Today we went to a local martial arts studio to see a friend take her black belt certification test in taekwando. The test lasted two hours. That's two solid hours of swinging nun-chucks, kicks, punches, jumps, push-ups, sparring, proper form, jumping jacks, leg lifts and sweat. Lots of sweat. I don't know what I was expecting, but that wasn't it. It was all about breaking down the candidates physically and pushing them to their absolute limits to see how they respond. Earning a black belt was more about perseverance than perfection.
I couldn't help but compare the experience to the walk of faith for a Christian. Here are a few comparisons:
1. The instructors and the spectators were there to cheer the candidates on, to encourage them to go farther and try harder than they would otherwise, and to bear witness to their expected success. The church is meant to do the same. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
2. One of the criteria that the candidates were being judged on was attitude. They could do the entire two hour workout perfectly, but if they refused to bow in respect, respond appropriately to their instructors, and show a level of enthusiasm for what they were doing, they would fail. The same is true for the Christian. I Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."
3. The candidates were expected to yell back their responses to each of the instructors questions. We were in a small enclosed space and yelling seemed odd, but it was required. One of the instructors explained to the spectators that the reason they required the candidates to yell was that when you yell, it forces you to inhale deeply afterward, and breathing is one of the most important things for the candidates to do to keep them going. Rather than telling them to breathe over and over again, they train them to yell and allow the breathing to come naturally. Sometimes directions from a learned master don't seem to make sense, but we trust in our teacher who knows more than we do. It is the same for the Christian. Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the .For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
4. Perseverance and stamina over the long haul are key to success. There will be moments of feeling like you can't go on for every black belt candidate - probably more than one over the course of two hours, but continuing on regardless of feelings, trusting that a second/third/fourth wind will catch up to you if you just press on. The same is true of the Christian. James 1:12 ESV, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."
A black belt is just a white belt that never gave up.
A saint is just a saved sinner that persevered in the faith.
No man is an island, but man is it ever tempting to try it out sometimes! There is nothing quite like having to suffer through the consequences of someone else's decision to make you want to bar the doors and windows and give the hermit-life a try. As long as we live on this planet, we will be effected by the decisions of others. Sometimes for good, other times not so much. The same decision-making capability and freedom that God granted you, he also gave to your family members, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, co-worker, boss, pastor, political leader, and even strangers on the street.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot control those around us or insulate ourselves from their choices. So what can be done when we find ourselves tossed in the wake of someone else's decisions?
1. Take a deep breath. Maybe more than one.
2. Remember that you are responsible for your own actions and reactions, regardless of how you feel or who made you feel that way. One bad decision by someone else doesn't necessitate another from you.
3. Plead with God for a higher perspective and a compassionate heart. It may come right away, but it might not. Expect it. Wait for it.
4. Acknowledge the reality of the situation and the greater reality of God's sovereignty and His promise to work everything together for your good (Romans 8:28). Acknowledge it in prayer, in journaling, in a conversation with someone you trust. Keep acknowledging it until you find yourself dwelling more on what He can do than on what was done "to you."
5. Take one step in the right direction. A step of forgiveness, a step of faith, a step away, a step forward, whatever is the next right thing - do that. Don't wait too long.
Repeat as needed.
Bonus - #6. Thank God for your own freedom to make decisions and even to make mistakes and learn from them. Ask Him to help you vividly remember this moment when you next make a decision that will impact those around you.
Thanks for the challenge, Kid President! Here is my son Tim's list of what the kids need to know:
1. Choose chocolate, not vanilla.
2. Do your homework.
3. Wait to get a phone, until you are 16 or 18.
4. Do something nice everyday.
6. Don't be afraid to ask someone to dance with you.
7. Don't tackle in basketball.
8. Eat stuffing!
9. Laugh! A lot.
10. Be respectful to others.
And here is mine:
1. You might be afraid to try something new, but don't let fear keep you from trying it anyway. Be brave!
2. Find ways to make boring things more fun. Turn the hard things into a game.
3. Don't be in a hurry to get to the next cool thing... make sure you've maxed out on all the coolness right where you are at first.
4. Take good care of your body and ask questions about how it works and what is best for it.
5. Being a friend is one of the best things ever. Get to know people really well... not just the basics, but the stuff other people don't know about them. Everyone needs to be known.
6. Read. A lot.
7. Be careful about what you let yourself see, hear, touch and do.
8. Pray. God is real and he loves you.
9. Always tell the truth.
10. Always say "sorry" and "I forgive you" when you need to. Quickly and out loud.
When was the last time you cried because of a single word? Were they happy tears or sad tears? This morning, on my commute to work, I was listening to music and looking out the bus window and I began to think about a phone conversation from the night before. I went over it in my mind and ended up misty-eyed. Not because of the conversation, but because of a single word uttered by the caller.
The word was "unanimous." What?! Not bringing you to tears too? Perhaps I should explain. My husband went through the interview process for an interim-pastoral position at a church in our area the past few months and it went very well. All along the way we were encouraged and the pastor search team seemed to be encouraged as well. When you apply for a job at a church in our denomination, however, the committee doesn't typically get the final say. It is the committee's job to present their best candidate to the church as a whole. The church then takes a vote about whether or not to hire that candidate. Can I confess something to you? The process intimidates me. This is the second time Jason has made it through to the voting-part of the process with a church and both times made me uneasy. I inevitably flash back to high school where I ran for student body office positions every year and never got voted in. I was never turned down for something that I had any control over... If I wanted to be on the honor roll, I worked hard and made the honor roll. If I wanted to be on the cheerleading squad, I practiced until I made it. If I wanted a summer job, I showed up in a suit or dress, respectfully asked for an application and proved that I would be a good employee, and I got the job. But when everything came down to an anonymous vote... it never worked out for me.
The last time Jason went through to the church-vote-stage of a hiring process, the vote came back as 83% "for" and 17% "against" (if I remember correctly). I remember where we were when we got that call as well and how it gave us both a moment of pause and deep concern. Who were the 17%? Would they be angry if he accepted the job? Would they make ministry difficult? Did we really want to walk into a position knowing that, right off the bat, 17% didn't think it was a good fit?
Fast forward to this morning. As I sat on the bus and replayed the phone conversation with one of this new church's elders from the night before, as he said "The vote was unanimous, we would like Jason to be our interim pastor," my mind singled-in on that one word, "unanimous," and I started to cry silent, happy tears, surrounded by a bus full of strangers.
One can certainly minister for many years in a church that didn't vote him or her in unanimously, and conversely, just because a vote IS unanimous doesn't mean that there aren't those who aren't 100% on-board but just didn't want to rock the boat by voting against the majority. The point of this post isn't about church voting policies or the sometimes gut-wrenching process of finding a ministry position in the United States. The point is - there is tremendous, encouraging power in being accepted, 100% accepted. It is even more encouraging to be accepted when you have been 100% yourself.
I am reading a devotional book right now by Angie Smith entitled, "Mended." In it, she quotes the following from the book, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale,
"'Do you know the story of Rabbi Zusya?' he asked. 'He was a Chasidic master who lived in the 1700s. One day he said, 'When I get to the heavenly court, God will not ask me, 'Why weren't you Moses?' Rather, he will ask me, 'Why were you not Zusya?' "
The quote goes on to say,
"Churches should be places where people come to hear the story of God and to tell their own. That's how we find out how the two relate. Tell your story with all of its shadows and fog, so people can understand their own. They want a leader who's authentic, someone trying to figure out how to follow the Lord Jesus in the joy and wreckage of life. They need you, not Moses."
What an encouragement to be 100% fully who God made you to be. Sometimes you will be accepted as such and other times you won't. Sometimes it will be unanimous and other times it will be more like 83%-17%. Regardless, God didn't call you to be anything other than who you are.
Today I am thankful that, this time, it was unanimous, and I am also asking God to remind me that it has always been that way with Him where I am concerned. He knows me fully and is unanimously for me. Totally undeserved and completely phenomenal!
Romans 8:28-31 "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He alos justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"
1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Whenever someone gets married, we say they are "taking the plunge," or making a "leap of faith." Everyone recognizes that going into marriage, you can't possibly know everything about the person that you are committing to spend your life with, and yet, we do it anyway. We admit we don't know it all, but that what we do know is enough.
In the Bible, in the letter to the Hebrews, the 11th chapter and 1st verse, we read that "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and in the sixth verse of the same chapter we learn that "Without faith, it is impossible to please God." As a parent, this makes complete sense to me: without my son having faith in me, he will never please me. Never. His faith in me is the evidence that we have a good relationship, that he acknowledges my love for him and my good intentions toward him. If he continually questions me and never trustfully relaxes in my presence, how could I ever be pleased with that relationship? It is the same in our relationship with God, our Father, and rightfully so.
Similar to marriage, if we have committed to spend our lives with Him, what we do know about Him should be enough. That doesn't mean we stop getting to know Him after that commitment is made - most married couples learn far more about each other after the wedding day than they do before - but it does mean that we live out our days in both knowledge AND faith - growing in both, but not swerving from what we originally held to when we made that "leap of faith" to begin with.
This reflection on faith, led me to look up places in the Bible that shed more light on the word. Here is what I learned:
1. Faith is more precious than gold. (1 Peter 1:7)
2. Faith results in the salvation of our souls. (1 Peter 1:9, Ephesians 2:8)
3. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. (1 John 5:4)
4. Faith is required for miraculous healing. (Mark 10:52, Luke 8:48, Matthew 9:2, 22, 29, Matthew 8:5-13, Acts 6:8)
5. It doesn't take much faith (relatively speaking) to be able to live out life to the fullest (the size of a mustard seed would suffice). (Matthew 17:20)
6. Faith purifies and sanctifies hearts. (Acts 15:9, 26:18)
7. Local churches are established by faith. (Acts 16:5)
8. Faith brings comfort. (Romans 1:12)
9. Faith is counted as righteousness by God, which is good news because there is no one who actually IS righteous, not even one. (Romans 4:5-20)
10. Faith is the key that grants us access to God's grace. (Romans 5:2)
11. Things that don't come by faith, are often sinful. (Romans 14:23)
12. Faith exercised apart from love is worthless. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
13. There is only one true faith. (Ephesians 4:5)
14. Faith brings unity. (Ephesians 4:13)
15. Faith is a shield against the devil. (Ephesians 6:16)
16. God's promises are inherited through faith and patience. (Hebrews 6:12)
17. When faith is tested (and it WILL be tested), the believer acquires perseverance. (James 1:3)
18. Faith is a required prerequisite when asking God for wisdom. Faith that God is all-wise and that He willingly imparts wisdom to His children. (James 1:6)
I also learned through studying the scriptures about faith that we have internal and external responsibilities once we have invested faith in God:
Internally we are to:
Externally we are to:
It is a beautiful cycle - attending to our faith internally leads to a stronger desire to demonstrate our faith externally, and those experiences of acting on our faith in God fan the flame of our internal faith-walk even more, until 10-25-50 years later we celebrate anniversaries of faith in Christ and marvel at how much more precious He is to us now than he was when we first believed, and tell the world how glad we are that we took that leap of faith!
This morning the students in the youth group at our church were involved in every aspect of the service. <It was great.>
During the "preaching time," our youth pastor interviewed three of the high school students and asked them some very important questions that had some very important answers. I thought they were worth passing on:
1. "How do you want older adults to pray for your generation?"
2. "How can the older generations help your generation?"
Will do! Thanks, Image Youth Group!
As I sit on the couch resting on LABOR Day, I started doing a little internet research on the concept of work (clearly I am more fun than a barrel of monkeys). Specifically, I was curious about what makes people WANT to work hard. Too many times, I'd rather take an easier way out and yet the call to hard work and dedication is ever present... nagging, really. *so rude*
I guess since it will always be the voice in the back of my head, so I might as well find ways to increase my "want-to" where hard work is concerned. Here are some of the positive things, other than the potential to make money, that I found which consistently seem to help make people willing to work harder than your average Joe:
1. A trustworthy leader.
2. Recognizing the importance of the fruits of your labor.
3. The collaboration and camaraderie of a great team.
4. A compelling vision of the future.
If there is an an area of your life where you, like me, want to increase your motivation to work harder, maybe you need to find someone trustworthy to follow who can point the way. Perhaps you need to remember all the good things that could be byproducts of your hard work. Maybe it is time to recruit some enjoyable teammates to join you in the pursuit, or perhaps it is time to imagine what the future could be like if you stuck to it and gave it your all.
If all of that fails, crank up some great music and just do the next right thing for 1 more hour... just one more hour. Maybe after that hour, we'll be too engrossed to quit, but even if we aren't we're closer to the goal than we were before!
Colossians 3:23 "Whatever you do,work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." ESV
Proverbs 14:23 "In all toil there is profit, but mere talk only leads to poverty." ESV
Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."
NOTE: The quote in the picture above is questionably attributed to Thomas Edison. Check out this link for the history of the quote and to look into any other quotes you find online to verify who really said them first.
When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video." As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up. What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish. Many times God will orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
A couple of days ago, if you'd peeked in my window you would have found me sitting on the couch in my living room weeping after reading a story, shared by Shauna Niequist in her book, Bread and Wine. Shauna had been struggling with infertility and it seemed that everyone around her was pregnant. She wanted to be happy for her pregnant friends , and most of the time she was, but somewhere inside her the desperation increased and the sorrow deepened with each new pregnancy announcement. Finally she felt like she couldn’t take it any more and she posted about her feelings on her blog in a moment of complete transparency. Soon after that she received a call from a friend, a newly pregnant friend, saying she was going to be in town and wanted to get together. Shauna cringed, hoping that her friend hadn’t read her blog post.
When they met at the restaurant, Shauna’s friend handed her a gift and told her that she had, indeed, read the blog post. *cringe* She said that she understood that this was the point in a friendship where many friends would have to walk away from each other for awhile, because the pain and the awkwardness would be too great. She explained, however, that she felt that the two of them could do better than that. Shauna opened the gift and found two pairs of safety goggles. In her blog post she had admitted telling her husband that if she didn’t get pregnant that very month, she was going to break something glass just to feel it shatter in her hands. That day in the restaurant, her friend told her, “If you feel like shattering something, I’ll be right there with you. We’ll put on our safety goggles. I’ll help you break something and then I’ll help you clean it up. You’ve been celebrating with me and I’ll be there to grieve with you. We can do this together.”
Even now, tears sting my eyes as I imagine that moment and as I picture the friends that God has brought into my life in the past who would do the same for me, who feel the same way about me.
Here’s the rub. With Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest, it is more common for people to compete with friends, to feel disconnected from another’s pain or joy, or to assume we know what is going on with someone without ever talking with them or looking in their eyes. Upper-division, safety-goggle-moment friendship is uncommon. It involves phone calls, coffee dates, walks, snail mail, impromptu texts, it involves sacrifice and awareness. It requires emotional commitment, not just an emotional attachment. I long to be that kind of friend, and I long for these kinds of friends in my life. I long for depth over breadth… to know and be known.
My go-to thought whenever I realize something is lacking in my life is to re-prioritize and then adjust my schedule. I’ve been known to put the most ridiculous things on the calendar just to make sure they happen. Is that the answer for making room in our lives for deep friendship? Can friendship be scheduled? Calendared? Itemized? Is it something that I commit to a certain number of hours per week, then check off the friendship box on my to-do list? That may be a springboard, but it certainly is not a way of life… at least not my way of life. Friendship, like a meal at the table needs freedom to take whatever shape is needed in each season to not only be the most nourishing, but to make room for celebration, for fasting when needed. That sounds a whole lot more like an art to me and not at all like an exact science, which, I must confess, makes me uncomfortable. Science leans toward the proven and exact. Art is subjective, open for interpretation. In other words, friendship involves risk. Risk of being rejected, risk of giving more than you receive and feeling vulnerable or foolish, risk of entering too far into the pain of another – making them dependent on you rather than encouraged by you, risk after risk after risk.
The question then becomes, “Is it worth it?”
John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." - Jesus
Proverbs 17:17 "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."
It is absolutely worth it! But we'll have to come to grips with the transient, free-flowing nature of relationships without insisting that they conform to our idealistic definitions. Sometimes friendship may be the main course in our lives, sometimes a side dish or dessert, sometimes we may go through seasons of fasting altogether, but none of these is meant to be the ONLY way to approach friendship for the long haul. The longer I live, the more I believe in embracing the ebb and flow without constantly feeling the need to label it: success or failure, good or bad. We were created by a God who gave us a world of infinite variety and who expects us to delight in that variety and give Him glory in it, not get overwhelmed by a complex and multi-faceted world and, by reaction, sequester ourselves in a tiny corner of it, building protective walls of definitions and patterns of behavior that make us feel like we’ve got a handle on things. Safety-goggle-friendship happens outside those walls, and it is worth it.
For the past two days, I've been dealing with a sudden onset of lower back pain. A couple trips to the chiropractor and some x-rays to rule out anything serious, and I am now feeling 65% better. Any time an ache or pain slows me down, I HATE IT. I hate being sick. I hate injuries. I don't manage health related setbacks well. I'm not a fun patient. I just want it to "be over."
Meanwhile, I have a friend in California, a mom of three elementary school-aged kids, who is being treated for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. RSD (as I understand it) is an unexplainable disease of the nervous system that is triggered by an injury. The nervous system and body "overreact" to the injury and go a little haywire, making the pain related to the injury disproportionately severe. Not only that, but the intense pain spreads to other body parts not affected by the injury, basically making life completely miserable, if not unbearable even after the injury heals.
Suddenly, perspective settles in. Why was I complaining again?
My friend is currently undergoing a Ketamine treatment that requires her to be at the hospital from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day. The side effects include nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and hallucinations. She has had all of these.
From now on when my back twinges or pain wakes me up at night when I try to roll over in bed, I'm going to stop and pray for my friend instead of focusing on my own pain. Would you do the same? You don't have to know her name or anything about her really... just pray for my friend... a fellow planet-wanderer who has been thrown a difficult curve ball.
So how do you pray?
Maybe if in our own pain (whether it is emotional, spiritual, or physical), we can be reminded of the ache of another and lift her up in prayer, none of our pain will be in vain. And God will bring a kind of healing we never could have imagined.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!