Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Adopting a “One in a Million” Mindset

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Despite the predictability of mornings in my household, there are some days when my heart flutters with anticipation. I pack lunches, rinse the breakfast dishes, and kiss my boys goodbye before grabbing my helmet and lowering my bike from the hooks where it hangs in our garage. A few minutes later, I’m at the trailhead greeting my best mountain biking partner with a hug while she exclaims: “Can you believe this day? Can you believe we’re out here?” Both of us are giddy with excitement. Nothing compares with being out on the trail soaking in the beauty of God’s creation, connecting in meaningful conversation and feeling the burn of a good workout.

I come home from those morning rides feeling powerful and energized. It’s like I’m carrying this secret inside of me that makes me smile to myself even as I wait in line at the grocery store, drive the carpool or scan through e-mails. I may be playing the part of an average mom, but in my mind, I’m still that rider conquering steep hills and navigating rocky terrain as my heart thumps in my chest.

Priscilla Shirer shares a similar comparison in the closing video of One in a Million as she describes a Nike ad depicting a female runner: An athletic woman with a sleek ponytail runs through a neighborhood in the early morning light wearing Nike apparel. For a moment, all we hear is the runner’s rhythmic breathing while music from the classic movie Chariots of Fire plays softly. Finally, a male narrator’s voice speaks with authority: “There’s an athlete among us. She’s disguised as a wife and a mother…. Just do it.”

Priscilla uses this commercial to inspire us in our spiritual journeys to the Promised Land. She explains that while we may be wives, mothers, teachers, principals, nurses, lawyers or accountants, these things are just what we do—not who we are. She reminds us that those labels are merely disguises for what we really are: ones in whom the Spirit of God lives.   Priscilla emphasizes that God can’t wait to operate in and through us so that the world can see Him. We get to carry the Promised Land mindset with us wherever we go. It gives us the quiet confidence to smile to ourselves as we go about our days. Living with this perspective allows us to recognize where God is at work and inviting us to join Him. It enables us to be peaceful in difficult circumstances because we know God is working them out for our good and His glory. Each of us has the opportunity to be “one in a million” and to let our joy and fulfillment inspire others.

Although it’s the end of our study, it’s the beginning of marching into Promised Land living. Priscilla says in the final video: “God is ready to launch you into new dimensions with Him.” If this sounds inspiring but difficult, be reminded that we can’t live this way on our own strength. Jesus made this perfectly clear:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)

In order to maintain the discipline of the Promised Land mindset, we must abide with Jesus daily. Priscilla says we must “press into Him,” and not try to live this way on our own strength.

As we wrap up our study, I encourage you to review the list of characteristics of a believer experiencing abundant Promised Land living through Christ. Print the one below or make a copy of it from the last page of the One in a Million workbook. Pray over it often and use it as reminder when you need a fresh infusion of the Holy Spirit.

Below the list, you’ll find a link to an old Nike ad. Although I was unable to locate the one Priscilla describes in her video, I found another that shows a runner imagining himself in the movie “Chariots of Fire.” As the video progresses, it’s clear he’s drawing power from his imagination, despite less than ideal surroundings. I hope it inspires you and gives you a good visual for keeping your focus on Jesus regardless of your circumstances.

The Characteristics of a Believer Experiencing Promised Land Living:

-Senses and acknowledges God’s continual presence (Psalm 139:7-10)

-Is led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14)

-Recognizes and tears down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4)

-Separates physical and spiritual abundance (Luke 12:15)

-Lives free from a lifestyle of sin (Galatians 5:1, 1 Peter 2:24)

-Shows evidence of conformity to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29)

-Has confidence in his/her standing of righteousness before the Father (Romans 8:1, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

-Casts anxiety and worry on God (1 Peter 5:7)

-Gives thanks in spite of difficult circumstances (Philippians 4:6)

-Counts suffering for Christ as a blessing (1 Peter 2:19-21)

-Displays divine power in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10)

-Senses God’s comfort and hope (2 Thessalonians 2:16)

-Has confidence to draw near to God (Hebrews 7:25 & 10:19)

-Lives as an alien and stranger in this world (1 Peter 2:11)

-Hears the voice of God (John 10:27)

-Discerns the guidance of God’s Spirit (John 16:13)

-Believes God can supply every need (Philippians 4:13)

-Is open to receiving the gifts given by God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

-Recognizes and utilizes spiritual gifts for the edification of Christ’s body (1 Peter 4:10, 1 Corinthians 4:7)

-Displays the fruit of God’s Spirit in daily living (Galatians 5:22-23)

-Experiences consistent joy and peace (John 15:11, Philippians 4:7)

-Recognizes and utilizes God’s spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-18)

-Desires to know and do God’s will (Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 2:10)

-Expects that God is able to do more than we can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20, 1 Corinthians 2:9)

-Anticipates seeing the miracles of God (Galatians 3:5)

-Is content with what he/she has (Philippians 4:12, Hebrews 13:5)

-Confesses sins and believes they are forgiven (1 John 1:9)

-Values connection with the body of Christ (Acts 2:46, Hebrews 10:25)

-Pursues unity in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:2-6, Romans 14:19)

-Forgives when wronged (Matthew 18:21-22, Colossians 3:13)

(from One in a Million: Journey to Your Promised Land p. 160)

Click here to see the Nike “Chariots of Fire” advertisement:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzgKIHjhgFs

Click here to be inspired by Matt Redman’s “Never Once”

Shirer, Priscilla; One in a Million:  Journey to Your Promised Land; Lifeway Press; 2009, 2014)

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Milk and Honey

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The bride was radiant in her billowing white gown. The wedding guests stood transfixed as her parents escorted her down the aisle. Despite her beauty, I turned my eyes toward the front, not wanting to miss my nephew’s reaction as he awaited his bride. His broad smile and steady gaze in her direction revealed his joy.  After a year of planning and anticipating, the day of their wedding had finally come.

The priest welcomed the bride and groom and invited the guests to take their seats. His lilting Irish accent made his words even more striking. He turned to the couple: “Today, your union as husband and wife is a living representation of the sacred covenant God makes with His people. After this ceremony, you will give your guests a glimpse of the Promised Land as we eat, drink and dance to celebrate your marriage. Our sweet time together will be a small taste of the milk and honey God promised His people when they entered the Promised Land.”

I nearly stood up and cheered at his words. Since I was in the middle of studying Priscilla Shirer’s One in a Million: Journey to Your Promised Land, it felt especially significant to me. As I sat listening, I thought of the many parallels between the covenant a bride and groom make during their ceremony and Promised Land living Priscilla Shirer describes in the workbook. A wedding celebrates a couple’s choice to be together for a lifetime. As they take their vows before family, friends and God, they make a public declaration of their commitment to one another. They shift their mindsets from being two individuals to being a family unit; two become one. They make a covenant that is intended to last for a lifetime and that transcends both the good and bad circumstances they will face. Similarly, Promised Land living involves adopting an ongoing mindset. It is a choice to live with eyes wide open to God and His activity. It is the choice to trust Him in spite of our circumstances. It is the daily commitment to live an abundant spiritual life as we open ourselves to the activity of His Spirit.

However, just like marriage is not all about white dresses and wedding cake, Promised Land living isn’t all about milk and honey. “Remember, the Israelites faced enemies as soon as they crossed the Jordan so promised-land living does not mean a life with no problems. It means experiencing God’s power and presence in spite of difficulty.” (One in a Million, p. 160). Promised Land living happens when our eyes remain fixed on God, no matter what. It’s about trusting Him and being committed to His plan, even when we’re not sure what He’s doing—even when the milk and honey don’t seem to be flowing.

Joshua led the Israelites through many battles as God fulfilled His promise to give them the land of Canaan. After leading them for between ten and twenty years, Joshua knew his days on earth were coming to a close. Commentators estimate he was approximately 110 years old when he made his farewell address to the people in Joshua 23 and 24. Observing Israel’s tendency to compromise with their enemies, he admonished them to renew and recommit to their conditional covenant with God. He wanted them to make a clear and intentional choice to step out of complacency:

“The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

“But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.” (Joshua 23:9-13, NIV)

He also verbalized his choice to follow God’s plan and to remain faithful to His covenant, regardless of what anyone else did:

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15, NIV)

Just like a marriage covenant, Promised Land living requires the resolve to stay focused. A bride and groom choose wedding rings as a symbol of their commitment. Similarly, Joshua used tangible reminders for the people. He wrote down the covenant they made with God and set up a large stone to remind them of the promises they made so they would not forget once he was gone.

As we embrace Promised Land living, consider creating your own tangible reminder to stay focused on this new way of thinking. Maybe it’s a bookmark you keep in your Bible with a verse from our study; maybe it’s a smooth stone with “Promised Land 2015” written on it and displayed where it will be a constant reminder, maybe it’s a journal where you record God’s activity in your life. Choose anything that will remind you that no matter where our journeys take us in the days ahead, we can always remain within the borders of the Promised Land.

Make the words of Brian Doerksen’s song “Today (As for Me and My House)” your prayer of commitment as we close our One in a Million workbooks but continue to embrace Promised Land living.

Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Harrison, Everett F.; Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Editors; Moody Press, 1962, 1990.

Shirer, Priscilla; One in a Million: Journey to Your Promised Land; Lifeway Press; 2010, 2014.


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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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Thirty-nine years into their desert wanderings Moses and the Israelites were on the brink of entering the Promised Land. Just when it was finally within their grasp, Moses and his brother, Aaron, committed a sin so grievous that God barred them from leading the people into Canaan. They were doomed to die in the desert. It all started with a familiar problem: the Israelites were grumbling because they had no water. Once again, Moses and Aaron sought help from the Lord:

Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.’

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, ‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’ Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.’” (Numbers 20:6-12, NIV)

In this week’s study Priscilla Shirer asks: “How did Moses offend the Lord? Why do you think the Lord withheld entry into Canaan rather than assigning a lesser punishment?” (One in a Million p. 116)  For me, these weren’t easy questions to answer. If you’re feeling the same, continue reading to see what I learned from consulting different teachers and commentaries.   It may help you understand the reason for God’s severe punishment of Moses and Aaron in spite of their prominent positions.

Disobedience to God’s Clear Instructions

God gave a simple direction to Moses and Aaron. They were to speak to a specific rock while the community watched. God promised that water would pour from the rock as a result. However, Moses chose to respond to the people’s grumbling with exaggerated anger.   Instead of simply speaking to the rock, he struck it twice with his staff. Psalm 106:32-33 provides some commentary on this:

“By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord, and trouble came to Moses because of them; for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.” (NIV)

Pinpointing What Went Wrong

In his anger, Moses over reacted to the Israelites’ complaints about having no water. He let his emotions take control and spoke rashly to the people. “It was not God but Moses who was angry at the people. Therefore, the pronoun we was a form of blasphemy… If Moses had merely spoken to the rock, as the Lord had directed, the miracle would have pointed to the power of God. As it was, Moses took God’s place both in word and deed. Moses’ sin was a willful refusal to point away from himself to God’s power and thus sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people. Moses and Aaron shared the chastisement for this sin.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 138)

Several things stand out to me in this explanation:

1) Moses let his emotions get the best of him–his anger led him to sin

2) Moses characterized God inaccurately to the people

3) Moses spoke for God when he was not instructed to do so (the commentary labels this as a form of blasphemy)

4) Moses demonstrated pride in his “willful refusal to point away from himself”

The truth is, we’re not much different from Moses:

-There are times when we let our emotions take control and lead us into sin.

-We all have moments of inaccurately portraying God to others. It’s called hypocrisy. (Have you ever encountered someone who wants nothing to do with God because they’ve previously had a negative experience with a hypocritical Christian?)

-There are times when we’re tempted to speak for God or to bend His Word to fit our agendas.

-All of us also struggle with pride. It’s human nature to place us in the center of the universe and to want everything to revolve around our personal wants and needs.

God’s Grace

One thing that is easy to overlook in this story is that despite Moses and Aaron’s sin, God still provided water from the rock to meet the people’s needs that day. In fact, the fingerprints of God’s grace are smeared all over the Israelites’ story. Jesus is present throughout their wanderings even though He’s never mentioned by name. Consider this: God’s daily provision of manna and water give tangible examples of what Jesus does for us spiritually as the Bread of Life (John 6) and the Living Water (John 4 & 7).

The apostle Paul links Jesus directly to the Israelites:

 “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, NIV)

One commentary explains the rock mentioned in Numbers “was the visible means of the supply of water which came ultimately from Christ. Since people of Israel obtained this water in the opening years of their wilderness wandering (Exodus 17:1-9) and in the closing years (Numbers 20:1-13), it is only natural to infer that he, Christ, the Supplier of the water, was with them all along the way.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1245) Sometimes we forget that as a member of the Trinity, Jesus was with God from the beginning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:1,2,14,17 NIV)

Looking at the story of the rock from Numbers 20, God’s punishment to Moses may seem harsh. However, the stark reality is that we are all sinners in a fallen world who deserve to be barred from entrance into the Promised Land of heaven. In the same way God’s grace provided water in spite of Moses’ sin, His grace provided Jesus to pay for our sins when we didn’t deserve it. Because of this, we’re freed to receive God’s grace so that we can enjoy His abundance in our present lives and spend eternity with Him.

Moses first encountered God in the burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai. He returned with the Israelites to worship there later. From the heights of Mount Nebo, he had sweeping views of the Promised Land that he would never enter. Because of this, it seemed fitting to include a song describing the spiritual moments that happen in our mountain top experiences. Click on the link to hear Crowder’s “This I Know.”

Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Harrison, Everett F.; Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Editors; Moody Press, 1962, 1990.

Shirer, Priscilla; One in a Million: Journey to Your Promised Land; Lifeway Press; 2010, 2014.


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Finding Intimacy with God in the Wilderness

IMG_7603It all started with a simple desire to remodel our home. We had no idea God planned to use such an “unspiritual” situation to test and refine our faith. He took us on a long, painful journey through the wilderness. In fact, I’ve spent the last several years writing the entire story and pursuing options for getting it published.

Reading Priscilla Shirer’s words inspired me to share an excerpt from my manuscript that illustrates her point: “The exodus was for this moment—when God’s people would be brought unto Himself and begin intimate fellowship and covenant with Him. This was His goal above getting them to Canaan.” (One in a Million, p. 84)

Below you’ll find a portion of my family’s remodel story: From Our Mess to God’s Best.

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Over the months, the process of remodeling our tiny home had been filled with revealing moments…We’d anticipated the financial cost of the project and the inconvenience it would cause, but had failed to recognize the emotional and spiritual toll it would take on us.  

The thought of having our faith stretched by our remodel hadn’t occurred to my husband or me. We’d learned to trust God through a number of hardships and had favorite Bible verses that comforted us through job transitions, difficult relationships, anxiety, depression and the deaths of family members. We believed God used hardships for good and had seen evidence of it in our lives.

However, we also prided ourselves in our self-sufficiency and our ability to problem-solve smaller issues on our own. Good planning and common sense had kept daily life orderly for almost seventeen years of marriage. We’d never considered that the Lord had things to teach us through the problems that arose from living in a privileged, industrialized society. God was using a mess of our own making to transform us from the inside out, whether we wanted Him to or not…

One of the first challenges came before the bulk of the remodel had even started.  Our contractor wouldn’t make eye contact as he told us the news. “The city’s building department rejected the plans.”

For a moment we were speechless, unable to process this development…The city’s issues meant the modest remodel that was so much smaller than our original dreams now needed to be scaled back even further. We had orchestrated our time line down to the last detail and anticipated construction beginning just after Christmas, once everything had been approved. We had no time buffer for delays in our idealized schedule. This remodel had been years in the making. We’d run short on patience and were ready to start…We never imagined there would be a problem with the plan approval…

The contractor left and my husband closed the door and disappeared into the office without saying a word. An overwhelming combination of disappointment, anger and defeat felt like a wave crashing down on me. Neither one of us seemed able to talk about how we were feeling without making things worse.

I retreated to our bedroom, closed the door and lay face down on the floor with my arms spread wide. The coarse carpet fibers pressed into my forehead and the faint smell of dusty shoes filled my nostrils. My emotions were so raw I could hardly formulate words to pray. The room was quiet and warm as rain drummed on the roof. I was too tense to let the tears flow. For the first few minutes, all I could do was breathe deeply. With each exhale I tried to release all of the negative things I was feeling. Bitterness. Anger. Confusion. Mistrust. With each inhale a different word would come to mind. Peace. Wisdom. Clarity. Direction. Eventually more words came and with my face to the floor, I wrestled silently with God in a one-sided conversation.

Why did you say ‘yes’ to the remodel and then allow this roadblock? Should we keep moving forward, or are you telling us to stop? Why did you let me get excited if this whole thing is going to fall apart like all the other times? What are we supposed to be learning from this?

Despite the physical discomfort, I remained face down in total surrender. Slowly I began to remember God’s faithfulness to us over the years. He usually didn’t do things the way we dictated, and they always ended up turning out better than we could have imagined. I thought of job searches, strained relationships, and challenging moments serving at church. God came through for us every single time. Fragments of different verses that had strengthened us through the hard times in the past came to mind.

I will never leave you or forsake you… I know the plans I have for you…You will find me when you seek me with all your heart…I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living…Be still and know that I am God.

As the promises flooded my mind, God gently pried open my tight fists of control and I held my hands palms up. I was ready to receive whatever the Lord wanted to give and trusted that He still had a plan. I knew there was a purpose for this setback, something we needed to work through before we could come out the other side. I got up from the floor and reached for my journal in the bedside table. Writing prayers had always been a way for me to connect with God.

God, I pray you would help us to trust in you even when things seem to make no sense. Please help us not to fret and to trust that you will make a way. I look forward with anticipation to how you will sort out this frustrating situation. God, please help us to conduct ourselves and treat others in a way that honors you through this process. Please give us wisdom, creativity and tenacity. I trust you even though I can’t see the way forward through this. God, please help us to keep a healthy perspective and to keep our eyes on you.

As I finished writing in my journal, inexplicable peace washed over me. I had no idea how this situation was going to work out, but I trusted that it would. God already knew the outcome and I could thank Him for that.

I emerged from the bedroom and found my husband sitting in our home office with his legs propped up on the desk and leaning back in his chair. His opened Bible rested on his lap. It was a relief to see that even though we retreated from each other, we’d both pursued God for wisdom and answers.  (From Our Mess to God’s Best, Marybeth McCullum)

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God knew our struggles with the remodel and waited patiently until we were desperate enough to wrestle through our frustrations with Him. We had no idea He also was teaching us to rely on Him in preparation for bigger challenges yet to unfold. Our growing dependence on Him was vital for giving us the strength we would need.

Intimacy with the Lord comes through authentic connection with Him. Once we’ve dropped our facades and started being honest in prayer, our relationships with Him grow deeper. The Psalms are filled with David and other writers grappling with their frustrations in the presence of God. One of my favorite invitations to be honest before God is Psalm 62:8: “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (NIV) Our honest laments are the first step toward letting Him change our perspectives.

Through my wilderness experience with our disastrous remodel, I stopped asking God, “Why?” and started asking: “What do You want me to learn? How are You revealing Yourself to me?” When I relinquished my illusion of control and surrendered my sense of entitlement, God enabled me to find deeper intimacy with Him than I’d ever had before.

I pray you’ll find the same thing to be true in your wilderness. Instead of just seeking answers or solutions, seek greater intimacy with Him. Regardless of how your circumstances unfold, you won’t be disappointed.

Whenever I hear Phillip Phillips’ song “Home” I think of my crazy home remodel and imagine God singing the lyrics of the song to my family.   I hope it encourages you in your wilderness journey too.

Shirer, Priscilla; One in a Million– Journey to Your Promised Land; Lifeway Press; 2010 & 2014