"You are capable, competent, creative, careful. Prove it."
That was the fortune hidden inside my cookie on Friday night at the local Chinese restaurant. I had to laugh. I once heard my Dad jokingly say that my first words were, "Prove it!" I'm naturally a questioner and an analyzer. A truth-seeker. I want things to make sense and to be backed up by logic and facts (life of the party, I know). On the other side of that coin, if something can't be proven, I often have little time for it. I'm not a big fan of philosophical discussions or "what ifs" (much to the chagrin of my visionary, possibility thinking husband). This fortune, turned the magnifying glass back at me though. If I am who I think I am, then I should prove it, right?! It should be backed up by predictable actions and decisions that become "facts" about me and my character.
It is such a blessing to have people in our lives who do what this fortune cookie did for me... remind us of who we are and challenge us to live it out. It is even better to have His Word written on our hearts reminding us of who God says we are and how He's already proven it!
2 Corinthians 5:17 - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed way. Behold, the new has come!" ESV
Galatians 5:1 - "For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." ESV
Ephesians 5:8 - "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." ESV
The reality is, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, and no one has anything to prove to me. God has proven what is ultimately true. It is now up to us to walk in that truth. Daily.
"Mom, sometimes I have thoughts like, 'Is God really real?'"
This statement is part of a conversation I almost didn't have with my 11 year old son, Timothy, yesterday in the car on the way home from Wal-Mart. Once I had time to process that entire conversation and the events of that day, I knew that I would need to share it here. Some things are just too important NOT to share.
Earlier this week, Hurricane Sandy brought rain, snow, flooding, power outages, and havoc all throughout the northeastern United States. My husband, who has been gifted with a heart that longs to serve others in tangible ways, immediately sensed that he was meant to help those who were affected in some way by the flooding and devastation that the storm caused. He knew he had to go. We have been out on a limb (where God has called us to be) in so many ways, over so many years, that I didn't even bat an eye at this. Could we afford for him to go? No. Did we know how it would happen or where he would stay? No. Did that matter? No.
Jason pulled $500 out of our emergency fund, packed his duffel bag, pillow and sleeping bag, borrowed a church van (loaded with bottled water donated by church members), and I prayed over him and kissed him goodbye at 8:30am on Wednesday morning. Sometime before lunchtime that very same day, I got a phone call from someone we dearly love. He had been planning to make a donation to a disaster relief organization to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts and heard that Jason was going. He asked how we were paying for the trip and I told him that God would provide. He said he was standing at his bank counter and wanted to wire money into our account to help out, and could I please give him our routing number and account number! Guess how much he gave, without me ever telling him what we needed. $500 exactly. That money, combined with the $120 that various people from Grace Baptist of Cedarville had pushed into our hands/pockets as they dropped off bottled water, will no doubt meet whatever needs come up in the days ahead as Jason offers a cup of cold water, a hot meal, the gospel of Christ, and his physical labor to those who need it most.
Wednesday afternoon, as Timothy and I were driving back from Wal-Mart, I hesitated to tell him that story. I didn't know if he was old enough to really understand the process of trusting God in that way. I didn't want to give him a false impression that you could just run out and do whatever you wanted for God and that he would throw money at you to cover the cost. Still, something in my spirit told me it was worth the risk that he might learn the "wrong lesson" in order to share what God had done and give Him glory. When I relayed the story, Timmy had the biggest smile. He said, "Mom, sometimes I have thoughts like, 'Is God really real?' Then I hear stories like that and I KNOW. I KNOW HE IS REAL and I think how stupid it is to think He isn't."
I am so glad I shared that story with my son. Just in case someone who is reading this is wondering, "Is God really real?" I thought I should share it with you as well. Two questions for you today:
1. What spiritual conversation have you not had with a young person in your life because you aren't sure he/she is ready for it? May I venture to suggest you give it a try? Children and young adults are far more spiritually attuned than we give them credit for!
2. What has God done in your life lately that you need to share with someone else? I know how much that story encouraged my son, and I am hoping it encourages you as well. What stories of His goodness have you not shared with others? We need to hear them!
Hebrews 10:25 NLT "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near."
Happy Independence Day! We Ritzes are getting ready to do what many other Americans are anticipating today as well - spending time with friends, enjoying hamburgers and hot dogs from the grill, making homemade ice cream, playing games, relaxing and hopefully taking in some fireworks later this evening. This morning as I think about what this day means to our country, I am also pausing to think about the the idea of independence, and how truly illusive it is.
It seems that, as individuals, just as we declare our independence from one person, idea, season of life, pattern of behavior, or situation - another area of dependence is revealed. We cannot escape it. Our country has not been able to escape it either. Dependency is a lifelong lesson-learning opportunity. Figuring out what we are dependent on, deciding if it is a healthy dependency, and if the extent of the dependency is appropriate and then adjusting relationships and behaviors as needed to bring balance. We do this over and over and over again throughout our lifetime.
We seek this balance in each of our relationships, in our work life, in our financial planning, in our decision making, and in our spiritual life. When we become overly dependent or overly independent in any area, things start to breakdown and we begin to suffer and, as much as we don't want to admit it, those closest to us suffer as well.
I once heard this quote: "The only entity that can completely control your life without ultimately destroying it is God." He is the only One we can ultimately be wholly and completely dependent on without negative consequences. Jesus himself said in John 15:5 NIV, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me, you can do nothing." YOU CAN DO NOTHING apart from Him. If that isn't a call to acknowledging complete dependency on God and God alone, then I don't know what is. When anything else in our lives, other than God, demands this kind of dependency we get very uncomfortable very quickly, and if/when we become this dependent on anything other than God things fall apart just as quickly.
On this Independence Day, as we celebrate the blessings of life and freedom in the United States, let us also consider the reality of our own dependency on God and ask ourselves a few penetrating questions to see if we are experiencing the most life and freedom in Christ possible:
1. What one thing or person in my life do I feel like I truly cannot live without? Why? Do I really have any control over whether or not this thing/person remains in my life?
2. What good thing am I doing in my life right now that I would likely stop doing if I didn't have the support I currently have? How did I become dependent on this support in order to do the right thing?
3. Who am I allowing to depend on me inappropriately and how? Why have I allowed this? How can I stop this for that person's benefit?
4. How am I demonstrating the reality of my dependency on God on a daily basis? Can any one else in my life tell that I acknowledge this dependence? What is one change I can make today to release my dependency on people/things and embrace my dependency on God?
As a little girl, I was taught to say "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me." I was taught to write thank you notes to those who had shown me kindness in some way. I was told these things were considered good manners and that I should always "remember my manners."
As a mother, I try to pass on these same good manners to my son. To me, however (as I am sure it was to my parents), it is far more important that he has a gracious and grateful heart than that he always says or does the right thing at the right time. I want him to overflow with kindness and gratitude and thoughtfulness from a heart that appreciates the people in his life and the God who made not only him but also those around him. This, however, cannot be taught... only caught. We cannot teach our children's hearts. We can only teach their minds and guide their behavior. Their hearts are their very own... to pursue peace or to harbor anger, to develop selfless love or to pursue selfish desires, to extend mercy or to hold a grudge. Only God and His Holy Spirit can penetrate the heart. Any parent who has found themselves forcing a child to apologize to someone they have wronged knows this first hand. He may have said the words, "I'm sorry," but his heart knows no repentance.
I am, without a doubt, an advocate for insisting on the correct behavior even if the heart is not following suit, but I also think that we need to return to the heart issues again and again when the heat of the moment has passed. Not because we can change a child's heart, but because we have to reiterate time and time again that which is most important. We have to be careful to make sure our children do not get the idea from us that saying and doing the right thing all of the time is the most important thing. We must always, ultimately, show them that the motivations of their hearts reign supreme in God's eyes.
I don't want my son to grow up with a firm grasp on saying and doing the right thing, but with a heart that is lagging behind. This means that I have to get a grip on my own motivations and model what I desire for him. In her book, Kisses from Katie, Katie Davis writes about a time when she went to a restaurant on a Sunday afternoon in the Ugandan village where she lives and a 15yr old boy, John, was standing outside the restaurant waiting for her. He had cut his foot on a bottle and was waiting for her to come to her usual Sunday lunch spot so that she could help him clean and bandage it and hopefully prevent infection. Here is what she says, "As I handed him the antibiotic and explained how to take it, I kind of wanted him to say thank you. But as I looked in his eyes I knew why he hadn't thanked me: because this was expected. He knew I would bandage his wound and give him medicine because that is what I do. His trust was much better than a thank you."
If all that is important to us is saying and doing the right things, then we cannot serve others wholeheartedly. Our spirits' will inevitably stumble when our brothers and sisters in the world do not "behave appropriately." We will grow resentful and bitter because, "After all I do, she can't offer a simple 'thank you.'" If the only reason we are doing the right thing is because "it is the right thing to do" and we feel a sense of obligation to do it, and not because we realize we are "poor, wretched, blind and needy," and have been saved by the most extraordinary grace that we now have the privilege to pass on to others, then we will inevitably get hung up when we don't get the appreciation we deserve for our "sacrifice." Tragically, we will never realize the deeper gifts that God has for us, like Katie did.
Dear God, Please soften our children's hearts as well as our own, and help us to model for them attitudes and motivations that will not only serve them well throughout their lives, but that will enable them to serve others well too.