Refocus

Disconnected?

Ever long to connect with God through his word but feel disconnected when you read the words on the page? I do.

Even after years of teaching Bible studies and doing daily devotions, I sometimes feel disconnected from God. Sometimes, my mind simply fails to connect with what the Spirit of God is trying to say to me through the words of Scripture.

Deferred Pain

When this happens, it’s usually an indication of something else going on in my life. Deferred pain, if you will.

That “something,” in my experience, is usually a combination of small somethings that added up slowly over time and created a big disconnect. So, my first step usually involves awareness of those smaller things and, essentially, addressing the sources causing this deferred pain.

Developing Awareness

That awareness comes though quietness and prayer. Through these practices, the Holy Spirit’s voice rises to the top of all the other voices vying for my attention.

He usually begins with reminders and directives:

  • Nothing is beyond the reach of my power.
  • Quit trying to force things to happen.
  • Wait for me to work.
  • Acknowledge me.
  • I will direct you.
  • Focus your thoughts.
  • Quit letting your fears direct your focus.

Slowly, through meditation on His Word and just existing in quietness, I am redirected to looking at Jesus instead of trying to find answers and solutions.

Focus determines reality. A truth that I need continually reminded of in my life.

Go ahead! Be stubborn!

Bad Stubborn

Most of the time, stubbornness is seen as bad. It seems self-serving, whether a front for pride or a display of arrogance.

Unwilling to change.
Can’t admit when wrong.
Refuse to see another way.

I’ve been stubborn to the point of hurting others. My stubbornness has also resulted in missed opportunity and delayed growth.

Maybe you can relate.

Good Stubborn

There are times when stubbornness is good. Though it’s still somewhat frustrating to others, it’s easier to understand and appreciate.

Refusal to give up.
Pushing through.
Making it to the end despite pain.

God tells Ezekiel to be stubborn in this way. More accurately, God makes Ezekiel stubborn.

“But see, I have made you hard and stubborn too – as tough as they are. I have made your forehead as hard as a rock. So don’t be afraid of them, or fear their sullen, angry looks, even though they are such rebels.” (Ezekiel 3:8-9, TLB)

In order for Ezekiel to overcome fear and say what God wanted him to say, Ezekiel needed to be stubborn. Before this stubbornness took effect, though, God had one requirement of Ezekiel.

“Then he added: “Son of dust, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first; listen to them carefully for yourself. Then, afterward, go to your people in exile, and whether or not they will listen, tell them: ‘This is what the Lord God says!’” (Ezekiel 3:10-111, TLB)

Godly Stubbornness

We can take some valuable lessons about stubbornness from this account.

  1. Be stubborn in fulfilling the purposes God sets before you.
  2. Fill yourself with God’s words to help keep you stubborn.
  3. Obey God’s words in your stubbornness.

Then, without fear, stubbornly pursue God’s will.

Wisdom Like Honey

“Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 24:13-14)

Both wisdom and honey come from what seems ordinary. Bees gather nectar from flowers, digest it, then produced honey. We accumulate life experiences, digest them, and hopefully develop wisdom as a result.

 “Both are gathered slowly, carefully, knowingly, arduously, and sometimes painfully.” (Phillips Commentary)

Both honey and wisdom are beneficial and sweet. They also both have medicinal value as well.

Knowing all this, consider the following verses and use them to assess the value you place on wisdom.

“The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:7-11)

The following questions can help guide your meditation of these verses.

  1. What are the different ways the Psalm describes God’s word?
  2. What are the benefits of God’s word to us?
  3. How can the Bible’s connection of honey and wisdom shape your understanding of God’s word?

Bookends of Readiness

Bookends keep books upright. They help keep them organized and in good condition too. Bookends of readiness for sharing the Gospel function much in the same way.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)

The books in the middle make up the “defense” and “reason” for the hope that you have. Essentially, that is your testimony. The bookends?

  1. Sanctification
  2. Meekness & fear

Sanctification (holiness) keeps a believer ready to evangelize by lending authenticity to his witness. Meekness and fear indicate humble patience along with recognition of who God is and the truth of what the Bible says about Him. The Elliot Commentary explains it this way:

“Recognize, in word and deed, His full holiness, and therefore to treat Him with due awe.”

The bookends of sanctification on one side and meekness and fear on the other hold up our defense – our witness – by keeping the focus on God.

“The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” (Isaiah 8:13)

“When they see among them their children, the work of my hands, they will keep my name holy; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:23)

“And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 38:23)

What is Hope?

Fear vs. Hope

“The only thing more powerful than fear is hope.” (President Snow in The Hunger Games)

There was a time in my life when fear controlled me. Fear over what others thought. Fear of failure. Then hope took over.

Hope that what the Bible said about Jesus was true.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Hope that He would bring me out of the pit.

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

Hope that flourished as I returned again and again to grace and let God work in my life for His glory.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-15)

When I struggle still today and feel the pull of the pit, I remember the hope that saved me years ago. Hope always returns and encourages me.

Confident Hope

Hope has a forward focus. It is remembering what I have been through only to remember again what God has done for me. This refocuses me on what He’s going to do in my life in places, people and events where hope seems dim or even absent.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Learning to Be Wise

Drawn to Wisdom

Some people seem naturally wise to me. Since they seem to always know how to act and what to say and do in every situation, I’m drawn to these people. I want to be like them.

A friend recently told me about celebrating her 70th birthday in between two major hospital stays. She said that what she’s realizing most of all these days is that so much of life is not in our control, but we can choose to become wise. In other words, she reminded me that wisdom is learned.

How to Learn Wisdom

The book of Proverbs talks a lot about wisdom. Here are just a few verses from chapter 9 that specifically talk about how to learn wisdom.

“Leave your foolish ways behind, and begin to live; learn how to be wise.” (Proverbs 9:6)

“Teach the wise, and they will be wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn more.” (Proverbs 9:9)

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

Wisdom, then, is learned by focusing on it and by choosing to neglect foolishness. It’s learned by humbling yourself under Godly teachers. And, it’s learned by respecting and revering God.

Acquire Wisdom

No longer do I simply wish to be like my wise friends, though I still am drawn to them. I’ve read these verses before, but they’ve clicked for me in a new way because now I’m choosing to pursue to acquire — wisdom.

The word “acquire” helps me understand what this choice to pursue wisdom actually means.

“Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.” (Proverbs 4:5, NASB)

When you acquire something, you gain it for yourself through your actions and effort. You then possess or own that something. It becomes yours.

With that, I’m determined to do what is necessary to acquire wisdom. I want to possess it, to own it. Let it become a part of who I am, Lord.

A Godly Teacher

A Godly Teaching Philosophy

Recently, I had to write my teaching philosophy for a class I was taking. It’s actually something all teachers are supposed to create for help in finding a teaching job. For my philosophy, I tried to honestly focus on what was important to me as a teacher and on what I wanted students to take away from any class I taught.

Shortly after writing my philosophy, I revisited the end of Ecclesiastes and saw what reads like a teaching philosophy ordained by God.

“Because the teacher is wise, he taught the people everything he knew. He collected proverbs and classified them. Indeed, the teacher taught the plain truth, and he did so in an interesting way. A wise teacher’s words spur students to action and emphasize important truths. The collected sayings of the wise are like guidance from a shepherd. But, my child, be warned; there is no end of opinions ready to be expressed. Studying them can go on forever and become very exhausting!” (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12)

As a Christian teacher, regardless of the topic being taught, I certainly want to live out this philosophy. Doesn’t matter if I’m in the college classroom or a Sunday school class. In fact, these verses really reflect what God desires of every teacher, from a parent teaching a child to a trainer in the workplace to a formally-educated teacher.

8 Actions of a Godly Teacher

These verses provide a lot of practical application for any teacher, even if not formally one.

  1. Learn to be wise. Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” Wisdom is a choice. No one has to remain ignorant.
  2. Teach what you know. I must deliberately tell myself to stick with what I know. In fact, I had to learn that it was okay to say “I don’t know. I’ll get back to you.” People respect that sort of honesty. I learned a lot following through with that response too.
  3. Teach the plain truth. Don’t need to be the most original or creative person. Just teach the necessary information. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
  4. Be interesting. For me, this means collecting stories to tell. It means connecting teaching points with the movies I watch and the books I read. Everyone has interesting applications they can make just from what is already going on in their lives.
  5. Spur students to action. This begins with being a person of action myself. Then, I try to encourage students to always do their best. We connect what they’re learning with their lives, and they hopefully leave with a motivation to apply what they learn.
  6. Emphasize important truths. With every lesson taught, there are certain “if they learn nothing else” sort of points. In other words, students must learn these truths even if they remember nothing else. Because they are so important, teachers usually emphasize these truths in multiple ways.
  7. Guide like a shepherd. A shepherd protects and leads his sheep to refreshment. He’s both gentle and firm. A teacher can find a lot of success simply from applying the approach a good shepherd takes with his sheep.
  8. Keep it simple. I tend to over-complicate just about everything and must deliberately tell myself to keep things simple. There’s even a sign on the wall in front of my desk says, “Simplify” to continually remind me to do this. Simple doesn’t mean easy or trivial, but it does involve focusing on clarity.

An Over-Riding Philosophy

If we take these ideas one step further, into the next verse in Ecclesiastes, we find an over-riding philosophy that brings focus to all these actions.

“Here is the conclusion of the matter; fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

When a person respects God and seeks to obey him, all his attitudes, actions and words line up with what God desires. And, we see that doing so is not even an option… it’s a calling and a commission… for all of us.

Live Long & Prosper

Most people, even if they’ve never watched Star Trek, associate “Live long and prosper” with this iconic show/movie. More specifically, they associate it with one of the most well-known characters in science fiction, Spock.

Usually accompanying a Vulcan hand gesture, the phrase actually finds its origins in the Bible.

“Stay on the path that the Lord your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land you are about to enter and occupy.” (Deuteronomy 5:33)

The Bible in Star Trek

Leonard Nemoy, the original Spock, had a childhood memory of visiting an Orthodox Jewish synagogue service in Boston, MA. “Live long and prosper” was given as part of a blessing along with a hand gesture similar to the now-famous Vulcan one associated with the phrase.

The gesture is actually the shape of the first letter of several Jewish words.

  • Shaddai — a name for God
  • Shalom — hello, goodbye and peace
  • Shekhinah — prayer that inspired the salute

Nemoy, mesmerized by the sound and look of the prayer, never forgot it. When a Star Trek script had Spock go home to Vulcan, Nemoy wanted to find a touching way to help further develop Vulcan sociology. He wanted a special greeting for the Vulcans and suggested the prayer gesture from his childhood. The gesture and the phrase took off from there.

“People don’t realize they’re blessing each other with this.” (Leonard Nemoy)

A General Truth

After discovering this connection between Star Trek and the Bible, I realized that the general truth it expresses is actually a thread throughout Scripture. Since, Repetition Means Pay Attention when it comes to Bible study, let’s look at a couple more verses expressing the same sentiment.

“Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Number 6:23-27)

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother — which is the first commandment with a promise — so that it may go well with you and that you may be long-lived on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:3)

“Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 1:2)

Go Deeper

The thread of this idea of long life and prosperity does not end with the Scriptures we’ve looked at in this post. Far from it, actually. To help you delve deeper, check out the following links:

Refocusing on Christ

Should & Could But Don’t

There’s so much information available telling us what we should be doing and how we could be improving our lives. Just take a look at the self-help books currently on shelves, virtual or otherwise, not to mention the many Internet resources dedicated to the task.

With all these resources telling us what we could and should do, self-improvement can seem impossible. Even when we find ways we actually want to change and techniques that would work, we still often just don’t do them.

Why? Too much work. The pain of staying where we are still isn’t bigger than the pain of changing. Or, maybe you’ve taken some of the advice, and implemented change. After a while, though, you find yourself back to your old habits and way of thinking.

This happens with Scripture too. We read it. We know what we should do. But, we don’t do it. Paul describes this struggle well.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15-19)

Refocus Your Identity

If I dwell on how much I should do and could do but don’t do, I get overwhelmed. Discouragement usually follows. And eventually, I simply feel like a failure.

For many, the solution involves just not thinking about it. Just don’t consider the changes you should and could make. Stay ignorant. Stay conveniently confused. Stay too busy.

My personality doesn’t generally allow for this. It prefers ruminating about how much I haven’t done and then succumbing to depression and defeat.

Whatever your tendency, be sure of this. If you never do any of what you should or could do, you’re accepted, secure and significant. Even if you somehow managed to do all of what you think you should or could do, you’re not any more or less accepted, secure, and significant.

When you accepted Christ as Savior and made him Lord of your life, you were fully justified — declared righteous — at that moment. Your Identity In Christ is secure. Nothing else you can or think you should do will make you any more accepted, secure and significant than you were at that moment. With that realization comes an amazing peace.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

Refocus on Jesus

That doesn’t mean we can ignore how we should and could improve. But, it does change our motivation for doing so. With that motivation change comes a refocus on progress toward perfection — on progressive sanctification.

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

This is the process of spiritual growth. In general, it involves letting the Holy Spirit work change in us and then doing our part to live out that change.

Train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4:7)

Even that process can seem overwhelming at times. But that’s usually when we focus on ourselves; at least, that’s my continual struggle. In fact, the only way I’ve been able to maintain consistency in living the fact that I am accepted, secure and significant is by focusing on Christ.

“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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Today as I again struggle with feeling out of balance and out of sync, I am reminded yet again that I am still accepted, secure and significant. So, instead of letting depression or anxiety or defeat take over again, I remember my secure position and turn once more back toward the reason it exists.

Broken Widows

Broken Windows

The Broken Widows Theory in criminology provides a metaphor for tackling disorder within neighborhoods. The creators of this theory developed it because…

“They saw serious crime as the final result of a lengthier chain of events, theorizing that crime emanated from disorder and that if disorder were eliminated, then serious crime would not occur.”

The theory says that physical disorder, like broken windows and vacant buildings, along with social disorder, like noisy neighbors and aggressive panhandling, begin the chain of events that lead to serious crime. Addressing these things creates a positive chain of events where serious crime is minimized and even eliminated.

This theory is not without its critics, though it has also resulted in positive results in some areas. Regardless, it offers another way to think about disorder in our own lives.

Small Steps

We often get overwhelmed by significant disorder in our lives. I don’t have to name what that looks like. You know what it is if you have it. Others see it too.

When we’re overwhelmed by disorder, taking time to look at our broken windows can give us the small steps to take toward addressing the bigger issues. In other words…

Small steps, taken consistently over time, add up to make a huge difference.

Broken windows can be anything from daily habits like what you read, what you watch on television, how much television you watch, the negativity you allow into your life, and basic self care habits like what you eat and physical exercise. They are things that you can break into small steps and work gradually toward revamping.

Addressing small habits, over time, led to the defeat of depression in my life. Depression was horribly overwhelming for me, but it now exists firmly in my past. And that victory began with addressing the broken windows in my life.

Self Assessment

Start with a good self assessment. Ask yourself what broken windows need repaired in your life. In other words, what small steps can you start taking today to work toward big changes?

This doesn’t mean you won’t face big or difficult tasks. It simply means you begin by strengthening your base and then moving forward from there.

Going Backward

Slowing down enough to address the broken windows in our lives can feel like we’re going backward. We want a new start, not to remake what we have. Yet, if we’re honest, we realize that renovating what we have is often the best way to create that new start.

“Going back is the quickest way on.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Progress sometimes means doing an about turn. And, the sooner we make this about turn, the sooner we’ll be able to make progress.

Take some time today to look at the broken windows in your life and to determine what needs done to repair them in way that allows you to move forward stronger than you were before. Even if it means going backward, know that doing so is probably the quickest path to progress in your life.

Progress over perfection, my friend.