.

Once He was a grown man and began His ministry, Jesus had much to say about the kind of peace He was bringing to earth. Knowing the troubles His followers would face, He gave this reassurance shortly before He was crucified:

 All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:25-27, NIV)

The peace Jesus offered came in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. The disciples would not fully understand what He meant until later when they experienced the Spirit’s power after Jesus ascended into heaven (see Acts 1 & 2 for the story). Today, however, His followers have unlimited access to the power and peace of the Holy Spirit.  All they have to do is ask for it.

Later Jesus also explained:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

Jesus didn’t promise that He would make life easy or ensure circumstances would go according to our plans. He didn’t promise that things would always be happy. Jesus knew we would face troubles, that we would feel overwhelmed and that our fears would sometimes get the best of us. That is why He reminded us that the peace He gives is not like what the world offers—it is far greater. His peace is not based on circumstances, but on a much deeper sense of well being rooted in having a relationship with Him.

As I consider my sleepless nights and the imaginary Border collie that tries to herd my worries, I realize that what’s missing in my metaphor is a shepherd. Jesus described Himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10, so next time I’m fretting when I should be sleeping, I’ll picture Him walking beside that yapping collie, bringing order and peace to the chaos that sometimes rules my mind. I’ll imagine Him walking with focus and purpose, never frazzled or rushed. In His hand, He holds a curved staff that He uses to corral both the worries and the stray thoughts that keep me awake. And the next time I see a candy cane, I’ll let it remind me of my Good Shepherd’s staff.  I’ll thank Him for the gift of peace He brought at Christmas that is mine to keep throughout the year.

Given the sheep & shepherd metaphor, it seems only fitting that shepherds were the first ones to worship the newborn king all those years ago in Bethlehem. Click on the link and enjoy Sidewalk Prophets’ musical celebration of that sacred event: “What a Glorious Night.” Merry Christmas!

“What a Glorious Night” by Sidewalk Prophets

 


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Overwhelmed

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I’ve been fantasizing about vacation ever since I returned home. My days were filled with walks, bike rides, trips to the beach and reading for pleasure. The hardest decision I made was whether to have chocolate or rainbow sprinkles on my ice cream bar.

Of course, all good vacations must come to an end. On the day of our return, we pulled into our driveway and were immediately launched into a weekend full of festivities for a family member’s wedding. (Guests arrived at our house for the first event twenty minutes after we returned home). I loved every minute, but didn’t unpack my bag until two days later.

Exhausted from the action-packed weekend, I dreaded the coming week. My inbox was filled with e-mails about the start of school, sports and other activities. Many responsibilities demanded my time and attention. In addition, one of my sons was scheduled to get his wisdom teeth out. On top of this, my other son had a soccer training camp all week, which meant waking up by 6am to get him out the door by 6:30.

In short, I’ve been overloaded since returning from that blissful beach vacation. The weather still feels like summer, but the ramp-up to fall has definitely begun. The lists and piles covering my desk make that abundantly clear. Based on the conversations I’ve had with friends lately, it seems most people are feeling overwhelmed as they prepare for the start of school and other fall activities.

One thing that calms my soul during times like this is remembering that God is never overwhelmed. He’s never frantically looking at a “to do” list and wondering how He’ll ever get to everything on it. He’s never rushed, never frazzled.

There’s been a lot on my plate since returning from vacation, but I haven’t had those usual feelings of being overwhelmed. Ironically, the early morning soccer practices that forced me to get out of bed also created time and space for reading my Bible and praying as soon as my son left each morning.   I’ve been reminded that when I choose to spend time in God’s presence before rushing to conquer my day, those frantic feelings dissipate.

What I’m realizing is that rather than being overwhelmed by my schedule or my responsibilities, I want to be overwhelmed by God. I want His love to fill me so that it can flow from me and touch others with the same calming effect that He gives to me.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, run into His arms. Lean into Him and let the truth of His word encourage and sustain you today.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” (Isaiah 26:3 NIV)

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:27 & 33-34 NIV)

There are many things that have the potential to overwhelm us, but there is only One who is truly awesome enough to overwhelm us in all the right ways.

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