Monday, February 17, 2014

.52 Seconds

More Olympic-Sized Thoughts from Sochi...

 If you've been following the Olympics, you know that the USA's beloved Bode Miller finished 8th in the Downhill Ski Finals. There was pressure from the start. Bode had taken first place in two out of three preliminary runs. He pushed of the starting block and excelled at the top of the hill, as usual. As his run continued, he started to lose ground. And when I say lose ground, I mean .09, .24, .28 kind of ground. One wrong positioning of a ski, and BAM!... you've lost a tenth of a second. So the announcers knew it, Bode knew it, and if you've seen the clip of his know she knew it. The run that mattered, the run that could provide a medal around his neck was just not good enough. He missed the gold by .52 seconds.

Have you ever missed an opportunity or a victory by that small of a margin? There is something so disturbing and painful about missing a success by such a small margin. Out of all of the places in Olympic standings, 4th is my least favorite. 4th! If you get 2nd or 3rd, you get a medal and a anthem's length time on the podium. If you come in 4th, you want everyone to know that you are still an Olympic athlete and on any other day, it could have been YOU that stood on the podium and waved your flag for a victory lap. 

In high school, I was a Musical Theatre nerd and spent my days and nights memorizing lines, choreography and melodies. Dress rehearsals were always quite comical with the line slips, the technical glitches, the costume malfunctions, the orchestra tempos and the missed cues. Yet somehow, we pulled it all together just in time for the curtains to be pulled back for opening night. After one particular dress rehearsal, I received a plaque as a gift that reads,

 "Life is not a dress rehearsal... Go for it!" 

Here's the thing... If you belong to Jesus, you are living your eternity. Make it count! We can't be timid about our pursuits because of fear, failure or any other barrier. Life will not always lead us to the platform with a gold medal hanging around our neck. We will place fourth. We will place last. We will be disqualified. We will face injuries. We will be treated unfairly. We will be victims of subjective scoring. But it is not about whether we face tribulation, it is how we handle the tribulation. Colossians 3:23 says, "Whatever you do, do it ENTHUSIASTICALLY, as doing it for the Lord and not for men." God doesn't care if we place fourth or fail at an attempted project. He cares how we handle ourselves when we miss the mark and we must deal with our loss, sorrow and disappointment. Edwin Chapin, an American preacher in the 1800s, once said of tribulation:

 "Tribulation will not hurt you, unless as it too often does; it makes you sour, narrow and skeptical."  

4th place only hurts when a soured competitor allows the sting. Rejoice in your success. Rejoice in your gifts and talents. Allow God to work THROUGH you as you work FOR Him! 

*On a side note, Bode Miller shook it off and went on to place Bronze in the Super-G! Go Bode!!!


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Olympic-Sized Conversations for You and Your Children

1. Teamwork and Community

"If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if His love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand." -Philippians 2:1-4


We are living in a society and time where the individual is so highly valued. We love to figure out how we can do things on our own without hiring someone, placing a burden on someone, or spending too much time and money. But let's be honest... no DIY (Do-It-Yourself) project comes without step-by-by instructions from those who have gone before us and figured out just how to make the perfect wreath, design the most creative bedroom space, update the kitchen nook, change out the car part or antique the piece of furniture. To do it ourselves, we must have a blog, a book, an example or a set of instructions. In all honesty, we are just part of a large community putting our big boy and big girl pants on to accomplish tasks set before us. We are deceived to believe that we can be with people without being with people. We can be in someone's living room or at their dinner table without actually sitting on their couch or eating their food. We can take a workout class with an instructor who we will never meet. We can play video games with someone in Czechoslovakia but never know their face or their voice. While all of that is fascinating, there is nothing like being able to reach out and touch someone or see them face to face. And that is why I love the Olympics... the masses come together, face to face, to compete, to cheer, to observe and to celebrate the accomplishment of the cream of the crop around the world. 

Prior to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, I let my husband know that I would be watching the opening ceremonies. He heard me, he listened, he sat down for a "light viewing" of the opening ceremonies to find his wife completely invested. When we visited his parents later that week, he let them know in a shocked tone of voice that I watched the opening ceremonies in it's ENTIRETY and was fully captured by the event. Ok, I confess! I truly love it! I rejoice at the sight of the nations coming together. All tribes and tongues come for competition, but they recognize the honor to be a part of a TEAM. They come representing their country, the people, the history and the values. On a side note, I anxiously await the day when every tribe and tongue comes together to confess that Jesus is Lord. Now you see, during the Olympic Games this month, we will view individual competitions, couple competitions, team competitions. Some will win medals as individuals, others will win medals as a team. However, when the games are over and the athletes board planes to return home in victory, the medal count that interests most is the medal count for each country! How many bronze, silver and gold medals did WE win?


Our personal relationship with Christ is of utmost importance. Without it, we cannot be part of God's family. With it, the world opens up and a community is made available to us. What does it mean for you and your family to play on God's team? Has being in a community of believers changed you? How can you impress upon your children the importance of "playing together" to "go for the gold." God never intended for Christianity to be an individual, solo sport. As His Word says in Philippians, community of the Spirit should cause us to care, to love, to agree, to put others first, and to lend a leaning hand. It's not about an individual gold medal. It is about walking the streets of gold with those who have journeyed with you and Jesus. It is about the present Kingdom of God, made possible by Christ's coming, His death and His resurrection. We are competing for an eternal prize with a team that will last forever. Our muscles will not deteriorate, in fact they will grow stronger. Our bones will not break, because His spirit is powerful. We will not lose the ability to compete, we will add to our team and to our gain.


More OLYMPIC-SIZED conversations to follow...




Friday, January 10, 2014

Presents vs. Presence

Presents vs. Presence


Last night, I was struck with thoughts of the purpose of children's ministry and the ultimate goal we have in serving, teaching, instructing and guiding the faith of our kids. As many of us asked the kids for answers to questions and did somewhat of a "fact check", I was so impressed by the knowledge possessed by our children. All of the sudden, in a frustrated tone, one of our 6th graders spoke up,
 "I know so much... I know all of the books of the Bible... I know like 50 verses by memory... I know stories... I know characters...   SO WHAT? What am I supposed to do with it?" 
 Oh, sweet church, my heart sank deep into my chest. A feeling of defeat came over me. Don't get me wrong, I know full well that knowledge is something to be revered; wisdom is something to be attained and insight is something to be developed. However, I could not help but begin to ponder the attitude of many believers today. We all know the head knowledge/heart knowledge tension. Remember, even the demons believe God and shudder (James 2:19). 

So the question is... How do we teach and instruct so that the knowledge of God and His Word brings the presence of God and His power? Do we, as ministers, live as though the Word of God is living and active? Do we let it cut deeply into our soul, our innermost thoughts, and expose who we are and what we need? My sweet 6th grader desired something deeper and desired some sort of application. I know we have all sat through a class where we said to ourselves, "I'm never going to use this information." If what we teach our children falls into the mundane grind of everyday learning, then we will quickly lose them to their compartmentalization tactics for survival in an a society of superfluous information. 

What sets this Bible knowledge apart? What makes the 66 books titles pertinent to a life of faith? What makes the address to certain scripture beneficial to our walk with Christ? First, we have to remember to treat these books as HISTORY not a bunch of stories pieced together as a small group of fables. God's GREAT STORY is part of HISTORY! Secondly, although we read scripture in its historical and literary context, we must not forget to apply God's message to our current life situation. Once we give our lives to Christ, our identity changes. We have new purpose and hope. We realize that God is a necessity and NOT an accessory.  Lastly, in order to instill the necessity of scripture study in others, it MUST be a necessity for us.

Shortly after my 6th grader expressed frustration in his abundance of KNOWLEDGE, our group discussed what it is like to encounter God. I asked them when they felt that God was near and if they felt the Bible was necessary for the nearness of God. Per usual, the kids were in tune to the truth. Almost all of them expressed a sense of God's presence when they prayed to Him, when their families were hurting and when they struggled to be successful at certain tasks. This opened the door for conversation about the knowledge that we have about the Word of God. Without the Word of God, we all agreed that it would be difficult to feel God's PRESENCE in the midst of trials and uncertainties. But because of HISTORY and because of God's GREAT STORY, we know that He is near. Many expect to only receive clean, perfect and miraculous moments as a result of following God. And unfortunately, I think this was the expectation of at least one preteen in the room. God's story is not as neat and tidy as 66 books divided by theme. His message is not as simple as a historical timeline of events or kingdom rulers. And though God is holy and perfect, His miracles often appear at unlikely times. It is a miracle to be able to respond in kindness when treated unfairly. It is a miracle to have the compassion to show love to those who are undeserving. It is a miracle to be able to reference God's truth in the midst of conversation and not realize that God had placed that tidbit deep within our soul for a time when we needed it most. God is working miracles through His people and because of His presence.

The answer to "SO WHAT?" is... the presence of God. Knowing Him with your head beckons your heart to draw near in a similar manner. As this process matures, we also mature. We  no longer wonder why our lives are not meticulously aligned to perfection.  
We do not look for presents from God;                                                                we look for the presence of God.
What kind of knowledge do you hope to bestow upon those within your ministry? As Dwight L. Moody said, "The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives." May the knowledge of God's presence be LIFE CHANGING for you and yours.

"The good man does not escape all troubles-- he has them too. But the Lord helps him in each and every one." --Psalm 34:19

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Puchinello and the Most Marvelous Gift

Meet the Wemmicks... Max Lucado's fictional display of humankind. I can identify with the Wemmicks because they are incredibly serious about all of their silliness. They live near their Maker, the Woodcarver, yet have minimal interaction and respect for him throughout the year. But this time of year is different. It is time for Maker-Day. A day devoted solely to paying respect to their Maker and honoring His creative hands and His relentless kindness.

Enter the serious silliness... Puchinello goes throughout Wemmicksville in search of the perfect gift to give the Maker on Maker-Day. He is bombarded with all kinds of elaborate attempts by the Wemmicks to be the BEST PART of the Maker-Day Festival. The baker has to climb a ladder to get to the top of his cake, the florist's festival bouquet stood taller than her entire shop, and the musicians had prepared a giant, gaudy instrument called the Marvellophony-organoni to ornament their musical tribute to the Maker. 

Just having you with me is enough...These were the words etched into Puchinello's memory as he searched for the best gift. The Maker had already expressed His satisfaction with the mere presence of His creation as His gift on Maker-Day. When the Maker-Day Festival arrived, all the extravagant plans went awry and they village was left with a broken instrument, a destroyed cake and droopy flowers. At the face of disaster, the crowd went quiet and a flute played gently in the distance. A young girl's sweet, tiny gift provided a continuing simple, heartfelt melody that spread throughout the village in honor of the Maker. Puchinello was able to apply his simple song to the melody and a great choir emerged out of the once silent, dejected villagers.

What a most marvelous gift... A gift developed out of disaster. A gift so simple, it can be shared by all. A gift with no glitz nor glam, but a gift with pure, untainted motive and respect for the recipient. Are you trying to impress this season? Have you forgotten the authenticity of our Christmas gift, Emmanuel? Have you considered our Maker's desire for our presence in the midst of this celebratory season? How can we gather together and lift up our voices to the all deserving Maker. How can we simplify our Christmas to claim the peace that Jesus promises to us. How can we sift through the well-meaning, yet unfocused attempts to provide the MOST MARVELOUS GIFT this Christmas season? Why can't BEING with our Maker suffice? May we all remember that the MOST MARVELOUS GIFT has been given and that gift beckons us to come and receive every Christmas... every year... every day of our seriously silly lives.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Charlie and the Christmas Kitty

Oh Charlie... the adorable ranch dog who loves his purpose and loves his territory! If you haven't read this little treasure, PLEASE put it on your Christmas list. Charlie reports from the country where he "helps" prepare for Christmas from his doggy pillow. He falls asleep and wakes up on Christmas morning to what he suspects is a rabbit; yet, when he checks off the items on his emergency response list for rabbit invasions, he realizes it's a CHRISTMAS KITTY! Oh what an unwelcome visitor....

How many of us have had unwelcome visitors right around Christmas time? Whether it be sickness, financial stress, difficult family members or guilty spirits, we've all been face to face with our own Christmas kitty. The thing about Charlie's Christmas Kitty was that she wasn't going anywhere. The kitty was there to stay. That being said, what do we do when we can't avoid, ignore or send away our unwelcome visitors?

Last year I came down with both the flu and strep throat in the month of December. My Christmas spirit was lacking, but I took the opportunity to spend a December in REST. WHOA! Rest in December? It was soooo hard. I am a Christmas party-loving girl. You say cookies, punch, tacky sweater, white elephant, deck the halls...I'm there. God had a different party schedule for me last Christmas. It included a whole lot of couch, a whole lot of hot tea, and a whole lot of the Hallmark Movie Channel (on my laptop, off YouTube, because we didn't actually get the channel). I needed to find an answer to my unwelcome Christmas sickness and God was clear in showing me my need to have some silent nights... and days.

Charlie came to a solution on is own, and we are all willing to let God show us the answer to our unwelcome visitors. Charlie found the good in the Christmas Kitty. What was difficult for him or annoyed him became something he could enjoy or see in a different light. Not all of our unwelcome visitors this holiday season will be easy to handle or enjoy. However, remember that God is our present peace and His desire is for you to welcome the greatest visitor of all. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Take time to welcome Jesus into your lives and home this Christmas so that when the unwelcome visitors knock at your door, you answer with the unchanging joy that comes from the hope of the tiny baby in the manger on that special Christmas day!

Monday, December 2, 2013

God Gave Us Christmas

Seasons Greetings!

My favorite storyteller and theologian, C.S. Lewis, once said "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." Can I get an AMEN, my friends?

This holiday season, I would love for you to journey with me through the exciting tales of Christmas, penned out of the mysterious hope and unbridled joy that inspires the season. 

Up first.............


God Gave us Christmas by Bergren and Hohn. 

"Mama, who 'vented Christmas? Was it Santa?" A awe-filled question that seeks understanding. Hey, at least Little Cub didn't ask where babies came from, right? Mama Bear can live to tell that gem another day! Mama Cub reveals the greatest gift giver of all time...God, Himself. Yes my friends, it was God who gave us Christmas. And guess what? You can find God EVERYWHERE! You don't have to go to the mall to visit Him, though you can find Him there. You don't have to leave your house to visit Him. The God who gave us Christmas is EVERYWHERE!

Little Cub and Mama Bear go on a polar expedition, just the two of them, to find God in their world of FROZEN! I would encourage you, this Christmas season, to journey with your spouse, your kiddos and your friends to look for God and find Him together. As you see the sun rise or set, remind one another that Jesus is the Light of the World! As the Texas weather changes from 80 degrees to 25 degrees, remind one another that our God is constant yet He moves in mysterious ways that we cannot determine or understand. As you gather with friends and families for parties, remind one another that this season is a CELEBRATION of the King of Kings! The lowly manger held the babe who came to earth to be seen, touched, held, and heard. And as you anticipate that 25th day of December, remember that God gave us Christmas long ago and He continually gives us the gift of Christmas. Again. And again. 

Isaiah 9:6-- For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Joy to the World, 
Stef Litzler