Well they say it's your birthday! Well it's my birthday too!
We are getting ready to head out on a hike to Cedar Falls in a little while, but I wanted to write down some thoughts that are on my mind before we head out and I get busy with the plans of the day. I hope these reflections will be a blessing to you as they have been to me today.
In church this morning, we read a portion of the account of the life of Joseph from the book of Genesis in the Bible. Here are the notes I wrote as I listened and pondered God's goodness in the life of Joseph even as things around him were less than idyllic:
The applause of men can be enticing, especially when we are feeling low or needy, but accepting it is dishonest and settling for it is foolish when the God of the universe deserves the credit and the God of the universe is the true lifter of your head.
Psalm 3:3 (NLT) "But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high."
On my birthday today, I praise the One who knit me together in my mother's womb and who, in His great mercy, has saved my soul and given me a life filled with meaning and purpose! He has repeatedly lifted my head in due time and been my source of greatest joy and greatest satisfaction in life. May I serve him well with as many more days/weeks/years as He gives me!
Today during the discussion we had in the Sunday School class that we attended, I was reminded of a habit that we have gotten into as a family. A good habit! Every time Timothy has a birthday, Jason and I give him a new privilege and a new responsibility based on his age and ability level. Hmmm, what does that have to do with Sunday School...? I'm glad you asked.
We were discussing how grateful we are that God doesn't confront us with every single sinful attitude and action in our lives all at once. We were comforted with the fact that sanctification is a lifelong process and that His grace is sufficient through it all. That made me think of Timmy's birthday privilege and responsibility, because as Christians one of the worst things that we can do is compare ourselves with other believers. That comparison either leaves us gloating in our privileges and mastery of our responsibilities or leaves us feeling like dirt... neither attitude is godly.
Here is a practical example: On Tim's 10th birthday, his new responsibility was to make his bed daily. He was finally tall enough and his arms were finally long enough to do the job right.
- Does this mean that Tim's bed had gone unmade for the previous 10 years? No. We took care of it until we were convinced he was able.
- Does that mean that we were secretly harboring anger toward Tim for the previous 10 years because beds need to be made and he wasn't making his? No. We hadn't asked him to do that yet, nor did we feel like he was ready for that responsibility. There were other things we had him working on in the meantime (setting the table, picking up dog poop in the yard, vacuuming, putting away dishes, etc.).
- Does that mean that the 7, 8, and 9 year old friends that Tim had who had already been making their beds themselves were better than Tim? No. They had been given different responsibilities by their parents that had nothing to do with what was between Tim and his parents.
If that makes perfect sense to us, why do we not always carry that principle with us into the spiritual realm. Why do we look down our noses at people who "call themselves Christians" but still sin in ways we don't? Or, on the other side of that coin, why do we look at others who have mastery over something and declare ourselves worthless because we aren't there yet. God convicts us all and equips us all as He sees fit as we grow up and mature in Him. He doesn't expect everything from us all at once and we shouldn't expect it of each other.
The moral of this story?
1. You may be making your bed daily, but don't gloat over your brother or sister with the unmade bed... chances are he/she has been busy picking up dog poop. Want to trade?
2. Thank God for His grace that is sufficient for every task and every mistake we make along the way. He knows what we are capable of and He never asks more of us than we can accomplish with His strength and support. What a loving Father!
2 Peter 3:18 (NASB): "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."
Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) "...speaking the truth in love we will all grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ."
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?
I am currently reading the autobiography of Helen Keller. I am barely 100 pages in and I have already become enthralled with the world and life of this remarkable woman who lost both her hearing and sight at the age of 18 months (due to illness).
Before language had been fully developed in her mind, she was thrust into a world where her only means of interpreting the stuff of life would be her sense of touch, taste, smell and imagination. She couldn't see the love in her parents eyes or hear their words of affection. Their identity in her life became an amalgam of how they smelled, what they did for her and exposed her to, and how they touched her. She had no way of expressing her needs and wants other than crude pantomime, and she had no way of contemplating anything that wasn't concretely observable through her remaining senses. Talk about a dark existence.
Enter Ann Sullivan, the woman Helen would come to affectionately call "Teacher." When Ann first met Helen (almost age 7), she brought her a doll as a gift. In the days ahead as Ann tried to break through the darkness in Helen's mind by teaching her language by spelling out words in her hand using the manual alphabet, Helen would, understandably, become frustrated and angry. In one moment of particular frustration, she took out her aggression on the doll: "I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment of tenderness.”
On that same day as God would have it, Helen had a breakthrough. Ann took her outside to the well on her family's property and poured the cool well water over her cupped hands and then spelled the word W-A-T-E-R into her palm. "Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.”
While this story in and of itself is truly amazing and wonderful, it is what happened next in Helen's account that captured my attention even more. When they came back to the house after her encounter with w-a-t-e-r, this is what she recounts: "On entering the door, I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears, for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”
How remarkable this is to me! It wasn't until the light shined into Helen's dark world through the gift of language that she was able to step outside of her own self-centered existence to grieve over the ramifications of her actions. The doll immediately became, not just "one more thing in a dark world to be touched and examined," but rather "a gift" from someone who cared enough about her to work with her through her frustrations to help her get to a place where the light could shine.
Perspective is a gift. How many things in our lives do we (literally, or figuratively with our words) "dash upon the floor" in frustration all because we lack the perspective?
This is how Helen describes the end of that blessed day in her book: "It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my bed at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.”
Perspective. Light. Grace. Living Water. The Word. These are the things that brought Helen Keller out of darkness, out of that unfeeling place and into a state of mind that could make a blind and deaf child joyful and thoroughly excited about the days ahead. Because of the love of God, the best teacher of all, these things still have this power and always will.
The words of Jesus from John 7:38, "He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" NASB
I do not normally (ever) write about particularly controversial things on my blog. I just write about what I'm thinking about. Sometimes it is funny, sometimes it is spiritual, sometimes it is introspective. Well, right now I happen to be thinking about something that is controversial. It happens on occasion. I've sat here and debated whether or not to write down my thoughts, and finally decided that I should. Not to make a point. Not to become a lightening rod for opinions and criticism. Just to continue doing what I've always done...write what I happen to be thinking about at any given moment. So here goes.
Just down the road from us in Bellefonte, PA, a jury is currently deliberating and preparing to come to a verdict in the trial of former Penn State football coach,Jerry Sandusky who has been accused of many different crimes related to inappropriate sexual contact with multiple young boys over the course of several years. This case has drawn intense national media attention. As reporters and news outlets are each trying to come up with a different angle on the case, and gain more readers in the process, articles are emerging on the periphery that have nothing to do with Jerry Sandusky or his accusers. They are focusing, instead, on pedophilia. Analyzing it, dissecting it, puting it out there for the world to consider and talk about. Tonight I read one such article on CNN.com. Here is the link: http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/21/opinion/cantor-pedophila-sandusky/index.html?hpt=hp_t3
The article asks two questions: 1. Are people born pedophiles? and 2. Do pedophiles deserve sympathy? First, the article defines a pedophile as someone who has a sexual attraction toward children. The author distinguishes a pedophile from a child molester by stating that not every pedophile acts on their urges and actually molests a child. Scientific evidence is then given that points to the possibility that people can be born with a bent toward being sexually attracted toward children. Thus, the question the author poses, "If people are born this way, should we feel sorry for them?"
I've been thinking about the greater questions that this conversation brings to the surface and I wanted to jot down my thoughts here as I process them. I am not a theologian. I am not a doctor. I am not a geneticist. I am the sum total of the thoughts, experiences, knowledge, and faith that God has blessed me with. It is from this humble place that I offer these observations:
1. As I read the Bible, I read of a God who has created us in His image, knitting us together in our mother's womb. I read of a God who does not make mistakes and has no regrets.
2. This fact does not mean that our physical bodies are "perfect" in the way that we define perfection. As simple human beings who, apart from faith, have only this world as a frame of reference and only other human beings to compare ourselves to - we define perfection as that which is most desirable to the most people. God is not limited by this world and thus does not define perfection in that way.
3. We do not understand when someone is born blind, or deaf, or autistic, or with a physical malformation. We see these things as disabilities, and at times we question a God who could allow someone to suffer such "imperfection," undeservedly.
4. As science continues to delve into the area of genetics and attempts to separate out that which is nature versus that which is nurture, more and more physical and psychological "imperfections" are believed to have been hardwired into people before they were born.
5. As a person of the Christian faith, I must choose to compare myself, not to those around me, but rather to Jesus Christ alone. The Bible tells me that none of us is perfect. Nope, not even one. Not because of our "flawed" God-given physical bodies or psyches, but because of what we've chosen to act on, sinfully. We do not know what proclivities were hard-wired into Jesus' physical DNA while he was on Earth. We do know that the Bible says he was tempted in EVERY WAY but was without sin. Every. Way. Whatever his tendencies were, he never acted on them sinfully. He is our gold standard, not each other, but the one who walked this Earth and was tempted but did not sin. Jesus, when tempted, returned to scripture and prayer, and he never acted on any temptation. We are to do the same, with His help. These tendencies toward sin, these imperfections, can actually drive us right into the arms of the one and only Savior of the world, and that is where we have belonged all along.
6. Should we feel sorry for the pedophile? No. But not because he/she is repulsive and undeserving of our sympathy. We shouldn't feel sorry for him/her for two reasons: 1. Because we are no better, and 2. Because he/she is NOT WITHOUT HOPE. We should feel grateful that God has designed each and every one of us to need a Savior, to be faced with our flawed tendencies so that we seek out His help. Otherwise, we would never turn to Him, and the truth is that He is the center of the universe. Not you, and not me. He is what life is all about and living our lives thinking and acting otherwise is foolish.
7. Who should we feel sorry for then? I believe we should feel sorry for those who think they have it all together. Who believe they have no need of a Savior. Who have looked at their own flawed tendencies, whatever they may be (pride, drunkenness, lying, rage, laziness, sexual deviancy, passivity, etc.) and rather than humbly putting faith in Christ to save them from themselves, they determine to just give into their instincts and define their own morality, choosing to make themselves the center of the universe and elevating themselves to the place of god in their own minds. He/She is to be most pitied, and prayed for.
And that's what I think about that.
GLIMMER: A dim perception or inkling. To appear faintly or dimly.
A glimmer is a powerful thing. In and of itself, it isn't much, but what it alludes to, the hope that it holds out - that is powerful.
We can go through times of intense difficulty, sorrow, heartache, and hardship if we have a glimmer of something better in the future to hold on to. The truly hard times come when we have put our hope in a glimmer of something that turns out to be artificial and doesn't pan out. The glimmer of a potential relationship that might alleviate loneliness. The glimmer of a potential windfall that will cushion a financial blow. The glimmer of a better job that will provide improved working conditions and a good income. The glimmer of a change of scenery and a fresh start to be provided by a move to new place. What is the saying? "All that glitters is not gold." We could substitute "glimmer" for "glitter" quite easily.
Thankfully, God provides many glimmers here on earth worth holding on to. Examples of his grace and mercy and ultimate deity that will not disappoint us. If we open our eyes to perceive the glimmers of eternal hope that God casts upon the waters of our lives, we will gain strength and courage to continue on the journey. Sometimes we need others to point out the these sparkling reflections when we fail to see them. Sometimes we need to be the ones pointing them out to others.
There is a song by Addison Road entitled, What Do I Know of Holy, that contains a line that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it or sing it: "Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be. The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees." God has given me many hints of who He is throughout the pages scripture and of my life story, and in nature. What I need to remember and grasp onto is that the reality of who God is (all powerful, all loving, all knowing, ever present, perfectly holy and just) is magnified a million times over from the glimpses of Him I have perceived. He loves me with absolute purity. He protects me with absolute surety. He knows me with absolute clarity. He is in complete control. When we see glimmers of the eternal attributes of the one true God in our lives and in the world around us, they should bring us to our knees, and we should gain strength and hope no matter what our circumstances. The glimmers of God reflect a perfection we can't even begin to imagine.
So when we are tempted to hang our hats on glimmers of things like relationships, jobs, money or greener pastures, let us learn to quickly reject putting the full weight of our hope on them, and instead refuse to settle for a glimmers of anything less than God's perfect will for our lives and the world. He is the only source of light that endures.
1 Corinthians 13:12 "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." NLT
I had a thought today that keeps ricocheting around the corners of my mind. It goes something like this, "Reality is a true friend that we have a tendency to treat like a stranger."
With my dear husband out of town for the weekend and my son at a friend's home for a sleepover, I awoke this morning to a quiet, empty house. Being a true introvert, this did not disturb me one iota! I took a deep breath and imagined the bliss of a morning spent recharging my batteries as only time alone can do for me. I got a mug of hot chocolate and put some laundry in the washer and settled into my favorite place on the sofa. I read for pleasure. I practiced the praise and worship songs for this Sunday's church service. I watched Project Runway on Hulu. I napped. Before I knew it, it was 1pm and I was still in my pajamas (and the laundry had never made it to the dryer). I had intended to spend time being more active, but I hadn't. It was cold in the house and I was hesitant to leave my warm blanket on the couch. After awhile I started to feel a bit low... guilty for being lazy and even a bit sullen. What happened to my blissful, battery recharging day?!?
I got up and took a shower and then grabbed my keys and purse to drive across town to pick up my son from his sleepover, saddened that my morning alone hadn't left me in the positive emotional state I'd hoped for. As soon as I stepped outside my front door, my countenance lifted. The sun was shining brightly. The air was warm. There was not a cloud in the sky. I put the top down in the Mustang and soaked in every ray of sunshine and the breeze in my hair and on my skin. Why had I wasted a single minute acting as though my reality was a cold house and a sullen perspective? That was the small immediate reality I was choosing, but it wasn't the greater reality. God's reality is much broader than the narrow places we allow ourselves to land from time to time. I wonder how many of our bad moods, depressive states, and even some more serious mental health issues can be attributed to a break from His TRUE reality. We aren't necessarily schizophrenic... we are just self-centered. We have allowed our narrow view of reality to dictate our mood and then our actions (or inactions) follow and things spiral down from there. God calls us to embrace a much larger reality than the one we can currently perceive. His reality isn't always sunshine and rides in a convertible, but it is always COMPLETELY TRUE and always eternally focused, rather than limited and egocentric.
Next time I find myself feeling blue and out of sorts, it is time for a reality check.
Job 40:1-4 "The Lord said to Job, 'Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!' Then Job answered the Lord, 'I am unworthy--how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.'" NIV
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!