Shining Light in the Dark

Every day is a battle—for truth versus deception. For relational intimacy versus isolation. For growth and godliness versus sin and self-destruction. Ultimately, for agape love (toward God and others) versus self-love.

This—the battle against self—is by far my greatest battle. This is what threatens to derail me more than any outward casualty or setback I may experience. Self-love leads me toward self-elevation (which is idolatry). Agape love centers me in the will of Christ.

At their root, each of these is a battle between light and darkness.

Two extremes, continually pitted against one another. The only solution? Surrender to Jesus Christ.

It’s almost ironic, as I type this this morning, over a week before it will go “live,” I am and have been in the throws of this battle, one I thought I’d won but a week prior. And the week before that. And the week before that as I prayerfully “crucify my flesh” as Scripture puts it, asking the Holy Spirit to give me the strength to offer all of me to Him as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

And yet, here I am again, resisting the ugly within me so the pure, honorable, self-sacrificing love of Christ can shine forth.

My battle plan? Prayer and praise as I seek to be filled with more and more of Christ, knowing when that happens, all else will fade away. Because He is my treasure, and this present world is short but eternity is forever.

About five years ago, I spoke to women living in a women and children’s shelter in Kansas City, women who had lost nearly everything—their homes, their livelihoods, their self-respect. Some were experiencing the consequences of poor choices. Some were, but not all. Others were simply in a really rough place, likely crying out to God, asking Him why. Why had He allowed them to reach that place?

Did He not see them? Was He deaf to their cries? Had He forgotten them?

Did He not care?

But what if, in fact, His attentive eye was zeroed in on them, in the middle of their darkness, as He shined His love and light through them?

That night, I shared the story of Joseph, a man who, from the very beginning had been given an incredible promise from God—that God would raise him, second to the youngest of twelve sons, to a place of leadership, where the rest of his family would “bow down” to him.

photo by Viktoria Hall-Waldhauser from Unsplash

If you’re familiar with this account, you know God had much more planned for Joseph than simply familial leadership. But first, Joseph went through some incredibly hard years facing struggles and humiliation that would, quite frankly, send me hiding in by bedroom with the blankets pulled up to my chin and a big ol’ bag of tootsie rolls within reach.

You can read his story in its entirety in Genesis 37-51, but to paraphrase, God allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery, dragged to a foreign land where he was stripped of all rights and forced to spend his every waking moment in service to another, and then thrown into prison. And at each step, he was given a choice: focus on himself and all he’d lost or perhaps all he “deserved,” (after all, he’d been called, personally, by Creator God!), or surrender and live, 100% in obedience to and for the glory of His Creator.

Because he chose the latter, he shined the light of God in the middle of some incredibly dark places.

I believe this was the battle God had called him to, and make no mistake, it was an intense, moment-by-moment battle! This was also the battle God called Timothy to, as he pastored that church, filled with false teaching and division, in Ephesus. And it’s a battle God calls each one of us to, as we stand against discontentment, selfish ambition, and greed—the very attitudes that had caused the false teachers in Ephesus to wreak such destruction (1 Tim. 1:6-7, 6:4-5).

And so, this brings our study full-circle with the reminder that it’s all about love. God’s kind of love. A love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.

We can fight many battles in any given day, but the battle that wars within is the most vital, because everything else stems from that. We are most effective when we are most yielded to God’s Spirit at work within and through us. He has a plan, a good, victorious plan, for tackling whatever battle is warring around us, and He may (or may not) use us to fight it.

But make no mistake; He’s the One who will do the fighting. He’s the One who will win the victory. Our role is quite simple—to surrender and obey. If we do anything else, we’ll merely be getting in His way.

For those who’ve been following the 1 Timothy Bible study, this weekend, I encourage you to take time review what you’ve learned in the previous weeks. Journal what God has shown you, and simply take time to rest at His feet. Make Romans 12:1 your prayer:

Dear Lord, in view of Your mercy, in view of all You’ve done for me, help me to offer my body—my time, my thoughts, my will; my whole self—to You, as a living sacrifice because of all You have done for me. May that be how I, daily, worship You.”

Pray this prayer often, and then wait and see what God does. Wait and see how He uses you to bring healing to the hurting, life to the dead, and sight to the blind.

What resonated most with you in today’s post? What inner battle do you tend to fight the most, and what can you do today to strengthen your connection with Christ–the One who has equipped and empowered us for victory? What are some ways you fight the battle against self-love?

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Avoiding Mental Detours

I’ve heard it said and believe, most often, our greatest battles begin and end in the mind. Today, fellow Yahoo Bible study member and dear friend, Beth Farley challenges us to keep our thoughts on that good, straight path.

Avoiding Mental Detours by Beth Farley

The guilty walk a crooked path; the innocent travel a straight road (Proverbs 21:8 NLT).

directionsignsWhen I read and re-read this verse, I thought about the choices that I’ve made in my life. Some of them were not the best but I think we can all reflect and say the same thing. I think there are things that we wished we had done differently. We know we shouldn’t dwell on the past; Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past (Isaiah 43:18 NASB).

The crooked path brought on a different meaning to me today. Many times I have allowed my mind to travel down the crooked path. I believe we can go down the crooked path not only in action but in thought as well. After all, sin originates in the mind first. (Ephesians 6:12) I love the Amplified version of this verse.

I read something the other day that really struck me. In the past I complained about my job. I didn’t like some changes, some people, some circumstances and I quickly fell into the trap of allowing my mind to travel on the crooked path. Daily, I had negative thoughts and words. I was consumed with work-related stress and allowed it to rob me of my daily joy. This is so ironic to me because now I am only to work part time due to my health and there are some things that I really miss about working full time.

         The Art of Getting Well by David Spero, R.N.

“The meaning we find in our work also affects us deeply. Suppose two persons deliver bottled water for a living. One might think, “This is great. I get out to different parts of the city, and I get to meet different people. I’m not stuck in an office or factory. I’m bringing people this good, healthy, water. They’re always happy to see me. I wish it paid more, but it beats welfare.”

                                    OR

“I hate this job. I could have been a lawyer if I hadn’t dropped out of college. The company doesn’t respect me; the managersstress never ask my opinion or let me plan my own routes. I can’t raise a family on this pay. My back and feet hurt from lifting. The water is a rip-off; it’s no better than tap water.”

Have you ever allowed Satan to take your positives and meld them into negatives? We can choose each day to travel the straight road with a positive mindset. I liked the analogy of path vs road; to me the path is short and the road is long. We are in this for the long haul until God calls us home to be with him. Yes, we will have sinful days, moments of defeat and minutes of sinking, but thank God we are all saved and have the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us going.

Are you dwelling on past mistakes? Don’t allow Satan to take you there. They have been washed away and forgiven. Don’t allow past hurts and mistakes to manipulate your walk with God. He loves you, broken or unbroken. He LOVES you!

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 (Hebrews 12:1-2).

***

GE DIGITAL CAMERABeth Ann Farley is a dear friend of mine and one of our Yahoo Bible Study group members. She is married with three grown children. She lives in Kansas City, MO where she serves as librarian. She loves to read, write, decorate and spend as much time as possible outside with her Peek-A-Poo. Beth is a lover of the Lord. “He is my-everything and I can’t start a day without visiting with Him.” Beth came to know the Lord when she was 30 years old and has served Him on committee’s such as Missions Outreach, Local Missions, Diaconate Committee, Youth Committee, and was a church secretary for several years. Beth loves Women’s Bible Studies, has hosted several in each one of her homes that she has lived in and has led a few as well. Beth is now taking time in life to move forward with her writing in whatever way God directs her.

Visit her online at: http://firsthalfday1.wordpress.com/

Let’s talk about this. Pause to consider the things you think about in a given day. How often do you cut yourself down? Focus on the negative? Camp out in regrets?

How might your day, your service, your effectiveness change if you were to reroute your thinking, focusing on God’s truth, love, will, and faithfulness?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on Living by Grace, or join our online Bible study. We’d love to have you!

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Dominated

I’ve heard people say religion is about control, and although I’ve always thought that was an absurd statement, perhaps it holds a nugget of truth. The more I learn about myself, God, and the Bible, I realize it’s not so much a question of control but instead, of who’s controlling you. Because there’s no neutral ground. A battle’s being waged and you’re on one side or the other.

According to the Bible, we’re either controlled by our sinful nature or God. If you’re controlled by God, He’ll lead you into goodness, joy, peace, patience, self-control–in reality, freedom. Freedom to rise above your circumstances, tapping into the joy bubbling within–a joy that’s unhindered by the day-to-day.

If you’re controlled by your sinful nature, you may think you’re calling the shots, but most often, you’re held captive by your emotions and your emotions are held captive by your circumstances. Chances are your days are dominated by anger, fear, moments of hopelessness and lack of fulfillment. That’s not freedom. That’s bondage of the worst kind–the kind of bondage that leads to destroyed relationships, isolation, and death.  Read more.