Sunday, November 29, 2015

Whose Birthday Is It Anyway?

Hey Friend,

At the age of 54, my memories of my childhood are fuzzy at best.  I do remember, however, my very first birthday party at the age of five.  This was a big deal because it was the first time I got to make up the guest list and invite friends from my kindergarten class as well as friends from the neighborhood. 

I got to pick out the vanilla cake layered with pink butter cream icing and the pretty, frilly dress I was going to wear.  With a little guidance from my mother, I had say in what would be served for lunch.  I had final veto power on what party games we would play.  My mom was so creative, I wanted to play them ALL!

The day of the party, it was all about me...friends brought gifts picked especially for me and I got to be the one to open them.  I got to pick who went first at pin the nose on the clown.  I got to decide who sat next to whom at the big dining room table and who would have the choice seat next to me on the two seat bench. 

A lot of the fun (for me) came in the anticipation of the party.  My poor mother... I probably drove her crazy, because at the age of five you have no concept of how long a month or a week is.  With each passing day leading up to my party, I got more and more excited.  With each passing day my mother probably wanted to tear her hair out with my perpetual asking, "Is today the day?"

What if we had a birthday party and everyone at the party paid attention to everything else but us?  We'd be offended.  If this had happened at my first birthday party, I may have thrown a tantrum?!

This, I believe, is what we do with Jesus.  We get so wrapped up in the party that we forget just WHO it is for...Who we are there to celebrate.

Fortunately, Jesus is not like us...He doesn't get offended and He certainly doesn't throw a tantrum.  I wonder sometimes, though, what He does think?

When He sees all the commercialism and people stressing themselves out with massive "to do" lists, what goes through His mind and His heart? 

Does it hurt that everyone has come to the party, but no eyes are upon Him?

Jesus didn't come into this world, as God made man, with a triumphant entry.  No, He came quietly and humbly.  God, made flesh in the form of a tiny baby, was born in virtual anonymity in a barren stable in the town of Bethlehem.  His king's throne was a feeding trough for the lowly animals.  This is how the King of Kings came to His first birthday party.

This is how Jesus entered the world and this is how he wants to enter out lives:

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."  (Revelation 3:20)

Jesus doesn't burst through the door and proclaim His presence.  No, He knocks softly.  We must be quiet and still enough to hear His voice because He will not shout.  Then, if we hear His voice we must choose to open the door.

The Jews waited centuries for the coming of the Messiah that was prophesied in the Old Testament.  Yet when He did come they missed it.  All those years of waiting and anticipating and then the moment arrives and in all their excitement...they missed it. 

Have you ever had that feeling the day after Christmas, that everything leading up to it was just a blurr and now comes the disappointment that it's over?

I have...and I don't like it. 

I think back to my first birthday party and how much fun it was to prepare for the party and to anticipate its arrival.

What if, this Christmas, I approached Jesus' birthday from the mindset of a five year old?

What if I slowed myself and put more emphasis on the preparation of my heart and the anticipation of the birthday of the greatest person ever to be born?

What if the beforehand held the same excitement as the day of?

What if I quieted the commotion around me so I could hear His voice?

What if everything I did was centered on the birthday boy and not on his party?  What would that look like?

Last year I began, on December 1st, reading Ann Voskamp's "The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping The Full Love Story Of Christmas".  It is a short, easy to read, daily devotional for the season of Advent. (Available at ). Ann's writing, however, brings the beauty and the mystery of the season alive. 

I also bought a small Jesse Tree and each day of Advent, I put the corresponding ornament on the tree (Dayspring sells the ornaments or you can make your own).  I looked forward each day, with great anticipation, to what that reading would be about. 

Preparing each and every day helped me to remember and appreciate the most awe-inspiring thing that happened in the whole of history: God becoming man in the glory and mystery of the incarnation.

Setting aside time each day to prepare my heart for His coming was the best gift I could have ever given myself.  I didn't let Christmas just sneak up on me.

This year I am looking forward to reading the devotional and hanging the ornaments with my husband.  I think I'm looking forward to this more than the actual Christmas day. 

There is true beauty in letting our hearts experience the anticipation of Advent. 

Don't hurry past the "coming" in our rush to get to when He "comes".

That's why I'm posting this on December 1st.  It's not too late to grab a copy of Ann's book or prepare an Advent wreath.  There are a myriad of ways to celebrate this season of anticipation of Christ's coming. 

Would you share in the comments how you best like to prepare your heart for Christ's coming?...I'd love to hear. 

Dear Lord Jesus, Thank you that you love us so much that you were willing to leave your place on high and become flesh in the form of a tiny baby.  Thank you for coming into the pain and sin of this world so that you could fulfill your destiny to become our Messiah.  Lord, we are powerless to save ourselves from our own sin.  Help us not to be so busy with what the world would have us get caught up in that we miss the true meaning of this season.  Lord, DON'T LET ME MISS YOU!!
Let me let YOU be the focus of my excitement and anticipation.  Let my heart be filled with joy as I prepare to welcome YOU. Let me remember it's YOUR birthday that I am celebrating.  I proclaim your name above all names.  For it is in Jesus' name I pray, Amen. 

Be blessed...

ps. What if you woke up on Christmas morning and there were fewer gifts under your tree because you gave to those whose needs were greater than your wants??

25 destitute and impoverished children are waiting to be sponsored this year at Redeemer Christian School in Pakistan.  Only $12/month will get them off the streets and into the classroom. 

If you would like to sponsor a child send your contribution to:

Make check payable to: REDEEMER CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION, Inc.

Send to:
Bev Rihtarchik
103 Silver Lining Lane
Cary, NC  27513
**Include you email address for end of year giving statement**

For more information on Redeemer Christian School, visit the MISSIONS tab above.

Give the gift of HOPE this Christmas...thank you!!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

When Life Is More Like A Steady Drizzle Than A Storm

Hey Friend,

I read in the news, that in the past few months, North Carolina has had more rain than Seattle.  Now that's a lot of rain.  There were two very distinct weeks in which we never saw the sun.  The wind did not blow or rage and the rain wasn't pelting like in a storm.  No, it was more of a perpetual drizzle.  After two weeks of non-stop drizzle I found myself more weary, more down in the dumps, less optimistic, and wondering if the sun was ever going to shine again?!

Sometimes life is like this.  Most of us will face some incredible storms in life.  Times in which the seas are angry and the wind and rain leave devastation in their path.  I think of people I know or who I've been asked to pray for...a couple that recently had a stillborn baby at birth...loving Christian parents whose son committed suicide...a young man in his prime being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.  These, my friends, are STORMS!

These are the events in life that will test and try our faith like non other.  They will ask us to choose if we will bless God or curse Him.  They are defining moments in our faith walk and how we walk through them will leave a forever legacy for those who watch us go through them.  By this, I don't mean how stoic are we?  Far from it...we can have our spirit crushed until we become mere shadows of ourselves, but if onlookers can see God pick up the pieces and breathe beauty into our ashes...that is the blessing in the pain. 

I've been through several major storms in my life, but sometimes what wears me down more so are the weeks of perpetual drizzle.  None of the trials are life threatening.  None of them, on their own, are big enough to be considered a storm, but the piling on of many smaller trials can be enough to sink me into a state of despair. 

Sometimes I wonder why life is like this.  Why do we often get hit with a perpetual barrage of annoying trials?

I think partly that God, in His wisdom, is giving us practice for when the big storms hit.  He's in essence saying, "Here, practice with the small stuff."

Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon doesn't sit on the couch for weeks and then get up one day and try to run many miles.  No, they practice with the small stuff.  They might start out with a mile and then build upon it as their endurance increases so that when marathon day comes, they are equipped and ready.

Just like that marathon runner, we can practice with the smaller trials.  We can practice patience that may last a few weeks vs. patience that demands years of perseverance. 

We can practice trusting God with details that are difficult, but not life altering.  Trusting God with the small stuff enables us to build our confidence in trusting Him with the really big stuff.

Accepting grace in our smaller misdeeds and experiencing God's grace pour over us will enable us to accept His grace when we think how on earth can God not be truly disappointed in me to the point of wanting to disown me?

Life's drizzles let us practice with the small stuff so that when the big rains come...we are prepared.

Another truth I've learned is that the promises God gives us for life's biggest storms, hold true for when we are overcome by the perpetual drizzle. 

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the fire burn you."  (Isaiah 43:2)

Listen to the beauty of God's promise...whether you walk through a puddle or a raging river...

"I will be WITH you."

He will never leave nor forsake you...He'll walk along with you and carry you if He needs to.

Furthermore, read how He is going to be with you...

"THROUGH the waters, THROUGH the rivers, THROUGH the fire."

God promises to not leave us stuck there.  His grace is sufficient to bring us through whatever we are going through. 

So again, whether it's a seemingly never ending drizzle or a monumental storm, God will see you through to the other side.  God has proved this to me over and over again and each time I come through, it gives me more confidence that whatever comes in the future, He will bring me through that too.

Back up a verse to Isaiah 43:1: The Lord says,

"Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine!"

I remember being out on a boat once and fog and drizzle rolled in.  We weren't in a raging storm, but yet we couldn't see our way through the drizzle to the dock and to the shore. 

My dad was standing on the dock and he was calling my name through the fog.  Though I had not a clue exactly how far I was from shore, I kept following my name being called.  Eventually my dad came into view and I was able to guide the boat safely back into it's slip.

Like my earthly father called my name, my Heavenly Father calls me by name.  He doesn't give up...He continues to call my name through the drizzle until I'm safely back to shore. 

Exclamation points are not used a lot in the Bible, but look at where one is used in this verse...after the declaration by the Lord that says,

"You are mine!"

God emphatically tells us that we are His.  He claims us and you can rest assured that when God claims you as His own, He will do whatever it takes to bring you through the storm or even the perpetual drizzle you are going through.

Nothing you can ever say or do will cause Him to release you from His hand that has taken hold of you.  What comfort to know that God has a hold on me and He's NEVER going to let go.

Maybe you're in a storm right now or maybe you are in what seems to be a never ending drizzle?  Either way, God is still God.  He is still Able to see you through.  If you are in a drizzle, what small stuff may God be asking you to practice with so you will be equipped in His love for when the big storms hit?

Dear Heavenly Father,  Thank you so much for your promises that you will never leave nor forsake me.  Thank you that, whether I'm in a drizzle or in a storm, you will not let the waters sweep over me.  With your grace you will keep my head above water.  Thank you for claiming me as your own and in that I have the assurance that you will never let me matter what.  Help me to practice patience and trust in the small trials of life so that I will have confidence when the storms come.  Just as your resurrection power was with Jesus who overcame the grave, your resurrection power is with me to overcome whatever storms (or drizzle) life may bring.  In Jesus precious name I pray, Amen.

Be blessed...

ps. Please pray for a hedge of protection around the children of Redeemer Christian School.  In light of what's going on in our world, they need your prayers.  Also if you want to get one child off the streets and into school, we have 25 children desperate to get in.  Please visit the "MISSIONS" tab on this blog to find out how you can help.  Lives are depending on your love...Only $10/month can make a mighty difference!

Praise for your contributions to Christmas Joy for RCS...all 31 students will be blessed due to your generosity...thank you!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

But My Story Isn't Dramatic Enough

Hey Friend,

Maybe, like me, you've sat in church and when they run the video clip of someone's life testimony you are resigned to the fact that your life testimony would not be video worthy.  Perhaps you have not hit rock bottom, come back from a drug addiction, wandered the prodigal path, or had a dramatic or defining moment in which you gave it all over to God in desperation. Maybe you have...that's okay too!

Sometimes I am envious of Paul, who on the road to Damascus, was stopped in his tracks by a great light and the audible voice of God, calling him to give up his ways of persecuting Christians and instead follow Christ in going and making disciples of all nations.  This is the stuff from which blockbusters are made. 

My story, however, is not so grand.  I can somewhat relate to Paul, in that I grew up in the church.  Just like Paul knew old testament scripture and the Jewish law inside and out, I knew all the famous Bible stories and could probably quote them verbatim to you.  I knew the history of the Christian church, all about the reformation, could quote scripture, knew the facts that God was and is the ultimate Creator and his Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for my sins so that I could live forever with God in heaven.  It was all there...

But for me, the most passionate love story that was ever written was simply head knowledge.  I didn't KNOW my Savior...

I accepted Christ as my Savior...which basically means I invited Jesus to come and live in my heart as the Lord of my the age of 13.  Intrinsically, I knew that something key was missing in my life.  I was basically a good kid...colored inside the lines...but longed for someone to truly know me and love me just as I was.  Jesus seemed to fit this description. 

I wish I could say that from that moment on, I lit the world on fire.  I didn't.  I began reading my Bible more and I prayed to Jesus (God still intimidated me).  I continued in my youth group and going to church. 

My coming to relationship with God and His Son was less of an explosion and more of a slow burn.

I went to a Christian college and managed to sail through without falling too far off the wagon.  Faith was still intact, but I wasn't taking the world by storm.  I have to say that it wasn't until I was married and the rubber began to meet the road through trials, that my faith truly began to grow.

Not knowing any better, I was struggling in what was an emotionally and verbally abusive marriage.  This was compounded by the fact that immediately after the birth of our first child, I was uprooted and plunked down in the middle of the Midwest, where I knew no one, with an infant daughter, in the most frigid of months...January.

What was initially treated as post partum depression (and later diagnosed as OCD anxiety disorder and depression), sent me in a downward spiral.  At one point I found myself in the emergency room of the hospital because I seriously entertained thoughts of ending my life.  No matter how hard I tried I could not climb out of the pit of despair that I was in. 

Perhaps this was my defining moment...or a defining my journey.

I found myself sobbing into my pillow and desperately crying out with groans that only the Holy Spirit could make on my behalf, asking Jesus that if He is who He says He is...would He rescue me?

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  (Psalm 40:1-2)

God and His Son made good on their promises.  There would continue to be defining moments in my life.  Transformations that took place in which I built altars, etched in my mind, to God for His faithfulness.  These experiences were not once and done...everything was hunky dorey from that point on encounters, no...

It was more of a continual wooing and relentless pursuit on the part of Jesus that has brought me into a deeper and closer walk with Him.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Some milestone moments include, but are not limited to:

Realizing that all the striving I had been doing...trying to be perfect in God's eyes...was in fact pride masquerading as piety.  The only way to be perfect in God's sight was through the blood of Christ.  All other forms of attempting to earn or to find favor were fruitless...filthy rags if you will.

Realizing that God is not a curmudgeon sitting on His throne in heaven keeping tally of all the times I screw up.  I had erroneously given God human attributes.  Coming to know His fathomless, unending love and mercy toward me was (and still is) life changing.

Realizing that the enemy was in a war for my mind and he would pull out any stops to attack my Achilles heal and get me to buy into his lies about me.  Learning to recognize the red flags that he was at work and kicking him to the curb sooner rather than later, was (and is) a major growing in faith experience.

Letting God love me through the absolute despair of infidelity and divorce let me see a side of God that I never dreamed could be there.

Staring the big "C" in the face and overcoming.

Parenting a prodigal is teaching me that just like Jesus wooed me, my prodigal may not have just one defining moment, but instead, a series of baby steps back into the loving arms of his Heavenly Father.  It is also teaching me the true power of prayer - my prayers and other prayer warriors who pray on my behalf. 

Starting a Christian School for orphans, destitute and impoverished children in Pakistan (midst ISIS persecution) has let me see first hand that God is able to do all things through us if we will just make ourselves available.  I'm learning to say, "Not my will, but Your's be done, Lord!" and I'm learning to wait...even when it kills me.

I'll be the first to say that I don't like being in the crucible...who does??

I do believe, however, that it's in the refining fire that trials bring, that our faith is refined, deepened, and strengthened. 

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.  (1 Peter 5:10) 

It is stepping out of the boat, onto the waves, and taking baby steps toward Christ.  We revile the storm swirling around us, but His arms remain outstretched and beckon us to keep walking forward.

No, my story is probably not movie material, but it is MY story.  People can argue theology until the cows come home, but no one can argue the Lord's legacy of love to me in my life's story. 

What is your life's story?  Is God still writing it?  Have you shared it with anyone lately?  We ALL have a story to tell and together these pieces make the puzzle complete.

Dear Heavenly Father, I praise you and thank you that before you made me, you called me to be yours.  I thank you for my story and that it is unique to me.  Thank you that you never gave up of forsook me...with relentless love you pursued me.  I was never out of your sight or your grasp.  Thank you for your everlasting arms underneath me that never let me fall.  Yes, life can be brutal, but Your love is bigger still.  Give me courage, Lord, and help me be brave to share my story, our story, with those who need to hear.  It is in the precious name of Jesus that I pray, Amen.

Be blessed...

ps. Urgent Need: Needed...caring and compassionate hearts to bring Christmas and the joy that it brings to the impoverished children of Redeemer Christian School in Pakistan.  We have six children still to cover.  Only $25. will bring smiles and delight to one child who otherwise will receive nothing.  $25 includes: a warm article of clothing, a small gift or toy, and a hearty Christmas meal and joy in retelling/acting out the Christmas story.  Let these children know they are not forgotten...please.

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

**include your email address so you can see pictures of the joy you will bring**

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Grumbling vs. Gratitude

Hey Friend,

I will be fair and clue you in.  I am writing this post to myself as I hear God speaking to my heart and I'm letting you listen in and read along.  I have a bad case of the grumbles most likely due to stress.  I woke up with a stiff neck from stress the night before and my jaw hurt, probably from being clenched all night.

You see, my beloved, four legged, sweet, senior gal, Zoe is almost 14 years old and has "doggie dementia".  Yes, dogs can have dementia just like people.  She can't hear and she can't see too well.  Physically, she's still in good shape...loves her short walks and can get up and down stairs.  She will even run with you for a short distance.  You can tell, though, that she is confused and disoriented at times.  When she's not sleeping she wants to be where I am and gets distraught if she doesn't see me. 

We get through the days okay, but around 3 pm., now with the time change, her anxiety increases.  She is clearly more disoriented, restless, and agitated.  She'll move around a lot and can't seem to find contentment and peace.  In people they call it "Sundowners Syndrome".  With dogs, though, they bark or vocalize.  It starts out as intermittent barking and then crescendos as the evening drags on.  By 8 pm. it's incessant.

 I love her dearly because she is so sweet.  I don't want to see her suffer. I know she's not doing any of this purposefully, but my husband and I begin to grow irritated and resentful.  It's a vicious cycle that repeats itself night after night.  We've tried every combination of medicine and natural remedies.

The problem is...there is no cure.  It is pretty certain that it will either stay the same or get worse.  I try to weigh whether it's more compassionate to let go or keep holding on because her good moments outweigh or at least balance the bad???  Clearly I am torn and it's tearing at my heart.  I don't like the moody, grumbling person I am turning into.  My spirit is clearly focused on the negative right now and I don't like being here. 

I asked God for wisdom and He very clearly led me to Psalm 103. 

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits - who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  (Psalm 103: 1-5, 8)

When I read this I want to cry because right now I am so inwardly focused on my misery and grumbling, but everything in these verses is so outwardly focused. 

Not only is it outwardly focused, but it is intrinsically good.

Instead of grumbling, David is offering up gratitude.  He repeats the word "Praise" three times.  He is actively thanking God for all of his blessings.  He is not dismissing or forgetting all the benefits that have come from His hand.  He is thanking and praising God from the depths of his soul.

Could outward gratitude be the antidote for inward grumbling???

I am then struck by God's outward and good deeds toward David.  David names several  action verbs that are outward and good intentioned...

He forgives all my sins, and heals all my diseases, He redeems me from the pit, and He crowns me with love and compassion. He satisfies my desires, and He renews my youth.

This makes me pause and think...if I were to tally my words of grumbling vs. my words of gratitude, how would I make out?  What would the tally reveal?  I believe it would reveal that...

An inwardly focused soul can be no outwardly good....and...

God is, indeed, good and I need to remember to thank and praise Him.

I am also struck by verse 8 and I read it over slowly emphasizing certain words...

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

Unlike me, whose compassion toward, and love for my dog can quickly turn to irritation and resentment, God is not like that.  Let me say it again...

God is not like me...Praise! 

God's compassion never stops's endless.  His grace never dries's a perpetual pool.  He is ALWAYS slow to anger...never losing His temper.  God is abounding in love...His kindness toward me never fails.

Before I come down too hard on myself, I read verses 13 and 14:

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who revere him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

What a relief to know that God has compassion on me...because He truly knows what a frail mortal I am. 

He knows that I am dust.

So where does this all leave me??  It is getting harder and harder to be outwardly focused on others.  It's getting more difficult to show compassion and love toward the weak.  Grumbling vs. gratitude continues to come from my lips.

I pray for my sweet baby girl to pass in her sleep because I don't want to have to make this decision. 

I want to have God's depth of love and compassion...but I don't want to play God...

So I pray for the strength and wisdom to deal with what is at the core of my grumbling.  I pray for the ability to show gratitude in the midst of trials. 

Life is not always black or white...sometimes pain and gratitude need to coexist. 

I pray for patience to let this be so, in my life, right now.

So I will offer up a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.  I will ask for God's wisdom which He promises me.  I will sit with and celebrate the sweet companion God has given me for the past 14 years. 

And when the time is right...I will pray her on....

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for leading me lovingly to your word when I am struggling.  I praise you and thank you for your never ending grace, compassion, and lovingkindness toward me.  I am so thankful that you are not like me...Your ways are so much higher.  I can't even comprehend the depth of Your love toward me.  Where there is confusion in my life, give me Your wisdom.  When my heart is grumbling, bring to mind gifts to be grateful for. More than anything, Lord, give me Your peace that passes understanding.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Be blessed...

ps. I am seeking compassionate hearts to bring some measure of joy to the orphans and destitute children who find refuge at Redeemer Christian School in Pakistan.  I have trouble picturing a child not getting a single gift for Christmas.  Will you help me bring a gift to each of our 30 precious children this year?  A Gift of only $25. will make that happen.  We are still a ways off from making this a reality and I'm asking for your help.  One Christmas meal.  You can make that happen...

Please send contributions soon to:

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

PRAISE: for our attorney who is a godsend and walking us through the filing process for 501c3 non-profit status.  God is indeed good!

For more on Redeemer Christian School visit my "MISSIONS" tab.