Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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“City Gates, Soul Gates”


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In the Northern California climate, bare root roses are usually planted in January.  My husband and I moved into our house a number of years ago in mid-February.  So, for close to a year I eagerly anticipated the time when we could finally start our very own rose garden.  We went to a nursery and studied labels, carefully choosing the colors and varieties we wanted to plant along the side of our driveway in the front yard.

It was hard work digging holes and planting in the winter soil, but it was worth the effort when we envisioned the beautiful roses that would bloom a few months later.  We’d chosen colors in a variety of shades:  pink, yellow, white, red, coral and lavender.   They had names like “Mr. Lincoln” and “Touch of Class” embossed on metal tags hanging around the main stalks of the plants.  We kept them attached even after planting so we could remember their names later.

As winter turned to spring, green shoots and fat buds began to appear on our new rose plants.  I’d check them regularly– excited to see which colors would show first.   Then, one morning, I discovered all of the buds were gone.  It looked almost as if someone had come into our yard and snipped them off with a pair of clippers.  I was perplexed, angry and disappointed.  I couldn’t imagine who would have done such a thing.

Later that evening, as the sun was setting, a family of dear gracefully wandered into our yard.  As I moved to the window to watch them, I was horrified to discover they were brazenly snacking on my rose plants.  What had looked like a clean cut from a pair of garden shears had actually been the teeth of several deer.

When I went back to the nursery where we’d bought the roses to explain our predicament, the employee there was less than sympathetic:  “Yea, deer eat just about anything.  They don’t care about thorns.  I can sell you some stuff to spray on the flowers to make them taste bad, but you have to use it all the time.  Those deer are pretty tenacious.”

I bought the spray and tried it for a while, but finally gave up.  It smelled bad and the deer ate the blooms anyway.  For several years, we just relinquished any hope of ever seeing a bud, let alone a fully blooming rose.  I couldn’t even remember what color flowers we’d planted and had only the metal tags to remind me.

Finally, one winter we decided to risk uprooting our rose bushes and re-planting them in the backyard.  It would either kill them or give them a new lease on life.  We hoped they would survive the transplant and would thrive safely tucked behind our high fence where deer couldn’t get at them.  Sure enough, that spring, we began to see buds forming.  Eventually after years of waiting to see roses, our backyard was filled with blooms in a multitude of colors.  I could enjoy them from the window or clip them to put in vases or give them to friends.  All it took was guarding the roses from the hungry deer that devoured them.

Those roses were one of the first things I pictured as I read Kelly Minter’s words in the week 2 lesson of Nehemiah:  A Heart That Can Break.  Until I fenced them in for protection, they never reached their full blooming potential.  In the study, Minter describes how Nehemiah and his fellow Jews focused their attention on rebuilding the gates around the walls of Jerusalem.  She explains:  “Little is as important to a city as guarding the places where people come and go.  Jerusalem’s walls meant nothing without fortified gates—every door, bolt, and bar had to be scrutinized and secured.  This led me to think about the ‘gates’ in my life, what I allow to enter my seeing and hearing…The question became, ‘What am I allowing in and out?’  Have you ever wondered if ‘mindless entertainment’ might actually be a wide-open gate in your life by which many hurtful and deceiving ideas are sliding straight into your thinking?  What about the friendships you keep, the magazines you read, the conversations in which you choose to engage?  Are your doors open to uplifting, truth-telling and life-giving, or to what corrodes your soul?”  (p. 43).

If we’re not on our guards, the good things in our lives can be infiltrated and ruined by the enemy, just like my roses.  Proverbs 4:23 says it clearly:  “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  I started thinking about the times in my life when I’ve let my guard down and have allowed my heart to be influenced in ways that are not beneficial to my walk with God.  See if you can relate to any of the areas below where your “soul gates” might need a bit of shoring up:

Entertainment

Kelly Minter mentioned in her video how people often excuse inappropriate subject matter because it is funny.  She pointed out that even sin can seem funny but that “if it put Jesus on the cross, it’s not funny.”  I started thinking about all the ways we can be entertained that have the potential to leave our “soul gates” wide open to ungodly influences.

-TV Shows and Movies: Often they subtly or blatantly give messages contrary to God’s teaching.  I think about this in relation to my kids and ask myself how their worldview might be shaped by what they’re seeing.  When we come across something that doesn’t fit with God’s word, we talk about it and point out the message that is contrary to God’s plans for us.    Talk shows and reality shows espouse unbiblical worldviews as much as dramas and sitcoms, so it’s important to consider them too.

-Music:  Song lyrics spout messages constantly.  I have one child who particularly enjoys listening to “hit music” on the radio.  Many of the songs are catchy and fun, but it’s important to listen to the message behind the beat.  Recently my son and I had a conversation about a song with the recurring line:  “Are you gonna stay the night/ Doesn’t mean we’re bound for life.”  He was a little annoyed and embarrassed when we talked about how the song’s message didn’t fit with God’s design for sex, but he listened and accepted what I said.  Now, when the song comes on we can joke about it and roll our eyes, realizing the not so subtle message it gives.  Sometimes my boys and I look up song lyrics online to clarify or discuss the content.  We can’t keep our kids or ourselves entirely in a bubble, but we can learn to recognize the way the world influences us so we don’t fall for it.

-Books:  We need to be wise about the non-fiction and fiction books we read.  Even those fun “beach reads” have an impact on our thought lives, for better or for worse.  Our imaginations have few limits and when they’re fed ideas that don’t fit with God’s plan, we are opening our “soul gates” unwisely.

-Websites/ Chat rooms/ Blogs:  The places we frequent on the Internet also impact our thought lives significantly and can lead to a breakdown in the walls around our souls.  Are you considering that with the content you absorb online?

-Magazines:  How are the articles you read influencing you?  Do the magazines you read make you wish for bigger and better material possessions?  Do they turn the personal lives of strangers into scintillating gossip?  Do they tempt you to eat and drink in ways that you’ll regret later?  Do they influence your worldview in ways that draw you closer to God or that pull you farther away from Him?

-Talk Radio:  Talk radio can fill our minds with ideas.  Do the people you listen to on the radio continually espouse specific views and label groups of people?  Do they vilify certain people or groups?  This happens easily on talk shows centered on politics.  Keep in mind, whether you agree with someone’s political views or not, they are still loved by God.  Sometimes when we draw political lines in the sand, it’s hard to reach out in love to people whose labels don’t match the ones with which we agree.

-E-mail forwards:  Do you think carefully before you forward “thought provoking” or “funny” e-mails to friends and family?  Do you think about how they have influenced you and how they might influence others?  Do you check to see if information you are forwarding is factual?  Do you think about whether the recipients need more e-mails in their inboxes?

The links below provide resources for reviewing movies, TV shows and other media.  They are a great way to screen in advance what you plan to watch or to let your kids watch.  The first is from Focus on the Family, the second is from Common Sense Media:

http://www.pluggedin.com

http://www.commonsensemedia.org

A good guideline to keep in mind for entertainment is to think of Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Relationships

The people we spend time with influence us profoundly.  Here are a few questions to think about how they might be influencing you in different ways:

-Do the people you spend time with point you towards God or away from Him?

-Are your peers positive and encouraging or negative and bitter?

-The Bible calls us to be salt and light to a world in darkness—are you rubbing off on your non-Christian friends and acquaintances or are they rubbing off on you?

-If you’re married:  Do the people you spend time with make your marriage stronger? Do your friends know more about the highs and lows of your marriage than your spouse?  What parameters do you place around your interactions with the opposite sex? (Sometimes we may think we’ve been married too long for these things to be issues-yet our culture is full of marriages that crumble even after twenty, thirty or forty years.  We must be relentless in protecting our marriages at every stage in life.)

-Do you seek out friends to provide support and wisdom before you ever consider seeking God?  Kelly Minter cautions:  “Even well-meaning people can unintentionally draw us away from God’s will in our lives” (p.58).

-Do you spend time with people who take pleasure in being critical of others?

-How easy is it to get drawn into gossip in your circle of friends and acquaintances?

-Does the sarcasm and cynicism of others rub off on you?

-Do you spend time with people who expect you to “show well” and put up a façade?

-Do you downplay your faith around certain friends and acquaintances?

Colossians 3:1-17 provides some great instructions for relationships:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

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There are a lot of challenging issues to think and pray about in the paragraphs above.  If you’re feeling convicted, just keep this in mind:  the goal of these questions isn’t to make you feel guilty, but to help you find the places where your “soul gates” need strengthening.  Strong gates allow your spiritual garden to flourish and give God room to develop your potential.  Ask the Holy Spirit to keep your soul gates strong.  Let Him monitor what comes and goes through them.   You may not realize the ways you can bloom spiritually until you notice what is coming through your “soul gates” and guard against the things that will damage your walk with God.   I didn’t realize the beauty I was missing until we took the time to move our roses.  It was worth the effort.

Roses

For some additional perspective on this topic, click on the link below to hear Casting Crowns’ song “Slow Fade.”  It’s a great reminder for why keeping your “soul gates” intact is so important.

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Letting Your Heart Break

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This week our Focused Living Bible study launched a new study:  Nehemiah:  A Heart That Can Break.  In the opening video author Kelly Minter explains that Nehemiah was a Jewish exile living in Persia.  He was a descendant of the Jews who had originally been carried off to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzer conquered Jerusalem in 587 B.C.  By 539 B.C. Cyrus, King of Persia had conquered King Nebuchadnezzer and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland.   Over the years some returned to Jerusalem, while others remained living in Babylon, the only home they’d ever known.

Nehemiah was one of the Jews who stayed in Babylon.  As the story opens, about 140 years have passed since the Jews were first carried off from Jerusalem.  We learn in Nehehmiah chapter 1 that our main character was cupbearer to King Ataxerxes.   Minter explains that a cupbearer would have been like a butler.  My mind immediately pictured the character “Carson” on the popular show Downton Abby.  The time periods and cultures are wildly different, but I imagine some things about the job would be consistent in any era.  A butler would be responsible for running an esteemed household with proper etiquette and decorum. Although he would not be wealthy personally, he would be at ease living and working among people of great stature.  He would be accustomed to fine things and grand surroundings.

In Nehemiah 1:2-4, our hero heard news about Jerusalem while he was serving King Ataxerxes at his winter resort in Susa:

Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.  They said to me,  ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’  When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”

From his location of opulence Nehemiah wept for his fellow Jews living in disgrace.   Minter points out  “though the suffering of the Jews would have naturally been of some concern to him, technically this was not his problem.  He didn’t live there.”  (p.13)   Nevertheless, Nehemiah’s heart broke when he learned the news.  His first reaction was to seek God in prayer:

Then I said:  ‘Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.’”  (Nehemiah 1:5-6)

Nehemiah ended his prayer asking God to give him success and to grant him favor in the presence of the king.  Then, he waited for an opportune time.  Several months passed before his chance to ask King Ataxerxes for assistance finally arrived.  When it did, Nehemiah entreated him boldly, knowing that God had gone before him to prepare the way:

The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?’  Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.’”  (Nehemiah 2:4-5)

Nehemiah’s heart broke for his people and he asked to leave his place of comfort so he could help them.  Minter explains Nehemiah had “a God-inspired heart that couldn’t bear the thought of letting his fellow Jews suffer—a heart that had no choice but to do something.” (p.14)  Spurred on not by obligation, but by a desire to obey God and love others, Nehemiah set out on a monumental quest to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem.

Minter uses Nehemiah’s example to challenge us saying “You may not be in a position to leave your job like Nehemiah, but surely there is someone whose well-being you can seek and promote…When embraced by God’s grace, the called to serve is no longer a guilt-trip but the gospel.”  (p.27)

Maybe her words confirm what you’ve already sensed God doing in your life or maybe they are convicting you a bit.  Perhaps God is nudging you to alleviate the suffering of others in some way.   Personally, I spent far too many years feeling unsure about what “doing something” should look like in my life.  I vacillated between feeling guilty that I wasn’t serving the needy and rationalizing all of the reasons why it wasn’t feasible for me.  Then, in 2011, I was asked to write a blog for a secular website about Rich Stearns’ book The Hole in Our Gospel.  Reading the book and writing my thoughts about it changed me.  I started praying God would show me where and how He wanted to use me.  I didn’t move to Africa or start a Missions organization in the inner city, but God did break my heart and has prompted me to serve the needy in a variety of ways since then.

One small example of this happened a few weeks ago.   My twelve-year old son’s youth group was planning a fun day in San Francisco.  I was excited to go, but something inside of me cringed as I thought of the many homeless people we would encounter.   It felt wrong to expose the kids to people with such profound need without preparing them to show God’s love and compassion.  After praying about it and talking with the Middle School Director from church, we made a plan to have the day be a combination of sight seeing and serving the needy.  All of the kids were invited to bring bags filled with supplies such as toothbrushes, wipes, chapstick, granola bars, and socks.  Each bag also included a pamphlet with the Gospel clearly and simply explained.

When we got off the BART train at Powell Street we walked the kids through a nearby neighborhood where our church has been partnering with a ministry called City Impact.  We knew we’d encounter needy people on the streets, but also wanted the kids to see the location of the ministry since they’d participated in donating items to help it in the past.

Most of us were tentative and uncomfortable as we walked through the neighborhood at first.  The kids were looking to the adults for reassurance and we silently prayed for the Spirit to give us courage and confidence to lead them well.  One man standing in a doorway stepped out and questioned me with a concerned tone: “Do you folks mean to be here? Union Square is in the other direction.”  Clearly, we did not look like we belonged there. However, as he soon as he saw us pulling bags out and offering them to people, he smiled and nodded.  A few blocks later, we encountered him again, this time he’d rounded up a few friends:  “Do you all still have some of those bags left?  These guys could use them.”  As the kids handed out the supplies the men smiled, thanked us and said “God bless you.”

Further down the block we came to a long line of people waiting for a free lunch from a well-known church.  As we walked up the sidewalk offering bags, some recipients were bold enough to ask for specific items:  “Do you have deodorant? How about a razor and shaving cream?”  I answered honestly:  “Sorry, no, this is all we have.”  Not everyone was polite and a few even inspected the bags to choose which ones had items they wanted more.  We encountered unsavory sights and smells.  We felt awkward at moments and anxious at others, but we stayed and gave out all the supplies we had.  Some of the students even gave snacks they’d brought for themselves.

Within thirty minutes, we’d given away all the bags and headed to Union Square for lunch.  A few of the kids were surprised at how quickly we ran out.  Some felt badly that we didn’t have more to give. There were eighteen people in our group and we probably handed out at least thirty bags.  We barely made a dent in giving them to everyone who needed or wanted them.

Thinking about it in retrospect, I realized that “doing something” doesn’t mean we are going to save the world single handedly.  We’ll never be able to feed every hungry person.  However, any time we act to alleviate the suffering of others our efforts make a difference.  All the people who received bags that day knew for a moment that they mattered– someone saw their need and sought to meet it.

Serving others can be messy, time consuming and inconvenient.  Sometimes it’s complicated and uncomfortable.  Often it means stepping out of our comfort zones and being stretched in new ways.  However, when we pray first and let God guide and equip us, we have nothing to fear.   He will lead us to the specific things He wants us to do and will use us to bless others and glorify Himself.  Demonstrating this kind of obedience is one of the most profound ways to show our love for Him.

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Matthew West’s new song “Do Something” sounds like it was written specifically for the Nehemiah study.  Click on the link below to hear it and be inspired to pray about what “doing something” might look like in your life.


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Depositing God’s Truth in Your Spiritual Bank

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Recently at our Focused Living Bible Study we had the privilege of hearing from three women in three different life stages.  They all shared specifics about how they’ve seen God take them “Deeper Still” in their relationships with Him.   All three had fantastic messages to share and we were blessed by their authenticity and candor.   It just so happens that the last woman to share was my mom.  During her talk she highlighted how much she values studying the Bible to keep aligned with God’s truth.  She told us that she started formally studying the Bible in 1974 and has continued ever since in a variety of different classes and groups.  My mom admonished us to see studying God’s word as an opportunity to make deposits in our “spiritual banks,” pointing out that truths we learn now can sustain us in the years to come.  Isaiah 55:10-11 says pretty much the same thing:

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth 
and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty,
 but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Our Bible study is wrapping up another challenging and inspiring study, but before I add my workbook from Faithful, Abundant, True:  Three Lives Going Deeper Still to the growing collection on my shelf, I’d like to reflect on what I’ve learned.  Spending time looking back is an opportunity to make a deposit in our “spiritual banks.”  Writing down the truths we’ve learned will bless us in the years to come and imprint them more deeply into our memories. 

Truths Taught by Kay Arthur

-Don’t Shrink Back

Kay taught us about God’s faithfulness and encouraged us to make time for God’s word and to keep from entangling ourselves in the affairs of the world.  Referring often to the book of Hebrews, she reminded us not to “shrink back” and to continue growing deeper with God.

Hebrews 10:35-39  “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, ‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come
 and will not delay.’  And, ‘But my righteous one will live by faith.  And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.’  But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”

-Handle God’s Word Correctly

Kay reminded us of the value of God’s word and the importance of learning to use and handle it correctly.  She pointed out that studying the Bible is not just about getting us through our issues, but changing us from the inside out.

2 Timothy 2:15  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

-Abandon Unbelief to Find the Rest of Faith

Kay also taught is that having faith means resting in the word of God.  We cannot have the rest of faith if we have unbelief in our lives.  If we truly believe God can do what He says, then we will trust Him and find rest, unlike the Israelites who doomed themselves to wandering in the desert for forty years because of their unbelief.

Hebrews 3:16-19 & 4:1-2  “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.  Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.”

Truths Taught By Priscilla Shirer

-God Is Able

Priscilla Shirer showed us that God is able to surprise us in the midst of our impossible situations.  She encouraged us to remember that knowing Who we’re dealing with changes the way we pray.  When we pray, we can be confident knowing God has the power to do what we ask.  She also encouraged us to pray: “God, do this, or do something better!”

Ephesians 3:20-21  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

-An Abundant Life is Not Free of Difficulty

Priscilla reminded us that God’s abundance is not about experiencing peace because of our circumstances, but in spite of them.  We can experience the fullness of God even in the midst of our impossible situations.  He is the only dependable constant in our lives in a world that is ever changing.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10  “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

-Don’t Just Learn About God; Believe His Word is True for You Personally

Priscilla pointed out the importance of translating the head knowledge we gain from studying God’s word into heart knowledge that causes true life-transformation.

Hebrews 12:1-2  “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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Truths Taught By Beth Moore

-We Must Activate the Mind of Christ

Beth emphasized that anyone who accepts Christ has the ability to have the mind of Christ.    She says,  “Our challenge is to learn how to activate His mind in our thought processes regarding the reality of our experience.” (p.108)

1 Corinthians 2:15-16  “The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,  ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’  But we have the mind of Christ.”

-Discernment Doesn’t Happen By Accident

When the Holy Spirit resides within us, we possess the potential for great discernment, but it is like a muscle that must be exercised to grow stronger.  We grow in our discernment through “prayer, pursuit and practice.”  (110)

Hebrews 5:13-14  “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

-God’s Spirit Fills Us to the Extent We are Willing to Yield

God will only take us as far as we are willing to let Him go on our spiritual journeys.  Without obedience to Him, we prevent ongoing growth from occurring.

John 14:15-16  If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

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That is quite a bit of truth to absorb in six weeks of study!  I feel like I just made a huge deposit in my “spiritual bank.”  How about you?  What truths do you want to savor and remember before you move on to the next study?  If you’re not attender of Focused Living, what things are you learning right now that you want to remember later?  Make a comment below and share with us (click on “leave a comment” at the top of this post and the comment field will appear at the bottom of the post).  You can also make a comment on Facebook if you prefer.

I’ll close by making Paul’s prayer for the Philippians in 1:9-11 my prayer for you:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” 

Click on the blue sign below that says “Watch Vimeo”  to see the “Deeper Still” testimonies of the three women at Focused Living.


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Boosting Your Spiritual Metabolism

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October, November and December are months filled with celebrations in my family.  It seems we’re continually enjoying birthday dinners, Halloween candy, Thanksgiving delicacies and Christmas treats at a fairly steady pace for a long stretch of time.   Although we generally try to eat healthy food, it seems there is always an excuse for a “splurge” during those months.  This December, my husband and I realized that our “fun splurges” were becoming a regular part of our diet.  By the end of the Christmas holidays, we were both feeling the effects of too many months of making bad choices with food.  It was time for a change.

My meal planning and cooking had been on autopilot for quite a while.  I’d chalked it up to a busy schedule, but the truth was, I was getting pretty lazy. We were eating the same four or five meals all the time and making things interesting by eating plenty of unhealthy snacks and desserts in between.  We didn’t feel good physically and often criticized ourselves for the bad food choices we were making.  Then, we’d do the same thing again the next day.

Driving home from a visit with family over the holidays, I began perusing a book that outlined a twenty-eight day plan for eating healthy, cleansing our bodies and rebooting our metabolisms.  It sounded a bit daunting, but after some serious thought, we decided the health benefits were worth the effort.

To implement this plan required full buy-in for both of us.  We had to commit to following all of the guidelines of the plan for twenty-eight days.  There was no way to eat on autopilot anymore.  I was checking our book so much that the pages were dotted with splotches of food from reading recipes while I cooked. I had to write meal plans for the week in a spiral notebook and check it frequently.  My husband would regularly ask, “Is this in the plan?”  I’d grab the book to check, not trusting my memory to guide me.

Having to think about meals so much required more effort than our old ways of interacting with food.  We had to be intentional in planning menus, preparing ahead and anticipating possible challenges along the way.  However, we were also seeing the benefits of the plan and were feeling great.  I’d never given so much thought to what, when and how I was eating until then- but my metabolism seemed to be responding well.

I realized a striking similarity between our new eating plan and our spiritual lives.  We can’t go on autopilot.  We can’t just check off our thirty minutes reading the Bible and praying in the morning and then move on with the day.  Instead, we need to be in tune with God’s Spirit and connecting with Him at regular intervals throughout the day to get the strength and wisdom we need.   My eating plan required healthy snacks and meals at regular intervals to fuel my metabolism and keep it burning.  Our spiritual metabolisms also need regular fuel to function fully. I’m finding Beth Moore’s words to be true:  “Dependable discernment comes only by walking in the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit comes only by walking and talking with God Himself…The Spirit of God fills us only to the extent that we yield to His authority and welcome His Presence.  (Beth Moore, Faithful, Abundant, True: Three Lives Going Deeper Still p. 138)

There is an obvious comparison between eating healthy and maintaining spiritual well being.  Both require constant vigilance.  We need to be intentional with our efforts to connect with God instead of becoming lazy spiritually or relying on others to keep us growing in our faith.  Beth Moore uses the story of the Israelites and Moses from Exodus 20:18-21 to illustrate this:

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”  Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

Beth explains:  “That’s how a lot of people still want their religion today.  We still say in effect, ‘I’m not looking to be close to the Father God and to get to know Him intimately through His Son Jesus Christ.  I just want someone to tell me what to do and what not to do and I’ll go on with it from there’…What people with this mind-set don’t understand is that they’re missing the most satisfying love relationship of their entire existence…We will never live one single day in the Spirit accidentally.  It simply cannot happen…You show me a godly woman, and I’ll show you a woman who pursued God”  (Beth Moore, Faithful, Abundant, True: Three Lives Going Deeper Still p. 137 & 139).

Not surprisingly, the Bible has quite a bit to say about staying tuned into the Holy Spirit.  Galatians 5:25 tells us:  “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Our job is to match the cadence of our steps to those of the Holy Spirit.  We can only do this through consistent time in God’s Word and prayer.

Over the past few years as I’ve learned more about the Holy Spirit, I’ve incorporated a few regular phrases into my prayer life.  They help me keep in step with the Spirit and remain intentional in my pursuit of Him.  The first is: “God, pour out your Spirit on me today.”  When I pray this, I imagine God taking a pitcher of water and pouring it over my head so that everything around me is soaked with His Spirit.  Although I know that His Spirit already resides in me, asking for more of Him increases my capacity to be filled and used by Him.   Ephesians 5:18b admonishes us to be “filled with the Spirit.”  The footnotes in my study Bible explain this verse well: “The Greek present tense is used in this verse to indicate that the filling of the Spirit it not a once-for-all experience.  Repeatedly, as occasion requires, the Spirit empowers for worship, service and testimony.”  (Zondervan NIV Study Bible p. 1832)

Another regular prayer of mine is “God, align my heart with Your Spirit.”  Essentially, this means asking God to make me want the things He wants.  This is what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name.”  In John 14:13-14 Jesus says  “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”  When we ask in Jesus’ name, it acknowledges our desire for God to be glorified by our requests.  It’s not like a closing salutation for a prayer; it is a statement of wanting our wills to align with God’s and to ask in prayer for the things we know He wants.

Just like I read my meal-planning book throughout the day, we have to consult the Bible regularly to stay aligned with God’s will and Spirit.  We have to be actively engaged in studying His word, praying and seeking Him.  We can’t base our faith on memories of the past. That would be like cooking on autopilot and making the same default meals over and over.  God has something new to show us all the time.  He wants to keep our spiritual metabolisms moving to ingest new truths so that we can use our gifts to bless others and honor Him.

“I am the Lord; that is my name! 
I will not yield my glory to another
 or my praise to idols.  See, the former things have taken place, 
and new things I declare; 
before they spring into being
 I announce them to you.”  -Isaiah 42:8-10

Maybe it’s time to think about your spiritual metabolism.  Are you on autopilot cruising along spiritually without giving much thought to your need for the Spirit?  Is there an area you need to surrender so that you can obey God more fully?  It may seem daunting, but once you address these things, you won’t want to go back to autopilot again.  God has too many great things in store for you and will give you exactly what you need to live walking in His Spirit.

I’ve attached a link below to a song that is a little older.  It is called “Rushing Wind” and is by a Christian musical artist named Keith Green who passed away in a plane crash in 1982.  Although it may not sound as current as some of the songs I usually include, I hope it will bless and inspire you.  I first heard it as a freshman in college in 1988 and it is still one of my favorites.