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Take Back Your Life: A 40-Day Interactive Journey to Thinking Right So You Can Live Right
by Levi Lusko
Learn More | Meet Levi Lusko
LOOK IN THE MIRROR
Hiding In Plain Sight
2 Corinthians 5:7
In 2011, the FBI ended the most extensive manhunt1 in the bureau’s history when James “Whitey” Bulger was caught. The mob boss from Boston had been on the run for sixteen years, but they finally nailed him. Sixteen years is a long time. Get this: he spent a majority of his time on the run at the number-two spot of the FBI’s top ten most wanted list. Number one was Osama bin Laden.
He was second only to Osama. That’s how badly the Federal Bureau of Investigation wanted to find this man. And when he was finally found, he wasn’t in some cave in some far-off country. He was in Santa Monica, California, living three blocks from the beach in an apartment. Hiding, 60 Minutes reported, in plain sight.
60 Minutes interviewed the apartment manager. They interviewed the next-door neighbors. And these people had no idea. They thought Bulger and his girlfriend were a nice retired couple living on a tight pension. They didn’t seem remarkable in any way. But the neighbors had no idea this guy had $800,000 socked away inside the walls of the apartment. They had no idea he had an arsenal of semiautomatic and automatic weapons and hand grenades. They had no idea Johnny Depp was going to be cast to play him when the movie of this man’s life was made. They had no idea he was wanted in connection with more than nineteen murders. That he, at one point in his life, had killed someone with his own hands and had then taken a nap. He was that jacked up.
When the neighbors were asked, “What sticks out to you about him?” they said he was nice to cats.
There’s your first tip-off that something’s wrong.
But let me say this: these people saw one thing. What was really there was another thing altogether. A very serious thing. I want you to notice that this is constantly happening in our lives too. Looks can be deceiving.
We can look at something but not see what’s there. And that means we cannot trust what we see with the naked eye. This is how Paul put it in 2 Corinthians: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (4:18 NIV).
We fix our eyes—fix our gaze. I’d say our gaze is broken, but when we focus on the right things it’s fixed. We’re also choosing to fix it. As in “fixing a stare”—that is, focusing our energy and concentration. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
What’s Paul saying in this verse? He’s saying you can’t trust your physical vision. You can’t trust what you see and the decisions you make based on that. You need more.
Truth be told, we walk around oblivious to much of what’s going on. We click our pictures, double-click on Instagram. Scroll, scroll, double-click. Scroll, scroll, double-click. Scroll, scroll, double-click. But as we have our sips of latte and watch our movies and read another issue of whatever magazine, we have no idea much of the time who and what is watching us and what is actually happening. There is a whole spiritual realm with very serious things going on. There is a whole eternity ahead of us. There is life after death. There is an actual all-out war going on all around us, a war for our hearts, lives, and souls. But we can’t see it because we’ve got a blind spot. And that blind spot is taking our lives from us.
In this journey, we’ll start to open our eyes to what’s going on beyond the obvious. We’ll start seeing what’s really there. And we’ll be empowered to change for the better ourselves and the world we live in. We’ll search out and know the truth, and the truth will set us free.
Second Corinthians 5:7 says, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” If you walk around trusting what your eyes are seeing, your blind spot will continually lie to you. Then you pick up the night-vision telescope called faith. And instead of just trusting what you see, you look through its lens, and it changes everything. You can see in the dark. You can see what’s coming against you. And you can see what’s right in front of you, what’s working for you.
When you look at people, what are you going to see? You’re going to see potential. You’re going to see they’re destined for impact. They were made in the image of God. There is amazing potential packed inside of them—and inside you too. You’re going to look at people and realize there’s no such thing as an ordinary person. You’ve never met a normal person in your life. Everybody you see is part of a royal priesthood, a chosen generation (1 Peter 2:9). So, to borrow some words from Loki, brother of Thor, you’re going to look by faith at people and see someone who is burdened with glorious purpose.
And when you see problems, you’ll automatically assume that God’s working things together for your good. When you look at them with the naked eye, not so much. But when you look through the lens of faith, you’re not going to get discouraged, because you’re going to remember that God has a plan.
How about when you experience pain? You’re going to look at it and believe that God is going to give you great power because it is a grace to suffer. And along with suffering comes the grace to go through it and to get something out of it. God’s going to do great things through the pain, and you’re going to know you’re not alone in the midst of it.
When you go through what you’re going through, the same God who walked with Adam in the cool of the day is going to walk with you through it. Then you can say, I know that you’re with me. I am not alone, and I will fear no evil, even here in the valley of the shadow of death. Through faith, eternity becomes visible. When you operate in faith, you know that what you see is not the end of the story.
You may not be happy with your story right now. You may be disappointed or grieving or bored, or maybe you’ve forgotten you’re living a story at all. But you are. And together we will uncover what has been hidden in plain sight. With faith as your lens, I guarantee you that what you are going to see is going to blow your mind. It’s going to show you that you can reach out and take back your life from whatever is sucking it away behind the scenes. And it’s going to show you a whole new way of looking at the world.
When you can see the invisible, you can do the impossible.
Father, teach me to see what is hidden in plain sight. Fill me with faith and clear my vision so I can see my life through your eyes. Please bless me today so I can bless others. Amen.
BREATHE, THINK, AND LIVE
- Has anything given you the sense there is more going on around you than meets the eye? Is that hard or easy for you to believe?
- How would you describe the story of your life right now? Is it a story you like? How do you feel about it?
- Where would you like your story to go?
- How would you describe your faith right now? Does anything keep you from accepting that God has plans for you that will involve a shift in your vision?
- What do you need to take back your life from? What’s clouding your vision and making you focus on the here and now?
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.
Ephesians 3:16 NIV
Ephesians 3:16 NIV
Before we can do the great things we’re called to do out there, we must get things squared away on the inside. I’m talking about the war within. The Bible says that as a man thinks in his heart, so he is (Proverbs 23:7). There’s great power to what takes place in our hearts and minds.
The sports world has long since recognized this power of harnessing the mind. In fact, in study after study, it has been proven that athletes who are of a similar physical disposition and given the same physical tools to train with will always excel and surpass others if they’re also given a psychological component to their training. If they’re trained to be not only physically tough but also tough in their minds. They need a mental edge.
This is true not only in athletics. In the business world, executives receive training to deal with the high-stakes decisions they have to make in the organizations they lead. Soldiers and law-enforcement officers are given tools to deal with critical stress management and how to still perform well when the stakes are high.
Like it or not, we all have a battle that we’re constantly fighting. We talked about opening our eyes to the war we’re in. There are many battles in that larger war happening outside and within us. I want to start, though, with a look in the mirror. I want to start with the battle that is taking place on the inside.
It’s what James was talking about when he said, “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?” (4:1 NLT). He’s saying, Something’s going on, something more than just what you’re facing from outside influences.
Things don’t go the way we want them to go. We don’t do what we meant to do. When the stakes are high, there’s turmoil, there’s pressure, and we blow it. Even if we’ve been practicing on a friendly home court, the game has completely changed. We’re not in Kansas anymore.
Paul said much the same thing. In Romans 7:15 we read, “I don’t really understand myself” (NLT). I love that sentence. Can’t you picture Paul looking in the mirror, being like, Who are you? I don’t even know you and I am you.
I’m with Paul. Sometimes I look at myself and ask, Who even are you?
He goes on, “For I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.” Have you ever asked yourself, Why did I do that? Me too. “Instead, I do what I hate. . . . I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind” (vv. 15, 22–23).
It’s not just me, Paul, and James. We’re all dealing with the civil war inside our souls. We’re conflicted. We feel not completely sure what’s the right thing to do or even to want. We feel like there’s a traitor in our midst and it’s us. I’ve seen the enemy and it’s me.
We talked about how athletes and soldiers have to get the mental edge to deal with all they have to deal with. The funny thing is, in the New Testament, the two analogies that are most commonly used to describe what it means to follow Jesus are—you guessed it—being a soldier engaged in warfare and being an athlete who’s running to win the prize. So it is for us as it is for both soldiers and athletes; the calling is great and the pressure is high.
I mean, we’ve been given the most important assignment that’s ever been given to anyone: take this message of the gospel of Jesus and get it to every part of the world. And it’s the only hope of saving mankind. Talk about stress! The clock is ticking. Time is running out. Life is racing by. Only what’s done for Christ will last. That’s pressure.
Yes, there are outside components to this. The devil and the world. The Bible says we have enemies. We’ll definitely talk about that. But we have enough problems to deal with, including the fact that we tend to self-sabotage. And we are more than capable of becoming our own worst enemies.
So I believe we have a great need for what Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus, that they would be strengthened in the inner being, according to the riches of his glory (Ephesians 3:16). That’s my prayer. That at the very outset of this journey, God, through his Holy Spirit, will strengthen us in our inner beings. That he will walk with us as we get wise to these battles and take back ground from the Enemy.
If this feels like the start of an identity crisis for you, good! Because the best kind of crisis you can have is an identity crisis, where you begin the process of learning who you truly are. Fighting. Asking questions. Before you can fully do what you’re called to do, you must finally understand who you’re called to be. And that’s the awakening, the revelation that every believer needs to have.
A huge component in mental training in athletics is crafting the proper self-image. If you imagine yourself to be a failure because you lost your last game or you didn’t live up to your own expectations, you will eventually prove yourself right. In fact, one expert who has trained many major league players said, “You can’t outperform or underperform1 your self-image for long. The self-image will eventually regulate behaviors and outcome."
Now let’s take this into the Christian paradigm. How a man thinks of himself, so he is, says the Bible (Proverbs 23:7). Your thinking of yourself proves to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Bible says we experience an identity shift the moment we become Christians. We are “in Christ.” In Christ, we are tucked. In Christ, we are enveloped. It’s as though we’re placed under an umbrella of grace, and now what previously would hit us can’t hit us because we’re covered by Christ.
When we were struggling to win, striving to achieve, straining to please God, Jesus said, essentially, “The message of the gospel isn’t try; it’s trust. You don’t have to carry the weight of what you can do for me; just stand on the strength of what I have done for you.”
Once you’re under that umbrella called grace, how God views you, your identity, doesn’t change day to day with your behavior or with your activity. You don’t have to get a good-behavior gold star on the big star chart in the sky or revile yourself when you mess up. Now, just as an athlete would say to themselves, I’m fast, I’m strong, I’m unstoppable, I’ve got the eye of the tiger, you can know who Jesus says you are.
What if you woke up every day, looked at yourself in the mirror, and proclaimed what God says about you? You are loved. You are chosen. You are called. You are equipped.
But I had a bad week . . .
Loved. Called. Chosen. Equipped.
But I haven’t been a good husband . . .
Loved. Called. Chosen. Equipped.
Every day. It doesn’t change, because God doesn’t love you more on your best day or less on your worst day. That’s why I want to push you into an identity crisis. It’s the only place you can truly experience the relentless love of God.
Father, rid me of the selfish parts of my old identity that pull me toward sin. Remind me and strengthen me in who you say I am. Amen.
BREATHE, THINK, AND LIVE
- Think of times when you felt the war within yourself. When you caved under pressure. When you did something you did not want to do, like Paul. (I know it’s depressing, but I promise it’ll get better.)
- In what situations do you most often tend to blow it?
- How does it feel to chew on the idea that God loves you exactly as much in those times as he does when you’re doing awesome?
- What do you tend to do to put good-behavior stars on your star chart in heaven?
- How does it feel to know that God loves you exactly as much then as he does when you are blowing it in the worst way?
- What are some direct consequences being “in Christ” can have on your self-image? Will it make you more _________? Or less _______? (Fill in the blanks.)
- What are you most looking forward to about developing that mental edge when you’re battling with yourself? What do you hope will change?
You Matter More Than You Know
—Genesis 1:27 NIV
I don’t know what you see when you look in the mirror, but if you are like me, there is a long list of things you wish you could change. When I first wake up most mornings, I splash water on my face, look at myself, and think, Dude, you look like you got hit by a truck. But lately there have been a lot of times when I have seen a sadness in my face that hasn’t always been there.
Regardless of what you see looking back at you while you brush your teeth, I can tell you with zero hesitation that, to God, there is nothing ordinary about you. You might spit your toothpaste out just like everybody else, but the truth is, you are complex, special, and one of a kind. I realize I’m getting all Barney the purple dinosaur on you, but I’m dead serious. There is nothing even remotely close to normal about you.
It doesn’t help that so much of our lives feels pretty unimportant, composed of activity that is seemingly insignificant. Folding clothes, writing papers, paying bills, watching Seinfeld reruns, eating dinner. Repeat. But don’t let the simplicity of life fool you. You are so close to the details that it can be difficult to get perspective, but you are a part of a much larger story. You matter more than you know.
You might feel pretty ordinary or average. Maybe you’ve been picked on or squashed down by people. That gets old pretty quickly and eventually can cause you to believe what is being said about you. Even worse, maybe you have been flat-out told you are worthless. You feel tempted to accept that you are doomed to alcoholism (like your father before you) or divorce (like just about everyone you know). Hear me loud and clear: these are all lies!
Here’s some truth for you brought to you by your new lenses, your new way of looking at yourself:
YOU WERE MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. That’s right, made. You are not smart mud or a monkey wearing pants. God made you. Fearfully, wonderfully, he knit you together inside your mother. You’re no accident. Out of all creation, God made humans, male and female, to be like him. And as his image bearer, you possess a gift no animal was given: self-awareness. You have free will. You are not a robot or a puppet.
- Need proof? See Psalm 139:13–14; Genesis 1:27; 5:2.
YOU HAVE AUTONOMY. Like God, you have a personality. A sense of humor. You can laugh and sing, make love and create, dream and destroy. You have feelings and can be hurt. When things don’t go your way, you get sad and can be grieved, just like God. This might surprise you, but God doesn’t always get what he wants and neither do we. Jesus knocks at the doors of our hearts, and we have to invite him inside in order to be saved. He is a gentleman, so he knocks. He won’t go all SEAL Team Six and kick the door down. He gives us the dignity and responsibility of making our own decisions.
- Ephesians 4:30; Revelation 3:20; Galatians 3:14
YOU ARE IMMORTAL. The question is not whether you will live forever but where. Four hundred years from now, and four thousand years after that, you will still exist. You will still be alive, and you will still be you.
- John 8:51; 1 Corinthians 15; Luke 20:36
YOU WERE EXPENSIVE. Think about what God was willing to spend to redeem you and give you hope when sin and death had their suffocating strangle-hold on your life. The value of something comes from what someone is willing to pay for it. And, boy, were you expensive! The Bible says that while we were dead in our sins, God demonstrated his love for us by sending his Son to die for us (Romans 5:8). You weren’t purchased with any common currency, like gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Jesus. His veins were opened, and then, hanging on two pieces of wood on top of a hill shaped like a skull, the Son of God died to pay the price for every wrong thing you have done. Sin is a capital crime, so he died to set you free.
There is no higher price that has ever been paid for anything in history. No Rolex, luxury yacht, penthouse apartment, work of art, or private island can come close to being as outrageously expensive as your freedom. You are valuable not just by birth but because blood was spilled so you could be born again.
- Romans 5:8; John 3:16; Luke 12:6–7; Ephesians 5:2
YOU HAVE POWER. As a child of God you have been entrusted with the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in your heart and is ready and waiting to be activated. Greater energy courses through you than can be measured with horsepower. As often as you ask, the Spirit is prepared to surge afresh into your soul, like the power coming from Iron Man’s glowing chest piece, turbocharging your efforts as you rise up to do all God wants you to do.
- 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Timothy 1:14; Romans 8:11; Ephesians 3:16–20
YOU ARE GIFTED. Then there are the gifts and unique privileges you have been given. There are spiritual capabilities and also skills, talents, and abilities. He has made you passionate about certain things. You have specific connections and opportunities that I haven’t been given. Remember, you’re a genius. There are people you get to talk to every day whom it would take a miracle for a preacher to get in front of. But for you it’s as effortless as sitting in second period or clocking in for an afternoon shift at your job. Lucky!
- Ephesians 2:10; James 1:17; 1 Peter 4:10–11; Matthew 5:14–16
YOU HAVE AN EPIC MISSION. Oh, and did I mention, you have also been tasked with the greatest mission that has ever been undertaken in the history of the world: the Great Commission, a mission to go fishing. The orders from your commanding officer are pretty clear: go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. People who believe will be saved, but if they do not, they will not. You’re pretty much like Frodo, except instead of a ring that has to get to the volcano, you have a message that is the only hope of saving mankind from sin and death. Basically, the most important thing ever.
- Matthew 4:19–20, 28:16–20; Romans 10:14–15; John 15:16
So let’s recap. The God who created the universe made you and trusted you with his image. The most important person ever to live was willing to die to save you. You are tapped into a power source greater than the electricity generated at Niagara Falls added to the mushroom cloud of Hiroshima, plus you have spiritual superpowers. Rule zero of the internet is “Don’t mess with cats,” and the number one rule of Fight Club is “Don’t talk about Fight Club,” but the most important thing to know about living up to your potential is that if you don’t understand your calling, you will undervalue it.
I hope you are starting to get a sense of how incredibly, wildly unordinary you are. You, my friend, were put on this earth to make waves, disrupt the status quo, and kick over some stinking applecarts. You have everything you need to move forward and live an extraordinary life.
Thank you, Jesus, for your death and resurrection, which has tapped me into an extraordinary, powerful, and purpose-driven life. Use me for your glory today. I am available. Amen.
BREATHE, THINK, AND LIVE
- When you read that you’re special or one of a kind, what’s your gut reaction? Hope? Excitement? Relief? Disbelief? Embarrassment? Did you roll your eyes? Get honest about the degree to which you believe you are actually, legitimately a big deal and that you matter. Reflect on why you react the way you do.
- When in your life have you felt you weren’t made in the image of God? Think of a specific time someone told you that you were broken, funny looking, a screwup, fundamentally flawed. How does the fact that you were made in the image of God change any lies you may be holding onto from that time?
- When have you felt helpless, like you didn’t have free will or a choice? How does the fact that you have autonomy change that?
- When have you felt you were temporary or that the things you do now just won’t matter in the future? How does the fact that you are immortal change that?
- When have you felt you weren’t worth much, that you were expendable, cheap, or disposable? How does knowing that you were expensive change that?
- When have you felt weak or powerless? How does knowing you have power change that?
- When have you felt average, dull, or untalented? How does the fact that you are gifted change that?
- When have you felt aimless, stuck, or ineffectual? How does that fact that you have an epic mission change that?
- Accepting the fact that you are wildly unordinary is the first step to taking back your life. From today, which truth hits you the hardest? Take the scriptures from that truth, maybe find even more, and dig in. Absorb them. Hang on to them for dear life as we move forward.
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