Yesterday my son went with his youth group to volunteer with Target:Dayton. They served a meal to the people who came in need of one. Some were homeless, others barely getting by. Timmy was in charge of the coffee.
As we drove home, after the bus dropped him back off at our local church, I asked him about his experience. These are the 3 simple things he shared with me and the profound lessons I learned from him:
1. Tim's quote: "Not everyone there "looked" homeless." Mom's lesson: Not everyone I meet today who could use my help or encouragement will "look" like they need it. That doesn't mean I should withhold it. Target:Dayton provides their services indiscriminately and lets each individual decide whether or not they need them and want to receive them. I should be so generous with my time, resources and attention.
2. Tim's quote: "I didn't know there were so many people in Dayton that were homeless. There were so many of them." Mom's lesson: The need in the world is greater than I realize or have ever actually seen with my own eyes. If I saw it all at once, it would likely overwhelm me and paralyze me. The need is great. I would be wise not to forget that.
3. Tim's quote: "There was a lady who worked there who came up to me and told me I was doing a good job." Mom's lesson: It helps to know when we are on the right track. Serving others isn't easy and when I see someone doing it well, I should tell them so. We all secretly wonder whether what we are doing is making a difference and whether we are "doing it right." Words of encouragement are precious gifts that keep the givers giving.
One bonus lesson I learned: The first time our children (or any one else for that matter) experience something, we need to pay attention to their reactions and descriptions. When we have "been there and done that," we forget the power of a first experience and the unique perspective that comes with it.
"When it is most difficult to worship God is when it is most important to worship God." ~Mandisa
On Tuesday, January 15th, I tuned in online to watch "A Night of Hope and Healing." I was not disappointed. Not only was I not disappointed, I was inspired and thrilled to my core at the display of the love of Christ that was taking place. The event won't get any national media attention, but I can't let it go by without talking about it here. It was profound to me.
The event was billed as "a free event designed to bring comfort to the community (surrounding Newtown, CT) through music, prayer, and uplifting messages." The lineup of talented servants was impressive: Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, Steven & Mary Beth Chapman, Mandisa, TobyMac, Building 429, Laura Story and Casting Crowns. Lest you think, the ulterior motive of this event was to make money - It was a FREE event, and 10,000 tickets were distributed to the Sandy Hook victims' families and community members affected by the recent school shooting. I can't even begin to fathom what putting on this event cost. To say it was an extravagant gift to total strangers, is an understatement. Here is a taste of what the event included:
Familiar scriptures were recited corporately - the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm - taking on more personal meaning in light of recent events. Less familiar scriptures were proclaimed boldly:
Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Hebrews 4:14-16, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Songs were sung with rich lyrics that ministered healing to those who would accept it:
It is Well With My Soul
Beauty Will Rise:
"It was the day the world went wrong. I screamed til my voice was gone, And watched through the tears as everything came crashing down. Slowly panic turns to pain, as we awake to what remains and sift through the ashes that are left behind. But buried deep beneath all our broken dreams, we have this hope:
Out of these ashes... beauty will rise and we will dance among the ruins. We will see Him with our own eyes. Out of these ashes... beauty will rise. For we know, joy is coming in the morning..."
Whom Shall I Fear:
"I know Who goes before me. I know Who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side."
"When all I can sing is a broken hallelujah, when my only offering is shattered praise, Still a song of adoration will rise up from these ruins. I will worship You and give You thanks, even when my only praise is a broken hallelujah."
Stories were shared. Mary Beth Chapman, in particular, shared openly, while holding back tears about the tragic loss of their own 5 year old daughter, Maria. Letting those present know they were not alone and they would not be forgotten. She shared her conviction through it all that in the end God is enough and He is faithful.
Prayers were prayed. At one point the names of each of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting were displayed in the stadium and a time of silent prayer for their families took place. Louie Giglio told the group that the pictures and stories of each victim were on display backstage and that the performers had been looking at them and reading about them and asking God for help to minister to those left behind.
One of the performers tried his best to explain why they had all come and put on the event: "We just want to bless you and encourage you and enter into your pain with you and say we hurt too, and tell you
of the God who makes life worth living." I'd say mission accomplished, and I've never been more inspired by a group of fellow believers trying to live out their faith in the world.
Some of the heartfelt comments I jotted down as I watched include these:
Louie Giglio said, "In times like this people ask, 'Where is God?' We are the body of Christ. We aren't a building with four walls, an institution, an organization. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. If the world is going to see Jesus, they will see him through His sons and daughters. Where is God? God is here because the people of God are here."
Steven Curtis Chapman: "The world keeps spinning, leaving many paralyzed, angry, numb and stuck while the world goes on. We have not forgotten you. Not because we are wonderful in and of ourselves but because Jesus is in us. We may move forward, but we will not move on. We will keep listening to you, praying for you."
"I drove a stake down in the ground when everything went dark in my life. Even though I am still angry at times and even though I still don't get it - I have two choices - run away from God or run toward God and trust Him and trust His word is true. He is whispering, 'WILL YOU TRUST ME? I know your heart is broken. Will you trust me?' The story ISN'T over. We have lost so much but nothing is lost to God."
Max Lucado: "What Steven Curtis Chapman just did for you, you will one day do for someone else. For the rest of your life you can speak from a place of 'been there.' If you'll let God be your teacher then what was intended for evil will bear good - you will be a missionary to the brokenhearted."
The Night of Hope and Healing was an absolutely perfectly lived-out illustration of why I am a Christian. We do not "have" souls, we ARE souls and that night a group of humble, talented, people acknowledged the soul ache (that continues in CT long after the media attention fades away) and very respectfully and gently provided an outlet for those souls to reflect on the the Word of God, to pray and praise and thank and cry, and to find a way back to their Maker for restoration. Beautiful and powerful to behold.
The most poignant moment to me was when Chris Tomlin and a full band was singing the song, "I Will Rise" (listen below). There is a part of the song where the lyrics say: "Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. He is risen from the dead." The 10,000 people in the arena began to clap and cheer upon singing "The victory is won," and the clapping was so loud Chris Tomlin just stopped playing. And waited. And let the moment happen. People continued in their applause for several minutes and then they continued with the song. Truly, worship is never more beautiful than when it is offered in times of great sacrifice. When I find it hard to worship in the future because of something that has caused me pain, I will remember that night and offer a sacrifice of praise.
Lance Armstrong: "Cancer taught me that pain has a reason and that sometimes the experience of losing things – whether health or a car or an old sense of self – has its own value in the scheme of life. Pain and loss are great enhancers. We have unrealized capacities that only emerge in crisis ... capacities for enduring, for living, for hoping, for caring, for enjoying. Each time we overcome pain, I believe we grow."
Now the pain is of his own making and cannot be overcome through perseverance, but only through repentance. I'm disappointed. Maybe I have no right to be. I don't know Lance Armstrong. I have never met him. Why should I feel I have any right to feelings of disappointment? Because I read his book (multiple times), and I ate it up. Because I followed his story and wanted to believe him. Because he wasn't just an athlete, he chose to be a public athlete. He chose to allow people to rally around him and use him as an example, an idol. He branded himself and his brand was built on hard work, an indomitable spirit, perseverance, and an attitude that refused to embrace the victim mentality or any hint of negativity. Talk about inspirational!
The only flaw = himself. When you make yourself out to be a god, when you tell people that you went through hell and not only survived it, but crushed it under your feet and you did it all on your own merit and effort, well you better be telling the truth.
Yes, I'm disappointed in Lance Armstrong. His life and story, however, has become infinitely more valuable to me now. You see, as a mother, I would never have pointed my son to Mr. Armstrong as a mentor or hero. As someone who puts my faith and trust in Christ alone, I never have and never will encourage my child to place others on a pedestal. I will however, use his journey as a powerful cautionary tale. Right now, my son has no idea who Lance Armstrong is, but in the days ahead I will make certain that he does. I will show him video clips of Lance insisting that he never doped and have him read articles about the financial and personal pain that others were forced to endure as Mr. Armstrong kept up his charade in order to protect his own brand and image. We will sit down together and we will have conversations about why someone would lie and keep on lying, and whether or not we are capable of the same sort of deception (sadly, we are). We will discuss the danger of elevating ourselves and our accomplishments for others to take note of. And we will pray for Mr. Armstrong and we will pray for ourselves.
Revelation 2:5 "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." (ESV)
2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (ESV)
1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (ESV)
When I was growing up I practiced two things seriously - gymnastics/cheerleading and piano. In high school, I stopped practicing piano because I lost interest and in college, after taking a gymnastics class that humbled me to my core, I stopped practicing that too. Today I can play a couple of songs on the piano and I might be able to do a cartwheel if I stretched REALLY well first... other than that, there is nothing about me or my life now that suggests that I spent hundreds of hours of my life PRACTICING these two disciplines. Why is that? Because I stopped practicing those things and started practicing other things.
I was thinking about that this week when I read several verses in the Bible that talk about practice. It made me want to know more about what the Bible says is worthy of our life-long practice, not just a few years of devotion, but a lifetime! This is what I learned.
FIVE THINGS TO PRACTICE AND ONE WARNING:
1. We are to practice FEARING GOD. Why? Because that is where true wisdom and understanding begins.
Psalm 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
2. We are to practice TRUTH, HONOR, JUSTICE, PURITY, LOVE, and EXCELLENCE. Why? Because the God of Peace will be with us in those endeavors.
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
3. We are to practice USING OUR UNIQUE GIFTS. Why? So we can be a blessing to others.
1 Timothy 4:13-15 Paul tells Timothy, "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress."
4. We are to practice DISCERNING GOOD FROM EVIL. Why? Because this demonstrates our maturity and enables us to teach others.
Hebrews 5:12-14 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
5. We are to practice FAITH, VIRTUE, KNOWLEDGE, SELF-CONTROL, STEADFASTNESS, GODLINESS, BROTHERLY AFFECTION, and LOVE. Why? Because these things keep us from being ineffective.
2 Peter 1:5-10 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
What would happen if we added these 5 areas to our "to do" list each week?
What would happen if we put our time and energy into practicing the things that God says are worthy of our effort and stopped putting so much time and energy to the things that are not?
1 WARNING: Avoid preaching without practicing. Why? You become a hypocrite and you set others up for failure.
Matthew 23:2-4, Jesus says: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat,so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger."
Time to practice.
When I was a very little girl, close to five years old, I experienced what it is like to be drowning. My parents, my Nanny and Pappaw, my brother and I were canoeing down a river in Florida together. It was a beautiful day and we were having a great time together. Eventually, my brother and I got into the river and took the seat cushions from one of the canoes and used them as flotation devices and we floated lazily alongside the canoes in the cool water. It was a perfect summer day. My brother was a strong swimmer, but I was not. None of us were concerned about this though because we were staying close together and the water was not very deep. The events that led up to me gasping for breath are fuzzy in my mind now some 30+ years later, but I do know that one of the canoes tipped over and my grandparents (who did not know how to swim) ended up in the water. I know that my older brother left me alone to swim over and help them and I let go of my flotation device in the midst of the ensuing chaos. My Dad jumped out of his canoe to go help my grandparents and in the process, his canoe tipped. In the craziness of trying to get the canoes righted and the people back in them, I was quietly sinking below the water and bobbing back up with increasing desperation. I couldn't understand why no one was coming to help me! It was obvious to me that I was dying, but no one else seemed to notice. How was that possible?!
Since then I've learned about something that life guards call, "The Instinctive Drowning Response." You see, as it turns out, drowning in real life looks nothing like drowning in the movies or on TV. Drowning people do not thrash about or yell for help. They can't. All of their energy is being expended on getting above the water and catching as much breath as possible before they inevitably sink back beneath the surface. They can't wave their arms because they are instinctively using their arms to push down on the water's surface in order to leverage their bodies and get their mouths above water. With that being the case, statistics show that half of all children who die each year from drowning do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult who didn't recognize that they were drowning.
Have you ever felt that way in your day to day life? Drowning, while no one notices? Chances are you think it should be obvious. You can't fathom why no one seems to see that you are living on the brink. Survival, just making it through the day, is so consuming your thoughts and energy that you can't understand why others don't sense your desperation, despair, constant struggle.
On that perfect day in Florida, we all got a reality check. Starting with me. Once the canoes were back in place and those who were obviously endangered were in the clear, my father came over to me. In a loud voice he said, "Stand up!" I could not respond verbally or physically. I kept sinking below the surface frantically climbing this invisible ladder that would bring me back up just long enough to gasp for air before I went back under. Finally he grabbed me by my shoulders lifted me slightly and said again, louder and right to my face, "Carla, Stand up!" With my head now being held above the water by his strong arms, I could respond. Coughing and sputtering, I extended my legs and to my unfathomable surprise the river bottom was not far below. I had been drowning in water that only came up to chest. At any point I could have stretched out my legs, found solid ground and caught my breath, but I didn't know that. I had no idea that my salvation was that close, that accessible, and my family had no idea that I was in danger. Frightening, isn't it?
This memory surfaced for me this week while I was watching online as Louie Giglio taught a lesson at the Passion 2013 conference in Atlanta. He shared two different stories from the Bible where people were healed or brought back to life, but the final step in that restoration process involved them "standing to their feet." That is a powerful image for me. Stand up! Bear your own weight! You are not a victim, you have what you need to carry on!
If you feel like you are drowning and no one is noticing, rest assured, the Solid Rock is beneath you. It will require you transferring some of your energy from trying to stay afloat into remembering the One who put breath in your lungs to begin with, and that transfer of thought and energy will feel like a risk - but it is one that will pay off. In Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV) God says, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." You will also be required to look at those around you a bit differently. The answer is, No. They can't tell that you are in despair, in danger. It isn't always as obvious as you feel like it is. People are busy and their thought lives are complicated (they have their own canoes tipping over left and right), that doesn't mean that they wouldn't come and support you while reminding you of the solid ground beneath you if they knew you needed that help. Find a way to reach out - this too will feel like a risk, but it is one that will eventually pay off. It helps if you reach out to those who aren't also drowning. Someone standing on solid ground is much better equipped to help you find your footing than someone who is frantically climbing that invisible ladder too.
If you are one of the ones standing safely on the Rock, don't wait for those around you to completely slip below the surface before you reach out to them. In real life, people drowning emotionally and spiritually don't look like they are drowning either. They are often spending so much of their energy just trying to get through the day that they don't ask you for help or even know where to begin to describe the peril they are in. Just like I didn't, couldn't respond to my Dad's instruction from afar to "Stand Up!" until he gripped me by the shoulders - others will need you to get closer than shouting distance in order to feel safe enough to try the suggestions you have for their relief from suffering. And you'll need to be close enough to see that they need your help. "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." - Romans 12:10-13 NIV.
(P.S. - After that day, as a five year old, my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons at a local pool. I was terrified, but at their insistence I learned to swim - a skill that serves me well to this day. If you have found yourself emotionally or spiritually drowning at some point don't be satisfied with temporary relief - get involved in a local Bible believing church, seek biblical counseling, make an appointment with a Christian physician, build your support system and gain the tools you need so that the next time the "water feels too deep" you will have what you need to survive and persevere.)
(P.P.S. - The point of this post wasn't really about physical drowning, but since I brought it up, here is a link to help us notice the signs of someone who is in distress in the water. It is good information for all of us to have!)
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!