The Ultimate Deception and How to Avoid It

Self-Deception is the Ultimate Deception

There is no deception like self-deception. I guess that’s because no one is as happily gullible to my fabrications as I am.

Sometimes I get myself to believe I am doing all I can to impact a situation when in reality I am doing all I WANT to be doing.

Or that I am really a generous and thoughtful person because of one generous and thoughtful act when the majority of my week was spent selfishly.

Or that I don’t really spend THAT much time on social media or other time-wasters.

The Ultimate DeceptionDeceptions like these foster the belief that I’m better off than I think I am.

The problem with deceptions is they don’t facilitate growth. They just comfortably pad our cell, furnishing it with a candle, a blanket, and perhaps some crackers.

I don’t want to remain imprisoned by self-deception. Thinking that I am a better disciple of Christ than I actually am does nothing to transform me into that disciple.

Recognizing reality brings clarity of vision. Clarity of vision brings hope for change.

Beware the Self-Focus Trap

This point in the journey to shake off self-deception is like an ostrich pulling her head out of the sand, only to realize that she is standing on a high, narrow pass with a sharp drop on either side. A fall in either direction will land her in the trap of Too Much Focus on Self: either to float adrift on the endless sea of self-improvement on one side or to crash onto the rocks of self-loathing (”I’m way worse off than I even realized!”) on the other.

Either one sidetracks from the high, narrow road that leads to maturity.

Enter God’s Word.  Amazing how timeless it is – ancient words written in the first century A.D. that still nail it today.

James 1:22-25 (NIV) admonishes us with this:

“Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.”

Once I got a haircut that was significantly different from how I wore my hair previously. When I woke up the next morning and stumbled into the bathroom to brush my teeth, I was shocked to be greeted by my image in the mirror – I had forgotten the new haircut.

That is what James says we do when we have our morning quiet time, gloss over our Scripture reading, put down our Bibles, and go on about our day, unchanged.

We find ourselves reacting out of the flesh when a driver cuts us off on the freeway…wait, what? Me? Prideful?

We hear ourselves snap at our spouse or children…me?? Impatient? Rude? I wouldn’t have said that if HE hadn’t _________!

Surely that wasn’t me! I’m just tired, having a bad day, coming down with a cold, inhaled too much air pollution, or ran out of vitamins!

Mmmm hmmm.The Ultimate Deception

Sucker.

I know, because it takes one to know one.

When I gloss over verses like, “Be completely humble and gentle”, nod my head wisely, think I have that one in the bag, and then walk out of my room and act harshly or pridefully, I am the victim of my own deception.

These deceptions add up to a picture in the mirror of a different kind of disciple than the one I actually am.

The Antidote

The antidote lies in the adverb. Well, and in the verb. 🙂

James says we must “look intently” into the perfect law that gives freedom AND do what it says.

Our house flooded last year. The insurance guy came out and poked around, inside and out, inspecting the degree of damage and making a few drainage suggestions.

When the insurance company emailed the finished claim to us with the settlement amount, you can know that I didn’t just give it a cursory glance, oblivious to small details such as decimal point placement and such. I looked INTENTLY at that document. I read it 5 times. Then I called Bill and read it to him. When he came home from work, I made him read it intently to verify my interpretation. And we didn’t end it there – say, “That was an exciting read!” and toss the papers in the recycle bin and forget about it. No! We (okay, I) checked the mailbox about 6 times per day until that check arrived, and when it came, we applied it to our lives with the help of a pen and our local banking institution!

What if we read God’s Word that way?

James says that if we do – if we read it purposefully, intently, and honestly – AND apply what we read to our lives, we will be blessed in what we do.

That sounds like a way better end result than continuing on in our own deception, to our own demise.

The Ultimate DeceptionThe point of an honest read of God’s Word and an honest view of our own maturity is not to cause us to focus endlessly on ourselves (either negatively or positively).  It is to partner with God in our own transformation and to avoid the pit of hypocrisy. Authentic believers, humbled by the grace they need and receive from God, are attractive to those needing grace.

When we recognize our failure to live up to God’s Word, we can ask Him for the grace to become more like Jesus.

Recognizing my failure is useful, but agonizing over it doesn’t fix me.

We can only safely navigate that high, narrow pass when our gaze is firmly fixed on the Glorious One.  He alone can lead us onward, past the dangers lurking on either side.

Filling our vision with the beauty of our Risen Lord and looking intently into His life-giving Word will transform us into His likeness.

I don’t want to deceive myself and miss being transformed because I think I already have been. If you feel the same way, will you pray with me?

“Gracious, loving Father, open our eyes to the mirror of your Word. Help us obtain clarity of vision and to then fill our vision with your beauty and holiness. We don’t want to stay stuck where we are, believing we are farther along our journey than we actually are. Transform us daily by your Word and cause us to be fully pleasing to You in every way. Help us, by our humble and authentic pursuit of You, to draw others to Your grace and truth. We ask this for Your glory. Amen.”

With faith, hope, and love,

 

P.S. – for another interesting read on the many times Scripture warns us about believing lies, and the perils of self-deception, you might like this article from www.biblestudytools.com.

Anatomy of a Storm

The Anatomy of a Storm

Storms. Unexpected tests we can’t cram for.

They have the uncanny ability to reveal by our reaction what we have solidly attained thus far in our walk with the Lord. Not what we WISH we had, or what our best friend has, but what we truly know and believe, deep inside us.

Beyond the facade.

Anatomy of a Storm I have never been good at math. When I was a kid, my dad would try to help me with my math homework. That was usually not a good situation. Put one brilliant but not very patient person with someone who gets confused and intimidated easily and doesn’t “get” math at all, and you have a prescription for some unhappy homework sessions.

In those times of anxiety, my math IQ was bumped back down to 3rd grade. I would only be SURE of the very basics – the things I had learned years ago and were now a part of me. Basic addition. The multiplication tables. Simple division. Anything beyond that, anything I was working on but didn’t own yet, flew out the window.

The storms of life affect us in much the same way. What we have solidly acquired is what will see us through. The rest flees at the first hint of trouble, like dandelion seeds blown from the stem in a gust of wind. Like nebulous math equations that haven’t yet congealed in our brains.

The disciples were in the same boat. They had no unfair advantage in spite of being in close physical proximity to the Teacher. We’d like to think they did, but their test results show otherwise.

Let’s dissect their storm in Matthew chapter 8. Although theirs was an actual storm of wind and waves, it has many parallels to the ones we so often face.

“Then He got into the boat and His disciples followed Him. Without warning, a furious squall came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then He got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, and it was completely calm.”

 

Matthew 8:23-26, NIV

Observation 1

Jesus didn’t prioritize His disciples’ comfort over their spiritual maturity. Prioritizing comfort produces weakness. Jesus didn’t say, “You know guys, I think we may want to walk around the lake this time.” No – He led them straight into the path of the storm because only in going through the storm would they receive the value of the storm.

Observation 2

Storms have value. Sometimes Jesus leads us into them so that we can know what we have attained and where we need to grow. If we never NEED our faith but live always in comfortable, unthreatened security, we will never know what is on the inside of us.  It is in the exercising of a muscle that one can ascertain its strength.  I can’t tell how many pounds I could bench press by sitting on the bench sipping a milkshake and reading a magazine.

Observation 3

His presence is enough.

“Jesus was sleeping”. Have you ever felt like Jesus went to sleep on the job in your life? I know I have! But the point is His presence. He was with His disciples, and He is with us, always. Even when He is silent, He is still there, interceding for us that our faith won’t fail, and providing us with what we need to grow into maturity.

Observation 4

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

When is it time to panic? Apparently, never.

 

Jesus asked His disciples why they were afraid BEFORE he calmed the storm…while they were still having to shout over the wind. He presented His pointed query while the waves were lashing their faces, drenching their hair and clothes and swamping the boat, putting their lives in great danger (or so they believed). In the middle of their terror, Jesus asked them why in the world they were afraid.

Why should they NOT be afraid? Because they had Jesus right there in the boat with them. His presence is the key – not His perceived inaction. We know this math – it’s a simple equation.

 

God’s presence + my problem = the power to prevail over it. Click To Tweet

 

Friend, you and I have the promise of His presence too. Just as real. Just as powerful.

What storm are you facing today? Be encouraged to know that if you belong to Him, He is in the boat with you, and His presence gives you the power you need to prevail over your storm, too.

Not currently caught up in a storm? Think back to the last one you experienced. What did it reveal? Quiet trust in the faithfulness of God, or something else? Ask Him to show you where He wants to grow you and spend time meditating on His Word. Ask a trusted friend to pray for you, and pray for them as well.

Observation 5

After Jesus rebuked the wind and waves, it was “completely calm”. The calm between the storms.  If the purpose of a storm is to reveal the condition of our faith, then perhaps the calm seasons are to be used to grow it. If we use every calm to just bask in the relief and entertain ourselves until the wind picks up again, will we be any better off in the next storm?

If you find yourself feeling battered and shipwrecked by the storms of life, would you allow me to pray for you?

“Gracious Father, I pray for the ones who feel like they are being destroyed by the storms of life. I pray that you would give them eyes to see You alongside them in their boat. I pray that You would shift their focus from the waves around them to Your peaceful, powerful presence. Strengthen their faith, and give them a desire to actively grow it by time spent in Your Word and with Your people. Bring them safely through their current storm and use it to help them attain maturity in You.”

I want my next storm to reveal greater faith and strength than the last one did, so I’m joining those of you who are praying to that end!

Remember  – God’s presence + my problem = the power to prevail!

With faith, hope, and love –

Are You an Outlier? Lessons From the Sheepfold

Are You an Outlier?

Dictionary.com defines “outlier” as:

something that lies outside the main body or group that it is a part of, as a cow far from the rest of the herd, or a distant island belonging to acluster of islands

This week I am spending some time in the beautiful 23rd Psalm. Sometimes I can’t get past the first verse – there is such richness and significance to ponder.

I love the imagery of the Shepherd and His flock.

The Shepherd – strong yet tender. Capable, knowledgeable, and alert. Guiding His flock to the best pastures, to the safe watering holes. Faithfully watching over them and protecting them from dangerous predators, sharp rocks, and sometimes from themselves.

Are You An Outlier?And the sheep – big sheep and little sheep. Brave sheep and timid sheep. Mischievous sheep and shy sheep and that little guy who’s always hungry. All the personalities and quirks and sounds and smells that make up a flock.

And as in any group, there are some who press in toward the center and some who hang back and make their home in the periphery.  Outliers.

What kind of sheep are you? What kind am I?

Do we press in close to the Shepherd, craving His touch and attention? Do we determinedly stay in His presence no matter what we have to do to make that happen? Do we listen attentively to His voice that we may never miss His guidance and commands? Do we show Him our love by quickly obeying and by loving those He loves?

Or are we outliers? Hanging back in the periphery, never getting too close? If so, what keeps us back there? What holds us back from pressing in?

Virginia shepherd Craig Rogers, in his article on Modern Farmer, says this of sheep:

Over the years I have often been told, generally by non-sheep people or someone with 10 or 20 sheep that are fed from buckets, how dumb sheep are. However, if you pay attention, you can not help but be impressed by how smart they are to have survived domestication since 10,000 B.C. Although many think of their flocking instinct to be a sign of “dumbness,” it is in fact a community-based survival mechanism where they have learned that their strength is much greater in numbers and their comfort and survival is enhanced as a group rather than as an individual. Not a bad lesson for all of us.

 

~ “10 Things I’ve Learned From Lambs”

Those of us living in the Western culture that prizes individualism would do well to learn this lesson.

Not only do we need our Shepherd, but we also need each other.

Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 that each member of the body of Christ is interdependent on every other member. Our connection is organic, vital, and part of God’s plan.

 

God’s kingdom is not a conglomeration of superstars but a celebration of community. Click To Tweet.

 

There is great beauty in functioning the way God designed, embracing our mutual dependence, and looking to the Shepherd to meet our every need.

There is great peace in dependence.

Are You An Outlier?

Think about it – acknowledging our dependence takes all the pressure off to provide things for ourselves. We choose instead to trust that because the Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not be in want of anything that we need. His care for us is perfect.

Living the life of an outlier – not fully engaged with the community of believers and not pressing into the presence of the Shepherd – robs us of that beauty and peace. What we hope may keep us safe from having to be too vulnerable – from having to need others – actually compromises our safety, leaving us more open to attack from our adversary, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).

Yes, I too have been hurt by other sheep, sometimes deeply. But I understand that even in that, God’s plan for the Body of Christ remains unchanged. In the painful seasons, there have been victories to win – unforgiveness to conquer; growth to be had in speaking the truth in love; trust in God alone to be gained. Greatness grows from great suffering and great submission. I am not there, but I hope to be one day.

Are You An Outlier?Dear friend, you are tenderly loved by your faithful Shepherd. His arms are open today, warmly inviting you to come closer and fully engage in joyful relationship with Him and with the Body of Christ. There is great fulfillment in that place, and your brothers and sisters in Christ need you.

 

 

 

And when they see us functioning in unity, not as a bunch of separated outliers, the world will desire to know our Shepherd…and that’s what it’s all about.

With faith, hope, and love,

The Accidental Tomato – Bloom Where You Land

My husband and I have a raised bed vegetable garden we hope will add some fresh, healthful, organically grown food to our table this summer. Lots of sunshine, daily inspections for pests, and regular doses of collected rainwater have the plants growing well and filling out nicely. I am definitely no photographer (which explains my exclusive use of stock photography on this blog!), but here is a picture of our garden.

The Accidental Tomato

See – cucumber vines are climbing up the chain link fence at the back, and the main bed is filled with zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, basil, and two beautiful tomato plants. Fellow tomato fans around the world will agree there is no substitute for tomatoes right off the vine!

I was feeling particularly happy about those two little tomato plants, so carefully placed in the well-tended garden, when my husband asked me if I had noticed the “other tomato plant”. Huh? What “other tomato plant”? I had bought and planted only the two.

On the side of our house (where I apparently only go with my eyes shut) we temporarily have the cap off the pipe that carries out water from the kitchen sink while we address a plumbing issue. Some tomato seeds must have found their way down the drain and into the soil outside. To my very great surprise, a massive, sprawling tomato plant had grown there, dwarfing my nursery darlings many times over. It currently displays 18 tomatoes – some quite large – on its spreading branches. What??

The Accidental Tomato.The Accidental Tomato

Isn’t it ironic that a cast-off bit of refuse that got tossed in the disposal has outgrown the carefully tended plants I hover over daily? Watered by the problems of life (our broken plumbing), it has bloomed where it landed and become quietly fruitful.

Can you relate to the Accidental Tomato?

Sometimes we feel like we have come through the disposal of life and have been spit out into our situations – not at all as though we have been carefully planted there by a loving Master Gardener.

The fairy tale didn’t quite come true, and what we got instead can feel more like a bad dream than a recipe for fulfillment and fruitfulness, much less a happily ever after.

If we aren’t careful, the fruit of our lives can become small, hard things like bitterness, envy, or anger, poisoning not only our own souls but also the lives of those around us.

Unlike a tomato plant, we have something to say about the fruit that we produce. With God’s help, we can recognize a bad crop and turn it into next season’s abundant harvest.
We can decide to accept that we are where we are as a result of our own choices, the choices of others, and the hand of a sovereign, loving Gardener who truly knows what is best for our ultimate fruitfulness. We can accept that we don’t have to stay stuck but can embrace healthy growth and change.

We choose whether we grow the bitter fruit of disappointment or the sweet fruit of submission. The first kind leads to doubt, negativity, and depression. The second kind leads to trust, hope, and joy.

Where did life spit you out? Where are you right now, and what kind of fruit are you bearing?

The Accidental TomatoIf you take the time to look, you will notice that there, too, is life and potential for growth.

There is the rich soil of God’s Word as a foundation for your life. There is the rain of trials to cause you to grow in character and godliness. There is the light of His love shining warmly over your life. There is the wind of His Spirit, strengthening you and teaching you. All this is present for you right now, right where you are.

There is fruit to be had for God’s kingdom that will impact your eternity in wonderful ways beyond imagining.

The Master Gardener tends accidental tomatoes too, which means that really, there ARE no accidental tomatoes.

Funny, but that one is my favorite of the three tomato plants now because it reminds me that I too can be fruitful right where I am. My life is no accident, and neither is yours, my friend.

Let’s do what we can to ensure our lives are producing the kind of fruit that will entice others to “taste and see that the Lord is good”.

 

My Choices Can Increase My Fruitfulness

 

The Accidental Tomato

Here are some things I feel led to choose today:

  • I choose joy in the midst of trials, knowing that God uses them to make me more like Jesus.
  • I choose trust in the midst of pain, knowing that God is at work in my life and will use my pain for future gain.
  • I choose peace in the midst of turmoil, knowing that God is God over the storm around me.
  • I choose hope because, in Christ, all things are possible to them that believe, and I am not “stuck” where I am forever.
  • I choose to allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow in my life, causing me to be pleasing to God and a blessing to others.

 

Dear friend, today I am praying that your life will produce beautiful, healthy fruit and that you will be filled with joy in the process. The Master Gardener IS at work – may He give us eyes to see the design of His work where before we may have only noticed dirt and mess.

With faith, hope, and love,

How To Escape the Worry Trap

The Worry Trap

Opportunities to be ensnared by the worry trap present themselves daily at our doorstep. On the odd day that they don’t, we invent our own reasons to fret and lay awake at night stressing over how we will cope with imaginary disasters that will likely never befall us.

Failed smoke detectors, car wrecks, disease diagnoses, sudden loss of mobility or employment, terrorist attacks, plane crashes, and betrayals by loved ones populate the late-night thoughts of many a worrier. The human mind, unrenewed, is a darkly creative wellspring of disaster.
And if worry itself weren’t bad enough, as soon as it has a foot firmly wedged in the door of our souls, its companions, Stress, Anxiety, and Fear, come gleefully scampering over the threshold, and soon we find ourselves overrun with vermin we never intended to host.

Mark Twain’s wry humor sums our condition up well with this statement:

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

Living in the worry trap can afflict our bodies with the results of long-term stress, actually making us physically ill. I know, because it happened to me.

 

The Results of MY Living in the Worry Trap

Years ago I was faced with making a job change I felt God was leading me to make. Shouldn’t have been a big deal, but I was not in the healthiest place emotionally. The worry over “deserting” my boss (whom I truly loved and knew depended on me) was compounded by unhealthy beliefs about myself and others. The resulting stress landed me in a doctor’s office getting bloodwork and a CT scan to try to discover the source of the debilitating head pain I had developed. At first, the pain would hit only at night, leaving me exhausted and sleep-deprived, but at least able to function during the day. Then it began to invade my daytime hours, affecting my job and productivity as I often had to desert my desk and find a place to cry when I couldn’t handle the pain any longer.

At my desk, I kept an economy-sized bottle of ibuprofen, and I soon began to receive sideways glances from co-workers every time they heard the bottle rattle. They knew I was taking WAY too much, but my thinking was so clouded by exhaustion and pain that I didn’t see the utter folly in “if I just take two more, they will all kick in, and this awful pain will go away”. I’m sure it’s no big surprise to you that there was no definitive diagnosis, other than a condition brought on by…you guessed it…worry’s child, stress.

God, in His mercy, did eventually heal me. I am so grateful that He did, but even more grateful for what I learned through this valley experience.

Worry was a waste of my God-given time and mental energies – a bad habit that created undesirable paths in my brain that made me more prone to worry in the future.

Jesus said it can’t even add so much as one hour to our lives. Medical science assures us that it actually does the opposite.

 

Why Do We Worry?

 

Why, then, do we then so tenaciously cling to our right to worry when it is ineffective at best and damaging at worst?

Worrying gives us a false sense of control, like at least we’re doing what we can to help the situation…that if we were to just roll over and go to sleep, we somehow have failed to grasp the severity of the situation, or have abdicated all responsibility to fix it.

Worry gives a false sense of accomplishment: “Whew! I worried about that all night!”

It’s time to train our brains to choose better.

The oversimplified solution, of course, is to stop worrying.

But have you ever tried to do that?

It’s about as easy as trying not to think about anything.

So how do we free ourselves from the worry trap?

I believe we must relentlessly give our brains other options until new mental paths have been forged.

Healthy Choices For Our Brains:

  1. APPLY. Regular, daily exposure to the faith-building, mind-transforming, powerful Word of God. There’s no substitute and no shortcut…this is what works. Transformation requires dedication. This is not a quick-fix solution that will make a dramatic difference if I only apply it once a month, or whenever things are so bad I can’t stand it anymore and then forget to do it for the next 3 weeks. If I apply myself to God’s Word and apply God’s Word to myself, transformation will happen.

Romans 8:6 “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” (NIV)

Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.” (NIV)

  1. TRUST. Jesus teaches that the antidote to worry is trust. Trust needs a foundation to grow on, and that foundation is the knowledge that God is good and that He loves you. If our foundation is cracked, our trust will never flourish…who can trust a God they fear or believe doesn’t love them? Good news: God is into foundation repair! If you suspect yours is cracked, as I did, ask Him to do the restorative work necessary so that your trust in Him can grow.
  2. LEARN. The human brain is an amazing gift from God, capable of far more than we realize or utilize! Even lifelong, chronic worriers can change their ways because our incredible brains can be retrained. Learn about the power of choice and put your mind to work for you, and not against you. I highly recommend Dr. Carolyn Leaf’s book, Switch On Your Brain, for in-depth reading along these lines. Dr. Leaf’s hope-filled and encouraging book is packed with scientific research in conjunction with powerful truths from God’s Word. A truly worthwhile read!
  3. CHANGE CHANNELS. As Martin Luther said, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” If your thoughts are constantly taking you places that you don’t want to go, grab the remote and change channels. Immediately replace those the unwanted thoughts with something positive. Take your rightful place of being in control of your thoughts, not being controlled by them.
  4. ASK. Ask your Heavenly Father to help you in your commitment to rewire your thinking and to escape the worry trap. He wants it for us even more than we want it for ourselves! Ask Him specifically to bring Scriptures to your memory when you need them, to remind you that you can choose to replace worrisome thoughts and to lift your focus to see Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith.  Also, ask yourself HELPFUL questions (not a hand-wringing “Whatever shall I do?” but a positive “What can I do to improve this situation?” and then allow your brain to come up with healthy, proactive solutions if your worry stems from a situation you can impact.

Whew! That was a lot of work, but don’t give up! A life free of chronic worry and the damaging stress it brings is a life more available to God. It’s also a happier life and a more proactive life! I want that for myself, and I want that for you, my friend. It’s a step along the path of your beautiful journey to conforming to the image of Christ.

If you apply these steps regularly to your life, I can’t promise that you will be miraculously worry-free until Jesus returns. But you WILL recognize the worry trap for what it is, have the tools to escape it, and eventually to avoid it altogether.

With faith, hope, and love,