Are You Deceived?

We live in a world that seeks to deceive us. Often we fall for the lies that surround us or reject the truth that we know.

We can be tricked and fooled into depending on lies such as

  • You are what others think you are
  • Your worth depends on your achievements
  • You need to be married to be happy
  • You need power to be successful

The Bible contradicts each of these statements. If we trust in these lies, we are deceived; I feel embarrassed to say that I have trusted in each of these lies at some time in my life.

It will not be easy to avoid being deceived. The whole world lies in the power of Satan who is known as the Great Deceiver (1 John 5:19). So, it’s not surprising that this world is flooded with deception – people deceiving and being deceived. So, how do we avoid being deceived and live a life that truly is best for us?

Probably the most important thing we can do is to know what the truth is. To detect a deception, we need to know what makes that deception a lie. Knowing and understanding what the truth is can protect us from smooth and persuasive sermons and books that would deceive us.

For example, one common deception is that if we try hard to be good, go to church, and follow the rules we will go to heaven. But if we believe that, we are deceived. The truth is that only if we rely on Jesus’ death on the cross will we go to heaven (John 1:12).

Another common deception is that although we are going to heaven by relying on Jesus’ death on the cross, we grow spiritually trying hard to do the right things. But if we believe this, we are deceived. The truth says that we grow spiritually the same way as we go to heaven; by relying on Jesus (Colossians 2:6-7).

But instead, many of us listen to sermons, do Bible studies, go to conferences, and have Quiet Times as if these actions alone will cause us to grow. But if we don’t depend on the Holy Spirit, doing these activities will not lead to much growth.

Another way we can avoid being deceived is to look carefully at the true person behind the words. Politicians are notorious for deceiving us. They often tell us what we want to hear and hope we will never be able to hold them accountable. We need to check their deeds to make sure that they match their words.

And a final way we can avoid being deceived is to grow spiritually. For example, our pride can lead us to be deceived. We think that we can handle life just fine. Then we become overwhelmed by troubles and if we are wise realize we have been deceived. We realize that we need God desperately to just get through a day.

So, let’s not be fooled and misled by the world around us, Satan and our own pride. Let’s not be deceived. May we instead know what the truth is, examine carefully what is presented, and allow God to transform us into people who are not deceived.

 

 

 

Most of us want to be a Somebody. If feels good when others look up to us and show us respect. It reassures us that we are important, loved, and accepted. However, others of us seek being a Somebody through doing a significant work to help people, even though few notice.

I have sought to be a Somebody since my teen years. Not so much to be famous or rich but to accomplish something that would be a benefit to mankind. I pursued that dream of being a Somebody by providing some leadership to developing the Minuteman Missile Program, thus playing a small part in helping win the Cold War. I also sought the dream of being a Somebody in providing leadership to a church that God would use to transform many lives. That didn’t seem to happen but I trust my efforts weren’t wasted. And in the last few years I have pursued the dream of being a Somebody by seeking to bring a deeper spirituality to the national church through a book, blogging, and teaching what I learned in seminary. This also has been disappointing, but I’m trusting that a few lives have been deepened through my efforts.

Did these pursuits make me a Somebody? No. Even if the results had been better these efforts would not have made me a Somebody. What I’m learning is that what makes me a Somebody is being important to God. Being a Somebody to people will never be as great. Yet, most of us never get beyond the rat race of trying to be a Somebody in the eyes of people.

Why Be a Nobody?

Being a nobody in the eyes of people helps us seek importance from God. We can be deceived by our busyness, titles, and reputation to regard ourselves as a Somebody through our own efforts, instead of depending on God to make us a Somebody. This often leads us to try to be a Somebody to people by gaining power, fame, and fortune. But God says to us, “But if you long for these things, you will be trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that will plunge you into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9, paraphrased).

Accepting being a Nobody in the eyes of people, frees us more to pursue godliness, loving others, and growing in our faith (1 Timothy 6:11). We will be seeking to please the One to whom we are a Somebody.

Being a Nobody to the world helps us to develop our humility. We depend more on God’s grace to be a Somebody rather than on our achievements.

A final benefit in being a Nobody to others is that it helps us to focus on doing God’s will, not what will increase our reputation to people. How well we follow God’s will is the standard God will use to judge our works, not how much others respect us.

How to Be Content Being a Nobody

So then how do we live contently doing our little thing in a world of feverish activity driven by the desire to be Somebody? Moses looked ahead to the joys of heaven as “he chose ill-treatment with the people of God rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25, NASB). He gave up being a Somebody to people to be a Somebody in heaven.

Or we can avoid comparing the glory others receive from people to our own. We don’t want to measure ourselves by ourselves and show we don’t understand that God uniquely created each of us for specific good works. Some of those good works make us Somebodies to others but most of them are unnoticed or undervalued and make us Nobodies to most people.

Finally, this war belongs to God. Only his power will win it. He allows us to be a soldier in his army. Whether as a general or a private we are honored to fight on the winning side. May our focus be on the Somebody we serve and trust that he has already made us special beyond all human comparisons.

 

 

Don’t Be Afraid

Being told “Don’t be afraid” seems like a silly command. Does anyone want to be afraid except for good reason like getting off the tracks when a train is approaching? Yet, we seem to be afraid of so many things without good reasons.

God often told people not to be afraid. He told Joshua not to be afraid of the daunting task of conquering the Promised Land. An angel told the shepherds not to be afraid of strange things that were happening as he announced Jesus’ birth. And Jesus told his disciples not to be afraid when they saw him walking on the water. Why were these people afraid? Why are we so afraid?

Why Not be Afraid?

One big reason is that we are not alone as we face what scares us. It often seems like we are alone since we don’t see, feel, taste, smell, or hear God, but he is always there protecting and guiding us. Recently, I faced elevated blood pressure readings from my home kit which scared me. As I pictured Jesus’ presence in the moment, I was assured that I was safe because he was protecting and guiding me. Thus, I relaxed and my reading fell to normal.

Another reason not be afraid of what scares us is that it is training us to rely on God’s help instead of our own. It often takes a lot of crushing before we release our grip on trying to control the outcome. Instead, God wants to change us into stronger people through the circumstances that scare us.

A third reason not to be afraid is that God loves us. He is in complete control of our circumstances; we are his children and he is crazy about us. Why would we believe he would allow bad things to happen to us? Sometimes, we may need to see the good from God’s perspective by relying on the truth that he will work our circumstances for our ultimate good.

 How Not to be Afraid?

One thing we can do to avoid being afraid is to pray. God says, “Don’t be afraid, but pray and you won’t be afraid” (Philippians 4:5-6, paraphrased). My experience is that this works sometimes, but not all the time. Sometimes I give up when this happens, but other times I keep pressing God until I find peace from him.

Also, we can have others pray for us. Even Paul was afraid. He asked prayer for boldness that he may be successful in the ministry.

Another way to not be afraid is to listen to God and not to Satan. God says we are safe; Satan says we are in danger. God says he loves us; Satan tells us we are alone; and God says we can; Satan says we can’t. Who we listen to will make a big difference in escaping our dysfunctional pasts and walking in the Spirit.

A final way to not be afraid is to be transformed. We need to be changed from being self-centered, leaving God out of our lives, and earning whatever we get. Instead, we need to allow God to enable us to live for doing his will, experience an intimate love relationship with him, and learn to receive his many blessings. We will then experience greater peace and  not be so afraid.

So, the command, “Don’t be afraid” (Isaiah 41:10), NLT), is not so silly after all. If we focus on what is real and not Satan’s lies, the command makes a lot of sense. May God graciously enable us to trust in the truth that we don’t need to be afraid because God is always protecting us!

 

Why Praise God?

Many of us know we need to praise God often and yet we don’t. What is there about God that isn’t worthy of praise?

This week I have observed God’s praiseworthiness working in the lives of three friends. For my first friend, God protected her from becoming a paraplegic when she was pitched off a horse and landed on her head. She broke her back but is expected to fully recover.

For the second friend, God provided the love of his life after waiting for God’s choice for ten years. And for the third friend, God provided wisdom and support to reach out for help in a stressful situation that enabled him to avoid slipping back into alcoholism.

God deserves to be praised from these examples because of his protection, goodness, and support and for the many other demonstrations of his greatness and blessings that we see.

Then why is it so hard for us to praise him? Perhaps we need to review why praising God is the right thing to do and then how to grow in it.

Why Praise Him?

One big reason to praise God often is that he commands it. “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised” (Psalm 113:3). He deserves it, and he wants us to acknowledge this reality.

Another reason to praise him is to increase our faith. By praising him for our blessings, we give God credit for them. Otherwise, we tend to give ourselves or someone else the adoration.

By praising him for such things as making everything, reigning over the nations, and his loving nature, our reliance on him grows. For example, by praising him for giving us a new identity, we more easily cease striving after the importance, acceptance and love that he has already given us.

Praising him also can keep us humble. When we praise him for making the heavens, the moon and all the stars and at the same time realize that he deeply respects and loves us, we are humbled because we know we didn’t earn it.

How to Grow in Praising God

 We can grow in praising God as we grow in understanding what he has given to us. These blessings include:

  • A guarantee we will be one day be in heaven with him forever
  • We will one day have a pain-free, pleasurable, and joyous daily experience
  • We will one day be in the physical presence of the most loving Person imaginable
  • God’s promise to work all our problems for our good.
  • His guarantee never to reject us and to always love us no matter how bad we are

This understanding of what God has given us comes from prayer as he reveals our blessings to us. Paul didn’t leave it to his teaching that people would understand. He prayed earnestly that “they would understand how wide, how long, and how deep God’s love is. That they would experience this love that is beyond their ability to understand it intellectually” (Ephesians 3:18, paraphrased).

One final thought about how to praise God in a deeper way is to focus on him more and less on the multitude of distractions in this life. God says to us in Philippians 4 that we need to meditate on all the positive things of life. Things that are true, honorable, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise. God is these things and infinitely more. Let’s praise him for it by focusing on his greatness.

 

Why Give Thanks?

I know I have a lot of things to be thankful for like my health, family, and comfortable lifestyle. But this week it’s been hard to give thanks. My wife has been nearly immobilized by back pain, I’ve had a constant toothache, and our Thanksgiving plans were put on hold. So, I found it hard this week to give thanks.

Thanksgiving is really a special time to give thanks to God who has given us so much. But in the midst of pain and difficulties we can forget to give him thanks.

So, why is it important to remember to give God thanks?

One reason is that all that he causes to happen to us is intended for our good and his purposes. “What possible good could come from my wife’s back pain and my toothache” you may ask? The truth is I don’t know, but I can still trust that he will keep his promise to work all things together for my good and his purposes (Romans 8:28-29).

Another reason we give thanks is that God likes it. In fact, he commands it. “In all things give thanks for this is God’s will for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We also give thanks because of how God will use the situation to transform us to be more like him. His goal is not so much to make us feel good as it’s to make us godly. Sometimes, this means he doesn’t meet our desires. He also disrupts our plans.

In addition, we give thanks for “bad things” that often lead to good things. In my life these are some of the painful circumstances that led to blessings:

  • Getting fired from my first job out of college led to a successful military career
  • Being rejected by a cute coed freed me to later find the girl of my dreams
  • Being rejected by a Christian organization enabled me to work where God wanted me
  • Being broken by an abusive home led me to receive salvation and 45 years of steady spiritual growth

We also give thanks to God because he is good. He loves us all the time, even when we are bad. He deals with us graciously. He makes sure that what happens to us is good, acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Psychologists tell us that giving thanks is good for our health and emotional well-being. Thankful people are often

  • Happier
  • Less stressed
  • Better rested
  • Healthier

Maybe this is why one of my favorite disciplines is to thank God for the blessings in my life. It helps me see the good in my circumstances.

So, may we grow ever more thankful to our good God. Though we may be in pain, or things don’t turn out the way we had hoped, we can still thank him for the good he promises is being done. And when we experience the many blessings that make us feel good, may we remember to give thanks because every good and perfect gift comes from him (James 1:17).

 

 

 

Grieving Our Losses

We all have losses in our life. Some really affect us and some don’t. But it can be surprising how much our losses can hurt us.

Because losses sometimes hurt badly, I have often ignored how they make me feel and try to get busy and forget them as fast I can. But is this the best way to deal with losses?

What Our Losses Are

The following are common losses we experience:

  • The loss of a girl or boyfriend
  • The loss of a job
  • The loss of a friend
  • The loss of a loving childhood home
  • The death of a parent
  • The loss of youthfulness
  • The loss of a dream

These are just a few examples of the losses we can have. They can make us sad, distressed, sorrowful, and embarrassed. We tend to run from the pain of these losses. However, it’s important that we face them head-on.

Why Face Them?

We face the pain of our losses in order to experience reality. We deceive ourselves when we pretend that our losses don’t hurt, grieve or make us sad when they do. This unexperienced pain can lead to addictions, chasing idols, psychosomatic pain, and a lack of self-awareness.

We are not weak or defective for feeling grief, sadness, and fear when we lose something. God has planned that our lives have periods in which we suffer. There will be “times to weep and times to laugh, times to mourn and times to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4, paraphrased).  Stuffing the pain of our losses instead of experiencing them can hinder God’s purposes in allowing losses in our lives. He could, for example, be wanting to develop compassion for others through experiencing the pain.

Facing the pain of losses can throw us upon God’s tender mercies as it did David. “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also” (Psalm 31:9). This dependency increases our faith.

Facing our sorrows enables us to experience God’s comfort. We then grow in our capacity to comfort others as they face the pain of their losses (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). When we repress the hurt of our losses, we forfeit the opportunity to receive comfort and growth.

Experiencing the pain of our lost job, relationship, or a dream does not doom us to depression for the rest of our lives. God says to us “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). We can dare to experience the pain knowing that he won’t give us more than we can endure and will deliver us when he has accomplished his work.

Another reason to face our grief is to obey God. He wants us to be real with him. He wants us to pour out our hearts to him and honestly tell him how bad it hurts. “You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom” (Psalm 51:6). We become wiser as we face the pain of our losses.

So, let us not be so quick to brush over our losses. When we suffer the loss of our looks, or miss a promotion, or a friend moves away, may we slow down and allow ourselves to experience the pain. May we cooperate with God in grieving our losses.

I never paid much attention to whether or not I was emotionally mature. So what if I was afraid, or discontent, or had difficulty accepting my limits? As long as I was godly and accomplishing things for him I was successful.

Little did I realize that I couldn’t become godly if I were stuck in impulsiveness, anger, and competitiveness. Or did I realize that my emotional maturity reflected my spiritual maturity.

Emotional maturity includes

  • Experiencing our feelings
  • Sharing our feelings responsibly with others
  • Experiencing and processing our anger responsibly
  • Not needing the approval of others to feel good about ourselves

What emotional maturity can do for us is

  • Avoid being overly sensitive to being hurt or offended
  • Accept responsibility and not blame others
  • Know and accept our limits
  • Be open to constructive criticism

Why Emotional Maturity Is Important

Emotional maturity is necessary to love others well, which is the goal of the Christian life (1 Timothy 1:7). People can be gifted speakers, know the Scriptures well, and lead competently elder boards and still fail as Christians because of being unloving spouses or unteachable, insecure, and defensive people.

It is who we are deep within that counts. We can look like an adult on the outside but still be an emotional child below the surface. When we are driven by a fear of failure, passively resist others, run from loneliness, and ignore our feelings we are often exhibiting signs of emotional immaturity. This immaturity affects our capacity to focus on others and to love them well. 

How to Become Emotionally Mature

Emotional maturity involves experiencing and processing our emotions wisely. Since our feelings are driven by our beliefs, relying on the truths about ourselves, God and others is vital to becoming emotionally mature. We can’t believe a pack of lies about life and still be godly.

Living God’s truth will set us free from our emotional immaturity (John 8:32). For example, knowing that what people think of us does not define who we are, frees us from our fears and helps us to love them. Also, knowing that we are always acceptable to God even when we fail, keeps us from beating ourselves up or blaming others when things don’t go well.

May we grow in emotional maturity by becoming aware of things we do and feel that reveal emotional immaturity. For example, we may seem to be extremely self-centered or experience considerable anxiety much of the time. We can then ask God to help us discern what we are depending upon that is driving this behavior or emotions.

In his time, he will show us what beliefs or habits need to be transformed. For example, I have had considerable anxiety about my health stemming from major surgery I had three years ago. So I asked, “God, what am I not believing that makes me feel so scared?” What he eventually revealed was that I did not believe I had a trusted shepherd who was watching out for me physically. This was not true! But this belief was driving my emotions. Now, as I ask God to help me believe the truth, I will be growing more emotionally mature as well as godly.

So, are you emotionally mature? Do your emotions and your behavior reflect a heart that is spiritually mature? May we all continue to seek to grow into emotionally mature and godly adults.