Discover Encouragement and Overcome Discouragement

sticky-notes-1159958Discussing Discouragement

Lack of progress. Politics. Stupidity. Illness. Aging. Unemployment. Failure.

These things continuously discourage me. If I dwell on them too often and too deeply, I become depressed. Before I reach that point, though, I try to focus on what Scripture says about encouragement.

My visits usually begin here:

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-9)

If we focus on remembering God’s activity in our lives, on what His Word tells us and on His promises, we too receive encouragement from the Lord just as Joshua did.

Discovering Encouragement

sticky-notes-1159969God gives us encouragement in countless ways. We choose to be a part of it simply when we accept it.

Encouragement from God comes through…

  1. Prayer, scripture and progress. (Psalm 138:3, Romans 15:4 & Philippians 1:6) Prayer gives us strength to live as God desires and refocuses us on the encouragement He offers. God’s word offers encouragement through stories, guidance and hope. And the progress He works in us keeps us motivated for continual growth.
  2. Remembering. (Joshua 24:16-17Do you regularly remember what God has done in your life? Scripture certainly sets that as a necessary pattern for the lives of men. Through it, we see that God never changes, and that certainly is encouraging.
  3. Reflection in our eternal hope and our position in Christ. (1 Peter 1:6 & Philippians 2:1-2Think about what the Bible says God has in store for us. Exciting and encouraging, right? Plus, belonging to Christ encourages in a profound way as we regularly experience God’s grace and mercy.
  4. Through visible faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:7)
    How often does seeing another person’s faith in action encourage you? The reverse is also true. Look around!
  5. Through other Christians. (1 Thessalonians 4:18, Romans 1:11-12,
    1 Thessalonians 5:11, Acts 14:21-22 & Hebrews 10:24-25
    We can help each other refocus on eternity. We can gather regularly encourage one another through faith. Encouragement also comes as we strengthen and motivate one another.

When you are encouraged in these ways, doesn’t it feel like anything is possible? That’s kind of the point, actually.

Determining Reality

sticky-notes-1159963When I seek encouragement because I feel sorry for myself, I’m always disappointed. Doing so just focuses me more on my own discouragement and cultivates depression.

When I let God encourage me, I’m never disappointed. When I purpose to encourage others, I’m also always encouraged.

Focus determines reality, after all. When I seek out encouragement, I focus on myself. When I let God encourage me and when I look to encourage others, I focus outside of myself. One results in regular discouragement, the other growing encouragement.

Wondering where to start? Not sure how to specifically live this out?

Begin with what encourages you. Do that to encourage someone else. Sure, everyone is different, but we’re a lot alike too. Plus, as the old adage goes, it’s the thought that counts.

Pursuing a Holy Spirit Led Life

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Growing up in church, I learned a lot about the Trinity. The idea of Father, Son & Holy Spirit, three in One, never struck me as odd. It simply always existed as truth for me.

With this upbringing, I learned a lot about God, mostly that he was like a grandmaster in chess and we the pieces on the board of life. Jesus became the focus at Easter and Christmas, and the Holy Spirit existed as a passing name in creeds and Scripture recitation.

Of course, we talked about all three together — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — whenever we talked about the Trinity, but most of our discussions centered around God. This is probably why I’ve never doubted God’s existence or who the Bible says He is and what it says He does.

Partly a gap in teaching. Partly me not paying attention. Probably partly a spotty memory of my childhood too. For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit never hit my spiritual radar much until my late 20s.

Holy Spirit Influence

“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)

“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:9)

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

When these Scripture referring specifically to the Holy Spirit finally opened up to me, I realized two important things:

  1. The Holy Spirit had been active in my life since salvation.
  2. The Holy Spirit constantly offered me more, and I had failed to see it.

Now, I see the Holy Spirit offering encouragement in my walk as a Christian. Even though most of my struggle is self inflicted, He still works within me to lead, guide and comfort.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

slide-12Getting Out of the Way

As I experience the Holy Spirit’s activity in my life, I want more. In that quest for more, I’ve come to realize that the way to experience lies mostly in what I need to stop doing.

“Do not quench [subdue, or be unresponsive to the working and guidance of] the [Holy] Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19, AMP)

In other words, the Holy Spirit stands ready to help, advocate, comfort and encourage, and I need to avoid hindering or quenching His work. Simply put, I must choose to be led by Him.

Personally, I “quench” (stifle, extinguish, put out) the Holy Spirit’s influence in my life when I get too busy, overwhelmed and focus on anything but God’s desires and glory. Conversely, when I quiet my life and focus on hearing from Him, the flame of the Holy Spirit continually burns bright and lights my way.

Make no mistake, I do nothing to generate or create the Holy Spirit’s activity in my life, but I sure can do a lot to impact how much I notice and follow it.

Pursuing The Holy Spirit

With these realizations, pursuing a Holy Spirit-led life consistently involves two main approaches for me.

  1. Don’t let my life get so busy I can’t hear His voice over the noise.
  2. Get into Scripture daily since it’s the primary way the Holy Spirit “talks” to me.

Simplicity creates space in my life for the Holy Spirit to move. Not that He couldn’t anyway, of course, but I certainly fail to recognize His beckoning when my life gets too busy and complicated. This pursuit of simplicity has deepened my faith and drawn me closer to God through His Holy Spirit more than any other practice in my life.

Can you see the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life? If not, why?

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

waiting-lineWaiting in line. Waiting for dinner. Waiting for a train. Waiting for a package to arrive.

Waiting for test results. Waiting for your teen to get home. Waiting for guests to arrive.

Waiting for a phone call. Waiting for a headache to subside. Waiting for the storm to stop.

Waiting for coffee to brew. Waiting for an answer. Waiting for the light to turn green.

Waiting for your turn. Waiting for your flight. Waiting to hear about that job.

Growing impatience. Growing boredom. Time slows to a crawl. Sometimes fear sets in.

Maybe Tom Petty had it right when he sang…

“The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith; you take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part.”

Why is waiting so difficult for most people?

wait-2Because waiting feels like it serves no purpose.

Because it seems like a waste of time.

Because we hate that we can’t control the situation.

Because it often comes with an unknown outcome.

Because we don’t want to miss out on anything.

Because we really don’t have to wait for much anymore.

Our on-demand culture certainly emphasizes the futility of waiting, of having everything “Your Way Right Away.” After all, we run full tilts on instant messages, fast food and push notifications. Unfortunately, waiting and getting what we want right away all the time only hacks away at our ability for patience in every area of life.

“The need for round-the-clock connection not only makes people more impatient, it also robs them of time for quiet reflection or deeper, more critical thinking. They tend to want constant stimulation, have less impulse control and get distracted more easily.” (Instant Gratification & Its Dark Side by Ronald Aslop)

My family went on a Caribbean cruise last spring. We turned off our phones and locked them in our room safe for the 10-day cruise as soon as we got on board. Many cruisers did not but instead opted to pay the significant fees for limited cell phone access. If a Caribbean cruise can’t lure someone away from the always-connected pace of life, might there be a significant problem at play?

We all know someone like this, right? We get frustrated when they can’t seem to part with their phone, when they pause a face-to-face conversation to have a virtual one. We easily recognize the vanishing effort to slow down our fast-paced, ever-connected lives to spend time simply breathing and thinking and existing… in others anyway.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Do they really? If this is true, why don’t more people seek to develop patience and their ability to wait? Why do they allow their impatience to drive them? Why do they let technology constantly drive their gratification in every area of life? Why do they think they need success in short order rather than after hard work and long-term effort?

Can we admit that sometimes, this “they” we’re talking about could be our kids, our spouse and maybe even ourselves? Can we see that instant has tainted — maybe even ruined — our ability to patiently wait?

If we take just a few moments, better yet an afternoon or a day, to let go of instant, I think we’ll realize that when we get whatever it is we want right away, we’re never really satisfied because there’s always more to want and have. If we take longer, say a week or more of vacation — a slow-paced one, not a frantic, see-everything one — and limit or eliminate instant as much a possible in our lives, we might discover a part of ourselves longing to get out more.

Learning to Wait Again

manikin-1154431-1599x1832Read a book. Make meals from scratch. Take walks without your phone; let it play dead. Play games. Talk. Look people in the eye. Ask questions, then really listen.

At first you’ll likely feel the itch to get back to instant. Resist the urge. Refuse to give in. Your patience has been dormant a while and may need time to stretch before it can move about again. As time passes, you’ll discover that simplicity, quiet reflection and critical thinking offer something you’ve longed for unaware. You’ll see that real connection happens face-to-face. And you might even create a desire for a less-instant life, one that comes only when pursued.

Learn to slow down and wait again. Teach yourself how to enjoy every moment. Let life’s pace decrease, so you can discover the good that comes through waiting and patience.

What small steps can you take toward less instant life today? What results do you hope to see in the pursuit of learning to wait?

The Perfect Blend

Every coffee drinker prepares the perfect cup of coffee in a unique way. I like bold coffee sweetened with liquid Stevia. My husband likes a little light-bodied coffee with his creamer. My mom likes straight-up black coffee.

The perfectly blended cup of coffee depends on the individual. A person’s cup of coffee provides a visible example of his tastes, and maybe even his personality.

Coffee Type Indicates Personality Type

Every person has a unique blend of personality traits, just like every cup of coffee has its own individual flavor… if it’s good coffee, that is. Some people are more task-oriented, while others focus more on social events. Some people gain energy from being around other people, and some need alone time to charge their batteries.
God created each person as a unique part of His body, each designed for a specific plan and purpose.

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” (Ephesians 1:11-12, MSG)

The Perfect Blend of Faith and Works

One way this reality of “glorious living” bears true comes through the perfect blend of faith and works in our lives.

“Now some may argue ‘Some people have faith; Others have good deeds.’ I say, ‘I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.’” (James 2:18)

At first glance, James seems to contradict Paul in Romans 3:28.

“Man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Deeper investigation into both James’ and Paul’s writings helps us realize that the two actually complement each other. Together they tell us that while works don’t bring salvation, they sure do give evidence of a life changed by God through His saving grace.

In other words, before salvation works mean nothing. After salvation, they mean a everything.

True faith involves total commitment to God. Works do not substitute for our faith, but they do verify and bear witness to its existence. So, Paul’s and James’ teachings really work together to describe the perfect blend of faith and works in a life devoted to Christ.

Whatever their unique personality blend, every believer also must blend the reality of his faith with his actions to create a living faith that is a testimony to others. We may all live out our faith a bit differently, just like every coffee lover expresses his unique tastes, based on our unique personalities and interests, but genuine faith will be lived out in some way in every believer.

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5 Habits for Getting and Staying in Shape

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The New Testament uses a variety of athletic metaphors to describe the life of a Christian. These references were certainly understood by those to whom the letter was written since the Olympic games, along with the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games and the Pythian Games, had been held for hundreds of years prior to any New Testament events taking place. And these metaphors are understood well still today in a culture where exercise and healthy lifestyles exist on a continuum from obsessiveness to belligerent avoidance.

These athletic metaphors were used in Scripture because many of the same habits for getting and staying in physical shape hold true for getting and staying in spiritual shape as well, not the least of which are similarities regarding the necessary mindset needed for both. Better understanding of these connections can lead us to effectively,

“run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Perseverance. Discipline. Self-control. All essential elements, along with many others, in both physical and spiritual vitality. These elements, all laced within the athletic metaphors used in Scripture, work with other related habits to create a solid training program applicable both spiritually and physically.

athletic-1For me, the following 5 habits for getting and staying in shape are crucial for my continued physical and spiritual health, both continual struggles even within consistent victories.

  1. Accountability. Physically, a gym membership and/or an exercise partner provide accountability, a key component to staying physically active. Likewise, membership in a Bible-believing fellowship along with connection to individuals through deepening relationships establish the essential element of accountability needed for spiritual fitness. Surrounding yourself with others for support and encouragement goes a long way in remaining consistently strong, both physically or spiritually.
  2. Variety. Exercise can become boring very quickly without variety. For this reason, my workouts vary from running and elliptical to biking and boxing to weights and video workouts. Relating this idea to spiritual fitness, avoid limiting yourself to one way of serving or studying God’s Word. Yes, serve in your area of strength (play on the worship team if you have musical ability) and have systematic approaches to reading God’s Word daily, but be willing to go outside of your comfort zone too (work in the nursery even though you normally teach adults or do a key-word study once in a while). Healthy variety not only helps prevent boredom, but it allows space for God to work in weaknesses, which ultimately makes us stronger overall (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  3. Rest. Neglect adequate recovery time between workouts, and injury will eventually occur. Spiritually, this equates to regular quiet time with God as well as getting physical rest since lack of proper rest inhibits the ability to confidently say “Yes!” when asked, “Are You Giving Your Best?” Being tired physically as well as spiritually significantly impacts effectiveness in every area of life.
  4. Stretching. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Are you will to try new activities? Stretching physically means trying new activities as well as regularly stretching muscles to make them better able to handle activity without injury. Spiritual stretching might involve getting to know new people, especially if you’re an introvert like me, doing an in-depth Bible study if you always just do a short devotional, or joining the choir even though you’ve never performed in front of an audience. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for opportunities to stretch physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Refueling. Our minds and spirits are like cars with regard to fuel; they need it in order to function. Physically, a healthy diet gives us the energy we need. Mentally, proper fuel (what we eat as well as drink) allows us to think and reason clearly and effectively. Spiritually, our spirits need filled up regularly on the truth of God’s Word. They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit through prayer, praise and submission. Life constantly asks more of us, which continually drains our energy. Refueling properly allows us to give without being drained and to do so on a consistent basis.

Adding to the connection between spiritual and physical fitness is the realization that both involve also ridding our lives of negative influences. Physically, this means avoiding unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, smoking and drugs. Spiritually, this means avoiding those things like that Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5-9 to “put to death.”

Developing positive habits and eliminating negative ones helps strengthen our perseverance, discipline and self-control, all essential elements of getting and staying in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. Development in this way increases our effectiveness and productivity in amazing ways.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

What habits can you adjust to become physically and spiritually stronger?

Consider studying this topic further by meditating on the following Scripture:

  • Philippians 2:16
  • Galatians 2:2
  • Galatians 5:7
  • 2 Timothy 2:5

Struggling With Patience

PatienceYears ago, I thought I had a patience problem. I needed more of it. So, I worked to be more patient. Unfortunately, trying to be more patient didn’t work all that well.

I then decided I instead had an anger problem. If I simply prevented anger, patience would increase. You know, walk away before anger gets out of control. Avoid trying situations that erode patience and promote frustration and anger. That didn’t work either.

My efforts toward increased patience and decreased anger weren’t a complete loss, though. I sometimes managed patience if I wasn’t hungry, tired or thirsty and if everything else was basically going my way and if it wasn’t too big of a deal and if the other person was obviously just being difficult, and if…

Honestly, consistency consistently eluded me with regard to patience.

At some point, I finally realized my struggles with patience stemmed from control issues — I wanted to control people and situations… yes, all of them. I lost my patience and replaced it with anger and frustration when that didn’t happen, which was most of the time.

Understanding Patience

We most often associate patience with putting up with another person, but it goes well beyond that. Patience also means waiting and not forcing a situation to happen according to your preferences.  Having patience means staying emotionally steady when a person doesn’t do what you expect or a situation doesn’t happen as you expect.

Patience involves making a decision to not force a situation, to instead wait and let it happen — or not — as it will. Having patience and not insisting on your will requires faith as a way to not simply get through something but to instead know the Lord will direct your actions (Proverbs 16:9).

Patience involves a refusal to insist on your own way. It means letting others make mistakes because that’s the only way they’ll realize they’re mistakes and because you want the same to happen when you make mistakes. It means forgiving when a person doesn’t know they should be sorry or knows and simply isn’t sorry.

Patience toward people and circumstances often requires knowing what your emotions want and choosing to head in the opposite direction. It means employing flexibility to the utmost of your limits.

Don’t Force The Situation

Somewhere along the way, I learned to tell myself “Don’t force it” when patience evaded my grasp and anger and frustration took its place. This motto enforces patience and reminds me to wait even when my feelings want to push and pull and control.

“Don’t force it” provides a practice that receives reinforcement through remembering all the times I did the opposite and found myself overwhelmed and overloaded in getting what I wanted only to discover it was not what I needed or that it distanced me from those I loved.

“Don’t force it” is a determination that keeps me from getting ahead of God and discovering I left His presence behind for the benefits of His promises (Exodus 33). It’s a reminder to let Him be God and to follow His leading.

Psalm 37

Focus Determines Reality

Patience says you trust God to work in another’s heart and mind to their benefit and His glory (Romans 15:5). It says you trust Him to present opportunities as you actively wait in what you already know to do.

It means placing an inner stillness over your desire to control and to instead focus on His presence. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit we make room for as we deny the flesh (Galatians 5:22).

Patience exists as an attribute, a requirement really, of truly loving others (1 Corinthians 13:4). It’s a habit that flourishes in simplicity of living (James 5:7). It’s an aspect of the Lord’s character we must pursue as we focus on who He is, not just what He does.

Victory In The Struggle

Patience now exists with consistency in my life, now that I know the root cause isn’t a lack of patience or an abundance of anger but a control issue. Sure, patience needed to increase and anger needed to decrease (and sometimes they both still do), but I now realize neither of those could happen until my need to control others and situations diminished.

Until my focus turned away from my own efforts and instead fixed on the One who holds all control, my reality remained in the muck and mire of out-of-control emotions.

Knowing He has ultimate control over all aspects of life brings me peace. Knowing He gives wisdom and guidance in every moment of life produces staying confidence. And knowing His Spirit plants and cultivates patience within me allows me to focus on the victory within the struggle.

DISCUSSION: How have you struggled with patience? How have you found victory over it?

Anticipation

vacation-planning-1524450-1600x1200Pleasurable Anticipation

Anticipation can be pleasurable expectation or filled with apprehension. It involves contemplation and hope, and it serves to create a foresight or foretaste of future events. While anticipation can be positive or negative, let’s focus on the pleasurable side of anticipation today.

Just like memories allow reliving of events and the joy they brought, anticipation presents the opportunity for enjoying events even before they take place. Yet, too often, we get so caught up in the details of planning that we forget to enjoy the process. For anticipate to hold pleasure, we need to learn to enjoy the process.

When planning events gets in the way of the pleasurable anticipation, it’s time to step back. Maybe feeling uptight and anxious about an upcoming event means over-planning and considering every contingency have added unnecessary complexity and simplifying your approach is needed.

I’m certainly not suggesting a lack of planning. Anyone who knows me much at all knows I would never say such a thing. What I am saying is that I do know that failure to enjoy the process not only results in missing out on a lot of joy but also creates a lot of tension and stress.

For me, truly anticipating means not doing everything myself. When my family prepares for a vacation together — or any other event, really — the joy of the event multiplies. We get to enjoy planning the event, connecting during it, and reliving the memories for years afterward.

Involving others has truly allowed me to enjoy planning and thus enjoy anticipating many of life’s events. If only I’d have had this mindset before planning my wedding many years ago, before so many of my kids’ birthday parties and even during times spent planning for something as simple as a cookout with a few friends.

As I considered how my over-planning and worrying about “what ifs” use to constantly impede pleasurable anticipation, the Holy Spirit led me to also ask how anticipation exists in my relationship with the Lord. My discoveries revealed yet another area needing some pruning.

A Christian’s Anticipation

The Bible says Christians should anticipate the day of the Lord’s coming by choosing to live for him now.

“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say and prefer to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed (compensated) for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

It also tells us to praise God in our anticipation of what He will do because of what He has already done.

“It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation…” (1 Peter 1:3)

Unfortunately, my walk with the Lord has not always been one of pleasurable anticipation. Rather, it has been one of “hold me up, Lord,” “please fix this,” and “I can’t take it anymore.” While those are not bad pleas in and of themselves and the Lord wants us to cry out to Him in our need, they only just skim the surface of what having a relationship with Christ means.

That relationship doesn’t just mean leaning on Him for help in troubled and stressful times, but it also means soaring with Him in victory and anticipation of His fulfilled promises yet to come because of what He has already done through Christ.

No matter what happens this side of Heaven, we can expect greater things to come when we enter eternity. No matter how low the valley or high the mountaintop, a Christian’s future exists as one of pleasurable anticipation for greater things to come both in this life and in the next.

Living with this anticipation of the Lord should alter our daily lives because we know what God has done, can see what He’s doing, and have promises to hold on to that tell us what to anticipate from Him in the future.

DISCUSSION: Do you eagerly anticipate events such as vacations? Or, do you dread them because of all the work and planning involved? How can you learn to enjoy the process? Do you anticipate the Lord’s activity in your life? If not, how can you better enjoy the process He’s leading you through?

10 Character Building Lessons from Baseball

20160330_184712Baseball never fell on my radar let alone my schedule until my youngest son started playing little league. Since then, he’s played several years of travel baseball and now finds himself on the high school stage with JV baseball.

Regardless of the level of play, basic character building principles are inherent in the game of baseball. Advice shouted by coaches and parents on how to best play the game correlate well with how to live a life of excellence.

  1. Get dirty! While this may be a mother’s laundry nightmare, getting dirty in baseball generally means a player went “all out” to make a play. Sometimes in life, we need to “get dirty” in order to make a real difference.
  2. Make a play! Making a play can change the momentum of a game. When we find ourselves feeling stuck, sometimes the only way to break free is to do something out of the ordinary.
  3. Keep your eye on the ball! One of the most common mistakes in baseball comes when a player takes his eyes off the ball. When we lose focus, making progress and achieving goals becomes difficult at best and often impossible.
  4. Shake it off! While hopefully less common as the season progresses, mistakes do happen. Someone inevitably drops the ball or strikes out. The best approach when we make a mistake is to admit it, learn from it, and move on. Don’t let it snowball.
  5. 20160330_185001Down & ready! Some of the most embarrassing moments in a baseball game come when a player isn’t ready and sees a ball too late to stop it because he failed to pay attention. Life continually throws unexpected struggles at us, but many trials in life also come as surprises simply because we weren’t paying attention.
  6. Everybody moves! When the ball is hit, every player needs to move accordingly. Sometimes, just going in the right direction is all we need to do to move toward excellence.
  7. Put it in play! Hitting a baseball is probably the hardest task in all of sports, and a professional player who gets a hit half the time is considered productive. Simply putting the ball in play presents a solid chance at scoring. In life, some seasons are survived simply by putting yourself in play and seeing what happens.
  8. Get there! As fast as most players throw at higher levels of baseball, all out effort is required just to make it to first base. What would happen in your life if you gave all out effort?
  9. 20160423_122527Be a wall! One of the positions my son enjoys most is catcher. The catcher must stop every ball from getting by him to prevent base stealing. Hopefully, the mitt stops the ball, but often the catcher’s body must do it. Some seasons in life certainly require that we stand firm even as the hits of disappointment, fear and failure strike us one right after another.
  10. Smother it! Another phrase relating to catchers, this means covering the ball as it hits the ground in front of you. In life, some days come filled with needing to simply protect your time, your family and your faith. Some days, we just need to smother what’s important to keep it from getting away from us.

A teachable baseball player takes these foundational principles and builds on them in order to become a better player. Tommy Lasorda made the distinction this way…

“There are three types of baseball players. Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happens.”

A person who realizes that baseball – actually, any sport – provides character building opportunity for a life of excellence, understands how watching or playing the sport really transcends the sport itself. The late, great Ernie Harwell brought the point home well when he said…

“Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.”

Harwell’s quote brings Ephesians 5:16 to mind.

“Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.”

Opportunities such as the character building lessons discussed above exist in every sport and in many other activities. Are you making the most of them?

Understanding the Symptoms of Vacation Brain

5-14-13 Vacation brain

Vacation Brain discussed the mindset that happens when one fails to live life deliberately. The symptoms of vacation brain include increased comparisons, God neglect and flesh focus.

Let’s address each of these symptoms in detail.

Increased Comparisons

On sea days, cruisers spend a lot of time lounging around and being entertained. The entertainment staff provides an almost constant schedule of entertainment opportunities. However, my husband and I found people watching to be more intriguing than most of what they offered.

Unfortunately, I too easily started playing the comparison game while people watching. I naturally found individuals “better” than me in some way, and I deliberately looked for those “worse” to help me feel better.

I eventually realized the danger of living in a constant state of comparison and what it did to freeze my progress and growth. I mean, I could easily feel good about myself or berate myself depending on where I placed my focus.

This idea of how constant comparisons can negatively impact our lives gets more attention in the series Battling Boredom.

God Neglect

A cruise offers activities for virtually every interest. Comedy acts, dance shows, trivia contests, video games, casino gambling and club dancing are some examples. There’s no chapel on the ship that I’m aware of, and no Bible studies make the daily itinerary.  In other words, any focus on God does not appear to be a cruising priority.

I am not suggesting that everyone on a cruise ship totally neglects God. With over 3,000 people on the ship, I am certain some people spend time with Him. In fact, one couple at our dinner table on our second cruise prayed together each night, and we had some faith-related conversations with them.

I am suggesting that the cruise ship atmosphere does nothing to promote one’s faith. Routines are broken, and everyone seems to be living the good life. Unless an individual deliberately chooses to incorporate God, most of what is offered on a cruise ship does more to promote desires of the flesh than anything else.

While I believe that a God focus remains the responsibility of the individual, I also understand how the pull of our culture, especially in such an amplified way, can significantly impact an individual’s choices.

Flesh Focus

The draw of abundance is as clear as the surrounding ocean on a cruise ship. Opportunity for gluttony, drunkenness, laziness and poor stewardship abound. To make the ease even easier, cruisers receive a “sail and sign” card that allows them to “pay” for everything. In other words, no actual money exchanges hands when buying drinks, gambling or purchasing anything while on a cruise.

So, focusing on the flesh really requires little effort, and to some extent that is why cruises are so immensely relaxing. When this focus becomes a habit, though, an unhealthy life becomes a trap. Our fast-food, immediate gratification society cultivates this focus on the flesh, which then grows naturally if we do nothing to resist.

The post Are You Living a Cruise Ship Lifestyle? looks at how these symptoms undermine a productive and fruitful life.

DISCUSSION: As with any illness, symptoms can manifest themselves differently from one person to the next. Can you name additional symptoms of vacation brain?

Obtaining & Maintaining A Strong Core

core 1

In general, people exercise for one reason — to be healthy. Many take that further and aim for higher levels of fitness and strength. In addition, the types of exercises undertaken are many and varied both for an individual and from one person to the next.

However, one essential focus exists regardless of exercise type if the person hopes to avoid injury and increase strength and stamina. That focus? A strong core. Without it, back pain and lack of endurance — among other issues — limit activity.

The Real-World Benefits of Strengthening Your Core” by Harvard Health Publications confirms this truth. The article expresses the importance of a strong core well beyond exercise strength and stamina.

“A strong, flexible core underpins almost every thing you do.”

A Strong Spiritual Core

Core 2As essential as a strong core is to physical strength, even more so is it for spiritual strength. In fact, the first piece of God’s armor Christians are told to put on involves establishing a strong spiritual core.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.” (Ephesians 6:14)

In a soldier’s armor, the belt holds the sheath, which holds the sword. This means a soldier cannot easily carry his weapon and have quick access to it without his belt being secure around his waist. Spiritually speaking, the belt of truth provides for properly carrying and quickly accessing the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The world’s approach to truth involves relativity based on opinions with no absolutes. God’s truth, however, involves eternal and unchangeable absolutes uninfluenced by opinion.

Having the belt of truth buckled around your waist means having God’s eternal and unchangeable truth providing you with core strength that influences everything you are, say and do. Many Scripture emphasize and clarify the role of God’s truth, but let’s look at one that gets to the heart of why a strong spiritual core is so important.

“Sanctify them in your truth [set them apart for Your purposes, make them holy]; Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17, AMP)

Obtaining & Maintaining A Strong Core

Both a strong physical core and a strong spiritual core take hard work to obtain and consistent effort to maintain. And both can make all the difference in a person’s overall health. One Scripture sums up this effort well.

“Study and do your best to present yourself to God approved, a workman [tested by trial] who has no reason to be ashamed, accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, AMP)

Other versions of this verse say to “be diligent.” This diligence involves basic habits all Christians need to keep their core strong.

  1. Regular Bible Study. My pastor says that in all the cases of Christian leaders he’s personally known who have fallen away from living how the Bible directs, all of them can be traced back to a neglect of regularly studying God’s Word. Knowing he has been in ministry for over 30 years emphasizes the powerful impact of that statement.
  2. Embrace Truth.  Making decisions in and living by faith based on God’s truth is where accurate handling comes into play. A simple question can help assess whether or not you embrace truth as revealed in Scripture in any given situation: Do you know what you believe and why you believe it?

God’s truth — his Word — provides a moral compass, something severely lacking in our world today. It keeps us secure in our faith, and it allows us to combat the lies of the enemy, who does not want that belt to be secure.

“… the devil… was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks what is natural to him, for he is a liar and the father of lies and half-truths.” (John 8:44, AMP)

A strong physical core increases stamina, limits pain and advances balance and stability. Spiritually, a strong core removes the limits of our own thinking, which causes pain, imbalance and instability in our lives, by establishing in us eternal and unchangeable absolutes — God’s truth — that will remain uninfluenced by man’s opinion.

DISCUSSION: How do you see the belt of truth applied for Christians today?