Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Claiming Your Spiritual Authority- The Armor of God Part 1

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Studying the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20 helps us to recognize we are not powerless when under spiritual attack. But have you ever stopped to wonder why Satan has any power over us at all? Ever wondered how he got any authority in the first place? Have you ever considered what it took for God to get it back for us?

If you want to understand the bigger picture, put a bookmark in Ephesians and flip back to Genesis and the beginning of time. You’re probably familiar with the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3, but maybe you haven’t connected it with studying the Armor of God.

Just after creating Adam and Eve, God blessed them and said: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NIV)

In these statements, God gave Adam and Eve authority to rule over the world. They had the free will to choose to do things his way or to follow their own path. Although everything he had given them was good, it wasn’t long before Satan came in the form of a serpent and enticed Eve to doubt God. By tempting her to disobey, the crafty snake implied God might be withholding something desirable from her.

Here’s a portion of the story, starting with Satan convincing Eve to disobey God: “’God knows that when you eat from [the tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”(Genesis 3:5-7, NIV)

Although God remained the ultimate and sovereign authority, he allowed Adam and Eve to exercise their free will, even though it went against him. By choosing to disobey him, Adam and Eve gave away the authority he had given them at creation. Sadly, they were too naïve to understand the consequences. They failed to realize that everything under their authority would fall when they fell. Their actions brought a curse on all of creation and gave Satan authority over all that God had given them.

Many years later, when Jesus was just beginning his earthly ministry, Satan showed his legitimate authority over the earth when he tempted Jesus: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” (Luke 4:5-7, NIV)

In this encounter, Jesus retraced Adam and Eve’s footsteps to the point of temptation. However, instead of giving in to it, he chose obedience to God and refused Satan. During his life on earth, he set aside his nature as God so that he could live as a human: “[Jesus] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  As the only sinless man, he willingly paid the debt for the sins of humankind: “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8, NIV)

When God resurrected Jesus from death, Satan was defeated and stripped of his authority: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, NIV)

Jesus returned us to the original place of authority for which we were created. He was there when Satan fell from heaven at the beginning and he restored what was lost in the Garden of Eden through his death and resurrection. He said to his disciples: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” (Luke 10:18-19, NIV)

Although Satan has temporary authority until Christ’s return, we have power through Jesus to overcome the enemy every day. There is no need to fear. Ultimately, we can rest in the knowledge that God will keep the promise he made to Eve when he said her offspring would eventually crush the serpent’s head (see Genesis 3:15). The apostle Paul reminds us of this saying: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20a, NIV)

If you are a follower of Jesus, God has given you spiritual authority. It is yours to claim, if you choose. Knowing how to use his authority requires diligent study and application of God’s Word. Priscilla Shirer’s The Armor of God is a great way to awaken to this amazing truth. When you apply what you learn, you’ll unleash God’s rule and reign in your life, you’ll combat the enemy and you’ll impact others for God’s kingdom.

For a reminder of God’s greatness and how it affects us, click on the link and enjoy Phil Wickham’s song “Your Love Awakens Me.”

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Overcoming Ignorance and Fear About Spiritual Warfare

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Calling him careless would be an understatement. Nolan was a blonde-haired ball of energy that entered my son’s class in second grade. He was new to our neighborhood but immediately joined our daily walks to school. Most mornings, he careened toward us on a pair of oversized Rollerblades that he could barely control. Oblivious to danger, he would speed and swerve into the middle of the street, never bothering to check for cars first. More often than not, a vehicle would stop suddenly to avoid hitting him. But no matter how many times we warned him, Nolan’s cavalier attitude never seemed to change.

Contrasting this careless behavior, there was a time not long ago when I was the opposite of Nolan. I’d recently recovered from a bike accident and after a three month recovery and hours of physical therapy, I fretted about getting back on my bike. Everything felt like a potential hazard. The curb, a patch of gravel or a car parked on the side of the road all seemed menacing. Each one caused my heart to race with fear, threatening to topple me from my bike and leave me in a crumpled heap on the pavement.

These stories of carelessness and hyper-vigilance make great metaphors showing the reactions people have to the topic of spiritual warfare. For many, the subjects of Satan, evil spirits and the realms of darkness are too much to fathom. Whether they evoke fear, cynicism or discomfort, there are people who would rather ignore the whole topic. Like Nolan on his Rollerblades, they remain blissfully ignorant, assuming that what they refuse to acknowledge can’t hurt them. This posture leaves them open to attack and unaware of the spiritual authority they have through Jesus.

The other extreme are people who over-spiritualize every situation. They attribute any mishap or problem in their lives to spiritual attack. Like my paranoia when I returned to biking, they believe Satan is lurking around every corner ready to pounce and destroy them.   These people are often fearful and see God and Satan as having equal amounts of spiritual authority on opposite ends of the spectrum of good and evil. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The idea of unseen realms and forces of evil makes some of us squirm, but learning about it is vital if we want to continue growing spiritually. The spirit world is real and pretending like it isn’t won’t make it go away.

The most important thing you need to understand about this topic is that Jesus has already won the war– Satan does not have equal power to God. Through Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection, he paid the penalty for sin, thus claiming victory over Satan. (I’ll explain this further in my next blog). In Ephesians, we learn how “we can actually receive and experience tangible, long-term effects of this victory in our practical everyday living.” (The Armor of God, p. 25)  Paul’s letter explains the spiritual gifts and tools God has given Christians and urges us to use them wisely.

For the next several weeks, I look forward to discovering how to apply the things we learn about spiritual warfare to enrich our prayer lives. Using Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, The Armor of God as a jumping off place, we will explore the different elements of spiritual armor God gives us and how we can use each one to claim victory over the enemy.

If this topic excites you, you’ll be energized and inspired by what we learn together. And if it scares or intimidates you, you’ll find practical explanations that help you see its relevance and ease your fears. It is a worthwhile topic and one followers of Jesus can’t afford to ignore.

Together we will learn to be vigilant about protecting ourselves from spiritual attack. We’ll discover how to identify and repair the chinks in our armor. And we’ll understand the authority we have through Christ, which will give us confidence in the spiritual realm. By the end, we’ll have a balanced perspective and will have navigated around blissful ignorance and fearful paranoia.

Over the next few weeks we will discover how to Put on the full armor of God, so that [we] can take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:11-12, NIV)

For further encouragement on this challenging topic, click on the link and be inspired by Chris Tomlin’s song: “Whom Shall I Fear.”

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Responding to Evil and Violence

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

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

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

Pray for Our Enemies

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

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

Repay Evil with Good

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

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

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

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

Take Personal Responsibility to Promote Good

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

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29-32, NIV)

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

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

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

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God is Greater- What Love Is Week 4

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Remember learning math in elementary school? Teachers would use all sorts of visual and tangible things to help us understand the different concepts. One I’ll never forget was learning the symbols for “greater than” and “less than.” Although the symbols were simple, it was hard for the kids in my class to remember which side of the “<” and “>” symbols represented the larger and smaller numbers. So my teacher cleverly told us to imagine a hungry alligator eating the number. Of course, his open mouth would face the greater number so that he had more to eat. I thought about that visual recently as I read 1 John. It’s reassuring to know that God is greater than some of the most powerful influences we face every day.

 God is Greater than Our Hearts

We often hear the phrase “follow your heart,” but if we heed this advice, the results aren’t always positive. In Scripture, the heart is used to represent thoughts, reasoning, understanding, will, judgment, affections, love, hatred, fear, joy, sorrow and anger. As a result, the heart can often lead us to make decisions based on our feelings instead of on truth. Sometimes it leads us down the right path, but sometimes it doesn’t. The prophet Jeremiah describes the heart’s fickle nature this way: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)

Our hearts can deceive us when we let them influence our faith too much. They can cause us to be too harsh or too lenient in our views of others and ourselves. If we’re feeling disconnected from God, this might cause us to doubt his love for us. And if we get stuck in a rut of sin, we might feel like we no longer deserve God’s love. Thankfully, “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20, NIV) Our salvation is not based on our feelings about God, but upon the grace, love and mercy he showed to us by sending Jesus to die for our sins on the cross. If you’ve accepted Christ as your savior, that is a truth you can believe, whether your feelings agree with it or not.

God is Greater than The Evil One

John’s letter also emphasizes that Christians are spiritually stronger than spirits of evil. He says, You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:3-4, NIV)  The “one” John refers to here is Satan, the prince of this world.

The evil one loves to distract believers with difficulties to prevent them from advancing the kingdom of God on earth. He wants to deceive us into believing we are powerless to fight his schemes. Sometimes he lulls us into apathy or self-absorption. Regardless of the methods he uses, his aim is the same: to take our eyes off of God and to make us forget that we have already claimed victory over him because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So the next time you’re facing discouragement, distress or any other negative situation, stop and pray.   Thank God that he is greater than the enemy and claim the Lord’s power over whatever difficulty you are facing.

God is Greater than the World

It doesn’t take much to realize that living for Jesus means living contrary to the majority of the world. Christ followers spend their days swimming against the tide of popular opinion and worldly philosophies. And just like physical exercise makes our bodies stronger, this “spiritual exercise” makes our faith stronger. It can also make us a little weary sometimes.

Although the world often sees following God’s commands as impossible, Scripture makes it clear that obeying God is within our grasp:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5, NIV)

We are victorious whenever we choose to reject the world’s influence on our thoughts and actions and follow God’s ways instead. This happens when we seek his direction for major life decisions instead of following worldly wisdom. It also occurs through daily decisions about the way we spend money and time, the company we keep, the pleasures we pursue and the ways we treat others. There is no need to feel burdened by these decisions. Doing things God’s way frees us up to grow closer to him and to discover more of the abundant life he has for us.

Claiming God’s Greatness

Maybe you need a reminder right now that God has overcome these areas in your life. Are your emotions influencing your thoughts more than the truth found in the Bible? Be encouraged that God is greater than your heart. Is Satan toying with you by causing you to believe lies or to wallow in self-pity? Be empowered knowing that God has overcome the evil one. Are the hollow philosophies and sinful choices of our culture wearing you down or lulling you into complacency? Be energized knowing that through Christ, you have overcome the world.

There are two great songs based on these truths that always encourage me. Click on the link to hear “Greater is He” by Blanca and “Greater” by Mercy Me.

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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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