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.
Whenever someone gets married, we say they are "taking the plunge," or making a "leap of faith." Everyone recognizes that going into marriage, you can't possibly know everything about the person that you are committing to spend your life with, and yet, we do it anyway. We admit we don't know it all, but that what we do know is enough.
In the Bible, in the letter to the Hebrews, the 11th chapter and 1st verse, we read that "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and in the sixth verse of the same chapter we learn that "Without faith, it is impossible to please God." As a parent, this makes complete sense to me: without my son having faith in me, he will never please me. Never. His faith in me is the evidence that we have a good relationship, that he acknowledges my love for him and my good intentions toward him. If he continually questions me and never trustfully relaxes in my presence, how could I ever be pleased with that relationship? It is the same in our relationship with God, our Father, and rightfully so.
Similar to marriage, if we have committed to spend our lives with Him, what we do know about Him should be enough. That doesn't mean we stop getting to know Him after that commitment is made - most married couples learn far more about each other after the wedding day than they do before - but it does mean that we live out our days in both knowledge AND faith - growing in both, but not swerving from what we originally held to when we made that "leap of faith" to begin with.
This reflection on faith, led me to look up places in the Bible that shed more light on the word. Here is what I learned:
1. Faith is more precious than gold. (1 Peter 1:7)
2. Faith results in the salvation of our souls. (1 Peter 1:9, Ephesians 2:8)
3. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. (1 John 5:4)
4. Faith is required for miraculous healing. (Mark 10:52, Luke 8:48, Matthew 9:2, 22, 29, Matthew 8:5-13, Acts 6:8)
5. It doesn't take much faith (relatively speaking) to be able to live out life to the fullest (the size of a mustard seed would suffice). (Matthew 17:20)
6. Faith purifies and sanctifies hearts. (Acts 15:9, 26:18)
7. Local churches are established by faith. (Acts 16:5)
8. Faith brings comfort. (Romans 1:12)
9. Faith is counted as righteousness by God, which is good news because there is no one who actually IS righteous, not even one. (Romans 4:5-20)
10. Faith is the key that grants us access to God's grace. (Romans 5:2)
11. Things that don't come by faith, are often sinful. (Romans 14:23)
12. Faith exercised apart from love is worthless. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
13. There is only one true faith. (Ephesians 4:5)
14. Faith brings unity. (Ephesians 4:13)
15. Faith is a shield against the devil. (Ephesians 6:16)
16. God's promises are inherited through faith and patience. (Hebrews 6:12)
17. When faith is tested (and it WILL be tested), the believer acquires perseverance. (James 1:3)
18. Faith is a required prerequisite when asking God for wisdom. Faith that God is all-wise and that He willingly imparts wisdom to His children. (James 1:6)
I also learned through studying the scriptures about faith that we have internal and external responsibilities once we have invested faith in God:
Internally we are to:
Externally we are to:
It is a beautiful cycle - attending to our faith internally leads to a stronger desire to demonstrate our faith externally, and those experiences of acting on our faith in God fan the flame of our internal faith-walk even more, until 10-25-50 years later we celebrate anniversaries of faith in Christ and marvel at how much more precious He is to us now than he was when we first believed, and tell the world how glad we are that we took that leap of faith!
When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video." As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up. What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish. Many times God will orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
Today three delightful, hard-working ladies from the moving company are here packing up everything that we own. They have gone about their work pleasantly and with a sense of pride. While they were busy packing-away, a dear friend stopped by to chat and we stepped into one of the rooms that they were not working in for a lovely hour or so to catch up without getting in their way. When I bid my friend farewell, I walked through each room that they had completed and sighed... "This is real!" I thought. I joked with them that I guess there was no going back now and one of them insisted, "Nope, you are moving!"
I went upstairs to, ahem, use the facilities, and only after I'd committed to that act did I realize - THEY HAD PACKED THE TOILET PAPER. Wow. Talk about total commitment to the job. "You ARE moving!" Well, no kidding. We sure can't stay here without toilet paper!
As I reflect on that moment of shocking realization that the T.P. was in a box somewhere and not on the roll, I'm now laughing at myself... how often do I get ahead of myself in life... planning for what is coming a few steps down the road and inadvertently missing what is obviously important in the here and now? Answer: Too often.
Life lesson for the day - Don't neglect the needs of today while planning for the future... or if you prefer: pack the toilet paper last for Pete's sake!
"You are capable, competent, creative, careful. Prove it."
That was the fortune hidden inside my cookie on Friday night at the local Chinese restaurant. I had to laugh. I once heard my Dad jokingly say that my first words were, "Prove it!" I'm naturally a questioner and an analyzer. A truth-seeker. I want things to make sense and to be backed up by logic and facts (life of the party, I know). On the other side of that coin, if something can't be proven, I often have little time for it. I'm not a big fan of philosophical discussions or "what ifs" (much to the chagrin of my visionary, possibility thinking husband). This fortune, turned the magnifying glass back at me though. If I am who I think I am, then I should prove it, right?! It should be backed up by predictable actions and decisions that become "facts" about me and my character.
It is such a blessing to have people in our lives who do what this fortune cookie did for me... remind us of who we are and challenge us to live it out. It is even better to have His Word written on our hearts reminding us of who God says we are and how He's already proven it!
2 Corinthians 5:17 - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed way. Behold, the new has come!" ESV
Galatians 5:1 - "For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." ESV
Ephesians 5:8 - "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." ESV
The reality is, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, and no one has anything to prove to me. God has proven what is ultimately true. It is now up to us to walk in that truth. Daily.
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.
This is Luke McMaster. He is a multiplatinum song-writer who recently launched a solo career with a billboard hit song - "Good Morning Beautiful." About a month ago, just before Christmas, a friend of mine from childhood was facing a heart surgery for her 3 year old daughter, Elouise. Prior to her surgery, Elouise's grandma introduced her to "Good Morning Beautiful" and it became her favorite song. They tweeted Luke McMaster (a stranger to them) a picture of Elouise listening to the song before going into surgery. He promised to record a special version just for her.
The thing is, he actually did it.
He chose to be delightful. He didn't have to. Elouise came through her surgery beautifully and would have lived a happy life without a personalized version of a billboard hit song. But he did it anyway. This isn't the first story or video to inspire this kind of attitude that I've come across lately: Jon Acuff wrote this blog post called Choose To Be Delightful about his experience at Trader Joe's, and if you haven't been watching the Kid President videos... well then you are missing out big time!
I guess the theme is, Why NOT be delightful?! It only takes a few extra moments of your time and makes a HUGE difference in the world around you.
P.S. You can get Luke McMaster's debut album, "All Roads," on iTunes or Amazon. (not a paid endorsement, I just think it is great to support artists who take the time to be delightful)
He walked in the door on Monday afternoon, fresh from a ride home on the school bus, dropped his things on the floor and started into his rant before he even had his jacket off... "They're on to me, Mom!" Well, that sure got my attention. He proceeded to tell us a story about a missing Agenda (aka: important middle school notebook that is a required tool for keeping track of assignments and info from teachers). The tale was lengthy and harrowing and passionately delivered and at its conclusion Tim stated emphatically that he was 99% certain it was not missing at all, but rather had been STOLEN. He then seemed perplexed that his father and I were not in a total state of outrage over this shocking revelation.
Meanwhile, Jason and I were trying to figure out what in the world he meant by the statement, "They're on to me." Jason was the first to sort through it. "Son, I think what you meant to say is that 'They have it out for you,' or 'They're out to get you.'" "Oh," he said. We went on to talk about how middle school is middle school and no one escapes unscathed, and how it also isn't wise to make accusations or get emotionally caught up in things that you can't control, but the real lesson that came out of that moment was, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY TO MOM AND DAD - THEY WILL USE IT TO MOCK YOU MERCILESSLY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Ever since Monday, "They're on to me," has become Jason and I's mantra. We use it frequently and with great delight on any given occasion, much to Timmy's chagrin. Give it a try sometime, it's fun! :)
On a serious note: The comparison of the two phrases is a great lesson for all of us. Are we tempted to assume the world is out to get us when things go wrong? Are we hiding anything that would cause us to be devastated to find out if someone was, in fact, on to us? Neither of these is any way to live! Honesty, integrity and perspective! May we all have them in abundance and strive to keep them all the days of our lives.
P.S. The agenda was located the next morning. All is well.
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.
"When it is most difficult to worship God is when it is most important to worship God." ~Mandisa
On Tuesday, January 15th, I tuned in online to watch "A Night of Hope and Healing." I was not disappointed. Not only was I not disappointed, I was inspired and thrilled to my core at the display of the love of Christ that was taking place. The event won't get any national media attention, but I can't let it go by without talking about it here. It was profound to me.
The event was billed as "a free event designed to bring comfort to the community (surrounding Newtown, CT) through music, prayer, and uplifting messages." The lineup of talented servants was impressive: Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, Steven & Mary Beth Chapman, Mandisa, TobyMac, Building 429, Laura Story and Casting Crowns. Lest you think, the ulterior motive of this event was to make money - It was a FREE event, and 10,000 tickets were distributed to the Sandy Hook victims' families and community members affected by the recent school shooting. I can't even begin to fathom what putting on this event cost. To say it was an extravagant gift to total strangers, is an understatement. Here is a taste of what the event included:
Familiar scriptures were recited corporately - the Lord's Prayer, the 23rd Psalm - taking on more personal meaning in light of recent events. Less familiar scriptures were proclaimed boldly:
Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Hebrews 4:14-16, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Songs were sung with rich lyrics that ministered healing to those who would accept it:
It is Well With My Soul
Beauty Will Rise:
"It was the day the world went wrong. I screamed til my voice was gone, And watched through the tears as everything came crashing down. Slowly panic turns to pain, as we awake to what remains and sift through the ashes that are left behind. But buried deep beneath all our broken dreams, we have this hope:
Out of these ashes... beauty will rise and we will dance among the ruins. We will see Him with our own eyes. Out of these ashes... beauty will rise. For we know, joy is coming in the morning..."
Whom Shall I Fear:
"I know Who goes before me. I know Who stands behind. The God of angel armies is always by my side."
"When all I can sing is a broken hallelujah, when my only offering is shattered praise, Still a song of adoration will rise up from these ruins. I will worship You and give You thanks, even when my only praise is a broken hallelujah."
Stories were shared. Mary Beth Chapman, in particular, shared openly, while holding back tears about the tragic loss of their own 5 year old daughter, Maria. Letting those present know they were not alone and they would not be forgotten. She shared her conviction through it all that in the end God is enough and He is faithful.
Prayers were prayed. At one point the names of each of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting were displayed in the stadium and a time of silent prayer for their families took place. Louie Giglio told the group that the pictures and stories of each victim were on display backstage and that the performers had been looking at them and reading about them and asking God for help to minister to those left behind.
One of the performers tried his best to explain why they had all come and put on the event: "We just want to bless you and encourage you and enter into your pain with you and say we hurt too, and tell you
of the God who makes life worth living." I'd say mission accomplished, and I've never been more inspired by a group of fellow believers trying to live out their faith in the world.
Some of the heartfelt comments I jotted down as I watched include these:
Louie Giglio said, "In times like this people ask, 'Where is God?' We are the body of Christ. We aren't a building with four walls, an institution, an organization. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. If the world is going to see Jesus, they will see him through His sons and daughters. Where is God? God is here because the people of God are here."
Steven Curtis Chapman: "The world keeps spinning, leaving many paralyzed, angry, numb and stuck while the world goes on. We have not forgotten you. Not because we are wonderful in and of ourselves but because Jesus is in us. We may move forward, but we will not move on. We will keep listening to you, praying for you."
"I drove a stake down in the ground when everything went dark in my life. Even though I am still angry at times and even though I still don't get it - I have two choices - run away from God or run toward God and trust Him and trust His word is true. He is whispering, 'WILL YOU TRUST ME? I know your heart is broken. Will you trust me?' The story ISN'T over. We have lost so much but nothing is lost to God."
Max Lucado: "What Steven Curtis Chapman just did for you, you will one day do for someone else. For the rest of your life you can speak from a place of 'been there.' If you'll let God be your teacher then what was intended for evil will bear good - you will be a missionary to the brokenhearted."
The Night of Hope and Healing was an absolutely perfectly lived-out illustration of why I am a Christian. We do not "have" souls, we ARE souls and that night a group of humble, talented, people acknowledged the soul ache (that continues in CT long after the media attention fades away) and very respectfully and gently provided an outlet for those souls to reflect on the the Word of God, to pray and praise and thank and cry, and to find a way back to their Maker for restoration. Beautiful and powerful to behold.
The most poignant moment to me was when Chris Tomlin and a full band was singing the song, "I Will Rise" (listen below). There is a part of the song where the lyrics say: "Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. He is risen from the dead." The 10,000 people in the arena began to clap and cheer upon singing "The victory is won," and the clapping was so loud Chris Tomlin just stopped playing. And waited. And let the moment happen. People continued in their applause for several minutes and then they continued with the song. Truly, worship is never more beautiful than when it is offered in times of great sacrifice. When I find it hard to worship in the future because of something that has caused me pain, I will remember that night and offer a sacrifice of praise.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!