Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Christmas Story Symmetry

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Perhaps you’ve seen a sketch of Leonardo DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man, which depicts the amazing symmetry of the human body and shows a beautiful merging of art, science and math.  In case you’ve forgotten what you learned in high school art class, symmetry is the balance and consistency of pattern on opposite sides.  If you drew a vertical line down the middle of DaVinci’s drawing above, there would be correlating parts on each side that matched up with one another. You see symmetry in art, architecture, interior design and living beings.

Recently I came across a different kind of symmetry that is more about stories and events in Scripture that balance and complement one another. I wanted to learn about the town  of Bethlehem by looking at the different places it’s mentioned.  What I discovered  were some parallels between the Old and New Testaments I hadn’t noticed before. It appears that the One who designed us to have beautifully symmetrical bodies also orchestrated symmetrical events in Scripture. Here are a few that stand out to me:

Ruth and the Shepherds

The book of Ruth tells the story of a Moabite woman who traveled to Bethlehem with her Israelite mother-in-law to live there after the deaths of their husbands. As a poor, foreign widow, Ruth was about as low in social status as a person could be. Her means of survival came from picking up leftover grain in a field just outside the town of Bethlehem owned by a kind and godly man named Boaz. He would later become her husband and father a child that would be in the line of King David and ultimately, the Messiah.

Now fast-forward in history to the book of Luke, where we read that on the night of Jesus’ birth angels appeared to startled shepherds tending their flocks on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Like Ruth, these men would have been societal outcasts. In spite of their unimpressive status, God chose to send angels to them to announce the birth of his son, the Messiah.

It’s beautiful symmetry set up over a thousand years apart. In both cases, God revealed himself to lowly people in a field outside Bethlehem. In that place he showed his provision to Ruth and his glory to the shepherds. And in both instances, he revealed his accessibility to all people, regardless of their social standing or nationality.

David, Mary & Joseph

Bethlehem appears again in the story of David, one of the most prominent kings in Israelite history. In 1 Samuel 16 we learn that David’s original home was in Bethlehem. Later in 2 Samuel 7 God promised David that through him he would establish a family line that would endure forever, ultimately producing the Messiah.

About a thousand years later, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for a census. Since both were from the family line of David they were required to register there. Soon after arriving, Mary gave birth to Jesus, the One who would save the world from sin and fulfill God’s promise that David’s family line would endure forever.

I love the symmetry of this ancient promise to a powerful king from Bethlehem being fulfilled in that very place through a humble and willing peasant girl.

Micah and The Magi

Micah prophesied about the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem roughly 800 years before it occurred saying, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2, NIV)

Eight centuries later, an unusual star appeared in the sky, catching the notice of a group of scholars from the east (Matthew 2 refers to them as Magi). These men traveled to Jerusalem in search of the King of the Jews that the star heralded, logically assuming that a king would be born in the capital city. After arriving, they inquired of King Herod: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Because he was not a Jew, King Herod consulted with the chief priests and scribes to learn where the Messiah was to be born. They answered by quoting Micah 5:2, the same passage written above. Despite being gentiles, the Magi had come to worship the Jewish king, revealing their understanding that he was accessible to Jews and non-Jews alike.

Don’t miss the beautiful symmetry of Micah’s prophesy in the Old Testament and the fact that it is quoted in the New Testament to guide the Magi to Jesus. Also, think of the symmetry between the Magi, who were wealthy, educated gentiles from a foreign land and the shepherds who were poor, uneducated locals with Jewish blood running through their veins. God revealed himself to people at opposite ends of the spectrum, showing us that Jesus is the Savior of all and available to all regardless of any human distinctions such as race, creed, nationality, social status, financial status, or education level. He welcomes all who genuinely seek him with humble hearts.

For me, seeing the bigger scope of God’s plan makes the miracle of Christmas even more powerful. Recognizing that events in the Old Testament have direct and specific links to ones in the New Testament inspires awe, reminding me that the original concept of symmetry came from the Creator himself. I pray that like me, you will find moments to be awe-struck by God this Christmas as you celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah for all people.

I understand so much more about “the hopes and fears of all the years” after studying Bethlehem’s significance from Old Testament to New. Click on the link and enjoy a new version of an old favorite: “O Little Town (The Glory of Christmas)” by Matt Redman.

(Note to my Life In Focus Blog followers: my blog is simultaneously being posted on two different sites for now.  Eventually it will only be posted at my new site: http://www.marybethmccullum.com.  Please consider subscribing to it there!)

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True vs Truth- No Other Gods Session 3, Post 2

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(Fourth in a series on Kelly Minter’s Bible study, No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols)

I carry an ache with me all the time lately, even though I’m physically fine. I feel it most profoundly at night when I kiss my oldest son goodnight after putting my hand on his head to pray for him. I feel it when I look at the stacks of college-related books and papers sitting on our office counter and each time I review another essay he’s written for an application. My son will become a legal adult in the spring and shortly afterwards, he’ll walk across a stage wearing a cap and gown, signifying the end of his childhood and the beginning of the next chapter in his life. And although this is right and good, the sadness overwhelms me sometimes.

In my twenties, I used to envision the family I would have someday. More often than not, I would picture what my future children would be like as teenagers. Much of the planning my husband and I did focused on the era we’re now enjoying with our two boys. As I think about our oldest son preparing to launch into adulthood, it feels like the wave we’ve been riding since we started our family is about to crash on the sand. After all, the era we’ve been anticipating for years and enjoying thoroughly is going to change forever within the next year. Sometimes I’m tempted to feel a little hopeless, thinking life right now is as good as it gets.

Fixating on this could lead me down a dangerous path of negative thinking.  I could spend so much time dwelling on all of the things that will never happen again that I could miss out on embracing this new season my family is entering.  I have one boy on the brink of adulthood and another who will follow in a few years. Part of parenting means equipping our kids to launch well. So, while it’s true that my kids are getting older and our years raising them will come to an end, the truth is our relationship with them won’t. Beyond parenting, I trust God has many more fulfilling endeavors for my husband and me in the years ahead. Some may involve our kids, but others won’t.

True vs. truth:  it’s a concept that I’ve been thinking about for the last few days as I’ve been working through Session 3 in No Other Gods by Kelly Minter.  She uses the story of Adam and Eve to drive home some powerful observations about what happens when we fixate on isolated things that are “true” but fail to see the larger context of Truth (with a capital “T”).  As you may remember, Satan appears in the garden in the form of a serpent and questions Eve about God’s command not to eat from a specific tree. After he plants seeds of doubt about God’s goodness in Eve’s mind, the serpent cunningly convinces her to disobey God and try the fruit:

“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 3:6-7, NIV)

Kelly Minter points out that while the serpent did deceive Eve, nothing he said was false in that immediate moment:  they did gain knowledge of good and evil and they did not die on the spot (although their disobedience did ultimately bring death into the world).  She quotes Michael Wells of Abiding Life Ministries who says, “Satan will tell us what’s true, but he never tells us the truth.”

I’ve been thinking about that quote all week.  How often do I fixate on what is “true” in the moment, but fail to see the bigger Truth?

There are many times when I let what is true at a certain time deceive me and prevent me from seeing the bigger picture– like feeling sad about my kids growing up but forgetting that I’m doing my job right if they’re actually becoming capable adults. I can lose perspective on other things too– like when a friend unintentionally hurts me, or when the scale doesn’t show the weight I expect to see.  It might be an unanticipated expense that threatens my confidence in God’s provision. It could be feeling despair about the direction our nation and world are headed and failing to remember that God is still sovereign over it all.  The opportunities to focus on the little “t” instead of the big “T” are endless.

Armed with my new knowledge, I regularly pray for the discernment to see the difference between what is “true” and what is “Truth.” I don’t want to be so easily deceived or to get so wrapped up in the small things that I fail to recognize the big picture. Jesus tells us in John 16:33  “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Now that’s Truth with a capital “T” that I can believe, no matter what.

The link below is one of my favorite songs and the video with it shows the difference between what is “true” and what is “Truth.” Click on the link and enjoy “Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bad Year, Good God

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I’ve heard people joke that 2016 is a year they’d like to forget. Daily headlines remind us our nation and our world have seen more than their fair share of ugly circumstances: tragic accidents, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, disturbing racism and political upheaval. Our nation is deeply divided, confused and disillusioned. Our world is in turmoil. People are losing sleep and shedding tears as they agonize over the variety of complex issues that have plagued us this year.

And yet, in the midst of all of these ugly and awful things, I am thankful. Not because of them, but in spite of them. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am thankful that my hope isn’t in human leaders, or manmade institutions. My hope isn’t in people, prosperity or earthly peace. I’m thankful because my hope is in the living God, who is sovereign over all things. I’m thankful because my ultimate citizenship is not in this world, but with God in heaven.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture seems especially fitting this week as I reflect on my thankfulness for God and his sovereignty. Below I’ve included excerpts from Isaiah 40 that cause me to feel thankful, hopeful and reassured, no matter what is going on in our nation and world:

Isaiah 40:21-25

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.”

Thankfulness Point #1: People who seem important or influential in this world may make a positive or negative impact for a time, but they will ultimately blow away like chaff in the wind. No earthly leader, no matter how wise or respected could ever compare to God. Likewise, no earthly leader, no matter how corrupt or questionable, could ever thwart God’s plans.

 Isaiah 40:26

“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

Thankfulness Point #2: God knows the stars by name and calls them out one by one. He also knows the number of hairs on my head and the head of every other person who has ever lived. (Luke 12:7) Nothing escapes his gaze. I am deeply thankful that the God of great power and mighty strength knows and cares about me personally.

 Isaiah 40:27-28

“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

Thankfulness Point #3: Even when we don’t understand what God is allowing in this world, we know he is trustworthy. His understanding is beyond anything our miniscule minds could comprehend. We can be thankful even when God’s ways and purposes are hidden from us. He is everlasting and sees world events from a vantage point that has a much larger scope than anything we can see.

 Isaiah 40:29-31

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Thankfulness Point #4: God renews our strength. No matter how weary and beaten down we become, we can always find refuge in him. His strength is available and accessible to us whenever we seek it. Not only does he renew and restore us, he enables us to soar like eagles so we can rise above even the most distressing situations.

Final Thought

No matter how ugly or distressing the events in the world are, we never have reason to despair. We can put trust and hope in the living God. He is our rock and refuge. Anything else we’re thankful for builds on that one truth. God is God and we are not. And that’s something we can celebrate at Thanksgiving and all year long.

For further reassurance on God’s sovereignty, click on the link and enjoy Natalie Grant’s song “King of the World.” Make it your prayer this Thanksgiving season.

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When Pain Exposes Your Idols: No Other Gods Session 2

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(Second in a series of posts inspired by Kelly Minter’s Bible Study entitled No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern-Day Idols)

Whenever I’m leading a group through a Bible study, I make it a priority to work through the book on my own before they begin. Back in the spring I studied Kelly Minter’s No Other Gods in preparation for this fall. The day I was reading Week 2, Day 3, I was sitting at my desk attempting to position my arm so that I could write. A huge splint bent at a ninety-degree angle was making it awkward to put pen to paper. It was just four days after breaking my elbow and wrist and I was reading about how God uses pain to identify our idols. Using the life of Hannah from 1 Samuel, the lesson gently emphasized that God occasionally brings pain into our lives for a reason. The last question on that day of study asked me to consider how Hannah’s life was enriched by God’s closing of her womb. Trying to connect her painful experience to mine, I scrawled a list of the things God was teaching me through having a broken arm (my comparison is not intended to diminish the deep pain of infertility). That list helped me to clarify the ways he was working and inspired me to write a few blog posts about what I was learning. (You can find those five posts from May and June of 2016 in the archives to the right.)

Now, seven months later, I was reviewing the lesson again to stay in sync with the women in my group. Turning the page in my book, I discovered a yellow Post-it note with the bullet-pointed list in my messy handwriting from back in the spring. It was the one I’d written a few days after breaking my arm. Ironically, I found it on the same day my doctor’s office had delivered a new device that will hopefully aid in healing my arm once and for all (at the moment, it still doesn’t extend fully).

Reading the list convicted me that some of the lessons I thought I’d learned needed to be repeated. I should probably explain this a bit more. My new therapy requires me to put my arm in a heavy elbow splint and to sit for thirty minutes three times a day. The device must remain on a hard surface and I have to be in a seated position. Since it’s my right arm, I can’t write, type or do anything particularly productive. Suffice it to say, I’ve been lamenting having ninety minutes of “wasted” time daily for the foreseeable future. My husband, on the other hand, thinks it’s awesome.  Apparently, my constant drive to be productive makes it difficult for my family to relax around me.

The more I thought about this, the more I felt convicted that although productivity is a good thing, it has become something of an idol in my life. The drive to complete tasks and tend to responsibilities can be relentless. And wrapped up in that is an underlying assumption that being constantly productive makes me a worthwhile person. There is a sense of power, identity and control that comes from knowing I’m accomplishing things constantly.

Reading Hannah’s prayer after the birth of her miraculous first child, I was struck by the contrasts in her description of God’s activities:

“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.

The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts…

For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; on them he has set the world.

He will guard the feet of his faithful servants, but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken.” (1 Samuel 2:6-7, 8b,9, NIV)

This is not the description of a haphazard or capricious God, but of a God who knows exactly what to give people in different seasons of their lives. He knows who needs more and who needs less; who needs to be humbled and who needs to be exalted. And he creates circumstances accordingly.

The last line of this passage is the one that strikes me hardest: “It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be broken.” The power, identity and control that I get from being productive can make me feel strong. But this verse reminds me if my productivity is opposing God’s plans for me, I will be broken. For me, there are times when this has been literal. When I’m working so hard to do things “for” God without drawing on his strength and wisdom, I’m actually producing nothing of lasting value. Only when I draw near to him first and let his strength fill me and his wisdom guide me will I make any impact for his kingdom. And when he needs to remind me of this, he allows painful circumstances in my life, like a broken arm that refuses to heal fully without ninety minutes of doing nothing “productive” every day.

God is much more interested in a heart that is fully surrendered to him than a mind intent on being productive—even when the goal has spiritual implications (like writing a blog, preparing a Bible study or leading a ministry). Author Donna Partow says it this way: “God is not interested in the most efficient or effective way of accomplishing his work in this world…What he is profoundly interested in is you. And me…He is profoundly interested in molding and shaping us—conforming us to the image of his Son. He is profoundly interested in preparing us for the coming Kingdom, when we will reign as joint heirs with his Son.”

Josh Wilson’s song “Fall Apart” celebrates the way pain draws us near to the heart of God. Click on the link and be encouraged as you listen:

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Choosing to Be Different– No Other Gods Session 1

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(First in a series of posts inspired by Kelly Minter’s Bible Study entitled No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern-Day Idols, Lifeway Press 2012)

 Holding the cup, I shifted it from one hand to the other and tried to blend in with the crowd. I only recognized a few faces at the party since it was one of my first weeks in college. Surrounding me were many under-aged revelers happily drinking from their red cups and re-filling them from the large keg of beer in the corner. Trying to find my place in a new world, I was struggling with how to be social while maintaining my integrity. I wanted to be a light to my peers but I also wanted to fit in. I’d been wrestling with how to navigate being a part of a sorority and attending social events without dishonoring God or compromising my morals.  Finding an answer had not been easy.

Later, I called a friend who was a strong believer at another large, public university. We had similar convictions and I wondered how she navigated the party scene in the Greek system. We both wanted to fit in, make friends and be social, but we also knew the culture could easily lure us to bad choices that would lead us to a whole host of sins.

I told her about the party and how I’d accepted the cup offered to me, but hadn’t really drunk from it. She sympathized with my dilemma, but didn’t mince words, “Well, how does anyone know you’re different if you do that? You’ve just got to tell people you don’t drink.” I was surprised and convicted by her words. I’d called expecting her to tell me it was okay to blend in at the party as long as I didn’t get drunk. She explained, “If you stand out as different, someone may ask you why. That’s a great chance to share your faith and be a light in a dark place. Who knows what kind of encouragement you might give to someone who really needs it?” I’d been so focused on wanting to fit in that I hadn’t considered the impact I could have by being different.

In the weeks that followed, I began attending parties with a changed perspective. I enjoyed socializing and gained the confidence to say: “No, thanks, I don’t drink,” when someone held out a red cup to me. Some dismissed me, but others were intrigued and wanted to know why. As the weeks unfolded, people stopped pressuring me to drink. They accepted and even respected my stance. In time, I discovered there were others in the Greek system that loved Jesus and chose not to participate in the drunken revelry so prevalent in that culture. Their choice to stand out as different encouraged and emboldened me. Eventually, we banded together and, with the support of a campus ministry, launched quarterly outreach events and weekly Bible studies for the Greek system.

Our choice to honor God and not just blend in with the culture of sororities and fraternities opened the door for him to use us in powerful ways among our peers. We integrated ourselves into the system without embracing the aspects of it that would draw us away from God. We were in the world, but not of the world—choosing to set ourselves apart so that God could use us to impact and influence those around us.

I’ve thought of that season in my life many times in the years since. The story isn’t really about underage drinking; it’s meant to show what happens when we broaden our perspective about how we engage others. In each season of life, we have the opportunity to influence our culture for Christ or to be influenced by it

There is a story about God’s chosen people, the Israelites, that illustrates this in a different way:

“They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, ‘Do not do as they do.’” (2 Kings 17:5, NIV)

Contrary to my opening story, the Israelites did not remain set apart from the sinful choices of the people around them. Instead of remaining true to the God of their ancestors, they imitated other nations that didn’t follow God or value his laws.  It is a sobering reminder that if we are not intentionally seeking to influence the culture around us, then it is influencing us. There is no neutral zone.

When we mindlessly plunge in and embrace the worldviews surrounding us, we open ourselves up to many attitudes and choices that lead us further away from God. We begin to value worthless and hollow things more than the things of God. We look for satisfaction in cheap, imitation idols instead of the one, true God. The further down this road we go, the harder it is to backtrack because we start to adapt our lives to worldly perspectives instead of God’s Word. It’s so much easier to float along with the current of popular culture than it is to swim against it.

Take some time this week to think and pray about this concept. Are you seeking ways to influence others for God’s kingdom or inadvertently allowing the people around you to influence you? Be honest with God and invite him to change your perspective where it’s needed.

It may take a while to disentangle from the worldly things that have captured your time and attention, but it is never too late to change course. By God’s grace, every day is a new opportunity to realign with him and to turn your back on things that have no lasting value.

Jeremy Camp’s “Christ in Me” is an inspiring song about recognizing the hollow ways of the world and choosing to change your perspective. Make it your prayer today.

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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.