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:
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:
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.”
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.”
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.
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.