Category Archives: Faith

Focus on Hitting the Mark

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If we were to list all the sins of the world, we would be here a while. Perhaps we could start with the the actions forbidden by the Ten Commandments: stealing, murder, idolatry, coveting, lying, etc. Maybe we could even throw in some modern sins like driving under the influence, cyber bullying, personal identity theft, and telemarketing calls during dinner time.

But have you ever stopped to consider the meaning of the word “sin”?

 

The Definition of Sin

We might think that sin is any activity that harms another person or offends God. Or perhaps it’s the breaking of a specific biblical law. I imagine most Christians would probably agree with these definitions.

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess. We can actually look up the word “sin” in the original Hebrew and Greek.* In both languages, the word means “to miss” or “to miss the mark.” This gives us the image of an archery target in which the center mark is the bull’s eye.

And that begs another question: what does the bull’s eye represent?

 

The Bull’s Eye

Throughout the Bible, we’re told to focus on God and serve Him only. (See Deuteronomy 10:12-13.) Just as the archer must focus on the bull’s eye in order to hit the mark, so we should focus on God and His will for us.

Archery is a sport, and the key to most sports (so I hear) is to “keep your eyes on the ball.” That’s because our hands follow our eyes. For this reason, an archer must focus on the bull’s eye in order to hit the mark.

As spiritual archers, if we’re distracted by something to the right or left, our arrows will naturally follow in that direction. But when we’re focused correctly, our arrows can hit the center mark. In other words, if we can focus on God, His Word, and His will for us, we can avoid sin and live in righteousness. (See Psalms 23:3 and 119:11.)

 

The Enemy’s Tactic

Many of us think that if we’re not purposefully following the Enemy, then we’re following God by default. But it doesn’t work that way, and the Enemy knows it. In fact, the Enemy’s goal isn’t for us to worship him but for us to stop worshiping God. And to do that, he just needs to get us off focus.

Maybe he can get us to succumb to the allure of money, power, and social status. If not, then perhaps we’ll zealously follow social issues while ignoring the needs of people all around us. Or maybe we’ll bend the knee to the idols of religion and family.

The Enemy doesn’t care what we focus on as long as it’s not God. And he’ll do whatever he can to make that happen.

 

[Click to Tweet: To sin is to miss the mark. Learn techniques to stay focused on the bull’s eye.]

 

Techniques to Focus

Are you aiming for anything less than God and His perfect will for you? Are you distracted by the things of this world? Here are some techniques to help you focus on the bull’s eye:

1. Pray—Ask God to help you identify the distractions in your life and to give you the courage and strength to put them in proper perspective. Make this your prayer throughout the day to help center you.

2. Read—Pick up your Bible at least once a day. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in selecting a book of the Bible and then read it all the way through. Meditate on the meaning of the Word and ask God to show you how to apply it to your life.

3. Simplify—For most of us, distraction comes by way of media, whether it’s bitter news, raucous sitcoms, or lustful movies. If you set these aside for a few days, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to focus on the voice of God. (You may not even want to turn them back on!)

 

 

What do you do to stay focused on God and His will?

 

* Concordances are like dictionaries for Bible words. We can search for the word in the English translation to uncover the original Hebrew or Greek word and what it means. Here’s a link to The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance I use, which works well with my New American Standard Bible.

 


This content comes from my manuscript for Girls with Gusto. Visit the new Girls with Gusto page for more information on the book.

 

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Bearing Fruit: The Evidence and Opportunities of Faith

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Photo and design by Ashley L. Jones.

 

If you’ve been going to church for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard of the phrase “bearing fruit.” People who use this phrase are usually referencing Galatians 5:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23 NAS).

I used to think that bearing fruit was something only the most spiritually-minded people could do. That’s because it seemed like only the grandmas and grandpas of the church could adequately display these fruits, such as kindness in traffic jams, patience in line at the store, and peace when everything seems to be falling apart.

And yet, as I study the concept of bearing fruit for my book Girls with Gusto, I realize that I’ve been mistaken.

Bearing fruit isn’t just for spiritual giants! Learn how at BigSisterKnows. [Click to Tweet]

 

The Image of the Vine

In John 15:1-5, Jesus used the image of the grape vine to describe our relationship to Him and the Father:

  • Jesus is the True Vine
  • God the Father is the Vinedresser (or vine gardener)
  • God’s people are the branches of the Vine

He then says, “He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b NAS).

This makes more sense when you understand the structure of grape vines. The grape bunches that you buy at the grocery store are cut from branches, which are connected to a vine. Although the branches produce the grapes, they cannot live on their own. Instead, they are dependent on the vine, which is the life source of the entire plant structure.

We rely on Jesus just as the branches rely on the vine to survive and produce grapes. As we tap into Jesus, we begin to access His essence of pure love. As we experience more of God’s love, we begin to overflow with it and all the fruits of the Spirit that derive from it.

This means that all believers—each and every one of us—can display the fruits of the Spirit.

 

A Fruitful Expectation

Jesus also explained, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, [the Father] takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2 NAS).

This shows that, not only are we able to bear fruit, we are expected to do so. If we don’t, it is a sign that we are not actually connected to the Vine of Jesus. However, when we do bear fruit, we give evidence of that God’s holy nature is alive within us. He then refines us so that we can bear even more fruit. Perhaps this is why we prove ourselves to be disciples of Jesus, and we glorify God the Father, when we “bear much fruit” (John 15:8 NAS).

 

Evidence and Opportunities

On one hand, “bearing fruit” is the evidence of our relationship with God; on the other, it is the opportunity to receive and share in the love of God.

A great example of this is the story of Joseph in Genesis chapters 37-50. After his brothers sold him into slavery, Joseph was accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and he ended up in an Egyptian dungeon. Even so, Joseph remembered his God. Perhaps that’s why God used Joseph to warn the pharaoh of a pending famine. Joseph heeded the opportunity, and his leadership and good stewardship saved countless lives, including those of his own family. Then, when he could have turned his back on the brothers that did him wrong, Joseph chose a better path. He took the opportunity to display mercy, forgiveness, and love.

Throughout his entire story, Joseph took every opportunity to do God’s will, and his character was filled with the fruits of the Spirit. Although we think of Joseph as a spiritual giant, we are expected to display these very same fruits of the Spirit in our own lives. Likewise, our opportunities to serve God may seem less important than Joseph’s mission to save the kingdom, but we should treat them with the same respect and gusto that Joseph exemplified.

 

Encouragement

I encourage you to examine your own life. Does your character and your actions give evidence that God is alive in your heart? Are you seizing the opportunities God sets before you?  If not, take a moment to get back on track by saying a simple prayer like this one:

“Lord, I’m sorry. I’ve missed the opportunities you’ve given me, and I don’t really see the fruits of the Spirit in my life. Please clean my heart and help me to focus on you. In your grace, give me more opportunities to serve you. Help me to hear your guiding voice, and give me the strength and courage to act accordingly. Thank you in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

 


Has someone affected your life by bearing the fruits of the Spirit? If so, I’d love to hear about it! Please leave a comment below or on my Facebook page.

 

 

Fear God, Not the Storm

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Robby took this photo in WalMart today.

 

Like everyone else in Florida, my family and I are waiting on Hurricane Irma to make landfall.

Every major news channel is reporting on enormous hurricane—her trajectory, the devastation she’s already wrecked, and the lives she’s claimed. This morning, CBS called her a “monster” and a “killer storm.” The poor folks in Barbuda would probably agree.

Although we’re in Tallahassee, most of our gas stations ran out of gas days ago. Stores like Wal-Mart and Publix have been out of water and low on staples like bread and toilet paper. Several stores have had new shipments, but the generators and water have sold out within minutes.

If I had to use one word to describe the tension in the air, it would be “Fear.”

We know the Bible tells us repeatedly not to fear, and yet we can’t help but be scared when life’s storms are headed our way. So, how do we respond in a godly way? What are we supposed to do?

 

DAVID’S MONSTER

This situation reminds me David, staring up at Goliath. At about nine feet tall, Goliath must have looked like a man-eating monster. If he had focused on Goliath’s past, his ability, his hatred, and his desire for blood, David would have returned home and let someone else worry about the giant. David was the youngest in his family, a mere shepherd boy. No one expected him to be a hero. He could have left without incurring any shame.

But David wasn’t looking for an out. In fact, he wasn’t looking at Goliath, either. His eyes were on God. He knew beyond a doubt what God could do in the present situation because he knew what God had done for him in the past:

“And David said, ‘The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine'” (1 Samuel 17:37 NAS).

Armed with nothing but a sling and a few stones, David brought his monster to its knees. (See 1 Samuel 17:32-51.)

This is the kind of life-changing experience a person doesn’t forget. I imagine David was thinking back on it when he later wrote, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?” (Psalm 27:1 NAS). By God’s power, David had fought a lion, a bear, and a giant. With each success, his faith was strengthened even more.

 

FEAR THIS

Interestingly, there is one thing the Bible tells us to fear: God Himself.

“You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name” (Deuteronomy 6:13 NAS).

“You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:4 NAS).

There are numerous Scriptures that reinforce this idea that we should fear God…and only God. That’s because when we fear God, we cling to Him with loving obedience. This is the opposite of being afraid of something and running away from it.

To “fear God” means that we:

  • Believe in God—accept that He exists and His Word is true (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • Obey God—follow His commands daily (See Deuteronomy 13:4)

This type of fear is really a form of holy reverence.

 

FEAR NOT

When we fear the storms of this life, our anxiousness can make them appear bigger than they are. We focus on the storm and forget the One who created all things, who manages all things, and who loves us immeasurably. Our problem looms so large that we cannot see God beyond it, and our faith falters. That’s when our storm becomes an idol.

We are told to fear only God because He is the only one worthy of our fear, our love, our reverence, and our obedience. To every storm on the horizon, every coming battle, every season of hardship, we are told to “fear not”—not because it isn’t scary, not because it won’t be hard, and not because God doesn’t care. We’re told to “fear not” because there is nothing bigger than God and nothing worthy of our adoration but Him.

 

ENCOURAGEMENT

If, like us, you’re in the path of Irma, please listen to the advisories. If you’re in an evacuation zone, get out. If you’re hunkering down, be smart about it. Use common sense and stay safe.

However, as you watch the news, and the wind begins to pick up speed, take a breath. Don’t let the storm loom larger than God. Keep it in perspective as you focus on Him—all the things He’s done for you and all the times He’s delivered you. Then put it in God’s hands. God is with us, and He’ll get us through this.

 

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10 NAS).

 


I’ll be posting updates throughout this storm. To see more about our experience, or for helpful hints and links, check out my Facebook page @ashleyljones.author. God bless you and keep you safe!