Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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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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Everything is Opposite- Sermon on the Mount Part 2

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Squinting at the scoreboard above our high school’s pool, I was surprised to see how many goals were posted on the “Guest” side for the evening’s water polo game.   My son and his teammates had been playing well and I was sure they’d scored a few more goals than the board showed for our home team. After a few minutes of confusion, I recalled we weren’t originally scheduled to host the game. The location had changed because our opponent’s pool was having maintenance issues, making us the “Guest” team in our own pool.

Turning to the fans surrounding me in the stands, I reminded them that our goals were being logged on the “Guest” side of the board. Most breathed a sigh of relief. Few of their sons had remembered to tell them this important detail before rushing out the door. Every time new fans arrived we told them the same information: “We’re the guest team tonight.” It’s always helpful to know how to read the scoreboard accurately so you can cheer for the right team.

As I opened the pages to Jen Wilkin’s Sermon on the Mount Bible study this week, my experience at the water polo game seemed like a fitting analogy. Reading Jesus’ opening words in the Sermon on the Mount evoked that same disconcerting “everything is opposite” sort of feeling.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-10, ESV)

In the world’s eyes, few of the descriptions listed by Jesus would be considered a blessing—no one wants to be poor in spirit, mourning or meek. Few people in our world value righteousness, give mercy or show purity of heart. Fewer still strive to be peacemakers or feel blessed in the face of persecution.  Most of the things our world values are completely opposite.

However, as followers of Christ, we don’t see things from the world’s perspective. We know we’re just travelers passing through on our way to our true home in heaven. Jesus makes this clear in John 15 when He explains “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world” (John 15:19a, NIV).

Our citizenship is in heaven. While we’re here on earth, our purpose is to be a dwelling for the Holy Spirit to bring God’s light into the world. (Paul talks about this in Ephesians 2:19-22, if you want to read more). In essence, we’re on the “Guest” team while we’re here and are called to invite others onto it with us by sharing the good news of Jesus with them.

Living the kind of opposite life Jesus describes is difficult, especially when the world around us doesn’t see value in what we’re doing. There can be lonely moments when we’re the only ones in the stands cheering for the “Guest” team because no one else cares about what matters to God. What I’m realizing, though, is that being blessed doesn’t always mean experiencing comfort or ease on this side of heaven.  We live with the tension of knowing Jesus has claimed the victory over sin, death and Satan, but our world has not yet embraced this truth. When the game ends, however, all people will look at the scoreboard and see that the “Guest” team has posted the win.

I thank God for blessing me with fellow travelers on my faith journey who walk beside me to encourage and challenge me as we strive together to live like Jesus. It’s a blessing to live an “everything is opposite” kind of life with others who know we’re just passing through on our way to a better place. It’s all about having our focus in the right place.

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Old vs. New

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There is a person in my life that causes me great angst at times. She’s critical of everything about me, always noticing my flaws and mistakes. When I don’t measure up to her standards, she’s ruthless in her criticism. No matter how many positive things I’m doing, she always notices what I’m not doing or what I could be doing more. She’s impatient, jealous and judgmental. She constantly compares me to others.

As much as I’d like to cut this person out of my life forever, I can’t seem to shake her completely. By now you’re probably wondering: who is this awful person?   Well, I call her “Old Me.” She’s the person I would be without God’s saving grace; she is my fleshly, worldly self.   Sadly, “Old Me” looks a lot like “New Me” on the outside, but her interior life is another story.

“Old Me” seems to show up when I haven’t been spending time with God consistently and renewing my mind in the truth of His Word. She deceives me into thinking I can perform for God to win His favor.   She focuses a lot on doing for God and not much on simply being with Him.

I was thinking about “Old Me” recently while reading Tim Chester’s book You Can Change. In it, he points out that many people change their behavior but are still not pleasing to God because their motives are impure.   When I think about the person I used to be (and that I can still be at times) I see that many of the things I did seemed good, but my reasons for doing them had more to do with proving myself or pleasing others than anything else. Chester explains: “We don’t do good works so we can be saved; we are saved so we can do good works. ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith…not a result of works… For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ (Ephesians 2:8-10).”

“New Me” experiences joy by doing good things God has prepared for me– it’s about responding to His love, not dutifully checking a box to feel good about myself or to gain approval from others.   In this frame of mind, my eyes are on God, not on myself. My desire is to please Him because I love Him, not because I’m trying to earn His favor.

One of the best passages that illustrates eliminating “Old Me” so that “New Me” can flourish comes from the gospel of John. In this passage, Jesus speaks to His disciples saying,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:5-9, NIV)

Remaining in God’s love impacts our perspectives and enables us to grow and thrive in our faith. The fruit He produces in us blesses and benefits others. (One of my pastors recently pointed out that a tree produces fruit for others to consume, not for its own benefit). For those abiding in God’s love, joy comes from growing deeper in our walks with Him and helping others to do the same. Conversely, when we don’t remain in His love, we’re not producing fruit–we’re trying to do things through our own effort to prove ourselves. For me, this is when “Old Me” tends to rear her head. In Jesus’ analogy of the vine, the withered branches represent “Old Me” and the only thing they’re good for is kindling.

This battle between “Old Me” and “New Me” happens more often than I’d like to admit. Maybe you can relate. We have a choice every day to abide with Christ, to remain in His love and to let Him renew our minds. The alternative is to do things our way.   It boils down to a standoff between living in our flesh and living by the Spirit. Let’s not be deceived by our “Old Me’s” anymore. God has already won the battle and we can embrace the truth that we are living under His grace. We are holy, righteous and redeemed, no matter what our old selves may try to tell us.

Mercy Me has an amazing song that speaks this truth. Click on the link to be encouraged by “Greater.”

Chester, Time; You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions; Crossway, 2010, p. 28


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Taking the Hindrance Out of Our Hurt

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The yellow ball bobbed in the water as my son swam behind it, pushing it forward with urgency as he sprinted the length of the pool. A player from the opposing water polo team was closing in on him fast. Suddenly, my boy’s body jerked to a stop and he appeared to be swimming in place. His opponent had reached out underwater and grabbed his ankle, pulling him backwards to keep him from getting any closer to the goal. I stared wide-eyed and turned to my husband, “Are they allowed to do that?”

He smirked before answering. “Well, not exactly, but sometimes it’s better to get a foul than to let someone shoot on the goal.”

Water polo, it turns out, is all about the teams creating hindrances for one another. I’ve often sat in the stands wincing as I watch one player put a hand on the shoulder of his opponent and hold his other hand high in the air, attempting to hinder him from scoring or passing to a team mate. I wouldn’t last five minutes, but my son seems to be energized by that kind of opposition. I’m amazed as I watch him pivot his body to swim around an opponent and drive toward the goal. For water polo players, moving past the hindrances seems to make a shot into the cage even more satisfying.

Could the same satisfaction come from getting around our own hindrances for God’s glory? If you’ve been doing Beth Moore’s study on 1 & 2 Thessalonians, you already know the answer is “yes.” She discusses several hindrances Paul identifies that can impede us from moving forward in our faith.

“14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! 17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-18, italics added, ESV)

Beth explains: “According to 1 Thessalonians 2:14-20, both people and Satan had authentically been successful at hindering Paul. But that’s just it. He kept pressing forward and refused to let the hindrance itself become a hindrance. He kept his squinting eyes on the goal. He didn’t get furious with God over all that had been permitted in his path or demand to know why God would make His will so utterly impossible to fulfill. He just stayed at it. He believed. He persevered” (Children of the Day, p. 70.)

In water polo, coaches use two terms as they shout directions to the players. During defensive plays, they’ll yell “press” when they want defenders to put pressure on offenders. The opposing players jostle in pairs, each trying to gain the advantage.   During offensive plays, coaches yell “drive,” spurring players to move toward open water and to find a position near the goal to score. Good players don’t let up on either one of these things. They press until they avert a goal and they drive until they score one.

Perhaps we can borrow some of their strategies when faced with our own hindrances in the spiritual realm. Rather than letting hindrances and the hurt that often accompanies them shut us down, we can use them to grow in our spiritual maturity and ability to be used by God. “What if, instead of fixating on taking the hurt out of our hindrance, we prayed for God to take the hindrance out of our hurt?” (Children of the Day p. 70)

Beth lists several “equations” to illustrate her idea. A few that resonated with me were:

Heartbreak – hindrance = depth

Disappointment – hindrance = faith

My pain – hindrance = my passion

I even added a few of my own to the list:

Insecurity – hindrance = authenticity

Self-consciousness – hindrance = sensitivity to others

Any hindrance we’ve experienced provides an opportunity for God’s transformation in our lives. When we lay them at His feet, He uses them to bless others. Consider Paul’s words: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV)

When we give God our hindrances, He matures us even as He heals and comforts us. The ways we learn and grow enable us to become a blessing for others facing similar challenges. In the process we are reminded that we are beloved children of the Almighty God, Who is hindered by nothing.

Click on the link below to watch Jason Gray’s music video “Remind Me Who I Am.” It provides some great visuals to help you remember that our hindrances do not define us. After watching, add your own equation to the comments section below and share the hindrance you need to relinquish to God so He can use your hurt for His glory.

Your Hurt- Your Hindrance = Your Opportunity to Impact Others and Glorify God.

(Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com)


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Advance Part 3: Keeping Your Courage Tank Full

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“Failure is not an option.” Can you picture a macho guy in an action adventure movie saying this to his team before sending them out on an impossible mission? While it sounds great, failure is an unavoidable part of our lives. How we respond to failure is the place where we have control.

Beth Moore explored this idea at the Living Proof Live event I attended in Stockton in June. My last few posts have expanded on some of the themes from her acrostic: A-D-V-A-N-C-E.

So far, we’ve covered the first four letters:

A- A kingdom is coming

D- Dare to advance it

V- Vie fiercely in prayer

A- Add traction to your action

Today we’ll look at the next letter:

N- Never take a “no” from the devil

Beth explained that Satan uses our failures and defeats to diminish our effectiveness and to convince us we’ll never succeed. Whether it’s falling back into an old pattern of sin or seeing a ministry we’re involved with flounder, we tend to let failures have more power over us than they should. However, God can use our setbacks to His advantage. He can teach us humility and grace or show us areas that need to be surrendered to Him. Our failures fertilize the soil we need for growth.

When we fixate on our defeats, they cause us to wallow in fear and insecurity, preventing us from advancing in our spiritual journeys or taking ground for God’s kingdom.   Beth used the analogy of a tank of gas, describing the way failures can drain our “courage tank” if we don’t submit them to God.

The Apostle Paul describes it this way:  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20)

Evaluating how full our courage tanks are should be a regular practice when we’re serious about following Jesus. If we find the needle on our gauge pointing towards “empty” then it’s time to surrender our fears to God and let Him fill us with “sufficient courage.”

Beth asked “What would you be like if you were operating at full courage? What do you have to lose?”

For me, operating at “full courage” means that I’m finding my confidence in Christ and developing the potential God has given me. I’m relying on Him to work through me and to use my spiritual gifts for His glory. I’m not looking to other people to define me or make me feel worthwhile because God is enough for me. When I’m operating at “full courage” I experience joy because of God’s incredible love for me, not because circumstances are lining up according to my plans.

A few years ago I encountered a season of failure that caused my confidence to falter and my faith to stall.   Looking back, I see how Satan capitalized on my insecurity to diminish my effectiveness in advancing God’s kingdom.

Over the course of a year I developed friendships with two different women who were struggling personally and seeking me for wisdom and encouragement. As my relationship with each of them grew, natural opportunities to share the gospel arose. Both seemed interested and excited to learn more- whether it was attending church or meeting with me regularly. It was exhilarating to have them ask spiritual questions and to point them toward Jesus. And then, without warning, each of them cut off relationship with me within a few months of each other. No return phone calls or texts; no answers to my e-mails. If I happened to bump into them around town they were cool and distant.

I continued to pray for both of them, but I was confused and bitter—disillusioned that I’d put myself out there only to have the relationships end abruptly with no explanation.

For several years, I shied away from reaching out to others, assuming there was something I’d done wrong to turn them off. I could only see my perceived failure. Satan had cut me off at the knees and robbed me of my courage and confidence.

So, two years ago when a new friend began asking spiritual questions, I was wary and hesitant. Her persistence won me over and I began sharing more of my faith with her. Eventually she plugged into Bible study with me and later coaxed me into starting a Bible study with her to reach other women in our community. (I’ve written more about this story in the post “Being Open Handed is a State of Mind” in April 2013).

Because of my perceived failures in the past, I turned to God, asking for His guidance, wisdom and courage. Instead of relying on my own abilities and previous experiences, I sought Him with each plan and decision along the way.   He taught me to trust Him one step at a time and to rely on Him for my confidence instead of my own skill or the approval of others.

I’d grown to expect rejection and was not prepared to have so many of the women we invited say “yes” to joining us for a Bible study. My co-leader and I moved forward with our plans in obedience. We didn’t worry about failure because we trusted God would provide whatever outcome He thought best.

In the last year, ten of us have been meeting weekly to study the Bible. For most of the women, this is the first time they’ve ever studied Scripture in their lives. Watching them grapple with God’s word, apply it to their lives and see Him at work has been like watching flowers bloom in a garden. Seeing their growth has filled my courage tank and made me realize the joy that comes from being used by God. My “failures” from a few years ago made me rely on God so much more than I ever did in the past.

A few weeks ago our group members gathered with our husbands, kids and some additional friends to host an event for Stop Hunger Now. The women in the group were eager to respond to God’s love by doing a service project together. I was overcome with joy watching as our kids laughed together wearing hairnets and packing food for the needy. Around fifty people came to help. A year ago, most of these women hadn’t even read the Bible, yet now they were advancing God’s kingdom in their families as they reached out to the hungry across the globe.

I’m glad I didn’t take a “no” from the devil when I felt discouraged after being rejected by my two friends. Looking to God to redeem my failure paved the way for His kingdom to be advanced. God has an amazing way of using setbacks to further His Kingdom. Our job is to let Him do it.

If you’ve been in a season of failure, click on the link below and be encouraged by Jason Gray’s song “Nothing is Wasted.”

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.   (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

IMG_1187For more information on Stop Hunger Now, or to host a meal-packing event, go to: http://www.stophungernow.org


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Straining Out Truth From Lies

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Nehemiah was an impressive man with a singular focus.  One of the things I most respect about him was his ability to discern truth from lies quickly and not to second-guess himself or God.  In Nehemiah chapter 6 his enemies hatch a scheme to derail him while he leads the people of Jerusalem in their wall re-building efforts.  The three schemers, Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem repeatedly send messengers asking Nehemiah to stop work to come and meet with them.   When he refuses, they finally fabricate a lie to strike fear in him.  They write and tell him there are rumors that he is planning a revolt and offer to “confer together” with him.  I love Nehemiah’s response:  “I sent him this reply: ‘Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.’”  (Nehemiah 6:8)  Nehemiah goes on to explain:  “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’  But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.’”  (Nehemiah 6:9)

Nehemiah saw the lie for what it was and didn’t let it upset him.  He didn’t lose his focus or spend time fretting over what other people might be thinking about him.  He didn’t worry about politics because he knew he was doing the right thing and that he had the king’s support.   His only response to their threat was to pray for strength and continue building.

Nehemiah’s story gives a great example for what Satan often does in our lives.  Sometimes we are working steadily toward accomplishing God’s call for us when Satan slips in and sows seeds of deception to get us off track.  Sometimes he uses other people, as he did with Nehemiah, and sometimes he uses our own doubts and insecurities.

We see a clear example of this in the New Testament in a conversation between Jesus and Peter:

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’  Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’”  (Matthew 16:21-23)

Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends, but Jesus recognized Satan was using him. Peter’s words were dissuading Him from carrying out the very purpose for which He came to earth: to suffer and die for the sins of all people.  Although Peter didn’t understand his error, Jesus recognized that his friend’s “supportive” words were actually clouding His focus.

Jesus knew well that lies and deception came from one source.  In an earlier exchange He has with a group of Jews who refuse to accept Him He says:  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

Both Jesus and Nehemiah immediately recognized Satan’s attempts to distract them from God’s goals for them.  Satan isn’t very creative and tends to grab from the same bag of tricks to derail us over and over again. The best way we can arm ourselves from falling for his lies is by knowing the truth of God’s word and having our gaze singularly focused on Him.  Satan wants nothing more than to render us ineffective by succumbing to our weaknesses and insecurities.  Lukewarm, complacent, insecure Christians rarely make an impact for the kingdom of God.

Our best defense against believing lies is being able to recognize God’s voice.  This happens when we spend time with Him and in His word consistently.  Jesus explains this using the metaphor of a shepherd (God) and His flock (us):  “The gatekeeper [shepherd] opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  (John 10:3-5)

There are many times in my life when I haven’t stopped to think about the voices I’m hearing.  Without God’s wisdom and discernment, I easily fall prey to Satan’s lies.  One of the fastest ways he does this is by causing me to focus on myself.  When I wallow in my feelings of inadequacy and insecurity I prevent myself from being used effectively for God’s purposes.  When I find my confidence in Christ and focus on God and what He can do through me, He moves in my life in powerful ways.  This can be as simple as taking my eyes off myself to smile at a stranger or as involved as saying “yes” to a ministry opportunity that is going to stretch me beyond my comfort zone.

A few years ago I attended a silent retreat sponsored through our church.  Included in the materials was a handout called “Three Voices” that provided wisdom for discerning between God’s voice, Satan’s voice and the world’s voice.  It has been like a spiritual and mental strainer for my mind.   All the internal and external voices I hear throughout the day get filtered through it.  I hold onto the voices containing God’s truth and discard the rest.  Over time, I’ve added to the list through my own experiences and observations.  I hope you’ll find it a useful tool as you learn to strain out truth and let the lies wash away.

Three Voices:

God’s Tone of Voice is:  soothing, quieting, peaceful, encouraging, invigorating, inspiring

Satan’s Tone of Voice is:  insistent, demanding, mesmerizing, hurried, rash, accusing, discouraging, doubt-producing, pride-building, vengeful, selfish, self-centered, critical, negative, defeating

The World’s Tone of Voice:  agrees with the world’s standards and attitudes, is driven to be accepted and acceptable, lets the culture set personal standards, compares self to others, believes we are what the world says, is fearful of what others think, seeks value in exterior and measurable qualities, constantly struggles to “measure up”

God’s Motives and Character:  builds relationships, empowers us, give us courage, provides wisdom, gives peace, stretches and challenges us, reassures us, convicts us to bring positive and healthy changes, offers grace, understands, forgives

Satan’s Motives and Character:  destroys, deceives, accuses, divides, isolates, turns people away form God, lies, makes us feel guilty, creates self-loathing, capitalizes on insecurities and doubts, exaggerates faults, magnifies misunderstandings

The World’s Motives and Character:  to please people, to fit in, to satisfy self, to look out for self, to judge self and others, to compare self to others

As you ponder the voices in your own life, let the verses below encourage you:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  –Romans 12:2

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” –Philippians 1:9-11

Click on the link below to hear Jason Gray’s song “Remind Me Who I Am.”  It’s a great encouragement to keep our minds fixed on God’s truth and not to believe the lies that assault us throughout the day.


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Your Weakness Lets God’s Strength Shine Through

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I started teaching high school at the tender age of 23– only five years after graduating from high school myself.  Being a new teacher was hard.  What made matters worse was that I looked like I could’ve been one of the students.  I decided that the best way to gain respect was to hide my weaknesses and insecurities.  I thought the students and parents would look down on me if I didn’t appear to have all the answers and everything “together” all the time.  Even among the other faculty members, I felt wary about sharing struggles.  I spent a lot of time compensating for my weaknesses and trying to cover them up.  That year I found myself in the staff lounge bathroom from time to time crying my eyes out over some difficulty I was facing.  Too proud to admit the truth, I’d blame my red, watery eyes on “allergies” if anyone approached me with concern for my wellbeing.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that admitting weaknesses is not only healthy and human– it’s also biblical.   To think I can do things on my own without God is simply foolish pride.  Maybe that’s why the story of Gideon appeals to me so much.  There’s no doubt he was weak.  He didn’t have the credentials needed to engage in battle against a formidable enemy—and that is exactly why God chose him.

Another reason I like Gideon is that he needed reassurance from God several times before he acted.  Just before entering battle against the Midianites with his puny army of 300, God blessed Gideon with the chance to overhear a Midianite soldier talking with his tent mate about a dream he had.   When Gideon overheard the dream and learned the men feared him and the army of Israel, he was greatly encouraged.  The story below picks up just after this in Judges 7:15-21.

When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

“Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’”

Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.

When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.

I love imagining the sound of the shattering pottery and the shouts of the soldiers.  I can just picture the shimmering light produced by the flames of 300 torches strategically placed in a circle on the hills surrounding the Midianite camp.  The small band of soldiers had been too far apart to see one another as they waited in the dark for the signal.  Imagine their triumph at the sound of the trumpet and the lights they all held high in the darkness.

These men did not fight with the traditional weapons of battle, yet God used their uncommon weapons to achieve a stunning victory.  On paper, nothing about their plan worked from a worldly perspective- they didn’t have the manpower or the tools to achieve victory, but they had God on their side.

“The weaknesses we often despise are required for the light of Christ to be seen and for the darkness around us to be dispelled.  Without the limitations and deficiencies of our vessels, we would not serve our purpose well.  Your weakness is not a liability.  It is one of your greatest assets.  God’s presence and power are best seen when our large, impressive personalities aren’t getting in the way.  So welcome His light into your weakness, and let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”  (Priscilla Shirer, Gideon, p. 125)

So, how does this look for those of us living in the 21st century?  First and foremost, we need to recognize our weaknesses and realize they need to be surrendered to God.

For me, the process of seeing my weaknesses took quite a while.  Throughout my teens and twenties, I struggled with insecurity. I’d grown so accustomed to it that I just assumed it was a part of who I was.  Never once had I considered asking God to use it for His glory.  I did my best to compensate for it in many ways- whether by trying to achieve more academically, to wear the “right” clothes, to associate with the “right” people or to hold positions of power and respect.  While none of these things were necessarily “bad,” none of them helped to alleviate my insecurity.  (Thus, the crying in the bathroom when I was a new teacher).  Sadly, my compensating made me more intimidating and less approachable as I tried harder and harder to be “perfect” so that I would feel more secure.

It was not until after I had kids and participated in my first Beth Moore Bible study that I ever realized insecurity was a weakness I could submit to God.  As I began to pray about it, God started to change me.  He didn’t miraculously remove it from my life, but He used it to make me more sensitive to others.  I began realizing that insecurity is a pervasive issue in our culture and that many women struggle with it.   God showed me many ways Satan uses it to keep women from connecting with one another because they feel too threatened and intimidated.  Insecurity prevents many of us from living into the people God is calling us to be.   It causes us to put up unhealthy facades that prevent authentic connection.  It renders our gifts useless and often leaves us feeling like outsiders with nothing to offer.  Few Bible teachers address this issue, so it remains a silent struggle for many.

I still remember the first time I admitted that I battled with insecurity publically.  I’d been asked to sit on a panel of women at our weekly Focused Living Bible Study.  Each panelist was asked to share about an area in her life where she needed God’s intervention on a regular basis.  I had a “safe” answer prepared in my head, but when the microphone was handed to me, I horrified myself by blurting out “I struggle with insecurity.”  My face was red and my hands were shaking as I passed the microphone on to the next panelist.  Inside, I was kicking myself for being so vulnerable.

To my surprise, when the panel ended several women made a beeline for me and thanked me for sharing aloud what they‘d been struggling with for years.  Each woman thought she was the only one.   When I let my clay vessel crack open and I exposed my weakness, the light of God’s love used my honesty to encourage others.  The weakness I’d been hiding and trying to compensate for in a variety of ways became the very thing God used to make me more authentic, approachable and encouraging to others with similar struggles.

Whether or not we like to admit it, we’re all just simple clay vessels like those earthen pots the soldiers carried to battle.  Your weaknesses may be different from mine, but you have something God can use for His glory, if only you’ll surrender it to Him.  With the Holy Spirit living within us, God can use our weaknesses to shine His light to a dark world in desperate need of a Savior.

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For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, ”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  2 Corinthians 4:6-7

Click on the link below to hear Matthew West’s song “Strong Enough,” to be reminded that God’s strength trumps your weakness.

Click on the link below to hear Josh Wilson’s “Pushing Back the Dark.”  You’ll be inspired to give your weaknesses to God and to watch how He uses them to shine His light to the world through you!