Arguments happen. Sometimes they NEED to happen. Sometimes the resolution to a short-term or an ongoing problem will not come WITHOUT a healthy argument. I know, I know, all you anti-conflict people out there are not liking where this is going one little bit. I know because I am one of you. If there is a way to avoid a conflict, I typically find it and take it. Conflict is uncomfortable and sometimes scary, for one reason and one reason only - we don't know how it will end.
There are times, however, when "the known" becomes unacceptable and we must step foot into conflict, hoping that the unknown will eventually be better. Since conflict is inevitable, how do we walk into it with a mind-set that will have the best chance of making the most of the disagreement and help us reach common ground with the fewest battle wounds possible?
1. Guard your words as if you were guarding Fort Knox. Don't exaggerate! Don't think of the next thing you are going to say while the other person is speaking. Don't let your emotions surrounding the issue allow you to say hurtful or untrue things. James 1:26 NIV says, "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." Words matter. Keep in mind that what you say and how you say it are the only things you have control over in an argument.
2. Expect the best possible outcome, but be at peace with the worst case scenario. Don't go into a disagreement expecting it to end badly. Many times, conflict HAS TO HAPPEN in order for things to change and move in a better direction, so we shouldn't fear it. Instead, we should pray for the ability to see how it could be used for good. At the same time, we have to make peace with the fact that: A. We cannot control the reactions of others, and B. We cannot control the amount of time it will take others to process what we have to say (aka: the disagreement may not be resolved in 5 minutes flat). With that in mind, we also need to pray for the ability to identify the worst case scenario accurately and have peace with it. Peace and happiness aren't the same thing. Isaiah 26:3 NIV says, "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you." Happiness isn't always possible. Peace is.
3. Spend plenty of time searching your own heart and clearing your own conscience before and DURING your argument. I don't know who is reading this, but my guess is, You Ain't Perfect! Listen to what the other person is saying and take responsibility for the results of your own words, attitude and actions, even if you didn't intend for hurtful results. Your apology and admission of imperfection goes a long way toward leveling the playing field and helping bring about reconciliation and change. Don't let pride get in the way. Matthew 7:5 NIV puts it pretty bluntly: "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
4. Keep the purpose of the argument in mind. Don't get distracted by the argument itself. How many times have you started out arguing with someone about one thing and then ended up arguing about something else entirely before all was said and done? This is foolish! Don't let emotions or side comments derail you. Keep the goal of reconciliation and positive change in mind and flatly refuse to follow any rabbit trail that leads away from that or complicates matters. State the purpose of the conversation frequently, clearly and without holier-than-thou overtones to make sure that the person you are in disagreement with understands that you aren't just picking a fight... you WANT resolution.
5. Keep your heart soft toward the other person. At the end of the day, you are no better or worse than he or she is. You may be right, but it doesn't make you better. Don't mentally turn the other person into something in your mind that is beyond redemption or repair. There will come a day when you will be entirely in the wrong, and completely unaware of it. How do you desire to be treated on that day? In Matthew 19:8 (NIV), Jesus says, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning." Arguments don't end repairable relationships - hard hearts do.
I need to be reminded of these things today and every day.
Today I read this article on CNN.com about the arrest of country singer/songwriter, Randy Travis. According to the article, he was found naked (presumably drunk) lying on a two lane highway in Texas and threatened to shoot the officer who came to his aid.
My first reaction to this article was intense disappointment. This is a man who wrote many songs that I found myself humming along to as a young adult, with inspiring lyrics like:
Gonna Have a Little Talk with Jesus
Feet on the Rock
It didn't take long though, for me to remember, that from the same man, came lyrics like:
"I'd better change my wandrin' ways,
I know I've seen my better days,
Always gettin' high when I get low.
Well, I left my soul out in the rain,
Lord, what a price I've had to pay.
The storms of life are washin' me away." - The Storms of Life
"And I hear tell the road to hell is paved with good intentions
And Mama, my intentions were the best
There's lotsa things in my life I'd just as soon not mention
Looks like I've turned out like all the rest
But Mama, my intentions were the best" - Good Intentions
We all wage an internal war each and every day. May we all have compassion toward those who are momentarily (we pray) giving up the fight. Whether we believe it or not, we are all just a few bad decisions away from being found naked in the street, lashing out at those who are there to help us.
1 Peter 3:8 NIV - "Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble."
The next two weeks will be filled with goodbyes for our family. As our move date rapidly approaches, each time we see someone now, we aren't sure whether we will see them again before we move, so we end up taking a bit more time and a bit more care when we say each goodbye. The students at Lock Haven University have a special place in our hearts. I first opened my own heart wide to them all when I arrived in Lock Haven several weeks before the rest of the family in 2009. I remember attending the first New Life Student Fellowship meeting of the school year and introducing myself as the wife of their soon-to-be Campus Minister. I remember telling this group of strangers to feel free to call me or Facebook or just stop by the house I was staying at any time. I invited the girls to come over for dinner one night and told them to be sure to RSVP so I'd know how many to cook for. Their unique way of responding is now a cherished memory documented in the picture below. To say I loved it would be the understatement of the century. I loved that I had opened my heart to them and they responded by showing me that they were so grateful that I had.
Whenever we open our hearts to others, we take a risk. We risk rejection. We risk being hurt. We risk learning things about ourselves or them that we didn't want to learn. Certainly, there are those who we initially open our hearts to that end up becoming people that we need to be careful with. Jim Cymbala, Pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, says it this way in his book, Fresh Faith:
"Don't you know how to say no? This is not your house! You don't have the right to let in everyone/thing that wants to enter."
Pastor Cymbala is refering to the fact that, as believers, our hearts are God's dwelling place, and that when He takes up residence, He also takes up ownership. We don't get to choose who we let in and who we keep out any more. He decides. "You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price..." 1 Corinthians 6:20 NLT. Sometimes we agree with Him. Other times we don't. The result should be the same: obedience. We can't keep people at arms-length any more just because they are different or difficult. Nor can we continue to allow others to remain close to us and sin in the way they treat us or interact with us (emotional/verbal/physical abuse, causing us to stumble,) without speaking up. We have to love them enough to set up boundaries that keep them at an appropriate distance to encourage their healing and repentance and not enable their sinful tendencies in our relationship.
Many more times, however, we will open our hearts and be rewarded as a result. Sometimes through finding a kindred spirit, other times by learning lessons we needed at just the time we needed them. Sometimes by finding a catalyst for our own maturity, other times by being able to help another along on his/her journey. We have found all of these things in our relationships with students and friends here in Lock Haven. As we prepare to move, we will once again, open our hearts wide to the people in our new church and city, and wait expectantly to see how God asks us to respond to each and every one.
Until then, we will spend the next two weeks, reassuring those who have a special place in our hearts just how precious they are to us and how very privileged we have been to walk with them these few years. We don't regret opening our hearts to any of you one bit!
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 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.
"We are not on earth to impress each other." This is the thought that is echoing in my brain today. What a pointless and tragic life I would lead if my aim were to have as many people as possible think well of me.
Revelation 3:17-21 (NASB) says, "Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked; I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich; and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne."
What did Jesus overcome? John 16:33 tells us that He has overcome the world! What is more worldly than thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought??? What is more worldly than thinking that this life and my own fame and glory is all there is? Philippians 2:6-7 tell us that even though Jesus was GOD, he didn't consider his God-ship to be something to grasp on to and claim at all costs... rather HE MADE HIMSELF NOTHING and took on the nature of a servant.
How would life be different if as Christians, we did not grasp on to our perceived rights and privileges or spend our time maintaining our reputation in the eyes of men, and instead made ourselves of no reputation, seeing ourselves as we really are and others as they really are and truly believing that overcoming the temptation to elevate ourselves is a daily priority? What if we lived like we believed that dining with Jesus at a celebratory "overcoming supper" was better than any accolade we could receive here on earth?
Oh let it be true of me today!
"God doesn't call the qualified; He qualifies the called." Perhaps you've heard this catchy statement before. I know I have heard it several times, and I always agree with it wholeheartedly when I do. I have certainly found myself in a variety of places in life where I felt completely inept and God used those times to humble me and show me what He can do in and through me with no "help" from me at all. Those are always the sweetest times, and yet I tend to avoid them whenever possible! I don't like feeling inept. I REALLY don't. I like being able to say things like, "I've got this," "No problem," and "I'll take it from here, don't worry about a thing!" I hate having to say, "I have no idea," or "I wish I could help you, but I just don't know where to begin," or "I'm horrible at that."
What if, when the disciples had been called to follow Christ, when He told them He would make them fishers of men, what if they claimed their ignorance and ineptitude and insisted that he had the wrong guys. Think about all they would have missed out on! Equally as misguided though would have been if they said, "Sure, I'll follow you. That is exactly the kind of thing I am good at. No problem!" When Christ called them, they experienced God and were used by God uniquely and powerfully, not because of their many gifts, but because of His; not despite their lowly estate but as a result of it. Pride could have easily robbed them of the opportunity to be used by God just as easily as false humility could have. Appropriate humility is being aware of your lowly estate, but not believing that it defines what God is capable of doing through you. Appropriate pride is not being impressed with our own abilities or accomplishments, but being in awe of God's and boasting in what He is capable of in our lives and in the world.
"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore as it is written: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'" - 1 Corinthians 26-31 (NIV)
If we take these verses to heart, then when we feel lacking in wisdom, when we feel foolish, when we feel weak, when we see ourselves as lowly or despised - it is time to thank Him and look for ways He might be using us or preparing to use us in the world. These are the types of vessels He uses. When we do not see ourselves in this light; when we think we've got what it takes - it may be time to step down and ask God to humble us before we walk down a path where He is not leading.
"This is what God the Lord says - he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people and life to those who walk on it: 'I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.'" - Isaiah 42:5-8 (NIV)
As a little girl, I was taught to say "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me." I was taught to write thank you notes to those who had shown me kindness in some way. I was told these things were considered good manners and that I should always "remember my manners."
As a mother, I try to pass on these same good manners to my son. To me, however (as I am sure it was to my parents), it is far more important that he has a gracious and grateful heart than that he always says or does the right thing at the right time. I want him to overflow with kindness and gratitude and thoughtfulness from a heart that appreciates the people in his life and the God who made not only him but also those around him. This, however, cannot be taught... only caught. We cannot teach our children's hearts. We can only teach their minds and guide their behavior. Their hearts are their very own... to pursue peace or to harbor anger, to develop selfless love or to pursue selfish desires, to extend mercy or to hold a grudge. Only God and His Holy Spirit can penetrate the heart. Any parent who has found themselves forcing a child to apologize to someone they have wronged knows this first hand. He may have said the words, "I'm sorry," but his heart knows no repentance.
I am, without a doubt, an advocate for insisting on the correct behavior even if the heart is not following suit, but I also think that we need to return to the heart issues again and again when the heat of the moment has passed. Not because we can change a child's heart, but because we have to reiterate time and time again that which is most important. We have to be careful to make sure our children do not get the idea from us that saying and doing the right thing all of the time is the most important thing. We must always, ultimately, show them that the motivations of their hearts reign supreme in God's eyes.
I don't want my son to grow up with a firm grasp on saying and doing the right thing, but with a heart that is lagging behind. This means that I have to get a grip on my own motivations and model what I desire for him. In her book, Kisses from Katie, Katie Davis writes about a time when she went to a restaurant on a Sunday afternoon in the Ugandan village where she lives and a 15yr old boy, John, was standing outside the restaurant waiting for her. He had cut his foot on a bottle and was waiting for her to come to her usual Sunday lunch spot so that she could help him clean and bandage it and hopefully prevent infection. Here is what she says, "As I handed him the antibiotic and explained how to take it, I kind of wanted him to say thank you. But as I looked in his eyes I knew why he hadn't thanked me: because this was expected. He knew I would bandage his wound and give him medicine because that is what I do. His trust was much better than a thank you."
If all that is important to us is saying and doing the right things, then we cannot serve others wholeheartedly. Our spirits' will inevitably stumble when our brothers and sisters in the world do not "behave appropriately." We will grow resentful and bitter because, "After all I do, she can't offer a simple 'thank you.'" If the only reason we are doing the right thing is because "it is the right thing to do" and we feel a sense of obligation to do it, and not because we realize we are "poor, wretched, blind and needy," and have been saved by the most extraordinary grace that we now have the privilege to pass on to others, then we will inevitably get hung up when we don't get the appreciation we deserve for our "sacrifice." Tragically, we will never realize the deeper gifts that God has for us, like Katie did.
Dear God, Please soften our children's hearts as well as our own, and help us to model for them attitudes and motivations that will not only serve them well throughout their lives, but that will enable them to serve others well too.
I am a good speller. Nay, I am a GREAT speller! I can't take any credit for this skill... it just always came naturally to me. English words and the way letters come together to make them just clicks somewhere in my brain. I don't remember getting less than 100% on any spelling test, ever. This brings me to my boy. NOT a great speller. The kicker... I have no clue how to help him. Since my spelling skills were not honed by lots of repetition or practice, or hard fought, or learned from a brilliant teacher, I'm not sure how to impart them to someone else. I suppose being a voracious reader and just being exposed to a lot of words might have been part of it, but for Pete's sake, my kid reads daily, and huge books to boot... somehow all that reading just isn't translating the same way into his brain as it has into mine.
This morning we were both sitting on the couch with our laptops on our laps. I was composing an email and he was writing an essay for his English class.
Tim: "Mom, do you have to capitalize Wal-Mart since it is the name of a store?"
Me, trying to disguise a sigh, "Yes."
As he is typing in the word, his computer auto corrects it and adds in a hyphen between Wal and Mart where he had left one out.
Tim: "What?! That is stupid."
Me: "What is stupid?"
Tim: "The computer just added a hyphen."
Me: "It isn't stupid, the word is hyphenated."
Tim: "But it is stupid that it has a hyphen to begin with!"
Ahhh, now we are on to something. I am thinking this issue with spelling has less to do with Timmy's skills and more to do with Timmy's attitude! He wants things to make sense to him and when they don't he has no desire to just embrace the idiosyncrasy, make mental note of it for later, and move on. He would rather just get frustrated and call it stupid and pretend like he'll never have to deal with it again.
Hmmm, now THAT I can relate to! Life doesn't make sense. There are times when I run up against a situation and I'd really rather not learn from it. I'd much rather just call it stupid and move on, pretending like it was a fluke and I'll never run into that type of situation again. Perhaps Tim's problem (and mine as well), isn't with spelling, but rather with a teachable spirit. Some things come easily and we enjoy learning them. Other lessons don't make sense and are tough to submit to long enough in order to learn from them. It isn't that we can't learn from it, or that it isn't worth learning from... it is a humility issue and a patience issue. I think I know how to approach this one now.
This week I have been challenged and stretched more severely than I have in years. There have been moments of joy and triumph and moments of tears and confusion. It has been a wild ride, and I admire my husband for buckling up and sticking with me for the ups and downs of it all. Have you ever been told by two different people, within 5 minutes of each other, conflicting, no not just conflicting, OPPOSITE reports and advice about the exact same issue? Well, I suppose if you have more than one child that is an every day occurence... =o), but I'm talking about reports and advice from rational, God-fearing adults with the same goal in mind. I found myself in that position on more than one occasion this week, and it has forced me to stop asking what the people around me think and to cry out to God for His perfect perception. Hmmm, "forced?" Perhaps that is why I am in this predicament in the first place. Did I need to be FORCED into seeking God in this matter because I wasn't seeking him in other matters? Has pride crept into my life in such a way that I believe my own intellect and experience are sufficient for making tough decisions. Ouch. I think I've struck a nerve.
I'm so glad that God loves me enough to allow me to be in the middle of a situation that FORCES me to cry out to him. A situation where I am in over my head and have no idea what to do. A place where the stakes are high and success is critical. If I wasn't seeking him wholeheartedly in the smaller, more routine areas of my life - PRAISE HIM that he cares enough for me to allow strife into my world to bring me right back to his side, and remind me where my true peace and joy and comfort come from.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!