Our Batons

This morning I listened to a student pastor speak on the importance of being for the next generation. He used the analogy of passing off a baton in a relay race. His last point was an encouragement to not waste your weakness-meaning your past brokenness, your inabilities, or your inexperience do not disqualify you from being on the track, being part of passing off your baton to the next generation. You can carry a baton and pass it on.

Got me to thinking about the actual baton. What is the baton we are passing off? Is it just a broad view of a way of life? What if each one of us knew in more detail what the baton is that we are carrying? I believe we have our own unique baton that we can pass off to countless others throughout life.

Many things come to mind for me. I have a baton of music that I have passed on in many ways. I have the baton of church leadership that is still running its course. I have a baton of living a contented single life. One could say I have a baton of running that I occasionally pass on.

Those are skills and experiences. We could, and I believe we should, consider our spiritual batons also. These spiritual batons are the core of who we are, how we live. We run with the baton of faith, surrender, peace, hope, love, mercy, humility, kindness, patience-what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit.

Another thought about our unique baton could include the life challenges that God has used to mature us. These could be anything from experiencing loss of jobs, finances, relationships to seasons of doubt, distance, or disconnect. All of these things make up the baton that we are carrying.

What if we held tight enough to our unique baton making sure we don’t drop it but loose enough to let God keep molding it? What if we passed on these batons as often as we are prompted to while we are living rather than only after we die? What if we lived more for what we relay than what we grip?

You might have to get a wheelbarrow for all those batons. But imagine the impact when your race is over and your batons are still in the race.

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

Two Things God Thinks of Me

In the last few days I’ve been struck by two ways to know what God thinks of me. They sound similar yet carry different meanings.

The first came from a devotional that highlighted Hebrews 11:16:

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

To be clear, no, Hebrews 11 is not about me. It’s a list recalling Old Testament lives of faith. And the writer pauses in the list to say, “God was not ashamed to be called their God.” Why? Their faith. Their faith to build an ark. Their faith to leave their families. Their faith to wait. Their faith to give up everything. Their faith to trust. Their faith to desire heaven over earth.

When I have and act by that kind of faith, I know God is not ashamed of me.

The second came from the book I’m reading by J. Paul Nyquist, Prepare.

“God never blesses anyone or anything He doesn’t approve of.”

Nyquist says this based on the beatitude: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11) He begins chapter four of his book with this verse to support that persecution isn’t a curse but a blessing. So in the face of false accusation, reviling, and evil, I can know God approves of me.

When I face evil attacks, I know God approves of me.

I don’t have to doubt what God thinks of me when my faith is steadfast. He approves. He is not ashamed.

Photo credit: Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

“Self,…”

Fear is exhausting. Well, at least misplaced fear can be. Proper fear can actually provide joy and comfort.

Several people have commented how that in spite of being slowed down since March they still feel tired, maybe even more so. Perhaps fear is to blame.

I started a new book this afternoon, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn. His book contains 48 devotionals written as notes to “Self,” reminders of what you know based on Scripture. Note #3, entitled “Fear,” includes these thoughts:

Worldly fear will lead you to toe party lines, compel you to try to live a safe life, and lead you to so prize the good gifts of God that they mutate into idols.

Your possessions can go up in flames, but you have treasure in heaven and stand to inherit the kingdom. Your reputation may be sullied, but you are justified in Jesus. You may be rejected by those who you admire, but you are accepted by God. You may be hated, but your Father in heaven loves you with an undying love.

The fear you need to maintain and cultivate is a fear of God, for in it you will discover wisdom and develop strength that enables you to persevere in faith to the end.

Somewhere in those reminders may you find rest from fear, whether you’re fighting your own or burdened by other’s.

What if you wrote your own note to self? What reminders would it include?

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Melanie Wasser

The Faith Doctor

I’m half through the autobiography of Jerry Kill, a successful college football coach known for turning around programs. One part of his personal story is a bout with kidney cancer. In the chapter recalling the bout, he gives a shoutout to his team chaplain with these words:

He is the best Christian man I know. He knows how to talk to you, how to relate to you, and he has the “it factor.” He’s a faith doctor. You have to have your medical doctors obviously, but he was a faith doctor for me.

That’s a first-hearing someone categorized as a faith doctor. Made me ask two questions:

  1. Who’s my faith doctor?
  2. Who’s faith doctor am I?

Maybe we all should ask those questions. After answering them, we could ask further ones like…

  1. How often do I see my faith doctor?
  2. What symptoms do I need to acknowledge to my faith doctor?
  3. How willing am I to be someone’s faith doctor?
  4. What fruits of the Spirit are needed to be someone’s faith doctor?

You get the gist. This chapter, by the way, was entitled Upsetting Cancer. Whatever spiritual issue you have that needs upsetting may well be worth answering these questions.

Better & Deeper!

Equal Access

Occasionally someone will say to me, “How about you pray for me? Your connection is better than mine.”

We both understand the thought, but reality is it ain’t true. Just because one person may practice praying more than another doesn’t mean their connection is better. For a really clear illustration of that, check out Jesus’ teaching in Luke 18:9-14. Frequency of praying doesn’t assume better.

Does that mean we shouldn’t bother praying regularly? SMH. It means we should take advantage of the access God graciously gives everyone. My connection ain’t better than yours. No ones is. Well, except Jesus. Why? Because of Jesus’ resurrection. That’s right. One of the many impacts of his resurrection for all people is direct access to his Father through him. His sacrifice gave everyone equal access. His job right now is to sit by his Father to intercede on your behalf.

So if you’re tempted to believe the lie that you don’t have equal access and maybe give yourself an out for praying, why not tell Jesus, “How about you pray for me? Your connection is better than mine.”

Mary’s Sanctification

The title of the day 11 Advent devotional I’m reading was “What’s On The Other Side of Your ‘Yes’?

I’ve thought about the fact that Mary said yes. Rather quickly, by the way (see Luke 1). But this devotional made me think about how, like Mary, our current acceptance is limited to the present. We place our faith in surrendering to what’s in front of us. But we have no idea what’s coming down the road, what’s on the other side. Mary heard what the angel said about the son she would have, but I wonder how much she understood how many yeses were ahead.

  • Yes, I’ll marry a man who’s thought twice.
  • Yes, I’ll run for my son’s life to another country.
  • Yes, I’ll give grace to my son when I don’t understand him.
  • Yes, I’ll let The Father defend his son against the enemy’s lies.
  • Yes, I’ll watch him be crucified.

Each yes was a new challenge, a deeper victory, a fuller revelation.

The teenager who birthed Jesus wasn’t ready to watch him be tortured. She got there through the transformtion of her every yes. A theological word for that tansformation is sanctification. In his book Awe, Paul David Tripp defined sanctification as a process that works the radical transformation of hearts. Mary’s sanctification came through repeated yeses.

What yes is God asking from you right now? What if you said yes for no other reason but to take one more step in your sanctification? Why not see what’s on the other side of your yes?

Terrified…But Looking Forward

A flashback for all the parents: Remember the day you found out you were going to be a parent? Joy mixed with fright. Thrilled but terrified.

The birth came and maybe those feelings got worse. But after a few diapers and spit ups, no big deal. Until a few years later and those Terrible Twos arrived. And then preschool came…and then puberty came…and then graduation…and then…and then…

A friend recently told me that a life change had them terrified, but they were looking forward to the future. Terror doesn’t have to result in paralysis. It’s normal and doesn’t have to lead to life-smothering, dream-crushing, or ice cream-binging sorrow. With the right mindset mixed with faith in God’s power over all his creation, the future can be rushed toward versus never encountered.

For example, suppose…

…Noah never picked up a hammer

…Moses never went back to Egypt

…Ruth never left home

…David never slung a stone

…Esther never approached the throne

…Daniel never revealed his interpreting skills

…Joseph never married Mary

…Jesus never drank from that cup

If God has shown you a glimpse of the future and it looked scary, you are in good company. Of course, you could pull a Jonah, if you’re into seasickness and other kinds of goo. But why bother with that drama? The better drama is found in trusting your faith in the One who will help you finish what he’s starting.

Go ahead. Walk toward the Terror.

This Is So

(Lyrics to a song inspired by Joshua 4:24)

Verse 1

With each sunrise you refill me

To recount the hope that I see

Looking back to claim your promise

All my words proclaim your goodness

 

Chorus

This is so

All may know that You are God

This is so

I may always fear You, Lord

Write it on my heart

Remind me who you are

May I not forget

This is so

 

Verse 2

Waves behind me tell your story

Ever lifting all your glory

Here’s my song to join in raising

Yours alone the name worth praising

 

Bridge

In your presence I’m made holy

By your strength I’m standing only

Fearless

(Day 27 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

I’ve read about bold prayer and recently learned “bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less…The more specific your prayers are, the more glory God receives. Most of us don’t get what we want because we quit praying.” Do know how to properly pray to God?

Reading about bold praying helped me notice that I’m not being specific or really being bold during praying. I’ll say a little prayer just to make me feel good about praying for that moment. Then I read,

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16

This passage taught me a lot with only thirty something words. Then I noticed something again. I don’t put enough faith into bold praying, or just a simple prayer. Life is full of battles that would be impossible to conquer without God’s provision. When we talk to God, we need to pray boldly, be confident, courageous, forward, strong, and firm. We have to abide by that.

There is a difference between wanting to receive something from God and being determined to receive it. Have you ever boldly prayed to God? If you haven’t, you should start now, because he wants to listen to you. “Determination brings forth bold prayers of passionate conviction. Wishing leads to shallow and unspecific prayers that are timid, hesitant, and bashful – encompassing the complete opposite of boldness.” -John Bevere

Approaching God through prayer is much more than just words. You need to be resilient and bold when you come to God. We need to be bold for God even when we are not praying. We need to be bold in everything we do.

By Shanti M. Washington

Come With Everything

(Day 26 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

“The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.” – James 5:15-18

One of the most incredible things about the gospel is that we are encouraged, throughout the New Testament, to pray always and in all circumstances. God did not give us access to Himself begrudgingly, hoping that we would never actually pray. He wants us to come to Him with everything-good, bad or indifferent-so that we can continue to build a relationship with Him, and so that He can continue to shape us into the people that He wants us to be.

In this passage, James reminds us to pray boldly for big, even miraculous things. Remembering to also be submissive in prayer, we must keep in mind that God’s highest goals are our sanctification and His glorification. Sometimes that means He will answer our prayers in very unexpected ways. But that should not stop us from praying with boldness. Rather, it should spur us on to pray with more perseverance and fervor, so that we may see God work in better ways than we can imagine in our limited view.

This is where James’ example of Elijah’s story becomes so helpful. In 1 Kings 17-18 Elijah prays for the drought that James describes, and the Lord brings it upon Israel, stopping the rain for three and a half years. Throughout that time, all of Israel suffers greatly from the resulting famine, but the Lord provides for Elijah in miraculous ways. And through the drought, the Lord turns the hearts of the people back to Himself, so that they worship Him once again. It is an amazing story of our great God and a righteous man who knew how to pray well. I encourage you to read it and dwell on how Elijah’s example can encourage you to pray with boldness.

By Kyle Reilly