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Shield of Faith

December 10, 2019

Large and slightly curved with a knob in the middle, the Roman shield allowed its bearer to deflect attacks and even knock an opponent backward. Soldiers would also soak their shields in water, so they could extinguish any flaming arrows shot at them by the enemy.

Spiritually, as most Christians know, the shield represents faith.

“Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” (Ephesian 6:16)

We likely all feel like we know exactly what faith is. Yet, it’s such a spiritualized concept that it’s easy to lose touch with exactly what it is and does for a Christian. This is especially true when looking at it as a piece of armor.

What is faith?

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

The word “substance” here means confidence and indicates something solid and real. What is “hoped for” and have “evidence of,” even though we cannot see it, is the truth and fulfillment of what God says in his word.

How does faith protect like a shield?

Faith guards and protects our beliefs and values, which we get from God’s word. Our faith deflects Satan’s attacks (e.g., lies, deceit, distraction, etc.). In other words, it blocks Satan’s access to all that we are in Christ. While he can’t ever take those things away, he can make us believe that we can lose them.

There is one more aspect to note about the Romans and their shields relevant to how our shield of faith protects us. Romans used what is called the “turtle formation” to fight.

The Romans were very tough to beat because of this formation, and hopefully the correlation for Christians is clear. Maybe you’re struck anew as I was by the shield of faith when you saw this.

Imagine Christians with their shields up together like this. Imagine them defending against Satan’s attacks together. We’d be unstoppable too!

Weight Training

December 3, 2019

Weight training makes you stronger, but too much weight can injure you. Even carrying a weight you’re strong enough to lift can injure you if you carry it for too long.

Also, it’s not always what you carry that is too much weight. It’s often how you carry it that causes problems. Anyone who exercises much knows how important form is for preventing injury.

When we think of our spiritual lives, we understand that carrying weight we shouldn’t involves carrying negative things like unforgiveness and worry. We can’t forget, though, that a weight can also be any distraction that keeps us from obedience and hearing from God.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

This verse speaks to perseverance, both our own and the examples of the many who have gone before us. It also speaks to getting rid of that which weighs us down and hinders our ability to persevere.

Throwing off a weight can mean putting it down and moving forward without it. But that’s not always what it means. It can also mean increasing our fitness, so a weight is no longer a hindrance.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” (C.S. Lewis)

 “You will find that it is necessary to let things go simply because they are heavy.” (C. JoyBell C.)

Sometimes, yes, you need to completely put down anything that keeps you from running the race God has marked out for you. Put it down and never pick it up again.

At the same time, realize that sometimes you need to get stronger, so you can carry the weight. As you do, it will eventually not be an entanglement. How? Check out these verses about spiritual growth to go deeper on this topic.

Steal, Kill & Destroy

November 5, 2019

“The thief comes to steal, kill & destroy.” (John 10:10)

The word “steal” used in John 10:10 is not just a taking of something. It involves deception and misleading too. This verse is basically saying that the thief (Satan) wants to distract and trick us, so he can steal what’s most valuable to use.

What valuables? Peace. Joy. Hope.

He doesn’t just take them either. He kills and destroys them… if we let him. When we’re distracted, that’s exactly what we’re doing too… letting him steal from us.

Satan uses distraction and trickery to steal certain things from us because we won’t just give them to him. He cannot get close enough to certain valuables unless we’re not paying attention to them because we’re focused on something else.

What distractions? Hurt. Disappointment. Sadness. Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment.

What should we do?

“Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the devil… praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication…” (Ephesians 6:10-20)

In other words, daily put on… truth, righteousness & peace.

And pick up… faith, salvation, & God’s word.

All the while… pray, pray, pray.

This daily routine – more than that, really, a way of living – protects us from the “strategies and tricks” of the devil. It keeps us alert, so we protect what’s most important to us.

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

Cogito Ergo Sum

July 9, 2019

“I think, therefore I am.” – René Descartes

Because I think, I exist. That’s the sentiment behind this saying. Unfortunately, thinking no longer has value for many people.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room.” – Blaise Pascal, French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and Catholic theologian

Researchers tested Pascal’s thinking by giving individuals a choice between 15 minutes alone with only their thoughts or giving themselves an electric shock.

67% of men and 25% of women chose the electric shock (Sciencemag.org)

What would you choose? Do you struggle being alone with your thoughts?

“Thinking is the hardest work anyone can do, which is probably why we have so few thinkers.” – Henry Ford, American industrialist

Pascal (1623-1662) and Ford (1863-1947) spoke these words in cultures very different from today’s culture. Yet, as research shows, thinking seems to still be a struggle for many.

Our culture seems to be filled with people who don’t want to think much and who seem happy having their thoughts decided for them, usually via electronic channels. People are also very conditioned to being distracted, and this pushes their thinking in often multidirectional ways.

“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7

What does it mean, then, if someone doesn’t think for himself or can’t even be alone with his thoughts? What does that make him become? If someone would rather receive an electric shock than be alone with his own thoughts for just 15 minutes, what type of person is he becoming?

Food for thought.

Seeking Silence

May 14, 2019

Too often these days, maybe even constantly, the sounds of busyness overwhelm our attention. Yet, we often don’t even notice it’s happening.

Not only have most of us forgotten what quiet sounds like, many no longer desire it or even think it’s possible to enjoy. How often have you heard, or maybe even said yourself, something like, “I have to have music or the TV on” or “It’s just too quiet” or “I can’t sleep without noise”?

So many of us have become accustomed to life’s noises, so much so that the idea of being alone with our own thoughts is undesirable at best and anxiety producing at worst.

Yet, science backs the notion that silence is good for us.

  1. Silence relieves stress and tension.
  2. Silence replenishes our mental resources.
  3. Silence helps us tap into our brain’s default mode network.
  4. Silence can regenerate brain cells.

“In a loud and distracting world, finding pockets of stillness can benefit your brain and body.” (Why Silence is Good for Your Brain)

Saying “I can’t stand quiet” or some version of this only verifies that you’re suffering from this “modern plague.” The symptoms?

  • Constantly distracted
  • Mental fatigue
  • Struggle to focus
  • Struggle to solve problems
  • Struggle to come up with new ideas.

If you’re still not convinced you suffer from this malady, consider that Jesus regularly sought solitude.

“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16)

The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.’ (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.” (Mark 6:30-32)

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12)

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:45-46)

If the Son of God needed peace and quiet, and he lived in a less noisy culture in many ways than we do, isn’t it likely we need peace and quiet too?

Cultivating Perseverance

April 2, 2019

Recently, I’ve felt worn out both physically and mentally. I’ve also felt like I’m spinning my wheels spiritually. I believe in progress over perfection, but I’m struggling with keeping my energy and motivation up. In other words, I’m struggling with persevering.

Maybe that’s why the theme of cultivating perseverance stuck out to me during a recent read of Hebrews 12. Specifically, cultivating perseverance by once again resetting my focus.

Focus Determines Reality

Several verses brought my attention to thinking about my focus. Turns out, my thoughts were scattered and focused on the temporary. These verses together helped reset my focus.

Verses 1 & 2 – “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us; fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Verses 11, 12 & 13 – “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

I can’t help but picture a race like the one in the photo when I read these verses. When I get this visual, I am reminded of three important things that make for a successful race. These things apply to perseverance in any area of life, and I made this application to what I had been going through recently.

  1. Distractions are weighing me down.
  2. My goal is Jesus. Nothing else.
  3. Discipline brings strength.

Hebrews 12 ends by focusing us again on the “Why?” for continued perseverance.

Verses 28 & 29 – “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

Through Jesus, we receive something that cannot fall apart. By letting go of distractions, focusing on Jesus, and learning from mistakes and failure, we cultivate perseverance that takes us to what we cannot lose. Let that truth encourage you today.

In The Purpose Driven Life, Day 3, Rick Warren begins by asking this question:

“What drives your life?”

In the discussion, Warren talks about “quiet desperation” and “aimless distraction.” All of us can probably describe what each of those means and be able to give examples of what they look like within our own lives.

Each of us also knows how these really mean that we’ve lost focus on what drives our lives. A truly frustrating state of mind, to be sure.

While we could look at this topic from a variety of angles, let’s focus on only one. In Warren’s words…

“You become effective by being selective.”

Taking on too much. Worrying. Being too busy. People pleasing. Mediocrity. Following feelings. Seeking acceptance from the world. Approval seeking. Making comparisons.

That’s my list. It’s what overwhelms me if I’m not selective. If I fail to focus and instead follow fads and feelings, I’m not at all effective. Instead, I’m depressed and frustrated, all because I’m not being selective.

Being selective means choosing best over good enough. It means pursuing expertise instead of being a generalist. Most important, for Christians being selective means letting God decide who, what, when, where, why and how.

How does this happen?

God’s word to Joshua when he was likely feeling overwhelmed be being thrust into leadership and given an overwhelming task to accomplish gives us the instruction we need.

“Keep the law always on your lips. Meditate on it day and night, careful to do everything it says. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8)

For the Christian, then, being selective means:

  1. Knowing God’s Word fully.
  2. Studying God’s Word continually.
  3. Obeying God’s Word completely.
  4. Leaving the results up to God.

Being selective involves walking a God-directed path. We can only know the steps to take, though, if we know God’s directions. Only then will we be effective in truly eternal ways.

Paying Attention

February 19, 2019

Ever been told to “pay attention”? Ever tell someone else to “pay attention”? We can all probably answer “yes” to both of these questions.

Every wonder why we so often struggle to pay attention? If pressed to give a short answer, I would say, “comfort and distraction.”

Distraction probably makes sense to most. We struggle paying attention often because we have so much other stuff vying for our focus.

Comfort, though? For me, yes. Often, actually.

Too Comfortable?

A significant, often overlooked, danger to/enemy of our attention is comfort. Comfort with the world and with our own level of growth.

When we get too comfortable, we let our guards down. As a result, things (habits, activities, people, etc.) get into our lives – and become distractions – that shouldn’t. We then begin to pay attention to those distractions and make them our focus.

If you’re struggling to visualize this happening, read through the book of Judges. It’s filled with examples of how God’s people got comfortable and failed to pay attention over and over and over again.

Do An Assessment

To avoid the damage that can happen when you fail to pay attention, take time to assess your own attentiveness to the things of God regularly. The following questions can help:

  1. Do I regularly read and meditate on Scripture? Am I dwelling on it or rushing through?
  2. Are my prayer times forced and obligatory?
  3. How are my reactions? Am I quick to rush to conclusions? Do I make decisions based on far too many assumptions rather than taking time to get the facts?
  4. Is my attitude like a roller coaster?
  5. Am I always in a hurry? Do I constantly push others to step up the pace too?

Let the Holy Spirit show you where you need to make adjustments. Let God guide you to a place of focused attention that propels your productivity for Him.

Battling Discouragement

December 11, 2018

Life can be discouraging. One area of persistent discouragement for me involves lack of apparent progress. That lack can be in myself or in those closest to me, but it also can be in general with how I see people living as a whole.

The only way I’ve found to keep discouragement from turning into depression is by replacing my thoughts, which focus on my feelings, with God’s thinking, which focuses me on him and all he’s done for me.

Reading the Bible is the best way I know to make this switch. During a recent struggle with discouragement, this verse served to refocus me.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Breaking it down helped to defeat my discouraging thinking and to replace it with hope.

Therefore…

What initially stands out is the “therefore.” Whenever I see “therefore,” I know that the author is basically telling me, “Because of what I just told you about… here’s what should happen/what you should do.”

In this case, the “therefore” refers back to the two verses immediately before it:

“The stink of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

In other words, because Jesus conquered death — because of His resurrection from the grave — here’s how we now should live. See how the focus is on Christ? That’s a key with overcoming discouragement. Get the focus off yourself and on Christ.

Steadfast. Immovable. Abounding.

Now that my focus is on Christ, I can now see my way through discouragement.

  1. Be Steadfast = be fixed and firm in purpose; changeless, dedicated, dependable and faithful.
  2. Be Immoveable = steadfast in purpose; not influenced by feelings
  3. Always Abound = let it exist in great quantities; let it be well-supplied.

No matter how I feel, no matter my circumstances, no matter whether or not I see progress … if I focus on Christ, I can keep doing the work He directs me to do because I know none of it is without significance.

Significance

“…knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

For something to be in “vain,” it is ineffectual, unsuccessful, futile, baseless and worthless. All very discouraging states. But because of Christ, I find motivation to be steadfast, immovable and abounding. Any work I do for him has significance.

A Go-To Verse

This is a great verse to go to when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. It’s great encouragement for those times when progress feels absent. It reminds us to keep our focus on Christ and to keep doing the work he calls us to do.

For me, I am reminded that discouragement is often just a distraction to slow me down or stop my work. Focusing on Christ allows me to push through those feelings and to know I there is progress even if I don’t always see it or feel it.

Be Teachable: Taking Advice

December 4, 2018

Learning From Mistakes

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was young (teenager up to age 30) was failing to be teachable, especially in the area of taking advice. I remember my mom encouraging me once to learn from her mistakes. My response, “I want to make my own mistakes.” I know… stupid.

I’ve since realized the immense value of learning from others, of taking advice forged in the depths of consequences. I see reminders of this value throughout the Bible, and they always encourage me to stay willing to receive advice from others.

Taking Advice

Let’s look at a few verses in Proverbs 13 for insight into how taking advice is beneficial. By no means is this all the Bible has to say about taking advice, but it’s a good start.

“Pride leads to arguments. Those who take advice are wise.” (v. 10)

“People who despise advice will find themselves in trouble; those who respect it will succeed.” (v. 13)

“The advice of the wise is like a life-giving fountain; those who accept it avoid the snares of death.” (v. 14)

“If you ignore criticism, you will end in poverty and disgrace; if you accept criticism, you will be honored.” (v. 18)

My initial observations/thoughts/application points after reading these verses are:

  • Notice the role pride plays in distracting us from receiving advice.
  • We are to respect advice, not necessarily follow every piece of it.
  • Who we receive advice from is important.
  • Advice sometimes comes in the form of criticism.

When I combine these reflections with my experiences in receiving advice along with other Scripture on the topic (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15, 19:20 & James 1:5), I realize the importance of listening to the advice that comes my way. It’s not always accurate, but it is always worth hearing out and storing for future reference.

As a young person, I failed to listen to the advice of those older than me and instead relied on my own feelings or on the advice of those my age who also acted mostly based on feelings. As a result, I ended up making the same types of mistakes that Rehoboam made (1 Kings 12:6-8). Age isn’t always important when it comes to the source of advice; however, experience does matter and can play a tremendous role in the value of advice.

Be Teachable

Taking advice and learning from the experiences of others is just one example of how to be teachable. Being teachable also involves listening, asking for help, and pursuing wisdom.

Are you good at receiving advice from others? In what ways are you teachable? How can you become more teachable? I encourage you to spend time prayerfully considering these questions and determine to cultivate a teachable spirit.