Coinciding with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, I set-up an office Olympics where I work. We had three teams: Fiji, Jamaica, and Barbados. I chose tropical locales because, frankly, it has been a long cold winter here and we all needed a hint of the islands. Over the course of three weeks we had a variety of different events such as Recycling Basketball, Paper Airplane Javelin, Lemon Fencing, Synchronized Office Chair Swivel, Finger Skating, and Rubber Band Archery. Each activity only took about 15 minutes out of our day and it was well worth it. The resulting laughter and just the simple act of getting out of our individual offices and workstations and coming together for a few minutes every day around something other than work was refreshing. The closing ceremonies were this past Friday and included a photo slide show (set to the Olympic theme song, naturally) of the participants and spectators at each of the events.
What I found to be the most rewarding part of the whole experience was seeing how everyone in the office rallied around one of our co-workers in particular. She is a quiet lady who works hard and keeps busy. She hails from outside the United States, and has a lovely accent and a gentle spirit. During the office Olympics, her team needed someone to sign-up to compete in Rubber Band Archery and she agreed even though she admitted that she didn't know how to shoot a rubber band. She approached me in the hallway one day and I thanked her for volunteering and she said, she was nervous about it because she didn't know what rubber band archery was. I told her that it isn't a thing... that I just made it up as a fun activity...that nobody knows what it is. She was so relieved to hear that! Have you ever been sure that everyone else knows about something and you are the odd, clueless man out? I explained that I would be setting up some targets and that rubber bands would be given out and that the object was to shoot the rubber band with your fingers at the targets and try to hit them. Nothing to worry about!
The day of the event arrived and I set up a bunch of paper and plastic cups on the ledge of an empty cubicle and let the competitors from teams Jamaica, Fiji and Barbados have a few minutes to practice. She stepped up to the line and acted like she had been shooting rubber bands her whole life. It was like the heavens opened and shined down on her and her alone for those few moments. She knocked those cups off the ledge one right after the other like a sharp shooter, stretching each rubber band back nearly to its breaking point before letting them fly. The staff who were gathered around cheered and watched in awe, even those who weren't on her team. Turns out that someone on her team had sent her a link to a YouTube video of how to shoot rubber bands (Is there nothing you can't find on the internet these days?) and she had been practicing at home since she had signed-up! She ended up winning the gold medal without breaking a sweat and a conversation broke out around the office at how her approach to rubber band archery closely resembled her approach to everything that she does. Her colleagues raved about how if there was skill she didn't have or a program she didn't know how to use, she would pay close attention as it was taught and she would work at it diligently until she became as good or better at it than the person who taught her. Everyone in the office started seeing this quiet, sweet lady in a different light and by the time the closing ceremonies came around last week, when a photo of the rubber band archery champ came up on the screen, the whole office clapped and cheered.
It took stepping outside of the normal routine to be able to see her uniqueness for what it was. Now when we step back into the norm, we will have a new found respect and a clearer picture of who she is and what she is capable of.
How can you create opportunities in your family, your job, your church, your group of friends to shake off the old routine enough to give people a chance to let their uniqueness show and give yourself a chance to notice it? Give it a try! You'll be glad you did.
Do you ever feel tempted to play God? To take over? To make something happen the way you feel strongly it should happen? To get involved in the “how” of something that you feel confident in the “what” or “why” of? You have!? Want to be best friends? I am tempted to do this on a regular basis.
I once took a strengths assessment and discovered that one of my greatest strengths is my sense of responsibility. That sounds good, right? Don’t you want to have people in your life who have a strong sense of responsibility? Who won’t bail on you in the middle of something? Who will take ownership over a task? Who will not drop the ball? Who think ahead and count the cost before committing? That sense of responsibility has served me very well these past 39 years – it helped me get good grades in school, complete my college degree, be a faithful spouse, a devoted mom, a dedicated employee. It has helped me stay on top of finances and keep the housework from getting completely out of control. Not a bad strength to have!
So what is lurking on the flipside of the coin of responsibility? For me, it is a tendency to want to control things that are either beyond my ability to control or exceeding my right to control. As a responsible mother, I want to raise my son with attention to detail – I don’t want any character issue, health need, spiritual discipline, or mental aptitude to go unnoticed or unattended. Why? Yes , because I love him, but also because I feel responsible. The danger comes when I take my responsibility to far. I stop focusing only on my responsibility to do the right thing in a given situation and, in addition, take on the responsibility for the outcome of the situation as well.
To be responsible for myself: my actions, attitudes, and words; is a wonderful thing. To take on the responsibility for anything beyond that is where I start to get into trouble.
In a scientific research environment, experiments are conducted to arrive at conclusions that can lead to helpful solutions to difficult problems. Lots and lots of experiments are conducted before the solution is reached. In order to get the specific desired outcome that they are looking for, scientists isolate all the different variables that could have an effect on the outcome of the experiment. They do this in a sterile environment where they control every possible variable. That way when they complete an experiment, they know exactly how and why the result was achieved and they can replicate it.
My overreaching sense of responsibility would LOVE for life to take place in a controlled, sterile environment. I don’t know about you, but in the complex world I live in, I can do all the right things and still end up with a result that is riddled with the effects of all the variables I couldn’t control along the way… variables like other people’s actions, attitudes, and words, my own limited understanding and perception, and the effects of an unseen spiritual war that is going on all round me at all times.
Repeat after me: “I am only in control of myself! I cannot control any other person on this planet without eventually hurting them. I cannot control every variable. I cannot control other people’s priorities or their desires. I cannot control the outcome of any situation, only my role in it.”
Responsibility is a wonderful attribute, but taking responsibility for things that are clearly God’s responsibility is, at best, setting me up for frustration and, at worst, paving a road that leads to deception and destruction. I think I need to create a pin board somewhere in my mind for my “Junior God” badge. Any time I find myself overstepping my bounds, I’ll remind myself to head to that pin board and hang that badge back up where it belongs. There is no such thing as a Junior God, but there is such a thing as a “dearly love child of God,” and that is the badge I want to wear instead.
How about you?
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.
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)
"You and I are in little (our sins excepted) what God is in large." - A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.
I am pondering this quote today. Genesis 1:27 tells us that we were made in God's image. With the exception of our sin nature, the stuff that makes us up is a minute version of the stuff that makes up God. That is worth a few moments of reflection, and could even change the way we view ourselves and others forever if pondered with the proper weight!
If you are single, you have probably been asked what you look for in a potential date/spouse. If you are married, chances are you've had a single friend ask you what they should look for in a mate. How do you answer? Our laundry list of desirable traits might read like this:
- a sense of humor
- good with children
- spiritually mature
- attractive (to you)
- a good communicator
The list could go on and on. Look back over the list for a moment. Is there any trait that does not apply to God? God embodies the most complete, perfect, holy version of every trait that is attractive to us in another human being. The qualities in others that draw us to them, are the very qualities of God; the qualities that God himself possesses in FULL MEASURE.
The challenge that comes with this knowledge is three fold:
1 - To view God accurately - not to withhold from him in our minds the very characteristics that we admire in others, not to downplay His perfection or His ability, not to make Him something that He is not in our thoughts - something that is on the same level as what we have observed here on earth. He is entirely other, beyond what we can fathom in His perfection.
2 - To view ourselves accurately - not to beat ourselves up for having emotions (our God experiences emotions), not to accept a lower standard when a higher one has been set by our Creator, not to see ourselves as greater than we are - no matter how much we excel in a given trait, God is greater still to the nth degree.
3 - To view others accurately - to admire their positive qualities without elevating them to the place of demi-god in our minds, to expect and hope for the best in others because we know they are made of "god-stuff," just as we are (even if they aren't demonstrating it for a season), to refrain from judging them for the qualities that are lesser developed in them than in ourselves - to quote a former Sunday School teacher of mine: "Comparing my vertical leap with my neighbor's is pretty foolish if the moon is the goal." No one can can jump to the moon and the few inches that I may have over my neighbor in my vertical leap is a pretty ridiculous comparison when I consider the actual goal. (Thanks for the illustration, Doug Bridges, I've never forgotten it.)
The lyrics to this song say perfectly some of what I have just stumbled through trying to explain, I hope it blesses you and increases your scope of who our God is and how great He is:
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!
Tonight we had the blessing of sitting on a panel for a young adult small group at our church discussing the topic of marriage. There were three couples on the panel - one couple had been married for 52 years, another couple had been married for 22 years and Jason and I were the youngest having been married for 14 years. A combined total of 88 years of experience at this thing called: "til death do us part." I enjoyed participating and I really enjoyed hearing the responses from the other panelists to the great questions the young adults had come up with for us to answer. Questions like, "How do you establish good communication?" "How do you turn your heart back to your spouse when you feel distant?" "How do you maintain joy in your relationship?" Good stuff! One response in particular from the most veteran of the couples really made me think. When asked about red flags in dating, they responded that things were different when they were younger. You didn't have all the resources or even think to have certain discussions while you were dating... "You just got married!" "It's funny," he said. "We didn't have half of what you have today to guide you, but the divorce rate today is so much greater than it was when we were young."
It is so wonderful to have the perspective of an older generation - things WERE different then. Things ARE different now. We will not learn from our elders and their unique perspective unless they show up to the table when these discussions are had, and they won't show up unless we invite them.
"The greatest asset a church can have is mature saints. We shouldn't alienate ourselves from these dear people. They have grown in their knowledge of God and in His likeness and have learned things that only experience can teach. On the other hand, the greatest liability a church can have are saints who got old and didn't mature. All they want to do is censor and control. They are no more loving, kind or patient now than they were 20 years ago." - The Common Made Holy by Neil T. Anderson
This is one of the great challenges of the Christian life: To remain teachable throughout our lifespan and to be willing to teach as well. We do not have the luxury of remaining stuck in our own generational rut, declaring our way to be the only way. We must expose ourselves to those who have grown up or who are growing up in a different culture and context from our own. True unity and true growth depend on our refusal to settle for ignorance when it comes to the ways of those older/younger than us.
When was the last time you purposely sat across the table from someone from a different generation as yours, either to humbly teach or to humbly be taught? When was the last time you read a book about the nuances of a different generation in an effort to better understand? (Such as: The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, or Generation iY by Tim Elmore, or You Lost Me by David Kinnaman) When did you last go out of your way to seek someone out from a different generation to ask advice on a specific topic or just to hear their story?
Proverbs 3:13-18 (NIV)
Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.
May we never stop learning and growing. May we never stop seeing the value in those older or the promise in those younger. May we learn to spur one another on toward love and good deeds and refuse to let walls of ignorance be built between generations.
"Picture your marriage as a grassy field. You enter it at the beginning full of hope and joy. You look out into the future, and you see beautiful flowers and trees and rolling hills. And that beauty is what you see in each other. Your relationship is the field and the flowers and the rolling
hills. But before long, you begin to step in cow pies. Some seasons of your marriage they may seem to be everywhere. Late at night they are especially prevalent. These are the sins and flaws and idiosyncrasies and weaknesses and annoying habits in you and in your spouse. You try to forgive them and endure them with grace.
But they have a way of dominating the relationship. It may not
even be true, but sometimes it feels like that’s all there is—cow pies.
Noël and I have come to believe that the combination of forbearance
and forgiveness leads to the creation of a compost pile. That’s where you shovel the cow pies.
You both look at each other and simply admit that there are a
lot of cow pies. But you say to each other: You know, there is more
to this relationship than cow pies. And we are losing sight of that
because we keep focusing on these cow pies. Let’s throw them all
in the compost pile. When we have to, we will go there and smell
it and feel bad and deal with it the best we can. And then we are
going to walk away from that pile and set our eyes on the rest of the
field. We will pick some favorite paths and hills that we know are
not strewn with cow pies. And we will be thankful for the part of
the field that is sweet.
Our hands may be dirty. And our backs may ache from all the
shoveling. But one thing we know: We will not pitch our tent by the
compost pile. We will only go there when we must. This is a gift of grace that we will give each other again and again and again—because we are chosen and holy and loved."
This is an excerpt from John Piper's book, This Momentary Marriage. It is my favorite book on the subject of Christian marriage and it is a resource that Jason and I rely on HEAVILY when offering premarital counseling sessions. I pray that you can find your own way to keep the "cow pies" where they belong - in the compost pile, and that you pitch your tent far from that place.
PS - Congrats to our friends Jared and Emmy on their recent wedding and many blessings to Sabrina and Emily and their grooms as they make final preparations for next week's big events! We are blessed to have you in our lives.
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."
As my husband has made the transition from life as a teacher to life as a minister these past several years, I have been going through a transition as well. I can look back over the years and identify seasons of my life where I have known very clearly what God was asking of me (the year he asked me to learn submission was a doozy). In this current season, the lesson is about NOT HOLDING BACK. One by one, God has been peeling back layers of my own selfishness and showing me how I have been choosing to withhold good things from those around me. It isn't pretty. Some of the things are small, but could have great impact - a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement; other things are more involved - my time, my energy, my vulnerability, my love.
As we made the drive recently from PA to OH, Timmy and Jason were in the moving truck and I was in our car by myself with time to think. I realized that God was indeed asking me to consider what life, what ministry, would be like if I stopped holding back and gave all, trusting Him to replenish me and use my efforts as He sees fit - refusing to make judgement calls about whether something or someone was "worth" my offering or whether or not "my offering" was worthy of the someone or something. Immediately, the lyrics to this song (by Ray Boltz) came into my head for the first time in many years:
He heard the preacher say
A single dime can feed
A hungry boy or girl
With nothing to eat
So he pulled a dollar
From the pocket of his jeans
And he asked his mama
How many will this feed?
She just smiled
And when she told him ten
He reached back again
What if I give all I have?
What will that gift do?
My child, a gift like that
Could change the world
It could feed a multitude
He didn't close his eyes
Or turn away
I can see him standing tall
He saw the need
And I can hear him say
What if I give all
The song goes on to recount the stories of both the young boy in the Bible who gave his lunch (fish and bread) to Jesus who used it to feed THOUSANDS, and to Jesus himself who gave everything He had to save the world from sin.
What if I gave all? What if I stopped acting like I belong to myself and started acting like my God was big enough to meet my physical, spiritual and emotional needs in such an overwhelming way that I was freed up to give liberally of myself, KNOWING I wouldn't be left depleted for long? What would that gift do? It is time to find out. This move to Ohio may not have turned out the way I expected it to, but it doesn't give me an excuse to withdraw and hold tightly to what is "mine." If anything it compels me to submit to the only One who is never taken by surprise, the only One who holds the future. The God of the Universe whose resources are without end and whose love is unfailing.
2 Corinthians 9:10-11 NASB - "Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God."
Romans 12:1 NASB - "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship."
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!