Spiritual Essentials for a Joy-Full Life ~ #18 “Right Choices #3 – Choose to Focus Wisely” – Philippians 4:8-9

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Right Choices, Choose to Focus Wisely

Philippians 4:8-9

If you would now, please take out your Bibles and turn in them in the New Testament to the book of Philippians, chapter 4. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be one under a chair in front of you. You can take that Bible, turn in the back portion of it to page 156, and you will be at Philippians, chapter 4.

You know, the human brain is the most complex organizational structure in all of the created universe. It only weighs about 4 pounds, they tell me, but it has about 100 billion nerve cells in it. There are 10,000 varieties of nerve cells, and each of those nerve cells is connected to 10,000 supportive cells. I don’t know if you knew it or not, but in order to make your brain function properly, there are 100 different chemicals in it. What is interesting to me is we use part of our brain every day.

Some of that is reflected in this little article I wanted to read to you. It says, “Let’s say, for example, that as you are reading this article, you are eating a sandwich. As you are reading, the frontal lobes in your cerebral cortex are engaged in thinking and reasoning. You are enjoying your delicious sandwich thanks to your parietal lobes, which are responsible for taste, texture, and smell of food. The occipital lobes help to process how you see the words on the page, and the temporal lobes help you process what you hear like the crunch of your sandwich and the rustle of the page.

Meanwhile, you just blinked because of your motor area, and it is because of your cerebellum that you are able to hold the sandwich in your hand as well as anything else you’re doing right now that calls for balance and coordination like sitting. Without having to think about it, you are breathing, digesting your sandwich, and circulating blood, thanks to your brain stem. Your metabolism and hormonal functions like the ones that control the water and sugar levels in your body are currently being controlled by your pituitary gland. If you’re sitting outside on a park bench on a cold, wintry day, your hypothalamus is responsible for the fact that you are shivering. You remember what you’re reading due to your hippocampus, whose job it is to transform short-term to long-term memory.”

The brain is an amazing thing! In fact, there is more electronics in your brain than all the radio and television stations in the world combined. Now an evolutionist would look at our brain and say, “Well that accidentally evolved.” But the reality is it had to be designed, and it had to be created. We use our brains to focus and to think and to consider and to make choices.

We’ve come to Philippians, chapter 4, and we have given a title to the whole chapter that goes like this…Maintaining Right Choices is Vital to the Spiritual Life. We have been stating that the choices you make make you and they make me. We’ve been sharing some quotes about choices. Last time we talked about how there are always two choices, two paths to take. One is easy, but it’s only reward is that it’s easy.

This morning, I want to share with you a quote about choices by Eric Allenbaugh. He says this, “Every choice moves us closer or farther away from something. Where are your choices taking your life?” As we have been working our way through chapter 4, we have seen a number of choices that are laid out for us by Paul. In verses 2 to 5, he says, “Choose to diffuse disharmony.” In verses 6 and 7, he says, “Choose prayer over anxiety.” Now today we come to verses 8 and 9 where he says to you and to me, “Choose to focus wisely.”

If you have your Bible open to chapter 4, verses 8 and 9, I’d like to read those verses. I invite you to follow along in your Bible as I’m reading what Paul says to us here. He says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

How we employ our brains…what we think about…the focus we choose to have in our life…will impact how fully we experience a joy-full life. How many people want to have a joy-full life? Yeah, that’s what we all want to experience. Well how we use our brains and what we think about and the focus we choose to have will impact whether we experience a joy-full life. In other words, our thought life is pivotal.

There is an old computer term GI-GO that has a lot of truth to it. That’s garbage in-garbage out. What it’s really saying for us as individuals is that what we feed our brain tends to seep into our perspective about life. What occupies our mind will leak into our speech and our actions.

I’ve always liked this little saying by a guy named Frank Outlaw. He said this, “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” What this is saying is what we allow to course through our minds will impact our perspective and our words and our actions and our character.

After the first service, Mark Burget gave me this little thing he wrote down during the message. It says this, The two basic laws of psychology… By the way, who made human beings? God did. Who understands human beings to the max? God does. What is psychology? It’s really nothing more than the study of human beings. But here are the two basic laws of psychology…The law of cognition…you tend to become what you spend your time thinking about, and then the law of exposure…you tend to think about what you allow yourself to be exposed to. Then he wrote, These laws work whether the input is positive or negative.

That’s exactly what’s being laid out here for us by the Apostle Paul. The thrust is we are to choose to focus wisely. The emphasis of verse 8 is basically this…we need to think right. We need to have the right perspective. Then in verse 9 he is going to say we need to live right. We need to have the right practice in our lives. Again, what we focus on and think about and ponder and consider will have a huge impact in our experience of joy in our lives.

By the way, these verses may be more applicable today than ever before in human history because right now we’re in a unique period of time where we are virtually bombarded by negative messages. Those negative messages come at us a lot of ways. They come at us through written material. It comes out by way of talk radio and television news, which we now get 24 hours a day.

I want you to just imagine something with me. Just imagine this was happening to you. Maybe you have a day off, or maybe you’re home ill. I know this kind of thing has happened to me from time to time. You choose to spend your whole day watching and listening to various things in the media. So you have your whole day off. You’re spending it watching and listening to things in the media.

Now let me ask you this question. If that’s true, what is being pumped into your brain during that time? Well what’s pumped into our brains is, for example, what is wrong. We will hear about what is wrong with the refereeing in athletic contests. We’ll hear what is wrong with the play-calling of coaches. We’ll hear what is wrong with political officials. We’ll hear what is wrong with businesses and corporations. We’ll hear what is wrong with schools. We’ll hear what is wrong with the economy. We will also be exposed to events that are dark and negative and evil. We’ll hear a lot about weather catastrophes, and we’ll hear about wars, and we’ll hear about terrorist attacks. We’ll hear about child abuse. We’ll hear about fatal accidents that occurred. We’ll hear about murders and shootings and riots.

Now again, we’re playing this little game. You’re imagining you’re being exposed to this stuff all day long. You spend a day watching and listening. What’s the impact that has on you? How do you feel at the end of that time? What perspective do you have about life? Well I know what it’s like because I’ve felt that way. It’s very easy with all of that coming into our brain and into our thought process to have a sense of uneasiness and a sense of foreboding, to be filled with some apprehension and some consternation. In fact, it can get to where you even feel agitation, which is very different than being joy-full.

Well the thrust of chapter 4, verse 8, is what we need to do is lift our focus higher. We need to allow into our brain more than just what is wrong out there and what is dark and what is negative and what is evil. Now think about the impact of all of that stuff if we’re home watching all day long. I want to contrast that with something a little different. It has a different flavor to it. I want to show you a video clip from CBS News that is about an Autistic teenager, Jason McElwain, who is the manager of his high school basketball team. Now just notice the different kind of impact such a story would have. Watch the video on this.


“Greece Athena High School in Rochester, New York, has a new most unlikely hero…a Special Ed. student by the name of Jason McElwain.”

“Let’s keep it going.”

“Jason is the basketball team manager. For the past couple of years, he has been assisting Coach Jim Johnson, helping with whatever the team needs.”

“Alright ready and go!”

“Get them motivated and hand out water and just be enthusiastic.”

“Enthusiastic to say the least. Despite being born with autism, Jason’s father says his son has never had a problem expressing himself at basketball games.”

“You know, I was always concerned that he might get a technical, and they’d lose a game because he’d, you know, start yelling or whatever.”

“Let’s have a hard practice tomorrow all hour-and-a-half. Let’s get ready for Arcadia. Let’s go.”


“Because he has been so devoted to the team, for the last game of the season, Coach Johnson decided to let Jason actually suit up. Not to play necessarily…just to let him feel what it’s like to wear a jersey. At least that was the plan. But with four minutes to go in last week’s game, Coach Johnson stood up and pointed to #52…Jason McElwain. After years of fetching water and toweling off other people’s sweat, Jason was actually in a game. His first shot was a twenty-footer from the right baseline.”

“Was it close? Did you almost make it?”

“I just air-balled it.”

“I’m like just, ‘Dear God, please let’s just get him a basket.'”

“His second shot missed too, but the third was a charm…a three-point no doubter. Jason wasn’t done yet. Not by a long shot.”

“If I wasn’t there to witness it, I wouldn’t have believed it, you know.”

“You caught fire.”

“I just caught fire. I was as hot as a pistol [can’t miss when shooting].”

“Jason ended up shooting six three-pointers…one right after the other. He had twenty points total, and each time a shot went in, his teammates and the crowd went a little crazier. His last basket, right at the buzzer, created total mayhem. Because he is Autistic, Jason says he is used to feeling different…but never this different…never this wonderful. Steve Hartman, CBS News Rochester, New York.”

Quite a story, isn’t it? It elicits a whole different kind of a response. You see, what we focus on has a direct effect on our outlook on life and our focus in life. Let your eyes go back to chapter 4, verse 8, of Philippians. I want you to notice the verse begins this way. He says, “Finally, brethren…” Now it’s not that he is really making his final point here. It’s more like he is saying this, “I want to cover an additional key point for your spiritual life and mine.” What he gives us here in verse 8 is a menu for the mind. So, we have this list about what’s true and honorable and right and pure and lovely and of good repute.

I just want you to know something about this list. It is not an exhaustive list. It’s not a strict checklist we’re to go down through. I believe he is giving us illustrations here and examples of the kinds of things we’re to focus on. I base that on the fact that at the end of it he goes, “If there is anything of excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” It’s not like he is saying, “This is the whole list.” But these are the kinds of things we need to feed our mind with. You notice he says there the basic command in verse 8 is “Dwell on these things.” the word in the original is the logizo. If you look it up in a Greek dictionary, it gives you these as the top two definitions of this word.

It can mean to reckon or to calculate. It would be used to describe what you would do with a detailed math problem. You would reckon it. You would have to calculate. The idea is deliberate contemplation on something. Then the second meaning of the word…to ponder or to let your mind dwell. So that’s thrust for us here. We are to dwell on these things. We are to deliberately contemplate them. We’re to ponder them. I like the New Living Translation. It says, “Fix your thoughts on these things.” “Focus your attention on,” he is saying, “what is true and honorable and right and pure and lovely and of good repute.”

Now I want to stop for just a moment because someone might say, “Wait a second now! How does this fit with the real world?” Paul is saying we need to focus on what is true and honorable and so forth. I mean, is he trying to say we’re to be Pollyannas [one who only thinks positive thoughts], you know, who are out there just blindly optimistic about everything. Is he saying we’re to be naïve and brainless and gullible patsies [easy victims] who are uninformed and undiscerning about what’s going on morally and politically and economically? Is he saying we’re to be sort of dummies who are easily hoodwinked [fooled] and exploited? No, he is not saying that. We need to take into account all of the Word of God when we’re studying the Word of God.

We know from Matthew, chapter 10, verse 16, when Jesus was sending out the disciples, He said, “I’m sending you out as sheep into the midst of wolves, so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” You’re going to live in a real world out there. So we need to be shrewd. We need to be wary. We need to be prudent, not naïve. We need to be innocent as doves with pure motives and pure intentions.

But here is the key question. We had it as part of the quote we shared with you earlier about choices. Here is the key question…Where are your choices taking your life? It’s going to make a difference if we focus rightly, if we have the right perspective, if we dwell on the positive. See, that’s really what Paul is saying here.

By the way, remember we talked about being home all day and having all of this stuff come crashing in on us. Do you know that when you dwell on that which is dishonorable and impure and negative and destructive and all kinds of speculations about things and individuals and their motives, you know what it does? It distorts reality. It really does. Because reality is God is large and in charge. Reality is God is always working His plan. The reality is God is always about expanding His kingdom.

But when we just feed our mind with all of this stuff, the last thing we’re thinking about is reality. We’re not thinking about God is always large and in charge, He is always working His plan. There is nothing that happens that is outside the plan of God. He is ever about expanding His kingdom. He is always doing that 24 hours, seven days a week, right? But the impact is when we allow ourselves to be filled and we dwell on all this other stuff is we begin to have all kinds of contrary feelings. We might begin to feel a little self-pity. “I can’t believe life is going like this for me. Why am I living through this decade?” and so forth. There is frustration; there is resentment. There is sometimes even depression that can come. We become focused on fear or on anger. We’re just so mad about everything.

I was thinking about this past weekend, you know. We were up in Oklahoma City doing the Family Life Marriage Conference. Think about what the news was last weekend, in general. The news was very focused upon consternation over health care reform. That was being blasted at us on a regular basis. By the way, that’s a very important subject matter. But while we were in Oklahoma City and all this consternation about health care reform was being blasted at us, men and women were trusting Jesus Christ in response to the gospel message being shared. The hearts of husbands and wives were being touched and changed by the power of God. There was going to have all kinds of ripple impact into their families and into other families that could go on and on.

So, here is a question to think about…What were you thinking about last weekend? You know, what was on your mind? Were you overcome with all this consternation about health care reform? Or were you aware of the fact God is large and in charge. He is always working His plan, and He is always expanding His kingdom. See here is what interesting. We don’t get to choose the circumstances we experience in life at all, but we do get to choose our attitude and the focus of our life.

So he is telling us here, “Focus on…dwell on…fix your thoughts on…these kinds of things.” Let’s look at them in more detail. It’s a long introduction to get us down really to the meat [heart of] of the verses. I just want to set a whole context for why these are so important. He says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true…” is what you should dwell on and fix your thoughts on. That’s the very opposite in my opinion of speculations and opinions. We are to focus on what is true.

Someone said years ago (I don’t know where I first heard it), “The bad thing about an opinion is that everyone has one.” It’s so true. There is a thing on the Internet called the World Population Clock. When I was first working on this message 12 days ago, I looked at it. It said there were at that moment in the world 6,788,000,000 people. Now that’s a lot of opinions. But I checked it this morning, and as of this morning, there are 6,791,000,000 people out there. That means three million more opinions than there were 12 days ago.

All kinds of opinions and speculations about things. But what we need to focus on is whatever is true. John 17:17 says God’s Word is truth. So we need to be dwelling on what it has to say. Colossians 1:5 talks about the gospel and says the gospel is the Word of truth. We need to be thinking about the gospel and sharing the gospel message with people. The truth is…I know what our culture says…salvation doesn’t come to those who are just good enough. You know, who have stacked up enough good that God finally salutes you for being a good person. That’s not the truth. The truth is that our only hope is to have faith in a divine Rescuer by the name of Jesus Christ.

You know, the culture wants to sell us on an opinion and a speculation and that is that happiness primarily comes by having a lot of money and a lot of stuff. Now really, we say we don’t believe that, but in part we do. Because if someone said, “I’ll give you a million dollars” suddenly we’re so excited. Why are we really excited? Because deep in the recesses of our mind, we’re thinking, I’m going to be happier now that I have this. But that’s not what the Bible has to say. That’s not what the truth says. The truth says happiness comes from knowing and walking with God. Let your mind dwell on these things. Fix your thoughts on these things. Whatever is true.

Secondly, whatever is honorable. It means whatever is noble, whatever is worthy of respect. It’s almost the opposite of that which is dishonorable or dishonest. I don’t know if you ever stop and think about the themes that are in a lot of television shows and a lot of movies. If you go back and you think about the theme, you’ll notice it really elevates things that are dishonorable and dishonest. We are to dwell on…to fix our thoughts on…whatever is true and whatever is honorable.

Then thirdly he says, “…whatever is right.” It means that which is just and fair. We should be thinking about things that match God’s standards, things that are just and fair. How am I to treat my employees? How am I to think about them and view them? I should want to do what is right and just and fair for them. How am I to respond to those who are less fortunate? I should seek to bring God’s standards to the situation, which is part of what Chase and Julie [Wildwood missionaries] want to do in Nicaragua, to bring what is just and fair to those people.

I have a little saying that’s in my office. I’ve shared this before. A little plaque that says, “What does God think about it?” That’s a good perspective to have as we just take what’s going on in life. We’re dwelling on it, and we’re wrestling with it. We’re thinking on it and fixing our thoughts on it. What does God think about it? What is right, just, and fair?

We are to dwell on…fix our thoughts on…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right. Then he says, “…whatever is pure.” What is pure? Well, it’s the opposite of smut and porn and coarse and crude humor. You know what’s amazing to me? When you’ve lived a little while, you have an opportunity to actually see switches and changes in the culture. Those of you who are younger just haven’t been around long enough. But if you’ve been around for awhile, you can say, “I’ve seen some changes.”

It’s amazing to me…even in the Christian community…that so much passes as acceptable these days. Yet I’m not so sure Jesus would feel that way about it. Here is a good thing to ask yourself when you’re exposing yourself to certain kinds of things. Ask yourself if Jesus would be uncomfortable if He was there as you are allowing these things to come into your brain. Or maybe would you be uncomfortable if Jesus was there? Of course, in reality…He is there.

We’re to dwell on…fix our thoughts on…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely. It refers to that which is gracious and beautiful and winsome. Those are the things we need to dwell on and think about. You know, the beautiful picture…the tender picture…of a mother nursing a child is just a lovely…it’s a beautiful thing. A breathtaking sunset…that’s the kind of a beautiful, lovely thing we should allow our minds to dwell on.

I think about what goes on a lot inside of families. I know this because of my own family and our own tendencies. But you know what happens a lot of times in a relationship between a husband and a wife and parents and children is this. We have this tendency to become riveted on the weaknesses and the shortcomings of our spouse or the weakness and the shortcomings of our children versus what we admire about them. What is lovely and beautiful about them. Isn’t it interesting how that works? Sometimes we need to do what someone has said, “We just need to catch our spouse and our children doing good,” because we have such a tendency to focus on the negative rather than the positive, that which is lovely and beautiful.

We’re to fix our thoughts on…we’re to dwell on…what is true and what is honorable and what is right and what is pure and what is lovely and whatever is of good repute. I think the NIV says, “Whatever is admirable.” We could call it “Whatever is commendable.” I think the emphasis here is we’re to focus on what is constructive rather than what is destructive. On things like kindness and respect for others.

Think about that video clip again. Why do we respond so much to that? Because you saw this incredible kindness and respect for an Autistic boy who was doing this once… Did you notice the crowd? I mean the whole place went nuts when he came off the bench. Then, you know, more nuts and more nuts as he was making shots. Then they’re just hoisting him at the end, and we just respond with that because that is a very constructive thing. It’s an admirable thing. It’s a commendable thing. We of course all wish our news would include more of those kinds of things. Let your mind fix on what is admirable and commendable like people’s generosity. That’s really what we ought to dwell on.

Then he says just the qualifier, “If there is any excellence…” If there is anything out there that will make you better. If there is anything worthy of praise like the appreciation of God’s grace, dwell on those things. Fix your thoughts on those things. Focus your attention on those things. Lift your focus higher is what he is saying to us. We are to think right. We’re to have the right perspective. Then in turn we are to live right. We’re to have the right practice, let those things filter out into our lives. Not only ponder such things but put them into practice.

Notice again verse 9. “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” The things I have taught…the things I have modeled…practice these things. By the way, that little phrase “practice this” is a lifestyle command. He is saying, “Go out and live this stuff out in your life.”

One of the things that really stands out to me about verse 9 is the very special promise at the end of it. Notice he says, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things…” He doesn’t just say, “You will have peace.” He says, “The God of peace will be with you.” More than just having and experiencing peace. The God of peace will be with you. He will walk closer to you. You will experience a deeper dimension in your relationship with Christ. The reality of His presence will be even more real, and the peace He brings will be rich.

So, here is basically what he has just told us in verses 8 and 9. When you think right and you live right, you will be blessed. You will have a joy-full life. So the question I need to wrestle with this morning, and the question you should be wrestling with is this…Where are your choices taking your life?

We want to conclude by just looking briefly at some life application. It’s going to be very simple, men and women. Very, very simple. The life application from what we’ve looked at this morning is this…practice these principles. Take some time with this section of the Word of God to sit down and allow the Holy Spirit to talk to you, to basically say, “How does my life need to be altered based on what these verses have to say?”

That may mean you need to do some evaluation…some evaluation of what you watch on television, what you watch in the movies. It may mean God would be bumping you and saying, “You know what? You need to change the channels.” Maybe there needs to be less news. Maybe there needs to be some Christian radio. Maybe there needs to be more worship music you’re exposing yourself to, making a CD of it or putting it on your iPod. Maybe there needs to be more Scripture input than there is all this media input. Practice these principles. Maybe God will be saying you need to examine some conversations you have at home or at work or even with friends.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Let’s pray together: Father, again we want to thank You for the living Book, the truth of the Word of God. Father, this is being laid out for us because we need it. We’re always being avalanched with all this negative stuff. It’s not that we’re to be unaware of it, but to dwell on it leads us to places and leads us to feelings we don’t want to experience.

Father, may we realize that You know what You’re talking about, and You know the hearts of humanity. I think of what it says in Isaiah, chapter 26, verse 3. I love the New Living Translation. It says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You!” Help us, Father, to dwell on that which we should so we can experience a joy-full life on a consistent basis. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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