Playing Catch With God

Focused Prayer: Day 27

There are life lessons to be taught and learned as a Dad. What appears trivial in a moment with my kids, God uses as a school book for my faith. Take for instance one Saturday when I was playing baseball in the backyard with my boys. I was stoked about enjoying the sunshine and this fatherhood past time of playing catch with my sons. Fairly quickly, however, my good time slipped into frustration.

Playing Catch With God

Playing catch is fun only if both participants are “catching” the ball. Both of my boys were doing fine in the throwing department. It was actually catching the ball where their skills broke down. I had been working with them on not being afraid of the baseball when I threw it their way. Their natural reaction was to fling their body away from the path of the ball making catching it near impossible. I gave encouragement, tips, pep talks, bribery and lectures: “Trust the glove! I’m not going to throw it harder than you can handle!”. I used all the tools that dads seem to pull out when they hit an impasse with their kids. Nothing was working. They were just plain scared of the ball.

God Speaks

That’s when God reached down in my backyard in Raleigh, NC and spoke to me:

“Nathan, you’re just like your sons.  As your Heavenly Dad I’m desiring to play catch with you all the time with the future I have for you and often you’re scared of the ball. Trust Me. Trust my throw. I’m not going to throw it harder than you can handle. I’ve given you all the tools you need: a new nature, faith, the power of the Spirit and unique giftings. Trust this glove I’ve given you and let’s play some ball.”

I bowed my head recognizing it was a holy moment. I whispered a prayer, “Got it.” Needless to say, the rest of the afternoon I was much more patient with the boys.

With God’s help I’m trusting the Thrower and the glove He’s designed, knowing that faith always conquers fear.

Focused Prayer

What about you? Are there any God throws you’ve been avoiding out of fear? Has God been leading you to trust him with a new step or opportunity that seems scary because it’s unfamiliar? Let me point you  to a well known scripture to pray and meditate on:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Prov. 3:5-6)

I’m praying with you.

(Feel free to share this post if you feel it would be a help to others.)

3 Things You Must Remember When Discouraged

Focused Prayer: Day 25

Ever feel like you are one step from triumph and one step from the wheels coming off the tracks at the same time? For those of us that find ourselves emotionally wrapped up in what we “do” it can seem like there’s a thin line between feeling like a victor or a victim. When I begin to feel like I’m teetering on that line I make an effort to remember three things:

Denali National Park in autumn, Alaska, USA, North America

1. Life is seasonal. As a pastor I have to constantly remind myself that my life is full of seasons: our church, my family, myself, in the lives of others. As much as we’d like to we can’t park at one perfect spot in life. The writer of Ecclesiastes nails this idea when he writes: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Eccl. 3:1) Now deep down we know this, but it can be easy to forget when we’re in the midst of a down time. It feels like we’ve been here forever and things we’ll never change. That’s just not true.  Do this: reflect on the various down seasons in your life that you’ve walked through. What were the nuggets of truth that you picked up during that time. Choose to see the wins and the wisdom God has given you.

2. Obstacles Can Bring New Possibilities: Author Michael Hyatt writes, “One of the best questions you can ask when something negative happens is this: What does this make possible?“.  Asking this question allows you to take another look at your circumstances in a positive light. Seriously, try it. If you’re honest there most likely is an upside to the situation: more time with the family, less pressure at work, an opportunity to learn a new profession or trade, it could be anything! What you see as a negative, God is working for your good. (Romans 8:28)

3. You are not the sum of your successes or failures. We tend to fall into the trap of one side or the other. We either define ourselves by what we’ve achieved or by how we’ve blown it. This is a double edged sword. While we may feel great when things are riding high, we feel like we need to be on suicide watch when things hit the tank.  We have to be careful not to hook ourselves up to the crazy train of our emotions. You’re value can’t be measured by your success in money, number of clients, promotions, Facebook likes, attendance, acclaim…..the list goes on. If you hook your self-worth up to external inputs you’re headed for a train wreck. ( I write more about that here.) You’re value doesn’t come from what you’ve made of yourself but from who made you.

Prayer Focus

I have a clearer perspective on my life and my circumstances when I bring my needs to the Lord and allow Him to speak to me. Spend some time praying about what you’re discouraged about. Don’t feel you have to filter your prayers. The Lord can take it! Pray about sharing with someone. Don’t default to isolation and throw yourself a pity party. Take some time to share with a trusted friend how you’re feeling and allow them to give you some feedback. Don’t retreat and shut own. If you’ve taken time to reflect and learn from your circumstances it’s time to move forward. Anyone can shine during prosperity, maturity shines during adversity by moving forward. I’m praying with you.

(Feel free to share this post if you feel it would be a help to others.)

The Expiration Date on Relationships

Prayer Focus: Day 25

(I wrote this post just over 6 years ago and the words are still just as true. Please take them to heart.)

I think it’s fitting that I return to writing on Memorial Day. I put my writing on hold last week after I lost a dear friend last week. He had battled a health condition for over a decade. His name was Reid and he was 24. He had a beautiful mind and a gentle spirit.

I am reminded from his loss how we never know how much time we have here on this celestial ball. The profound truth is that there is an expiration date on our relationships this side of eternity. I’d like you to ponder some questions I’ve been asking myself:

Am I making time for people that I “say” I value?

Do you call many people friends but have little depth in your friendships? We make time for what’s important to us. If people in your life are important….make time.

What does my qaulity time look like with them?

Make sure you’re getting past surface conversation and on to things that matter. When they’re gone you won’t care that you talked about the weather.

Is there anything I need to say or do before one of us is gone?

Ask forgiveness and forgive where it’s needed. Communicate with them how they’ve impacted your life. What have you always wanted to say or do? No more excuses…do it.

Prayer Focus

Spend some time prayerfully considering these questions. Allow the Lord to point to truth. Is God calling you to adjust your time for what matters most? I’m praying with you.

(Feel free to share this post if you feel it would be a help to others.)

Someone Needs These Words

Prayer Focus: Day 24

I grew up hearing the taunting song, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Ofcourse we know that’s not true, words do hurt. But if words can hurt, words can also heal.

James 3:7–10 (ESV)

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

Over the next few days I’m going to be hitting this topic: “Choice Words.” These are words that we can share with others that bring life and our society is desperate to hear them.

Think about the countless kinds of words that people hear on a daily basis: mundane, complaining, angry, critical, cutting, gossip, empty, lies…etc. The list goes on. What’s missing? Answer: words that build people up rather than tear them down.

Saying Out Loud God’s Grace 

When most people think about the grace of God they think about God’s unmerited forgiveness toward those that would follow Jesus. Yet God’s grace is also the goodness He gives us in this life: his characteristics, giftings, wisdom, endurance, the grace to walk through life. This kind of grace is rarely spoken of.

People only hear words of encouragement in our society when they earn them. But, people are valuable not because of what they do, but because of who made them. They’re valuable because they’re God’s creation. In everyone we can see a glimpse of God’s fingerprints, God’s grace evident in them.

For example, I might share with people that I see an incredible gift of creativity, a gift of patience, incredible focus, a wonderful sense of humor….the list goes on. I then point out that God is the one who gave them that gift. Sharing these choice words of God’s fingerprints and God given characteristics we see in them is a crucial aspect of sharing Christ and bringing encouragement.

Prayer Focus

I’d like you to pray about making it a point to share with three people you interact with, the grace of God you see in them. Pray about who God might be directing you to encourage with words of affirmation. When you do, you’ll be pointing past how great they are,  to how great God is! I’m praying with you.

(Feel free to share this post if you feel it would be a help to others.)

Why It’s a Good Thing Your Days Are Numbered

Focused Prayer: Day 23

Today is my 14,393th day since my birth.

Know your number of days?

Listen to the writer of Psalm 90:12, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart for wisdom.”

We grow in our hunger for personal growth when we intentionally think about our life on a daily basis.  Why? Because when you number your days you know the number will not be infinite. You value your life more when you know there will be a last day.

I know what it’s like to go through the motions and check the box on any given day. To just let life happen to me and not take hold of anything more. I know what it’s like to wake up one day and realize I’ve wasted days on nothing that had any eternal value.

I value this gift of life too much to go back to that type of existence.

You weren’t meant to merely exist. Your days are numbered and each day has a purpose.

Don’t take your life for granted. Don’t assume you have tomorrow. Taste your mortality and let it drive you to chase God and His purpose for your life.

Prayer Focus

Spend some time prayerfully reflecting on this gift of life you’ve been given. Ask God to reveal what you might be taking for granted. Take some time to listen in solitude and allow Him to remind you of your purpose. I’m praying with you.

(Feel free to share this post if you feel it would be a help to others.)

The Key to Conquering Temptation

Focused Prayer: Day 22

The temptation to sin is a non-stop, clear and present danger and every Christian wants a method, principle, or technique; some way of avoiding the next stumble.

temptation

Jesus knew temptation intimately.

Hebrews 4:15 (ESV)

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

When Jesus was praying in the garden just before his arrest he admonished his drowsy followers:

Mark 14:38 (ESV)

38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The reason we long for a weapon against temptation is because our spirit is willing; it doesn’t want to give in to sin. Yet, our flesh is weak. Jesus gives us the key to conquering temptation in our lives. We only need to apply it: watch and pray.

The idea here of watching is being vigilantly on guard. Jesus calls us to flee from passivity and actively go to a heightened state of alert against incoming temptation. Team this “watching” up with prayer; asking God to deliver us from the daily onslaught.

Jesus taught us to pray this way: “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matt. 6:13)

We fall into temptation because we seek to try to use fleshly methods (will-power and human intellect) to combat the threat, but our flesh is useless. Jesus wants us to wake up to the reality of the danger around us and call out to the Father to deliver us in the battle.

Prayer Focus

Spend some time asking the Lord to shed light on areas of temptation you’re currently facing. Ask Him to give you supernatural insight to temptation hazards and the empowerment to walk away and take hold of God’s best for your life.  I’m praying with you.

(Feel free to share this post if you feel it would be a help to others.)

Should We Really Live Holy Lives?

Focused Prayer: Day 21

What’s the point of Holy living? Is it even possible?

washing-hands

The Apostle Paul tells us here:

2 Timothy 2:20–22 (ESV)

20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. 22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

Holy living absolutely impacts our fruitfulness and usefulness in Christ’s kingdom. When we walk away from sin and consecrate ourselves for Him, we can be useful for the master, “ready for every good work.”

So there’s a fleeing that’s needed as well as a pursuing. This isn’t chasing down salvation; that’s already been provided through faith in Christ. It’s pursuing God’s best for our lives in our conduct, faith, love, and peace, along with other people that are pursuing the same.

Holiness is not a fantastical idealistic theory of Christian living that can’t really be accomplished. We are made Holy by the blood of Christ through faith in Him, but Jesus calls us to pursue holy living out of love for Jesus.

The highest form of worshipping Christ isn’t singing with hands raised. The highest form of worship is consecrating our daily lives to Him.

Prayer Focus

Take some time to reflect and pray on the scripture above. Is there anything that God is calling you to flee from? To pursue? Spend some time allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to you about being consecrated to Him in your daily living. I’m praying with you.

(Feel free to share this post if you feel it would be a help to others.)

When the Lights Go Out

Focused Prayer: Day 20

“Where am I and what are you doing?”

light-at-end

I’ve said those words countless times to the Lord.

Maybe you’ve been there. Walking along in life with a good idea of who you are where you’re going when all of a sudden it seems like the lights go out. Now, It feels like you’re walking blindly down a narrow hallway bouncing off the walls with your arms outstretched trying to find your way.

When we’re in a season like this our stress goes up, confusion can set in, and we can find it hard to place any confidence in any steps we take.

And yet this scripture calls out to us:

Psalm 37:23

The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the LORD upholds his hand.

See anything odd in this verse? Our steps are planned by the Lord when “we delight in his way; though we fall…”. You’d think that if we’re delighting in the Lord’s way and if our steps are ordered by the Lord, we wouldn’t fall. Yet, the writer seems to point out the faithfulness of God inspite of failings and missteps.

I feel I spend more time looking up from falling than I do looking down when I’m sure of my steps. God’s promise to us isn’t that we won’t fall, but that we won’t totally fall “headlong, for the Lord upholds” our hand. “Established” steps don’t mean easy steps. They don’t mean easily understood or absolutely logical steps. They are ordered by Him. That’s comforting.

I’ve learned that God can guide my steps even as I grope in the dark of my own ignorance. God desires our sole dependance on Him and He’s willing for us to endure some internal discomfort to get us there: loving and wanting his ways more than our own.

We all fall. We will stub some toes. But, God will pick us up and guide us on toward his planned path.

Prayer Focus

Spend some time reflecting on the above scripture. Reflect on some moments when you’ve understood God’s directed steps only after you’ve walked further on. Talk to the Lord about any feelings of confusion or hesitation you feel in your current journey. Trust that He’s with you and for you. Desire and walk toward his best for your life and His best will be given. I’m praying with you.

(Feel free to share this post if you feel it would be a help to others.)

The Wrong Power Supply

Focused Prayer: Day 18

Let’s say “hypothetically” the following happened to me a few years ago:

I walked outside one morning around 6:30am and noticed that my drivers door was slightly ajar. Naturally, it didn’t surprise me when my car wouldn’t start. I mean the battery is dead, right? After borrowing some jumper cables from a neighbor (that I woke up), I lifted the hood to find that my battery was not dead, it was alive and well SOMEWHERE else. That’s right boys and girls someone stole my car battery in the middle of the night. Someone was now starting their car with my battery!

OK…so it’s not a hypothetical. It actually happened.

With my loss in mind I’d like to ask you a question. Are you living off of someone else’s spiritual battery (faith experience)? Do you mooch off of other people for spiritual and emotional support all the time? If so, you’re trying to live vicariously through others and not Christ.

Obviously, God gifts us with family, friends and pastors to help, but in going to them for help, they should not become our source. Jesus wants a  personal relationship with you.  Jesus has made a way through the Holy Spirit to supply all the power we need. We need only ask! He wants to be your power source!

Stop striving by calling one more person, trying that “next” book or even the next blog. You don’t need someone else’s battery, you need Jesus.

Prayer Focus

I close by sharing this prayer the apostle Paul prayed for you and the church, that you would have strength in Christ. Read this passage, then reflect and pray on God being your ultimate source for all things.

 Ephesians 3:14–21

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  

(Feel free to share this post if you feel it would be a help to others.)

Your Greatest Day is On the Way

Prayer Focus: Day 17

I remember the first time I shared with my boys about Christ’s return and what God’s word says about his coming.  Here’s a snap shot of the passage I shared:

 1 Thessalonians 4:16–18 (ESV)

16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.  

My boys were floored, amazed, excited and pumped! Ethan was hoping Jesus would come for us that very night. He said, “That’s my life long dream to see God!” Landon talked about receiving his new body as he jumped on my bed, “My legs won’t get tired when I worship, I can jump and sing all I want!” Their excitement was giddy, authentic and contagious. I found myself laughing and hoping for that day with them.

Question: Are you ready to meet God face to face? More than that….are you looking forward to that day? As my son Ethan said is it your “life long dream?”

Soon our faith will be made sight. It. will. be. glorious.

Prayer Focus

Today, I just want you to simply sit back for a moment and long for that day.

18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. ”

Consider yourself encouraged.

(Feel free to share this post if you feel it would be a help to others.)