Matthew 3:8 NASB, "Therefore, bear fruit in keeping with repentance." This is the first verse that the Ritz family will be memorizing in 2014. It is short, so we are likely to retain it quickly and it is weighty and filled with meaning so it is ripe for personal reflection. These words were spoken by John the Baptist to a group of the religious elite of his day, right after he calls them, a "brood of vipers." John was in the wilderness calling people to repent, then baptizing them as an outward sign to the world of their repentance. Apparently, the pharisees and sadducees were coming to be baptized while skipping over the whole repentance part of the equation. Hence the name-calling. The Greek word that is translated as repentance means "to change one's mind," or "to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins." Baptism by water was meant to show a turning toward God and away from a mindset and life of sin. By calling them a brood of vipers, he is identifying the pharisees with the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Satan. He is calling them out, saying in effect, "You haven't turned; your mind hasn't changed. You are masquerading as those filled with light and knowledge, but your hearts are dark." By presenting themselves for baptism as a sign of repentance without actually acknowledging their need to repent, they were making a mockery of what John was doing and the message he was declaring, a message given to him by God, a message he was being prepared to deliver to the world since before his birth. They were poisoning the system.
What about us? If we have repented, are we bearing fruit that demonstrates that we've changed our minds about what is most important in life? Almost two months ago, I changed my mind about how important my health is to me. I cut out the vast majority of saturated fat in my diet, increased my intake of fruits, veggies and water, and started exercising regularly. I also joined with a group of other like-minded folks whose health is important to them as well and we have been tracking our progress together and encouraging one another along the way. What if someone joined our group and regularly reported his weight loss numbers, but wasn't actually committed to improving his health? What if he was actually doing some really unhealthy things in an attempt to show similar or even better weight loss, and in doing so was actually damaging his health all in an effort to be competitive, or to keep up with the "Joneses," or to look the part of someone on the fitness bandwagon? It would dishearten those of us who were committed, to be sure, and it wouldn't do him a lick of good in the long run. In fact it could have some pretty serious negative consequences. The spiritual parallels are obvious.
Memorizing these words from John the Baptist is serving as a potent reminder to me that the fruit I bear should be a direct result of a change of heart and mind about what and Who I believe is most important. NOT about a set of rules, a way to fool the system, or how to look better than others with minimal effort. I have a choice: fruit juice or venom. True repentance or toxic faking.
Romans 2:4 "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness, and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" NASB
2 Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." NASB
As I sit on the couch resting on LABOR Day, I started doing a little internet research on the concept of work (clearly I am more fun than a barrel of monkeys). Specifically, I was curious about what makes people WANT to work hard. Too many times, I'd rather take an easier way out and yet the call to hard work and dedication is ever present... nagging, really. *so rude*
I guess since it will always be the voice in the back of my head, so I might as well find ways to increase my "want-to" where hard work is concerned. Here are some of the positive things, other than the potential to make money, that I found which consistently seem to help make people willing to work harder than your average Joe:
1. A trustworthy leader.
2. Recognizing the importance of the fruits of your labor.
3. The collaboration and camaraderie of a great team.
4. A compelling vision of the future.
If there is an an area of your life where you, like me, want to increase your motivation to work harder, maybe you need to find someone trustworthy to follow who can point the way. Perhaps you need to remember all the good things that could be byproducts of your hard work. Maybe it is time to recruit some enjoyable teammates to join you in the pursuit, or perhaps it is time to imagine what the future could be like if you stuck to it and gave it your all.
If all of that fails, crank up some great music and just do the next right thing for 1 more hour... just one more hour. Maybe after that hour, we'll be too engrossed to quit, but even if we aren't we're closer to the goal than we were before!
Colossians 3:23 "Whatever you do,work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." ESV
Proverbs 14:23 "In all toil there is profit, but mere talk only leads to poverty." ESV
Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."
NOTE: The quote in the picture above is questionably attributed to Thomas Edison. Check out this link for the history of the quote and to look into any other quotes you find online to verify who really said them first.
Today I was adding new music to my iPod for my commute to work and I started exploring the songs of JJ Heller. I'd heard a few, but I wanted to hear more.
One song in particular struck me immediately. It is entitled, "Who You Are." It describes the lives of individuals who are going through trying times; life isn't looking the way they thought it would, and they are in pain. In their sorrow and confusion, they admit that they don't know what God is doing. I can still hear the chorus ringing in my ears, "I don't know, I don't know what You're doing. But I know who You are."
We can get through a lot when we know who we are walking through it with. When we are sure. 100% certain. No doubts. We don't have to know everything in every situation, but we do have to know one thing for sure. Who is it that walks with me?
The most heart-wrenching time in any relationship comes when one offends the other to the point where the offendee begins to not only take offense at the wrong doing, but to go so far as to question whether or not he really knew this friend in the first place. This sense of betrayal is a common theme in movies. We've all heard lines like, "I never even knew you." or "Who are you, anyway?" It feeds into our innate fear of trust. Our fear of giving ourselves completely to another person. There is always the risk that the wool is being pulled over your eyes, that what you wanted to believe about your friend, or lover, or parent, or mentor isn't actually true. That's when the walls crumble down around you and the way out seems bleak.
BUT, what if you knew? What if you never had to wonder? What if you were absolutely certain that the character & capacity of the one you put your trust in was ROCK SOLID? How many more confusing times could you make your way through together? How many perceived offenses could you see past? How much deeper could the water get without you panicking? How much higher would the mountains be that you could climb with him beside you? It is almost impossible to fathom, if you have been repeatedly burned in your earthly relationships... that this kind of trust could exist.
When JJ Heller sings, "Who You Are," this is what she is singing about. She is reminding herself and all of us that we can know God. His character is described vividly and consistently in the Bible and we can count on him to be who He says He is. Every. Single. Time.
Circumstances will change.
God will not.
*This is cheating, because it is really better when you open your own Bible and pray your very own prayers and let God show Himself to you PERSONALLY, but - if you need a jump-start, a crash course in the character of God - this is a good place to start.
Not one moment that we spend reading the Bible, praying, listening to godly men and women teach and share, acting on what we learn, not one single moment is wasted. Over time, each of these acts becomes a building block in our relationship with Jesus Christ. His character IS rock solid. But in our fallen human state, having encountered unpredictable and untrustworthy people time and time again, we don't come to put our full weight on Him over night. It comes in time. It is built by experience. Give Him a chance. He will prove to be exactly who He says He is, and that knowledge can make the sun rise after even the darkest of nights.
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!
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.
If you haven't read Seth Godin's blog, you are missing out. I've been pondering one of his posts for a few days now and realized I should really pass along some of my favorites. Next time you and I sit down for coffee, tell me what your favorite is and we are guaranteed to have great conversation as a result. Here are links to my top 10 favorite posts (lately anyway) and quotes from each that stood out to me:
1. Beyond Showing Up. "Showing up and taking notes isn't your job. Your job is to surprise and delight and change the agenda."
2. Question the Question. "The best creative solutions don't come from finding good answers to the questions that are presented. They come from inventing new questions."
3. Empathy Takes Effort. "It is easier to walk on by, to compartmentalize and to isolate ourselves. Easier, but not worth it."
4. Nonprofits Have A Charter To Be Innovators. "We're doing important work, our funders count on us to be daring and bold and brave, because the work we're doing is too important to play it safe."
5. Anticipation vs. Anxiety. "When you work with anticipation you will highlight the highs. You'll double down on the things that will delight and push yourself even harder to be bold and to create your version of art."
6. Effortless. "Perfecting your talk, refining your essay and polishing your service until all elements of you disappear might be obvious tactics, but they remove the thing we're looking for: you."
7. Fighting With vs. Fighting For. "They are similar emotions and efforts but they lead to very different outcomes."
8. Waiting For All the Facts. "The real question isn't whether you have all the facts. The real question is, 'Do I know enough to make a useful decision?' (and no decision is still a decision)."
9. Two Questions Behind Every Disagreement. "Are we on the same team? and What's the right path forward?"
10. How to Run a Problem-Solving Meeting. "5. At least one person, perhaps the host, should have a point of view about what the best course is, but anyone who comes should only be invited if they are willing to change their position."
When I was a very little girl, close to five years old, I experienced what it is like to be drowning. My parents, my Nanny and Pappaw, my brother and I were canoeing down a river in Florida together. It was a beautiful day and we were having a great time together. Eventually, my brother and I got into the river and took the seat cushions from one of the canoes and used them as flotation devices and we floated lazily alongside the canoes in the cool water. It was a perfect summer day. My brother was a strong swimmer, but I was not. None of us were concerned about this though because we were staying close together and the water was not very deep. The events that led up to me gasping for breath are fuzzy in my mind now some 30+ years later, but I do know that one of the canoes tipped over and my grandparents (who did not know how to swim) ended up in the water. I know that my older brother left me alone to swim over and help them and I let go of my flotation device in the midst of the ensuing chaos. My Dad jumped out of his canoe to go help my grandparents and in the process, his canoe tipped. In the craziness of trying to get the canoes righted and the people back in them, I was quietly sinking below the water and bobbing back up with increasing desperation. I couldn't understand why no one was coming to help me! It was obvious to me that I was dying, but no one else seemed to notice. How was that possible?!
Since then I've learned about something that life guards call, "The Instinctive Drowning Response." You see, as it turns out, drowning in real life looks nothing like drowning in the movies or on TV. Drowning people do not thrash about or yell for help. They can't. All of their energy is being expended on getting above the water and catching as much breath as possible before they inevitably sink back beneath the surface. They can't wave their arms because they are instinctively using their arms to push down on the water's surface in order to leverage their bodies and get their mouths above water. With that being the case, statistics show that half of all children who die each year from drowning do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult who didn't recognize that they were drowning.
Have you ever felt that way in your day to day life? Drowning, while no one notices? Chances are you think it should be obvious. You can't fathom why no one seems to see that you are living on the brink. Survival, just making it through the day, is so consuming your thoughts and energy that you can't understand why others don't sense your desperation, despair, constant struggle.
On that perfect day in Florida, we all got a reality check. Starting with me. Once the canoes were back in place and those who were obviously endangered were in the clear, my father came over to me. In a loud voice he said, "Stand up!" I could not respond verbally or physically. I kept sinking below the surface frantically climbing this invisible ladder that would bring me back up just long enough to gasp for air before I went back under. Finally he grabbed me by my shoulders lifted me slightly and said again, louder and right to my face, "Carla, Stand up!" With my head now being held above the water by his strong arms, I could respond. Coughing and sputtering, I extended my legs and to my unfathomable surprise the river bottom was not far below. I had been drowning in water that only came up to chest. At any point I could have stretched out my legs, found solid ground and caught my breath, but I didn't know that. I had no idea that my salvation was that close, that accessible, and my family had no idea that I was in danger. Frightening, isn't it?
This memory surfaced for me this week while I was watching online as Louie Giglio taught a lesson at the Passion 2013 conference in Atlanta. He shared two different stories from the Bible where people were healed or brought back to life, but the final step in that restoration process involved them "standing to their feet." That is a powerful image for me. Stand up! Bear your own weight! You are not a victim, you have what you need to carry on!
If you feel like you are drowning and no one is noticing, rest assured, the Solid Rock is beneath you. It will require you transferring some of your energy from trying to stay afloat into remembering the One who put breath in your lungs to begin with, and that transfer of thought and energy will feel like a risk - but it is one that will pay off. In Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV) God says, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." You will also be required to look at those around you a bit differently. The answer is, No. They can't tell that you are in despair, in danger. It isn't always as obvious as you feel like it is. People are busy and their thought lives are complicated (they have their own canoes tipping over left and right), that doesn't mean that they wouldn't come and support you while reminding you of the solid ground beneath you if they knew you needed that help. Find a way to reach out - this too will feel like a risk, but it is one that will eventually pay off. It helps if you reach out to those who aren't also drowning. Someone standing on solid ground is much better equipped to help you find your footing than someone who is frantically climbing that invisible ladder too.
If you are one of the ones standing safely on the Rock, don't wait for those around you to completely slip below the surface before you reach out to them. In real life, people drowning emotionally and spiritually don't look like they are drowning either. They are often spending so much of their energy just trying to get through the day that they don't ask you for help or even know where to begin to describe the peril they are in. Just like I didn't, couldn't respond to my Dad's instruction from afar to "Stand Up!" until he gripped me by the shoulders - others will need you to get closer than shouting distance in order to feel safe enough to try the suggestions you have for their relief from suffering. And you'll need to be close enough to see that they need your help. "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." - Romans 12:10-13 NIV.
(P.S. - After that day, as a five year old, my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons at a local pool. I was terrified, but at their insistence I learned to swim - a skill that serves me well to this day. If you have found yourself emotionally or spiritually drowning at some point don't be satisfied with temporary relief - get involved in a local Bible believing church, seek biblical counseling, make an appointment with a Christian physician, build your support system and gain the tools you need so that the next time the "water feels too deep" you will have what you need to survive and persevere.)
(P.P.S. - The point of this post wasn't really about physical drowning, but since I brought it up, here is a link to help us notice the signs of someone who is in distress in the water. It is good information for all of us to have!)
A friend recently posted this audio recording from one of Moody Bible Institute's chapel services. The speaker is Rosalie de Rosset and her message is timely and simultaneously convicting and refreshing. After listening to it, I immediately purchased her book of essays entitled, "Unseduced and Unshaken - The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman's Choices."
A couple of my favorite quotes from the book so far include:
"Dignity is a strong, chosen, deliberate way of life, the result of the totality of a person's choices and worldview."
"If your faith matters, your mind matters. If your mind matters, it is important what you do with it, theologically and intellectually. You cannot separate your spiritual life from the life of the mind. You can't be fully human without using wisely all the faculties God has given you. They are intertwined; one will not thrive without the other. In neglecting one or the other, you will live a small, shriveled existence."
I also appreciated her reflection on the character of Bilbo Baggins from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, "Gandalf tells the reluctant and unlikely hero, 'There is more to you than you know,' more in this instance than doing what he has always done. The wise magician knows that Bilbo has become addicted to that cozy rabbit hole; he likes eating and drinking well, he likes being comfortable. But Gandalf knows that Bilbo has two sides to his nature, that 'within the hobbit's veins coursed the blood not only from the sedentary Baggins side of the family but also from the swashbuckling Took side.' Bilbo has gotten used to the sedentary side, and after all, he's not doing anything wrong; he's just a nice, even generous, placid hobbit who knows how to have a good time, who fits into his community. But, something transcendent is calling to Bilbo - telling him there is more to life than this, that there are adventures to be had on a heroic scale, that there is good and evil in this world, and he has to be part of fighting the wrongs."
I have met and been inspired by many young women who also feel that something transcendent is calling them, that there is more to life than having the most friends on Facebook, than knowing everything that happened on Glee last week, more than having a comfortable, popular life. They are right. They can be a part of fighting the wrongs in this world, and they can do so while maintaining dignity and spiritual fervor, growing in wisdom and faith along the way. And, thanks be to God, So can I. But none of us will get there without being ready to sacrifice along the way - giving up our "addiction to our cozy rabbit hole". I am thankful to writers and teachers like Rosalie de Rossert for cheering on this generation of young people and affirming their sense of calling to something deeper, richer, and more rewarding than the status quo.
Romans 12:11-12 NIV, "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."
1 Timothy 4:12 NASB, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example to those who believe."
To My 20 Year Old Self,
Hi. Do you have any idea how much potential you have? No, you don’t; I know because I was you 17 years ago. Let me enlighten you a bit from this side of 35, sweet girl. God has wired you uniquely, hand-crafted your personality, your talents, your intelligence, and your creativity for a purpose. Please, don’t get hung up on what that purpose is right now or how it will play out throughout your lifetime. Please don’t let it paralyze you. Please don’t lie awake at night fretting over whether or not to change your major or whether or not you’ll be able to get a job when you graduate or whether or not you’ll ever get married.
Stick with what your prayers and your gut are telling you for now, for today and trust God with the future. Concentrate on your character right now more than your path. “The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half,” (Dostoevsky). In the meantime, don’t pretend that you have got it all figured out, even if people expect you to. Yes, your future may very well include things like a successful career, marriage, motherhood, influence, ministry and more; but it may not look anything like what you imagine those things to be right now – and that is a good thing.
A successful career might be that position at the law office downtown or a low paying job that pays the rent and finds you doing something that you never knew you were made to do. Marriage might mean a white wedding dress followed by 50+ years with a godly man or perhaps remaining loyal to God and God alone for the rest of your days. Motherhood may include bringing up sons and daughters who come into your life through childbirth or adoption, or it could look more like mentoring girls and boys younger than you or foster-parenting for a season. Influence may involve writing that book that everyone reads and raves about or it could be displayed more quietly as you devote time and attention to the handful of special people God puts under your care. Ministry may involve travel and large crowds and the salvation of many, or it may be quietly holding the hands of those who no one else notices and introducing them to a Savior you’ll never be sure this side of heaven if they completely accept.
Whatever lies ahead for you, rest assured, IT IS GOOD. It is so good, that you can’t imagine something better, no matter how hard you try. You can’t make it better by worrying about it now either, so don’t bother. God is the one who makes it good and His work in your life isn’t dependent on your planning or fretting or manipulating your situation. It is only dependent on your obedience. Walk with Him. Trust Him. He knows the way.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV. Believe Him that this is true, even when things are hard.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 ESV. Trust that He knows your heart better than you know it yourself.
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105 KJV. Learn to love God through relying on His word, the Bible. It is relevant and it is breathtaking.
“The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” Proverbs 20:24 NLT. Don’t be afraid to ask God “Why?” when you don’t understand the detours, but be willing to accept and keep moving forward when he answers with “I’m not going to tell you right now.”
Above all, commit to laying all of your plans and hopes and dreams at His feet on a regular basis. Some of them He may one day give back to you, wrapped in his beautiful grace. Others he will discard, because of His infinite mercy, replacing them with something that He desires you to have even more. Either way, you will have your treasure – a life of meaning and purpose, and a relationship with the God who planned it that way from the beginning.
Our church has a group that meets regularly called Women's Missionary Fellowship. This week, I was privileged to attend and hear from Rachel Chambers who is preparing to return with her husband to Zambia and the work and people she loves and is called to.
Rachel shared from her heart, comparing our training in righteousness as Christians to an Olympic athlete's training to win the gold medal. Here are the four qualities she described as being needed by both in order to train well:
1. Discipline (2 Timothy 2:3-5, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
2. Courage (Matthew 25:14-28)
3. An Unwillingness to Quit (Hebrews 12:1-3)
4. Clarity (Philippians 3:13-14)
Our prize is not a gold medal, nor is our training about beating the competition like the Olympian's is, (Rachel was quick to point this out) but the qualities needed are very similar:
Discipline to reject that which weighs us down, misdirects us, derails us, and in any way keeps us from doing what it takes to continue becoming all that God has intended us to be.
Courage to take risks as needed, in faith.
Unwillingness to quit when things are hard, uncomfortable, painful, or difficult to understand, maintaining long-haul commitment through it all, problem-solving and trusting instead of throwing in the towel.
Clarity of purpose. A clear view of the reason we are training in the first place. The glory that is to come - HIS.
True victory, as a Christian, is about standing before Christ one day, hearing "Well done," and receiving a reward (Crowns/Jewels) that we can turn around and lay at his feet, getting the greatest joy from finally having something of worth to give back to Him to honor Him for all that He is, and all that He has done.
Thank you, Rachel!
*If you want to read more about Rachel's story and be inspired by all God has taught this dear sister, you can get her book, The Summons To Become through Amazon at this link.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!