Christian Lessons from the Ballpark

Yesterday began the sixth time I’ve taken this journey since we’ve moved here. The beginning of baseball season. This time means so much to me. I’ve watched both of my sons grow up on the ball field. It’s how we learned our way around our new city. It’s how our city became home and how we became receptive to finding a new church. A time of growth for our family. So, for the next few weeks, I will be writing about some of the lessons to be learned from baseball and how they relate to Christianity.

The first of these lessons relates to community. Baseball is a team sport more so, I think, than basketball or football. Sure, baseball can have its superstars. I’m thinking of such names as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, or Hank Aaron. And yes, there are plenty of individual baseball players who have established records in the sport. To win games though, the whole team needs to work together. A pitcher can throw a no-hitter, but if his team doesn’t get at least one run, they won’t win the game. It can go the other way too. A team can have a superstar hitter, but if they don’t have good defense in the outfield, they won’t get enough runs to win the game either. In other words, a baseball team needs to work together to win the game.

It’s the same way with our churches and our faith. We need to work together as we live in community and share the love of Jesus with the world around us. Sure, we can go it alone. My family tried to do that for a number of years. But, we missed out on deep relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters, and we missed seeing God in action through a community.

There isn’t one person better than another in our churches either. Satan tries to put us at odds with one another by making us think so, but what counts with God is that we are all working together to solve our problems and to model what Jesus’ love looks like by loving one another in community.

This is demonstrated in Acts 2:42-47. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

These were people of faith who lived and worked together in community just like baseball players need to work together as a team. Modern day Christians also need to live and work together in community. This is a hard thing because our society has become so individually minded. Satan whispers that each of us should be recognized for our contributions and that we should always have our way.

Jesus directly contradicts this in Matthew 20:25-28. “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'”

Today, I pray that we who believe will all have servants’ hearts and that we will be able to live and work together in community!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

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Laying Our Burdens Down

We’ve heard this phrase more often than not in our churches. Jesus even speaks specifically of this in Scripture. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus wants to do this for all of us. Why is it so tough then for us to do–to leave our burdens at His feet? There are three reasons I want to highlight here though I don’t doubt there are more.

First, we like to think we are in control of our lives. We are doing the work it takes to survive in this world, and we are the ones who are coping with the situations that arise in our lives. The stress from difficult situations has a tendency to beat us down and leave us in a vulnerable situation. This should be when we want to give it to God, but we think we are the ones in control of our own destinies, and we refuse to do so. Or we think that someone else’s situation is worse than ours and God wouldn’t have any time to help us.

Another reason is closely related to the first one. We think we know better than God. I’m dealing with this one now. Someone has told me they feel inadequate before God–that doing tasks is more important than the grace we are all given when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. I know that’s not right, but I haven’t been able to convince the other person. This has been frustrating for me, and I haven’t been able to figure out the next steps I should take. God didn’t leave me alone with this one though. The other day He told me to pray for this person and then leave it with Him. So, I have been. Praying, I mean. That part is easy. The leaving it with God and not picking it back up is a whole lot harder. But, I’m working on it.

The final reason is fear–fear of judgment by other people and especially by our Christian brothers and sisters. If a particular situation is not being handled appropriately, we worry that people will judge us, and that makes us pick the situation back up. So much for Jesus carrying our burdens. 😦

Like I said before, I know there are more reasons than these for not letting Jesus carry our burdens. These are just the ones that are affecting my life at the moment. It is hard, so hard, to give up the illusion of control and to truly lay our burdens at Jesus’ feet. We can’t do it on our own. We need to say the words of a song I’m listening to now. Lord, I need you. Because we need Him to be in our heart as we lay our burdens at His feet. So thankful for my Lord and Savior who never gives up on any of us!

Praying God’s blessings on all of us today!

Going into Battle

This has been a recent topic of conversation at my church–how we should think of worship as going into battle and how it’s difficult for some Christians to think along those lines. It’s starting to make sense to me though through Scriptures I’ve read and situations I’ve gone through in my own life.

First, the verses from Scripture. They are from Ephesians 6 which people usually read when they think of going into battle or spiritual warfare. I had never thought of them in relation to worship though. Verses 10 – 17 say, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Praying all this before going into worship makes sense to me, but I’d like to expand the concept a little. I think we are going into battle each and every day when we get up. Going into battle physically, going into battle mentally, going into battle emotionally, and going into battle spiritually. In other words, with our entire lives. This looks differently for each of us. For example, because of my depression, my emotional state roars to the forefront as I meet situations in my life which are hard for me to handle.I have to consider why I’m reacting the way I am and give grace to people when I might think they don’t deserve it due to the emotions of my reaction. This is a hard thing for me, and I know, at times, I am clumsy and not able to handle it the way God wants me to.

For others, the attacks could come physically or mentally. People who have had good physical or mental health their entire lives can have a hard time relinquishing the control to God when diagnoses are made that can temporarily or permanently affect their ability to function.

Battles can even happen in the mundane or ordinary parts of life. Every time we make the choice to not cuss when we are caught in traffic or to react with love when someone treats us badly is a choice that honors God and defeats Satan on the battlefield.

So now, the question for Christians should be how do we prepare for these battles. It’s simple if you think about it. We’ve already been given the tools of prayer, Scripture, and worship. God wants to have a relationship with us and to give us the courage and strength to go out and fight battles for Him. He also wants to give us courage and strength through our worship of Him which takes us back to thinking of communal worship as a battle. This thinking is not prevalent in the North American church, but it needs to be. We are a community of believers who need to go into battle for those in our world who do not know Him. We need to support and love each other with the love of Jesus. Praying that we all understand this today and that we know without a doubt whose we are as we go into battle for this lost world.

Praying God’s blessings on all of you today!

Prayer

Wikipedia defines prayer as “an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship through deliberate communication.” There is so much more, but quoting Wikipedia is not my purpose in writing this today. My purpose is to give you my thoughts and my feelings about prayer.

Prayer is talking to my Father, my Father in heaven. Telling Him how my day is going, telling Him when I’m happy and when I’m sad. I don’t have to pretend with God because, by the time I get done pretending with everyone else, my “pretend meter” is empty. He knows it all anyway so what would be the point of pretending.

There are many ways to pray and many types of prayers. The way I pray best is when I write my prayers down. That way I can remember all of the details and make sure I’m telling them to God through my words. God has given me this gift of words so it makes sense for me to use it when I praise Him, when I thank Him, and when I petition Him. My prayers have also been more thoughtful and complete since I’ve started writing them down.

When most people think about prayer though, they think of speaking it–either out loud or to themselves, and that intimidates them. This results in hastily mumbled prayers, to bless food, for example, or long, flowery prayers that don’t have much meaning. Praying out loud can also be intimidating to people because they don’t know what to say, they don’t think they’re saying the right thing, or they think that a church elder or staff member should be praying. Women also have the added burden of thinking that men should be leading the prayers. I confess that I’ve had some of these thoughts and feelings myself which is why I started writing my prayers down.

I know God doesn’t mind if I write my prayers down. He wants to have a relationship with me, after all. But, I would like to get better at speaking them because God doesn’t care how we speak our prayers. He wants us to talk to Him, and He wants to talk to us. No magic or formula necessary. Just a conversation. It’s important to Him, and it should be important to those of us who are people of faith.

Prayer has become important to me in the last few years because God has sometimes been the only one I could talk to. He has been with me in the pit, and He has been with me on top of the mountain. He has been with me as I’ve scribbled words in my journals, and He has been with me as I’ve said clumsy words aloud. He has been with me as people have spoken words over me even when I didn’t have the courage to speak aloud. Prayer is all of that and more. God is just waiting for us to take the first step towards Him like it says in Revelation 3:20. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

This is the relationships God wants us to have with Him. Close enough to eat and close enough to talk, i.e.,prayer. May we all know the true meaning of prayer!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Doing Life Together

I hear this phrase a lot at my church. We have smaller groups of about eight-ten families who get together once or twice a month to have a meal, study the Bible, and have prayer. Many churches have these groups which go by a variety of names. We call them Lifewalk groups at my church. The format of each group is different dependent on who is in the group. Groups with smaller children do things differently than groups where the children are grown and gone.

These groups make it easier to probe into the deeper things our walk with Jesus requires, and they make us accountable to each other. This might sound like a bad thing, but it really isn’t. Community and deep friendships are forged by talking to each other about the deeper things of life and what’s going on in our lives.

What the really neat thing is though is that our groups combine together on Sunday mornings, and we have a much larger community doing life together. People who are willing to take care of each other and love each other the way Jesus calls us to. As I’ve said before, this is the most honest and real community we’ve ever been in.

In the years we’ve been here, I’ve learned some things need to happen for church communities to have the most successful chance at doing life together. The first is that we need to take our shields down and be open and vulnerable. This is so tough. I have a tough time with it. But, the rewards are so worth it. Letting people into your heart lets God get further into your heart and do the work He needs to do.

The second thing that needs to happen is we need to be loving and encouraging to those who are being vulnerable in front of us. It can be a hard thing. Vulnerability makes us uncomfortable. We would all rather pretend that everything is okay all of the time and keep moving forward. But, we can’t do that! If we are to have the true community God wants for us, we need to be vulnerable in front of each other.

Finally, for us to have the strongest example of living in community, our leaders need to be an example of this to us, and we need to accept our leaders being vulnerable in front of us. It has been rare for me to see church leaders vulnerable. I think this is because it is expected for them to be strong and stoic in front of us and not vulnerable. In fact, I saw something yesterday that caught me off guard and actually inspired this post among other things. Our youth minister was preaching, and he became emotional about a story he was telling. I did a double take because I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen something like that. But, then, I was like, wow, it is ok to be vulnerable here.

God has called all of us to do life together and to be open and vulnerable with one another. Praying that all of us would find a genuine church community as we continue to grow in God’s love and grace!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Honest Worship

I’ve been considering this for the past few days and how God wants us to approach it. Worship is our theme on Wednesday nights this month, and it has brought me to this question. What does God want from us when we worship?

In today’s society, worship has often meant keeping our hearts closed and offering empty promises to God. We think if we open our hearts and show our true selves, God won’t want our worship, and everyone else will think we’re weird. At least, that’s true for me.

But, God wants us to open our hearts and bring our true selves to worshiping Him. He knows it all anyway so there’s really no point in hiding it even though we try to.

There are also plenty of examples in Scripture of how we’re to worship. John 4:23 says, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” Wow, God seeks  those who will worship Him truthfully. Yes, I know He is probably looking for those who truthfully believe in Him, but I think truthfully can also represent what is going on in our lives. He wants us to bring Him the good, the bad, and the ugly. That’s the first crack in the wall I’ve built against honest worship.

Another example comes from Nehemiah 9. Verse 6 says, “You alone are the Lord. You make the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” We’re supposed to worship God, no matter what, and no matter what we bring.

More examples come from the book of Psalms. I’ll quote two of them here. Psalm 27:4 says, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Other people shouldn’t factor in our worship, and I have let them overshadow this verse for me. I want to dwell with God always, and that includes giving Him the worship and honor He deserves.

Finally, and this is the biggest thing for me, I have God’s forgiveness when I confess my sins. Psalm 130:4 says, “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” Knowing that we have God’s forgiveness helps praise and worship to bubble up in my heart to where it has no choice, but to spill out. That, I believe, is what answers the question of what God wants from us when we worship. I pray that all of us experience so much of His love and grace today that it has no choice, but to bubble up out of us and that we are so overwhelmed with it, we have no choice, but to praise and worship our Lord and Savior.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Something Better

I tried to look in my post archives earlier to see if I had written something similar to this recently, but WordPress or my Internet service (not sure which) were being stubborn, and I couldn’t find anything. I think this might have been God’s way of telling me I needed write about it anyway so that’s what you’re gonna get today. 🙂

Most of us like to look at Facebook memories, right? Things we posted a year ago, two years ago, and so forth and so on. In one of my memories from a year ago, I read about how I was excited about something I had finally gained the courage to try. It was bittersweet to read that today because it didn’t work out for a number of reasons.

Didn’t work out. I’ve used those words for many things during my life. Sometimes, I’ve been happy to use those words, like when things would have ended up being more difficult than I had thought. But, other times, I’ve been sad to use those words, like today.

There’s been a meme with this quote going around Facebook that I think is appropriate to share here. Said by Thomas Edison. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This certainly applies to the things I’ve tried, but not succeeded at. There have been many ways that haven’t worked for me over the past few years.

This was brought into sharp focus for me yesterday. My son and I went to watch the football game his youth group was playing in honor of the Super Bowl. He wasn’t participating because football has never been a big thing in our home. We are more of a baseball family. Anyway, I told him we needed to try something different so we went to watch. It was interesting. Fun too. But, as I observed the game, I realized something. We are about to age out of youth group (He’s a junior.), and the parents and teens left in the group will have a lot more in common. A sad, but realistic observation. And also, an observation, I think, as to why I’ve been floundering. I don’t feel like I fit…anywhere, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do once I have an empty nest. I’m working on some ideas, but nothing has been solidified which makes me nervous. I don’t want to get to the point where I’m pressuring either of my sons to give me grandchildren. That’s not fair to them or to me. God gave me a mind to use, and it shouldn’t be dependent on fulfillment through anyone else.

But, the fact remains that I will have an empty nest in a little over a year, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. This brings me full circle back to the things I haven’t succeeded at during my life. I’ve been a mother and a wife for so long that other titles don’t come easily. The desire is there though. A desire to have something of my own. A desire to leave something of myself behind that is not just related to my being a wife or a mother. Something I might do at church or in the community or with employment.

Since the desires I’ve had so far haven’t succeeded yet, it would be easy to get discouraged. It’s hard to think that I’ve failed at things I thought God was calling me to do. God led me to some verses in Scripture that encouraged me. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

In Verse 7 of the same psalm, the psalmist says, “I will praise the Lord who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.”

And with these verses, something has become clear. I need to praise God through the failures and through the pain. The toughest thing in the world to do. But, God is teaching me through the failures, and it will lead to something better as long as I stay in His will. Help me, God, and help us all as we seek to listen to your voice.

God’s blessings on you all today!