Thursday, September 24, 2015

When You're In The Eye Of The Storm

Hey Friend,


I lived in the Midwest for five years with my family...right in the heart of tornado alley.  I vividly recall the weird greenish cast the sky would take on when a storm was headed our way.  That was usually my cue to turn on the weather channel and watch for any watches or warnings we may be under. 


Sure enough the winds would start building and the clouds would take on an ominous appearance.  I've lost track of the number of times the dreaded, but necessary, tornado sirens would go off.  My daughter, now grown, is still traumatized by sirens of any sort.  Thankfully we had one of the few basements on our street so my neighbors knew that when the sirens went off, to just come over and come in, and we'd all meet in the basement. 


We'd try to talk calmly among ourselves as the kids busied themselves with toys in the basement.  It was called putting on the fa├žade that all was okay so as to avoid sheer panic and tears.  We could hear the wind whipping into a frenzy; the wind would whistle through any miniscule cracks around the windows and doors.  We'd listen to the battery operated radio as to the tracking of the storm.  There were some very tense times when tornados were, indeed, spotted and were tracking in our direction.  We'd watch the time and tick off the minutes as danger approached. 


It always happened, though, that just as quickly as the wind and noise grew to a crescendo, all of a sudden an eerie silence would settle in.  You knew the wind had stopped and all was painstakingly still.  We knew then that we were in the eye of the storm.  Kind of ironic that in the center of this massive, swirling, storming entity, was a safe and quiet place known as the eye. 
 


This past week, I have been in my own personal tornado.  Just a month off knee surgery, I was hit with a pretty sudden and scary setback.  I was already weary from dealing with some other personal issues and was grieving the possibility that I might have to put my beloved, senior gal, Zoe to sleep.  Her barking has grown incessant at times.


Enter my anxiety disorder and the enemy lurking to kick me when I was already down, and I was a sitting duck... a ready made disaster, waiting to happen.  To say that I came unglued was an understatement.  I was a complete and total mess!


In the middle of it all, one of my beloved blogging friends emailed me and ended her loving message with this scripture:


"Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand....


For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, who says, 'Do not fear, I will help you.'"   (Isaiah 41: 10,13)


Though I know this scripture, I wrote it down on a small piece of paper and I carried it around with me everywhere.  By the end of a few days it was creased and crumpled from being opened, read, and meditated on too many times to count.


Deep down I was having a confidence crisis...doubting myself and doubting that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do.


OCD (anxiety disorder) is justly named "the doubter's disease".


**I am interrupted as I am writing this post to hear the shocking news that the youngest son of wonderful, loving parents in our congregation just took his life...death by his own hand. 


He had served a long tour overseas in the military and wrote, in his final message to his parents, that he could no longer live with the horrific images that filled his days and nights with atrocities (murder, killing, torture, abuse, rape) that he could no longer push away.  The victim of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), the only way he could find peace was to end the agony.**


THIS is a STORM.  What his parents are facing right now IS A STORM.  They make my recent experience look a raindrop compared to a hurricane.  No parent should ever have to bury their child...


Now, more than ever, I am brought back to Isaiah 41.  WHERE IS GOD IN LIFE'S STORMS? 


God is in the eye of the storm...He IS the eye of the storm.


In this verse, above, when God says He will strengthen you...the verb implies that God will attach you to Himself.


For the first several months of my son's life, he was very fussy.  Much to others disapproval, I strapped him onto the front of me (I attached him to myself) with a baby carrier, and there and only there, he felt safe, secure, comfortable, peaceful, and calm.  


Well meaning people warned he would never learn to sleep in his own bed.  I'm pleased to report that my son, now 22, could sleep hanging upside down by his toes in a closet.


When attached to God...we can feel calm in the midst of the storm.


I pray those grieving parents will allow God to attach them to Himself...


God speaks with such tenderness in this verse.  When God says, "Do not be dismayed," that is derived from the Hebrew meaning "to see, or to look at".  In other words, He is saying, "Don't look about as one does in a state of alarm or danger."


"I will uphold you..."  I will enable you to bear ALL your trials. How?


"...with my righteous right hand."  This was a Hebrew mode of expression that meant that God's hand was faithful - His hand could be relied upon and counted upon. His hand had been faithful for generations.


"I am your God" = Covenant or Promise
     *You can depend on My love
     *You can be sure of My power
     *You will be comforted and supported by Me


God means so much what He says that He repeats it twice for emphasis...again he repeats His promise in verse 13. 


"Don't panic. I'm with you.  There's no need to fear for I am your God.  I'll give you strength.  I'll help you.  I'll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you." (The Message)


I think of baby lion cubs.  When they are heading for danger or trouble and can't hold on to their momma.  The mother lioness gently grabs them, with her mouth, by the scruff of the neck and removes them from the danger or trouble and places them gently beside her. 


I think...how many times have I not been able to hang onto God, but in His unfathomable grace and mercy, He holds me by the scruff of my neck and pulls me toward Himself and into the eye of the storm where all is safe and calm.


Though the winds may storm and swirl about me, God says, "I have a firm grip on you and I'm never letting go."


God avenges, protects, and provides a way when no way seems walkable.


Are you in a storm right now?  Are the winds swirling around you and you've lost your grip on God?  If not, are you prepared for when the next storm will hit?  Where will you find calm?


Will you pray with me?


Lord, I lift up those parents who are groaning with grief.  Hold them with your hand and attach them to yourself.  I thank you that you promise and covenant with me that I can depend on your righteous right hand...that I can be sure of your power...that You will comfort, support, and hold me and never let me go.  I thank you that your grasp is firm.  Help me not to look about me at the storm, but instead to keep my eyes focused on you.  You promise you will fight for me if I only remain still in You.  I place my confidence and trust in You Lord...the One who never leaves nor forsakes.  Be with all those who desperately need You, Your hand, right now.  In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.


Be blessed...


Ps.  A TRUE STORY:  A little girl, about the age of 10, tends to a crying baby in a restaurant as the family she serves casually eats their meal.  She is their slave.  Her dress is ragged and her hair unkempt. Her eyes look sad and wistful.  She wears a tiny cross around her neck.  If she's lucky she will be allowed to eat from scraps on their plates when the meal is finished.  Even though she is a slave...she trusts Jesus.  Her dream is to go to school, but her mother (a widow) cannot afford the price for school.  Still she dreams of making something of her life.  I wonder if she questions where Jesus is as she looks at the atrocities happening to believers in her country?




THIS LITTLE GIRL COULD POSSIBLY BE A STUDENT AT REDEEMER CHRISTIAN SCHOOL...HOW?


We are two sponsors away from having full sponsorship for our current students who all have similar stories. (RCS shares the love of Christ with believers and non-believers alike). THEN...we can begin adding more students to our roster if people, like you, will let these children know that Jesus does INDEED care.


God calls us in Psalm 68:5 to be a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows...to help those who are oppressed, and do not have the power to help themselves...




$10/month will sponsor one child for one year.  If you want to give a desperate and destitute child hope...


Send contributions to:  Bev Rihtarchik (put RCS in the memo line)
                                   103 Silver Lining Lane
                                   Cary, NC  27513


Also a special fund is being set up to pay for 501c3 filing fees (we're working on it!!) Note if you want to earmark $$ for this fund.


Thank you...
 Meet Nisha.  She cried when she was sponsored and knew she could attend RCS.  This is a dream come true for a little orphaned girl who was cleaning houses to survive.  She is 10. She loves reading her new Bible in Urdu.





Thursday, September 17, 2015

When You Don't Feel Eloquent Enough

Hey Friend,


I was talking candidly with a friend of mine who is not a believer.  We had been discussing a lot of topics and then in a winding road sort of way we wound up on the topic of God.  I could sense it...I knew where this conversation was headed...to the dreaded "all roads/religions can lead to God". I felt my heart quicken because I knew I would need to say something.  But what if the something that came spilling out of my mouth wasn't eloquent enough?  In mere seconds I could become a star witness for Christ or I could be a dismal failure. 


My gut instinct was to immediately start talking.  After all, I am passionate about Christ, but this time I did something different.  I silently prayed, "Lord, give me the right words."  Then, I paused and took a deep breath, and thought for a second, and then slowly I began to speak.  I honestly can't remember exactly what I said, but I felt the power of the Holy Spirit bring to mind specific scriptures and very basic Biblical truth.


Luke 10:27 sprang to mind: 


"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself."


We talked about how these were good principles to live by.  We talked about how killing in God's name does not follow these principles.  She agreed that whoever said this would be a good person to emulate.


The doorway was opened for me to share that this is what Jesus said to his disciples when they asked what one must do in order to inherit eternal life.  We both could agree that Jesus was a pretty smart man. 


I resisted the urge to launch into a theological debate about how Christianity is the only "grace" based religion.  That in every other religion you have to earn or work toward your salvation...you have to be good enough.


Instead, I simply shared that I believe what's written in the Bible to be true.  And, in the Bible, Jesus says:


"I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  (John 14:6)



After I shared that scripture, I did something really profound...I stopped talking.  I just let it rest.  I let Jesus have the last word.


The Holy Spirit had also reminded me of the importance to not just read, but to KNOW scripture.  I'm a work in progress.


As a writer and blogger, so many times I compare my words and how I say things to how others write and express truth.  I know some writers whose words, frankly, leave me breathless.  I read what they say and can only say, "Wow!"  It's easy for me to get down on myself because I don't write about God's Word and the power of Jesus as eloquently or as profoundly as they do, so why even bother? 


God, being the awesome God that He is gave me another nugget of wisdom after He showed me how powerful HIS WORD can be if I pause and pray before I speak.  This next nugget of wisdom came as I have been reading Paul's letters to the different churches.


I started with Romans, and part way into 1 Corinthians 1, I read in Chapter 2 these enlightening words from Paul (The guy who not that long before, was killing Christians for sport and is now writing letters that would shape the world's faith for centuries to come).


Paul to the church in Corinth:


When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.


Whoa!!


Paul's point is that unless the Holy Spirit works in a listener's heart, the wisdom and eloquence of a preacher (or writer) are ineffective. It was humbling to read that Paul, the author of much of the inspired Word, experienced weakness, fear, and trembling when it came to proclaiming the Good News.  Paul turns the whole idea of "our" eloquence on its head...in fact...


If we resolve to make Christ, His life, and His teaching the sole subject of our words...then...the Holy Spirit can work in the hearts of our listeners. The Holy Spirit, not our words, does the convincing. Then, God is glorified...not us.


I don't know about you, but to me, that was a huge relief to know that someone else's coming to faith or growing in faith is not dependent upon my intellectual or oratorical ability.  It doesn't depend on how beautifully my words flow onto the paper.  It is really about sharing Christ (THE Word) and His words and then let the result be marked by the convincing demonstration of power by the Holy Spirit.


Yes, God can even use me!


I am truly learning that often, the less said the better.  I'm choosing more carefully the words I speak.  I am learning to pause and pray before opening my mouth or unleashing my fingers on the laptop keyboard.


I have also learned that people can argue theology until the cows come home, but they can't argue with my personal testimony of my personal relationship with Jesus and the hope I have within me, because of Him.


Basic, Simple, Truth, Less....it was good enough for Paul.  Certainly, it's good enough for me.


Be blessed...


Dear Heavenly Father,  I praise you because I am "fearfully and wonderfully made".  Your Word tells me that.  Help me to know that my words, whether spoken or written, do not have to be perfect or eloquent in order for the Holy Spirit to use them to work in someone else's life.  Help me to speak/write, just as I am, and trust the convincing work to you.  Let my focus be less on my words and thoughts and more on Jesus' life and teaching.  Help me to remember that there truly is power in your Word and it doesn't return void.  Encourage me to speak naturally of the joy that is within me because of the wonderful things you have done for me.  In Jesus' loving name I pray, Amen.




ps.  Just a reminder that I pray for all who read this blog in the morning and in the evening.  If there is something I can pray more specifically for you, don't hesitate to contact me...


Please check out "Missions" for updates on how we're doing getting sponsors for our precious children at Redeemer Christian School.  God is good...






Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Key To Living Life to The Full

Hey Friend,


Do you know that I still get a brochure, right around springtime, from a camp I attended and then worked at as a youth?  Not surprisingly, succeeding generations of campers return there each summer for two of the best weeks of their lives.  No surprise, then, that the camp is called "Summer's Best Two Weeks".  It is a Christian camp nestled among the rolling and lush hills of western Pennsylvania and it surrounds a beautiful lake. 


The whole camp is divided up into two teams, The Romans and The Galatians.  Campers are taught how to win...and yes, lose graciously and no matter what, give the glory to God.  They get to try their hand at things they might not otherwise get a chance to, like: archery, kayaking, water skiing, zip lining, white water rafting, etc. 


This is where I learned the acronym JOY:


Jesus
Others
You
in that order...


In all the things that we did or tried we were encouraged to keep in mind this motto:
"I am third."

"I am third", was a way for us to keep our priorities in place.  We are to love Jesus first, Others second, and You (meaning ourselves) last.

At the end of the two weeks when parents attended and awards and team ribbons were passed out, the last award given was the "I am third" award.  It was given to a male and female camper on the Romans' team and the same on the Galatians' team. 

I was not an athletic standout for other awards and ribbons, but my heart did indeed feel full, and yes I cried, when my name was called for the team Romans' female "I am third" award. 

I can honestly say that no first place award, trophy, or ribbon garnered either before or after that day, has meant as much to me as that award. It was humbling and rewarding to know that others saw me as someone who had Jesus as the Lord of her life and wasn't out to gain recognition for herself at all costs.

Is that to say that I never coveted the spotlight?  I would be a liar if "Me" first didn't pop out its ugly little head.  I'm human...we're all human!  I have chased applause, accolades, and awards, but you know, in the end they really left me feeling hollow and empty.

Long after I left camp, I have held onto the foundation in the scriptures from which the acronym "JOY" comes. 

Luke 10:27:  (Jesus speaking to the disciples) "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself."....


"Do this and you will live," (Jesus ends the greatest command with this).

Wouldn't our world be a much better place if we put all the squabbling over insignificant details aside and went back to these basics?  We would not murder, or steal, or cheat, or lie if we were loving the Lord first and loving others as we love ourselves. 

What if, after lifting the name of our Lord Jesus on high, our next priority would be to build up, encourage, and edify others?  What if our priority was not on promoting ourselves, but was, instead, on cheering others on from the sidelines?

Some martyrs out there are good at the "Jesus" and "Others" part, but they would only have "JO" if they stopped there.  God does not want us to ignore and not love ourselves.  Far from it...we are the crown jewel of His creation...created in His very image...given a mind that can relate and be in relationship with Him.  Oh how he wants us to take time to love ourselves and enjoy all of Creation that He has so lovingly given us.  Add in that "Y"!!

He wants us to crawl up onto His knee and let Him love on us.  That, my friends brings God joy.

Getting life in order: Jesus, Others, You...JOY!!  That not only brings us joy, but, I have found, it is the key to living life to the full...

Be Blessed...

Dear Heavenly Father, I praise you for who you are and for all you have done for me.  I am so humbled, God, that you put me before yourself and gave your only son to be a sacrifice offering for my sins so that I could live with you forever.  Help me to imitate your sacrificial giving by putting Jesus first, others second, and then let me be third.  Let me learn to live life to the full by lifting Jesus and Others up.  Let me find the joy that comes from putting others before myself.  Let me be the one to wash another's feet.  Humble me Lord I pray.  In Jesus name, Amen



ps. Update on REDEEMER CHRISTIAN SCHOOL: I am thrilled to report that 24 of our 30 current students have been sponsored for the upcoming school year.  That leaves 6 students that still need someone to lovingly sponsor them. 


For only $10/month you can take an orphaned or destitute child out of harm's way; give them the hope of an education, and the beautiful love of Jesus.  You can pay in installments.


If we sponsor all 30...we have room for more children and many are coming to our doors but are having to be turned away.  With more sponsors we can add children to the school and literally save their lives. 



Will you save the life of one of these precious ones?

Donations can be sent to:  Bev Rihtarchik (write RCS in memo line)

                                           103 Silver Lining Lane
                                            Cary, NC  27513


*We are working on being registered as a 501c3 non-profit organization. 


thank you...





Thursday, September 3, 2015

Struggle With Pride? Who Me?

Hey Friend,


I remember in my teens, twenties, and even into my early thirties, when the minister would begin to preach a sermon on "Pride", I took that as my cue and my invitation to tune out.  After all, I didn't think I had a problem with pride.  I tended not to boast.  In general, I wasn't rude, haughty, or obnoxious. If anything I was insecure, but not prideful.  I was the "poster child" for being a people pleaser.  I really didn't think that I had a problem with pride. 


Funny thing with pride - when you think that you don't have a problem with it, that's usually when you do.  Pride is sneaky.  The enemy uses it in his arsenal to isolate and separate us from God.  I would like to be open and honest and share with you some of the areas of my life in which I have wrestled with pride.  Perhaps one or more will resonate with you, and if I can spare you the time and expense of recreating the wheel, then my efforts will not have been in vain.


Pride ironically sounds a lot like the word "pry".  I have seen that God has had to "pry" my clenched fists off something or someone I was holding onto much too tightly. 


Pride does this...it takes hold and it doesn't let go.


From early on, I lived in performance mode.  My life was about achievement, accomplishment, earning, and striving.  I wasn't just in organizations, no, I had to be chairman, captain, vice-president, leader.  Much like when my kids were toddlers, I wanted to be able to point to something...some achievement...and say, "MINE!!" 


One might ask where my "life arrow" pointed?  It certainly wasn't pointed toward God.  It was pointed right back at me...pride.  To this day, for example, I will look at the stats for my blog.  I see a wide global readership and there's still a part of me that wants to grab it in my fist, hold it up and say, "Look what I did!"  I am getting better at giving credit where credit is due and you know what?  There is a peace in unclenching my fist and being able to say...


"It's not about what I've done, but about what God is doing through me."


When God gets the glory...I get joy!


Pride gets caught up in the "doing", whereas humility is found in the "being".


For example...I am learning that, to be loved, I don't have to be anything other than God's daughter. 


I grew up in Sunday School learning about how Jesus died for my sins.  I knew, in my head, that it was His doing, not mine. 


Working out our salvation does NOT mean having to earn our salvation.


When Jesus died on the cross, it was finished.  The price had been paid.  Somehow though, I kept on striving to earn God's good pleasure.  By serving in multiple ways in the church and striving to be good, and righteous, and perfect, I was in essence saying that what Jesus did on my behalf wasn't enough.  I still needed to add to what He had done.  That notion is only one thing...pride. 


Once again, God was prying my fist off my "earned" salvation and humbling my prideful heart.


This same notion that I gotta do it myself worked its way over to guilt as well.  Again, I knew that Jesus died for my sins, but I found that I was beating myself over the head with my own guilt stick.  I would replay conversations in my mind that I knew were wrong and I would chastise myself.  In some kind of warped act of atonement I would continue to beat myself up for things I had done wrong.  In a weird way I thought this honored God that I took his commands so seriously. 


In actuality it was the same villain - pride again.  By doing this I was, in effect saying that what Christ did was not enough, that I...the great "I" had yet to do something more. I was missing the point that Christ came, not to condemn, but to set us free.


When the emphasis is on me...that's pride.  When the emphasis is on Jesus...that's humility.
 



Finger by finger, God was prying my clenched fist open.




Lately, I've been praying and researching how to make Redeemer Christian School a registered 501c3 non-profit without costing a boatload of money which we don't have.  I know it would certainly help with fundraising efforts.




Recently a friend from college, who actively supports RCS, said that perhaps she could help me in this area since she had the experience of starting her own non-profit organization.  I was elated to hear this news and my heart was light that day with a glimmer of hope, but then this nagging frustrated feeling slowly crept in.  I wondered what on earth was my problem?  Hadn't I just been praying about this?



There it was again...pride.  The pride of self-sufficiency or the idea that I can do this all on my own runs deep in me.  I was kind of upset with myself that I hadn't been able to figure this out on my own and I was going to have to rely and depend on someone else. 
 

If the words "rely" and "depend" take on a negative connotation to you...chances are good that pride has snuck in.





To be so totally self-sufficient that we don't allow ourselves to rely or depend upon others - to rob them of contributing their God-given gifts - is not only silly, it also reeks of...you got it...pride.
 


I have grown, by God's grace, from a very "self-sufficient" relationship apart from God to one where I so rely and depend on Him that I know I can't do life without Him.  In peeling away these layers of pride, God has given me a peace, a security, and a freedom that I could never have imagined. 




The "letting go" is not just about projects and achievements.  It has also been about letting go of people; people that I had the prideful notion that I could fix or save.  Truth is, I can do neither. God may choose to use me in the process, but I am no one's savior. 




In fact, when I get my prideful self out of the way, then God really has room to work.
 
In short, I have learned that the "I" part of the equation just has to go.



Pride says: More of me and less of God...



Humility says: Less of me and more of God!!



I'd like to leave you with some scriptures that have helped me in this
journey...may they help and bless you as much as they have helped and blessed me:


For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast... (Ephesians 2: 8-9)


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)


For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  (Romans 3:23-24)


"He must increase, but I must decrease."  (John 3:30)


All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  (Isaiah 64:6)


Be blessed...and know that God loves you, as He loves me - beyond measure.  Thanks to what Christ did, there is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus.  My sin of pride is forgiven and so is yours.  His love forgives and remembers no more.  As far as the east is from the west...that is how far your sins have been removed from you.  If you find yourself wrestling with pride like I have, confess it and then live in the light of His love and forgiveness.  I have and trust me...it's a wonderful place to be.


Why you may want to sponsor a child:

Meet Adil, Anum, Mariam and Musa: Adil and Anum (brother and sister) are children of the streets.  Their parents are living but are too poor to support them.  They have never been to school.  They both feel so blessed to have a safe haven like Redeemer Christian School to come to where they feel safe and loved.


Mariam and Musa (sister and brother) do not have a mother - she passed away.  Their father is poor and can barely feed them.  There is no money with which to send them to school.  He says that he owes "a debt of his life" to the good people who are making RCS possible.  He is so thankful that by receiving the love like Jesus at school, his children are receiving love "like that of their mother."
If you would like to sponsor one of these children and continue to give them the hope of an education it only takes $10/month!!

Send donations to:  Bev Rihtarchik (put RCS in the memo line)
                                 103 Silver Lining Lane
                                 Cary, NC  27513