On a recent trip to the National Zoo, we had a great time watching this meerkat. The other meerkats in the habitat were rolling in the dirt, playing, and digging, but this one climbed up on the highest rock in the enclosure and stood very still and just looked, systematically, in every possible direction. The educational plaque hanging on the wall nearby explained that this behavior is common for meerkats. Since they are such tiny creatures and generally walk on all-fours, meerkats will frequently pull themselves up on their hind legs to get a better, higher view of their surroundings and search for predators.
This week on my commute to work, I've been reading in Genesis about the life of Joseph. You remember Joseph - the coat of many colors, being sold into slavery by his brothers, being bought by the Captain of the Guard in Egypt, ending up in prison (unjustly), interpreting dreams beyond his own capability, being restored and elevated to the position of second in command to the pharaoh, saving his family from the effects of a severe famine, being reunited with his father who thought he was dead. AMAZING LIFE STORY to be sure. The thing that struck me this week as I read through the account of the life of Joseph again was that He was always experiencing God's favor, regardless of his circumstances:
1. His brothers threw him in a pit, but didn't kill him.
2. He was sold into slavery, but everything he did prospered and he was not treated like a slave in the home of Potiphar.
3. He was put into prison unjustly, but again everything he did there prospered and he was given responsibility and meaningful work even in prison.
4. He was offered a high position in the government of the pharaoh which he did not seek out.
5. Everything he did in Egypt prospered and his work there resulted in saving a nation from a devastating famine and in restoring his family to him.
As I read and reflected on Joseph's life, I was reminded that we cannot gauge whether or not we are living out God's will for our lives based on our circumstances. After all, Joseph was rejected by his brothers. a slave, and a prisoner, all while being right where God wanted him to be. A better gauge of living out God's will, it seems, is His favor. God's favor plays out in the smallest of ways and on the grandest of scales, but is of equal value regardless of the way it is displayed. Sometimes we have to be like that meerkat, and rise above our own limited perspective and try to catch a glimpse of what is really going on in the midst of our suffering. If we don't, we are destined to be enslaved to our current circumstances and our limited interpretations of them.
This is more than looking for a "silver-lining." This is about remaining faith-filled in our attitudes and faithful in our actions regardless of our situation. Refusing to despair when we know we are on the path God wants for us. Submitting to the route that He has deemed best and looking for evidences of His favor along the way to keep us going. When we are in the pit (rejected by those who are supposed to love us and protect us), in slavery (stuck in a difficult situation without any control over it), or imprisoned unjustly (falsely accused and punished without cause) - may we rise up to our full height (in his mercy and grace) and look for evidences of favor smack dab in the middle of the pain and difficulty. If they are there, then we have cause to rejoice in the midst of the mess and hold on for the deliverance that will surely come. If they are absent, we have cause to repent and wait for the restoration that God has promised never to withhold from His children.
Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)
"I lift up my eyes to the mountains-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth."
Psalm 30:5 (NIV)
"For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning."
I've decided life is really about sifting.
Perhaps I should clarify. In 2013 in the United States, I would venture to guess that most households do not own a sifter and most youngsters today have likely never even seen one. There are many different types of sifters for many different purposes, but the one I'm most familiar with is a flour sifter. Hang with me here... I think it will be worth it in the end... Kitchensavvy.com tells us that, "In earlier days, sifting flour served several purposes. When flour was milled using stone wheels, as opposed to modern steel rollers, sifting removed bits of the millstone and other impurities that might be found in the flour. Sifting also breaks up clumps, adds air to the flour which helps produce lighter cakes and pastries, and makes measurement more uniform."
So why do I think life is really all about sifting? Well, I've seen people who've been through horrible, nightmarish things in life who still live healthy, happy, fulfilled, purposeful lives and I've seen others who've been completely sidelined by the most minor offense.
The bottom line is that what we hold onto and what we let slip away, for better or for worse, really does define our human experience.
So how do we sift what life hands us? We can't hold onto everything we experience in life, so how do we decide what to hold onto and what to release? Here are two questions to ask about the stuff in our lives we are holding onto to determine whether it should survive a good sifting:
1. Is it pure? In the description of the flour sifter, we learned that one reason for sifting is to remove impurities. Is what you are holding onto pure? Is it True? Is it producing purity and truth in you? If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go.
2. Is it adding lasting value? A flour sifter incorporates air into the flour which makes the resulting baked goods light and fluffy. Is what you are holding onto adding value to your life that will produce something even better in the long run? If yes, then hold on to it. If not, let it go.
So, what sorts of things need to be sifted...
If the flour sifter example is any indicator, things get clumpy the longer they sit. Why not run the stagnant, clumpy parts of your life through the sifter and see what happens... chances are there are some things that you've held on to that need to be broken up (reevaluated), filled with air (reinvigorated or reframed), and thoroughly filtered (keeping the good and releasing the impure and untruthful).
Hosea 10:12 "Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you." ESV
The video below is a PERFECT example of a life that has been well sifted.
When I was growing up I practiced two things seriously - gymnastics/cheerleading and piano. In high school, I stopped practicing piano because I lost interest and in college, after taking a gymnastics class that humbled me to my core, I stopped practicing that too. Today I can play a couple of songs on the piano and I might be able to do a cartwheel if I stretched REALLY well first... other than that, there is nothing about me or my life now that suggests that I spent hundreds of hours of my life PRACTICING these two disciplines. Why is that? Because I stopped practicing those things and started practicing other things.
I was thinking about that this week when I read several verses in the Bible that talk about practice. It made me want to know more about what the Bible says is worthy of our life-long practice, not just a few years of devotion, but a lifetime! This is what I learned.
FIVE THINGS TO PRACTICE AND ONE WARNING:
1. We are to practice FEARING GOD. Why? Because that is where true wisdom and understanding begins.
Psalm 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
2. We are to practice TRUTH, HONOR, JUSTICE, PURITY, LOVE, and EXCELLENCE. Why? Because the God of Peace will be with us in those endeavors.
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
3. We are to practice USING OUR UNIQUE GIFTS. Why? So we can be a blessing to others.
1 Timothy 4:13-15 Paul tells Timothy, "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress."
4. We are to practice DISCERNING GOOD FROM EVIL. Why? Because this demonstrates our maturity and enables us to teach others.
Hebrews 5:12-14 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
5. We are to practice FAITH, VIRTUE, KNOWLEDGE, SELF-CONTROL, STEADFASTNESS, GODLINESS, BROTHERLY AFFECTION, and LOVE. Why? Because these things keep us from being ineffective.
2 Peter 1:5-10 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
What would happen if we added these 5 areas to our "to do" list each week?
What would happen if we put our time and energy into practicing the things that God says are worthy of our effort and stopped putting so much time and energy to the things that are not?
1 WARNING: Avoid preaching without practicing. Why? You become a hypocrite and you set others up for failure.
Matthew 23:2-4, Jesus says: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat,so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger."
Time to practice.
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?
This week I watched a sermon online entitled, The Hard Work of Rest, about the importance of God-given (and commanded) rest. (Thank you, Pastor Craig!)
The sermon covered many portions of scripture on the topic in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. What stood out to me most came from Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (You'll recognize this as coming from the 10 Commandments):
"Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your man servant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." NIV
According to this scripture, we see that the original Sabbath day of rest was instituted to remind the Israelites that they had once had earthly masters who required them to work seven days a week as slaves, but that God, their true Master, had rescued them and that the "work" of resting every seventh day was to be a symbol of how they are set apart and have no other Master but God Himself. Nothing else and no one else was to rule their days but Him. No task was more important, no one's wishes more critical to attend to than the Lord of the Sabbath's.
How are we doing with this concept today? Do the activities of our lives show that we have one and only one Master? Or are our schedules driven relentlessly by the demands of the moment? Do our calendars rule over us, or do we order our days as those who have been bought with a price?
I am challenged to rest with purpose... not just to fall into a heap of exhaustion every Sunday after church or to rest needlessly and lazily when my hands have barely labored. Whether I eat or drink, or rest or work, may it all be done to His glory - that the world may see that He is the one sustaining me and that His provision is perfect.
How do you go about resting, as a way of remembering and honoring the God who is in control?
Have you ever attended a group meeting where everyone involved had the best intentions, but you all quickly realized that your meeting was in vain because an important person was missing from the mix? If the right people aren't at the table, you waste your time. Sometimes you need the decision makers there, so you can act and move on. Sometimes you need the person with the history and background knowledge to make everything make sense. Other times you need someone with the technical expertise to help decipher new information. Usually it is wise to have all of these people present to make sure that the full picture is in view.
I am in the middle of reading The Resolution for Women, by Priscilla Shirer. In the third section of the book, she urges women to be "authentically themselves," not trying to be someone else and not shirking away from who they truly are. One problem we run into, she says, is that many times we don't know ourselves very well, aka: we don't know what we bring to the table. It is hard to be authentic when you don't know what makes you, you! It could be that there is a meeting table right now that needs you and your unique gifts, talents and abilities. That meeting table may be in your very own home. My husband is very good at gently pointing out to me the areas of giftedness I have that I may be underestimating or devaluing within our family life. He wants me to bring everything I have to the table of our family decision making so that we are not lacking in any way. People at work expect the same, as do people on ministry teams.
One of the strategies that Priscilla suggests in her book for figuring out what makes you, uniquely you, is to ask those who know you well for their insights. She states, "It's often more difficult to see yourself as clearly as another person can who's close to you. Beauty tends to become familiar. Genius eventually feels commonplace. You get used to yourself. You overlook the astounding, remarkable aspects that make you uniquely special because you've grown so accustomed to having them. Your rarity becomes unremarkable when its just another part of your regular routine." So, I challenge you to ask those closest to you what they think makes you unique. Then listen, and WRITE DOWN what they say. Then pray over it and ask God to help you live it out. The world needs you at the table!
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!